Albert Einstein and Zionism

Albert Einstein

Zionism and Israel - Biographies


Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)  was a physicist, mathematician, philosopher, pacifist, and Zionist (see also Albert Einstein and Zionism). Because of his epoch-making theories of the nature of space, time, light and matter, his name became synonymous with genius. Because of his fame, every nation and the world has wanted to claim him as their own.   He is best known for the special and general  theories of relativity, which overturned Newtonian physics. He was a non-conformist in scientific thinking and in his public life, for which he both reaped the rewards and suffered throughout his lifetime.

While it can be truly said of Albert Einstein that he was, in many respects, a "citizen of the world," it is not an exaggeration to say that much of his soul and a great deal of his public efforts were given to the Jewish people and the cause of Zionism, though this is often denied.

Albert Einstein was born at Ulm, in Württemberg, Germany, on March 14, 1879 to Hermann and Pauline Einstein. His father was an electrical engineer who had a small pioneering electrical contracting firm.  Einstein's parents were assimilationist Jews, who, like many Jews in Germany, believed it possible to submerge their faith and nationality in that of their adopted nation.

Albert Einstein's Parents: Hermann and Pauline Einstein
Hermann and Pauline Einstein

Six weeks after Albert Einstein was born,  the family moved to Munich, where Hermann Einstein's firm had obtained an important contract. Einstein began his schooling there at the Luitpold Gymnasium.

Albert Einstein and his sister Maria (Maja)
Albert Einstein and his sister Maria (Maja)

When he was about five years old, Einstein was ill and his father gave him a compass to pass the time while lying abed. He recalled later that he became fascinated by the compass and got to thinking about fields, and how force fields could act, a preoccupation that was to take up his scientific life.

At about the same time, his mother gave him a violin. He abhorred the discipline of lessons, but was entranced by the music, and became a rather competent violinist. In later life, he sometimes surprised audiences by giving a violin recital instead of a lecture. Little Albert Einstein was not an easygoing child. He threw temper tantrums, and when he did, he also threw objects at anyone in sight, including a tutor and especially his little sister, Maja. She remarked that it takes a sound skull to be the sister of an intellectual.

A Jewish tradition called upon families to invite impoverished religious students to Sabbath eve dinner. The Einsteins modified the tradition, and took in an impoverished young medical student, Max Talmud. Talmud introduced young Albert Einstein to science and philosophy. He brought him a set of popular science works by Aaron Bernstein. Bernstein was fascinated with the problem of the speed of light, and used a variety of thought experiments, involving moving trains and the like, to pose problems and paradoxes. Years later, when they met again in New York, Einstein averred that Bernstein's books had greatly influenced him. Indeed they had.  From Talmud, Einstein also learned of Kant.

At age 12, Albert Einstein decided that he could not believe in religion, and this motivated a constant rebellion against authority and regimentation, which was apparently part of his character as well. Unfortunately, authority and regimentation were the basis of Prussian society and in particular of Prussian education, and this characteristic would not endear the Prussian system to Einstein, nor would it endear Albert Einstein to his teachers. 

When the business failed in 1894, Hermann Einstein moved his family to Pavia Italy, where there were more promising prospects.

Albert Einstein stayed behind to finish one term of school, and then tried to enter the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in Zurich. He failed the liberal arts portion of the entrance exam. He therefore completed his secondary education at Aarau, Switzerland. Contrary to a prevalent myth, Albert Einstein did not fail in his mathematics courses. He did quite well in science subjects. The myth was invented and popularized apparently by Ripley's believe it or not, but didn't have any basis in fact.  He did neglect mathematics until later in his life, because he thought mathematics was less important than physics.

Albert Einstein at Aarau - left, bottom row
Albert Einstein's first wife: Mileva Maric
Mileva Maric

In 1896, Albert Einstein entered the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich to be trained as a teacher in physics and mathematics. While there, he met  Mileva Maric, a Serbian. He married her in 1903 after the birth of their illegitimate daughter, Lieserl, apparently in 1902.

Albert Einstein at the Patent Office

After leaving Germany, Einstein gave up his German citizenship, because he could not abide Prussian militarism and regimentation..  In 1901, the year he gained his diploma, he acquired Swiss citizenship. Einstein's ideas were unconventional, and he was outspoken in his criticism of his professors. This earned him many enemies, and together with the fact that he was Jewish, made it quite difficult to get a teaching post. 

Albert Einstein - Patent Clerk
Albert Einstein,
Patent Clerk

Consequently, he tried to earn his living by tutoring, and was very happy when friends were able to arrange a relatively lowly position for him as technical assistant in the Swiss Patent Office. This finally enabled him to marry Mileva Maric in 1903. However, their daughter remained, apparently, in the care of friends in Serbia and eventually sickened and died of scarlet fever about September, 1903. Albert and Mileva were to have two other sons. Hans Albert Einstein, who would be a successful engineer, and Edouard Einstein, who was afflicted with mental illness.

Albert Einstein's office was near the famous clock in the city of Bern, and the railway station where trains were timed by the clock The clock had been built in the 12th century and later had been elaborated. Each hour, a mechanical apparatus put on a great show featuring father time and other figures.  It had been suggested that this clock and the trains gave Albert Einstein the inspiration for his many thought experiments about time and travel.  In the patent office, Einstein found that he could finish the required work in a few hours each day, and devote the rest of the day to his scientific work. His boss, Friedrich Haller, took a tolerant attitude to this use of his time.

Albert Einstein and the Olympian Academy

Albert Einstein and the 'Olympian Academy'
Friends for life: Conrad Habicht, Maurice
Solovine and Albert Einstein, the
"Olympian Academy"

In 1902, Albert Einstein was still advertising his services as a mathematics and physics tutor. His advertisement was seen by Maurice Solovine, who paid him a visit. The two began talking about physics and philosophy and soon became fast friends. They were joined by another former physics student, Conrad Habicht. The three jokingly called their association the "Olympian Academy." They met frequently to discuss science and works of philosophy, in particular, the works of David Hume, Ernst Mach and Baruch Spinoza. Their discussions served to inspire much of Einstein's thinking about the fundamental problems of physics, as well as his approaches to causality and theology.

The state of physics at the turn of the century

The nineteenth century saw prodigious advances in physical discovery. Physicists and philosophers thought that they were elucidating the workings of an orderly and determinate world based on the laws of physics enunciated by Sir Isaac Newton. In 1900, Lord Kelvin stated in his address to the British Association of or the Advancement of Science, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement."

Albert Einstein's Family
Albert Einstein's family:
left to right - Edouard,
Mileva, Hans Albert
Shortly thereafter, however, Albert Einstein and a handful of others were to totally upset this world, changing not only the narrow understanding of physical law, but the human concept of fundamentals such as causality, time, space and the nature of matter and energy. The new understanding  of physics would make possible many of the wonders of twentieth century technology, but it would leave many philosophical problems unsolved. Both Einstein and Max Planck, who contributed materially to this brave and uncertain new world, were unwilling to accept the apparent consequences of their ideas, and Einstein spent most of his later life trying to return some order and logic to man's conception of the universe.

Many of the theoretical discoveries of Einstein, Planck and a few others arose out of several different problems and unsatisfactory explanations that were posited for known physical phenomena, which were being discovered much faster than they could be explained in the 19th century. Newton's laws and the world of causality he created were apparently very applicable to relatively large physical bodies in motion. In the 19th century however,  physicists had begun to study light, electricity and the nature of matter itself, and they were finding phenomena that required different approaches. In particular, the nature of light was problematic. Newton had posited that light was composed of corpuscles, but Maxwell was able to explain the behavior of light as waves. The oscillating waves supposedly vibrated an invisible substance called ether, analogous to the way that sound vibrated air. The inductive effect, in which a moving magnet would induce a current in an electric conductor, was explained in a similar way. However, the effect produced when the conductor moved and the magnet was stable had to be explained differently, since the magnetic lines of force were not evidently, disturbing any ether. The big problem with the ether theory is that nobody was able to provide direct evidence of the existence of the ether.  The ether was supposed to be the only thing at absolute rest in the universe. Therefore, light traveling in opposite directions relative to the rotation of the earth should travel at different speeds, but this effect could not be found, in particular, in an experiment by Michelson and Morley.

There were problems with what should have been "classical" mechanics as well. Newton's gravitational laws had been used to explain the motions of the planets, and fit quite well with most observed phenomena. They did not however, explain some very small irregularities in the orbit of the planet Mercury. These were first dismissed as measurement error, and later attributed to the influence of another, unseen, planet, named Vulcan. But there was no such planet. 

Albert Einstein's Annus Mirabilis: 1905

In a single year, 1905, at the age of 26, Albert Einstein produced several of his most remarkable works. It is therefore known as his Annus Mirabilis or Miracle Year. These works were the beginning of more than one revolution in the way physicists understood the universe. In a very important sense, they made possible much of the important scientific  progress of the 20th century.

Albert Einstein - 1905

Albert Einstein and the Photoelectric effect

The photoelectric effect is the emission of electrons from matter that has absorbed electromagnetic energy such as light or X-rays. It is the basis of devices such as the light meter in your camera and the laser. A paper by Phillip Lenard in 1901 exposed a puzzling aspect of this phenomenon. The energy of the electrons emitted would not change as a function of the intensity of the light that was directed at an object, but it would increase in response to light of shorter wavelengths.

Physicists had also been studying a complementary phenomenon- the emission of radiation by heated metals. This also had a peculiarity. Nobody was able to explain the characteristic spectra of wavelengths emitted very satisfactorily.  Max Planck did so in a paper written in 1900 and published in 1901. He found that the wave length (or energy) spectrum of the emitted electrons was not continuous. Rather the emitted electrons were to be found only at certain wavelengths. To describe this phenomenon and make the equations work, Planck introduced a constant, h, eventually known as Planck's constant. Planck believed that the constant represented only a mathematical manipulation or perhaps a quality of the electrons in a peculiar state in heated bodies.

Albert Einstein's paper on the photoelectric effect was called "On a heuristic point of view concerning the production and transformation of light." A heuristic explanation is one which is adopted because it is useful, though it is not necessarily a description of "reality." Einstein was somewhat reluctant to carry the implications of his theory to their logical conclusions. This  paper put forward the idea that the photoelectric effect and Planck's constant could be simply understood if it was assumed that light is in fact particles, or to put it more "politely," light interacts with matter as discrete "packets" or quanta of energy (later named "photons). Einstein himself recognized that this idea was "revolutionary." Eventually, this idea led to a  "dual" wave and particle theory of light.

Albert Einstein: Doctoral Dissertation

In April of 1905, almost as an afterthought, Albert Einstein published his doctoral dissertation on the size of molecules. He had deduced the size of molecules dissolved in a liquid, giving an estimate that agreed with Avogadoro's number, the size that was found for gas molecules. The thesis was accepted, and Einstein finally received his PhD. That allowed him to be advanced to a higher rank in the patent office, Technical Examiner Second Class.

Albert Einstein: Brownian Motion

Eleven days after finishing his dissertation, Albert Einstein investigated Brownian motion, the movement of tiny particles such as pollen suspended in water, or dust suspended in air. He explained the random movement of these objects as due to random bombardment by molecules, providing physical evidence in support of the atomic theory. He predicted the mean displacement of a particle with a given size at a given temperature, and when his prediction was verified soon after, the theory was accepted. A somewhat amazing aspect of the paper was the assertion that Avogadoro's number could be determined by observations made with an ordinary microscope. 

Albert Einstein: Special Relativity

Albert Einstein's next paper, "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,"  examined the problems of the nature of light, motion and electrical induction. It was to have, perhaps,  the most profound effect on physical theories of all the papers he published that year. It began, according to Einstein, by imagining what he would see were he traveling alongside a beam of light. The light, according to the wave theory, would still be oscillating, but at the same time, it would not be moving, an apparent paradox. He also considered what would happen if a person traveling at the speed of light lit a flashlight. In elaborating on the implications, he began from the postulate, first presented by Galileo, that motion is apparently invariant for persons moving or at rest. Thus, a person in a ship's cabin will find that butterflies fly in all directions, tables and chairs are motionless etc., because everything is moving together. Poincaré had again "rediscovered" this principle in 1899, naming it the relativity principle. Einstein deduced from this that all the laws of physics must be invariant regardless of motion, including the equations of James Clerk Maxwell that described the behavior of light waves. The observed speed of light would always be the same, regardless of how fast the observer was moving.

The consequences of these simple postulates were devastating to many aspects of physics and philosophy. It was no longer possible to ascertain that the same events would appear to occur simultaneously for two observers. Space and time would slow down and moving bodies would contract in the direction of motion. The theory of special relativity also did away with the notion of the luminiferous ether. However, this was a tiny consequence compared to some others. "Time" and "space" could no longer be conceived of as absolute. The same event  did not "happen" at the same time for stationary and moving observers.

Lorentz, Poincaré and Einstein had all postulated some of the most alarming and counter-intuitive aspects of relativity theory  including the increased mass, foreshortening of length in the direction of motion and time dilation that are characteristic of a moving body. These were first discussed by Lorentz in his 1899 publication. However, Einstein was the first to derive the Lorentz equations from the theory of relativity, and he did so, apparently for the first time, without reference to an "ether." Though some critics insist that Einstein "plagiarized" the work of Lorentz and Poincaré, this accusation must be considered to be absurd, as neither Lorentz nor Poincaré believed that Einstein had stolen their work.

Einstein explained the implications of the theory as follows:

The theory of relativity can be outlined in a few words. In contrast to the fact, known since ancient times, that movement is perceivable only as relative movement, physics was based on the notion of absolute movement. The study of light waves had assumed that one state of movement, that the light-carrying ether, is distinct from all others. All movements of bodies were supposed to be relative to the light-carrying ether, which was the incarnation of absolute rest. But after efforts to discover the privileged state of movement of this hypothetical ether through experiments had failed, it seemed that the problem should be restated. That is what the theory of relativity did. It assumed that there are no privileged physical states of movement and asked what consequences could be drawn from this. 

Special relativity was "special" because it applied to the special case of different observers moving at constant speeds or not at all. Einstein had wanted to call the theory the "invariance" theory, but the name "relativity," devised by others, was accepted.

There was some debate over the role of Mileva Maric in relativity theory, since Albert Einstein had written to her about "our" theory. But Maric herself never claimed any credit for the ideas. It is probable that, as their son Hans Albert stated, his mother helped to check the math, but only Einstein could provide the creative thought.

Albert Einstein: The Equivalence of Mass and Energy

After a brief pause, in September of 1905, Albert Einstein took up consideration of one more consequence of special relativity. In the paper entitled " Does the Inertia of a Body depend on Its Energy Content?" Einstein posited that energy and mass were different manifestations of the same thing, and that:

If a body gives off the energy L in the form of radiation, its mass diminishes by L/c².

where c  is the speed of light. From this it was understood (using the modern E instead of L that  the amount of energy in a given mass could be calculated by the equation:


where E= Energy, m = mass, and c = the speed of light. Since the speed of light was very large, the amount of energy in even a small quantity of matter would be huge. A kilogram of mass would convert into about 25 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. Einstein pointed out that it would perhaps be possible "to test this theory using bodies whose energy content is variable to a high degree, e.g., salts of radium." However, he did not believe, for many years, that it would be practical to derive energy by conversion of matter.

Einstein was not the first to derive this formula. The same formula had been derived in 1902 by Poincaré, but Poincaré used it as a heuristic, to treat electrodynamic radiation as a "fluid."  Einstein was apparently the first to both relate the equation to relativity, and to claim that it was a "real" relationship: that objects would actuallly lose mass when they gave off light particles. Olinto De Pretto, an Italian industrialist (or agronomer) from Schio, Vicenza, may also have published the formula one or two years earlier. According to University of Perugia historian of mathematics Umberto Bartocci, De Pretto published the mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc² on June 16, 1903 in  "Ipotesi dell’etere nella vita dell’universo" ("Hypothesis of Ether in the Life of the Universe"). The paper was included in the proceedings of the Italian scientific institute "Reale Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti" (The Royal Veneto Institute of Science, Letters and Arts), dated February 27, 1904 (Tomo LXIII, Parte II, pp. 439-500). Einstein may have learned of this work through his friend Michele Besso.  An account of the significance of De Pretto's work was published in several journals in 1999 (eg.,3604,253524,00.html ). In some cases, the accounts wrongly implied that Einstein had plagiarized the special theory of relativity from De Pretto. De Pretto, like Einstein, took the formula literally, and speculated on the huge amount of energy contained in matter. The paper, however, overestimated the amount of energy in mass, and the derivation was not related to relativity theory. It assumed the existence of the ether, as is evident from the title.

The scientific method of Albert Einstein

Textbook accounts of scientific thought claim that modern science is built by observation of empirical facts and generalizing from those facts to create a theory, or in other words, inductive reasoning. Albert Einstein's thought processes did not, apparently, follow that path. In his patent office, he was precluded from doing any experimental work, and even was unable to access the experimental results of most other physicists. However, even when such results were available, he tended to use them to test or support the conclusions that he had arrived at independently, by deduction from postulates. Albert Einstein derived the postulates by conducting "thought experiments" ("gedanken experimenten"). He said "I simply imagine it so, then go about to prove it." In essence, this method might be thought similar to the derided methods of Greek philosophers for discovering truths about the real world. The differences are that Einstein was able to work out his deductive systems with rigorous mathematics, and to offer conclusions that could be verified or disproved. Einstein was not the first to consider the problem of moving trains and synchronization of clocks, since Poincaré and others had used similar approaches.

Albert Einstein achieves some recognition

Few took notice of Einstein's papers in the Annalen der Physik. However, one of the editors, who had read Einstein's papers, was Max Planck, already well recognized for his work on black body radiation. Planck supported the relativity theory and gave a lecture on it at the University of Berlin in 1906, giving Albert Einstein a measure of renown. Einstein continued to publish 6 or 7 papers a year while working at the patent office. In 1907, he applied for the post of Privatdozent in Berne, but in view of his copious scientific publications, declined to write a required unpublished "habilitation" thesis. He was therefore refused the post. In 1908 he applied again, swallowed his pride, wrote the thesis and was granted a post.

Albert Einstein was soon considered for the post of professor of theoretical physics at the University of Zurich. However, he was initially considered a poor lecturer. Only after demonstrating that he could give a proper lecture was Einstein given the post. Einstein's career in Zurich, as elsewhere, was marred by anti-Semitism. The faculty of Zurich university produced the following memorable letter, redolent of Swiss tolerance and progressive sympathies, after being assured by Einstein's sponsor, Professor Kleiner, that Einstein was not "that kind of Jew.":

The expressions of our colleague Kleiner, based on several years of personal contact, were all the more valuable for the committee as well as for the faculty as a whole, since Herr Dr. Einstein is an Israelite and since precisely to the Israelites among scholars are ascribed (in numerous cases not without cause) all kinds of unpleasant peculiarities of character, such as intrusiveness, impudence, and a shopkeeper's mentality in the perception of their academic position. It should be said, however, that also among the Israelites there exist men who do not exhibit a trace of these disagreeable qualities and that it is not proper, therefore, to disqualify a man only because he happens to be a Jew...

This was not the last time that anti-Semitism was to intrude on Einstein's life, though he did not know of these particular considerations. .

In the same year, 1909, Albert Einstein delivered an important address at the Salzburg Naturforscher conference, in which he posited that radiation must henceforth be treated both as particle emissions and as waves. Both he and Max Planck were disturbed at the implications of quantum theory, but neither could offer a satisfactory alternative.

In 1911, Albert Einstein accepted a position as Professor of Theoretical Physics at Prague, but returned to Zurich in 1912. He was averse to returning to Germany.  However, in 1914 he received an offer he could hardly refuse: he was appointed Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Physical Institute and Professor in the University of Berlin. He resumed his German citizenship in 1914, and found himself and his family caught in the maelstrom of the first World War. .

Albert Einstein: General Theory of Relativity

The special theory of relativity was not entirely satisfactory, since it held only for the case of constant velocity. Besides, Einstein wanted a theory that would unite gravity and magnetism, if he could achieve it. In 1907, while sitting in his chair at the patent office, it occurred to Albert Einstein that a person in free fall would experience a gravity-free condition. This led him to the postulate that gravity and acceleration are equivalent. For the Yearbook of Radioactivity and Electronics of 1907, Einstein added the following to his article on relativity:

So far we have applied the principle of relativity, i.e., the assumption that the physical laws are independent of the state of motion of the reference system, only to nonaccelerated reference systems. Is it conceivable that the principle of relativity also applies to systems that are accelerated relative to each other? 

While this is not the place for a detailed discussion of this question, it will occur to anybody who has been following the applications of the principle of relativity. Therefore I will not refrain from taking a stand on this question here.

Then Einstein introduced what he would later call the "equivalence principle".  He considered two systems ?1 and ?2 , where the former moves with acceleration ? and the latter is at rest in a homogeneous gravitational field, that exerts a force equivalent to the acceleration. He asserted that there is no physical experiment one could do to tell the two systems apart:

As far as we know, the physical laws with respect to ?1 do not differ from those with respect to ?2 ; this is based on the fact that all bodies are equally accelerated in the gravitational field. At our present state of experience we have thus no reason to assume that the systems ?1 and ?2 differ from each other in any respect, and in the discussion that follows, we shall therefore assume the complete physical equivalence of a gravitational field and a corresponding acceleration of the reference system.

