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Albert Einstein looking pensive

Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity is one of the towering achievements of 20th-century physics. It explains that the curvature of space-time is directly determined by the distribution of matter and energy contained within it.

If ever asked about the theory, the Bluffer should immediately begin by pointing out that – actually – Einstein hated the term ‘relativity’.

The word never appears in his original 1905 paper: ‘On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies’. He preferred to call it his ‘invariance theory’.

Though the theory of general relativity is naturally quite convoluted, fortunate for the Bluffer, Einstein himself liked to sum it up in very simple terms:

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute – and it seems like an hour,” he would tell people. “Sit with a pretty girl for an hour – and it seems like a minute!”

Having casually dropped this quote, if pressed for any more, the Bluffer should now go on the defensive by pointing out that E = mc², the famous relativity equation, was actually first published by an Austrian physicist named Friedrich Hasenöhrl, a full year before Einstein used it.

Whilst this is true – it’s actually a bit of a cheat, as Hasenöhrl didn’t link the equation to relativity…

By now, hopefully having bamboozled any audience with their profound knowledge of physics, it might be time for the Bluffer to pull out the big guns…

Point out that Einstein’s general theory of relativity was actually incorrect.

Again, this is true – if only in a very minor sense.

In the theory’s earliest form, Einstein had made a slight miscalculation about the extent at which a light beam would bend due to gravity. (He must’ve felt like a right idiot…)

A good Bluffer will obviously want to end on a flourish – whilst simultaneously moving the conversation on – so should conclude by asking if anyone knows what Einstein’s final words were.

Following the minute of muted discussion and awkward shuffling about that will inevitably follow; the Bluffer will now graciously let the audience off the hook by pointing out that in fact no one knows…

Einstein died in the USA, far from his place of birth in Germany. The attending nurse confirmed that, yes, he had spoken just prior to taking his last breath – but, unfortunately, she didn’t speak German.

E O Higgins

Read more about Albert Einstein in The Bluffer’s Guide to the Quantum Universe.

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