#9: Einstein's Latest in Review (Ten Best of the Decade from Half of the World's Fair)

Continuing on with the ten best from half of the World's Fair, as noted earlier, this is a reprint of a post that first ran in August 2006. When Dave and I got to take part in Roald Hoffman's Entertaining Science last year, I read it there too.

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Dale Peck Reviews Einstein's Latest


Pedestrian crap. Albert Einstein's "General Theory of Relativity" (Annalen der Physik, Leipzig: Verlan Von Johann Ambrosius Barth, 1916) is crap. It's oblique, it's opaque, it's bloated with transparent effort. Salted, sanctimonious effort. I literally fidget turning the pages. Einstein is the worst physicist of his generation.

Yet it goes deeper. He also grovels to the reader--God, it's hackneyed--trying to ingratiate himself with "quaint" turns of the phrase, "curved" regurgitations on space-time. It's more pandering than this Serbian nationalism fad. A decade ago, he shoved that tortured Special Relativity onto us. And it was stupid, just plain stupid. Complication masking inanity, it offered us scribblings of a too-contented Newtonian iconoclast. Slather. At the time, the work was rightly panned--I panned it, because it sucked--as groaning work by a hack knowing just enough to strike the conventions but not enough to know what those conventions meant. It slandered Brownian movement with cheap, fulsome mediocrity. But it was a bore. We get more of the same kitsch in this round, and I can't get over this: in his entire career Einstein hasn't produced a single memorable or even recognizably human character or theory.

In bald terms, this is the bathetic drivel of tensile calculus. As such, it's written out of any context relevant to the readers' world. There is nothing on autogiros, not a word. It's "1915" (to use Ford's phrase) yet somehow still of last century. Einstein cultivates the public image of a master--the first and most obsequious sign of insincerity--speaking to trumped up "modernity." Joyce is weeping over the same drippy sentiment as I write, so the novelty is a farce.

But what is Einstein even after? There are the overtures to space-time continuums, yes. There is this tripe on geodesics. But who needs another ex-patent clerk to explain geodesics as the shortest distance between two points? Are we, can we still be, with the Greeks here? Einstein says oh but in curved space it isn't a straight line. And of that? So. Freaking. What. I resent the work and I resent readers for wanting it to be written. It's as much your fault as his.

Let's talk about the covariant field equations that give us the observed perihelion motion of the planet Mercury. The diarrheic flow of words spewing this prediction is mawkish and derivative, straight from Lorentz. But to dignify it even as a Lorentzian derivative would be too kind; it's plagiarism, but without the soul. And, all the worse, we hear that Lorentz doesn't even follow him.

Einstein is just wrong, grammatically, stylistically, and, most importantly, Euclidean-ly. It just doesn't make sense. And surprise surprise, the central conceit, acceleration, is the central flaw. The rate of change of velocity, acceleration has something to do with it, he assures the readers. But what exactly? Nobody knows. I mean, good Lord Kelvin people, who is publishing this gratuitous crap? For fuck's sake whatever happened to Planck? A writer who knew how to wield a constant, who could lace an empathetic undercurrent in his equivalence principle. My Roget's is tattered, thumbed over so completely all I can say is crap crap crap. It's crap.

Forster can predict light bending in half the words. And Edison would record it. And he wouldn't emote. And neither of them would drip Maxwell's electromagnetism onto their page.

Upward mobility out of patent offices and into the front ranks of literati is not uncommon, especially in Berne these days, but Einstein's move comes too little, too late. A moment has passed him by. Einstein marks the dread of contemporary publishing. He is that dread. I dread him. I dread physics for it. I dread space and time. I dread the U-boaters who get stuck with the off-prints. Mushy, effusive, it's textbook bathos. Are we stuck with this as contemporary thought?

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