Jeder kennt Albert Einstein alswildhaariges , geigenspielendes Genie, das die Physik revolutionierte, und viele haben gehört, wie er über ein geniales Gedankenexperiment nach dem anderen zu seinen bahnbrechenden Theorien gelangte. Aber wussten Sie, dass er auch ein Exzentriker war, der fröhlich auf Socken verzichtete, dem deutschen Militärdienst auswich und gesellschaftliche Konventionen verschmähte? Oder dass er ein begeisterter, aber drittklassiger Segler war?
Seit Beobachtungen der Sonnenfinsternis im Jahr 1919 ihn auf die Titelseiten brachten, konnten wir nicht genug von diesem Kerl bekommen. Und warum nicht? Einsteins Einfluss erstreckte sich über die wissenschaftlichen Bereiche hinaus, die er revolutionierte. Seine Relativitätstheorien, die von der klassischen Newtonschen Sichtweise des Kosmos abwichen, wurden zum Symbol einer breiteren gesellschaftlichen Abkehr von aufklärerisch beeinflussten Konzepten von Kunst, Literatur, Moral und Politik. Darüber hinaus ist er dank seiner starken politischen und sozialen Ansichten, die oft in spielerischen, philosophischen und prägnanten Zitaten destilliert werden, seit Jahrzehnten eine tragende Säule der Studentenwohnheimposter und der Popkultur.
But with the revelations that accompanied the release of his private papers 30 years after his death, do we finally have too much of Einstein? Do they remind us to never meet our heroes, or merely that all geniuses are, finally, human? As we explore the many facets of this extraordinary man, we might find that the answer changes relative to our reference frame.
- He Took Up Speaking Late as a Child
- He Did Not Actually Do Poorly in School
- He Had an Illegitimate Daughter With a Mysterious Fate
- He Was a Cad With a Tumultuous Family Life
- He Had One Heck of a Year
- He Mediated a Hostage Negotiation
- He Didn't Win the Nobel Prize for Relativity
- He Co-invented a Refrigerator
- He Was Offered the Presidency of Israel
- His Brain and Eyes Were Stolen
10: He Took Up Speaking Late as a Child
Einstein sprach erst vergleichsweise spät in seiner Kindheit und blieb bis zum Alter von 7 Jahren ein widerstrebender Redner [Quelle: Wolff und Goodman ]. Diese Tatsache, kombiniert mit seiner zielstrebigen Hingabe an die Physik, seine Auferlegung von Routinen für seine Frau, sein musikalisches Talent und andere Faktoren haben einige dazu veranlasst zu argumentieren, dass Einstein das Asperger-Syndrom hatte, eine Autismus-Spektrum-Störung, die die Sprach- und Verhaltensentwicklung bei Kindern beeinträchtigt .
Andere historische Talente, darunter die Physiker Isaac Newton und Marie Curie ] und Künstler wie Wassily Kandinsky und JMW Turner, haben ähnliche postmortale Sesseldiagnosen erhalten [Quelle: James ]. Abweichend von dieser Ansicht prägte der Stanford-Ökonom und Autor Thomas Sowell den Begriff „Einstein-Syndrom“ , um nicht-autistische Hochbegabte mit verzögerter Sprachausgabe zu beschreiben. Wie seine Vorstellungen von Kindesentwicklungsexperten gesehen werden oder wie sie sich von dem bekannteren Phänomen der asynchronen Entwicklung unterscheiden, bei der sich hochbegabte Kinder in einigen Bereichen überdurchschnittlich schnell und in anderen langsamer entwickeln, bleibt unklar.
Am Ende hatte Einstein, ein lebenslanger visueller Denker, vielleicht einfach ein reiches Innenleben und kein Bedürfnis nach Sprache, weil, wie eine berühmte Anekdote von ihm behauptet, "bis jetzt alles in Ordnung war".
