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Useful Notes / Albert Einstein

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The man who shaped the whole Twentieth Century.

"Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth."
Einstein, 1901, in a letter to Jost Winteler

Theoretical physicist, patent clerk, statesman, philosopher, amateur violinist, father of modern physics, superstar, one of the smartest humans in history, and the most famous scientist of the 20th century. Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879 — April 18, 1955) was single-handedly responsible for pretty much every genius-related trope in 20th-century/21st-century media: the brilliant yet witty and genial old man, the fly-away hair, the mild loopiness and absent mindedness, etc, etc.

Born in Ulm, Germany, Einstein was the son of an engineer. He was gifted in math and science from an early age. The urban legend that he failed mathematics in high school is completely untrue. He did fail the entrance examination to the Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich first time around, but that was because the exam was in French, a language he read poorly.note note  He first started thinking about relativity at the age of 16, as he tried to imagine how a light wave would look if he traveled with it at the speed of light.note 

After graduating, a friend got him a job at a patent office, a quiet post that gave him plenty of unsupervised free time to work on physics. Nothing special happened until 1905, dubbed Annus Mirabilisnote , when he published four papers, in which he explained the photoelectric effect (which eventually got him a Nobel prize, and provided a major breakthrough in quantum mechanics), Brownian motion (which proved the existence of atoms once and for all—a scientific mystery that has been around since the days of classical Greece), special relativity (a theory explaining the previously observed fact that light travels at the same apparent speed regardless of the speed of the observer, which predicts some bizarre consequences, like that two observers moving relative to each other will not agree on how quickly time passes), and matter-energy equivalence (where we get the equation E = mc2)note  Needless to say, the papers had a revolutionary impact on science, most notably kicking off the age of nuclear energy.

In 1916, Einstein published the Theory of General Relativity, where he unified Newton's theory of gravity with special relativity; he postulated that gravity is not a force, but simply a curvature of the space-time continuum created by a massive object. The theory predicted the existence of black holes, higher dimensions, wormholes, and the possibility of time travel (sci-fi writers know who to thank).

Einstein left Germany for the US during the early rise of Nazism, where his Jewish heritage made him an easy target. In 1939, he signed a famous letter to Roosevelt supporting the opening of research into the atomic bomb. Einstein was never involved in the Manhattan Project because the FBI was deeply suspicious of his staunch pacifism and supposed "communist sympathies"; during the Cold War, the FBI kept very close tabs on him and even considered kicking him out of the country. In fact, he had almost nothing to do with the letter: It was written by Leo Szilard in consultation with fellow Hungarian physicists Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner, and they asked Einstein to sign it only because his famous name would draw attention, and Einstein later said he wouldn't have signed the letter if he had known for certain the Nazis weren't developing one.

In the US, Einstein became something of a pop culture icon, with newspapers and reporters beating a path to his door. He also became something of a star amongst children, who wrote him thousands of letters about all manner of topics. Einstein was an influential member of the civil rights, pacifist, socialist, and Zionist movements; David Ben-Gurion even offered him the (mostly ceremonial) post of President of Israel (its powers are similar to those of the British Monarch). He turned it down (much to Ben-Gurion's relief, as a pacifist saint is not exactly something that a fledgling nation beset by enemies needs), and the post went to Chaim Weizmann (himself a scientist).

However, on April 17th, 1955, he suffered a severe bout of internal bleeding from an aneurysm that he previously had surgery for. However, he refused any further surgery, saying "I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share; it is time to go. I will do it elegantly," and die he did the very next morning. He was 76 years old.

Einstein spent most of the time after his arrival in the United States attempting to explain the then-modern physics with field theories. He never believed in quantum theories and remained their opponent until his death (see "God does not play dice"). The task was completed more than 10 years after his death in 1967, with the introduction of the Standard Model.

No relation to actor Albert Brooks, who was born Albert Lawrence Einstein, and his brother Bob Einstein.

