Jewish Physics? It's All Relative

By Johnson, George | International Herald Tribune, August 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

Jewish Physics? It's All Relative


Johnson, George, International Herald Tribune


In "Einstein's Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion," Steven Gimbel argues that there might have been elements of Jewish thinking that gave rise to what is now recognized as one of the deepest insights of all time.

Einstein's Jewish Science. Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion. By Steven Gimbel. 245 pages. The Johns Hopkins University Press. $24.95.

It's no wonder Nazis hated relativity. They lived in a world of absolutes. There was a master race with one true religion and one true language, with a music and literature that celebrated its glory. There was a true German empire, sliced up by the arbitrary boundaries of concoctions called nation-states. With absolute might the Fatherland would regain its proper position in space and time.

Now comes this Einstein. Without even the benefit of a proper German education, he was fiddling with numbers and symbols and through some kabbalistic magic conjuring a universe in which it was impossible to say where you were. You could only describe your position in relationship to something else -- which could only describe its position in relationship to you.

In Einstein's cockeyed scheme you couldn't even say with authority what time it was. Again, your time was relative to their time and their time was relative to yours. This was from his Special Theory of Relativity. The sequel, General Relativity, was even weirder. Gravity is the curvature of some four-dimensional mind stuff called space-time. It was a trick of the Elders of Zion, some philosophical disease. "Scientific Dadaism," a prominent German scientist called it.

This wasn't just a fringe view. Philipp Lenard, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on cathode rays, wrote a four-volume treatise on the one true science and called it "German Physics." In the foreword he touched on "Japanese Physics," "Arabian Physics" and "Negro Physics." But he saved his wrath for the physics of the Jews. "The Jew wants to create contradictions everywhere and to separate relations, so that preferably, the poor naive German can no longer make any sense of it whatsoever." Einstein's theories, he wrote, "never were even intended to be true." Lenard just didn't understand them.

"Jewish physics." With Einstein's theories now at the bedrock of modern science, the Nazi's words have been justly forgotten. It seems almost perverse that Steven Gimbel, the chairman of the philosophy department at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, would want to bring back the old epithet and give it another spin. In his original new book, "Einstein's Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion," he considers the possibility that the Nazis were on to something. If you can look past the anti- Semitism, he proposes, "maybe relativity is 'Jewish science' after all." What he means is that there might have been elements of Jewish thinking that gave rise to what is now recognized as one of the deepest insights of all time.

By casting Einstein as a philosophical anarchist, the Nazis missed the heart of his idea. Length contracts and time slows as an object speeds through space. But they have to in order to preserve what is truly absolute: the speed of light. Suppose Martians are watching us. Because light travels at a fixed velocity, what they are seeing from their perspective took place here about four minutes ago. If they could outrun the light beams bringing them the news, they could arrive before an event occurred -- prevent the invasion of Poland, the attack on Pearl Harbor or the dropping of the atomic bomb. The theory Einstein discovered ensures that the world isn't even crazier than it is.

Einstein, Mr. …

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