The Meaning of Life
WHAT IS THE MEANING of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow-creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.
The World As I See It
WHAT AN EXTRAORDINARY SITUATION is that of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he feels it. But from the point of view of daily life, without going deeper, we exist for our fellow-men—in the first place for those on whose smiles and welfare all our happiness depends, and next for all those unknown to us personally with whose destinies we are bound up by the tie of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labours of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving. I am strongly drawn to the simple life arid am often oppressed by the feeling that I am engrossing an unnecessary amount of the labour of my fellow-men. I regard class differences as contrary to justice and, in the last resort, based on force. I also consider that plain living is good for everybody, physically and mentally.
In human freedom in the philosophical sense I am definitely a disbeliever. Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity. Schopenhauer’s saying, that “a man can do as he will, but not will as he will,” has been an inspiration to me since my youth up, and a continual consolation and unfailing well-spring of patience in the face of the hardships of life, my own and others’. This feeling mercifully mitigates the sense of responsibility which so easily becomes paralysing, and it prevents us from taking ourselves and other people too seriously; it conduces to a view of life in which humour, above all, has its due place.
To inquire after the meaning or object of one’s own existence or of creation generally has always seemed to me absurd from an objective point of view. And yet everybody has certain ideals which determine the direction of his endeavours and his judgments. In this sense I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves—such an ethical basis I call more proper for a herd of swine. The ideals which have lighted me on my way and time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Without the sense of fellowship with men of like mind, of preoccupation with the objective, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific research, life would have seemed to me empty. The ordinary objects of human endeavour—properly, outward success, luxury—have always seemed to me contemptible.
My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced freedom from the need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I gang my own gait and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties I have never lost an obstinate sense of detachment, of the need for solitude—a feeling which increases with the years. One is sharply conscious, yet without regret, of the limits to the possibility of mutual understanding and sympathy with one’s fellow-creatures. Such a person no doubt loses something in the way of geniality and light-heartedness; on the other hand, he is largely independent of the opinions, habits, and judgments of his fellows and avoids the temptation to take his stand on such insecure foundations.
My political ideal is that of democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized. It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and respect from my fellows through no fault, and no merit, of my own. The cause of this may well be the desire, unattainable for many, to understand the one or two ideas to which I have with my feeble powers attained through ceaseless struggle. I am quite aware that it is necessary for the success of any complex undertaking that one man should do the thinking and directing and in general bear the responsibility. But the led must not be compelled, they must be able to choose their leader. An autocratic system of coercion, in my opinion, soon degenerates. For force always attracts men of low morality, and I believe it to be an invariable rule that tyrants of genius are succeeded by scoundrels. For this reason I have always been passionately opposed to systems such as we see in Italy and Russia to-day. The thing that has brought discredit upon the prevailing form of democracy in Europe to-day is not to be laid to the door of the democratic idea as such, but to lack of stability on the part of the heads of governments and to the impersonal character of the electoral system. I believe that in this respect the United States of America have found the right way. They have a responsible President who is elected for a sufficiently long period and has sufficient powers to be really responsible. On the other hand, what I value in our political system is the more extensive provision that it makes for the individual in case of illness or need. The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the State but the creative, sentient individual, the personality; it alone creates the noble and the sublime, while the herd as such remains dull in thought and dull in feeling.
This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of the herd nature, the military system, which I abhor. That a man can take pleasure in marching in formation to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. He has only been given his big brain by mistake; a backbone was all he needed. This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism—how I hate them! War seems to me a mean, contemptible thing: I would rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such an abominable business. And yet so high, in spite of everything, is my opinion of the human race that I believe this bogey would have disappeared long ago, had the sound sense of the nations not been systematically corrupted by commercial and political interests acting through the schools and the Press.
The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery—even if mixed with fear—that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms—it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.
The Liberty of Doctrine—Á Propos of the Gumbel Case
ACADEMIC CHAIRS ARE MANY, but wise and noble teachers are few; lecture-rooms are numerous and large, but the number of young people who genuinely thirst after truth and justice is small. Nature scatters her common wares with a lavish hand, but the choice sort she produces but seldom.
We all know that, so why complain? Was it not ever thus and will it not ever thus remain? Certainly, and one must take what Nature gives as one finds it. But there is also such a thing as a spirit of the times, an attitude of mind characteristic of a particular generation, which is passed on from individual to individual and gives a society its particular tone. Each of us has to do his little bit towards transforming this spirit of the times.
Compare the spirit which animated the youth in our universities a hundred years ago with that prevailing to-day. They had faith in the amelioration of human society, respect for every honest opinion, the tolerance for which our classics had lived and fought. In those days men strove for a larger political unity, which at that time was called Germany. It was the students and the teachers at the universities who kept these ideals alive.
To-day also there is an urge towards social progress, towards tolerance and freedom of thought, towards a larger political unity, which we to-day call Europe. But the students at our universities have ceased as completely as their teachers to enshrine the hopes and ideals of the nation. Anyone who looks at our times coolly and dispassionately must admit this.
We are assembled to-day to take stock of ourselves. The external reason for this meeting is the Gumbel case. This apostle of justice has written about unexpiated political crimes with devoted industry, high courage, and exemplary fairness, and has done the community a signal service by his books. And this is the man whom the students, and a good many of the staff, of his university are to-day doing their best to expel.
Political passion cannot be allowed to go to such lengths. I am convinced that every man who reads Herr Gumbel’s books with an open mind will get the same impression from them as I have. Men like him are needed if we are ever to build up a healthy political society.
Let every man judge according to his own standards, by what he has himself read, not by what others tell him.
