Sunday, March 10, 2019

Celebrating Einstein (and Pi Day)

This Thursday will be March 14, which, since it can be written as 3.14, has also become known as Pi Day (sometimes represented by a pie). But did you know that Einstein was born on Pi Day 140 years ago? He was, and with that in mind I am posting this to celebrate his life and legacy. 
Einstein’s Brief Bio
Albert Einstein was born in the German Empire on March 14, 1879. Even though the Einstein family were non-observant Jews, young Albert attended a Catholic elementary school for three years until the age of eight.
In 1896, Einstein renounced his German citizenship to avoid military service and enrolled in a Zurich, Switzerland, university. He graduated in 1900 and the following year he acquired Swiss citizenship. In 1906 he received his doctorate from the University of Zurich.
The year before finishing his doctorate, Einstein made a series of discoveries that altered the course of modern science. Those discoveries were embodied in his theory of special relativity, best known by a simple, elegant equation: E = mc2.
Einstein’s theory of general relativity was confirmed 100 years ago, in November 1919, during a total eclipse of the sun. Three years later, Einstein received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum theory—and became world-famous.
Shortly after the Nazis seized power in 1933, Einstein emigrated from Germany to the U.S., where he became a member of Princeton University’s Institute of Advanced Study—and he remained there until his death in 1955.
Even though Einstein was involved in the development of the atomic bomb, as a lifelong pacifist he was an outspoken advocate of nuclear control and world peace. As early as 1930 he declared, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only come by understanding.”
(Einstein’s thoughts on peace can be found in Einstein on Peace, the 2017 version of which is available on Kindle for just a few dollars.)
Einstein’s God
Krista Tippett is a journalist and author. Beginning in 2003 she conducted discussions on public radio related to the theme “Speaking of Faith”—and then in 2010 the name of her program was changed to, and has remained, “On Being.”
Einstein’s God (2010) is the title of Tippett’s second book, and it is based on interviews with 13 people and those interviews are said to be “conversations about science and the human spirit.”
The first chapter of Tippett’s book, and the only one explicitly about Einstein, contains material from the author’s interviews with Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies, two noted physicists.
Davies (b. 1946) points out that while Einstein did not believe in a personal God, as he clearly stated, he was a deist and was fond of using the word “God.” Here is one of Einstein’s most-cited quotations: “God does not play dice with the universe.”
(Einstein made that statement to express his antipathy to quantum physics and its indeterminism.)
Einstein on Science and Religion
According to Davies, Einstein believed “in a rational world order, and he expressed what he sometimes called a ‘cosmic religious feeling,’ a sense of awe, a sense of admiration at the intellectual ingenuity of the universe” (Tippett, p. 34).
At a 1940 conference on science, philosophy, and religion, Einstein asserted (see here) that there were “strong reciprocal relationships between science and religion.” Further, “science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration towards truth and understanding”—and that “source of feeling . . .  springs from the sphere of religion.”
Einstein then memorably stated that the interdependency of science and religion may be expressed by the following image:


  1. I used Einstein's words at the end of this article with some trepidation. I was once "called on the carpet" in Japan for citing those words, for some thought those words were discriminatory against people who were lame or blind. What do you think? Is it better not to use that significant statement by Einstein?

  2. I have an interesting, albeit indirect, connection to Einstein. I grew up in Weston, Mo., where, during my high school years, the town doctor was Dr. Thomas Harvey. On my first visit (c. 1978-79), I went to his office to wait the results of an x-ray. I noticed several jars on the back credenza. All contained organs. One jar was quite large and contained a brain. When he came in he said, "I see you've noticed the brain." After asking if it were real he said, "Yes, and it's famous." He told me it was the brain of Albert Einstein and he was its custodian. He told me he'd spent much of his career studying the brain to see why Einstein was so smart. Everyone in town knew that Einstein's brain was in Weston.

    It wasn't until years later until I read "Driving Mr. Albert" (2000), that I knew the fuller story. Einstein was the pathologist on call at the Princeton hospital where Einstein died in 1955 and he performed an immediate autopsy. Saying he wanted to study the brain, he took it home and never brought it back. As he worked his way across the country in medical practice, he spent the next 40+ years slicing and examining it before returning to the family. It's a fascinating read.

    1. David, what a fascinating story. I had no idea that you had seen Einstein's brain!

      As far as I know, I had never before heard the story of Dr. Thomas Harvey. I found various articles about him, and Einstein's brain, on the Internet, including an article in the 1/8/1990 LATimes, which included the following paragraph:

      "When Harvey left Princeton and settled in tiny Weston to practice medicine, he brought Einstein's brain with him. Retired now, he moved from Weston to nearby Leavenworth, Kan., several years ago, leaving townsfolk who cared wondering whether he took the brain with him or left it in storage in Weston (where it once was reported to have been observed in his office sitting in a jar)."

  3. Political correctness is a poor excuse for good debate. It is a militancy which seeks out trouble, or justifies perpetrating it. (I have a few blind friends - they are not trouble-makers, and do not use their disability as an excuse for life.)

    David, I like the story. Stories make life interesting.

    I am grateful to have found the Creator before Christ. The latter brings some evidence, but still requires a leap of faith. I am also thankful for my European atheist friends who are not militantly so - they just "don't believe in religion". I have a deep appreciation for those who recognize the Creator, regardless of religion. They are all over the world, and have been for a long time. In my mind, Creation holds together more rationally than the scientism of nothingness of random anomalies, and really requires boundless Quantum - a weak alternative to a creator. Sadly, many in Christianism just see a god localized and limited to a religion on our planet who can do some amazing things by using some extra dimensions. Hopefully that plan works out in the end, but it surely leaves some question marks in the historic practice of the followers.

    The issue with E=mc2, is that c is not a constant - time varies according to proximity and amount of mass. The greater the mass in proximity, the greater the variance in time. The variance can be measured on our on planet, but even has a greater measurable variance outside our planetary confines - Look no further than our space probes communicating with the home planet, but many more proofs as well.

    1. The Japanese individuals who complained about my use of Einstein's quote were not troublemakers or militant. They were just sensitive to the feelings of physically-challenged or visually-challenged people--and I thanked them for their concern. I also tried to assure them that neither Einstein nor I had any intention whatsoever of casting aspersions on such people--for the quote was not about people, it was about science and religion.

  4. The first comment received by email yesterday was from my new Thinking Friend Bruce Morgan:

    :I think the Einstein quote is perfect and I find it inspired. Thanks for sharing your blog today. Much good stuff."

  5. Here is a brief but significant comment from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky:

    "The statements certainly resonate with my own thinking. Our great challenge in the church is to bring faith and science together, and Einstein shows us the way."

  6. Again, Thinking Friend Eric Dollard has send pertinent comments from Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for bringing Pi Day and Einstein to our attention.

    "Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for "his services to theoretical physics and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect." Niels Bohr, who later developed quantum theory, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1922.

    "Although many religious beliefs are contrary to the findings of science, I do not believe that science and religion are necessarily opposed. Science can help us understand and interpret religious texts, and enlightened religion, with its emphasis on humility, compassion, simplicity, and honesty, can give us the values needed to use science properly; that is, for the good of all.

    "Although I am not a pacifist, I am dismayed by the divisive forces of nationalism and the lust for ever more military power and weaponry. Will we ever learn?"

  7. Thanks for your comments, Eric, and for your correction of my misleading statement about Einstein's Nobel Prize. Because of what you wrote, I changed the words "was awarded" to "received."

    Here is what I found about that matter: "During the selection process in 1921, the Nobel Committee for Physics decided that none of the year's nominations met the criteria as outlined in the will of Alfred Nobel. According to the Nobel Foundation's statutes, the Nobel Prize can in such a case be reserved until the following year, and this statute was then applied. Albert Einstein therefore received his Nobel Prize for 1921 one year later, in 1922."

    For that reason, it seems correct to say that Einstein was awarded the Prize in 1921 but received it in 1922. And you are also correct to point that Einstein's younger Danish contemporary, Niels Bohr (1885-1962), was awarded the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics. Einstein and Bohr debated matters related to quantum theory, and it was in that context that Einstein made his oft-quoted statement, "God does not play dice with the universe."

  8. Here I am on 3.13, experiencing the relativity of being three days late to posting, but one day early to 3.14 (and too late to post the fourth comment). God, Science, and Religion are three big words whose definitions will cause lots of variety in our opinions of each, much like the varieties of opinions on Einstein's quote you mentioned. After the 2016 election I started donating to 314 Action, a group trying to get scientists elected, especially to Congress. Far too many politicians start off saying "I am not a scientist. . ." only to go on to prove they might instead be fools and even frauds.

    So here is my take on 3.14, as my Christian mediation on God, Science and Religion. God is three metaphorical persons. Science is one unavoidable method. Religion is four experiences of heart, mind, strength and soul. We can come up with all sorts of ways to create contradictory definitions of God, Science and Religion, but when we do, I think we are saying a lot more about ourselves than about the cosmos. We have been given the gift of life, and we should use it.

    1. I much appreciate your thought-provoking comments, Craig.