Friday, August 16, 2013

Not Einstein's biggest blunder

There are many Einstein misquotes. I removed several from my book, How Einstein Ruined Physics, when I could not authenticate them.

I exposed New Yorker science writer Jonah Lehrer for using a made-up Einstein quote, but he did not get fired until he got caught making up a Bob Dylan quote. Dylan has a more fact-based following, I guess.

Rebecca J. Rosen writes in The Atlantic magazine:
To make his equations work, in 1917 Einstein introduced an additional term into them, expressed by the Greek letter lambda (λ) -- the "cosmological constant." The new term represented a repulsive force that would counter gravity's attraction, leaving the universe intact.

But in the years that followed, evidence mounted that the belief in the universe's motionlessness was wrong: The universe was, in fact, expanding. Had Einstein stuck with the equation before him, he might have been the one to intuit this central feature of the cosmos, but instead he concocted a contrivance in order to preserve a false assumption. Einstein, the story goes, called it the "biggest blunder" of his entire life, and that phrase (or close variations of it) has been repeated thousands of times, in books and journal articles across the disciplines.

The only problem is: Einstein may never have uttered the phrase "biggest blunder."

Astrophysicist and author Mario Livio can find no documentation that puts those words into Einstein's mouth (or, for that matter, his pen). ...

"I'm not saying he didn't regret it," Livio says. "He definitely regretted it. He wrote about that to a number of friends. He thought it was ugly."

But to say it was his "biggest blunder" implies a level of regret that it seems Einstein did not feel. ...

After a visit with the scientist at Princeton on November 16, 1954, Linus Pauling wrote in his diary: "He said that he had made one great mistake -- when he signed the letter to Pres. Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but that there was some justification -- the danger that the Germans would make them."
Einstein was a Communist fellow traveler, and he was opposed to the American opposition to USSR in the Cold War.

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