WHEN EINSTEIN MET TAGORE: An attempt to explain Truth and Beauty at the intersection of Science and Spirituality.

WHEN EINSTEIN MET TAGORE: An attempt to explain Truth and Beauty at the intersection of Science and Spirituality. It was July 14, 1930 when Einstein met Rabindranath Tagore- poet, polymath and first non-European to win the Nobel for Literature (for Gitanjali).

Regardless of your philosophy, religion or lack thereof, the following conversation will blow your mind. Excerpt:

EINSTEIN: Truth, then, or Beauty is not independent of Man?


EINSTEIN: If there would be no human beings any more, the Apollo of Belvedere would no longer be beautiful.


EINSTEIN: I agree with regard to this conception of Beauty, but not with regard to Truth.

TAGORE: Why not? Truth is realized through man.

Read more here: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/04/27/when-einstein-met-tagore/

The conversation goes from the tangibility of a table to Pythagorean geometry, concluding with:

EINSTEIN: Then I am more religious than you are!

TAGORE: My religion is in the reconciliation of the Super-personal Man, the universal human spirit, in my own individual being.

Many Thanks to Pravin Bhojwani for the original share!

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135 Responses to WHEN EINSTEIN MET TAGORE: An attempt to explain Truth and Beauty at the intersection of Science and Spirituality.

  1. Rajini Rao says:

    Feisal Kamil , although my pragmatic mind agrees with you re. Truth (surely it is absolute and not subjective?), upon re-reading (and re- re-reading, lol), I think I get what Tagore is alluding to. Cue Gnotic Pasta ‘s quote above 🙂

  2. Rajini Rao says:

    julian guzman , see the link in the post..it has the whole conversation.

  3. Wow, a very interesting conversation. They make a strange pair don’t they? I’m going back to read the original text again. Must decide if that table exists in my world-

  4. There is no spoon…

  5. Rajini Rao says:

    Spoon, Jimmy Shepard ? Was there a spoon on the table that I missed 😉

  6. Rajini Rao says:

    Pix of the inscription too, Gnotic Pasta ?

  7. Joe Repka says:

    I think that the point of ‘truth is realized through man’ is that without man on the scene, truth has no import. Objective reality and truth are not the same, or even of the same coin. Whatever persistent consistency there is in reality is still there in a universe without man, but then, ‘so what?’. Nothing matters if it doesn’t matter to us. You may argue that to be short-sightedness, but I don’t think the argument will hold.

    You could reduce it to a personal vs. others level and show argue that ‘It may not matter to me, but it does matter to someone else.’, but I would say that is a different case.

  8. I’m generally inclined to agree with Einstein’s position here, though I suppose the point of the conversation is to highlight the differences in presuppositions made by European and Indian thinkers.

    That being said, I still have a little trouble with the notion that a mind unable to apprehend the ‘truth’ of literature inscribed on paper can be construed as that ‘truth’ not existing. I suppose you could make a case for the truth somehow being emergent from a mind’s (probably empirical) relationship with the paper/literature. But even then, I am inclined to say that the truth of the literature would still exist even in respect to a mind that can’t apprehend it. Like it would emerge as a truth that couldn’t be apprehended or something.

    I guess the logical conclusion of that line of thought would be that there are likely ‘truths’ that emerge from our relationship with the world that remain unapprehendable on account of our (probably empirical? epistemic?) limitations. I think I am okay with that…

  9. Ian Netto says:

    This conversation was way ahead of it’s time. Pragmatic, respectful and open. I see this exchange as a confluence rather than a boxing match. I tend to think that Truth and Beauty are two sides of the same coin.

  10. Rajini Rao says:

    I think it is pretty awesome that Joe Repka and Gnotic Pasta can put into words so eloquently my fuzzy understanding of what Tagore is positing. Like Feisal (and Einstein),my brain prefers the idea of absolute truth but I recognize the counterargument as being credible and worth chewing over.

  11. Rajini Rao says:

    I was itching to bring up quantum physics, thank you Feisal Kamil ! Gnotic Pasta , agree..our perception or understanding of the truth is evolving. Oops, I just paraphrased Feisal (inadvertent plagiarism).

  12. Feisal Kamil, that highlights a really interesting difference in terms that’s bugging me. Einstein seems to be coming from a position where ‘truth’ refers to the nature/structure of The World, while Tagore seems to use ‘truth’ to refer to a perception that emerges from experiences in The World.

