Albert Einstein: Physicist, Philosopher, Humanitarian

Course No. 8122
Professor Don Howard, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame
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Course No. 8122
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Course Overview

In May 1905, an unknown 26-year-old Swiss patent clerk wrote to a friend about four scientific papers he had been working on in his spare time. He casually alluded to one as "revolutionary," and he confidently asserted that another would modify the "theory of space and time." He had not yet started on a fifth paper that would also come out in 1905 and that would propose a surprising and earth-shaking equation, E=mc2.

This industrious young office worker was Albert Einstein, and with these papers he irrevocably changed the face of physics. Eventually, he would achieve fame and influence not only as a scientist but also as a philosopher and a humanitarian, involved with some of the most profound issues of the day. So identified has Einstein become with the changes wrought in science and culture in our era that Time magazine named him the "person of the century" in its December 31, 1999, issue.

Albert Einstein: Physicist, Philosopher, Humanitarian, 24 half-hour lectures by award-winning Professor Don Howard of the University of Notre Dame, presents a wide-ranging intellectual biography of this iconic scientist, genius, and champion of social justice.

Think Like Einstein

More than just a biography of Einstein's life, Albert Einstein provides you with an inside look at how this brilliant thinker arrived at his various revolutionary breakthroughs.

One of the secrets of Einstein's success was that he was well read in philosophy, and that guided his approach not only to framing and solving problems in physics but also to interpreting his discoveries in a more universal context. In addition, his philosophical background gave him the independence of judgment necessary to invent a new physics.

Einstein was the clearest of thinkers, able to cut through conventional views to get to the heart of a matter and achieve astonishing discoveries in the process. According to Professor Howard, retracing the thought processes that led to Einstein's ideas is the key to understanding them.

This is the intellectually exciting strategy you follow in Albert Einstein. Guided by Professor Howard, you reason your way to historic insights such as these:

  • Light has both wave- and particle-like properties.
  • Absolute space and absolute time are meaningless concepts.
  • Gravity is caused by the curvature of space-time.

Each of these ideas sparked a scientific revolution. The first led to quantum physics, which is the comprehensive picture of the world below the atomic scale. The second and third are conclusions from the special and general theories of relativity, which this course explains in nontechnical detail.

In the Laboratory of the Mind

A creative thinker from an early age, Einstein had a knack for finding the perfect picture or thought experiment to express even the most arcane scientific ideas—a quality that makes him unusually accessible to the nonscientist. Einstein later said he always thought about a physics problem first in terms of images. He only later translated those pictures into a mathematical formalism.

Here are some of his well-known thought experiments that you investigate in Albert Einstein:

  • Chasing a light beam: As a teenager, Einstein asked himself what would happen if he moved at the speed of light alongside a beam of light. This conceptual exercise held the germ for the special theory of relativity.
  • Einstein's elevator: Einstein recognized that an observer ascending with constant acceleration, as in an ascending elevator, would not be able to distinguish his situation from one in which he was experiencing the effects of gravity, leading to the "equivalence principle" that underlies his general theory of relativity.
  • EPR paradox: Einstein and two collaborators, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, devised a thought experiment that sought to prove quantum mechanics as an incomplete theory and not the final word in fundamental physics.

Albert Einstein features more than 50 animations—many in 3-D—designed specifically for these lectures. The result is a visually rich learning experience that makes Einstein's detailed scientific ideas easy to understand.

The Many Sides of Einstein

Einstein's dynamic life reflects a range of interests and passions that extend beyond the realm of modern physics and into fields like religion, international relations, and social justice. Indeed, Einstein frequently engaged with many of the leading social and political issues of his day. "As Einstein's growing physics reputation drew him onto a larger public stage," notes Professor Howard, "his social and political involvements expanded as well."

The many sides of the man covered in Albert Einstein give you a wealth of insights into his life:

  • Far from being a head-in-the-clouds theoretician, Einstein was an enthusiastic inventor who pioneered a novel airplane wing, a refrigerator without moving parts, and a self-adjusting camera, among other devices.
  • Einstein, a German Jew who fled an increasingly anti-Semitic Germany in 1932, supported the development of a safe haven for displaced Jews in Palestine and of Jewish institutions like Hebrew University. Fearing a large-scale conflict with Palestinian Arabs, however, he did not support a Jewish national state.
  • Theoretical physics in the early 20th century was an emerging field. Einstein's work at the boundaries of science forced him to grapple with the various philosophical issues his work raised. Einstein's philosophies on scientific issues—such as the difference between direct and indirect evidence, the relationship between theory and experience, and the power of mathematical simplicity—were among the most influential of 20th-century science.

Professor Howard closes the course by examining the nature of Einstein's quintessential genius. In a century populated with brilliant scientists, profound philosophers, and selfless humanitarians, how did he come to embody all these qualities and also mean so much more? The rise of the dreamy-looking young man in the patent office in 1905 to the person of the century is worth studying in full.

Einstein: The Whole Man

Professor Howard is uniquely qualified to explore Einstein the whole man, putting Einstein's scientific discoveries into the context of his personal life, his philosophical views, and his outlook on the world. Educated in Physics as an undergraduate, Professor Howard went on to earn a Doctorate in the Philosophy of Science, and he has since devoted his research career to Einstein and his period. Professor Howard has been an assistant editor and a contributing editor for the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, an ongoing series of volumes prepared by the Einstein Papers Project that is shedding new light on all aspects of Einstein's life.

