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Old 04-28-2004, 05:14 PM
EvilHamsterOnCrack EvilHamsterOnCrack is offline
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Did Einstein really flunk?

I'm sure we've all heard the story that Einstein flunked school math, but my friend and I were arguing over whether or not he actually did, or whether it's just a silly urban legend. I really don't know, and a search of the dope served nothing of interest, so I am now appealing to you, the teeming millions, to help me with this: Did Einstein really flunk school?
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Old 04-28-2004, 05:31 PM
pravnik pravnik is offline
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Sort of. In 1895, at the age of 16, Einstein failed an exam that would have gotten him into the electrical engineering program at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich Polytechnic. He studied physics in Aarau for a year and got in to Zurich Polytechnic a year later. He graduated from there in 1900 with a degree as a secondary school teacher in math and physics.
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Old 04-28-2004, 05:53 PM
kanicbird kanicbird is offline
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It is suspected that Einstein had ADHD (Thom Hartmann 'The Edison Gene'), and if true would have trouble excelling in a 'cookie cutter' school enviroment, but once left to his own desires would easilly excell in what he is stimulated by.
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Old 04-28-2004, 06:09 PM
Mathochist Mathochist is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EvilHamsterOnCrack
I'm sure we've all heard the story that Einstein flunked school math, but my friend and I were arguing over whether or not he actually did, or whether it's just a silly urban legend. I really don't know, and a search of the dope served nothing of interest, so I am now appealing to you, the teeming millions, to help me with this: Did Einstein really flunk school?
Whether or not he flunked at one point, from what I can tell he never was all that great at math. Don't get me wrong, the man had amazing physical intuition, but this sort of story is usually considered amazing because the lay audience tends to equate physics and math. Mathematicians (and maybe physicists) tend to hate this.

Anyhow, from what I remember from reading The Phone Book, Einstein had the basic idea of GR but it took someone else (WAG: Poincare?) talking to him and recognizing that the apropriate formulae were the kind of thing done in pseudo-Riemannian geometry. Thus the idea was Einstein's, but he had a lot of help translating the ideas into mathematical language.
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Old 04-28-2004, 06:13 PM
Thudlow Boink Thudlow Boink is offline
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Was he weak in arithmetic? Not at all. On the contrary, he was quite good at it. The myth that he was poor in it is due to a quirk. When he was a pupil, his school inverted the grading system, so that what previously was a high grade became a low one. Anyone reading Einstein's report cards, but not knowing about this shift, would conclude that Einstein had suddenly lost his mathematical ability.
From Strength In Numbers by Sherman K. Stein, who also points out that Einstein was not a mathematician but a physicist.
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Old 04-28-2004, 06:14 PM
bonzer bonzer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pravnik
In 1895, at the age of 16, Einstein failed an exam that would have gotten him into the electrical engineering program at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich Polytechnic.
Even in this ETH entrance examination that he failed, he still did well in maths. It was French, chemistry and biology that were giving him problems. Indeed he sufficiently impressed Heinrich Weber that he invited him to attend his physics course anyway.
It should also be noted that he was only able to take the exam aged 16 rather than 18 because special permission - based on various glowing reports about his abilities - had been granted to waive the usual minimum age rule.
In later life, he quite candidly admitted that the examiners had been right to fail him.
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Old 04-28-2004, 09:20 PM
Hail Ants Hail Ants is offline
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He sure did. And his first cousin no less!

Oh wait, you said flunk...

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Old 04-29-2004, 02:15 AM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Quote:
Whether or not he flunked at one point, from what I can tell he never was all that great at math. Don't get me wrong, the man had amazing physical intuition, but this sort of story is usually considered amazing because the lay audience tends to equate physics and math. Mathematicians (and maybe physicists) tend to hate this.
Well, I wouldn't say we hate it. Physics is a lot closer to mathematics than it is to most other academic disciplines. But math is only one of many skills valuable to a physicist, and the greatest aspects of Einstein's genius were non-mathematical.
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Old 04-29-2004, 09:35 AM
Mathochist Mathochist is offline
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Originally Posted by Chronos
Well, I wouldn't say we hate it. Physics is a lot closer to mathematics than it is to most other academic disciplines. But math is only one of many skills valuable to a physicist, and the greatest aspects of Einstein's genius were non-mathematical.
Actually this is coming up in my work right now. I'm preparing for a summer course on Floer homology, with an emphasis on its relation to gauge theory. My advisor refuses to talk to me unless I stop saying "gauge electrodynamics" or "electromagnetism" where I mean "U(1) gauge theory". Even when I identify the two as shorthand, he hates me using the physics term since in his view the mathematician's and the physicist's take on the theory are so divergent.
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Old 04-29-2004, 02:42 PM
rowrrbazzle rowrrbazzle is offline
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Hermann Minkowski, one of Einstein's professors at ZP, called him a "lazy dog". This post provides more information:
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Incidently, Einstein was initially hostile to Minkowsky's geometric viewpoint (possibly because Minkowsky, exasperated by his talented young student's refusal to turn in any homework, once told him "Einstein, you are a smart boy, a very smart boy, but you are a lazy dog!"). Einstein complained wryly to his friends that "since the mathematicians have taken up my theory, I myself no longer understand it!" But he soon came to value the geometric viewpoint and, typically, not only embraced Minkowski's ideas but went far beyond them in the creation of his general theory of relativity (gtr)...
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Old 04-29-2004, 02:43 PM
rowrrbazzle rowrrbazzle is offline
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forgot the link: http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/PUB/spacetime
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