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Einstein, Illustrator - Visualizing Science
Seeing Science in Everyday Life

Date: Saturday, January 20th, 2007, at 18:40
Subject: Einstein, Illustrator
Security: Public
Location:Boston, Massachusetts
Music:Galaxie 500
Tags:diagram, einstein, letter, sketch, spistemology

I have to say that the speakers at the Science and Society Conference, which I happen to be attending, seem averse to using much imagery in their presentations. We’ve seen a video clip and a few PowerPoints, but not as much as I was counting on. In part because I had hoped to blog about and belit—er, critique them here.

Interestingly, in his talk, Gerry Wheeler inserted a diagram similar to the one above (sans kanji). It’s adapted from a letter Einstein wrote to Maurice Solovine on 7 May 1952, depicting a diagram of Einstein’s epistemological view of the scientific process. Briefly, “E” represents the world of sense experience, “A” the axioms of science, and “S”es the specific statements (predictions) that result from the axioms. Arriving at the axioms occurs through a process of “intuitive connection,” according to Einstein, but lead to the specific statements that can be compared to the real world of experiment and experience.

I’m curious why Einstein chose to sketch the idea in such a manner; I’ve looked over some of his papers (my institution organized an entire Einstein exhibit, after all), but he didn’t seem like much of a sketcher to me. And I haven’t asked Wheeler, but I’m curious if part of the reason he highlighted the diagram is because, well, it’s a diagram.

A diagram (particularly in a letter) stands out on a page. It draws your attention. And if you’re at all visual, which I think most folks are, then it may very well stick in your head, becoming a stand-in for the concept it represents. At first glance, it’s hard to see why Einstein would bother sketching this very conceptual and abstract process, but as a communication technique, it certainly makes the point well.

And perhaps, too, the concept resided in Einstein’s brain in a visual way. Perhaps the sketch was the most obvious means of expressing his thought.

I dunno. Perhaps.

Anyway, you can find a low-resolution scan of the actual letter on a Japanese web page describing its contents (Babelfish does an interesting job translating the page, BTW). I assume it’s also reproduced as part of an American Psychotherapy Association article I found, but I didn’t shell out the five bucks to find out—regardless, the article offers a translation of the letter for free! You can also look for a copy of Letters to Solovine, which includes the letter (and many more) in its entirety.
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