Albert Einstein portraitYep, it’s hard to avoid getting caught up in the cultural biases of one’s own time. However, there is a way out of this trap—as Albert Einstein knew.

Adam Becker, in his book What Is Real?, explores how historical events and philosophical ideas affected theories of quantum physics over the decades. He reveals that just because nearly everyone believes in a theory does not mean it is true. Some theories stick around because of historical accidents, charismatic leaders, or philosophical trends.

Becker shows how physicists of the twentieth century tended to jump on the bandwagon instead of learning about and engaging with a variety of ideas; and he notes that this issue is still relevant today. He ends the book by endorsing Einstein’s antidote to the bandwagon trap. In 1944, Einstein wrote:

“So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.”

Amen, Albert.

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