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Physics Myth Month - Einstein Failed Mathematics?

By September 19, 2007

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Today's addition to the list of Popular Physics Myths is that Albert Einstein failed in mathematics courses.

When growing up, I remember being frequently told the proverbial stories about Einstein as a child, how he did poorly in school and even failed in mathematics. While Einstein was not necessarily the best student in class, he never did particularly poorly in school, aside from a handful of instances where he ran afoul of teachers that he didn't get along with. And he certainly never failed mathematics.

The relationship between Einstein and mathematics has always been a tenuous one. He considered becoming a mathematician, but chose physics because he felt it could lead to more significant truths about reality.*

Einstein frequently lamented his own problems in mathematics throughout his career, as he went on to revolutionize the field of physics. He frequently enlisted the aid of other mathematicians, including his first wife, to check his work for errors, and they were frequently found which has led some to believe that he was a bad mathematician and probably helped to give rise to the rumour.

Still, the fact is that Einstein had a very firm grasp on sophisticated mathematical concepts, even if he did occasionally need to enlist aid in formalizing his theoretical descriptions. He always understood the mathematics that he was working with once he was able to get help in hammering out the specific details.

*This was a notion that Einstein would revise years later, as he befriended logician Kurt Godel at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Godel, ironically, had once considered becoming a physicist, but had chosen mathematics because he felt that it was more "perfect" and, therefore, could be used to more accurately describe the nature of truths about reality.

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Image: This iconic image of Einstein sticking out his tongue has been released into the public domain.

Comments

November 15, 2007 at 4:33 pm
(1) Gendou says:

Thank you for helping to bust this myth.
Very well explored.

October 19, 2009 at 4:02 am
(2) Aunt of a college Freshman says:

Please Mr. Einstein, look down on my (Freshman college student )Nephew from Physics Heaven and help him grasp the concept!

November 18, 2009 at 1:53 am
(3) Guiri says:

It is no myth, just reading his 1905 paper confirms the fact bad at mathematics

November 23, 2009 at 11:05 am
(4) Rich Saylor says:

Seems to me that the real message here isn’t whether or not Einstein did as poorly in math as has been claimed by some, but that he had any difficulty with the subject at all, yet overcame his early academic (and personal) obstacles and went on to great accomplishments in physics, involving- of course- a lot of mathematical proofs. In short, he eventually found a way around his problems, and so can the rest of us- if we try, and keep at it!

November 29, 2009 at 11:40 pm
(5) Sankara Velayudhan Nandakumar says:

Einstein’s theory can not be applied directly on Exotic phase changes observed-reg
Einstein formula m=mo/√1-v2/c2 can not be expressed or evaluated directly says Sankara Velayudhan Nandakumar as Exotic phase transitions to build his theory of gravity to be reevaluated supporting American New science requirement is surprisingly observed.For instance, at low temperatures liquid helium’s properties change dramatically, becoming a “superfluid” that can overcome friction. In fact, we are for co-opted the mathematics of exotic phase transitions to build our theory of gravity along the 12 magneto optic quantum sectors of space breaking the symmetry always along the plane of hologram. Mass changes to invisible disappearance at square √ root c velocity (1.414c) instead of further increase in mass to infinity at c velocity. Also typical ESP power of the brain to have future predication capability as destiny of space is already decided.
Research group working at Oxford-Cambridge-Anna University astro physics team with Sankara Velayudhan Nandakumar special officer on behalf of Loyola college nano technology dept Cape Institute of Technology,Nagercoil formerly with ,KNSK Engineering college ,Nagercoil as research scholar,Anna University with Hubble space research committee of Hon.Roger Davies,Hon.Collin Webbs FRS of Laser dn of Oxford uk,Hon.Marteen Rees ,Emeritus Professor of cosmology Cambridge ,former president of Royal society, London.
Sankara Velayudhan Nandakumar member PNAS,American on behalf of Loyola college of Engineering and technology ,Member American committee for the Weizman institute of science ,Energy renovation committee cape Institute of Technology,Nagercoil ,former Guest lecturer ,KNSK Engineering college ,Anna University have surprisingly found out genetic mirror
1) Your call CNSHD766034 regarding Einstein’s theory can not be applied directly on Exotic phase changes observed-reg has been received Outreach@stsci.edu

