Einstein believed his greatest blunder to have been the retraction of one of his equations but, as writer David Bodanis tells, the great scientist's misstep actually happened immediately after.
David Bodanis is a futurist, business advisor and popular science writer, and when it comes to Einstein, he literally wrote the books – plural. His first was called E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation, which was translated into 26 languages and turned into a documentary and an award-winning ballet. Now Bodanis goes deeper into the genius’ world with the biography Einstein’s Greatest Mistake.
In the video above, Bodanis gives us a glimpse into Einstein’s mind and character. Einstein was one of the greatest scientists in history to date, but he was not above mistakes. His biggest one, according to Bodanis, was being burned by an experience in the 1920s and letting it affect the remainder of his career and work.
Einstein famously said that God does not play dice with the universe. He believed that the universe could not be chaotic and random – after all, he had composed an equation for general relativity so simple and concise that it was a thing of succinct, ordered beauty. That is until he looked at his formula and realized that, if it were true, it predicted that the universe was expanding. Einstein checked this with astronomers, but they said that no, the universe is definitely static – this was the dominant thought circa 1918. So Einstein ignored his prediction and had to add a symbol – a lambda – to his equation to account for the static nature of the universe.
About ten years later, in 1929, Edwin Hubble and other astronomers uncovered what was to most of the world's experts a new twist: the universe was expanding. Einstein could have predicted this a decade earlier, and now faced the public embarrassment of retracting part of his equation. Einstein told a colleague that putting in the lambda was "the greatest blunder of my life." But that's where he was wrong; his mistake was not the retraction but, as Bodanis explains above, it was deciding that from that point forward he could ignore experiments that seemed to disprove what he was convinced was right.
David Bodanis' most recent book is Einstein’s Greatest Mistake.