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Book plate Einstein had made ca. 1917 by the German painter Erich Büttner (1889–1936)

Physics Program Presents

Friday, April 6, 2018
Einstein: The Old Sage and the Young Turk
Hegeman 107
12:00 pm
Michel Janssen, University of Minnesota
There is a striking difference between the methodology of the young Einstein and that of the old. Starting in the late 1910s, Einstein went from putting empirical data and general physical principles first to putting mathematical elegance first. This switch was the result both of his scientific experience finishing the general theory of relativity and his crushing personal and political experiences during the war years in Berlin. In crisis situations like this, Einstein, invoking Schopenhauer, used science to escape from it all. Building mathematical castles in the sky was better for this purpose than trying to extract information about nature from empirical data. In his later years, Einstein worked mainly in this mathematical speculation mode. The older man accordingly left us with a misleading picture of how his younger self achieved most of the successes for which he is still celebrated today. This has had a harmful influence on theoretical physics. If the young Turk’s successes are any guide as to how successful theoretical physics is done, paying close attention to general features of the empirical data is much more important, and mathematical elegance much less important, than the old sage wanted us to believe.


For more information, call 845-752-7584, or e-mail

Time: 12:00 pm

Location: Hegeman 107