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

Oh and by the way, considering Wendell Wagner’s obvious assertion for his love of “facts”, let’s put this to bed:

He didn’t “drop out”, as you mention, nor did he suddenly “move to another country”. What’s true is his family moved to Milan in 1894 but he stayed in Munich and took examinations (he wanted to study electrical engineering at the ETH in Zurich). These he failed after which he renounced German citizenship and attended a secondary school in Switzerland, as is mentioned here and here. He gained his certificate in 1896 and finally enrolled in his beloved ETH.

He graduated from the ETH in 1900 as a teacher of mathematics and physics. He wasn’t impressive enough to get any type of position, so much so that he was mailing around universities, hoping some guy would hire him. Although he taught part-time as a temp, he was much disillusioned, stating

"I have given up the ambition to get to a university … "

Well, his luck pulled through and his buddy’s father landed him a job at the Swiss Patent Office.

We have to bear in mind that when we talk about Einstein I don’t think you can point to any remarkable academic achievement when explaining his success. Indeed, it seems contrary. The guy apparently had problems speaking at a young age (“silence is genius in reserve”), and most accounts of his academic career that I have read term him as an “average” student.

His great discoveries, ideas and principles were mostly forged out in his spare time, for example whilst working in the SPO. For me that’s what distinguishes him - the solitary quest for truth.

My optometryst changed the way I look at the universe.

IMHO it is because most people can understand the concept of a falling apple leading to a theory of gravity, better than they can the idea of the speed of light being related to gravity.

O.K., I just looked at those websites, and your summary isn’t complete either, Xavier. First, note that he got his Ph.D. in 1905 from the University of Zurich. He was 26 at the time. Getting your Ph.D. by the time you’re 26 is usually considered to be zipping right along. He got his bachelor’s degree from ETH in 1900, when he was 21. Getting your bachelor’s degree at 21 is usually considered to be zipping right along too.

A biography of Einstein I’ve just checked says that his teachers in high school didn’t like him because they considered him disruptive. To get out of high school, he got a doctor’s certificate stating that he was suffering from a nervous breakdown. He was released from school and took off to join his family in Italy. He didn’t drop out of high school, but neither did he flunk out. Not passing the test didn’t stop his high school education. It just prevented him from going on to ETH.

He got his first university teaching job at Bern in 1908, when he was 29. He got his next teaching job at Zurich in 1909, when he was 30. He got his next teaching job at Prague in 1911, when he was 32. He got his next university job, a chair that didn’t even require teaching, at Berlin in 1914, when he was 35. Each job was more prestigious than the previous one, and the last one was probably the most prestigious position that a German-speaking academic could get. He was at that point at the top of his profession.

Getting a bachelor’s degree at 21, a Ph.D. at 26, and a prestigious chair at 35 is usually considered to be moving right along just about as fast as can be hoped for in an academic career. Yes, he worked as a patent clerk, but that was only for 7 years, from the ages of 23 to 30. What you’ve got to consider was that a patent clerkship was considered a reasonable way for an academic to survive while they did research to advance themselves to a regular academic position. It was no more shameful than it would be today to take a series of post-doctoral fellowships while trying to get enough publications to be considered for a tenured university teaching position.

Xavier, do you mean that you’ve read biographies of them, or that you collect snippets of information without reading them?

Hey! My kid sister got her BS at 20 and will have her Masters at 22.

Should I be scared?

I’m impressed, Jonathan. Be sure to invite me to the party to celebrate your sister’s graduation. Oh, wait, you already did. Never mind.

Damn Wendell. I’ve yet to see a post of yours in any thread that
didn’t include a snide comment of your own.

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

Probably, his prefrontal cortex and his hippocampus…


Gyan 9 said:

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

Probably, his prefrontal cortex and his hippocampus…

There is no direct evidence that his abnormally large brain had anything to do with his intelligence.


I congratulate you on your ability to detect hidden words.

I always believed that Einstein had some form of Dyslexia…not that he saw the letters of words upside-down or backward, just that he put together what he percieved in a non-linear fashion.

Dyslexics are often innovative problem solvers, finding unusual ways to link items of data together in ways independent of the rigid order of the written word.

As I recall, Einstein had to hire a mathematician to teach him the mathematical language to describe what he saw in his mind.

Gyan9: I’m sorry, I was hasty, but there’s no need to be snide.

KidCharlemagne writes:

> Damn Wendell. I’ve yet to see a post of yours in any thread
> that didn’t include a snide comment of your own.

My comments are about people who post replies to questions without bothering to look up the facts. (I have also commented at other times about people who ask questions without first trying Google, IMDb, and other obvious sources of information, but that didn’t happen in this thread, and I didn’t make any comments about that this time.) If you’re going to post to the SDMB, you should make some attempt to get your facts straight and you should make some preliminary attempts to answer your question with the use of Internet resources like Google and the IMDb. Otherwise you’re wasting bandwidth. If telling you those sorts of things comes across as snide, so be it.

Xavier made the following personal comments about Einstein:

> his crazy hairdo

> was dating some 22-YO chick by the time he was 17

and the following about Newton:

> virginal

> 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

What’s the point of throwing in those personal comments about Einstein and Newton with a question about their relative levels of genius?

Funny, considering most peopel think his solutions are elegant, as has been noted in this thread.

