Some people think that Albert Einstein’s name is magical. If they want to convince you of something or sell you something they invoke his revered name to prove that a genius agrees with whatever proposition they are peddling. — Garson O’Toole
Back in the day, people loved to quote Mark Twain. “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” … “There Is Always a Well-Known Solution to Every Human Problem—Neat, Plausible, and Wrong.” … “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” Great stuff. Twain seemed as important to English as Shakespeare.
Lately it seems Albert Einstein is the new Twain. (Maybe it’s because they look alike.) It’s all the rage to quote him:
“Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler.”
“The greatest power in the universe is compound interest.”
“Evil is the absence of God.”
Nope, nope, and nope.
What’s going on? How can there be so many mistakes about this stuff?
Let’s consider. At some point, someone will want so much for you to believe in the wisdom of a saying that they’ll make up the source, pinning a famous person’s name to the quote. After all, if Twain or Einstein said it, it must be true! But if it’s just some obscure person, nobody’ll pay attention.
Here, I’ll show you. I’ve made up a couple of quotes:
“There may not be a God, but there damn sure is a Devil.”
“Whatever you believe is inevitable you will never fix.”
Now I’ll give them attribution from a famous person:
“There may not be a God, but there damn sure is a Devil.” — Mark Twain
“Whatever you believe is inevitable you will never fix.” — Albert Einstein
Much better! Now people will listen.
The Internet can pass rumors faster than kids in a schoolyard. Someone got carried away and tacked Einstein’s name onto a quote that, if you know a teensy bit about science, he clearly would never have written:
“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. — Albert Einstein”
Oh. My. God. Somebody put woo-woo in Einstein’s mouth. This saying appears all over cyberspace, on beautifully illustrated graphic images with the quote overlaid, attributed to the great scientist, as if he would ever get drunk enough to utter such nonsense.
Turns out it was written by a guy named Darryl Anka, who claimed to have “channeled” an alien being named “Bashar” in 1983. “Bashar” intoned the woo-woo, and someone else decided Einstein should get the credit.
Like Twain, Einstein did say lots of compelling things. But the temptation to ascribe to him much more — including stuff that’s just hooey — seems to be irresistible.
As Einstein himself put it, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity.”
…No, wait. He didn’t say that either.
Besides, as a scientist, Einstein would know the saying is false … because at least the universe is finite.