Revolution, Einstein-Style

I ran across the oddest anecdote about Einstein. Einstein was teaching a class in Germany in 1918. When in the aftermath of World War I Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated, he put a sign on the classroom door that said “Class cancelled because of revolution.” (This link mentions the story.)

7 thoughts on “Revolution, Einstein-Style

  1. Why do you consider this anecdote “oddest” about Einstein, even though it actually appears entirely in character for him. Would you consider a similar anecdote odd if reported about Smale or Chomsky?

    Contrarywise, maybe your real goal is to point out the way we have been influenced by dominant cultural view of Einstein, and have forgotten and willfully ignored Einstein’s political views as impractical, or continued to belittle and marginalize them as unworldly, naive, and childish, albeit in the face of much careful modern scholarship to the contrary, such as the article you reference. Since Chomsky at least, we have been able to recognize these types of popular and biased criticisms as effective if inferior forms of political argumentation. In this sense, I respect your article as a gentle troll, but responded anyway.

    Is your use of “oddest” some sort of gentle troll?

  2. I’m not so sure you can’t troll on your own weblog. The term refers to the fishing technique of slowly dragging a tempting bait through the water and seeing what fish will bite at it. It’s as possible to throw out bait in a main post as it is in a comment.

  3. What’s odd is that under Special Relativity, the revolution of a rigid wheel is impossible, as the circumference shrinks by Lorentz contraction, but the radii remain the same length. Since we know that wheels do, in fact, revolve, the problem was part of what forced St. Albert to invent General Relativity, in which the 19th century notion of “rigid” objects went the way of Caloric, phlogiston, and the 4 humours. Space of itself, and time of itself, melted way, and what remained was a kind of marriage. Revolution, in this sense, means “what goes around, comes around.” Like recursively trolling your own blog about whether one can recursively troll your own blog. Wheels within wheels, in fractal futility. Odd, indeed.

  4. Seth, you’ve put more thought into my choice of words than I did. I meant “oddest” as in “most unexpected”. I’ve had many classes canceled: not one because of revolution.

  5. I just finished reading Banesh Hoffman’s “Einstein: creator and rebel”. This biography contains a photo of Einstein’s course notebook from November 9, 1918 with an entry that “due to revolution” the day’s lecture was canceled (in German: “fiel aus wegen Revolution”.
    In fact, Einstein soon after making this entry met with the new head of the German interim government and he actually secured the release of several University of Berlin professors and its rector, who were detained by revolutionary students. A few days later Einstein addressed a large crowd declaring that “all true democrats must stand guard lest the old class tyranny of the right be replaced by a class tyranny of the left” He subsequently expressed a willingness to work for the new post–World War I democratic Germany.”

    In fact, you can find a picture of the (in)famous entry here

    How odd is that ?

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