Nobel Prize Laureate Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the general theory of relativity, which along with quantum mechanics is one of the two pillars of modern physics. He is best known for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, dubbed “the world’s most famous equation.” While being widely regarded as one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, it has been suggested that the totality of his work converged into one supreme goal: to understand the unity underlying nature’s diversity. In that sense, he would also deserve inclusion in any comprehensive survey of modern mystical thinkers.
His theory of special relativity (1905) showed the underlying unity of matter and energy and of light and time. His theory of general relativity (1916) showed the unity of gravity and acceleration, of space and time, and of matter and space. Einstein profoundly altered the way we think of ourselves and the universe. He spent the last half of his life trying to develop a unified field theory, a description of the one field which, he felt certain, underlies and gives rise to all the forces in nature. He persisted despite criticism from fellow physicists.
As it turned out, two of the four fundamental forces of nature (the strong and weak nuclear forces) were not well understood until several decades after Einstein’s death, nor had the mathematical tools become available to accomplish the unity he sought. Yet though Einstein himself did not complete his quest, the theory of unity he intuitively felt and assiduously sought inspires the modern quest for a “theory of everything.” This quest is nearing completion today, in the form of the so-called superstring or unified field theories.
Where did Einstein’s conviction of nature’s underlying unity come from? What impelled his life’s work, despite the criticism and lack of success in the latter decades? Einstein himself gives us a clue in a letter he wrote to Queen Elizabeth of Belgium (1876-1965) that contains the following passage:
“Still there are moments when one feels free from one’s own identification with human limitations and inadequacies. At such moments, one imagines that one stands on some spot of a small planet, gazing in amazement at the cold yet profoundly moving beauty of the eternal, the unfathomable: life and death flow into one, and there is neither evolution nor destiny; only being.”
Although he claimed he was not a mystic, here Einstein describes experiences he apparently had of an underlying reality of life — not only beyond space and time but beyond life and death, beyond evolution and destiny. And what does he experience at this level? “Only being,” he tells us. Einstein’s words immediately call to mind the mystics’ vision that at the basis of all of life, inner and outer, is a field of pure existence, an unmanifest field of pure consciousness, of limitless intelligence and creativity. This field forms the source of everything in the universe; all the forms and phenomena of creation are but waves on the ocean of Being.
As higher states of consciousness develop, we come to recognize, as a direct experience, the ultimate unity of life, the reality that everything in the universe is nothing other than an experience of our own Self, infinite and eternal. Einstein alluded to this in a letter he wrote in 1950:
“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Einstein’s quest for unity, it appears, was no mere intellectual exercise. He sought to understand, through the methodology of modern science, what he experienced deep within. This experience, for Einstein, was all important.
“The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man. To know that what is impenetrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties — this knowledge, this feeling . . . that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense, and in this sense alone, I rank myself among profoundly religious men.”
The “mystic emotion” Einstein refers to does not imply “mysterious” or “incomprehensible.” In fact, the executive editor of Discover magazine, Corey Powell, in his 2002 book, God in the Equation, attributed the a fitting term — “Rational Mysticism” — to Albert Einstein: “In creating his radical cosmology, Einstein stitched together a rational mysticism, drawing on—but distinct from—the views that came before.”
Originally, the word “mystic” stems from a Greek word meaning, simply, to close, i.e., the eyes. By diving within, the mystic comes to experience the field of pure consciousness, “the germ of all art and all true science,” as Einstein worded it — indeed, the germ of all creation, and thus transcends the limitations of the separate “person”, the small self, in the recognition of the greater unity of all that is. This, for Einstein, was the goal of human life:
“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.”
Sources include: http://www.tm.org/blog/enlightenment/albert-einstein/
Quotes on Spirituality from Einstein:
“I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.”
“There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.”
“Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”
“My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”
“The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.”
“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”
“The scientists’ 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.”
“There is no logical way to the discovery of elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.”
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious; It is the source of all true art and science.”
“We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.”
“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods.”
“When the solution is simple, God is answering.”
“God does not play dice with the universe.”
“God is subtle but he is not malicious.”
“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest-a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty.”
“The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.”
“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.”
“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
“The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books—-a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects.”
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”
“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility.”
“The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man. To know that what is impenetrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties – this knowledge, this feeling … that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense, and in this sense alone, I rank myself among profoundly religious men.”
“The real problem is in the hearts and minds of men. It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.”
“True religion is real living; living with all one’s soul, with all one’s goodness and righteousness.”
“Intelligence makes clear to us the interrelationship of means and ends. But mere thinking cannot give us a sense of the ultimate and fundamental ends. To make clear these fundamental ends and valuations and to set them fast in the emotional life of the individual, seems to me precisely the most important function which religion has to form in the social life of man”.
“I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.”
“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.”
“I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation. I cannot do this in spite of the fact that mechanistic causality has, to a certain extent, been placed in doubt by modern science. [He was speaking of Quantum Mechanics and the breaking down of determinism.] My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality.”
“I see a pattern, but my imagination cannot picture the maker of that pattern. I see a clock, but I cannot envision the clockmaker. The human mind is unable to conceive of the four dimensions, so how can it conceive of a God, before whom a thousand years and a thousand dimensions are as one?”
“Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs from the same source . . . They are creatures who can’t hear the music of the spheres.”
“In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support for such views.”
“It is very difficult to elucidate this cosmic religious feeling to anyone who is entirely without 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 … 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 receptive to it.”
“I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves.”
“A man’s ethical behaviour should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”
“I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.”
“A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.”
