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    Albert Einstein asserts with "firm confidence that the theory of relativity is true"

    Albert Einstein Typed Letter Signed "A. Einstein." One page, 8.5" x 11", Princeton, New Jersey, July 3, 1948. The letter is typed on Einstein's personal stationery, which is embossed along the top margin, "A. Einstein/ 112, Mercer Street/ Princeton/ New Jersey, U.S.A." In this missive addressed to Richard G. Kieninger of Chicago, the preeminent theoretical physicist pointedly defends his controversial theory of relativity. The body of the letter reads in full,

    "I have firm confidence that the theory of relativity is true and have never made a statement to the contrary. I have stated, however, that the allegation that only a dozen people are able to understand the theory is a 'hoax'."

    Einstein's terse defense is likely a response to an accusation by Kieninger that Einstein had doubts about the validity of his relativity theory. Not only did he not have doubts about it, Einstein writes, but he believed that people - at least more than "only a dozen people" - could understand it, something the physicist had declared many times in public. The physicist directly refers to a question posed to him during his first visit to America in 1921 when he was asked by a Chicago journalist, "Is it true only twelve great minds can understand your theory?" Einstein replied, "No, no. I think the majority of scientists who have studied it can understand it" (Chicago Herald and Examiner, May 3, 1921).

    The theory, of course, was difficult for laymen to grasp. Einstein's earliest ideas about his theory were first published in 1905 as his Special Theory of Relativity. His ideas, though, continued to develop, finally coalescing in his grand General Theory of Relativity, which was published in 1915. The general theory had a monumental impact on the scientific world, even supplanting Isaac Newton's 200-year-old ideas, in part by altering the perception of space and time by showing that neither was absolute. Though the public could not understand the specifics of the theory, they did understand the important loss of certainty, which was summed up by the New York Times on December 7, 1919, "The foundations of all human thought have been undermined." The result was a backlash against the theory and its author. Einstein, though, felt that transplanting the idea of relativity to other areas such as morality and religion was to misuse and misunderstand his theory. When he visited America for the first time in 1921, he asserted several times that most scientists should be able to understand it. Hundreds of books were published within a few years after the theory's publication to attempt explanations, including one by Einstein that contained thought experiments to help readers visualize his ideas. But opposition continued from some corners and was still prevalent thirty-three years after the theory's 1915 publication, as evidenced in this letter.

    This letter's paper is toned with folds. Included is the letter's original envelope bearing Einstein's Princeton address (112 Mercer Street) as the return address and an unsigned photograph of Einstein laughing with his son Hans Albert Einstein.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2011
    8th-9th Friday-Saturday
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