    I suppose my only problem with the latter is that ‘hypothesis’ or even ‘theory’ seem to serve that purpose pretty well already.

  13. Given, Tagore’s point is strengthened in so far as its scope subsumes Einstein’s. Tagore I think could accept Einstein’s use of ‘truth’ without it being in conflict with his own, while they remain mutually exclusive for Einstein.

    Whether that can be viewed as a virtue of Tagore’s position is a little beyond me I think.

  14. Rajini Rao says:

    I would also define truth as the nature/structure of the world (laws of physics, paradigms of biology). But I also appreciate that those laws are perceived and interpreted by our senses and our intellect.

  15. Rajini Rao says:

    Bizarre ad, Gnotic Pasta 😀

    Come to think of it, the trapeze artists in the room ad was equally bizarre.

  16. Brian Holmes says:

    Perhaps the beauty we perceive is actually the truth we are a part of.

  17. It requires one to look beyond object realm and subjective beauty to get a total picture.

  18. Chad Haney says:

    Wow, sorry I missed the conversation. I think with absolute truths, one has to be careful with the process of defining things and perception.

  19. Thanks to all of you who shared in this, a wonderful way to start my weekend; being given some evidence that there is hope for mankind. Truly remarkable.

  20. Eric Turner says:

    what an understatement!

  21. As an Indian, it is a great pleasure for me to see this image. I had never known that Einstein had visited Tagore.


  23. “chitto jetha bhoishunno,uchho jetha shir”

    “where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high”

    From geetanjali. Written and translated by Rabindranath Tagore, or Robi Thakur as he is more fondly known…

  24. Amrit Kafle says:

    G R T PE…………………………….

  25. great persons,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  26. Raj K says:

    Very UNIQUE thing came to know…. Thanks..!

  27. david olick says:

    I unfortunately didn’t really like this conversation.

    There are two different definitions of truth being discussed. One where something is logically true (Einstein) and one where is it subjectively true (Tagore).

    “When our universe is in harmony with Man, the eternal, we know it as Truth, we feel it as beauty.” I personally feel this statement is weak and can only exist as a premise not a fact. Why do people find different things beautiful? Does that mean everything beautiful? Does that mean when I don’t find something/everything beautiful I am unaware of the truth? And what does he mean by “our universe is in harmony with Man”?

    “EINSTEIN: This is the purely human conception of the universe.

    TAGORE: There can be no other conception. This world is a human world — the scientific view of it is also that of the scientific man.”

    This I also don’t agree with. Not just because I likely could conceive of another valid conception of the universe, but rather I don’t like his dismissal of the human experience. Just because we are humans doesn’t mean that what we experience is fake or a complete misrepresentation of the world around us. I don’t think his later arguments as to why what we experience, the truths, are limited to mankind very convincing.

    I could go on, but in short… I did not find this as enlightening as I hoped.

    However, thanks for the interesting read! 🙂 Even if I didn’t agree with it, I had a great time exploring myself and justifying my thoughts/feelings.

  28. P CH Kumar says:

    great….. proud to be an indian

  29. Monika Mann says:

    I love both of them..i love poetry n i m a physicist ..so now i kno from where the mix interest comes from .. They were great people..:-)

  30. the pic sounds like a good use of photoshop…

  31. chetan mane says:

    nice photo and lines

  32. Amreen Arshi says:

    i like both……..

  33. Hello Madam I m Working in Ministry of Culture 7th May 2012 Culture Celebrate Closing Ceremony of Rabindranath Tagore

  34. La ViVa says:

    it is a fake – shadows and light on them are different, they look in different directions

  35. Samia Elsaid says:

    Great minds enrich arguements

  36. Sugathan T says:

    so what ? tremoundous potentiality u have, right

  37. Nice to read…good one Rajini Rao and Pravin Bhojwani

  38. Alf Demant says:

    I think that it is fantastic that so intelligent a man as Einstein could be so fantastic stupid concerning the religious part of life.

    Tagore had a much more modern view on the religious part of life!

  39. Dain Q. Gore says:

    Thanks for sharing. There are many intersections of great minds that aren’t commonly known!

