Monday, 11 March 2013

Piano - Problem Solving for Geniuses: Albert Einstein and Walter Bishop - Fringe (tv series)

I'm a fan of the science fiction tv show Fringe, it's updated version of the X-Files by JJ Abrahms. One of the main characters, a Dr. Walter Bishop, a scientific genius and eccentric 'mad professor' boffin boasts an IQ of 196. The character loves classical music and there's a scene of Walter Bishop playing the piano; an activity which helps him process all the data and complexities of a problem and then solve it.

No doubt this Walter Bishop genius character was based on violin (and piano) playing Albert Einstein, whose favourite composers were Bach and Mozart.

In fact, Einstein would have gladly traded physics for music:

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. ... I get most joy in life out of music.” Albert Einstein.

Einstein's second wife Elsa (also his cousin) fell in love with his beautiful Mozart violin playing.
Elsa adds:
He also plays the piano [as did his mother]. Music helps him when he is thinking about his theories. 
He goes to his study, comes back, strikes a few chords on
the piano, jots something down, returns to
his study (Elsa Einstein on Einstein)
Albert Einstein's son, Hans Albert Einstein on of his father:

Whenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or into a difficult situation in his work, he would take refuge in music. That would usually resolve all his difficulties.

 Neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone at Harvard Medical School was quoted in Time magazine for his experiments demonstrating that piano playing and mere mental practice of piano playing can reorganise the structure of the brain, with a strong development of the motor cortex. Improved reading ability and auditory memory were also linked benefits to music lessons according to a study at Northwestern University. I had a conversation with an education consultant at my daughter's primary school, he was impressed that my daughter had achieved grade 4 piano at age 6 (about half the age of the average). The consultant told me that music lessons had improved results in science and maths exams. I can only surmise this is due to the pattern recognition (spatial recognition), use of creativity, focus and discipline that music develops; add on the hand-eye coordination the piano adds, and that's a powerful combination of skills! No wonder, Walter Bishop turns to the piano in times of immense problem solving. Music also can relax you and lower your stress levels, allowing you to perform better in any task! Keep playing, and learning everyone!

 Character Peter Bishop playing Gershwin's Someone to Watch Over Me.

Further reading:

Einstein and His Love for Music, Physics Today, January 2005

Albert Einstein’s Great Passion for Music, Shankar Mahadev Academy, 2012


  1. Michael Smith here,, I am a pianist and composer and if I did not create music everything in life would have very little meaning. I agree with all words on Einstein and the writers of this article, it is true beyond any doubt, I also invent and have engineered over 200 recording and television studios, I always hear music even what I want silence. Music is a gift from the Great Mystery of creation, if you do not hear it or engulf yourself in it you are without spiritual movement of the soul.


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