Albert Einstein, according to Time magazine’s Frederic Golden, was “a cartoonist’s dream come true.” He’s a household name, a pivotal figure in science and mathematics. In fact, he’s such an important public figure that his brain was stolen post-mortem and, more recently, converted into an app. Indeed, Albert Einstein was (and is) an important part of our history. But do we take Einstein to the extreme too often?
The New York Times published a vignette in their “The Talk of the Town” feature that gave a funny account of the great man, saying that Einstein was so well known in America that he would repeatedly be stopped and asked to explain “that theory”. He adopted the habit of telling his inquirers “Pardon me, sorry! Always I am mistaken for Professor Einstein.”
Einstein, the household name, in many ways has outgrown the man himself. He’s the subject of inspiration for novels, films, plays and music. He’s become a favorite model image for mad scientists and absent-minded professors. Again and again his expressive face and unkempt hairstyle have been copied and exaggerated. He created the theory of relativity, E=mc^2, and numerous other significant finds, so a certain recognition is expected. Still, I pose the question of “have we taken it too far?”
In life he loved music, though his mother forced it on him at first. He had a family, with over 3,500 pages of letters written between himself and wife Margot between 1912 and 1955 (which is now property of The Hebrew University). He made mistakes in about 20 percent of his papers according to Mario Livio, an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute. Science to him seemed to be more of a hobby than a job and he’d regularly recycle his manuscripts into shopping lists. I wonder if he’d be saying “Pardon me, sorry! Always I am mistaken for Professor Einstein” when faced with our modern perception of him.
We seem to, as a culture, have become obsessed with the man (or our idea of him). Next time you hear his name take a moment to step back and appreciate him rather than glorify him. We can take a good number of lessons from Albert Einstein. He loved what he did – whether it was math, music, culture or family. He made a point of committing to the things he was interested in and preferred to teach himself. Albert Einstein, the man, is someone we can learn a lot from. After all, he’s important enough to have his brain made into an app.