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Jessica
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Questions for Walter Isaacson

Do you have a question for Walter, not related to any of the discussion topics?

Reply to this message to start the conversation.

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minotlight
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Re: Questions for Walter Isaacson

Is there any references made to the time that Einstein spent in Bern, Switzerland?
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BryVal
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Re: Questions for Walter Isaacson

I was just wondering if you were going to be in the Las Vegas area on a book signing tour. I would like to get my copy of the book signed.


Thank you,

Bryan
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biography

Hi Walter,

what would you say is essential for a writer in his task of writing a good biography?
How did you know in this case that you succeeded in reaching your goal? What was that goal?

ziki
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WalterIsaacson
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Re: Questions for Walter Isaacson

Bryan
My book tour will not be taking me to Las Vegas. If you would like me to sign your book, you can mail it to my office and include a postage paid envelope for me to return it to you. Indicate on a slip of paper what you would like me to write or if you would just like me to sign.
Send the book to me at:
The Aspen Institute
Suite 700
One Dupont Circle, NW
Washington, DC 20036
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WalterIsaacson
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Re: Questions for Walter Isaacson

Yes, what a wonderful time that was! I have two chapters about his time in Bern. His job in the patent office there, I think, was incredibly important to his miracle year discoveries of 1905. As Peter Galison notes in his well-researched book "Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps," Einstein's work at the patent office caused him to think about synchronizing clocks and signals that travel at the speed of light. I love the Bern clock tower.
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WalterIsaacson
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Re: biography

First, you need a good narrative structure. I make a chronological outline, with all the interesting events. Then, I read all a person's letters and papers. You want to hear his or her voice. Then I talk through the tale myself to see if themes emerge. In the case of Einstein, the wuestion I set out to address was: what was the root of his genius. I began to feel that the components were: his visual imagination, his ability to do thought experiments, his willingness to defy authority and conventional wisdom, his ability to marvel at what most of us would consider mundane things, his rebellious temperament, and his out-of-the-box imagination. So I wove together evidence of these things in my chronological narrative.
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tower clocks



WalterIsaacson wrote: I love the Bern clock tower.




http://switzerland.isyours.com/e/guide/bern/zytglogge.html

http://www.berninfo.com/en/navpage-SightsBET-AttractionsBET-32454.html

http://www.berninfo.com/en/pop_wallpaper.cfm

The links given on this one do not seem to work but it shows where else to find 'similar' tower clocks:

http://members.aol.com/donnl/eur.html
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3 wise men?

Thank you for you reply. Why did you choose these three men to write about (Franklin, Kissinger, Einstein)? Do they have some common denominator other than the fact they made an imprint in history?

ziki
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hasenbein
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Re: biography

Hi Mr. Isaacson,

"his ability to marvel at what most of us would consider mundane things"

This reminds me of my now 8 year old niece when she was 4 - she marveled at dirt, searched for small insects on trees and plants, loved (and still loves) watching clouds and imagining.

KathyH
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WalterIsaacson
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Re: 3 wise men?

I like looking at how people's minds work. Some authors write about people of action, or of character, or of courage, or with artistic talent. I like writing about great minds. I start from the premise that there are a lot of smart people in the world, and it takes more than just smarts to make a person significant. In Franklin's case, it was his wisdom, sagacity, and common sense. In Kissinger's case, he was very smart but sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed based on whether he had moral clarity. And as for Einstein: He was not necessarily much smarter than contemporaries such as Max Planck, but he was more imaginative and creative, partly because he was willing to be rebeliious and defy authority. As Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." That's sometimes a dangerous trait. But if you're an Einstein you can pull it off.
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imagination vs. knowledge

[ Edited ]

WalterIsaacson wrote: As Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."




I understand that as a freedom of thinking = not being restricted by well known (well accepted) concepts and having the ability to see things in a new constellations, in a new light. It is really about flexibility of thinking, isn't it?. In that respect a knowledge which is just inherited can be a hindrance while imagination really is the freedom and willingness not to know....at least for a while.

Thank you for your answers.

ziki

Message Edited by ziki on 05-02-200701:38 PM

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WalterIsaacson
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Re: imagination vs. knowledge

Einstein said, "Imagination is moere important than knowledge." But that does not mean that we can dispense with knowledge. There are a lot of folks who come up with imaginative ideas but don't know what they're talking about, and they turn out to be cranks. Einstein's imagination allowed him to visualize the underlying physical reality behind concepts. Max Planck came up with a mathematical concept that described how radiation is emitted, but Einstein made the leap that it meant light was a particle as well as a wave. He also made the imaginative leap that led him to understand that people in different states of motion would define simultaneity differently, and thus time would be relative to their state of motion. He saw things differently, thus upending the Newtonian view of absolute space and time, and of gravity.
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BryVal
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Re: Questions for Walter Isaacson

Mr. Isaacson,

Thank you very much for answering my question. I would very much like for you to sign my book. I'm currently reading it and I am finding it very interesting.

If it would be possible, as soon as I am finished, I will send it off to you.

Again. Thank you very much for your time.


