Any Fool Can Know. The Point Is To Understand

Albert Einstein? Ernest Kinoy? Gotthold Ephraim Lessing? James L. Christian? George F. Simmons? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Comprehending a subject requires more than memorizing a set of facts and formulas. The famous physicist Albert Einstein supposedly made the following pertinent remark:

Any fool can know. The point is to understand.

I am skeptical of this attribution because I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please explore the provenance of this remark?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Albert Einstein wrote or spoke this statement. It is not listed in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

In 1973 the NBC television network broadcast a program titled “Dr. Einstein Before Lunch” featuring a fictional version of Albert Einstein. 2 During the drama a supernatural being visited Einstein shortly before his death. The visitor offered to give Einstein an equation representing the breakthrough theory in physics that Einstein had been attempting to discover for many years. Einstein asked about the mathematical and experimental underpinnings for the derivation of the equation, but the visitor did not provide any scientific justification; instead, the visitor said “I can make you know!” The Einstein character rejected the offer.

An excerpt of the television script by Ernest Kinoy appeared in the 1990 textbook “Philosophy: An Introduction to The Art of Wondering” by James L. Christian. Ellipses occurred in the reprinted script. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 3

EINSTEIN: No thank you.

VISITOR: But Doctor . . . I offer you what you have been searching for for thirty years. I offer you the . . . the answer of your soul’s question. I offer you the . . . confirmation of your faith.

EINSTEIN: Any fool can KNOW! The point is . . . to understand! To follow the thought . . . to build a structure of theory and mathematics which is . . . True! That is science . . .

QI believes that the quotation originated with Ernest Kinoy who penned the line for a fictional Einstein within a drama televised in 1973.

James L. Christian published several editions of “Philosophy: An Introduction to The Art of Wondering”. The script excerpt containing the quotation first appeared in the fifth edition in 1990; it did not appear the fourth edition in 1986. 4

Thanks to top German quotation expert Gerald Krieghofer who located the crucial 1990 citation containing the script excerpt. His article in German is available here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Any Fool Can Know. The Point Is To Understand

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, (The quotation is absent), Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1973 May 21, New York Times, TV: Father of Relativity by Howard Thompson, (This article describes the NBC program, but does not contain the quotation), Quote Page 67, New York. (ProQuest)
  3. 1990, Philosophy: An Introduction to The Art of Wondering by James L. Christian (Rancho Santiago College, Santa Ana, California), Fifth Edition, Chapter 1-2: The Spirit of Philosophy, Quote Page 34, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Fort Worth, Texas. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1986, Philosophy: An Introduction to The Art of Wondering by James L. Christian (Rancho Santiago College, Santa Ana, California), Fourth Edition, (The quotation is absent), Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. (Verified with scans)

The Search for Truth Is More Precious Than Its Possession

Albert Einstein? Gotthold Ephraim Lessing? Alexander Grant? J. A. Turner? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The pursuit of truth is fascinating and energizing while the actual attainment of truth may feel anticlimactic. Here are four instances from a family of sayings:

(1) The search for truth is more precious than its possession
(2) The search for truth is more precious than truth itself
(3) The pursuit of truth is more valuable than the attainment of truth
(4) The pursuit of an object is more pleasurable than its possession

This saying has been attributed to the famous physicist Albert Einstein and the prominent German philosopher Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1778 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing published “Eine Duplik” which contained a passage discussing the struggle to attain the truth. Below is a translation of Lessing’s remarks from German into English published in 1866 by E. P. Evans. QI believes that the family of sayings under examination were derived from Lessing’s viewpoint. Boldface added to excerpt by QI: 1

The worth of man lies not in the truth which he possesses, or believes that he possesses, but in the honest endeavor which he puts forth to secure that truth; for not by the possession of, but by the search after, truth, are his powers enlarged, wherein, alone, consists his ever-increasing perfection. Possession fosters content, indolence, and pride.

If God should hold enclosed in His right hand all truth, and in His left hand only the ever-active impulse after truth, although with the condition that I must always and forever err, I would, with humility, turn to His left hand, and say, ‘Father, give me this; pure truth is for Thee alone.’