Yeah, great piece of info Son, glad you cleared that up. If you read my post you would realise that I was clarifying on the point you made about Einstein “dropping” out and just leaving his “high school”. I made no reference to the fact that he somehow struggled through University. My comments were that he didn’t impress enough to obtain early teaching positions, and that when he made his big discoveries, he was working mostly on his own, apart from the academic establishment and while he held down his job at the SPO.

Wow, so you mean he really moved UP in the world, as time went on? 'Coz I always thought you were supposed to sink beneath the waves after the age of 26…

See, this is the problem I have with you. I didn’t say that he was somehow morally defunct or an ass to try to hold down a regular job. The details I relate are how it’s described in the mentioned links. Any personal judgements that you wanna make about what he did in his spare time or whether what he did was “clean living” are yours, not mine. Don’t put extra words or hidden meanings in my post.

I posted the question to obtain the “facts” as you call them. If you don’t wanna reply, that’s your beef. Suggested action: skip the fucking thread.

Okay, so I see. You’re peeved about the fact that in a thread that you percieved as focusing solely on “geniuses” and thier “achievements” I made a couple of comments about thier personal lives.

I can understand that some people are sensitive about this. Make your comment and then move on. Don’t be an asshole and drag it out. The thing you’ve gotta understand is, this is IMHO, not GD, so I won’t be as strict on my humour as I otherwise would be. If you wanna hero worship, you go ahead. Don’t ask me to. I merely poked fun at them to show that like us, they too are human (you could argue that like us, they feel pain, and then I’d just say “not likely; thier dead” - see humour! Try it out. It don’t hurt I promise).

Oh and as to the “snide” comments themselves and thier “probable inaccuracies”, you be the judge. Remember to keep you “humour hat” on at all times.

Do I really have to provide a cite for this?

Mileva Maric. Okay she was 21. Am I gonna go to jail now?

Once again, you be the judge. On a serious note I have seen a biography of him on the history channel, and for those of you that are interested, they conclude he was one too.

Reading this, it strikes me that no poster has read a translation of Newton’s works, or Einstein’s. (The really talented can do their own translations, I suppose.) I have read Chandrashakar’s translation of the Principia, and my Ph. D. dissertation topic was in the field of General Relativity. Frankly, ranking them relative to each other is not possible. Both were class A geniuses.

Newton’s proofs are elegant. Just because the only proofs you have seen are those presented in college classes doesn’t mean that is how he proved anything. Chandra… said something along the lines of “… before looking at Newton’s proofs, I did my own. In every case, Newton’s were better.” If you don’t know, Chandra is a Nobel prize winning theorist in his own right. He showed that any star larger than 3 solar masses would collapse into a black hole - while on a cruise from Europe to the US. You have to realize that Newton was only a part time physicist. He did most of his work in only a couple of years. He was the greatest experimentalist alive, as well as the greatest theorist.

Something often forgotten is that Newton was the first to construct mathematical models. He also invented calculus merely to solve a problem here or there - most of his work showing that the force keeping the planets in their courses and making apples fall down were one and the same requires no calculus at all. He did almost all of it geometrically.

Einstein, on the other hand, merely published five or six Nobel quality papers at one time. Yeah, he needed help with the mathematics of curved manifolds, but most would. The friend who helped him was one of the world’s great mathematicians, so there was no shame in that. Einstein was sort of the stepfather of quantum mechanics.

Was either a good guy? Probably. Don’t judge either by anecdotes you have heard.

By the way, IMHO, you should toss Maxwell in this list. He merely derived all of classical electricity and magnetism by modeling them on fluid flow - without the aid of vectors. He also took classical mechanics to its limits with his statistical mechanics.

Well, I gotta go. One of the kids is destroying the house. Not a problem any of these three guys had - which shows just how smart they all were.

What language would they be translated from? Newton was English, and didn’t Einstein publish in English-language journals? Or did Newton write in Latin and Einstein in German?

(I have a suspicion I’m gonna feel really, really stupid when I find out the answer to this question.)

Why then did he disagree with the fundemental principles of QM? There’s this fine quote that is almost always attributed to him,

“God does not play dice”

To my understanding, this had to do with the unpredictability and uncertainty of the Q world, which he deeply resisted. He felt that all events should be predictable, even though time and again experimental evidence was showing that QM was correct. His problems with unification arose from trying to bridge the Q world with that of the rest of classical physics. So why the fuzzinesss if he had a helping hand in developing it?

Xavier writes:

> If you wanna hero worship, you go ahead.

I don’t want to hero-worship them. I know perfectly well that Newton and Einstein were personally flawed. You weren’t pointing out their flaws in order to have a discussion about those flaws. You were making snide comments about them that have nothing to do with their genius. Complaining about Einstein’s hairdo is one example. What does his hairdo have to do with anything? That’s making a snide comment to make fun of him. What does Newton’s probable life-long virginity have to do with anyone? (You know, believe it or not, that’s not illegal anywhere.) That’s making a snide comment to make fun of him.


Absolutely. Though your definition of “snide” may vary. I wouldn’t say they were there to disparage, more to humour. Read my comments in my previous post if you want clarification on this. Just as a side note, I don’t consider it a “flaw” to be a virgin. But it always sounds catchier if it’s described negatively.

Complain??? I been trying for years to get this haircut!!! Ted just don’t cut his hair like he used to.