December 4, 2009 at 12:33 am
(6) Sankara Velayudhan Nandakumar says:

Faster galaxies fed by quasars by blackhole quantum dots confirm the possibility of mass disappearance at 1.414 velocity supporting the exotic phase changes involved as a drastic cahnge from infinity to mass disappearance.
Blackhole quantum dots feeding the quasar in effect producing surrounding galaxies producing more sun stars for digital circuits of blackhole quantum dots as a replicate of a blackcrystal-moon stone /green jade doped optonically become a scattering by absorption giving more energy perhaps faster optonic velocity as comparable with more than .5c perhaps may be responsible for faster galaxy buidup out of blackholes feeding quasar feeding surrounding galaxies.perhaps may cross a barrier as per exotic phase changes observed.

December 31, 2009 at 9:22 am
(7) thetruth says:

it’s not a myth… but yes he wasn’t a bad at math. for exemple he got trouble in learning TENSORS analysis and made some errors when constructing general relativity.
so, he was not a great mathematician compared to Gauss, Godel, Newton, Euler, Levi (who taught him Tensor analysis) but still better than 99% that surrounded him.

January 8, 2010 at 11:44 pm
(8) Sankara Velayudhan Nandakumar says:

Kurt Gödel PROVED that ALL math must be kept within certain parameters. The
essential concept in Gödel’s proof is that if you cannot see the entire
universe then what you believe are universal math & laws may only be subset
math & rules for your particular subset reference frame.
This must be exactly what is happening if ALL astronomers in ALL our
universities KNOW Newton was right and gravity must be happening far, far
faster than the speed of light, or this universe could not possibly be
stable, but the entire other half of the scientific community believes that
gravity must be acting at the speed of light.

It is exactly like this so something must be very, very wrong with our rules
and math if half the scientists believe one thing and the
other half, something entirely different. Hence following the law of physics
by some intuition the mathematical limitation is applies as disputed by Sir
arthur Eddington with Dr.Chandrasekhar during the formulation of theory of
mass disppearance at a point by the direct application of mathematics which
will be the mathematical bafoonary.

*Research group of Sankara Velayudhan Nandakumar special officer on behalf
of Loyola college nano technology dept Cape Institute of
Technology,Nagercoil formerly with ,KNSK Engineering college ,Nagercoil as
research scholar,Anna University with Hubble space research committee of
Hon.Roger Davies,Hon.Collin Webbs FRS of Laser dn of Oxford uk,Hon.Marteen
Rees ,Emeritus Professor of cosmology Cambridge ,former president of Royal
society, London. ***

*Sankara Velayudhan Nandakumar member PNAS ,American ,JILA Group member on
behalf of Loyola college of Enigineering and technology ,Member
PNAS,American committee for the Weizman institute of science ,Energy
renovation committee cape Institute of Technology,Nagercoil ,former Guest
lecturer ,KNSK Engineering college ,Anna University have surprisingly found
out genetic mirror have found out an interesting symmetry breaking from
linear resonance to polarization of 69 dynamics must have a meaning over the
water affined genes in understanding water affined catastrophe.*
All astromers must apply mathematics very carefully with mathematical applications for limitations only-reg [Incident: 100109-000047

February 14, 2010 at 6:56 am
(9) Rob says:

My physics prof used to say that physicists create the equations.

mathematicians solve them.

May 21, 2010 at 11:14 pm
(10) aali sajid says:

SIR i want to test my physics level im perfect in numerical ability but unable to do physics formula derivation can you help me my email address is given above

August 31, 2011 at 1:35 am
(11) sankaravelayudhan nandakumar says:

Possible cone shaped propagation could be tracked by Hubble research committee at spurious reversible temperature locking system dynamics that requires an investigation in an overlapping frequency region. Such a composite medium is Cancer magneto optic quantum sector where this may really happen a medium possibly that could have been evoluted as the electrons speeds up faster than the speed of light as pressure differentiation initiated according to velocity increased at the 45 degree critical convergence a reversible mirrors forming as J particles.

