By casting Einstein as a philosophical anarchist, the Nazis missed the heart of his idea. Length contracts and time slows as an object speeds through space. But they have to in order to preserve what is truly absolute: the speed of light. Suppose Martians are watching us. Because light travels at a fixed velocity, what they are seeing from their perspective took place here about four minutes ago. If they could outrun the light beams bringing them the news, they could arrive before an event occurred — prevent the invasion of Poland, the attack on Pearl Harbor or the dropping of the atomic bomb. The theory Einstein discovered ensures that the world isn’t even crazier than it is.
Einstein, Gimbel argues, was especially well put to come upon such insights because he was a Jew. Gimbel is not saying that Einstein was deeply religious. When he talked about “the secrets of the Old One” or God playing dice, he was being a little ironic, using the idea of a deity he didn’t believe in as a metaphor for the laws of the universe. Nor does Gimbel find any particularly Jewish ideas in Einstein’s science or signs that, as the Nazis contended, it was politically motivated. I don’t think many will need convincing on those points. But Gimbel is an engaging writer. In demonstrating the obvious, he takes readers on enlightening excursions through the nature of Judaism, Hegelian philosophy, wherever his curiosity leads.
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