Born in Ulm, Germany in 1879, Einstein was brought up in Munich. His parents were of Jewish German ancestry, and his father ran an electrical equipment plant. He did not speak fluently until after he was nine and was considered slow. Though his grades were fair in high school, he was eventually expelled for his rebellious nature. Always an individual, he traveled around before re-enrolling and completing school in his new home in Zurich, Switzerland.
After graduating from high school, Einstein enrolled in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, where he studied the works of classical physicists. By 1900 he graduated with a teaching degree and three years later married his college sweetheart, Mileva Maric. Unable to find a teaching job he tutored high school students until beginning work at the Swiss Patent Office. His job at the patent office allowed much time for independent work and it was during these seven years that he made his most important discoveries.
By 1905 Einstein had brought together much of the works of contemporary physicists with his own thoughts on a number of topics including the nature of light, the existence of molecules, and a theory concerning time, mass, and physical absolutes. The “Theory of Relativity” proposed a revolutionary conception of the physical world, suggesting that time, mass, and length were not fixed absolutes, but dependent on the motion of the observer. Two years later he presented his equation E=MC2 (Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared). With this early work Einstein unhinged the assumptions of the absolute within the physical world and set the course for the scientific investigations of the century.
Though the Theory of Relativity was to be his most famous, his other work that year was equally important. With his publication of the article, “On the Movement of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid Demanded by the Molecular-Kinetic Theory of Heat,” he abandoned Newton’s theory that light was made of particles, in exchange for one that presented light as being made of particles and waves. It was for this work with light that he was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize (1929) for physics.
Not immediately recognized for the important thinker he was, Einstein moved through a number of teaching jobs before being offered a research position at the University of Berlin in 1914. Soon after his move to Berlin, Einstein was divorced by his wife and married his cousin Elsa. During the 1920s Einstein’s fame grew and he spent much of this time traveling throughout the world with Chaim Weizmann, the future president of Israel, promoting the cause of Zionism. By the early 1930s the growing threat of Nazi fascism had made it impossible for Einstein to continue working in Germany, and he moved to Princeton, New Jersey. There, while teaching at Princeton University, he continued to elucidate his theory of relativity and work on new theories that brought together our understanding of other physical phenomenon.
It was from Princeton, in 1939, that Einstein signed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt discussing the possibilities of creating an atomic bomb. Though Einstein was never directly involved in the creation of the bomb, it was his earlier theories that had paved the way for its possibility. After its eventual use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein became a constant and vocal activist for peace—spending much of the rest of his life speaking and writing on the subject. By the time of his death in 1955, Einstein was considered by many not only the most important scientist of his time, but the smartest man alive. It is impossible to understand how different the events of the last hundred years might have been without the work of Albert Einstein.
The World As I See It : An Essay by Albert Einstein
"I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves -- this critical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed empty to me. The trite objects of human efforts -- possessions, outward success, luxury -- have always seemed to me contemptible.
"My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I am truly a 'lone traveler' and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude..."
"My political ideal is democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized. It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and reverence from my fellow-beings, through no fault, and no merit, of my own. The cause of this may well be the desire, unattainable for many, to understand the few ideas to which I have with my feeble powers attained through ceaseless struggle. I am quite aware that for any organization to reach its goals, one man must do the thinking and directing and generally bear the responsibility. But the led must not be coerced, they must be able to choose their leader. In my opinion, an autocratic system of coercion soon degenerates; force attracts men of low morality... The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the political state, but the creative, sentient individual, the personality; it alone creates the noble and the sublime, while the herd as such remains dull in thought and dull in feeling.
"This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of herd life, the military system, which I abhor... This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism -- how passionately I hate them!
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery -- even if mixed with fear -- that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man... I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence -- as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature."
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