Saturday, October 15, 2005
EinsteinFest: Fickle Fame
Some historians of the 20th century believe the modern age began November, 1919 when the popular press announced that Albert Einstein had overturned Isaac Newton (as reported by David Rowe in his lecture this afternoon Einstein’s Rise to Fame at EinsteinFest) . The American journalist by the name of Crouch (a golf expert) who was given the job of explaining to the New York Times audiences what the fuss in Britain was all about, reported that Einstein was writing A Book For 12 Wise Men that would explain his theory of general relativity. “’No more in all the world could comprehend it,’ said Einstein when his daring publishers accepted it.”
Well, there was no such book from Einstein. The journalist made that up. Most of the physicists and astronomers to whom the news was published understood exactly what Einstein had proven. It was simply that gravity could bend starlight. Arthur Eddington’s photographic crews off the coast of Africa (Principe Island in the Gulf of Guinea) and Brazil had confirmed with experimental data from observations made of a total eclipse on May 29th, 1919 that Einstein’s predictions were correct. What they actually observed was something equivalent to the diameter of a light bulb measured from 12 kilometres away!
Whatever the degree of minute detail, what happened next was clear. Einstein was immediately vaulted into the stratosphere in the popular press, in expert circles, and even in political debate. Within a few years, Einstein’s face was one of the most recognizable worldwide.
But as David Rowe explained, central European Anti-Semitism and nationalist extremism led very quickly to linking Einstein and relativity with all that was supposedly wrong with the world. On the one hand, Einstein was the “new Copernicus”. On the other hand, he was merely a Boshevik-sympathizing Zionist whose scientific madness threatened the German character and national zeal. In fact, in 1922 Einstein left Germany for a tour of Japan after the murder of his friend Walther Rathenau and a warning delivered to him that he was likely to be killed by former members of the Freikorps.
Rowe’s lecture also illustrated how the fame that attended Einstein for the remainder of his life continued to be idiotic at both extremes. Einstein is reputed to have said “With fame, I become more and more stupid, which of course is a very common phenomenon.”