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Astronomical question and answer 272


Frank L. Preuss


What is a scientist?


Let us take an example.

Let us take the most prominent one, Albert Einstein.

Here comes a quote:

Einstein, Albert (1879-1955) US physicist, b. Germany, who devised the famous theories of relativity. Einstein published many important theoretical papers: his explanation of Brownian movement confirmed the reality if atoms, his application of quantum theory to photoelectricity won him the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics. In 1905, he devised the special theory of relativity, which completely revolutionized physics and led, through its equivalence of mass and energy (E = mc2), to the invention of the atomic bomb. In 1916, Einstein produced the general theory of relativity. He also made other fundamental contributions to quantum theory.

He devised the special theory of relativity, which led to the invention of the atomic bomb.

Now another quote:

After 1945 he also worked hard against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, although he had himself, in 1939, signed a letter to President F. D. Roosevelt alerting him to the danger that Germany might develop an atomic bomb, and had thus perhaps contributed to the setting up of the Manhattan Project.

And now several quotes:

Herein lay the unique drama of Einstein's life. He was a self-confessed lone traveler; his mind and heart soared with the cosmos, yet he could not armour himself against the intrusion of the often horrendous events of the human community. Almost reluctantly he admitted that he had a "passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility." His celebrity gave him an influential voice that he used to champion such causes as pacifism, liberalism, and Zionism. The irony for this idealistic man was that his famous postulation of an energy-mass equation, which states that a particle of matter can be converted into an enormous quantity of energy, had its spectacular proof in the creation of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, the most destructive weapons ever known.


While Einstein awaited the end of the war and the opportunity for his theory to be tested under eclipse conditions, he became more and more committed to pacifism, even to the extent of distributing pacifist literature to sympathizers in Berlin. His attitudes were greatly influenced by the French pacifist and author Romain Rolland, whom he met on a wartime visit to Switzerland.


Einstein's view of humanity during the war period appears in a letter to a friend, the Austrian-born Dutch physicist Paul Ehrenfest:

The ancient Jehovah is still abroad. Alas, he slays the innocent along with the guilty, whom he strikes so fearsomely blind that they can feel no sense of guilt....We are dealing with an epidemic delusion which, having caused infinite suffering, will one day vanish and become a monstrous and incomprehensible source of wonderment to later generations. (From Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden [eds.], Einstein on Peace, 1960)

It would be said often of Einstein that he was naive about human affairs; for example, with the proclamation of the German Republic and the armistice in 1918, he was convinced that militarism had been thoroughly abolished in Germany.


Through all this acclaim, however, Einstein did not waver from his new search - to find the mathematical relationship between electromagnetism and gravitation. This would be a first step, he felt, in discovering the common laws governing the behaviour of everything in the universe, from the electron to the planets. He sought to relate the universal properties of matter and energy in a single equation or formula, in what came to be called a unified field theory. This turned out to be a fruitless quest that occupied the rest of his life. Einstein's peers generally agreed quite early that his search was destined to fail because the rapidly developing quantum theory uncovered an uncertainty principle in all measurements of the motion of particles: the movement of a single particle simply could not be predicted because of a fundamental uncertainty in measuring simultaneously both its speed and its position, which means, in effect, that the future of any physical system at the subatomic level cannot be predicted. While fully recognizing the brilliance of quantum mechanics, Einstein rejected the idea that these theories were absolute and persevered with his theory of general relativity as the more satisfactory foundation to future discovery. He was widely quoted on his belief in an exactly engineered universe: "God is subtle but he is not malicious." On this point he parted company with most theoretical physicists. The distinguished German quantum theorist Max Born, a close friend of Einstein, said at the time: "Many of us regard this as a tragedy, both for him, as he gropes his way in loneliness, and for us, who miss our leader and standard-bearer." This appraisal, and others pronouncing his work in later life as largely wasted effort, will have to await the judgment of later generations.


As visiting professor at the University of Oxford in 1931, Einstein spent as much time espousing pacifism as he did discussing science. He went so far as to authorize the establishment of the Einstein War Resisters' International Fund in order to bring massive public pressure to bear on the World Disarmament Conference, scheduled to meet in Geneva in February 1932. When these talks foundered, Einstein felt that his years of supporting world peace and human understanding had accomplished nothing. Bitterly disappointed, he visited Geneva to focus world attention on the "farce" of the disarmament conference. In a rare moment of fury, Einstein stated to a journalist,

They [the politicians and statesmen] have cheated us. They have fooled us. Hundreds of millions of people in Europe and in America, billions of men and women yet to be born, have been and are being cheated, traded and tricked out of their lives and health and well-being.