If that happens, this Gumbel case, after an unedifying beginning, may still do good.
Good and Evil
IT IS RIGHT IN principle that those should be the best loved who have contributed most to the elevation of the human race and human life. But, if one goes on to ask who they are, one finds oneself in no inconsiderable difficulties. In the case of political, and even of religious, leaders, it is often very doubtful whether they have done more good or harm. Hence I most seriously believe that one does people the best service by giving them some elevating work to do and thus indirectly elevating them. This applies most of all to the great artist, but also in a lesser degree to the scientist. To be sure, it is not the fruits of scientific research that elevate a man and enrich his nature, but the urge to understand, the intellectual work, creative or receptive. It would surely be absurd to judge the value of the Talmud, for instance, by its intellectual fruits.
The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained to liberation from the self.
Society and Personality
WHEN WE SURVEY our lives and endeavours we soon observe that almost the whole of our actions and desires are bound up with the existence of other human beings. We see that our whole nature resembles that of the social animals. We eat food that others have grown, wear clothes that others have made, live in houses that others have built. The greater part of our knowledge and beliefs has been communicated to us by other people through the medium of a language which others have created. Without language our mental capacities would be poor indeed, comparable to those of the higher animals; we have, therefore, to admit that we owe our principal advantage over the beasts to the fact of living in human society. The individual, if left alone from birth would remain primitive and beast-like in his thoughts and feelings to a degree that we can hardly conceive. The individual is what he is and has the significance that he has not so much in virtue of his individuality, but rather as a member of a great human society, which directs his material and spiritual existence from the cradle to the grave.
A man’s value to the community depends primarily on how far his feelings, thoughts, and actions are directed towards promoting the good of his fellows. We call him good or bad according to how he stands in this matter. It looks at first sight as if our estimate of a man depended entirely on his social qualities.
And yet such an attitude would be wrong. It is clear that all the valuable things, material, spiritual, and moral, which we receive from society can be traced back through countless generations to certain creative individuals. The use of fire, the cultivation of edible plants, the steam engine—each was discovered by one man.
Only the individual can think, and thereby create new values for society—nay, even set up new moral standards to which the life of the community conforms. Without creative, independently thinking and judging personalities the upward development of society is as unthinkable as the development of the individual personality without the nourishing soil of the community.
The health of society thus depends quite as much on the independence of the individuals composing it as on their close political cohesion. It has been said very justly that Graeco-Europeo-American culture as a whole, and in particular its brilliant flowering in the Italian Renaissance, which put an end to the stagnation of mediaeval Europe, is based on the liberation and comparative isolation of the individual.
Let us now consider the times in which we live. How does society fare, how the individual? The population of the civilized countries is extremely dense as compared with former times; Europe to-day contains about three times as many people as it did a hundred years ago. But the number of great men has decreased out of all proportion. Only a few individuals are known to the masses as personalities, through their creative achievements. Organization has to some extent taken the place of the great man, particularly in the technical sphere, but also to a very perceptible extent in the scientific.
The lack of outstanding figures is particularly striking in the domain of art. Painting and music have definitely degenerated and largely lost their popular appeal. In politics not only are leaders lacking, but the independence of spirit and the sense of justice of the citizen have to a great extent declined. The democratic, parliamentarian regime, which is based on such independence, has in many places been shaken, dictatorships have sprung up and are tolerated, because men’s sense of the dignity and the rights of the individual is no longer strong enough. In two weeks the sheep-like masses can be worked up by the newspapers into such a state of excited fury that the men are prepared to put on uniform and kill and be killed, for the sake of the worthless aims of a few interested parties. Compulsory military service seems to me the most disgraceful symptom of that deficiency in personal dignity from which civilized mankind is suffering to-day. No wonder there is no lack of prophets who prophesy the early eclipse of our civilization. I am not one of these pessimists; I believe that better times are coming. Let me shortly state my reasons for such confidence.
In my opinion, the present symptoms of decadence are explained by the fact that the development of industry and machinery has made the struggle for existence very much more severe, greatly to the detriment of the free development of the individual. But the development of machinery means that less and less work is needed from the individual for the satisfaction of the community’s needs. A planned division of labour is becoming more and more of a crying necessity, and this division will lead to the material security of the individual. This security and the spare time and energy which the individual will have at his command can be made to further his development. In this way the community may regain its health, and we will hope that future historians will explain the morbid symptoms of present-day society as the childhood ailments of an aspiring humanity, due entirely to the excessive speed at which civilization was advancing.
Address at the Grave of H. A. Lorentz
IT IS AS THE representative of the German-speaking academic world, and in particular the Prussian Academy of Sciences, but above all as a pupil and affectionate admirer that I stand at the grave of the greatest and noblest man of our times. His genius was the torch which lighted the way from the teachings of Clerk Maxwell to the achievements of contemporary physics, to the fabric of which he contributed valuable materials and methods.
His life was ordered like a work of art down to the smallest detail. His never-failing kindness and magnanimity and his sense of justice, coupled with an intuitive understanding of people and things, made him a leader in any sphere he entered. Everyone followed him gladly, for they felt that he never set out to dominate but always simply to be of use. His work and his example will live on as an inspiration and guide to future generations.
