Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Absolute Einstein and the Jewish Genius

A hundred years ago this month, Albert Einstein submitted his famous paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" to Annalen der Physik, the leading German physics journal. It was the third paper he had submitted in his miraculous year of 1905 that was worthy of a Nobel Prize. (In March he had submitted a paper that postulated that light energy was carried in discrete packets, i.e., photons, and in May a paper that explained the Brownian or random motions of microscopic particles as evidence of atoms' existence. It was the March paper on the "photoelectric effect" that actually garnered him the 1921 Prize in Physics.)

The subject of Einstein's paper is the special theory of what he called "relativity," but would be better called the theory of absolutes. The core of the theory is the invariance of all laws of physics: no matter how fast or slow one moves or in what direction, the laws of physics are the same. More specifically, time expands and space contracts in such a way that the speed of light is the same for all observers. The speed of light is the absolute.

Light, that symbol of wisdom and of God.

Einstein himself was a disciple of the pantheist Spinoza, and many of his moral pronouncements are most charitably labeled naïve. Though a public humanitarian, privately he had difficulties with people; his pacifism could not stop his science from enabling a new, cataclysmic class of weaponry. These moral ambiguities—the technical brilliance and high moral aspirations, along with the inattention to the concrete person—make him a perfect representative of the twentieth century, an era in which man's technical achievements and humanitarian aspirations far outpaced his moral growth.

Despite these shortcomings and the diversionary word "relativity," Einstein could not escape his vocation to peer through the changing forms of the world to grasp the unchanging physical absolute. It is strangely appropriate that he was a blood-descendant of Abraham. The Jews have a genius for finding the Absolute.

American Institute of Physics, Exhibit on Einstein's Great Works.

Delo E. Mook and Thomas Vargish, Inside Relativity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987). [A clear, commonsensical, conceptual explanation with little math; the best of the many I've encountered. Thanks to Professor Richard Wolfson, Middlebury College.]

Stanley L. Jaki, "The Absolute Beneath the Relative," The Intercollegiate Review (1985). [an interesting essay]

Roy Schoeman, Salvation Is from the Jews (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003). [an outstanding book; the chapter on the origins of Nazism alone is worth the weight of the book in gold]

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