Category Archives: Albert Einstein

Education Is Not the Learning of Facts, But the Training of the Mind To Think

Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?

things08Dear Quote Investigator: A learner may accumulate a large number of miscellaneous pieces of information without achieving an integrated understanding and without acquiring an ability to use the material intelligently. Reportedly, Albert Einstein made a germane remark:

Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of minds to think.

I have not been able to find a solid citation for this insight. Are these really the words of Albert Einstein? What was the context?

Quote Investigator: In 1921 Albert Einstein visited Boston, Massachusetts. At that time, a questionnaire constructed by the inventor and research laboratory pioneer Thomas A. Edison was circulating. Edison used his controversial questionnaire to screen job applicants, but Einstein was unimpressed by some of the queries. For example, “The New York Times” reported on Einstein’s reaction to one question about a fact that was readily available in reference books: 1

He was asked through his secretary, “What is the speed of sound?” He could not say off-hand, he replied. He did not carry such information in his mind but it was readily available in text books.

Einstein’s response printed in 1921 fit the theme of the quotation because he deemphasized the value of simply memorizing facts. A longer description of this episode was presented in the biography “Einstein: His Life and Times” by Philipp Frank. A strong match for the quotation was included in the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

While Einstein was in Boston, staying at the Hotel Copley Plaza, he was given a copy of Edison’s questionnaire to see whether he could answer the questions. As soon as he read the question: “What is the speed of sound?” he said: “I don’t know. I don’t burden my memory with such facts that I can easily find in any textbook.”

Nor did he agree with Edison’s opinion on the uselessness of college education. He remarked: “It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”

Frank’s biography was originally written in German, and the English translation was released in 1947. QI does not know what source material was used by Frank to report on words of Einstein in 1921, but the reliability of Frank’s biography is largely viewed favorably.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1921 May 18, New York Times, Einstein Sees Boston; Fails on Edison Test: Asked to Tell Speed of Sound He Refers Questioner to Text Books (Special to The New York Times), Quote Page 15, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1947, Einstein: His Life and Times by Philipp Frank, Translated from German by George Rosen, Edited and Revised by Shuichi Kusaka, Quote Page 185, Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans)

Let Us Be More Ashamed of Shabby Ideas and Shoddy Philosophies

Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?

clothes08Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, the dress sense of a leading British politician was criticized, and his sharp rejoinder was based on a quotation attributed to Albert Einstein contrasting the relative importance of shabby clothes versus shabby ideas. Would you please examine the provenance of this statement?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of the quotation located by QI appeared in a 1949 compilation titled “Treasury of the Christian Faith: An Encyclopedic Handbook of the Range and Witness of Christianity” which included the following entry: 1

If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies. — Albert Einstein

Einstein died in 1955; hence, the statement was credited to him while he was still alive. However, the 1949 book did not present a supporting citation, and QI has not yet located any pointers to speeches, interviews, or essays by Einstein containing the saying.

The most comprehensive reference about Einstein’s pronouncements is the 2010 book “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press, and the expression about “shabby ideas” was not present in this volume. 2

This entry presents a snapshot of QI’s research, and more information may be uncovered by other researchers. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1949, Treasury of the Christian Faith: An Encyclopedic Handbook of the Range and Witness of Christianity, Edited by Stanley I. Stuber and Thomas Curtis Clark, Quote Page 415, Column 1, Published by Association Press, New York. (Verified with scans; many thanks to Reformed Theological Seminary Library of Jackson, Mississippi)
  2. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper) (A search for the quotation was performed within a digital version of the text)

Anyone Who Can Drive Safely While Kissing Is Simply Not Giving the Kiss the Attention It Deserves

Albert Einstein? Philippa? Fluffy Flapper? James Russell? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

kiss09Dear Quote Investigator: The modern traveler may encounter dangerous drivers who are texting while driving. But another risky behavior has been occurring on roadways for many decades: kissing while driving. The brilliant physicist Albert Einstein supposedly said:

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.

I think this ascription is unlikely. Would you please examine the history of this saying?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein wrote or spoke the statement above. It is listed within a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press: 1 Einstein died in 1955, and the phrase was implausible attributed to him many years later in a book called “More Sex Talk” in 2002. Details are given further below.

