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"Imagination is more important than knowledge "



> At the age of 26, Albert Einstein published three articles that revolutionized Physics, one of which was the Theory of Relativity. After his death, the theories continued to generate debates in the scientific field. 2005 marked the year of Physics, paying homage to 100 years since Einstein’s papers.<<






How to explain Einstein's theory ?















Albert Einstein was born on the 14th of March 1879, in Ulm, Germany, in a Jewish middle class family. His father, Hermann Einstein, had an electronics workshop with his brother Jacob and was greatly interested in everything related to electrical inventions.

       In1881, Maria Einstein (Maja) was born. Einstein was always very close to his sister. They received a non-religious education. Einstein’s childhood was solitary.



      Although he only learned to speak at the age of three, it is not true that he was a weak student. An evident trait in his character, which would later manifest in a unique way, was his obstinacy and audacity.


     As a student, he was only diligent when the subject interested him intensely. Science was a preoccupation in his life from an early age.


     At the age of five, he was deeply impressed by a compass his father had given him as a gift. "How can a needle move, floating in space, without the help of any mechanism?" he asked himself, imagining that all object must have something hidden, something occult....


     At seven, he demonstrates the Pythagoras Theorem to his surprised uncle Jakob, who had taught him the fundaments of geometry a few days before.



    At eleven, he discovered what would later be designated the “sacred book of geometry” by Euclid.


      In 1894, his father’s business in Munich went bankrupt and the family moved to Italy, leaving Einstein behind to finish his secondary education. Einstein found it difficult to tolerate the rigid discipline and dropped out of school at 15 to join his family in Milan. 


      Later he would confess,

     "It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for what this delicate little plant needs more than anything, besides stimulation, is freedom. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.

     Quoted in H Eves Return to Mathematical Circles (Boston 1988).



      After half a year of travelling, he did his admission exam for the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich (E.T.H.), Switzerland. He tried to get in, although he did not have a school diploma and was younger the age requirement for higher education. He did not pass the chemistry, biology or language exams but his excellent grades in mathematics and physics impressed the school principal, who advised him to finish his secondary education in a cantonal school in  Aarau, near Zurich.

     During his short stay at this school, he wrote about his plans for the future.

“If I were to have the good fortune to pass my examinations, I would go to Zurich. I would stay there for four years in order to study mathematics and physics. I imagine myself becoming a teacher in those branches of the natural sciences, choosing the theoretical part of them. Here are the reasons which lead me to this plan. Above all, it is my disposition for abstract and mathematical thought, and my lack of imagination and practical ability".

H Dukas and B Hoffmann, Albert Einstein : the human side. New glimpses from his archives (Princeton, N.J., 1979)



      He was more than happy in the free and motivating environment of the cantonal school and only worried about a problem that neither he nor his professor knew how to solve: the appearance of a light wave to someone travelling alongside it! Would it look frozen? This problem would return later on, when Einstein formulated his Theory of Relativity.


      In September 1896, he passed the final exams and was granted admission to the university. With the exception of French, all his marks were good, especially mathematics, physics, song and music (violin).


       He was finally admitted at the E.T.H. in 1896. To his surprise and disappointment, the Polytechnic did not meet his expectations. Contrary to the school in Aarau, where stimulating discussions were carried out in class, at ETH the teachers would read entire books out loud! To escape the boredom of those monotonous classes, Einstein decided to  skip class and would occupy his free time reading books on theoretical physics.

       After he finished the course, in August 1900, he hoped to occupy the position of assistant to professor Hurwitz, to then discover his ex-major professor, H.F. Weber, had foiled his intention. From that point on, the manifestations of animosity on behalf of his ex-professors became evident. Einstein sought employment for a long time and, in the meantime, dedicated some hours of the day lecturing in a secondary school  




                                Conrad Habicht, Maurice Solovine e Albert Einstein



Akademie Olympia  

        On Easter of 1902, Maurice Solovine read an announcement in a Bern paper in which Albert Einstein advertised that he gave private maths and physics lessons for three francs the hour. On the third day of class, Einstein decided not to charge him and suggested they only hold daily meetings in which they could discuss whatever matter they fancied. Some weeks later, Conrad Habicht started to participate in these meetings. To mock the scientific academies, they named themselves Akademie Olympia.      