H. A. Lorentz’s Work in the Cause of International Co-operation
WITH THE EXTENSIVE SPECIALIZATION of scientific research which the nineteenth century brought about, it has become rare for a man occupying a leading position in one of the sciences to manage at the same time to do valuable service to the community in the sphere of international organization and international politics. Such service demands not only energy, insight, and a reputation based on solid achievements, but also a freedom from national prejudice and a devotion to the common ends of all, which have become rare in our times. I have met no one who combined all these qualities in himself so perfectly as H. A. Lorentz. The marvellous thing about the effect of his personality was this: Independent and headstrong natures, such as are particularly common among men of learning, do not readily bow to another’s will and for the most part only accept his leadership grudgingly. But, when Lorentz is in the presidential chair, an atmosphere of happy co-operation is invariably created, however much those present may differ in their aims and habits of thought. The secret of this success lies not only in his swift comprehension of people and things and his marvellous command of language, but above all in this, that one feels that his whole heart is in the business in hand, and that, when he is at work, he has room for nothing else in his mind. Nothing disarms the recalcitrant so much as this.
Before the war Lorentz’s activities in the cause of international relations were confined to presiding at congresses of physicists. Particularly noteworthy among these were the Solvay Congresses, the first two of which were held at Brussels in 1909 and 1912. Then came the European war, which was a crushing blow to all who had the improvement of human relations in general at heart. Even before the war was over, and still more after its end, Lorentz devoted himself to the work of reconciliation. His efforts were especially directed towards the re-establishment of fruitful and friendly co-operation between men of learning and scientific societies. An outsider can hardly conceive what uphill work this is. The accumulated resentment of the war period has not yet died down, and many influential men persist in the irreconcilable attitude into which they allowed themselves to be driven by the pressure of circumstances. Hence Lorentz’s efforts resemble those of a doctor with a recalcitrant patient who refuses to take the medicines carefully prepared for his benefit.
But Lorentz is not to be deterred, once he has recognized a course of action as the right one. The moment the war was over, he joined the governing body of the “Conseil de recherche,” which was founded by the savants of the victorious countries, and from which the savants and learned societies of the Central Powers were excluded. His object in taking this step, which caused great offence to the academic world of the Central Powers, was to influence this institution in such a way that it could be expanded into something truly international. He and other right-minded men succeeded, after repeated efforts, in securing the removal of the offensive exclusion-clause from the statutes of the “Conseil.” The goal, which is the restoration of normal and fruitful co-operation between learned societies, is, however, not yet attained, because the academic world of the Central Powers, exasperated by nearly ten years of exclusion from practically all international gatherings, has got into a habit of keeping itself to itself. Now, however, there are good grounds for hoping that the ice will soon be broken, thanks to the tactful efforts of Lorentz, prompted by pure enthusiasm for the good cause.
Lorentz has also devoted his energies to the service of international cultural ends in another way, by consenting to serve on the League of Nations Commission for international intellectual co-operation, which was called into existence some five years ago with Bergson as chairman. For the last year Lorentz has presided over the Commission, which, with the active support of its subordinate, the Paris Institute, is to act as a go-between in the domain of intellectual and artistic work among the various spheres of culture. There too the beneficent influence of this intelligent, humane, and modest personality, whose unspoken but faithfully followed advice is, “Not mastery but service,” will lead people in the right way.
May his example contribute to the triumph of that spirit!
In Honour of Arnold Berliner’s Seventieth Birthday
(Arnold Berliner is the editor of the periodical Die Naturwissenschaften.)
I SHOULD LIKE TO take this opportunity of telling my friend Berliner and the readers of this paper why I rate him and his work so highly. It has to be done here because it is one’s only chance of getting such things said; since our training in objectivity has led to a taboo on everything personal, which we mortals may transgress only on quite exceptional occasions such as the present one.
And now, after this dash for liberty, back to the objective! The province of scientifically determined fact has been enormously extended, theoretical knowledge has become vastly more profound in every department of science. But the assimilative power of the human intellect is and remains strictly limited. Hence it was inevitable that the activity of the individual investigator should be confined to a smaller and smaller section of human knowledge. Worse still, as a result of this specialization, it is becoming increasingly difficult for even a rough general grasp of science as a whole, without which the true spirit of research is inevitably handicapped, to keep pace with progress. A situation is developing similar to the one symbolically represented in the Bible by the story of the Tower of Babel. Every serious scientific worker is painfully conscious of this involuntary relegation to an ever-narrowing sphere of knowledge, which is threatening to deprive the investigator of his broad horizon and degrade him to the level of a mechanic.
We have all suffered under this evil, without making any effort to mitigate it. But Berliner has come to the rescue, as far as the German-speaking world is concerned, in the most admirable way. He saw that the existing popular periodicals were sufficient to instruct and stimulate the layman; but he also saw that a first-class, well-edited organ was needed for the guidance of the scientific worker who desired to be put sufficiently au courant of developments in scientific problems, methods, and results to be able to form a judgment of his own. Through many years of hard work he has devoted himself to this object with great intelligence and no less great determination, and done us all, and science, a service for which we cannot be too grateful.
It was necessary for him to secure the co-operation of successful scientific writers and induce them to say what they had to say in a form as far as possible intelligible to non-specialists. He has often told me of the fights he had in pursuing this object, the difficulties of which he once described to me in the following riddle: Question: What is a scientific author? Answer: A cross between a mimosa and a porcupine.1 Berliner’s achievement would have been impossible but for the peculiar intensity of his longing for a clear, comprehensive view of the largest possible area of scientific country. This feeling also drove him to produce a text-book of physics, the fruit of many years of strenuous work, of which a medical student said to me the other day: “I don’t know how I should ever have got a clear idea of the principles of modern physics in the time at my disposal without this book.”
Berliner’s fight for clarity and comprehensiveness of outlook has done a great deal to bring the problems, methods, and results of science home to many people’s minds. The scientific life of our time is simply inconceivable without his paper. It is just as important to make knowledge live and to keep it alive as to solve specific problems. We are all conscious of what we owe to Arnold Berliner.
Popper-Lynkæus was more than a brilliant engineer and writer. He was one of the few out-standing personalities who embody the conscience of a generation. He has drummed it into us that society is responsible for the fate of every individual and shown us a way to translate the consequent obligation of the community into fact. The community or State was no fetish to him; he based its right to demand sacrifices of the individual entirely on its duty to give the individual personality a chance of harmonious development.
Obituary of the Surgeon, M. Katzenstein
DURING THE EIGHTEEN YEARS I spent in Berlin I had few close friends, and the closest was Professor Katzenstein. For more than ten years I spent my leisure hours during the summer months with him, mostly on his delightful yacht. There we confided our experiences, ambitions, emotions to each other. We both felt that this friendship was not only a blessing because each understood the other, was enriched by him, and found in him that responsive echo so essential to anybody who is truly alive; it also helped to make both of us more independent of external experience, to objectivize it more easily.
I was a free man, bound neither by many duties nor by harassing responsibilities; my friend, on the contrary, was never free from the grip of urgent duties and anxious fears for the fate of those in peril. If, as was invariably the case, he had performed some dangerous operations in the morning, he would ring up on the telephone, immediately before we got into the boat, to enquire after the condition of the patients about whom he was worried; I could see how deeply concerned he was for the lives entrusted to his care. It was marvellous that this shackled outward existence did not clip the wings of his soul; his imagination and his sense of humour were irrepressible. He never became the typical conscientious North German, whom the Italians in the days of their freedom used to call bestia seriosa. He was sensitive as a youth to the tonic beauty of the lakes and woods of Brandenburg, and as he sailed the boat with an expert hand through these beloved and familiar surroundings he opened the secret treasure-chamber of his heart to me—he spoke of his experiments, scientific ideas, and ambitions. How he found time and energy for them was always a mystery to me; but the passion for scientific enquiry is not to be crushed by any burdens. The man who is possessed with it perishes sooner than it does.
There were two types of problems that engaged his attention. The first forced itself on him out of the necessities of his practice. Thus he was always thinking out new ways of inducing healthy muscles to take the place of lost ones, by ingenious transplantation of tendons. He found this remarkably easy, as he possessed an uncommonly strong spatial imagination and a remarkably sure feeling for mechanism. How happy he was when he had succeeded in making somebody fit for normal life by putting right the muscular system of his face, foot, or arm! And the same when he avoided an operation, even in cases which had been sent to him by physicians for surgical treatment (in cases of gastric ulcer by neutralizing the pepsin). He also set great store by the treatment of peritonitis by an anti-toxic coli-serum which he discovered, and rejoiced in the successes he achieved with it. In talking of it he often lamented the fact that this method of treatment was not endorsed by his colleagues.
The second group of problems had to do with the common conception of an antagonism between different sorts of tissue. He believed that he was here on the track of a general biological principle of widest application, whose implications he followed out with admirable boldness and persistence. Starting out from this basic notion he discovered that osteomyelon and periosteum prevent each other’s growth if they are not separated from each other by bone. In this way he succeeded in explaining hitherto inexplicable cases of wounds failing to heal, and in bringing about a cure.
This general notion of the antagonism of the tissues, especially of epithelium and connective tissue, was the subject to which he devoted his scientific energies, especially in the last ten years of his life. Experiments on animals and a systematic investigation of the growth of tissues in a nutrient fluid were carried out side by side. How thankful he was, with his hands tied as they were by his duties, to have found such an admirable and infinitely enthusiastic fellow-worker in Fräulein Knake!; He succeeded in securing wonderful results bearing on the factors which favour the growth of epithelium at the expense of that of connective tissue, results which may well be of decisive importance for the study of cancer. He also had the pleasure of inspiring his own son to become his intelligent and independent fellow-worker, and of exciting the warm interest and co-operation of Sauerbruch just in the last years of his life, so that he was able to die with the consoling thought that his life’s work would not perish, but would be vigorously continued on the lines he had laid down.
I for my part am grateful to fate for having given me this man, with his inexhaustible goodness and high creative gifts, for a friend.
Congratulations to Dr. Solf
I AM DELIGHTED to be able to offer you, Dr. Solf, the heartiest congratulations, the congratulations of Lessing College, of which you have become an indispensable pillar, and the congratulations of all who are convinced of the need for close contact between science and art and the public which is hungry for spiritual nourishment.
You have not hesitated to apply your energies to a field where there are no laurels to be won, but quiet, loyal work to be done in the interests of the general standard of intellectual and spiritual life, which is in peculiar danger to-day owing to a variety of circumstances. Exaggerated respect for athletics, an excess of coarse impressions which the complications of life through the technical discoveries of recent years has brought with it, the increased severity of the struggle for existence due to the economic crisis, the brutalization of political life—all these factors are hostile to the ripening of the character and the desire for real culture, and stamp our age as barbarous, materialistic, and superficial. Specialization in every sphere of intellectual work is producing an ever-widening gulf between the intellectual worker and the non-specialist, which makes it more difficult for the life of the nation to be fertilized and enriched by the achievements of art and science.
But contact between the intellectual and the masses must not be lost. It is necessary for the elevation of society and no less so for renewing the strength of the intellectual worker; for the flower of science does not grow in the desert. For this reason you, Herr Solf, have devoted a portion of your energies to Lessing College, and we are grateful to you for doing so. And we wish you further success and happiness in your work for this noble cause.
