Einstein’s Greatest Mistakes | Hans c. Ohanian


Published in: 2016

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At the University of Zurich, where Einstein studied from 1896 to 1900, he was rebellious against his teachers, who he believed had outdated ideas. Like many others who grew up reasonably secular, he questioned all “truths”. This attitude made an academic position after graduation impossible. Instead, he finally got a low-paid job at the Patent Office in Bern with a focus on electrical engineering where Einstein worked six days a week.

BAD EMPLOYEE & ”FAILED” PHYSICIST. Einstein developed principles for assessing the inventions submitted to the Patent Office. But he devoted every unattended moment to his own research (which he could not publish because he was not affiliated with any university). The world of research progressed rapidly during this period: Marconi had sent radio waves across the English Channel; Max Plank had observed quantum leaps and Marie Curie had made great strides in radioactivity. Newton was in his 20s when he had his breakthrough. When Einstein was 25, he had not come to anything special, which made him depressed.

THE BREAKTHROUGH YEAR 1905. When Einstein was 26 years old, he had a breakthrough and started writing a draft in parallel with his job. He received a PhD from the University of Zurich for his dissertation “A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions”. In 1905, Einstein published his papers on, among other things, the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and mass energy equivalence. A few people had worked with the idea of “rest energy” but could not calculate the numbers. Many had suggested E = Nmc ^ 2, where N was a number like 4/3, 1, 3/8 or similar, but no one had proved which one was correct. Einstein was able to do this in 1905.

FIRST WORLD WAR. Einstein had used the method he developed at the Patent Office to test his theories. But the method was unconventional, and few researchers understood it. He realized he needed to do more experiments. But the First World War broke out and the test equipment was confiscated on the Crimean peninsula where a study of solar eclipses was carried out (the German who assisted ended up in prison but was later released). Based on the calculations Einstein made in 1911, about his new theory of general relativity, light from another star should be deflected by the sun’s gravity. It was not until 1919 that the sermon of Sir Arthur Eddington was confirmed in connection with the solar eclipse on May 29, 1919. These observations were published in the international media and made Einstein famous.

THE TIMING INCREASED FAME. When it emerged that scientists from several countries during World War I collaborated to gather evidence for Einstein’s theory, it gave people hope. In addition, Einstein’s theory, which changes notions of time and space, could give hope to the many people who lost their relatives in the war. At the height of his fame, the world thought he was a happy man, but he had slipped away from his wife and children and begun to doubt his equation, which all declared genius / god.

THE BIGGEST MISTAKE. Einstein added a cosmological constant, Lambda Λ, to the equation of general relativity that describes the universe in the state when it is static (i.e., does not expand). The general theory of relativity is a beautiful, elegant, and powerful theory that changed our perception of the universe. He made the modification because his simple theory of relativity did not fit the studies of the time. He realized that his equation could not apply if it is the case that the universe changes and is not static. G = t became G = lambda = t. This was a mistake, and he then went back to his original calculation. He would thereafter follow his own thought. He did not intend to be misled again. The Lambda situation taught him to stick to his beliefs.

ADVANTAGE AS YOUNG, MISADVANTAGE AS OLD. Einstein’s strength as a young man was that he dared to trust his intuition even though it went against prevailing science. He had to do thorough tests and experiments and get help from people who knew, for example, mathematics better than himself. When he was older, he confidently trusted his intuition and refused to accept the quantum physics of the younger generation.

GOD DOESN’T PLAY DICE. Einstein came up with several experiments to disprove quantum physics but never succeeded. But instead of accepting these facts, Einstein insisted on seeing them in a deterministic sense, arguing that there must be hidden variables. Einstein maintained his mistaken attitude to unification until his death, despite overwhelming evidence. He was sure that “God does not roll the dice” but must follow a clear causality. His method was no longer just his intuition. One by one, the Research Allies had to leave his side. He did not want to adopt quantum mechanics as the next generation. He was then left alone and was seen as a forerunner.

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