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] 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)

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] 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)

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

References

References
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)

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] 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)

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]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 … Continue reading

“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

References

References
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)