Einstein-Pascal dialogue

Blaise Pascal nsAES 2Albert Einstein ns
The Einstein-Pascal dialogue on purpose is a 1950 dialogue between a 19-year-old Rutgers University engineering student in query to German-born American physicist Albert Einstein (right) in regards to "what is the purpose of man on earth?", as framed around French mathematical physicist Blaise Pascal (left), and his circa 1642 personal jottings thoughts on purpose or rather the "why's of existence?". [1]
In dialogues, Einstein-Pascal dialogue (TR:10) is a 1950 Q&A style dialogue between German-born American physicist Albert Einstein and an anon nineteen-year-old American engineering student on the question of "What is the purpose of man on earth?", framed around French physicist-mathematician Blaise Pascal's circa 1642 jotting queries on the same question. [1]

For much of his existence, French child prodigy and mathematical physicist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) worked on a magnum opus which was never published in the form he intended as a philosophical treatise. Instead, Pascal left a mass of fragments, some of them meant as notes for the Apologie. These became known as the Pensées, or "Thoughts", first published posthumously in 1669, which are said to occupy a crucial place in Western philosophy and religious writing.

Pascal's general intention was to confound scepticism about metaphysical questions. Some of the Pensées are fully developed literary reflections on the human condition, some contradict others, and some remain jottings whose meaning will never be clear. The most important are among the most powerful aphorisms about human experience and behavior ever written, it is said, in any language. Pascal surveys several philosophical paradoxes: infinity and nothing, faith and reason, soul and matter, death and life, meaning and vanity—seemingly arriving at no definitive conclusions besides humility, ignorance, and grace.

In December 1950, German-born American physicist Albert Einstein received a long handwritten letter from a nineteen-year-old engineering student at Rutgers University, New Jersey, who said: “My problem is this, sir, ‘What is the purpose of man on earth?’” Dismissing such possible answers as to make money, to achieve fame, and to help others, the student said:

“Frankly, sir, I don’t even know why I’m going to college and studying engineering.”

The student went on to express his opinion that man is here “for no purpose at all” and went on to quote from French mathematical physicist Blaise Pascal’s (IQ=190) Pensees (Thoughts) the following words, which he said aptly summed up his own feelings on the matter, of the following circa 1642 statement (assuming written at about age 19) about his uncertain views on the why’s of existence: [2]

“I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am in terrible ignorance of everything. I know not what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, not ever that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than another, nor why this short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinities on all sides, which surround me as an atom, and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape.”

PenseesAlbert Einstein The Human Side (1979)
French child prodigy Blaise Pascal's penned his jottings on his struggle with questions on the "why's of existence" in circa 1642, as found in his posthumously published Thoughts (Pensess). [2] The 1979 Albert Einstein: the Human Side, contains the 1950 response letter on the question of purpose, to the 19-year-old engineering student. [1]
Pascal, it is assumed, penned these remarks at about the same age as the engineering student, as this question is a ripe one for physical science / engineering inclined mindsets at about this age. The student remarked that Pascal saw the answers to be in religion but that he himself did not. After elaborating on the cosmic insignificance of man, he nevertheless asked Einstein to tell him where the right course lay, and why, saying “Pull no punches. If you think I’ve gone off the track let me have it straight.” On 3 Dec 1950, a few days after receiving the letter, Einstein replied (see: main) as follows: [1]

“I was impressed by the earnestness of your struggle to find a purpose for the life of the individual and of mankind as a whole. In my opinion there can be no reasonable answer if the question is put this way. If we speak of purpose and goal of an action we mean simply the question: ‘Which kind of desire should we fulfill by the action or its consequences or which undesired consequences should be prevented?’

We can, of course, also speak in a clear way of the goal of an action form the standpoint of a community to which the individual belongs. In such cases the goal of the action has also to do at least indirectly with fulfillment of desires of the individuals which constitute a society.

If you ask for the purpose or goal of a society as a whole or of an individual taken as a whole the question loses meaning. This, of course, even more so if you ask the purpose or meaning of nature in general. For in those cases it seems quite arbitrary if not unreasonable to assume somebody whose desires are connected with the happenings.

Nevertheless we all feel that it is indeed very reasonable and important to ask ourselves how we should try to conduct our lives. The answer is, in my opinion: satisfaction [see: satiety] of the desires and needs of all, as far as this can be achieved, and achievement of harmony and beauty in the human relationships. This presupposes a good deal of conscious thought and of self-education. It is undeniable that the enlightened Greeks and the old Oriental sages had a achieved a higher level in this all-important field than what is alive in our schools and universities.”

Similarly, in 1954/55, in a reply to a noted evolutionist concerning a query about the place of intelligence in the universe, Einstein commented: [1]

“I have never imputed to nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic.”


American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims' circa 2011-present manuscript: Purpose? (in a Godless universe) (see: publications) is an upgraded hmolscience-based attempt at a modern physical science elaboration of the Einstein-Pascal dialogue on purpose. [3] Thims at the same age as the Rutgers engineering student, was nearly of the exact same mindset in regards the same questions (see: history), the question: “what is the point of everything?”, in particular stood out at about age nineteen, the point at which Thims was interjecting into decision into college choices and what exactly a person was supposed to do with one's self after being "freed" from societal-defined high school graduation requirement minimums of so-called adulthood, after which, although still uncertain as to the answer, the decision was made to go after the most-difficult course of career choice, namely: chemical engineering, having never before even taken a chemistry class prior, so as to see if the answer the possible secret of existence arose in the course of the subsequent endeavor—the precipitate of six-volume Hmolpedia, being but one significant result of this path, the 2009 solution to the great problem of natural philosophy, being but another (see: progress report).

The following are related quotes:

“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one [only] knows from daily life that one exists.”
Albert Einstein (1930), Essay: “The World as I See It” [4]

“Strange is our situation here on earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose.”
Albert Einstein (1932), “My Credo” [5]

1. Einstein, Albert. (1981). Albert Einstein: the Human Side (Pensees dialogue, pgs. 25-27; imputed to nature, pg. 39). Princeton University Press.
2. (a) Pascal, Blaise. (1662). Thoughts (Pensees) (pg. #). Publisher.
(b) Pensees – Wikipedia.
3. Thims, Libb. (date). Purpose? (in a Godless universe). 105-pages (9 Mar 2013). Publisher.
4. (a) Einstein, Albert. (1930). “The World as I See It”, Essay, originally published in "Forum and Century," vol. 84, pp. 193-194, the thirteenth in the Forum series, Living Philosophies; In Living Philosophies (pp. 3-7) New York: Simon Schuster, 1931; In A. Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, based on Mein Weltbild, edited by Carl Seelig, New York: Bonzana Books, 1954 (pp. 8-11).
(b) The World as I See It (book) – Wikipedia.
5. Einstein, Albert. (1932). “Quote: divine a purpose”, from "My Credo," [AEA 28-218]; in: The God Delusion (pg. 241) by Richard Dawkins, Mariner Books, 2006.

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