GOATs are Human Too!

Albert Einstein

When it comes to physicists, Albert Einstein is widely perceived to be the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). Indeed, the iconic Father of Relativity was a global rock star in his lifetime. When he visited Japan in 1922, adoring crowds streamed after him wherever he went.

Einstein was always ill at ease with such adulation. He was so revered that people tended to see him as superhuman. His self-deprecating manner and comments did nothing to puncture his image as the most brilliant man who ever lived.

In today’s celebrity-crazy culture, we routinely deify anyone and everyone who has even the slightest combination of talent and fame. Such idol worship is not only a disservice to them but to us as well, because by elevating these essentially normal human beings above ourselves, we devalue our own lives.

By all accounts, Einstein was a kind, gracious and down-to-earth man. He loved the peace and isolation he found at Princeton University, probably the only place on earth where he could walk around and not be praised and gushed over by passersby every other step.

The following Einstein quotes from the book The New Quotable Einstein offer a revealing glimpse into the humble nature of this legendary figure.

Thanks to my having hit upon the fortunate idea of introducing the relativity principle into physics, you (and others) enormously overestimate my scientific abilities, to the point where this makes me somewhat uncomfortable.
Letter to Arnold Sommerfeld, January 14, 1908 (age 29)

WIth fame I become more and more stupid, which of course is a very common phenomenon.
Letter to Heinrich Zangger, December 1919 (age 40)

It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few individuals for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque.
From an interview for Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, 1921 (age 42)

It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and reverence from my fellow-beings, through no fault and no merit of my own.
From “What I Believe,” in Forum and Century, 1930 (age 51)

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.
Letter to Carl Seelig
, March 11, 1952 (age 63)

When it came to fame and his desire for normalcy, Einstein had a nice sense of humor as well:

I am an artist’s model.
To a passenger on a train who asked him his occupation, reflecting Einstein’s feeling that he was constantly posing for sculptures and paintings. October 31, 1930 (age 51)

Why is it that nobody understand me, and everybody likes me?
From an interview, New York Times, March 12, 1944 (age 64)

There have already been published by the bucketfuls such brazen lies and utter fictions about me that I would long since have gone to my grave if I had let myself pay attention to them.
Letter to Max Brod, February 22, 1949 (age 69)

Einstein readily acknowledged the sad truth that fame tends to isolate:

It is a strange thing to be so widely known yet be so lonely. But it is a fact that this kind of popularity . . . is forcing its victim into a defensive position which leads to isolation.
Letter to E. Marangoni, October 1, 1952 (age 73)

Ultimately, Einstein longed for a simple, obscure life that would never be his:

If I were a young man again and had to decide how to make a living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. i would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler, in the hope of finding that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.
To The Reporter magazine, November 18, 1954 (age 75)

When I was young, all I wanted and expected from life was to sit quietly in some corner doing my work without the public paying attention to me. And now see what has become of me.
Quoted in Albert Einstein: Creator and Rebel


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8 Responses to “GOATs are Human Too!”

  1. ArrVee Says:

    just like many intellectuals, people like Einstein realize that the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know. And being thrust into the celebrity spotlight places them on a level higher than other people, where they are not allowed to make mistakes or just be themselves. And people’s expectations have a way of increasing, creating even more pressure.

    and to top it all, after a long day of hard work at the office, Albert comes home to his wife who tells him … “Nice going, Einstein” … :-)

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Nice going, ArrVee! I know that Einstein would heartily agree with this quote:

    Obscurity and competence: That is the life that is worth living.
    Mark Twain

  3. ArrVee Says:

    and this phenomenon is not limited to scientists. From the comfort of our living rooms or computers, we follow the lives of sports stars whom we adopt as our champions and heroes, proxies of ourselves as they do battle on the basketball court, football field or hockey rink. And we place them as well on the same pedestal where our high expectations place pressure on them.

    just ask Tiger Woods …

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Yep, I toyed with the idea of mentioning Tiger in the post. I do not envy people whose mistakes are played out in front of the whole world.

  5. ArrVee Says:

    i am of the belief that everyone has a unique role in this world. Each of us has his/her own share of gifts and corresponding responsibilities. Some of us have a few, but quite remarkable gifts, and these are the people whom we view as “superstars”; they also have responsibilities corresponding to these great gifts.

    the many among us have a number of less remarkable gifts spread over a number of areas, and these do not get as much attention as the superstars’ gifts. Like everyone, however, we will have to account for how we put these to use.

    when people idolize these superstars and personally identify with them, they place the responsibility of maintaining their own self-esteem on these superstars’ shoulders, to the point where they cannot tolerate failure of their adopted heroes, even in their own private lives.

    when we see other people succeed in their fields, we should recognize their contributions and applaud how they are using their gifts. Rather than heaping all sorts of expectations on them, we should ponder our own set of gifts, and how we are putting them to use. Rather than letting our heroes carry the torch for us all by themselves, we should light our own candle and pull our own weight.

  6. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I agree, Arrvee. The trouble is, all are called to be heroes in their own lives, but few choose to answer that call and accept the responsibility. Kudos to those who make full use of their gifts and make a difference in others’ lives and in the world at large. The size of the contribution does not matter. Simply do what you are capable of doing and you change the world.

  7. John Dominick Says:

    This is absolutely fascinating. I came across this website, looking for information on Einstein and I found some truly brilliant ideas, in my opinion.

    I love this, “In today’s celebrity-crazy culture, we routinely deify anyone and everyone who has even the slightest combination of talent and fame. Such idol worship is not only a disservice to them but to us as well, because by elevating these essentially normal human beings above ourselves, we devalue our own lives.”
    I like this quote so much because I found this to be true, a few years ago, when I decided to take responsibility for my own actions and intelligence. I stopped comparing myself to other celebrities and started listening to what was going on in my own mind and heart.

    The adults in my childhood seemed to enjoy letting me know that they thought I was stupid. I bought it, until I started to notice that not everything they were telling me was matching up with what I was living. I started to study more, and read more books. I found that my mind learned differently from the minds of others and that I am actually quite smart. I’m no “Einstein” but, I do believe the educators in my past, made an error in measuring my intelligence. I’m an introvert, and it takes me a little longer for me to process information. But I do process it, and I think there are a lot of children out there whose intelligence is grossly underestimated.
    Personally, obtaining more intelligence was a choice, and I believe many people can do the same thing if they choose to believe more in themselves, rather than live vicariously through other people.
    Einstein seemed to operate on the idea that his research owned him, and not the other way around. He was driven by the journey, and not the outcome, which, unfortunately, so many of us today focus on the latter. I was once guilty of focusing exclusively on the outcomes of life.
    I still struggle with it today.
    I know that if I just focus on my work, and not the outcome, I can mostly achieve the goals that I have in mind. Success is not guaranteed, but at least I know I am having fun doing what I do. That’s what I love about Einstein, he felt carried by his work, instead of thinking of himself as a carrier.
    Thumbs up on the blog!

  8. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thank you for the kind words, John! But i disagree: your success is indeed guaranteed no matter what your goals are. I define success as learning and growing through making an effort. As Wayne Dyer said, “You cannot fail, you can only produce results.”

    I’m glad you rose above the negativity in your childhood. Les Brown tells of being labeled “educably retarded” and repeating that phrase as an excuse to a teacher. The teacher became angry and told Les never to allow anyone to label him like that. That was a turning point in his life.

    And yes, it’s wonderful to have a calling that chooses you instead of the other way around!

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