Einstein went on to discuss the implication for time and other effects in the two systems. However, it took another 9 years to work out the mathematical proof of the equivalence principle and the general theory of relativity. The laws he was looking for would, in addition to upholding the equivalence principle, have to reduce to Newton's laws for the special case of weak and static gravity, and would likewise need to conform with other physical laws. For several years, he left this aspect of relativity as he was busy with implications of quantum mechanics, but in 1911 he returned to it. One aspect of his theory was that light should be bent by gravity. He predicted that during an eclipse, it would be possible to observe bending of starlight by the sun with a deflection of 0.83 seconds (an arc second is 1/3600 of a degree).  Erwin Finlay Freundlich, a young astronomer, undertook to verify this prediction during the next eclipse, but his efforts were frustrated.

Though Einstein had previously neglected mathematics, he now turned to his friend Marcel Grossman, for help in finding mathematical formulae that would allow description of the gravitational field. Grossmann and Einstein utilized the work of Riemann, Ricci and others on tensors, to show that gravity is the result of curvature of spacetime. Unfortunately, they ran into a snag in developing the mathematics, and Einstein reverted to a physical explanation instead. By May of 1913, Einstein and Grossman thought they had a passable basis for the theory, published as "Outline of a Generalized Theory of Relativity and of a Theory of Gravitation," known as the Entwurf, which means "outline" in German. Unfortunately, subsequently Einstein and his friend Michele Besso found several faults with this Entwurf. In particular, it did not correctly predict the deviations in the orbit of Mercury from the course predicted by Newtonian physics, and the equations were not covariant, meaning that the laws of physics would not be the same for an observer at constant velocity as it would be for one who was being accelerated or traveling at different speeds. In July of 1914, Freundlich set out with an expedition to observe the upcoming eclipse in the Crimea, in order to find experimental verification for Einstein's prediction. However, before the eclipse took place, World War I broke out. Freundlich and his colleagues were enemy aliens. They were taken prisoner, though they were released in the first prisoner exchange.

While this was unfortunate for poor Freundlich, it was not so unfortunate for Einstein, as his equations were incorrect. During the latter part of 1915, he returned to the mathematical modeling and eventually realized that the equations he had discarded earlier were close to the correct solution. At the same time, the mathematician and physicist David Hilbert was developing a solution of his own. A race developed between Einstein and Hilbert. Both published their results at the end of November. In fact, Hilbert's version was a few days earlier than Einstein's. But upon examination, it turned out that Hilbert's original version was incorrect, and he had introduced revisions in his paper on December 16 to incorporate some of Einstein's critical work. Hilbert never claimed credit for the theory itself, though apparently he may deserve some credit for the formalization of the theory into mathematical equations.

Einstein's new formulation predicted that star light would be bent 1.7 arc seconds by the Sun, about twice the value he had previously predicted and twice what would be predicted by Newtonian theory. Since the experimental results would decide between Newtonian and Einsteinian gravitational theories, they assumed even more importance. In 1919, the British astronomers Arthur Eddington and Frank Dyson mounted an expedition to Brazil, where they measured the bending of starlight during a solar eclipse. The numbers observed were between 0.86 and 1.98 arc seconds. The low value may have been due to a defective instrument. Eddington believed that the results confirmed Einstein's theory, and in fact, subsequent measurements showed that to be the case.

The confirmation of Einstein's predictions by Eddington presently turned Albert Einstein into a world class celebrity. At the meeting of the Royal Society that discussed the results, J.J. Thompson declared, "The result is one of the greatest achievements of human thought." A headline in the Times of London proclaimed:


New Theory of the Universe


The New York Times proclaimed, a day later:




Men of Science More or Less

Agog Over Results of Eclipse



Stars Not Where They Seemed

or Were  Calculated  to  be,

but Nobody Need Worry.


No  more  in  All  the  World  Could

Comprehend  it,  Said  Einstein When

His  Daring  Publishers  Accepted  it.

Einstein later denied that only twelve people in the world could comprehend his theory, but the idea that it was particularly abstruse remained stuck in the popular conception. The General Theory of Relativity was undoubtedly Einstein's greatest achievement, and has been called "probably the greatest scientific discovery ever made" by Nobel prize winning physicist Paul Dirac.

Einstein missed two very important predictions of the General theory of relativity, however. The first was the prediction in 1916 Karl l Schwartzschild, director of the Potsdam observatory, that under certain conditions collapsing starts would form a mass so dense that gravitation would cause spacetime to curve infinitely into itself. This situation, Einstein was convinced, was an impossibility. In the 1960s, Freeman Dyson, Kip Thorne, John Wheeler and others showed that such "black holes" are really a feature of Einstein's theory, and numerous black holes have been discovered.

The second prediction concerned the steady state of the universe. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity did not predict a steady state universe, but rather one that should be contracting. Einstein added a constant to ensure that the universe would remain at a fixed size. Later however, it became apparent that the universe is in fact expanding.    

The Pacifism of Albert Einstein in World War I

Albert Einstein resisted the temptation that had ensnared other German academics, particular German Jews, to become advocates for war, and in fact he spoke out against the war in Germany to the extent that it was wise to do so. In November of 1914. Einstein published a three page essay titled "My Opinion of the War." He wrote that there was "a biologically determined feature of the male character" that was greatly responsible for wars. The Goethe League was circumspect enough to delete a few passages that might have gotten Einstein into trouble. Einstein advocated a world organization that had the power to police member nations. Einstein was not a politician, however, he took moral stands on issues such as pacifism, socialism and Zionism, and, especially in the case of Zionism, became involved in the cause, as we shall see. Because his approach to these questions, like his approach to all questions, was always unconventional, it was frequently misunderstood or deliberately misinterpreted. 

Divorce and Remarriage

The Einsteins became progressively estranged from each other, mostly through the indifference of Albert Einstein and his absorption in his work, but also apparently, due to the moodiness of his wife. For several years Albert Einstein tried unsuccessfully to obtain a divorce, as he had taken up with his cousin Elsa. Mileva Einstein would not grant a divorce however until the end of 1918, when Albert made an extraordinary offer. He wrote that he was sure to win the Nobel prize, and he would give her the entire sum. Mileva agreed, and in June of 1919, Albert Einstein married his cousin Elsa. Einstein was troubled for a long time by the difficulties Mileva put in the way of seeing his children and caring for them. Edouard became increasingly ill and had to be hospitalized. Einstein quarreled with Hans Albert both over his marriage and over his choice of career as an engineer. Later in life, when both lived in the United States, they were reconciled.

Popular Distortions of Relativity Theory

The name "Relativity" was unfortunate, in many ways. People who knew neither mathematics or physics fancied they could make the new theory fit their pet ideas about science. Most people were not capable of understanding the philosophical concepts, the physics or the math behind this theory. They read popular accounts that distorted the findings. Even worse, some people did not understand the limits of their own understanding, and attempted to deduce irrelevant percepts of morality from the physical arguments of relativity, such as moral relativism. Albert Einstein was not a moral relativist and his scientific theories had no relation to ethics. He did have strong moral beliefs that he separated from scientific theories, but not from the applications of science, and he had a belief in a supreme being that made him rebel against the randomness in nature that seemed to be implied by quantum mechanics.

In England, Lord Haldane published a book called "The Reign of Relativity," in which he claimed that Einstein's theory supported his own crusade against dogmatism in society and religion. He warned the archbishop of Canterbury that relativity would have great implications for theology. Haldane invited Albert Einstein to England, and hosted a grand dinner with the greatest British intellectuals. He seated Einstein next to the archbishop, who asked him what implications the theory of relativity might have for religion.

