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Walter Isaacson. Einstein: His Life and Universe. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2007 

wydanie polskie:

Walter Isaacson, Einstein, Jego życie, jego wszechświat, Wydawnictwo W.A.B., 2010, przekład Jarosław Skowroński


Walter Isaacson to amerykański pisarz, autor przede wszystkim tłumaczonych na wiele języków biografii. Rozpoczynał karierę w dziennikarstwie w The Sunday Times, a następnie w The Times-Picayune. W roku 1978 dołączył do magazynu Time jako korespondent polityczny, aby później zostać jego redaktorem naczelnym; był również szefem (chairman) CNN. Aktualnie jest prezesem The Aspen Institute (neutralna organizacja zajmująca się badaniami polityki i edukacji).


Biografia Alberta Einsteina pt. Einstein: His Life and Universe powstała znacznie wcześniej niż rozchwytywana niedawno biografia Steve’a Jobsa, bo w 2007 r. W Polsce została wydana w 2010 r., w tłumaczeniu Jarosława Skowrońskiego (wydawnictwo W.A.B.). Objętość (z przypisami prawie 700 stron) może przy pierwszym podejściu zniechęcać, ale już przebrnięcie przez pierwszy rozdział powoduje, że pokusa przeczytania całości staje się nie do odparcia, nawet dla osób z wykształceniem humanistycznym. Isaacson posiada nietypowy dar przedstawiania trudnych tematów naukowych w sposób przystępny dla każdego, a oprócz tego nie skąpi szczegółów z zagmatwanego życia prywatnego swojego bohatera (dowiadujemy się, że Einstein bynajmniej nie był Einsteinem jako dziecko, a nauczyciele współczująco poinformowali rodziców, że nie powinni pokładać w synu żadnych nadziei na przyszłość), warto więc sięgnąć po biografię twórcy teorii względności jego autorstwa.


W roku 2014 organizacja „National Endowment for Humanities” zaproponowała Isaacsonowi wygłoszenie Wykładu Jeffersona (Jefferson Lecture). Możliwość wygłoszenia Wykładu Jeffersona to najwyższa nagroda dla mówcy za wybitne osiągnięcia w dziedzinie nauk humanistycznych. Tytuł wykładu Isaacsona to The Intersection of the Humanities and the Sciences, czyli Na pograniczu nauk humanistycznych i ścisłych. Isaacson poświęcił znaczną część wykładu bohaterom napisanych przez siebie biografii, w tym Albertowi Einsteinowi – poniżej kilka fragmentów pochodzących z przemówienia:


“The other great person I wrote about who stood at the intersection of the sciences and humanities came at it from the other direction: Albert Einstein.

I have some good news for parents in this room. Einstein was no Einstein when he was a kid.

He was slow in learning how to talk. “My parents were so worried,” he later recalled, “that they consulted a doctor.” The family maid dubbed him “der Depperte,” the dopey one.[viii]

His slow development was combined with a cheeky rebelliousness toward authority, which led one schoolmaster to send him packing and another to amuse history by declaring that he would never amount to much. These traits made Albert Einstein the patron saint of distracted school kids everywhere.  But they also helped to make him, or so he later surmised, the most creative scientific genius of modern times.

His cocky contempt for authority led him to question received wisdom in ways that well-trained acolytes in the academy never contemplated. And as for his slow verbal development, he thought that it allowed him to observe with wonder the everyday phenomena that others took for granted. “When I ask myself how it happened that I in particular discovered relativity theory, it seemed to lie in the following circumstance,” Einstein once explained. “The ordinary adult never bothers his head about the problems of space and time. These are things he has thought of as a child. But I developed so slowly that I began to wonder about space and time only when I was already grown up. Consequently, I probed more deeply into the problem than an ordinary child would have.”

His success came from his imagination, rebellious spirit, and his willingness to question authority. These are things the humanities teach.

