The kindly, white-heaired old fellow with the bushy mustache once called "the world's grandfather," Albert Einstein was easily the twentieth century's most remarkable and revered man of science. His leaps of imagination changed forever the way we look at the universe. He gained international celebrity by the very force of his personality, his wry sense of humor (often at the expense of himself), and his limitless humanity.
The mind of Albert Einstein bulged at the seams not only with mathematics and physics but also with an insatiable curiosity about life itself. His wide-ranging observations and opinions about the nature of life and the world--not to mention the life and world of nature--are rich in insight, wit, and wisdom. His vision also us a unique opportunity to see ourselves. His thoughts are treasures in small packages; taken as a whole, they offer images and ideas of what we are and what it is possible to be.
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About the Author
Jerry Mayer and John P. Holms collaborated on the one-man show you know Al, he's a funny guy. They live in New York City.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is one of the most influential figures of the modern era. Working in Germany, Switzerland and US, he radically transformed our understanding of the universe and took an outspoken stance on the significant political and social issues of his time. He was the father of the theory of relativity and a major contributor to quantum theory yet always found time for the political causes close to his heart.
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Quotations on Just About Everything from the Greatest Mind of the Twentieth Century
By Jerry Mayer, John P. Holms
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1996 Jerry Mayer and John P. Holms
All rights reserved.
ON ART AND MUSIC
What applies to jokes I suppose also applies to pictures and to plays. I think they should not smell of logical scheme, but of a delicious fragment of life, scintillating with various colors, according to the position of the beholder. If one wants to get away from this vagueness, one must take up mathematics.
In music I do not look for logic. I am quite intuitive on the whole and know no theories.
[On Richard Strauss]: Gifted, but without inner truth.
This is what I have to say about Bach's life work: listen, play, love, revere — and keep your mouth shut.
Handel is good — even perfect — but he has a certain shallowness.
True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist. I can feel this urge in Ernst Bloch's work as in few later musicians.
[On Beethoven]: For me too dramatic and too personal.
[On Brahms]: Most of his works have for me no inner persuasiveness. I do not understand why it was necessary to write them.
I admire Wagner's inventiveness, but I see his lack of architectural structure as decadence. Moreover, to me his musical personality is indescribably offensive, so that for the most part I can listen to him only with disgust.
[On Schumann]: Attractive in his smaller works.
[On Felix Mendelssohn]: Considerable talent but an indefinable lack of depth that often leads to banality.
Culture in its higher forms is a delicate plant.
Mastery demands all of a person. Toscanini demonstrates this in every manifestation of his life.
[On George Bernard Shaw]: Only to a tiny minority is it given to fascinate their generation by subtle humor and grace and to hold the mirror up to it by the impersonal agency of art. Today I salute with sincere emotion the supreme master of the method, who has delighted — and educated — us all.
One flower is beautiful, a surfeit of flowers is vulgar.
Music does not influence research work, but both are nourished by the same source of longing, and they complement one another in the release they offer.
If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music ... I get most joy in life out of music.
I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.CHAPTER 2
ON ETHICS AND MORALITY
People of our type see in morality a purely human matter, albeit the most important in the human sphere.
Ethics is a science about moral values, but not a science to discover moral "truths."
I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.
The foundation of all human values is morality. To have recognized this is the unique greatness of our Moses. In contrast, look at the people today!
Morality is of the highest importance — but for us, not for God.
Do not pride yourself on the few great men who, over the centuries, have been born on your earth — through no merit of yours. Reflect, rather, on how you treated them at the time, and how you have followed their teachings.
Nothing truly valuable arises from ambition or from a mere sense of duty; it stems rather from love and devotion towards men and towards objective things.
The foundation of morality should not be made dependent on myth nor tied to any authority lest doubt about the myth or about the legitimacy of the authority imperil the foundation of sound judgment and action.
Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.
A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts, and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty ... We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.
The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.
Comfort and happiness have never appeared to me as a goal. I call these ethical bases the ideal of the swineherd.
In the service of life sacrifice becomes grace.
Nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called "the predatory phase" of human development.
The destiny of civilized humanity depends more than ever on the moral forces it is capable of generating.
Where the pure see purity, the pig sees smut.
The commonplace goals of human endeavor — possessions, outward success and luxury have always seemed to me despicable, since early youth.
I prefer silent vice to ostentatious virtue.
We do things, but we do not know why we do them.
