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Albert Einstein: Inside the Mind of Quirky Genius


Tuman Bay his week. We need to read them the epic fiction podcast Tuman Bay returns. We met before. Oh yes you have no choice. The tasks to be done. What have you done? Listen on the iheartradio APP apple podcasts. Or you get your podcasts. Personalities and production of Iheartmedia the name Albert Einstein is virtually synonymous with the word genius a theoretical physicist. He developed a theory of relativity and brought us the most famous of all equations equals MC squared. He changed our understanding of the universe entirely creative original brilliant and Quirky. How can we understand? What made him tick? Hi I'm Dr Gail Saltz. And you're listening to personality thrilled to how with me today. Michael Jordan professor of modern and contemporary history particularly the history of science at Princeton University and he is also the author of the new book. Einstein in Bohemia was born on March fourteenth eighteen. Seventy nine is born in the south German town of old and his father. Hermann Einstein was a an entrepreneur in electrical engineering firm which he did with his brother so that it was a family business working in this kind of electrical technology and Einstein's early work especially work on special relativity is also linked to electrical technology and a bunch of ways and Einstein worked in patent office largely as a specialist evaluating electromagnetic technologies. It's also the hottest area of physics and is inspired engineering. At the time. It's interesting that did carry through. Although his father really wanted him essentially to go study engineering and joined the family business. That is not what Albert wanted to do. So in that sense they departed from one another. I mean his father essentially let him depart if you will be as though it's some sort of break between the two of them relations don't seem to have suffered terribly because of this. I would say they're in the solid middle class bourgeoisie. But they're not at the top of that they're kind of in the middle but There's always a bit of a struggle going on. Einstein seems to have been mostly shielded from. And when you look at childhood pictures. He has all the classic. Joie child pictures of like bullying school uniform against the backdrop and his relationship with his mother. It sounds as though she is the more strict tough if you will presence in the family between the two parents though. It's not like many people's relationships with their mothers. It's close but it's not unfrocked so. His parents are very typical of Jews in the bourgeoisie. In that period in living in urban Germany they were largely assimilated. They did some of the very surface traditions but didn't observe in any way. They were completely irreligious that regard. When Einstein was about eleven twelve he became substantially interested in the Jewish tradition and started studying the stuff and even preparing thinking about a Bar. Mitzvah and then around age twelve he abandons all of it was it scientific readings material or his his commitment to science. That made him give it up yet so we actually have very few sources about Einstein's youth but one of the sources we have is from a medical student in Eunuch. Who would visit the household so one of the traditions that the Einstein's did which is a sort of classic Jewish tradition for the Sabbath meal have a Talmud student over at your house religious students and feed that as a way of supporting their studies next homeland leader immigrants to the United States changes? His last name to tell me told me writes a book special relativity explaining it to a popular audience and at the back of it. He put his memories of what Albert Einstein was like as a child. So it's one of the few sources we have of that period so Max. Tom Would really hit it off with the boy Einstein. So there's there's over a decade of difference in their ages but they spend a lot of time talking. He works through the proofs of Euclid with him from textbook uncle had given him and they read Other kinds of popular science books together. He gives boy popular science books. And it's that engagement with a scientific explanation of how things go that elite him from religion one of the things that makes Einstein so interesting to think about is he's a mixture of unconventional things and enormously conventional choices. He does both of those in a weird mix. He picks an unusual first spouse but then he expects her to behave in. Exactly the way a conventional spouse would I think in some ways the mixture just as we're talking about in terms of the type of student that he was so on the one hand he clearly excelled in math and sciences certain way and that was where his interest lie in other areas. Not so much. There's a very common method. Einstein was a terrible student. And that's just not true. He was a very good student in the math and sciences and he was a decent mediocre decent students in other areas. Some of that is lack of interest. Some of that is also lack of talent He clearly he had a hard time with languages. Some people learn the more easily other. People want them greater difficulty. His lack of facility with French is one of the things that hold him up and enrolling in the university and he needed to take a year or schooling to get his French up to snuff started learning English when he was thirty. Thirty thirty one and Always learned to kind of imperfectly and his German is enormously expressive almost poetic and places. He had a real facility with the language but not a facility with any other language even though he was eventually competent in French