D O C . 2 3 6 T H E C O M P T O N E X P E R I M E N T 2 3 1
236.“The Compton Experiment. Does Science Exist for
Its Own Sake?”
[Einstein 1924e]
Published 20 April 1924
In: Berliner Tageblatt, 1st Supplement.
Does science exist for its own sake? This question must be answered with equal
determination in the affirmative and in the negative, depending on how it is meant.
The scientist must be of service to science for its own sake, without regard for any
practical results. Otherwise, science withers in that it loses sight of the general per-
spective. Nor would it fulfill its major educational mission, which is to awaken and
maintain the striving for causal insights in everyone. This grand mission of being
the defender of one of humanity’s most valuable ideals also shows, however, the
extent to which science is not allowed to exist for its own sake. Scientists, taken
together, can be compared with one organ of the body of mankind that is nurtured
by its blood and produces a vitally important secretion that must be conveyed to all
its parts if it is not to waste away. This should not be understood as having to cram
everyone full of learning and detailed knowledge, as it unfortunately often happens
to excess in schools. Nor should the broader public make decisions on scientific is-
sues. But every thoughtful person must be given the opportunity to clearly experi-
ence the major scientific problems of his day, even when his social position does
not permit him to devote a substantial part of his time and energy to pondering the-
oretical questions. Seen from the social point of view, only by doing justice to this
important mission does science earn the right to exist.
From this vantage point, in what follows I would like to give an account of an
important experiment regarding light, or electromagnetic radiation, performed
about one year ago by the American physicist
In order to recognize the
full significance of this experiment, we must bring to mind the highly peculiar sit-
uation in which the theory of radiation finds itself.
Up to the first half of the nineteenth century, optics was mainly preoccupied with
the reflection and refraction of light (concave mirrors, lens systems). Until then one
steadfastly held on to Newton’s corpuscular theory and emission theory of light, ac-
cording to which light was supposed to be composed of corpuscles that move uni-
formly in straight lines in a homogeneous environment, but generally experience a
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