Einstein said:

The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order that reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought.

  1. Does here "individual" means like when we use word "one" in order to talk generally and not about any certain person? Like when we say "if one takes a look, he/she can easily find out about the contradiction"?

  2. Does "reveal themselves" refer only to "sublimity and marvelous order"?

  • Individual in its fundamental sense, refers to whatever may be regarded as an entity or being.
    – Misti
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 13:24

2 Answers 2

  1. Yes, Einstein it talking about people in general. He could have said "Individuals feel the futility ...." But each person is so intimately connected to his or her own desires, aims, and the realization of the sublime and the marvelous that the singular has more impact.

  2. Grammatically speaking, the individual feels three things: futility, sublimity, and order. The relative clause takes a plural verb and plural reflexive pronoun: "reveal themselves." So does the clause must modify at least two of those things, certainly "sublimity" and "order." Does it also modify the third, "futility"? The syntax won't help. You'll have to know something about Einstein's experience of human aims, what he considered "nature," and what he wrote about his own thought processes. In my opinion, it's very unlikely he thought human futility revealed itself in nature (i.e., in the laws of physics). I think the contrast here is between humans feeling petty concerns and also being able to feel awe at understanding nature and at the very ability to understand nature.

Which is a long way of saying "Yes" to your second question.


1) Yes. It means the same as "one". It is the generalized singular; any person, a person.

2) Without any punctuation to help us out, we are left to wonder whether "reveal themselves" refers only to "sublimity and marvelous order", or whether it also refers to "desires and aims". It could make sense either way.

One human might desire to discern this, and aim to search the context for further clues, but it might be futile. One might see, or seek, both sublimity and marvelous order in Einstein's writings, but one probably won't find both in the same passage.

Still, he was a seriously profound dude—plus, his hair was awesome.

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