5 Times (At Least) Einstein Was Wrong

By Bill Andrews | July 11, 2018 5:00 pm
(Credit: Bangkokhappiness/shutterstock)

(Credit: Bangkokhappiness/shutterstock)

The past few weeks have featured a few stories about how Albert Einstein’s theories, or the ideas underpinning them, have all been confirmed to a new degree of accuracy. That’s usually the case: Scientists try to disprove Einstein, and Einstein always wins.

But that’s not to say the man was infallible. He was human, just like the rest of us, and did make some mistakes. Here’s a few of them.

1) The cosmological constant

When he was crafting his theory of gravity, general relativity, Einstein needed a bit of a fudge factor. Everyone back then assumed, based on the information available, that the universe was static, unchanging place, but his equations kept disagreeing. To make them fit the data, he added the factor, which he named the cosmological constant, into the equations. When he learned, in subsequent decades, that the universe is actually expanding, he supposedly exclaimed “Then away with the cosmological constant!” He famously considered it his biggest blunder.

But even Einstein’s mistakes are informative. When astronomers learned, to their astonishment, that the rate of the universe’s expansion was increasing — that galaxies were growing apart faster over time — they called the mysterious force responsible dark energy. And the cosmological constant, as a fudge factor that changes how spacetime interacts with energy, is still a leading contender.

2) Gravitational Waves

Two years ago, scientists announced they had directly detected gravitational waves, literal ripples in the fabric of spacetime. It was a huge validation of Einstein’s work, which had predicted their existence almost exactly 100 years prior. The find also heralded a new era of astronomy, as researchers now have a new way to study the universe. But for a time, Einstein himself doubted they actually existed. In the 1930s, two decades after unveiling general relativity, he was set to publish a paper stating the ripples didn’t exist after all. He was eventually persuaded of their existence again, and of course now we know for a fact they exist, having actually seen them.

3) Implications of his theories

Many of Einstein’s insights into the universe were the result of his clever thought experiments — he literally revolutionized physics just by thinking hard about it. So he was clearly capable of coming up with big ideas and following them through. And yet, many times in his life, he resisted the weirder implications of his work.

One of the pioneers of quantum physics, the unpredictable science of the smallest particles, he never cared for the idea that the universe was, fundamentally, random. “God does not play dice with the universe,” he once said. (The physicist Niels Bohr supposedly responded, “Einstein, stop telling God what to do.”)

Einstein also didn’t care for black holes, a natural consequence of his general relativity, since the rules of physics goes crazy around the singularities at the center of the holes. And while he did believe in another consequence of relativity — that massive objects would warp spacetime enough to act as a kind of lens, redirecting the light from distant sources — he didn’t think we could ever see it. “Of course, there is no hope of observing this phenomenon directly,” he wrote in the abstract of the Science paper introducing gravitational lensing. Wrong.

4) Minor mistakes

Lest we believe Einstein’s genius at least precluded him from messing up smaller things (maybe he was more of a details guy?), the evidence again suggests otherwise. From errors in the various proofs of E = mc2 to failing to consider seminal experiments, and even just basic mathematical mistakes, Einstein had his share of slipups. No one was more aware of this than the man himself. As he told his gravitational waves collaborator, ““You don’t need to be so careful … There are incorrect papers under my name too.”

5) Family Matters

Okay, this may not quite rise to the level of these other issues, but let’s end by remembering that Einstein, scientific revolutionary and one of the smartest men of all time, also married his first cousin, Elsa Löwenthal, nee Einstein. (Not only were their mothers sisters, but their fathers were cousins too, making the married couple second cousins as well.) While their marriage does seem a relatively happy one, lasting until her death in 1936, the biological implications of marrying such close family are, uh, not great.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

    Liberal pile on Einstein! Liberal pile on Einstein! Falsify relativity by its postulate, on a bench top, like a manly man.

    … 1) Baryogenesis, post-Big Bang excess matter over antimatter, violates conservation laws via
    … 2) Sakharov criteria (arXiv:hep-ph/9901362): Trace chiral anisotropic vacuum selective to hadrons.
    … 3) Simultaneous microwave rotational spectra of extreme geometrically divergent molecular enantiomers in 3:1 R:S ratio will not exactly superpose ̶ opposite shoes embedded within in a vacuum left foot with different energies. 3:1 asymmetric line broadening is sufficient. One hour observation.
    … 4) Brightspec has 40,000:1 signal to noise. DOI:10.1515/zna-1986-1107 is 30:1 S/N achiral exemplar.

    … Stereograms of two candidate extreme molecules.

