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It's A Gray Area: Einstein's brilliant thoughts pertinent to today's woes

May 31, 2013|By James P. Gray

Recently a friend of mine suggested that when you find a great thinker in one intellectual area, probably that person would have some noteworthy thoughts in other areas as well.

Honestly, I had never thought about it quite that way before, but I think my friend is right.

There are certainly many such people, but I immediately turned my attention to Albert Einstein. Obviously the man was a brilliant physicist, but what were his thoughts in other areas of life?

To find out I consulted "The Ultimate Quotable Einstein," edited by Alice Calaprice (Princeton University Press, 2011). In just reading the introduction I knew I was in for a treat; she said those who knew Einstein were always "emphasizing his sense of humor and his serene detachment from the passions that agitate lesser mortals." So here are some of his quotes that caught my attention.

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Einstein modestly said, "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." In a similar vein, he also said, "I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."

Obviously, Einstein was smart and had special talents, but he is probably still correct. How often have you been able to work out solutions to "unsolvable" problems simply by keeping at them? Wouldn't you rather have an employee who is persistent than one who is overly smart? I would, and I think Einstein would too. What a lesson to teach our children!

In a similar fashion Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." In fact, I would expand that comment to say that if you can't logically explain something you are opposed to, your opposition probably should not be taken seriously.

Freedom from governmental intrusion was also of critical importance to Einstein. In fact, that was the main reason he came to our country. He expressed this by saying, "I am very happy at the prospect of becoming an American citizen in another year. My desire to be a citizen of a free republic has always been strong."

But in that regard, Einstein saw a genuine threat to our freedoms in the McCarthy era, saying: "The fear of communism has led to practices that have become incomprehensible to the rest of civilized mankind and expose our country to ridicule." Continuing on the same subject, he said: "America is incomparably less endangered by its own communists than by the hysterical hunt for the few communists that are here." In other words, the so-called remedy was worse than the disease.

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