The Trouble with Einstein

In 1912 Albert met Paul Ehrenfest, a physicist and teacher of compatible brilliance.  Five years later, Ehrenfest had a son named Vassik born with Downs Syndrome, who in 1932 was institutionalized.  By way of comfort, Albert told him, “Valuable individuals must not be sacrificed to hopeless things.”  This position was consistent with Albert’s refusal to marry Mileva when she was pregnant and then delivered Lieserl, called by some who knew the family secret a “monstrosity.”  When their second son was afflicted with manic-depression, Albert abandoned the family.


As despicable as I find his abandonment, it remains an unsettled issue for me, as when I consider the pastor in Florida‘s pain over his severely autistic son whose disability affects the whole family in such drastic ways.  I remember mother once saying that my classmate Susan was spending all her resources on a disabled baby and denying privileges to her two children who were actually capable of benefiting.  I’m against disabled children being mainstreamed and allowed to consume inordinate amounts of teacher attention/energy, so that the easily-educable children are denied.  So how is this different from Einstein’s position, as despicable as I find it on the page?  I’m also aware that if I were in the situation with my own child, it would no longer remain an intellectual question.  Like Mileva, I would feel committed to see it through, though even she abandoned Lieserl to her parents’ farm and went to Bern to marry Albert.  Ultimately, however, she died a grim, resentful woman, having beggered her emotional and financial resources to a lost cause.  How does this relate to a phrase I’ve heard myself speak to women who have allowed caretaking for elderly or mentally-ill relatives to use them up?  I ask them, “How many disabled people is better than one?”  But I don’t think I mean for them to abandon their loved one.  Rather to tell them it’s good (not bad, as they’ve been made to feel) to enlist support services, even if it means moving the person from the home. 


This being an unsettled issue is likely a point in its favor, just as the open-endedness of my position on faith vs science in the Darwin book made it a discovery process.  It’s really a moral problem. 

About Nancy Pinard

Professionally-speaking, Nancy Pinard is an author-educator who spends her days writing, teaching, reading, and researching for her writing and teaching. She is the author of two published novels, Shadow Dancing and Butterfly Soup, and numerous short stories. She has taught the craft of fiction writing in many venues including Sinclair Community College, University of Dayton Life-Long Learning Institute, Antioch Writers' Workshop, Mad Anthony Writers' Workshop, and Molasses Pond Writers' Workshop. Personally, her faith is what sustains, inspires, and motivates her to continue to explore meaning through literature. "You are right in demanding that an artist approach his work consciously, but you are confusing two concepts: the solution of a problem and the correct formulation of a problem. Only the second is required of the artist." — Anton Chekov to Alexei Suvorin, October 27, 1888
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One Response to The Trouble with Einstein

  1. Stephanie says:

    I grew up in a household that revered Einstein (and all misfits who excelled), but this aspect of his life *is* unsettling. A great subject for a novel with so many reverberations. The bookclubs will eat it up. I can hear it now. The Kennedys. The Palins. Mainstreaming v. Isolating.

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