May 20, 2019

Einstein's Crisis of Confidence

“‘Why is it that no one understands me and everyone likes me?’ Einstein wondered. His appeal lay in his supposed incomprehensibility. Charlie Chaplin got it: ‘They cheer me because they all understand me,’ he remarked, accompanying the theoretical physicist to a film premiere, ‘and they cheer you because no one understands you.’

Several new books mark the centenary of the 1919 eclipse observations. Though their aims diverge, they all to some degree capture the likeness of Einstein the man, messy personal life and all, while rendering his physics a little bit more comprehensible to the rest of us. Each successfully negotiates the single besetting difficulty facing books of this sort — namely the way science approaches its own history. Scientific findings are often best explained as stories of discovery: emollient tales of how one or two figures unwove a complex problem, and in doing so brought human understanding closer to the truth of things. This has the huge advantage of making extremely complicated ideas comprehensible, by building them up brick by brick. Of course, it’s a terrible way to write history.

Historians, meanwhile, show how the business of science is as contingent and dramatic as any other human activity. They give us a much clearer, more inclusive, more humane view of what science actually is. If you want to understand what the science has revealed, however, you’d best steer clear of their nuanced accounts, full of thwarted ambitions, contested theories, doubts and contingencies.”

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JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"My fellow progressives actually doubt if I'm still a Democrat just because I won't accept Nicolas Maduro's tyrannic regime in my home of Venezuela."

"One of the particular characteristics of the Trump presidency is the way Trump consistently creates drama – some by design, some not – that makes it hard to see the broader outline of events."

"Israel’s Eurovision entry barely made a dent on the scoreboard but there’s no doubt that the Jewish State was the real winner of the Eurovision Song Content 2019."

"The Saturday Night Live Finale Was a Mishmash of Everything It Needs to Fix: The send-off to Season 44 might end up functioning as a send-off to a particularly toothless era for the show."

"The biggest challenge in measuring real compensation and Americans’ well-being is the extraordinary growth in new products that have brought new benefits not captured in any government consumer price metric."

"...we’ve grown wary of the so-called attention economy, which, in the name of corporate profits, exploits our psychological vulnerabilities in ways that corrode social life, diminish privacy, weaken civic cohesion..."

"Regardless of how healthfully we live or how much medical care we receive, we will all die. Yet, understanding this intellectually is vastly different from truly feeling it; raw confrontation with our own mortality is frightening."

"Power, although hard to handle, is greatly desired. There is no person or group or sect or party or mob that doesn’t want power, convinced that it would know how to use it as no one ever has before."

"It turns out that feminism and faith both have high expectations of husbands and fathers, if for very different ideological reasons, and that both result in higher-quality marriages for women."

"We live in an age of radical diets: Paleo, vegan, low-glycemic, low-carb, low-fat, high fat (keto). Which one’s best for maintaining a healthy weight?"

"During a military mission, whether in peace or in war, if a pilot or soldier can’t identify an object, they have a serious problem: How should they react, without knowing if it is neutral, friendly or threatening? "

"The Germans, the Jews and the Poles Are on the Battlefield Again: The Poles see themselves as the ultimate victims, the Germans repent and pass anti-BDS resolutions, and Israel speaks in two voices..."