Quick Notes

  • Many people still try to debunk his theories, find some flaws or paradoxes in them. For some reason, they believe that relativity is still the front edge of modern physics, even though his theories are more than a century old by now. Just for comparison, 1903 is the year when the Wright brothers made their "Flyer 1", the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft. Compare modern airliners with the Flyer 1, and you'll get a general idea of how much more advanced modern physics is compared to theories of relativity.
  • Einstein has often been accused of plagiarism. It is true that other scientists had written about relativity before Einstein. In fact, relativity as a concept is first considered by Galileo in 1632, although Galileo's work didn't include anything like time slowing down as you speed up or lengths contracting. It was Hendrik Lorentz that first came up with the idea that light speed is constant, and it was Henri Poincare who originally came up with the equation E = mc2, only he wrote it as "m = E/c2". But to Einstein's credit, he was the only person to realize that relativity can be applied to the entire universe. Also, Lorentz and Poincare made very different physical assumptions than Einstein - namely the existence of a perfect reference point and the Luminiferous Aether. Though Lorentz and Einstein would become friends, Einstein never got over (what he perceived to be) Poincare's scientific conservatism.
  • Einstein received his Nobel prize for his explanation of the photoelectric effect, not relativity. At the time of the awarding, physical proof for relativity was still somewhat scant, and the more conservative members of the award committee disliked relativity and held up the award process for a few years. Eventually, they compromised and awarded the prize for the photoelectric effect, a safer option. Many treated this as an Award Snub. On the other hand, Einstein's work on the photoelectric effect is an important theoretical basis for image sensors. Or in other words, Einstein told us why television would work.
  • His views about religion were complex, though he called himself an agnostic and specifically denounced the idea of a personal god (that is, one that is relatable to humans, as opposed to an impersonal force). He was a member of the American Humanist Association and can mostly be called as a humanist who was influenced by Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza and believed in Spinoza's definition of God, which is ambiguous and somewhat... well, rather different from the norm. Spinoza posited an impersonal, amoral, non-sapient god in a kind of pantheism, in which God permeates and transcends nature.
    • Einstein did say that he considered most of the beliefs of organized religion to be childish, but he liked the teachings of Christ and Buddha. Regardless of his beliefs on religion, Einstein truly believed that the universe was a perfect clockwork where all pieces could be predicted exactly. He is even credited as saying, to a symposium at Princeton, that "science without religion is lame, [and] religion without science is blind."note  The emergence of quantum physics, which Einstein had ironically directly influenced, was an idea that Einstein bitterly disliked. He spent much of his later career unsuccessfully attempting to prove quantum theory wrong.
    • Despite his claimed views on religion, Einstein felt a sense of solidarity with the Jews, funded the Zionist cause, and at one point was invited to become the president of Israel.
  • Following from the above, please note that Einstein never said most of the stuff people credit him with saying. He never said that standardized testing was like teaching a fish to climb a tree, that insanity is repeating the same method expecting different results, or that the extinction of bees would spell the destruction of civilization. The Other Wiki has a good resource here with verifiable quotes that he made, and statements that he probably never made. Please consult it when you see an Einstein quote on the Internet.
  • He was One of Us. The next time you feel bad because you're obsessed with a "kid's" show, remember Einstein was a fan of the early 1950's TV puppet show and Beany and Cecil precursor Time for Beany, which was a kid's show heavy on Parental Bonus. He reputedly interrupted a high-level conference by announcing, "You will have to excuse me, gentlemen. It's Time for Beany." He was also noted to be a fan of comics, several times during his days as a patent clerk he was often found reading them rather than working. Although, ironically enough, he was not particularly fond of science fiction.

Appears in the following works:

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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Powers, Christian Walker goes to Albert to show off his powers and, hopefully, finally understand why he has them and how they work. Einstein cannot explain them, but his speech about the true nature of science is a thing of beauty to behold.
  • In Tales Designed to Thrizzle he and Mark Twain are Buddy Cops.
  • Silver Age Lex Luthor considers Einstein one of his idols, and refuses to commit any acts of evil on his birthday.
  • Albert and his evil alternate universe double Albrecht both appear in The Manhattan Projects.

    Film - Live Action 
  • IQ (1994 film). Walter Matthau plays Albert Einstein as a romantic matchmaker between his (fictional) niece Catherine and local auto mechanic Ed Walters.
    Albert Einstein: What she needs is to go out with someone like you. The problem is...she would never go out with someone like you.
    Ed Walters: Well that's easy, just lend me your brain for a couple of days. [beat] What?
    Albert Einstein: Are you thinking what I am thinking?
    Ed Walters: What would be the odds of that happening?
  • C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America has him develop the atomic bomb for the Confederacy. In exchange, he gets a plantation and some slaves.
  • Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian had several Einstien bobbleheads brought to life.
  • Young Einstein, of course.
  • The Nicholas Roeg film Insignificance, about the imaginary meeting of Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Sen. Joseph McCarthy and Joe DiMaggio in a hotel room. The characters are billed as The Professor, The Actress, The Senator and The Ballplayer: but it's not difficult to figure out who's who.
  • In And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird!, the spirit of Einstein is contacted in a seance.
  • In Ghostbusters (1984), Dr. Peter Venkman tries to tell Dr. Ray Stanz that being fired from their university research positions won't be bad because "Einstein did his greatest stuff while he was working as a patent clerk.", but Ray retorts "Do you know how much a patent clerk earns?!"
  • In Back to the Future, Doc Brown's 1985 dog is called Einstein, who is his first living test subject for his time-travel experiments, and much of the movie takes place in 1955, the same year Einstein died. Doc also keeps a portrait of Albert Einstein in his home, alongside Thomas Edison, Sir Isaac Newton, and Benjamin Franklin.
  • Jor-El mentions in Superman Returns that out of all Earth scientists, maybe Einstein is the only one who "understands".
  • He's Mary's uncle in The Nutcracker in 3D.
  • Tom Conti portrays Einstein in Oppenheimer.