June 30, 2012 at 10:02 am
(12) Sankaravelayudhan Nandakumar says:

.. Ferromagnets do behave like Curie Paramagnets in high temperature. for a possible invisible cloaking using NRI/PRI Kondo lattices. The magnetic field dependence of the band edge at temperatures below 20 K is interpreted in terms of the conical-spin structure. Its ferromagnetic component which is parallel to the external magnetic field is strongly temperature-dependent. Its ferromagnetic component which is parallel to the external magnetic field is strongly temperature-dependent which could be use for invisible cloaking dynamics as observed in quantum hall’s spin effect. UsingNRI/MRI/KONDO Lattices.
Sankara Velayudhan Nandakumar retired Chief Engineer member PNAS ,American ,JILA,NIST ,Hubble Group member on behalf of Loyola college of Engineering and technology ,Member American committee for the Weizman institute of science ,Energy renovation committee cape Institute of Technology,Nagercoil ,former Guest lecturer ,KNSK Engineering college ,Anna University Now Assistant professor MET Engineering college has surprisingly found out genetic mirror

December 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm
(13) Mike Scarborough says:

I can only imagine how “dangerous” Einstein could have been with the latest version of Mathematica. You can still make errors, just not the minor, stupid ones.

January 31, 2013 at 1:43 am
(14) Sankaravelayudhan Nandakumar says:

Citation :P ole shifting pulsars out of magneticfield variations under spirality and linearity forming poles “
Super charging space domain atoms thus forming high resolution lenses which strip of electrons away from atoms creating ion domains with strong plasma ejections. forming X ray Bose condensing pulsars.of Tornado out of super charging X ray pulsars emitting xray lasers that strip of electrons and ionizing forming spin worms.
We’ve shown for the first time that the quantum fluctuations in a light field are responsible for driving the motions of objects much larger than an electron and could in principle drive the motion of really large objects,”

Dualistic character of heart like expanding and contracting pulsar forming poles out of neutrality towards poles that can depict Einstein’s energy change in between spiral and linear quasi-nature light rays forming mass and mass change over as x ray energies is possible correctly proving Einstein’s mass energy equations as x -ray laser pulsars that pushes the pole from neutrality to positive and negative cores from neutrality to ejection of xrays sometimes and radio waves thereby an Einstein energy equation is fulfilled under the variable magnetic field reversals.
A typical conversion of energy stored in the form of mass and real conversion as x ray emission is also possible stating the duality nature of a pulsar producing a linearity and spirality in between energy is transferred.

July 5, 2013 at 10:40 am
(15) Werner Heisenberg says:

Many commentators on here seem to have some misguided animus (or perhaps I’m seeing ghosts) towards the guy. Einstein NEVER had Mileva Maric correct his work for him; read Walter Isaacson’s definitive biography on Einstein. Einstein was deeply personal about his mathematical formalism during his annus mirabilis and rarely, if ever, allowed Maric to look over his work–for reasons both too complicated and lengthy to elucidate here.

Secondly, Einstein never frequently lamented about his travails in mathematics, his commonly quoted “Do not worry about your problems in math, i sure you mine are worse” was in reference to a child you had enlisted Einstein for help during a tutor session. In fact, the mathematics of general relativity–Riemann tensors and so forth–was considIred ADVANCED mathematics at the time and einstein essentially did it by himself.

He enlisted his friend Paul Ehrenfest (or perhaps it was Wolfgang Pauli, the name escapes me at the moment), to look over his GR equations after he had formed them but that was, and still is, common practice in the physics/math community. Was he a pure mathematician? No. But from his own account that stems from his own lack of interest in the subject, particularly during his youth, than from incompetence. This is lazy journalism. And next time cite your sources.

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