and English and could read some Italian this collection of attending to only things that really really interested him and clearly appearing to not attend and be able to have the same facility therefore with things that did not interest him and then going on to not only attend to the things that interested him. But like what you might call hyper focus. you know a deep dive that few other people could maintain for the lengths of time that he did the depth that he did. And that's why there are some groups that look at that collection of behaviors and say. Could this be a person who has attention deficit disorder in the sense that attention deficit disorder is not the lack of ability to pay attention? It is actually the faulty switch in one's ability to attend when one wants to attend so that even for example. If you're not going to do well in Greek or French and you have to pay attention. You're able to get yourself to pay attention but if you had you would just not be able to do it. You just could not make yourself do it. But if the math fascinated you you could do that better and more deeply and for a longer period of time than somebody who did not have. Add and in addition many people with add because of this faulty switch their ability to harness innovative ideas and to have a greater number literally of out of the box thoughts that are related to daydreaming and fantasy and so on is often superior as an adult. He was perfectly capable of spending many hours paying attention to things. He thought boring and useless. If they satisfied some greater goal so he did a lot of fundraising for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He found these idiots and pointless but he would do it. He engaged in extensive correspondence concerning the League of nations. And lots of other efforts such as writing affidavits for Refugees and the Nineteen Thirties and trying to get them positions either in the UK or in the US. He complain about how much taking but he would do it with focus so it's not just the mass stuff that he can do this where he can do with a lot of things. I think it's just when he chooses to apply himself. He clearly did cultivate this image of the absent minded professor to some degree. I I don't know perhaps as a way of checking out when he preferred to check out but the whole I don't time is shoe laces. I don't wear socks. My Hair looks like just stuck my finger in a socket. I you know He. He clearly cultivated this image. That vision of which I know everybody listening to this has migrate now. He did look like that but he looked like that. The late thirties onward earlier. If you look at him in the twenties he's dressed in a suit. He's got shoes. They're tied and some of that. His wife died and thirty six and she stopped dressing him but when he needed to look respectable he looked perfectly respectable. It's only as he gets older that Either maybe he doesn't need to. Maybe he cares less. So it's it's not clear to me whether he always wanted to be kind of Schlub. And then finally got the chance. Or if the propensity to sloppiness grew over time. This is a good spot to take a break. Be Back in a moment. Hey it's Ben Henry and Marcus host of the last podcast on the left are shows dedicated to uncovering hilariously horrifying stuff. And now we're only on spotify. Join us if you want obviously never force anyone to just blindly be crazy if you stories about doomsday cults. Who Do exactly that. And more please on spotify visit spotify dot com slash last podcast to listen free. Einstein rebelled against the authoritarian behavior of some of his teachers and dropped out of school at age. Sixteen later he was admitted to Swiss polytechnic and five years later he graduated with his diploma to teach physics and mathematics but Einstein couldn't find a teaching position so he took a job in the patent office because he had to make money. He wanted to get married. There was already a first baby out of wedlock that was given up for adoption. You wanted to get married and start a family. He needed money so he took the job. He likes to Patna Perfect. 'cause he was really good at it so he did very well at this job has superior like them and when you think about what a pet officer has to do when they get a new invention as they first of all if it's new and they have to figure out what the basic principle is the idea behind a patent application is. There's a key idea that is novel and has some utility so he got very good at reading these applications and seeing what are the fundamental principles by which this invention is supposed to work and are they distinct from the fundamental principles of other inventions. That I would that yesterday. That kind of thinking is not dissimilar to what he does with relativity theory where he's like one of the fundamental principles by which we measure time. We need a clock and we need to have mark an event happening at a certain place. The thought that he came in with the style of thinking in that was what made him good at the patent office or did the work at the Patent Office inform his style of thinking then he would go on to us in terms of you know coming to special relativity and general relativity. I think it's got to be a bit of both. He was certainly exposed to patent earlier because his father's business involved that kind of work but even later when he was professor Einstein hold a ton of patents. Later on you had an idea for refrigerator. Filed a patent and I continued to consult for people on their patent applications as a way of earning extra money and also because he was interested in it so he liked the thinking patents and even after he didn't need the money anymore so I think it's probably