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Did Einstein really say that?
Albert Einstein in Caputh, Germany, in 1929.Credit: Ullsten Bild via Getty
Beyond his towering contribution to physics, Albert Einstein was an avid commentator on education, marriage, money, the nature of genius, music-making, politics and more.
His insights were legion, as we are reminded by this month’s publication of volume 15 in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein.
Even the website of the US Internal Revenue Service enshrines his words (as quoted by his accountant): “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”
“There appears to be a bottomless pit of quotable gems to be mined from Einstein’s enormous archives,” notes Alice Calaprice, editor of The Ultimate Quotable Einstein (2011); one detects a hint of despair.
Indeed, Einstein might be the most quoted scientist in history.
The website Wikiquote has many more entries for him than for Aristotle, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin or Stephen Hawking, and even than Einstein’s opinionated contemporaries Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw.
But how much of this superabundance actually emanated from the physicist? Take this: “Astrology is a science in itself and contains an illuminating body of knowledge. It taught me many things and I am greatly indebted to it.
” These lines, displayed by some astrology websites as Einstein’s, were exposed as an obvious hoax by the magazine Skeptical Inquirer in 2007. The real source was the foreword to a reissued book, Manuel d’astrologie (1965), first published by Swiss-Canadian astrologer Werner Hirsig in 1950.
Einstein’s only known comment on astrology is in a 1943 letter to one Eugene Simon:
“I fully agree with you concerning the pseudo-science of astrology. The interesting point is that this kind of superstition is so tenacious that it could persist through so many centuries.”
Among the hundreds of quotes that Calaprice notes are misattributed to Einstein are many that are subtly debatable. Some are edited or paraphrased to sharpen or neaten the original.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” might, says Calaprice, be a compressed version of lines from a 1933 lecture by Einstein: “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.” More certain is the provenance of “The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible”. That rewords a passage in a 1936 article in the Journal of the Franklin Institute: “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility … The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle.”
Even “God does not play dice”, arguably Einstein’s most famous quote, isn’t quite his words. It derives from a letter written in German in December 1926 to his friend and sparring partner, theoretical physicist Max Born. It is published in the new volume of Einstein’s papers, in which the editors comment on its “varying translations” since the 1920s.
Theirs is: “Quantum mechanics … delivers much, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the Old One. I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not play dice.” Einstein does not use the word ‘God’ (Gott) here, but ‘the Old One’ (Der Alte).
This signifies a “personification of nature”, notes physicist and Nobel laureate Leon Lederman (author of The God Particle, 1993).
Einstein’s name has also been affixed since his death to quotes from elsewhere.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” for instance, was traced by Einstein archivist Barbara Wolff to US writer Rita Mae Brown’s Sudden Death (1983).
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted,” was penned by sociologist William Bruce Cameron in his Informal Sociology (1963).
This cosmos of quotes — real, massaged and faked — speaks to Einstein’s status. More than 60 years after his death, his fame remains paramount. I feel there are at least four reasons why we are still fascinated by him.
Memorable Albert Einstein Quotes
Memorable Albert Einstein Quotes We are pleased that you have stopped by our web site to review our selection of memorable quotes from Albert Einstein. We have attempted to provide the quotes as accurately as possible and, where available, cite the correct source for the quote.
However, we take no responsibility for errors that occur by accident and you are free to use the material as you wish but you are responsible for its use. If you are interested in air pollution and its effects on human health and vegetation, we would invite you to visit our other pages on this web site.
Our Introduction web page is a good place to begin the process of learning more about the subject. A.S.L. & Associates appreciates your taking the time to visit us. “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.
Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.”
- –“The World As I See It,” originally published in FORUM AND CENTURY, 1931.
“Try to become not a man of success, but try rather to become a man of value.
–quoted by William Miller, Life magazine. May 2, 1955.
“Small is the number that see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”
- –Albert Einstein.
“I'm enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited; imagination encircles the world.”
–Quoted in interview by G.S. Viereck, October 26, 1929. Reprinted in Glimpses of the Great (1930).
“The more success the quantum theory has, the sillier it looks”
–from a letter to Heinrich Zangger, May 20, 1912. AEA 39-655.
“A man must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings.”
- –from an interview in the New York Times, September 1952.
“Curiosity is a delicate little plant which, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom”
—Autobiographical Notes. 1949.
“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge in the field of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”
- –contribution to a publication commemorating the eightieth birthday of German rabbi and theologian Leo Baeck, 1953.
“I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know if I am.
–G.S. Viereck interview, October 26, 1929, reprinted in “Glimpses of the Great” (1930).
“A happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell too much on the future.”
–from My Future Plans, September 18, 1896. CPAE, Vol 1., Doc. 22.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when contemplating the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of the mystery every day. The important thing is not to stop questioning; never lose a holy curiosity.”
- –from statement to William Miller, as quoted in LIFE magazine (2 May 1955).
“The most important endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity for life”
—Einstein, a Portrait, p. 102.
“The monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind”
–Speech Civilization and Science, October 3, 1933. Quoted in The Times (London), October 4, 1933.
“Science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion…The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”
- –SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY, AND RELIGION: A SYMPOSIUM, 1941.
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.”
- –letter to Morris Raphael Cohen, professor emeritus of philosophy at the College of the City of New York, defending the controversial appointment of Bertrand Russell to a teaching position, March 19, 1940.
“What can the schools do to defend democracy? Should they preach a specific political doctrine? I believe they should not. If they are able to teach young people to have a critical mind and a socially oriented attitude, they will have done all that is necessary.”
- –message to the New Jersey Education Association, Atlantic City, 1939.
“It would be better if you begin to teach others only after you yourself have learned something.”
–To Arthur Cohen, December 26, 1928. AEA 25-044.
“Taken on the whole, I would believe that Gandhi's views were the most enlightened of all the political men in our time. We should strive to do things in his spirit…not to use violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in what we believe is evil.”
- –United Nations radio interview recorded in Einstein's study, Princeton, New Jersey, 1950.
“Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common.”
- –address to a group of children, 1934.
“I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity”