Horizon (1964) Episode Scripts

N/A - Einstein's Unfinished Symphony

I never think of the future.
I find that it comes soon enough.
In Spring 1951 the most famous scientist in the world celebrated his 72nd birthday.
A horde of photographers were waiting to take his picture.
Hey Professor, hey Professor.
And when he appeared that day he created one of the most endearing images of the twentieth century.
Playful, irreverent, enigmatic and brilliant: Albert Einstein was the physicist with the fame of an 'A' list movie star.
When I was young all I wanted and expected from life was to sit in some corner doing my work without the public paying attention to me.
And now see what has become of me.
But behind that public image the greatest scientist on earth was facing professional ridicule.
This is the extraordinary story of how Albert Einstein spent the last years of his life battling to destroy the consequences of his own work.
It was a quest that would end in his failure and isolation.
Professor Einstein? Professor Einstein? Hello Professor Einstein.
Miss My notes? Professor, I OK, but just for a while.
Thank you.
Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of our age, was nearly at the end of his life.
Great theories were behind him, but as he lay on his deathbed he continued working on what he hoped would be his greatest theory of all.
It would have been the holy grail of science.
It would have been the philosopher's stone, it would have been the crowning achievement of all scientific endeavours ever since humans walked the face of the earth.
He had been working on this last great theory for more than thirty years, but throughout this period many scientists thought that he was wasting his time.
In his later years the rest of the physics community looked upon Einstein as somebody who had completely lost touch with modern research and almost you know like an old fuddy-duddy like a relic.
The tragedy was that to many, Einstein's last great theory was doomed before it even began, and it was all because of his personal prejudices.
He could not accept that the consequences of his own work clashed with his belief of how God had built our universe.
Einstein's odyssey began here in Berne in 1905, when he was on the verge of his greatest scientific triumphs.
Because it was in this small Swiss City that he began to make the most extraordinary discoveries.
Well every day he would leave this, this flat in order to go to his work, he would go underneath the famous clock tower in Berne, and it's interesting to wonder whether or not this extraordinary clock-tower with its depictions of the moon and the sun on it, whether or not this actually inspired him in some way, or subliminally perhaps to explore and revolutionise concepts of space and time.
And what was truely extraordinary about this amazing period in Einstein's life was that he had dropped out of academic life completely.
No university would give him a job.
Instead during this time he was working as a patents clerk, third class, evaluating the latest inventions in this office.
So it's amazing when you think that Einstein was working at the patent office on applications as diverse as a mechanical vegetable peeler, or, or dynamos.
And yet in his spare time he's working on theories which will change the way we look at the universe.
Conferring with only a handful of friends, he began writing scientific papers.
He searched for answers to questions that most would never even have asked; he called them his thought experiments.
One of Einstein's thought experiments was 'What would I see if I moved along beside a beam of light?' Einstein once said that he's not interested in this phenomenon or that phenomenon, he wants to know, If I were God how would I create a universe? In a few short months beginning in the Spring of 1905 he started penning the most extraordinary scientific ideas, about the nature of the universe.
And it would culminate in one of the most famous papers in scientific history.
And this is it, it's called 'On the electrodynamics of moving bodies'.
It quoted no references and read like a stream of consciousness.
It was the start of his special theory of relativity and it would overturn nothing less than everyone's understanding of time.
Am I keeping good time? Good time professor.
Before Einstein, it was thought that the passage of time was unchanging.
It ran at the same pace, no matter where you were in the universe.
Or how fast you were travelling.
Time and space were incredibly simple concepts.
The, the concepts you'd recognise from everyday experience.
Space was just the arena in which things happened, and time just ticked along.
So wherever you were in the universe, whatever speed you were moving, your watch ticked along at the same rate.
But Einstein discovered time was not unchanging, the rate at which time passed depended on the speed at which you were travelling.
Einstein thought that time was more like a river, that speeds up, slows down, meanders its way across the cosmos.
In other words twelve o'clock on earth is not necessarily twelve o'clock throughout the universe.
So while everyone else thought that the passage of time was the one unvarying thing in our universe, Einstein argued otherwise.
He believed it was the speed of light that was always constant.
But if that was the case it meant something bizarre.
The only way in the laws of physics for the speed of light always to appear to be the same is if everything else changed relative to speed, including time.
In other words the passage of time, the one thing everyone thought was constant, was relative.
It meant for instance that the faster you travelled, the slower time would run.
This was Einstein's special theory of relativity.
But he didn't stop there.
Two months later he published a three page supplement to his theory.
In those pages Einstein linked energy and matter and in doing so derived the most famous mathematical equation of all time.
What Einstein showed with E = MC squared is that there's a symmetry between energy and matter.
And think about it matter is something we can touch, our bodies are made out of matter, we can taste it, we can smell it but energy, energy is much more nebulous, much more defused and the genius of Einstein was that he was able to show that they really are two aspects of the same thing.
This tiny equation would one day explain how at the very beginning of time, just after the big bang energy was turned into matter.
It explained how the sun could create vast power from a tiny amount of fuel.
And it opened scientists' eyes to the lethal power locked up inside every atom.
From this tiny formula would come both creation and destruction.
When these papers were published in 1905 they must've come like a bolt out of the blue for the scientific community because Einstein was a complete unknown at this point.
And yet immediately they realised that they were revolutionary.
And effectively at this point Einstein had arrived.
For anyone else these achievements would have been enough, but Einstein had even bigger ambitions.
Every break he's practicing with that thing.
A hundred times against a wall.
If he drops one, he starts all over.
I admire his persistence.
You don't sometimes feel like giving up? Only when I have the answer.
And does everything have an answer? I don't know.
But I think that there may be an answer to everything.
While the world was coming to terms with special relativity, Einstein had already moved on by himself, to tackle the work of the great seventeenth century scientist Isaac Newton.
In particular his laws of gravity.
Legend has it that Newton was inspired towards his law of gravity by seeing an apple fall in an orchard.
Now Einstein was inspired By a similar thought.
He thought what happens if I drop an apple, but when I drop it I'm in a falling lift then surely the apple will float in front of my face, it will look as though gravity has been cancelled out.
Gravity is the force that dominates our universe, it holds huge planets and moons in their orbits.
And it keeps our feet firmly planted on the ground.
But though Newton's laws described the effects of gravity with great accuracy, no one could actually work out what caused it.
Einstein's great insight was that all massive bodies like planets and stars bent space and time, and it is this curvature of space and time that causes what we experience as gravity.
It has become known as his general theory of relativity.
Einstein's real breakthrough with general relativity was to give a reason for gravity.
Einstein's picture of gravity was that massive objects like stars and galaxies curved space and time, and then other objects moving through that curvature feel gravity.
Gravity in a sense is the curvature of space and time.
General relativity was Einstein's greatest triumph, it brought him fame that no scientist experienced before or has seen since.
In my view general relativity really was Einstein's master piece.
Well the word genius is banded around in physics a lot but in Einstein's case, it really applies to general relativity I think.
That's where his reputation comes from.
Though Einstein's theories of time and gravity may seem strange, his work remains fundamental to the understanding of our universe today.
Planes, relying on the global positioning system, take Einstein's calculations of time into account to navigate accurately.
Deep space satellites have to compensate for Einstein's reading of gravity.
The work springing from this period in Einstein's life has helped us build the modern world.
But despite this, another piece of work, also completed back in 1905, had already sown the seeds of what would become his doomed obsession, an obsession that would last until the very final day of his life and would result in both his failure and isolation.
The roots of Einstein's troubles came from one of his other great passions.
He saw a connection between the fundamental physics of our universe and a sense of elegance, beauty even spirituality.
For him these laws of the universe were an expression of the divine.
It is a belief shared by many scientists, including distinguished particle physicist and Anglican Priest Professor John Polkinghorne.
Einstein was an amateur violinist, went, once went to a concert in Berlin and heard the young Yehudi Menhuin play, and he was bowled over by his performance.
And there's a story that he went up and bear hugged the young boy afterwards and said hearing you I know there is a god in heaven.
I think that when we encounter very deep beauty whether it's beauty in music or something like that or whether it's beauty in the scientific account of the order and fruitfulness of the world then it's difficult for us not to think that there is some mind and purpose behind it.
Einstein was very deeply impressed by the fact that as we study the physical world, get beneath its surface and find out what it's like underneath so to speak, we find a wonderful and remarkable order, a beautiful pattern that is expressed actually also in beautiful mathematics as it turns out, that's the natural language to use.
