In the autumn of 1932, Albert Einstein gave a simple yet poignant speech to the German League of Human Rights in Berlin. In it he posited the ephemeral and enigmatic crux of a solitary and social existence. It is almost as if his words combined were a musical note -— strident, true, fleeting and impossible to grasp.
The work of an artist, scientist or anyone who actively seeks truths is ever consumed by attempts to both create and hold that "note". The note that Einstein brought forth resonates strong on its own, and stronger still in the historical context that ensued in Germany and Europe. As did Cassandra, he dared to use his voice of prophecy. Only after the fact did anyone listen, it seems.
The following speech is an inspiration. It serves to remind us that there is a Cassandra (and an Albert) in each of us:
"Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing the whys and the wherefore. In our daily lives we only feel that man is here for the sake of others, for those whom we love and for many other beings whose fate is connected with our own.
I am often worried at the thought that my life is based to such a large extent on the work of my fellow human beings and I am aware of my great indebtedness to them.
I do not believe in freedom of the will. Schopenhauer's words: 'Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills' accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others even if they are rather painful to me.
This awareness of the lack of freedom of will preserves me from taking too seriously myself and my fellow men as acting and deciding individuals and from losing my temper.
I never coveted affluence and luxury and even despise them a good deal. My passion for social justice has often brought me into conflict with people, as did my aversion to any obligation and dependence I do not regard as absolutely necessary. I always have a high regard for the individual and have an insuperable distaste for violence and clubmanship. All these motives made me into a passionate pacifist and anti-militarist. I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism. Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as did any exaggerated personality cult. I am an adherent of the ideal of democracy, although I well know the weaknesses of the democratic form of government. Social equality and economic protection of the individual appeared to me always as the important communal aims of the state.
Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated. The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is."
This above speech appears in Einstein, by Michael White and John Gribbin, Dutton, Penguin Books USA Inc., New York, 1994, p. 262.
The Albert in All of Us
Introduction by Kirk Finken