Sunday, August 2, 2009

Thinking in Pictures: Einstein and Faraday

The predisposition to thinking in pictures appears to be a factor that spans the ages and produces a special affinity between those with this same predisposition -- not because they were physicists or mathematicians or musicians (for there are many forms of each) but because of the special correspondence in their ways of thinking.

In his study in Princeton, Einstein had pictures of three scientists on the wall: Newton, Faraday and Maxwell. It was the work of Faraday and Maxwell that most interested Einstein when he was a student -- although this work was largely ignored by Einstein's professors. Indeed, Einstein's knowledge of Faraday's and Maxwell's work was so great that it impressed Einstein's future employer and got him his first job at the Swiss Patent Office, after his long unsuccessful search for a secure position.

To a friend who had given him a book about Faraday, Einstein (employing a poignant image worthy of a poet) wrote: “You have given me great joy with the little book about Faraday. This man loved mysterious Nature as a lover loves his distant beloved. In his day, there did not yet exist the dull specialization that stares with self-conceit through horn rimmed glasses and destroys poetry. . . .”

In his Autobiographical Notes, Einstein breaks abruptly into a passage describing the development of his own scientific thought to address Isaac Newton (as if he were alive and in the room), explaining that his own work does not refute Newton's -- rather that his work extends Newton's into realms that Newton did not deal with. Other instances of this special affinity can be cited, but it is sufficient to point out that the visual mode of thought may lead to immediate recognition of an extraordinary rapport, regardless of time, place, or area of knowledge.

Based on excerpt from In the Mind’s Eye, chapter 1.