Albert Einstein died of a ruptured aneurysm in a New Jersey hospital on April 18, 1955. Although he is best remembered for his extraordinary contributions to modern physics, Einstein's life and thought left an impact not only on science, but also on philosophy, visual art, and literature. Of all his works, his theory of relativity had perhaps the farthest-reaching implications for thinkers in all fields. For example, British physicists such as Arthur Eddington interpreted relativity theory as a spiritual, idealistic view of the universe. They claimed that the laws of science have an a priori mental character and exist in a pure spiritual realm. In contrast, Soviet physicists such as V.A. Fock interpreted relativity as evidence for their own Marxist materialist agenda, arguing that science talks about the physical properties of reality as they actually exist and therefore has no idealistic component. Although some philosophers have attributed to Einstein the relativist idea that moral and ethical truth exists only in the point of view of the beholder, Einstein never held such a view and in fact believed just the opposite.
In addition to serving as a lightning rod for many different political agendas, Einstein's relativity theory also gave rise to a particular philosophical approach to science called logical positivism. Inspired by Einstein's method of defining concepts in terms of laboratory experiments, the logical positivists held that the only statements that we can know to be true are those that positive experimental evidence can verify. They also emphasized the role of symbolic logic in the formulation of scientific theories. The logical positivist school was an intellectual product of the Vienna Circle, a group of brilliant young intellectuals who gathered in Vienna in the 1920s and early 1930s under the organization of the Viennese physicist and philosopher Moritz Schlick. These thinkers wanted to rid science of all metaphysical speculation, basing it instead on empiricism and analytical statements of logic.
Einstein's work also influenced much of European art of the post-World War I years. Cubism, derived from Cezanne's "geometrization" of nature, was a new art form that consisted of breaking the essence of the depicted object into geometrical planes, thereby presenting multiple points of view simultaneously. Founded by Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris, Cubist painting introduced a shifting, or relative point of view, in which a single object is seen from several sides at once. In the later school of high analytic Cubism, the new notions of a four-dimensional space-time led artists to look to the fourth dimension as a higher unity under which various perspectives would join together. In addition, sculptors such as Henri Matisse and Naum Gabo attempted to realize the geometrical ideals of cubist painting. This new type of art used kinetic and dynamic elements to express the relationship between mass, energy, space, and time.
Einstein's rejection of an absolute time led to conceptions of time as a dynamic quality not only in visual art, but also in the literature of writers such as William Faulkner, who presents multiple relative perspectives on events which seem to unfold in a subjective, personal time. For instance, Faulkner's novel The Sound and the Fury presents a single story told from the perspectives of four different characters, all of whom have different relationships with time. In poetry as well, Einstein's science achieved an impact. The poetic school of objectivism, led by poets such as Archibald MacLeish, William Carlos Williams, and Leon Zukofsky, involved the attempt to incorporate into poetry the ideas that Einstein brought to physics. Objectivist poets equated the relativity of space and time measurements with the relativity of poetic measures, resulting in innovative experiments with verse, structure, and meter. Other poets, including Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot, expressed a more ambivalent attitude towards Einstein's science. For instance, Eliot openly rejected positivism and all doctrines that denied any reality other than that which could be empirically verified. Although these writers often borrowed terms, images, and analogies from Einstein's science, they criticized the larger philosophical implications of his work.
Einstein's legacy also sparked a new public perception of the role of the scientist in society. Einstein believed that the scientist has a moral responsibility to humanity. In addition to his scientific publications, he published popular tracts on themes such as religion, human rights, economics, government, nuclear war, and personal development. He was an outspoken supporter of pacifism, internationalism, democracy, and human dignity. He was also a lifelong supporter of Jewish causes, especially cultural Zionism. In all of these capacities, Einstein helped transform the image of the scientist from a highly specialized student of nature to a public personality deeply concerned about the fate of humanity.
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