“Ideas and Opinions” by Albert Einstein

Ideas and Opinions

To understand Einstein as a human being, as well as his scientific vision, one must read this book. He had an acute appreciation of human nature, even the characteristics and emotional temperament of a nation as a whole, with a mischievous sense of humor. He was also a passionate pacifist and a Zionist, who believed, perhaps naively, the cultural and social development of a Jewish nation would benefit both the Jewry and the Arabs.

The more I read Einstein, the more I’m convinced that he was a Platonist. One might say that the Principle of General Relativity, that all laws of nature should behave the same to all observers regardless of their state of motion, is a philosophical principle rather than a physics theory. He believed that one can grasp the unifying, comprehensive law of physics by logic and intuition alone (“Symposium”), and that the world should be governed by a world government, a body consisting of intelligent and moral men (“Republic”),

The Value of a Man

“I most seriously believe that one does people the best service by giving them some elevating work to do and thus indirectly elevating them. This applies most of all to the great artist, but also in a lesser degree to the scientist. To be sure, it is not the fruits of scientific research that elevate a man and enrich his nature, but the urge to understand, the intellectual work, creative and receptive.”

“The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained to the liberation from the self.”

The Religious Scientist

“His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work, in so far as he succeeds in keeping himself from the shackles of selfish desire.”

Wealth

“Money only appeals to selfishness and always tempts its owners irresistibly to abuse it.”

The Fair Sex

“Never yet have I experienced from the fair sex such energetic rejection of all advances; or, if I have, never from so many at once.”

(In response to an  American  Women’s  League  who protested  against Einstein’s visit to their country)

Nationalism

“The greatest obstacle to international order is that monstrously exaggerated spirit of nationalism which also goes by the fair-sounding but misused name of patriotism. … The present deplorably high development of nationalism is, in my opinion, intimately connected with the institution of compulsory military service. … Therefore those who desire to encourage the growth of an  international spirit  and  to combat chauvinism must  take their stand  against compulsory service.”

Judaism

“The Jews are a community bound together by ties of blood and tradition, and not of religion only: the attitude of the rest of the world toward them is sufficient proof of this. When I came to Germany fifteen years ago I discovered for the first time that I was a Jew, and I owe this discovery more to Gentiles than Jews.”

“To you all I say that the existence and destiny of our people depends less on external factors than on ourselves. It is our duty to remain faithful to the moral traditions which have enabled us to survive for thousands of years despite the heavy storms that have broken over our heads. In the service of life, sacrifice becomes grace.”

The Advance of Science vs. The Concentration of Power

“What, then, is the position of today’s man of science as a member of society? … He is distressed by the fact that the results of his scientific work have created a threat to mankind since they have fallen into the hands of morally blind exponents of political power. He is conscious of the fact that technological methods made possible by his work have led to a concentration of economic and also of political power in the hands of small minorities which have come to dominate completely the lives of the masses of people who appear more and more amorphous. But even worse: the concentration of economic and political power in few hands has not only made the man of science dependent economically; it also threatens his independence from within; the shrewd methods of intellectual and psychic influences which it brings to bear will prevent the development of really independent personalities.”

The Motive for Scientific Pursuit

“Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent so substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.”

Harmony Between Theory and Phenomena

“In practice the world of phenomena uniquely determines the theoretical system, in spite of the fact that there is no logical bridge between phenomena and their theoretical principles; this is what Leibnitz described so happily as a “pre-established harmony”.

The Aim of Science

“To cover the greatest possible number of empirical facts by logical deduction from the smallest possible number of hypotheses or axioms.”

[Note: Part of this book is published under the title: “The World as I See it]

References:

  • Einstein, Albert. Ideas and Opinions: Based on Mein Weltbild. Trans. Carl Seelig and Sonja Bargmann. New York: Crown Publishers, 1954.
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