In 1940 Albert Einstein published “Considerations Concerning the Fundaments of Theoretical Physics” in the journal “Science”. Einstein employed the first instance from the family above, and he credited Lessing. Einstein did not use quotation marks, and QI believes the physicist presented an encapsulation of Lessing’s perspective and not a direct quotation: 2

Some physicists, among them myself, can not believe that we must abandon, actually and forever, the idea of direct representation of physical reality in space and time; or that we must accept the view that events in nature are analogous to a game of chance. It is open to every man to choose the direction of his striving; and also every man may draw comfort from Lessing’s fine saying, that the search for truth is more precious than its possession.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Search for Truth Is More Precious Than Its Possession

Notes:

  1. 1866, The Life and Works of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing From the German of Adolf Stahr by E. P. Evans Ph.D. (Professor of Modern Languages and Literature in the University of Michigan), Volume 2, Book 12, Chapter 5: The Controversy with Götze, Quote Page 257, William V. Spencer, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1940 May 24, Science, Volume 91, Number 2369, Considerations Concerning the Fundaments of Theoretical Physics by Dr. Albert Einstein (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey), Start Page 487, Quote Page 492, Column 2, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington D.C. (JSTOR) link

In the Middle of Difficulty Lies Opportunity

Albert Einstein? John Archibald Wheeler? A. P. Barton? Bertram Carr? Mirjana R. Gearhart? H. Jackson Brown Jr.? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Everyone experiences challenges and difficulties. Happily, while surmounting these obstacles it is often possible to glimpse wonderful possibilities for the future. Here is a pertinent saying:

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

This phrase has often been attributed to the famous scientist Albert Einstein. Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The attribution to Einstein is spurious. The saying appears in a section titled “Misattributed to Einstein” in “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The phrase can be traced back to John Archibald Wheeler, a prominent U.S. theoretical physicist whose research included work on general relativity and quantum information. Wheeler stated that he discussed physics with Albert Einstein “from time to time over a span of 21 years”. Wheeler published a piece about Einstein in “Newsweek” magazine in 1979. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

There were three additional rules of Einstein’s work that stand out for use in our science, our problems, and our times. First, out of clutter find simplicity. Second, from discord make harmony. Third, in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

The quotation under examination appeared as the third rule above, but these rules were written by Wheeler and not by Einstein. Wheeler was describing his reaction to Einstein’s’ efforts and accomplishments. Thus, this precise formulation may be attributed to Wheeler; however, the idea being communicated by the quotation has a long history.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading In the Middle of Difficulty Lies Opportunity

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Misattributed to Einstein, Quote Page 480, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1979 March 12, Newsweek, Volume 93, Issue 11, The Outsider by John Archibald Wheeler, Start Page 67, Quote Page 67, Column 1, Newsweek, New York. (ProQuest)

Humanity Invented the Atom Bomb. No Mouse in the World Would Think of Building a Mousetrap

Albert Einstein? Werner Mitsch? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is difficult to conceive of an ordinary creature foolish enough to design and build a device that would dramatically increase the probability of its self-annihilation. The great scientist Albert Einstein supposedly made the following remark:

Mankind invented the atomic bomb, yet a mouse would never invent a mousetrap.

Unfortunately, no one has presented a supporting citation, and I know that fake Einstein quotations are endemic. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Albert Einstein wrote or spoke this statement. It is not listed in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. Einstein died in 1955, and he received credit for the remark many years afterward in 2010.

The earliest match known to QI was identified by top German quotation expert Gerald Krieghofer who traced the saying to German aphorist Werner Mitsch who placed it into the 1983 collection “Das Schwarze unterm Fingernagel. Sprüche. Nichts als Sprüche” (“The black under the fingernail. Sayings. Nothing but sayings”). Here is the original German followed by an English rendering. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Der Mensch hat die Atombombe erfunden. Keine Maus der Welt käme auf die Idee, eine Mausefalle zu konstruieren.

Humanity invented the atom bomb. No mouse in the world would think of building a mousetrap.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Humanity Invented the Atom Bomb. No Mouse in the World Would Think of Building a Mousetrap

Notes:

  1. 1983, Das Schwarze unterm Fingernagel. Sprüche. Nichts als Sprüche (The black under the fingernail. Sayings. Nothing but sayings) by Werner Mitsch, Quote Page 91, Letsch Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany. (Citation from Gerald Krieghofer; QI has not seen this book) link

You Never Fail Until You Stop Trying

Albert Einstein? Florence Griffith Joyner? Thomas Edison? Louise Chandler Moulton? Mike Ditka? Elmer Burritt Bryan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following motivational remark has been attributed to the famous scientist Albert Einstein:

You never fail until you stop trying.

