January 22, 2024

Things maybe not said by Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King Jr.

I'd like to be more of a good sport about this column by Anne Lamott, "Age makes the miracles easier to see." But it begins with a quote and it ends with a quote ascribed to a monumental man and, in both cases, I don't think the man is the source of the quote.

Maybe if I were older, I'd "see" some essential truth in ascribing this to Albert Einstein...

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

... and this to Martin Luther King Jr....

"Don’t let them get you to hate them."

These lines sound less like something the man would say than like something that would get passed around on the internet by people who like what it says and extra-like it because of the grand name that got attached to it.

The Einstein "quote" is discussed at Skeptical Esoterica:

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.

This faux-quote is widely shared on Facebook and Pinterest, often plastered onto a photo of the ocean, the night sky, or a snowflake

When I search for the MLK "quote," I don't get millions of hits, as I did with the Einstein "quote." I get a few thousand. When I search for the quote minus "Lamott," I get 4 hits.

So I suspect Lamott herself is the Gilbert Fowler White of "Don’t let them get you to hate them." I'm going to guess that Lamott is paraphrasing (unintentionally) and that the original quote is: "Let no man pull you so low as to hate him."

You're thinking of Trump now, aren't you?

Does Lamott talk about Trump? Why, yes she does. After the opening paragraph "quoting" Einstein, who seemed to be endorsing the approach to life where you view every detail as a miracle, she writes:

There are the obvious miracles all around us — love, nature, music, art....

But what do we do with the seemingly unmiraculous? For instance, former president Donald Trump is a bit of a stretch for me. How do we see the miracle in the madness of the months since Jan. 6, 2021? Well, we saw that democracy held. It might have gone either way. We here in the colonies rejoiced, in our quiet and fretful ways....

Did we see that democracy held? Maybe I'm not old enough to "see" that, but I do see that people see what they want to see, and that if you want to feel good and experience life as beautiful, at least for now, you may choose to see democracy as secure and thriving. 

Who's the source of the aphorism "People see what they want to see"?

I know Benjamin Franklin is the source of "A republic, if you can keep it."

And I don't think we're going to keep it by "rejoic[ing]" when our side wins, persecuting the man who tried too hard to prove that somehow he had won, and soothing ourselves by retreating into "quiet and fretful ways." 

65 comments:

rehajm said...

They cheated. They stuffed ballot boxes with unverified ballots and when that wasn’t enough they kicked out the observers and cooked the numbers in voting machines and stuffed some more ballots. Not even Schr√∂dingers Dictionary concludes ‘democracy held’…

…and I guess inventing quotes to dupe people is just too delightful to refrain but how consistent. You need votes? Fake them. You need a crime? Create one. Need manipulate quotes that elevate our politics on the level of beloved historical figures? Make shit up.

rehajm said...

It was Mother Theresa who said, "You fuckers are going to burn in Hell for what you’re doing!"

Flat Tire said...

Why I read Althouse first every morning.

Josephbleau said...

If everything is a miracle, then nothing is a miracle. If everything is an exception to the laws of nature then there just are no laws of nature, and the only physical law is that chaos rules. This kind of stuff is dumb, if Einstein said it, being a physicist, he was stupid or senile.

Of course you can make it true by making a lawyerly definition of The word miracle.

Nancy said...

Nature's laws are a miracle!

tim maguire said...

I’ve read enough real Einstein quotes to see that, outside of science, Einstein wasn’t a deep thinker.

That’s the real problem—attaching his name to anything makes it sacrosanct, no matter if it’s the kind of shallow pablum you’d expect to see on a Snapple bottle cap. (It’s not just Einstein, of course. People will do this with anyone respected. Back in 2008, you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a vapid Obama quote.)

Howard said...

It seems like the more quotable a saying is, the least likely that the famous person it's attributed to never said it. The exception is of course Shakespeare. Of course we really don't know who Shakespeare was. One thing we do know is all the quotes in the Bible are 100% accurate and must be obeyed without question upon pain of eternal hellfire and damnation.

Hugh said...

For reasons I won’t bore you with, one of my favorite aphorisms is “Coincidences are God’s way of staying anonymous.” This is usually attributed to Einstein, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is incorrect and what little investigation I have done indicates it is indeed a misattribution. Regardless, a great saying that has brought me comfort in my grief because it sure seems to be true to me based on experience and evidence in my life.

Kate said...

Oh! This is that "Bird by Bird" woman. It took me until your tag to recognize her name.

The mind recoils.

boatbuilder said...

"We here in the colonies rejoiced, in our quiet and fretful ways...."

And they say that Trump supporters are out of touch. WTH? Is she writing for a British audience? (in WaPo?). "Quiet"? Really?

iowan2 said...

