Albert Einstein? Narcotics Anonymous? Max Nordau? George Bernard Shaw? George A. Kelly? Rita Mae Brown? John Larroquette? Jessie Potter? Werner Erhard?
Dear Quote Investigator: It’s foolish to repeat ineffective actions. One popular formulation presents this point harshly:
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
These words are usually credited to the acclaimed genius Albert Einstein. What do you think?
Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein wrote or spoke the statement above. It is listed within a section called “Misattributed to Einstein” in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1
The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a pamphlet printed by the Narcotics Anonymous organization in 1981. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2
The price may seem higher for the addict who prostitutes for a fix than it is for the addict who merely lies to a doctor, but ultimately both pay with their lives. Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.
QI acquired a PDF of the document with the quotation above on the website amonymifoundation.org back in February 2011. The document stated that is was printed in November 1981, and it had a 1981 copyright notice. The website was subsequently reorganized, but the document remains available via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine database.
Instances of the saying have been employed by other twelve-step organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading
- 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Misattributed to Einstein, Quote Page 474, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1981, Narcotics Anonymous Pamphlet, (Basic Text Approval Form, Unpublished Literary Work), Chapter Four: How It Works, Step Two, Page 11, Printed November 1981, Copyright 1981, W.S.C.-Literature Sub-Committee of Narcotics Anonymous], World Service Conference of Narcotics Anonymous. (Accessed at amonymifoundation.org on October 3, 2011; website has been restructured; text is available via Internet Archive Wayback Machine Snapshot January 1, 2013 link PDF of pamphlet link ↩