Александра Маленко
Liberal Arts
5 minutes for reading

GREAT AND MODEST: Albert Einstein (Part I)

GREAT AND MODEST: Albert Einstein (Part I)
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Photo: telegra.ph


Not many scientists were as lucky as Einstein – every student knows him by sight, and every second knows  that Albert Einstein formulated the theory of relativity. Someone else will remember that he did not study well at school… But, perhaps, that’s all. Fame has a downside, and in it, like in the shadows, you can hide. Actually, the great Einstein remained a mystery to everyone.




Let’s start with the theories of relativity. Yes, plural. There is a special theory of relativity, and there is a general one. The special one is built on the basis of Galileo’s principle of relativity, according to which the speed always changes relative to a stable unit and expands it with the concepts of interaction with light.
An example from textbooks is the most famous and illustrative: if two cars move in the same direction at the same speed, then they are stationary in relation to each other. But light always has the same speed and is ahead of any moving object, regardless of its speed.

Einstein, considering these principles and adding to them Newton’s laws of motion, discovered that when an object moves, time slows down for it, and its mass increases and levels out in the direction of motion. This is how the formula appeared, in which mass and energy are tied to the speed of light.

The general theory of relativity owes its appearance, as Einstein himself said, to a happy guess. The essence of this theory is the realization that gravity and acceleration are equivalent. The scientist discovered that during the fall, the body is accelerated by the force of gravity and gravity disappears.

This is what astronauts feel in a spaceship: gravity is working, but the ship is falling, so they do not feel it. However, the ship moves sideways and has its own speed, and therefore returns to Earth.

Mathematical calculations have shown that massive objects – planets, stars, must deform the space around them. That is, objects moving in space in a straight line, the same planet Earth, bend the trajectory of movement, passing next to large objects. This is a bit like what happens with a bowling ball on a trampoline: a heavy ball pushes the surface, and the straight lines bend.

To understand all the subtleties of these theories, you need to try a lot. But how did this man succeed, to whom school teachers almost from the first grade predicted only trouble? A person who started walking and talking quite late, who some researchers claim was dyslexic and even had some form of autism?

Perhaps one can endlessly delve into the numerous biographies of the scientist, written in different years by different authors, dozens of times disassemble letters in his archive at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, there these answers cannot be found. Or is the answer obvious? We are dealing with a genius, an all-round gifted person, but unusually modest.




In a school essay, he, taken to the extreme by the nagging of a mentor, once wrote that in the future he was going to choose the teaching path, because teaching “does not require imagination and outstanding abilities”. It was, of course, harsh, but, in principle, it was quite fair in relation to his teachers – worthy adherents of the Prussian education.

If not for school, the life of little Albert would be wonderful: a cozy home, loving parents. True, the family said that his father, Hermann Einstein, was undoubtedly a man of great intelligence, mathematically gifted, an enthusiastic dreamer, and it did not sound like a compliment or an enthusiastic remark.

Einstein Sr. grabbed at one thing or another, started commerce dozens of times, and each time he burned out. But maybe it was just that the time for commerce was not right then… In any case, the rich relatives of the mother always readily responded to the Einsteins’ requests for help.

Albert was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, southern Germany. After a while, his family moved to Munich, and already there his younger sister Maria was born, at home – Maja, Albert’s loyal friend and best friend in all sorts of games and undertakings.

Oh, how many interesting things they found together, what performances they acted out, how fabulous the world around seemed! .. But when Albert went to school, it turned out that the big world, although replete with interesting things, is quite absurd.

The parents were not religious, so Albert was sent to an ordinary urban Catholic. He hated the school. We must pay tribute to the teachers: they managed to create all the conditions for science to become a hard labor for the boy. They demanded the strictest discipline, complete obedience to the rules, and he did not see the slightest sense in these rules.

And how to teach such a boy? Obstinate, wayward, impudent, sometimes inattentive, lax… Teachers complained that there is no sweetness with this child. Even the first home music teacher did not last long, and he was hired to teach little Einstein to play the violin when he was only six years old!.. By the way, he mastered the violin and played great. But that was entirely the merit of the mother.

“If I hadn’t become a physicist,” he said about himself in the last years of his life, “I would have been a musician”. And he could! Already in the USA, in 1934, he willingly took part in a charity concert in favor of scientists and cultural figures – emigrants from Nazi Germany – played a Mozart concert. And he played, according to eyewitnesses, brilliantly.

School science was difficult for him. Interested in the success of their son, the parents somehow asked the director for advice: what would he advise the boy to focus on? He raised an eyebrow in surprise: yes, on anything, the boy has no abilities, no matter what he undertakes, everything will not work successfully.

In high school, at Luitpold Gymnasium, it only got worse. They demanded obedience from the pupils – “quite grown-up boys”, the routine was the most severe, and the study was reduced to memorization and repetition.