Agree with tim Maguirer

Einstien was a great mind, that is documented. But that does not mean is was a deep thinker. I know a fair amount of smart people. Think outside the box a lot. Always sees a different perspective, but their world view is narrow.

But the miracle quote is not so much an observation, as a life attitude to life. "Stop and smell the roses" Is exactly the same quote. All it means is give a moment of thought to the simplest of life's experiences.

Live life with an attitude of gratitude. When you do that the anger and resentments soften. If done really well, they disappear.

Life is a miracle. Disagree with me. Fight against that. But you will never prove me wrong (can't fathom why you would) and only succeed in living your life with a perpetual agitation, that you yourself create.

I appreciate our host running down these things. Not so much because it provides an answer, but that the process is so enlightening. And Sharing that process is the miracle.

gilbar said...

The exception is of course Shakespeare.

Shakespeare?!?!
That man never said an original word in his life.. Just read his plays: just one cliche after another

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

You do great things on this blog. I tried to post a comment on your anniversary, but I don't think it made it. You may vindicate the art of blogging, now largely lost and surely better than tweeting.

Sebastian said...

"there where lawfulness does not exist, also its exception, i.e., a miracle, cannot exist.”

That makes sense. The quote doesn't.

EAB said...

Been years since I read Lamott. Ever since I developed the impression she writes nicely but what she says is bulls&$t and said for effect rather than insight.

Quayle said...

My Chemistry Professor Henry Eyring once told me that one time he was walking with Einstein through the victory gardens at Princeton, and Einstein asked him what plant was down by their feet. Eyring said “it was then that I realized that Einstein didn’t know beans.”

FecklessAbandon said...

Brilliant, as well as timely.

In trying (too hard) to verify a Samuel Johnson qtn some years ago, I contacted an expert scholar at Rutgers. He was very gracious, but was unable to give me the confirmation I was hoping for. So the excellent quote remains unclaimed.

But I'll never forget his comment that SJ (like Lincoln, Twain, and a select few others) is in the category of persons who "seem to have said more things after they died when they were alive."

These heartwarming, winsome, free-floating nuggets have a way of drifting towards originators beloved by almost everyone.

Thanks for calling this out so elegantly.

FecklessAbandon said...

Brilliant, as well as timely.

In trying (too hard) to verify a Samuel Johnson qtn some years ago, I contacted an expert scholar at Rutgers. He was very gracious, but was unable to give me the confirmation I was hoping for, so the excellent quote remains unclaimed.

But I'll never forget his comment that SJ (like Lincoln, Twain, and a select few others) is in the category of persons who seem to have said more things after they died when they were alive.

These heartwarming, winsome, free-floating nuggets have a way of drifting towards originators beloved by almost everyone.

Thanks for calling this out so elegantly.

Ann Althouse said...

People are cheaply relying on this kind of reasoning:

1. Einstein was a genius

2. Einstein said X

3. X is genius

Where X can include bullshit he said to be social with someone who casually lobbed some bullshit thought at him.

BG said...

Abraham Lincoln said that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Ann Althouse said...

How often did poor Einstein have to listen to people who wanted to take his theories and use them to establish something about religion? What was his approach to interacting with them? Did he just try to be nice or what? It must have been tiresome. Here he was, having figured out something brilliant about the world, and these people didn't invest their time in reading and understanding. They just wanted his half-assed opinion about whether there still could be God or whatever else they wanted him to endorse. He might just have well have done TV commercials. The Playtex Cross-Your-Heart bra is genius!

William said...

It was the Duke of Wellington's sad fate to have a disparaging remark directed against him by one of his enemies to have gone down in history as a remark that he himself had made about himself. Wellington never said "Just because you were born in a barn, it doesn't make you a horse". That was a remark directed against him by Daniel O'Connell. Wellington was born in Ireland and his family had lived there since the 12th century, but he liked to regard himself as English. The remark fit, but he never said it....Also he never said that thing about Waterloo being won on the playing fields of Eton. At Eton, Wellington wasn't much of an athlete and spent most of his free time practicing the violin.....Even posterity screws things up. I don't think posterity gives Wellington his proper recognition. On the plus side, during the course of his actual life, things went pretty good for Wellington. What's better than being a King or Emperor? Being the kind of guy that Kings and Emperors compete to lavish praise and wealth upon....It's called the Age of Napoleon, but Wellington was the one who got to live a long life in a big mansion. As Hugh Hefner didn't say, posterity is all very well and good, but it's not preferable to a lot of blondes.

Lem the artificially intelligent said...

Recently I was listening to Elton John’s “Your Song” and it struck me, oh my goodness, those lyrics are so lame. Wtf happened?

I must’ve done it to myself for years.

William said...

