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Einstein’s Message to Posterity from the 1939 World’s Fair Time-Capsule

A piercing reminder of the choice that stands between the human capacities for good and evil.

In contemplating the brightest beacon of hope for the future of humanity amid hopeless violence, the great cellist Pau Casals called on us to “make this world worthy of its children.” A generation earlier, in his contribution to the 1939 World’s Fair time-capsule, Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879–April 18, 1955) considered what it would take to do this in a poignant message to posterity — part lamentation, part aspiration, true to the fusion of critical thinking and optimism that animated his spirit. The text was later included in Ideas and Opinions (public library) — the altogether indispensable collection of the great scientist and humanist’s thoughts, which also gave us his reflections on the value of kindness, the secret to his thought process, and the common language of science.

Just a few years after his correspondence with Freud about war, peace, and human nature, and mere months before the outbreak of World War II, Einstein offers his message to the future:

Our time is rich in inventive minds, the inventions of which could facilitate our lives considerably. We are crossing the seas by power and utilize power also in order to relieve humanity from all tiring muscular work. We have learned to fly and we are able to send messages and news without any difficulty over the entire world through electric waves.

However, the production and distribution of commodities is entirely unorganized so that everybody must live in fear of being eliminated from the economic cycle, in this way suffering for the want of everything. Furthermore, people living in different countries kill each other at irregular time intervals, so that also for this reason anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror. This is due to the fact that the intelligence and character of the masses are incomparably lower than the intelligence and character of the few who produce something valuable for the community.

I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority.

Although we live in an era succeeding Einstein’s by a few generations, which renders us “posterity” in the temporal sense, we are yet to prove ourselves worthy of his vision for posterity. And there is but one way to do that.

Complement Ideas and Opinions with Einstein on science and religion, the secret to learning anything, the privilege of old age, his breathtaking love letters, and his correspondence with W.E.B. Du Bois about race and social justice.

Published March 14, 2016




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