Friday, 22 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 5; Einstein

The Legend of the Dull-Witted Child Who Grew Up to Be a Genius

At the age of 26, the patent clerk Albert Einstein emerged with a couple of scientific papers that soon would be considered products of an extraordinary creative mind.

How does that match the image of the young Albert labeled dull, dyslexic, even autistic or schizophrenic, by a considerable number of today's experts and interested parties?

In order to find a reliable answer, we should abstain from repeating, and perpetuating, all the dubious conjectures spread decades after Einstein's death, and rely, first of all, on the contemporaneous, original sources to determine whether any of these labels actually apply to the real Einstein.

In that context, a widely held belief regarding Einstein’s handedness can immediately be rebutted. As photos show him holding a pen in his right hand, seizing a paper with the right hand and playing the violin like a right-hander, and as no evidence was found of him being or originally having been left-handed, one may take for granted that he was a right-hander. All this being said, little, though, is known about Albert Einstein’s early years.

In the recollections of the family recorded by Einstein’s younger sister, Maja, in 1924, Albert appears as a calm, dreamy, slow, but self-assured and determined child. Another three decades later, Einstein himself told his biographer, Carl Seelig, that “my parents were worried because I started to talk comparatively late, and they consulted a doctor because of it.”

The grandparents, visiting two-year-old Albert, did not observe any developmental particularities and, in a letter to other family members, expressed enthusiasm about the grandson's good behavior and “drollige Einfälle” (funny or droll ideas or vagaries). Yet the reputed handicap of late talking became part of the family legend and is confirmed by Maja. The same family legend, though, reports that, at the age of 2 ½ years, when his newborn sister (a Mädle) was shown to the boy, Albert, obviously expecting a toy to play with, could already verbalize his disappointment: “But where are its wheels (Rädle)?” Might one assume that the “comparatively late” talking reflects the anxiety of an overambitious mother rather than the child actually having an identifiable problem?

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