Science and Philosophy II

Einstein thought that if only he could find the right unified field theory, that theory might also explain the structure of matter. Thus he could fill the troubling gap in quantum theory -- the inability to describe the world otherwise than in terms of mere probabilities. He doubted his ability to find this "more complete theory," but he was convinced that someday, somebody would find it. "I cannot," he admitted, "base this conviction on logical reasons -- my only witness is the pricking of my little finger."

Over the years Einstein proposed unified field theories in various mathematical forms. Flaws were detected in his theories one by one, usually by Einstein himself. Undiscouraged, he would try new formulations, only to see them fail in turn. Sooner or later most of the other scientists who had joined the search gave it up. Einstein kept on, aware that many of his colleagues thought he was pursuing a will-o'-the wisp. One young physicist described him as a luminary shining in helpless isolation. Einstein knew better than anyone the limitations of his efforts, but the relentless work held a "fascinating magic" for him. "One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality," he wrote. "It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day." With this credo Einstein had already given humanity a new view of the physical universe, and a model for what a person of conscience may achieve.

"The essential in the existence of a man like me is what he thinks and how he thinks, not what he does or suffers."


� 1996 - American Institute of Physics