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About the Author
Albert Einstein (1879–1955) was born in Germany and became an American citizen in 1940. A world-famous theoretical physicist, he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics and is renowned for his Theory of Relativity. In addition to his scientific work, Einstein was an influential humanist who spoke widely about politics, ethics, and social causes. After leaving Europe, Einstein taught at Princeton University. His theories were instrumental in shaping the atomic age.
Neil Berger, an associate professor emeritus of mathematics, taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science department from 1968 until his retirement in 2001. He was the recipient of the first Monroe H. Martin Prize (1975), which is now awarded by the University of Maryland every five years for a singly authored outstanding applied mathematics research paper. He has published numerous papers and reviews in his fields of expertise, which include elasticity, tensor analysis, scattering theory, and fluid mechanics.
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The World As I See It
By Albert Einstein, Alan Harris
Philosophical Library, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Philosophical Library, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The World As I See It
The Meaning of Life
WHAT IS THE MEANING of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow-creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.
The World As I See It
WHAT AN EXTRAORDINARY SITUATION is that of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he feels it. But from the point of view of daily life, without going deeper, we exist for our fellow-men—in the first place for those on whose smiles and welfare all our happiness depends, and next for all those unknown to us personally with whose destinies we are bound up by the tie of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labours of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving. I am strongly drawn to the simple life arid am often oppressed by the feeling that I am engrossing an unnecessary amount of the labour of my fellow-men. I regard class differences as contrary to justice and, in the last resort, based on force. I also consider that plain living is good for everybody, physically and mentally.
In human freedom in the philosophical sense I am definitely a disbeliever. Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity. Schopenhauer's saying, that "a man can do as he will, but not will as he will," has been an inspiration to me since my youth up, and a continual consolation and unfailing well-spring of patience in the face of the hardships of life, my own and others'. This feeling mercifully mitigates the sense of responsibility which so easily becomes paralysing, and it prevents us from taking ourselves and other people too seriously; it conduces to a view of life in which humour, above all, has its due place.
To inquire after the meaning or object of one's own existence or of creation generally has always seemed to me absurd from an objective point of view. And yet everybody has certain ideals which determine the direction of his endeavours and his judgments. In this sense I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves—such an ethical basis I call more proper for a herd of swine. The ideals which have lighted me on my way and time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Without the sense of fellowship with men of like mind, of preoccupation with the objective, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific research, life would have seemed to me empty. The ordinary objects of human endeavour—properly, outward success, luxury—have always seemed to me contemptible.
My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced freedom from the need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I gang my own gait and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties I have never lost an obstinate sense of detachment, of the need for solitude—a feeling which increases with the years. One is sharply conscious, yet without regret, of the limits to the possibility of mutual understanding and sympathy with one's fellow-creatures. Such a person no doubt loses something in the way of geniality and lightheartedness; on the other hand, he is largely independent of the opinions, habits, and judgments of his fellows and avoids the temptation to take his stand on such insecure foundations.
My political ideal is that of democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized. It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and respect from my fellows through no fault, and no merit, of my own. The cause of this may well be the desire, unattainable for many, to understand the one or two ideas to which I have with my feeble powers attained through ceaseless struggle. I am quite aware that it is necessary for the success of any complex undertaking that one man should do the thinking and directing and in general bear the responsibility. But the led must not be compelled, they must be able to choose their leader. An autocratic system of coercion, in my opinion, soon degenerates. For force always attracts men of low morality, and I believe it to be an invariable rule that tyrants of genius are succeeded by scoundrels. For this reason I have always been passionately opposed to systems such as we see in Italy and Russia to-day. The thing that has brought discredit upon the prevailing form of democracy in Europe to-day is not to be laid to the door of the democratic idea as such, but to lack of stability on the part of the heads of governments and to the impersonal character of the electoral system. I believe that in this respect the United States of America have found the right way. They have a responsible President who is elected for a sufficiently long period and has sufficient powers to be really responsible. On the other hand, what I value in our political system is the more extensive provision that it makes for the individual in case of illness or need. The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the State but the creative, sentient individual, the personality; it alone creates the noble and the sublime, while the herd as such remains dull in thought and dull in feeling.
