Saturday, April 22, 2017

Einstein's job in 1911: he liked the city of Prague, not so much the people of Prague

The new series about Einstein will start to be aired (in CZ) tomorrow

Two years ago when I switched my Internet provider and cable TV to UPC, the European (much more beloved) counterpart of Comcast, I could pick a bunch of bonus channels for free. Most people pick the sports channels, unless the fans of the erotica channels obfuscate what they have chosen ;-), and you could predict that I chose the science documentary channels which include National Geographic, among many others.

Well, I must admit that I have spent virtually 0 minutes in these two years by watching them – and I would have watched the sports channel much more than that (even though I am in no way a sports junkie). But things could change tomorrow. At 9 pm, the "Genius" TV series about Einstein starts at my National Geographic #89 channel. I hope that I won't forget to watch it because I am sort of looking forward to it. The serial was filmed almost entirely in Czechia, including my hometown of Pilsen (mostly in Prague – several schools, two ministries, galleries etc. but also: the Elbow/Loket castle area, campuses in Pilsen and Brno, the town of hops Saaz/Žatec, Northern Bohemia Reichenberg/Liberec and the Warm/Teplá Monastery). Meeting Einstein in Pilsen is an offer I can't refuse – much like meeting Richard Lindzen (and his wife) in Pilsen in early May 2017.



Metro.cz, a daily sold in the Prague subway, just published a fun interview of journalist Pavel Urban with one of my undergraduate instructors of general relativity, Dr Jiří Podolský:
Einstein liked Prague
Even though I have previously written about Einstein in Prague, let me translate it because it's pretty insightful.




Einstein liked Prague
In 1911-1912, the famous physicist and scientist Albert Einstein lived in Prague where he was teaching at the university. From Sunday on, a new TV series about him will be aired on TV. We asked Dr Jiří Podolský from the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of the Charles University about the details of Einstein's stay in Prague.
How did it exactly happen that Einstein was admitted as a professor at the university in Prague?

Surprisingly, it was rather complicated. When Ferdinand Lippich retired in 1910, a job of a full professor of mathematical physics opened at the k. und k. German Karlo-Ferdinand University in Prague. A committee was created whose members were Anton Lampa (a physics professor), Georg Pick (a mathematics professor), and Viktor Rothmund (a physical chemistry professor). In April 1910, the committee made a proposal to the collegium of professors at the Faculty of Philosophy. Out of three candidates, the recommended slot #1 was taken by then 31-year-old Albert Einstein. However, the ministry in Vienna didn't respect the recommendation by the committee and considered the domestic candidate Jaumann to be better. However, Jaumann refused the offer soon afterwards. [He was angry that a zero such as Albert Einstein was even considered as his peer LOL, a comment by LM.] Only afterwards, the ministry contacted Albert Einstein. The negotiations and bureaucratic formalities took many months so Einstein could only start his job as a full professor on April 1st, 1911 (his appointment was personally signed by the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria). He stayed here up to July 1912.




I have read that national considerations helped Einstein at that time. What was it about?

As you might know, the Prague university was divided to two parts, the Czech one and the German one, in 1882. Their relationships were far from affable. The gradual personal and professional growth of the Czech part of the university was viewed as an unpleasant process by many, including Anton Lampa. In his efforts to strengthen the significance of the German part where he worked, he tried to hire very important German-speaking physicists after Lippich retired. And that's why he contacted Einstein as well – who was already rather famous at that moment.

The nationality could have played a role at the ministry in Vienna as well which began, despite the recommendation by the committee, think about a domestic candidate who was #2 according to the committee. However, the ministry was probably mostly following pragmatic considerations because the transfer of Jaumann to Prague would free a chair for a full professor at the German Institute of Technology in Brno, while no such opening would be created if a foreigner Einstein came to Prague.

The letter of acceptance insists that Einstein should also have the Austrian citizenship, however.

That's an interesting detail which we can find in the original decree about the appointment of Einstein as a full professor written on January 13th, 1911 (the letter is stored in the National Archives in Prague in the MKV/R fund, whatever it is). At the end, the letter literally says: "...for your appointment, the Austrian state citizenship is required; you shall be kind and perform the needed steps to disentangle yourself from your existing ties with other states as soon as possible." However, no evidence is known that Einstein has ever done such a thing. Most likely, he never did because Einstein would have become an Austrian citizen. Which would be rather neat.

How did Einstein like Prague and what he was like when he was 31 years old?

