Albert Einstein was born on this day in 1879. In his recent Einstein and the Quantum, A. Douglas Stone says that, while he transformed physics, “for most of his scientific career, Einstein was obsessed with solving the problems of quantum theory, not relativity theory.” Stone notes that, while Einstein rejected a number of basic tenets central to modern quantum mechanics — for example, by famously dismissing the idea of a universal uncertainty principle with the comment, “God does not play dice” — he played a central role in the evolution of what is now “the theory of everything”:
Quantum mechanics explains the periodic table of the elements, the nuclear reactions that power the sun, and the greenhouse effect that leads to global warming. The quantum theory of radiation and electrical conduction underlies all of modern information technology. Moreover, quantum mechanics has already subsumed part of relativity theory (the “special theory”). The goal of modern string theorists and their well-publicized “theory of everything” is to have quantum mechanics gobble up all of general relativity as well. Since quantum mechanics is the big kahuna, it behooves us to appreciate the role of Einstein in the “other” revolution of twentieth- century physics, the quantum one.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.