The earliest pertinent match known to QI appeared as a short item in multiple U.S. newspapers starting in 1923. The joke employed a dialog format, and its creator was unidentified. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2 3

Dorcas—”Do you ever allow a man to kiss you when you’re out motoring with him?”

Philippa—”Never, if a man can drive safely while kissing me he’s not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”

Many thanks to top researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake who located and shared several valuable citations via a message at the Snopes website.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not By Einstein, Quote Page 482, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1923 December 17, Hamilton Daily News, Smiles, Quote Page 15, Column 7, Hamilton, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive) 4 5 1924 January 17, The Davenport Democrat and Leader, Safety First (Freestanding filler item), Quote Page 13, Column 4, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1924 January 23, Harrisburg Telegraph, Safety First (Freestanding filler item), Quote Page 8, Column 6, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Life Is Like Riding a Bicycle. To Keep Your Balance You Must Keep Moving

Albert Einstein? Walter Isaacson? J. Benson Hamilton? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? Dorothy Tucker? William Whiting?

bicycle07Dear Quote Investigator: The famous physicist Albert Einstein reportedly used a wonderful simile that compared riding a bicycle with living successfully. Here are three versions:

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

People are like bicycles. They can keep their balance only as long as they keep moving.

It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.

Would you please explore this topic? Which version is the most accurate?

Quote Investigator: On February 5, 1930 Albert Einstein wrote a letter to his son Eduard that included a remark that has been translated in different ways. In 2007 Walter Isaacson published a biography titled “Einstein: His Life and Universe”; the notes section at the end of the book printed an excerpt from the original text of the letter in German together with a translation by the Information Officer of the Einstein Archives. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The exact quote is: “Beim Menschen ist es wie beim Velo. Nur wenn er faehrt, kann er bequem die Balance halten.” A more literal translation is: “It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.” Courtesy of Barbara Wolff, Einstein archives, Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

Further below supplementary citations are presented for alternative versions of the saying ascribed to the acclaimed scientist.

Interestingly, the simile has a long history that reaches back into the 1800s in the English language. The early citations found by QI referred to the religious lives of individuals. Later citations referred to business and secular pursuits.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2007, Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, Section: Notes, Epigraph: 1, Quote Page 565, Location 10155, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Kindle Edition)

Chance, Coincidence, Miracles, Pseudonyms, and God

Albert Einstein? Théophile Gautier? Alexis de Valon? Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Helena Blavatsky? Dr. Paul F.? Heidi Quade? Bonnie Farmer? Charlotte C. Taylor? Doris Lessing? Nicolas Chamfort? Horace Walpole?

chance10Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is attributed to the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein:

Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.

I have been unable to find any solid information to support this ascription. What do you think?

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

This topic is large, complex, and tangled. QI believes that the remark evolved from a family of interrelated sayings that can be traced back many years. These sayings did not have the same meaning, but QI believes that the earlier statements influenced the emergence of the later statements.

Below is a summary list with dates of the pertinent quotations. The shared theme was an examination of the connections between chance, coincidence, Providence, and God. The term “Providence” refers to the guardianship and care provided by God, a deity, or nature viewed as a spiritual force. Statements in French are accompanied with a translation.

1777: What is called chance is the instrument of Providence. (Horace Walpole)

1795: Quelqu’un disait que la Providence était le nom de baptême du Hasard, quelque dévot dira que le Hasard est un sobriquet de la Providence. (Nicolas Chamfort) [Someone said that Providence was the baptismal name of Chance; some pious person will say that Chance is a nickname of Providence.]

1845: Le hasard, c’est peut-être le pseudonyme de Dieu, quand il ne veut pas signer. (Théophile Gautier) [Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he does not want to sign.]

1897: Il faut, dans la vie, faire la part du hasard. Le hasard, en définitive, c’est Dieu. (Anatole France) [In life we must make all due allowance for chance. Chance, in the last resort, is God.]

