Is it strange that the name Einstein be heard wherever men of good will and serious thought gather for discussion? Is it strange that Einstein has become a household word among those who have not the slightest inkling of the concept of Relativity or the Unified Field Theory, and still less of mathematics? He is first of all a man, entitled to his complete identity. We see a shadow of that identity in his portrait — a kind of humor which sees in human existence a brief role in a divine comedy; a kind of sadness welling from a heart bound to those who yet know war and oppression. We see no age in the eyes, well-springs of inner enthusiasm, revealing that urge toward a grander Purpose he "feels." Whatever he has found good in life he has given wholeheartedly to those about him. In a world of struggle he has stood fast as a humanitarian. He assumed the affirmative for Science at a time when its methods and purposes are in process of regeneration.
In this study of Einstein and his works, we have selected Alan Harris' translation of Mein Weltbild, now titled The World As I See It.(1) A non-technical abridgment, this collection of letters, addresses and essays, from the years 1922-1933, is successful in revealing his many-sided personality. As a humanitarian he speaks simply and forcibly on education, life and its meaning, pacifism, liberty, and the cause of Jewry. These views take on meaning even with the briefest glimpse of his formative years.
Albert Einstein entered school in Munich at the age of six. Sensitive and shy, his childhood was an extreme trial. He gained no sympathy from his Catholic schoolmates, the harsh discipline of school, nor from teachers who could not arouse his aptitude for languages, history, or other required subjects of primary education. It was geometry that captured his enthusiasm. By the age of fourteen he was a better geometrician than his instructors. Moving with his family to Milan, and freed of many handicaps, young Einstein entered upon a period of hard study. Examinations successfully passed, he gained admission to the Academy of Zurich where his progress was outstanding in the fields of philosophy, science, and mathematics. He worked for an assistant professorship at Zurich, but promises made to him were broken. Always practical, Einstein accepted a position as Patent Examiner at Berne. Though he served his appointment with diligence, his leisure was given to further speculation in physics and mathematics. In 1905 he published his first monogram, Annalen der Physik. Zurich was ready to listen this time and appointed him lecturer at the university; soon after — professor. He reached his later eminence with the Prussian Academy of Sciences and as Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Theoretical Physics. But these were trying times also. A pacifist, an exponent of world-disarmament, and a supporter of the cause of Jewry, he found peace of mind difficult in his native land. By 1933, the bright star among scientists, the principles of humanity for which he stood compelled him to be an exile. Among countries offering him refuge was the United States. As professor of theoretical physics and mathematics at Princeton University, he found a relative peace.
We ask of Albert Einstein whose mind has reached to heights beyond our ken, whose formulations can only be followed by able and trained scientists — what have you for the "little man"? He answers in typical direct simplicity, ". . . the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow-creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life." And we ask again, To what end does life assume meaning? "Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he feels it. But from the point of view of daily life, without going deeper, we exist for our fellow-men . . ." When Einstein himself goes "deeper," he concludes that "the fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science." But we ask — Is not the greatest science and the truest art that which directs one to inner growth and mastery of life itself? The professor's own humility is confirmation. He has his "inner chamber" which "never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family," and treats with contempt the pursuit of possession and luxury. Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are the ideals that have beckoned him. Einstein admits his life would have been empty without "the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific research." He continues in the same mystical vein:
A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms — it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude, in this sense, and in this sense alone, I am a deeply religious man. — p. 5
Religion, it appears to Einstein, undergoes three stages of development: religion of fear, moral religion, and what he calls "the cosmic religious feeling." This last, he feels, is apart from dogma, from church, from theology. It knows no anthropomorphic deity, or God with human attributes. United in a cosmic religious bond, the great Teachers of the past were closely akin.
While marveling at the "eternity of life," while himself propelled toward the "unknown," while giving to the world a "fourth" dimension, and recognizing loftier intelligences behind the processes of Nature, Einstein has failed nevertheless to see that dimension, that extension, which follows the chord of consciousness in Man to the Universe. Within is the immortal spark and undying Self, inseparable from the undying and eternal Scheme of Life. It is perhaps true, as Einstein indicates, that it is the egoists and fearful who want life-after-DEATH. Is it because they fear the passing of that portal they call "death," which through centuries of wrong teaching, challenges the very instincts of our soul? What can be more logical than Life-after-LIFE right here on earth, till our thirsting souls, till our love of justice, knows satisfaction and the lessons are learned? Will the seeds man sows in this life, have only a partial or no reaping? Will man thus be cheated by "death" from reaping the effects of the causes he has sown?
It is Einstein himself who crowns our argument, speaking for science: ". . . the scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. The future, to him, is every whit as necessary and determined as the past." To know a man can never be complete until we know his potentiality. And is that potentiality resident in the physical atoms of his body alone? Man's value is in direct ratio to his inner potential, the potential of the Self within. In this sense do we accept Einstein's definition: "The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he attained to liberation from the self." And we deduce from all the foregoing, that this is accomplished by an attaining to the "cosmic religious feeling" which is but a feeble adumbration of man's cosmic destiny.
Einstein notes, as his eyes survey the world, that the greatest gifts of civilization, the material, the spiritual and moral, have stemmed from certain individuals, the Saviors and geniuses of humanity. If we stop at this point, we become guilty of the sheerest human egoism, which assumes there are no intelligences to fill the gap between the "best" of men and "cosmic mind," that human destiny is unique in its isolation and self-determination, and that it is only "good fortune" that has endowed us with saviors and geniuses.
The brotherhood of mankind, if unrealized, is yet a reality not to be escaped. If human justice is erring, it does not mean that a higher form of justice, operating among all beings — especially appropriate here, among men, nations of men — must also err. Men will never generate moral strength while morals, ethics, and philosophy remain speculative. Further education along this line is worthless. When it is conceded that ethics and justice are as fully a part of the universe as a granite mountain; that true progress is inseparable from the concept of the Unity of all Life, then will the dawn of a Golden Age come forth.
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Einstein's breach with the German academies is outlined in a series of letters in Part III.
A powerful exponent for the cause of Jewry and the reconstruction of Palestine, his hope and ideal for the Jewish people is simply and wholeheartedly expressed.
If Einstein "hates" anything, it is the institution of War. A strong advocate of disarmament and pacifism, he has labored many years to achieve this end. Is it a true "pacifism" that encourages the ro1e of the conscientious objector? It is as conducive to peace as a mutiny on shipboard, but with this difference. On a ship the captain is the law-giver. In most modern states, the power to make law is delegated from the people — they are the watch-dogs of their own civil liberties if they will assume that responsibility. Were 50,000 men, according to Einstein, to refuse to serve in the army at time of crisis, the machines of war would not be able to function. But should not the pacifist — if he really be one, positive and sincere — do as thousands of young men are doing, set themselves as the ideal, and work within the limits of their own respective national Constitutions. By positively working for Brotherhood among men, those of vision will rally and see to it that their own national houses are set in order before war can strike.
Einstein himself glances back on The World As I See It. With an honest man, inner change is as inevitable as the years that lay bare the soul.
1. The World As I See It, by Albert Einstein. Translated by Alan Harris. Philosophical Library, New York. New Abridged Edition. 112 pp. $2.75. (return to text)
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