This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of the herd nature, the military system, which I abhor. That a man can take pleasure in marching in formation to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. He has only been given his big brain by mistake; a backbone was all he needed. This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism—how I hate them! War seems to me a mean, contemptible thing: I would rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such an abominable business. And yet so high, in spite of everything, is my opinion of the human race that I believe this bogey would have disappeared long ago, had the sound sense of the nations not been systematically corrupted by commercial and political interests acting through the schools and the Press.
The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery—even if mixed with fear—that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms—it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.
The Liberty of Doctrine—Á Propos of the Gumbel Case
ACADEMIC CHAIRS ARE MANY, but wise and noble teachers are few; lecture-rooms are numerous and large, but the number of young people who genuinely thirst after truth and justice is small. Nature scatters her common wares with a lavish hand, but the choice sort she produces but seldom.
We all know that, so why complain? Was it not ever thus and will it not ever thus remain? Certainly, and one must take what Nature gives as one finds it. But there is also such a thing as a spirit of the times, an attitude of mind characteristic of a particular generation, which is passed on from individual to individual and gives a society its particular tone. Each of us has to do his little bit towards transforming this spirit of the times.
Compare the spirit which animated the youth in our universities a hundred years ago with that prevailing to-day. They had faith in the amelioration of human society, respect for every honest opinion, the tolerance for which our classics had lived and fought. In those days men strove for a larger political unity, which at that time was called Germany. It was the students and the teachers at the universities who kept these ideals alive.
To-day also there is an urge towards social progress, towards tolerance and freedom of thought, towards a larger political unity, which we to-day call Europe. But the students at our universities have ceased as completely as their teachers to enshrine the hopes and ideals of the nation. Anyone who looks at our times coolly and dispassionately must admit this.
We are assembled to-day to take stock of ourselves. The external reason for this meeting is the Gumbel case. This apostle of justice has written about unexpiated political crimes with devoted industry, high courage, and exemplary fairness, and has done the community a signal service by his books. And this is the man whom the students, and a good many of the staff, of his university are to-day doing their best to expel.
Political passion cannot be allowed to go to such lengths. I am convinced that every man who reads Herr Gumbel's books with an open mind will get the same impression from them as I have. Men like him are needed if we are ever to build up a healthy political society.
Let every man judge according to his own standards, by what he has himself read, not by what others tell him.
If that happens, this Gumbel case, after an unedifying beginning, may still do good.
Good and Evil
IT IS RIGHT IN principle that those should be the best loved who have contributed most to the elevation of the human race and human life. But, if one goes on to ask who they are, one finds oneself in no inconsiderable difficulties. In the case of political, and even of religious, leaders, it is often very doubtful whether they have done more good or harm. Hence I most seriously believe that one does people the best service by giving them some elevating work to do and thus indirectly elevating them. This applies most of all to the great artist, but also in a lesser degree to the scientist. To be sure, it is not the fruits of scientific research that elevate a man and enrich his nature, but the urge to understand, the intellectual work, creative or receptive. It would surely be absurd to judge the value of the Talmud, for instance, by its intellectual fruits.
The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained to liberation from the self.
Society and Personality
WHEN WE SURVEY our lives and endeavours we soon observe that almost the whole of our actions and desires are bound up with the existence of other human beings. We see that our whole nature resembles that of the social animals. We eat food that others have grown, wear clothes that others have made, live in houses that others have built. The greater part of our knowledge and beliefs has been communicated to us by other people through the medium of a language which others have created. Without language our mental capacities would be poor indeed, comparable to those of the higher animals; we have, therefore, to admit that we owe our principal advantage over the beasts to the fact of living in human society. The individual, if left alone from birth would remain primitive and beast-like in his thoughts and feelings to a degree that we can hardly conceive. The individual is what he is and has the significance that he has not so much in virtue of his individuality, but rather as a member of a great human society, which directs his material and spiritual existence from the cradle to the grave.
A man's value to the community depends primarily on how far his feelings, thoughts, and actions are directed towards promoting the good of his fellows. We call him good or bad according to how he stands in this matter. It looks at first sight as if our estimate of a man depended entirely on his social qualities.
And yet such an attitude would be wrong. It is clear that all the valuable things, material, spiritual, and moral, which we receive from society can be traced back through countless generations to certain creative individuals. The use of fire, the cultivation of edible plants, the steam engine—each was discovered by one man.