        With these two colleagues, together with Michele Besso, Einstein discussed the scientific ideas that resulted in the extraordinary work published in 1905.


       During the last years of his life, Einstein would nostalgically recall these animated meetings where he, eventually, gave violin concerts for his colleagues. Although the atmosphere was intellectually rich, dinner was a sad affair; they would generally eat a single sausage, one item of fruit, a piece of cheese, honey and one or two cups of tea. Of the three, the only one who wrote about these meetings was Solovine. In the introduction of his book, ‘Albert Einstein: Letters to Solovine’, he writes that to discuss philosophy and science, they read Plato, Spinoza, Karl Pearson, Stuart Mill, David Hume, Ernst Mach, Helmholtz, Ampère and Poincaré. They also read other literary works of Sophocles, Racine and Charles Dickens. Of these authors, the ones that most influenced Einstein were Hume, Mach and Poincaré.

       Inversely, during the last years of his life, Einstein rarely had the patience to read scientific discourses and had to depend on friends to keep himself informed about the work of other scientists.

     So, in 1902, he was finally employed as technician in the Patent Office in Bern and was later promoted, in 1906, to second-class engineering technician. Einstein remained there until 1909 when the University of Zurich invited him to occupy the position of professor.

       The years that Einstein lived in Bern were very happy and productive. The intense pleasure he felt while playing the violin, mmoments of total meditation.

      He could now count on his wages from the Patents Office to assure a modest living and his undemanding professional obligations left spare time for contemplation. His creative reasoning developed rapidly. His famous 1905 papers were insuperable in logical genius and audacity.



        At the end of the nineteenth century, Mileva Maric and Albert Einstein studied together in the Polytechnic in Zurich. She was the only woman in the institute and mainly excelled in maths. They finished the course in the first semester of 1900 but she failed twice the exams for the secondary education teacher diploma. In her second attempt, in July 1901, she was three months pregnant (with Lieserl, Einstein’s daughter whose fate remains unknown). Depressed, she returned to her father’s house and abandoned the plan of obtaining an ETH diploma. They married in 1903 and had two children, Hans Albert and Edward. After ten years of misunderstandings, they separated in 1903. Mileva suffered cerebral tuberculosis and her husband decided not to bother her with the matter of divorce. Although they formalized their divorce in 1919, on September 1917, Einstein went to live with his cousin, Elsa Löwenthal, whom he lived with until her death on the 20th of December 1936.



    Some authors have carried out intensive research on Einstein for decades, like Djordje Krstic, whose book, "Albert and Mileva Einstein – Their Love and Scientific Collaboration ", published in Serbian after being launched in Slovenian and English, presents a series of arguments which state that the revolutionary work of Einstein originated from joint work. According to Krstic, the couple worked together until 1913 or 1914, when they separated and, five years later, divorced. The separation was a hard blow to her and she never fully recovered.

       The biographers of Mileva Maric agree that she lived in her husband’s shadow, totally absorbed in Einstein and her family. She was proud of saying that they both formed "a stone ", which in German is literally translated as "einstein". The world became interested in Serbia and her life twenty years ago, when the love letters that Mileva kept until her death, were published. They are valuable because they “showed how Albert Einstein grew as a scientist by her side”, explains doctor Bozic.

       In 1994, the Novi Sad University created the Mileva Maric prize for the best mathematics student. There is also a project to transform the famous house built by her father in Novi Sad, into a museum.





       In 1905, Einstein wrote his doctorate thesis  for the University of Zurich, which was dedicated to his friend, Grossmann, and was titled "On a new determination of molecular dimensions". His thesis was published in an edition of the German scientific magazine Annalen der Physik, containing the five papers.

       The forth paper, titled "The electrodynamic moving body", revolutionized Newtonian physics. It contains a synthesis of classical mechanics, optics and Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory, demonstrating that space and time are not independent of each other but are, in fact, relative; that mass is relative and not absolute, varying with movement.

