A Look at Albert Einstein’s My Credo
Today, it often seems we have largely forgotten the values and aspirations of earlier generations as we are flooded with a multitude of diverse images and information pushing and pulling us in opposing directions. If we were to take a moment to reflect and examine the bulk of what we are being exposed to, we would conclude most has no intrinsic value.
When we watch the TV or read newspapers and magazines that are primarily vehicles for enticing us to acquire and consume products we don’t want or need, we may be struck by how much of the scarce time and space allotted for informing us is squandered.
We tend to think of the rich as being special simply because of their accumulated wealth while those who have demonstrated real genius and insight are often largely overlooked, ignored, and forgotten. So, I want to take a few moments to share with you a bit of wisdom from one of the men whose knowledge, understanding and insight opened doors that led to the creation of many of the things we take for granted. I am not referring to any of the so-called titans of American industry and banking who we honor, emulate, and proclaim as the builders of America. The accomplishments of the Rockefellers, Vanderbilt’s, Carnage’s, Morgan’s, and Frisks are tiny in comparison to those whose contributions were vital but little understood in their times.
I don’t have to explain who Albert Einstein was or what he accomplished by formulating both the Theory of Relativity and the Special Theory of Relativity, probably the most recognized of his many accomplishments. We recognize the name and repeat the words said about him being a genius, but I doubt most have even rudimentary knowledge or awareness of the person he was aside from his scientific accomplishments. What follows is a short speech Einstein made to the German League of Human Rights, Berlin, Germany, in the autumn of 1932. Keep in mind Adolph Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany a few months later in January 1933. Einstein delivered this speech shortly before he left Germany and renounced his German citizenship, never to return. It is a brief speech well-worth the few minutes it takes to read it:
“Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing the whys and the wherefore. In our daily lives we only feel that man is here for the sake of’ others, for those whom we love and for many other beings whose fate is connected with our own. I am often worried at the thought that my life is based to such a large extent on the work of my fellow human beings and I am aware of my great indebtedness to them. I do not believe in freedom of the will. Schopenhauer’s words: “Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills” accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of freedom of will preserves me from taking too seriously myself and my fellow men as acting and deciding individuals and from losing my temper.
I never coveted affluence and luxury and even despise them a good deal.
My passion for social justice has often brought me into conflict with people, as did my aversion to any obligation and dependence I do not regard as absolutely necessary. I always have a high regard for the individual and have an insuperable distaste for violence and clubmanship.
All these motives made me into a passionate pacifist and anti-militarist. I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism. Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as did any exaggerated personality cult.
I am an adherent of the ideal of democracy, although I well know the weaknesses of the democratic form of government. Social equality and economic protection of the individual appeared to me always as the important communal aims of the state.
Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.
The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness.
In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.”
Take note of all Einstein was able to convey. He manages to take note of and express succinctly what is important using as few words as necessary. Nothing is wasted. Some no doubt will disagree with what he says, but what is important is not what he thinks but how you receive it. Personally, I find myself largely in agreement and am empathetic. His words reveal his genius was not limited to science and physics.
What I found most intriguing and provocative was what he said at the end in speaking about his strong connection with others who strive for truth, beauty, and justice and how those things kept him as a loner from feeling isolated. He then talked about what he believed most important. He talked about his belief that the most beautiful and deepest experience a person can have is in a sense of the mysterious. Einstein urges us to see the mysterious as the underlying principle of religion and all serious endeavors in art and science. Perhaps his greatest gift was in reminding us of the role the mysterious plays, suggesting without this experience we are dead or at least blind. Einstein’s genius was reflected in his being filled with awe and wonder at all the things we experience but our minds cannot grasp. He could see the reflection of beauty and magnificence with his mind and wonder at these secrets. To Einstein, having the privilege to attempt to humbly grasp a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is was the height of being alive.
As I read and reflect upon Einstein’s words in this short speech I am filled with emotion as I comprehend a bit of the mysterious and a glimpse of the marvels and wonders surrounding us. I feel somewhat as if I have been subjected to a jolt of electricity filling my body and hearing every nerve ending scream in joy.
White, Michael and John Gribbin, Einstein: A Life in Science
(Dutton, Penguin Books USA Inc., New York, 1994)