Sunday, March 20, 2011

Relatively Speaking


Among hundreds of scientists who enriched the world in the twentieth century by their research works, probably Albert Einstein [1879-1955] is the only scientist who is admired and appreciated even today as a person who worked ceaselessly towards establishing permanent peace in the world. Bertrand Russell wrote in 1924 that the Theory of Relativity which Einstein created when he was just 26 years old is ‘probably the greatest scientific achievement of the human intellect up to the present time as it sums up the mathematical and physical labours of more than 2,000years’. Even though most of the people are not able to comprehend the Theory of Relativity or the implication of the formula E=mc2 square, still his name commands respect even today, more as a man of peace than as a scientist—A scientist who discovered the meaning and purpose of human life and who also believed in the Vedic concept of the Divinity of Man.

At the height of his fame, Einstein’s name was on everyone’s lips. Simple and unassuming, he disliked the adulation and adoration showered upon him. He would often exclaim vexedly “Everybody talks about me and nobody understands me”. What exactly Einstein meant by this statement would be clear from the following anecdotes:

EINSTEIN AND HIS DRIVER: Soon after his name became a household word in the scientific world with his discovery of the Theory of Relativity in 1905, Einstein was invited by several universities for delivering a talk on his specialized subject. One day, his chauffer told him “Mr. Einstein, I have heard your talk so far, nearly thirty times and I know the whole talk by heart. I now bet that I can deliver the talk myself on Relativity”. Einstein readily agreed to the suggestion and told his driver that at the next university which he was visiting for the first time he would be given a chance. When they were about to reach the university, Einstein and his driver exchanged places in the car as also their dresses. While they reached the university, Einstein was at the wheels and the driver was sitting at the rear. Mistaking the man sitting at the rear seat to be Einstein, the authorities received him with honour and led him on to the platform. After introductory remarks, it was time for the guest speaker to speak and he spoke and was highly applauded. However, during question hour, one of the professors asked a complex question that was extremely difficult to be answered extempore. However, the driver was quite shrewd. Without losing composure, he remarked ‘Gentlemen, your question is so simple that even my driver who is sitting there in the last row can answer it for you”.
The driver came on to the stage and satisfied the professor completely with his reply.

EINSTEIN AS A WORLD CITIZEN: During the eclipse of 1911, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity had been completely proved right to the exact decimal point.
When Einstein received the photographs, he viewed them with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Now that my Theory of Relativity has been proved right” he chuckled, “Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a Citizen of the World. Had my Theory been proved false, France would have said that I was a German and Germany would have declared that I was a Jew”

RELATIVITY AND A PRETTY GIRL: On being asked by a pretty girl to explain the Theory of Relativity, Einstein said “When a man sits with a pretty girl like you for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it will seem like more than an hour. That is Relativity”

WOMEN AND RELATIVITY: When the Einsteins arrived in America, reporters and a crowd with a large number of ladies milled around them as their ship berthed. People started firing questions at Einstein. One lady asked him “How do you like America?’ Einstein said “I do not know it as yet”. Some other reporter asked “Can you explain the Theory of Relativity in one sentence?” “Out of question” replied the scientist. One lady asked “Why we, women, are so much excited about your Theory?’ Einstein replied “Because women like a new fashion every year and this year it is the Theory of Relativity”

RELATIVITY AND EINSTEIN’S DRESS: During one of his lecture tours to France, Einstein’s second wife Elsa carefully packed his suitcase and warned him
“The black suit is to be worn on the evening you make your speech. Don’t forget.
Put on the clean shirt, the tie and please, please, the socks!” He dutifully nodded.
On his return, Elsa found the suitcase untouched. Einstein smiled ruefully, “I guess I forgot –but then they came to hear what I had to say and not to see whether I was fashionably dressed. Isn’t that so?”

RELATIVITY IN THE LAYMAN’S LANGUAGE : Einstein was once asked to explain his Theory of Relativity in words that a layman might follow. He explained like this:
“Well” said Einstein, “I was once walking in the country with a blind friend of mine. The day was hot and I said I would enjoy a nice cool drink of “MILK”
“Milk!” asked my friend, “Drink I understand, but what is milk?”
“A white liquid” I explained
“Liquid I understand but what is white?”
“The colour of a swan’s feather”
“Feather I understand but what is a swan?”
“A bird with a crooked neck”
“Neck I understand but what is crooked?”
I gently took his arm and straightened it. “That is straight” I said. Then I bent it slightly at the elbow and said “That is crooked”
“Oh! Exclaimed the blind friend “now I understand what you mean by “MILK”

B.M.N. Murthy

ARTICLE No. 369--Albert Einstein and his Theory of Relativity
Created: Friday, May 4, 2007


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