In Praise of Einstein by Angela Rieck

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I admire Einstein, not just because of his genius, but of his willingness to put his humanity on display.

Of the many things that I admire, there are a number of things that I don’t, but he never tried to hide his weaknesses. He was a poor student in subjects that didn’t interest him. He was not a particularly good husband or father. He was not much of a mentor.

But his strengths outweigh his limitations. He was modest, confident, kind and intelligent.

There are a lot of lessons that we can learn from Dr. Einstein.

Know your worth. Einstein worked on relativity in obscurity. His paper was ignored by the scientific community until a famous scientist read it and promoted it.

Be modest. Other Princeton faculty proudly listed their awards on their office doors; Einstein merely placed a simple placard, A. Einstein.

Believe in a God or Divine Presence. When quantum mechanics became popular (to be overly simplistic, it is a series of complex equations that predict our universe well, but it is based on a to randomness of the universe), Einstein disagreed, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe”. More later about how his belief in a divine wisdom served him well.

Always question and see as far as you possibly can. He would review his mathematics and question his equations continually (more about that later). Einstein also unsuccessfully tried to develop a unified theory of the universe. He never gave up.

Expand your horizon. Einstein was an accomplished musician and became involved in the peace movement.

Have a generous spirit. Einstein was gracious, funny, welcoming and usually smiling.

Admit your mistakes. Einstein acknowledged making three significant errors. One of his errors was to propose gravitational waves; unable to develop a mathematical proof, he withdrew that proposition. In what he called his biggest blunder, he inserted a term called the cosmological constant into his theory of general relativity to force the equations to predict a stationary universe.

What is not known by the general public, is that Einstein was widely regarded as irrelevant from the 70’s up until recently. Relativity was accepted, but gravity was such a small force in our universe and particle and astrophysicists were more interested in the atom (which relativity didn’t address) and the cosmos. They focused on quantum theory, string theory and events in the cosmos. But guess what! Now that we have better equipment, especially the Hubble, scientists have proven both gravitational waves and the cosmological constant. So why am I saying that his admitting his errors (that turned out not to be) is important? By leaving it out there, it remained an important event to be tested…Einstein’s blunder. By admitting an error and moving on, he acknowledged his humanity but also allowed for the equipment and scientists to catch up with his genius.

But I said there were 3. And this is my favorite. Based on Einstein’s theory, gravitation forces would bend light and this could be tested during an eclipse. Einstein calculated how much the light would be bent and researchers set out to prove or disprove the theory of relativity by measuring the curvature of light during the eclipses of 1914 and 1918. BUT, Einstein had gotten his calculations wrong, he was off by a factor of two. Had researchers successfully been able to measure light during those two eclipses, they would have disproven the Theory of Relativity and physics would have continued down its previous path. By 1918, Einstein realized his error and made corrections. So, at the 1919 solar eclipse; the Theory of Relativity was proven and history was made. Why couldn’t it be tested in the 1914 and 1918 solar eclipses? Cloud cover obscured those eclipses. See what I mean about divine intervention?

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

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