Thursday, June 27, 2013

Einstein and Michele Besso

Einstein never said "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." The reality behind this quote can be traced to Michele Besso, a Swiss/Italian engineer and close friend of Einstein during his years at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich, and later at the patent office in Bern. Besso introduced Einstein to the works of physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach, who influenced Einstein greatly. 

Einstein ends his paper on special relativity by saying that he is indebted to Besso for several valuable suggestions. Einstein remarked "I could not have found a better sounding-board in the whole of Europe." In this way Einstein and Besso became inseparable.

Upon Besso's death in 1955, Einstein wrote a letter of condolence to the Besso family—less than a month before his own death—which contained the following quote "Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That signifies nothing. For those of us who believe in physics, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Einstein on Hitler

This following is from an unpublished manuscript written by Einstein in 1935 while at Princeton. After Einstein’s death it was published in the book Einstein on Peace. It is an unfiltered and raw look into Einstein’s thoughts on how and why Hitler came into power.

“To the everlasting shame of Germany, the spectacle unfolding in the heart of Europe is tragic and grotesque; and it reflects no credit on the community of nations which calls itself civilized!

For centuries the German people have been subject to indoctrination by an unending succession of schoolmasters and drill sergeants. The Germans have been trained in hard work and made to learn many things, but they have also been drilled in slavish submission, military routine and brutality. The postwar democratic Constitution of the Weimar Republic fitted the German people as well as the giant’s clothes fitted Tom Thumb. Then came inflation and depression, with everyone living under fear and tension.

Hitler appeared, a man with limited intellectual abilities and unfit for any useful work, bursting with envy and bitterness against all whom circumstance and nature had favored over him. Sprung from the lower middle class, he had just enough class conceit to hate even the working class which was struggling for greater equality in living standards. But it was the culture and education which had been denied him forever that he hated most of all. In his desperate ambition for power he discovered that his speeches, confused and pervaded with hate as they were, received wild acclaim by those whose situation and orientation resembled his own. He picked up this human flotsam on the streets and in the taverns and organized them around himself. This is the way he launched his political career.

But what really qualified him for leadership was his bitter hatred of everything foreign and, in particular, his loathing of a defenseless minority, the German Jews. Their intellectual sensitivity left him uneasy and he considered it, with some justification, as un-German.

Incessant tirades against these two “enemies” won him the support of the masses to whom he promised glorious triumphs and a golden age. He shrewdly exploited for his own purposes the centuries-old German taste for drill, command, blind obedience and cruelty. Thus he became the Fuehrer.

Money flowed plentifully into his coffers, not least from the propertied classes who saw him as a tool for preventing the social and economic liberation of the people which had its beginning under the Weimar Republic. He played up to the people with the kind of romantic, pseudo-patriotic phrase-mongering to which they had become accustomed in the period before the World War, and with the fraud about the alleged superiority of the “Aryan” or “Nordic” race, a myth invented by the anti-Semites to further their sinister purposes. His disjointed personality makes it impossible to know to what degree he might actually have believed in the nonsense which he kept dispensing. Those, however, who rallied around him or who came to the surface through the Nazi wave were for the most part hardened cynics fully aware of the falsehood of their unscrupulous methods.” —Albert Einstein

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Value of an Education

“The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” —Albert Einstein

From Einsitein's first visit to America in 1921—a two-month extravaganza fit for a rock star. Einstein had recently achieved global stardom when observations performed during a total eclipse confirmed his Theory of General Relativity by showing that the sun’s gravitational field bent light beams as he had predicted (more here).

