“The more one chases the quanta, the better they hide themselves.”
to Paul Ehrenfest, July 12, 1924. AEA 10–089
In this 1991 TV documentary, How I See the World (part of “American Masters” on the American PBS Network), we take away one view from the life of one of modern science’s most influential thinkers and physicists, Albert Einstein [1879-1955], the Father of Relativity. This documentary, first broadcast on July 22, 1991) is narrated by William Hurt, an American actor.
Although he is best known for his monumental work on theoretical physics, for which he was granted the Noble Prize in Physics, in 1921, Einstein is also known for his views on war, on atomic energy, on the importance of music & imagination, on his relationship to the Jewish People, and on social justice. He was known as a staunch defender of pacifism; his letter (of August 2, 1939) to U.S. President Roosevelt, however, did influence the American Manhattan Project and its subsequent results. Einstein did not work on the project, and was unaware of its objectives; he was denied security clearance because of his pacifist views.
Einstein later regretted signing the letter (it was actually written by Leó Szilárd in consultation with fellow Hungarian physicists Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner), because it led to the use of an atomic bomb on a civilian population in Japan (i.e.,in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945). “Woe is me.” Einstein said, upon hearing the news of the Hiroshima bombing.
Einstein’s view remained consistent. Many years later, in response to a Japanese editor’s questioning his motives, Einstein wrote a letter, which was published in the magazine, Kaizo, in 1952. He correctly said that his only participation was the signing of a letter, which “stressed the necessity of large scale experimentation to ascertain the possibility of producing an atom bomb.”
In many ways, Einstein was a questioning moral searcher, like many of us, but with a better mind than most of us. I will end this piece with this quote, attributed to Einstein and published in an article by William Miller in Life Magazine, May 2, 1955: “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”