â€śThe whole theme of the last century, and of Einsteinâ€™s life,â€ť Mr.
Isaacson said in an interview, â€śis about people who fled oppression in
order to go places to think and express themselves. Einstein runs away from the rote learning and authoritarianism of Germany as a teenager in the 1890s and goes to Italy and Switzerland. And then he flees Hitler to come to America, where he resists both McCarthyism and Stalinism because he believes that the only way to have creativity and imagination is to nurture free thought â€” rebellious free thought.â€ť
If you look at Einsteinâ€™s major theories â€” special relativity,
general relativity and the quantum theory of light â€” â€śall three come
from taking rebellious imaginative leaps that throw out old
conventional wisdom,â€ť Mr. Isaacson said. â€śEinstein thought that the
freest society with the most rebellious thinking would be the most
creative. If we are going to have any advantage over China, it is
because we nurture rebellious, imaginative free thinkers, rather than
try to control expression.â€ť Will China hit a ceiling on innovation because of its political authoritarianism? Thatâ€™s what we need to watch for.
My favorite Einstein quotation is that â€śimagination is more
important than knowledge.â€ť A society that restricts imagination is
unlikely to produce many Einsteins â€” no matter how many educated people
it has. But a society that does not stimulate imagination when it comes
to science and math wonâ€™t either â€” no matter how much freedom it has.