What exactly did Thomas Edison say about the theory of relativity?

March 29, 2014

Need some scholarly help here.  I worry that what I want isn’t available in print, and perhaps not at all on the internet.

Thomas Edison at 80, in 1927

Thomas Edison at 80, in 1927; from Edison After 40: Edison’s career coincided with the widespread use of photography. During his lifetime he sat several times for professional portrait photographers. In addition, most of the time there was a photographer at the laboratory, recording the historic course of events.

Remember the old “Garry Moore Show?”  In the farming and  not-quite-suburban towns where I spent my first 18 years, Garry  Moore was a popular guy.  Today he might be remembered as the variety show host who pushed to get Carol Burnett on television, and helped her early career.  In his own right, he was a television staple — MC for daytime quiz shows, night-time quiz shows, and a couple of variety programs that entertained those of us living in what was then the greater American community, but is today too often mislabeled as “fly-over land.”

Garry Moore, Carol Burnett, and Durward Kirby, in a publicity still photo from 1961's

Garry Moore, Carol Burnett, and Durward Kirby, in a publicity still photo from 1961’s “Garry Moore Show.” Wikipedia

In one of his variety programs (probably called “The Garry Moore Show”) he featured a weekly pirouette through history using old photos and old films, “That Wonderful, Wonderful Year.”  In that time before home VCRs, historical films were difficult and expensive to come by (some still are).  These vignette and skit views into history were often unique.  Hey, it was an entertainment show.

(That’s a long set-up.)

One of those history romps featured a film interview with Thomas Edison, in his 80s.  I recall it was on the event of Edison’s 86th birthday, but don’t hold me to that — especially since he didn’t live to 86 (1847-1931; this is a demonstration of the faults of memory, especially mine).

The interviewer asked Edison, the inventor and practical applicator of chemistry and physics, what he thought of new science, specifically, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.  Edison’s answer was direct, honest and startling — so much so that I wrote it down on a long-lost notepad.

‘I don’t think anything of Einstein’s theory of relativity,’ Edison said, ‘because I don’t understand it.’

Can you help me track down exactly what Edison said about relativity, and where and when?


Happy birthday, Albert Einstein!

March 14, 2013

How many ways can we say happy birthday to a great scientist born on Pi Day?  So, an encore post.

E=mcc - logo from AIP

E=energy; m=mass; c=speed of light

Happy Einstein Day! to us.  Albert’s been dead since 1955 — sadly for us.  Our celebrations now are more for our own satisfaction and curiosity, and to honor the great man — he’s beyond caring.

Almost fitting that he was born on π Day, no? I mean, is there an E=mc² Day?

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, to Hermann and Pauline Einstein. 26 years later, three days after his birthday, he sent off the paper on the photo-electric effect; that paper would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics in another five years, in 1921. In that same year of 1905, he published three other papers, solving the mystery of Brownian motion, describing what became known as the Special Theory of Relativity and solving the mystery of why measurements of the light did not show any effects of motion as Maxwell had predicted, and a final paper that noted a particle emitting light energy loses mass. This final paper amused Einstein because it seemed so ludicrous in its logical extension that energy and matter are really the same stuff at some fundamental point, as expressed in the equation demonstrating an enormous amount of energy stored in atoms, E=mc².

Albert Einstein as a younger man - Nobel Foundation image

Albert Einstein as a younger man – Nobel Foundation image

Any one of the papers would have been a career-capper for any physicist. Einstein dashed them off in just a few months, forever changing the fields of physics. And, you noticed: Einstein did not win a Nobel for the Special Theory of Relativity, nor for E=mc². He won it for the photo electric effect. Irony in history.

106 years later Einstein’s work affects us every day. Relativity theory at some level I don’t understand makes possible the use Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which revolutionized navigation and mundane things like land surveying and microwave dish placement. Development of nuclear power both gives us hope for an energy-rich future, and gives us fear of nuclear war. Sometimes, even the hope of the energy rich future gives us fear, as we watch and hope nuclear engineers can control the piles in nuclear power plants damaged by earthquakes and tsunami in Japan.

