OVERBYE: When babies enter the picture it gets more complicated. He needed better and better sparring partners as he went along. Mileva was okay for awhile, but he progressed into having better and better physicists as his sparring partners, until he finally got to Niels Bohr. But Mileva was very important in his earlier years, when he was perhaps not as cocky and secure as he was a few years later. And it was certainly exciting for him to come across a woman who was interested in physics and could talk about it with him, because up until that point this was not something he had experienced. In fact, when he met Mileva, he dumped his girlfriend Marie, who he had gone to high school with and who was still doing his laundry for him. But I don't believe he ever quite got over Marie.
EDGE: Tell me more about Marie.
OVERBYE: It's a complicated story Something that we didn't appreciate about Einstein is that he grew up in a family who were making gadgets and electromagnetic gizmos When Einstein was about 15 or 16 his family was in the electrical business in Munich, which was like being in the Internet business today. His uncle had patents on dynamos and electrical meters. The Einstein Brothers company sold power and lighting systems around southern Europe. He was very familiar with this technology, which was the leading edge technology of the day, like computers are today.
The family moved to Italy, leaving Albert back in Munich where he was in school, and he he seemed to have some sort of nervous breakdown. He dropped out of school, and went back to Italy, where he found himself with nothing to do, so he told his parents that he was going to go to the Polytechnic in Zurich and study engineering. They took him there, but he was too young to go to college. He took the entrance exam, and he impressed them with most of his scores, except in languages, so they sent him off to a prep school for a year, for a season.
He lived with a family, the Wintelers, a big, boisterous intellectual family, who were always arguing and bird watching and hiking and seems to have had a wonderful time. And he got involved with one of the Winteler daughters, Marie. Later on, his sister married one of the Winteler brothers, and his best friend, Michele Besso married another one of the Winteler sisters. So the Einsteins, Bessos, and Wintelers became very intertwined. Albert's parents liked Marie a lot, and everyone was very unhappy when Albert dumped her for Mileva. And, in fact, Marie went into a depression was hospitalized for a while. But eventually she led a normal life and married a manager of a watch factory. Albert kept talking about her his whole life, about how he would be consumed in flames if he even saw her again. He would even tell this to Mileva. He was greatly relieved when Marie finally married, either because that put finally her out of reach or he felt very guilty about dumping her and what had happened to her.
EDGE: What was he doing in terms of science when he was with Marie?
OVERBYE: Well nothing, He was in the Ararau cantonal school which was like being in the senior year of high school. We learn later that even then he was thinking was about light waves and the ether, and about the issues that relativity would eventually resolve. He had done his first thought experiment when he was about 16: he tried to imagine what it would be like if he could travel along with a light ray, if he could surf on an electromagnetic light wave like a surfer surfing on an ocean wave. What would he see? But the question didn't make any sense, because Maxwell's equations, which describe electromagnetism, say that a light wave appears to move at a particular speed, roughly 300,000 kilometers per second. They don' say anything about how fast you are going, so it seemed that even if he were traveling along with a light wave, the light wave would still look like it was zipping past him at the speed of light. That was a paradox that bothered him, a lot.
Of course, the answer turns out to be that you can't go that fast; it takes an infinite amount of energy to get to the speed of light. But he was thinking about these things, and writing little essays to his uncles about them, even as young as 15 or so. But mostly he was just having a good time. He underwent a personality change, because back in Munich he was the class nerd. He had familiarized himself with the entire high school math curriculum by the age of 12. His image was that of a solitary youth, reading his math books. In Switzerland he presented himself as a man of the world. He was a very attractive looking guy, and seemed to have a lot of charisma and personality, and people remembered him as a force to be reckoned with.