Einsteins's Epistemology


Einstein is mostly recognized for his contribution to the understanding of the physical universe.  But his contribution to epistemology is also important.  While Newton had "laws", Einstein had "theories".  Newton felt he was simply gathering facts and deducing laws as necessitated by the facts.  Einstein speculated as to possible theories, deduced hyptheses, and used facts (experiments) to confirm or disconfirm the hypotheses, and thus evaluate the theories.  


For Newton, knowledge was obtained through discovery.  For Einstein, knowledge was obtained through invention.  This reminds me of music composers who claim that they felt they did not right this song, but simply transcribed something for which they were just the channel.  In this case, the composer is not the creator, but merely the messenger.  It sounds humble on the composer's part, but it attributes a kind of divinity to the music.  The artist still gets status as the "prophet".


Newton is like this composer in a sense.  His role as a miner of information is modest, but the laws he discovered were given a divine status.  Einstein, on the other hand, takes credit for his theory, so he is the creator.  However, his theories are implicitly mortal.  The general theory of relativity still has an uncertain status.  While the special theory of relativity is well established, it is not assumed that it will never be revised in some significant way in the future.


Einstein is thus a step toward a humble perspective in that his theories have a certain presumed mortality.  However, they fall short of ideas like uncertainty and undecidability that are inherently humble in that they acknowledge their own limitations.

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