Einstein’s Worldview and Its Effects

Daniel Kennefick reviews Einstein for the 21st Century: His Legacy in Science, Art, and Modern Culture by Peter L. Galison and Gerald Holton and Silvan S. Schweber, in American Scientist:

Einstein_070621120740126_wideweb__300x375 Those writers asked to grapple with the subject of Einstein and the arts were faced with a profound conundrum. Although Einstein lived through, and made his greatest contributions to culture during, a period of great ferment and change in the arts, he expressed, as far as we know, little or no interest in the literature, music or visual arts of his own period. Yet most of us somehow instinctively feel that Einstein, as the leading figure in the revolution of modern physics that occurred in the first half of the 20th century, can be viewed as part of a historical movement that also encompasses Pablo Picasso, James Joyce and Arnold Schoenberg. How can one seriously address a subject that cries out for large statements and yet provides the most meager of foundations on which to rest them?

Happily, the authors address themselves soberly to the question of Einstein's artistic legacy. Leon Botstein, writing on Einstein and music, is particularly thoughtful. His balanced account of Einstein's abilities as a violinist is of interest to those of us who have read much about Einstein's love of music without ever finding out much about his abilities as a musician. Many have speculated that Einstein's love of music somehow contributed to his scientific genius, and Botstein correctly quotes the great man himself pouring cold water on the notion that his scientific thought was in any way influenced by his love of music. Botstein notes that Einstein's taste was quite conservative and that he lacked any appreciation of the modernist music of his own day. In those respects, he was typical of many 20th-century scientists.

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