       The fifth paper, titled "Does the inertia of a body depend on it’s energy-content?" is the corollary of the preceding paper.


       Einstein developed a new idea of equivalence between mass and energy. He exposed the initial formulation of the theory of Relativity that would later become known throughout the world. Einstein presented the famous equation E = mc2.  This equation proves that the mass of any object is directly proportional to it’s energy.

      (E = energy, m = object mass, c = speed of light).



         In the period in which it was presented, Einstein’s theories proved to be complex and highly controversial.



       His way of doing science was also new. It was a philosophical science; he would sit down, use his imagination, write equations, return to reality, check if adjustments were needed, and return to the theory…. Science had never been conceived that way and was solely based on facts verified in laboratories.

        “All human knowledge begins with intuition, proceeds from thence to concepts, and ends with ideas.”

           Prussian Philosopher Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804)


     "There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition... ".

            Albert Einstein



Einstein once asked: 

“How does a poet work?” 

“How do you mean?” said his friend.

“I mean, how does the conception of a poem come about?

“I don’t know, I just feel it. It simply happens.”

“That is exactly what happens to a scientist, “ he concluded. “The mechanism of discovery is not logical...Don’t you see? It is sudden enlightenment, almost ecstasy. There is a connection with the imagination and imagination is more important than knowledge.”

            “I think 99 times and discover nothing,” Albert said. “I stop thinking, dive into a great silence and the truth is revealed to me. The mind proceeds up to the point it can analyse but then passes onto a higher dimension, without knowing how it got there. All great revelations make that leap.”


        Space and time without a body, but a body cannot exist without space-time. Everything that exists, everything we observe becomes knowledge, does it not? Time and space are concepts we have instinctively. Therefore, everything that exists, all our knowledge, is based on cosmic intuition.

        Observation is based on our senses that give us the mere appearance of reality. One has to free oneself of the illusory cuffs of the senses. Intuition is our starting point. Imagination is the road that needs to be followed with reason. Only this way can we you, I and all of us, reach our destiny, free knowledge. 


  (Passages from the book, Caius  Zip in: Einstein, Picasso, Chaplin and Agatha  

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       From this new vision, based on the reading books like Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”, Einstein found himself confronting the theory of Newton and the laws of mechanics that had been established and needed to be modified. One of the characteristics of this transformation is that when the coordinates are transformed, time also has to be altered. There is where a new mechanism starts. If I am in movement, the space interval is different in two reference points, then time must also be different for reason to remain the same. Time and space intervals are different in different reference points. The intervals are relative and that is why the theory is called RELATIVITY. There is no simultaneity in moving reference points. When comparing two clocks, it is possible to prove that the one in movement ticks slower than the other. If a clock is placed in a Concorde, after a few hours in flight we can compare it with another and see that there are differences. The difference is minute but measurable and coherent with Einstein’s theory.



         From 1909 to 1932, he was a professor of Theoretical Physics in the universities of Zurich, Prague and Berlin. 

        He created a new theory of General Relativity in 1915, and in 1921 he received the Nobel Prize for Physics.

        Einstein has made important contributions in almost all areas of physics but, without a doubt, his most significant contributions were those related to the theory of restricted relativity and general relativity. 

        He became a North American citizen in 1940, a country to where he emigrated in 1933, forced by the ascent of Nazism, and where he started lecturing in the Institute for Advanced Study of Princeton, in New Jersey. Einstein was always concerned about the problems of society and was an active pacifist and defender of Judaism. However, in 1952 he politely declined an invitation to be the president of Israel.

       Being a great and profound thinker, he delighted in the silence of scientific and philosophical reflection. Although he was mostly known as a scientist, he is also the author of many beautiful thoughts. He died in Princeton, in 1955.

Everything is relative,  is it not?

       It is an error to attribute the statement that "everything is relative" to Einstein. He was in doubt as to what the name of his theory should be and even considered calling it ‘Equivalence’ due to equality of energy with mass times speed of light…. Maybe it could be ‘Invariance’ because the speed of light does not vary….Or better, ‘Relativity’, to highlight that time and space are relative to the system of reference.

