A while back I wrote a blog posting called Einstein’s Last Answer which recently exploded in activity due to a heated debate on Reddit. The post was in response to a lot of religion-bashing I was hearing—some of it even by non-denominational spiritual seekers. There were also some very thoughtful and open-minded people wading in, but I’ll discuss them later.
As was pointed out in that piece, there are people who use these organizations, texts and interpretations like cudgels with which to strike a perceived enemy, for as Alan Watts has said, there are large number of religious followers who are looking at the texts like road-maps or guidebooks when they would make a stronger connection to their spiritual life if they abandoned the books and looked up at the view—at creation—instead.
The blog posting was about how all religions fundamentally share the same message of forgiveness, tolerance and love, and that most followers were lead to a religious path by the same motivation as temple-less secular seekers. In tracing the explosion of blog activity back to Reddit I discovered that the entire debate hinged on a tiny detail in the post. With no offence intended to those who participated, the debate was entirely meaningless and this posting is here to explain why.
The post began one day when I was doing what I very often do, which is listen to podcasts and/or radio documentaries and interview programs. I learned in one of those interviews that someone had done some work based on the claim that Einstein was apparently asked on his deathbed, “if you could do it all over, what would you do differently?” and according to their ‘expert,’ supposedly Einstein answered “read more Talmud.”
The Talmud is a Jewish religious text, and Einstein’s a complex guy who meditated a lot on the nature of the universe—and by extension existence itself. He wrote sometimes and sounded like an atheist, and I’ve heard other people interpret other words of his in a way where they can make him genuinely sound more broadly spiritual than specifically religious. But even then, different things were said and written in different states of mind, at different stages in his life. Who among us has not changed all kinds of fundamental views as we grow and acquire a greater sense of perspective? If we haven’t we’ve stultified and wasted our existence.
On top of the profound changes in awareness that only age can bring, anyone who’s truly faced death knows that there is no way to approximate or otherwise motivate the state of mind that emerges from that deep and profound awareness. When you realize there is no more of this—no more of you—one begins to wonder why it seemed so important to actually waste that existence arguing instead of loving.
If you love an argument, fine. Just make sure you’re having them with other people who love them. But otherwise what is it exactly that you’re going to do? What difference does it make to the universe if that other person’s consciousness is in alignment with your own? What is the value in that? What do the laws of nature and human behaviour care about our opinions?
The simple fact is no one knows what Einstein’s last words were except him and whoever he said it to. So the debate simply cannot be settled it can only be guessed at, and even then only using evidence compiled before he was facing imminent death. Personally if I were a betting man I’d bet he didn’t say it, but both things are possible and in the end I really don’t care either way. I would throw whatever fiction I needed in a post to get a lesson across anyway. So for me the supposed Einstein statement was nothing more than a jumping off point for a posting about love.
While they weren’t aware of the postings on Reddit, I also heard from some really wonderful people who loved the controversial posting. They felt it honoured their religion even though I heard from someone from almost every religion I listed. Because what they caught was what I threw—which was that all of those religions share love at their core. And in joining me in that, they too experienced a wonderful sense of connection with those of no faith, as well as those of other faiths—including atheism.
That connection is what motivates our life. If you asked anyone on their death bed if they would like one more hour to live no one is going to say, “great, now I have time for one more meaningless debate!” They’re going to want to hug, or talk or otherwise love the people close to them.
So one group of people pitted the thoughts in their consciousness against the thoughts in other people’s consciousness and they had a heated debate. Some people’s blood pressure literally rose as they flushed themselves with anger by telling themselves internal narratives about how the other side was wrong. Meanwhile another group read a story about love and felt good. One of those two scenarios has a winner and it isn’t the first one.
No one can really know what was said and I know it doesn’t matter to the lesson I was writing to imparct, so that’s as much as I’ll say about that. I will continue within reason to try to find the link to the documentary, but I’m confident the critics are correct—what possible corroboration could the interviewee have? Was he there? And even then, he could be lying.
It would be wiser to invest ourselves far less in trying to be right about things like that, and far more in simply and lovingly being. Most of us won’t, but on our deathbeds we will all know very clearly that life would have been best if we all would have spent less time trying to change how things are and more time loving and living with how we, and things, already are.
PS And you know what? Some people will get angry at this too! 🙂
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit
organizations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.