Or, as most recently happened to me, a letter circulating via social media leads to the debunking of a myth surrounding its alleged author.
Perhaps you’ve read it: Albert Einstein’s letter to his daughter Lieserl regarding the “universal force” of love. It’s a beautiful read, offering a universal message that speaks to the essence of the human condition and our incessant yearning to believe in love’s conquering force.
That such sentiments were seemingly written by Albert Einstein, the most revolutionary scientist of the 20th century, only solidified its potency and widespread appeal — hence it going viral on social media.
But, as we’ve been forced to learn in our rapidly expanding digital age, you can’t always trust what you read on the Internet, particularly when it lacks an original source, as was the case with this supposed letter from Einstein.
The preface of the letter explains that Einstein’s daughter, Lieserl, donated 1,400 of his letters in the late 1980s to the Hebrew University with orders not to publish their contents until two decades after his death; this letter on the “universal force” of love was supposedly one of them.
Interestingly, however, further research indicated that Lieserl herself might not be the most reliable source, given that very little is known about her. In fact, her existence was largely unknown to biographers until 1986 when a batch of letters from 1897-1903 between Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Maric, were discovered by his granddaughter Evelyn (in which Einstein mentions Lieserl; these letters were published in the book The Love Letters in 1992).
Furthermore, a 1999 book by Michele Zackheim, Einstein’s Daughter: The Search for Lieserl, argued that Lieserl was born with a mental handicap and died of scarlet fever in 1903 when she was nearly two years old (Lieserl was mentioned for the last known time in a letter from Einstein to Mileva on September 19, 1903). Others, however, have maintained that she was put up for adoption.
After a search in Hebrew University’s online archives (which houses the Albert Einstein Archives) and the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein failed to yield any results, I was nearly convinced that the letter was, indeed, fabricated.
But, before resting the case, I turned to Diana Kormos-Buchwald, a professor of physics and the history of science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), whose name I happened to come across in an article in the New York Times while researching the letter.
As director and editor of the Einstein Papers Project – which just last December launched The Digital Einstein Papers, making 5,000 documents spanning Einstein’s first 44 years of his life available online – surely Dr. Kormos-Buchwald would be able to provide some clarification regarding the authenticity of this letter.
“This document is not by Einstein. The family letters donated to the Hebrew University – referred to in this rumor – were not given by Lieserl. They were given by Margot Einstein, who was Albert Einstein’s stepdaughter. Many of those letters were published in Volume 10 of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein in 2006 and in subsequent volumes, in chronological order.”
As disappointing as it was to learn that Einstein didn’t pen the letter, it was equally exciting to discover a plethora of documents I hadn’t even known existed. What became a fervent search for validation evolved into an utter fascination by some of Einstein’s authentic writings, many of which are, in fact, written to family members, friends and colleagues.
While the question of who is behind the “universal force” of love letter still remains a mystery, part of the truth has been revealed – and that is what seems most important. That we always remember and strive to seek the truth in all things. That we not shy away from asking questions and challenging notions. That we remain curious.
As Einstein himself once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
Here is the letter:
“When I proposed the theory of relativity, very few understood me, and what I will reveal now to transmit to mankind will also collide with the misunderstanding and prejudice in the world.
I ask you to guard the letters as long as necessary, years, decades, until society is advanced enough to accept what I will explain below.
There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us. This universal force is LOVE.
When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love.
This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.
To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation. If instead of E = mc2, we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits.
After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy…
If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.
Perhaps we are not yet ready to make a bomb of love, a device powerful enough to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness and greed that devastate the planet.
However, each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of love whose energy is waiting to be released.
When we learn to give and receive this universal energy, dear Lieserl, we will have affirmed that love conquers all, is able to transcend everything and anything, because love is the quintessence of life.
I deeply regret not having been able to express what is in my heart, which has quietly beaten for you all my life. Maybe it’s too late to apologize, but as time is relative, I need to tell you that I love you and thanks to you I have reached the ultimate answer! “.