  40. renuka k says:

    thnks 4 sharing


  41. thank you , really thank you for sharing

  42. Vikram Anand says:

    Rajini Rao Food for thought for modern scientists: How many contemplate about what natural laws really are? How can inanimate come to decide that it has some laid down rules to follow? Or is it that there are no laws but just that matter dances around in perfect discipline (as the dance of Shiva?) to create unbroken patterns that we seem to misjudge as natural laws.

  43. Ashley Green says:

    i noticed that you are in a circle with Sheldon Patnett. do you have any information about where he works or lives? i have child support papers that i need to serve him and he is avoiding it. i can serve him through publication, but the courts first require me to contact any friends or co-workers of his to find out info so that he can be served in person. he has a beautiful daughter and she is suffering because of his neglect. any information would be helpful. thank you.

  44. Ashley Green says:

    see my post for more pics and info.

  45. Vinod Garga says:

    i dont know eistinmeet tagore

  46. taylor ford says:

    did einstein ever meet tagore???????

  47. MAROOF KHAN says:

    Is that a real one? Now That is a peice of frozen history for ya.

  48. Asep Summer says:

    Do you old like pict

  49. ummmmm………….0_0…….

  50. Paul Magee says:

    “An attempt to explain Truth and Beauty at the intersection of Science and Spirituality.” sounds like a PR stunt for all concerned.

  51. Kavya sathya says:

    great news and good memory for the students !!! 🙂

  52. Tin Aung says:

    I’m glad to see this rare photo of two geniuses.Great men are always simple.

  53. Gary Ryker says:

    +1. Fantastic find!!

  54. Jono De Luca says:

    Einstein looks bored…

  55. Two different poles….rare collection & combination….nice

  56. “What is true today may not be tomorrow”.

  57. Sri Sree says:

    tagore…. the great writter, educator, philosopher n so many faces..

    the writer of National Anthems of INDIA & BANGLADESH…

  58. Rajini Rao says:

    Gustavo Rinaldi , check out the Wikipedia entry on Tagore or feel free to consult history books. “Between 1878 and 1932, Tagore set foot in more than thirty countries on five continents…Tagore interacted with Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Thomas Mann, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Romain Rolland.[83][84][85] Visits to Persia and Iraq (in 1932) and Sri Lanka (in 1933) composed Tagore’s final foreign tour, and his dislike of communalism and nationalism only deepened.[52]”

  59. I would love to see if Dartington know about this picture? They hold a Tagore festival in his honour.

  60. Serge Masse says:

    Man is not necessary for either beauty or truth to exist. The universe has laws and this in itself is true and beautiful. The universe does not have to be lawful but it is. Furthermore, if it wasn’t lawful then life would not exist and sentient beings would not exist. It is strange that some people think that one’s intelligence is needed for beauty and truth to exist. It’s the other way around. Just imagine that there are other sentient beings than man and it should trigger a change in your view.

  61. “Beauty requires a beholder to say it is so. Truth doesn’t.”__Feisal Kamil!

    I must disagree Mr. Kamil, ‘Beauty is a reality, it only needs a ‘beholder’ to recognize & appreciate it. That make beauty about as personal as anything can be, “To each his own!” Truth is absolute, it is or it isn’t! 😉

  62. Rajini Rao says:

    If I understood what you just said, George Bennett , you are in complete agreement with Feisal Kamil 🙂

  63. Chad Haney says:

    I think beauty certainly needs a beholder. Absolute _____, is nebulous. I give you exhibit A:


  64. Rajini Rao says:

    They’re not talking about Gods are human-like creatures, GREZ MAWS . That would be easy for you and I to dismiss. It’s more about Truth in a deeper sense. Chad Haney , I like your comparison of truth to vision in the colorblind…that is, truth can be defined by what we see (literally, and figuratively). But I was struck by a comment made by Serge Masse above that, “The universe does not have to be lawful but it is. Furthermore, if it wasn’t lawful then life would not exist and sentient beings would not exist.”

  65. Screw people who beleive gods not real

  66. Irfan Dar says:

    GREZ MAWS Yes, also we THINK.

  67. Rajini Rao says:

    Chad Haney , we are mostly in agreement that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think that our two protagonists agreed that there is no ‘beauty’ as defined by man, if there is no man. Truth on the other hand, is more elusive. As has been pointed out in this thread, Tagore’s version of Truth subsumes Einstein’s..it is more metaphysical rather than literal. GREZ MAWS , this discussion is not about “holy books” or traditional views of God, don’t you agree?

