Preposterous Universe

Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Sex and physics -- what else is there?

If you're an icon as famous as Albert Einstein without, people will always take delight in pointing out your shortcomings. That doesn't mean the shortcomings aren't real, of course. In the case of Einstein, two things stand out: his stubborn search for a unified theory gravitation and electromagnetism (ignoring the lessons of quantum mechanics), and his treatment of women. In an interview at Edge.org, Dennis Overbye wonders whether the two aren't related.
I know lots of people like Albert. I might be like him myself. He was a hopeless romantic, he lived on anticipation. He was always yearning for the next thing. He was always envisioning some wonderful life with somebody else, while grimly enduring life with the woman he was with. If I think about it, I would say that that was kind of the key to his psychology, that he had the lure of the perfect situation, the perfect person. Of course if you're Einstein, you want everything that you want your way and then you want to be left alone. So you want love, and you want affection, you want a good meal, but then you don't want any interference outside of that, so you don't want any obligations interfering with your life, with your work. Which is a difficult stance to maintain in an adult relationship; it doesn't work. Everything has to be a give and take.

Einstein always felt Paradise was just around the corner, but as soon as he got there, it started looking a little shabby and something better appeared. I've known a lot of people like Albert in my time, I have felt lots of shocks of recognition. I feel like I got to know Albert as a person in the course of this, and I have more respect for him as a physicist than I did when I started, I have more a sense of what he accomplished and how hard it really was to be Einstein than I did before. It's a great relief to be able to think of him as a real person. If he was around I'd love to buy him a beer ..... but I don't know if I'd introduce him to my sister.
For more, check out Dennis's book Einstein in Love.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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