Einstein believed that the rules of the universe could always be explained through elegant mathematics.
In effect he thought that science could lead to an understanding of God's design for the universe.
You believe? In God? Yes.
Yes I do.
Do you? Believe? Do I believe there is someone who plans the daily life of Albert Einstein? No.
Although sometimes I think he may have been leading me up the garden path.
But didn't he make the garden? I think he is the garden.
And isn't he the gardener too? Yes, and all my life I have been trying to catch him at his work.
Einstein believed that the rules used to create the universe would not only be beautiful and precise, he also thought they would always allow scientists to make exact predictions.
So if you knew the position and speed of the planets at a particular moment in time, you could use the laws of physics to predict their exact movements for eternity.
And Einstein believed that what was true for planets was true for all objects.
Everything could be predicted with certainty, no matter what it was.
But his vision of the universe was about to be challenged by something growing from his own work something very, very, very small.
In 1921, while he was based here in Berlin, Einstein was nominated for the Nobel Prize, not for his theories of relativity, but for another piece of work also completed in his 1905 miracle year.
It was about the nature of light.
It had been believed that light was made up of smooth, continuous waves.
But Einstein saw things very differently, he said light could also be thought of as tiny, individual particles.
Einstein upset the apple cart by introducing an entirely new radical concept called a quantum particle of light.
Light is not just smooth and continuous it occurs in small little packets or bullets that today we call the photon.
His discovery that light was not only a wave but also tiny, individual particles revolutionised the whole of physics.
And it would give birth to Einstein's demon.
This breakthrough would become a cornerstone of a new field of science known as quantum mechanics.
Quantum mechanics describes the behaviour of the fundamental particles of our universe.
The sub-atomic particles that make up every atom.
As it developed, people started noticing how, at this fundamental scale, everything behaved in a very different way to Einstein's elegant universe.
People had been working for about twenty-five years trying to understand the puzzles of quantum theory, when out of the blue a young Graduate Student from Germany, Heisenberg, came along and produced essentially a complete theory, but based on ideas which are so radically different from what people had been thinking about that it was entirely shocking.
Werner Heisenberg proposed a whole new law of physics.
He said that it was impossible to measure both the speed and the position of a particle because strangely, the mere act of observing these tiny objects radically affected their behaviour.
But if that was true, it had profound implications.
If you couldn't be precise about a particle's speed and position, then it would be impossible to make accurate predictions about its movements.
And Einstein believed that everything should be predictable.
The forecast said it would be cool.
So much for prediction.
Maybe God changed his mind.
Maybe you're right, maybe he hates to be second-guessed.
I sometimes feel he dislikes being observed.
Colleagues of mine would have it that we influence God's world merely by observing it.
How can that be? How can it be? How can you observe something and at the same time change its nature just by observing it? Sometimes I don't think we need God to make us look foolish, we do that very well for ourselves.
Maybe just God doesn't want us to know everything.
Raffiniert ist der Herrgott, aber boshaft ist er nicht.
I'm sorry? God is subtle, but he is not malicious.
I don't believe he would put anything beyond our reach.
I do not think God is hiding anything from us.
He is just asking us to search a little harder.
If Heisenberg was right and it was impossible to measure precisely the speed and position of a particle at the same time, it meant that some things would always be uncertain.
For the quantum theorists the best you could hope for was a science based on probabilities.
For Einstein, though he could see great value in some aspects of quantum theory, this just wasn't how God would have built his universe.
I think Einstein's major objection to quantum mechanics is something that didn't fit into his world.
He could not accept the fact that if you do an experiment twice in exactly the same way, that in one, one time you may get result 'A' and the other time you may get result 'B'.
He really hated the idea that you were surrendering to the world of probabilities.
If quantum mechanics was right, then theoretically some truly strange things could happen.
Everything about the quantum theory revolted Einstein.
The quantum theory makes even bizarre events possible.
For example walking across the street we expect to wind up on the other side, however there is a finite calculable probability that you will dissolve and wind up on mars, dissolve and wind up on the earth again.
Of course you will have to wait longer than the lifetime of the universe but in principle it could happen.
But Einstein's concerns went beyond these strange concepts; there was a much more crucial scientific issue at stake.
The birth of quantum mechanics meant there were two mutually exclusive sets of rules operating within the universe.