Albert Einstein is a riveting, all-encompassing look at the iconic man who forever altered the way we think about the world. By the conclusion of the course, you'll have become better acquainted with the whole Einstein—his scientific ideas, his personal philosophies, his thought processes, and his impact on both his own time and ours.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Precocious Young Einstein
    The aim of these lectures is to explore Einstein the whole person and the whole thinker. You begin with an overview of the course. Then you look at important events in Einstein's life up to the beginning of his university studies in 1896. x
  • 2
    The Development of the Young Physicist
    This lecture follows Einstein's early life up to his "miracle year" of 1905, covering his university training, his love for fellow student Mileva Maric, their marriage following the birth of their daughter, his fruitless search for an academic job, and his employment by the Swiss patent office. x
  • 3
    The Birth of the Quantum Hypothesis
    By his own account, Einstein's most revolutionary idea of 1905 was that light is made of discrete chunks of electromagnetic energy called light quanta, or photons. You examine the background to this radical idea, most importantly, Max Planck's proposal in 1900 of the quantum hypothesis. x
  • 4
    Background to Special Relativity
    The most celebrated of Einstein's 1905 achievements is his special theory of relativity. You survey the classical physics that relativity overturned, particularly Newton's concept of absolute space, which even before Einstein had critics such as the physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach. x
  • 5
    Essentials of Special Relativity
    You take a guided tour of the special theory of relativity, which holds that a system's location and speed is well defined only with respect to a specific frame of reference or state of motion of an observer. This simple change of perspective led to Einstein's signature equation, E=mc2 x
  • 6
    From Bern to Berlin
    Between 1905 and 1914, Einstein went from being an obscure clerk in the Swiss patent office in Bern to being one of the most prominent scientists in the world. You follow this remarkable transformation and the toll it took on Einstein's marriage to Mileva. x
  • 7
    Background to General Relativity
    Special relativity is "special" in the sense that it is restricted to observers moving with constant relative velocity. Einstein wanted to extend the theory to include accelerated motion. His great insight was that such a "general" theory would incorporate the phenomenon of gravity. x
  • 8
    Essentials of General Relativity
    According to general relativity, gravity is caused by the curvature of space-time, with surprising implications such as the slowing of clocks in strong gravitational fields and the bending of light passing near a massive object like the sun. The latter prediction led to a famous confirmation of general relativity and made Einstein a world figure. x
  • 9
    From Berlin to Princeton
    Einstein worked in Berlin from 1914 to 1933, arriving in triumph but leaving as a refugee from Nazism. The Berlin years saw the publication and confirmation of general relativity, the receipt of a Nobel Prize, and world travel, including visits to the United States, to which Einstein immigrated in 1933. x
  • 10
    Philosophical Challenge of the New Physics
    Relativity and quantum mechanics presented deep challenges to traditional philosophy. You explore responses by philosophers and the logical positivists, along with Einstein's philosophical objection to the randomness of quantum theory. x
  • 11
    Einstein's Philosophy of Science
    Einstein stressed the crucial role of philosophy in physics, arguing that philosophy gives physicists the independence of judgment needed to make revolutionary innovations. In his own work, Einstein combined a deep respect for experimental evidence with a search for simplicity and beauty. x
  • 12
    Zionism, Pacifism, and Internationalism
    As Einstein's growing physics reputation drew him onto a larger public stage, his social and political involvements expanded, encompassing a lonely protest against German war aims during World War I, an embrace of the Zionist cause, and strident advocacy of pacifism throughout the 1920s. x
  • 13
    Einstein the Inventor and Musician
    Einstein was an avid inventor of devices from airfoils to refrigerators. He consulted with industry about gyrocompasses and with the U.S. Navy about undersea mines. Playing the violin was another passion. Both activities shed light on his work as a theoretical physicist. x
  • 14
    On the Road to the New Quantum Mechanics
    Einstein made many contributions to the development of quantum theory. You focus on his efforts to understand the curious way in which two identical quantum systems, such as two photons, lose their separate identities in a phenomenon called quantum entanglement. x
  • 15
    Quantum Mechanics and Controversy
    Einstein was one of the discoverers of quantum theory, but after the mid-1920s he became its most forceful critic. You examine Einstein's objections and his confrontations with fellow physicist Niels Bohr over what Einstein considered to be fundamental flaws in quantum mechanics. x
  • 16
    Einstein in Princeton—The Lonely Quest
    From 1933 until his death in 1955, Einstein lived in Princeton as a member of the Institute for Advanced Study. His research focused on the lonely and ultimately fruitless quest for a unified field theory that would unite electromagnetism and gravitation. x
  • 17
    Is Quantum Mechanics Complete?
    In 1935, Einstein and two collaborators, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, published what has since become the most frequently cited paper in the history of physics. You explore this celebrated thought experiment, known as the EPR paradox, in nontechnical terms. x
  • 18
    The Expanding Universe
    Einstein's general theory of relativity is the theoretical framework for all contemporary work in cosmology. Black holes, the big bang, an expanding universe—all are implicit in the equations of general relativity. Ironically, Einstein at first mistrusted some of the most dramatic predictions of his own theory. x
  • 19
    Einstein and the Bomb—Science Politicized
    In 1939, Einstein signed a letter to President Roosevelt that launched the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb. Scientists had long advised governments, but this effort represented a fundamental shift in the relationship between science and the state. x
  • 20
    From the Manhattan Project to the Cold War
    Einstein came to regret his role in the development of atomic weapons and spent the last decade of his life trying to rein in the ensuing arms race. One of his last public acts, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, was arguably the first step toward international cooperation in arms limitation. x
  • 21
    A Lifelong Commitment to Social Justice
    Settling into his new American home in the mid-1930s, Einstein found a new challenge in the fight for racial justice. He took up this and other social causes to such an extent that in the early 1950s FBI director J. Edgar Hoover considered having him deported. x
  • 22
    Cosmic Religion and Jewish Identity
    Einstein wrote often about what he termed "cosmic religion," by which he meant the view that the rational order of nature itself inspires awe and humility akin to the religious spirit. He was strongly influenced in these views by the philosophers Baruch Spinoza and Arthur Schopenhauer. x
  • 23
    Einstein and Modernity
    This lecture explores the larger cultural world that responded so strongly to Einstein and his physics. The spirit of Einstein's reformulation of physical reality is reflected in the artistic experiments of painters such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque and novelists such as Lawrence Durrell. x
  • 24
    The Sage of Princeton—Einstein the Icon
    The sheer intellectual brilliance called genius is central to Einstein's iconic status, but the 20th century was populated with many brilliant scientists. Why did Einstein come to mean so much more? The course concludes by trying to capture the essence that made him unique. x

