Einstein: The Old Sage and the Young Turk

Abstract

There is a striking difference between the methodology of the young Einstein and that of the old. I argue that Einstein’s switch in the late 1910s from a moderate empiricism to an extreme rationalism should at least in part be understood against the background of his crushing personal and political experiences during the war years in Berlin. As a result of these experiences, Einstein started to put into practice what, drawing on Schopenhauer, he had preached for years, namely to use science as his means of escaping from “the merely personal.” Whatever the exact sources of Einstein’s about-face, the older man has left us with a highly misleading picture of how the younger man achieved the successes that we still celebrate today. This has had a harmful influence on theoretical physics. If the young Einstein’s successes are any guide as to how successful theoretical physics is done, close adherence to general features of the empirical data is much more and mathematical elegance is much less important than the old Einstein wanted us to believe

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