January 27, 2022

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Einstein: Science, Errors, and Those Original (often Broken) Covenants With God

The news of the auction of an Albert Einstein manuscript containing 54 pages of notes dating back to 1913-1914 caused a sensation in the media. The following year the German-born physicist would propose the theory of relativity, which would go down in history under the name general relativity. What surprised him most, with the confirmation given by the media, was the €11.6 million price paid for those papers, while it was confirmed that there were arithmetic errors contained, which nevertheless did not undermine the landing on general relativity. But one can legitimately ask: Why spend so much on mistakes? The story teaches that thought is always and in any case wrong in the double sense of the verb: to make mistakes and to go wrong. In short, in research, we begin to grope, that is, we continue trial and error, trying to learn from the mistakes made. Einstein experienced failure firsthand when he failed the entrance exam at the Zurich Polytechnic in 1895. Genius did not stop with errors and imperfections, but went further, facing them and overcoming them.

Research and science is done by trial and error and often they have to go through, face failures and take errors into account in order to get results. Anyone who claims that sciences, such as medicine, are infallible or expects them to be, for example the ability to vaccinate, is surely mistaken. The great mathematician Kurt Gödel, when he learned that logician Abraham Robinson was suffering from a terminal illness, wrote to him that his “unconventional” opinion concerned the fact that no medical diagnosis could be one hundred percent certain. How, we can say, neither drug nor vaccine can avoid the risk of infection one hundred percent. Never as in this contingency can Ulrich Beck’s lesson on “risk society” be more useful, which is not the disaster, but what separates us from it, even its distance from it.

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But this action by touch or attempts is also about the search for God, both on the part of man and on the part of God himself (objective and subjective genitive). The first case was impressively expressed in the class. 17 of the book Acts of the ApostlesWhen Luke tells us that Paul, addressing the members of the Athenian Areopagus, was saying, “Athenians, I see that you are very religious in all respects. Since I have passed and watched the things of your sect, I have also found an altar on which was written: To the unknown God. Well, what I adore you unknowingly, I declare it to you. God, who created the world and everything in it, and is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples built with human hands. Nor is the hand of man served by him as if he needed anything. He who gives all life, soul, and everything. the face of the whole earth, having determined the ages allotted to them and the limits of their inhabitation, so that they could search for God, if they came to find Him one day, AttemptAlthough it is not far from all of us.” Philosophies and religions are only human endeavors, and for this reason they are infallible in the search for the Absolute.

On the other hand, the Biblical God also advances by trial and error in his search for man: how many incomplete covenants! How many failures! How many missed opportunities! Until he decides to send his Son, or rather to take upon himself our failures, our mistakes, and our frailties, which are redeemed on the cross. Thus every human assumption of infallibility is defeated, along with death.

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Here we meet George Trakl’s verses about the wanderer: “A Winter’s Evening”:

When the snow falls on the window,
For a long time the evening bell rings.
For many, the table is ready
The whole house is in good condition.

Some are in their possession make mistake
They come to the door through dark corridors.
Aureo grace tree blooms
of fresh ground sap.

The traveler enters silently,
Pain has petrified the threshold.
There shines in pure light
Bread and wine at the table.

So wandering and error is the way to get to the table through pain. So we share this sinful king with those who seek cures for our diseases and choose in politics, always infallible and perfect, but, as we hope and want to believe, inspired by the common good.