After 100 Years, It’s All Relative

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.  First published in 1915, covering the intersection of gravity, space, time, and the speed of light, and supported by a mass of hard-core mathematics beyond the ken of most mortal beings, general relativity stands with evolution as one of the most well-known, universally recognized scientific theories in history.

80619-004-9b9d0d26Even though the theory of general relativity has hit the century mark, it’s still the subject of some controversy — including whether it’s the exclusive brainchild of Einstein, or whether it was the product of ideas and concepts contributed by a group of scientists and physicists.  A recent piece tracks the history, and the controversy, and the potential contributions by others.  It’s a fascinating tale.

What’s most interesting about the theory in my view is that it began as a thought experiment that captured Einstein’s imagination, in which he considered whether, if he were seated in a windowless, doorless box, he would be able to tell the difference between being subject to gravity or being exposed to the sensations of acceleration.  It tells you something about Einstein that he even came up with such an idea in the first place, but that curious thought experiment ultimately produced a theory that predicted the bending of light by gravitational bodies, was confirmed by measurements conducted during an eclipse a few years later, and helped to make space flight feasible.  The theory of general relativity, coupled with his trademark unkempt mane of hair, made Einstein the most famous scientist in the world.

Since 1915, the theory of general relativity has withstood countless tests and challenges and experiments.  It’s still pretty spry for a 100-year-old.


When Employers Go Too Far

It’s pretty common for people to squawk about their employers.  Usually the bitching seems almost rote — a simple byproduct of the friction and unequal power relationship between underling and boss, huge corporation and cubicle dweller.  The company they work for isn’t evil, it’s just faceless and bureaucratic.  Sometimes, though, companies get . . . well, downright weird.

doctorposter2Like the South Korean recruitment company that decided an appropriate response to issues of workplace stress was to require employees to stage their own funerals, complete with writing farewell letters to loved ones, climbing into coffins and having them closed by a guy in black who is supposed to represent the Angel of Death, and then spending a few moments lying in the darkness of a closed casket.

South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the industrialized world, and workers in Seoul and other parts of the country have ongoing problems with workplace pressure.  The problems are the byproduct of the hyper-competitive, achievement-oriented South Korean society and traditional approaches to workplace culture that motivate employees to get to work earlier, and leave work later, than the boss.

So how in the heck does staging mock funerals help with stress and suicide?  It’s supposed to help the employees value life and get them to reflect on its meaning.  The president of the recruitment company explained that the company had not really been successful in getting employees to change their “old ways of thinking,” and he thought “going inside a coffin would be such a shocking experience it would completely reset their minds for a completely fresh start in their attitudes.”

Would it, really?  Or would it, instead, drive home to the workers forced to crawl into a casket that their employers have a ridiculous amount of power over their employees’ lives, to the point where they can force the employees to stage macabre and disturbing stunts just because the company president thinks it’s a great idea to do so?

Suddenly the hassles with Phil in accounting and the power games played by the assistant vice president for corporate planning don’t seem all that bad.