Albert liked exact sciences, he easily coped with Latin, but he was not able to cram definitions, without delving into the essence, tried to argue with mentors, expressed too free ideas, asked “strange” questions… The teachers, however, insisted that discipline and order are the only the path to success, they considered him a bone-lazy fellow and reminded him of this in the most caustic way at every opportunity.


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Albert was 15 when his parents, leaving him in the care of relatives, moved to Italy, to the town of Pavia, where his father started a new business. It was assumed that Albert will graduate from high school in Munich and then join the family. But he showed up in Pavia earlier and without a graduation certificate. In Germany, there was compulsory military service, and Albert (like hundreds of other boys) was to be in the barracks immediately after school. This prospect of the perfect did not please him.

To avoid it, he persuaded the family doctor to give him a certificate that parting with his family caused him a nervous breakdown. With this document, he went to the headmaster of the gymnasium for permission to temporarily interrupt his studies and… was expelled. Frustrated, he wrote a renunciation of German citizenship and left for Italy.

The move was easy, but it was bad to get a job in a new place. He knew the language disgustingly, had no profession, he could not count on success in the business founded by his father. At the family council, it was decided that he would continue his studies at the Higher Technical School in Zurich: disciplines that were of interest to him were taught there. Inspired, he went to the exam and … failed everything except the tests in the exact sciences.

However, things did not turn out so badly. The examiners turned out to be much more attentive and perspicacious than his school mentors: it was obvious that the young man was not at all stupid and, although the exam questions went far beyond the scope of the school curriculum in physics, he answered quite adequately. They also noticed that Albert was younger than many of the applicants in age.

And he was advised in a fatherly way to return to school for a year, they recommended the cantonal school in Aarau. The issue of accommodation was also solved simply: the young man was taken to the boarding school by a school teacher, Mr. Wintler. It turns out that teachers are not that vicious nitpicks, and studying may not be the most disgusting thing to do. Albert also fell in love with Wintler’s daughter Maria. The feeling turned out to be fleeting, but Einstein became related with the Wintler family: his sister married Maria’s brother Paul.

The next year, Albert entered the Higher Technical School. Either the Swiss teachers were so strikingly different from the German ones, or he grew up and became more tolerant and restrained, but among fellow practitioners he was an equal among equals. And at times he stood out, showed remarkable abilities. The head of the department once told him: “You are an intelligent young man. Make no mistakes: don’t let anyone limit you!”

The advice was very timely. His father’s business in Italy fell into complete decline, and his family returned to Germany, but Albert did not want to leave Switzerland at all. On the one hand, he was interested here, there were friends and like-minded people, there were favorite mentors, and on the other, there was Mileva, Mileva Maric, a Serb by nationality, the only girl at the Faculty of Physics, serious, unapproachable, proud and beautiful.


GREAT AND MODEST: Albert Einstein (Part I)
Mileva Maric and Albert Einstein / natgeotv.com


In fact, the girls were interested in young Albert – stately, handsome, cheerful, witty… But not Mileva! For two years he went out of his way to get her attention. And from the moment she finally looked at him, they never parted.

The study went on by itself – somewhat chaotic and as if between times. Most of the time he sat in bars and cafes, dreamed, dreamed, pondered… And if not for the notes of his friend Marcel Grossmann, who knows how he would have passed the final exam in mathematics.

Yes, the teachers noted that hard work and perseverance are not among the virtues of Albert Einstein, but his approaches to solving problems, his observations – there was common sense in it all.

During the years of study, he forgot that he did not have citizenship, this question never arose, did not make sense. But when he graduated, he was faced with a more difficult problem than the math problems he disliked. He lost his German citizenship back in 1896, and in order to become a Swiss citizen, he had to have a job.

Albert hoped to find a place as an assistant with one of the scientists, but it did not work out. I had to get a job as a teacher. He received his passport in 1901, but he could not leave teaching – he had to live for something… A school friend, the same Marcel Grossmann, helped: his father had connections in the Swiss Patent Office, and Albert was hired there as an expert of the third class.

What a relief it was to get a stable job with a decent salary! After all, he was already a family man, even if the marriage with Mileva was civil. In 1902, their daughter Lieserl was born, but immediately after the birth, the baby was taken away by Mileva’s relatives: on the one hand, the child was born out of wedlock, and this could seriously undermine the reputation of both parents, and on the other, they simply had no means of subsistence. (Nothing is known about the fate of this child, probably, the girl was transferred to the upbringing of a childless couple, perhaps she died at an early age…)

When he got a job, Einstein was confident that everything should work out. He and Mileva officially registered the marriage on January 6, 1903, and a year later they baptized their legal first-born son – Hans-Albert.


Read Part II

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