Debunking Fake Albert Einstein Quotes

Albert Einstein tongueLast updated on May 2, 2013

The reason for the proliferation of so many fake quotes attributed to Einstein is that he has become synonymous with genius and wisdom. Surely, if Einstein had said these things, then they must be wise indeed!

This post will examine popular quotes on the internet that have been falsely or mistakenly attributed to Albert Einstein.

I will update this page as more fake Einstein quotes circulate the internet. Please post a comment for any questions or corrections.

 

Fake Quotes Attributed to Einstein

1. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

This false quotation is commonly printed on self-help and motivation posters. While the sentiment is nice, there is no evidence Einstein ever said this.

The first appearance of this quote is from The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose (2004) by Matthew Kelly, p. 80, however there is no evidence of it being printed prior, and no evidence Einstein said it.

The quote is probably based on The Animal School (1940) by George Reavis, where a fish goes to school and is required to work on his running and climbingThe Animal School was reprinted in 1999 and may have influenced Matthew Kelly or someone else to create this fake attribution.

Another alternative is that the false quotation is based on what Einstein wrote in his essay Self-Portrait (1936),

What is significant in one’s own existence one is hardly aware, and it certainly should not bother the other fellow. What does a fish know about the water in which he swims all his life?

This real quotation may have influenced the false one above.

 

2. “It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists do to Palestinian Arabs much of what Nazis did to Jews.”

There is no recorded evidence that Einstein ever said this quotation.

The motivation for this fake quote should be apparent. It would be beneficial to pro-Palestinian activists to show that a paragon of wisdom, and a Jew himself no less, was also pro-Palestinian and/or anti-Israel.

This fake quotation also compares Zionists to Nazis, which is suspicious because Einstein was a supporter of Labor Zionism. However, Einstein did sign an open letter by Jewish intellectuals in 1948 that said, “Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “Freedom Party” (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.” The fake quote originally posted above, may have been inspired from this open letter.

 

3. “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

This is another fake motivational/inspirational quote attributed to Einstein. The first recorded instance I found of this quote is from The Ultimate Quotable Einstein (2010) by Alice Calaprice and Freeman Dyson on p. 481, however Alice lists the quote under the “Probably Not By Einstein” section.

There is no evidence Einstein ever said this quote, and frankly it doesn’t sound like something Einstein would say, as he was a highly logical individual.

 

4. “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.

This quote is actually written by E. F. Schumacher in a 1973 essay titled “Small is Beautiful” which appeared in The Radical Humanist: volume 37p. 22.

This first false attributions of this quote to Einstein began to circulate on the internet in 1997, and then later appeared in print in BMJ: The British Medical Journal, volume 319, 23 October 1999, p. 1102.

 

5. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

There is no evidence Einstein ever said this. The likely origin of this quote is from the Basic Texts of Narcotics Anonymous, which is the first known source of this quote. The Basic Texts were first drafted to members in 1981 and published in 1983.

 

6. “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.

There is no first hand source of Einstein’s writing or speeches that contains this quote. The first appearance of this quote that I can find is in Living With Nature’s Extremes: The Life of Gilbert Fowler White (2006) by Robert E. Hinshaw, p. 62. In this book Hinshaw quotes Gilbert Fowler White’s Journal of France and Germany (1942 – 1944) as the original source of the quote. It is here that Gilbert Fowler White wrote,

“As I look back over the truly crucial events in my life I realize that they were not planned long in advance. Albert Einstein said, ‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.’”

The most likely source of Gilbert’s for an Einstein quote on miracles would be David Reichenstein’s Die Religion der Gebildeten (1941), which was released a year prior to Gilbert’s Journal. It is here that Reichenstein asks Einstein about Arthur Liebert’s theory that uncertainty and indeterminism in quantum mechanics allows for the possibility of miracles. Einstein replied that he could not accept the argument because it dealt “with a domain in which lawful rationality does not exist. A miracle, however, is an exception from lawfulness; hence, there where lawfulness does not exist, also its exception, i.e., a miracle, cannot exist.

Gilbert Fowler White may have inadvertently invented this Einstein quote based on his understanding of Einstein’s conversation with David Reichenstein above.

45 thoughts on “Debunking Fake Albert Einstein Quotes

  1. “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain—especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state.”

    “Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “”Freedom Party”" (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.

    The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin’s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.

