There’s something about the past that always enchants and captivates us. The icons of the past captivate us even more so, and reading excerpts from former times are like tiny golden nuggets of history. Hearing excerpts from former times, however, is magical. It’s able to transcend the boundaries of the written word and transport us to an earlier moment and emotional state.
All of these elements are tied together when we are able to listen to Albert Einstein read an essay on language, ironically. The essay Einstein is reading is called “The Common Language of Science”, and it was recorded in 1941. Hearing the essay is beautiful for various reasons, but a lot of the beauty comes from the fact that it is being read in a language that was secondary to Einstein and it is probably because of that that science was discovered by him to be the uniting language.
The beginning of the essay is composed of Einstein explaining the science behind the language of social animals and the connections that need to be made during the process of converting thinking into audible language. It is perfect when he asks, “Is there no thinking without language, namely in concepts and concept-combinations for which words need not necessarily come to mind? Has not every one of us struggled for words although the connection between ‘things’ was already clear?”. There is depth in the simplicity of a question most people have experienced at one time or another.
As mentioned previously, the essay was recorded in a language secondary to Einstein. What better position to write an essay on linguistic and scientific language than from the perspective of one looking from the outside in? Einstein notes that it can be the case that language and thinking are two separate things, but points out that, “the mental development of the individual and his way of forming concepts depend to a high degree upon language.” And here comes the connection with science being the unifying language when he says, “The supernational character of scientific concepts and scientific language is due to the fact that they have been set up by the best brains of all countries and all times. In solitude, and yet in cooperative effort as regards the final effect, they created the spiritual tools for the technical revolutions which have transformed the life of mankind in the last centuries. Their system of concepts has served as a guide in the bewildering chaos of perceptions so that we learned to grasp general truths from particular observations.”
Seeing as how this was written around the time of WW2, his essay being on the idea of language and of science being the connecting language could have been his way of emphasizing peace based on these important similarities. It is also easy to see how the content of the recording could be considered dry, but keep in mind this is a recording of an essay and not an interview, so the effect was meant to be purely academic and not for entertainment necessarily.