    ⇒ Enantiomers’ spectral divergence arising from vacuum embedment with different energies demands vacuum free fall along non-identical minimum action trajectories. The Equivalence Principle is falsified. GR is instead superset Einstein-Cartan-Kibble-Sciama gravitation; with no contradiction of any prior observation in any venue at any scale.

    Nordtvedt effect, arXiv:gr-qc/0301024. Terrestrial life is abudant and homochiral. However, all chiral amino acids are L-configuration (meat), all chiral sugars are D-configuration (cellulose). They cancel.

    • OWilson

      What else would you expect from this current culture?

      Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Pitt are consistently at the top of the MSM’s “World’s most Admired Women” lists, while Madame Curie and Mother Teresa barely get a mention, if at all!

      Columbus was a confused maniac, and poor Mozart had Tourette’s Sydrome, they tell us!

      But, for a guy born in 1875, before telephones, airplanes, or the motor car were around, Albert did OK! :)

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

        The universe is demonstrably quantized except for gravitation Physics rationalizes they are approximations, with quantum mechanics assumed nearer the “truth.”

        Do the experiment above with one optical isomer, add a diffraction grating between the molecular beam and the detector to observe Hund’s paradox. Either chemistry or quantum mechanics is ended.

        Chemistry dying has an energy barrier of at least 1100 kcal/mole near room temperature. Quantum mechanics could be observably wrong. Stop whining; LOOK..

        • doctor_house_md

          If what you say is correct, do the experiment, prove it and science will follow. “Big Science is behind all the conspiracies” sounds like quackery.

          • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

            Science builds hierarchy. There is no entry into discovery. Discovery has the wrong feeelings. Name something empirically hot that that physics birthed n the past 5 years. The James Webb telescope has estimated $100 million in untightened screws. Perhaps NASA taps and dies have opposite hands.

            My doing it is against the law: Wars on Drugs and Terror, zoning laws, EPA…it goes on endlessly. Faculty doing it? three years to get grant funding, if ever. Junior faculty barely survives day to day. Senior faculty does process not product.

            Welcome to science. Side effects include diversity, overhead, grant funding applications, time sheets, parameterization, meetings, Tiger Teams, waste disposal…and more studies needed.

  • Klarn Mxyzptlk

    Other reasons OneStone was wrong: He fucked his cousin. He completely abandoned his family when he achieved the slightest bit of celebrity. He plagiarized others’ work. He had vitriolic hatred for the White race, especially Christians. He insisted that fantasy had more credibility than reality. He, at least, admitted that he preferred fantasy to the “hard sciences” [read: reality ]. In THAT, he was right to admit it.

  • nik

    The atom, which is ‘the smallest component of matter that can exist in a free state’ comprises an electron, proton, and a neutron. The electron orbits the nucleus, and as everyone knows, when electrons move, they produce electricity.
    The universe is made of atoms, all atoms are electromagnetic, so our whole universe is electro magnetic, but Einstein ignored electro magnetism in his theories.
    So, small wonder that his attempts at ‘a theory of everything’ eluded him.
    Perhaps that should be number six.

    • http://batman-news.com Jim Singleton

      Here’s an excerpt from answers dot com that adds some interesting info to your statement I think.
      Subatomic particles are smaller than atoms. Subatomic particles are found inside the nucleus of an atom and include protons, neutrons, quarks, and gluons. Protons carry a positive electrical charge while neutrons carry a neutral charge. Inside these protons and neutrons are quarks which are held together by gluons.

  • http://batman-news.com Jim Singleton

    This nit picking doesn’t ring right somehow. Short clips and sentences out of context. Nothing else to do I suppose, for some.

  • Mike Curtis

    Why was Einstein a Socialist?

    • http://batman-news.com Jim Singleton

      Einstein never said much or anything about politics to my knowledge. If he was a socialist I’m sure it was of the old school moderate type which would not compare to todays’ resurrection of Nazi Germany style Socialism. He worked for the US Government without reservation and with his whole heart if that says anything.

  • diogenes1147

    I’ll bet he wasn’t wrong!

  • okiejoe

    Elsa was apparently a better mathematician than Albert. She checked his math and found a number of errors but the original gedanken experiments were all Albert’s.

  • Carl Fischbach

    I found another mistake Einstein made E=mc^2 it does not always hold true potential energy has no mass equivalency, if a stationary proton antiproton pair separated by a distance, isolated in an electrically neutral field, their mutual attraction would cause them to be accelerated towards each other gaining a total net mass or energy of proton antiproton pair with no mass equivalency of the work done by the electric fields of proton antiproton pair moving them together.


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