February 25, 2010
Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies —
Einstein's God

Part two of this series delves into Einstein's Jewish identity, his passionate engagement around issues of war and race, and modern extensions of his ethical and scientific perspectives.

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is a theoretical physicist and Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He has published many scientific papers and written many books, including Disturbing the Universe.

is a theoretical physicist and director of BEYOND: The Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University. He has written widely about Einstein's understanding of time, including How to Build a Time Machine.

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Fact-checking for this program leads down a puzzling path searching for a famous quote.

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Unheard Cuts with Dyson and Davies

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16Reflections

Reflections

I loved this piece. One of my favorite Einstein quotes is "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." We spend our entire lives searching for magic, for something law-defying, for amazement, for wonder. Something to give our lives, this existance, meaning. But the more we explore the vast reaches of space, and all its inhospitableness, the fact that human beings have somehow managed to survive – thrive even – on this rock spinning in the middle of the universe, isn't that really magic enough? When did that stop being enough? Some people see our quest to find other life in the universe as a way of justifying our existence or proving/disproving some cosmic riddle, or God itself. I see it differently. I think that our seeking will eventually lead us back to just how truly special we are as spiritual beings, as life forms, and this amazing place we call home. We are unique. We are amazing. We should not be here - not logically anyways. In that, we will find our own magic, the forgiveness we seek for being imperfect, and the tools to treat each other with respect warranted by a true miracle.

When I was growing up I wanted more than anything to be a theoretical physicist. I was raised in a small town in Wisconsin, with a population of only a few thousand. We had't much in the way of resources, but our small public library did have biographies of Einstein available, biographies that I read from cover to cover. My high school physics teacher had a small collection of more advanced scientific works he leant me repeatedly, along with books of post secondary mathematics that I felt, whether rightly or wrongly, I learned more from during summer breaks than I did the rest of my academic year. He also leant me a large Celestron reflector telescope. I'd take that telescope with me outside the bounds of our small town, sometimes in bitter frigid mid winter cold, and study collections of nebula stars and planets for hours and hours, carrying a small pocket picture book of astronomy in my pocket, a book I'd thumb through to locate whatever that telescope and my location made it possible for me to find. The most peaceful experiences I have ever had in my life occurred when out in those telescopic fields, often ending with me stretched out in a lawn chair beneath the halo of the Milky Way. Those experiences are forever tangled up in my mind with the words and ideas of Einstein, along with others of his kind. In that lawn chair I'd lose myself in a bottomless well of stars, thinking about Einstein's notions, about eternity, about Spinoza, about the billions of years behind and before me, about those billions and billions of stars. Like most young people I had my fair share of difficult adolescent and teen times. I'd deal with them often by taking out that telescope, mulling over what I'd read, making my troubles feel so infinitely small against the backdrop of that ancient sky. They'd almost always evaporate, and I'd feel so incredibly whole, so at peace with everything in my life. I eventually gave up my boyhood dream of being a theoretical physicist. Lately I've been struggling with just what I want to do with the rest of my life, deeply dissatisfied with the small ephemeral box I feel I've stepped into somehow. Listening to your program made me weep over that lost boyhood sense of cosmic meaning, of cosmic access that Einstein so beautifully describes, that I once thrived on so many years ago now, in those telescopic fields of mine.

I hope you have recaptured some of your early moments of peace and wholeness Scott.

Let me begin by complementing the entire staff on another wonderful program.

I have attached a photo of myself in front of a Pierre Bonnard painting at the Pompidou Museum in Paris. My wife had sent me there to meet up with my two sons(25 & 30) as a sixtieth birthday present. It was like being back in college. We stayed in a relative cheap hotel and I followed them around Paris for a week. One major stop on their itinerary was the Pompidou. Modern art was much more their thing than their father's. Upon entering the museum, we each headed off in a separate direction and I found myself before this, in my opinion, not-modern painting. And it is in this unlikely setting and posture that I experienced what Einstein referred to as an experience of the universe as a single significant whole. Such an experience that when I returned to Texas, I wrote a poem describing that moment so that I might revisit it in the future. And, as you will see, I am not a poet!

