The Net Advance of Physics RETRO:
Part One


2014 January 20

Moszkowski's own suggested soundtrack for his dialogues --
Franz Schubert: Wanderer-Fantasie in C-Dur, Op. 15.
Performed by Andreas Xenopoulos.

SOURCE: Einstein: Einblicke in seine Gedankenwelt -- Gemeinverständliche Betrachtegung über die Relativitätstheorie und ein neues Weltsystem entwickelt aus Gesprächen mit Einstein von Alexander Moszkowski [Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1921]
English translation: Einstein the Searcher translated by Henry L. Brose [New York: E. P. Dutton, 1922]

Moszkowski's (or Brose's) words are in bold.


[The first half of the preface is Brose's translation.]

The book which is herewith presented to the public has few contemporaries of a like nature ; it deserves special attention inasmuch as it is illuminated by the name Albert Einstein, and deals with a personality whose achievements mark a turning-point in the development of science.

Every investigator, who enlarges our vision by some permanent discovery, becomes a milestone on the road to knowledge, and great would be the array of those who have defined the stages of the long avenue of research. One might endeavour, then, to decide to whom mankind owes the greater debt, to Euclid or to Archimedes, to Plato or to Aristotle, to Descartes or to Pascal, to Lagrange or to Gauss, to Kepler or to Copernicus. One would have to investigate -- as far as this is possible -- in how far each outstanding personality was in advance of his time, whether some contemporary might not have had the equal good fortune to stumble on the same discovery, and whether, indeed, the time had not come when it must inevitably have been revealed.

If we then further selected only those who saw far beyond their own age into the illimitable future of knowledge, this great number of celebrities would be considerably diminished. We should glance away from the kilometer- and milestones, and fix our gaze on the larger signs that denote the lines of demarcation of the sciences, and among them we should find the name of Albert Einstein. We may find it necessary to proceed to a still more rigorous classification ; Science, herself, may rearrange her chronological table later, and reckon the time at which Einstein's doctrine first appeared as the beginning of an important era.

This would in itself justify -- nay, render imperative -- the writing of a book about Einstein. But this need has already been satisfied on several occasions, and there is even now a considerable amount of literature about him. At the end of this generation we shall possess a voluminous library composed entirely of books about Einstein. The present book will differ from most of these, in that Einstein here occurs not only objectively but also subjectively. We shall, of course, speak of him here too, but we shall also hear him speak himself, and there can be no doubt that all who are devoted to the world thought can but gain by listening to him.

The title agrees with the circumstance to which this book owes its birth. And in undertaking to address itself to the circle of readers as to an audience, it promises much eloquence that came from Einstein's own lips, during hours of social intercourse, far removed from academic purposes and not based on any definite scheme intended for instruction. It will, therefore, be neither a course of lectures nor anything similar aiming at a systematic order and development. Nor is it a mere phonographic record, for this is made impossible if for no other reason than that whoever has the good fortune to converse with this man, finds every minute far too precious to waste it in snatching moments to take shorthand notes. What he has heard and discussed crystallizes itself in subsequent notes, and to some extent he relies on his memory, which would have to be extraordinarily lax if it managed to forget the essentials of such conversations.

But these essentials could not be attained by clinging closely to the exact terms of utterance. This would be a gain neither for the scheme of the book nor for the reader who wishes to follow a great thinker in all the ramifications of his ideas. It must be reiterated that this book is intended neither as a textbook nor as a guide leading to a complete system of thought ; nor, above all, is it in any way due to Einstein, nor desired by him.

Any value and attraction of the book is rather to be sought in its kaleidoscopic nature, its loose connexion, which expresses a general meaning without being narrowed to pedantic limits by a restriction to literal repetition. It is just this absence of the method that is rightly demanded of a textbook, which may enable these conversations to pass on to the world a little of the pleasure which they originally gave me. Perhaps they will even be sufficient to furnish the reader with a picture of the eminent scientist, sufficient to give him a glimpse of his personality, without demanding a detailed study to secure this end.

Even here I should like to state that the range of Einstein's genius extends much further than is generally surmised by those who have busied themselves only with the actual physical theory. It sends out rays in all directions, and brings into view wonderful cosmic features under his stimulus -- features which are, of course, embedded in the very refractory mathematical shell of his physics which embraces the whole world. But only minds of the distant future, perhaps, will be in a position to realize that all our mental knowledge is illuminated by the light of his doctrine.

Einstein's mission is that of a king who is pursuing building operations on a large scale ; carters and workmen, each in their own line, receive employment for decades ahead. But apart from the technical work, there may still be room for non-technical account, which, without following a definite programme, yet pursues a definite object, to offer Einsteiniana in an easily intelligible and ever-changing form, to represent him, as it were, wandering over fields and meadows, and every now and then stooping to pluck some problem in the guise of a flower.

