The Power of Imagination……

15 Oct

‘This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity; proven decisively in 1919 when observations made during an eclipse showed the apparent positions of stars were affected by the Sun’s mass. The implications of Einstein’s work cannot be underestimated as it replaced 200 years of accepted wisdom and changed the way we think about the universe……’
Einstein is one of my heroes. One amongst many who left their mark on modern physics but with one big imagedifference. Although he eventually produced the mathematical equations and experimental proof to back up his theories, it is the way in which he initially approached problems that interests me; using nothing more than the power of pure imagination. The General Theory of Relativity is not as hard to understand as you may think. I recommend that you read it. It does contain some complicated equations but Einstein’s reasoning is fairly easy to grasp. You don’t need a degree in physics or mathematics to understand it. Einstein’s well presented argument and use of analogies make it possible for anyone to follow……
imageThe General Theory of Relativity beautifully explained many things. Before Einstein time and space existed as separate entities, with time regarded as absolute. Time was thought to be literally universal. Having deduced that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light (The Special Theory of Relativity), Einstein could see that events are dependent are the relative positions and momentum of observer and event. It also led to the realisation that Gravity was not a force of attraction between two masses but the effect of the curvature of space caused by them. Space and time were now intrinsically linked; what we now call spacetime. And all of these groundbreaking ideas were conceived through Einstein’s famous ‘thought experiments’……
Einstein was also misunderstood. He was a lifelong pacifist and although he was the most influential signatory to the imagemletter that led to the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb, he never intended it’s actual use on populations; rather as a demonstration of unbeatable force that would lead to unconditional surrender. He is also famously quoted as saying ‘God does not play dice’ which is frequently misinterpreted as his refusal to accept the paradoxical outcomes in Quantum Mechanics. Obviously, a man of Einstein’s intelligence new that the experimental results were unquestionable but his quote was an expression that there must be an underlying law of nature to explain it, not that it was wrong……
Surprisingly, Einstein received the Nobel Prize in 1922 for his explanation of the photo-electric effect; how electromagnetic radiation such as photons and electrons could be treated as packets of energy (quanta) and not for his work on special relativity, general relativity or mass/energy equivalence, although his services to theoretical physics was noted……
Einstein continues to inspire professional and amateur physicists alike and many of the ideas driving progress begin with the power of pure imagination……
A full digital archive of Albert Einstein’s papers have been made available online for anybody to view by Princeton University……

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