The Untold Genius of Einstein

“What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow-creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.”

So begins Albert Einstein’s The World As I See It, a collection of essays, articles and letters written between 1922 and 1934 focusing on the humane aspect of this scientific genius and revealing him as a man of compassion and wisdom all too aware of the pressing need for science to serve the well-being of humanity.

There are countless documentaries and books discussing Einstein’s enduring legacy to modern science – few are unaware of his contributions to the field of theoretical physics: the general theory of relativity and the E = mc2 formula for mass-energy equivalence are perhaps universally known (if not necessarily understood). By comparison, his political and religious views go largely unmentioned, concealed beneath the giant shadow looming from his immense scientific achievements. Reading The World As I See It and it is clear that overlooking this aspect of Einstein’s life and thinking is a dramatic oversight.

On the meaning of life – a loaded subject on which “everybody has certain ideals which determine the direction of his endeavours and judgements” – Einstein writes:

“The ideals which have lighted me on my way and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Without the sense of fellowship with men of like mind, of preoccupation with the objective, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific research, life would have seemed to me empty. The ordinary objects of human endeavour – property, outward success, luxury – have always seemed to me contemptible.”

While Einstein supported the political model in the United States of America (a very different beast at the time of writing compared to today) his sense of social justice prevented him from perceiving the State as superior to man himself. “The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the State but the creative, sentient individual, the personality; it alone creates the noble and the sublime, while the herd as such remains dull in thought and dull in feeling.”

Moreover, he saw how the shortcomings of political systems undermined culture and society:

“The lack of outstanding figures is particularly striking in the domain of art. Painting and music have definitely degenerated and largely lost their popular appeal. In politics not only are leaders lacking, but the independence of spirit and sense of justice of the citizen have to a great extent declined. The democratic, parliamentarian regime, which is based on such independence, has in many places been shaken, dictatorships have sprung up and are tolerated, because men’s sense of dignity and the rights of the individual is no longer strong enough. In two weeks the sheep-like masses can be worked up by the newspapers into such a state of excited fury that the men are prepared to put on an uniform and kill and be killed, for the sake of the worthless aims of a few interested parties. Compulsory military service seems to me the most disgraceful symptom of that deficiency in personal dignity from which civilized mankind is suffering today.”

Einstein’s unequivocal condemnation of the military is clear – he views it as an institution which represents the ultimate debasement of the human spirit. “That a man can take pleasure in marching in formation to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. He has only been given his big brain by mistake; a backbone was all he needed … Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how I hate them!”

Yet he recognized the dynamics which created the perpetual state of military “necessity”. “The armament industry is one of the greatest dangers that beset mankind. It is the hidden evil power behind the nationalism which is rampant everywhere.” In later life, true enough, Einstein supported the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atom bomb, but did so only out of the sense of a pressing need to develop one before the Germans did. Doubtless, he would have been unaware at the time – as most were, and still are to this day – of the ties between the American establishment and the Nazis.

The admittedly significant moral dilemma of the atom bomb aside, Einstein’s pacifism is clear in his earlier writings, as is his awareness of its potential shortcomings. “A pacifism which does not actually try to prevent the nations from arming is and must remain impotent. May the conscience and the common sense of the people be awakened, so that we may reach a new stage in the life of nations, where people look back on war as an incomprehensible aberration of their forefathers!” It is difficult to imagine how deeply his disappointment ran towards the end of his life after the Second World War…

“We cannot despair of humanity, since we ourselves are human beings.”

He also understood that the problem permeated through all aspects of life: “Exaggerated respect for athletics, an excess of coarse impressions which the complications of life through the technical discoveries of recent years has brought with it, the increased severity of the struggle for existence due to the economic crisis, the brutalization of political life – all these factors are hostile to the ripening of the character and the desire for real culture, and stamp our age as barbarous, materialistic, and superficial.” What despair might Einstein have felt were he alive today to witness the propaganda which passes for political discourse and the vain, superficial cult of celebrity, the mark of a culture in seemingly inexorable decline.

But underneath it all at the heart of Einstein’s thinking lies a sense of optimism – a deeply profound understanding of man’s true potential to be a fully realized spiritual being. He views man’s progression from religions of fear to ones of morality as a great step, and envisions a new religion emerging in the distance. “The religion of the future will be cosmic religion. It will transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology.” In an era when quantum physics is rapidly making discoveries which have huge implications for metaphysics, Einstein too saw the connection between science and spirit. “Every one 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.”

And our place in this, according to Einstein’s view?