Niels Bohr, the great Danish atomic physicist, took news to Einstein in 1939 that the German refugee physicist Lise Meitner had split the uranium atom, with a slight loss of total mass that had been converted into energy. Meitner's experiments, performed in Copenhagen, had been inspired by similar, though less-precise, experiments done months earlier in Berlin by two German chemists, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann. Bohr speculated that, if a controlled chain-reaction splitting of uranium atoms could be accomplished, a mammoth explosion would result. Einstein was skeptical, but laboratory experiments in the United States showed the feasibility of the idea. With a European war regarded as imminent and fears that Nazi scientists might build such a "bomb" first, Einstein was persuaded by colleagues to write a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt urging "watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action" on the part of the United States in atomic-bomb research. This recommendation marked the beginning of the Manhattan Project.

Although he took no part in the work at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and did not learn that a nuclear-fission bomb had been made until Hiroshima was razed in 1945, Einstein's name was emphatically associated with the advent of the atomic age. He readily joined those scientists seeking ways to prevent any future use of the bomb, his particular and urgent plea being the establishment of a world government under a constitution drafted by the United States, Britain, and Russia. With the spur of the atomic fear that haunted the world, he said, "We must not be merely willing, but actively eager to submit ourselves to the binding authority necessary for world security." Once more, Einstein's name surged through the newspapers. Letters and statements tumbled out of his Princeton study, and in the public eye Einstein the physicist dissolved into Einstein the world citizen, a kind "grand old man" devoting his last years to bringing harmony to the world.

During the life time of Albert Einstein this man was known to me by this: "Einstein's name surged through the newspapers."

And that what surged through the newspapers about Albert Einstein made a very bad impression on me. For me Albert Einstein was a highly negative public figure.

That were violent times, when I lived in Europe. To review these violent times, one just needs to have a look at historic maps. The borders of the European countries changed all the time.

On the 8th of April 1945 I was standing on a street, which had the name "Adolf-Hitler-Straίe" and I looked to the south and there appeared tanks and they were not Hitler's tanks, but American tanks. And the first tank came towards me, rolling on the street, and I was standing on the pavement and watched as this first tank approaching me from the right. And the front of this tank was the symbol of the borderline between these two spheres of influence. To the left was that of Hitler and to right that of Roosevelt. And the tank moved past me and proceeded to the north and with the tank this symbolic border line moved and to the left the sphere of influence of Hitler visibly got smaller and became zero and to the right the sphere of Roosevelt increased and took over everything. Und just a good week before I had ended a journey, which prevented me, all thanks to God, to get into the sphere of the influence of Stalin.

And I had another experience on the 21st of August 1968. Just a few days ago I had left West-Berlin and gone by plane to West-Germany to visit my father, and now I was back in West-Berlin, but prepared to fly again to West-Germany. On the 20th of August 1968, so the day before, I had received a phone call from my mother, telling me that my father had died, and so the next morning I made preparation to go and see my mother. But whenever I used a plane to fly over that area, which was between West-Berlin and West-Germany, therefore an area that was occupied by the military might of the Soviet-Union, I listened first to the news on the radio, to get an idea of the latest changes of the European borders, so that I knew into which areas I should set my foot, and into which areas I should avoid setting my foot, because I was a person, who preferred to live in freedom and not in slavery. So I switched on the radio and listened to the news. The news of the last few weeks and months had been that the Warsaw Pact States continuously made military maneuvers in East Europe and we in West-Berlin were afraid that these military actions might be the preparation for attacking West-Berlin and to conquer it. So when I now listened to the news this fear was confirmed, but it was not West-Berlin that got attacked and conquered, but Prague. Now Prague is that capital, which is closer than any other capital to Berlin, and that means that a change of borders, a change of the borders of the spheres of influence, are quite close to home. Prague was at that time the capital of a country with the name Czechoslovakia. And that country had managed to get some sort of freedom from the slavery of the Soviet Union, but the 21st of August 1968 made an end to that.

So to live in Central Europe at the time when Albert Einstein was still alive, was dangerous for people, who did not have a slave mentality. And somebody like Albert Einstein, who with his political activity was supporting the interests of the Soviet Union, by discouraging the western countries to prepare themselves for defending themselves against an attack coming from the Warsaw Pact states, was considered an enemy of a free man, or at least a useful idiot of Stalin.



This is the end of "Astronomical question and answer 272"
To the German version of this chapter: Astronomische Frage und Antwort 272



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