1949: Chance is the pseudonym of God when He did not want to sign. (misattribution: Anatole France)

1976: He defined coincidence as a miracle in which God chose to remain anonymous. (Dr. Paul F. of Indianapolis, Indiana)

1979: A coincidence is a small miracle where God chose to remain anonymous. (Anonymous in “Shop with Sue”)

1984: A coincidence is a small miracle when God chooses to remain anonymous. (attribution: Heidi Quade)

1985: Coincidence is when God works a miracle and chooses to remain anonymous. (attribution: Bonnie Farmer)

1986: Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. (Charlotte Clemensen Taylor)

1997: Coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous. (attribution: Doris Lessing)

2000: Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. (misattribution: Albert Einstein)

Details for these statements together with additional selected citations in chronological order are given below.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Examined on paper)

Only One Who Attempts the Absurd Is Capable of Achieving the Impossible

Albert Einstein? M. C. Escher? Robin Morgan? Miguel de Unamuno? Miguel de Cervantes? Anonymous?

unamuno07Dear Quote Investigator: To fully succeed in life one must ultimately follow an audacious path that may seem nonsensical or reckless to ones colleagues. My favorite saying supports this idea. Here are three versions:

1) Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.
2) Only she who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible
3) Only he who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.

This adage has been attributed to the famous scientist Albert Einstein, the brilliant graphic artist M.C. Escher, and the prominent feminist Robin Morgan. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive support for the linkage to Einstein or Escher. Robin Morgan did employ an instance of the saying with the word “she” in 1984; however, Morgan disclaimed credit and remarked that the origin of the phrase was uncertain.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1905 book by Miguel de Unamuno who was a notable Spanish writer and philosopher. Unamuno’s work discussed the well-known characters Don Quixote and Sancho Panza who were constructed by the distinguished novelist Miguel de Cervantes. One theme of Cervantes’ opus was the intertwining of actions which were both absurd and noble. The explication and commentary by Unamuno embodied a personal and philosophical response to Cervantes. The following excerpt in Spanish is followed by a translation into English. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

¿Que es ello absurdo? decís. ¿Y quién sabe qué es lo absurdo? ¡Y aunque lo fuera! Sólo el que ensaya lo absurdo es capaz de conquistar lo imposible.

But it was absurd, you say? And who knows what is absurd and what is not? And even if it were! Only he who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. Year: 1905, Title: Vida de D. Quijote y Sancho: Según Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Explicada y Comentada por Miguel de Unamuno, Author: Miguel de Unamuno, Quote Page 175 and 176, Publisher: Libreria de Fernando Fe, Madrid, Spain. (Google Books Full View) link

The Person Who Never Makes a Mistake Will Never Make Anything

Theodore Roosevelt? Albert Einstein? Benjamin Franklin? Samuel Smiles? Josh Billings? Mr. Phelps? G. K. Chesterton? Robert Smith Surtees? Joseph Conrad? Will Rogers? Anonymous?

samsmiles11Dear Quote Investigator: Mistakes are unavoidable in the life of an active and vital person. Several adages highlight this important theme:

1) A man who never makes a mistake will never make anything.
2) The person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.
3) A fellow who never makes a mistake must get tired of doing nothing.

Many famous names have been linked to sayings of this type including Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, and Albert Einstein. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: This is a large and complex topic. Below is a summary that presents a list of expressions that fit into this family together with dates and attributions:

1832: He who never makes an effort, never risks a failure. (Anonymous)

1859: He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery. (Samuel Smiles)

1874: The man who never makes enny blunders seldum makes enny good hits. (Josh Billings)

1889: A man who never makes a mistake will never make anything. (Attributed: Mr. Phelps)

1896: It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes. (Joseph Conrad)

1900: The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything. (Solid Attribution: Theodore Roosevelt)

1901: Show me a man who has never made a mistake, and I will show you one who has never tried anything. (Anonymous)

1903: The man who does things makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all—doing nothing. (Poor Richard Junior’s Philosophy)

1911: The fellow who never makes any failures, never makes any successes either. (Anonymous)

1927: Every man makes mistakes; they say a man who never makes mistakes never makes anything else. (G. K. Chesterton)

1936: The man who does things makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all—doing nothing. (Flawed Attribution: Benjamin Franklin)

1969: The man who never makes a mistake must get plenty tired of doing nothing. (Anonymous)

1993: The man who never makes a mistake must get tired of doing nothing. (Weak Attribution: Will Rogers)

1995: A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new. (Weak Attribution: Albert Einstein.)