Humanity is more important than national citizenship.CHAPTER 3
[To his niece]: I hear from Elsa that you are dissatisfied because you did not see your Uncle Einstein. Let me therefore tell you what I look like: pale face, long hair, and a tiny beginning of a paunch. In addition an awkward gait, and a cigar in the mouth — if he happens to have a cigar — and a pen in his pocket or his hand. But crooked legs and warts he does not have, and so he is quite handsome — also no hair on his hands as is often found on ugly men. So it is indeed a pity that you did not see me. With warm greetings from Your Uncle Einstein.
I collect nothing but unanswered correspondence and people, who, with justification, are dissatisfied with me. But can it be otherwise with a man possessed. As in my youth, I sit here endlessly and think and calculate, hoping to unearth deep secrets. The so-called Great World, that is, men's bustle, has less attraction than ever, so that each day I find myself becoming more of a hermit.
I am truly a "lone traveler."
With fame I became more and more stupid, which, of course, is a very common phenomenon. There is far too great a disproportion between what one is and what others think one is, or at least what they say they think one is. But one has to take it all with good humor.
All I have is the stubbornness of a mule; no, that's not quite all, I also have a nose.
With me, every peep becomes a trumpet solo.
Yesterday idolized, today hated and spit upon, tomorrow forgotten, and the day after tomorrow promoted to Sainthood. The only salvation is a sense of humor, and we will keep that as long as we draw breath.
I live in that solitude that is painful in youth but delicious in the years of maturity.
It was no different in Berlin, and before that in Switzerland. One is born a loner.
To one bent by age death will come as a release; I feel this quite strongly now that I have grown old myself and have come to regard death like an old debt, at long last to be discharged.
It's not that I'm so smart; it's just that I stay with problems longer.
I have no special gift. I am only passionately curious.
Everything that has anything to do with the cult of personality has always been painful to me.
Neckties and cuffs exist for me only as remote memories.
In the course of my long life I have received from my fellow men far more recognition than I deserve, and I confess that my sense of shame has always outweighed my pleasure therein.
People flatter me as long as I do not get in their way.
Here is yet another application of the principle of relativity for the delectation of the reader: today I am described in Germany as a "German savant," and in England as a "Swiss Jew." Should it ever be my fate to be represented as a bête noire, I should, on the contrary, become a "Swiss Jew" for the Germans and a "German savant" for the English.
My part in producing the atomic bomb consisted in a single act: I signed a letter to President Roosevelt, to press the need for experiments on a large scale in order to explore the possibilities for the production of an atomic bomb. The likelihood that the Germans were working on the same problem with a chance of succeeding forced me to this step.
I have never belonged wholeheartedly to any country or state, to my circle of friends, or even to my own family. These ties have always been accompanied by a vague aloofness, and the wish to withdraw into myself increases with the years.
I've had good ideas, and so have other men. But it's been my good fortune that my ideas have been accepted.
I am the Jewish Saint.
I made one great mistake in my life when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification — the danger that the Germans would make them.
The only way to escape the personal corruption of praise is to go on working. One is tempted to stop and listen to it. The only thing is to turn away and go on working. Work. There is nothing else.
[At a dinner in his honor]: I thank you for all the things you have said of me. If I believed them I would not be sane, and since I know I am sane, I do not believe them.
I am happy because I want nothing from anyone. I do not care for money. Decorations, titles, or distinctions mean nothing to me. I do not crave praise. The only thing that gives me pleasure, apart from my work, my violin, and my sailboat, is the appreciation of my fellow-workers.
My power, my particular ability, lies in visualizing the effects, consequences and possibilities, and the bearings on present thought of the discoveries of others. I grasp things in a broad way easily. I cannot do mathematical calculations easily. I do them not willingly and not readily. Others perform these details better.CHAPTER 4
What a peculiar way this is to weather the storms of life — in many a lucid moment I appear to myself as an ostrich who buries his head in the desert sand so as not to perceive the danger. One creates a small little world for oneself, and as lamentably insignificant as it may be in comparison with the ever-changing greatness of real existence, one feels miraculously large and important, just like a mole in his self-dug hole.
My scientific work is motivated by an irresistible longing to understand the secrets of nature and by no other feelings. My love for justice and the striving to contribute toward the improvement of human conditions are quite independent from my scientific interests.
The sea has a look of indescribable grandeur, especially when the sun falls on it. One feels as if one is dissolved and merged into Nature. Even more than usual, one feels the insignificance of the individual, and it makes one happy.
