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.
- 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, (The quotation is absent), Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 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) ↩
- 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) ↩
- 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) ↩