In his letters to friends, Einstein praised Prague as a city. His friend Bess could read on May 13th, 1911: "Couldn't you visit me at some point? ... The city of Prague is simply beautiful, so beautiful that it deserves a long journey by itself." However, he was much less satisfied with the general character of the people, especially the ethnic Germans in Prague, whom he interacted with. In the same letter, he wrote: "I greatly enjoy my chair and the institute. Just the people seem alien to me. [Mileva disliked almost everything and she was probably the main reason why they left Prague, comment by LM.] They don't have natural emotions; they seem to exhibit some insensitivity and a strange mixture of the superiority of the estates and some servility which robs them of any friendliness towards other people." As a famous opponent of chauvinism and nationalism, he had to be annoyed by the animosity between Czechs and Germans. For example, he ironically mentioned that some of his colleagues encouraged him to do shopping in the German shops only. He found close friends in the sphere of the German-speaking Jewish intellectuals, especially those who liked to go to the Berta Fanta's salon in the "Unicorn's" house. Philosopher Hugo Bergmann or writers Max Brod and Franz Kafka belonged to this philosophical-literary debate ring.

Which significant discoveries were made in Prague or what he at least worked on here?

In the peace of his Institute for Theoretical Physics office in the Vineyard Street [where he could look to the garden of the adjacent psychiatric asylum behind the ruined wall at the left side, a comment by LM], Einstein began to study gravity systematically and construct its relativistic theory: general relativity. He only completed it in November 1915 in Berlin but he already made the first essential steps towards this phenomenal theory during his stay in Prague. Already in June 1911, he sent an article to the #1 physics journal of that era, Annalen der Physik, "On the effect of gravity on the propagation of light". In that paper, he clearly formulated the so-called principle of equivalence between the uniform gravitational field and a uniformly accelerating system of coordinates, and he derived the astronomically testable gravitational red shift and bending of the light rays. In total, he published seven works dedicated to relativity and gravity during his 1+ year in Prague, plus six more papers dedicated to thermodynamics, theory of radiation, and quanta.

Some of his research was also presented in Annalen der Physik, can you find something groundbreaking in these texts?

Aside from the aforementioned article about the effect of gravity on the propagation of light, we also find other remarkable aspects of the future general theory of relativity in other papers. For example, he presented the correct intuition about the nonlinear character of the equations of the gravitational field; and he analyzed its influence on the electromagnetic field. In Prague, Einstein also began to investigate dynamical gravitational fields, especially the effect of the accelerating motion of distant objects on the bodies' masses. These considerations were inspired by the Prague ideas of Ernst Mach who was critically evaluating Newton's mechanics.

Incidentally: original volumes of Annalen der Physik that used to be located at the German Institute for Theoretical Physics – which had Einstein as its chair at that time – were moved to the repository of our library at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics.



They talk how they picked the actors etc. When they say that they filmed it in Prague, the pictures around 5:16 and 5:49 are actually here in Pilsen. ;-) At 5:16, you see a small Hussite church on the left and the building of the Station of Young Technologists on the right where I learned programming. At 5:49, it's the Pilsner synagogue, the fourth largest one in the world.

When the "Genius" serial was being created, you were a scientific adviser. [So was Clifford Johnson, a comment by LM.] Did you have to persuade the filmmakers about something or clarify some issues? Can you remember a fun example from the shooting?

I had the opportunity to carefully study the scripts of all ten episodes before the teams began to shoot them. And I must say: They were invented and written wonderfully! The serial completely authentically and impressively paints Einstein's personality, his complicated relationships to other people, nicely sketches Einstein's works (including the creative struggles, successes, and failures), documents the rise of modern physics in the first half of the 20th century, correctly framed within the world history affected by the two world wars. And everything was done with a team of stars of acting and scenery which is unusually good for a TV series...

It's true that the serial doesn't always respect the historical chronology of the events and facts. But one can only find a few inaccurate places like that in the 10-hour-long serial and they're always motivated by the creative struggle to produce an artistically impressive product (for example, the death of the first child of Albert and Mileva). However, despite my loud protests, the film kept a 1919 scene which is dedicated to Einstein's prediction of bending starlight around the Sun which was verified during the eclipse. In contrast with the historical facts, the announcement of this key confirmation in the movie didn't take place in London (the historical place) but in Cambridge – and in fact, both Albert Einstein and his wife Elsa were personally present there. But once again, I view it as an impressive artist's license that doesn't change the beef of things.

As a science adviser, my primary job was the creation of some authentic content of all Einstein's "physical blackboards" which have appeared in the series – and there are dozens. It means that according to the historical and meritocratic context (and they had to agree with the corresponding monologues or dialogues in the script), I had to prepare formulae with German or English texts that represent the corresponding physical or mathematical theory. The greatest challenge was the invention of the blackboards from four November 1915 lectures in Berlin when Einstein was completing his general theory of relativity. Here and elsewhere, I was building on historical documents, original articles, and Einstein's manuscripts.