“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”
“School failed me, and I failed the school. It bored me. The teachers behaved like Feldwebel (sergeants). I wanted to learn what I wanted to know, but they wanted me to learn for the exam. What I hated most was the competitive system there, and especially sports. Because of this, I wasn’t worth anything, and several times they suggested I leave. This was a Catholic School in Munich. I felt that my thirst for knowledge was being strangled by my teachers; grades were their only measurement. How can a teacher understand youth with such a system?
From the age of twelve I began to suspect authority and distrust teachers. I learned mostly at home, first from my uncle and then from a student who came to eat with us once a week. He would give me books on physics and astronomy. The more I read, the more puzzled I was by the order of the universe and the disorder of the human mind, by the scientists who didn’t agree on the how, the when, or the why of creation.
Then one day this student brought me Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Reading Kant, I began to suspect everything I was taught. I no longer believed in the known God of the Bible, but rather in the mysterious God expressed in nature.
The basic laws of the universe are simple, but because our senses are limited, we can’t grasp them. There is a pattern in creation. If we look at this tree outside whose roots search beneath the pavement for water, or a flower which sends its sweet smell to the pollinating bees, or even our own selves and the inner forces that drive us to act, we can see that we all dance to a mysterious tune, and the piper who plays this melody from an inscrutable distance—whatever name we give him—Creative Force, or God—escapes all book knowledge.
Science is never finished because the human mind only uses a small portion of its capacity, and man’s exploration of his world is also limited. Creation may be spiritual in origin, but that doesn’t mean that everything created is spiritual. How can I explain such things to you? Let us accept the world is a mystery. Nature is neither solely material nor entirely spiritual.
Man, too, is more than flesh and blood; otherwise, no religions would have been possible. Behind each cause is still another cause; the end or the beginning of all causes has yet to be found. Yet, only one thing must be remembered: there is no effect without a cause, and there is no lawlessness in creation.
If I hadn’t an absolute faith in the harmony of creation, I wouldn’t have tried for thirty years to express it in a mathematical formula. It is only man’s consciousness of what he does with his mind that elevates him above the animals, and enables him to become aware of himself and his relationship to the universe.
I believe that I have cosmic religious feelings. I never could grasp how one could satisfy these feelings by praying to limited objects. The tree outside is life, a statue is dead. The whole of nature is life, and life, as I observe it, rejects a God resembling man.
Man has infinite dimensions and finds God in his conscience. [A cosmic religion] has no dogma other than teaching man that the universe is rational and that his highest destiny is to ponder it and co-create with its laws.
I like to experience the universe as one harmonious whole. Every cell has life. Matter, too, has life; it is energy solidified. Our bodies are like prisons, and I look forward to be free, but I don’t speculate on what will happen to me. I live here now, and my responsibility is in this world now. I deal with natural laws. This is my work here on earth.
The world needs new moral impulses which, I’m afraid, won’t come from the churches, heavily compromised as they have been throughout the centuries. Perhaps those impulses must come from scientists in the tradition of Galileo, Kepler and Newton. In spite of failures and persecutions, these men devoted their lives to proving that the universe is a single entity, in which, I believe, a humanized God has no place.
The genuine scientist is not moved by praise or blame, nor does he preach. He unveils the universe and people come eagerly, without being pushed, to behold a new revelation: the order, the harmony, the magnificence of creation! And as man becomes conscious of the stupendous laws that govern the universe in perfect harmony, he begins to realize how small he is. He sees the pettiness of human existence, with its ambitions and intrigues, its ‘I am better than thou’ creed.
This is the beginning of cosmic religion within him; fellowship and human service become his moral code. Without such moral foundations, we are hopelessly doomed. If we want to improve the world we cannot do it with scientific knowledge but with ideals. Confucius, Buddha, Jesus and Gandhi have done more for humanity than science has done.
We must begin with the heart of man—with his conscience—and the values of conscience can only be manifested by selfless service to mankind. Religion and science go together. As I’ve said before, science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind. They are interdependent and have a common goal—the search for truth.
Hence it is absurd for religion to proscribe Galileo or Darwin or other scientists. And it is equally absurd when scientists say that there is no God. The real scientist has faith, which does not mean that he must subscribe to a creed.
Without religion there is no charity. The soul given to each of us is moved by the same living spirit that moves the universe. I am not a mystic. Trying to find out the laws of nature has nothing to do with mysticism, though in the face of creation I feel very humble. It is as if a spirit is manifest infinitely superior to man’s spirit. Through my pursuit in science I have known cosmic religious feelings. But I don’t care to be called a mystic.
I believe that we don’t need to worry about what happens after this life, as long as we do our duty here—to love and to serve. I have faith in the universe, for it is rational. Law underlies each happening. And I have faith in my purpose here on earth. I have faith in my intuition, the language of my conscience, but I have no faith in speculation about Heaven and Hell. I’m concerned with this time—here and now.
Many people think that the progress of the human race is based on experiences of an empirical, critical nature, but I say that true knowledge is to be had only through a philosophy of deduction. For it is intuition that improves the world, not just following a trodden path of thought. Intuition makes us look at unrelated facts and then think about them until they can all be brought under one law. To look for related facts means holding onto what one has instead of searching for new facts. Intuition is the father of new knowledge, while empiricism is nothing but an accumulation of old knowledge. Intuition, not intellect, is the ‘open sesame’ of yourself. Indeed, it is not intellect, but intuition which advances humanity. Intuition tells man his purpose in this life.
I do not need any promise of eternity to be happy. My eternity is now. I have only one interest: to fulfill my purpose here where I am. This purpose is not given me by my parents or my surroundings. It is induced by some unknown factors. These factors make me a part of eternity.”