Seeing that he granted me the pleasure of accompanying him on these excursions, it was not within my sphere to expect in addition that he would direct his steps according to a preconceived plan. Often enough the goal vanished, and there remained nothing but the pleasure of the rambles themselves with the consciousness of their purpose. As Schopenhauer remarks, one who walks for leisure can never be said to be making detours ; and this holds true independently of the nature of the country that happens to be traversed at the moment.

If I just now mentioned walks on meadowy slopes, this is not to be understood literally. In Einstein's company one encounters from moment to moment quite suddenly some adventure which destroys our comparison with idyllic rambles. Abysmal depths appear, and one has to pass along dangerous pathways. It is at these moments that unexpected views present themselves, and many strips of landscape that, according to our previous estimate, appeared to be situated on higher slopes, are now discovered reposing far below. We are familiar with the "Wanderer Fantasie" of Schubert ; its tonal disposition is realistic, conforming to Nature, yet its general expression is transcendental : so is a ramble with Einstein ; he remains firmly implanted in reality, but the distant views that he points out stretch into transcendental regions. He seems to me to be essentially as much an artist as a discoverer, and if some sense of this heaven-sent combination of gifts should be inspired by this book, it alone would justify the publication of these talks.

[Brose's translation of the Preface stops here. The remainder of the Preface has to our knowledge never before appeared in English. Preliminary translation by Norman Hugh Redington, 2014.]

Some might think to scent out here a parallel with the book by Eckermann. I cannot prevent a reader from setting forth upon a bridge of words extending from the conversations with Einstein which form the basis of this work to the Conversations with Goethe, and indeed, in certain respects, I might even allow myself also to be pleased with the analogy -- above all because, conceivably, I could with the support of something elementary reach posterity like Eckermann before, or, to cite still another comparison, like the fly in the amber. However Goethe and Einstein lie in entirely different planes of observation and they are, assessed overall, incommensurable. Therefore it would be wrong to expect, on account of the verbal similarity, a substantial similarity in the matter.

It is up to me alone whether to forestall such a conjecture, and after that to point out that here the personalities of the speakers are not even distantly mentioned, or whether to set the themes under treatment in parallel. Regardless, very great dissimilarities will show themselves in the plan and the substantive organisation of the text.

To begin with, Eckermann had at his disposal fully nine years of an almost uninterrupted intercourse with Goethe, and thus so great a store of conversational material that even after making countless extracts he had enough for volumes more. Then, too, there was the participation of a host of other personalities who gathered in Weimar around the Illustrious One, because Goethe stood in the blazing focus of all intellectual life. Eckermann therefore had adjusted his whole existence to the role of a mirror, to reproducing all the reflections of Goethe's inexhaustibly rich life. All of the Great Man's recollections came bubbling forth from him, yet the richer as the loquacity of the old gentleman de omnibus rebus et de quibusdam aliis seemed without end. By no means did Eckermann need to ask questions, to dig, to bring up topics. The sluices of information stood constantly open near his opposite number regardless ; to fulfill his rewarding and thanksworthy duty, he needed only listen steadily and convert what he heard into written notes.

I, by contrast, found something quite otherwise: the most restrictive conditions, to wit, the bare possibility of conversation in a comparatively short time-period and on a series of, it is true, very important themes, but ones narrowly restricted in number. No room here for long-windedness, nothing that reminds one of dinner conversation and cozy chat ! Between us it was a question of Questions -- those for whose sake one dare trouble an Einstein. This should not be taken to mean that I restricted myself to the style of an "interviewer" [Moszkowski uses the English word]. Rather, there existed from the beginning an understanding between us that the subjects of the conversations, with all freedom of choice in their particular course, should be interrupted, where admissible, sub specie æterni. For all the aimlessness of the form, there remained this aim in the matter: the discussion should lead to penultimate and ultimate things.

Friedrich Nietzsche has described the Eckermann conversations as the best book in the German language -- a remark which in its high-flownness may pass among the other paradoxes of Nietzche. There is no more a best book in the German language than a best tree in the German woods. One strips away the Nietzchean exaggeration : there remains that Eckermann's book looms before us as a towering work of art, a document of Kultur despite the many dispensible quotidian items fluttering around the Great Man. Indeed, the pettiness of certain sententious, biased remarks belongs to the overall picture of Goethe, and likewise the unctuous pretension with which those remarks are treated like an oracle of antiquity.

All such historical assessments are out of the question in the case at hand. I was guided in this neither to pick up every irrelevancy for the sake of completeness, nor to strive predominantly for an authoritative intonation in the account of the essential points. How remarkably it happens in in Einstein's speech, as I have often noted, that he himself, even on subjects where no-one disputes his authority, intersperses modest reservations!

I truly share Eckermann's curiosity, but otherwise I feel in no way connected to his essence. It would hardly have occurred to Einstein to grant me access if he had expected from me nothing but a sound-carrier and a living echo.

