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                                         Einstein’s Son’s Dog:  A Retrospection

    Though much has been written about the important personages of science, such as Albert Einstein, and their major influence on the history of science, there have also been mini-histories which, except for rare occasions, remain unknown, and thereby lost.  These little histories revolve around the personal lives of those scientists, their friends and associates, and even their pets. These private histories can also be very significant and may have provided, if made known, complementary meanings to the major histories which these scientists shaped. The events pertaining to my own family illustrate this in a unique manner.

    My father, Paul, a geophysicist and engineer, was encouraged by his mentor and Ph.D. adviser, Professor Beno Guttenberg, a distinguished geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology, to meet with Albert Einstein. Along with his doctoral work, my father was investigating the significance of the universal dimensional constants of physics and had several discussions with Professor Guttenberg about this matter. Professor Guttenberg, who was a good friend of Einstein’s, told my father he should find out what were Einstein’s views on this important subject. “Talk to Einstein”, Professor Guttenberg said. Through a letter from Professor Guttenberg to Albert Einstein, a meeting between my father and Dr. Einstein was arranged in Einstein’s home in Princeton, New Jersey.

    As my father related to me, the meeting was carried out with mutual enthusiasm, my father sitting on a couch next to Einstein and repeatedly slapping Einstein on his leg while excitedly emphasizing various points. My father never described to me the main features of what he and Einstein had discussed, only to say that he had found Professor Einstein “very sharp” in responding to my dad’s questions, with insights and thought provoking questions of his own.

    After the discussion concluded, they parted, while Einstein’s dog, a little terrier, trotted beside the two men, with my father promising to have his mother, who was an excellent cook, send Professor Einstein one of her famous apple-strudels. Later, I wondered if this little dog was present while Dr. Einstein and my father had their enthusiastic conversation, a possible witness to what might have been a historical conversation, if made explicit in history. This meeting occurred in the early 1950s. What influence it may have had on Einstein’s thinking is unknown. As they parted, I know Einstein told my father “to keep your courage” in the pursuit of the subject discussed. And I know that my father did in fact pursue that subject of the universal physical constants with his students and later with me as his collaborator, with a significant influence on my own scientific path and on the contributions I later made.

    In 1959, my father joined the College of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Though by fate or by some strange synchronicity of events, my father and Hans Albert Einstein, Albert Einstein’s son, were both professors in the physical sciences at this university. Through mutual interests, they became friends and socialized at each other’s home. On various occasions, Hans Albert would bring his little dog, a beagle, to my father’s home. The dog, which my sister Vicky referred to as “Low Rider,” would sit or lie near the two scientists while they engaged in deep discussions.

    One can only wonder what profound thoughts were uttered in this dog’s presence and which are forever lost---As far as I know, my dad never took notes of these discussions. Though, one can also wonder if the dog took some of this into its canine “mind,” a de facto canine witness of sorts to thoughts that might have thrown new light on a unified field theory, for example, and the bearing of the universal physical constants on such.

    Many times Professor Einstein would leave his dog in the care of our family while he and his wife went on vacations. But, no one in the family ever tried to “debrief” that nice little doggy of whatever knowledge it might have taken in. It would never have occurred to family members that Hans’ dog might have been a witness to or a possible receptacle of new insights into the physical constants and into physics and cosmology in general.

    My dad told me he never mentioned to Hans that he had met Hans’ father. As my father related, he sensed it would not have been appropriate, perhaps recalling Hans’ earlier, difficult relationship with his own father. For some reason, my father never elaborated on his friendship with Hans nor on the matters they had discussed. I always sensed a restraint on his part in this, a type of privacy, and I never pressed. I now wish I had, as important, historical information, relevant to scientific development, might have been garnered.  As it was, an Einstein family dog would have been the only witness to lost conversation of possible historical import.                                                                                                    
     In the development of my own scientific history, these conversations between these two men might have had significant, though indirect, influence on some subtle level, as my dad’s conversation with Hans’ father appears to have had on my dad’s own scientific and philosophical development through the years. However, had I been made directly aware of the content of my father’s discussions with Hans, who knows if my own contributions to science would have taken on added significance and might even have reshaped scientific thought.                                                                                                                                                                       

   Had it been possible, several conversations with Hans’ dog might have allowed for all of that. Maybe, this nice canine might have graciously revealed that constancy in nature, as revealed through the universal constants, is a deep fact of nature, and that this deep fact would make the theories underlying quantum mechanics more complete, giving new directions to biological research as a consequence.

    All the principals in this little history are gone now, my father, Albert Einstein, and his terrier, Hans Albert and his little dog, and with all of them, lost knowledge. I wonder how much critical, beneficial, life-changing information and related, significant mini-histories have been lost to us through the centuries, leaving our heritage incomplete and distorted, a beneficial transformation, denied. If only our dogs could have spoken.   



                                                                                                                                          Michael M. Lieber
                                                                                                                                          September 29, 2008