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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Albert Einstein – Physicist, Activist, Hero


In 1905, two years after the Wright brothers flew the first airplane at Kitty Hawk, Albert Einstein, at the age of twenty-six, published his groundbreaking work in physics that fundamentally changed our understanding of the world, of time and space, of mass and matter, of gravity and the universe itself.

It was a heroic feat of genius.

Einstein is not the greatest physicist who ever lived. There were limits to what he was able to grasp, he spent his entire life in search of a theorem he called the cosmological constant, he hunted it like King Pelinore hunted the questing-beast, a mathematical construct which he was never able to define, it eluded him throughout his days.

By the end of his life, what the world came to understand as the province of theoretical physics had passed Einstein by. He grappled with the men who came after him, men like Heisenberg with his uncertainty principle, countering their “uncertain” view of the world with his famous maxim, “God does not play dice with the universe.”

Einstein was right…I think, but then again…who knows?

Einstein lived a humble life. I cannot speak to his actual personal humility but he famously wore the same suit of clothes every day, stating in effect that he had too much on his mind to bother with trying to sort out what he would wear on a daily basis.

I have always felt some kinship with him on this front.

Einstein was deeply engaged with the world, even though he was just a man of letters, remote and detached; nevertheless, he was an ardent member of the international peace movement. He was also a principle advocate behind the development of the atomic bomb, convincing the Americans that Germany was well on its way toward splitting the atom, and that if they did Hitler would certainly use that power to win the war.

Einstein’s advocacy for peace and his role in advancing us toward the nuclear age are somewhat paradoxical, but they show us the most important thing about his character, and that was his commitment to humanity and our collective wellbeing.

The man was a hero!


Given First - 2020.04.18

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