The Masters of Enlightenment: Albert Einstein
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The series on the Masters of Enlightenment continues today with a profile of a man who was one of the greatest scientists of all time, and who, through his blend of logic, creative intelligence and intuitive insights, opened our minds to the way the universe operates, and in the process, opened the doors of perception to the realm in which science and spirituality merge.
Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 and died April 18, 1955. He was a German theoretical physicist who discovered the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics; his theories also provided the concepts and foundation for quantum physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics. He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.”
He escaped from Nazi Germany in 1933, where he had been a professor at the Berlin Academy of Sciences, and settled in the U.S., becoming a citizen in 1940. He taught physics at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, until his death in 1955.
Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers along with over 150 non-scientific works, and received honorary doctorate degrees in science, medicine and philosophy from many European and American universities; he also wrote about various philosophical and political subjects such as socialism, international relations and the existence of God. His great intelligence and originality has made the word “Einstein” synonymous with genius.
Einstein was a scientist, an artist, a philosopher, a rebel, and a mystic. He was an original thinker, and left his indelible mark in the collective consciousness of the world.
His life’s work earned him Time Magazine’s award in 1999, in their retrospective issue that looked back at the 20th century, as “Man of the Century.”
While growing up, Albert Einstein had such a spotty track record as a student that no one would have predicted where he would end up. One teacher told the young Einstein, “You will never amount to anything.” Einstein was later expelled from high school and flunked his college entrance exam.
The issue for Einstein as a student was that he did not think in a purely linear way, which is the way the education system generally teaches.
Sadly, the way the education system is constituted these days, it plays a major role in the repression of genius, human potential, and the potential for self-realization and enlightenment.
Many brilliant thinkers who have done much to change the course of humanity are not linear thinkers. They are creative thinkers who see the world in original ways.
If creative thinkers are expected to adjust their thinking from a nonlinear way to a linear one, in order to conform to the one-size-fits-all method of teaching that is the norm in education, they eventually lose their capability for original thinking. And sadly, when this occurs, the world becomes poorer for the experience.
Albert Einstein pointed this out in the case of the 19th century scientist Michael Faraday, who discovered electromagnetism. Einstein said of Faraday’s discovery, “Faraday’s discovery was an audacious mental creation, which we owe chiefly to the fact that Faraday never went to school, and therefore preserved the rare gift of thinking freely.”
Because of his own spotty track record as a student, once he graduated college, it was only thanks to a family connection that he got a job, as a civil servant in a patent office in Switzerland.
It was while working there in 1905 that he changed the course of history with his discovery of Special Theory of Relativity, which he wrote about in a published paper. Over the next few years, he expounded on Relativity Theory with papers on the nature of light and the General Theory of Relativity.
Einstein’s theories changed the notion of space and time, the notion of mass and energy, the notion of matter and light, and the way they are all perceived.
He opened the door to the understanding that the universe we live in is one ruled by quantum laws, a universe in which matter is primarily empty space rich in information and consciousness. Einstein’s perceptions showed that at its core, matter is not solid but comprised of waves.
Faced with such bold new assertions, it is understandable how Einstein and other scientists of the era who built on Einstein’s theories came to adopt a mystical worldview. They realized the universe was much different than what they had been taught, and that this new conception of the universe was closer in line with the teachings of Eastern philosophies than anything existing science could define.
But Einstein himself was always a mystic. His way of learning and perceiving, as I pointed out earlier, was a nonlinear one. He was a visual thinker, and stated, when asked about how his thought processes worked:
“Words and language, whether written or spoken, do not seem to play any part in my thought processes. The psychological entities that serve as building blocks for my thought are certain signs or images, more of less clear, that I can reproduce and recombine at will.”
Einstein was a brilliant creative thinker, one who saw the universe with fresh eyes. He had beginner’s mind – the mind of an original thinker – and maintained it his entire life. At his memorial, the scientist Robert Oppenheimer proclaimed: “He was almost wholly without sophistication and wholly without worldliness . . . There was always with him a wonderful purity at once childlike and profoundly stubborn.”
When you mix in his creative thinking and original mind with his tendency towards mysticism, you arrive at someone who is enlightened. And the beauty of Einstein’s enlightened mind was that he was able to articulate his vision clearly, for all to understand.
You may not be able to comprehend the profundity of his scientific achievements, but there are many other things that Einstein said that are equally as profound. Here is a sampling of them:
* “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”
* “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
* “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.”
* “I want to know God’s thoughts; the rest are details.”
* “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
* “The only real valuable thing is intuition.”
* “A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.”
* “God is subtle but he is not malicious.”
* “Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.”
* “I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.”
* “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.”
* “Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing.”
* “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”
* “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
* “Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds.”
* “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
* “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”
* “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”
* “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.”
* “Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.”
* “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.”
* “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”
* “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
* “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”
* “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
* “Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.”
* “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe.”
* “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
* “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”
* “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
* “In order to form an immaculate member of a flock of sheep one must, above all, be a sheep.”
* “The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead.”
* “Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism — how passionately I hate them!”
* “No, this trick won’t work…How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?”
* “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”
* “The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking…the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.”
* “Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.”
* “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
* “A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”
* “The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.”
* “Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
* “You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.”
* “One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect on me that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.”
* “…one of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own ever-shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from the personal life into the world of objective perception and thought.”
* “He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.”
* “A human being is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
* “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” (Sign hanging in Einstein’s office at Princeton)