Einstein's, governing whole solar systems and galaxies, in which everything could be predicted, and quantum mechanics describing the tiny fundamental building blocks of all matter in which everything could only be described in terms of probabilities.
Einstein had been a sort of grandfather of quantum theory.
But he came to hate his grandchild and he hated his grandchild because he wanted to think about the world essentially in the same way that Newton had thought about the world.
As a world that was clear and determined where you knew exactly what was happening everywhere and all the time.
Quantum mechanics offered a view of the world that could not be more different from Einstein's spiritual predictable universe.
And he loathed the idea.
The debate reached a head when a series of arguments exploded between Einstein and one of quantum mechanic's great advocates, Niels Bohr.
After general relativity and after he's become a world figure Einstein is getting quite cocky and he thinks that he can read the mind of God.
And when quantum mechanics comes around he just knows that this is not the way that God would have made the universe.
And he's very vocal about it.
It was a clash of the scientific titans.
The philosophical debate between Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein ranked as perhaps one of the greatest philosophical debates ever in the history of science.
What was at stake was the nature of our very existence.
Einstein and Bohr respected each other very much but they were very different characters.
Einstein was the paradigm of clarity.
He felt at ease talking to kings and queens as well as little children.
Bohr was a famously bad talker.
Sometimes it was impossible to understand what he was saying.
And their science was as different as their personalities.
Bohr believed that the world was no more predictable than the throw of a dice.
So Einstein dismissed this view with his killer one liner.
God does not play dice.
What he means with that is that at a fundamental level physics cannot be probabilistic.
God does not play dice.
However Niels Bohr thought he saw a flaw in all of Einstein's reasoning and Niels Bohr said 'stop telling God what to do with his dice'.
This was the crucial issue.
Was Einstein so brilliant that he could just dismiss the unpredictability at the heart of quantum mechanics out of hand? Or was the great genius just plain wrong? Einstein thought that the best way to rid physics of this unpredictability would be to extend his greatest work of all, general relativity.
His aim was to come up with a brand new theory that would combine gravity, the strength holding whole solar systems together with electromagnetism, a force binding one atom to another.
Einstein hoped that by combining these two forces the unpredictability at the heart of quantum mechanics would simply be explained away.
Now what Einstein was looking for, could actually be explained just by the throw of a dice.
Now in real life when you throw a dice, although the results appear to be unpredictable, actually in principle they're not.
If you knew exactly the speed the dice, you knew the air resistance, you knew everything about the dice throw, then in principle you can predict where the dice is going to land, whether it's a 6 a 5 a 4 or whatever.
The ambition of what Einstein was trying to do cannot be overstated, for if he was successful he would show that all natural phenomena were founded on predictability.
From the motion of stars and planets across the sky to the fundamental building blocks of the world.
Quantum unpredictability would just be swallowed up.
It would become known as his theory of everything.
The theory of everything would have been the holy grail of science.
It would have been the philosopher's stone, it would have been the crowning achievement of all scientific endeavours ever since humans walked the face of the earth.
He wanted an equation perhaps no more than one inch long that would allow him to read the mind of god.
Read the mind of God? I thought that would have been kind of complicated.
Why should it be complicated? I have a deep faith that the rules of the universe will be beautiful and simple.
But aren't they impossible to know? Why should it be impossible? An answer to everything.
Even you, even someone as clever as you.
I am not clever, I am merely curious.
I believe that if you keep asking questions then the answers will come.
And when the solution is simple, God is answering.
Einstein worked on his new theory throughout the 1920's.
During this period he became ill, but far from let this get in the way of his progress, he covered his bed sheets in calculations.
And then news started leaking to the press that he was onto something.
In November 1928 the New York Times published a headline "Einstein on verge of great discovery resents intrusion".
The rumour that Einstein was gonna publish some grand new theory of everything led to such a media frenzy that Einstein actually had to go into hiding.
And then, after years of work, on January 30th 1929 it was published.
The news exploded across the world.
It was such a sensation that Selfridges store in London posted the six pages in its windows.
If Einstein was right then it would be a massive blow to the unpredictability lying at the heart of quantum mechanics.
But on publishing, Einstein started to back-track, worrying that he might have got it wrong.
If Einstein himself was cooling to, to the idea certainly the physics community was somewhat harsher in dealing with him and especially Wolfgang Pauli who said that, "he had seemed to have been abandoned by the dear Lord".
