Tuesday, January 22, 2008

312)20 things you need to know about Albert Einstein, the smartest scientist of the 20th century; Quotes of Aga Khan III.

"There is a fundamental difference between the Jewish idea of creation and that of Islam. The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine will" (Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954).

"Imam Hassan has explained the Islamic doctrine of God and the Universe by analogy with the sun and its reflection in the pool of a fountain; there is certainly a reflection or image of the sun, but with what poverty and with what little reality; how small and pale is the likeness between this impalpable image and the immense, blazing, white-hot glory of the celestial sphere itself. Allah is the sun; and the Universe, as we know it in all its magnitude, and time, with its power, are nothing more than the reflection of the Absolute in the mirror of the fountain"(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954).

Questions 5, 6, 7 and 16 are of particular interest:

158)20 things you need to know about Albert Einstein, the smartest scientist of the 20th century.

From TIME magazine, Thursday, April 5th 2007:

1)Was Einstein a slow learner as a child?

Einstein was slow in learning how to speak. His parents even consulted a doctor. He also had a cheeky rebelliousness toward authority, which led one headmaster to expel him and another to amuse history by saying that he would never amount to much. But these traits helped make him a genius. His cocky contempt for authority led him to question conventional wisdom. His slow verbal development made him curious about ordinary things – such as space and time – that most adults take for granted. His father gave him a compass at age five, and he puzzled over the nature of a magnetic field for the rest of his life. And he tended to think in pictures rather than words.

2)Was Einstein learning disabled?

Some researchers claim to detect in Einstein’s childhood a mild manifestation of autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Simon Baron-Cohen, the director of the autism research center at Cambridge University, is among those. He writes that autism is associated with a “particularly intense drive to systemize and an unusually low drive to empathize.” He also notes that this pattern “explains the ‘islets of ability’ that people with autism display in subjects like math or music or drawing -- all skills that benefit from systemizing.”* I do not find such a long-distance diagnosis to be convincing. Even as a teenager, Einstein made close friends, had passionate relationships, enjoyed collegial discussions, communicated well verbally and could empathize with friends and humanity in general.

3)Did Einstein flunk math?

One widely held belief about Einstein is that he failed math as a student, an assertion that is made, often accompanied by the phrase “as everyone knows,” by scores of books and thousands of websites designed to reassure underachieving students. A Google search of Einstein failed math turns up more than 500,000 references. The allegation even made it into the famous “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” newspaper column. Alas, Einstein’s childhood offers history many savory ironies, but this is not one of them. In 1935, a rabbi in Princeton showed him a clipping of the Ripley’s column with the headline “Greatest living mathematician failed in mathematics.” Einstein laughed. “I never failed in mathematics,” he replied, correctly. “Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.” In primary school, he was at the top of his class and “far above the school requirements” in math. By age 12, his sister recalled, “he already had a predilection for solving complicated problems in applied arithmetic,” and he decided to see if he could jump ahead by learning geometry and algebra on his own. His parents bought him the textbooks in advance so that he could master them over summer vacation. Not only did he learn the proofs in the books, he also tackled the new theories by trying to prove them on his own. He even came up on his own with a way to prove the Pythagorean theory.

4)Did Einstein think in pictures rather than words?

Yes, his great breakthroughs came from visual experiments performed in his head rather than the lab. They were called Gedankenexperiment -- thought experiments. At age 16, he tried to picture in his mind what it would be like to ride alongside a light beam. If you reached the speed of light, wouldn’t the light waves seem stationery to you? But Maxwell’s famous equations describing electromagnetic waves didn’t allow that. He knew that math was the language nature uses to describe her wonders, so he could visualize how equations were reflected in realities. So for the next ten years he wrestled with this thought experiment until he came up with the special theory of relativity.

5)What thought picture did Einstein use for special relativity?

Among other things, he pictured lightning striking at both ends of a moving train. A person on the embankment might see the strikes as simultaneous, but to someone on the speeding train they would appear to have happened at different moments. Because the train is speeding forward, the light from the strike at the front of the train would reach him a moment before the light from the strike at the back of the train. From that he realized that simultaneity is relative to your state of motion, and from that he came up with the idea that there is no such thing as absolute time. Time is relative. Hence the special theory of relativity.

6)What was the thought experiment that led Einstein to general relativity?

He imagined a man in free fall. To understand what he saw, imagine a man in a closed elevator chamber that is falling toward the earth. He would float feely in the chamber, and anything he pulled from his pocket and dropped would float freely next to him – just as if he were in a closed chamber sitting still in a gravity-free region of deep outer space. On the other hand, imagine a woman in a closed chamber who is accelerating upward in outer space, far from any gravity. She would feel pulled down to the floor, just as if she were being pulled down by gravity. From the equivalence of gravity and acceleration, he constructed his general theory of relativity.