  • In the Heechee Saga future, Robinette Broadhead has an A.I. created to be Einstein. Every single writing by and about Einstein is used to create an A.I. as close to the real thing as possible. This creates a problem later on when the A.I. discovers that God really does play dice with the universe.
  • In the short story The Old Man And C by Sheila Finch, Einstein became a violin teacher instead. A master violin teacher with world-famous students, but he's troubled in his old age by the feeling that he really should have been doing something else with his life.
  • In Three Days to Never, the protagonist finds a mysterious object in his grandmother's garden shed, which various sinister forces will do anything to get their hands on: a working time machine created by Albert Einstein himself. The backstory also involves Einstein's daughter Lieserl and a time-displaced clone of ol' Albert.
  • In Tales of MU, Einstein's quote "God does not play dice with the universe" is referenced during a discussion on whether or not there's a god of magic (which leads to the inevitable comparison to rolling dice).
  • Last Son of Krypton - written by the same chap who gave Lex Luthor that quirk up there - portrays him as Jor-El's initial choice for raising the infant Superman (a probe in his rocket was designed to automatically scout out the smartest being on Earth). Einstein, being too old (and too tightly-watched by government agents) to raise children, instead performs a bit of trickery to get a kindly Kansas couple to find the rocket.
  • Masks Of The Illuminati: he and James Joyce are the protagonists, starting out having met by chance in a Zurich beergarden before getting caught up in someone else's Gambit Pileup leading to him having an illumination which leads to the big breakthrough for the General Theory of Relativity.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "Time and the Rani", the Rani kidnaps a bunch of Earth geniuses, including Einstein. They spend most of the story in a coma, then get herded into the TARDIS for a trip home, where the Doctor has to discourage Einstein from fiddling with things to find out how they work.
    • Matt Smith has written fanfic featuring Eleven and Einstein. A bunch of Who fans are demanding to be allowed to read it.
    • A short episode written by a contest-winning kid revealed that he and The Doctor are engaged in a prank war, filching one another's petty (and occasionally not so petty) possessions for no adequately explained reason.
  • Einstein & Eddington, in which Einstein is played by Andy Serkis (i.e. Gollum).
  • Genius, a National Geographic Channel biographic series starring Geoffrey Rush as Einstein.
  • Legends of Tomorrow: In "Out of Time", time traveling villains convince the Nazis to attempt to kidnap Einstein to use his genius to win WWII. The Legends rescue him, but Professor Martin Stein is disappointed to find his idol is a Dirty Old Man. Stein ends up punching him out when he refuses to cooperate with them. It is also revealed that Einstein's ex-wife Mileva Marić was the real brains of the couple, but Einstein stole the credit. The Legends convince the couple to reconcile and Mileva gets properly credited, changing history.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: In the 200th episode "Staring Blindly Into the Future", Einstein, along with fellow scientists Marie Curie , Nikola Tesla , Alexander Graham Bell, and Ernest Rutherford are kidnapped and forced to work on developing a Death Ray.
  • The Red Dwarf episode "Meltdown", features a "wax droid" museum with android replicas of various celebrities, including Einstein.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • Einstein appears playing poker with Data, Isaac Newton, and Stephen Hawking (played by the real Stephen Hawking) in episode "Descent: Part I", via use of the Holodeck:
      Einstein: The uncertainty principle will not help you now, Stephen. Hm? All the quantum fluctuations in the universe will not change the cards in your hand. I call. You are bluffing. And you will lose!
      Hawking: Wrong again, Albert. [reveals four-of-a-kind]
    • Einstein also appeared as a hologram in "The Nth Degree", working with the then-hyper-intelligent Reg Barclay.
  • The Flash (2014): In "I Know Who You Are", H.R. mentions that Einstein exists on Earth-19 and is pretty much the same as in Earth-1, but his first name is Norbert.

