The Secret to Creativity Is Knowing How to Hide Your Sources

Albert Einstein? C. E. M. Joad? Nolan Bushnell? Coco Chanel? Conan O’Brien? Franklin P. Jones? Charles Moore? Bruce Sterling? Joe Sedelmaier? Anonymous?

coco07Dear Quote Investigator: I have a difficult challenge for you. Here are three versions of a popular maxim:

1) The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
2) Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
3) The key to originality is hiding your sources.

These expressions are usually attributed to the famous scientist Albert Einstein. However, no one bothers to supply any supporting references. Somehow the true source has magically disappeared, it seems. Would you please help to uncover the accurate provenance?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein ever made a remark of this type. It is not listed in the comprehensive collection “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

QI hypothesizes that this maxim evolved from a statement made in 1926 by a prominent English commentator and broadcaster named C. E. M. Joad. The initials abbreviated the full appellation Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad. Below is a dated series of phrases outlining the transformational process:

1926: the height of originality is skill in concealing origins
1933: originality is little more than skill in concealing origins
1938: originality was merely skill in concealing origins
1953: originality has been described as the art of concealing origins
1970: originality is the art of concealing your source
1985: creativity is the art of concealing your sources
1989: the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources

In 1926 Joad published “The Babbitt Warren” in England, and the following year “The New Republic” magazine printed a review. Joad evaluated the United States harshly in his volume, and the reviewer reprinted a sampling of his critical remarks including a precursor of the adage under investigation. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

Whereas in Europe the height of originality is genius, in America the height of originality is skill in concealing origins.

In no country is personality valued as it is in America, and in no country is it so rare.

Joad was pleased with this expression, and he developed multiple variants which he placed in his later writings. As the saying continued to evolve it was attributed to Franklin P. Jones, Albert Einstein, Coco Chanel and others. Detailed citations are given further below.

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  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Examined on paper)
  2. 1927 March 9, The New Republic, Raspberries from England by Robert Littell, (Book Review of “The Babbitt Warren” by C. E. M. Joad), Start Page 74, Quote Page 74, Column 1, The Republic Publishing Company, New York. (Verified on microfilm)

I Would Spend 55 Minutes Defining the Problem and then Five Minutes Solving It

Albert Einstein? A Yale Professor? Apocryphal?

fiftyfive08Dear Quote Investigator: The importance of laying the proper groundwork before attempting to solve a problem is emphasized in a popular statement that is usually attributed to the scientific luminary Albert Einstein. Here are three versions:

If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.

If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.

Given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes understanding the problem and one minute resolving it.

Because there are so many different variations I do not have much confidence that this was actually said by the acclaimed genius. Would you please explore this expression?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein ever made a remark of this type. It is not listed in the comprehensive collection “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest relevant evidence located by QI appeared in a 1966 collection of articles about manufacturing. An employee of the Stainless Processing Company named William H. Markle wrote a piece titled “The Manufacturing Manager’s Skills” which included a strong match for the saying under investigation. However, the words were credited to an unnamed professor at Yale University and not to Einstein. Also, the hour was split into 40 vs. 20 minutes instead of 55 vs. 5 minutes. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

Some years ago the head of the Industrial Engineering Department of Yale University said, “If I had only one hour to solve a problem, I would spend up to two-thirds of that hour in attempting to define what the problem is.”

Albert Einstein died in 1955, and by 1973 a version of the saying had been assigned to him in an article in the journal “Invention Intelligence” based in New Delhi, India. Interestingly, the hour was split into three parts instead of two. No supporting data for the attribution was given: 3

Often the problem as given is misleading, and you have to work through a mass of data to define the real problem. Often this step consumes more time than deriving the solution. Einstein said: “If I were given an hour in which to do a problem upon which my life depended, I would spend 40 minutes studying it, 15 minutes reviewing it and 5 minutes solving it.”

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  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Examined on paper)
  2. 1966, The Manufacturing Man and His Job by Robert E. Finley and Henry R. Ziobro, “The Manufacturing Manager’s Skills” by William H. Markle (Vice President, Stainless Processing Company, Chicago, Illinois), Start Page 15, Quote Page 18, Published by American Management Association, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1973 August, Invention Intelligence, Volume 8, Number 8, Can I Learn to Invent? by A. M. Elijah (Director, Institute of Creative Development, Poona-1), Start Page 294, Quote Page 297, Issued by the National Research Development Corporation of India in New Delhi, India. (Verified with scans; thanks to John McChesney-Young and the University of California, Berkeley library system)

Common Sense Is Nothing More Than a Deposit of Prejudices Laid Down in the Mind Before Age Eighteen

Albert Einstein? Lincoln Barnett? Apocryphal?

spacetime06Dear Quote Investigator: Albert Einstein’s astonishing theory of relativity is highly counter-intuitive. For example, the theory indicates that time can pass at different rates in different reference frames. This certainly challenges common sense. The following germane statement is attributed to Einstein:

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.