Below is a note I wrote to myself:

At the Musee Pompidou, a museum attended more for the boys than myself, I was drawn to a painting,
more impressionistic than modern, that animated an idea in which I held great interest. It was a self portrait by
Pierre Bonnard; a second rendering of a scene painted earlier in his life. The scene was of the artist, late in
life, seated at a table in his bathroom. The earlier painting was of a young man, handsome, strong of body,
and surrounded by expensive accoutrement and furnishings. Fine bottles of oils and perfumes covered the
table and a plethora of colorful fabrics and drapes in the background. The later painting was portrayed as
much more austere. The table with a few simple containers and the colorful fabrics replaced with a rather
plain and non-imposing wood panel. The artist himself now older, somewhat fragile, yet with a contented
posture. This later painting carried a harmonious air not present in the earlier work. The symbolism in these
two paintings is revealing and refreshing. The bright colors, the bravado, the omniscience of the earlier
painting portrays the neurosis of man. The psychic struggles that all humankind create and inherit through
living. The second painting is stripped of these colorful appendages and ascetic. A reduction of the ego and
the neuroses it has created. The revelation is that this “gift of life” is part of the natural cycle of life. Its arrival
may be accelerated or retarded by the manner in which one chooses to live but the gift is there for everyone.
It doesn’t have to be earned, it is there. The Buddhist monk might find that peace long before the American
corporate mogul but both will find it! One may enjoy it for years while the other perhaps only moments. We
leave this world as we enter it, in peace, free of baggage. Pierre Bonnard's piece acted as a portal through
which this revelation was revealed. And that is the magic of art, all art.

I have had more than my fair share of those moments in my life but I have never been able to pursue them. They come to me as a gift from life. And if that is what Einstein, Democritus, the post-modern theologians, Jesus, Buddha, Meister Eckhart, the Sufi, the Kabbalist, and others have spoken of, then I am in agreement...it is the hub.

David Richardson
david@areteproducts.com

If you are at all interested in this subject you should read,
Einstein's Rabbi: A Tale of Science and the Soul

I have to take strong exception with Paul Davies and his statements how the "greeks and the jews" (or any religion) gave us our modern tradition and understanding of faith vs. reason. Faith encompasses that which can not be reasoned [as Einstein said!]. Likewise, reason is to not take something "on faith". Successful attempts to confuse these two concepts by religious majorities gave us the word atheist. However, I think it was Jonathan Miller who pointed out: "We dont have a word for those who don't believe in unicorns". Either way, it is a brilliant moment in human history when the greeks or Decartes help us to understand the fundamental difference between faith and reason, which allows civilization to become unshackled from unjustifiable ideas and leap forward. Whether its christians, zoroastrian, muslims, or jews, these groups hide these boundaries for good and bad reasons. None of this disputes or condemns a need and place for religious philosophy in our lives. However, by blurring these concepts your panelist particularly misses the point of today's show. Whether its a Priest, Rabbi, Aquinas or Maimonides, we will always be confronted with those who try alchemy to combine these truly diametrically opposed concepts. The greeks first glimpsed the differences between perceived and testable concepts about nature. Just look at the optical illusions crafted into their buildings.