9: Er war nicht wirklich schlecht in der Schule
Wir lieben es, ironische Fakten über berühmte Leute auszutauschen, besonders in unserer Click-Bait-gesteuerten Internetkultur. Daher ist es nicht verwunderlich, dass die Behauptungen, Einstein habe mit Mathe zu kämpfen und seine College-Aufnahmeprüfungen nicht bestanden zu haben, so lange Bestand haben. In Wahrheit hat er sich schon in jungen Jahren in Physik und Mathematik hervorgetan und studierte Kalkül, als er erst 12 Jahre alt war. Er kannte sich auch mit der griechischen Konjugation und der lateinischen Deklination aus. Wie hat sich die Idee, dass er in Mathe versagt hat, durchgesetzt? Möglicherweise, weil Schulbeamte während eines Jahres von Einsteins Ausbildung das Notensystem umkehrten und das numerische Äquivalent von A in F umwandelten (und unvorsichtige zukünftige Biographen verwirrten).
Einstein hat seine erste Runde der Aufnahmeprüfungen nicht bestanden – aufgrund mildernder Umstände. Als sich der junge Mann an der Eidgenössischen Technischen Hochschule bewarb, war er ein 15-jähriger Schulabbrecher ohne Abitur. Außerdem bot ihm das starre Bildungssystem, in dem er aufwuchs, nicht den Hintergrund in Französisch, Chemie und Biologie, den er brauchte, um die Prüfungen des Instituts zu bestehen. In Mathematik und Physik schnitt er jedoch so gut ab, dass die Universität ihn trotzdem akzeptierte, unter der Bedingung, dass er bald darauf sein Abitur machte.
8: Er hatte eine uneheliche Tochter mit einem mysteriösen Schicksal
While attending university in Zurich, Einstein fell in love with an older physics student, Mileva Marić, who would eventually become his first wife. By the standards of late 19th-century Europe, theirs was a modern love affair . They soon grew quite close and gave one another nicknames: He called her "Dollie," and she nicknamed him "Johnnie."
Marić was a remarkable woman, having overcome enormous social resistance to earn a place as the fifth woman accepted to the prestigious university [sources: PBS]. But for years after graduation, Einstein remained too poor to marry her. Moreover, his parents rejected Marić as a too-old, bookish Eastern Orthodox Serb, and his father did not approve the marriage until just before his death in 1902 [sources: Golden; Kaku; PBS].
Earlier that year, in January, the couple had a daughter named Lieserl (diminutive for Elisabeth). Marić returned to her parent's home near Novi Sad, a Serb cultural center then located in the Kingdom of Hungary but today part of Serbia's rural Vojvodina region. There she gave birth to the child, after which the couple never spoke of their daughter to others, even friends. Lieserl's fate remains a mystery to this day. The two prevalent theories hold that she died of scarlet fever or was given up for adoption [sources: Golden; Kaku; PBS].
7: He Was a Cad With a Tumultuous Family Life
Whatever closeness Einstein and Marić shared did not survive long into their marriage, as their correspondence makes clear. Indeed, his own letters paint him as an unkind philanderer who neglected and mistreated her while openly enjoying several flirtations and affairs [sources: Golden]. One mistress, his cousin Elsa, would eventually become his second wife, although he also considered marrying her daughter, his future stepdaughter. This must have made family reunions both uncomfortable and confusing, especially since Elsa was Einstein's first cousin on his mother's side and his second cousin on his father's side [sources: Golden; Kaku]. He cheated on Elsa as well, but she allowed it as long as he kept his affairs quiet.
Meanwhile, because he could not afford to support himself and his first wife in the case of a divorce, Einstein struck a deal with Marić: She would grant him a divorce, and he would give her and their two sons the prize money from his presumably imminent Nobel. Finally, after five years living apart, Marić divorced Albert in 1919. Thereafter, he grew estranged from his sons, one of whom was schizophrenic, leaving Marić to care for them and her own crumbling family [sources: Golden; Kaku; PBS].