Why denigrate oneself? Others take care of that when necessary.
I regret that I cannot accede to your request, because I should like very much to remain in the darkness of not having been analyzed. [On a request from an analyst that Einstein allow himself to be psychoanalyzed.]
One is born into a herd of buffaloes and must be glad if one is not trampled underfoot before one's time.
The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.
Two things inspire me to awe — the starry heavens above and the moral universe within.
We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.
Without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.
A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of others.
Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.
Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing. If I had my life to live over again, I'd be a plumber.
Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
Falling in love is not at all the most stupid thing that people do — but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it.
I never think of the future — it comes soon enough.
It is really a puzzle what drives one to take one's work so devilishly seriously. For whom? For oneself? — one soon leaves, after all. For one's contemporaries? For posterity? No, it remains a puzzle.
Never lose a holy curiosity.
Make friends with a few animals. Then you will become a cheerful man once more and nothing will be able to trouble you.
Bureaucracy is the death of any achievement.
There is much truth in the saying that it is easy to give just and wise counsel — to others! — but hard to act justly and wisely for oneself.
I was supposed to choose a practical profession, but this was simply unbearable to me.
Work is the only thing that gives substance to life.
After all, our goals are merely soap bubbles.
We are all two-legged animals descended from the apes.
I can die without the help of doctors.
The people of northern Italy are the most civilized people I have ever met.
In my relativity theory I set up a clock at every point in space, but in reality I find it difficult to provide even one clock in my room.
My wife does my mathematics.
The filthier a nation is, the tougher it is.
I'm glad my wife doesn't know any science; my first wife did.
Only when we are born and when we die are we permitted to act in an honest way.
It is interesting how even the closest of family ties dwindle into habitual friendship. Deep inside we no longer understand one another, and are incapable of actively empathizing with the other, or knowing what emotions move the other.
I have come to know the mutability of all human relations and learned to isolate myself from heat and cold so that the temperature balance is fairly well assured.
I know a little about nature and hardly anything about men.
God never tells us in advance whether the course we are to follow is the correct one.
The end comes sometime: Does it matter when?
Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.
My mother is of a good disposition, on the whole, but a true devil as mother-inlaw. When she is with us then everything is filled with dynamite.
People are like the ocean: sometimes smooth and friendly, at others stormy and full of malice. The important thing to remember is that they too are mostly made of water.
Misfortune suits humanity incomparably better than success.
Everyone has to sacrifice at the altar of stupidity from time to time, to please the Deity and the human race.
Physicists are all a bit crazy, aren't they? But it's just the same with racehorses: what one buys one has to sell.
Egoism and competition are, alas, stronger forces than public spirit and sense of duty.
I do not mind that you are a girl, but the main thing is that you yourself do not mind. There is no reason for it.
Biological procedures cannot be expressed in mathematical formulae.
Being occupied with the opposite sex is as delightful as it is necessary, but it must not become one of the main tenors of life, otherwise the person is lost.
What a strange thing must be a girl's soul! Do you really believe that you could find permanent happiness through others, even if this be the one and only beloved man? I know this sort of animal personally, from my own experience, as I am one of them myself. Not too much should be expected from them, this I know quite exactly.
Marriage is the unsuccessful attempt to make something lasting out of an incident.
When women are in their homes, they are attached to their furniture. They run round it all day long and are always fussing over it. But when I am with a woman on a journey, I am the only piece of furniture she has available, and she cannot refrain from moving round me all day long and improving something about me.CHAPTER 5
Perfection of means and confusion of aims seems, in my opinion, to characterize our age.
In order to be an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must above all be a sheep oneself.
It is easier to denature plutonium than it is to denature the evil spirit of man.
All our lauded technological progress — our very civilization — is like the ax in the hand of the pathological criminal.
The discovery of nuclear chain reactions need not bring about the destruction of mankind, any more than did the discovery of matches.
Conviction is a good mainspring, but a bad regulator.
As a human being, one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists.
It is still the best to concern oneself with eternals, for from them alone flows the spirit that can restore peace and serenity to the world of humans.
In Nature, the overall principles represent a higher reality than does the single object.
Excerpted from Bite-Size Einstein by Jerry Mayer, John P. Holms. Copyright © 1996 Jerry Mayer and John P. Holms. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
ON ART AND MUSIC,
ON ETHICS AND MORALITY,
ON SOCIAL MATTERS,
ON WAR AND PEACE,
About Albert Einstein,
About the Editors,