Albert Einstein? Karl Popper? Adolf von Harnack? Agnes von Zahn-Harnack? Dorothy Kilgallen? Jules C. Stein? David Deutsch? Apocryphal?
Question for Quote Investigator: Solving difficult problems often requires sketching out preliminary ideas on paper with a pen or pencil. The paper functions as an extension of human memory, and a scratchpad for developing thoughts. A famous scientist has been credited with saying something like this. Here are three versions:
(1) My pencil and I are more clever than I am.
(2) My pen is cleverer than I.
(3) My pencil is more intelligent than I.
This saying has been attributed to Albert Einstein, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please explore this topic?
Reply from Quote Investigator: Albert Einstein died in 1955. In 1965 the influential philosopher of science Karl Popper delivered a series of lectures at Washington University, St Louis. The following year he published “Of Clouds and Clocks” based on the lecture material. Popper attributed a version of the remark about pencils to Einstein within a footnote about computers. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1984, Popper Selections by Karl Popper, Edited by David Miller, Chapter 20: Indeterminism and Human Freedom, Date: 1965, (This chapter consists of sections II-IV and VI-XI from ‘Of Clouds and … Continue reading
… we use, and build, computers because they can do many things which we cannot do; just as I use a pen or pencil when I wish to tot up a sum I cannot do in my head. ‘My pencil is more intelligent than I’, Einstein used to say.
QI has not yet found direct evidence of this quotation in the writings or speeches of Einstein. QI does not know where Popper found the quotation. A German version of the saying was attributed to another person in 1936 as shown further below.
The remark is not listed in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press, but the reference does contain a pertinent quotation from Einstein’s sister, Maja, who stated that Albert used a pen while cogitating: 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Others on Einstein, Quote Page 503, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
Even when there was a lot of noise, he could lie down on the sofa, pick up a pen and paper, precariously balance an inkwell on the backrest, and engross himself in a problem so much so that the background noise stimulated rather than disturbed him.
Maja Einstein. See CPAE (Collected Papers of Albert Einstein), Vol. 1, lxiv
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
|↑1||1984, Popper Selections by Karl Popper, Edited by David Miller, Chapter 20: Indeterminism and Human Freedom, Date: 1965, (This chapter consists of sections II-IV and VI-XI from ‘Of Clouds and Clocks’; this was the Second Arthur Holly Compton Memorial Lecture, delivered at Washington University, St Louis, in 1965), Footnote 21, Quote Page 431, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)|
|↑2||2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Others on Einstein, Quote Page 503, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)|