November 04, 2015

Albert Einstein: genius, preeminent scientist of the 20th century, and a man whose ideas changed all of our lives. (He also had absolutely wonderful hair)

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Theory of General Relativity, we’re taking a look at Einstein's life and work, and how they radically shaped our world.

First, though, how did one of the most intelligent people in human history have trouble getting a job teaching high school? Biographer Walter Isaacson takes us on a journey through Einstein’s life – and his many setbacks. We’ll learn how he became a huge celebrity, why he was offered the presidency of Israel, and what made him so willing to buck convention and come up with groundbreaking ideas.

Speaking of Einstein’s groundbreaking ideas, there’s one legacy you might not be aware of. A legacy you experience every time you ask Siri for directions. Technology writer Hiawatha Bray explains how the “Einsteinian fudge factor” made GPS possible, and why knowing where we are at all times is such a pivotal development in human history.

But Einstein didn’t just affect the development of GPS, his influence was also felt by a teenager in suburbia. Author Amanda Gefter takes us through her unusual journey towards science journalism, which began with her father asking her a simple question: “how would you define nothing?” Gefter explains how she became fascinated by science, crashed a physics conference, and snuck onto Einstein’s lawn.

With the influences of Einstein’s ideas reverberating around the world - in lasers, nuclear energy, GPS, and more - it’s no surprise that people think  Einstein had a high IQ. But IQ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Psychologist Elaine Castles argues that intelligence can’t be boiled down to a single number. She points out that IQ tests are far less likely to measure potential than they are to measure how much money your parents make. And author David Shenk says that the entire idea of looking at geniuses as separate from the rest of us, blessed from birth with intelligence, is flawed. He views genius as a collection of skills that develop over time. When we see someone push the boundaries of what humans can do, it’s because they’ve worked hard and thought outside the box. People might be born with certain predispositions, but innate talent isn’t as important as our society thinks it is.

And finally, the last place you’d expect to find Einstein is in a galaxy far, far away. But, if you look at the smiling face of a certain green alien, you might be surprised to find something of a resemblance. Yes, when special effects artist Stuart Freeborn was looking for a way to convey Yoda’s wisdom and sadness, he found inspiration on his office wall - in a picture of the wizened face of Albert Einstein. 

Theory of Relativity, Amanda Gefter, Yoda, Hiawatha Bray, GPS, Star Wars, Elaine Castles, Albert Einstein, David Shenk

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