Thursday, March 24, 2011

Private Letters Reveal Einstein was Full of It

It appears Einstein might have been no Einstein. Recently discovered letters show the iconic physicist was, in his own words, sometimes "just [making] crap up."

The letters document an ongoing correspondence between Einstein and fellow German physicist and Nobel Prize winner Max Planck. For the most part they are letters you would expect between colleagues--a kind of intellectual exchange--but sometimes a lighter, playful, even at times juvenile side comes through.

Perhaps most interesting, though, are the letters discussing Einstein's 1905 paper about mass-energy equivalences. This is the paper that gave birth to the best-known equation of the 20th century: E=mc2 (squared).

Shortly after the paper's release, Planck wrote Einstein asking for clarification about the soon-to-be-famous formula. "This does not make sense to me," he challenged. "Though I respect your ability, try as I might, I cannot seem to follow your work. E=mc2 is a puzzle to me and I doubt its veracity."

"Maxy, don't be such a jerk," Einstein began his reply. "Of course you cannot follow it. Sometimes I just make crap up." Einstein went on to explain a different sort of theory.

"People are insecure," and if you lose them in a little math, throw in some things that are impossible to explain, they will "half of the time say you are brilliant rather than admit they have no idea what you are talking about."

He went on to explain: "Energy is equal to mass times the speed of light squared? What does it even mean? Of course it's nonsense. A doughnut fits in your hand and weighs like 3 ounces, and the speed of light squared is like some really ginormous number. If you multiply those things together, does it come out to 300 calories? Maybe. I highly doubt it. But I don't think anyone knows for sure and that's just the thing. You can't measure or verify it, but it sure as [expletive] sounds impressive."

In subsequent letters Einstein reveals earlier rejected drafts that he considered for the famous equation. While they still leave us clueless when it comes to understanding the universe, they do give some insight into Einstein's process as a writer. The earlier drafts include:

Candle is equal to mass times a million, divided by 6.674.
Energy is equal to the gravitational constant squared, times pi.
Mass is equal to 42.


Holdinator said...

Ha! So, what you're saying is that Einstein was the progenitor of all art film makers?

Lee said...

I have no idea what this blog is about.
I feel so much better, having admitted that.


Moonery said...

Blog more!