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Your professor

Don Howard

About Your Professor

Don Howard, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame
Dr. Don Howard is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and Director of Notre Dame's Graduate Program in History and Philosophy of Science. A graduate of Michigan State University's Honors College and its Lyman Briggs College with a B.Sc. in Physical Science, he earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Philosophy with a specialization in the philosophy of science from Boston University. Professor Howard has served as...
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Albert Einstein: Physicist, Philosopher, Humanitarian is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 51.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Einstein If you want to really understand the mind of Einstein and how he solved problems this for you. It also reviews his life so that you feel you have met the man.
Date published: 2016-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I waited too long I have avoided this course on Einstein because I thought it would just repeat what I've already seen before. Professor Howard does use many of the anecdotes and much of the visual imagery you may have experienced in other treatments of Einstein's theories. In this course, however, history, biography, philosophy, physics converge to provide insights into Einstein and his work that other treatments miss. Amazingly, Professor Howard treats all aspects of the course with great skill. As for the physics, the professor's presentations are among the best and most challenging I have ever heard. By the professor's own words, during the EPR paper discussion, "We'll be swimming in deep waters -- using Einstein's own vivid visual imagery." This course pushed my grasp of the concepts just a little further than before. The lectures rock back and forth between Einstein's life within and without of physics, often times entangling the two. In terms of philosophy, for example, I did not realize that Einstein was well versed in the great philosophers like Kant and Schopenhauer and that these ideas affected his physics profoundly. I think this is a good introduction to philosophy of science in general, with Einstein's perspective stamped on it. Thinking about special relativity, why is it OK for observers in two different reference frames to see length differently? Length is a physical phenomenon. It must be one thing! What does "invariance with reference frame" really mean? Professor Howard addresses details like these. The math in general relativity is hard. As a result most treatments aimed at common folk avoid the equations, and probably rightfully so. Professor Howard takes it a tiny step further. He presents the equations, explains the variables, and instills them with life by inserting them into the historical evolution of relativity. That won't make you an expert in tensor math but I found it helped advance my ongoing efforts to gain a grasp on the role the equations play in contemporary physics. Like in just about every other treatment of general relativity Professor Howard also employs the bowling ball on the rubber sheet analogy. I don't particularly like this analogy though. It seems wrong in detail and just does't explain gravity to me. I wish someone would come up with a better visualization but even my favorite Great Courses physics professor, Sean Carroll, says it's a good analogy so maybe I just need to think about it more. I highly recommend viewing Dr Carroll's "DARK MATTER, DARK ENERGY" course for a very nice compliment to this course. I was surprised at how much Einstein contributed to quantum physics, both directly and by inspiration. I was aware of the Brownian motion and photoelectric papers but was unaware of his continued efforts over the next 20 years before he famously began to question the indeterminacy and entanglement details. Overall this course had much new information that kept me eager for each coming lecture. It has given me a lot to think about.
Date published: 2016-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply the Best Professor Howard does a phenomenal job of presenting an extremely well researched, exhaustive, and thorough survey of Einstein's amazing, multi-faceted career. His presentation of Einstein is meticulous, unapologetically honest but also respectful, insightful, and scholarly. Through this lecture series you will come to know, appreciate, admire, and love Einstein likely more than you would ever imagine, but you will also learn of his weaknesses. I know of no way to improve on this course. Professor Howard is just the greatest!
Date published: 2016-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A way to celebrate Gravitational Waves! Like a buried diamond in a kimberlite pipe, this course was a pleasure to discover. Professor Howard shares with us the fascinating, multidimensional cubism of modernity's default genius Albert Einstein. Years of obvious passionate detailed research are scholarly presented revealing the totality of Einstein the man. The recent discovery of gravitational waves makes this course an excellent way for contemporary society to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of General Relativity and its origin and great success. Professor Howard's course is a hidden gem and is no doubt an ineradicable member in the pantheon of Great Courses.
Date published: 2016-02-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Relatively Good... Audio download In this set of lectures Dr Howard presents a very interesting blend of the history, philosophy, psychology and physics of Albert Einstein, and, like many of the Great Courses, leaves you hungry to explore a little deeper on each of those aspects of such an important figure in the history of the world. Einstein, the brilliant physicist, successfully combined years, if not centuries, of the science of physics into a unifying set of theorems so important to our civilization that his name will be remembered with the likes of Aristotle, Pythagoras, Newton and Bohr (to name only a few). What school-aged child hasn't used the name of Einstein to describe someone really smart? Prof Howard makes sure we know the bare-bones of both the special and general theories of relativity, while not drowning us in the very complex mathematics. I did find it interesting that Stephen Hawking's name and scientific contributions are completely missing. How come? In addition, I was a bit disappointed with Howard's treatment of Einstein's personal life, choosing to dwell on his infidelities and paternal failures, rather than other family relationships (mother/father, etc) and the friendships that seemed to influence his philosophy and politics. Einstein was a complex man whose work will influence mankind far into the future. Not knowing about this man, other than the poorly understood E = mc2, is a shame that can be solved through these lectures. Highly recommended...when on sale, and, of course, using a coupon.