       The scientist even tried to change the name of his work to "The Theory of Invariance ", but Relativity had already caught on.















Einstein as Hopi Indian during a visit to Hopi House near the Grand Canyon in 1931.




        Was he only awarded the Nobel Prize Award in 1921?

       In fact, from 1910 to 1921, the Nobel Commission rejected Einstein eight times as the jury was divided about the matter of Relativity. They even indicated a member to analyze the Theory but it was in vain. He simply could not understand it. The Nobel Committee for Physics of the Royal Academy of Science in Sweden did not dare award the prize for fear that one day someone would prove the Theory wrong.

       When he eventually received the Nobel Prize, of 32 thousand dollars, it was for his work on the Photoelectric Effect.

       At the award ceremony, he surprised everyone during his speech; using his famous ironic humour, he only mentioned the Theory of Relativity and did not utter a word about the Photoelectric Effect.

       Einstein gave Mileva Maric the money from the award, in compliance to a divorce settlement.





     At the age of 6, stimulated by his mother and later consolidated with lessons from Heller Schmidt from 6 to 13 years of age, the violin would become a fundamental instrument throughout his life to help in the reflection of his theories.

He also liked to compose hymns on the piano. He learned to play the piano on his own, listening to his mother, a talented pianist. At home, he had lessons on the Judaic religion but at the age of 12, preparing for his bar mitzvah, he lost what he later called his “religious paradise of youth”. What particularly shocked him, and led him to reject any anthropomorphic conception of God by all his life, was a citation by Xenophanes,  “If oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their several kinds”. Einstein called his religious convictions a “cosmic religious feeling”.




      In Berlin, 1919, a small orchestra made up of writers and scientist would frequently meet at the house of the mathematician, Hadamar. The favourite repertoires of those amateur musicians were the symphonies of Mozart and some works by Beethoven.


      They needed a good first violin and Jacques solved the problem by bringing along a new friend, Albert Einstein. He was still unknown outside of specialized circles and few members knew that the new violinist directed a famous German institute and was being constantly nominated for the Nobel Prize of Physics.

      Read the testimony of the novelist, George Duhamel, on Einstein’s participation during his first rehearsal. "Einstein was a good violinist. He played with clarity and rigour, entering with total precision but never trying to standout from the rest. During moments of inactivity, he lifted his noble face, with an expression of candour and intelligence. He was well dressed but everything about him denoted simplicity. It seemed he did not care much for clothing. Music, however, represented an enormous value to his spirit. There was such devotion, such modesty in the personality of that master. Most of all, I remember some rehearsals in which we read and studied Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. To me, this symphony became a symbol of remembrance of Einstein.”.



      When he was not working, he liked the contact with nature and was a fervent sailor. He loved solitude and isolated himself in a sailboat or took long walks in the mountains.


       He adored a place called Caputh  (a small village near Berlin), where he had a summerhouse at the margins of a lake. The house was a gift from municipal authorities of Berlin to the scientist in acknowledgement of his great international prestige.  He considered the house “a paradise” and spent all his summers there, sailing in his boat his friends had given him on his 50th birthday. Though it bore the name "Tümmler" Einstein called it lovingly his "thick sailing ship".

       Einstein spent a lot of time with his ship on the bordering Havel lakes. He  preferred sailing alone and though he couldn’t swim he refused it to put on a life-jacket. This led to his family worrying ever more when he was out with his ship. Often he took also guests out to his sailing trip.

      Nothing, however, is perfect. The scientist had to abandon his paradise, fleeing from the Nazis, and was driven to exile in the United States.

      German shock troops searched his country house for guns and ammunition. They had information that he had given communist militants permission to store military equipment in his property. Nothing was found, besides a bread knife! Einstein had foreseen such occurrences. When he closed his house in Caputh, he presumably told Elsa "Dreh dich um. Du siehst's nie wieder" (Look around you. You will never see it again).

