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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Untold Genius of Einstein

The Untold Genius of Einstein

By Andrew Dilks
January 30, 2013

“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

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 vthe 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

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.”

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