I AM ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED that no wealth in the world can help humanity forward, even in the hands of the most devoted worker in this cause. The example of great and pure characters is the only thing that can produce fine ideas and noble deeds. Money only appeals to selfishness and always tempts its owners irresistibly to abuse it.
Can anyone imagine Moses, Jesus, or Gandhi armed with the money-bags of Carnegie?
Education and Educators
I have read about sixteen pages of your manuscript and it made me—smile. It is clever, well observed, honest, it stands on its own feet up to a point, and yet it is so typically feminine, by which I mean derivative and vitiated by personal rancour. I suffered exactly the same treatment at the hands of my teachers, who disliked me for my independence and passed me over when they wanted assistants (I must admit that I was somewhat less of a model student than you). But it would not have been worth my while to write anything about my school life, still less would I have liked to be responsible for anyone’s printing or actually reading it. Besides, one always cuts a poor figure if one complains about others who are struggling for their place in the sun too after their own fashion.
Therefore pocket your temperament and keep your manuscript for your sons and daughters, in order that they may derive consolation from it and—not give a damn for what their teachers tell them or think of them.
Incidentally I am only coming to Princeton to research, not to teach. There is too much education altogether, especially in American schools. The only rational way of educating is to be an example—of what to avoid, if one can’t be the other sort.
With best wishes.
To the Schoolchildren of Japan
IN SENDING THIS GREETING to you Japanese schoolchildren, I can lay claim to a special right to do so. For I have myself visited your beautiful country, seen its cities and houses, its mountains and woods, and in them Japanese boys who had learnt from them to love their country. A big fat book full of coloured drawings by Japanese children lies always on my table.
If you get my message of greeting from all this distance, bethink you that ours is the first age in history to bring about friendly and understanding intercourse between people of different countries; in former times nations passed their lives in mutual ignorance, and in fact hated or feared one another. May the spirit of brotherly understanding gain ground more and more among them. With this in mind I, an old man, greet you Japanese schoolchildren from afar and hope that your generation may some day put mine to shame.
Teachers and Pupils
An Address to Children
(The principal art of the teacher is to awaken the joy in creation and knowledge.)
MY DEAR CHILDREN,
I rejoice to see you before me to-day, happy youth of a sunny and fortunate land.
Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labour in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honour it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common.
If you always keep that in mind you will find a meaning in life and work and acquire the right attitude towards other nations and ages.
AS LATE AS THE seventeenth century the savants and artists of all Europe were so closely united by the bond of a common ideal that co-operation between them was scarcely affected by political events. This unity was further strengthened by the general use of the Latin language.
To-day we look back at this state of affairs as at a lost paradise. The passions of nationalism have destroyed this community of the intellect, and the Latin language, which once united the whole world, is dead. The men of learning have become the chief mouthpieces of national tradition and lost their sense of an intellectual commonwealth.
Nowadays we are faced with the curious fact that the politicians, the practical men of affairs, have become the exponents of international ideas. It is they who have created the League of Nations.
Religion and Science
EVERYTHING THAT THE human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of felt needs and the assuagement of pain. One has to keep this constantly in mind if one wishes to understand spiritual movements and their development. Feeling and desire are the motive forces behind all human endeavour and human creation, in however exalted a guise the latter may present itself to us. Now what are the feelings and needs that have led men to religious thought and belief in the widest sense of the words? A little consideration will suffice to show us that the most varying emotions preside over the birth of religious thought and experience. With primitive man it is above all fear that evokes religious notions—fear of hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death. Since at this stage of existence understanding of causal connexions is usually poorly developed, the human mind creates for itself more or less analogous beings on whose wills and actions these fearful happenings depend. One’s object now is to secure the favour of these beings by carrying out actions and offering sacrifices which, according to the tradition handed down from generation to generation, propitiate them or make them well disposed towards a mortal. I am speaking now of the religion of fear. This, though not created, is in an important degree stabilized by the formation of a special priestly caste which sets up as a mediator between the people and the beings they fear, and erects a hegemony on this basis. In many cases the leader or ruler whose position depends on other factors, or a privileged class, combines priestly functions with its secular authority in order to make the latter more secure; or the political rulers and the priestly caste make common cause in their own interests.
The social feelings are another source of the crystallization of religion. Fathers and mothers and the leaders of larger human communities are mortal and fallible. The desire for guidance, love, and support prompts men to form the social or moral conception of God. This is the God of Providence who protects, disposes, rewards, and punishes, the God who, according to the width of the believer’s outlook, loves and cherishes the life of the tribe or of the human race, or even life as such, the comforter in sorrow and unsatisfied longing, who preserves the souls of the dead. This is the social or moral conception of God.
The Jewish scriptures admirably illustrate the development from the religion of fear to moral religion, which is continued in the New Testament. The religions of all civilized peoples, especially the peoples of the Orient, are primarily moral religions. The development from a religion of fear to moral religion is a great step in a nation’s life. That primitive religions are based entirely on fear and the religions of civilized peoples purely on morality is a prejudice against which we must be on our guard. The truth is that they are all intermediate types, with this reservation, that on the higher levels of social life the religion of morality predominates.
Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. Only individuals of exceptional endowments and exceptionally high-minded communities, as a general rule, get in any real sense beyond this level. But there is a third state of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form, and which I will call cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to explain this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.
The individual feels the nothingness of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvellous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. He looks upon individual existence as a sort of prison and wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear in earlier stages of development—e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learnt from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer especially, contains a much stronger element of it.
The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no Church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with the highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as Atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another.
How can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another, if it can give rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology? In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are capable of it.