Date published: 2015-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Einstein - more than E=MC squared Don Howard was excellent in his presentation of Einstein! He covered all of Einstein's life from birth, childhood, school years, and his work. He pointed out the people he met, what he read, the politics of where he was, and the social life that influenced how Einstein thought, acted and related to people. Einstein developed more than the relativity that most people relate to him. He confirmed proof of the reality of atoms, developed the view that light and electromagnetic radiation were in discrete chunks called "light quanta" or photons. He was deeply involved in Quantum Theory but finally rejected it when he couldn't give up the classical idea of determinism, after finally accepting the uncertainty principle...all of which I did not know until this course. After coming to Princeton he devoted his life to developing a unified field theory. Howard pointed out the Einstein was more than physics. He was active socially, standing up for displaced Jews, African Americans and fellow physicists that were ostracized during the war, social justice. and combating racial prejudice He advocated an international body to regulate nuclear arms and was devoted to world peace. Many aspects of Einstein's life were presented that are not related to physics that, I'm sure many do not know about. This course is a must to get a complete picture of Einstein. Don Howard is one of the best instructors for The Great Courses
Date published: 2015-02-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Biography and Great Relativity Explanation This course is an excellent biography of Einstein, showing his glory and his warts. In addition, the explanation of relativity was the best I've seen in any of the many science courses from The Great Courses. The quantum explanations were not as good but were adequate. One problem with Einstein is that much of the last years of his life were as a social activist. I thought Howard presented this well. I didn't get the feeling, as some reviewers did, that Howard somehow excused Einstein's behavior toward his wives and children. I'd say Einstein came off looking pretty poorly in this regard. I also didn't feel that Howard injected his own agenda into the discussion as some reviewers assert. But, this is a very subjective thing and each person has to judge this for themselves. This course definitely took some of the sheen off of Einstein's reputation. This is true in regards to him as a person and also in regard to the collaboration he depended upon to create general relativity. (That is, it wasn't Einstein working alone, but he leaned on others especially for help with some of the mathematics.) But, the course also puts the spotlight on his genius. The 5 papers he wrote in 1905 had more impact on humanity than the output of nearly all other scientists in their entire lifetimes. I knocked down the course a star because the quantum explanations could have been better and because the presentation was often dull. That being said, I still highly recommend this course. If you are interested in Einstein's physics, I also recommend the courses listed below.
Date published: 2015-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greatest course of all I have many of the Great Courses on DVD. Some are better than others. In terms of the combination of. (1) thoroughness of information presented, (2) instructor presentation and "stage presence", and (3) behind the camera production, this course is the absolute BEST yet. Also, it is ageless; it will not go out of date with the next confirmed earth shaking discovery in physics (as has happened with some of the other, older courses related to pure science).
Date published: 2015-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Much more than relativity Professor Howard's education in philosophy by no means limits his ability to understand and present concepts in physics developed during the exciting times that Einstein lived. Although trained in physics in the 1960s, I had long forgotten the curious source experiments that led to quantum theory (specific heat of gases, black-body radiation) or the incredible timing of discoveries in atomic physics, made shortly before Hitler's invasion of Poland, that caused many scientists to fear that Germany would soon develop an nuclear bomb. Each of the 24 lectures is full interesting science, history and philosophy insights that should excite many who are already familiar with relativity and cosmology. I was also able to catch a clearer view the importance of some of the developments that happened since I graduated (e.g. Clauser's demonstration of entanglement) by listening to this series. The only serious defect I could find in all the material was in the substitution of the word "incomplete" on p75 (item E) of the printed notes where the professor had just made a strong case for "complete". It would be nice if this error could be corrected to avoid possible confusion of future readers. Overall, an incredibly worthwhile course!
Date published: 2015-01-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The speaker verbal clarity could be better. In addition, photos as illustrations combined with a powerpoint presentation would enhance the very plain dvd. Bullet points, or summary points to emphacize Einstein's genius would have had more impact. I like to have the information, but also some lessons that are easily retained that pertain to the genius of the topic.
Date published: 2014-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spacetime of Time's Person of the 20th Century Time Magazine named Albert Einstein as its "Person of the 20th Century". Dr. Howard provides ample supporting information for this choice. He adroitly explains Einstein's physics of relativity (special and general), the photoelectric effect, and contributions to (and objections to) quantum physics. Unlike various biographies or documentaries about Einstein, Dr. Howard also focuses on the philosophical influences on Einstein which led him to pursue his famous "thought experiments" and his clutching to determinism and separability during the famous debates with Bohr and other quantum physicists. Dr. Howard discusses Einstein's role as a humanitarian in aiding Jews to flee Nazi Germany and helping to establish "cultural Zionism", his active Pacificism but pragmatic advocacy of the US development of an atomic bomb before Hitler, and his push for a World Government. While these are well known, we learn that Einstein was also an advocate for African Americans which, along with his position against the development of the Hydrogen Bomb, brought him under the watchful eye of J. Edgar Hoover. Dr. Howard adroitly explains the physics that came from Einstein's "miracle year" of 1905, where he published his discoveries on several new theories each of which was Nobel prize worthy. Dr. Howard explains the quantization of light of the photoelectric effect (which won Einstein a Nobel) and special relativity in a comprehensive way but in layman's terms (although the mathematical equations are provided). He is aided by very good animations. In later lectures, Dr. Howard uses similar techniques to explore general relativity and quantum mechanics. The animations he uses to explain the physics are quite well done, therefore the video version of this course is a must to truly learn the physics concepts. Dr. Howard busts the myth of Einstein being a poor student (he wasn't) and of Einstein being an dreamer incapable of the pragmatic (Einstein held patents on several practical inventions). There are several surprises in