A PHILOSOPHER OF NATURE
Michael J. McKerns
December 1, 1998
Paper # 2
Intro to Philosophy
Fifty years ago the single greatest philosopher walked upon this earth. How can I be so dauntless as to refer to one man as The Greatest philosopher? The answer is simple. All philosophers ask questions. Few of these questions will produce earth-shattering revelations and even fewer will change the world. Out of the handful of philosophers who have made a difference in the world I can think of only one who has, by use of an amazing mind and knowledge of complex mathematics, changed the world forever.
Albert Einstein was born in Ulm Germany on March 14, 1879, and spent his youth in Munich, where his family owned a small shop that manufactured electric machinery. He did not talk until the age of three, but even as a youth he showed a brilliant curiosity about nature and an ability to understand difficult mathematical concepts. At the age of twelve he taught himself Euclidean geometry.
Einstein hated the dull regimentation and unimaginative spirit of school in Munich. When repeated business failure led the family to leave Germany for Milan, Italy, Einstein, who was then fifteen years old, used the opportunity to withdraw from the school. He spent a year with his parents in Milan, and when it became clear that he would have to make his own way in the world, he finished secondary school in Arrau Switzerland, and entered the Swiss National Polytechnic in Zrich. Einstein did not enjoy the methods of instruction there. He often cut classes and used the time to study Physics on his own or to play his beloved violin. He passed his examinations and graduated in 1900 by studying the notes of a classmate. His professors did not think highly of him and would not recommend him for a university position.
For two years Einstein worked as a tutor and substitute teacher. In 1902 he secured a position as an examiner in the Swiss patent office in Bern. In 1903 he married Mileva Maric who had been a classmate of his at the Polytechnic (“Einstein, Albert”). They had two sons but eventually divorced. Einstein later remarried.
After 1919, Einstein became internationally renowned. He accrued honors and awards, including the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921, from various world scientific societies. His visit to any part of the world became a national event; photographers and reporters followed him everywhere. While regretting his loss of privacy, Einstein capitalized on his fame to further his own personal and political views.
The two social movements that received his full personal support were Pacifism, opposition to war and other violence, and Zionism, movement to unite the Jewish people of the Diaspora (exile) and settle them in Palestine. During World War I he was one of a handful of academics willing to publicly decry Germany’s involvement in the war. After the war his continued support of Pacifist and Zionist goals made him the target of viscous attacks by anti-Semitic and right –wing elements in Germany. Even his scientific theories were publicly ridiculed, especially the theory of relativity (“Einstein, Albert”).
When Hitler came to power, Einstein immediately decided to leave Germany for the United States. He took a position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. While continuing his efforts on behalf of world Zionism, Einstein renounced his former Pacifist stand in the face of the awesome threat to humankind posed by the Nazi regime in Germany.
In 1939 Einstein collaborated with several other physicists in writing a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, pointing out the possibility of making an atomic bomb and the likelihood that the German government was embarking on such a course. The letter, which bore only Einstein’s signature, helped lend urgency to efforts in the U.S. to build the atomic bomb, but Einstein played no role in the work and knew nothing about it at the time.
After the war, Einstein was active in the case of international disarmament and world government. He continued his active support of Zionism but declined the offer made by the leaders of Israel to become president of that country. In the U.S. during the late 1940s and early ’50s he spoke out on the need for the nations intellectuals to make any sacrifice necessary to preserve political freedom. Einstein died in Princeton on April 18, 1955.
Einstein’s works cover areas of physics which many of us cannot fully understand. He introduced ideas which may one day bring the many mysteries of the universe into light, ideas which made it possible for man to destroy himself or launch himself toward bigger and better things, possibly the next step in the process of intellectual evolution.
Many people have problems agreeing with Einstein’s work. The problem that others have with his work is not because it was too mathematically complex or technically obscure; the problem resulted, rather, from Einstein’s beliefs about the nature of good theories and the relationship between experiment and theory. Although he maintained that the only source of knowledge is experience, he also believed that scientific theories are the free creation of a finally tuned physical intuition and that the premises on which theories are based cannot be connected logically to experiment. A good theory, therefore, is one in which a minimum number of postulates is required to account for the physical evidence. This sparseness of postulates, a feature of all Einstein’s work, was what made his work so difficult for colleagues to comprehend, let alone support.
My fascination with Einstein as a philosopher does not stem from his positions on Pacifism or Zionism. It is the ability he held to philosophize formerly incomprehensible elements in nature and the implications of his ideas today. Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity (e=mc2) made it possible for us to extract amazing amounts of power from one of the smallest elements in nature, an atom. His General Theory of Relativity made the existence of black holes and wormholes possible. A black hole is a celestial body so extremely dense with a gravitational pull so intense that light cannot escape. Since there is no light coming from a black hole it can’t be seen, however scientists have seen evidence of them. The prospect of a wormhole makes it possible to travel freely through the time and space continuum. Possibly Einstein’s most mind-boggling theory, and one of great interest to me, is the Unified Field Theory. This theory proposes to unify the four known interactions or forces—the strong, electromagnetic, weak, and gravitational forces—by a simple set of general laws. Four distinct forces are known to control all the observed interactions in matter: gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong force (a short-range force that holds atomic nuclei together), and the weak force (the force responsible for slow nuclear processes, such as beta decay)(“Unified Field Theory”). The attempts to develop a unified field theory are grounded in the belief that all physical phenomena should ultimately be explainable by some underlying unity. Einstein spent the last thirty years of his life trying to develop this theory without an acceptable result. However other scientists did to apply his findings.
During the Second World War, all participant countries were looking for a way to end hostilities quickly, no matter how fantastic the manner. If some unorthodox or revolutionary invention could do the trick, all the better, as long as the war terminated triumphantly for them. The U.S. Navy seemed obsessed with the idea of the perfect camouflage, invisibility. If only one of their ships could be made invisible it could possibly end the war. On October 28, 1943, an experiment was conducted at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. This event became known as “The Philadelphia Experiment”(Moore).
The U.S.S. Eldridge lay in its dock with tons of electronic equipment on board. When the experiment involving the Unified Field Theory began the ship and all its occupants vanished and were teleported to the Norfolk Naval Yard. The ship reappeared within a few minutes but the crew would never be the same again. Some walked through solid walls; others became molecularly fused with the ship. More than half went insane due to the effects of pulsating energy fields and were confined to the Bethesda Naval Hospital out of contact with everybody. The Navy denies that any such experiment took place.
No one has absolutely confirmed the events that took place on that day in October of 1943, but the possibilities are brain-rattling if they did actually occur. The Philadelphia Experiment is one of many incomprehensible results of the thinking of Albert Einstein. I believe Einstein experienced premature maturation of the human mind. His thought processes may have been 500 years ahead of his time. We can learn more from him than atomic bombs and black holes. His theories are the blueprint for our future. We will continue learning from him well into the next millenium.
“Einstein, Albert”, Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. 1993-1997. Microsoft Corporation.
Moore, William (1980). The Philadelphia Experiment. New York: Fawcett Crest.
The Philadelphia Experiment. Http://www.ndirect.co.uk/`narnia/phil1.htm
“Unified Field Theory”, Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 1993-1997. Microsoft Corporation.