Are these really the words of Einstein?

Quote Investigator: The earliest relevant evidence located by QI was published in May 1948 by Lincoln Barnett who was the former editor of “Life” magazine. He wrote a three-part series titled “The Universe and Dr. Einstein” for the April, May, and June issues of “Harper’s Magazine” which included a discussion of the theory of relativity. A version of the saying was attributed to Einstein by Barnett, but the words were not placed between quotation marks. Boldface has been added: 1

At first meeting these facts are difficult to digest but that is simply because classical physics assumed, unjustifiably, that an object preserves the same dimensions whether it is in motion or at rest and that a clock keeps the same rhythm in motion and at rest. Common sense dictates that this must be so. But as Einstein has pointed out, common sense is actually nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down in the mind prior to the age of eighteen. Every new idea one encounters in later years must combat this accretion of “self-evident” concepts. And it is because of Einstein’s unwillingness ever to accept any unproven principle as self-evident that he was able to penetrate closer to the underlying realities of nature than any scientist before him.

The material in the series was used as the foundation of a book by Barnett under the same title of “The Universe and Dr. Einstein” that was released in 1948 in New York and 1949 in London. The excerpt given above was also included in the book. Interestingly, the foreword was written by Albert Einstein who commended the work: 2

Lincoln Barnett’s book represents a valuable contribution to popular scientific writing. The main ideas of the theory of relativity are extremely well presented. Moreover, the present state of our knowledge in physics is aptly characterized.

Einstein’s remarks provided evidence that he had read the manuscript, and apparently he had not objected to the viewpoint about common sense that Barnett had ascribed to him.

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  1. 1948 May, Harper’s Magazine, Volume 196, The Universe and Dr. Einstein: Part II by Lincoln Barnett, Start Page 465, Quote Page 473, Column 1, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1949 (Copyright 1948), The Universe and Dr. Einstein by Lincoln Barnett (Lincoln Kinnear Barnett), (Foreword by Albert Einstein dated September 10, 1948), Quote Page 6 and 49, Published by Victor Gollancz Ltd., London. (Verified with scans)

Anyone Who Doesn’t Take Truth Seriously in Small Matters Cannot Be Trusted in Large Ones Either

Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?

einstein06Dear Quote Investigator: My University has an Academic Integrity Office which has launched a poster campaign that includes an image of Albert Einstein together with the following statement which has been ascribed to the brilliant physicist:

Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted with large ones either.

Misquotations linked to this famous genius are very common, and I have not yet found convincing evidence that these really are the words of Einstein. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that this quotation and its ascription are genuine; however, the words were originally written in German by Einstein; hence, multiple translations into English were possible.

In 1957 the journal “New Outlook: Middle East Monthly” printed a statement with the following description:

Excerpt from Albert Einstein’s last statement, April, 1955, published here for the first time through the kindness of Helen Dukas, Professor Einstein’s secretary.

The journal presented the text in German with an accompanying English translation. The English passage included a close match for the statement under investigation. Boldface has been added: 1

Wenn es sich um Wahrheit und Gerechtigkeit handelt, gibt es nicht die Unterscheidung zwischen kleinen und grossen Problemen. Denn die allgemeinen Gesichtspunkte, die das Handeln der Menschen betreffen, sind unteilbar. Wer es in kleinen Dingen mit der Wahrheit nicht ernst nimmt, dem kann man auch in grossen Dingen nicht vertrauen…

When the issue is one of Truth and Justice, there can be no differentiating between small problems and great ones. For the general viewpoints on human behaviour are indivisible. People who fail to regard the truth seriously in small matters, cannot be trusted in matters that are great.

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  1. 1957 July, New Outlook: Middle East Monthly, Volume 1, Number 1, Albert Einstein On Israeli-Arab Relations, Quote Page 5, Published by Tazpioth, Tel Aviv, Israel, (Verified on paper)

It Is the Responsibility of Every Human Being To Aspire To Do Something Worthwhile

Albert Einstein? Armand Hammer? Apocryphal?

med08Dear Quote Investigator: A hospital in Rhode Island has a display in the main lobby listing the names of generous donors. The following quotation attributed to Albert Einstein is also printed on the display:

It is the responsibility of every human being to aspire to do something worthwhile, to make this world a better place than the one he found.

