September 5, 2004 12:24 AM   Subscribe

The most comprehensive presentation ever mounted on the life, theories, and the social and political involvement of Albert Einstein will be at the Skirball Cultural centerr, Los Angeles, from September 14, organized by the American Museum of Natural History, and revived by Tom Teicholz. Incidentally, Discover magazine dedicates the whole September issue to Einstein (subscription).
posted by semmi (6 comments total)
After flipping idly through the Discover special Einstein edition, I had to wonder, what is the point of these personality cults in science? The same has emerged in the field of evolutionary biology, where the arch-atheist Richard Dawkins has called for the celebration of February 12 (Darwin's Birthday) as "Darwin Day" -- and for all I know dreaming of pilgrimages, the reading of texts, and and caroling to accompany it. Obviously Einstein and Darwin were interesting men, but shouldn't the emphasis be on the work, and most importantly, the work in the context of the ongoing stream of scientific discovery? What about context? No man (to coin a phrase) is an island. Newton had the grace to observe that he stood on the shoulders of giants. But scientific discoverers also stand on the shoulders of gnats: the thousands of anonymous laborers in the vineyards of research, who prepare the ground and plant the soil from which the big names have reaped.
posted by Faze at 7:47 AM on September 5, 2004

No man (to coin a phrase) is an island.

Faze: That's the whole point in celebrating men whose lives, theories, and their social and political involvements altered the world in a positive sense.
posted by semmi at 12:39 PM on September 5, 2004

Einstein is notable precisely because his accomplishments were so singular. In 1905 there was Newtonian mechanics -- which had been bedrock since the very beginning of physics -- and electromagnetism. Einstein found a tiny inconsistency (the speed of light being measured as the same no matter which way the observer (the earth, really) was moving), put a chisel in the crack, and and built a completely new theory overturning Newton's foundation and uniting all elements of existing physics (motion, gravity, elecromagnetism, and time) -- moreover, the theory was aesthetically beautiful. He did it all independently; the original special relativity paper had no footnotes.
posted by Tlogmer at 12:39 PM on September 5, 2004

Disover's Einstein issue is OK, but Scientific American's is better.
posted by Tlogmer at 12:44 PM on September 5, 2004

He did it all independently

Sorry; that's an overstatement. He did a special relativity completely independently and general relativity almost completely independently.

(Ack, triple post.)
posted by Tlogmer at 12:46 PM on September 5, 2004

one interesting bit about newton is that he did not write F=m*dv/dt but rather F=d(mv)/dt ... it's not inconceivable that he suspected something.
posted by dorian at 1:34 PM on September 5, 2004

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