To visualize the unseen

william smith
4 min readJan 10, 2019

According to renowned biographer, Walter Isaacson, when Albert Einstein’s younger son, Eduard, asked why he was so famous, Einstein replied by using one of his famed thought experiments to describe his insight that gravity was the curving of the fabric of space-time.

“When a blind beetle crawls over the surface of a curved branch, it doesn’t notice that the track it has covered is indeed curved,” he said. “I was lucky enough to notice what the beetle didn’t notice.” — Albert Einstein

This is likely the lesson we should all strive to teach our children “to notice what the beetle didn’t notice.

Einstein did more than just notice what the blind beetle didn’t. As Isaacson says, he was able to imagine it by conjuring up thought experiments. That ability to visualize the unseen, to imagine, has always been the key to creative genius. As Einstein later put it, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” ( Walter Isaacson — “The Light-Beam Rider” — The New York Times 1/10/19, )

All parents alive today now have an opportunity to help our children “to notice what the beetle didn’t notice.” The press all over the world is agog with stories about scientists finding mysterious signals coming from galaxies very far away.

  • “Mysterious radio signals from deep space detected” — BBC News, 1/9/19 “Astronomers have revealed details of mysterious signals emanating from a distant galaxy, picked up by a telescope in Canada.”
  • “A second repeating fast radio burst has been detected in space” — CNN 1/10/19 “Scientists have recorded the second repeating fast radio burst to be discovered, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.”

I’ve never been a big fan of plopping kids down in front of a TV but after reading the stories about “Mysterious radio signals from deep space” I couldn’t help but remember the Jodi Foster movie “Contactand just asked my daughter to plop our grand children down.

This may be the most fun scene in the movie when scientist Dr. Ellie Arroway…