Bertrand Russell was asked to name the three great thinkers of the 20th century. Russell said that Lenin and Einstein were the two great thinkers and there was no third.. Russell's remark proves that great thinkers (like Russell) don't always think great thoughts.

Dogma and Pony Show said...

Not to make this totally partisan, but whenever Einstein, MLK, Jefferson or someone of that stature has a quote falsely attributed to them, it's always in support of a leftist position. The right may quote MLK or another revered historical figure but, when they do, those quotes tend to be real.

Clyde said...

"Don't believe everything you see on the internet."
-- William Shakespeare

Cappy said...

"Don't believe everything on the internet". Niels Bohr.

RNB said...

Okay, I'll do it: "The problem with internet quotes is that it's hard to confirm their provenance." -- A. Lincoln

Wilbur said...

"A little dab'll do ya"... Albert Einstein

Orrr ... maybe Anne Lamott was referring to Albert Brooks.

rehajm said...

He might just have well have done TV commercials. The Playtex Cross-Your-Heart bra is genius!

Haha- yes…but Playrex is the plum-pudding model if support garments. The true genius is wonderbra

Wunderbar!

WK said...

“When I look at the word objectively, everything is relative” - maybe Einstein

“Haters gonna hate hate, hate - so shake it off” - not MLK

n.n said...

MLJ, Jr.: There is diversity in color judgments and class bigotry.

AE: Science is a philosophy of phenomena that cannot be observed or reproduced.

planetgeo said...

For me, the most profound quotes are found in, "Deep Thoughts" by Jack Handey. Here are but a few samples:

“Whenever you read a good book, it’s like the author is right there, in the room talking to you, which is why I don’t like to read a book.”

“I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they’d never expect it.”

And here's one that even Einstein couldn't come up with:

"If you go flying back through time, and you see somebody else flying forward into the future, it's probably best to avoid eye contact."

cassandra lite said...

“Don’t post anything on the internet you wouldn’t want your mother to see.” -Abraham Lincoln

Yancey Ward said...

"Let's Go Brandon!"

-Albert Einstein.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

The evolution of a democratic/dictatorial duality is why the Republic was founded under a Constitution that acknowledges individual rights and mitigates authoritarian progress.

Charlie said...

"Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results"-

Rita Mae Brown

Isn't that the definition of "practice"?

Anthony said...

My impression is that the two people who have the most "quotes" out there are Thomas Jefferson and George Carlin.

Anyway, tracking down quotes is hard. My one and only interaction with an actual p*rn star ("Brandy Alexandre") was when she contacted me through an old (archaeology) blog of mine and wanted to know where Gladstone's quote "Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals." came from. It's in almost every funeral home and I believe at the time, post-film career, she was an office admin for a funeral home.

Anyway, this was early-days Internet and although I could find said quote all over, there was never any source for it. After several months of off-and-on searching, I finally found a copy of a magazine wherein he had written an article with that quote in it.

Yancey Ward said...

"I didn't kill myself."

-Jeffrey Epstein and various Clinton associates.

Greg the Class Traitor said...

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.”

Thank you, that's a great quote, and insight

robother said...

Althouse is right. Think of the way Einstein could've marketed his genius. That New Year's celebration in NYC: a mass of people observing a lighted ball in Times Square? Talk about a genius formula for success.

Rocco said...

Josephbleau said...
"If everything is a miracle, then nothing is a miracle. If everything is an exception to the laws of nature then there just are no laws of nature, and the only physical law is that chaos rules. This kind of stuff is dumb, if Einstein said it, being a physicist, he was stupid or senile.

Of course you can make it true by making a lawyerly definition of The word miracle.
"

So where does Miracle Whip fall in all this?

Spinoza argued that things we call "miracles" are events that do follow the laws of nature, just that we are ignorant of their causes. In light of Chaos Theory we could reframe this somewhat, but his central point is still valid.

Rocco said...

The First Law of Metaphysics of Kiri-kin-tha of Vulcan: "Nothing unreal exists."

Two-eyed Jack said...

Lem said: "Recently I was listening to Elton John’s “Your Song” and it struck me, oh my goodness, those lyrics are so lame. Wtf happened?"

Please, please remember. Elton John is not lame. Bernie Taupin is lame.

Don't shoot Elton, he's only the piano player.

Rocco said...

Nancy said...
"Nature's laws are a miracle!"

Biden getting 81 million votes was a miracle!

PigHelmet said...

“Illegitimi non carborundum.” —my mother

n.n said...

A miracle is undocumented science, illegal by some standards. Science is a philosophy and practice in a limited frame of reference.

Sociopolitical science is a man dressed in women's clothing, a women defrocked of her feminine attributes, a gender congruent with principal interests, a "burden" relieved in a human rite, a Green blight spread on land and sea, a diversity of color judgments and class bigotry, too.

