Posts Tagged history

Einstein to Newton: “We have to talk.”

Posted by on Wednesday, 9 September, 2015
Einstein/Newton: A Meeting of Peers

A Meeting of Peers


 Did Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton have a secret meeting?  I was asked this question (sort of) on Quora.

Since Newton lived in the 1600s it was more of a “what if”.

Even Einstein’s far ranging intellect couldn’t have dragged him back to Newton’s time but what ifs never seem to bother anyone on Quora where the questions range from “What if we could go faster than the speed of light?” to “What if atheists believed in God?”

How would a meeting between and Einstein and Newton have gone?

If the discussion was limited to a single sitting, Newton, the father of modern scientific thinking, wouldn’t have been able to catch up to all the things that his wonderful brain had set in motion. Newton was maybe the greatest scientific and mathematical genius of the millennia but Einstein’s work pushed the envelope, even for the early 1900s. The formal stuff required field equations.

Field equations were the bane of Einstein’s existence. Newton wouldn’t have known anything about field equations or about David Hilbert, the great mathematician who’s work was required by Einstein. Hilbert basically beat Einstein to the finish line with his own paper on General Relativity but graciously stepped aside to allow Einstein to get the credit he deserved for his original ideas.

Another thing.

Much of Einstein’s work was motivated by the work of the great physicist, James Clerk Maxwell . Maxwell’s name wouldn’t have meant anything to Newton either.

Nor would Newton have heard of Michael Faraday who got Maxwell started on electromagnetism.

 That’s a lot of advanced math and physics for anyone – even Isaac Newton.

Okay, for argument’s sake, let’s say that Isaac Newton would have gone along with meeting this Jewish guy for a discussion about “natural philosophy”. He would have been intrigued, right? The “thought experiments” would have had to have kept him awake that night.

If he could accept premises for which he had no basis.

 My feeling? It is unlikely that Newton could have accepted Einstein’s conclusions without years of additional thought and study.

Let me add something.

Isaac Newton is such a deservedly beloved figure that several people on Quora felt compelled to defend him against any implications that he might have avoided a “Jew philosopher”.

There’s nothing that suggests that he had any problem with Jews. His private papers suggest he may have been fascinated by Judaism (though may have never met a Jewish person).

Great minds are a lot less prone to interpersonal stupidity than the rest of us, and yet, anti semitism was so pervasive in his time  that, even if Newton personally had no problem with a Jewish philosopher meeting him in his chambers, his peers might have been scandalized.

Newton’s views on Jews (whatever they may have been) shouldn’t distract us from his incredible contributions. Let’s not overreact to the mere mention of pervasive anti-semitism among his peers. I’m not trying to make anybody uncomfortable nor am I trying to sanitize history.

It is was what it was. I suggest you get over it.

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Illustration? That’s mine based on some available images.