Max Born, the man to whom Einstein wrote letters

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The Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954 maintained a rare and close friendship for forty years with the great scientist of the 20th century, but his views on science were totally unrecognizable. Einstein turned to him whenever he had doubts about quantum mechanics and it was to him that he addressed his famous phrase: «You believe in a God who plays dice and I believe in total ordering»

Max Born was born on December 11, 1882, 135 years ago today, to a Jewish family from Breslau, then the capital of the Prussian province of Silesia and today the city of Wroclaw in Poland. The son of an anatomist and embryologist, and the heiress of a wealthy family of Silesian industrialists, he was a student of famous mathematicians, such as Klein or Minkowsky, at "the mecca of Teutonic mathematics", the University of Gottingen, after having previously entered fund in the numbers in those of Heidelberg, Breslau and Zurich. In 1921 he was appointed professor of theoretical physics and twelve years later his roots forced him to pack up and leave Germany, which he then did not want Jewish blood in his veins.

He emigrated with his wife to Cambridge and then to Edinburgh. He did not return to Germany until 1954, with the country already free of swastikas, the year in which he received, together with Walter Bothe, the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum mechanics, the father of his philosophical structure, a genius in the field. So much so that even Einstein himself regularly turned to him to consult his doubts about it.

With the famous scientist Max Born maintained a special and peculiar friendship throughout his life. And that his relatives to the nature of physics were opposite, a fact that he frankly admitted when he wrote about his scientific disputes. And it was precisely Einstein himself who urged him to pack his bags when things began to get ugly in Hitler's land and the two fed a regular correspondence based on doubts and answers, theories and fierce discussions. They understood nature in a radically opposite way. “You believe in a God who plays dice and I believe in the total ordering and laws of a world that exists objectively and that I try to capture in a frantically speculative way,” Einstein wrote in his letters.

Max Born and Albert Einstein were close and odd friends for over forty years, but their views on science were totally irreconcilable. He understood the first, like most scientists of his time, that the basis of the material world was the purely random behavior of the elementary particles of the atom. The second always remained sure that every event responded to a cause, and thus he devoted his entire life to stubbornly searching for a deeper explanation that would bring order to the apparently chaotic subatomic world.

In the letters that Max Born and Einstein exchanged between 1916 and 1955, there is a subject that both address with special concern, on which, however, they do agree: the social implications of the new science, atomic weapons . In addition to discussing Schrödinger waves, pitying their condition as German Jews in exile and exchanging satirical comments about their scientific colleagues, both ended up lamenting, after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the « misfortune that our once beautiful science has brought upon the world.

But why was Max Born so important? Why did Einstein tell him that "God does not play dice with the universe"? What is Olivia Newton John's maternal grandfather defending? The physicist introduced the concept of probability in the Schrödinger equation. Before him, it was believed that the laws of nature were deterministic, that everything had a cause, that the current state therefore determined the future. That chance did not exist, nor random events, that tomorrow was predictable from today. Born's interpretation assumed that the individual behavior of the particles remained manifestly indeterminate. He opened the door to acausality, and enunciated one of the fundamental principles of physics that underpins quantum mechanics, that of complementarity.

For most physicists, quantum mechanics was a real earthquake. Consider that not everything can be understood, that not everything can be measured, that everything has a cause-effect explanation. Max Born was sure that the universe is like a cat: it has a chaotic core. 

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