Friday, October 28, 2016

Einstein and Oppenheimer on detachment


These are excerpts from Sam Schweber's Einstein and Oppenheimer: The Meaning of Genius.

Perhaps they can provide some solace as we near the end of this ridiculous election season.
Einstein: He never looked “upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves.” The trite objects of human efforts—possessions, outward success, luxury—always seemed to him “contemptible . . . [and] without the kinship of men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavor, life would have seemed empty” (Einstein 1954, 9). In his tribute to Max Planck on the occasion of Planck’s sixtieth birthday, Einstein stated that, like Arthur Schopenhauer, he believed that “one of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own ever shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of objective perception and thought” (Einstein 1954, 225).
Oppenheimer: In a letter to his brother in March 1932 Oppenheimer declared that “through discipline, though not through discipline alone, we can achieve serenity, and a certain small but precious measure of freedom from the accidents of incarnation, and charity, and that detachment which preserves the world that it renounces. I believe that through discipline we learn to preserve what is essential to our happiness in more and more adverse circumstances, and to abandon with simplicity what would else have seemed to us indispensable; that we come a little to see the world without the gross distortion of personal desires, and seeing it so accept more easily our earthly privation and its earthly horror. . . . [I]n its nature discipline involves the subjection of the soul to some perhaps minor end; and that end must be real, if the discipline is not to be factitious. Therefore I think that all things which evoke discipline: study, and our duties to men and to the commonwealth, war, and personal hardship, and even the need for subsistence, ought to be greeted by us with profound gratitude; for only through them can we attain to the least detachment and only so can we know peace. (Smith and Weiner 1980, 155–156)”
My favorite quote from Marcus Aurelius:
Marcus Aurelius

"Or does the bubble reputation distract you? Keep before your eyes the swift onset of oblivion, and the abysses of eternity before us and behind; mark how hollow are the echoes of applause, how fickle and undiscerning the judgments of professed admirers, and how puny the arena of human fame. For the entire earth is but a point, and the place of our own habitation but a minute corner in it; and how many are therein who will praise you, and what sort of men are they?"

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