What made Albert Einstein so great (or a genius)?

Aside from his crazy hairdo?

I mean, if asked who was the greatest scientist/physicist of all time, most people respond Isaac Newton. Well, if Alby was so great, how come they give Ike the mantle?

I have a general understanding of General Relativity (yeah yeah cut out all the jokes); read that as non-mathematical. The idea’s quite wonderful, but was this the main reason for his fame? I realize that it was a radical re-thinking of space and time (and therefore space-time :)), but then why the fascination with virginal Isaac? Is it the for-300-years-ago-that’s-some-pretty-deep-shit-he-came-out-with-Newton argument?

Among these titans of science, who takes the prize home for you?

I was gonna use “women” instead of “prize” but then I realized that while Einstein was dating some 22-YO chick by the time he was 17, Newton probably did not know what to do with a woman till he was at least 55 and had time to experiment on several young boys

Eistein. Easily.

Newton was a famous scientist, but rumors of plagiarism and nepotism were rampant. He was famous for his huge ego and is often considered as a pompous show-off.

Now Einstein, he was a bit more humble, and his greatest achievement, in my opinion, was understanding complex problems simply and being able to solve them and explain them simply as well. The other thing that elevates Eistein above others for me is the fact that he had a certain philosophy of life that marveled those who heard him.

Before anyone starts, I know Eisntein had three wives, married his cousin, and was a prick in many ways.

And remember that Einstein did not even win the Nobel prize for relativity. I don’t know the point of comparing them, but Einstein had several major insights (like relating gravity to acceleration) that were more than enough to classify him as genius.

Einstein was a genius. He managed to cut through the Gordian knot at the turn of the 20th century which had everyone up in arms. Namely, why is the speed of light constant in each and every direction. Many had suggested an ether through which light propagates, but no evidence was found.

Einstein said that there wasn’t an issue - the speed of light is constant in every direction in every inertial frame. He then further went on to postulate that all intertial frames are equivalent for the performance of physical experiments, and that there is no preferred intertial frame. Which is what had been thought by everyone from Gallileo.

Einstein essentially rewrote the way we look at the universe. Add into that what he did with general relativity, and the fact that he helped to found quantum mechanics means that Einstein pretty much makes the title of “genius” in my book.

Also, bear in mind, he was kicked out of university, and his maths teachers told him he would account to nothing. His achievements of special relativity and solving the photoelectric effect were done whilst he was working as a patent clerk - he didn’t even have a university post to back him up.

Einstein is just one of the giants of modern physics. Relativity (both special and general) changed the way we looked at the universe. It led to all different results, from the concept that light has weight, to the atomic bomb.

Even when he was dead wrong, it turned out he was on the right track: most scientists belived that Einstein wasted his career trying to develop a unified field theory that united the four forces of physics. However, now they’re working on something similar – the Grand Unified Theory – and have begun to link the four.
Einstein’s intuition is turning out to be right.

Granted that Einstein got a ton of press as the biggest genius ever. A lot of that, of course, is hype. But he was one of the world’s greatest physicists and what’s even more amazing is that very little of his work has been disproved even today. Special Relativity is a given – it was taken into account when they designed the Global Positioning System – and every test that’s been devised to test General Relativity, it has passed easily.

I think there is a big difference between “greatest scientist” and “greatest genius.” I can definitely see how someone would give Newton the former title and Einstein the latter. Newton was an obsessive brute force thinker and prolific formula maker. Much of what he did could have been done by any good scientist given enough time and enough shoulders to stand on. Einstein’s breakthroughs took, well…an Einstein to come up with them. They required one incredibly abstract eureka type moment. And it all happened because he imagined what it would be like to ride on a beam of light.

Come on, people, get your facts straight:

Charvardz writes:

> . . . I know Eisntein had three wives . . .

He had two wives.

Angua writes:

> . . . he was kicked out of university, and his maths teachers told
> him he would account to nothing . . .

No, he did just fine in university and went straight to his Ph.D. with no problem. It was during the equivalent of high school that he didn’t do very well, and that was mostly because he was bored. He dropped out, moved to another country, re-enrolled in school, and did just fine. His teachers in high school knew that he was a genius, but they didn’t like him personally.

The usual opinion is that Newton was the greatest physicist of all time and Einstein is the second greatest. They were important because they unified the state of physics at the time they were working. Before Newton, physics was a mess. Scientists of the time were still trying to explain the cosmos as understood in the theories of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo using Aristotelian physics, and it just wasn’t working. Most of Newton’s major discoveries (the laws of force, the law of gravity, and calculus) worked together to create a new physics under which the Copernican/Keplerian/Galilean discoveries made sense.

Interestingly, the one major Newtonian discovery which didn’t fit into this system, the wave theory of light, proved to be the point at which Einstein was able to show the Newtonian system of physics wasn’t complete. In the nineteenth century, various physicists had shown that light (and other radiation) was related to electricity and magnetism. To make the equations of electro-magnetism work, it was necessary to have light have the same speed from any reference frame. Einstein’s synthesis was to show that special and general relativity made that work correctly. He was also part of a number of physicists who showed why it was necessary to take a quantum-mechanical view of physics on small scales.