Einstein replied, "None. Relativity is a purely scientific matter and has nothing to do with religion."

Of course, that reply, and the fact that it was precisely true, did not stop those who insisted on exploring the so-called moral and political "implications" of relativity. Relativity theory has implications for epistemology and some other branches of philosophy, but no direct implications for ethics or theology of the kind that are often imputed to it. 

Albert Einstein accused of Plagiarism

There are periodically, accusations that Einstein plagiarized his work from others. Credit for general relativity is claimed by Harry Bateman, a British mathematician, and others have pointed out that elements of Einstein's special theory of relativity are contained in the work of Lorenz, Poincaré, and various others as discussed above.  Lorentz would hardly have recommended Einstein for a Nobel prize had he thought that Einstein had plagiarized his own work or that of Poincaré, and therefore the accusations are absurd.

Another figure who his sometimes portrayed as having been "plagiarized" by Einstein is Soldner. Johann Georg von Soldner, a German mathematician and physicist, is credited correctly with the idea that light would be bent by heavy objects. Soldner indeed calculated the deflection of light from Newtonian mechanics in 1801. The proposition followed from the corpuscular theory of light, but as these corpuscles were assumed to be mass-less, as photons are, that aspect of Newtonian mechanics had been ignored. However, Soldner's prediction was in line with Newton's theory. Like Albert Einstein's earlier erroneous prediction, it gave a value of 2M/r, half the value of 4M/r predicted by the corrected derivation of general relativity published in 1916. The point of the Eddington experiment was to decide between the Newtonian and Einsteinian predictions. The Einsteinian predictions have since been confirmed by gravitational lenses, which demonstrate the bending of light by heavy bodies in space, as well as by additional eclipse measurements.

In the 1870s, S. Tolver Preston, a British speculative philosopher, had proposed in his "Physics of the Ether," that energy contained in matter is proportional to the speed of light squared. Preston's speculations however, also derived many "entities" and conclusions that apparently do not exist. He insisted on the existence of the ether. Preston's ether was not the empty one of conventional physics. He populated the ether with gas particles moving at the speed of light, and even calculated a gas pressure for these particles, none of which corresponds to an observable reality. 

The plagiarism accusations are sometimes made by well meaning people who do not understand how scientific thinking is built on the accumulated work, suggestions and speculations of others. Lucretius had described "atomic swerve" 2,000 years ago, but nobody would claim that Planck, Schrodinger, Bohr and Heisenberg "plagiarized" the uncertainty principle or quantum mechanics from Lucretius!

Many of the plagiarism accusations against Einstein are unfortunately accompanied by anti-Semitism and attacks on his Zionism, as well as accusations that he was a communist. Equally, there are a number of works who attempt to prove that Einstein was an anti-Zionist.

Albert Einstein and Zionism: I

Einstein was born into an assimilationist Jewish family, but the anti-Semitism of his environment, especially in Germany, made him more and more aware of his Jewishness. He is said to have variously remarked or wrote

"..if I am right, the Germans will say I was a German and the French will say I was a Jew. If I am wrong, the Germans will say I was a Jew and the French will say I was a German." (quoted in Time,9171,741797-2,00.html)

"If the relativity theory will be proven true, the Germans will say I am a German, the Swiss I am a Swiss and the French that I am a great man. If not, the Germans will call me Swiss, the Swiss will call me German, and the French will say I am a Jew."

etc. in many variations. It is very likely that he said or wrote the same thing in many different ways.

Something like that seems to have indeed happened. As Albert Einstein was indisputably a success, Americans have claimed him as their own, the Nobel foundation has carefully downplayed the role of anti-Semitism and narrow mindedness in denying him honors he deserved, and anti-Zionists have tried to downplay or deny the fact that Einstein was a Zionist, and have quoted his criticisms of extreme nationalism and of Zionist excesses out of context. To correct this injustice to Albert Einstein's beliefs and memory, this modest biography will emphasize Einstein's role in the Zionist movement, which began in the early 1920s and continued until the very day he died, when he was preparing an address to be delivered on Israeli radio, on the anniversary of Israeli independence. A wonderful Web site has documented Einstein's devotion to Zionism as well as providing a capsule history of the Zionist movement: Albert Einstein's Zionism. See also: Albert Einstein and Zionism

At the conclusion of World War I, Einstein was horrified by the barbarity and butchery, but the The Balfour Declaration had given him hope. He wrote to his friend Paul Ehrenfest:

I'm very disillusioned with politics right now. Those countries [the Allied powers] whose victory I thought, during the war, would be by far the lesser evil, now show themselves to be an only slightly lesser evil. On top of that, there's the thoroughly dishonorable domestic politics: the reactionaries with all their shameful deeds in repulsive revolutionary disguise. One doesn't know where to look to take pleasure in human striving. What makes me happiest is the [prospective] realization of a Jewish state in Palestine. It seems to me that our brethren [Stammgenossenen] really are nicer [sympathische] (at least less brutal) than these awful [scheuslichen] Europeans. Maybe it can only get better if the Chinese alone survive; they lump all Europeans together as 'bandits.'

Letter to Paul Ehrenfest
March 22, 1919
Physics Today , April 2005
Translated and annotated by Bertram Schwarzschild

Kurt Blumenfeld recruited Einstein to Zionism in 1919, though not without difficulty. Albert Einstein was very much for assertion of Jewish rights, but this conflicted with his lifelong opposition to militant nationalism. Blumenfeld quoted him as saying:

I  am against nationalism but in favor of Zionism [Blumenfeld quotes Einstein as having told him]. The reason has become clear to me today. When a man has both arms and he is always saying I have a right arm, then he is a chauvinist. However, when the right arm is missing, then he must do something to make up for the missing limb. Therefore, I am, as a human being, an opponent of nationalism. But as a Jew I am from today a supporter of the Jewish Zionist efforts. Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, World Publishing (1971) p. 378.

In October of 1919, he wrote to physicist Paul Epstein:

Zionist cause is very close to my heart…. I am very confident of the happy development of the Jewish colony and am glad that there should be a tiny speck on this earth in which the members of our tribe should not be aliens….

One can be internationally minded, without renouncing interest in one's tribal comrades.

Einstein was soon moved to support Zionism even more firmly, by increasing attacks on Jews and on himself personally in Germany. In 1920, a shady nationalist named Paul Weyland, and Ernst Gehrcke, a physicist began agitating against Einstein and the "Jewish nature" of relativity theory. They were supported in part by the Nobel Laureate Philipp Lenard, whose work had been an inspiration for Einstein's earlier papers. Weyland and Gehrcke called a mass meeting to denounce Einstein. With characteristic courage, Einstein attended the meeting. Later, he wrote a scathing and not-too-judicious rebuttal of Weyland and Gehrcke, which also attacked Lenard.

In the same year, Albert Einstein was asked to address an assimilationist organization of "Germans of the Jewish Faith." He rebuffed them rather bruskly. In rebuffing them, he wrote that efforts of assimilationist Jews to put aside everything Jewish appear somewhat comical to a non-Jew, because the Jews are a people apart. "The psychological root of anti-Semitism lies in the fact that the Jews are group of people unto themselves. Their Jewishness is visible in their physical appearance, and one notices their Jewish heritage in their intellectual work." (cited in Isaacson, 2007 p 283).