This saying has also been credited to the Olympic-medal-winning athlete Florence Griffith Joyner and the well-known inventor Thomas Edison. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Albert Einstein wrote or spoke this statement. It is not listed in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. Einstein died in 1955, and he received credit for the remark many years afterward in 2012.

This adage is difficult to trace because it is a member of a large and ever evolving family of sayings. QI believes that the creator should be considered anonymous. Here is a sampling of pertinent sayings with dates:

1890 Jun: No man can be wholly defeated unless he defeat himself
1904 Feb 6: Human beings never fail until they fail to try
1910 Jun 1: You have never been defeated until you give up
1912 May 30: You are never defeated until you lose faith in yourself
1918 May 2: You are not defeated unless you admit defeat
1921 Apr 28: You’re never defeated until you surrender
1922 Jul 15: You are never defeated unless you admit it to yourself
1930 Jun 28: No absolute failure until you stop trying to succeed
1930 Dec 4: You are never defeated unless you think you are
1931 Aug 14: You are never defeated unless you defeat yourself
1937 Nov 27: You are never defeated until you stop trying
1946 Oct 11: You’re never defeated unless you admit it to yourself
1951 Dec 13: You are never a failure until you stop trying
1959 Dec 22: You never lose until you stop trying
1967 Dec 7: You never fail until you stop trying

Below are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Never Fail Until You Stop Trying

A Clever Person Solves a Problem. A Wise Person Avoids It

Albert Einstein? Jerome Halprin? Abba Eban? Leonard Lyons? Sidney Greenberg? Paul Connett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular quip highlights the distinction between the adjectives clever and wise:

A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.

This notion can also be expressed as follows:

A clever person gets out of a situation that a wise person would never get into.

The first statement is often attributed to Albert Einstein, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein wrote or spoke either of the statements above. Neither is listed in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. Einstein died in 1955, and he received credit for the saying many years afterward in 1992. 1

This quip is difficult to trace because it can be phrased in many ways. The earliest match located by QI appeared on April 11, 1969 in the “Jewish Journal” of New Brunswick, New Jersey within a short editorial piece without a byline titled “Nobody Asked Me, But”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

Do you know the difference between a clever man and a wise man? A clever man gets out of situations that a wise man would never get into.

The editor listed on the masthead of the “Jewish Journal” was Jerome Halprin, so he might be credited with the joke, but QI believes the quip was probably already circulating with an anonymous origin.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Clever Person Solves a Problem. A Wise Person Avoids It

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: (Statement does not appear), Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1969 April 11, Jewish Journal, Nobody Asked Me, But, Quote Page 2, Column 1, New Brunswick, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)

An Alleged Scientific Discovery Has No Merit Unless It Can Be Explained To a Barmaid

Albert Einstein? Ernest Rutherford? Cyril Hinshelwood? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: It should be possible to explain a valid scientific theory to anybody, e.g., a nine-year-old, a grandmother, or the man in the street. This dubious assertion is challenged by the fact that few humans are able to comprehend the notion of a four-dimensional space-time manifold which is central to the breakthrough theory of special relativity in physics.

Would you please explore another debatable claim of this type? Here are three versions:

  • A good scientific theory should be explicable to a barmaid
  • It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid.
  • No physical theory is worth much if it cannot be explained to a barmaid.

This remark has been attributed to both Albert Einstein and Ernest Rutherford, two Nobel Prize winning scientists.

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the journal “Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society” within a 1955 article about Albert Einstein who had died earlier in the year. The piece noted that some fellow scientists were initially reluctant to accept Einstein’s research results because of their complex abstract nature. While discussing this resistance the article mentioned the saying together with an ascription to Ernest Rutherford. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Some of it may have been due to the popular principle attributed to Rutherford, that an alleged scientific discovery has no merit unless it can be explained to a barmaid.

Over time Einstein’s colleagues embraced his work and performed experiments that supported his theories.

