Doctor and activist

Reflections on Einstein.

9 September 2018

At a recent visit to Berne to look at Swiss democracy, I visited two Einstein museums.  I do not propose to give his biography, but merely to point out a couple of points that struck me as his life was proudly displayed. 

He had been a pacifist all his life and in 1914 signed a statement appealing to Europe and especially to scientists to commit to peace.  The pamphlet was written by Georg Nicolai in Zurich and signed by 93 famous scientists and academics, but was ignored and had little public support.  To avoid military service Einstein renounced his German citizenship and was stateless for some years, before taking Swiss citizenship.

He avoided Swiss military service because he had varicose veins, flat feet and foot perspiration!

He did not do well at school as he found it boring and attended only sometimes, did poorly in some exams and was unable to get a job as an assistant teacher.  He eventually got a job for 48 hours a week in the Swiss Patents Office, which was apparently quite a serious job in terms of its demands.  While there he did experiments using the school laboratories of a few teacher friends and wrote papers in three different areas.  He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1922, for his paper on Quantum theory, not for his later more famous work on the Special Theory of Relativity.

His famous formula, E=mc2 allowed the development of the Atomic bomb, but he was in the group that opposed this development and he was under considerable suspicion in the McCathyist era of political witch-hunts in the early 1950s.

The greatest mind of the 20th Century only went from being ignored to being under suspicion by the military establishment.  We might wonder if the best mind of the 21st century will suffer the same fate.

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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