Interesting karma between Einstein and Bohr

Niels_Bohr_Albert_Einstein_by_Ehrenfest_1927_SolvayI had a new year’s resolution never to mention Einstein in my posts again. Never say never again! I have a new resolution. I will mention his name as part of physics exposition but I will no longer comment on his personal history. This is the last post of that kind.

When I wrote a post about the strange fact that Einstein was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics in 1922, I did not mention the winner of the physics Nobel Prize in 1922. It was Niels Bohr.

Can you imagine the situation? Bohr wins the most prestigious award in physics but his thunder is stolen by Einstein. Interestingly Einstein never showed up for the 1922 Nobel ceremony because he was traveling in Asia. I own two books focusing on his 1922 Asia trip. Josef Eisinger’s “Einstein on the Road” and Danian Hu’s “China & Albert Einstein.”

There is extensive historical research about Bohr-Einstein debates particularly about their debate during the 1927 Solvay Conference. Bohr played a leadership role in the development of Quantum Mechanics. Einstein is the sole discoverer of the Relativity Theory. There is tension (not conflict) between the Quantum Mechanics and the Relativity Theory. I wrote a post about this tension. Clearly, the tension between the theories caused tension between the two men as well.

According to Antonio M. Gonzales  there was mutual admiration rather than tension between the two men. This view is contradicted by Hans C. Ohanian in his book titled “Einstein’s Mistakes“.

“Bohr and Einstein first met in Berlin in 1920, and hit it off well, personally and scientifically. Despite their differences of opinion regarding quanta, this mutual admiration was to last the rest of their lives.” – Antonio M. Gonzales

“During his final years, Einstein became at least vaguely aware of what his colleagues at the institute [IAS] really thought about him. In 1949 he wrote in a letter to Born ‘I am generally regarded as a sort of petrified object rendered blind and deaf by the years.’ In his work, he had always been a loner, and the scorn of his colleagues for his junky unified theories and for his stubborn opposition to quantum mechanics encouraged his natural inclination to isolation.” – Hans C. Ohanian 

“He avoided contact with anybody who might criticize or dispute his ideas, and he especially avoided any discussion of quantum mechanics. As he said himself. ‘I must seem like an ostrich who forever buries its head in the relativistic sand in order not to face the evil quanta.’ When Bohr visited the institute in 1948, Einstein refused to meet with him. In a comical incident during this visit, Einstein sneaked into an office in which Bohr was having a discussion with Pais, and found himself suddenly face to face with Bohr – but he merely wanted to borrow some tobacco for his pipe from a tin sitting on a shelf.” – Hans C. Ohanian 

“Leon Rosenfeld, Bohr’s assistant, recorded his impression of Einstein during this visit. ‘Einstein was only a shadow of his former self. He remained locked in his office all day long and talked only to his two assistants, oddly named Bergmann and Bargmann. Only once within these four months did he announce a lecture; it involved one of his innumerable attempts to establish a unified field theory…During these four months Bohr and Einstein met only once during an afternoon reception, but the conversation did not go beyond banalities. Einstein made it clear that he preferred to avoid any discussion with Bohr. With this, Bohr was profoundly unhappy.'” – Hans C. Ohanian 

In 1949 – the year following Bohr’s four month visit to IAS in 1948 – a book specially prepared to celebrate Einstein’s 70’th birthday appeared in print: “Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist” from The Library of Living Philosophers Series (edited by Paul A. Schilpp). The book was a collection of essays explaining the importance of Einstein’s contributions to physics, and his own impressions on his life and work.

In this book Neils Bohr has a report of his conversations with Einstein in the past. Interestingly, in the same book there is Einstein’s reply which demonstrates that Einstein still had a sharp mind at the age of 70 and he was still thinking about quantum mechanics.

Review and opinion articles


About Suresh Emre

I have worked as a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory. I am a volunteer for the Renaissance Universal movement. My main goal is to inspire the reader to engage in Self-discovery and expansion of consciousness.
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