Ernest Rutherford died in 1937, so the attribution above is posthumous and rather late. Also, the phrasing has been highly variable. Over all, the supporting evidence is not strong. On the other hand, Rutherford is the leading candidate because other ascriptions only emerged in the 1970s.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading An Alleged Scientific Discovery Has No Merit Unless It Can Be Explained To a Barmaid

Notes:

  1. 1955 November, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Volume 1, Albert Einstein 1879-1955 by Edmund Whittaker, Start Page 37, Quote Page 54, Published by Royal Society, United Kingdom. (JSTOR) link

The Eighth Wonder of the World Is Compound Interest

Albert Einstein? Napoleon Bonaparte? Baron Rothschild? Paul Samuelson? John D. Rockefeller? Advertising Copy Writer? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Salespeople and advertisers invoke the name of the scientific genius Albert Einstein when they wish to impress gullible individuals. The following grandiose statement has been attributed to Einstein:

Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.

Sometimes the remark is credited to financial luminaries such as Baron Rothschild or John D. Rockefeller. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The saying appeared in a section titled “Probably Not By Einstein” in the authoritative volume “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in an advertisement for The Equity Savings & Loan Company published in the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” of Ohio in 1925. No attribution was specified. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

The Eighth Wonder of the World—is compound interest. It does things to money. At the Equity it doubles your money every 14 years, but here is an even greater wonder of it—

Deposit five dollars a week for twenty years, say, and let the interest accumulate. You will have actually put away only $5,200, but you will have $8,876.80. The difference of $3,676.80 is what 5% compound interest has done for you.

QI hypothesizes that the statement was crafted by an unknown advertising copy writer. Over the years it has been reassigned to famous people to make the comment sound more impressive and to encourage individuals to open bank accounts or purchase interest-bearing securities.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Eighth Wonder of the World Is Compound Interest

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not By Einstein, Quote Page 481, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1925 April 27, Cleveland Plain Dealer, (Advertisement for The Equity Savings & Loan Co., 5701 Euclid Ave.) Quote Page 26, Column 6, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

Light Travels Faster Than Sound. That’s Why Some Folks Appear Bright Until They Speak

Albert Einstein? Steven Wright? Earl Wilson? Robert Orben? Gary Apple? Bo McLeod? Brian Williams? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The speed of light is a crucial value in the theory of relativity. Perhaps that is why the following joke has been credited to Albert Einstein:

Light travels faster than sound. That’s why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

I am very skeptical that Einstein ever made this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this quip. The most comprehensive reference about the physicist’s pronouncements is the 2010 book “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press, and the expression is absent.

A precursor appeared in Earl Wilson’s popular gossip column in 1959. The attribution was anonymous. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

EARL’S PEARLS: Someone described a second-rate singer: “Luckily light travels faster than sound — because she looks better than she sounds.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Light Travels Faster Than Sound. That’s Why Some Folks Appear Bright Until They Speak

Notes:

  1. 1959 April 20, The Raleigh Register, Ingrid In Maternity ‘Ward’—By Mistake by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 4, Column 6 and 7, Beckley, West Virginia. (Newspapers_com)

Time Is What Keeps Everything From Happening At Once

Albert Einstein? Ray Cummings? Mark Twain? Arthur C. Clarke? John Archibald Wheeler? Arthur Power Dudden? Susan Sontag?

Dear Quote Investigator: Albert Einstein has received credit for a humorous remark about time:

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.

Would you please explore the provenance of this quip?

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

The earliest match known to QI appeared in 1919 within a story titled “The Girl in the Golden Atom” by Ray Cummings in the magazine “All-Story Weekly”: 2

“How would you describe time?”
The Big Business Man smiled. “Time,” he said, “is what keeps everything from happening at once.”
“Very clever,” said the Chemist, laughing.

The text above is from the 1970 reprint collection “Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of ‘The Scientific Romance'”. QI has not yet verified the quotation by directly examining the 1919 issue of All-Story Weekly”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Time Is What Keeps Everything From Happening At Once

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not by Einstein, Quote Page 481, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1970, Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of “The Scientific Romance” in the Munsey Magazines: 1912-1920, Edited by Sam Moskowitz, The Girl in the Golden Atom by Ray Cummings (All-Story Weekly, March 15, 1919), Start Page 175, Quote Page 205, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. (Verified with scans)