Einstein’s genius still reigns

By R.S. Karunaratne | Published: 2:00 AM Apr 12 2021
Columns Einstein’s genius still reigns

By R.S. Karunaratne

A little more than 100 years ago, a German youth took the world by storm by publishing four groundbreaking papers about light, the motion of particles, the electrodynamics of moving bodies and energy. Although his papers did not receive the desired publicity in the press, they changed our understanding of space, time and the entire cosmos. Therefore, you will not hesitate to call Einstein a genius.

Much has been written on Einstein, but researchers are still digging out new information about him and publishing articles and books. ‘Genius’ is a much over-used term, but Einstein is doubtless worthy of the epithet. Indeed his very name is considered a synonym for genius. It may be argued that there has been no other influential figure in the history of science to accomplish such a role.

When Albert Einstein was born on 14 March 1879 in the Southern German city of Ulm, his mother thought he was a freak. To her his head seemed much too large. There was no indication whatsoever that he was destined for greatness. His mother Pauline was very unhappy because even at the age of two-and-a-half, he could not talk. What is more, when he started talking, he uttered everything twice much to everybody’s embarrassment. Although he was sent to school, he did not know what to do with other children. Soon he was nicknamed ‘Brother Boring.’ Instead of playing with other children, he played with mechanical toys. When his mother gave birth to a baby girl, Einstein asked, “Where are her wheels?”

Good marks 

Einstein was not a bad student. After attending primary school, he went to secondary school in Munich. At the age of one year and five months, he scored good marks in every subject. There were constant clashes between him and schoolteachers. One teacher hated his presence in the class. He was so annoyed that he asked his parents to send him to another school.

When his father moved his electro-technical firm to Italy, Einstein had to live with some of his relatives. After some time he moved to Switzerland for studies. As he was very good at mathematics and physics, he gained admission to a university in Zurich, where he met Mileva Marić, a young Serb, and fell in love with her. Even his love letters echoed his interest in science. He wrote: “How happy and proud I shall be when we both have brought our work on relativity to a victorious conclusion.”

Although he graduated at the age of 21, he could not find a suitable job. First he worked as a teaching assistant and later as a technical expert. While assessing other people’s inventions, he developed his own ideas. He came out with his Theory of Relativity in 1905 and claimed that time and space were not absolute values. They depended upon the movement of one body – the Earth, a moving train, a beam of light – in relation to another.

Marriage

While grappling with his scientific problems, he wanted to get married to Mileva. However, his mother objected by saying, “She is a book like you. You should marry a woman.” Although he could not marry her, their relationship continued. Mileva gave birth to a daughter who was given up for adoption. Thereafter, he married her in 1903 and they had two sons. Their marriage did not last long. Einstein became friendly with one of his cousins – Elisa. They got married in 1919. 

An eclipse of the sun in the same year proved that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was accurate. Newspapers praised his work as a scientific revolution. In 1921, he received the Nobel Prize for Physics. When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, he migrated to the United States. In December 1999, Time magazine announced Albert Einstein as the Person of the Century. The honour served to awaken an interest in history’s greatest scientist. 

After his death in a Princeton hospital on 18 April 1955, many books have been written on Einstein’s thinking. Although you cannot be another Einstein, he has shown the way how to outshine others. Mothers think of the future of their children. However, Einstein said, “I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.” If your child does not show his talents in school, there is nothing to worry about it. Dr. Joseph Degenhart, one of his teachers said, “Einstein would never get anywhere in life.” However, Einstein proved him wrong.

Special talents 

Einstein debunked the popular belief that he had special talents. He said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Many people give up their struggle to become great men in their chosen fields. For such men Einstein gave many life lessons. He said, “All great achievements of science must start from intuitive knowledge, namely, in axioms, from which deductions are then made. Intuition is the necessary conclusion for the discovery of such axioms.” In short, he is asking you to follow your intuition.

Most inventors see the world differently. In other words, you have to be imaginative. Although he was a great scientist, he said, “I’m enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination.”

Today most university students prefer to do group studies. They think it is the ideal way to remember facts. However, Einstein claimed that he was a horse for single harness, not cut out for tandem or team work. Most of his discoveries were solitary achievements.

Einstein met Charlie Chaplin in the 1930s. They were two men who could rival each other in fame. In their own ways they fundamentally altered how people saw the world. The pair appeared alongside each other on the red carpet following the premiere of City Lights in 1931. Looking at the cheering crowd, Chaplin said, “They cheer me because they all understand me, and they cheer you because no one understands you.” Einstein asked, “What does it all mean?.” Chaplin said, “Nothing.”

Einstein philosophy 

If you truly follow Einstein’s philosophy, you will read like him. He said, “Don’t read any newspapers, find a few like-minded people and read the wonderful writers of the past, Kant, Goethe, Lessing and the classics of other countries.” He met Bernard Shaw who admired the scientist and paid him the highest tribute: “You are one of the eight makers of the universe.”

You cannot pick out Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin or Marie Curie in an identity parade, but you can immediately recognise Einstein. His shock of hair, the bushy moustache, the hangdog eyes and the uber-casual styling make Einstein identifiable around the globe. He did not wear socks even when he was invited by President Roosevelt to the White House. You do not have to imitate his lifestyle to become a great man, but you can try to think like Einstein.

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By R.S. Karunaratne | Published: 2:00 AM Apr 12 2021

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