Sceptic Schism | Issue 20

Sceptic Schism | Issue 20

Einstein, Hannibal and Genius

The internet is full of fake Einstein quotes that people attach to him to make others pay attention. For example, Einstein is famously credited with saying, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!” This may be true, but Einstein didn’t say it. He was a physicist, not an entomologist, or a botanist, or even a biologist. He also wasn’t an economist, or a sociologist, or an environmentalist, or a relationship counsellor.

I found an article called “Ten Things Einstein Can Teach You About Love”. The advice may be sound, but we should not be listening to Einstein for marital advice. As well as being a serial philanderer, Einstein once wrote a list of criteria his first wife had to stick to in order to stay married to him. The criteria included: “You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, You will forego: 1. My sitting at home with you. 2. My going out or travelling with you.” Another requirement was “You will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way.” What a dreamboat, huh?

Hannibal Lector, in the TV series Hannibal, is a good example of what we sometimes think geniuses are capable of. Hannibal is a psychiatrist, he makes every meal he eats look so beautiful it makes you want to eat people, he hosts frequent high-brow dinner parties, he draws like a professional artist, he plays the harpsichord like a professional musician, he knows ballroom dancing, all about science, literature, music and history. And still has time to plot and execute elaborate murders, maintain several properties in diverse locations and keep a few people alive in pits. Any one of these skills requires decades of training. If someone were to be highly skilled at two of these things, it would be incredible. But we never see Hannibal fumbling through a new harpsichord piece for hours at a time or writing out study notes.

Was Einstein a brilliant physicist who came up with the theory of relativity? Yes, he was. Did he have adorable mad-scientist flyaway white hair and a big moustache? You bet your freakin’ life he did! Was he an expert on everything in the world? Probably not.

This article first appeared in Issue 20, 2015.
Posted 2:36pm Sunday 16th August 2015 by Wee Doubt.