The World As I See It
– Albert Einstein –
How strange is a lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what
the purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper
reflection, one knows from daily life that one exists for other people-first of all for those
upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for
the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy.
A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the
labors of other men, living and dead and that I must exert myself in order to give in the
same measure as I have received and am still receiving. I am strongly drawn to a frugal
life and am often oppressively aware that I am engrossing an undue amount of the labor
of my fellow-men. I regard to class distinctions as unjustified and, in the last resort, based
on force. I also believe that a simple and unassuming life is good for everybody,
physically and mentally.
I do not at all believe in human freedom in the philosophical sense. Everybody acts not
only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity.
Schopenhauer’s saying, “A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants,” has
been a very real inspiration to me since my youth; it has been a continual consolation in
the face of life’s hardships, my own and others’, and an unfailing well-spring of tolerance.
This realization mercifully mitigates the easily paralyzing sense of responsibility and
prevents us from taking ourselves and other people all too seriously; it is conducive to a
view of life which, in particular, gives humor its due.
To inquire after the meaning or object of one’s own existence or that of all creatures has
always seemed to me absurd from an objective point of view. And yet everybody has
certain ideals which determine the direction of his endeavors and his judgments. In this
sense I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves-this ethical
basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after
time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and
Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the
objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life
would have seemed to me empty. The trite objects of human efforts-possessions, outward
success, luxury-have always seemed to me contemptible.
My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted
oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and
human communities. I am truly a “lone traveler” and have never belonged to my country,
my home, my friend, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all
these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude-feelings which
increase with the years. One becomes sharply aware but without regret, of the limits of
mutual understanding and consonance with other people. No doubt, such a person loses
some of his innocence and unconcern; on the other hand, he is largely independent, of
the opinions, habits, and judgments of his fellows and avoids the temptation to build his
inner equilibrium upon such insecure foundations.
My political ideal is the democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man
idolized. 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. The
cause of this may well be the desire, unattainable for many, to understand the few ideas
to which I have with my feeble powers attained through ceaseless struggle. I am quite
aware that it is necessary for the achievement of the objective of an organization that one
man should do the thinking and direct and generally bear the responsibility.
But the led must not be coerced, they must be able to choose their leader. An autocratic system of coercion, in my opinion, soon degenerates. For force always attracts men of low morality, and I believe it to be an invariable rule that tyrants of genius are succeeded by scoundrels, For this reason, I have always been passionately opposed to systems such as we see in Italy and Russia today. The thing that has brought discredit upon the form of
democracy, as it exists in Europe today, is not to be laid to the door of the democratic principle as such, but to the lack of stability of governments and to the impersonal the character of the electoral system. I believe that in this respect the United States of America has found the right way.
They have a President powers really to exercise his responsibility. What I value, on the other hand, in the German political system is the more
extensive provision that it makes for the individual in case of illness or need. The really
valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the political state, but the
creative, sentient individual, the personality; it alone creates the noble and the sublime,
while the herd as such remains dull in thought and dull in feeling. This topic brings me to
that worst outcrop of her life, the military system, which I abhor. That a man can take
pleasure in marching in fours to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him.
He has only been given his big brain by mistake; unprotected spinal marrow was all he
needed. This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed.
Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by
the name of patriotism – how passionately I hate them! How vile and despicable seems
war to me! I would rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such an abominable
business. My opinion of the human race is high enough that I believe this bogey would
have disappeared long ago, had the sound sense of the peoples not been systematically
corrupted by commercial and political interests acting through the schools and the Press.
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental
emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know
it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel is as good as dead, and his eyes are
It was the experience of mystery – even if mixed with fear – that engendered
religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions
of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive
forms are accessible to our minds – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute
true religiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.
I can not conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.