7)Is there a thought-picture that describes his conclusions about general relativity?

Gravity, he figured, was a warping of space and time. It can be described by using another thought experiment. Picture what it would be like to roll a bowling ball onto the two-dimensional surface of a trampoline. It curves the fabric as it moves. Then roll some billiard balls. They move toward the bowling ball not because it exerts some mysterious attraction (as Newton’s theory had it), but because of the way it curves the trampoline fabric. Now imagine this happening in the four-dimensional fabric of space and time. O.K., it’s not easy, but that’s why we’re no Einstein and he was. He was able to come up with a gravitational field equation that showed how matter curved space and how curved space told matter how to move.

8)What was Einstein’s miracle year?

In 1905, Einstein had graduated from college but had not been able to get a doctoral dissertation accepted or get an academic job. So he was toiling six days a week as a third-class examiner in the Swiss patent office. During his spare time, he produced four papers that upended physics. The first showed that light could be conceived as particles as well as waves. The second proved the existence of atoms and molecules. The third, the special theory of relativity, said that there was no such thing as absolute time or space. And the fourth noted an equivalence between energy and mass described by the most famous equation in all of physics, E=mc2.

9)What was Einstein’s personal life like at the time?

Helping him check his math was a moody Serbian, Mileva Mari, who had been the only woman in his physics class at college. They had fallen passionately in love and had an illegitimate daughter, which he allowed to be given up for adoption before he ever saw her. They then got married and had two boys. Eventually their relationship disintegrated, and Einstein sought a divorce. He offered her a deal: One of those 1905 papers, he presumed, would eventually win the Nobel Prize, and if she gave him a divorce he would give her the prize money. She thought for a week and accepted. Because Einstein’s theories were so radical, it took until 1922 before he was awarded the prize and she could collect.

10)Does Mileva Mari deserve credit as a true collaborator?

Well, she helped with the math. And she put up with him, which was even harder. But a careful analysis of all their letters and later statements shows that the concepts involved were all his. This should not diminish, however, the respect she is due for overcoming most (but not all) of fthe obstacles facing a woman who wanted at that time to be a physicist.

11)How was relativity received?

Scientists were unsure at first whether the general theory was right. But Einstein proposed a dramatic experiment. At the next appropriate eclipse, in 1919, scientists could measure how starlight passing close to the sun was bent by its gravity. The six-deck headline in the New York Times read: “Lights All Askew in the Heavens / Men of Science More or Less Agog Over Results of Eclipse Observations / Einstein Theory Triumphs.” That was back when folks knew how to write great headlines. Einstein’s launch into fame contributed to the birth of a new celebrity age. He became a scientific supernova and humanist icon, one of the most famous faces on the planet. The public earnestly puzzled over his theories, elevated him into a cult of genius, and canonized him as a secular saint.

12)Why did it take so long for Einstein to get a Nobel Prize?

Initially his 1905 papers were considered baffling and unproven. He was first nominated for the prize in 1910 by the chemistry laureate Wilhelm Ostwald, who had rejected Einstein’s pleas for a job nine years earlier. Ostwald cited special relativity, but the Swedish committee was mindful of the charge in Alfred Nobel’s will that the prize should go to “the most important discovery or invention,” and it felt that relativity theory was not exactly either of those.

The dramatic announcement in November 1919 that the eclipse observations had confirmed parts of Einstein’s theory should have made 1920 his year. But politics intervened. Up until then, the primary justifications for denying Einstein a Nobel had been scientific: his work was purely theoretical, and it putatively did not involve the “discovery” of any new laws. After the eclipse observations, the arguments against Einstein were tinged with more cultural and personal bias, including anti-Semitism. To his critics, the fact that he had suddenly achieved superstar status was evidence of his self-promotion rather than his worthiness of a Nobel. So the 1920 prize instead went to a scientist who was Einstein’s scientific opposite: Charles-Edouard Guillaume, who had made his modest mark on science by assuring that standard measures were more precise and discovering metal alloys that had practical uses, including making good measuring rods.

By 1921, the public’s Einstein mania was in full force, and there was a groundswell of support for him to win the Nobel – indeed, an expressed sense that it would be inexplicable if he didn’t. But the committee was still not ready. The great impasse threatened to become embarrassing. To the rescue rode a theoretical physicist from the University of Uppsala, Carl Wilhelm Oseen, who joined the committee in 1922. He realized that the whole issue of relativity theory was so encrusted with controversy that it would be better to try a different tack. So Oseen pushed hard to give the prize to Einstein for “the discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.” Each part of that phrase was carefully calculated. It was not a nomination for relativity, of course. In fact, despite the way it has been phrased by some historians, it was not for Einstein’s theory of light quanta, even though that was the primary focus of the relevant 1905 paper. Nor was it for any theory at all. Instead, it was for the discovery of a law.

