Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Einsteinian at heart

I'm a believer in Christ. I'm not a fundamentalist and conservatism of any type is abhorrent to me. I'm painfully aware of my sinful nature so fundamentalism and conservatism are natural enemies of my belief in the grace and mercy that the cross represents for me. G*d is a wonder and mystery.

But I'm also a scientist (a student and lover of language). I guess I'm an Einsteinian. I love not only his scientific works but also his philosophical, pedagogical and political commentaries.

My aippakuluk gave me a book (more a tome, really) today, a biography of Einstein. Einstein once said of Princeton that it is a pipe not yet smoked - this book, this gift is like that. I'm really looking forward to reading it. I've already skimmed through the book.

Walter Isaacson, the writer of the book on Einstein, writes:

A popular feel for scientific endeavours should, if possible, be restored given the needs of the twenty-first century. This does not mean that every literature major should take watered-down physics course or that a corporate lawyer should stay abreast of quantum mechanics. Rather, it means that an appreciation for the methods of science is a useful asset for a responsible citizenry.[...] In addition, an appreciation for the glories of science is a joyful trait for a good society. It helps us remain in touch with the childlike capacity for wonder, about such things as falling apples and elevators, that characterizes Einstein and other great theoretical physicists.[...] That is why studying Einstein can be worthwhile. Science is inspiring and noble, and its pursuit an enchanting mission, as the sagas of its heroes reminds us. (Isaacson, Simon & Schuster, 2007, p. 6)

Being a huge proponent of liberal arts education, I think appreciation of science is a worthy goal, but so is classical literature, and critical analysis of current events. This is why I was a bit taken aback by a quote of Einstein on the same page:

"In teaching history there should be extensive discussion of personalities who benefited mankind through independence of character and judgement." (ibid)

I once read an account of the trial of G*d in one of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany which had a real affect on my views of G*d and religion (especially the Jewish faith), and which made me an admirer of Talmud/Torah scholarship. I don't remember much of the details of the arguments forwarded in this trial, but the gist of it was that a human being's capacity for freewill (the image of G*d) and the attendant notion of personal responsibility vindicates G*d and validates faith in Him.

Isaacson goes on to quote Einstein on the next page which again puts me back to homeostasis:

His success came from questioning conventional wisdom, challenging authority, and marvelling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals. Tyranny repulsed him, and he saw tolerance not simply as a sweet virtue but as a necessary condition for a creative society. "It is important to foster individuality," he said, "for only the individual can produce the new ideas."[...] This outlook made Einstein a rebel with a reverence for the harmony of nature, one who had just the right blend of imagination and wisdom to transform our understanding of the universe. (ibid, p. 7)

It is not enough just to rebel against and challenge conventional wisdom for audacity's sake; this comes later in an education (and I don't mean here just classroom education but the active seeking of knowledge and reflection on history where attempts at advancements can be analysed). I believe this was also Einstein's philosophy.

It is a rare being that attains immortality by achievement. Einstein was clearly that, not only in science, but what has always been most instructive to me is, that even when he turned down offers for further fame in other areas of human endeavour he lefts us with thoughtful advice and wise and kind admonishment.

I make him out not to be a saint but only point out a coherent philosophical outlook that these rare beings have in common - something divine, something humble.

Jay

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