Einstein's 23 Biggest Mistakes

albert einstein

Bridgewater hedge fund manager Ray Dalio recently read Einstein’s Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius, by Hans Ohanian, according to the New Yorker.

The book does exactly what it says: offers of a critique of Albert Einstein’s failures, including the first seven proofs of E=mc2, and his early understanding of clock synchronisation, which is the basis of the Theory of Relativity (“He still clings to the misconceptions of synchronisation, 50 years after the publication of his 1905 paper”). 

Ohanian talks about how geniuses naturally have a harder time, well, believing they’re wrong. He says:

“Once a genius falls into a seductive mistake, it’s liable to become a idee fixe. He is then blind to the mistake, and if this blindness is compounded by stubbornness, he will be deft to criticism, and he will cling to his mistake forever.”

Galileo and Newton were also guilty of idee fixe, which is an obsession “held so firmly as to resist any attempt to modify it,” in their understanding of tidal theory.

Here’s a chronology of Einstein’s biggest mistakes, outlined in the book and also courtesy of Discover magazine:

1905 Mistake in clock synchronisation procedure on which Einstein based special relativity
Failure to consider Michelson-Morley experiment
Mistake in transverse mass of high-speed particles
Multiple mistakes in the mathematics and physics used in calculation of viscosity of liquids, from which Einstein deduced size of molecules
Mistakes in the relationship between thermal radiation and quanta of light
Mistake in the first proof of E = mc2
Mistakes in the second, third, and fourth proofs of E = mc2
Mistake in the synchronisation procedure for accelerated clocks
Mistakes in the Principle of Equivalence of gravitation and acceleration
Mistake in the first calculation of the bending of light
Mistake in the first attempt at a theory of general relativity
Mistake in the fifth proof of E = mc2
Mistake in the Einstein-de Haas experiment
Mistakes in several attempts at theories of general relativity
Mistake in the interpretation of Mach’s principle
Mistake in the introduction of the cosmological constant (the “biggest blunder”)
Mistakes in two attempts to modify general relativity
Mistakes and more mistakes in the attempts to formulate a unified theory
Mistakes in discussions with Bohr on quantum uncertainties
Mistakes in interpretation of quantum mechanics (Does God play dice?)
Mistake in the sixth proof of E = mc2
Mistake in the interpretation of the Schwarzschild singularity and gravitational collapse (the “black hole”)
Mistake in the seventh proof of E = mc2

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