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Einstein's Mistakes: The Human Failings Of Genius

Privacy Policy. Also By: Hans C. Ohanian, John T. Markert Third Edition, Volume 3, Paperback, Designed for the introductory calculus-based physics course, Physics for Engineers and Scientists is distinguished by its lucid exposition and accessible coverage of fundamental physical concepts. Designed for the introductory calculus-based physics course, Physics for Engineers and Scientists is distinguished by its lucid exposition and accessible coverage of fundamental physical concepts But with his idiosyncratic style and cranky asides at one point he calls the young Einstein "an incorrigible and tactless loudmouth" , Ohanian kept me eagerly turning the pages.

We have all heard that math wasn't Einstein's strong point, and Ohanian ruthlessly lays out the details. A page marathon calculation in Einstein's doctoral dissertation, "A New Determination of the Molecular Size," was "a comedy of errors" based on "zany" physical assumptions, such as treating sugar molecules dissolved in water as though they were tiny spheres sitting at rest instead of spinning like tops.

Einstein's Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius

Einstein's dissertation should have been rejected. Fumbling ever forward, Einstein went on to commit more errors in the suite of famous papers he wrote in , what came to be called his miracle year.

Albert Einstein Rebel, failure, genius!

The miracle, as Ohanian tells it, is that Einstein could have been wrong on so many details while coming through, in the end, with some of the greatest insights of the century. In his paper on the photoelectric effect, for example, he claimed to prove that a phenomenon called blackbody radiation behaves like a gas made of light particles, or photons.

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Not so fast, Ohanian objects: Though the theory worked for high-frequency photons, Einstein glossed over the fact that it didn't work for low-frequency ones, "like a tailor who tells the customer how beautifully the jacket fits at the shoulders, and pretends not to notice that the sleeves are much too long, ending somewhere near the knees. Most of the errors Ohanian describes will be just as esoteric for many readers, but his exasperated outbursts make the book fun.

Don't get him started. No matter what you have been told, it was not such an important equation, a trifle, really. And not even original. Nevertheless, in deriving the formula, Einstein left a hole in his argument "almost big enough for a truck to drive through. Over the years, Einstein came up with more proofs; they all contained errors.

Philosophy of Science Portal: New book--"Einstein's Mistakes: The Human Failings of a Genius"

Einstein buffs have read numerous times about what he called his "biggest mistake" introducing a fudge factor in general relativity to avoid the seeming absurdity of an expanding universe. Ohanian gives us Einstein's "zaniest mistake. Sometimes, Einstein's friend Marcel Grossmann tried to help him with his figures but not always to good effect.

When Einstein was trying to get his mind around curved space-time, one of Grossmann's bungled equations led him astray. Einstein didn't notice.

Einstein's quest to find a unified theory and to expunge quantum craziness from physics ultimately failed. But that doesn't mean it wasn't a noble attempt.


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Ohanian assures us that his crankiness comes not out of schadenfreude, "[b]ut, rather, because these mistakes made Einstein appear so much more human. They brought him down from the Olympian heights of his great discoveries to my own level, where I could imagine talking to him as a colleague, and maybe bluntly say, in the give-and-take of a friendly discussion among colleagues, 'Albert, now that is really stupid! We can imagine Einstein responding favorably. Light is made of photons.