BarthesBrainofEinstein - The Brain of Einstein Einstein's...

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Unformatted text preview: The Brain of Einstein Einstein's brain is a mythical object: paradoxically, the greatest intelligence of all provides an image of the most up—to—date machine, the man who is too powerful is removed from psycho- logy, and introduced into a world of robots; as is well known, the supermen of science-fiction always have something reified about them. So has Einstein: he is commonly signified by his brain, which is like an object for anthologies, a true museum exhibit. l’erhaps because of his mathematical specialization, superman is here divested of every magical character; no diffuse power in him, no mystery other than mechanical: he is a superior, a prodigious organ, but a real, even a physiological one. Mythow logically, Einstein is matter, his power does not spontaneously draw one towards the spiritual, it needs the help of an independent morality, a reminder about the scientist’s ‘conscience’ (Science without conscience,all they said ). Einstein himself has to some extent been a party to the legend by bequeathing his brain, for the possession of which two hospitals are still fighting as if it were an unusual piece of machinery which it will at last be possible to dismantle. A photograph shows him lying down, his head bristling with electric wires: the waves of his brain are being recorded, while he is requested to ‘think of relativity’. (But for that matter, what does ‘to think of’ mean, exactly P) What this is meant to convey is probably that the seismograms will be all the more violent since ‘relativity’ is an arduous subject. Thought itselfis thus represented as an energetic material, the measurable product of a complex (quasiaelectrical) apparatus which transforms cerebral substance into power. The mythology of Einstein shows him as a genius so lacking in, magic that one speaks about his thought as of a functional labour analogous to the mechanical making of sausages, the grinding of ' ‘Scicnce without conscience is but the ruin ofthe Seul’ (Rabelais, Pantsgruel H, ch. 8). 68 TflE BRAIN OF EINSTEIN corn or the crushing of ore: he used to produce thought, continuously, as a mill makes flour, and death was above all, for him, the cessation of a localized function: ‘the most powerful brain cfell has stopped thinking’. What this machine of genius was supposed to produce was equations. Through the mythology of Einstein, the world bliss— fully regained the image of knowledge reduced to a formula. Paradoxically, the more the genius of the man was materialized Under the guise ofhis brain, the more the product of his inventiveu ness came to acquire a magical dimension, and gave a new incarnation to the old esoteric image of a science entirely con- tained in a few letters. There is a single secret to the world, and this secret is held in one word; the universe is a safe of which humanity seeks the combination: Einstein almost found it, this is the myth of Einstein. In it, we find all the Gnostic themes: the unity of nature, the ideal possibility of a fundamental reduction of the world, the unfastening power of the word, the age-old struggle bemeen a secret and an utterance, the idea that total knowledge can only be discovered all at once, like a lock which suddenly opens after a thousand unsuccessful attempts. The historic equation E = mcz, by its unexpected simplicity, almost embodies the pure idea of the key, bare, linear, made ofone metal, opening with a wholly magical case a door which had resisted the desperate efforts of centuries. Popular imagery faithfully ex» presses this: photograph: of Einstein show him standing next to a blackboard covered with mathematical signs of obvious com- plexity; but cartoons of Einstein (the sign that he has become a legend) show him chalk Still in hand, and having just written on an empty blackboard, as if without preparation, the magic formula of the world. In this way mythology shows an awareness of the nature of the various tasks: research proper brings into play clockwork-like mechanisms and has its seat in a wholly material organ which is monstrous only by its cybernetic compli~ cation; discovery, on the contrary, has a magical essence, it is simple like a basic element, a principial substance, like the philosophers’ stone of hermetists, tar—water for Berkeley, or oxygen for Schelling. 69 MYTHOLOGIES But since the world is still going on, since research is pro- liferating, and on the other hand since God’s share must be preserved, some failure on the part of Einstein is necessary: Einstein died, it is said, without having been able to verify ‘the equation in which the secret afthe world was mlosed’. So in the end the world resisted; hardly opened, the secret closed again, the code was incomplete. In this way Einstein fulfils all the conditions of myth, which could not care less about contradictions so long as it establishes a euphoric security: at once magician and machine, eternal researcher and unfulfilled discoverer, unleashing the best and the worst, brain and conscience, Einstein embodies the most contradictory dreams, and mythically reconciles the infinite power of man over nature with the ‘fatality’ of the sacrosanct‘, which man cannot yet do without. ...
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BarthesBrainofEinstein - The Brain of Einstein Einstein's...

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