English: Albert Einstein on a 1966 US stamp

Albert Einstein on a 1966 US stamp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Albert Einstein was a genius at physics, he was more dedicated to pacifism. He resigned his German citizenship to avoid military conscription. His pacifism made the German Nazis nervous; Einstein fled Germany in the 1930s, eventually settling in the United States. In the U.S., he was persuaded by Leo Szilard to write to President Franklin Roosevelt to suggest the U.S. start a program to develop an atomic weapon, because Germany most certainly was doing exactly that. But while urging FDR to keep up with the Germans, Einstein refused to participate in the program himself, sticking to his pacifist views. Others could, and would, design and build atomic bombs. (Maybe it’s a virus among nuclear physicists — several of those working on the Manhattan Project were pacifists, and had great difficulty reconciling the idea that the weapon they worked on to beat Germany, was deployed on Japan, which did not have a nuclear weapons program.)

English: USSR stamp dedicated to Albert Einste...

Everybody wanted to claim, and honor Einstein; USSR issued this stamp dedicated to Albert Einstein Русский: Почтовая марка СССР, посвящённая Альберту Эйнштейну (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Einstein was a not-great father, and probably not a terribly faithful husband at first — though he did think to give his first wife, in the divorce settlement, a share of a Nobel Prize should he win it. Einstein was a good violinist, a competent sailor, an incompetent dresser, and a great character. His sister suffered a paralyzing stroke. For many months Albert spent hours a day reading to her the newspapers and books of the day, convinced that though mute and appearing unconscious, she would benefit from hearing the words. He said he did not hold to orthodox religions, but could there be a greater show of faith in human spirit?

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

When people hear clever sayings, but forget to whom the bon mots should be attributed, Einstein is one of about five candidates to whom all sorts of things are attributed, though he never said them. (Others include Lincoln, Jefferson, Mark Twain and Will Rogers). Einstein is the only scientist in that group. So, for example, we can be quite sure Einstein never claimed that compound interest was the best idea of the 20th century. This phenomenon is symbolic of the high regard people have for the man, even though so few understand what his work was, or meant.

A most interesting man. A most important body of work. He deserves more study and regard than he gets.

More, Resources:


Belated birthday wishes to Albert Einstein!

March 15, 2012

Did you do what I did yesterday?  I got so wrapped up in Pi Day festivities that I forgot to offer birthday wishes to Albert Einstein.

So, an encore post.

E=mcc - logo from AIP

E=energy; m=mass; c=speed of light

Happy Einstein Day (a day late)! Almost fitting that he was born on π Day, no? I mean, is there an E=mc² Day?

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, to Hermann and Pauline Einstein. 26 years later, three days after his birthday, he sent off the paper on the photo-electric effect; that paper would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics in another five years, in 1921. In that same year of 1905, he published three other papers, solving the mystery of Brownian motion, describing what became known as the Special Theory of Relativity and solving the mystery of why measurements of the light did not show any effects of motion as Maxwell had predicted, and a final paper that noted a particle emitting light energy loses mass. This final paper amused Einstein because it seemed so ludicrous in its logical extension that energy and matter are really the same stuff at some fundamental point, as expressed in the equation demonstrating an enormous amount of energy stored in atoms, E=mc².

Albert Einstein as a younger man - Nobel Foundation image

Albert Einstein as a younger man - Nobel Foundation image

Any one of the papers would have been a career-capper for any physicist. Einstein dashed them off in just a few months, forever changing the field of physics. And, you noticed: Einstein did not win a Nobel for the Special Theory of Relativity, nor for E=mc². He won it for the photo electric effect. Irony in history.

106 years later Einstein’s work affects us every day. Relativity theory at some level I don’t understand makes possible the use Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which revolutionized navigation and mundane things like land surveying and microwave dish placement. Development of nuclear power both gives us hope for an energy-rich future, and gives us fear of nuclear war. Sometimes, even the hope of the energy rich future gives us fear, as we watch and hope nuclear engineers can control the piles in nuclear power plants damaged by earthquakes and tsunami in Japan.