Your program on Einstein does a grave disservice to those eager to gain an intellectually honest understanding of what one of our greatest thinkers opined about God. The very reference in your program description to Einstein�s �wisdom on � the mind of God� utterly violates what Einstein intended by the term �God�. Einstein would have argued that �the mind of God� is an oxymoron; he repeatedly, specifically, and emphatically rejected the concept of a God in possession of a �mind�. In your endeavor to make an ally of God to those �of faith� you are not alone. Believers have long sought support for their cosmological conceits from Einstein by mining his writings selectively for the odd comment that, taken out of context, suggests he shared their views. He did not. Einstein used the word �God� similarly to the way Spinoza did, simply as a convenient euphemism for the sum of natural laws. The Jewish leaders of the day excommunicated Spinoza for espousing that view, and from their standpoint they did so with very good reason. For Spinoza�s �God� bore very little resemblance to that of believers in and defenders of God as conceived in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Einstein arguably went even further than Spinoza. He flatly rejected any notion of God that entailed anything other than an equivalence to the natural laws of the universe � those known, those undiscovered yet, and even those that might prove unknowable. He specifically rejected any belief, frequently imputed to him of a God possessing a consciousness, a God who would hear or respond to prayers, who knew of or intervened in the events of daily life. (Some people characterize this as a �personal God�, and Einstein himself used that term. But the aspects of God he rejected went beyond the merely �personal�.) One gets the sense that, having used the word �God� euphemistically � and considering what he opined about the concept in the context of all that he wrote about it, not just on the basis of a few selectively extracted snippets, it�s absolutely clear that for him it was, indeed, euphemistic � he regretted it for the rest of his life. As Richard Dawkins quotes in The God Delusion: �It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God� If there�s is something in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.� And: �I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuine religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.� As these quotes make plain � and far from cherry-picking, I have cited just two of countless other similarly expressed views � �religious� and �God� for Einstein bear almost no relationship to what those terms mean to the traditionally religious or �spiritual� (another term so ill-defined it has virtually no meaning other than as a code word for �religious� used by people who implicitly feel that, being a bit more recondite, it�s similarly a bit more elevated.) In summary, anyone interested in presenting what Einstein really believed would refrain from even writing the phrase �Einstein�s wisdom on � the mind of God�.

Dear Ms. Tippet,

Your program on the beliefs of Albert Einstein was, to say the least, fascinating. Even better, the link you provided on your website containing Paul Tillich’s response to one of Einstein’s address interested me even more. Tillich has long been one of my favorite theologians and I think only he could have delivered such a respectful and thoughtful retort to one of the greatest intellects of all time.

Life is mysterious and wonderful. That’s part of what I take away from what Einstein had said. Even better, we only understand a miniscule portion of what there is to know and there is always something more to learn. For me, that means every tomorrow has the promise of being even more fulfilling than life today.

Again, thanks for putting this on the air!

Robert Miller
Circle Pines, MN

AE's likely quip on learning of black holes - "i didn't see them coming"
(would be ironic since no light escapes from them)

I can say that thanks to Public Broadcasting I have learned about the age, size, and construction of the Universe, and this knowledge has helped me define my place in it. It's sad that for thousands of years people didn't have the tools that we have, and so had to invent 'gods' like Zeus, Thor, Neptune, Vulcan, etc. to explain things. I hope that people who still reject science even as they use its processes and discoveries every minute eventually come to their senses. I hope this happens before Republican energy and environmental policies ruin the planet.

I'd also like to compliment Krista Tippett's generosity of spirit - she has just released a book on religion and the cosmos and what does she do? She tells us about Einstein's book and Dyson's book! In an era of religious conflict and disrespect she brings a wonderful acceptance of religious differences, always high-minded, respectful, and with playfulness and humor to boot!

PUNCTUATION WELTANSCHAUUNG

For me, life’s a dash
to the final parenthesis:
(You’re born, you grow, you ebb –
& OMG! it’s curtains.)

Hypothetically to Albert E.,
universal relativity:
spacetime’s bent, no end,
the climax an ellipsis. . .

For Bohr, the quantum
synthesis
is mechanically uncertain:
Life’s sentence is a run-on, a splice.

Maybe a fragment?

-- Robert E. Brown, Ph.D.
Professor, Communications Dept.
Salem State College; Salem, MA 02478
Adjunct professor, Harvard Extension School

March 1, 2010

Even though he was resistant to the "new physics" of Quantum Mechanics, Einstein nonetheless was instrumental in the its development. Newtonian Physicists and Orthodox Theologians could and would only venture to the edge of our respective dogmas, beyond which one dared not venture. While we stood comfortably before the veil, Quantum Mechanics had already lifted it and ventured beyond it. What they found was the certainty of uncertainty; the space between probability and possibility. There, oddly, can we find a meeting place between physics and metaphysics; a place where scientists and theologians can only stand in awe and wonder. This is Joseph Campbell's "ah" where, while observing the commonplace, we perceive a life beyond our limiterd understanding. It is a place where we discover consciousness and unity beyond the limits of time and space. But this consciousness and unity does not lead us to the vastness of God, but rather the dynamic yet inperceptible life of the subatomic.

