Einstein: His Life and Universe

The goal of science is to discover why the universe acts the way that it does.

• “There was a harmonious reality underlying the laws of the universe, and the goal of science was to discover it.”

• What science teaches us, is the correlation between factual evidence and general theories, something well illustrated in Einstein’s life.

Einstein’s success was rooted in his ability to question the mundane things in life and not respect authority

• Einstein’s success at life came from marveling at the mysteries that struck others as mundane, questioning conventional wisdom, and challenging authority.

• Throughout his life, Einstein never lost his sense of wonder at the magic of nature’s phenomena. He retained the ability to hold two thoughts in his mind simultaneously, to be puzzled when they conflicted, and to marvel when he could smell and underlying unity. “People like you and me never grow old,” he wrote an old friend, “We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”

• Einstein’s scientific success had come in part from his rebelliousness. There was a link between his creativity and his willingness to defy authority. He had no sentimental attachment to the old order, thus was energized by upending it. His stubbornness had worked to his advantage.

• The explanation that Einstein himself most often gave for his mental Accomplishments was his curiosity. As he put it near the end of his life, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.”

• Curiosity, in Einstein’s case, came not just from a desire to question the mysterious. More important, it came from a childlike sense of marvel that propelled him to question the familiar, those concepts that, as he once said, “the ordinary adult never bothers his head about.”

Einstein was a purely theoretical physicist. He never ran experiments himself.

• One of the interesting things about Einstein is that he never ran experiments. He was purely theoretical. In his papers, he would end them by explaining a few ways someone who wanted to test it, could, and if they did, they should get in touch with him.

• I love this because it shows that you don’t have to solve a problem to be a critical thinker. Merely thinking about the problem is something that can go along way

Einstein didn’t let anything get in the way of his science

• Einstein was a true loner and didn’t really want to let much get in the way of his scientific endeavors. He is quoted while trying to divorce Marić to marry Elsa saying, “For I shall never give up the state of living alone, which has manifested itself as an indescribable blessing.”

Einstein had a beef with quantum theory

• After his theories of relativity had made their way, he explored the world of quantum mechanics and basically spent the rest of life trying to create a unified field theory. His beef with quantum mechanics was that things seemed to appear to work chaotically at a subatomic level. There was no way to predict how particles are interacting with each other, outside of observing it. But once you observe it, that influences the particles and you’re not seeing it for what it truly is.

• Einstein thought this preposterous. He couldn’t come to believe that the good Lord would have created beautiful and subtle rules that have determined most of what happened in the universe, while leaving a few things completely to chance.

• This attitude was in direct contrast to his belief as a younger scientist. He thought there was nothing that could be known unless it was observed, which led him to relativity. But now he’s saying that there must be rules that govern the universe, no matter one’s ability to observe it. In a way, his dive into quantum mechanics was the start of him becoming the old order and a new wave of scientists saying, “We don’t know that.”

• Einstein, as he got older, couldn’t help but believe that there was some higher spirit – an organizer or creator of all the rules in the universe. No way he thought all of this just happened. There’s too much simplicity for things to just happen the way that they did.

• Einstein believed that all scientific theories, leaving aside their mathematical expressions, ought to lend themselves to so simple a description “that even a child could understand them.”

• Esse est percipi – To be is to be perceived. From George Berkeley

Einstein’s belief in God changed, but never his attitude towards organized religion:

• “I’m not an atheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in a position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must’ve written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. They child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books and doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”

• “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man.”

• “My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we can comprehend about the knowable world. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”

• “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe–a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way, the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naïve.” p.388

• The main argument between science and religion, as Einstein states, is not whether or not there is a God. It’s that scientist’s job is to study the laws and rules of the universe and they can’t comprehend that those would change based on the interaction of a diety. Divine will, or human free will, does not play a role in the cosmic causality p.391

• Asked whether or not we have free will, he responed, “No. I am a determinist. Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control…– We all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible plater.”

• For some people, miracles are evidence that God exists. For Einstein it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence. The fact that the cosmos is comprehensible, that it follows laws, is worthy of awe.

Schrodinger’s Cat was an experiment to help Einstein prove the craziness of quantum theory

As some believed the observation of a particle would interrupt the particles state, so its nucleus was both alive and dead until it was observed. This made sence at a quantum level, but when abstracted to a more real life scenario, it seemed crazy. This is where the cat came into play. p.453

Einstein worked until he couldn’t work any longer

The last thing he wrote, before he went to sleep for the last time, was one more line of symbols and numbers that he hoped might get him, and the rest of us, just a little step closer to the spirit manifest in the laws of the universe.

President Eisenhower on Eisntein:

No other man contributed so much to the vast expansion of the 20th century knowledge. Yet no other man was more modest in the posession of the power that is knowledge, more sure tha power without wisdom is deadly.

The NYT on Einstein after his death:

Man stands on this diminutive earth, gazes at the myriad of stars and upon billowing ocean and tossing trees–and wonders. What does it all mean? How did come about? The most thoughtful wonderer who appeared among us in three centuries has passed on in the person of Albert Einstein.

Humility goes a long way

The world has had a lot of geniuses. What made Einstein special was that his mind and soul were tempered by his humility – the belief that no one had the right to impose ideas and beliefs on others.

Just a beautiful quote

Isaacson on Einstein, “He was a loner with an intimate bond to humanity, a rebel who was suffused with reverence. And thus it was that an imaginative, impertinent, patent clerk became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe.”