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Goyal gravity gaffe on Einstein

The commerce and industry minister ended up saying “maths never helped (Albert) Einstein discover gravity”

By Our Special Correspondent in New Delhi

  • Published 13.09.19, 2:26 AM
  • Updated 13.09.19, 2:26 AM
Joaquin Phoenix (in picture), whose performance in the film Joker is generating early Oscar buzz, would sometimes walk out from the set in the middle of a scene, director Todd Phillips has revealed. Phoenix would always return after taking a break, Todd told The New York Times.
Joaquin Phoenix (in picture), whose performance in the film Joker is generating early Oscar buzz, would sometimes walk out from the set in the middle of a scene, director Todd Phillips has revealed. Phoenix would always return after taking a break, Todd told The New York Times. PTI

The free fall of the Indian economy perhaps reminded Union minister Piyush Goyal of gravity on Thursday, with the gravity of the matter appearing to cause him to slip up.

With data suggesting a slowdown in growth to a six-year low of 5 per cent, Goyal was advising people not to look at the economy through the prism of maths.

But the commerce and industry minister ended up saying “maths never helped (Albert) Einstein discover gravity”, prompting ridicule on social media, with many pointing out that it was Isaac Newton who had made that particular discovery.

“Do not get into the calculations that you see on television.… Oh, if you are looking at (the target of a) $5-trillion economy, the country will have to grow at 12 per cent. Today it is growing at 6-7 per cent,” Goyal told reporters after a Board of Trade meeting.

“Do not get into those maths. Those maths have never helped Einstein discover gravity. If he had only gone by structured formulae and what was past knowledge, I do not think there would have been any innovation in this world.”

Goyal’s mention of “12 per cent” was possibly an allusion to Manmohan Singh’s comment that the economy needed to grow at 12 per cent if the $5-trillion target was to be met.

The Congress was quick to tweet: “Former Finance Minister @PiyushGoyal is correct, Einstein did not require maths to discover gravity, but Sir Isaac Newton did. FYI, maths is also required to #FixTheEconomy.”

Newton did indeed need maths to formulate his idea of gravitational force — the attractive force between any two objects that have mass. (“Gravity” is used generally to refer to the gravitational force in contexts where one of the objects is a celestial body, such as the earth, and the other a smaller object.)

Newton discovered that the gravitational force (F) is directly proportional to the product of the two masses (M1 and M2) and inversely proportional to the square of the distance (R) between them.

While Einstein did not discover gravitation, he explained the phenomenon, relying heavily on mathematical concepts in his general theory of relativity, as a consequence of the distortion of space-time by mass.

He did need mathematics to accurately predict how much light from a distant star would bend while passing near the sun, which was key to the observational confirmation of his theory during a solar eclipse in 1919.

Goyal later clarified that he had tried to send across a message about the need to work together with new ideas, but his clarification did not acknowledge the faux pas about Einstein.

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