He also wrote, and later quoted in his own book:

Before we can effectively combat anti-Semitism, we must first of all educate ourselves out of it... Only when we have the courage to regard ourselves as a nation, only when we respect ourselves, can we win the respect of others; or rather, the respect of others will then come of itself.  ( Einstein, About Zionism, MacMillan,1931, p. 33)

Chaim Weizmann met Albert Einstein and the two scientists became good friends. Einstein was enlisted to help raise funds for the creation of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. To make the trip, Einstein cancelled many scheduled lectures, including an invitation to the famed Solvay conference. He wrote to friends about this trip.

To Maurice Solovine:

 I am not at all eager to go to America but am doing it only in the interests of the Zionists, who must beg for dollars to build educational institutions in Jerusalem and for whom I act as high priest and  decoy...

I do what I can to help those in my tribe who are treated so badly everywhere.
Ronald W Clark Einstein: The Life and Times , p. 3834

To Friedrich Zangger, he wrote on March 14, 1921:

On Saturday I'm off to America - not to speak at universities (though there will probably be that, too, on the side) but rather to help in the founding of the Jewish University in Jerusalem. I feel an intense need to do something for this cause. ( Letter to Zangger, In Einstein, Albert,  Albert Einstein, The Human Side (Hofmann, Banesh and Dukas, Helen, eds.) Princeton University Press, p 62). 

Chaim Weizmann, Albert Einstein and their party traveled by ship and the two got to know each other. Weizmann supposedly remarked, "Every day he explained his theory to me, and now I am convinced that he understands it." They arrived in New York to begin what would be a very long and famous tour.

Albert Einstein arrives in New York with Zionist Delegation
Arriving in New York: (L to R): Menachem Ussishkin, Chaim
Weizmann, (either Vera Weizmann or Margot Einstein)
 Albert Einstein, Elsa Einstein and Ben Zion Messensohn
Einstein and his companions were driven through
New York in an open car motorcade, horns blaring.

Einstein got most of the attention on this tour. In every city, large crowds turned out to see the famous man, usually ignoring Weizmann and the Zionist cause. The tour was a great triumph for the modest Einstein, but the Zionist caused raised only $750,000, well short of their goal of $4,000,000. Common people contributed gladly, but rich Jews were far less willing to support Zionism. Albert Einstein did however, convince a group of Jewish physicians to buy land for the site of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, and to pay for outfitting a laboratory. Einstein also delivered a number of lectures at different universities, including Columbia and Princeton. At Princeton he was confronted with new experimental evidence that seemed to support the existence of the ether, overturning his theory. But he was sure of his work, and remarked, "Subtle is the Lord, but malicious he is not," he told Ostwald Veblen.  In German, he had said, Raffiniert ist der Herrgott aber boshaft ist er nicht.’ He typically used "the Lord" or God, as a metaphor for nature and the natural order, but Einstein did not believe in the ordinary conception of a personal or anthropomorphic diety. Veblen later asked permission to use this quote on the mantle of the fireplace of the common room of a new Mathematics building at Princeton. Einstein was happy to grant permission, and he explained what he meant: "Nature hides her secret because of her essential loftiness, but not by means of ruse." In the original German, he wrote, "Die Natur verbirgt ihr Geheimnis durch die Erhabenheit ihres Wesens, aber nicht durch List.”

While in the United States, Einstein was invited to the White House, where he met President Harding. For some reason, Congress also decided to debate the theory of relativity. The anti-Semitism however, followed him across the Atlantic. Henry Ford's Dearborn Independent headlined, "Is Einstein a Plagiarist?"

At the conclusion of the trip, Albert Einstein wrote to his friend Michele Besso:

Two frightfully exhausting months now lie behind me, but I have the great satisfaction of having been very useful to the cause of Zionism and of having assured the foundation of the university...

It is a wonder I was able to hold out. But now it is over, and there remains the beautiful feeling of having done something truly good... (Einstein: A Centenary Volume Harvard U Press (1979) p 203)

Albert Einstein and the Assassination of Walther Rathenau

The German Foreign Minister, Walther Rathenau, was an assimilated Jew. His views on internationalism and human rights were similar to those of Einstein, though they disagreed on the Jewish question, Zionism and assimilation. They became close friends. Einstein told him over dinner, after reading his book on politics, "I saw with astonishment and joy how extensive a meeting of minds there is between out outlooks on life. Einstein introduced him to Weizmann and to Blumenfeld, hoping to convert him to Zionism, but without success. In 1922, Rathenau, who believed in German compliance with allied demands, negotiated the treated of Rappallo with the Soviets. This earned him the opprobrium of the Nazis as a member of the "Jewish-communist conspiracy." On June 24, 1922, Rathenau was assassinated by Nazis. Einstein, and much of Germany, mourned Rathenau.

Later, Einstein was to say:

I can remember very well the time when Jews in Germany laughed over Palestine. I remember, when I spoke with Rathenau about Palestine, he said: 'Why go to this land that is only sand and worth nothing and which can never be developed?' This was his idea. But, if he had not been murdered, he probably would now be in Palestine. You can therefore see that the development of Palestine is of real tremendous importance for all of Jewry. At a 1940 testimonial dinner to Einstein, given by the friends of the Haifa Technion, Institute of Technology, quoted in Abraham Pais, Einstein Lived Here, Clarendon Press, Oxford U Press, 1994, pg 248

Einstein was profoundly shaken, and officials and friends warned him to guard his life. Hitler had already attacked Einstein and "Jewish science." Einstein's name appeared on hit lists prepared by Nazis. Officials advised him to leave Berlin or avoid public appearances. For a time he moved to Kiel. Inexplicably, he remained in Berlin for another decade. Meanwhile however, he decided to embark on a tour of Asia and Palestine. He knew when he embarked on this tour, that it would force him to miss the presentation ceremony of the Nobel prize for 1922, which he had been more or less informed, in September of 1922, that he would receive.

In Singapore, Einstein was greeted by the Jewish community and raised money for the Hebrew University.

He said:

If science is pre-eminent through its universal predomination, then one may ask, why do we need a Jewish University? Science is international but its success is based on institutions which are owned by nations. If therefore, we wish to promote culture we have to combine and to organize institutions with our own power and means. We need to do this all the more on account of the present political developments and especially in the view of the fact that a large percentage of our sons are refused admission to the Universities of other nations. Einstein in Singapore Joan Bieder in On The Page Web magazine issue no. 1, winter 2000–2001

In Japan, he embarked on a grueling lecture tour. Einstein was favorably impressed by the Japanese, who seemed to him a quiet, orderly and respectful people who loved art and beauty.

Albert Einstein in Palestine

Arriving in Palestine, the Einstein's were treated to, or rather underwent, a round of official festivities organized both by Zionists and the mandatory government. Einstein was made an honorary citizen of Tel Aviv, gave the very first lecture at the as yet unbuilt Hebrew University, and visited Haifa, where he planted two trees in the Technion and met with workers.

Albert Einstein delivered the inaugural lecture of the Hebrew University. He also undertook to edit the university's first scientific journal. Along with Sigmund Freud, Ehad Ha'am, Judah Magnes and others, Einstein was a member of the first board of governors of the Hebrew University.