We thus arrive at a conception of the relation of science to religion very different from the usual one. When one views the matter historically one is inclined to look upon science and religion as irreconcilable antagonists, and for a very obvious reason. The man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events—that is, if he takes the hypothesis of causality really seriously. He has no use for the religion of fear and equally little for social or moral religion. A God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable to him for the simple reason that a man’s actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so that in God’s eyes he cannot be responsible, any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motions it goes through. Hence science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behaviour should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear and punishment and hope of reward after death.
It is therefore easy to see why the Churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest incitement to scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion which pioneer work in theoretical science demands, can grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labour in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a sceptical world, have shown the way to those like-minded with themselves, scattered through the earth and the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man strength of this sort. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
The Religiousness of Science
YOU WILL HARDLY FIND one among the profounder sort of scientific minds without a peculiar religious feeling of his own. But it is different from the religion of the naive man. For the latter God is a being from whose care one hopes to benefit and whose punishment one fears; a sublimation of a feeling similar to that of a child for its father, a being to whom one stands to some extent in a personal relation, however deeply it may be tinged with awe.
But the scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. The future, to him, is every whit as necessary and determined as the past. There is nothing divine about morality, it is a purely human affair. His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work, in so far as he succeeds in keeping himself from the shackles of selfish desire. It is beyond question closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of all ages.
The Plight of Science
THE GERMAN-SPEAKING COUNTRIES are menaced by a danger to which those in the know are in duty bound to call attention in the most emphatic terms. The economic stress which political events bring in their train does not hit everybody equally hard. Among the hardest hit are the institutions and individuals whose material existence depends directly on the State. To this category belong the scientific institutions and workers on whose work not merely the well-being of science but also the position occupied by Germany and Austria in the scale of culture very largely depends.
To grasp the full gravity of the situation it is necessary to bear in mind the following consideration. In times of crisis people are generally blind to everything outside their immediate necessities. For work which is directly productive of material wealth they will pay. But science, if it is to flourish, must have no practical end in view. As a general rule, the knowledge and the methods which it creates only subserve practical ends indirectly and, in many cases, not till after the lapse of several generations. Neglect of science leads to a subsequent dearth of intellectual workers able, in virtue of their independent outlook and judgment, to blaze new trails for industry or adapt themselves to new situations. Where scientific enquiry is stunted the intellectual life of the nation dries up, which means the withering of many possibilities of future development. This is what we have to prevent. Now that the State has been weakened as a result of non-political causes, it is up to the economically stronger members of the community to come to the rescue directly, and prevent the decay of scientific life.
Far-sighted men with a clear understanding of the situation have set up institutions by which scientific work of every sort is to be kept going in Germany and Austria. Help to make these efforts a real success. In my teaching work I see with admiration that economic troubles have not yet succeeded in stifling the will and the enthusiasm for scientific research. Far from it! Indeed, it looks as if our disasters had actually quickened the devotion to non-material goods. Everywhere people are working with burning enthusiasm in the most difficult circumstances. See to it that the will-power and the talents of the youth of to-day do not perish to the grievous hurt of the community as a whole.
Fascism and Science
A letter to Signor Rocco, Minister of State, Rome.
MY DEAR SIR,
Two of the most eminent and respected men of science in Italy have applied to me in their difficulties of conscience and requested me to write to you with the object of preventing, if possible, a piece of cruel persecution with which men of learning are threatened in Italy. I refer to a form of oath in which fidelity to the Fascist system is to be promised. The burden of my request is that you should please advise Signor Mussolini to spare the flower of Italy’s intellect this humiliation.
However much our political convictions may differ, I know that we agree on one point: in the progressive achievements of the European mind both of us see and love our highest good. Those achievements are based on the freedom of thought and of teaching, on the principle that the desire for truth must take precedence of all other desires. It was this basis alone that enabled our civilization to take its rise in Greece and to celebrate its rebirth in Italy at the Renaissance. This supreme good has been paid for by the martyr’s blood of pure and great men, for whose sake Italy is still loved and reverenced to-day.
Far be it from me to argue with you about what inroads on human liberty may be justified by reasons of State. But the pursuit of scientific truth, detached from the practical interests of everyday life, ought to be treated as sacred by every Government, and it is in the highest interests of all that honest servants of truth should be left in peace. This is also undoubtedly in the interests of the Italian State and its prestige in the eyes of the world.
Hoping that my request will not fall on deaf ears, I am, etc.
TO BE CALLED TO account publicly for everything one has said, even in jest, an excess of high spirits, or momentary anger, fatal as it must be in the end, is yet up, to a point reasonable and natural. But to be called to account publicly for what others have said in one’s name, when one cannot defend oneself, is indeed a sad predicament. “But who suffers such a dreadful fate?” you will ask. Well, everyone who is of sufficient interest to the public to be pursued by interviewers. You smile incredulously, but I have had plenty of direct experience and will tell you about it.
Imagine the following situation. One morning a reporter comes to you and asks you in a friendly way to tell him something about your friend N. At first you no doubt feel something approaching indignation at such a proposal. But you soon discover that there is no escape. If you refuse to say anything, the man writes: “I asked one of N.’s supposedly best friends about him. But he prudently avoided my questions. This in itself enables the reader to draw the inevitable conclusions.” There is, therefore, no escape, and you give the following information: “Mr. N. is a cheerful, straightforward man, much liked by all his friends. He can find a bright side to any situation. His enterprise and industry know no bounds; his job takes up his entire energies. He is devoted to his family and lays everything he possesses at his wife’s feet. …”
Now for the reporter’s version: “Mr. N. takes nothing very seriously and has a gift for making himself liked, particularly as he carefully cultivates a hearty and ingratiating manner. He is so completely a slave to his job that he has no time for the considerations of any non-personal subject or for any mental activity outside it. He spoils his wife unbelievably and is utterly under her thumb. …”
A real reporter would make it much more spicy, but I expect this will be enough for you and your friend N. He reads this, and some more like it, in the paper next morning, and his rage against you knows no bounds, however cheerful and benevolent his natural disposition may be. The injury done to him gives you untold pain, especially as you are really fond of him.
