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January 29, 2005 [ More archived home pages here ]

Einstein Thinking

This is the, Year of Einstein. It has been 100 years since Albert Einstein published a scientific paper that changed the understanding of physics. This year also marks the 50th year since Albert Einstein passed away.

Certainly Albert Einstein was a genius, maybe one of the top geniuses in the history of mankind. I believe it was the way he used the concept of, Thought Experiement that led to his insights.

Albert aside from the field of physics was a common man in many respects. So why is it that when he applied the knowledge he had of physics and mathematics; the same knowledge available to countless others, he arrived at revolutionary conclusions?

My answer is that Albert Einstein took very special time to question the fundamental assumptions of his field. He tested those conclusions by breaking down the components of those assumptions into clear and unique definitions and then comparing logical situations with respect to the underlying interpretations of those definitions, to arrive at the validity or negation of the "obvious" outcome.

For instance, take a look at his Definition of Simultaneity of the, "stationary system" (shown below) from his paper, On The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies. Without this "thought experiment" I don't see how he could have arrived at the understanding that he did:

If you are still with me at this point, that's good. :-) Albert's narration above only requires you to be able to visualize two clocks, that there is a fixed distance between them, and that the time for light to get from clock "one" to clock "two" is equal to that same measurement of time when taken in the opposite direction.

Sure most people can take that concept for granted -- nowdays. It is because Albert Einstein lit the way for so many other scientists by that paper, providing understanding at the base level of common assumptions, that many of the ordinary items and thoughts we have today exist at all.

For real understanding on any topic to take place, we must first challenge assumptions. We must examine at the most elementary definable level, what is being tested and is the test accurate according to the definition of the components. Albert Einstein knew this principle and used his "thought experiments" as an approach to come to a better understanding of physics and how the Universe worked.

No matter what deeply interests you in life, considered thought on those interests is one of the better ways to reach the "truth." Anything less is likely to lead your understanding to be based more on speculation than reality. I think that's the best lesson of Albert Einstein's thinking.

Don


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