Einstein: "God does not play dice. God is not malicious."
Bohr: "Einstein, stop telling God what to do."
you are ready.
Thank you so much for seeing us. I noticed as we were walking along we
were talking about the history of this house, and you pointed out that
this is actually where Niels Bohr lived.
Pais: Yes. In fact he
lived in the building in which we are sitting.
And so these were the rooms of the children -
Pais: The children's
rooms, the maid's room, the kitchen. His room, his wife's room. Yes. This
was his home.
you came here in 1946. You lived in a boarding house.
Pais: A boarding house,
And you started to work. You never knew at that time that someday you
would be writing these stories.
Pais: Not - no clue.
You see history came late to me. I never made notes. I have written some
place that ignorance of history is the privilege of youth. It's not that
I didn't like history - I read history for diversion. But to do history.
No, that was never in my mind until 1978. I can tell you how it came about.
In 1978 I was a member of a
committee to prepare the celebrations in Princeton for the centenary of
Einstein's birth. And so we were talking about a scientific program. And
who does this? - who does this? And who will talk about Einstein and the
quantum theory? And everybody turned to me, and said, 'You do that.' So
I said, 'I'll think about it'. And I thought about it, and said, 'All
right, I'll do that'. And I did. And it was well received.
Then I had a friend, who was
the chief editor of the Review of Modern Physics and he said, 'You've
always talked about the late years of the Einstein-Bohr controversy, about
complementarity, why don't you write an article giving the whole picture
about Einstein and the quantum theory.' Einstein, as you know, invented
the photon, and so on, and so on. I thought, all right, I'll do that.
That was also well-received. Then I went for a walk, I remember, in Princeton,
and I thought, why don't I go for all the marbles? And write a biography.
And that's how I began. So I sort of fell into it.
But up until that point, you were doing physics.
Pais: I was doing physics
until I was 61, 62. And when this came along, this history project, I
said to myself, well look, I can still do physics, but I cannot really
do anything that is sufficiently original. I can use my knowledge of the
technology of physics, you know? But to make original contributions at
my age is not so simple. So I said, let me try to stick with this history
business. And that's what I did.
Your books, we have to say, are really brilliantly done. And the reason,
you actually have identified yourself is that you give us the work and
the person. You give us a portrait of someone, and in doing so you use
all your gifts of friendship, plus your eye for the human being. People
are fascinated by what Einstein was like.
Pais: Exactly. He is
a great icon of the twentieth century. That has a historical basis, because
he burst onto the world scene in 1919 just after the First World War.
So there was this man who proclaimed a new order in the universe. That
was a great thing to have around, you know, when Empires had fallen and
there was misery and there was the 'flu and everything was in chaos, and
here comes this man who says 'I will tell you how the universe works'.
And how much did his ideas change people's --
Pais: You must understand,
Einstein did not prove that Newton was wrong. Einstein improved on Newton.
So Newton's work still holds for daily consumption. I mean when you look
at building a bridge, or even a satellite, Newtonian mechanics is sufficient.
You have talked about Einstein as a person having a quality of apartness.
Is it that he seemed somehow absent? People have said that, but then there
are other accounts which say that compared with Kurt Godel
logician, and a friend of Einstein's during his Princeton days] for instance,
he was very outgoing.
Pais: Yes, yes, yes.
Well, apartness, I mean that Einstein decided on his own life line. The
thing about Einstein that in some ways perhaps I admire most is that he
was not afraid of anything. He was not afraid of time. If he had a good
problem, he would say, 'I want to know the answer'. It might take ten
years. Didn't bother him. Einstein was not afraid of death. And that is
very rare, you know. And so in that sense he was apart from the average
And when you met him?
Pais: Well, I met him
through Bohr. I'd been at his institute as a post-doc, and then I went
to Princeton on a fellowship and Bohr also came, because it was the bicentennial
of Princeton University and he had to talk. So Bohr came to the Institute
for Advanced Study and said, 'Let's go and greet Einstein'. I said, 'That's
sounds great!' So we went downstairs, and Bohr knocked at the door, and
we went in. And Bohr said, 'This young man is one of my co-workers'. And
Einstein, very cordial, outstretched hand, and then he just sat down in
the corner. And the two began to argue about quantum physics.
Pais: Immediately! Just
So 'Hullo' -?
Pais: 'Hullo, how'd you
And in German, in Deutsch-?
Pais:That, I must say,
I don't remember. Bohr's German was O.K. but not super. Bohr's use of
foreign languages was absolutely delightful. One day the
French ambassador came to visit Bohr in his house here in Denmark and
Bohr comes out and says 'Aujourdhui'. [LAUGHTER] He meant 'bonjour', you
know. I mean, his German was probably O.K. but I don't remember what they
Is this literally true? Whenever they met, they went
straight into the argument, again?
Pais: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Pais: Every time.
And neither gave way?
Pais: And neither gave
For thirty years
Pais: It began in '27
and it ended shortly before Einstein died, which was in 1955. So about
thirty years, ja.
But they loved each other.
Pais: They were very
fond, truly fond of each other. His housekeeper, Helen Dukas has said
to me, verbatim, 'Sie haben sich heiß geliebt'
They loved each other warmly.
The personal relationship was very good.
Did they ever say what do you think about this or that, talk about the
Pais:That I don't remember
But always straight down to the argument -
Pais: More or less straight
down [LAUGHTER]. Absolutely. Ja.