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Monday, June 15, 2009

Einstein Smoked!

Yes, it’s true, Einstein smoked: pipes and cigars.

Albert Einstein’s contributions to modern science are so extraordinary that it may take  generations and hundreds of years for science to catch up with his theories on space, time, gravity, light, physics, etc…  Ironically, Einstein had speech problems as a child and was probably missing portions of his brain, while other parts seem to have ‘compensated’ and given him extraordinary thinking, visualization, and conceptualization abilities.   In fact, we are all a little bit like Albert Einstein in that our brains have different strengths and weaknesses and there are many different ways to be ’smart’.  Intelligence takes on many different forms and varietals.

Albert Einstein, Berlin, Germany 1931.  Photo from Fortune Magazine March 6, 2000.

Albert Einstein claimed that he thought through images, rather than verbally.  That is why he spent much of his time ruminating, meditating, thinking, and walking the grounds of the Institute for Advanced Study and Princeton University, with a pipe or cigar in hand, of course.

As the proprietor of the retail tobacconist in Princeton, NJ, I like to think that Albert Einstein would be a customer if he were around today.  After all, many of Princeton’s esteemed intellectuals and luminaries are my customers, and they love their luxury tobacco.   But this is not just a ‘puff’ piece about smart people smoking tobacco.  Luxury tobacco is something we use out of choice, not addiction.  Furthermore, we smoke great cigars and pipe tobaccos to savor our time, ruminate, decompress, gather our thoughts and emotions, and revitalize ourselves, among other reasons.
Just as our ‘brains’ are different, so are the things that bring us pleasure, happiness, joy, and peace.   America’s founding fathers recognized the inherent importance of individualism and freedom, so they anchored our country’s constitution and values on the ‘individual pursuit of happiness’ and human freedom.  For better or worse, good, bad or indifferent, human beings must be free to choose their own destiny and guide their own lives.

What would Albert Einstein think about S-CHIP, FDA tobacco regulation, extreme tobacco taxation, smoker demonization, smoking bans, and tobacco denormalization?   Where would civilization be without Albert Einstein’s genius?  Who or what power has the legitimate authority to tell him (or us) how to think? What to enjoy?  After all, we hold the truth of human freedom and equality to be self-evident.

The greatest tragedy to result from smokerism and anti-smoking laws will never be known.  The greatest cost from impeding human freedom is the opportunity cost: those things, ideas, moments, realizations, and appreciations that will never exist, because the opportunity was lost.  But these losses, while intangible, are as real as light, gravity, and time.  Ultimately, every law that restricts individual freedom and choice retards our culture and undermines real progress and quality of life.

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