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

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Relativity: A Hot Stove and A Pretty Girl

Albert Einstein? Helen Dukas? Apocryphal?

time10Dear Quote Investigator: Albert Einstein was asked to explain the abstruse theory of relativity so many times that he reportedly created a comical illustration involving a hot stove and a pretty girl. Would you please explore the provenance of this tale?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in “The New York Times” in March 1929. The phrase “nice girl’ was used instead of “pretty girl”: 1

Numerous anecdotes are being circulated concerning Einstein. He once told a girl secretary when she was bothered by inquisitive interviewers, who wanted to know what relativity really meant, to answer:

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”

The quotation was not directly from Einstein. Indeed, the reporter simply noted that the tale was being circulated. Yet, the vivid comparison was very popular and many variants evolved in the following years. Einstein was still based in Germany in 1929, so earlier instances of the anecdote may have been published in German.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1929 March 15, New York Times, Einstein Is Found Hiding On Birthday: Busy With Gift Microscope, (Wireless to The New York Times), Quote Page 3, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)

Education Is What Remains After You Have Forgotten Everything You Learned In School

Albert Einstein? B. F. Skinner? Edouard Herriot? C. F. Thwing? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Agnes F. Perkins? James Bryant Conant? E. F. L. Wood? George Savile? Lord Halifax? Anonymous?

school10Dear Quote Investigator: My question concerns a provocative aphorism about memory, schooling, and curriculum. Here are four example statements that can be grouped together:

1) Culture is that which remains with an individual when he has forgotten all he learned.

2) Culture is what is left when what you have learned at college has been forgotten.

3) Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.

4) Education is what is left after you have forgotten all you have learned.

It would be possible to split this set into two subgroups: adages for education and adages for culture. But all the statements conform to the same underlying template, and this leads to a natural collection.

The French Prime Minister Edouard Herriot has been linked to the saying about culture. The famous physicist Albert Einstein and the prominent psychologist B. F. Skinner have been connected to sayings about education. Would you please examine this family of expressions?

Quote Investigator: This family of quotations has been evolving for more than one hundred years, and instances were already circulating before linkages were established to any of the persons named by the questioner. Newspapers credited Edouard Herriot with a comparable adage about culture by 1928. Albert Einstein wrote an essay in 1936 that included a commensurate remark about education, but he credited the words to an unnamed “wit”.

In 1942 E. F. L. Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax employed the remark about education during a speech. Later the statement was reassigned to the 17th century figure George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax. QI believes that this attribution was constructed because of confusion between names. In 1965 B. F. Skinner included an instance of the saying about education in an article about teaching, but he disclaimed credit. Details for these citations are given further below.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

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Play Is the Highest Form of Research

Albert Einstein? Neville V. Scarfe? Anonymous?

playing12Dear Quote Investigator: A marvelous quotation about play is attributed to the most brilliant scientist of the modern age, Albert Einstein:

Play is the highest form of research.

I would like to include this statement in a paper I am writing, but I have not been able to find a good citation. Sadly, quotations misattributed to Einstein are very common, and I fear that this may be another example. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this statement. The following nearly identical remark appeared in a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” within the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press: 1

Playing is the highest form of research.

QI believes that he has located the most likely origin of this popular misattribution to Einstein. In 1962 the journal “Childhood Education” published an article titled “Play is Education” by N. V. Scarfe that contained the following passage: 2

All play is associated with intense thought activity and rapid intellectual growth.

The highest form of research is essentially play. Einstein is quoted as saying, “The desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of a vague play with basic ideas. This combinatory or associative play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought”

The careful reader will note that the quotation credited to Einstein was placed after his name and not before. The phrase “The highest form of research is essentially play” was not attributed to Einstein; those words should properly be credited to N. V. Scarfe who wrote the article.

One important mechanism for the generation of misattributions is based on the misreading of neighboring expressions. A reader sometimes inadvertently transfers the ascription of one statement to a contiguous statement. QI conjectures that the words of Scarfe have been re-ordered and reassigned to Einstein to yield the common quotation under investigation. This may have occurred through a multi-step process.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not by Einstein, Page 482, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1962 November, Childhood Education, Volume 39, Issue 3, “Play is Education” by N. V. Scarfe, Start Page 117, Quote Page 120, Published Association for Childhood Education International, Washington D.C. (Verified with scans; thanks to Jacksonville, Florida public library)