In Tim Folger’s article, “Einstein’s Grand Quest for a Unified Theory,” I was pleased to see his comment that Einstein “believed, emphatically, in a universe that exists completely independent of human observation.” I have long had problems with the often-stated interpretation that a human observer is required for the universe to exist, just because the results of experiments like the double slit are indeterminate until a measurement is made, at which time either a wave or a particle manifests. I contend that the same quantum mechanical “choices” occur all the time just because the wave or particle interacts with something, whether or not they take place in an experimental setup observed by a human.
Mountain View, California
I’m enjoying your special issue about Einstein, whom I’ve studied off and on for 30 years. I’m pleased to report that I’m learning things from your issue. However, the graphic explanation of the twin paradox by Michio Kaku and Nigel Holmes [“Einstein in a Nutshell”] contains an error. The twin who travels does not become younger. Both twins age, but the traveling twin ages much more slowly. So when he returns to Earth, he is only a little older, while his brother is considerably older.
Sharp eye! You have spotted erroneous mustaches and wrinkles on the twins right before one of them begins his journey. Perhaps the spacefaring twin bribed the artist to make him seem more youthful when he returned. Or (as some of us here suggested when we, too, spotted this mistake) he may have shaved and used wrinkle cream to help pass the time during his long flight. We do apologize for the error.
I enjoyed your special Einstein issue, but for many years now I have not been able to accept either the special or general theory of relativity as logical because both are based on a false premise: that the speed of light is absolute and not relative. I do not believe that rejecting the idea of an absolute speed of anything means accepting the notion of any unproven “ether.” But we have to question anything that does not make sense, even if the person who developed the theory is highly revered. Einstein has been deified, and whoever questions him commits heresy. But, as in the familiar children’s story, someone has to be brave enough to say that the emperor is naked.
DANIEL L. HAULMAN
There is a common misperception that scientists believe Einstein’s theories of relativity because he is so revered. This is an exact inversion of history: Einstein is revered because scientists became convinced that his theories are the best, most complete descriptions of physical law ever devised. And physicists were won over not just by the logical beauty of the theories but also because of startling and increasingly abundant experimental and observational verification. Even so, researchers continue to put relativity to the test and to seek alternative and more all-encompassing theories of physics. In April 2003 Discover ran a feature on João Magueijo, a researcher who is developing a theory that the speed of light can vary. Many people doubt his ideas are correct, but he has hardly been ostracized for raising them. String theory, one of the most high-profile areas of theoretical physics, is predicated on the notion that general relativity is incomplete. We tried to convey this sense of ongoing development and debate in our Einstein issue. Einstein’s theories, no matter how impressive, are certainly not the last word. Whatever replaces them, however, will have to do a better job of describing the physical world than relativity does.
Brad Lemley states in “A Tangled Life” that “as a pacifist and Zionist, [Albert Einstein] garnered a 1,427-page FBI file and was invited in 1952 to be Israel’s second president, which he declined.” Mr. Lemley does not explain why Dr. Einstein declined, and his characterization of Einstein as “Zionist” is somewhat misleading. In fact, Einstein was ardently opposed to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. In his 1950 book, Out of My Later Years, he said, “I should much rather see a reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain.” Einstein’s courage in upholding this unpopular position is one more reason to honor him.
JOAN M. MAREDYTH
Einstein had complicated, conflicting feelings about a Jewish state, but he strongly supported the right of Jews to settle in Palestine and was widely regarded as a Zionist, if a somewhat unconventional one. As the American Museum of Natural History stated in its Einstein exhibit: “In 1919, Einstein joined the Zionist movement and supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. At the same time, he stressed the need for cooperation between Jews and Arabs.” The American Institute of Physics similarly states, “Einstein had been a strong supporter of the Zionist movement since the 1920s, and was one of the main figures behind the creation of the Hebrew University atop Mount Scopus in Jerusalem.”
When I saw your September cover of Einstein with a screwdriver in one hand and a clock in the other, I immediately thought you were illustrating my favorite among Einstein’s remarks, made in yet another reference book, The Evolution of Physics, written in 1938: “Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no means of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations.” Einstein was modifying theologian William Paley’s famous “intelligent design” proof of a designer so as to argue just the opposite: that the universe is like a sealed watch, the study of which can provide no more than reasonable speculation even as to its workings. As Einstein knew, however, the joy of such speculation is what nature (or perhaps God) assuredly gives us.
A. GRANVILLE FONDA
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
I was struck by the simple drawings of Einstein as a child in “Einstein’s Gift for Simplicity” by Thomas Levenson, who asks, “If others like [Einstein] ever come along, how will we know them? By a remarkable ability to ask the right questions clearly and cleanly.” Einstein had the time as a child to ask simple questions with childlike wonder. Are today’s children being given enough free time for imagination? Are they being taught critical-thinking skills? Others like Einstein will come along, but they may never have a moment to question and think for themselves.
San Luis Obispo, California