Rebecca Goldstein, Harvard University
Topic: Why Did Einstein Write a (Bad) Love Poem to Spinoza?
ABSTRACT: Spinoza was a seventeenth-century über-rationalist who employed a truly bizarre methodology, attempting to prove everything — from the nature of the world, to human nature, to the ethical meaning of our lives — from first principles, in the axiomatic style of Euclid. Why would a scientist take seriously anything this resolutely anti-empiricist pre-scientist had to say? Somehow Einstein did, going so far as to write a poem entitled "Zu Spinozas Ethik," and opening with the words (in German) "How much do I love this noble man?" Apparently a lot, but the question is why.