robinturner: Giving a tutorial, c. 2000 (tutorial)
[personal profile] robinturner
Here is a sobering exercise that any web writer should perform at least once. Next time you see an uplifting quotation by Albert Einstein on a website or forwarded e-mail, Google it. You will doubtless find hundreds of sites confirming the quotation. However, chances are that they will be quotation sites or sites abut pop psychology, spirituality, philosophy etc. Now paste the quotation into Google Scholar and see if you can find a proper citation for it. You might get lucky, but there's a good chance you will go through pages of results and the best you will find is a "quoted in" citation.

You can experience this with many quotable authors (Rumi, Confucius, Walt Whitman etc.) but Einstein seems to hold the record for uncited quotations, which naturally leads us to wonder if he actually said any of this stuff. After all, there are plenty of things Einstein famously never said: he probably didn't say anything about what would happen if bees became extinct, it is doubtful whether he said compound interest was the most powerful force in the universe, he probably didn't make that quip to Marilyn Monroe about his looks and her brains because (Nick Roeg notwithstanding) he probably never met her, and he certainly never humiliated an atheist professor by claiming that evil is just the absence of God. If it's any compensation, the one about God not playing dice is true, though not exactly as popularly quoted: he wrote, in a letter to Max Born, "I, in any case, am convinced that He does not play dice," not "God does not play dice with the universe."

Some time spent trawling Google Scholar for the source of a rather nice quotation was leading me to the conclusion that Albert Einstein never said anything of note on any subject other than physics. The quotation, which I first found in Elephant Journal, is:
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Nice, huh? Just the thing I would like to quote, just like hundreds of other people have done. But the nearest I could find was a letter from Einstein that went like this:
A human being is a part of the whole world called by us "Universe", a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind (Calaprice, Dear Professor Einstein, 184).

Close but no cigar. Of course he could have written both paragraphs in different places, but the first one looks suspiciously like a mutation of the second. I'd take a guess and say that someone, probably in a book about Buddhism, quoted the first sentence and added a few sentences of their own, then someone quoted that, munging it all together and attributing the whole thing to Einstein.

To conclude with a currently popular quotation:
The problem with Internet quotes is that you can't always depend on their accuracy - Abraham Lincoln, 1864.

Date: 2012-12-02 04:14 am (UTC)
ironed_orchid: pin up girl reading kant (Default)
From: [personal profile] ironed_orchid
A human being is a part of the whole world called by us "Universe", a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness

That's a very Kantian sort of statement. Which is plausible, because Einstein read the Critique of Pure Reason.

Profile

robinturner: (Default)
Robin Turner

April 2014

M T W T F S S
 123456
78910 11 1213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930    

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags