Influence of Jewish Intellectual Thought on Einstein’s Theory Topic of Philosophy Today Lecture

Steven Gimbel
Steven Gimbel

Elements of Jewish intellectual thought may have influenced Einstein’s development of the theory of relativity and Nazi attempts to discredit it. Dr. Steven Gimbel, the chair of the philosophy department at Gettsyburg College, discusses this idea in his new book, Einstein’s Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion. He will give a lecture of the same title as part of the 2012-2013 Philosophy Today Lecture Series on January 24 at 7:30 p.m. in Room 205 of Smith Hall on The University of Alabama campus. It is free and open to the public.

In Gimbel’s book, he discusses how the Nazis tried to denigrate Einstein’s theory of relativity by labeling it “Jewish physics.” Now, with Einstein’s theories as the cornerstone of much of modern science, Gimbel explores the Nazi assertion in a new light.

As George Johnson said in his New York Times book review, “In his original new book, [Gimbel] considers the possibility that the Nazis were on to something. If you can look past the anti-Semitism, he proposes, ‘maybe relativity is ‘Jewish science’ after all.’ What he means is that there might have been elements of Jewish thinking that gave rise to what is now recognized as one of the deepest insights of all time.”

Gimbel is the Edwin T. and Cynthia Shearer Johnson Chair for Distinguished Teaching in the Humanities at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. He earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and philosophy from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a doctorate in philosophy from Johns Hopkins University.

Gimbel’s work focuses largely on the foundations and ramifications of relativity and on methodology and evidence in science. In addition to his work on the environmental ethic of the American Nazi party, he has published on the notion of sportsmanship in the Kasparov/Deep Blue chess match, the foundations of mind in the writings of Maria Montessori, and the notion of moral doubt in the television show “The Colbert Report.”

While on campus, Gimbel will also give a departmental talk, “Invariance: A Story of Intellectual Migration,” on January 25 at 3 p.m. in Room 347 of ten Hoor Hall. His talk will discuss how Arthur Cayley’s concepts of covariance and invariance came from work in algebra, but in time found their way into geometry, physics, philosophy, and psychology. Using this example, he will discuss the ways in which intellectual communities and institutions often grow from one another.