14th March is the birth anniversary of Albert Einstein. He has been one of my heroes and I have been inspired by his work and his life. So I thought of paying my small tribute to him.
Millions of words and thousands of books have already been written about him so what I am stating in this essay may not be anything new but for few anecdotes from people whom I knew.
I have always considered Einstein to be an extremely evolved human being and in my judgment, he occupies the same stature as Buddha, Christ and other great figures of history who have given mankind a new thought and have helped in its progress and evolution. Such people are few and far between but come to this planet earth to give a quantum jump to mankind’s thought.
I became aware of Einstein and his work during my graduate student days in University of Florida, Gainesville when I attended a couple seminars in Physics department. Not being a student of Physics it was initially hard to understand his theory of gravitation.
However his life history provided a great inspiration in my quest for knowledge. How he could pluck knowledge from thin air without doing any experiments and totally changed the way we understand the world and the universe, was a source of great awe, amazement, and inspiration.
As my quest for spirituality increased, Einstein’s deep thought on how the world works and his quest for trying to know the Mind of God became my guiding principle.
Einstein always spoke about developing the theory of everything or understanding the Mind of God. He spoke more about God than any other scientist! and said, “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists and not in the God who concerns himself with the fate and doings of mankind”. Einstein was an agnostic and not an atheist.
Taking inspiration from him I have also come to appreciate that God is nothing else but this marvelous Universe which follows its own scientific laws and have written extensively on the interplay of technology and spirituality.
Einstein was a genius in true sense of the term. Anything he touched yielded its secret and he provided a totally new insight about the subject. He was like Newton who not only discovered calculus, theory of motion, light, gravitation but also developed fascinating ideas on metaphysics!
Thus Einstein’s work on Brownian motion; photons; mass and energy relationship; time and space matrix; and ultimately on gravitation are something beyond this world and greatly extended Newton’s theories. He also showed his genius on down to earth subjects. For example he and the Hungarian-American scientist Leo Szilard developed an ammonia/water-hydrogen absorption refrigeration system which was powered by heat and had no moving parts. He had 45 patents on it!
Similarly he provided insights and solutions to some of the complex problems of the Atomic Bomb project. Though he was kept out of the loop of the Manhattan project but Robert Oppenheimer the chief architect of the project and others would occasionally visit him in Princeton to seek his advice.
A deep thought brought to bear on anything can divulge its complete secret to a Yogi – so said Patanjali in his Yoga Darshan and Einstein was a shining example of that saying. His focus on a single object and concentration was legendary and gave him tremendous intuition regarding physics.
His deep insight and leap of faith can be fathomed by his idea of light bending by gravity. He developed this idea by a thought experiment. Thus he imagined an elevator accelerating in space so that a passenger inside it feels like he is standing on earth experiencing a regular gravitational pull. He further imagined that if a beam of light is sent through a small hole from one wall of the elevator it will not travel in straight line but will be very slightly displaced when it hits the opposite wall.
This is because the elevator is moving upwards with a certain velocity and light takes a certain time to hit the opposing wall. During this time, the upward movement of the elevator therefore displaces the light beam.
Using the principle of equivalence, Einstein conjectured that for a passenger inside the elevator who only feels the earth’s gravitational pull but sees the bending of light could only mean that gravity can bend it. Richard Feynman the great American scientist called this thought experiment as the greatest leap of faith in science.
Einstein was not only a great scientist, but he was also a great human being. He was a pacifist by heart and hence had the greatest admiration for Mahatma Gandhi. On Gandhiji’s 70th birthday Einstein wrote “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth”. It is unfortunate that Gandhi and Einstein never met.
A very dear friend of my father Shri. Ratan Lal Joshi (a famous journalist) narrated to me an instance of Einstein’s regard for Gandhiji. In late 1954 Shri. Joshi went on a tour to U.S.A. on Eisenhower fellowship. He sought an appointment to meet Einstein. Since R. L. Joshi was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, he was immediately granted a 45-minute appointment. Einstein did not meet many people in those times since he was not well and so this was a rare appointment.
Joshi ji told me that Einstein was so enamored by Gandhiji that he started asking him questions about Gandhi, his personal likes, and dislikes and what was he like as a human being. Joshi felt that he had come to interview Einstein and here was Einstein who was instead interviewing him about Gandhi.
So in order to provoke him and change the subject Joshi said that youngsters in India looked upon Einstein as the father of Atom Bomb since he set in motion the process of its development which ultimately stopped the 2nd World War.
Joshi told me that Einstein became red in face and started speaking in German and this was a signal to his Secretary Helen Dukas to terminate the interview. Joshi felt really bad about the termination of the interview but felt that Einstein took his role as a pacifist really seriously and was pained to be painted with the brush of Atom Bomb.
Another personal (though quite far removed) anecdote is about the meeting of my wife Nandini Nimbkar’s great grandfather Maharshi Karve (Anna Karve) with Einstein in 1929 in Berlin. Karve was given India’s highest award Bharat Ratna in 1958. In late 1920s Karve toured Europe to raise funds for his famous SNDT university and met Einstein. We do not know what was discussed in that meeting but there is a nice photo (shown above) of Anna Karve with Einstein of that meeting.
In 2012, Nandini, my daughter Noorie and I visited Einstein’s home in Mercer Street in Princeton N.J. I was really impressed to see a non-descript house in which Einstein lived for many years occupied by some other family and there were no signs or marks to indicate that such a great man lived there. Einstein never wanted any monument or shrine to be made on him. That was a mark of a great and noble soul. Probably that is also the reason why he wanted to be cremated and not buried so that no memorial could be made of his grave. In India or any other country his house would have been converted into a national monument and a shrine.
So on his approaching birth anniversary let us remember a great and noble human being who changed the course of human history by his single-minded focus on understanding the mind of God. Let this be a lesson to all youngsters to take inspiration from the fact that a single person sitting in a lonely patent office in Bern could change the mankind’s’ thinking just by the power of his thought.