What’s your next step, my friend? If you know, tell me quickly, so that I may adopt your method with all speed.
Thanks to America
MR. MAYOR, LADIES, AND GENTLEMEN,
The splendid reception which you have accorded to me to-day puts me to the blush in so far as it is meant for me personally, but it gives me all the more pleasure in so far as it is meant for me as a representative of pure science. For this gathering is an outward and visible sign that the world is no longer prone to regard material power and wealth as the highest goods. It is gratifying that men should feel an urge to proclaim this in an official way.
In the wonderful two months which I have been privileged to spend in your midst in this fortunate land, I have had many opportunities of observing what a high value men of action and of practical life attach to the efforts of science; a good few of them have placed a considerable proportion of their fortunes and their energies at the service of scientific enterprises and thereby contributed to the prosperity and prestige of this country.
I cannot let this occasion pass without referring in a spirit of thankfulness to the fact that American patronage of science is not limited by national frontiers. Scientific enterprises all over the civilized world rejoice in the liberal support of American institutions and individuals—a fact which is, I am sure, a source of pride and gratification to all of you.
These tokens of an international way of thinking and feeling are particularly welcome; for the world is to-day more than ever in need of international thinking and feeling by its leading nations and personalities, if it is to progress towards a better and more worthy future. I may be permitted to express the hope that this internationalism of the American nation, which proceeds from a high sense of responsibility, will very soon extend itself to the sphere of politics. For without the active co-operation of the great country of the United States in the business of regulating international relations, all efforts directed towards this important end are bound to remain more or less ineffectual.
I thank you most heartily for this magnificent reception and, in particular, the men of learning in this country for the cordial and friendly welcome I have received from them. I shall always look back on these two months with pleasure and gratitude.
The University Course at Davos
SENATORES BONI VIRI, senatus autem bestia. So a friend of mine, a Swiss professor, once wrote in his irritable way to a university faculty which had annoyed him. Communities tend to be less guided than individuals by conscience and a sense of responsibility. What a fruitful source of suffering to mankind this fact is! It is the cause of wars and every kind of oppression, which fill the earth with pain, sighs, and bitterness.
And yet nothing truly valuable can be achieved except by the unselfish co-operation of many individuals. Hence the man of good will is never happier than when some communal enterprise is afoot and is launched at the cost of heavy sacrifices, with the single object of promoting life and culture.
Such pure joy was mine when I heard about the university courses at Davos. A work of rescue is being carried out there, with intelligence and a wise moderation, which is based on a grave need, though it may not be a need that is immediately obvious to everyone. Many a young man goes to this valley with his hopes fixed on the healing power of its sunny mountains and regains his bodily health. But thus withdrawn for long periods from the will-hardening discipline of normal work and a prey to morbid reflection on his physical condition, he easily loses the power of mental effort and the sense of being able to hold his own in the struggle for existence. He becomes a sort of hot-house plant and, when his body is cured, often finds it difficult to get back to normal life. Interruption of intellectual training in the formative period of youth is very apt to leave a gap which can hardly be filled later.
Yet, as a general rule, intellectual work in moderation, so far from retarding cure, indirectly helps it forward, just as moderate physical work does. It is in this knowledge that the university courses are being instituted, with the object not merely of preparing these young people for a profession but of stimulating them to intellectual activity as such. They are to provide work, training, and hygiene in the sphere of the mind.
Let us not forget that this enterprise is admirably calculated to establish such relations between members of different nations as are favourable to the growth of a common European feeling. The effects of the new institution in this direction are likely to be all the more advantageous from the fact that the circumstances of its birth rule out every sort of political purpose. The best way to serve the cause of internationalism is by co-operating in some life-giving work.
From all these points of view I rejoice that the energy and intelligence of the founders of the university courses at Davos have already attained such a measure of success that the enterprise has outgrown the troubles of infancy. May it prosper, enriching the inner lives of numbers of admirable human beings and rescuing many from the poverty of sanatorium life!
Congratulations to a Critic
TO SEE WITH ONE’S own eyes, to feel and judge without succumbing to the suggestive power of the fashion of the day, to be able to express what one has seen and felt in a snappy sentence or even in a cunningly wrought word—is that not glorious? Is it not a proper subject for congratulation?
Greeting to G. Bernard Shaw
THERE ARE FEW ENOUGH people with sufficient independence to see the weaknesses and follies of their contemporaries and remain themselves untouched by them. And these isolated few usually soon lose their zeal for putting things to rights when they have come face to face with human obduracy. Only to a tiny minority is it given to fascinate their generation by subtle humour and grace and to hold the mirror up to it by the impersonal agency of art. To-day I salute with sincere emotion the supreme master of this method, who has delighted—and educated—us all.
Some Notes on My American Impressions
I MUST REDEEM MY promise to say something about my impressions of this country. That is not altogether easy for me. For it is not easy to take up the attitude of an impartial observer when one is received with such kindness and undeserved respect as I have been in America. First of all let me say something on this head.