a bit that his style of thought mapped onto this so it was congenial to him. But I think it's also the practice of doing it day in and day out created certain patterns of thinking so he is newly married here. She became pregnant before they got married. He didn't marry her. Then which is something that he could have done and sort of legitimized her and the whole thing but because he didn't do that she was sort of sent home. If you will to have this baby and sadly it does seem from the few records that exists that there may have been something wrong with the baby But we basically. We don't even know what happened to the baby might have been adopted might have died It might have been. Her family. Took the baby but basically they have nothing further to do with this baby when she returns she may have survived. You may not have. We don't don't know at present. What happened her? People have looked. They're still looking and that's the only daughter. So Einstein then marries her and they have two children hung's Albert who later on becomes a professor of engineering in the United States and has his own children and then Edward or as they called him teddy and sadly we know. That TEDDY ULTIMATELY DEVELOP SCHIZOPHRENIA. And is seriously psychiatric ill. Reliever America. The first wife also later I had very severe bouts of depression. There may be some inherited mental illness. That is going on in this case. But it's clear that Malaysia had her own struggles going on but Teddy Kennedy really suffered badly. If you grow older in pain I see it. His wife becomes more and more miserable partially because she is physics student. Who would like to be doing worker? Self and really is sort of relegated to taking care of the House and taking care of the boys clearly being relegated to you. Know Housewife is not a happy circumstance for her and and yet there is very little evidence that Einstein in any way tries to help or ameliorate her difficulties. His marriage falls apart. He doesn't have a close relationship with his children. E remarried to this distant cousin but he had similarly like a oddly unrelated sort of setup with her where you know the deal. Was you know she would take care of him and be the wife and he would be able to have relationships outside the marriage as long as they were just one at a time you know sort of serial infidelity and this odd way you know even later of relating where he had this room in the house you know private room where people could come in and meet with him but his wife was to never come in there unless invited because young women came in there who were invited for many people who admire Einstein. The relationships with women is the sticking point. It's unpleasant he doesn't have characteristics. We now consider admiral. There's a lot of infidelity. He was immensely appealing to women and he knew it. But it's almost like he was sort of unaware of who got hurt in the process. You know you hear about serial landers that know exactly what they're doing and they're very savvy about it. They're very well aware of who it's hurting. And they have sort of almost associate Pathak. I don't care by their also people who do things in their relationships where it's almost like socially. They're just not so aware they're not aware that they're angry at that. They're making others. You know distressed or angry or in the case of his anti-totalitarian reaction with professors. And I guess just bring this up. Because they're almost no names to put with Albert Einstein in terms of scientific discoveries and the magnitude of them in the genius of him and such that. You know you think of words like savant and when you think of people who have savant like abilities at the same time that socially they do so many maladaptive things you do wonder about you know what. Today we used to call asperger's now we call very mild autism but people who are incredibly intelligent in the skewed way but socially emotionally have difficulty reading. What's going on and therefore do a lot of things that make it hard for them to stay connected to important people. This grows over time his relationship with Elsa the cousin who becomes the second. Mrs Einstein began an extra-marital affair where Melito would get hurt and that begins in nineteen twelve on a visit to Berlin from progress or living at the time and then when they returned to Zurich actually a correspondence between them between Elsa and Albert where he says. You know. I destroyed your letters as you ask. You should probably send your letters to me at my office so he. He's covering up the tracks as he gets older. He cares less to cover up the tracks whether that's a cultural development psychological development or just maybe secrecy. It's hard to know while the divorce is ongoing. He's basically living with his second by. You can't really call Einstein a narcissist because narcissism is a grandiose view of oneself. That's not consistent necessarily with reality. And in his case well his confident view of himself was very consistent with reality so it makes it hard to call him and Narcissus but he did believe he was going. He was doing these things he was going to do. These things such that. He told me. When I win the Nobel Prize I will give the prize money to you and the boys to take care of you. In nineteen twenty. Two Einstein wins the Nobel Prize in Physics for his services to theoretical physics and especially for his discovery of the law of the photo electric effect and he does indeed put the money in a trust for his children the Nobel Prize when he says that is fifteen years old. He doesn't have the same status at now. Have and looking at the kinds of people who have won Nobel prizes