What are the distinguishing features between a great man and an ordinary mortal? But the doubting Thomas may further want to question the very concept of greatness. Are all famous or even notorious men of history great? Hitler, Genghis Khan, Hulagu Khan and Attila made history with their cruelty and thirst for the blood of their fellow people. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte were also history-makers. Can one weigh both categories of people on the same scale? One may even look at the other extreme of the list of famous and great people of history. The religious prophets of the great religions-Moses, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohammad (SM) and others-who time and again guided the people out of the darkness of barbarism into the light of civilisation, were also great men of the highest order. Similarly, there are also other kinds of great men, who with their power of argument and analytic skill opened the door of knowledge for the people of all ages. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Archimedes, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein belonged to another group of history-makers and the spell under which their disciples fell did not emanate from the depth of human mystery where fear, awe, love and herd instinct reside. Unlike the great heroes and anti-heroes of history, from Alexander to Mao Ze Dong, Homer to Shakespeare to Tagore and others, who turned to the undefined forces of good or evil, wonder or herd instinct or love to lead their followers either to the road of freedom or to that of eternal perdition, the latter categories of people carrying the torch of knowledge tried to break the age-old systems of folk beliefs, customs, cultures and values on which the powers of love and hate, fear and awe, emotionality and spirituality, passion, wonder and myth had been standing. But from the point of view of history, one can always tag the ticket of emotion on all kinds of feeling each category of the extraordinary individuals generates in the minds of the lovers, haters or admirers alike among the millions of gullible masses. But with the exception of the pure and unmitigated admirers, the disciples of the intellectual varieties of great men are not goaded by any kind of herd instinct to hold their leading lights in high esteem. It is the power of criticism, not love or faith that guides them through the maze of mysteries in human heart and transforms those into pure knowledge.
The great twentieth century physicist Albert Einstein chosen as the greatest man-Person of the Century-of twentieth according to the renowned Time magazine, did not conquer the hearts of his contemporaries by invoking the god of mystery. On the contrary, he blew away the cobwebs of mystery and superstition that shrouded human mind in all the previous centuries. Stephen Hawking, a British born physicist, another living legend of the twentieth (the legend has even crossed the threshold of century well into the twenty-first century) in his article on Einstein's theory of Relativity, writes the following about the leading light of science of all times, Albert Einstein:
"But it was a young clerk named Albert Einstein, working in the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, who cut through the ether and solved the speed-of-light problem once and for all. In June 1905 he wrote one of three papers that would establish him as one of the world's leading scientists-and in the process start two conceptual revolutions that changed our understanding of time, space and reality".
In another following paragraph of the same article Hawking goes on:
"Einstein's postulate that the laws of nature should appear the same to all freely moving observers was the foundation of the theory of relativity, so called because it implies that only relative motion is important. Its beauty and simplicity were convincing to many scientists and philosophers. But there remained a lot of opposition. Einstein had overthrown two of the Absolutes (with capital A) of 19th century science: Absolute Rest as represented by the ether, and Absolute or Universal Time that all clocks would measure. Did this imply, people asked, that there were no absolute moral standards, that everything was relative?"
The two long quotes culled from the Hawking's article establish one simple thing. Which is, the great mind that shook the whole structure of traditional concept of the physical world, was, unlike the historical heroes and antiheroes of old or modern times, who conquered, built or destroyed communities and civilisations, not a hero either at birth or in his early career. He was not even called a physicist. He was simply a modest clerk at an office in the capital of Switzerland. But this modest clerk dispelled the darkness of myth and blasted two juggernauts of authority ruling human perceptions of the reality of physical world since time out of mind.
Another great mind, who was born in the middle of 19th century, was Sigmund Freud. Born in Freiberg of Moravia (now Pribor in the modern Czech Republic), in 1956, Freud solved the riddles of mind. He was the first man to have the courage to vivisect the strange and abstruse and puzzling world of human psyche. Peter Gay, historian at the Yale University, writes about Freud: " for good or ill, Sigmund Freud, more than any other explorer of the psyche, has shaped the mind of the 9th century). To Freud, Gay critiques without mercy, " His dramatic evocation of universal Oedipus complex, in which (to put a complicated issue too simply) the little boy loves his mother and hates his father, seems more like a literary conceit than a thesis worthy of a scientifically minded psychology." But whatever the modern critiques of this great psychoanalyst, whose influence spanned two centuries, say, he was the first man to bring the world of human mind out of the cave of pure mystery and bring it under scientific scrutiny. When he left Austria, to flee from the persecution of the Nazis under Hitler at the age of 81 after the latter invaded his homeland (like Einstein, Freud was also a Jew) and immigrated to England with his family, the man who freed mind from the trappings of metaphysics did express his wish "to die in freedom." And he died a free man soon after Hitler declared Second World War.
So, Einstein and Freud, the two great heroes of history, did really beat another notorious anti-hero of history in their deaths in freedom. They won their last wars like Freud was wont to call his, "My Last War."