Walter Isaacson, the author of “His Life and Universe”, reveal a juicy bit of information from the early life of never forgotten physicist, the one and only “Einstein”.
In 1895, the sixteen-year-old bright student stood second in his class (according to the records of exclusive college preparatory school in Aargau Switzerland, which survived in those days).
Isaacson wrote it in his book in these words, “Alas, the name of the boy who bested Einstein is lost to history.”
So it might be a surprising fact for some that, the man who is a synonym of genius and who told us about the untold tales of the universe, put out the theories which were unimaginable at that time, was at one point not the most intelligent student in his class.
It makes one think why and how a child from a middle-class family became interested in physics? What were the forces which compelled him to pursue these uncharted territories of physics and laws governing the whole of the universe?
Childhood and Education
Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany. Albert’s father, Hermann Einstein, was primarily a featherbed salesman and later ran a small electrochemical factory. His mother, Pauline Koch, was a housewife. Both of his parents were from a long line of Jewish heritage and their ancestors had been living in Southern Germany for many centuries. His mother came from a fairly wealthy family and was known for her wits. She also liked music and that’s probably the reason Albert got developed an interest in music from a young age. Albert had only one younger sister Maria (who went by the name Maja). Like most siblings, they had their differences but Maja would grow up to become one of the best and closest friends of Albert.
From early childhood, Einstein faced problems in learning. He was especially slow in learning how to speak. He used to whisper to himself before saying the words out loud. Due to this tendency of repetition and whispering, his maid nicknamed him “der depperte” — the dopey one
Even at the age of nine, he was unable to speak fluently. Many of his teachers thought Albert was mentally weak. As a child, Albert preferred to play by himself rather than with other boys his age.
Fascination with Music
Einstein had a variety of hobbies as well. He enjoyed constructing towers with playing cards and building complex structures with blocks. He also liked to work on puzzles or read books about mathematics. It was Albert’s mother who introduced him to one of his favorite pastimes; music.
At first, Albert wasn’t sure he wanted to learn to play the violin. It seemed too regimented. But then Albert heard Mozart and his world changed. Einstein once said that “Mozart’s music is so pure and beautiful that I see it as a reflection of the inner beauty of the universe itself”. Later in life, Albert would turn to music when stuck on a particularly difficult scientific concept.
Sometimes, he would be playing his violin in the middle of the night and then suddenly stop as a solution to a problem jumped into his mind. As an older man, Einstein explained how important music was to his life and his work saying, “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my day-dreams in music. I see my life in terms of
When Albert was around the age of five or six, he fell ill. To try and make him feel better, his father bought him a compass to play with. Einstein became fascinated with the compass. How did it work? What was the mysterious force that caused the compass to point north? Einstein claimed as an adult that he could remember how he felt examining the compass. He said it made a profound and lasting impression on him even as a child and sparked his curiosity to want to explain the unknown. The second wonder in young Albert’s life was his discovery of a geometry book at the age of 12. He called it his “little sacred geometry book”.
Yet another important influence on Einstein was a young medical student, Max Talmud. Talmud became an informal tutor, introducing Einstein higher mathematics and philosophy. A pivotal turning point occurred when Einstein was introduced to a children’s science series “Popular Books on Physical Science”, in which the author imagined riding along electricity inside a telegraph wire.
This imaginative question dominated Einstein for the next 10 years: what would a light beam look like if you could run alongside it? If light were a wave, then light beam should appear stationary, like a frozen wave. Even as a child, though, he knew that stationary light waves had never been seen, so there was a paradox.
After three years attending the local Catholic school, eight-year-old Albert changed schools to the Liutpold Gymnasium where he would spend the next seven years. Einstein felt that the teaching style at Liutpold was too regimented and constraining. He did not enjoy the military discipline of the teachers and often rebelled against their authority. He compared his teachers to drill sergeants. While there are many stories telling about how Einstein struggled in school and even failed in math, these are not true. He may have not been the ideal student, but he scored high in most subjects, especially math and physics. As an adult, Einstein was asked about his failure in math and he replied; I never failed in mathematics. Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.
Originally, Einstein was destined to take over his family business, but when it failed in 1894, Einstein’s family moved to Italy. There he wrote his first scientific paper, in his teen years, which investigated the nature of either – a hypothetical consequence of how light travels through space that Einstein later disproved. After that, he continued his education at various
On 14th September 2015, Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected the distortions in space-time caused by passing gravitational waves generated by the collision of two black holes nearly 1.3 billion light-years away. The cataclysmic event is extremely violent but by the time the disruptions in space-time reach earth, due to such an
infinitesimally vast distance, its intensity is vastly reduced. In fact, by the time gravitational waves from LIGO first detection reached earth, the amount of space-time wobbling they generated was thousands of times smaller than the nucleus of an atom! Interestingly such kind of
Before his death, Einstein published a total of more than 300 scientific papers. From being a dull student who could not even speak properly, Albert Einstein became one of the most famous scientists of the 20th century. His genius and intellect were accepted worldwide and the
The message to take here is that, yes, it is mandatory to have good grades in school, but it does not define what your gifted skills are. There is no fundamental law which defines that every genius should always top the class. Genius is one who comes up with new ideas, sometimes weird as well.
The quote I love most of this great scientist is “imagination is more important than knowledge” hence it is your imagination which makes you mastermind.
So next time, whenever you look at the moon, at the stars, the world around you, the cars, the animals, try to imagine, whatever you can, the stupidity levels does not matter. As Einstein says, “the difference between stupid and genius is that genius has its limits”.
Muhammad Abdullah Khan has done bachelors in Chemistry from Government College University
Lahore. He is a science enthusiast and loves to read and write about astronomy, cosmology and latest