What is it that triggers a spark of genius? Is there some encouragement given at the right time that starts the process or helps it along, or does genius simply find its expression despite all odds?
At age five, Einstein was given a device that would stir his intellect. It was the first time he had seen a magnetic compass. He lay there shaking and twisting the odd contraption, certain he could fool it into pointing off in a new direction. But try as he might, the compass needle would always find its way back to pointing in the direction of magnetic north. Most kid at his age, including me, would have given up figuring how it worked. “A wonder,” he must have thought. The invisible force that guided the compass needle was evidence to Albert that there was more to our world that meets the eye. There was “something behind things, something deeply hidden.”
Einstein’s genius, accompanied by his logic and imagination, succeeded in continuing the work of Newton. Within the frame of the relativity theory, demanding a formulation of the laws of nature independent of the observer and emphasizing the singular role of the speed of light, gravitational effects lost their isolated position and appeared as an integral part of a general kinematics description, capable of verification by refined astronomical observations. Moreover, Einstein’s recognition of the equivalence of mass and energy should prove an invaluable guide in the exploration of atomic phenomena.
Indeed, the breadth of Einstein’s views and the openness of his mind found most remarkable expression in the fact that, in the very same years when he gave a widened outlook to classical physics, he thoroughly grasped the fact that Planck’s discovery of the universal quantum of action revealed an inherent limitation in such an approach. With unfailing intuition Einstein was led to the introduction of the idea of the photon as the carrier of momentum and energy in individual radiative processes. He thereby provided the starting point for the establishment of consistent quantum theoretical methods, which have made it possible to account for an immense amount of experimental evidence concerning the properties of matter, and even demanded reconsideration of our most elementary concepts.
The same spirit that characterized Einstein’s unique scientific achievements also marked his attitude in all human relations. Notwithstanding the increasing reverence which people everywhere felt for his attainments and character, he behaved with unchanging natural modesty and expressed himself with a subtle and charming humour. He was always prepared to help people in difficulties of any kind, and to him, who himself had experienced the evils of racial prejudice; the promotion of understanding among nations was a foremost endeavour. His earnest admonitions on the responsibility involved in our rapidly growing mastery of the forces of nature will surely help to meet the challenge to civilization in the proper spirit.
With Albert Einstein’s death a great light has gone out in the world of physics, for Einstein, more than any other man, set the tone of the physics of the 20th century. His theories of special and general relativity were the capstone of classical physics and the theory of fields. His theory of light quanta and his later demonstration of the nature of the fluctuations of “black body” radiation raised the paradox of the wave-particle duality. Einstein was therefore in a very real sense the founder of the statistical theory of fundamental atomic phenomena.
There is scarcely any important fundamental idea in modern physics whose origin does not trace back at least in part to Einstein. Yet, like many another father, he was not really satisfied with the children of his scientific imagination. He never regarded his mighty contributions to quantum theory as other than provisional suggestions for the ordering of phenomena. The subsequent formulations of quantum mechanics and especially the thoroughgoing statistical interpretations were to him philosophically and esthetically repugnant.
/ Pages : 643 / 24