Becoming a Freethinker and a Scientist
The following is an excerpt Albert Einstein's
Autobiographical Notes, Open Court Publishing Company, LaSalle and
Chicago, Illinois, 1979. These paragraphs appear on pp 3 & 5.
When I was a fairly precocious young man I became thoroughly
impressed with the futility of the hopes and strivings that chase most
men restlessly through life. Moreover, I soon discovered the cruelty
of that chase, which in those years was much more carefully covered up
by hypocrisy and glittering words than is the case today. By the mere
existence of his stomach everyone was condemned to participate in that
chase. The stomach might well be satisfied by such participation, but
not man insofar as he is a thinking and feeling being.
As the first way out there was religion, which is implanted into every
child by way of the traditional education-machine. Thus I came - though
the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents - to a deep
religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve.
Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the
conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The
consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the
impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through
lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of authority
grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions
that were alive in any specific social environment-an attitude that has
never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a
better insight into the causal connections.
It is quite clear to me that
the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt
to free myself from the chains of the "merely personal," from an existence
dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was
this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which
stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially
accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world
beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had
learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in
its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the
frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously,
half unconsciously, as a supreme goal. Similarly motivated men of the
present and of the past, as well as the insights they had achieved, were
the friends who could not be lost. The road to this paradise was not as
comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has
shown itself reliable, and I have never regretted having chosen it.
Editorial comments in this section on Einstein are by
Prof. Arnold V. Lesikar, Physics Dept., St. Cloud State University, St.
Cloud, MN 56301-4498. He would appreciate any feedback or comments.