Philosophy

Crying For Einstein, Living For Shakespeare

Circa 1610, a portrait of William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616). i i

Circa 1610, a portrait of William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616). Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Circa 1610, a portrait of William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616).

Circa 1610, a portrait of William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616).

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

I wish to write of our humanity, and begin autobiographically. How many of us at 16 begin to sense our adult selves, only glimpsed at that age? Two streams in my own life began then. Einstein died that year. I cried. I had just begun to try to understand special and general Relativity. Their beauty and his daring drew my love. How I hoped someday to do scientific work of value.

But that same year, with Fred Todd, my magical English teacher, I co-wrote a musical comedy. The best of it came from Fred, cousin of Donald O'Conner, with the same Irish impish brilliance.

Would one rather hope to be an Einstein or a Shakespeare? Or a lesser form of these towering talents?

For most of my own life, the choice was Einstein.

Then I thought of what Newton had taught us, changing our very way of seeing the world, with his differential and integral calculus, three laws of motion, universal gravitation and the resulting entailed trajectories of classical physics. He invented our framework for understanding "reality", Newton more than Einstein.

Science is "sciencia", knowing. I have, like many others, devoted my life to knowing.

But "knowing" is much too narrow a space within which to contain our humanity.

Then Shakespeare, who more than any single author taught us what it is to be human, beyond mere reason and knowing, the full unknowable intuitive, sensitive, cruel, bold, honorable rush of ourselves: Richard the Third, "Now is the winter of our discontent." Lady Macbeth, "Out, out damned spot."

Sciencia, glorious, pales before our human reality and our responsibility.

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