      At the "public burning of ungerman writings" on May 10 in 1933, organised by Goebbels, Einstein’s writings were also burnt. In August 1933 Einstein’s sailing ship and in 1935 his summer house and his garden house were confiscated. In July 1933 Einstein lost the German citizenship and his fortune was seized.

      Einstein declared on March 10 in 1933, shortly before his return to Europe, to the public that it was impossible for him to come back to Germany. His exact words were: "As long as it is possible for me I only will stay in a country in which political freedom, tolerance and equality of all citizens are stated in the law. (…) These conditions are nowadays not fulfilled in Germany.”                                       



On the lake in Princeton, with his wild white hair and free imagination, he continued to sail and let his mind wander to other worlds.





     Albert liked games that required certain patience and tenacity and that could preferably be played individually. Instead of playing infant games with the other children at kindergarten, he preferred to build complicated structures with wooden cubes and huge castles with cards on his own. At the age of seven, he demonstrated the Pythagoras Theorem to his stunned uncle, who had taught him the fundamentals of geometry a few days before.


       He loved mind experiences, like what would happen if one travelled alongside a ray of light? This type of mental experience was important in the development of restricted and general relativity.


       At school, Albert found it very difficult to adapt to the rigid standards of study. The teachers were too authoritarian and demanded that the students memorize everything. Geography, History and French were real torture. Greek was an almost insurmountable obstacle; to memorize the verb conjugations was horrific to Einstein. Ultimately, in the set of his childhood  abilities nothing would attest the genius he would become. His family believed that he might have some sort of dyslexia. He preferred subjects that demanded comprehension and reasoning, like mathematics.

       As a consequence of his difficulties in memorizing, he lost interest in classes that demanded such abilities, provoking violent reaction from his teachers.  On one occasion, the school principle, coincidentally his Greek teacher, called him to a meeting in which he announced, amongst other things, that his disinterest in Greek denoted a lack of respect towards his teacher and that his presence in class was a terrible example to the other students. He closed the meeting by saying that Einstein would never be useful for anything (Fölsing, p. 28)

       Educated in the military environment of Germany in 1880, the young Einstein never wanted to be a solider. Once, during a military parade, his parents told him that he could also use one of those beautiful uniforms one day. The boy, of about seven, answered that he would "hate to be one of those poor men ". He also avoided competitive activities, including chess. At the age of 16, he applied for Swiss citizenship to avoid military service in Germany.

       In his autobiographical notes, Einstein writes that he was so badgered by scientific matters that soon after graduating, he spent an entire year without reading specialized magazines. This probably occurred because he had already read the work of all the great scientists of the period during his course, especially Helmholtz, Hertz and Boltzmann, anticipating the established programme of the Faculty. He preferred to read at home than attend class.

       One of his mathematics professors, Hermann Minkowski, who later was the first to geometrically interpret the Theory of Restricted Relativity, was dumbstruck when he read Einstein’s paper in the Annalen der Physik, in 1905. "Could it be the same Einstein?" he asked a colleague. “And who was the student of mine a few years back? At that time, he seemed to know so little of what was being taught!”



       When his second wife, Elza, asked him to adopt healthier habits, he answered that he preferred to "sin cheerfully, smoke like a chimney, work like a beaver, eat without thought or choice, and walk only in agreeable company, in other words, rarely.”

       In his everyday life, he hated formalities, starting from the rules of correct dressing. When he commenced his career as a university professor in Switzerland, 1909, he was considered as someone who dressed beneath the elegance of the position. After the death of his second wife, in 1936, his standards became even more unconventional. He lived in Princeton, in the United States, at the time. This wrinkled sweaters and the way he wore shoes without socks turned him into a folk figure on campus.


      Although he had a very scruffy appearance, against any rules, he was far from the myth of scrappy scientist. ''He was very interested in historical and political matters. In times of war, he always gave his opinion. During the First World War, he engaged in anti-war propaganda, defending the dialogue between nations while also dedicated to his studies on gravity. In the 20’s, work overload brought on a physical collapse and his cousin Elsa Lowental, whom he would later marry, treated him.