If Albert Einstein was a genius at physics, he was more dedicated to pacifism. He resigned his German citizenship to avoid military conscription. His pacifism made the German Nazis nervous; Einstein fled Germany in the 1930s, eventually settling in the United States. In the U.S., he was persuaded by Leo Szilard to write to President Franklin Roosevelt to suggest the U.S. start a program to develop an atomic weapon, because Germany most certainly was doing exactly that. But Einstein refused to participate in the program himself, sticking to his pacifist views. Others could, and would, design and build atomic bombs. (Maybe it’s a virus among nuclear physicists — several of those working on the Manhattan Project were pacifists, and had great difficulty reconciling the idea that the weapon they worked on to beat Germany, was deployed on Japan, which did not have a nuclear weapons program.)

Einstein was a not-great father, and probably not a terribly faithful husband at first — though he did think to give his first wife a share of a Nobel Prize should he win it in the divorce settlement. Einstein was a good violinist, a competent sailor, an incompetent dresser, and a great character. His sister suffered a paralyzing stroke. For many months Albert spent hours a day reading to her the newspapers and books of the day, convinced that mute and appearing unconscious, she would benefit from hearing the words. He said he did not hold to orthodox religions, but could there be a greater show of faith in human spirit?

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

When people hear clever sayings, but forget to whom the bon mots should be attributed, Einstein is one of about five candidates to whom all sorts of things are attributed, though he never said them. (Others include Lincoln, Jefferson, Mark Twain and Will Rogers). Einstein is the only scientist in that group. So, for example, we can be quite sure Einstein never claimed that compound interest was the best idea of the 20th century. This phenomenon is symbolic of the high regard people have for the man, even though so few understand what his work was, or meant.

A most interesting man. A most important body of work. He deserves more study and regard than he gets.

More, Resources:


March 14: Happy birthday, Albert Einstein! (b. 1879)

March 14, 2011

E=mcc - logo from AIP

E=energy; m=mass; c=speed of light

Happy Einstein Day!  Almost fitting that he was born on π Day, no?  I mean, is there an E=mc² Day?

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, to Hermann and Pauline Einstein.  26 years later, three days after his birthday, he sent off the paper on the photo-electric effect, the paper that would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics five years later, in 1921.  In that same year of 1905, he published three other papers, solving the mystery of Brownian motion, describing what became known as the Special Theory of Relativity and solving the mystery of why measurements of the light did not show any effects of motion as Maxwell had predicted, and a final paper that noted a particle emitting light energy loses mass.  This final paper amused Einstein because it seemed so ludicrous in its logical extension that energy and matter are really the same stuff at some fundamental point, as expressed in the equation demonstrating an enormous amount of energy stored in atoms, E=mc².

Albert Einstein as a younger man - Nobel Foundation image

Albert Einstein as a younger man - Nobel Foundation image

Any one of the papers would have been a career-capper for any physicist.  Einstein dashed them off in just a few months, forever changing the field of physics.  And, you noticed:  Einstein did not win a Nobel for the Special Theory of Relativity, nor for E=mc².  He won it for the photo electric effect.  Irony in history.

106 years later Einstein’s work affects us every day.  Relativity theory at some level I don’t understand makes possible the use Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which revolutionized navigation and mundane things like land surveying and microwave dish placement.  Development of nuclear power both gives us hope for an energy-rich future, and gives us fear of nuclear war.  Sometimes, even the hope of the energy rich future gives us fear, as we watch and hope nuclear engineers can control the piles in nuclear power plants damaged by earthquakes and tsunami in Japan.

If Albert Einstein was a genius at physics, he was more dedicated to pacifism.  He resigned his German citizenship to avoid military conscription.  His pacifism made the German Nazis nervous; Einstein fled Germany in the 1930s, eventually settling in the United States.  In the U.S., he was persuaded by Leo Szilard to write to President Franklin Roosevelt to suggest the U.S. start a program to develop an atomic weapon, because Germany most certainly was doing exactly that.  But Einstein refused to participate in the program himself, sticking to his pacifist views.  Others could, and would, design and build atomic bombs.  (Maybe it’s a virus among nuclear physicists — several of those working on the Manhattan Project were pacifists, and had great difficulty reconciling the idea that the weapon they worked on to beat Germany, was deployed on Japan, which did not have a nuclear weapons program.)