up until that point Einstein was quite reasonable to think that he would be in their number also. The scientific community is much smaller before World War Two than it is after World War. Two and much a global so his chances of winning are higher than it's Not Creek. It's still is a little bit galling to see that and then when it happens and he gives the money he wants to control how they spend the money. It's also complicated. By the fact that the worst begins a war breaks out which makes it hard to travel even though Switzerland is neutral and then after the war when the Nobel prize money does come in. Germany is has the brunt of hyperinflation. Switzerland doesn't which is where the kids live and it's very hard for Einstein's actually financially meet the terms of the agreement because the currency's don't match while the divorce is happening he and Elsa have this relationship going clear that Elsa really wants to regularise this she wants to get married and she's quite insistent on it. She has to fairly grown up daughters. You'll Sutton Margot. Einstein proposed to one of the daughters as well so he has a debate. He's like should I propose Elsa should I propose to elsa the older daughter who's actually I kind of like that. And then he proposes to up and says No. I really think you should marry mother. And that's what he does in this period. He he has an affair with his secretary. There's lots of messier in his life in nineteen eleven. There's a big scandal. Breaks out in Paris with Marie Curie who is having an affair with Paula. Cheval who is important French physicist? Who'S MARRIED MY DONLON LAUNCH? Von knows this. And they've kind of been having this kind of three way thing where they all know what's going on but then it breaks into the newspapers and is used as a way to smear curie who usually doesn't pay attention to stuff like this pays attention to this and he writes her supportive letter and he says. I don't understand what what people are doing. Why people are smearing to you this way. You're very nice person. He also writes about to his friend. Feinstein instead it's like. Why is everybody so upset about this infidelity it's crew but nobody's getting and they all live in the same city so it's not like he has to travel really far to have an affair with her like they they all? They're all they're all know each other like it's not a problem. So why is everybody so concerned about that in his anti authoritarian ness feels that the rules? The cultural rules. You know aren't really sensical and shouldn't really apply as opposed to his inability to see a record that these rules have to do with human feelings and people being hurt no he. He doesn't register the damage. It does in the process of psychoanalyzing Einstein. And you'd have to analyze elsa as well to like ellison knew what she was getting into. Listen I can just tell you the work I do today. That there are plenty of people who get involved with someone in a fair and still believe somehow that they will be the one and when they marry this person there will be no more cheating. They're usually disappointed. It's unusual to be as academically and theoretically intelligent as Einstein is and to be as in some ways. Let's say lacking emotional intelligence In the way that he seems to be make it even more complicated. I think it was really good with children. Repeatedly you see this in Princeton William Prague. On Sundays he hangs out with a very large family of Internet's who the a sense Christie. Who teaches there And the kids loved him he would spend all day Sunday with them now. He has his own family. Who aren't there like. So he's leaving his own family at home and going to hang out with somebody else's family adults with autism may have an easier time socializing with children sensually because the pleasure in per separating on something to do something over and over again as something that would be more. Comfortable is actually a symptom of autism But you know it can work for you. Let's say in terms of engaging with children whom I enjoy doing the same thing over and over again and in your work if you your attention to detail and your ability to you know obsess on one thing percent rate on one thing. Something that might bore the heck out of somebody else can be a real asset In terms of your thinking style if you're trying to do rigorous very specific scientific thinking. It's an interesting idea. I still resistant principle. The sort of the idea. I think there's too much evidence about other aspects of it but it's very interesting that that patterns consistent I think part of it also just be him providing like so told me slash tall modes impact on him as a child. That connection I think is something that perhaps is live for him. It's something that he thinks. Well another reason to be engaged with these children. It's like you never know how you can shake their lives. This seems like a good place to take a break. We'll be right back hi everyone. It's Katie couric. I've used my podcast next question as a platform to explore the big issues. We face in these crazy times and right now. There's no crazier time in no bigger issue than the corona virus which is why we're switching gears and pushing our regular reported episodes to the summer in the meantime we're going to stay focused on the corona virus talking to the experts. So you can really understand what's going on. I know it's overwhelming but we can get through this together. You can listen to next question on the iheartradio APP apple podcasts. Or wherever you get your favorite shows we want you to know that we are here for you clearly. Albert Einstein was unusually intelligent. He himself spoke of his intense curiosity as an all important asset and I quote. I have no special talent. I'm only passionately curious. The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing his fame thought experiments like imagining riding on a beam of light. Were actually the use of daydreaming and fantasy thinking driven by curiosity but great discoveries are sometimes made not only by great minds but by the influence and interaction of the current culture that mine resides in in the days before it was possible to know what a scientific competitor was working on a different part of the world. Scientists were often surprised to discover that another person or group was proceeding towards the same discovery. Had they not arrived there I the discovery would still have been made because information bubbling in. The current environment was leading toward a breakthrough. Was this also a factor in Einstein's discoveries? There's an example which illustrates this really. Well an example. Drake's it not at all talk you both of those. I is special relativity. Which is the theory of space and time? It's fundamentally a theory of electromagnetism about what happens when you go very close to the speed of light but at a constant speed develops that in nineteen o five at the patent office and he's talking about it with his friends but there's a mathematician in France on porn career. He's one of the great mathematicians of the day who's developing something very similar at basically the same time and the reason for that is many reasons the two basic ones the first is if you're working with Maxwell's equations and pay attention to them closely. There is a problem with how you measure the speed of light with respect to an ether. That pervades everything. Perhaps but the equations don't require that so you have these equations. That don't seem to fit with the assumptions of the science of time. And if you think really hard about it. Special relativity can pop out. The second is electrical technology everywhere. So the problems of coordinating time. And how do you measure time at the same time in different places that can communicate with each other which is important for railroads and for Surveying and mapping those are real problems that lots of people are thinking about and in different ways Einstein Planck Array. Were both engaged with that problem. One in the patent office and the other for The bureau of Longitude in France. Trying to coordinate time measurements. So it's clear that that's science emerges out of a culture counterexample is general relativity when Einstein expands not just a constant speed but to accelerated speed. And when you try to expand the theory of gravity pops out of it. I say POPs out like it's easy took many many years to work out this theory. But it's weird that a fundamental extension of this theory of space and time would produce gravitational attraction as a consequence of the shape space-time Einstein starts working. He has the idea in nineteen o seven and then he can't work on it for a few years. 'cause he's distracted by quantum theory. Just something else he's innovating in. Holkar it and then in nineteen eleven when he moved to proxy starts to work on general relativity almost exclusively all of his colleagues think. This is crazy. They're like why do you care about grabbed? It's not an interesting area was a couple of tiny problems about measuring this remembering that and we don't need to have a general theory of relativity at present. And while you're doing this. The quantum revolution like the most exciting thing to happen in the physics micro world which you helped build is bursting everywhere. Why are you abandoning that? Working on this tiny thing about gravity is competitors in the gravity area are an underemployed physicist from Finland which is part of the Russian empire and a guy who student amok punks who can't get a job anywhere. It ends up teaching at a place in Italy and they're totally marginal people so he moved from like being with the types of plunk to Competing with people who are not at all of the same prominence because gravity wasn't that exciting topic and Gra- Einstein kind of makes gravity and exciting topic because the scale and the ingenuity of the result. He comes up with is striking but that is a case where it's not like if he hadn't done it somebody else would have. And now with so much excitement about cosmology and gravitational waves extension in the universe. All these topics. It seems obvious that people would care about gravity. Coal gravity was considered mostly assault problem At the time that's one thing that's hard to convey the other thing is to convey or maybe not so hard is how exciting quantum theory. I mean. It's it's born in nineteen hundred Einstein's radical reinterpretation of it with the Photon in nineteen zero five and then in nineteen eleven. He's like okay six years after kind of busting deal. But I'm just GonNa step aside when all the great minds in Europe are doing. This is really surprising. I think it's also port for people understand much of this initial thought an initial work. This was happening. He was in his twenties which today sounds incredulous that someone in their twenties could be making these kinds of completely science. Changing understandings come to life but the reality is that the brain is in a certain kind of peak in terms of plasticity and new neurons growing and the juxtaposition of acquired knowledge with the plasticity of the brain and change being able to happen in. The brain is really a certain kind of peak in the twenty s. Such that you find often that people who make their greatest discoveries have actually had those initial thoughts at that time in their twenties