When he was 60 years old, Albert Einstein rented a small cottage on Nassau Point in Southold. It was the summer of 1939. He enjoyed sailing, sunbathing and long walks by day, and playing violin in a local string quartet that met twice a week in one another’s homes to play Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart. Joining him at the cottage were his daughter Liserl and his secretary Helen Dukas, who cooked and cleaned for him and did his mail while he worked on a chalkboard in the living room, expanding on his scientific theories. Having triumphed with E=mc2 which explained certain things about light, energy, and mass, he was now trying to find a proof for what he called his Unified Theory.
Last week, bulldozer operators were tearing down the little shack he rented to make way for a 10-bedroom, 14-bath waterfront mansion when they discovered a ripped and dirty folder behind the furnace in the basement containing a never-before-seen notebook in which were his musings and calculations about another theory he was working on in his spare time. It involved gravity.
“Gravity has always fascinated me,” he wrote in this notebook. “It holds our feet down on the Earth. But we don’t know what causes it. What we do know is that people on the other side of the Earth in responding to gravity stand upside down from the way we do. I first thought about this while digging down in the sand.”
Einstein theorized that if you dig deeper and deeper, gravity will get stronger and stronger. Then, at the very center of the Earth, gravity would suddenly and dramatically twist you upside down.
“It could be dangerous,” he wrote. “The best way to survive this attempt to rip you apart would be to assume the fetal position. Soon this push-pull will end. Then, you will be again be able to dig at your feet but upside down. And you can proceed to China.”
Accompanying this entry were 83 pages of mathematical formulas, which will shortly be turned over to mathematicians at Princeton University for further examination. Princeton was, back in 1939, the home for the Institute for Advanced Studies, where Einstein was a faculty member. Thus, during summer recess, he could enjoy his vacation on that Southold Bay beach for a while – a peaceful pursuit.
Einstein also made a drawing of our solar system in this notebook to further explain his gravity theory. All the planets were circling the sun with moons circling the planets. In these drawings, he noted that the smaller planets, Mercury, Venus and Mars, had stronger gravity pulls than we experience on Earth, while the larger planets, such as Jupiter and Saturn, had weaker gravity on their surfaces.
And he wrote this in this notebook.
“If you peeled off precisely 22.4056 percent of the Earth’s outer crust, you would feel the same gravity pull that they feel on Mars. Could the human body withstand those stronger pressures for any length of time? I do not know. Perhaps a physician could tell us.”
He headlined this paragraph “Orange Peel Calculation.”
Further back in this notebook, there is indication that he was starting to develop a further theory. It involved magnetism.
“If you put two pieces of magnetized metal a few inches from one another, they suddenly pull themselves together with a snap. Conversely, if you pry them apart and then turn one so its other side faces the other, it will repel the other when it gets close,” he wrote. “I observe that there is no further weakening of this energy over time. It seems to me that if one could give this activity a little push to get it going, it could become a perpetual motion machine.”
Imagine that. Here in 1939 at Nassau Point is an attempt to create an engine that would never need more than one burst of fuel to get it going. What foresight Einstein is displaying here. He was so ahead of his time.
What follows after this introduction are 19 pages of handwritten formulas and calculations about magnetism ending with the words “perhaps not.” It’s sad.
Dan’s Papers contacted Jonathan Havermeyer, Ph.D., at Princeton to ask him about the discovery of the notebook.
“Maybe this is something Einstein wrote and maybe it is not,” he said in his heavy German accent. “An email of a sample page surely seems to be in his handwriting, but we really have to see the whole thing. In any case, although the work on magnetism is interesting, the description you have told me about gravity clearly is not. As we know today, having landed on the Moon and on Mars, the pull of gravity on heavenly bodies is weaker as the bodies get smaller. We have seen astronauts bounding around on the moon, experiencing this weaker gravity. Einstein has this exactly backwards. On the other hand, Einstein, in 1939, could not know this, since the first men did not walk on the moon until 1969. It seems Einstein was, that summer, barking up the wrong tree, just as we later showed he was barking up the wrong tree with his still unproven Unified Theory.”
And Einstein was not the only one writing notes on Nassau Point that summer. One of the members of the quartet he joined was David Rothman, who kept his own diary of their friendship.
“Once I asked Einstein if he could explain to me how E=mc2 works,” Rothman wrote. “He said of course he could, but he’d have to get a pad and pencil to show me the equations proving things. I told him I didn’t know from equations. I only had a high school education. Could he do it without the equations? He said certainly he could, and then we sat down and he began talking about how a metal rod contracts in the direction of its spin. And then forgetting himself, he lapsed into a complicated mathematical formula.
‘We said no mathematics,’ I noted. He sighed. Then he said, ‘But this is so trivial.’ Well, we gave up on the effort.”
Today, there is a white marble bust of Einstein on a pedestal in the courtyard adjacent to the Rothman Department Store building in downtown Southold. There are benches there where you can sit and contemplate the universe and the man who helped us get a better understanding of it.