“Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson: Part Two

  1. Calling himself “an old-time believer in democracy,” he again made clear that his socialist sentiments did not make him sympathetic to Soviet-style controls. “All true democrats must stand guard lest the old class tyranny of the Right be replaced by a new class tyranny of the Left,” he said.
  2. The curvature of the flatlanders’ two-dimensional space makes their surface finite, and yet they can find no boundaries. No matter what direction they travel, they reach no end or edge of their universe, but they eventually get back to the same place. As Einstein put it, “The great charm resulting from this consideration lies in the recognition that the universe of these being is finite and yet has no limits.” And if the flatlanders’ surface was like that of an inflating balloon, their whole universe could be expanding, yet there would still be no boundaries to it.
  3. This concept of the cosmos that Einstein derived from his general theory of relativity was elegant and magical. But there seemed to be one hitch, a flaw that needed to be fixed or fudged. His theory indicated that the universe would have to be either expanding or contracting, not staying static. According to his field equations, a static universe was impossible because the gravitational forces would pull all the matter together.
  4. “The intimate union between the beautiful, the true and the real has again been proved.”
  5. The cult of individual personalities is always, in my view, unjustified… It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my achievements and the reality is simply grotesque. This extraordinary state of affairs would be unbearable but for one great consoling thought: it is a welcome symptom in an age, which is commonly denounced as materialistic, that it makes heroes of men whose ambitions lie wholly in the intellectual and moral sphere.
  6. “Subtle is the Lord, but malicious he is not.”
  7. “Nature hides her secret because of her essential loftiness, but not by means of ruse.”
  8. “The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think.”
  9. It is impossible to know, Heisenberg declared, the precise position of a particle, such as a moving electron, and its precise momentum (its velocity times its mass) at the same instant. The more precisely the position of the particle is measured, the less precisely it is possible to measure its momentum. And the formula that describes the trade-off involves (no surprise) Plank’s constant. The very act of observing something—of allowing photons or electrons or any other particles or waves of energy to strike the object—affects the observation. But Heisenberg’s theory went beyond that. An electron does not have a definite position or path until we observe it. This is a feature of our universe, he said, not merely some defect in our observing or measuring abilities. The uncertainty principle, so simple and yet so startling, was a stake in the heart of classical physics. It asserts that there is no objective reality—not even an objective position of a particle—outside of our observations.
  10. “When I am judging a theory I ask myself whether, if I were God, I would have arranged the world in such a way.” When he posed that question, there was one possibility that he simply could not believe: that the good Lord would have created beautiful and subtle rules that determined most of what happened in the universe, while leaving a few things completely to chance. It felt wrong. “If the Lord had wanted to do that, he would have done it thoroughly, and not kept to a pattern… He would have gone the whole hog. In that case, we wouldn’t have to look for the laws at all.”
  11. “ I regard class differences as contrary to justice,” he wrote in a personal statement of his credo. “I also consider that plain living is good for everybody, physically and mentally.”
  12. “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious.”
  13. “I’m not an atheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but 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.”
  14. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
  15. “What I Believe.” It concluded with an explanation of what he meant when he called himself religious:
    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.
  16. “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and doings of mankind.”
  17. “Use for yourself little, but give to others much.”
  18. “The monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”
  19. Over the years, Einstein had increasingly come to embrace the concept of realism, the belief that there is, as he put it, “a real factual situation” that exists “independent of our observations.” This belief was one aspect of his discomfort with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and other tenets of quantum mechanics that assert that observations determine realities. With his question to Rosenfeld, Einstein was deploying another concept: locality. In other words, if two particles are spatially distant from each other, anything that happens to one is independent from what happens to the other, and no signal or force or influence can move between them faster than the speed of light.
  20. Quantum Entanglement: It asserts that particles do not have a definite state except when observed, and two particles can be in an entangled state so that the observation of one determines a property of the other instantly. As soon as any observation is made, the system goes into a fixed state.
  21. Schrodinger’s Cat: One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out.
  22. “The very fact that the totality of our sense experiences is such that, by means of thinking, it can be put in order, this fact is one that leaves us in awe. The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility… The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle.”
  23. At the end of the 1940s, when it was becoming clear to him that the effort to control nuclear weaponry would fail, Einstein asked what the next war would look like. “I do not know how the Third World War will be fought,” he answered, “but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth—rocks.”
  24. “No other man contributed so much to the vast expansion of the 20th century knowledge,” President Eisenhower declared. “Yet no other man was more modest in the possession of the power that is knowledge, more sure that power without wisdom is deadly.”
  25. “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.”
  26. “Curiosity has its own reason for existing,” he once explained. “One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.”
  27. Einstein’s fundamental creed was that freedom was the lifeblood of creativity. “The development of science and of the creative activities of the spirit,” he said, “requires a freedom that consists in the independence of thought from the restrictions of authoritarian and social prejudice.” Nurturing that should be the fundamental role of government, he felt, and the mission of education.
  28. For some people, miracles serve as evidence of God’s existence. 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. This si the defining quality of a “God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists.”
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