What Happened When Einstein Met Indian Mystic Tagore

Albert Einstein gives his surprising perspective on truth to Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore.


The natures of truth, reality, beauty, and consciousness are the kind of weighty, meaty topics great minds love to discuss. In Germany in 1930, just such a conversation took place between Albert Einstein and Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore. Explored in the new book Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein Met Tagoreby David L. Gosling, this dialogue wasn’t the usual religion vs. science debate you’re likely to see on CNN.

Tagore says, “It is a relative world, depending for its relativity upon our consciousness.” His entire argument is that beauty and truth are completely dependent on humans observing them, that there is no beauty without an admirer, and no truth without a believer.

Einstein disagrees with the truth aspect, stating that “the Pythagorean theorem in geometry states something that is approximately true, independent of the existence of man. Anyway, if there is a reality independent of man, there is also a Truth relative to this reality; and in the same way the negation of the first engenders a negation of the existence of the latter.”

Einstein and Tagore had a genuine curiosity about each other's perspectives, how they complement one another and how they differ.

Einstein believed more in absolute truth than the religious man he was debating, which apparently surprised Einstein as he exclaimed, “Then I am more religious than you are!” Tagore replied, “My religion is in the reconciliation of the Super-personal Man, the universal human spirit, in my own individual being.” The whole universe inside you and you inside the universe — it brings to mind the famous Carl Sagan quote: “We are all made of star stuff.”

Read the whole conversation between Einstein and Tagore here.

Author Robin Wright explains how "reconciliation is possible" between science and faith.


Einstein and Tagore had a genuine curiosity about each other's perspectives, how they complement one another and how they differ. The respect they have for one another results in a brilliant exchange of ideas. Others have mentioned it recollects how today HH Dalai Lama appreciates scientific inquiry, but for me it goes beyond being about religion in the strictest sense and delves into philosophical and metaphysical musings, including one of Einstein’s favorite topics: relativity (albeit, in this case, it has nothing to do with space-time).

I’m inclined to agree with Tagore that truth is relative to man, seeing as the more we know about the world around us the more previous laws and theories are reshaped or disproved (what is scientifically true today may not be true tomorrow). However, I welcome the investigation and the curiosity that drives it. It seems worse to not care about the universe and its apparent laws than to be proven wrong about those laws decades later.

Indeed, as we investigate our inner and outer universes, the more similarities are found. We are made from the very materials that compose our universe. Our actions affect every other person on the planet. We now know we are interconnected in a way Einstein and Tagore couldn’t possibly have imagined. And I think that’s pretty beautiful — relative to my human perception.


--

Lori Chandler is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn, NY. She has been published in The New York Times and on CollegeHumor. You can follow her on Twitter @LilBoodleChild to keep up with her latest pieces, performance dates, and wry observations. 

Einstein and Tagore Photo: Martin Vos/Getty Archive

Space Photo: Space Frontiers/Getty

Collage: Lori Chandler

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

Surprising Science
  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.


Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

For thousands of years, humans slept in two shifts. Should we do it again?

Researchers believe that the practice of sleeping through the whole night didn’t really take hold until just a few hundred years ago.

The Bed by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Surprising Science

She was wide awake and it was nearly two in the morning. When asked if everything was alright, she said, “Yes.” Asked why she couldn’t get to sleep she said, “I don’t know.” Neuroscientist Russell Foster of Oxford might suggest she was exhibiting “a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern." Research suggests we used to sleep in two segments with a period of wakefulness in-between.

Keep reading Show less

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
Sponsored
  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Keep reading Show less