Thus it was that Einstein became the recipient of the 1921 Nobel Prize, in the words of the official citation, “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.” Einstein would not, as it turned out, ever win a Nobel for his work on relativity and gravitation, nor for anything other than the photoelectric effect.

13)What cultural impact did Einstein’s theories have?

For nearly three centuries, the mechanical universe of Isaac Newton, based on absolute certainties and laws, had formed the psychological foundation of the Enlightenment and the social order, with a belief in causes and effects, order, even duty. Now came a view of the universe in which space and time were dependent on frames of reference. This apparent dismissal of certainties seemed heretical, perhaps even godless. Indirectly, relativity became associated with a new relativism in morality and art and politics. There was less faith in absolutes, not only of time and space, but also of truth and morality. Imaginative nonconformity was in the air: Picasso, Joyce, Freud, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and others were breaking conventional bonds. Infused into this stew was a conception of the universe in which space and time and the properties of particles seemed based on the vagaries of observations.

14)Was Einstein a moral relativist?

Einstein was interpreted as a relativist by many (including some whose disdain fueled their anti-Semitism.) This was not the case. Beneath all of Einstein’s theories, including relativity, was a quest for certainties and absolutes. In fact, he considered calling his masterwork “Invariance Theory” rather than “Relativity Theory,” because it was based on underlying invariances and certainties. His objection to quantum mechanics was that it assumed that the realities of the universe depended on our observation of it, which conflicted with his own faith that there was a reality that existed independent of our ability to observe it.

15)What role did Einstein’s Jewish identity play in his life and achievements?

His affiliation with the Jewish people was the strongest bond in his life, even though he did not adhere to the rituals of the religion. There was an anti-Semitic reaction both to the publicity he got and to the abstract and seemingly heretical nature of relativity theory. But the rise in anti-Semitism made him identify with the Jewish people even more. His first trip to America was to raise money for the Zionist movement, and in 1933 he fled Hitler and moved to Princeton. Near the end of his life, he was offered the presidency of Israel, which he politely declined.

16)Did Einstein believe in God?

Yes. He defined God in an impersonal, deistic fashion, but he deeply believed that God’s handiwork was reflected in the harmony of nature’s laws and the beauty of all that exists. He often invoked God, such as by saying He wouldn’t play dice, when rejecting quantum mechanics. Einstein’s belief in something larger than himself produced in him a wondrous mixture of confidence and humility. As he famously declared: “A spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort.”

When asked directly if he believed in God, he always insisted he did, and explained it once this way: “We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”

17)Are Einstein’s theories still accepted?

Yes. Einstein’s tale encompasses the vast sweep of modern science, from the infinitesimal to the infinite -- from the smallest event imaginable, the emission of photons, to the largest conceivable event, expansion of the cosmos. A century after his great triumphs, we are still living in his universe. Photoelectric cells and television, nuclear power and lasers, space travel and even semiconductors all bear his fingerprints. He signed the letter to President Roosevelt suggesting a project to build an atom bomb, and the letters of his famed equation relating energy to mass hover in our minds when we picture the resulting mushroom cloud. The two great theories that in 1905 he ushered into the 20th century -- quantum theory and relativity -- are still twin pillars (although somewhat incompatible ones) of theoretical physics a century later.

18)Didn’t Einstein reject quantum mechanics?

He believed that quantum mechanics, which has probabilities and uncertainties at its foundation, did not give a complete description of the universe. He spent the second half of his career trying to poke holes in the theory and to subsume it in a unified theory that would restore certainty and determinism to physics. He was not successful, but his lonely and stubborn quest tells us a lot about his personality and mind.

19)What were Einstein’s politics?

He was a pacifist until Hitler came to power and caused him to revise his geopolitical equations. He urged the building of the atom bomb, but then became a leader in the movement to find ways to control it. Just as he sought a unified theory in science, he sought a world federalism that would impose order on competing nations. His belief in the value of free thought and speech, and his merry willingness to defy authority, caused him to be an adamant opponent of McCarthyism.

20)With his resistance to McCarthyism and quantum uncertainty, was Einstein disillusioned at the end?

Einstein was not destined to die a bitter man. He came to understand America’s freedoms, and he was pleased that democracy tended to balance itself after such excesses as the McCarthy investigations. On his deathbed in 1955, he worked on a speech he was scheduled to give for Israeli independence day. “I speak to you today not as an American citizen and not as a Jew, but as a human being,” it began. He put it aside on that final night to pick up a notebook that was filled with scribbled calculations. To the very end, he struggled to find his elusive unified field theory. And the last thing he wrote, right before the pain overwhelmed him, was one more line of symbols and numbers that he hoped might get him, and the rest of us, just a little step closer to the spirit manifest in the laws of the universe.

Related article previously posted by me on my old blog:


Easy Nash aka easynash

The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)