Friday, April 1, 2011

Close encounters with Einstein

One of the golden moments of my childhood was, while in Princeton to have lunch with a cousin, my mother, brother and I happened to see Albert Einstein walking down the street toward us. There was no mistaking him -- Einstein looked exactly like Einstein. He also seemed very approachable, though I was too surprised to actually go up to him and say hello.

What would I have said? Maybe, “Mister Einstein, you look just like all the photos of you!”

And no doubt he would have replied to eight-year-old me, “That’s because E equals m c squared.”

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Sharing this story with my friend Ken Curtin, he responded with another:

Legend says Einstein was once asked by a cocktail party hostess to explain his famous theory of relativity. He allegedly answered with an allegory thus:

Once I was walking with a blind friend and mentioned that I would like a glass of milk. He said, "Glass I know, but what is milk?" I said "Milk is a white liquid." He said,"Lliquid I know, but what is white?" I said "White is the color of a swan's feathers." He said, "Feathers I know, but what is a swan?" I said, "A swan is a bird with a crooked neck." He said "Neck I know, but what is crooked?" I took his arm and said, "This is straight," and, bending it, said,"This is crooked." "OHHH!" my friend said, "Now I understand what milk is!"

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To which one might add: "Now I know what milk is, but what is understanding?"

Jim

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1 comment:

charles said...

Knowing and understanding seem to go together. One without the other is like strawberry shortcake without the strawberries. To understand a glass of milk we need to refer to our visual memory of the glass of milk; the blind person does not. --Charles