Before the Chair of Jupiter

On November 8, Elisheva and I went to Einstein and were seated in the living room. When one enters his house, proceeding through the narrow hall, the living room is to the left; directly ahead is a steep staircase leading to the second floor: on the second floor there is a room with a large window toward the backyard, with a low table, books, chairs, and next to it to the right another room, also lined with books. In a little while Einstein came from the upper floor to us, his long hair well-groomed, his face lighted up with his friendly smile. He started to move a chair with a straight high upholstered back, which had already drawn my attention in the modestly furnished room, and as I helped him, a help he graciously accepted, he said, “this is my Jupiter chair.” During our conversation I took this lead and remarked that if one evening I should stop every passing student and professor on the campus and should ask which of the stars was Jupiter, it is possible that not even one would be able to point to the planet. How is it, then, that Jupiter was the highest deity in Rome, and likewise Zeus in Greece, Marduk in Babylonia, Amon in Egypt, and Mazda in Persia? All of them represented the planet Jupiter. I asked Einstein if he knew why this planet was worshipped by the peoples of antiquity and its name was in the mouth of everyone? Its movement is not spectacular; once in twelve years it circles the sky. It is a brilliant planet, but it does not dominate the heavens. Apollo, the sun—the dispenser of light and warmth—was only a secondary deity. After inquiring and hearing from me again that Marduk was the Babylonian name of the planet Jupiter and Mazda its Persian name, he expressed his wonder. Then I told him that in the Iliad it is said that Zeus can pull all the other planetary gods together, the Earth included, with his chain, being stronger than all of them together; and that an old commentary (by Eustatius, a Byzantine scholar) states that this means that the planet Jupiter is stronger in its pull than all the other planets combined, the Earth included. Einstein admitted that it was really very strange that the ancients should have known this.

When, after three quarters of an hour, during which we were served tea, we rose to go, Einstein kept us, saying, “We have only started.” In order not to appear a bore, or a fanatic of one idea, I repeatedly changed the theme of conversation, as was so easy with Eistein, whose associations were rich and whose interests were many; the conversation was vivid. We spoke again of the problem of time, which apparently occupied his mind then, and of coincidence and accident. He observed that it was an accident of unusual rarity that his chair should occupy its very position in space, but that it was no accident that we two were sitting together, because meshugoim are attracted to one another—and he laughed heartily and loudly. Meshuga is a Hebrew word, and it means “the possessed” ; in the Jewish-German parlance it is often heard, and it means “crazy,” in both senses (like the English word), more often in its milder meaning. Thus he likened me to himself. On this occasion, and several times more at other occasions, he liked to stress that each one of us is entirely alone in his scientific standing. This was also said to heighten my spirit—was he not lonely, too? Of course, there was an enormous difference in our positions in the scientific community and in the attitude of the scientific world toward us—beyond comparison. I took up the problem of coincidences to illustrate it by several examples.

The authors of the Declaration of Independence were Adams and Jefferson, who subsequently became the second and the third presidents of the United States. They both died on the same day, and it was the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. What is the statistical chance of this coincidence of three dates? Or if a schoolboy or a man in the street should be asked to select the greatest statesman of the nineteenth century, and the greatest scientist of that century, he would most probably select Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin: both were born on the same day, February 12, 1809. Or similarly the two greatest writers of their age, Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare, died on the same day, April 23, 1616.

I mentioned these instances to illustrate the idea that coincidence sometimes bears the mark of the miraculous, and sometimes the explaining away of telepathy is stranger than telepathy itself, for which I offered a naturalistic explanation in my paper on “The Physical Existence of the World of Thought.”

Before we left, Einstein told us of his dream of the night before. This dream impressed him strongly and he recounted it it with a voice of unusual warmth and passion, expecting that I would interpret it. He also related a dream he had had many years ago about an old colleague whom he had not liked, and he told the story in detail. The old dream’s explanation he already knew. I felt regret in having to disappoint him, but in accordance with standard psychoanalytic procedure I offered no clues to the understanding of the dream of the night before, especially since my wife, Miss Dukas, and Margot were present, though I could closely guess its meaning.