Dr. T.M. Searle

Einstein: the man


Einstein the man

Most scientists leave behind at best work only known to a few like-minded enthusiasts, and lives illuminated only by the odd anecdote. Most people start to struggle for scientific names beyond Newton, Darwin and Einstein, and even physicists would begin with these though go on for longer through Maxwell, Bohr and many revered experimentalists. Without doubt Einstein dominates the image of science in the last century as well as much of its contents: he became its iconic scientist. He has been associated both with naive pacifism and with the origin of atomic power, the “destroyer of worlds”. Very few would recognise the image of Bohr, Maxwell or perhaps even Newton, though Darwin, aided by the banknote picture and a serious beard might be more familiar; Einstein would be instantly identified. Like Halle Berry, he occupies a single neuron in our brains.

So what was he like, how did he become a celebrity and how did he handle it (better than Best)? How was it that a man who is rightly remembered by physicists as one never at ease with quantum behaviour (“spooky action at a distance”: he was a classical fields man, not a Newtonian) was also the only believer in the photon for almost ten years? How was it that a man who did not believe in a personal god, yet one of whom Dirac said “He should stop telling God what to think.” believe that scientists, not priests were the holiest of men, the truly religious? What happened in his first marriage to a fellow physicist and the mother of his three children, and his second marriage to his cousin? How was it that this “typical loner” (his words) enjoyed long, deep and productive friendships? What was his political position, his view of collective human behaviour?

I’ll also consider his taste in music. A decent amateur violinist, music was essential to him as other arts were not. He loved and revered Bach, Mozart, admired Beethoven but had reservations about the Romantics, was appalled by Wagner. It’s not surprising, perhaps that the masters of baroque counterpoint and of classical forms should have appealed most to this last master of classical physics.