Incidentally, Xavier, what’s the point of mixing questions about Einstein’s and Newton’s abilities as physicists with snide comments about their personal lives? It’s perfectly possible for someone to be a slimebag personally and yet an utter genius. Have you ever read a biography of either Einstein or Newton, or do you just collect snippets of (probably inaccurate) facts about genius’s lives so you can show your superiority to them?

Ok. Fair point. I got confused. He did all his great work however, without holding a unversity post…


Originally posted by Wendell Wagner

Charvardz writes:

> . . . I know Eisntein had three wives . . .

He had two wives.

I’m sorry, the third one was a lover. I didn’t mention his mostly unknown children.

I agree with the Einstein Genius and Newton Scientist. While Einstein was very bright he was never as methodic as Newton.

One measure I use to rate a scientist is to ask:

“How much longer would it have taken for the theory of X to have been thought of by someone else.”

Most top scientists are usually only a few months ahead of the rest. E.g., Crick and Watson were maybe 6 months ahead of the rest. The development of the telephone would have occurred at exactly the same rate without Bell. So he really wasn’t that important at all.

Einstein, IMHO, was 10-20 years ahead on most aspects of relativity, which is pretty darn good for that era.

For Newton, by subject: (again IMHO)
Calculus: 0 years ahead. Leibnizt.
Optics: 10-20 years ahead. (But he did fudge his data. Big negative there.)
Gravity: 20-30 years ahead.

But that was a much different era than Einstein’s. Being 20 years ahead isn’t that unusual for the time for a reasonably logical scientist.

So I give the nod to Einstein.

I like your thoughts ftg

The thing about relativity is that it couldn’t have been long before it was figured out. Even if astronomical observations did not prove it, as soon as we started putting satellites in orbit we would start noticing how their clocks were consistently off.

I thought that most of the time that title was given to Leonardo Da Vinci?

Not as a physicist, obviously, but as one of the greatest scientists of his time. And, simultaneously, a great artist, a great bridge designer, a great architect, . . . etc.

I believe it’s commonly said that Leonardo was the most intellegent person ever to have lived on this earth.

When you meet someone who seems preternaturally smart, do you call him a Da Vinci? :wink:

Not trying to take anything away from Leonardo, who clearly had an incredible mind and a genius for inventing, painting, sculpting, etc. But Einstein did indeed change the way we look at the universe, and in addition to the physics stuff, he seems to have been a wise man with a knack for philosophical wit, which I think has helped preserve his reputation among non-scientists. We’re not gauging anything official, but I agree with the others that Einstein generally gets the “biggest genius ever” title.

Einstein is actually criticized for being more of a pure thinker rahter than pure scientist applying the scientific method. While I wouldn’t balme Einstein for the state of physics, the fact is that noted ‘physicists’ now are people with all these semi-coherent ideas about unified theory, etc.

More physicists should return to the lab and stop emulating Einstein. Tossing ideas out about 6 to an infinite number of dimensions is not emulating Einstein. Einstein was usually right or in the right direction. Emulators of him are just forcing things to fit their nutty ideas.

Relativity wasn’t all he did, either.

He analysed the statistics of Brownian motion - this helped prove the existence of atoms.

He explained the photoelectric effect by introducing the idea of a quantum of light (photon). This idea turned out to be way more important than even Al realized.

Most of his work was closely tied to experimentally testable consequences. I agree with Philster, a lot of theoretical physicists have Einstein envy: they want to deduce something important about the universe from pure thought. THat’s not how physics gets done, tho…

The more physics and astronomy I studied, the more I was able to appreciate how much of a mark Einstein left on pretty much all of modern physics. He played an early role in the development of QM (through the photoelectric effect), as well as indirectly helping it along by challenging it in his later years.

He provided a beautiful argument based on direct observation (Brownian motion) for the existence of atoms.

Relativity revolutionized electromagnetics, and really put Maxwell’s equations of a firm footing with the rest of physics. General relativity makes modern cosmology what it is, and it is impossible to study astronomy without some understanding of it (not to mention having to learn about Einstein coefficients when studying radiative processes in astrophysics).

Furthermore, the elegant way in which he described and solved problems impresses the hell out of people. I’d agree with some of the above posters who said Newton may have been more important to science overall, but he didn’t have the beauty of Einstein (few do, I suppose). I think the aesthetic aspect is part of his appeal – I recall that in every case where I learned a concept through one of Einstein’s gedanken experiments, it was a mental treat. Like watching Michael Jordan dunk the ball – others can do it, sure, but that easy grace, that elegance of approach – well, what can I say?

I actually think that part of the reason that part of the reason we don’t see the aesthetic appeal of Newton’s work is that it all seems so obvious now, whereas a lot of what Einstein did is still not obvious. But to me, the idea that one can summarize such a vast amount of physics by such a small number of mathematical statements is utterly staggering.

Or, as a certain well-known physicist said, the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.

Scientific accomplishments aside, he had superb philosophies and incredible insight. Read some of his essays (collected in books such as Out of my later years) - some available online at places like here and here. Verily (imo, of course) the greatest mind to share itself with humanity.

Sadly, and ironically, I think people found/find his scientific ideas far easier to understand and accept than his other proposals…