these lectures as we learn the irony of Einstein's objections to the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics as he actually initiated the probabilistic thinking by suggesting that Planck's theory of blackbody radiation could be derived by introducing probabilities of quantum jumps between energy levels in Bohr's atomic model. There are many threads to the Einstein story which Dr. Howard weaves together into a complete tapestry of the complex genius that was Einstein. Dr. Howard presents an intriguing story of the greatest mind of the 20th Century. The course production uses the older set with the "bricks in the window". Dr. Howard skillfully uses the teleprompter to read his prepared text. As a result he stands relatively still behind the lecture and uses relatively closed body language. His vocal inflection is quite good. He is more of an eloquent lecturer than an emphatic or entertaining one. The accompanying course guide is excellent. Lecture summaries are in detailed outline form and are followed by a timeline, biographical sketches, a glossary, and an annotated bibliography. I definitely recommend reading the lecture summaries, particularly those explaining the physics, before listening to the lectures. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in physics or its greatest practitioner since Isaac Newton. But since the course spends as much time on Einstein the person, the philosopher, and the humanitarian this course will appeal to those with an interest in the persona of Einstein equally as well.
Date published: 2014-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Mind of Our Times Whether your interest in Einstein is due to your interest in physics, or due to your interest in Einstein's achievements in humanitarianism, the span of this course will satisfy you. My own interest was in his technical achievements. My significant other has an abiding interest in his philosophy and social conscience It is rare that one course bridges these interests so completely. Dr. Howard, a professor in Notre Dame's Philosophy department, uses his extensive knowledge of the technology as well as his lecture skills in the field of philosophy to make this an exceptionally rewarding series of lessons. All of us know Einstein by reputation. His Nobel prize, his achievements in physics (especially relativity), his ability to play the violin, his contributions to quantum mechanics, and his discomfort at the implications of that theory enable Doctor Howard to weave a complex story of the reality of modern science. Even those of us who didn't know the details knew that, as a European Jew in the 1930's, he lived under the threat of the anti-semitic threats of the Nazis and cooperating political states. The story of his exit from Germany doesn't have the thrills of a Ludlum novel, but it shows his early dedication to peace and humanity. Doctor Howard does an excellent job of explaining the complex political situation Einstein faced, in Europe and the US. His politics were complicated by his humanitarian motives and his dedication was to mankind, not to any political theory or state. That he ended up in the United States, and outside the reach of the Nazi state, was a piece of luck for the entire planet. Even though the German Physics community had denounced Einstein's work as “Jewish Physics” and unworthy of attention, there were enough competent Germans that eventually their error would have been corrected. Doctor Howard's explanation of Einstein's work in enabling the manufacture of the bomb, and Einstein's discomfort with his role, enables the listener to follow the torture of his soul. The lectures also reminded us that these were the days of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee and J. Edgar Hoover, black days on America's soul. The man's mind was magnificent. His soul was good. His personal life was full of the same things that bedevil our own lives. Dr. Howard's lecture series expresses the technology and the humanity clearly. We liked this course so much that we weren't willing to share the disks. We live at separate locations and both wanted them handy. The obvious answer was to buy two copies. It worked. She has hers, and I have mine. The world is as it should be.
Date published: 2014-08-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Much to like, but... There is much to like in these lectures about Albert Einstein. Professor Howard is very well spoken, which greatly enhances to enjoyability of the course. I found perhaps 70% or 80% of the course to be very educational. The presentation of Einstein's scientific work is geared to someone who is scientifically literate, but not a scientific professional - and it succeeds admirably. Much of the presentation on Einstein's social advocacy and his philosophy is also handled well. However, on a number of occasions, Professor Howard fails to maintain the proper objectivity of a biographer, and tarnishes the course by injecting his personal views about morality, philosophy, and politics. As one particularly annoying example, Professor Howard attacks the "morality" of Einstein's decision to divorce and remarry on at least 10 separate occasions.
Date published: 2014-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Buy this course!! Oh my goodness. This course is not for the individual who choses not to think and appreciate philosophy as seen by Albert Einstein. This was the most marvelous course I have taken. As an admirer of Einstein and having read about him to some degree, this is the definitive course on this individual. The organization, the discussions all outstanding. It is the "essential Einstein"! I only regret it had to end-for both Albert and the course.
Date published: 2013-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Know the Real Einstein Most figures from history are just passing blurbs in a book, rarely do we know them as people. A course like this, that explores all aspects of Einstein's life, allows you to know the person and see history of the times through them. This course goes good with the ones on Churchill and Hitler as they all overlap in the timeline.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Adequate, but no more The professors does a good job with both the physics and the biography/philosophy, but the course is not great. 1) There are several errors - for example, in the first few minutes the professor states that Einstein introduced the quantum hypothesis (Planck did, as he correctly explains in a later lecture dedicated to this topic), more seriously he confuses determinism with causality in several places 2) There's a lot of repetition. He literally says "in quantum mechanics the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" #which isn't even quite correct# around a dozen times. 3# There's a lot #I mean a lot# of material that isn't about Einstein. We hear about other philosophers and other physicists a lot more than just the tangential references you'd expect if the focus were properly kept on Einstein. 4) Some of the philosophical opinions are unprovable and unlikely to be correct, like his suggestion that Einstein subconsciously wanted determinism as a way to justify his own personal failings. 5) His political bias leads to downright silly statements when discussing Einstein's passivism, such as an uncritical acceptance of the "doomsday clock" claim that the closest we ever were to nuclear annihilation was in 1984 #despite some folks freaking out, what I remember is that Pershings in Europe brought the USSR to the negotiating table and led to the end of the cold war without a war# or his discussion of the McCarthy era #comparing him to Hitler# In short, there's a lot of fluff. This course would have been much much better as 12 lectures instead of 24. Still, if you're interested in Einstein I would recommend this as a worthwhile investment of your time.