    Before irreparable damage is done by way of financial contributions, public manifestations in Begin’’s behalf, and the creation in Palestine of the impression that a large segment of America supports Fascist elements in Israel, the American public must be informed as to the record and objectives of Mr. Begin and his movement.

    The public avowals of Begin’’s party are no guide whatever to its actual character. Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future.”

    You’re “debunking” a paraphrase.

    • Marion,

      I think you are right that I may have been unfairly summarizing/ignoring Einstein’s political views, but I stand by the original entry as a fake quote.

      The first quote you list is indeed from Einstein in his 1938 speech “Our Debt to Zionism”. Einstein did support a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, but he was initially against the partition plan to divide the British Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, and he instead wanted to see one binational state, as your quote shows. The last sentence you left off his quote was, “If external necessity should after all compel us to assume this burden, let us bear it with tact and patience.” As the possibility of a binational state became no longer probable, Einstein campaigned to get world support for the proposed Jewish state as seen here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/feb/16/israel.india

      The second quote was not actually written or spoken by Einstein. He was, however, one of the dozens of Jewish intellectuals who signed the open letter which you quoted above. Clearly, this means he agreed with its contents, but I don’t believe it would be correct to call it his quote.

      This open letter compared the “Freedom Party” (Tnuat Haherut) to Nazis. However, I feel this is much different than Einstein supposedly comparing the Zionists to Nazis, as Einstein was himself a supporter of the Labor Zionist movement.

      I will update the article with these corrections, which hopefully will clear up any mistakes or confusion.

      • Yes, that’s true, but was he not comparing BEGIN’S version of Zionism to Nazism? And is Begin not the founding father of the Likud and its essentially race-bssed Zionist vision?

  2. Here’s one going around today:
    “THERE ARE TWO WAYS TO LIVE YOUR LIFE. ONE IS AS THOUGH NOTHING IS A MIRACLE. THE OTHER IS AS THOUGH EVERYTHING IS A MIRACLE.”
    ALBERT EINSTEIN, 1921

    Bogus?

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    • Einstein was against patriotism to the extent that it was part of the military and nationalist systems that caused war and murder. Though, he never goes as far as to call patriotism outright evil.

      Albert Einstein, Mein Weltbild (My World-view) (1931):

      Translation 1:
      “He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilisation should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.”

      Translation 2:
      “This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of the herd nature, the military system, which I abhor. That a man can take pleasure in marching in formation to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. He has only been given his big brain by mistake; a backbone was all he needed. This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism — how I hate them! War seems to me a mean, contemptible thing: I would rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such an abominable business.”

      And then in a 1932, Einstein gave a speech called My Credo to the German League of Human Rights:

      “I always have a high regard for the individual and have an insuperable distaste for violence and clubmanship. All these motives made me into a passionate pacifist and anti-militarist. I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism. Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as did any exaggerated personality cult.”

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  7. Here’s another one. I recently attempted to verify this quote, attributed to Einstein:

    “Quantum theory reminds me of the system of delusions of an exceedingly intelligent paranoiac, concocted of incoherent elements of thought. If correct, it signifies the end of physics as a science.”

    According to the Hebrew University (which holds Einstein’s papers), the correct quote it:

    “[T]he present quantum theory… reminds me a little of the system of delusions of an exceedingly intelligent paranoiac, concocted of incoherent elements of thought.”
    Qualifiers are important, even if they do make the quote less quotable. And the second sentence appears to be a pure fabrication.

  8. Fake Einstein Quote that is perpetually viral on Facebook:

    Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.

    It is really the nonsense of channeler named Darryl Anka.

    Great work from this website:
    http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/05/16/everything-energy/

  9. Did Einstein truly say “creativity is intelligence having fun”? And… What is a good source for finding his original statements for citation? There are so many quotes attributed to him floating out there I’d like a place where I can find the original source material. Not having luck on Google or GoogleScholar

    • The first two places I usually check are wikiquote.org and books.google.com . Obviously, having the physical books is even better.

      After a cursory look, I don’t see a legitimate source for Einstein saying “creativity is intelligence having fun”. Some people attribute the quotation “imagination is only intelligence having fun” to book critic George Scialabba, but I haven’t found an original source for that yet either.

  10. How about this one:
    Einstein was once asked what it felt like to be the smartest man alive. Einstein’s reply was “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Nikola Tesla.”