6: He Had One Heck of a Year
In 1905, Einstein published four papers that rocked contemporary views of space, time, mass and energy and helped set the stage for modern physics, all while writing a doctoral dissertation and working as a third-class examiner in the Swiss patent office.
After graduation, Einstein had applied for numerous academic posts, but school after school had rebuffed him. Their rejections stemmed in part from a letter of recommendation that Einstein had foolishly requested from Heinrich Weber, a professor whose classes he had regularly ditched [sources: Kaku]. As decisions go, it was an object lesson in the difference between intelligence and wisdom. But the clerkship left Einstein enough daydreaming time to conceive his four landmark Annals of Physics journal papers, all published in a single annus mirabilis:
- "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light" explained the photoelectric effect using quantum theory (and would eventually earn him the Nobel Prize, see below).
- "On the Movement of Small Particles Suspended in Stationary Liquids Required by the Molecular-Kinetic Theory of Heat" experimentally proved the existence of atoms.
- "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" established the mathematical theory of special relativity.
- "Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?" explained how relativity theory led to a mass-energy equivalence of E = mc2.
5: He Mediated a Hostage Negotiation
Einstein was willing to put his pacifism and commitment to peace into action, even at the risk of his own hide. In 1914, he and three colleagues in Germany singled themselves out by daring to sign a statement protesting the then-empire's militarism and involvement in World War I [source: Kaku]. The four issued the declaration in reply to the "Manifesto to the Civilized World," a government-sponsored document that defended Germany's invasion of neutral Belgium and which nearly 100 eminent German intellectuals signed. While many of his colleagues offered the fruits of their genius to the war effort, Einstein refused.
The war left Germany devastated, deeply in debt and facing social upheaval. During the turmoil that followed, radical students at the University of Berlin took the rector and several professors hostage , and no one wanted to take their chances finding out how the police would resolve the standoff [sources: Bolles ; Kaku]. Both students and professors respected Einstein, so he and Max Born , a German-born pioneer of quantum mechanics, found themselves in a position to defuse the situation, which they did [source: Kaku]. In later years, Einstein would recall with amused wonder how naïve they had been for never considering that the students might have turned on them [source: Bolles ].
4: He Didn't Win the Nobel Prize for Relativity
As with most scientific revolutions, Einstein's breakthrough insights on special relativity in 1905 did not arise out of a vacuum. His genius lay in how he transformed previous work by scientists like Henri Poincaré and Hendrik Lorentz into a new, unified theory, one that removed the friction between Newtonian physics and James Clerk Maxwell's theory of light.
Published in 1916, Einstein's theory of general relativity completed special relativity by bringing gravity and acceleration into the picture through the concept of warped space-time. Unfortunately, it took years to prove one of its key predictions, the lensing effect of gravity. When astronomers finally confirmed the bending of starlight during observations of a 1919 solar eclipse, it launched Einstein into overnight celebrity, but three more years would pass before the Nobel committee retroactively awarded him the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics in 1922.
Einstein received the prize for "the discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect." The photoelectric effect refers to the release of electrically charged particles (ions or electrons) from (or within) a material that absorbs electromagnetic radiation (such as light). Einstein's crucial work in this area resolved perplexing questions regarding the particle-wave duality of light. Nevertheless, Einstein's acceptance speech focused on his work in general relativity, a problem that had occupied him for nearly a decade, and whose importance would not be fully appreciated for decades to come.
3: He Co-invented a Refrigerator
Between gas in the pipes and arsenic in the paint and wallpaper, households in the 1920s packed more than their share of deadly substances. Thus it seems appropriate that the transition from the traditional icebox (literally, an insulated wooden box with ice in it) to electrical refrigerators added to the peril by occasionally leaking volatile chemical coolants like methyl chloride, ammonia or sulfur dioxide to poison hapless homeowners.