Date published: 2013-10-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Hard to follow the quantum physics. This course is a detailed look at the life of Albert Einstein, mostly in a chronological order. The main emphasis of the course is Einstein's contributions to physics throughout his life. There are several lectures that deviate from this theme to give insight into important parts of Einstein's life, like Zionism, pacifism, socialism, and social equality. The course was hard for me to really grasp at times as it delved into the depths of quantum mechanics. I listen as I exercise. I suppose if you are watching a DVD and have time to pause, think, and rewind, then you might be able to absorb all of the detail. I did get an A in my university physics course 15 years ago. Despite this, the quantum mechanics was mostly over my head. For me the course was too heavy on the quantum mechanics. I understand that quantum mechanics was the focus of Einsteins life, but I wanted more of the story of his life, rather than a quantum mechanics course. The professor is obviously very knowledgeable about Einstein and is very detailed in his presentation. It just wasn't what I was looking for.
Date published: 2013-07-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Look Behind the Equations Overall a very good course. Albert Einstein was complex man whose world fame obscures his humanity. This course helped me to piece the veil of his fame and go beyond the physics, which is well summarized by Professor Howard, to aid in understanding some of what are puzzling aspects of the man. An early pioneer pointing the way to the Quantum revolution in physics, Einstein was certainly a "reluctant revolutionary' turning away from the implications of his pioneering work in Quantum theory, then opposing, and devoting his last two decades in a search, which proved fruitless, to supplant Quantum Theory with a deterministic alternative. The first three-quarters of this course is excellent, and had the course ended at that point, it would have been a 5 star rating. The last six lectures are uneven, IMO, but, to be fair, the topics of these lectures are open to many interpretations and hard to adequately present in 30-minute lectures. However, I did mark this course down one star because of of some of the weakness of this portion. All in all though, I recommend this course without reservation to anyone who is curious about the enigma of Albert Einstein. The physics isn't obtuse, but a necessary component of any look at Einstein, presented in a understandable, accurate manner by Professor Howard, and the look behind the equations at Albert Einstein the man is a very good place to start to try to understand who he was.
Date published: 2013-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fascinating Look at the Multi-faceted Einstein Professor Howard provides an absorbing, balanced, and insightful look at all of Albert Einstein's many faces - not only the brilliant physicist, but also - as the title indicates - the philosopher and humanitarian. And it does not neglect the part of the man that could have an infant daughter disappear from history, that became estranged from his two sons, and that was unfaithful to each of his two wives, or the part that found nurture in solitude, and that felt a separation between itself and other men. This is a course for those interested in Einstein the man, as opposed to those primarily drawn to Einstein's physics. The breadth of Einstein's scientific accomplishments is reviewed, but because of time this is necessarily quite superficial: If you don't already have at least an elementary idea of what it is all about, you will likely be left with more questions than answers here (nothing wrong with that!). I do think you will get at least an inkling of why he is considered the epitome of genius, and quite possibly become curious enough to continue learning. Much of the course is given to areas which, as Professor Howard notes, were once prominently associated with Einstein, but which have faded as the absent-minded genius legend has grown: his pacifism, socialism, and humanitarianism; his profound concern with and respect for the philosophy of science; his deep spirituality coexisting with an atheism regarding the possibility of a personal god; and his personal moral failures. Prof. Howard is remarkably expert at all of these diverse aspects of Einstein's life, and conveys his admiration for the man and his accomplishments, while not diminishing the significance of the less-than-admirable sides of his character. The lectures are clear and very well organized, with good and appropriate visuals. And the Course Guidebook is quite well done. My only complaints are with regard to the good professor's style and delivery: His sentence structures are almost always of the simplest, most unadorned character, usually just one short main clause, with scarcely a subordinate to be heard. This is fine when putting Einstein's science into simple terms, but becomes tedious and soporific when continued throughout the course. And Prof. Howard's speech is an unvarying near-monotone, whether describing astonishing insights into the depths of physics, or astonishing callousness toward wives and children. As a result, and despite my marked interest in all of the material covered, I sometimes found it hard to maintain my attention. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this course to any with an interest in the life of Albert Einstein, one of the most remarkable people to have ever lived. It will not serve as an adequate introduction into any of the individual fields to which he devoted his life, whether quantum physics or relativity; the history and philosophy of science; non-religious spirituality;or humanitarianism and politics. It will provide an extraordinarily well-done introduction to Albert Einstein, the human being.
Date published: 2013-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Professor Howard does a very nice job reviewing many aspects of Albert Einstein's life and career. Prof. Howard is an excellent lecturer. I enjoyed his clear delivery. His course guide was very thorough with a complete glossary and bibliography. I was impressed with his knowledge and the clarity of his presentation of both physics and philosophy. I particularly enjoyed how this course explored many diverse aspects of Einstein's life. It was interesting to find out about Einstein's failed marriage and other womanizing as well as his involvement with civil rights. Prof. Howard did an excellent job explaining how both phyics and philosophy were important to Einstein. I thought he did a nice job explaining the relevant physics and the relevant philosophy (not that I understood everything he said). I also enjoyed Prof. Howard's wrap-up lecture. I have to admit, I struggled with the idea that Einstein so mistreated his wife, yet has a reputation as a great humanitarian. It was nice to see that Prof. Howard addressed this concern in his summary. I am not sure that I agree with his conclusions, but he certainly gave me something to think about. Overall, an outstanding course. I would recommend it to all interested in the history of science or in Albert Einstein.