  68. thank you soooo much for sharing this. they are both my gods

  69. great thanks for bit

  70. They really met… 🙂

  71. he was great scientist

  72. Chad Haney says:

    Rajini Rao truth is more elusive, especially absolute truth. Beauty being in the eye of the beholder I think is an easy one to agree on. The fascinating part (for me) about the dialog, is that the argument for beauty is similar but not the same as for truth. There are aspects of truth that require definitions. Definitions require a person to define. If a colorblind person doesn’t know they are colorblind, they define green as what we would say is blue. What does the truth mean in that case? In some sense, as a scientist, you seek what is true based one what you know at the time and you leave the door open to modify what you know as you gain more information. I guess in this context, the more humility you have, the easier it is to see the truth, i.e., you can put aside your “colorblindness” and accept the consensus (truth).

  73. Sam F says:

    einstein was asked to be the president of a country, i cant remember which one, and he declined

  74. it is my question too…………….they really met?

  75. Brad Irvin says:

    I knew it, you don’t have to wear a suit to be smart..

  76. HA!!!! looks like 2 cave men in suits…. But u gotta give credit to the guy on the left,,, ( Who is the other guy )

  77. Einstein should really comb his hair

  78. david olick says:

    “There are aspects of truth that require definitions. Definitions require a person to define. If a colorblind person doesn’t know they are colorblind, they define green as what we would say is blue. What does the truth mean in that case? In some sense, as a scientist, you seek what is true based one what you know at the time and you leave the door open to modify what you know as you gain more information.” Chad Haney

    We can make instruments that see more of the spectrum than we can with our own eyes. We even have tools that would help the color blind determine that he is wrong/not entirely correct. For example, if the color blind person uses a prism, we could divide the light into a spectrum and the non-blind person could point out where his vision is inaccurate.

    But you are arguing about subjective truths: things we define as X may be defined as something/someone else as Y. However, there are objective truths. Math is easily an example of an objective truth, which Einstein was trying to point out. It is not subjective that if you have one atom of a water molecule and you add another you have two. It is a law of the universe. The logic we used to say 1+1=2 is not subjective (a product of the human mind) but rather a truth about the reality, the universe, that we live in.

  79. I like what Serge Masse said about imagining that there are other beings in the universe. If there were other beings, truth and beauty could not possibly be limited to the human experience. I’d say Tagore was a bit egocentric to claim that humanity has the number one spot in the universe.

    He also claims that the human personality is capable of “subsuming” anything. If he is a product of the system he attempts to understand, how could he ever know whether he understands it? Dead matter does not willfully create beings so that they may understand it. If there are other beings and if all these beings are simply products of the universe just as we are, the problem remains that no one is to say whether anyone is correct in their interpretations of external stimuli. Only a being outside of and beyond the system could have the authority (knowledge, full understanding) to declare what it IS or ISN’T and get us out of our postmodern mess of uncertainty.

    Before you (whoever is reading this) shut me out because I sound like one of those “brainwashed religious folks”, ask yourself why you don’t believe in God. I am a Christian not because of a presumption of God, but because I dropped the presumption that there cannot be one, and the evidence (positive evidence, not holes in knowledge) led me to Him.

    In short, if there is a God, He defines Truth and Beauty. Forgive me for the long post. 🙂

  80. Vinod Pandey says:

    Thanks for sharing this .

  81. Rajini Rao says:

    Mahesh Sreekandath , the usual stuff that happens when a G+ algorithm pushes a post into What’s Hot. In biology, it is called feed forward reaction. This was a relatively modest response, no doubt due to the weighty topic 😉

  82. awesome….I guess both of them have a lot in common…like both of them need a haircut badly…lol

  83. Gary S. Hart says:

    This was an excellent find Rajini Rao. Something that must be considered is language barriers, translation, semantics, emotions, humor sarcasm, etc. I imagined Tagore and Einstein laughing when Einstein said, “Then I am more religious than you are!” Rather than right or wrong, is the enjoyment of these two minds respectfully debating one of the ultimate philosophical questions. If nothing else can be learned from this historical moment is their mutual respect.

  84. from where did you find this master peice

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