During the tour, Einstein was asked a question from the Edison test. Edison thought American colleges were too theoretical and was not an Einstein fan. He had devised a test for job applicants that consisted of about 150 questions such as “How is leather tanned?” or “What was Gutenberg’s type made of?” A reporter asked Einstein a question from the test: “What is the speed of sound?” Einstein did not know the answer and responded that “It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need college. He can learn them from books.” He then made a larger point, ridiculing Edison’s view on education. “The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”

Friday, June 7, 2013

God Does Not Play Dice

One of Einsteins many pioneering works was a paper he wrote in 1905 proposing that light could travel in the form of particles later called photons. His work led to quantum mechanics, the mathema­tical framework for describing matter and energy on a fundamental level. In his later years, Einstein was unhappy with quantum mechanicsand its description of reality in terms of probabilities as developed by Max Born and Niels Bohr. Einstein preferred the deterministic cause-and-effect of classical physics, writing that “The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the "old one." I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.”

Einstein used variants of this quote as well. For example, in a conversation with William Hermanns for the 1943 book Einstein and the Poet, he said "As I have said so many times, God doesn't play dice with the world."

Einstein’s views on quantum mechanics are often oversimplified. He accepted quantum mechanics for observable phenomena—his main concern was with its incompleteness in describing reality.


The first appearance of this quote was from the 1981 Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text approval form. Here is the quote in context:
"We have a disease: progressive, incurable and fatal. One way or another we went out and bought our destruction on the time plan! All of us, from the junkie snatching purses to the sweet little old lady hitting two or three doctors for legal prescriptions, have one thing in common: we seek our destruction a bag at a time, a few pills at a time, or a bottle at a time until we die. This is at least part of the insanity of addiction. The price may seem higher for the addict who prostitutes for a fix than it is for the addict who merely lies to a doctor, but ultimately both pay with their lives. Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results."
Curiously, this quote has also been misattributed to Benjamin Franklin and Confucius. I 'm actually quite happy that Einstein didn't say it because in quantum mechanics, you actually DO expect different results in certain instances. You can see what Einstein thought of quantum mechanics here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Finding Joy

“Finding joy in observing and understanding is the greatest gift of nature.” —A. Einstein

Translated from the original German text: "Freude am Schauen und Begreifen ist die schönste Gabe der Natur." This aphorism was one of eight that Einstein wrote to be included in the 1954 book Essays Presented to Leo Baeck on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday. 

Leo Baeck was a German scholar and the last leader of the Jewish community under the Nazis. He refused to abandon his community during Nazi persecution, helping other prisoners survive their confinement with his words and wisdom. He survived the Holocaust but many of his family members did not. In 1955, the Leo Baeck Institute was founded and named in his honor, just a month after Einstein himself passed away.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Climbing Fish

This quote first appeared in 2004 by Mattew Kelley in his book The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose. He attributed it to Einstein, but did not give a source for the quote. It was probably based on an old story by George Reavis called The Animal School, where different animals go to school but have to concentrate on activities that they cannot excel in: an eel must work on his running, climbing and flying, and a rabbit on his swimming, for example. The story was meant to show that children learn best when teachers challenge their strengths and nurture their weaknesses. It's a nice quote, but not Einstein’s.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Man of Value

“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives.” —Albert Einstein

From the 1955 Life Magazine article Death of Genius

Enjoying Life

“The devil has put a penalty on all things we enjoy in life. Either we suffer in our health, or we suffer in our soul, or we get fat.” —Albert Einstein

From the book Einstein: The Life and Times by Ronald Clark. Einstein is said to have made this comment when a box of candy was being passed around after dinner. He claimed that his doctor wouldn’t allow him eat it. When a friend asked him why it was the devil and not God who had imposed the penalty, Einstein replied "What’s the difference? One has a plus in front, the other a minus."

Monday, June 3, 2013

Welcome to Quoting Einstein!

This blog is dedicated to Albert Einstein, one of the greatest thinkers of all time and also one of the most quoted. Unfortunately, so much of what is attributed to Einstein is apocryphal, and it's a shame that his name gets attached to stuff he never said or wrote. Some do it out of ignorance, others do it for political reasons. I will strive to set the record straight, and will source any quotes I use. I hope you enjoy!