Date published: 2013-03-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not exactly "Einstein for the non-physicist" (CD review) I was oscillating between giving this course 3 and 4 stars overall. In fairness, I listened to this course somewhat sporadically over a few months. Also I have not taken a course in physics since high school over 30 years ago. I chose the lower rating for two main reasons. First, much of the course, especially in the beginning, was (for me) complex, abstract physics. Because I do not regularly use formulae like F=MA or terms like "wave particle duality" I was often lost in the presentation of the science. I wondered if the video version would have made it easier to follow, as well as not being distracted by listening while I was driving. Second, while the presentation of the material was almost flawless, it lacked an energy and passion. It seemed like I never "heard" him smile. I was glad I stuck with it to the end. The last third or so of the course was more what I was interested in and had hoped to get from the course, namely Einstein and his impact on society and his philosophy of life. I would recommend this course more to those with a background or career in hard sciences, especially physics. For the rest of us, I imagine it would be easier to grasp in the video format.
Date published: 2013-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant exposition of a brilliant mind Prof. Don Howard is a master story teller. His eloquence is one of the finest I've ever seen at the Teaching Company. If you enjoy learning about scientific discoveries and the characters that give birth to it, this is the right course for you. This course also comes with a huge bonus: I was happily surprised with the amount of science the professor teaches. If you are looking into this course you are a science lover, maybe you've heard about relativity and quantum theory before. That was my case and for my surprise this is one of the clearest expositions on those subjects I've ever heard. Enjoy!
Date published: 2013-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent - Do Not Pass Over This Course I initially passed over this course because I had recently read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein and felt I had learned all I needed from that book. Nearly a big mistake! This course goes into far more scientific depth and offers far greater insights into Einstein’s great advances in physics than does the Isaacson book. Prof. Howard has studied the Einstein physics in great detail and has a masterly ability to explain the theories clearly and in context with what came before in scientific understanding. The course also offers a fascinating account of Einstein’s criticism of what he felt were shortcomings in quantum physics, as the quantum theory was developed by Niels Bohr and others in the early 20th Century. You will also gain an excellent understanding of how Einstein became such a world famous figure following the experiments conducted in 1919 that clearly validated his theory of General Relativity. In short, an extremely rewarding course for anyone with an interest in Einstein’s physics by an excellent professor.
Date published: 2012-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well worth watching! Professor Howard does a great job in providing a survey of a complex subject - Albert Einstein. The course touches on some complex physics but doesn't lose the flow of the lectures at any point. Einstein's physics are only perhaps one-quarter of the course, however, but certainly the backbone of it. I found the non-scientific portions of the course especially engaging. Howard is a good lecturer, although he might speak a little quickly in spots. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to know more about Einstein than just the portrayed in the popular media.
Date published: 2012-12-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting not captivating It's interesting that I had a different take than other reviewers on this course. In fairness, my strong interest is in science, not philosophy, where I found this course ended up so much of the time. I'm pretty familiar with the physics and math in this course and found it very clearly presented. Unfortunately, while presenting Einstein's psyche, development and role in society, I thought that the presentation was based in philosophical roots. I would have preferred a historical approach. For example, the lecturer certainly makes a point of Einstein's difficulties as a Jew in Germany at that time. However, his role as a jew even after emigrating to the US continued to play a major role in his development yet its barely mentioned. Having said that, I can certainly understand why people enjoyed the course. Just not quite for me.
Date published: 2012-11-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lots of Science in this Biography I hadn't expected so much science to be incorporated into this life study; many lectures are dedicated to studies of Einstein's ultra-famous theories of relativity and quantum physics. Doctor Howard presents the fascinating biography of this spectacular human being, showing that he was far more than the most outstanding scientist of the 20th century: also philosopher, violinist, inventor and humanitarian. It was upsetting, however, to learn that Einstein was a pronounced failure as a husband (twice) and father; I felt very sad for his families. Many aspects of his personal life highlighted how selfish he was; there's really no other way of expressing this side of his makeup, I'm afraid. His personal life seemed to present a continual struggle, highlighting the human side of this towering figure. Happily, I had already viewed three Great Courses which deal with Einstein's theories, so the lectures on relativity were fairly familiar ground to me. I feel that for anyone who has not studied the science, these lectures will be hard-going, for the concepts and formulae are far from easy to grasp, profound, complex, complicated, abstract, sometimes perplexing ~~ witness the fact that Einstein took ten years to go from special relativity to general relativity! Terms such as "antidogmatic logical empiricism" and "verifiability criterion of meaningfulness" do not exactly figure into daily discourse. I found a few lectures a bit dry, e.g. 11 Einstein's Philosophy of Science, and 14 On the Road to the New Quantum Mechanics. In lecture 20 we learn how Einstein regretted his role in the development of atomic weapons; this must have weighed heavily on him. I was impressed that he renounced his German citizenship when he was 16, and never returned to Germany after leaving in 1934, as political protests. Without doubt, this is a valuable, important course; I recommend it without hesitation. It was a fascinating experience; I particularly enjoyed meeting the various scientists who figured largely in Einstein's life. His letters to scientists and friends were very appealing & insightful. May I add that I wish Professor Howard were more animated and charismatic; he appeared to be reading from a teleprompter, maintained a rather stiff, slightly austere, aloof posture; occasionally I had to repeat a section to catch what he said as his voice is a wee bit gruff and words can trail off (fine German accent btw). More use of graphics and pictures to illustrate the lectures would have been welcome. The guidebook is excellent.
