Einstein's Medical Friends and Their Influence on His Life
S. SRI KANTHA
5-16-305 Tsukimicho, Fukuroi City, Shizuoka 437-01, Japan (Tel: & Fax: (+81) 538 49 2274)
Abstract -- Albert Einstein had at least six medical friends who influenced his thoughts. In each period (Munich, Switzerland, Berlin and Princeton) of his life, one could identify the medically qualified individuals with whom Einstein was in close contact. These include Max Talmey, Heinrich Zangger, George Nicolai, Hans MLihsam, Janos Plesch and Gustav Bucky. They probably enriched Einstein's life and thoughts significantly by being mentors, confidants, intellectual sparring partners and research collaborators to him. With MLihsam, Einstein published a paper in a German medical journal. In collaboration with Bucky, he also received a US patent for a light-intensity self-adjusting camera in 1936.
While engaged in studying the life of physicist Albert Einstein (1--4), I was amused to find that he had at least six medical friends who were close to him. It is not unusual for a scientist, who specialized in physical sciences, to have friends trained in a medical discipline. But, in Einstein's case, this observation may have some significance. Since this aspect has not been explored by any of the Einstein scholars so far, I present my thoughts on the influence of these medical friends on Einstein's life.
The table lists six medical friends who influenced Einstein's life. The biographical sketches provided below about each of them are arranged in the chronological order of their acquaintance with Einstein.
1. Max Talmey (1869 – 1941)
Thus, Talmey deserves the credit for introducing Einstein to the world of science. He matriculated in 1889 from Munich University and eventually emi- grated to the USA at the beginning of this century to practise [sic] medicine in New York. His own popular book, The Relativity Theory Simplified, and the Formative Years of its Inventor, was published in 1932.
2. Heinrich Zangger (1874-1957)
Zangger was Einstein's friend in Zurich, who held the position of Director of the Institute for Forensic Medicine at the University of Zurich. Zangger first met Einstein in 1905 according to Highfield and Carter (9): 'to discuss Brownian motion, and [he] gradually came to act as a personal and professional confidant'. He was also instrumental in bringing Einstein back to Zurich from Prague in 1913. When not residing in Zurich, Einstein corresponded with Zangger to express his thoughts and solicit advice on various issues affecting his life. Since he lived in Zurich, Zangger also served as a 'substitute father' to Einstein's two sons, when Einstein was living apart from them, following separation from his first wife Mileva Maric in 1914 (9).
3. George Nicolai (1874-1964)
An outspoken German pacifist and a professor of physiology at the University of Berlin from 1910- 1915, in late 1914, Nicolai coauthored with Einstein a manifesto entitled Manifesto to Europeans, espousing pacifism. This manifesto, which asked the intellectuals to join forces in demanding a just peace and to work towards the establishment of a united Europe, was a rebuttal to the Manifesto to the Civilized World signed by 93 German intellectuals, among whom Wilhelm Rrntgen [sic], Ernst Haeckel, Paul Ehrlich and Max Planck were giants in science of that era. The manifesto coauthored by Nicolai and Einstein was signed by only two other colleagues, though circulated among all the professors employed at the University of Berlin, and many had expressed their sympathy with the document. During World War I, Nicolai continued his campaign and published a tract entitled Die Biologie des Krieges (1916; with a Foreword by Romain Rolland). An American translation of this work appeared in 1918 as The Biology of War. Nicolai paid the price for his pacifism and was ...'dishonored and made to work as an orderly in a field hospital' (8), and ...'during the closing months of the war [Nicolai] made a sensational escape from Germany by plane' (6). In 1922, he also produced a movie entitled Der Einstein Film, on the theory of relativity (11).
4. Hans Miihsam (1876-1957)
Mtthsam was a Berlin-born medical doctor who, after graduation in 1900, established a private practice in Berlin. According to Pais (7), Einstein first met Mtihsam in 1915 which led to 'Sunday hikes during which they discussed physics and also medical and biological problems'. Einstein published a paper with Mtihsam in 1923, related to the experimental determination of the size of pores in filters (12). This is the only research paper of Einstein's which appeared in a medical journal. Pais (7) also mentions that 'Mtihsam became Einstein's closest confidant in the Berlin days'. Eventually Mtihsam moved to Israel to escape from the Nazis and died there.
5. Janos Plesch (1875-?)
Plesch was a Hungarian-born medical doctor, who built a successful medical practice in Berlin. Einstein came to know Plesch in 1919, when the latter attended to Einstein's mother Pauline Einstein during her terminal illness. Then, for more than a quarter of a century, they remained close friends. In 1928, when Einstein collapsed during his trip to Zuoz, Switzerland, it was Plesch who diagnosed inflammation in the walls of Einstein's heart and guided the physicist to recovery. Plesch also dedicated his book, Physiology and Pathology of the Heart and Blood Vessels to Einstein. In his autobiography, Plesch had written, 'It has always struck me as singular that the marvelous memory of Einstein for scientific matters does not extend to other fields'. Einstein himself agreed with this assessment.
6. Gustav Bucky (1880-1963)
This Leipzig-born physician friend of Einstein first came to know the physicist while treating his step- daughter Ilse Einstein. Bucky was a specialist in radiology. Like Einstein, he also emigrated to the USA and settled in New York. Einstein enjoyed Bucky's friendship at social and academic levels and collaborated with him to receive a US patent for a light-intensity self-adjusting camera (a photoelectric device) in 1936 (13,14). Writing in the early 1940s, Frank (5) observed .... 'even today he (Einstein) is often in the company of his friend Dr Bucky of New York, a well-known physician and specialist in the construction of X-ray machines, and together they have devised a mechanism for regulating automatically the exposure time of a photographic film depending on the illumination on it. Einstein's interest in such inventions depends not on its practical utility but on getting at the trick of the thing'.
I conclude that, during each major period of his life (which spanned Germany, Switzerland and the USA), Einstein had close friends in the medical disciplines. Apart from providing routine diagnostic services and guidance on health problems, they served Einstein in multiple roles as mentors, confidants, intellectual sparring partners and research collaborators.
https://www1.gifu-u.ac.jp/~srikanth/sri ... riends.pdf
I conclude that, it has always struck me as singular that the “marvelous” memory of St. Einstein for scientific matters does indeed extend to the medical field.