It is very repugnant to me to talk of myself in this context, but I feel duty-bound so to do, merely to explain the privilege which was granted me. Many a reader to whose notice my earlier writings may have come will be aware that my works have frequently disported themselves in the borderlands of fields belonging simultaneously to many disciplines and to none --- where life and art flow together in a mist with natural history and metaphysics. Reflexions on such matters run mostly without definite result ; here, however, they have had for me a very valuable outcome: as Einstein's conversational partner, I was accepted in the capacity of a debater.

Thus I was allowed to go out of the narrow enclosure of the bare rules of interrogation, to express my opinion, yea, even to venture to contradict. But he knew that the emotional tone of distance would be preserved under all circumstances. One contradicts one's superior not on some pig-headed impulse, but rather through industrious thought, both with him and with one's self, to give turns to the conversation, and thereby to give shape to the discussion which otherwise, under the appearance of a dialogue, would have remained an instructive monologue. And to deliver such, a savant had liefer ascend the university lectern than sit down with one person, however attentive an audience !

That a book should be formed simply from the conversations was by no means firmly on the agenda from the start. As the talks proceded, the wish first developed in me to capture the value of those flying hours, and I must expressly reveal that my plan ran up against stiff opposition. Over and over the misgiving presented itself to him -- he would somehow have to be responsible for the words of this text, and therefore for sentences and comments which adapted themselves only to the swift river of a conversation without the strictness and solidity appropriate for publication. His eventual permission was based on the condition that all responsibility, all defense of the book and representation on its behalf, remains to me alone. It was to become a book written by me, compiled from the conversations. My widened right to shape and edit everything according to my personal writerly judgement was restricted by the duty to carry all alone before the reader the moral burden of authorship.

This duty and that right belong to one another so intimately in freedom that a natural form of organisation by only one pen proved to be a necessity. The saying of the Tübingen philosopher, "A talk is not a write," [ Eine Rede ist keine Schreibe, playing on the fact that "talk", unlike "write", can be both noun and verb] remains correct also in the converse. A "write" should not be a talk, least of all when it arises from the talk.

One has above all to bear in mind the linkages only hinted at in the dialogue -- touched on, even left out entirely, but which in the altered perspective before the broad public claim a special treatment. They have here frequently been organised like the Underground, with, so to speak, stairways and landings for relief on the ascent when the thema probandum lies at an inconvenient height.

Yes, I have even allowed myself, as one must allow one's self, here and there not to make exactness overexact, if only I might think of the approximate sense of what was said. In the choice between approximation and nothing at all, I decided rather on existence with gaps than complete complete renunciation.

There is still more to reveal. I confess that Albert Einstein had no knowledge before publication of the final wording, and especially of my personal evaluation of his character. Here I have again placed great store in my role of author-organiser, only so as to put down certain opinions I would advocate, which I could not otherwise have advanced in the form that I wished. [Translation doubtful: Hierauf habe ich als gestaltender Verfasser wiederum Wert gelegt, um gewisse nur von mir zu vertretende Urteile hinzustellen, die ich andernfalls in der von mir gewünschten Form nicht hätte durchsetzen können.] In these confessions lies no confession of any sin, but if any lay therein, amnesty were guaranteed me. The Pythagoreans themselves, with their oath of exactitude "Autos epha -- He himself has said it" -- were not able to keep faith in each and every one of their thoughts, and, by a slight sacrifice of that kind of accuracy, things that would otherwise be lost may at times be rescued.

Thus have I written it, and I can say in a purely technically sense with, alas, excellent precision: "This is my book." So too might a fluorescent body speak: "I shine." Certainly, it sends off rays -- after it has been illuminated by the sun's light. Likewise a piece of metal bombarded by gamma rays is able to fling off luminous ions.

Speaking "unphysically", one short afterword to this foreword remains, as it is put in the Tasso. I turn to the Master's book [Goethe: Torquato Tasso, I, iii (Swanick translation)] and cite with complete sincerity: Fain would I say how sensibly I feel // That what I bring is all derived from thee !


It is scarcely necessary to enlarge on the scope and design of the present book, which manifest themselves at a glance.

The author merits our thanks for making accessible to us material about Einstein which, in the ordinary course of events, would ever remain unknown. An account of Einstein's work would be incomplete without a sketch of his personality. Mr. Moszkowski invites us to ramble with Einstein into realms not confined to pure physics. Many subjects that have a peculiar interest at the present critical stage of the world's history receive illuminating attention. It is hoped that the appearance of the book in English will stimulate further interest in the thought-world of a great scientist.

Warm thanks are due to Mr. Raymond Kershaw, B.A., and to my sister, Miss Hilda Brose, for help in reading the manuscript and the proofs.


Oxford, 1921


  1. Phenomena of the Heavens
  2. Beyond our Power
  3. Valhalla
  4. Education
  5. The Discoverer
  6. Of Different Worlds
  7. Problems
  8. Highways and By-ways
  9. An Experimental Analogy
  10. Disconnected Suggestions
  11. Einstein's Life and Personality