Times: Is Einstein's Physics of Relativity Jewish?

In George Johnson's review of a new book by Steven Gimbel, the Times considers the issue of the connection between Albert Einstein's science and the Talmud. We're glad to see that the Talmud is given credit for such great scientific advances. Still, we need to reserve judgement on the assertions at least until we read the book.

The book blurb announces that, "There are some senses, Gimbel claims, in which Jews can find a special connection to E = mc2, and this claim leads to the engaging, spirited debate at the heart of this book."

Here is the Talmudic crux of the review:
...“Jewish physics.” With Einstein’s theories now at the bedrock of modern science, the Nazi’s words have been justly forgotten. It seems almost perverse that Steven Gimbel, the chairman of the philosophy department at Gettysburg College, would want to bring back the old epithet and give it another spin. In his original new book, “Einstein’s Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion,” he considers the possibility that the Nazis were on to something. If you can look past the anti-Semitism, he proposes, “maybe relativity is ‘Jewish science’ after all.” What he means is that there might have been elements of Jewish thinking that gave rise to what is now recognized as one of the deepest insights of all time.

...What gives Einstein’s work a Jewish flavor, Gimbel believes, is an approach to the universe that reminds him of the way a Talmudic scholar seeks to understand God’s truth. It comes only in glimpses. “Thou shalt not steal” may seem clear enough. But is it stealing to keep a $100 bill you find on the ground? It depends. Did you see the person who might have dropped it? Was it found on a busy street or in a friend’s backyard? In a hotel lobby with a lost and found? Without the luxury of a God’s-eye view, we must reckon from different vantage points.

“The heart of the Talmudic view is that there is an absolute truth, but this truth is not directly and completely available to us,” Gimbel writes. “It turns out that exactly the same style of thinking occurs in the relativity theory and in some of Einstein’s other research.”

From our blinkered perspective we see qualities called space and time. But in relativity theory, the two can be combined mathematically into something more fundamental: a four-dimensional abstraction called the space-time interval. Time and space vary according to the motion of the observer. But from any vantage point, an object’s space-time interval would be the same — the higher truth that can be approached only from different angles. The same kind of thinking, Gimbel says, also led to Einstein’s thought experiments with the elevator showing that when we feel the pull of gravity from the Earth or the push of acceleration from the takeoff of a jet, we are experiencing the same under­lying phenomenon.

Gimbel isn’t saying that only a Jew could have discovered these things but that being Jewish just might have given Einstein an edge...
And by the way, our dad wrote about relativity in several places in his book, Whence and Wherefore, as for instance this observation:
Consider the excitement generated by Einstein’s theory of relativity in the early years of the twentieth century. Its implications shook the very pillars of scientific determinism. At the outset, there was no way to test its validity. The scientists who accepted its credibility, could do so only as an act of faith. On the other hand, its recognition would indicate a challenge to the undisputed principle of scientific determinism. Courageous scientists, in those early inconclusive days, boldly took that leap of faith, and by doing so, they incautiously placed their scientific reputations on the line. The rest of the tale is now common knowledge. Einstein was vindicated and proved correct. A revolution ensued in the world of physics and related sciences. The behavior of the light of stars acted in accordance with the remarkable conclusions of an ingenious intellect, and those who indulged in the early leap of faith were rewarded by the ultimate triumph of their convictions.

No comments: