Brain Pickings

7 Einstein Classics, Digitized for the First Time

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What the theory of relativity has to do with world government and the ethics of nuclear proliferation.

On Monday, we celebrated Einstein’s birthday with Albert Einstein: How I See The World, the fantastic 2006 PBS documentary now free to watch online. His birthday also marked the digitization of seven excellent authorized texts from the Albert Einstein Archives, available for the first time in a common electronic format through a collaboration between the Philosophical Library and digital publisher Open Road.

The World As I See It is a fascinating anthology of Einstein’s observations about life, religion, nationalism, and various other personal topics that engaged his mind in the aftermath of WWI. With characteristic blend of wit and idealism, the great genius tackles some of humanity’s most timeless dualities like good vs. evil, science vs. religion, activism vs. pacifism and more. The collection paints a portrait of Einstein as he makes sense of his own mind and a rapidly changing world through letters, speeches, articles, and essays written before 1935, including many rare documents.

Without the sense of fellowship with men of like mind, of preoccupation with the objective, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific research, life would have seemed to me empty.” ~ Albert Einstein, Forum and Century

Essays In Science gathers Einstein’s articles and speeches dissecting the scientific method in his own theoretical discoveries and contextualizing, with palpable admiration and respect, the work of his scientific contemporaries and historical influences, including Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Max Planck, and Niels Bohr.

What place does the theoretical physicist’s picture of the world occupy among all these possible pictures? It demands the highest possible standard of rigorous precision in the description of relations, such as only the use of mathematical language can give.” ~ Albert Einstein, Principles of Research

Essays In Humanism captures Einstein’s philosophical reflections on the pace of progress, including prescient topics like Zionism and the global economy, in a collection of essays written between 1931 and 1950 amidst the aftermath of The Great Depression and the turbulent early days of the Cold War. Particularly timely, in light of the recent devastation in Japan, are his thoughts on the double-edged sword of nuclear proliferation.

What is the situation? The development of technology and of the implements of war has brought about something akin to a shrinking of our planet. Economic interlinking has made the destinies of nations interdependent to a degree far greater than in previous years.” ~ Albert Einstein, Towards a World Government

Letters to Solovine: 1906-1955 gathers Einstein’s correspondence with Maurice Solovine, his longtime friend and translator, discussing topics across science, politics, philosophy, and religion with remarkable candor and intimacy. Frank, funny and invariably insightful, the letters — which appear in both German and English — offer a rare glimpse of the intersection between Einstein’s private self and his public persona.

Men are even more susceptible to suggestion than horses, and each period is dominated by a mood, with the result that most men fail to see the tyrant who rules over them.” ~ Albert Einstein, Princeton, April 10, 1938

Letters on Wave Mechanics: Correspondence with H. A. Lorentz, Max Planck, and Erwin Schrodinger may be the most technical of the bunch, but it’s no less absorbing a read as we trace the communication between three of the era’s greatest scientific minds. Perhaps most fascinatingly, it’s a thought-provoking perspective shift in the pace of discovery and the time-scale of scientific — and all, really — communication: Just as The Republic of Letters taught us, an email exchange between today’s leading scientists may be near-instantaneous, but the written intellectual debates of yore took weeks and often months for a single idea to be transmitted and responded to, which greatly altered the course of scientific inquiry and debate.

I am as convinced as ever that the wave representation of matter is an incomplete representation of the state of affairs, no matter how practically useful it has proved itself to be.” ~ Albert Einstein to Erwin Schrödinger

The Theory of Relativity: and Other Essays features Einstein’s seven most most important essays on physics, in which the great thinker takes the reader by the hand and guides her through the layered scientific theory that served as the foundation for his discoveries. Compelling yet digestible, the book offers an essential primer on theoretical physics, the laws of science and of ethics, and the fundamental language of scientific inquiry.

The ‘principle of relativity’ in its widest sense is contained in the statement: The totality of physical phenomena is of such a character that it gives no basis for the introduction of the concept of ‘absolute motion;’ or shorter but less precise: There is no absolute motion.” ~ Albert Einstein The Theory of Relativity

Out of My Later Years: The Scientist, Philosopher, and Man Portrayed Through His Own Words is a collection of essays on the topics and disciplines that tickled Einstein’s fancy. From world government to freedom in research to open education, the book, divided into subject matter sections like “Public Affairs” and”Convictions and Beliefs,” is equal parts timely and timeless.

Ethical axioms are found and tested not very differently from the axioms of science. Truth is what stands the test of experience.” ~ Albert Einstein, “The Law of Science and the Laws of Ethics”

Thanks, Janet

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