Since I was a child I yearned to know the true nature of existence. The summer after I graduated from High School I went camping with some friends. The campground was on Lake Huron. After the campfire one night I choose to sleep on the beach because there were a
hundred times more stars then I had seen before in the city. While star watching I was treated to a spectacular meteor shower. I had the sense that I was invited to this show. During the night I fell in and out of sleep many times. The last time I woke up the Sun was peeking over the horizon. There was a beautiful gradient of morning sky to night sky. This time I felt was invited to join this dance by swimming in the Lake. Once in the water I was transformed. I felt my atoms were mixing with the atoms of the water and air. I was One with everything around me. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace and well being. This was a gift to me, an answer to my years of yearning to know.
Once more I asked the question, " What's it all about? ". The answer came to me almost as an echo to my question. Love.

As a person who is very grounded in science and has little knowledge of religion but much curiosity about what may be out there I must say I was excited to listen to Einstein’s thoughts on God and religion. It seems that Einstein saw God as more of a concept of nature and everything that it encompasses, not as a supreme being set out to create man and control him. Einstein’s belief that there “must be something deeply hidden behind everything” is truly an inspirational and motivating way to look at the world. Einstein’s “longing to understand what God was thinking” was a driving force behind all of his work. He yearned to explain nature and God through mathematics. Much like the ancient Greeks, Einstein saw religion and science as two separate entities. We are told that “Einstein did not believe in a personal God” but rather “a rational world order.” Einstein’s views, thoughts and discoveries continue to influence science even to this day. This becomes evident when you listen to the speakers of this program. You can here in their voices and words the influence that Einstein has had in the lives/careers. I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the words and theories communicated in this program. Some may think of science as dry and boring, this broadcast reminds us of the elegance of nature that inspires science.

EINSTEIN'S COSMIC WHOLE: The word cosmic itself sounds out CAUSE MIC, and MIC is the word we use for mike, for the amplification of sound. The resonance in Einstein's seeking and seeing, a cosmic whole, is deeply contained in the words of the Jewish "mantra", Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Now One, can refer, in this much repeated phrase, that has such history attached, being spoken in the depths of despair as well as in prayer, all the time, as all being ONE, meaning the entire universe of being, including all that lives and breathes within, and also what is animate AND inanimate. It is said that to explore inner space is as deeply profound as the exploration of outer space, and I know this is true.

What is very evident, from poetry, from all creative activity, from our own observations in walking and racing through life, is that it IS all, deeply ONE, and Wonderful, also aurally, of course ONE DER FULL.
Artists recreate that one ness in myriad ways. As trees limbs become dancers, shells and objects from the ocean are arranged as flowers, or chimes, and we can do anything magical with nature, and feel a deep resonant, YES! when we perceive that one ness, in new and vibrant ways The amazement of this, in the eyes of the beholder, is always the JOY of it, and then there is always, ALL WAYS, More...

We also use language in infinite creative ways, being creative with it. The recent New England Flower Show for example, had an item for gardeners called Foxglove. Fox Gloves. For hands. How clever! We do this constantly with words, but do we stop and ponder the alchemy of this? How is it we can do this at all? Words are infinite clay in our hands, and I say, we do potentialize what is within words. If we can do it with words, we WILL actualize.

This is a different perception of the universe, or one I have not encountered in print before, and it does bring me constantly to my knees, and in a constant encounter with the Ineffable.

Perhaps as I am saying, within words themselves, there is a story that will bring us all home, a universal story, that will make sense of all acts of creativity. I am seeing it. I am writing about it. Is this what Einstein perceived?

Universe: One Verse.

Look to the deep, brilliant, metaphoric connects in all of our lives, and do marvel. It's about MARVEL.

My late father was a student at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1941-1944, during which time Professor Einstein was affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. The seminary students held a chapel service each morning--Dad told us Einstein often attended these morning services. Whether or not Einstein believed in a personal God, it is evident he sought to understand God in his own way.