One such incident in 1926 inspired Einstein to enlist the help of Hungarian physicist Léo Szilàrd in designing a new kind of appliance called an absorption refrigerator that required only ammonia, butane and water, plus a heat source for the pump. Patented in 1930, their device relied on the principle that liquids boil at lower temperatures when exposed to lower atmospheric pressures. As pressure in the pipe above the butane reservoir dropped, the butane would boil off, drawing in heat from its surroundings and lowering temperatures in the fridge. Because it had no moving parts, the appliance would last as long as its casing [sources: Jha].
Einstein and Szilàrd's refrigerator lost out to more efficient competitors and to the introduction of chlorofluorocarbons, which replaced more hazardous coolants and rendered the compressor fridge safer for people, if not the ozone layer. But new technologies and growing environmental concerns have today sparked renewed interest in their approach, particularly as a means of providing refrigeration in remote and rugged areas .
2: He Was Offered the Presidency of Israel
Although Einstein made his mark primarily as a physicist, his political views have grown nearly as famous as his scientific achievements. But they were also more complex than many realize.
Einstein was a lifelong pacifist, except when it came to taking up defensive arms against the Nazis , who singled him out for persecution. Moreover, when he realized that scientists in Nazi Germany might be working on nuclear chain reactions with bomb potential, he wrote a letter to President Roosevelt urging that the U.S. government coordinate its own research in the area. The letter may have contributed to the formation of the Manhattan Project , to which Einstein -- much to his relief -- was not invited; the government considered him a security risk due to his many associations with peace causes and memberships in social advocacy groups like the NAACP [sources: Kaku]. Nevertheless, his E = mc2 equation was essential to their successful efforts in making the first atomic bombs [sources: Kaku]. Einstein also helped fund the war effort by auctioning his manuscripts, and worked after the war to oppose the development of the hydrogen bomb and to control nuclear proliferation.
In 1952, Israeli premier David Ben-Gurion offered Einstein the presidency of the newly established state of Israel. Einstein politely turned him down, citing advancing age and stating that his lifelong focus on objective matters had left him unsuited to politics [sources: Einstein; Kaku].
1: His Brain and Eyes Were Stolen
Einstein intended that his body be cremated and his ashes scattered secretly, so as to avoid the possibility of admirers making a shrine of his grave. But when pathologist Dr. Thomas Harvey walked into the Princeton morgue on April 18, 1955, all of that went out the window. Presented with the opportunity to study the brain of one of the great geniuses of the age, and without permission, authority or experience as a neuroscientist, he absconded with 2.7 pounds (1.2 kilograms) of Einstein's gray matter. He also removed the deceased physicist's eyeballs and gave them to Einstein's eye doctor, Henry Adams. They remain in a New York City safe deposit box to this day [sources: Schifrin; Toland].
A tragicomic series of road trips ensued, with Harvey storing slices and chunks of the brain in jars, first in his basement, then in a cider box squirreled away beneath a beer cooler as he relocated after losing his medical license, then in the backseat of a reporter's car. He apparently intended to study the brain and determine what made it so smart, but in 43 years he never got around to it, perhaps because he moved around so much or because lacked the expertise and funding. Ultimately, he returned most of the brain to Princeton, bringing the physicist's postmortem peregrination full circle [sources: Schifrin; Toland].
Lots More Information
Author's Note: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Einstein
Historical views of great men and women undergo pendulum swings, and Einstein is no different. I've done my best to occupy the middle ground throughout this article, which unfortunately is no guarantee of being correct, only of minimizing the damage if my sources have erred. Consequently, I may have left out the occasional juicy tidbit or sidestepped some of the wilder assertions of armchair analysts, which I think is just as well.
Two of the most unrealistic expectations we have of our heroes are that they achieve everything single-handedly, without precursor or colleague, and that they somehow engage in obsessive pursuit of their goals without cost to themselves or to those around them. I have yet to find a case in which either held true, let alone both. If Einstein was a flawed genius, then he was in good company.
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