Thursday, Apr. 05, 2007


What cultural impact did Einstein's theories have?

For nearly three centuries, the mechanical universe of Isaac Newton, based on absolute certainties and laws, had formed the psychological foundation of the Enlightenment and the social order, with a belief in causes and effects, order, even duty. Now came a view of the universe in which space and time were dependent on frames of reference. This apparent dismissal of certainties seemed heretical, perhaps even godless. Indirectly, relativity became associated with a new relativism in morality and art and politics. There was less faith in absolutes, not only of time and space, but also of truth and morality. Imaginative nonconformity was in the air: Picasso, Joyce, Freud, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and others were breaking conventional bonds. Infused into this stew was a conception of the universe in which space and time and the properties of particles seemed based on the vagaries of observations.