Albert Einstein was one of the most influential scientists of all time, but he was also an inquisitive philosopher who had many inspiring thoughts about the meaning of life, the nature of free will and existence and our place in the cosmos he studied so closely. The Cosmic View of Albert Einstein (Sterling Publishing, 2013) by Walt Martin and Magda Ott compiles Einstein’s most inspirational cosmic utterances into one volume. The following excerpt is from the foreword by Alice Calaprice, former senior editor of Princeton University Press.
Albert Einstein, the supernova among physicists, is best known for his so-called genius, pacifism, and, in his later years, humanitarian and political activism. Though his achievements are manifold, enough to make the most accomplished among us blush, he was in fact a modest and humble human being, making his way through life like the rest of us, often bumbling and making mistakes along the way. He was, however, wise enough to change his mind as circumstances and the passage of time dictated, both in his physics and in his worldview. In an appropriate juxtaposition of wisdom, intellect, technology, and art, the editors’ compilation of Einstein’s most memorable words and photographs by NASA, other observatories around the world, and amateur astronomers vividly captures the beauties of our expanding and dynamic Universe. “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility. The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle,” Einstein mused in 1936. These photos and the work of the scientists and technical experts behind them—artists all—are proof of humankind’s desire to comprehend the miraculously changing canvas we call our cosmos.
Einstein’s “Cosmic Religion”
The dominant effect of the photos in this book is to inspire wonder and awe, words Einstein used in his attempt to define his faith in the power and laws of Nature. This he called his “cosmic religion.” . I venture to say that by his profession of a “cosmic” religion, Einstein most likely meant to convey that it is possible to be religious—that is, not an atheist—without belief in the “personal” God that most societies throughout the world see as the “real” God.
Einstein’s idea of religion, rather than fashioned by dogma dictated, prescribed, and refashioned over the ages by millions of self-appointed experts and unquestioning believers, is based on a more constant theme—that of nature and her almost unwavering, harmonious laws. ... “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” In this way, Einstein was unifying science and religion, and referred to himself as a “deeply religious nonbeliever.” Moreover, being open-minded and inclusive in his worldview, he found Jesus, Buddha, and Moses equally compelling as prophets.
Einstein was in wonder and awe that “the Old One,” as he referred to his God, had set an almost perfect system of order in motion since the earliest times of the big bang. This system has persevered through eons of physical changes, and, in the case of Earth at least, through biological transformations and evolution. Through these immutable laws of nature, the universe has been able to survive to the present day. In more recent times, humankind, often through the exploitation of its natural resources, has been able to tamper with natural laws in the name of progress, often resulting in benefit to people but in harm to the planet. In today’s world, Einstein would surely speak out for a balance that, through some sacrifice on the part of overly zealous consumers in some parts of the world, is surely possible.
Pacifism, Social Responsibility of the Scientist, and World Government
Einstein was a lifelong pacifist except during the World War II era, when Adolf Hitler forced him to compromise his long-held beliefs. “My pacifism is an instinctive feeling, a feeling that possesses me because the murder of people is disgusting,” he wrote in 1929. “My attitude is not derived from any intellectual theory but is based on my deepest antipathy to every kind of cruelty and hatred.” …. He also often spoke of the responsibility of scientists and policy makers to make the best use of new discoveries, for peaceful purposes rather than war, and for the benefit of all humankind. In August 1948, three years after the end of World War II and in an uncertain new atomic age, he released a message to fellow intellectuals: “We scientists, whose tragic destination has been to help in making the methods of annihilation more gruesome and more effective, must consider it our solemn and transcendent duty to do all in our power in preventing these weapons from being used for the brutal purpose for which they were invented. What task could possibly be more important for us?”
Einstein felt great remorse about the contribution of physics that led to the bomb and spent the last ten years of his life fighting for the peaceful uses of atomic energy…. He appended his last signature to a nonscientific statement that came to be called the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, one of the most important documents of the twentieth century which remains highly relevant in the twenty-first century. It was formally issued three months after his death by philosopher and peace activist Bertrand Russell. This document was a call to all nations “to renounce nuclear weapons as part of a general reduction of armaments” and was signed by nine other prominent scientists.
Today, Einstein continues to be honored for his unwavering if unsuccessful humanitarian struggles to achieve peace, world order, and international cooperation, and for his passionate opposition to McCarthyism, racial segregation, ethnic discrimination, and his support of human rights throughout the world. As readers peruse or inspect the spectacular photographic creations that follow, they are certain to be filled with the awe and wonder that Einstein felt when he contemplated nature, no matter if their own religious beliefs are different from his. As we see that we are but a tiny note in the music of the spheres, all Earthlings should redouble their efforts to come together as one people on Earth, here to protect, preserve, and revere our physical space as well as our fellow creatures.
Read more from The Cosmic View of Albert Einstein: Albert Einstein and the State of Humanity.
For more from the editors, check out the Writer's Voice radio interview.
Alice Calaprice is a renowned expert on Albert Einstein and was a longtime senior editor at Princeton University Press. She has worked with the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein since the founding of the project, has copyedited and overseen the production of all the volumes, and administered the accompanying translation series with a grant from the National Science Foundation. She is the author of several popular books on Einstein and was a recipient of the Literary Market Place's award for individual achievement in scholarly editing.
Reprinted with permission from The Cosmic View of Albert Einstein © 2013 by Walter Martin and Magda Ott, Sterling Ethos, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Yousuf Karsh; NASA/ESA, Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University); and Gary Stevens.