Thursday, February 04, 2010

Einstein: Even Geniuses Mess Up

This month my blog is a response to Einstein's biography.

Einstein had a miracle year where he wrote 5 papers that changed Physics forever.

It is interesting how one hits a sweet spot of energy and risk- a youthful exuberance that allows the freedom to fail and the possibility of world changing significance.

According to Einstein, it is a short season- I put two quotes together that expresses this idea:

Anything truly novel is invented only during one’s youth- later he becomes more experienced, more famous, more block headed... Soon I will reach the age of stagnation and sterility when one laments the revolutionary spirit of the young- to punish me for my contempt of authority, Fate has made me an authority myself.

So Einstein hit that sweet spot and changed the world. He still contributed a ton in the aftermath- but he had the right starting point, the right questions, the right imagination, and stayed true to his convictions

Then he made an error- what he called his 'greatest blunder'.

As he was making his calculations and doing more 'thought experiments'- his instinct caused the idea to jump out that the universe was moving.

"That can't be" - was his thought. Every idea at that time was a static model of the universe. It was accepted as a universal truth.

So he did something that is used at times in theoretical physics... he added a cosmological constant in his equations to freeze the universe in place. He fudged the numbers.... He fixed the problem with a variable. You have to do that when you are at the edge of the unknown and transcendent.

Then in the 1920's Edwin Hubble discovered something..... the universe was expanding and slowing.... it was not static.

Had Einstein been willing to follow his sweet spot hunches- we would most likely call  'The Big Bang"- "Einstein's Big Bang".

Now don't misunderstand 'blunder'. The blunder was not adding the constant, in fact his variable is quite useful in the theory of cosmology.

The blunder was hiding from the truth. Letting his incorrect pre-suppositions prevent him from following the path of truth. See, it would have shaken the rafters if he put this idea out... the world was not ready.

I love how he laughed it off and shrugged it off. Oh that we all would be so willing to say... I goofed and just go on.

By the way- Christians do not need to be afraid of the 'Big Bang' because a moving universe suggests a cause and behind the cause ultimately has to be An Uncaused Cause. This is not Christianity or even theism yet- but it actually supports the Bible's account of a beginning.

A couple of closing points:
How do we handle our mistakes?
How do we handle the mistakes of others?

This is a big deal because even geniuses screw it up every now and then.

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