“I Would Have Written to You”

From Einstein’s letter I learned that he had read my Stargazers and Gravediggers. Actually I had not intended to show it to him: as already said, on one of those two evenings in March when we read line by line my “"On the Four Systems of the World,” and Miss Dukas was present, I gave her the first file of those memoirs to read in order to keep her awake. But Einstein read it as well; in the first file the story is brought up to the time just before my parting with Macmillan.

A year earlier, upon reading the exchange of letters between Shapley and the Macmillan Company, Einstein said that the material must be made public but that somebody with dramatic talent should be entrusted with the presentation of the story; now, upon reading the manuscript, he obviously found that I had succeeded in the task.

The first folder of the “Memoirs” was returned to me—several of its sections were supplied with marginal notes by a pencil, not a sharp pencil to boot. On the back of one of the pages with the story of Larrabee’s article in Harper’s, Einstein wrote:

Ich hätte Ihnen geschrieben: Die historische Argumente für gewaltsame Vorgänge an der Erdkruste sind recht überzeugend. Der Erklärungsversuch aber is abenteuerlich und sollte nur als tentativ behandelt werden. Sonst verliert der wohlorientierte Leser auch das Vertrauen in das solid Begrundete.


I would have written to you: The historical arguments for violent events in the crust of the earth are quite convincing. The attempt to explain them is, however, adventurous and should have been offered only as tentative. Otherwise the well-oriented reader loses confidence also in what is solidly established by you.

If one should compare this evaluation with his own of 1946 ("Blamage” ) or of 1950 or of 1952 or even of 1954, one must recognize how much Einstein’s attitude had changed. He did not protest any more or argue against the events described, neither against the earth being disturbed in its rotation, nor against the role ascribed to Venus; even more remarkable was the fact that he no longer rejected outright the role of electromagnetism in the events and thus, in the celestial sphere in general: he would only have wished that I should not express myself with such finality. By this he made it clear that the explanation which I gave to the events was not undiscussable—but only that I should have offered it merely as a hypothesis.

Strangely, one of Einstein’s marginal notes to my chapter on Lafleur agreed with the latter’s argument that the Earth is neutral because of the behavior of the leaves of an electroscope touching the ground—they do not diverge. To me it was clear that the behavior of the leaves does not give an answer to the question whether or not the Earth is charged. The Earth being charged in relation to the upper atmosphere, the lines of force would pass in near-parallels vertically and, consequently, there would be no divergence of the leaves of the electroscope. Nikola Tesla was a great inventor, perhaps the greatest electrical engineer who ever lived; he would not have asserted that the Earth is a highly charged body if such a simple test with an electroscope could solve the problem. Actually, there is a permanent stream of electrons flowing from the ground upwards: it is calculated that between the feet and the head of a standing man of medium height there is a 150 volt potential. The source of this stream of electrons, or of the source of replenishment of the permanent discharge of the Earth, is not known.

The question of whether the bodies of the solar system are charged or not was from the beginning the question between Einstein and myself; as he acknowledged in a marginal note to my letter of June 16, 1954, this contention of mine was the main reason for the display of indignation against myself and my work. On that page of the letter, as the reader will remember, I offered a test to find whether or not the planetary bodies are neutral. At that time, in the summer of 1954, Einstein did not undertake anything in answer to my challenge and request; my offer to stake our debate on whether Jupiter is a source of radio waves, he dismissed in his marginal note, and I could not ask for the test again—it was the time when Einstein became sick, the sickness having kept him weak through the entire fall. But when we parted close to midnight on March 11, after having spent two long sessions at a week interval reading my essay, he said those words about the ability of a theory to predict and see its prediction fulfilled.