Bryan
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WalterIsaacson
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Re: Questions for Walter Isaacson

When you have finished the book, I'd be happy to sign it for you. Please send the book to my office at:
The Aspen Institute
Suite 700
One Dupont Circle, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Please include a memo indicating how you would like me to sign it and also a postage paid return envelope.
Enjoy!
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Jessica
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Einstein's Uncertainty

[ Edited ]
Hi Walter,

I was struck by Einstein's lasting uncertainty over the question of what light quanta are. In Chapter 5, we see that Einstein argued that particles were a property of light itself. That it wasn't just a result of how light interacts with matter. (This contradicts Planck, who Einstein admired greatly.)

In other words (correct me if I'm oversimplifying), a light particle is a thing in and of itself. A light particle is not a result of some process of emission or absorption.

But then we see (p. 101) that his findings were deeply unsettling to him. That he could never really let go of the "result of a process" definition of a light particle...nor totally embrace his own definition.

But to my question: Is there a reason (beyond a scientific one) why Einstein was so troubled by this unfinished definition of light? Was this a cornerstone on which much of his later work was based? Was it just a matter of being professionally frustrated, or is there more to this story?

Thanks!
Jessica
Book Club Editor

Message Edited by Jessica on 05-08-2007 10:07 AM

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WalterIsaacson
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Re: Einstein's Uncertainty

You have it right about Einstein's original insight: that the quanta "particles" (later known as phtonons) were a property of light itself, even in a vaccuum. Why did he find them unsettling? Because they seem to have an element of randomness or chance built in: the direction or timing of an emission of a photon was a matter of probability, not certainty. Einstein realized the implications of quantum mechanics early on, and he found it unsettling. He was a realist, who believed that there was a certainty in nature whether or not we could observe it. He did not like to abandon strict causality, to think things could happen by chance or probability, or to believe that God would play dice with the universe.
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WalterIsaacson
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Re: Einstein's Uncertainty

These are all good questions. I think one reason to ponder Einstein's life and work is that he was creative, and it's always inspiring to see how creative minds work. Also, his theories are beautiful, and that's worth appreciating just like a Mozart symphony or a Shakespeare play. That is what ennobles our existence: appreciating creativity and beauty and genius in all of its forms.
Einstein's life also reconnects us to the joys of wonder: why does the apple fall, the compass needle point north, and the sky look blue? Another aspect of Einstein's life is that it is testament to the sceintific method of allowing our general theories be informed by factual evidence, and keeping an open mind as we test our theories and discover new facts.
As for God, Tim Russert said he once asked his teacher at Catholic elementary school why he should believe in God. She said, the smartest man in the world, Albert Einstein, believes in God, Timmy, so you should too. It's perhaps not that simple. But to watch as Einstein asks the eternal questions about the spirit manifest in the laws of the universe and marvel as he comes to his sense of God and a cosmic religion is, to me at least, humbling and beautiful. -- Walter Isaacson
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Re: Einstein's Uncertainty



WalterIsaacson wrote: He was a realist, who believed that there was a certainty in nature whether or not we could observe it. He did not like to abandon strict causality, to think things could happen by chance or probability, or to believe that God would play dice with the universe.




...and here I think is the place where spirituality (mysticism) comes closer to science....I wonder if that gap can be abridged or if we simply have to learn to live with uncertainty (=I know that I don't know).

ziki
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Re: Einstein's Uncertainty



WalterIsaacson wrote:
These are all good questions. I think one reason to ponder Einstein's life and work is that he was creative, and it's always inspiring to see how creative minds work. Also, his theories are beautiful, and that's worth appreciating just like a Mozart symphony or a Shakespeare play. That is what ennobles our existence: appreciating creativity and beauty and genius in all of its forms.
Einstein's life also reconnects us to the joys of wonder: why does the apple fall, the compass needle point north, and the sky look blue? Another aspect of Einstein's life is that it is testament to the sceintific method of allowing our general theories be informed by factual evidence, and keeping an open mind as we test our theories and discover new facts.
As for God, Tim Russert said he once asked his teacher at Catholic elementary school why he should believe in God. She said, the smartest man in the world, Albert Einstein, believes in God, Timmy, so you should too. It's perhaps not that simple. But to watch as Einstein asks the eternal questions about the spirit manifest in the laws of the universe and marvel as he comes to his sense of God and a cosmic religion is, to me at least, humbling and beautiful. -- Walter Isaacson




You said that very nicely, Walter. Thanks. The objection I have to that teacher's answer is that there are no shoulds. There are universal laws that we can't avoid but it works in different way. Suppose you do not agree or see that a door (=universal law) is a useful thing and you keep bouncing against the wall, trying to walk through the wall. Either you end up doing it your whole life, manding your bruises and finally die while trying or you by some act of grace discover that law and begin to move with it. In which case life starts making more sense.

Einstein just knew his limits and thereby he couldn't deny the existence of god because it seems to me he really looked into&through things.

So much happened in that time period and a century later we are still stuck in the same frame....we ought to question Einsten's theories in order to take his findings further. Is there always some stagnation after big discoveries before the human mind is ready and willing to move on, to venture even further?

ziki
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