In a similar way, the mathematical and physical "high school and college" blackboards were being invented, much like the lectures by other scientists (Weber, Lenard, Minkowski, Grossmann, Hilbert, and others). The content of the blackboards about nuclear an quantum physics (Heisenberg, Bohr, Oppenheimer) in the last episodes of the series was contributed by my colleague from the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics Prof Cejnar [one of my instructors of quantum mechanics when I was an undergrad, comment by LM]. We had the opportunity to be actively present when the scenes were being shot. We were surprised by the importance that the actors, directors, and staff assigned to the authenticity of their picture of the life and works of the probably greatest physicist of all times. In my opinion, the final product is unique and certainly deserves your attention.



One more article from the Czech Economic Times ("Hosp. noviny") published yesterday:

Live action, scripted series about Einstein was shot in Czechia, actor Geoffrey Rush created a stunning portrait of the scientist

By Tomáš Seidl, a film critic
  • The author of the general theory of relativity Albert Einstein is presented by 10 episodes of a serial with top actors
  • The scientist is painted not just like an ingenious physicist but also a human being who understood the Universe much more than the people around him
  • The first episode was mostly shot in Prague and will be aired on Sunday night by the National Geographic channel



The ten-episode American TV project Genius which expounds the life of one of the most significant scientists of all times, Albert Einstein, is the first fully scripted, live action series of the National Geographic corporation. The author of general relativity is presented not only as an ingenious physicist but also as a human who understood the mysteries of the Cosmos much more than he understood the people around him.

The first episode which was mostly shot in Prague, i.e. in a city where Einstein lived and taught between 1911 and 1912, will be aired on Sunday night by the National Geographic channel.

This series whose initial episode was filmed by the executive producer of the project and director Ron Howard, an Oscar laureate for A Beautiful Mind, was created according to the theme of Walter Isaacson's biography from 2007 titled "Einstein – his life and Universe". That book is considered to be the first one that looks at the scientist's life in its entirety.

The author had the opportunity to exploit previously unpublished materials when he was writing his book which were released by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem according to the last will of Einstein's step daughter. A big part of the 3,000+ pages of the unknown documents were Einstein's letters addressed to his first and second wife and his kids.

Documentary drama Genius combines two chronologically developing layers. The first begins in 1894 and captures Einstein as a mischievous, naughty son and an absent-minded 15-year-old student whose knowledge, even whose very presence behind the school benches, dramatically undermined the authority of the narrow-minded and illiberal professors.

The second chronological layer is opened by the assassination on the minister of foreign affairs of the Weimar Republic, Walther Rathenau, who was shot to pieces by right-wing extremists in 1922.

This portion of the plot already follows Einstein as a Nobel prize winner and world-wide scientific celebrity who would still be expected to face the ominously expanding antisemitism, atrocities in the shadow of the Swastika, spying by American agents, as well as the threat of a global nuclear war in his lifetime.



Riding alongside a light beam: was this young Einstein more excited by the females or the speed of light?

In agreement with the book template, the serial doesn't cover just the "European" and "American" epochs of Einstein's scientific life but also focuses on the physicist's non-conformist character, on his attitudes towards religion, philosophy, politics, nationalism, and wars, as well as Einstein's decidedly unorthodox love life.

Creators paint Einstein as a charming, passionate, but emotionally unstable man whose life was always shaped by the important and inspiring role of women.

During his stormy and complicated relationships, the eccentric physicist who considered monogamy to be a "mere product of the religious authority" had a hard time to reconcile himself with the fact that the triangular geometry doesn't work as simply in between the people as he was used to from his scientific investigations.

At the same moment, the creators aren't forgetting about Einstein's problematic relationships to his father, his children, and some colleagues. They are not even avoiding the paranoia and personal hatred towards Einstein that was nurtured by J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of FBI, who considered Einstein to be a threat for the American national security.

Because a big portion of Einstein's life was covered, two actors starred as him. While the young Einstein was expressed by the handsome face and vigorous speech of the English musician and actor Johnny Flynn [whose Aryan hair color etc. had to be artificially modified, comment by LM], the mature Einstein was captured by Geoffrey Rush.

The 65-year-old Australian actor adds this role to his expanding sequence of stunning portraits of real personalities into which he was able to repeatedly reincarnate, in a nearly chameleonic way, in the films Shine, Quills – By the Pen of Marquis de Sade, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, or The King's Speech.

The star-studded team was also enriched by Emily Watson who starred as Einstein's second wife Elsa, and in two episodes by the Czech actress Klára Issová. The filmmakers hired her to star as the important scientistess of the Polish origin, Marie Curie-Skłodowská, who was a close friend of Einstein's.

This whole ambitious serial which was shot for an educational-documentary TV channel doesn't try to hide the self-evident pedagogic dimension of the project. They even attempt to visualize some of Einstein's theories using digital tricks, and bring them closer to the public in this way. If the first episodes may be trusted, even this fact increases the chances that the program will even attract the viewers who know nothing about Einstein except for the fact that he played the violin, didn't wear socks, and that his eyes and wrinkles became the template for the wise expression of Yoda the Jedi Master in the Star Wars galactic saga.

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