Feb 27

Albert Einstein: Physicist, Philosopher, Humanitarian, by Don Howard (Teaching Company Lecture Series) ?

I ordered this set from the Teaching Company, hoping to receive a non-biased, educated assessment of the life, thinking, and times of Albert Einstein. The series started as a modestly historical narrative of the early Einstein, and included discussion of his thinking in physics, but also in philosophy and politics. Einstein apparently felt modestly prejudiced against, owing to the fact that he was a Jew, surviving in a primarily non-Jewish culture. His success in physics came with shaky fits, having problems with the higher institutes of learning in Switzerland, but eventually ending in the pinnacle of his career while in Berlin, before moving to America in 1933 at the time of the rise of Hitler. Howard is willing to admit that the social life of Einstein left much to be desired, mistreating several wives, and essentially abandoning his children. Howard excuses Einstein, noting that he was a great socialist and humanitarian, thus making up for his otherwise despicable lifestyle. Though a number of the early lectures discusses the innovations of physics by Einstein, you are also left with the notion that Einstein burned out early, vacillating frequently when theories didn’t fit his personal philosophy. His greatest despair was his development of the science of quantum mechanics, only to later disown it as it didn’t fit his personal world view. He is like Napoleon-a brilliant youth followed by a not so brilliant middle and older age. By the 10th lecture, this series became quite worrisome, in that the lectures became a dummy pulpit for Howard to expound his own socialist belief system. Howard fails miserably to discuss the various ramifications of Einstein’s political and philosophic stances, arguing both the pro’s and con’s of the various social solutions Einstein offers. Thus, Howard betrays his own calling as an academician, forfeiting his claim as an intellectual, in order to push a social agenda that Einstein supposedly espoused. By the end of the lecture series, you are left wondering how accurate Howard remained to the true thinking of Einstein. You are left with multiple holes. I would have loved more discussion of Einstein at Princeton, yet you hear nothing save for his involvement with socialist issues, anti-war issues, and government interactions during the second world war. Oddly, Howard barely takes Einstein to task for his horrid inconsistency for advocating the development of the atom bomb, only since he presumed it would be used against the German state that mistreated him. Howard unnecessarily idolizes Einstein to the point of losing an objective focus for discussion of the man, making the entire series very wearisome to listen to. I simply could not recommend this series to anybody for a serious discussion of the thought and life of Albert E.

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2 Responses to “Albert Einstein: Physicist, Philosopher, Humanitarian”

  1. Uncle Dennis says:

    Ahem: “loosing” is spelled “losing”. This is the second occurrence of this error that I have found on your website. If this were to occur again, the FBI’s Carnivore 1000 snooping machine connected at your ISP will reduce your Internet access baud rate to 300 baud in order to reduce the frequency of occurrence of this error.

    As for Einstein, why bother with him? Werner Heisenberg is better and can write. I recommend his _Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations_, Harper Torchbooks, 1972. With Heisenberg, you have the feeling that you are encountering both a scientifically and socially profound mind. Not so with Einstein.

  2. Dennis;
    As always, thank you for your corrections. It’s odd that I find it so easy to note grammatical and spelling errors in things I read, but never in things that I write. Regarding your comments on Heisenberg, I’ll have to seek out his book. Einstein held a serious resentment toward all the German scientists that stayed in Germany through the Nazi years, even when they aggressively took no political stance. Regarding Einstein, he was definitely a philosophical lightweight. It is unfortunate that so many people who see him as a genius in physics suppose that he must have been a genius in all other matters of life, including the above professor.

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