Source: p 112, Introducing Philosophy for Canadians: A Text with Integrated Readings (2011 1 ed) by Solomon, McDermid. Primary Source: [I know not the page number because I found this online], The World As I See It By Albert Einstein.

  It is therefore easy to see why the Churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest incitement to scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion which pioneer work in theoretical science demands, can grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labour in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! [1.] Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a sceptical world, have shown the way to those like-minded with themselves, scattered through the earth and the centuries. [End of 1.] Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite Of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man strength Of this sort. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.

I wish to understand 1 universally, independent of physics if possible because I know nothing of it. What exactly does 1 mean?

  1. What is wrong about emphasis on (I do not mean obsession with) practical results? Even a practitioner must know theory; so is not the real question how to balance theory and practice?

  2. What is meant by completely false notion?

  • By "completely false notion" is meant a misconceived idea (about the essence and meanin" of scientific inquiry). Jun 24, 2016 at 7:54
  • He means that real, intense scientific thinking feels consuming in a way that previous cultures would label 'priestly' or otherwise religious, despite the fact that the common interpretation of science in the modern world is as an extremely pragmatic discipline opposed to religion and its trappings. High-powered scientists themselves and our education system give a different impression of theoretical scientists to us than they internally experience.
    – user9166
    Jun 25, 2016 at 14:43
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    (This is especially true of math, in my experience -- 'real math' is very, very different from anything we allowed my generation to encounter in high school.) And it is why I keep emphasizing the nature of and faith in science needed to do it (or at least to do it extremely well) are effectively religious in orientation -- it is a religion of the world's reliability (which is in itself an amazing fact worthy of veneration.)
    – user9166
    Jun 25, 2016 at 14:49
  • The same sentiment has been echoed by Chomsky. Jun 25, 2016 at 15:21

2 Answers 2


As @Mauro Allegranza noted, Einstein was talking about losing sight of the essence and meaning of scientific research. As far as the improper emphasis on practical results, he clarifies what he meant in the following passage:

"In times of crisis people are generally blind to everything outside their immediate necessities. For work which is directly productive of material wealth they will pay. But science, if it is to flourish, must have no practical end in view. As a general rule, the knowledge and the methods which it creates only subserve practical ends indirectly and, in many cases, not till after the lapse of several generations. Neglect of science leads to a subsequent dearth of intellectual workers able, in virtue of their independent outlook and judgment, to blaze new trails for industry or adapt themselves to new situations. Where scientific enquiry is stunted the intellectual life of the nation dries up, which means the withering of many possibilities of future development." (The World as I See It)

As noted in the passage that you cited, other scientists such as Kepler and Newton were able to accomplish what they did, in Einstein's opinion, because of a purpose that extended beyond the immediate necessities of life. They perceived the rationality of the universe as God created it and were able to catch a glimpse of the greater meaning of it all. Such motivations enabled them to become pioneers of scientific discovery.


I disagree with Pè de Leão. As I read it, I believe both statements are directly aligned with each other.

Einstein is arguing that pursuing science solely for practical purposes will lead to "false notion". The false notions that he is referring to is the neglect that science is a pursuit of understanding, not just formulas for practical application. And that this pursuit of understanding is grounded in the same motivations and premises as religion. Einstein refers to this motivation as experiencing cosmic religious feeling.

He is also alluding to the fact that Newton, for example was very devoted to religion, though unconventionally. Despite his contributions to modern physics, he also wrote prolifically on the application of the bible through literal interpretation, as well as other religiously grounded works. His work was always first and foremost grounded in this sense of divinity and order - though not convention.

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    I am not sure the date of this publication, but I think its very interesting, considering the eventual application of Einstein's theories into the invention of atomic weapons. This is a perfect example of the application of science, versus his theoretical derivations which had intrinsic implications on how we understand the entire universe on a macroscopic level. Jun 27, 2016 at 17:06

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