He began his speech in Hebrew, but continued in German, as his Hebrew was unequal to the task. Later he wrote:

I consider this the greatest day of my life. Hitherto I have always found something to regret in the Jewish soul, and that is the forgetfulness of its own people -- forgetfulness of its being, almost. Today I have been made happy by the sight of the Jewish people learning to recognize themselves and to make themselves recognized as a force in the world. This is a great age, the age of liberation of the Jewish soul, and it has been accomplished through the Zionist movement, so that no one in the world will be able to destroy it. (Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, World Publishing (1971) pg 393)


Albert Einstein delivers the inaugural lecture of the Hebrew University

Albert Einstein receives honorary citizenship of Tel Aviv, February, 1923

"I have already had the privilege of of receiving honorary citizenship of the City of New York, but I am tenfold happier to be a citizen of this beautiful Jewish town "

February 8 diary entry on Tel Aviv:

"The accomplishments of the Jews in just a few years in this city arouses the highest admiration.. An incredibly active people, our Jews... "

Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, World Publishing (1971) pg 394

Albert Einstein receives honorary citizenship of Tel Aviv

Einstein with Jewish workers in Haifa, 1923 Einstein with Jewish workers in Haifa, February, 1923

We like our brethren in Palestine very much as peasants, workers and as citizens... On the whole, the country is not very fertile. It will become a moral center, but will not be able to take in a large proportion of the Jewish people. I am convinced, however, that the colonization will succeed. Einstein to Maurice Solovine, 1923, in Lettres a Maurice Solovine (Paris: Gauthier-Villars, 1956), pg. 4

Albert Einstein Planting Trees in the Technion, Palestine
Albert Einstein at Augusta Victoria with
High Commissioner Herbert Samuel
Albert Einstein Planting Trees
in Palestine

Albert Einstein and the Nobel Prize

Albert Einstein had been nominated for the Nobel prize beginning in 1910, by Nobel laureate Wilhelm Ostwald, who had nine years earlier turned down Einstein's appeal for a job. However, the conservative Swedes were reluctant to award a prize for theoretical work, that had not been proven by experimental measurement, despite the entreaties of world-renowned scientists. The measurement of the bending of light waves by Eddington in 1919 removed that objection. Now, however, there was a different problem. Einstein's nomination for 1920 was proposed by Planck, Lorentz and Neils Bohr, who was to become a lifelong friend. Lorentz's letter asserted, with some understatement that Einstein "has placed himself in the first rank of physicists of all times." 

Einstein's success and world renown, had aroused jealousy. Not only was he Jewish, but he had defied the entire stodgy academic system, which had initially rejected him as a rebel. Cast aside by academia, Einstein had produced the first several of his revolutionary theories from his desk in the patent office. Arrhenius, was appointed to perform an academic "hatchet job." He found that the eclipse results were "ambiguous" and cited critiques by the anti-Semite Ernst Gehrcke, one of the organizers of the anti-Einstein rally. Phillip Lenard was also pushing to prevent Einstein from getting the award. Instead, the 1920 Nobel prize award went to a virtual nonentity, Charles-Edouard Gillaume, director of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures. His great contribution was to make standard measures somewhat more precise.

In 1921, the support for Einstein was even stronger. Eddington wrote, "Einstein stands above his contemporaries even as Newton did." Albert Einstein received 14 nominations for the prize. Again, the Nobel committee decided on a hatchet job, appointing an opthalmologist, Allvar Gullstrand, to oversee the nomination. A Nobel laureate for medicine, who got the prize for precision optical measuring instrumentation, Gullstrand knew little of relativity physics nor mathematics, and wrote fifty pages of rubbish in criticism of Einstein's general theory of relativity. This time, the academy decided to nominate nobody at all. 

In 1922 however, a theoretical physicist, Carl Wilhelm Oseen, had joined the committee. Oseen understood that the committee could not be convinced to award the prize for the relativity theory, as it had already committed itself on this question. Therefore, he conceived of the idea that Einstein should be awarded the prize for the "photoelectric effect." The idea was to package Einstein's theory of photoelectric emission as a "law," which was the sort of thing that the Nobel academy could support. Oseen also had the inspiration to award Einstein the prize that was not awarded in 1921, and at the same time, to award the Nobel prize for physics in 1922 to Niels Bohr, for his model of the atom. True to his promise, Einstein turned the money over to a trust fund for Meliva, Hans Albert and Edouard Einstein.

Albert Einstein: Theoretical work in the 1920s

Einstein was forty years old in 1919, past the age of great discoveries for most physicists and mathematicians. He had written to a friend:

Anything truly novel is invented only during one's youth, Later one becomes more experienced, more famous--and more blockheaded.  (Isaacson, 2007, p 316)

And he explained:

The intellect gets crippled, but glittering renown is still draped around the calcified shell.  (Isaacson, 2007, p 316)

He noted:

To punish me for my contempt of authority, Fate has made me an authority myself. (Isaacson, 2007, p 317)

And indeed, he became more conservative. He began to reinsert a modified version of the ether theory into the physical world, and he completely rebelled against the randomness of quantum mechanics, even while he himself was still making fundamental contributions the that branch of science.

Einstein had toyed with Bohr's atomic theory, and wrote several papers, of which the most important was "On the Quantum Theory of Radiation," published in 1917. Einstein proposed a simple idea. Each light quantum observed by Planck represented a change in energy by an electron in Bohr's atom. Atoms absorbed radiation, forcing them to a higher energy state, and then they would emit photons, causing them to jump back down to a lower state. Einstein also had the idea that if many electrons absorbed a lot of energy, they could all be made to jump down at once, emitting a beam of light. This principle became the basis of the laser.

The problem was, that the direction of the photon could not be predicted, and the precise time when it would be emitted could not be predicted either, no matter how much information was available. The strict causality and predictability of Newtonian physics were seemingly at an end, but Albert Einstein refused to accept the verdict. He later wrote to Max Born:

 "I find the idea quite intolerable that an electron exposed to radiation should choose of its own free will not only its moment to jump off, but also its direction. In that case, I would rather be a cobbler, or even an employee of a gaming house, rather than a physicist." (Isaacson, 2007, p 324)

Niels Bohr met Einstein for the first time in Berlin in 1920. The two men became close friends, and would argue incessantly about the problems created by the new theoretical framework. Einstein visited Bohr in Copenhagen in 1922, after his Nobel acceptance speech. The two rode back and forth on a streetcar, and kept missing their stop because they were so engrossed in their discussions. They each retained both their opposing viewpoints, and their great affection for the other. Bohr would go about muttering "Einstein, Einstein Einstein." On one occasion when he was doing so, Einstein showed up unexpectedly in his office. Einstein kept repeating that God would not play dice with the universe, and Bohr countered once,

"Einstein, stop telling God what to do."  (Bohr to Einstein, Isaacson, 2007, p 326)

This famous remark of Einstein has sometimes been misunderstood as a religious observation. As with his other remarks about "Herrgott," all he meant by it was that nature could not operate in a random way. Indeed, perhaps it was hard to grasp how, if electrons and other particles could act in a random way, one could be certain that matter would not "decide" at any moment, to come apart completely. 

The disorderly state of physics was soon to become more disorderly. Louis de Broglie proposed that electrons could be treated as waves, in the same way that Einstein had proposed that light waves could be treated as particles. Matter was now not only unpredictable, it was beginning to vanish.