Einstein was a not-great father, and probably not  a terribly faithful husband at first — though he did think to give his first wife a share of a Nobel Prize should he win it in the divorce settlement.  Einstein was a good violinist, a competent sailor, an incompetent dresser, and a great character.  His sister suffered a paralyzing stroke.  For many months Albert spent hours a day reading to her the newspapers and books of the day, convinced that mute and appearing unconscious, she would benefit from hearing the words.  He said he did not hold to orthodox religions, but could there be a greater show of faith in human spirit?

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

When people hear clever sayings, but forget to whom the bon mots should be attributed, Einstein is one of about five candidates to whom all sorts of things are attributed, though he never said them.  (Others include Lincoln, Jefferson, Mark Twain and Will Rogers).  Einstein is the only scientist in that group.  So, for example, we can be quite sure Einstein never claimed that compound interest was the best idea of the 20th century.  This phenomenon is symbolic of the high regard people have for the man, even though so few understand what his work was, or meant.

A most interesting man.  A most important body of work.  He deserves more study and regard than he gets.

More, Resources:


Quote of the moment: Frank Zappa, on hydrogen or stupidity

June 29, 2010

Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.

Cover of The Real Frank Zappa Book

Cover of The Real Frank Zappa Book - Wikimedia image

—  Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso: The Real Frank Zappa Book , 1989, page 239

Actually, I think the claim is that hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, since it’s so simple.  Its abundance is a result of that simplicity.

Physics in 2010 would probably go for dark matter as even more plentiful than hydrogen, but so little is known about dark matter.  As we learn more about dark matter, we could discover Zappa was a physics theorist before his time.  It’s a short line from Zappa to Zwicky.

______________

I’m relieved to have a credible source for the quote — I had found it attributed to Einstein, another case of Darrell’s Law of Quote Misattribution (“any good quote whose source is unknown will be attributed to Jefferson, Lincoln or Einstein; consequently any quote attributed to those people should be sourced before being taken as accurate”).

A couple more I’d like to put to bed, both attributed to Einstein:

  • “The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits” (from a coffee mug I got years ago at the late Shakespeare, Beethoven & Co.).
  • “Coffee makes me smart” (from another coffee mug).
Simulation of the distribution of dark matter haloes - Max Planck Institute

Simulation of the distribution of dark matter haloes - Max Planck Institute

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True, but did Einstein say it?

May 6, 2009

Poster by Ricardo Levins Morales. Updated March 2015 - click image to purchase a copy of the poster from Mr. Morales.

Poster by Ricardo Levins Morales. Updated March 2015 – click image to purchase a copy of the poster from Mr. Morales.

Nice poster, great thought — you can’t measure everything about a student with a test, nor with a battery of tests.  Texas testing in core areas finished up last week, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate testing runs this week.

Not everything that can be counted, counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
– Albert Einstein

I especially thought of this quote one day last week while reading the questions to a kid with Downs syndrome who, as best I could measure from just watching reactions working problems, has a great flair for mathematics, and again when I discovered a geographic genius in the special education group.  (My classes say universally the tests were easy — and for some reason I find that terrifying.)

Did Einstein say it? I found the poster at Learning is More Than a Score; it can be purchased from the Northland Poster Collective.  Neither suggests where we might verify that Albert actually said it, though Bob Murphy at More Than a Score said he understands it may have been on the wall in Einstein’s office.  The artist is Ricardo Levins Morales (see more at Ricardo Levins Morales Galleries).

Readers, can you help?  Did Einstein say that?  When and where?

Update March 2015:  Quote Investigator urges that we attribute the quote to William Bruce Cameron, in a 1963 book.


Quote of the moment: Einstein on nature’s secrecy

April 1, 2009

Einstein

Einstein

Nature conceals her secrets because she is sublime, not because she is a trickster.


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