Thursday, November 08, 2007

Einstein's Hype


"In teaching history," he replied, "there should be extensive discussion of personalities who benefited mankind through independence of character and judgment."
-Albert Einstein, from the New York Times Book Review Online

There seems to be no end to the fame Albert Einstein achieved during his life and beyond. Not only are there already more books written about the guy than, I would bet, any other scientist ever, but the newest one (pictured here) made it to the top of the NY Times bestseller list! People still want to know more about the guy who's credited with revolutionizing an already difficult field of study, making it exciting for a general audience, and flashing the personality of a poet. Everyone in the western world knows what it means to be called an Einstein. With this much worship being spilled on the guy, I have to wonder if physicists studying his work today think Einstein deserves the praise he gets. Are his discoveries turning out to be as amazing as they seemed at the time of their release?

I had the chance to speak with David Garfinkle, who got his PhD from Chicago University and now teaches and does research at Oakland University in Michigan. He’s also the Chair Elect of the APS Topical Group in Gravitation, as well as the editor of their newsletter. David specializes in gravitational collapse and singularities. He and his brother have written a book about gravitation that will be coming out in the next year. I was pretty sure if anyone could answer my question, David could. I put it to him simply: Does Einstein deserves all the hype?

The simple answer was yes. Definitely, enthusiastically, yes. Over the years Einstein’s work has stood the test of time and new developments. It forms the firm basis of what we now know as the study of gravity. While new theories of gravity are published from time to time, they’re proven faulty compared to general relativity. Einstein remains an Einstein, even in the eyes of his followers.

David pointed out that in the field of quantum mechanics Einstein was important, but so were many other physicists. There were multiple contributors, a handful of whom did equal or more work than Einstein including Bohr, Heisenberg, and Schroedinger. But so far as general relativity goes, Einstein seems to deserve the momentous praise he has gained.

1 comment:

  1. What's fun about Einstein is that he was both an original thinker and a passionate human being -- he loved life. Though the biographies tend to give his best side, the more one reads about him, the more one wants to be around this guy -- he's simply exciting to know!
    Daniel

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