Chapter 17 of 'Einstein' - all chapters at

17. A faint smell of garlic greeted Albert as he closed the door behind him and stood in the dark living room. Mileva had apparently put the baby to bed and gone to bed herself. There was no sound, no movement and no light in the flat.

He walked to the door of his study and went inside, lighting the lamp on his desk before sitting down. As the light penetrated the darkness, the room seemed different somehow, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. It seemed almost unlived-in, despite the piles of papers on the desk and the worn appearance of the furniture, and there was a sense of desolation to it that made Albert feel strikingly alone.

He sat down in his worn leather chair, staring at the array of papers on the desk. As he did so, a piece of paper caught his eye. Weeks ago, he had jotted down a poem by Alexander Pope that he and his colleagues had discussed long ago during their Olympia Academy period. He noticed the paper on which it was written sticking out from under one of his piles.

All Nature is but art, unknown to thee; All change, direction, which thou canst not see; All discord, harmony not understood; All partial evil, universal good: And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite, One truth is clear: Whatever IS, is RIGHT. It was the line about discord being misunderstood harmony that struck him when he came across it again because he believed strongly there was a harmony to the universe that was reflected in its mechanics. A comprehensive theory of mechanics would need to reflect that harmony in its explanation of the behavior of objects in motion – all objects in motion, no matter how far away, how small, or how fast they moved. Many scientists believed that this harmony could only be achieved through absolutes and that the destruction of the absolutes contained within classical mechanics meant the destruction of the harmony to which Pope alluded. Albert disagreed. But his disagreement was nothing more than cursing the darkness if he could not come up with an alternative approach. When he and Besso had been describing the history of time, Einstein had felt this approach had potential. It was an avenue he had not pursued before, and he had hope that it would lead to a solution to all these problems.

But the moment seemed to have passed. There was no gracious progression from this different approach to an effective methodology. It was like a pyrotechnic display, with a bright light being sent into the night sky, then just as quickly as it lights up the night sky, it dies out and falls to earth again. The idea of a variable nature of time still provided hope, but it was not the answer. At least not immediately, without a lot more work on what it really meant and how it might play out in application to the day-to-day world of physics. While it was not surprising that he had not come up with a new approach in the hour since he had left Besso’s flat, it was still disappointing. If he could not come up with a methodology to solve the problem in an hour, maybe he could not come up with a solution in two hours, or six, or twenty-four or two thousand. And if he could not develop a new theory of mechanics based on a non-absolute, non-linear concept of time, he would be back to square one. He would have nothing – no theory, no focal point, no approach. He would need to start over, yet again. There were times when he asked himself how many times he would need to start over before he began to doubt his ability to solve this problem. Maybe someone would discover that there really was no problem, that one could use classical physics to explain activities occurring in the tiny world of the atom and the vast reaches of space. The existence of a problem was the fallacy, not the sufficiency of the classical laws of motion. Nonsense, Albert thought. Classical physics was a mess, and it was a mess because of an over-reliance of absolutes. He was convinced of that. And the question of whether or not time was linear was legitimate and maybe even important. The fact that there was no experimental evidence to prove it did not mean it wasn’t true. He had to remember – there was no experimental evidence to prove that time was linear, either.

Albert Einstein sighed, then yawned. He picked up the cup on his desk and discovered that it still had half a cup of cold tea in it. He stared at it for a moment, wondering if he should replenish it with fresh, hot tea. Or, he wondered if he should just go to bed. It was late and he was tired. And at the rate he was going in his contemplation of the problems in physics, it was unlikely he was going to make much progress this evening. He suddenly shook his head, grimacing in the process. Never mind all that. I'm not going to bed, and I'm not going to spend any more time deciphering poems. I'm not even getting a hot cup of tea. That's just the way it is. I'm going to work, whether I feel like it or not. He tried to bring his mind back to the work at hand. Okay, what's next? Instead of providing an answer to his own question, his attention was diverted by a noise in the rear of the flat. He listened carefully for a moment, and then heard the noise again. It sounded like Hans Albert in his crib, pounding against the wooden side with something, probably his hand or his foot. He heard the baby’s voice, but he was not crying, just kind of murmuring. Albert continued to listen, half expecting the small noises to erupt into something bigger. Then as suddenly as they had started, the sounds stopped, sending the flat back into silence. He continued to think about Hans Albert, lying in his crib at the age of eighteen months. He felt as if he were being a good father, even though Mileva seemed to think he did not pay enough attention to him. He spent time with his son and played with him when Mileva was occupied, as he had done this evening. He loved his son. And he was doing what he was supposed to do as his father. But Albert wondered if Mileva was saying something else. While he seemed to be a reasonably good father, how important was the boy to him? Was he more or less important than figuring out the problem with the classical theories of mechanics? Would Albert rather spend time with the baby or in his study reading Lorentz and Maxwell?

I hate questions like that, he muttered. They don’t make any sense.

Still, the questions sat on his shoulders like a weight, unanswered and unresolved. Even though he did not think the questions were fair, Mileva probably did. She probably did not know what the answers would be, either.

Albert closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was tired, yes, and his mind was wandering. He was having trouble focusing. He could deal with the Mileva and Hans Albert questions tomorrow, because there was nothing he could do about it now.

He could, however, do something about his physics, if he just kept his mind on his subject. Well, at least in theory, he could.

Without thinking, he picked up the cup of cold tea and sipped it. For a moment, he did not react, then an awful expression suffused his face.

"I hate cold tea," he exclaimed to the empty room.

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