The cult of individual personalities is always, in my view, unjustified. To be sure, nature distributes her gifts variously among her children. But there are plenty of the well-endowed ones too, thank God, and I am firmly convinced that most of them live quiet, unregarded lives. It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few of them for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque The consciousness of this extraordinary state of affairs would be unbearable but for one great consoling thought: it is a welcome symptom in an age which is commonly denounced as materialistic, that it makes heroes of men whose ambitions lie wholly in the intellectual and moral sphere. This proves that knowledge and justice are ranked above wealth and power by a large section of the human race. My experience teaches me that this idealistic outlook is particularly prevalent in America, which is usually decried as a particularly materialistic country. After this digression I come to my proper theme, in the hope that no more weight will be attached to my modest remarks than they deserve.
What first strikes the visitor with amazement is the superiority of this country in matters of technics and organization. Objects of everyday use are more solid than in Europe, houses infinitely more convenient in arrangement. Everything is designed to save human labour. Labour is expensive, because the country is sparsely inhabited in comparison with its natural resources. The high price of labour was the stimulus which evoked the marvellous development of technical devices and methods of work. The opposite extreme is illustrated by over-populated China or India, where the low price of labour has stood in the way of the development of machinery. Europe is half-way between the two. Once the machine is sufficiently highly developed it becomes cheaper in the end than the cheapest labour. Let the Fascists in Europe, who desire on narrow-minded political grounds to see their own particular countries more densely populated, take heed of this. The anxious care with which the United States keep out foreign goods by means of prohibitive tariffs certainly contrasts oddly with this notion. … But an innocent visitor must not be expected to rack his brains too much, and, when all is said and done, it is not absolutely certain that every question admits of a rational answer.
The second thing that strikes a visitor is the joyous, positive attitude to life. The smile on the faces of the people in photographs is symbolical of one of the American’s greatest assets. He is friendly, confident, optimistic, and—without envy, The European finds intercourse with Americans easy and agreeable.
Compared with the American, the European is more critical, more self-conscious, less good-hearted and helpful, more isolated, more fastidious in his amusements and his reading, generally more or less of a pessimist.
Great importance attaches to the material comforts of life, and peace, freedom from care, security are all sacrificed to them. The American lives for ambition, the future, more than the European. Life for him is always becoming, never being. In this respect he is even further removed from the Russian and the Asiatic than the European is. But there is another respect in which he resembles the Asiatic more than the European does: he is less of an individualist than the European—that is, from the psychological, not the economic, point of view.
More emphasis is laid on the “we” than the “I.” As a natural corollary of this, custom and convention are very powerful, and there is much more uniformity both in outlook on life and in moral and aesthetic ideas among Americans than among Europeans. This fact is chiefly responsible for America’s economic superiority over Europe. Co-operation and the division of labour are carried through more easily and with less friction than in Europe, whether in the factory or the university or in private good works. This social sense may be partly due to the English tradition.
In apparent contradiction to this stands the fact that the activities of the State are comparatively restricted as compared with Europe. The European is surprised to find the telegraph, the telephone, the railways, and the schools predominantly in private hands. The more social attitude of the individual, which I mentioned just now, makes this possible here. Another consequence of this attitude is that the extremely unequal distribution of property leads to no intolerable hardships. The social conscience of the rich man is much more highly developed than in Europe. He considers himself obliged as a matter of course to place a large portion of his wealth, and often of his own energies too, at the disposal of the community, and public opinion, that all-powerful force, imperiously demands it of him. Hence the most important cultural functions can be left to private enterprise, and the part played by the State in this country is, comparatively, a very restricted one.
The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the Prohibition laws. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.
There is also another way in which Prohibition, in my opinion, has led to the enfeeblement of the State. The public-house is a place which gives people a chance to exchange views and ideas on public affairs. As far as I can see, people here have no chance of doing this, the result being that the Press, which is mostly controlled by definite interests, has an excessive influence over public opinion.
The over-estimation of money is still greater in this country than in Europe, but appears to me to be on the decrease. It is at last beginning to be realized that great wealth is not necessary for a happy and satisfactory life.
As regards artistic matters, I have been genuinely impressed by the good taste displayed in the modern buildings and in articles of common use; on the other hand, the visual arts and music have little place in the life of the nation as compared with Europe.
I have a warm admiration for the achievements of American institutes of scientific research. We are unjust in attempting to ascribe the increasing superiority of American research-work exclusively to superior wealth; zeal, patience, a spirit of comradeship, and a talent for co-operation play an important part in its successes. One more observation to finish up with. The United States is the most powerful technically advanced country in the world to-day. Its influence on the shaping of international relations is absolutely incalculable But America is a large country and its people have so far not shown much interest in great international problems, among which the problem of disarmament occupies first place today. This must be changed, if only in the essential interests of the Americans. The last war has shown that there are no longer any barriers between the continents and that the destinies of all countries are closely interwoven. The people of this country must realize that they have a great responsibility in the sphere of international politics. The part of passive spectator is unworthy of this country and is bound in the end to lead to disaster all round.
Reply to the Women of America
An American women’s league felt called upon to protest against
Einstein’s visit to their country. They received the following answer.
NEVER YET HAVE I experienced from the fair sex such energetic rejection of all advances; or, if I have, never from so many at once.
But are they not quite right, these watchful citizenesses? Why should one open one’s doors to a person who devours hard-boiled capitalists with as much appetite and gusto as the Cretan Minotaur in days gone by devoured luscious Greek maidens, and on top of that is low-down enough to reject every sort of war, except the unavoidable war with one’s own wife? Therefore give heed to your clever and patriotic women-folk and remember that the Capitol of mighty Rome was once saved by the cackling of its faithful geese.
1 Do not be angry with me for this indiscretion, my dear Berliner. A serious-minded man enjoys a good laugh now and then.