Only the individual can think, and thereby create new values for society—nay, even set up new moral standards to which the life of the community conforms. Without creative, independently thinking and judging personalities the upward development of society is as unthinkable as the development of the individual personality without the nourishing soil of the community.
The health of society thus depends quite as much on the independence of the individuals composing it as on their close political cohesion. It has been said very justly that Graeco-Europeo-American culture as a whole, and in particular its brilliant flowering in the Italian Renaissance, which put an end to the stagnation of mediaeval Europe, is based on the liberation and comparative isolation of the individual.
Let us now consider the times in which we live. How does society fare, how the individual? The population of the civilized countries is extremely dense as compared with former times; Europe to-day contains about three times as many people as it did a hundred years ago. But the number of great men has decreased out of all proportion. Only a few individuals are known to the masses as personalities, through their creative achievements. Organization has to some extent taken the place of the great man, particularly in the technical sphere, but also to a very perceptible extent in the scientific.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPreface to the Original Edition,
Preface to the New Authorized Edition,
Introduction to the Abridged Edition,
I The World As I See It,
The Meaning of Life,
The World As I See It,
The Liberty of Doctrine—Á Propos of the Gumbel Case,
Good and Evil,
The True Value of a Human Being,
Society and Personality,
Address at the Grave of H. A. Lorentz,
H. A. Lorentz's Work in the Cause of International Co-Operation,
In Honour of Arnold Berliner's Seventieth Birthday,
Obituary of the Surgeon, M. Katzenstein,
Congratulations to Dr. Solf,
Education and Educators,
To the Schoolchildren of Japan,
Teachers and Pupils,
Religion and Science,
The Religiousness of Science,
The Plight of Science,
Fascism and Science,
Thanks to America,
The University Course at Davos,
Congratulations to a Critic,
Greeting to G. Bernard Shaw,
Some Notes on My American Impressions,
Reply to the Women of America,
II Politics and Pacifism,
The Pacifist Problem,
Address to the Students' Disarmament Meeting,
To Sigmund Freud,
Germany and France,
The International of Science,
The Institute for Intellectual Co-Operation,
The Question of Disarmament,
The Disarmament Conference of 1932,
America and the Disarmament Conference,
Letter to a Friend of Peace,
A Third Ditto,
Women and War,
Thoughts on the World Economic Crisis,
Culture and Prosperity,
Production and Purchasing Power,
Production and Work,
Observations on the Present Situation in Europe,
The Heirs of the Ages,
III Germany 1933,
Correspondence with the Prussian Academy of Sciences,
IV The Jews,
Is There a Jewish Point of View?,
Jewish Youth—An Answer to a Questionnaire,
Addresses on Reconstruction in Palestine,
The Jewish Community,
Anti-Semitism and Academic Youth,
A Letter to Professor Dr. Hellpach, Minister of State,
Letter to an Arab,
Christianity and Judaism,
A Biography of Albert Einstein,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Why not read this book it is just great to see the world in Einstein eyes plus we both have somthing in common to stay focus on one thing and stay with that one thing to the end to see what will the results be and the hate of war and beging a person that feels love this book is real deep it will show you how this man is so great and real down to earth
Known principally for his contribution to science, this book reveals the social conscience of this great thinker. The book is an eclectic collection of notes and letters on a broad range of subjects, all written in the period between the two world wars and provides insight into the views if this extraordinary man. The subjects covered include the future of science, pacifism, economics, Jewish issues and many personal reflections on people he respected. I was struck by the quality of the writing. Though many of the contributions are taken from notes or letters, they have the feel of being very precisely honed, displaying great writing skill. As many of the issues discussed remain relevant today this is not merely a historical artefact of Einstein's life, but also contains ideas that are well worth revisiting.
Albert Einstein was a man of such clarity of vision and a nearly prophetic sense of humanity. A much misunderstood genius.
I'm personally not a fan of the reckless scientists of our time but it is a very intersting look into the past through the eyes of an intellegent, if somewhat delusional, man.
This is the Hephaestus cabin. Little space is taken up by beds, as they are in private rooms below. Tools, nuts, bolts, and other pieces of machinary litter the cabin. Schematics are tacked up on bulletin boards and a fire pole comes from above. All sorts of forged weapons are hung on walls or in cabinets. ~Jasmine ***Chiron***