Date published: 2012-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More Science than Expected I originally bought this so both my wife and I could listen to it. I found out quickly, however, that there was way more science to the course than the mere history lesson I thought it would be. This was GREAT for me, but not so much for my wife. Still, I loved the science and it really made the course. The whole course was a pleasant surprise and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in both the science and the history of one of the greatest minds of all time!
Date published: 2012-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb This superb course reflects scholarship at its best. As the course title promises, Don Howard expertly shows us that Einstein was indeed a “physicist, philosopher, and humanitarian” all rolled into one – truly an amazing person, though not without flaws (see below). At least for me, this course provides a nearly perfect blend of physics, philosophy of science, social history, psychological analysis, and intriguing biography. What will you learn from the course? Here are “ten things that may surprise you” about Einstein, but if you haven’t completed the course yet and prefer to avoid spoilers, READ NO FURTHER: (1) Contrary to myth, he was mostly an excellent student, and was very strong in mathematics. And though appropriately aware of his limits, he also knew his abilities and was somewhat cocky from a relatively young age. (2) He considered his involvement in philosophy and history of science as being vital to his achievements in physics, and advocated that this should be part of the education of all physicists. (3) His key ideas regarding quantum theory and relativity were influenced by others (Planck’s quantum hypothesis, Lorentz transformations, Minkowski spacetime, Riemmanian geometry, etc.) – not developed entirely from scratch – though his contributions here are still revolutionary and tremendous. (4) His Nobel Prize was for his work on the photoelectric effect, not relativity (and he emphasized the fundamental importance of universal invariants as much as relativity). This photoelectric effect work was a major contribution in quantum theory, but he eventually became a sharp critic of quantum theory (especially its indeterminism and nonlocality). (5) He was relatively unknown in 1905 at age 26 when he published his landmark papers, but within a few years, by his early thirties, he had become quite famous and successful. He certainly didn’t have to wait until later life for recognition. (6) His family life was less than stellar, to put it mildly. He and his first wife had a daughter (before they married), which they gave up and completely lost touch with. And he cheated on his first wife with his cousin, who he eventually married, but then he eventually repeatedly cheated on her too. (7) He was a political liberal since his teenage years. Illustrating this, he developed strong ties with the African American community when he was in Princeton and was active in civil rights. And though he was influential in promoting US development of the atomic bomb (to get there before Hitler), he was excluded from the Manhattan Project because of his leftist politics (which were actually social democratic, not communist). (8) Though he was never a practicing Jew and didn’t believe in a personal God, he did value Jewish history and culture, and supported cultural Zionism, though he opposed establishment of a Jewish national state in Palestine (and he was generally anti-nationalist). Accordingly, he also declined an offer to be President of Israel. (9) He had many personal and social ties, yet he also felt himself to be largely a loner, compelled to spend much of his time in the realm of solitary contemplation. (10) He was very fond of invention, engineering, and music, to the extent of receiving patents and being a good violinist himself. In fact, music was almost as important to him as physics. Highly recommended to anyone interested in Einstein, modern physics, science, philosophy, and/or biographies.
Date published: 2011-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from MY FAVORITE! I simply cannot grow tired of this course! The content is comprehensive and fluid - one never wonders where you are being led. Professor Howard is one of the finest presenters I have had the opportunity to listen to. His calm and concise presentation never leaves the track. Listening to him is like visiting an old friend... you just want to settle back, tuck a comforter around you, and go for the ride! This course is a must-have for any and all Einstein fans, as well as history buffs who find the government/science connection compelling.
Date published: 2011-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Science steals the show Einstein’s scientific accomplishments take center stage in this one, and in fact steal the show with its focus in the majority of all lectures. His life and times were more of a side show. This is an unexpectedly challenging and sometimes abstract course, with some material admittedly going over my head, especially the lectures on quantum mechanics. I’m glad I did Understanding the Universe first. One aspect I really loved about the course was that you get an in-depth view not only of his scientific achievements in theoretical physics, but also a smattering of Einstein’s philosophy of science, his political leanings, family life, creativity, and the social/political climate dominating throughout his life. By the end of the course, you really do feel a sense of Einstein’s legacy. In my case, I felt quite satisfied, the same way you feel after a full Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings. The course Guidebook, in outline form, is thick and very well-written. It’s comprehensive in its own right. The Glossary I found myself referring to often, and the Biographical Notes was equally important because there are so many individuals coming and going throughout the course. It’s just amazing how far and wide Einstein reach extends. Dr Howard is an excellent lecturer. He’s articulate and his German sounds really good (a little less so his French). He is not the most animated of lecturers, but he’s your prototypical university lecturer. He uses a lot of rhetorical questions that serve their purpose as anchor points for reflection. He’s very neutral, covering every aspect of Einstein’s life, both the good and the bad, and never sweeps any controversial issues under the rug in order to pay tribute to his hero. One thing you come away with is that Einstein was very much human, just like us, as much as he was a mythologized icon. If I were to choose the best single, individual TGC lecture among all the courses I have, I would no doubt have to consider Lecture 24 of Albert Einstein among the very best TGC has to offer.
Date published: 2011-05-24
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