      In 1933, Leo Szilard,  a Jewish physicist , fled to London to escape Nazi persecution. While in London, he read an article written by Ernest Rutherford, after which he conceived the idea of a nuclear chain reaction. In the following year, he filed a patent on the nuclear chain reaction. He first attempted to create a chain reaction using Beryllium and Indium, but neither yielded the reaction he deliberated. In 1936, he assigned the chain-reaction patent to the British Admiralty to ensure secrecy of the patent. In 1938, he moved to New York. After learning about fission in 1939, he concluded that uranium would be the element capable of the chain reaction.

     The splitting of the uranium atom in Germany in December 1938 plus continued German aggression led some physicists to fear that Germany might be working on an atomic bomb. Among those concerned were physicists Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner. But Szilard and Wigner had no influence with those in power. So in July 1939 they explained the problem to someone who did: Albert Einstein. According to Szilard, Einstein said the possibility of a chain reaction "never occurred to me", altho Einstein was quick to understand the concept ("Leo Szilard: His Version of the Facts").

     After consulting with Einstein, Szilard wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, in consultation with fellow Hungarian physicists Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner, with Einstein's signature on it, 

          The letter warned that:

In the course of the last four months it has been made probable — through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America — that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.

This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable — though much less certain — that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air.

         The letter was written on August 2, and delivered to Roosevelt by economist Alexander Sachs who was an unofficial adviser to President  on October 11, 1939. 


          Notice the timeline, nearly two months passed since a message from Einstein got to president. During the interim, Nazi Germany started World War II by invading Poland on September 1. Britain and France responded by declaring war on Germany on September 3. Germany had already annexed Austria, the Sudetland and later on the rest of Czechoslovakia.


         After hearing Sachs' summary of the letter, Roosevelt authorized the creation of the Advisory Committee on Uranium.

         The letter has often been seen as the origins of the Manhattan Project, the successful wartime nuclear weapons project which produced the bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. 

         The atomic bombings of Japan occurred three months after the surrender of Germany, whose potential for creating a Nazi atomic bomb had led Einstein to push for the development of an atomic bomb for the Allies. Einstein withheld public comment on the atomic bombing of Japan until a year afterward. A short article on the front page of the New York Times contained his view: "Prof. Albert ... said that he was sure that President Roosevelt would have forbidden the atomic bombing of Hiroshima had he been alive and that it was probably carried out to end the Pacific war before Russia could participate." ("Einstein Deplores Use of Atom bomb", New York Times, 8/19/46). Einstein later wrote, "I have always condemned the use of the atomic bomb against Japan." (Otto Nathan & Heinz Norden, editors, "Einstein on Peace", ).

      After the war, Einstein joined with other scientists in a call for world harmony to avoid the future use of nuclear weapons.

     In November 1954, five months before his death, Einstein summarized his feelings about his role in the creation of the atomic bomb: "I made one great mistake in my life... when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification - the danger that the Germans would make them." (Ronald Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times.

      Unified field theory

   In March 1905 , Einstein created the quantum theory of light, the idea that light exists as tiny packets, or particles, which he called photons.

   Einstein always had a distaste for modern quantum theory - largely because its probabilistic nature forbids a complete description of cause and effect. But still, he recognized many of the fundamental implications of the idea of the quantum long before the rest of the physics community did.

   After the quantum mechanical revolution of 1925 through 1927, Einstein spent the bulk of his remaining scientific career searching for a deeper theory to subsume quantum mechanics and eliminate its probabilities and uncertainties. He generated pages of equations, geometrical descriptions of fields extending through many dimensions that could unify all the known forces of nature, particularly gravitation and electromagnetism. 

       In 1950 he described this work, which he referred to as the Unified field theory - sometimes called the Theory of Everything -   in a Scientific American article. Einstein was guided by a belief in a single origin for the entire set of physical laws.

       He did not manage to find a theory that would comprise all the gravitational and electromagnetic phenomena in a single logical structure. He tried. He isolated himself in deep meditation but did not reach his goal. 


       He died without Peace

      Without the peace of conceiving an idea of Unification of the Universe

BUT life goes on, doesn’t it?