amongst theoretical physicists. Mathematicians the idea that someone in their twenties would make the great discoveries. It's not surprising because they expect that you'll do your best work before you're twenty five and then you're basically done. I think Einstein's actually at the root of that idea that cultural assumption because he did those things when he was young. If you look into the nineteenth century there are very few cases of the great mathematicians being young stuff. The puzzle of did that we all think of now with the buzzers and the dogs. He started that project when he was sixty five. Neuroscientists of course are fascinated by and want you know have wondered you know. Was there something different about Einstein's brain? Someone has looked at some point. I guess shortly after his death and made note of increased number of Saul cy which are basically the folds of the outer shell of the cortex of the brain which is where you know. Higher Order thinking occurs and noted that he had many more soul cy than the average brain beyond that sadly it seems like whatever tissue was available is no longer available. Things seemed to have disappeared. Swirly kind of tragic and then of course even if there are morsel. Cy were there more. Cy from the GECKO. There's no way to know that or did all of his thinking all of his science and all of his work caused the plastic brain to develop these morsel. Cy obviously that's something that you can't answer because of course we didn't have MRI and there was you know we weren't scanning is brain as we went. But it's an interesting question. Yeah I I don't follow the brain stuff but let me tell you why because I have a sort of moral revulsion for the story about the brain so Einstein insisted that he made it. Wanted to ashes dispersed. He didn't WANNA shrine. He didn't want to something that people would valorize later. No one had ever been famous as Einstein unclear whether anybody actually has since been as famous as Einstein was. He was more famous. Charlie Chaplin everybody knew his visage. Everything he said got into the newspapers and to some degree. This was a burden to. Sometimes he liked it but a lot of times. This was a burden as I imagine. It would be the most of us. He didn't want to become some kind of secular saint. He didn't think that that's appropriate. So he didn't want to be a grave people could visit. There's now a statue princeton but it was erected in two thousand five he didn't want any of that and so he went to the Princeton Hospital. He dies there. And the pathologist steals his brand out the brain puts it in a cooler takes it and then drives across the country with keeps it for years in Formaldehyde. And so it's stolen. It's a violation of informed consent to be working with this brand this man cut it out and stole the Brain Lebron and kept it. There are people who track him down leader and he gives them a little bits of the brain he parts of the brain like as a gift. It strikes me so deeply as something. That's disrespectful while it is it's morally reprehensible all right now you can buy an APP for your which will show you scans of Cross section of Einstein's brain. I don't have that on my phone for this reason. People aware that he was the one who stole her. They didn't know where the brain win or they didn't even know. The brain was missing that the brain was missing and be analyzed by people known at certain point. The only thing. That state wasn't happy about that but it was little they could do to get it back but it wasn't immediately known that he had done this. That's tragic end which I didn't even know about a tragic end for Einstein just in terms of what was important as belief system. I mean he'd already suffered. He obviously was suffering mightily toward the end of his life in terms of his feeling about his role in the development and use of nuclear weapons and the ending of World War Two he definitely had some moral dilemmas. That did bother him nonetheless. This was something I didn't know done to him that post mortem that it's really really quite tragic. Einstein holds a unique place in how we understand the universe and the physical properties of our world but he struggled more so was understanding important people in his life his passion for endless inquiry drove him to always ask why out. Yonder. It was this huge world. He said which exists independently of US human beings which stands before us like a great eternal riddle at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking the contemplation of this world beckoned like a liberation. This is personality. Follow me on twitter at Dr Gail Saltz or personality. Andy thank you to my guest Michael Gordon Professor at Princeton University. And if you'd like to learn more about our subject today pick up his book. Einstein in Bohemia a fascinating read personalities and production of iheartmedia. The executive producers are Dr Gail Saltz in Tyler. Clang the supervising producer Dylan Fagin. The associate producer is lowell. Berlanti editing music and mixing by low Berlanti for more podcasts from iheartradio visit the iheartradio. App Apple podcasts. Or wherever you get your podcasts. Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall in a therapist office and get a behind the scenes? Look at what they're really thinking. I'm Lori Gottlieb. I'm a psychotherapist. And I write the deer therapist advice column for the Atlantic. Hey I'm guy winch. I'm a psychologist and I like the Guy Advice Column for Ted and where the host of a new show on the iheartradio podcast network held dear therapists incubators. An advice column in the form of podcast. 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