PROPERTY FROM THE DESCENDANTS OF PAUL S. EPSTEIN (1883-1966)
EINSTEIN, Albert (1879-1955). Autograph letter signed (“A. Einstein”) to Paul Epstein, Princeton, n.d., but before November 1945.
In German. Three pages, 282 x 218mm, on personal blindstamped letterhead (“A. Einstein, 112 Mercer Street”).
"In other words, God tirelessly plays dice under laws which he has himself prescribed." In this lengthy handwritten letter Einstein puts a new spin on his famous phrase, “God does not play dice,” and offers his “private opinion” about the limits of quantum theory.
In response to Epstein’s own paper on the EPR problem in the June issue of American Journal of Physics, Einstein writes to clarify why exactly he sees quantum mechanics as an ‘incomplete’ theory. Einstein and others had argued in the EPR [Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen] paradox that an objective physical reality could be elucidated more precisely than Heisenberg allowed, unless information were being transmitted from one particle to another faster than the speed of light – what Einstein would later describe as “spooky action at a distance”. Today, this principle is better known as quantum entanglement, the basis for so-called quantum computing. Here, it is described as "spatio-temporal effect at a distance" ("raumzeitliche Fernwirkung") — “which my gut feeling resists due to its implausible character."
In a remarkably rigorous, well-structured letter with glimmers of playfulness, Einstein makes it clear that “interest in this matter is not based on the enjoyment of Talmudic hairsplitting but what you really mean when you write down formulas”. He re-iterates his call that “physics should seek to describe objective facts” and points out that the alternative is not very useful: “This is like saying that a distinction between dream and reality rests on nothing other than a metaphysical prejudice”. After pointing out the flaws in Epstein’s interpretation of the EPR paradox, he admits that he still finds his own solution “pretty ugly”.
Although he resisted embracing quantum theory to the end, Einstein here offers a characteristically intelligent rebuttal which allows for eventual improvements in human understanding: “My private opinion is this: The quantum theory in its present form is a highly successful experiment, undertaken with inadequate means (concepts).”