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.

Continue reading Play Is the Highest Form of Research

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)

The Difference Between Stupidity and Genius Is That Genius Has Its Limits

Albert Einstein? Alexandre Dumas, fils? Elbert Hubbard? Brooks F. Beebe? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following funny saying is usually attributed to Albert Einstein:

The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.

Yet, no one provides any justification for crediting the brilliant scientist with this jest. Is this another fake Einstein quote?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this statement. Indeed, it is listed in a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” within the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

A precursor statement written in French appeared in volume 2 of the “Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle” (Great Universal Dictionary of the Nineteenth Century) within an entry for “Bêtise” (Stupidity). This volume was published circa 1865, and the quotation was credited to Alexandre Dumas: 2

Une chose qui m’humilie profondément est de voir que le génie humain a des limites, quand la bêtise humaine n’en a pas. (Alex. Dum.)

One possible translation into English is the following:

One thing that humbles me deeply is to see that human genius has its limits while human stupidity does not.

The attribution “Alex. Dum.” was probably a reference to Alexandre Dumas, fils, who was a dramatist known for the work “The Lady of the Camellias”, widely referred to as “Camille”. He shared his name with his father, Alexandre Dumas, père, who was the author of the popular novels “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers”.

Another statement written in French appeared in the journal of a scholarly association in 1886. The words were placed between quotation marks to indicate that the joke was already in circulation, and no specific attribution was given. 3

« Le génie humain a des bornes, Mais la sottise n’en a pas. »

One possible translation into English is the following:

“Human genius has its limits, but stupidity does not.”

The earliest evidence in English located by QI was published in a periodical called “The Travelers’ Record” in 1890 which acknowledged a French newspaper. The saying was included in a list titled “Some of Dumas’s Maxims”. Here were three items from the list. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 4

Some of Dumas’s Maxims
[L’Echo de Paris, translated in the Transatlantic]

Let all your alms-giving be anonymous. It has the double advantage of suppressing at the same time ingratitude and abuse.

God made fools in order that life might be more tolerable to people of wit.

What distresses me is to see that human genius has limits and human stupidity none.

The saying has been circulating and evolving in English for more than one hundred years. An instance was attributed to Albert Einstein by 1994; however, Einstein died in 1955, so this citation has little probative value.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Difference Between Stupidity and Genius Is That Genius Has Its Limits

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not By Einstein, Page 478, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. Circa 1865, Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle: Français, Historique, Géographique, Mythologique, Bibliographique, etcetera, Volume 2, Entry: Bêtise, Quote Page 650, Column 1, Published by Pierre Larousse, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1886, Bulletin de la Société Libre D’émulation du Commerce et de L’industrie de la Seine-Inférieure, “Dissertation sur la vulgarisation de la langue latine” par M. E. Nicolle, Start Page 85, Quote Page 86, Imprimerie de Espérance Cagniard, Rouen, France. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1890 February, The Travelers’ Record, Volume 25, Some of Dumas’s Maxims, (L’Echo de Paris, translated in the Transatlantic), Quote Page 8, Column 2, (Google Books Full View) link

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.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Secret to Creativity Is Knowing How to Hide Your Sources

Notes:

  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?

Dear 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.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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

Notes:

  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)

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.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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

Notes:

  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”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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

Notes:

  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? Clyde Kluckhohn? Pierce Butler? James C. Coleman? John H. Fisher? John Culkin? Anonymous?

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

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.

A recent update to the important reference “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” contained a thematically germane entry for “A fish doesn’t know it is in water; a fish doesn’t see water”. 1 The first citation for the adage was in a 1909 book titled “Every-Day Japan” which attempted to explicate the life and customs of Japan for an audience primarily in Britain and the United States. The following excerpt from the introduction was written by a Japanese Count. Emphasis added by QI: 2

It is said that fish do not see water, nor do Polar bears feel the cold. Native writers on subjects like those the present work deals with do not even think that anything which has been happening daily in their own immediate surroundings ever since their infancy can possibly be worthy of notice; the author of this work, on the contrary, being a foreigner, is able for this very reason to make a selection of striking facts, and, being also entirely free from local prejudice, is better able to arrive at just conclusions on the matters coming under his observation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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

Notes:

  1. 2016, Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, Volume 33, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs: A Supplement by Charles Clay Doyle and Wolfgang Mieder, Start Page 85, Quote Page 96 and 97, Published by The University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1909, Every-Day Japan by Arthur Lloyd, Section: Introduction by Count Hayashi (Tadasu Hayashi), Start Page xv, Quote Page xvi, Cassell and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) 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?

Dear 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

Relativity.

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.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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

Notes:

  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)

A Ship in Harbor Is Safe, But that Is Not What Ships Are Built For

John A. Shedd? Grace Hopper? Albert Einstein? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: On December 9, 2013 the Google Doodle honored the pioneering computer scientist and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. Here are two versions of a quotation that is often attributed to her:

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
A ship in port is safe; but that is not what ships are built for.

This saying has also been credited to Albert Einstein and John A. Shedd. Can you tell me who said it?

Quote Investigator: In 1928 John A. Shedd released a collection of sayings titled “Salt from My Attic”, and the following popular aphorism was included:

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.

This citation appeared in the important reference work “The Yale Book of Quotations” edited by Fred R. Shapiro. 1

Grace Hopper also employed a version of this expression on multiple occasions. For example, in 1981 Hopper spoke an instance of the adage with “port” instead of “harbor”. The ascription to Albert Einstein is unsupported. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Ship in Harbor Is Safe, But that Is Not What Ships Are Built For

Notes:

  1. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: John A. Shedd, Page 705, Yale University Press, New Haven. (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? Hans Albert Einstein? Eduard Einstein? Apocryphal?

Dear 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 known to QI appeared in an article written by Charlie Chaplin for “Woman’s Home Companion” in October 1933 . The well-known comedian wrote a series of pieces for the magazine about his world travels, and his latest journey included a stay in Germany.

Previously, when Einstein had traveled to the United States he had visited with Chaplin. Thus, Chaplin decided to reciprocate, and he went to the “modest flat” of Einstein where he was introduced to the scientist’s wife, daughter (a sculptress), and son.

After dinner, Chaplin had arranged for a group of Japanese children to perform a dance routine for entertainment. One of the young dancers asked for autographs from both Chaplin and Einstein. Chaplin included a comic sketch of his large shoes while Einstein included one of his equations. Einstein then scrutinized the signatures, and the two luminaries exchanged remarks that prefigured the quotation under examination: 1

“But yours is more interesting,” he said humorously, comparing the two sketches.

“More comprehensible to the little girl perhaps,” I laughed, “and to me and many others.”

Interestingly, Chaplin credited the crucially insightful statement about fame to Einstein’s son. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

“We sat down to delicious home-baked tarts made by Mrs. Einstein. During the course of conversation, his son remarked on the psychology of the popularity of Einstein and myself.

“You are popular,” he said, “because you are understood by the masses. On the other hand, the professor’s popularity with the masses is because he is not understood.'”

Einstein had two sons: Hans Albert Einstein and Eduard Einstein. QI does not know which son Chaplin meant to credit.

A different tale about the origin of the quotation was later published by one of Einstein’s friends. See below for additional selected citations in chronological order.

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

Notes:

  1. 1933 October, Woman’s Home Companion, Volume 60, Number 10, A Comedian Sees the World – Part II by Charles Chaplin, Start Page 15, Quote Page 17, The Crowell Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Verified; thanks to the staff of the Downtown Public Library of Spokane, Washington)