LOVE: I particularly admired Einstein’s deep devotion to, and ability to focus on, science itself and his recognition that the personalities of scientists are irrelevant to understanding science. Most important, in light of recent trends in physics, he understood the place of mathematics in science as a tool, not an end in itself. He was always motivated by physical questions and searching for experimental tests, even as he explored new mathematics. In particular, he didn’t confuse mathematical elegance with physical significance.
HATE: I find myself frustrated at Einstein’s constant and inappropriate use of the term “God,” when he really meant something else. As a result, he opened the door for generations of individuals to misrepresent his ideas.
LAWRENCE KRAUSS, chairman, department of physics,
Case Western Reserve University
Einstein—his mind and his manner—became the symbol of science to millions of people throughout the world. In an era of wrenching human struggle under the heels of military might and the horrors of World War I, the experimental proof of the correctness of Einstein’s notion of gravity and curved space showed the world that there were fundamental truths to be learned about nature and that the human mind and spirit could rise above all. Einstein’s manner, his grandfatherly warmth, gave science, and physics in particular, a human side, which we have lost over the century.
What still drives me crazy about Einstein is that he did not participate in the scientific revolution he helped launch. His successful theory of the photoelectric effect was a key step in establishing the correctness of quantum mechanics. He seemed to consider working out the details of the atom and its nucleus more as busywork than as fundamental science.
NEAL LANE, former director, the National Science Foundation;
professor of physics and astronomy, Rice University
I love this Einstein statement:
Es ist ein großer Irrtum, zu glauben daß Freude am Schauen und Suchen durch Zwang und Pflichtgefühl gefördert werden könne.
It is a grave error to suppose that the joy of seeing and seeking can be furthered by compulsion or sense of duty.
AMORY B. LOVINS, physicist, CEO, Rocky Mountain Institute
What’s not to like?
I picture Einstein as everyone’s favorite uncle: playful, generous, never harsh. He also changed the culture of science by showing the power of creative imagination, and by making audacity respectable—at the age of 26. I have admired and emulated him since my youth.
From studies of the known, Einstein gained a sense of the style of nature. He personified nature by God and regarded the discovery of nature’s laws as reading the mind of God. New ideas were tested by asking himself whether God would have done things that way. Famous verdicts include “God does not play dice” and “The Lord is subtle, but He is not malicious.”
Einstein was far more confident of his theories in 1905 than was justified by reason alone. They felt right to him, though with a private caveat. Writing to a friend about E = mc2, he said, “The argument is amusing and seductive, but . . . the Lord may be laughing over it. ”
Einstein had read the mind of God perfectly in 1905, however, and he remained in harmony through 1916, when he completed his general theory of relativity.
Quantum theory matured rapidly in the 1920s, enjoying success after success. It had a peculiar feature, however. It predicted changes over time with mathematical precision, but with different possibilities arising for the outcome. Upon observation, all possibilities “collapsed” into one, which could not be predicted, only its probability. Niels Bohr championed this view, but Einstein insisted on strict causality: “God does not play dice.” He remained certain to the end that Bohr’s version was incomplete. Colleagues increasingly regarded him as a stubborn old man.
I first studied quantum theory in 1961, my senior year at Cornell. I, too, found Bohr’s version implausible and became obsessed with finding a causal theory. The answer came to me in 1963: Every possibility is realized, in “different worlds” of equal reality. Einstein had been right to the end. Bohr’s version was incomplete. (Soon after, I learned that Hugh Everett had proposed this “many worlds” theory in 1957, two years after Einstein’s death.)
In 1973 it occurred to me that relativity and quantum theory might imply the spontaneous creation of universes from nothing. If so, matter and energy would not be fundamental but manifestations of underlying laws. Ultimate reality would be the laws themselves—the mind of Einstein’s God.
EDWARD P. TYRON, professor of physics and astronomy,
City University of New York
I often wonder how physicists coped right after Newton. We are the immediate recipients of Einstein’s insights and have reaped the benefits of his groundbreaking vistas, which have pretty much defined the way we look at physical phenomena. But he left us with a mixed legacy. He pioneered the uses of the quantum of energy. Paradoxically, his greatest contribution to science, the general theory of relativity, does not mesh with quantum mechanics, and he expressed grave concerns about its fundamental validity. Today no experiment challenges quantum physics, and blind adherence to it leads us to superstring theories, supersymmetry, and extraspatial dimensions. None of those ideas have been verified experimentally, although many expect supersymmetry to be discovered at CERN in the near future.
Great thinkers such as Einstein seem to commune with nature in ways not easily understandable. They often ask the important questions way ahead of their time. If history is any guide, understanding nature at the next level will require the ditching of some cherished notions. Which will it be for us? Quantum mechanics? Space and/or time? It may take a while before experiments force us to confront these notions. Einstein’s legacy provides startling new insights into the fabric of nature yet makes such deep inroads that experiments take a long time to challenge the underpinnings. It was only with the advent of electromagnetism that Newton’s “action at a distance” was questioned.
We live in Einstein’s shadow. While we have exploited the benefits of his insight, we have not yet confronted the paradoxes created by his paradigm of nature.
PIERRE RAMOND, professor of physics, University of Florida