Albert Einstein was born in Germany and although he had a relatively average start, when he found a geometry book at 12 years of age his inquisitive and quick mind became apparent to everyone. His parents employed a tutor and Einstein was introduced to higher mathematics and philosophy, which led to the writing of his first scientific paper at only 16 years old. Dropping out of school and renouncing his German citizenship to avoid military service, Einstein instead went to school in Switzerland, where his unique understanding of mathematics and physics became apparent.
It was while he worked as a clerk in the patent office in Switzerland that Einstein developed his theory of Relativity, which showed that Newton’s Laws were not 100% accurate, shaking a theory that had been believed for around 200 years. His work was quickly recognised for its revolutionary qualities and Einstein progressed from clerk to university professor to Nobel Prize winner in a matter of years.
Einstein was constantly evaluating his own knowledge and that of his predecessors, ensuring that his findings were accurate. By challenging Newton’s 3 Laws and publishing his own paper he demonstrated the groundbreaking effect that continuous evaluation can have.
As a professor, lecturer and published author Einstein used his undeniable abilities to empower others, increasing their knowledge and facilitating them in further studies. It is because Einstein circulated his findings that he was acknowledged as a genius and his contributions to his fellow scientists are countless.
It was Einstein’s tutor, Max Talmud, who initially demonstrated the unusual way in which his mind worked when they discussed envisioning running alongside a light beam. It was because Einstein approached subjects from an unusual angle that he gained such insight.
What did he think about creativity?
Einstein had a lot to say about how to be creative. It was important to him to take a new approach to problems: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Also, he was not afraid to get things wrong in the search for the right answer: "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new'; and: 'If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."
But can scientists really be creative?
Absolutely. Einstein prized his ability to think creatively and imaginatively: "Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." He also said: "To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science." Creativity can be an advantage in every field, not just the arts and traditionally creative industries.
What was that about his brain again?
Einstein's brain was removed within hours of his death, in the hope that neuroscientists would be able to discover what made him so intelligent. Apparently one area of his brain - the inferior parietal region, which is responsible for mathematical thought and the ability to think in terms of space and movement - was 15% wider than most people's. Einstein's brain also lacked a groove that normally runs through part of this area, with researchers suggesting that its absence may have allowed the neurons to communicate much more easily. Some have also suggested that Einstein may have suffered from Asperger's Syndrome.
So can we learn to think like Einstein?
In his book Einstein: His Life and Universe, writer Walter Isaacson identifies two key traits that helped Einstein to break the mould creatively. The first - he was rebellious, getting kicked out of school at one point for undermining the authority of his headmaster. This rebelliousness made him challenge long-established theories. Secondly, he was a visual thinker, picturing themes and theories in his head – like daydreaming. Finally, an intense curiosity – as Einstein said: "The important thing is not to stop questioning."
Photo credit: "Einstein 1921 by F Schmutzer - restoration" by Ferdinand Schmutzer. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons