(Frank 1949) Einstein’s philosophy of science

Frank, Philipp. Einstein’s philosophy of science. Reviews of Modern Physics. 1949 Jul; 21(3):349–355. Available from: http://prola.aps.org/pdf/RMP/v21/i3/p349_1.

Frank’s historical and biographical account of Einstein’s philosophical views on physics is relevant to academic freedom and educational methods primarily because of the devastating putdown of alienated approaches to scholarship and research, and implicitly of all forms of “publish or perish”, at the beginning of the article. I quote the opening paragraphs in full:

About ten years ago I spoke with Einstein about the astonishing fact that so many ministers of various denominations are strongly interested in the theory of relativity. Einstein said that according to his estimation there are more clergymen interested in relativity than physicists. A little puzzled I asked him how he would explain this strange fact. He answered, a little smiling, “Because clergymen are interested in the general laws of nature and physicists, very often, are not.”

Another day we spoke about a certain physicist who had very little success in his research work. Mostly he attacked problems which offered tremendous difficulties. He applied penetrating analysis and succeeded only in discovering more and more difficulties. By most of his colleagues he was not rated very highly. Einstein, however, said about him, “I admire this type of man. I have little patience with scientists who take a board of wood, look for its thinnest part and drill a great number of holes where drilling is easy.”

Through all his life as a physicist Einstein has regarded his own work as a search for the general laws of nature and as closely related to the work of the philosopher. In his obituary to Ernst Mach (1916) Einstein wrote

“When I remember the ablest students whom I met as a teacher, I can say with certainty that they were strongly interested in the theory of knowledge. I mean by ‘ablest students’ those who excelled by independence of judgment, not only by quickness. They liked to start discussions about the aims and the methods of science and proved by their obstinacy in the defense of their opinions that this issue seemed to them to be an important one. This is not astonishing, indeed.”


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