The maker of harmony

Albert Einstein?s equation e = mc2 is a 101 years old this week. It was in 1905 when he produced his breakthrough work and shot to international fame as a brilliant physicist.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2006 05:10 IST

On November 21, 1905, Albert Einstein’s paper, Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content? was published in the journal Annalen der Physik, revealing the relationship between energy and mass. This led to the famous equation e=mc2.

Though Einstein was an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist Press Association, his views on religion are considered pointers for the modern age, firmly reconciling the concept of God with the empirical worldview of

One of his earliest remarks on religion was: “I came — though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents — to a deep religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve.” He went on to say, “I do not think that it is necessarily the case that science and religion are natural opposites. In fact, I think that there is a very close connection between the two. Further, I think that science without religion is lame and, conversely, that religion without science is blind. Both are important and should work hand-in-hand.”

About religion and culture being mutually embedded, he said, “A Jew who sheds his faith along the way, or who even picks up a different one, is still a Jew,” rather like the popular saying that you can take the Indian out of India but you cannot take India out of the Indian.

Refining his views as he went along, he called his religion a ‘cosmic religious sense’. In The World As I See It he wrote: “You will hardly find one among the profounder sort of scientific minds without a peculiar religious feeling of his own. But it is different from the religion of the naive man. For the latter, God is a being from whose care one hopes to benefit and whose punishment one fears; a sublimation of a feeling similar to that of a child for its father, a being to whom one stands to some extent in a personal relation, however deeply it may be tinged with awe.”

“But,” he said, “the scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. The future, to him, is every whit as necessary and determined as the past. There is nothing divine about morality, it is a purely human affair. His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.”

In response to the telegrammed question of New York’s Rabbi Herbert S Goldstein in 1929: “Do you believe in God? Stop. Answer paid 50 words.” Einstein replied in only 25 (German) words, “I believe in Spinoza’s God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” (Baruch Spinoza was the 17th century Jewish-Dutch philosopher-lensmaker whose worldview was remarkably akin to the Advaita of Adi Shankara).

Einstein’s famous remark, “God does not play dice,” is often quoted to suggest that he disliked the quantum theory that overset his own, due to its indeterminism. But others say that the 1926 ‘dice’ quotation happened when the quantum theory was just in its first year of discovery and Einstein did not say anything similar in the remaining 30 years of his life. Instead he said, “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Einstein’s essential humility was expressed through appreciation of others. For instance, he said, “I do not believe in freedom of the will.” (Philosopher) Schopenhauer’s words: “Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills, ” accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others even if they are rather painful to me. It is this awareness of the lack of freedom of will that preserves me from taking too seriously myself and my fellow men as acting and deciding individuals — and from losing my temper.”

Einstein considered himself a pacifist and humanitarian and in later life, a democratic socialist (India defines itself as a ‘democratic socialist republic’). Said Einstein, of the father of this nation, “I believe Gandhi’s views were the most enlightened of all the political men of our time. We should strive to do things in his spirit: not to use violence for fighting for our cause, but by non-participation of anything you believe is evil.” Moreover, he said, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

Given this influence, it is not surprising that Einstein allied himself with the American Civil Rights Movement and enjoyed a 20-year friendship with actor-singer-activist Paul Robeson. When African-American poet-educator-leader WEB DuBois was wrongly charged — in his 80s — with being a communist spy during the McCarthy era, Einstein volunteered as a character witness. The case was dismissed soon after this was publicly disclosed. Einstein summed it all up saying, “Racism is America’s greatest disease.” Science, philosophy and fighting for justice synergised in a life that was, at the end of the day, undeniably God-anchored.

First Published: Nov 18, 2006 05:10 IST