The awful truth was that his new theory didn't just fail to deal with quantum mechanics it was at odds with his greatest work of all, general relativity.
After the publication of the paper, Einstein's colleagues were very critical of it, they complained that Einstein went back on some of the fundamental ideas of general relativity.
Einstein himself pursued it for another year or so but eventually he too admitted that it was a wrong approach.
Einstein had been publicly humiliated.
For him though, the battle wasn't over, it would last until the very final day of his life.
For Einstein these were turbulent times.
In 1932 with the rise of Nazism, he left Germany for the final time.
As a famous Jew he had a price on his head.
His work would be some of that burned in the street.
In 1933 he arrived in America and later took up residence at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton.
Finally here was a place where Einstein hoped he would have the space and time to defeat the quantum theorists and complete his theory of everything.
Einstein's expectations in coming to the Institute for Advanced Study were that he would find here the creative isolation that would allow him to complete his life's work, to put the final, the final seal on his Theory of Everything.
But as he continued working in solitude, the world of physics was moving on without him.
Einstein is working on various theories of, of everything meaning combining gravity and electro magnetism, he's missing out on a, on a number of great discoveries.
During his years in Princeton quantum mechanics was becoming the most important movement in physics.
The world was coming to accept its strangeness, indeed its insights were leading to fantastic technological breakthroughs.
The transistor, a device that would one day deliver the computers that would transform our world, relies on quantum mechanics.
Particle accelerators would uncover yet more sub atomic particles that behaved just as unpredictably as quantum mechanics said they should.
And all the while Einstein ignored it, hopeful that his theory of everything would eventually replace it.
So in his, in his later years the rest of the physics community looked upon Einstein as you know somebody who had completely lost touch with modern research and almost you know like an old fuddy-duddy, like a relic.
To be revered and of course as a political figure of, of some importance but somebody who was not worth the time was almost you know like a like a 19th century thinker.
He continued his fight with quantum mechanics until his very last day.
Professor, you should stop working now.
If I did not work, I would not want to live.
You shouldn't say that.
What other purpose is there to carry on living? There is no reason to life without purpose.
And when you still have a task to fulfil.
Well perhaps you can fulfil it tomorrow.
Yes, maybe tomorrow.
I think I may have finished for today.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my sad duty to announce the death of Professor Albert Einstein On April 18th 1955 his body finally gave out, his grand design unfinished.
So what are we to make of Einstein's final years? Some have suggested that Einstein, the greatest mind of his age, wasted the second half of his life on folly.
His inability to accept the nature of quantum mechanics and loosing touch with modern physics meant that his theory of everything never stood a chance.
In hindsight it's very clear that, that Einstein could not succeed at this, at this project.
He was ignoring quantum mechanics and all sorts of other discoveries.
And so it, it was clear that this project was doomed from the start.
But while those final years may be viewed as a disappointment, most of us can only dream of matching Einstein's achievements.
Einstein's output in the, in the last years of course was disappointing.
On the other hand he had by the age of 40 produced perhaps the seminal papers of the, of the twentieth century and it allowed him the luxury of what you, what you could call failures in the, at the end of his life.
Today there is an idea that may yet salvage his dream of a theory of everything.
Modern times people are, are still trying to produce some sort of unified theory of all the forces.
Which in a sense is the natural descendent of the work of Einstein in the last century.
And at present, it's certainly my belief that the, the best candidate we have is the string theory.
The sad irony is that right at the heart of string theory lies the very thing Einstein had been unable to accept, quantum mechanics.
My suspicion is that as things stand at the moment Einstein would not particularly have liked the string theory.
Simply because it does incorporate quantum mechanics in a way which he expressed great distaste of.
So even though in some, we feel that it continues his dream, he may not have been so happy with it.
Einstein's was a life full of ironies.
He was a key figure in the growth of quantum theory, yet he could not accept its consequences, he was a pacifist, but his equation E=MC^2 was intimately linked to the atomic bomb.
And as a great communicator he seemed loathe to listen to the advice of his peers.
But above all Einstein's battle with quantum mechanics showed that even the greatest scientist could not on his own achieve the objectivity needed to read the mind of God.
As a result, though beautiful in its intention, Einstein's version of the theory of everything would remain his unfinished symphony.