Albert Einstein’s Letter to Phyllis

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In 1936, Albert Einstein wrote the following letter to a sixth-grade student, Phyllis Wright, in response to her question as to whether scientists pray, and if so, what they pray for.

January 24, 1936

Dear Phyllis,

I have tried to respond to your question as simply as I could. Here is my answer

Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the actions of people.

For this reason, a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e., by a wish addressed to a supernatural being.

However, it must be admitted that our actual knowledge of the laws is only imperfect and fragmentary, so that, actually, the belief in the existence of basic all-embracing laws in Nature also rests on a sort of faith.

All the same this faith has been largely justified so far by the success of scientific research.

But, on the other hand, everyone one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naïve.

I hope this answers your question.

Best wishes,
Albert Einstein

My critique of the letter

The above letter by Albert Einstein gives a simplistic explanation of scientific research. He explains that research or science is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by the Laws of Nature.

A law implies systematic function over time.
A systematic function indicates a system.
A system indicates structure
A structure indicates hierarchy of order or cross-functioning relationships.
Order and functions operate on intelligence.

Therefore, by Einstein’s own words, he implies that there is a higher order or higher intelligence governing the systematic laws of nature. The scientists, however, are only interested in understanding how the laws function and not so much the system behind the law.

To give a crude analogy, it is like someone is interested in the laws concerning driving but not so much interested with the department of transportation that creates and implements the law. In one sense, one does not need to know the department to understand the law. However, this type of understanding is incomplete.

Unless one understands the functions and systems of a body of governance, it is very difficult to interpret and manipulate the laws completely and perfectly. In other words, incomplete and imperfect understanding of a law can lead to ultimate systems malfunction (disorder) thus defeating the original purpose of a law (that is to create order).

Einstein in his letter admits to the imperfect and fragmentary knowledge base of the scientific community. What he does not say is that this imperfect learning can do more harm than good. This we are realizing today. The issues of global warming, environmental pollution (air, water etc), species extinction, cross pollination of diseases between man and animal, gradual degradation of social and cultural ethos of man devolving him/her to mere animal propensities etc etc the list can go on. All indicate disorder or systems malfunction. The very laws that were created to help mankind is actually causing harm.

Einstein out of humility thus revealing his true intellectual genius admits the limitations and also writes that one who is serious about scientific knowledge is convinced of a Great Spirit above the laws. He is indirectly indicating about intelligence beyond our own. This is the beginning of Vedic studies. Where Einstein ends, the saints of the Vedic school begin that the intelligence of the universe is beyond our own and that our understanding is negligible in comparison.

Therefore, to actually be religious and scientific means to make this shift in paradigm. That is to scientifically study and admit our own infinitesimal position in relation to the infinite and religiously approach the Great Spirit (the Infinite) in a mood of humility and devotion to reveal the system, its laws and our relationship with it.

Then, our knowledge becomes perfect and complete.

Hare Krishna

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  1. Mahat-tattva Dasa says

    Ananda Jagannath Prabhu, with your permission we would like to print your article in the 16 Rounds To Samadhi newspaper. I could be contacted by phone, 858-405-5465, or by email, 16rounds [at] gmail [dot] com.

    To see our newspaper, go to http://issuu.com/16roundstosamadhi

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