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Albert Einstein

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By Queeniemeg
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German-born American theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, often regarded as the father of modern physics, had exceptional intellectual ability and unprecedented insight. Many believed him to be one of the most influential people in both science and mathematics, and quite possibly the most famous scientist of the 20th century (Severance, 1999). As cited by Fingon and Fingon, Einstein was well known for being a brilliant physicist and abstract thinker, applying his creativity and imagination in his scientific thought process (Parker, 2003). He received the 1921 Nobel Prize for his contribution to the study of physics, namely his special (1905) and general (1916) theories of relativity. The name “Einstein” is often thought of as being synonymous with the word genius. Einstein was not always thought of as a genius, however. His unique intellectual abilities as a young boy created challenges for him in his everyday home and school life, but his sense of wonder paired with persistence and determination led him to be the successful prodigy people know him as today. Abraham Maslow’s humanistic approach of self-actualization provides significant explanation for Einstein’s behaviors and achievements throughout his life.
Heredity and environment played vital roles in Einstein’s psychological development. Einstein’s parents and teachers observed his early childhood developmental delays and had doubts regarding his intelligence. His parents worried about his intellectual development because of a language delay and lack of fluency, and that he repeated his sentences until the age of seven added to their worry (Goodman & Wolff, n.d.). Einstein started his formal schooling at the age of six at a Catholic elementary school. Although perceived as peculiar, Einstein was high functioning in society. Einstein’s teachers favored memorization skills, and therefore his independent and creative thinking, although demonstrating mastery, were frowned upon and considered disrespectful. His boredom in class was mistaken by his teachers as laziness. One of his headmasters expelled him and another told him he would not amount to anything (Isaacson, 2012, “Childhood”), although he was a top student in his elementary school. Maslow’s self-actualization theory explains Einstein’s need to reach his full potential, contrary to the assumption of a possible problem in his development as his parents and teachers once thought. Despite Einstein’s birth into a family of nonpracticing Jews, the strongest bond in his life was his affiliation with the Jewish people (Isaacson, 2012, “Ancestry”). Even though he was not practicing, his connection to Judaism and attendance of Catholic school provided a solid religious foundation for his moral development.
Albert Einstein’s family and support systems influenced his developmental growth and adjustment. His father’s work moved the family from Ulm to Munich, Germany following a career change from working as a merchant in the featherbed industry to starting an electrical engineering business with his brother, Jakob. His father provided the environment for Einstein to develop and discover his own personality. When Einstein was a young boy his father showed him a pocket compass, which sparked his interest in science. He came to the conclusion that something in “empty” space acted on the needle to make it always point north. This gave him a challenge, and the fact that he was problem-oriented further demonstrates how Maslow’s theory of self-actualization can explain Einstein’s behavior. His mother fostered his autonomy and supported his self-reliance (Michio, 2011). She was a musician and introduced him to both piano and violin, neither of which he had much interest in. He had a very close relationship with his sister, Maria (or Maja to those who knew her) as she was his closest childhood friend. A family friend, Max Talmud (later: Talmey), served as a mentor to 11 year old Einstein. He visited the family frequently for dinner at which time he would share books on mathematics, popular science, and philosophy with young Einstein (Michio, 2011). Einstein would soon surpass what Talmud could teach him. When his family moved to Italy after another of his father’s failed endeavors, Einstein was left behind to complete his last year of secondary school in Munich, but found he was unhappy with the arrangement and left school to join his family in Italy, despite his autonomous tendencies. Based on the humanistic theory of self-actualization, Einstein bonded deeply with his family, and that relationship explains his desire to reunite with them in Italy. Around this time, Einstein informed his parents of his plan to renounce his German citizenship and Jewish faith, much to their dismay. Instead of returning to secondary school, he followed the advice of a friend and applied to the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich. Because he did not graduate from secondary school, he was required to take a mandatory entrance examination, which he failed in general knowledge. He returned to secondary school in Aarau, Switzerland for a year, received his diploma, and was accepted to the Federal Polytechnic Institute. There he took a four year teacher course and became a specialized math and science teacher for high school students. According to “Spark Notes” (2012), one may be surprised at his choice to teach, looking back at his own unhappiness as a schoolboy; “the joy he took in learning came from his informal education at home, not from his experiences in a school with formally trained instructors” (Section 2). Although the study of physics was Einstein’s passion, he also recognized the importance of a steady income, as he saw his family’s finances dwindle. His years in Zurich were some of the happiest of his life. It was here where he met many loyal friends and his first wife, a fellow physics student.
Maslow’s self-actualization theory (humanistic approach) described Einstein almost as if Einstein himself had written the theory. The humanistic approach involves making conscious decisions about the development of one’s life, and looking ahead rather than being controlled by one’s past. It focuses on natural progress toward fully developing our potential. Self-actualization specifically requires 1) the ability to perceive reality accurately, 2) be independent and creative, 3) solve problems, 4) accept yourself, 5) have a sense of humor, and 6) enjoy life. Nothing describes Einstein more accurately than this.
Another theory that could apply to Einstein is the sociocultural approach, specifically the nature versus nurture theory. He favored the nurture aspects. One example of this is the boldness Einstein displayed early in his childhood with his teachers, and as an adult declaring his theories without fear of ridicule. In the same sense, he renounced his German citizenship and Jewish faith. Later, he married his college sweetheart, Mileva Maric, despite his parents’ disapproval. He developed a few loyal relationships with friends and colleagues, another trait that can be attributed to the nurture aspect of the theory. The sociocultural approach assumes culture is responsible for shaping people and reflects in their personalities, beliefs, attitudes, and skills. Most researchers believe both nature and nurture have an impact on development; however, in this study of Einstein, examples of environmental influence were more prominent than those of heredity.
The humanistic and sociocultural approaches apply to Einstein in different ways. Much of this study of Einstein’s life and personality favored the humanistic approach assumptions; however, Einstein had a couple of strong traits in the nurture aspect of the sociocultural approach. His behaviors and accomplishments demonstrated his independence and creativity, problem-solving ability, self-acceptance, and ability to perceive his reality accurately, which are reflective of Maslow’s self-actualization theory. These traits saw him through his difficult childhood and made him the well-known individual we call Einstein.

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