  • The song "Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman)" by Counting Crows, which is about the guilt for his part in designing nuclear weapons.
  • The song "Albert Einstein - Everything Is Relative" by Silicon Dreams, which is about, eh, every wrong trope they could apply, as already the title hints.
  • The song "Portrait (He Knew)" by Kansas is about him, according to Word of God.
  • The opera Einstein on the Beach by Phillp Glass (premiered 1976). Not a speaking or singing role but Einstein appears playing a violin.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Far Side:
    • In one cartoon, a frustrated-looking Einstein is leaning on a blackboard where several incorrect versions of his Theory of Relativity are written, all with a wrong number in place of the 2. Behind him a maid has just cleaned his counter, and he turns as she says, "There we go, everything's squared away, all squaaaared away."
    • In another cartoon, he and Thomas Edison are on Jeopardy!. The third contestant (who has a score of negative-100, in comparison to the high scores of his two opponents), says, "Listen, I know the game is almost over, but just for the record, I don't think my buzzer was working properly."

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Rocket Age Albert Einstein, alongside Goddard and Tesla, built the first rocket ship and flew it to Mars. Later he built a long distance space ship and left the solar system entirely, becoming the only human to do so.

  • The Steve Martin play Picasso At The Lapin Agile, about an imagined meeting between Einstein and Pablo Picasso.
  • Einstein naturally figures as the main focus in Einstein on the Beach. One of the orchestral violinists is even employed to dress as Einstein, crazy hair and all.
  • The play My Lord, What a Night is about his real-life Odd Friendship with the African-American singer Marian Anderson; when she was denied a hotel room after giving a concert in Princeton, he put her up in his guest room for the night, on multiple occasions.

    Video Games 
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series:
    • In Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Einstein builds a time machine shortly after World War II and uses it to go back in time and kill remove Adolf Hitler from time long before the war. It worked. Sort of.
    • In Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, set after the original time travel event, the Russians use a new time machine to erase Einstein in 1927, before the original time travel event, but after Einstein removed Hitler from time itself (1924). As a result, nuclear weapons are completely unknown, and their quasi-victory in the war with the Allies is interrupted by the Empire of the Rising Sun declaring war on them and the Allies.
    Zelinsky: We now have... two mortal enemies?
  • Tropico 5 features Abraham Zweinstein, a Central European physicist who flees to America and develops a new, terrible weapon.
  • Dr. Wily from the Mega Man series is more or less an evil expy of Einstein; this is believed to be due to Einstein being credited with kickstarting the development of the atomic bombs that decimated Japan (though as detailed above, Einstein's only had his name attached for Wolverine Publicity and he went on to regret the decision).

    Web Comics 

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • In Animaniacs, the Warners come to sell cookies to Einstein, and end up inspiring him to write the Mass-Energy Conversion formula.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: Dexter himself praises and cherishes Albert Einstein so much, he even has a poster of of him in his room.
  • Implied in Family Guy that he stole the Relativity theory from someone named "Smith". It is implied he savagely beat poor Smith to death. He also beat up God to steal the secret of Shrinky-Dinks.
  • In Name Only: Little Einsteins.
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: Jimmy Neutron admires Einstein. In one episode he was inspired to be a model hall monitor after finding out from his principal that Einstein was a hall monitor as a kid. It was later revealed that the hall monitor that his principal was talking about was actually the principal's sister, Eunice, who looks like Einstein.
  • One episode of The Mummy: The Animated Series has Imhotep kidnap Einstein to help him decode the Scrolls of Thebes.
  • In Time Squad, Einstein masqueraded as a Texan used car salesman named Big Al because the pay was better and he felt more accepted by the community.
  • In one episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, Plucky convinces Shirley to channel Einstein's genius into him so he can pass a hard math test. (Plucky doesn't find out until it's too late that Einstein flunked math in grade school, which Shirley tells him later.)

  • After getting the shit kicked out of him, the time cop of Rick and Morty finds Einstein, whom he believes to be Rick, and assaults him shouting "you dont mess with time". Upset, Einstein states that he will mess with time, writing E=mc2 on his board as he gets up.
  • Einstein is a recurring character on Peg + Cat, along with other Historical Domain Characters. One episode is dedicated to him celebrating Hanukkah with Peg and Cat.
  • Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum: In "I Am Albert Einstein", the gang visits Albert Einstein when he was a kid, and learn about asking questions when one is curious about something.