Friday, 10 January 2014

Aphorisms of Einstein

Of the many things that Einstein was famous for was his penchant for quotable quotes. Walter Isaacson's book describes the Boston leg of Einstein's first tour of America:

While in Boston, Einstein was subjected to a pop quiz known as the Edison test. The inventor Thomas Edison was a practical man, getting crankier with age (he was then 74), who disparaged American colleges as too theoretical and felt the same about Einstein...The Times called it "the ever-present Edison questionnaire controversy," and of course Einstein ran into it. A reporter asked him a question from the test. "What is the speed of sound?" If anyone understood the propagation of sound waves, it was Einstein. But he admitted that he did not "carry such information in my mind since it is readily available in books." Then he made a larger point designed to disparage Edison's view of education. "The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think" (Isaacson, p. 299)

"The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think." Like, wow.

When I learned how to read I went through the "learning of facts" phase but I don't think it lasted very long. It certainly laid the ground work (the facts) but the urge to use language creatively quickly overtook my imagination. Reading became the means to appreciating ideas and playing around with ideas. I trained my mind not only to appreciate ideas but more importantly to appreciate abstract structures that allow us to make and/or perceive connections logically, aesthetically, analytically, and genetically.

What I mean when I say "genetically" has less to do with biology (though I guess it also does) but realizing the astounding fact that there is really no "English" this and "Inuit" that; no "French" this and no "German" that: there is only human capacity to comprehend anything human.

To be sure, the different cultures and psychologies (ie, the pathos, ethos and logos that make up the social and technical natures of language) clearly do provide the soil for cultivating certain ideas but once these ideas mature they become open and free to anyone of any language/culture who cares to appreciate them.

I'm reading now the part in the Walter Isaacson book where Einstein is becoming more and more aware of the petty tedium and ugliness of anti-Semitism before it became official policy of the state under Nazi rule where its true destructive force caught fire...

I think I'm an Einsteinian.


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