Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?

einsteinjplgalaxy99zDear Quote Investigator: Many websites credit Albert Einstein with this statement:

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

I am skeptical. Are these the words of Einstein?

Quote Investigator: Yes. This remark was made by Einstein in an interview that was published in “The Saturday Evening Post” in 1929. Here is an excerpt showing the context of his comment. The first paragraph below records Einstein’s words; the next sentence is the interviewer speaking; the final paragraph is Einstein speaking again. Boldface has been added to the following passage and some excerpts further below: 1

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am. When two expeditions of scientists, financed by the Royal Academy, went forth to test my theory of relativity, I was convinced that their conclusions would tally with my hypothesis. I was not surprised when the eclipse of May 29, 1919, confirmed my intuitions. I would have been surprised if I had been wrong.”

“Then you trust more to your imagination than to your knowledge?”

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1931 the book “Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms” by Albert Einstein was published. This volume contained the same saying, but the surrounding text was phrased somewhat differently: 2

At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason. When the eclipse of 1919 confirmed my intuition, I was not in the least surprised. In fact, I would have been astonished had it turned out otherwise. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.

The New York Times reviewed “Cosmic Religion” in March 1931 and the statement about imagination was memorable enough that it was reprinted in the review: 3

He frankly admits that he believes “in intuition and inspiration,” and adds: “At times I feel certain I am right without knowing the reason,” and he declares that “imagination is more important than knowledge.”

In conclusion, evidence indicates that the quotation is accurate, and it appeared in an interview of Albert Einstein conducted by George Sylvester Viereck in 1929.

Notes:

  1. 1929 October 26, The Saturday Evening Post, What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck, Start Page 17, Quote Page 117, Column 1, Saturday Evening Post Society, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 2009, “Einstein on Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms” by Albert Einstein, Quote Page 97, Dover Publication, Mineola, New York. (This Dover edition is an unabridged republication of “Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms”, originally published in 1931 by Covici-Friede, Inc., New York) (Google Books Preview)
  3. 1931 March 8, New York Times, Opinions and Aphorisms of Albert Einstein, Quote Page 66, (Book review of “Cosmic Religion: With Other Opinions and Aphorisms” by Albert Einstein), New York. (ProQuest)