VPR Header
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Averyt: Questioning Einstein

This Saturday marks the 136th birthday of Albert Einstein, but who’s counting? Einstein showed us, after all, that time and space are relative. He smashed like an atom our belief in absolutes. Nothing, he said, except the speed of light, is constant. Yet the irony is that he himself has become a timeless constellation in the universe of physics.

Einstein changed how we view the world. His theory of relativity is considered by many to be the biggest leap of the scientific imagination in history. In 1999, Time Magazine named him Man of the Century. And Einstein’s influence, his work, is as significant today as it was more than a century ago when he told us that E=mc2 - the equation that everyone knows, though relatively few understand.

Einstein is, in fact, a gift that keeps on giving. In a recently published article in the journal Science , researchers acknowledged that the massive explosions of four different supernovas they’ve been watching over the last decade are, in fact, reruns of a single blow-up.

Thanks to a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, the scientists have been seeing the same nine-billion-year-old star exploding, but from different angles and different moments in time. Light rays from the exploding supernova were bent by the gravity of clusters of galaxies, putting them on a different path towards us. These four images grouped together make the shape of what is known as an Einstein cross.

Einstein would probably say it’s all about how we look, what we think we see and what is really there. “The true sign of intelligence,” he said, “is not knowledge but imagination... The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Questions tweak our curiosity, they stir our complacency.

So it seems fitting that to honor Einstein, his birthday is designated International Question Day – a day when students worldwide are encouraged to question. For Einstein the thinker it wasn’t about having all the answers, but opening yourself to not knowing. Being able to sit patiently in the limbo of the unknown. “I have no special talents,” he once said, “I am only passionately curious.”

Einstein was born in the Victorian Age of the 19th century. His work spanned the 20th century, and his influence continues today, as a philosopher and educator as well as a scientist. Einstein believed everyone is a genius, capable of great things. What marks new advance, he said, is having the creative imagination to raise new questions and seek new possibilities.

“Follow your curiosity,” he urged, because “the most beautiful experience... is the mysterious.”

Happy birthday, Albert.