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

28 Comments on "The Untold Genius of Einstein"

  1. I think he would have thought the multiverse theory was Bullshit.

    • Liam_McGonagle | Jan 29, 2013 at 11:36 am |

      That seems unlikely. Einstein’s equations actually more easily explain a multiverse theory than refute it.

      “A skeptic worries about all the information necessary to specify all
      those unseen worlds. But an entire ensemble is often much simpler than
      one of its members. This principle can be stated more formally using the
      notion of algorithmic information content. The algorithmic information content in a number is, roughly speaking, the length of the shortest computer program that will produce that number as output. For example, consider the set of all integers.
      Which is simpler, the whole set or just one number? Naively, you might
      think that a single number is simpler, but the entire set can be
      generated by quite a trivial computer program, whereas a single number
      can be hugely long. Therefore, the whole set is actually simpler.
      Similarly, the set of all solutions to Einstein’s field equations
      is simpler than a specific solution. The former is described by a few
      equations, whereas the latter requires the specification of vast amounts
      of initial data on some hypersurface. The lesson is that complexity
      increases when we restrict our attention to one particular element in an
      ensemble, thereby losing the symmetry and simplicity that were inherent
      in the totality of all the elements taken together. In this sense, the
      higher-level multiverses are simpler. Going from our universe to the
      Level I multiverse eliminates the need to specify initial conditions, upgrading to Level II eliminates the need to specify physical constants, and the Level IV multiverse eliminates the need to specify anything at all.”

      Repeat for emphasis: ” . . the set of all solutions to Einstein’s field equations
      is simpler than a specific solution.”

      • Who are you quoting?

        Anyway Its bullshit. Its a theory of meaninglessness. So you married your wife and also didn’t marry her? You decided to help that person and also decided not to help them? You were born with blue eyes and also brown eyes? You went ahead and exercised and ate right and lost weight and also didn’t exercise and lose weight. I mean WTF?

        Its a theory designed to escape the ramifications of teleology in the design of the Universe.

        So I was kind of riffing on this quote:

        ““What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To
        answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then,
        you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and
        that of his fellow-creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate
        but almost disqualified for life.”

        • With the greatest of respect Heistman, at least Mcgonagle has provided some substantive reasoning for his position. Whether you find it convincing or not, what you’ve said merely betrays a lack of understanding regarding what he’s talking about in that you’re not directly contesting the points he’s making. To state that it’s all bullshit is lazy and unconvincing.

          • Often when people have a faith position, and others don’t buy into it, the person of faith claims its because they don’t understand. We only experience living in one Universe. There is no proof of the existence of multiple Universes. Its also unfalsifiable.

          • I’ll also add that lots of things can be perfectly elegant and not true. A theory can be elegant and internally consistent and have absolutely no correspondence to anything it seeks to explain.

          • I’ll be honest. I don’t enough about astrophysics to come to any credible conclusion on this. What I do know is that most of what we think we do know about the universe is theoretical, albeit some theories are much more convincing than others. So I’m not sure what this idea that theoretical thinking should be ignored is all about. I’m also a little confused on why you think the existence of multiple universes renders us nihilistic. I’m not sure on my views of a creator of sorts, but I’d imagine something able to create our own universe is quite capable of creating others. Religion has always historically focused on our supposed uniqueness, and that it is us at the center of things. It’s a nice idea. But science has since told us otherwise, and, things always end up being much bigger than we’d first imagined, leaving us yet evermore insignificant – in some ways. The idea that there are other universes, to me, seems just as credible as the argument against. To steadfastly say there’s no multiverse universe, i think, requires much more of an understanding of things than anyone currently has. You could even argue that it’s a bit of leap to say that there’s definitely only one.

          • Well, one problem is people forget it’s theoretical, which its not even that. Its hypothetical. Scientific theories generally have to be falsifiable.

            Science hasn’t proved that We aren’t unique, through the multiverse hypothesis. They have simply hypothesized that we aren’t. Do you see a difference there?

          • Science in the reams of astrophysics has proved virtually nothing. It’s just about all theory. Moreover. I would throw the falsifiable issue back and say that the idea that there’s only one universe isn’t falsifiable either.

          • Yes, but its more consistent with our experience. I mean we experience the Universe

          • But you can’t really trust the human experience since it’s range is so limited. Indeed, it more often than not clouds the truth.

          • You are moving into Obscurantism now. The fact that we only experience one universe, is a pretty big problem, for the multiverse in terms of empiricism.

          • Look, my position is not that there’s definitely a multiverse, or only one, but that the truth is that no one really knows, albeit both arguments are very credible. I don’t think that’s an obscure view at all.

          • Empiricism doesn’t tell you everything. In fact, it doesn’t tell us very at all when it comes to the universe. Platonic thinking necessarily has to come into play at times.

          • Thinking like Plato I meant, lol (as opposed to Aristotle)

          • I think certain types of people are very uncomfortable with experiencing things like awe, and that is where the multiverse comes into play.

            Humans aren’t unique, the Earth isn’t unique, Life isn’t unique. Nothing to get excited about.

          • Sure, I understand your position. Lots of people feel that way and feel more confident with things they can see with their own eyes (a slightly erroneous expression i know). I s’pose I’m prone to thinking about it other – perhaps more philosophical – terms in that one patterns seems to be prevalent in our universe which is that there isn’t one of anything. That said, it takes a mixture of the emprical and theoretical thinking to get anywhere at all and i might well be wrong, or right – but for completely the wrong reasons.

          • For the record I am not a reductionist materialist. I am not saying that nothing I can’t experience with my five senses exists. But I am an empiricist. In a way I guess you could call me a mystic. But saying there is more to life than what can be experienced in 5 sense, consensus reality, is not the same thing as saying that nothing is real and they everything is a completely amorphous solipsistic figment of my imagination.

            I don’t find that sentiment very useful at all for navigating through life.

          • Sure, and I’ve not had so many shrooms i barely believe anything I see. I would imagine that what’s behind this conversation is more that we just disagree on this point. 🙂

          • The fact that we only experience one Universe is part of the Multiverse theory. So you can’t just throw that premise away out of hand if you want to defend the multiverse theory.

          • The problem is resorting to a multiplicity of Universes we can never experience, to explain the one we do experience. Its like evoking the Invisible Pink Unicorn to explain something, and then saying “well you can’t prove the IPU didn’t do it!”

          • I like to speak using my own words, instead of resorting to constant appeals to authority, but anyway here is a quote I just found on wikipedia that summarizes some of the problems I have with the multiverse hypothesis:

            “For a start, how is the existence of the other universes to be tested? To be sure, all cosmologists accept that there are some regions of the universe that lie beyond the reach of our telescopes, but somewhere on the slippery slope between that and the idea that there are an infinite number of universes, credibility reaches a limit. As one slips down that slope, more and more must be accepted on faith, and less and less is open to scientific verification. Extreme multiverse explanations are therefore reminiscent of theological discussions. Indeed, invoking an infinity of unseen universes to explain the unusual features of the one we do see is just as ad hoc as invoking an unseen Creator. The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language, but in essence it requires the same leap of faith.

            — Paul Davies, A Brief History of the Multiverse”

            Of course, ultimately I do invoke a creator. One probably similar to the Idea Pierre Tielhard de Chardin posited. I feel as though the universe is unique, and that our choices have consequences.

            Its a theory designed, I believe to render life meaningless. The Multiverse is a Nihilistic idea.

  2. Chaos_Dynamics | Jan 28, 2013 at 1:00 pm |

    Advanced primitive interpretation of cosmologically integrated systems and functions.

    Einstein, McKenna, Hancock, Lilly, Tesla and all of us sitting at a large table.

    Let’s eat.

  3. ‘Einstein’s unequivocal condemnation of the military is clear – he views it as an institution which represents the ultimate debasement of the human spirit. …“…senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how I hate them!”’
    Excellent. I like Einstein.

  4. Einstein wasn’t all that supportive of the US political system. See his famous and most excellent essay (even for us non-socialists) “Why Socialism?”:

    Additionally, Einstein began to abandon pacifism about the time he became a communist in the late 1930s. If that site doesn’t have more info about it, the FBI sure does.

  5. “We cannot despair of humanity, since we ourselves are human beings.” When I hear people disparaging human nature, or calling masses of people stupid, this thought often enters my mind. When you use a generalization to libel your own species, you speak also of yourself.

  6. Really
    good article. It’s difficult not to agree with his views of the
    direction things were going in then, and how they very much feed into
    the now. However, there was two contradictory positions Enstein seemed
    to have that really leap out you in this piece. That’s his understanding
    of the dangers of arms proliferation and the consequent nature and
    position of the weapons industry, and his rather strange endorsement of
    the Manhattan project in light of Germany’s propensity to get nuclear
    arms before the U.S. Just wondered if this might be a typical example of
    a source of expansive and optimistic ideas being gradually transformed
    into something much more cynical and paranoid as the years roll by.
    Happens to a lot of people.

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