I researched this statement because I wished to know what prompted Einstein to deliver this encouragement. Oddly, I was unable to find any direct evidence that he said or wrote these words. Is this Einstein’s instruction?

Quote Investigator: No. This statement was made by the businessman and philanthropist Armand Hammer and not by Albert Einstein.

In December 1988 “Life” magazine published a cover story called “The Big Picture: The Meaning of Life” which compiled comments from a variety of “philosophers, pundits and plain folk” who pondered “what it’s all about”. The confusion about the source of the quotation stems from the entry listed for Hammer excerpted here: 1

Industrialist/physician ARMAND HAMMER

The first thing I look at each morning is a picture of Albert Einstein I keep on the table right beside my bed. The personal inscription reads: “A person first starts to live when he can live outside of himself.” In other words, when he can have as much regard for his fellow man as he does for himself. I believe we are here to do good. It is the responsibility of every human being to aspire to do something worthwhile, to make this world a better place than the one he found.

Only the short inscription sentence enclosed in quotation marks was ascribed to Einstein. The passage after the quoted words should be credited to Hammer. Thus, the expression under investigation was attributed to Hammer in the pages of “Life”.

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  1. 1988 December, Life, The Big Picture: The Meaning of Life: Philosophers, pundits and plain folk ponder what it’s all about, (Answer by Armand Hammer), Quote Page 89, Column 2, Published by Time, Inc, Chicago, Illinois and New York, New York. (Verified on microfilm)

We Don’t Know Who Discovered Water, But We Know It Wasn’t a Fish

Marshall McLuhan? Albert Einstein? Pierce Butler? James C. Coleman? John H. Fisher? John Culkin? Anonymous?

shark06Dear Quote Investigator: Sometimes an individual embedded in a particular culture or environment can become blind to the prevailing norms within his or her domain. I have heard a figurative expression that illustrates this predicament. Here are three versions:

We don’t know who discovered water, but it wasn’t a fish.
I don’t know who discovered water, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fish.
The fish will be the last to discover water.

These words are often credited to the communication theorist and philosopher Marshall McLuhan, but I have not found a good citation. Could you examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: Marshall McLuhan did use a version of this saying in 1966, but he did not claim coinage; instead, he attributed the words to an anonymous “someone”. He also used the expression in later speeches. Detailed citations for McLuhan are given further below.

An entertaining precursor was published in a 1915 novel titled “The Cheerful Blackguard”, but in this instance a fish did discover water. The discovery was a figurative analogy leading to a discussion of human behavior. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Once upon a time there was an inventive fish, who discovered water.
Some day, perhaps an inventive man may discover love, the atmosphere our souls breathe. And other men will tell him, “How you’ve changed!”

In 1936 Albert Einstein wrote a compact three-paragraph essay titled “Self-Portrait”. It was published in English in 1950 together with a set of other essays in the volume “Out of My Later Years”. Einstein envisioned a fish that was oblivious to the surrounding water: 2

Of what is significant in one’s own existence one is hardly aware, and it certainly should not bother the other fellow. What does a fish know about the water in which he swims all his life?

The passage above caught the attention of some book readers. For example, in 1950 Einstein’s two sentences were reprinted in the “New York Times” when “Out of My Later Years” was reviewed. 3

In 1954 a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate held a hearing about the United Nations and invited testimony form a lawyer named Pierce Butler. His written remarks mentioned fish and the non-detection of water: 4

So men who have developed in a climate of thought use their customary responses when practical necessities transfer them to new regions. It has been said that men are governed by their imaginations, but it would be more accurate to say that they are governed by their lack of imagination. It wasn’t fish who discovered water.

