Born 14 March 1879 - 18 April 1955
One of the brilliant minds of the 20th century, the German-born physicist Albert Einstein was seminal in establishing modern physics with his general theory of relativity and quantum theory that effectively paved the way for nuclear science to flourish during and immediately after WWII. He formulated what is now the world's most popular scientific equation that has become part of the 20th century pop culture: E=mc2.
Einstein was visiting the United States when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of his native Germany in 1933. He did not return to his post as a professor in the Berlin Academy of Sciences and remained in the US where he settled and became a citizen in 1940. Not exactly a fan of the Hitler, he could have been fearful of his Jewish roots, although he and his parents were not devout Jews. But his stay in the US was providential. It was he who alerted then US President Franklin D. Roosevelt
that Germany could be developing an atomic bomb and prompted the US to do likewise which eventually led to the Manhattan Project.
Nevertheless, Einstein never warmed up to the idea of nuclear fission as a weapon and joined British thinker Bertrand Russell in issuing the Russell-Einstein manifesto that declared the dangers of nuclear weapons. As a physicist, he knew what a nuclear weapon can do and promptly said one of the most famous lines about the subject "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." Indeed, as many futuristic movies have depicted, a nuclear war could throw humanity back to the days of the caveman.
Indeed, his words have become quite famous and oft-quoted due to their incisive nature with a dash of sarcastic humor. Recognizing the power of the atom in the hands of man, he once said: "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking...the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker."
Many of his quotes can elicit some hearty laugh but are actually insightful indictments of the human folly. He is known to have made some sarcastic comments about stupidity as evidenced by his lines that have been often quoted long after it was said: "The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits." and "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." He should know. It takes day to know what night is, and real genius to recognize stupidity.
From his works, Einstein was well aware of his innate gift to think through problems that baffled even the learned minds of his time. But he also had a modest if not self-deprecating assessment of his genius when he said "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." believing that "before God we are all equally wise - and equally foolish."
In addition, for someone so gifted with true genius and had spent most of lifetime learning about new things, Einstein was known to have had a rather low regard for knowledge when he said: "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination," as well as "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
Today, with so many problems besetting the world and governments making every effort to solve socio-political and economic distresses at every turn, it may well be wise to recognize that many of the man-made problems require solutions from a fresh perspective and an open mind. It is well that we remember one of the most insightful quotes from Einstein
when he said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.