Genius: Einstein
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Genius: Einstein

A few times in every generation a person is born who embodies qualities considerably beyond the intellectual scope of our species. These gifted individuals can think out if the box, to achieve a perspective on the world around us that defies the status quo, forcing such a paradigm shift that established understanding subjected to intense scrutiny and substantial revision. Those of us born to the so-called Baby-Boomer generation have witnessed changes in science that rippled into major alterations of every aspect of life. During this period Americans changed from the radio as the primary source of news and information to television and ultimately the global scope of the internet. Little of this would have been feasible without a complete understanding of the universe at a miniscule level of detail unimaginable less than a generation prior. The early twentieth century became a new renaissance that dared to probe the fabric of existence below the atomic, redefining the bastion of mathematically precise science, physics. An elite cadre of scientist that created one of the most unusual branches of knowledge ever, quantum physics. This was such a novel means of examining the universe that it required the creation of new perspectives necessitating new forms of mathematics and the language used to express them. The luminaries that took the lead in this charge into an uncharted future, many lending their names to the experiments and formulas needed to redefine the fabric of reality itself. Many of these scientists remain known primarily by the current students and practitioners of this new understanding. One man was able to rise above them all to become a household name garnering the fame usually reserved for movie stars or sporting champions, Albert Einstein. The National Geographic cable network produced series dedicated to illuminating the lives of humanities greatest contributors to the arts and sciences, ‘The Geniuses.’ The initial subject of this documentary series was ‘Einstein.’

Many people consider Einstein as the brilliant older man with eyes beaming with kindness and wisdom, after all, they were the model for Yoda after all. This season brings the audience into the life of one of the most recognizable geniuses in history. Before commencing with this consideration of the season, it is prudent to acknowledge a few caveats. The fundamental narrative makes a concerted effort to portray the essence of the widely accepted, glossed over presentation. The writers made every effort to incorporate reliable, vetted sources, but, as with and dramatization of biographical material, deviations were infused in the story for the sake of continuity and its appeal as a work of entertainment. Any members of the audience prone to idolize Professor Einstein will be disappointed, if not upset with the ’warts and all’ approach this as employed so well in this docudrama. This goes to the fundamental mandate employed by the producers; the aeries is dedicated to exploring the multifaceted person born with the gifts usually referred to as a genius. There is no argument that Albert Einstein (Geoffrey Rush) was the face of the quantum revolution that redefined how our species was able to explore the fabric of reality on a level deeper than ever imagined, but to the chagrin of some, this did not ensure he was a consistently likable person.

During his youth, Herr Einstein was pushed by his strict father to succeed, not only along the path chosen for him to follow. It is not an unusual circumstance for any person, great or small, to have to contend with the overwhelming pressure from parental demands. What is always crucial to understand, especially with a biography or any subject matter based on real event, is to properly place the subject and his experiences in the timeline of history. None of what occurs within the context of the story takes place in a vacuum or can contradict the official record just as the importance of their influence on the subject and, ultimately the world. In the case of Einstein, he happened to be born into the worst possible environment for nurturing grand, innovative ideas, Germany, soon after the conclusion of World War One. Just as the burgeoning mind of humanity’s greatest physicists was concerned with challenging millennia of preconceived ideas as to the structure of reality, he lived at a time when the world was on the precipice of its darkest chapter. It is impossible to separate the development of this man’s gifts and growth as a person from the sociopolitical landscape of Europe. , This specifically involved German.The country had begun to spiral down to what would become the nadir of humanity’s morality, the rise of the National Socialist Party, better known by the name that would remain in infamy, the Nazi. The totalitarian regime produced widespread hardship, but for the Jews, a deadly nightmare of unimaginable proportions had just begun. Boys and young men clad in brown shirts roam the streets of Belin defiant of any laws or customs. Upon encountering a Jew, the hatred simmers on the precipice of fully erupting. Einstein was routinely hassled although at this point it remains short of achieving critical mass.

The local schools have nothing to teach Einstein, at least anything of value to his academic goals. Traditional education in the sciences consists exclusively of rote memorization and blind recital. Independent thought was not only discouraged; it was often harshly punished. The nascent genius was undeterred, determined to get a true education. That end, his sights are set on the prestigious Zürich Polytechnic. His first attempt at entry fails with the entrance examination. The math portion was easily passed with the highest grade ever, but Albert failed in the sections relating to the humanities. The dean of the physics department is impressed and offers to allow Albert to retake the examine next year. During the interim, the boards with some relatives where a young woman teaches him, French, the arts and carnal pursuits, her plans to marry the young Einstein go awry when he falls in love with the only woman to gain a place in the institute, Mileva Marić (Samantha Colley). She was brilliant, the only student to exceed Albert’s score in math. Mileva had to fight for every centimeter of progress in her field; academia was a male-dominated endeavor. She also had to overcome a physical hardship, a deformity of one foot. Mileva initially rebuffed Albert’s advances but ultimately became his first wife.

The series follows Einstein through the lean years as he tried to become established in the rapidly advancing field of physics. A good document part of his life is examined, working as a civil servant, a clerk in the patent office. During this time, he and Mileva were living hand to mouth, but despite the meager resources, it was a productive time for Einstein. His theoretical papers found their way to one of the leaders in the field, Max Planck, who invited Einstein to collaborate with him. This was Einstein’s introduction into the cadre of humanity’s greatest, most ingenious minds. The series balances the coming of age of an extraordinary person juxtaposed with one of the most pivotal points in our species striving to understand the universe. The synergy manifested between a young man experiencing the first pangs of love, the awakening of unfamiliar emotions and the realization of his intellectual potential. Either of those circumstances would be sufficient to ignite emotional and psychological distress, but together, they were overwhelming. A difficulty inherent in a topic like this is establishing a commonality between the subject and audience. An intellectual giant like Einstein would be understandably difficult. Few people viewing this series could understand the most rudimentary aspects of the theories that were being developed. Einstein was known for his use of Gedankenexperiment, thought experiments. To grasp the nuances of general relativity by picturing yourself sitting on a beam of light, traversing the cosmos, proves no frame of reference for most people. What is infused in the foundation of the story is character development. After all,l the series is about the exploration of the man and his expression of his genius, and the work product of an incredible theoretician. This series takes a step back to explore the nature of genius as a part of the human experience.

Posted    05/04/2018

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