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  1. 1915, The Cheerful Blackguard by Roger Pocock, Quote Page 335, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1995, Out of My Later Years by Albert Einstein, Chapter 2: Self-Portrait (Essay dated 1936), Start Page 5, Quote Page 5, Citadel Press Book: Carol Publishing Group. New York. (Amazon Look Inside)
  3. 1950 May 27, New York Times, Books of the Times, (Review of Albert Einstein’s essay collection “Out of My Later Years”), by Charles Poore, Quote Page 28, Column 6, New York. (ProQuest)
  4. 1954, Review of the United Nations Charter, Hearings before a subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Eighty-third Congress, second session, Proposals to amend or otherwise modify existing international peace and security organizations, including the United Nations, Part 6, (Hearings held June 19, 1954, prepared statement by Pierce Butler), Start Page 813, Quote Page 816, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (HathiTrust) link link

There Was a Young Lady Named Bright Whose Speed Was Far Faster Than Light

Bishop of Chelmsford? A. H. Reginald Buller? Albert Einstein? Anonymous?

einstein03Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular comical limerick about a young woman named White or Bright that highlights the counterintuitive nature of time measurements in Einstein’s theory of relativity. Do you know this poem? Do you know who composed it?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in an issue of the London humor magazine “Punch” in 1923. Initially, the limerick “Relativity” was published without attribution: 1


There was a young lady named Bright
Whose speed was far faster than light;
She set out one day
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.

In 1937 a Professor of Botany named A. H. Reginald Buller wrote a letter to “The Observer” newspaper in London and claimed authorship of the limerick. Top quotation references such as “The Yale Book of Quotations” 2 and “Cassell’s Humorous Quotations” 3 support the ascription to Buller. Details for this 1937 citation are given further below.

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  1. 1923 December 19, “Punch, or The London Charivari”, Volume 165, Relativity (Limerick), Quote Page 591, Column 1, London. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Arthur Buller, Page 113, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  3. 2001, Cassell’s Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Nigel Rees, Section: Limericks, Quote Page 256, [Cassell, London], Sterling Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper)

They’re Cheering Us Both, You Because Nobody Understands You, and Me Because Everybody Understands Me

Charlie Chaplin? Albert Einstein? János Plesch? Apocryphal?

chaplineinstein07Dear Quote Investigator: The entertainer Charlie Chaplin and the scientist Albert Einstein were two of the most famous individuals of the last century. I have heard the following anecdote about a meeting between them in the 1930s. While traveling together they were recognized and a crowd of people started to vigorously applaud the luminaries. They waved to the throng and reportedly exchanged the following words:

Einstein: What I most admire about your art, is your universality. You don’t say a word, yet the world understands you!

Chaplin: True. But your glory is even greater! The whole world admires you, even though they don’t understand a word of what you say.

Is there any truth to this tale?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this anecdote known to QI appeared in a memoir by János Plesch who was Albert Einstein’s physician and also his friend. This work was translated into English by Edward Fitzgerald and published in 1947. In this version of the tale the two celebrities Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein were conversing, but only Chaplin presented the comparison between their different types of fame. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 1

Once when Einstein was in Hollywood on a visit Chaplin drove him through the town. As the people on the sidewalks recognized two of their greatest, if very different, contemporaries, they gave them a tremendous reception which greatly astonished Einstein. “They’re cheering us both,” said Chaplin: “you because nobody understands you, and me because everybody understands me.” There was a good-humoured pride in his remark, and at the same time a certain humility as at a recognition of the difference between ready popularity and lasting greatness.

Apparently, Plesch was not present when the words were spoken, so his account was second-hand. An episode showing the relationship between Plesch and Einstein was mentioned in the valuable recent biography “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson. When Einstein wished to obtain some peace and quiet he sometimes sojourned at the estate of his medical-doctor friend to hide from journalists: 2

Einstein wanted some solitude for his fiftieth birthday, a refuge from publicity. So in March 1929 he fled once again, as he had during the publication of his unified field theory paper of a few months earlier, to the gardener’s cottage of an estate on the Havel River owned by Janos Plesch, a flamboyant and gossipy Hungarian-born celebrity doctor who had added Einstein to his showcase collection of patient-friends.

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  1. 1947, János: The Story of a Doctor by John Plesch (János Plesch), Translated to English by Edward Fitzgerald, Quote Page 211, Victor Gollancz, London. (Verified with scans; thanks to John McChesney-Young and the University of California, Berkeley library system)
  2. 2007, Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, Chapter 16: Turning Fifty, Quote Page 357, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Kindle Edition)

I Understand It Brings You Luck, Whether You Believe in It or Not

Niels Bohr? Albert Einstein? Carl Alfred Meier? Apocryphal?

bohr01Dear Quote Investigator: There is popular anecdote about a journalist or friend who visited the home of a prominent physicist. The visitor was surprised to find a horseshoe above the front doorway of the scientist’s abode. Tradition asserts that a horseshoe acts as a talisman of luck when placed over a door.

The visitor asked the physicist about the purpose of the horseshoe while expressing incredulity that a man of science could possibly be swayed by a simple-minded folk belief. The physicist replied:

Of course I don’t believe in it, but I understand it brings you luck, whether you believe in it or not.

