Solitude, pacifism and religious feeling, as seen by Albert Einstein.

Solitude, pacifism and religious feeling, as seen by Albert Einstein.

“The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” - Albert Einstein

Universally known by his discoveries, today Albert Einstein is an icon both of popular and scientific cultures. Aware that his singular position as academic granted him influence beyond Physics, Einstein defended some of his political worries and humanistic aspirations. In his letters and essays we find a person worried about the future of humanity and in conflict with problems that also affected him personally. The militarism, the fanatic nationalism and the anti-semitism are always targets of his critics.

Originally published in 1931, his essay “The world as I see it” shows how, even before the rise of the Nazi regime and his unconfortable relation with the nuclear race, he already had a well formed political and humanist line of thought. Conscious of his limitations and sober despite what the world saw in him, Einstein writes:

“Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he feels it.”
“Schopenhauer’s saying, that “a man can do as he will, but no will as he will,” has been na inspiration to me since my youth up, and a continual consolation and unfailing well-spring of patience in the face of the hardships of life, my own and others’.”

Fifth Solvay International Conference on Electrons and Photons. October, 1927.

By praising empathy not only as a objective of his life, but also as a something to be pursued, Einstein show his worry in fighting against the brutality of the world:

“My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced freedom from the need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I gang my won gait and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties I have never lost an obstinate sense of detachment, of the need for solitude – a feeling which increases with the years.”

"Sunday". Edward Hopper, 1926.

At the same time his efforts to connect with other people demanded great effort he also noticed that the incomprehension and the struggle was reciprocal. To him, this reticence in relation to how people saw him was extended to his own ideas, even less understood in his time than today:

“It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and respect from my fellows through no fault, and no merit, of my own. The cause of this may well be the desire, unattainable for many, to understand the one or two ideas to which I have with my feeble powers attained through ceaseless struggle.”

Militant pacifist, the militarism is the only subject that makes him go beoynd the critic, showing even contempt for the armed forces. These and other of his more progressive reivindications granted him the label of left militant by the US government, reason for the serious precautions to keep Einstein out of the Manhattan Project:

"This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of the herd nature, the military system, which I abhor.
[…]

This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how I hate them!"

Despite being upset about the distance between him and other people and his insatisfaction with some of the pillars of the society, he's still optimistic enough to say:

Einstein, 1921.

“And yet so high, in spite of everything, is my opinion of the human race that I believe this bogey would have disappeared long ago, had the sound sense of the nations not been systematically corrupted by commercial and political interests acting through schools and the Press.”

The organized religion and the bling theism don't go unscathed under his critic eye. He put himself closer to common poeple when talking about his fears and doubts and admiting his religious feeling about the inescrutable nature, however, his distance is clear when this feeling leads to conceptions incompatible with his ideas:

“The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.
[…]
A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.”

Short and rich, this essay is important because it shows us how things can walk slowly, since being pacifist, defend the ones who need and criticize religious absurdities are lines of thought still regarded as progressist. But from Einstein we can learn that any possibility, be it big like the ones he had or small like the ones from our daily lives, have to be used to replicate the ideas we need.

Einstein wasn't the only one to point the brutality of his time, Franciso de Goya also witnessed how the hateful military institutions are one of the greatest obstacles to civilization. Thinking about culture it's worth to take a look at Joyce's view of the cultural formation of the modern man.