Thursday, December 16, 2010

Einstein's Cosmological Philosophy

[Presentation to Philosophy Club, The Villages, FL, 17 Dec 2010. Download the PowerPoint charts here]

Do I have any special qualifications for giving this presentation? Well, both he and I ride bicycles, and, Einstein in German means "One Stone" while mine (German spelling: Glücksstein) means "Lucky Stone" :^).

My main source is Walter Isaacson's excellent 2007 book, Einstein, His Life and Universe. I also used Einstein's own The World as I see It (1949) and Out of My Later Years (1950), and a number of online sources including Wikipedia Einstein and Cosmology, Wikiquote,, and Einstein's 1427 page FBI FOIA file.

POLITICS: Was Einstein a Socialist?

Let us get this out of the way at the outset. Yes, he was a socialist. In Why Socialism? (1949) he wrote "I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils [of capitalism], namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, … the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. … guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. …”

However, in that same article, he cautioned "The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?"

His FBI FOIA file concludes that he "was a member, sponsor, or affiliated with thirty-four communist fronts between 1937 and 1954." IMHO the FBI was justified in denying Einstein access to classified A-Bomb information and investigating him for possible disloyalty.

Although the FBI did not discover it while he was alive, letters that became public in 1998 prove that Einstein had an affair with a Soviet spy, Margarita Konenkova, from 1941 until 1945. [Image added 24 December 2010, from Filosophando, click for larger version.]

If Einstein was alive today, I believe he would have realized, based on the subsequent history of Communism (Russia, China, ...) that his cautionary words, quoted above, were more valid than he thought they were when he uttered them in 1949. However, I also believe he would be a "social justice" western liberal/progressive and definitely not in tune with my politics.

SCIENCE: His Great Contributions

His first published paper, on the capillary forces of a straw (1901), and his second, on the thermodynamic equivalence of heat, work or particles (1902) were a non-distinguished prelude to his four amazingly breakthrough miracle year publications in 1905:

  • The Photoelectric Effect (showing that light was composed of quanta rather than continuous waves, and which later led to the wave/particle duality of quantum mechanics, and for which he won a Nobel in 1921),

  • Brownian Motion (kinetic theory of heat),

  • The Special Theory of Relativity (that uniform motion is indistinguishable from rest, and the speed of light is the same for moving or stationary observers), and,

  • The Equivalence of Mass and Energy (e = mc², and, since c, the speed of light in a vacuum is such a large number, and when you square it, it is much, much larger, a tiny abount of mass, m, is equivalent to a tremendous amount of energy, e, witness the Atom bomb)

Between 1907 and 1911 Einstein considered the equivalence of gravity and acceleration. He reasoned that a person in a closed box on Earth would, of course, experience normal gravity. However, if the closed box were transported to space, out of the influence of any nearby mass, and then accelerated to 32 ft per second squared, the person would feel the exact same effects as those of gravity on Earth.

In 1915 he published his General Theory of Relativity, showing that matter causes space-time to curve, which we experience as gravity. He predicted that the gravity of the Sun would cause the light from a star to appear to curve and this was confirmed by Eddington, during an eclipse of the Sun in 1929.

The presentation includes animated Powerpoint charts for:

  • Relativity and Speed of Light (A bullet fired from a Gun on a moving train goes faster than from a stationary vehicle, yet a light beam fired from a Laser on a moving rocket does not go faster than from a stationary vehicle), and

  • Einstein's Cosmology (Static, Oscillating, and Expanding Universes, as well as speculation on how Black Holes, predicted by Einstein in 1915, may, via Continuous Creation be the key to something like his Eternal Universe)

COSMOLOGY: Blunders or (Yet Unrecognized) Genius?

Einstein had certain strong expectations of Nature and the Universe (which, see below, he regarded as equivalent to Spinoza's God as well as his own). That led him to expect that the Universe would be static, neither expanding nor contracting, so it could be Eternal in some sense. So, in 1917, he included the Cosmological Constant (Λ) to counteract gravity. When Hubble showed that the Universe was expanding (1929), Einstein said the Cosmological Constant was his "biggest blunder" and, in that same year, adopted what is called the Friedman-Einstein oscilating Universe, which is Eternal in that the mass/energy is constant. When that became untenable, in 1932, he adopted what is called the Einstein-de Sitter Universe, which expands forever, but the rate of expansion slows down over time.

Current accepted truth is that the Universe not only expands forever, but the rate of expansion is increasing, not slowing down. (OY!) And that the Universe had a beginning in the Big Bang (OY! OY!) and it will have an end as the density of mass/energy approaches zero due to the accelerating expansion, and entropy goes to maximum (OY OY! OY!) In my presentation, I speculate (along with Fred Hoyle, Roger Penrose, and others) that black holes and multiple dimensions we cannot sense, may allow an Eternal Universe, with matter/energy continually recycled between the dimensions we can experience and the hidded dimensions, with density and entropy refreshed.

RELIGION: From Moses to Spinoza to Einstein

Young Einstein was the product of a secular family that acknowledge their Judaism. He said "As a child, I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud." So, he knew about Moses and the Rabbis, but, early on, became more enamored of Science and Spinoza. The presentation includes part of his 1920 poem to Spinoza (and in the Notes below the chart, the complete text in English and the original German), and his 1929 statement "I believe in Spinoza's God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind." For Einstein, God and Nature were one, writing in 1921 "Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not. … Nature hides her secret because of her essential loftiness, but not by means of ruse."

His dedication to determinism, in defiance of mainstream physics and the quantum mechanics whose foundation he had personally laid, was based on religious conviction that "God does not play dice with the universe" (1926). He also said, in 1931, "I am compelled to act as if free will existed …[on the other hand, I know] ‘a man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills.’" [quoting Schopenhauer]

He thought scientists needed a type of faith that springs from the religious sphere: "science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. … the faith … that the regulations [for] the world of existence are … comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." (1941) In 1931 he defined three stages of religious belief, going back to his Jewish roots and how they led him to what he considers a higher form of faith: "Jewish scriptures admirably illustrate the development from the religion of [1] fear to [2] moral religion … but there is third state of religious experience … which I will call [3] cosmic religious feeling … which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image".

He used personal terms for God, "Dear God (die Lieber Gott) ... The Old One (der Alte) ... Lord God (Herrgott)", yet he wrote in 1949: "the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. …[but] I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of Nature and of our own being." and in 1931 "I see a clock, but I cannot envision the clockmaker. The human mind is unable to conceive of the four dimensions, so how can it conceive of a God, before whom a thousand years and a thousand dimensions are as one?"

Perhaps his best advice for scientists, and everyone else, is "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." (1950)

Ira Glickstein


Johntruth said...

Very interesting.

joel said...

I don't know. It seems to me that there needs to be some benefit if one is going to sacrifice essentially human rationality. Jefferson thought that there was no religion that told the truth, but that a belief was necessary for the survival of a democracy. I don't see that Einstein's religion brings any benefit to mankind. Having abandoned his embarrassing love-child and later on leaving his wife for a mistress, does not say much for the ethical character of his religion. In fact, religion or cosmological philosophy, seems to conveniently excuse him from any human convention except a desire for the spotlight. (I'm basing this opinion on my reading of Isaacson's Einstein; His Life and Universe)

Ira Glickstein said...

Einstein's faulty moral character with respect to his wives and children certainly does not discredit his great scientific insights and contributions. Special and General Relativity would not be any truer had they been thought up by a more saintly human being, would they?

Einstein's "cosmic religious feeling" makes no pretension to be a moral guide. He simply says that any scientist must have FAITH in his own human reason and ability, and a belief that some part of the Universe is comprehensible to the scientific method. Einstein is recognized as a great scientist, not a clergyman.

As for excusing himself "from any human convention except a desire for the spotlight" he has concluded (correctly IMHO) that all is deterministic. He agrees with Schopenhauer that, while he and other humans can "do as he wills" he cannot "will as he wills". Nevertheless, he is "compelled to act as if free will existed". Do you disagree with any part of that analysis?

If you will to condemn him as self-centered, well, to some extent, like all of us, he is (and with more justification). You can not control what you will anymore than we can excuse him for his actions that violate human convention.

In any case, at least Einstein is not a hypocrite like some disgraced leaders of traditional, personal God religions, who preach moral rules that they, themselves, violate.

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

Ira said: As for excusing himself "from any human convention except a desire for the spotlight" he has concluded (correctly IMHO) that all is deterministic. He agrees with Schopenhauer that, while he and other humans can "do as he wills" he cannot "will as he wills". Nevertheless, he is "compelled to act as if free will existed". Do you disagree with any part of that analysis?