He marveled at even nature’s most mundane amazements. One day, when he was sick as a child, his father gave him a compass. As he moved it around, the needle would twitch and point north, even though nothing physical was touching it. He was so excited that he trembled and grew cold. You and I remember getting a compass when we were a kid. “Oh, look, the needle points north,” we would exclaim, and then we’d move on – “Oh, look, a dead squirrel” – to something else. But throughout his life, and even on his deathbed as he scribbled equations seeking a unified field theory, Einstein marveled at how an electromagnetic field interacted with particles and related to gravity. In other words, why that needle twitched and pointed north.

His mother, an accomplished pianist, also gave him a gift at around the same time, one that likewise would have an influence throughout his life. She arranged for him to take violin lessons. After being exposed to Mozart’s sonatas, music became both magical and emotional to him.

Soon he was playing Mozart duets with his mother accompanying him on the piano. “Mozart’s music is so pure and beautiful that I see it as a reflection of the inner beauty of the universe itself,” he later told a friend.[ix] “Of course,” he added in a remark that reflected his view of math and physics as well as of Mozart, “like all great beauty, his music was pure simplicity.”[x]

Music was no mere diversion. On the contrary, it helped him think. “Whenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or faced a difficult challenge in his work,” said his son, “he would take refuge in music and that would solve all his difficulties.”[xi] The violin thus proved useful during the years he lived alone in Berlin wrestling with general relativity. “He would often play his violin in his kitchen late at night, improvising melodies while he pondered complicated problems,” a friend recalled. “Then, suddenly, in the middle of playing, he would announce excitedly, ‘I’ve got it!’ As if by inspiration, the answer to the problem would have come to him in the midst of music.”[xii]

He had an artist’s visual imagination. He could visualize how equations were reflected in realities. As he once declared, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”[xiii]


At age 16, still puzzling over why that compass needle twitched and pointed north, he was studying James Clark Maxwell’s equations describing electromagnetic fields. If you look at Maxwell’s equations, or if you’re Einstein and you look at Maxwell’s equations, you notice that they decree that an electromagnetic wave, such as a light wave, always travels at the same speed relative to you, no matter if you’re moving really fast toward the source of the light or away from it. Einstein did a thought experiment. Imagine, he wrote, “a person could run after a light wave with the same speed as light.”[xv] Wouldn’t the wave seem stationary relative to this observer? But Maxwell’s equations didn’t allow for that. The disjuncture caused him such anxiety, he recalled, that his palms would sweat. I remember what was causing my palms to sweat at age 16 when I was growing up in New Orleans, and it wasn’t Maxwell’s equations. But that’s why he’s Einstein and I’m not.

He was not an academic superstar. In fact, he was rejected by the second best college in Zurich, the Zurich Polytech. I always wanted to track down the admissions director who rejected Albert Einstein. He finally got in, but when he graduated he couldn’t get a post as a teaching assistant or even as a high school teacher. He finally got a job as a third class examiner in the Swiss patent office.


His imaginative leap – a thought experiment done at his desk in the patent office – was that someone travelling really fast toward one of the clocks would see the timing of the signal’s arrival slightly differently from someone travelling really fast in the other direction. Clocks that looked synchronized to one of them would not look synchronized to the other. From that he made an imaginative leap. The speed of light is always constant, he said. But time is relative, depending on your state of motion. 

Now if you don’t fully get it, don’t feel bad. He was still a third-class patent clerk the next year and the year after. He couldn’t get an academic job for three more years. That’s how long it took most of the physics community to comprehend what he was saying.


Einstein had one bad effect on the connection between the humanities and the sciences. His theory of relativity, combined with quantum theory that he also pioneered, made science seem intimidating and complex, beyond the comprehension of ordinary folks, even well-educated humanists. 


My thesis is that one thing that will help restore the link between the humanities and the sciences is the human-technology symbiosis that has emerged in the digital age.”

Wykład jest dostępny w całości na stronie: http://www.neh.gov/about/awards/jefferson-lecture/walter-isaacson-lecture