THURSDAY, APRIL 14, 2016
Part 3—Ninety-one years later: "Mama tried," the late Merle Haggard once said.
So did Walter Isaacson.
"I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole," the Bakersfield country star later recalled, in a moment of introspection. "No one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried."
Things turned out better for Isaacson, if not for readers of Time magazine, which Isaacson headed during the years when the famous journal, which was still influential, kept attributing lies and psychiatric infirmities to a certain White House contender.
Candidate Bush ended up in the White House; in a related development, people are dead all over Iraq. Presumably, Isaacson's professors once tried, but it seems that they too may have failed.
Whatever! We're not here to quibble about trivial piddle like that. In 2007, Isaacson—a very clear writer—published Einstein: His Life and Universe, a best-selling biography of Albert Einstein, one of human history's great intellectual giants.
In Chapter Six, Isaacson accepted a difficult challenge. He tried to explain the special theory of relativity, which Einstein brought forward in 1905 (his "miracle year"), when he was just 26.
When Isaacson's book appeared, it had been ninety-one years since Einstein tried to explain this same material in his own 1916 book, Relativity: The Special and The General Theory. To peruse Einstein's book, click here.
Einstein's book, which was very brief, was aimed at general readers. In chapters 8 and 9 of that book, Einstein described a hypothetical situation with which he tried to explain the special theory.
Ninety-one years later, Isaacson also tried to explain this "thought experiment." Yesterday, in Part 2 of this report, we showed you the way he introduced his effort.
Starting today, we'll continue on, hoping to discover what happened when Isaacson tried.
Last November, Nova tried to explain this same material. It did so around the ten-minute mark of its hour-long broadcast, Inside Einstein's Mind.
As we noted in Part 1 of this report, we'd have to say that Nova failed. What happened when Isaacson tried?
First, a quick review. In the material we showed you yesterday, Isaacson starts by citing a "eureka moment," a burst of insight which led Einstein to special relativity. Within five weeks, Isaacson says, Einstein had "sent off his most famous paper, 'On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,'" the scientific paper in which he introduced special relativity.
We're on page 123 of Isaacson's book when he describes these events. As we left off yesterday, Isaacson was on the verge of describing the famous "thought experiment" associated with Einstein's theory.
It's the same thought experiment which Nova tried to explain in last November's broadcast. It involves a fast-moving train and a pair of lightning strikes.
By page 124, Isaacson uses the word "revolutionary" to describe the fruit of this thought experiment. He says the insight Einstein gleaned from this rumination "did in fact transform science."
By page 128, he is referring to the "astonishing conclusion" which emerged from Einstein's thought experiment. Eight years later, Nova went down a similar path, describing Einstein's conclusion as "mind-blowing."
We're not telling you that any of that is "wrong." Instead, we're asking you a question:
Was Isaacson able to explain the famous thought experiment associated with Einstein's eureka moment?
Can he explain the "astonishing conclusion" which emerged from that thought experiment? The story here is familiar and gripping. How well was Isaacson able to elucidate the science?
We're going to say that he tried and failed. As a long string of professors have proven, explaining Einstein is hard.
That said, we've decided to wait another day before perusing Isaacson's text. Here's why:
When we look at Isaacson's text, we'll be visiting the "culture of incoherence" we've mentioned in recent weeks. Over the past many years, this disabling culture has gripped our Einstein-made-easy books and the silly reports we receive from big journals like Time.
Explaining Einstein turns out to be hard. But then, so is almost every task for the certified intellectual giants who people our academy and our mainstream news business.
Until the science hits the fan, Isaacson is a very clear writer. We're sure he's also a very nice person, though that didn't stop his journalists from publishing all that death-dealing, low-IQ crap when he was kingpin at Time.
We the liberals all agreed not to notice, speak up or complain. Tomorrow, we'll see how things went in 2007, when Isaacson tried something much harder.
Unlike a certain "rebel child," Isaacson went to Harvard, then became a Rhodes scholar. As history tells us, that's almost never a good combination!
What happened when Isaacson tried?
Tomorrow: What it says on page 123, then on to page 124