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Albert Einstein

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Einstein daydreaming at the Swiss patent office.
The poetry of reality
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We must know.
We will know.
A view from the
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Though everybody knows me, there are very few people who really know me. I am a revolutionary.
—Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein (1879–1955) was a German theoretical physicist of the highest caliber. Unfortunately, being one of the most influential scientists in history means his quotes are appropriated by theists and atheists alike.[1] As one of the founders of modern physics,[notes 1] he contributed to quantum mechanics, and developed the special and general theories of relativity. He advocated a one-world government hoping that it would put an end to "an infantile sickness" known as nationalism. He was also a socialist.[2] Einstein believed the Soviet Union could be persuaded to join and that this would solve the incipient Cold War: "Better to let Russia see that there is nothing to be achieved by aggression, but there are advantages in joining [a world government]: Then the Russian regime's attitude will probably change and they will take part without compulsion."[3] As someone who fits the stereotypical image of a scientist, he was a cartoonist's dream come true.

Major contributions to science[edit]

  • Statistical mechanics — demonstrating the reality of atoms with Brownian motion, and explaining why the sky is blue, Einstein's model of solids.
  • Special relativity — a more general theory of motion than Newton's laws that is fully consistent with Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism. Fundamental predictions are time dilation, length contraction, and loss of simultaneity. It has been fully incorporated into the Standard Model of particle physics and modern gravitation theory.
  • General relativity — the modern theory of gravity, predicting, among other things, gravitational waves, gravitational time dilation, expanding (or contracting) Universe, and black holes. This is considered to be his magnum opus. Einstein's principle of equivalence, Einstein's field equations, the Einstein summation convention, the Einstein-de Sitter space, the Einstein-Rosen bridge, and the Einstein-Kahler metric are thus named in his honor.
  • Old quantum theory — explanation of the photoelectric effect using Planck's quantum hypothesis, recognition of wave-particle duality, description of atoms as quantum harmonic oscillators, quantum theory of radiation, quantum theory of monoatomic ideal gases, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) paradox.
  • Quantum statistical mechanics — Bose-Einstein statistics, prediction of light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation (laser), Bose-Einstein condensation.

Myths[edit]

Being a famous scientist, Albert Einstein is subject to many myths. Some common ones are that Einstein...

...worked on the Manhattan Project.
Wrong. While his work in physics was crucial to the project's success, Einstein wasn't involved due to the US government seeing him as a security risk due to his pacifist leanings. However, it is true that he was appointed Adviser on Highly Explosive Materials by the U.S. Navy.
...failed math
By his own words "I never failed in mathematics … Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus."
...was a Soviet spy
While Albert Einstein was an admitted socialist and somewhat of a USSR apologist, he wasn't a spy.
...failed in school
No. He was pretty good in almost all things education. This view is most likely based on the fact that German and Swiss grades are exactly reversed from each other (6 being the best in Switzerland and the worst in Germany) and the first biographers were mostly German. The only thing he ever did fail at was getting into university at age sixteen — incidentally due to a failed French test. Also, he got into ETH Zurich, a famous school in Switzerland.

Possible neurodivergence[edit]

Some people have speculated that Einstein was autistic, had ADHD, or had a number of different conditions. One researcher suggested that Einstein's extra glial cells may have been a sign of autism.[4]

Einstein's eccentric creativity, unique insights, and personal struggles have led some people to speculate about him being neurodivergent. Apparently Einstein repeated sentences until age 7 (a trait common among autistics),[5] was a solitary child, struggled with disorganization and forgetfulness, had spelling problems, and found it hard to tie his shoes at age 16.[6][7] Some claim that he was late to learn to talk, though this is disputed.

Of course, you can't diagnose a person post-mortem based on rumors. Regardless of whether he was or wasn't neurotypical, neurodivergent people may be inspired by his success. (Though they may want to be aware of his racist views before they idolize him too much.)

Serious flaws[edit]

Racist views[edit]

Despite stating that racism is "a disease of white people" in China, Einstein had a fair share of racist views, as revealed in his private diary, ironically, about Chinese people:[8]

[China has] industrious, filthy, obtuse people.

Chinese don’t sit on benches while eating but squat like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods. All this occurs quietly and demurely. Even the children are spiritless and look obtuse.

It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.

He also claimed that Japanese people were "pure souls" but that the "intellectual needs of this nation seem to be weaker than their artistic ones – natural disposition?"

A terrible husband[edit]

Mileva Marić and Einstein

A. You will make sure:

1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order; 2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room; 3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

Mileva Marić was a brilliant physicist and mathematician herself (who may have contributed to Einstein's work, though it's not clear whether and how much[9][10]), yet Einstein began treating her like a servant. The above excerpt is part of a letter detailing the conditions upon which he would continue to live with his wife; he also told her to expect no intimacy for him, to avoid saying anything negative about him, and to be quiet and leave if he asked her.[11][12]

He also cheated on both his first and second wife. He even said he wished that his second son (who had schizophrenia) was never born.[13] (Imagine struggling with schizophrenia and then realizing your own father wishes you didn't exist.)

He wasn't totally heartless, though. His loved ones reported that he was truly heartbroken after the death of his second wife.[14]

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Albert Onestone.

Further reading[edit]

  • Pais, Abraham. "Subtle Is the Lord-- " : The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein. Oxford University Press, 1982. This is a technical scientific biography of Einstein.

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. The other founder of modern physics is Max Planck, who discovered that light comes in discrete packets now called photons.

References[edit]