Have you ever cursed the pure memorization of facts just to pass an exam? Then you are in very good and prominent company indeed! Albert Einstein was known for his distaste of the learning of facts and argued that education should not be the learning of many facts but rather the learning to think. Indeed, you all have more in common with Einstein than you might think at first…
Today, he is regarded as one of the great geniuses of human kind. But he wasn’t always successful and struggled a couple of times where he thought about quitting and giving up his dream of contributing to the realm of physics. What a shame for us and theoretical physics it would have been!
When I read his biography Einstein: His Life and Universe, written by Walter Isaacson, I came to realise that many qualities, which ultimately led to his phenomenal success, are not directly connected to what we perceive as the characteristics of a genius. When you think of a genius the first that comes to mind is that they have a high Intelligence Quotient (IQ). However, the human intellect and its capacity is not yet fully understood. Scientists found that our brain has a higher plasticity than previously assumed. By practising, you can enhance your IQ by up to 15 points! But is IQ the proper measurement for our intellect? Or does it grasp only a small part of it? If you ever took one of those tests you know they do not test your creativity at all. And yet, Einstein claimed that imagination, and hence creativity, not knowledge led to his greatest ideas.
I cannot evaluate what makes a genius and will leave this question to neuroscientists. But I can tell you why Einstein was one and what we can learn from him and his life to be more successful.
Discipline Through Curiosity. Einstein had the ability to focus on a single problem for days and even forgot to eat during that period. You may call it discipline. He called it curiosity! Discipline can have many sources. Maybe you are simply ambitious or educated in that way. But if curiosity is your source of discipline, then you have just found your first common feature with Albert!
Creativity. Do you play an instrument? Or do you paint? If “yes” is the answer, then you are probably a creative person and might have noticed how your brain tends to think in new ideas instead of searching your memory storage for old ones. Albert Einstein was a good violinist and during his last years, he also played some piano. As mentioned before, his creative nature helped him to develop his theories. He did not, at least to my knowledge, engage in any empirical or experimental research during his career. Studies also found that the playing of music engages every part of your brain. Have you ever heard the wisdom that, in order to think “better”, you need to connect both parts of your brain (right and left) e.g. before an exam? And your teacher made you draw a recumbent eight in the air while following your finger? Try to learn an instrument instead! It is more effective and has a long-term effect on your brain. If you are already mighty in playing an instrument you can proudly claim to share another feature with our dear Albert! If you are sceptical about whether music makes you smarter or not, watch the video below.
Critical Thinking. Nobody in physics dared to question Isaac Newton’s theories and especially his equations on gravity. After all, these equations were empirically solid. Einstein was the one who doubted even the most fundamental laws of physics which had been used for calculations for hundreds of years (Newton’s second law of motion is still used and sufficiently accurate for many purposes). This led Einstein to his special and later his general theory of relativity. This was his most famous achievement and the reason he later became prominent. Recall LSE’s motto “To understand the causes of things” and try to be more critical next time you read a book, newspaper or academic journal. After all, an academic title does not mean intellectual superiority! I hope you can find yet another common feature here.
At this point, I hope your notion of the human intellect has changed. Curiosity, creativity and critical thinking are certainly factors that led Einstein to such marvellous success and will help every one of us as well! I would like to leave you with some wise words with Time’s person of the century.
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Arnold is studying BSc Economics and Finance by distance learning in Germany.