Einstein himself contributed to the chaos of physics, by accepting and elaborating on the work of Satyendra Nath Bose. Bose stated that any two photons that had the same energy state were absolutely indistinguishable and must be treated as one for statistical calculations. This was bad enough, but at least photons do not have mass. They are not "real matter." But Einstein extended the same reasoning to quantum particles. He also did some statistical calculations which showed that a gas of quantum particles could condense into a liquid even if the particles were not attracted to each other, a phenomenon later known as Bose-Einstein condensation.

From his application of the wave theory to particles, Einstein made the unsettling prediction that a beam of gas molecules passed through a double slit, as in the Thomas Young experiment with light, would produce an interference pattern. The prediction was correct.

Max Born wrote, "Einstein is thereby clearly involved in the foundation of wave mechanics, and no alibi can disprove it."  (Isaacson, 2007, p 329)  

Refinements by Erwin Schrodinger and Werner Heisenberg seemed to reduce all of reality to waves of probability in nothingness. Worse, in 1927 Werner Heisenberg proposed his principle of indeterminacy or uncertainty principle, according to which one could know either the position or the momentum of a particle, such as an electron, with absolute certainty, but not both, because the act of observation would affect the results. Heisenberg asserted that this was not just a matter of observation, but from the philosophical point of view, it represented "real" reality.

Meanwhile, however, Einstein had embarked on a new path that was to prove, apparently to be a sterile obsession. Beginning in 1923, he devoted most of his time and effort to developing a unified field theory, that would unite electro-magnetism and gravity and hopefully thereby banish the devilish quantum and its uncertainty from physics.

At the Solvay conference of 1927, most of the world's greatest physicists, perhaps the greatest physicists of all times, had gathered to discuss the implications of quantum mechanics. Einstein kept challenging Bohr and his followers with clever thought experiments, but he could not shake he foundations of quantum mechanics. He said:

"One cannot make a theory out of a lot of maybes. Deep down it is wrong, even if it is empirically and logically right."(Isaacson, 2007, p 345)

Again at the 1930 Solvay conference, the same same arguments and refutations persisted. Einstein would not give up. The actual problem at the bottom of the arguments was not an abstruse issue of wave mechanics, but a fundamental question of philosophy. Quantum mechanics, at least in the Copenhagen interpretation, asserted literally that the "real world" was only a product of our perceptions, strictly in line with Humean empiricism. The business of physics could only be to describe what we can perceive about nature. Einstein could not not accept that. He declared:

Belief in an external world independent of the perceiving subject is the basis of all natural science. (Isaacson, 2007, p 349)


Albert Einstein and the Cosmological Constant

Men had wondered whether the universe extended infinitely, or was closed and bounded. What could lie beyond the boundaries of "everything?" Typically, Einstein's answer was that the universe was both closed and infinite. The General Theory of Relativity posited a closed, infinite universe. That is, the universe, according to the theory, curves around on itself in spacetime, so that if one were to travel far enough, one would arrive back at the same place. However, there is no "outer bound" or edge. Was this universe expanding or contracting? At the time, "the universe" consisted of the galaxy known as the milky way and some blurry regions beyond. Einstein initially posited that the universe was in a steady state, in keeping with then-known astronomical data. As the stars were not moving and had no momentum, he found it necessary to insert a "cosmological constant" to keep gravity from collapsing the universe on itself.

However, beginning in 1924, the astronomer Edwin Hubble had discovered more and more galaxies, farther and farther away, using the powerful telescope of the Mt. Wilson observatory. The universe was much bigger than had been thought.  More disturbing, the light from the farthest stars showed a distinct red shift, indicating that the galaxies were moving away from the earth in all directions at tremendous speed. Einstein could now remove the cosmological constant from his equations. Today however, this term is reappearing in some physics discussions, as a means of describing the mysterious force that causes the continued expansion of the universe. In 1931, Einstein visited the United States and among other places, visited Hubble at the Mt. Wilson Observatory, meeting Michelson and playing with the giant telescope.

Albert Einstein and Zionism II

In 1929, Albert Einstein attended the 16th Zionist congress. Like so many of us, he could never make up his mind if "Zionist" should apply only to those living in Palestine, or also to those Jews living abroad who supported the idea of Zionism. At the congress, he spoke of ""the brave and dedicated minority who call themselves Zionists" and of "we others." Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, World Publishing (1971) pg 401].

But when a Weimar Minister, Willy Helpach, criticized Zionism as a "nationalist" movement, Einstein responded:

I have read your article on Zionism and feel, as a strong devotee of the Zionist idea, that I must answer you... I realized that only a common enterprise dear to the heart of Jews all over the world could restore this people to health...It was the great achievement of Herzl's to have realized and proclaimed... the establishment of a national home, or more accurately, a center in Palestine...

All this you call nationalism... But a communal purpose, without which we can neither live nor die in this hostile world, can always be called by that ugly name. In any case it is a nationalism whose aim not power but dignity and health.If we didn't have to live among intolerant, narrow minded and violent people, I would be the first to discard all nationalism in favor of a universal humanity

Letter to Professor Hellpach, published in Mein Weltbild (The World as I See It), 1934  

Following the Arab riots of 1929 Einstein rallied to the cause of the Zionist project, threatened by the British White Paper, and identified the Grand Mufti, Hajj Amin Al Husseini as the main instigator.

Does public opinion in Great Britain realise that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who is the centre of an the trouble, and speaks so loudly in the name of all the Moslems, is a young political adventurer of not much more, I understand, than thirty years of age, who in 1920 was sentenced to several years' imprisonment for his complicity in the riots of that year, but was pardoned under the terms of an amnesty?   The mentality of this man may be gauged from a recent statement he gave to an interviewer accusing me, of all men, of having demanded the rebuilding of the Temple on the site of the Mosque of Omar.   Is it tolerable that, in a country where ignorant fanaticism can so easily be incited to rapine and murder by interested agitators, so utterly irresponsible and unscrupulous a politician should be enabled to continue to exercise his evil influence, garbed in an the spiritual sanity of religion, and invested with all the temporal powers that this involves in an Eastern country? From Albert Einstein: About Zionism



This page is part of the Albert Einstein Project

About Albert Einstein

 Albert Einstein - Biography

 Albert Einstein and Zionism

 Was Albert Einstein a Zionist? - Yes he certainly was!

 God Religion and Albert Einstein


By Albert Einstein:

 Albert Einstein: Science and Religion

Albert Einstein & Sigmund Freud: Why War? - 1932 exchange of letters on the nature of war.

Albert Einstein: Why Socialism?

 Albert Einstein: About Zionism (excerpts)

 Albert Einstein: The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies (Special Relativity) - His 1905 paper that did away with the "ether" and explained electromagnetism in a physical conceptualization where there is no absolute motion.

 Albert Einstein: Does the Inertia of a Body Depend on Its Energy Content? (Mass-Energy Equivalence) - Derivation of a formula equivalent to E=mc2 from special relativity theory

 Albert Einstein: Ether and Relativity theory - Albert Einstein discuses a new conceptualization of the ether and speculates on the unified field theory (1920)

 Albert Einstein: Geometry and Experience - Albert Einstein explains how to conceptualize non-Euclidean Geometry (1921)

 Albert Einstein: Relativity: The Special and General Theory  - An explanation written by Albert Einstein for general lay persons (1916) - A full-length book.

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