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216 ✸ Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa 13 The Secret of Einstein’s Creativity? Many theories have been proposed to explain Albert Einstein ’s creativity. For example, Peter Galison argued that Einstein’s relativity arose from the fruitful intersection of three fields: science, philosophy, and technology. Although Galison wrote more about the technological side, he acknowledged that science and philosophy were very important too.In physics,technology,and philosophy , people were concerned with notions of time. There’s something pleasant in the idea that the intersection of these three fields generated Einstein’s conceptual breakthrough. But one reviewer of Galison’s book fairly complained:“The inevitable question is then to decide what weight to attach to these different factors, and Galison refuses to address the matter.”1 And what about art? In 2001, Arthur I. Miller argued at length that special relativity arose from the intersection of four fields: science,philosophy , aesthetics, and technology.2 Was the influence of each field equally great, about 25 percent, upon Einstein’s creativity? The problem is that then we are chopping up creativity equally among certain academic disciplines . Is that fair? What about economics? Why don’t we include it and assign each field a 20 percent influence? But perhaps the influences were not equal. The historical question—how do we ascertain the actual roots of someone’s creativity, rather than just the plausible imaginable roots? Einstein lived for fifty years after 1905, and he became ridiculously famous. Friends, strangers, coworkers, relatives, reporters, writers, biographers , psychologists, and historians all asked him about the roots of 216 his creativity. “How did you do it?” How did he come to think of the relativity of time? Despite plenty of inquiries, interviews, letters, and casual questions, Einstein never mentioned any influence from art or from any timing technologies at the patent office. And neither did any of his coworkers. Instead, Einstein, his friends, and his peers pointed to several other factors and influences. For example,Michele Besso was Einstein’s close friend since 1897 and coworker at the patent office since 1904. Besso had trained as a mechanical engineer and was experienced with electrical technologies. Einstein acknowledged that Besso helped him to clarify the thoughts that resulted in his special relativity, with critical discussions and valuable suggestions . Hence Besso was very well positioned to judge whether patents or chronometric innovations influenced Einstein’s path to relativity. Yet in none of their extensive correspondence, written over decades, did either of them mention any such thing. In a letter written in 1947, when Besso was seventy-four years old, he actually asked Einstein how he had come to think of clocks and measuring rods in relativity. It was an opportunity to state or insinuate any influence from timing technologies, yet Besso did not. Instead, he asked whether perhaps Einstein’s early reading of a book by Ernst Mach, following Besso’s suggestion, had been at the root of Einstein’s thoughts about clocks and measuring rods.3 Mach? No, replied Einstein. Now he had a perfect opportunity to point to clocks and clock towers. But again he did not allude to any technological issues, nor even to art. He acknowledged a great influence of Mach on his intellectual development in general, but he noted that his reading of the philosopher David Hume, whom he discussed with Solovine and Habicht, had been of greater importance in thinking toward relativity.4 Accordingly, John Stachel, founding editor of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, has argued that Hume’s notion of time, in particular , may have influenced Einstein.5 But Stachel acknowledged that this was essentially a conjecture since Einstein did not specify Hume’s views on time, just acknowledged the influence of Hume’s critical outlook in general. Over the years, writers have proposed many other hypotheses to try e Secret of Einstein’s Creativity? ✸ 217 to explain Einstein’s path to relativity. Besides Hume, Mach, patents, Mileva Marić, and aesthetics, writers variously have conjectured that Einstein was crucially influenced by the physics of H. A. Lorentz, experiments on light, the writings of Poincaré, and even by reflections on God.6 Thus Stachel has noted that there is still no consensus on the history of special relativity. More broadly, philosophers have variously attributed notions of relativity to many earlier authorities, including even the alluring Pythagoras.7 It seems as if the roots of relativity are not a matter of history, but of personal preference. Several years ago, some historians...


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