Why did Einstein Refuse To Become The Prime Minister of Israel?

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by Dr Qudsia Gani

According to Carl Sagan, it often happens that the scientists say, “It’s a really good argument and my position is mistaken, and then they would actually change their minds and one would never again hear the earlier opinion from them. They really do it and it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.”

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents but by enlightening a new generation who grow up while being familiar with it.  On the other hand, politics is often assumed to be the conduct of public affairs for private advantage. HL Mencken says that the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

However, according to Plato, one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that we may end up being governed by our inferiors.  Those with a sincere spirit of service added with their aptitude to go political should go.

Therefore, Einstein has rightly presented a more balanced view by saying that one must divide his time between politics and equations because politics is for the present, while our equations are for eternity.  Equations are about learning the right way to solve the problems, rather than having all the correct answers ready in advance. Their scope stretches to approaching life carefully and considerately while taking a soft approach.

For Ramanujan, an equation has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God. Every formula which expresses a law of nature is a hymn of praise to God.

We have seen that all it required were a few simple formulae to unlock some of the biggest secrets of Nature. The works of several genius mathematicians and physicists have made our life easier by giving us several elements like electricity without which we cannot do now.

We might have used Pythagoras equation a lot in mathematics but we may not have realised its applications in real life from painting walls to building stairs and manufacturing televisions.

Similarly, the utility of logarithmic functions extends beyond just chemistry and sound engineering. These are used in determining the photographic quality of an image which can be broken down into logarithmic pieces. This is possible because information about the photograph, such as the ratio of incident light to transmitted light, can be expressed in mathematical ways. These ratios and variables can then be manipulated with logarithms to extract information about the photo and ensure its quality.

The Fourier transform equations are at the heart of modern signal processing and analysis, and data compression. It has enabled us to understand more complex wave structures, like human speech. Given a complicated, messy wave function like the recording of a conversation, the Fourier transform allows us to break this messy wave into a combination of a number of simple waves thus greatly simplifying the analysis. Similarly, the set of four Maxwellian equations also have countless uses from making computers, doing MRI in hospitals and generating electricity.

The theory of relativity has been instrumental to our understanding of the origin, structure, and ultimate fate of the universe but its most common usage is in the way of GPS in everyday life.  In many areas of research, we see a chaotic behaviour sensitive to initial conditions of the system under consideration. Weather is a classic example of this kind since a small change in one day can lead to completely different weather systems for other days to follow.  A relevant theory called Chaos theory uses the logistic map equation to analyse the same. Another differential equation namely Black Scholes equation describes how financial experts and traders can find prices for derivatives and the underlying assets.

In short, equations are all around us and these have shaped our understanding of the world in countless ways. It is pertinent to mention that most of the physical processes are reversible i.e we can run the equations backwards without messing up the things. The second law of thermodynamics, however, runs only in one direction.  For instance, if we put an ice cube in a cup of hot coffee, we always see the ice cube melt, and never see the coffee freeze!

The current pandemic must have woken up the mathematical brilliance in many of us, as it did in past. The great physicist and astronomer, Isaac Newton, was quite young when the Great Plague hit London in 1664 and he too had witnessed a serious illness during this time. However, his efforts driven by his passion for equations were running parallel to his illness and made him propound the mind-blowing theories on optics, gravity and motion of celestial bodies. Working on algebraic equations is like finding a treasure. All we do is, find “X”.

Qudsia Gani

Other than that, equations can be used to think about whether we should give up (or stick with) a romantic relationship. These also provide ways of coping with the vast flood of information from social media and decide how long our kids should be allowed to spend on their phones. The current biggest pursuit of sciences is to find a unified theory that could explain everything and anything. According to Hawking even if we do, it will again be just a set of rules and equations.

Equations are truly timeless and unchangingly useful. The longevity of all other things is far from guaranteed. It was for this eternity that Einstein had declined the offer to be the Prime minister of Israel.

(Author teaches Physics at the Government Degree College for Women, M A Road, Srinagar)

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