Einstein’s 1925 predictions on the future, in an impromtu conversation with Norbert Wiener

Among the many fascinating resources on the internet, one of the best for the history and scientific development of mathematics and related personages is Cantor’s Paradise.

And among their numerous articles one that I’ve found to be especially intriguing is on some incredibly prescient remarks Einstein made over the course of a 5 hour conversation with Norbert Wiener, impromptu onboard a trainride to Geneva. Wiener, while on a business trip, had seen Einstein in the dining car of a previous train and arranged to talk with him and recorded this conversation in a letter to his brother. Remember this was the summer of 1925…

On world affairs:

He was rather pessimistic about the prospect of scientific rapprochement in Europe — said that the Germans had been to long excluded that they were getting out of hand for. At the time the majority view expected the Weimar Republic to successfully reintegrate…

He felt, however, that international rapprochement or another world war were the only things likely to happen. Sadly correct.

He did not agree with Russell that another world war would mean the end of civilization. Although Bertrand Russell was older and perhaps even more influential at the time, Einstein correctly ascertained the dynamics at work.

He thought the leadership of civilization would pass to America and ultimately to Asia. Correct!

He thinks that our general education level in the States is poor, but that there are great centers of learning with us and that much fine work is being done. Very preceptive and correct!

He expects big things from the U.S. And how big they turned out to be!

He is much interested in the Russian situation, is sympathetic with socialism, but is disgusted with the bigotry and the espionage system of the Bolsheviks. Very preceptive.

He regrets the existence of extreme nationalism in Germany, but asserts that there is such a thing. He knew what was going on beneath the surface of German society.

Now on to Physics:

He talked with me even of the possibilities for integral equation methods in relativity and asked me many questions. Yup!

He cleared up in my mind another problem, that of the statistical meaning of the second law of thermodynamics, by explaining that the world as a whole is not near a position of statistical equilibrium, but has a definite trend, as if there had been a creation. He understood that there must have been a Big Bang!

He said that Planck’s treatment of this matter is wholly wrong, and that he considers a right understanding of the subject more difficult than a right understanding relativity theory. Yup!

He considers the present confused state of science to be temporary, and due to the lack of leading ideas. Yup, as subsequent developments showed.

He deplores the flooding of the literature by immature, idea-less papers, and sticks up for form in presentation. Of this he is a master. He understood the long term direction of modern scientific effort.

He is much interested in engineering, he worked seven years in the Swiss patent office. The new electric locomotives excited his intense curiosity. Again, very perceptive.

He is aware of his great position, but not in the least conceited. Wise behaviour too, even though Norbert Wiener in 1925 was a very obscure fellow and certainly then didn’t circulate in the same circles as Einstein.

He does not expect relativity in its present form to last many decades, and hope that further work will soon go beyond it. Many worlds, etc.,

As to quantum theory, in which he has a large share, he is most dissatisfied. Again, right on.

He judges other scientists charitably and not by an excessively large footnote. Moderation, quite commendable when there were, and still are, many incentives for someone in his position to go either way.

He expects somebody to make a big killing in the none too distant future by cleaning up the theory of radiation in quantum theory. And Heisenberg’s famous paper was published a few weeks later…

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