Joel responds: Yes, I disagree. (God save us from the German miasma school of philosophy). In a citation in Wikipedia, we find:

Albert Einstein in Mein Glaubensbekenntnis (August 1932): "I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer's words: 'Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants,[Der Mensch kann wohl tun, was er will, aber er kann nicht wollen, was er will]' accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper." Schopenhauer's clearer, actual words were: "You can do what you will, but in any given moment of your life you can will only one definite thing and absolutely nothing other than that one thing." [Du kannst tun was du willst: aber du kannst in jedem gegebenen Augenblick deines Lebens nur ein Bestimmtes wollen und schlechterdings nichts anderes als dieses eine.] On the Freedom of the Will, Ch. II.

The whole point of a personal code of ethics and morals, is to will yourself to want something other than that which you intuitively want. We know now that there is more than one "voice" speaking in your head at any "Augenblick." A religion with or without a personal god can be deemed successful, if it harnesses that mental multiculturalism for that individual.
By the way Ira, I got a kick out of the "slide" of Einstein with his communist spy mistress. Did you notice that he was wearing a "Members Only" jacket? What cosmic conclusion might we draw from that?

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel, I don't get your reference to Einstein wearing a "Members Only" jacket. I know he was way ahead of his times but he passed away in 1955 and, according to Wikipedia that brand of jacket was first introduced in 1981.

As for your main point, you say "(God save us from the German miasma school of philosophy)." Well, since you are a self-proclaimed athiest, you believe God is NOTHING, so your statement translates to (NOTHING can save us from the German miasma school of philosophy). Because Einstein and Schopenhauer and the (non-German) Spinoza are correct!

Yes, there are many "voices" in our brains in any instant. Some call for instant gratification "eat that donut before your wife gets to it", and some for enlightened self-interest "the scale has been complaining and you will sleep better if you skip the donut", and, if your biology plus the sum of your life experiences and you have been properly socialized and if your day has not been too bad and so on you will respect the final voice that says "a longer time horizon is generally wiser". On the other hand, there are a lot of fat people waddling around who have trouble sleeping :^)

Seriously, I have created several spreadsheet-based "AI Advisors" that are capable of giving many different "voices" according to the data supplied. However, for any given set of input data, they will always come to the same conclusion. In the determinist view, we are similar to that computer program, except we are continually being reprogrammed by ongoing experiences, which is why, some nights you give in to the "yes, one more donut won't hurt" voice, and sometimes not.

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

Very interesting. If you have access to that slide take another look. Is it possible that Einstein was literally ahead of his time? Did he travel forward to pick out his wardrobe and then zip back for his morning coffee? Did his communist spy girl friend dabble in industrial espionage for the garment mafia? There's something suspicious here. :^)

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel suggested "... take another look [at the Einstein photo with Konenkova]."

I've just added the photo to the main topic above for everyone's enjoyment and amazement.

His jacket is somewhat similar to the original 1980's style Members Only for sale now, except they are zippered while Einstein's is buttoned or snapped.

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

From David Sussman (via email, posted with his permission):


Sorry I have not recently been more active on your blog. Communication of this sort doesn’t come naturally to me, although I certainly see its potential virtues of illuminating the dark corners of one’s mind. After my current publishing exercise is completed perhaps I can once again join the fray.

Have looked at your slides on Albert. With all of his idiosyncrasies, his may still have been the most agile brain in human history, although it does seem that even he had his blind spots. Sorry I missed your exposition. Incidentally, it seems to me that it would be difficult to separate AE’s approach to epistemology from the eternal philosophical current, which at some point spawned the eddy that we call ‘science’.

Here’s a kick on a dying horse – an article sent to me about an MIT research project on magnetic stimulation of brain sites, which seems to add weight to the notion that mind is physical in nature.

Cheers, David

Ira's Reply

David: Great to hear from you again. Bill Cary mentioned that you are busy working on a book publication and I wish you success. Please post a Topic on the Blog about your book when it gets published.

I checked your link and it is interesting that magnetic pulses can change judgement of right and wrong. They were aparently able to cause subjects to make faulty (from the point of view of the greater society) moral judgements. They should work on something that causes the opposite and we could then screw the device onto convicted criminals heads and release them, saving the expense of jail time.

Ira Glickstein