The Other Einstein

Lee Smolin in the New york Review of Books:

In his new book, Einstein: His Life and Universe, Walter Isaacson explains that

studying Einstein can be worthwhile [because] it helps us remain in touch with that childlike capacity for wonder…as the sagas of [science’s] heroes reminds us…. These traits are…vital for this new century of globalization, in which our success will depend on our creativity….

As he elaborates in a recent interview with Thomas Friedman, “If we are going to have any advantage over China, it is because we nurture rebellious, imaginative free thinkers, rather than try to control expression.”[1]

AlberteinsteinimaginationNoble sentiments, and certainly sufficient justification for continuing to promulgate uplifting myths about science and its heroes. But what does this have to do with the actual character and life of the real person who happened to be the most important physicist of the last two hundred years? There is no doubt that any attempt to understand who Einstein actually was and what he actually did is hampered by a smokescreen that was created by his executors, his colleagues, his biographers, and perhaps even Einstein himself. The myth of Einstein presents us with an elderly sage, a clownish proto-hippy with long hair, no socks, and a bumbling, otherworldly manner. As Isaacson writes it:

Adding to his aura was his simple humanity. His inner security was tempered by the humility that comes from being awed by nature. He could be detached and aloof from those close to him, but toward mankind in general he exuded a true kindness and gentle compassion.

This certainly describes a role that the older Einstein might plausibly have chosen to play as a defense against the onslaught of fame and responsibility. But what Isaacson is describing is a role, not a human being. Who was the person behind that role, and what were his reasons for playing the endearing sage?

More here.