Einstein’s birthday is next Monday

On today’s Talk of the Nation – Science Friday, Ira Flatow commemorated Einstein’s 126th by interviewing Dennis Overbye, science correspondent at The New York Times. The audio of this segment is available here. A recording of a 1979 interview with some of Einstein’s colleagues and students provides a very personal touch.

When I was in Junior High School, we had a somewhat overbearing substitute teacher, who one day asked us to name some famous person who would be remembered by history. My hand was first in the air, but when I said Einstein, she checked me by saying that Einstein was merely a scientist, whereas Albert Schweitzer was doing really important work.

Of course both were worthy in their own way. But-as the NPR piece indicated-Einstein was America’s first rock star.

13 thoughts on “Einstein’s birthday is next Monday

  1. Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the humanitarian, theologian, missionary, organist, and medical doctor

    Won a nobel peace prize i believe.  However, i believe your substitute to have been sadly mistaken about his impact.

  2. Sorry to Double Post, Les But i want to share with you Dr Albert Schweitzers conclusions after his extensive quest for historical proof of the existance of “Jesus Christ”


    THOSE WHO ARE FOND OF TALKING ABOUT NEGATIVE THEOLOGY CAN FIND their account here. There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the Life of Jesus.

    The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give His work its final consecration, never had any existence. He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb.

  3. Yes, because everybody knows that scientists don’t actually do any real work. After all, the men who discovered the uses for penicillen may have saved millions of lives doing so, but they were only the guys in the lab, they didn’t do any real work.

    I really hate that sort of attitude. Vern, your teacher must have sucked if she was suggesting that Einsteins work, even if it was all theoretical, was any less important than Schweitzers.

  4. One little-known accomplishment of Schweitzer’s is that he inspired the reconstruction of an imaginary artifact: the so-called Bach bow (I happen to know about this bit of arcanity because I’m a bowmaker).  In his 1905 book about Bach, he reasoned that the quadruple stops in some passages of the solo violin suites must have been meant literally, and that there must therefore have been the means to play them in Bach’s time.

    Now, normally, a violin can play two or (with lots of pressure on the bow) three notes at once, but the curvature of the bridge precludes playing all four strings at once.  Yet Bach wrote four-part chords in the suites.  The usual (and presumably correct) interpretation is that the notes are meant to be arpeggiated- that is, played one after another in some fashion.

    But Schweitzer, convinced of Bach’s literalmindedness, would have none of it, and postulated that the bows back then were so strongly convex that the hair could be brought in contact with all four strings at once.  Bowmakers who were inspired by Schweitzer’s book to recreate such bows ended up with nearly semicircular sticks, which nicely did the trick with the quadruple stops, but had trouble hitting just one string at a time.  Putting the frog (the part that holds the hair at the grip end of the bow) on a hinge so that it could be flipped by the thumb to tension or relax the hair solved that problem.  There is even today a small but dedicated coterie of enthusiasts who use these bows to play the Bach suites (and other similar repertoire) in all their four-part glory.

    The trouble is, as is well established now, that no such bows existed in Bach’s time, so this kind of polyphony would have been unknown, and the Bach bow is the solution to a nonexistent problem.  Not that it is not interesting in its own right as a new invention, but the Bach bow people tie themselves in knots trying to prove its “authenticity”, an indispensible buzz attribute for Early Music.  Somehow reminds me of creationists.

    Of course, this is all a tempest in a teapot.  But amusing and informative about our desire to massage the facts to fit our cherished beliefs, so that the world seems harmonious and free of pesky glitches.

  5. I’m going to have to read up on Albert Schweitzer, I know very little about him, but he seems like a fascinating character.

  6. Another little tidbit about Einstein: by removing time from his equations, his General Theory of Relativity works quite well. He found the Special Theory very young in life and spent the rest of his life trying to prove the General Theory. What if time doesn’t really exist? Food for thought. grin

  7. zilch,

    I would think that the arpeggios would sound better, at least it would lend an air of greater virtuosity on the part of the player.  Anyone can play a chord, it takes greater skill to play an arpeggio.

  8. 1952 Nobel Peace Prize. Try Google of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. And, yes, we do like to massage the facts to fit our cherished beliefs. Dr. Dean Edel, a talk-show host on TV and radio, liked to state that the “greatest pain a human being can suffer is the clobbering of a cherished belief.”

  9. Porkchops,

    Yes, violinists traditionally show off their virtuousity by the idiomatic way they arpeggiate these chords.  The polyphonic renditions with Bach bows actually sound more like an organ, which is perhaps why Albert Schweitzer, a great organist (Bach was of course one also), was convinced that they were The Truth.  To me, this is a bit reminiscent of the difference between humanists and fundamentalists: the difference between charting one own’s course, or sticking to the Divine Map.  The comparison is a bit overdrawn, though; the simple rich polyphonic sound has its own charm.

    The virtuoso part of playing with a Bach bow, and the main reason they have never become popular, is the difficulty of playing single strings with a great floppy semicircular stick.

  10. zilch, all this talk is making me think of Professor Peter Schickele’s line about using “Bach’s hair for the G-string” … grin

  11. Yes, PDQ Bach (aka Peter Schickele) is pretty amusing- for his audience. If you have to actually rehearse his stuff, as I did in the University Choir, it gets tired PDQ.

  12. What if time doesn’t really exist? Food for thought.

    Well, that would sure blow away a lot of ontology.

    leguru, Einstein’s tensor equation is beyond me and I could certainly be wrong, but I think what you mean is that time has no preferential direction in special relativity. This is also true for Newtonian mechanics, classical electrodynamics and quantum theory.

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