Tracking Einstein’s Creative Explosion

We tend to think of Albert Einstein as a solo act. A guy who was so much smarter than anyone else, he conjured up new ideas out of thin air. A genius.

Well, there are a few aspects of this story that should be clarified.

  • the solo act – In fact, Einstein came up with his most radical ideas after connecting with an inspiring group

The key (to Einstein’s “miracle year” when he had incredible breakthroughs) seems to the establishment of the Olympia Academy, an informal group that met regularly to discuss physics, mathematics, and philosophy.

  • he conjured up new ideas – In fact, Einstein’s theories address issues that arose from prior models – Maxwell and Newton

… he learned that according to Maxwell’s equations the speed of light was supposed to be constant, but according to Newton’s laws if a boy riding (a lightning bolt)  at the speed of light shined a lantern forward, then the beam would travel at twice the speed of light. Both could not be right

  • a genius –  Einstein did elaborate incredible ideas. But he also made mistakes. Most famous, he did not accept quantum mechanics, despite the evidence of its relevance in explaining certain phenomenon.

These clarifications are important. Not so much to change our view of the past. But to shape our view of the potential that we all have to get smarter. That potential is not found in day dreaming. It is found in connecting with the right people in the right circumstances. And it is not found by trying to do something that you like yourself for yourself alone. It is about using the models that we have in new ways that we share.


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