Persons with a level of brilliance such as Einstein’s only appear on this Earth every few centuries or so, and maybe to it’s benefit. The radical new ideas, theories, and discoveries that accompany such figures spur on the advancement of our societies and disciplines, but turn others on their heads at a rate the world can only handle in small, spaced bursts. Einstein’s reputation precedes him, and an exhaustive list of his accomplishments and contributions to humanity could fill up all the pages of a book. Those accomplishments are well documented, and easily found, but I want to talk about the man.
Einstein was born in the old German Empire in the year 1879 to a family of non-practicing Jews. Contrary to popular belief, Einstein was not a poor student; he actually excelled in school from a young age and showed an affinity for deep thought. One day, while taken ill in bed, Einstein’s father took out a simple compass to show him. Einstein gazed at the compass’s needle, mesmerized that it remained pointed in the same direction, seemingly unaided by any force, as his father turned it in his hand. Many point to that moment as the catalyst for Einstein’s fascination, and ultimately, his devoted passion to the sciences.
In 1894, his father’s German company failed, and the family moved to Italy in search of business. Einstein stayed in Munich, however, to see his studies at the Luitpold Gymnasium to completion. Einstein actually had several clashes with his school’s authority, and would later write that the instigation of such stemmed from his displeasure with the school’s insistence and strict adherence to a rote learning technique. This technique emphasized repetition and memorization over critical thought and understanding, which Einstein believed crushed the spirit of learning and creativity.
Brilliant people don’t usually come without their eccentricities, and Einstein certainly had his fair share. One of the more peculiar ones was his dislike of socks. Yes, the most brilliant man this world has yet seen walked about sock-less, whether it was to the café or to the White House for a dinner with the President. His reasoning? “Socks often got holes in them.” As we live in a society wrought with role model emulation, I wonder if today’s aspiring physicists would be ditching their hosiery had Einstein lived in our generation. Alas, we may never know, but this and all of Einstein’s other peculiarities were a part of his undeniable charm.
The Pipe Smoker
Perhaps no part of Einstein’s persona is quite as recognizable as that of his ever disheveled look, wild hair, and pipe in his mouth. He was arguably as much a lover of smoking from his billiard as he was of critical thought, and believing that the former encouraged the latter, Einstein uttered one of the more memorable and beloved quotes about our beloved briar. “I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.” Einstein was often seen followed by a trail of smoke as he walked between his house and his office at Princeton, sock-less no doubt. Like any ordinary man, Einstein had other hobbies and past times. When Einstein attended college at the Polytechnic Institute in Zürich, Switzerland, he fell in love with sailing. He would often take a boat out onto a lake, pull out a notebook, relax, and think.
Einstein will likely remain forever immortalized for his genius, and rightly so. But lets not lose sight that Einstein wasn’t, and would not want to be considered anything but a human man who enjoyed one of the most universal pleasures known to man.