  11. In regards to your debunking the quote from Einstein which, (as you claim), should be attributed to E. F. Schumacher. My question is what are your sources? Taking into account that Einstein died before E. F. Schumacher’s book was even published… how do you arrive at the conclusion that E. F. Schumacher did not obtain the quote from Einstein?

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  13. “I don’t understand why so many people concoct false stories – especially false stories that seem to have no purpose other than fooling gullible people. So much of what we see on social media is just completely made up fluff – but so many people fall for it! Use Snopes. Be skeptical.” – Albert Einstein

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  15. Great list BTW !

    Here’s one I saw on FB today, and right away it smelled the opposite of what he might have said:
    “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”

    What do you think? And record of him saying or writing that?

  16. “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift; the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Yeah right…

  17. I am seeking the author of a cartoon that has the (apparently misquoted) Einstein quote “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” If you know who created it, or if you need me to email a copy of it please email and I will send a copy. I want to use it in a book I am publishing and have searched high and low for the author.
    Thank you
    Sandra

    • Haven’t you rerad the beginning of this article?
      The first appearance of this quote is from The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose (2004) by Matthew Kelly, p. 80, ….
      The quote is probably based on The Animal School (1940) by George Reavis, where a fish goes to school and is required to work on his running and climbing. ….

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  20. What about this one?
    “School failed me, and I failed the school. It bored me. The teachers behaved like Feldwebel (sergeants). I wanted to learn what I wanted to know, but they wanted me to learn for the exam. What I hated most was the competitive system there, and especially sports. Because of this, I wasn’t worth anything, and several times they suggested I leave.”

  21. I think a natural way to deal with fake Einstein quotes would be a site challenging people to score well at sorting genuine from fake Einstein quotes. Landed here looking for it – after stumbling upon a particularly ugly fake:

    “Everything is Energy and that is all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you can not help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.”

    Fakes become ugly when they go beyond attributing to Einstein relatively reasonable thoughts unrelated to his contributions, and use his name to advertise humorless nonsense that clouds understanding of physics.

  22. “I didn’t arrive at my understsnding of the fundamental laws of the universe through my rational mind.” Can someone please either confirm (with source) or discredit this purported Einstein quote? Thank you.

  23. Albert Einstein left behind dozens of wonderful quotes but also an enduring and as yet unsolved mystery – what happened to his infant daughter around September 1903? After three years’ research I have set Sherlock Holmes on the trail. He comes up with a Fourth Theory in Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter.

    In late 1903 Einstein’s daughter ‘Lieserl’ disappears without trace in Serbia aged around 21 months. As Holmes exclaims in the Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter, “the most ruthless effort has been made by public officials, priests, monks, Einstein’s friends, followers, relatives and relatives-by-marriage to seek out and destroy every document with Lieserl’s name on it. The question is – why?”

    ‘Lieserl’s fate shadows the Einstein legend like some unsolved equation’ Scientist Frederic Golden Time Magazine
    First review, from Serbia: http://inserbia.info/news/2014/01/sherlock-holmes-and-the-mystery-of-einsteins-daughter-review/

    Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter is available at http://www.mxpublishing.co.uk/engine/shop/product/9781780925721 or http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sherlock-Holmes-Mystery-Einsteins-Daughter/dp/1780925727. Review copies contact Steve Emecz at mxpublishing@btinternet.com.

    Tim Symonds was born in London. He grew up in Somerset, Dorset and Guernsey. After several years working in the Kenya Highlands and along the Zambezi River he emigrated to the United States. He studied in Germany at Göttingen and at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Political Science. Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery Of Einstein’s Daughter was written in a converted oast house in ‘Conan Doyle country’, near Rudyard Kipling’s old home Bateman’s in East Sussex and in the forests and hidden valleys of the Sussex High Weald.
    The author’s other detective novels include Sherlock Holmes and The Dead Boer at Scotney Castle and Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Bulgarian Codex.
    He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

    Holmes on justice (The Resident Patient): “Wretch as he was, he was still living under the shield of British law, and I have no doubt, Inspector, that you will see that, though that shield may fail to guard, the sword of justice is still there to avenge.”

  24. Per the insanity quote. Narcotics Anonymous came some time after Alcoholics Anonymous. The insanity quote was and is in the the Alcoholics Anonymous text which was first published April 10, 1939. As to whether Einstein is the original source I don’t know. I doubt it, but I don’t know.

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