Einstein also had a unique way of viewing the universe. He did not see open space as empty space. He wrote, "Physical objects are not in space, but these objects are spatially extended (as fields). In this way the concept 'empty space' loses its meaning" (Einstein qtd. On Space and Motion). He thought the physical reality of space was simply a representation of different coordinates of space and time.
Part of Einstein's radical thinking was the notion that distance and time are not absolute. He could look at the clock and sense that the rate of that ticking clock depended on the "motion of the observer of that clock" (Lightman). In addition to this, Einstein's ideas posited that gravity pulling one object in one direction is equal to a force accelerating in the opposite direction. Lightman helps us understand this notion with the image of an "elevator accelerating upwards feels just like gravity pushing you into the floor" (Lightman). Lightman maintains that Einstein had to come to this conclusion because gravity must move and operate by the same laws of the universe as space and time do. Einstein took the notion a little farther, noting that the gravity of any mass has the power to warp the space and time around it. This idea is a little more difficult to grasp because it seems to conflict with ideas that have been considered absolute. The idea of a clock ticking slower the closer it becomes to a mass of gravity is difficult to imagine but thinking "outside the box," so to speak, was what allowed Einstein to see time differently.
Einstein was also an enigma because he did not seem to fit the typical genius definition when he was younger. Certain seemingly unimportant events triggered Einstein's curiosity. A compass given to him by his father and a clock tower were early inspirations for the iconic genius. The clock towers are especially important because they helped him think about time and space. It is reported that after passing by the clock tower on e day, Einstein "came to a sudden realization: time is not absolute. In other words, despite our common perception that a second is always a second everywhere in the universe, the rate at which time flows depends upon where you are and how fast you are traveling" (AMNH). In his article, "Einstein's Clocks: The Place of Time," Peter Galison ponders over Einstein's breakthrough that "toppled" (Galison 355) Newton's theory of space and time. He notes that to physicists Poincare, Lorentz, and Abraham, Einstein's notion must have seemed "startling, almost incomprehensible, because it began with basic assumptions about the behavior of clocks, rulers, and bodies in force-free motion" (355). Its basics hinge on the structure of electrons, forces of nature, and the dynamics of ether. Philosophers, as well as fellow physicists were influenced by his ideas and when it was all said and done, his paper, "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," became the "best-known physics paper of the twentieth century" (356). The paper "departs so radically from the older, "practical' world of classical mechanics that the work has become a model of the revolutionary divide" (356). Here we see how Einstein needed to see things differently and think about them differently in order to fully understand with what he was working. He had to go beyond what the world had previously established as truth and absolute - and it paid off. It was not long before Einstein became "internationally renowned" (History.com). He won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1922 and he was indeed a celebrity. It is reported that "his visit to any part of the world became a national event; photographers and reporters followed him everywhere" (History.com).
Einstein does deserve every bit of notoriety he gets. However, as many have observed, there is much more to Einstein's image than just a scientist. He was funny, comical, spontaneous, and likable. Golden and Levenson, as well as many others, assert that the very moment Einstein became an icon was November 6, 1919. While the New York Times missed the opportunity to break the news first, the British Royal Society did not. During a special meeting, they decided to reveal the results of observations that "seemed to confirm Einstein's theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity" (Levenson). The headline of the story was enough to pique anyone's imagination, claiming, "Revolution in Science -- New Theory of the Universe -- Newton's...
They quoted him as saying there were '"Lights All Askew in the Heavens...[the] stars [were] not where they seemed or were calculated to be'" (Times qtd. In Levenson). By the end of the year, Einstein had "crossed the point of no return" (Levenson). Einstein was an enigma and his legend is part scientist and part icon.
Levenson tried to describe how Einstein is a part of the public domain today. He simply states that man "was and has remained public property" (Levenson). Of course, just like Levenson, we cannot have that thought without asking the question why. Levenson claims that the answer "lies with the historical events preceding his first contact with the public" (Levenson). Einstein introduced his general theory of relativity in November 1915 in Berlin, the "capital of a nation absorbed in the most destructive war Europe had ever known" (Levenson).
To make matters worse, the name of science had been "implicated" (Levenson) in the war with chlorine being utilized as a weapon. Einstein commented that "our whole, highly praised technological progress, and civilization in general, can be likened to an ax in the hand of a pathological criminal" (Einstein qtd. In Levenson). These events did not overshadow what was about to come, however. Einstein's ideas were, as Levenson points out, "strange, difficult, true, and completely innocent of the disastrous war just past" (Levenson). In a way, Einstein's theories can be seen as a bean of light in a shadow. New ideas such as a fourth dimension and warped space were exciting and promising. These were pleasant alternatives to the "memory of the killing grounds of the western front" (Levenson). It would not be long, though, before another war would force Einstein into the limelight for altogether different reasons that have been more closely linked to the man than seems fair.
Thomas Levenson looks at Einstein's popularity a result of how he changed not only the world but also how the world thought about things. He asserts, "Between 1905 and 1925, Einstein transformed humankind's understanding of nature on every scale, from the smallest to that of the cosmos as a whole" (Levenson). The most amazing aspect of this change in thought is that it is still in practice today. In short, Einstein's theories stand the test of time and the problems that he could not solve then are problems that cannot be solved now. Another powerful component to the man's iconic stature was the fact that he was driven by a vision. According to the American Museum of Natural history, Einstein had a goal to "describe all physical phenomena -- from the smallest subatomic particles to the entire universe" (AMNH). His dream included doing this under a "Grand Unified Theory," something that is still sought after today. In fact, according to the museum, this theory is "one of the hottest topics pursued in physics today" (AMNH). What we see about Einstein's work, as with Newton's, was that it laid the foundation for further work to continue.
As with most great thinkers, one idea is simply not enough. Panek notes that after Einstein became ensconced as the greatest thinker of his age, he was pondering other possibilities. His mind moved from space, time, and gravity to the "power of the equation" (Panek). Einstein is quoted as saying, "Never before in my life have I troubled myself over anything so much... And I have gained enormous respect for mathematics, whose more subtle parts I considered until now, in my ignorance, as pure luxury" (Einstein qtd. In Panek). We can see the fruit of his hard thinking work with the theory of general relativity. Panek believes that this is the theory that "had the newly confident Einstein telling God how the universe must work" (Panek). Panek asserts that by 1933, Einstein "had no doubts about the path to scientific truth" (Panek). In a speech he delivered at Oxford, he stated, "Our experience hitherto justifies us in believing that nature is the realization of the simplest conceivable mathematical ideas. I am convinced that we can discover by means of purely mathematical constructions the concepts and the laws connecting them with each other" (Einstein qtd. In Panek). His belief was correct - it has lead physicists and mathematicians to discover black holes and dark energy. It goes even farther than that, as well. When…
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