This slyly comical remark has been attributed to both Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein. I love this entertaining tale, but I am skeptical. Any insights?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in a popular Sunday newspaper supplement called “The American Weekly” in September 1956. A column called “The Wit Parade” by E. E. Kenyon printed an instance of the anecdote. The scientist was identified as Niels Bohr, and the visitor was unnamed: 1

A friend was visiting in the home of Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr, the famous atom scientist.

As they were talking, the friend kept glancing at a horseshoe hanging over the door. Finally, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he demanded:

“Niels, it can’t possibly be that you, a brilliant scientist, believe that foolish horseshoe superstition! ? !”

“Of course not,” replied the scientist. “But I understand it’s lucky whether you believe in it or not.”

Also in 1956 “The Speaker’s Handbook of Humor” by Maxwell Droke included a version of the story which was presented using similar vocabulary choices: 2

A visitor at the home of Niels Bohr, famous atom scientist and Nobel Prize winner, was surprised to see a horseshoe hanging over the door.

“Do you, a sober man dedicated to science, believe in that superstition?”

“Of course not,” replied Bohr, “but I’ve been told that it’s supposed to be lucky, whether you believe in it or not.”

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  1. 1956 September 30, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Section: The American Weekly, The Wit Parade by E. E. Kenyon, Quote Page 13, Column 1, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1956, The Speaker’s Handbook of Humor by Maxwell Droke, Anecdote Number: 1172, Anecdote Title: Not Superstitious, Quote Page 373, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Verified on paper)

The Intuitive Mind Is a Sacred Gift and the Rational Mind Is a Faithful Servant

Albert Einstein? Bob Samples? Apocryphal?

einstein01Dear Quote Investigator: A well-known scholar delivered a lively and appealing lecture online which included the following quotation. The words were attributed to Einstein, but I am skeptical:

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

Does this quotation interest you enough to investigate?

Quote Investigator: Albert Einstein died in 1955. The earliest evidence known to QI linking Einstein to this expression appeared in the 1976 book “The Metaphoric Mind: A Celebration of Creative Consciousness” by Bob Samples. The author did not claim he was quoting Einstein; instead, Samples was presenting his personal interpretation of Einstein’s perspective. Boldface has been added to the following excerpts: 1

The metaphoric mind is a maverick. It is as wild and unruly as a child. It follows us doggedly and plagues us with its presence as we wander the contrived corridors of rationality. It is a metaphoric link with the unknown called religion that causes us to build cathedrals — and the very cathedrals are built with rational, logical plans. When some personal crisis or the bewildering chaos of everyday life closes in on us, we often rush to worship the rationally-planned cathedral and ignore the religion. Albert Einstein called the intuitive or metaphoric mind a sacred gift. He added that the rational mind was a faithful servant. It is paradoxical that in the context of modern life we have begun to worship the servant and defile the divine.

QI hypothesizes that the words of Samples have been altered over time to match the modern quotation given by the questioner. Also, the resultant expression has improperly been assigned directly to Albert Einstein. In addition, the reader should note that the final sentence is presented as the opinion of Samples and not Einstein.

Several researchers have been unable to locate a statement by Einstein matching the expression above though Einstein did speak highly of intuition. Samples articulated his opinion about Einstein’s beliefs more than once. For example, on a later page in the same book he wrote the following: 2

This quality — invention — is what led Einstein and others to view the intuitive qualities of the metaphoric mind as a “sacred gift.” It is enriched by an infinity of knowings, and it ceaselessly repatterns these to a compound infinity of possibilities as it wanders across the face of the world.

In 1977 “The Phi Delta Kappan” magazine published an article by Bob Samples titled “Mind Cycles and Learning” which included this passage: 3

Albert Einstein once spoke of intuition as a sacred gift and likened rationality to a faithful servant. Our basic purpose was to shift the tendency to worship the servant and ignore the sacred.

Note that the second sentence reflected the goal of Samples.

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  1. 1976, The Metaphoric Mind: A Celebration of Creative Consciousness by Bob Samples, Quote Page 26, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1976, The Metaphoric Mind: A Celebration of Creative Consciousness by Bob Samples, Quote Page 62, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1977 May, The Phi Delta Kappan, Issue title: Turmoil in Teacher Education, Volume 58, Number 9, Mind Cycles and Learning by Bob Samples, Start Page 688, Quote Page 689, Published by Phi Delta Kappa International. (JSTOR) link