Rocco said...

"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."

Or maybe it means a Domain of Lawful Rationality does not exist - at least not in the form Einstein is thinking of. As posited, that Domain seems to have a lot of hidden assumptions built into it.

After all, it's "The exception that proves the rule."

tim maguire said...

Ann Althouse said...Here he was, having figured out something brilliant about the world, and these people didn't invest their time in reading and understanding.

Einstein's belief in God is often "proven" through his line "God does not play dice with the universe." But Einstein was an agnostic, possibly an atheist. He wasn't professing faith in god, he was just using a colorful phrase to get across the idea that he believed in a deterministic reality.

Ann Althouse said...

"He might just have well have done TV commercials. The Playtex Cross-Your-Heart bra is genius!"/"Haha- yes…but Playrex is the plum-pudding model if support garments. The true genius is wonderbra…"

I wanted a product that was advertised on TV when Einstein was still alive. The commercial I linked to aired the year Einstein died: 1955.

The Playtex ad asserts that the X pattern of elastic across the front would "lift and separate." It was presented as ingenious.

I'll bet a lot of people reading this blog remember the haunting promise to "lift and separate."

Then there was the Playtex girdle ad which claimed it would "hold you in like firm young muscles." I had to hear that a thousand times when I actually was young.

stlcdr said...

I'm also skeptical of almost everything attributed to Einstein, with him working in a Patents office.

Rocco said...

Some more famous quotes (and the people who didn't say them):

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman"
- Wilt Chamberlain

"Ask not what your country can do to you, but what you can do to your country."
- Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and the Democrats.

"That's one small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind."
- Lia Thomas

"I've got a feeling we're not in Iowa anymore."
- Ron Desantis, Nikki Hakey, and Tim Scott

David R. Stewart said...

Well said, and timely.

It has to be a sign of laziness and bad faith on the part of a writer to embellish her own thoughts by attaching to them a quote (fake or real) from someone universally esteemed.

I had a favorite Samuel Johnson quote ("your work is both good and original; the difficulty is that that which is original is not good, and that which is good is not original." It _sounded_ like SJ, and I so wanted it to be authenticated.

Sent it to an SJ authority at Rutgers, who while very polite was not able to tell me what I wanted to hear. Evidently that's one of many sayings attributed to SJ but never verified - "it sounds just like the sort of thing SJ might have said."

He also remarked that SJ - along with ppl like Lincoln, Twain, Churchill, etc. - belonged to a select group who "seemed to have said more things after they had died than when they were alive."

Jon Ericson said...

"Peace."
—Dave Garroway

effinayright said...

Good one, gilbar!!!

effinayright said...

"Lavo meum sub ubi cum Lux"

----J. caesar

Joe Smith said...

"Bitch set me up."

-- Marion Barry

Joe Smith said...

'I'll bet a lot of people reading this blog remember the haunting promise to "lift and separate."'

I miss the pointy bra retro look...but maybe that's just me : )

Freeman Hunt said...

"All your quotes are belong to me." -- Albert Einstein

mikee said...

In college I had a list taped to the wall next to my study desk, compiling quotes from literature that I enjoyed. The quotes ranged from the succinct "Jesus wept," to the last lines from "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" to my research adviser's bloviations on riding bicycles to an RA's wise summation of dorm rules "Don't spill your drinks or your drunk women in the hallways after visiting hours."

I had attributions for each quote. I thought they were fun to compile. I lost the list. I don't remember them all, or even many, and I don't regret it.

"I am OK with that because I can make my own quotes and use them when needed." mikee

Josephbleau said...

“Spinoza argued that things we call "miracles" are events that do follow the laws of nature, just that we are ignorant of their causes. In light of Chaos Theory we could reframe this somewhat, but his central point is still valid.”

The thesis is, “everything is a miracle.” So, by Spinoza, everything follows the laws of nature, but we are ignorant of all the laws, or causes. Yet e = mc^2, so at least one law exists that we are not ignorant of. Therefore, Spinoza or the thesis is refuted by contradiction.

Spinoza is only saying that a miracle is just something we have not researched well enough at this point in time, not a very interesting idea.

planetgeo said...

Playtex and Seinfeld's Dad weren't the only ones doing the "lift and separate" move in that era. It was a great time to be a teenager with a cool car.

Stepper said...

"You may not be interested in war, but war is very interested in you."

Yogi Berra

Mea Sententia said...

I stopped reading a book once after it referred to the Slew of Despondency rather than the Slough of Despond (in Bunyan). It seemed sloppy not to check that one. I never picked up the book again.

Anne Lamott has never been my pot of tea. Apparently she doesn't know that the internet abounds in Fake Quotes Attributed to Famous People.