13 Inspiring Einstein Quotes Never Actually Said by Einstein

Just in time for National Geographic's new show "Genius," we put together some famous Einstein quotes that the physicist never really said.
Shelby Rogers

Ah, the Internet, a purveyor of viral, inspiring quotes to be reblogged on Tumblr and memes. One of the most prominent names attached to popular quotes is that of physicist Albert Einstein. Normally, the reblogging happens as soon as Einstein's name gets tacked on. After all, who would argue with one of history's most brilliant men? The only problem is that Einstein didn't say these 13 post-worthy quotes. Chalk it up to alternative facts or clever memes or sheer laziness, but these quotes have managed to thrive.

1. "Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart."

13 Inspiring Einstein Quotes Never Actually Said by Einstein
The professor during a lecture in Vienna, Austria in 1921. Source: Wikipedia

This quote took two seconds on Snopes to unearth it being fake. You can find it under the "Albert Einstein Humiliates Atheist" article. If you're familiar with any of Einstein's literature regarding religion, you can probably smell the rank fallacy in this quote. This gem comes from a 1999 viral email about a student challenging a professor about the nature and source of evil.

2. "You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother."

This writer has heard this quote for years and always grown up with the assumption that it was, in fact, from Einstein himself. In hindsight, it should make sense that Einstein never said this as his work remains some of the most complex and thorough explanations of modern physics. Variants of this quote have been attributed to Ernest Rutherford when Rutherford said: "it should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid."

3. "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

This quote has been attributed to plenty of different thinkers. Everyone from Mark Twain to Benjamin Franklin is purportedly responsible for this phrase, yet none of them are. The most likely source of this quote comes from an Alcoholics Anonymous book of the same name: "Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results." Which, given the context, makes a lot more sense than a scientist conducting a number of trial variations saying that.

4. "Everyone 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."

In essence, this quote totally makes sense, and it plays off a frequently used allegorical device. We can't judge an animal based on a skill it simply doesn't have, as Quote Investigator points out. However, it still doesn't belong to Einstein. Matthew Kelly started a chapter of his self-help book The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose with the quote. The actual origins of similar quotes have a much older history. Aesop and such stories contained plenty of animal-based aphorisms.

5. "I refuse to believe that God plays dice with the universe."

So close, but not quite. This gem comes from a private letter between Princeton's Cornelius Lanczos and Einstein. The entire quote can be found in Albert Einstein, the Human Side: New Glimpses from His Archives: "It seems hard to sneak a look at God's cards. But that He plays dice and uses 'telepathic' methods... is something that I cannot believe for a single moment."

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6. "The average human only uses 10 percent of his brain."

13 Inspiring Einstein Quotes Never Actually Said by Einstein
Source: Wikipedia

This quote sounds incredibly robust, especially when you tack the name of your favorite intellectual to the attribution. However, it can first be traced to Craig Karges in a book called Reason to Believe: A practical Guide to Psychic Phenomena. Author Michael Clark quotes Karges as saying: "We normally use only 10 to 20 percent of our minds. Think how different your life would be if you could utilize that other 80 to 90 percent known as the subconscious mind."

The theory inspired plenty of other images -- everything from TV ads to science fiction films like Limitless. However, scientists and logicians have debunked the myth through PET scans,  fMRIs, and explaining the logical fallacy of the argument of ignorance.

7. "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

It sounds like a maxim that should be attributed to Dr. Seuss rather than Einstein, and even Seuss wouldn't be correct. The most direct credit we have is from William Bruce Cameron's 1963 work "Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking." In it, Cameron says: "It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

8. "Common sense is actually nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down in the mind prior to the age of eighteen."

This one is highly debated among Einstein fans. It's been traced back to a three-part series about the physicist done by Lincoln Barrett for Harper's Magazine. In the interview, Barrett notes "But as Einstein has pointed out, common sense is actually nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down in the mind prior to the age of eighteen." Was this a paraphrase of something larger? Possibly. Could it just be the musings of Barrett inspired by his time with Einstein? Also probable.

9. "I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots."

The Internet strikes on this quote. There's no connection between this quote and Einstein outside of a few Internet memes. Quote Investigator noted that it probably emerged around 2012.

10. "Time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once."

This quote seems odd coming from a man who bantered about the relative nature of time. The earliest known version of this quote comes from a 1921 short story by Ray Cummings called "The Time Professor."

11. "If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts."

How does this even sound like Einstein (or any dedicated scientist for that matter)? You don't change the facts! The theories evolve around the facts and accommodate for new information. This one gets traced back to a 1958 Product Engineering article that said: "There is an age-old adage, 'If the facts don't fit the theory, change the theory.' But too often it's easier to keep the theory and change the facts."

12. "Nuclear power is a hell of a way to boil water."

Expect to see this quote pop up more frequently, especially as nuclear power and nuclear weaponry become seemingly ubiquitous in global media. It's actually from Karl Grossman's 1980 book Cover Up: What You are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power.

13. "Information is not knowledge. The only source of knowledge is experience."

More than likely, this quote is a paraphrase of John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding: "Whence has it [the Mind] all the materials of Reason and Knowledge? To this I answer, in one Word, From Experience."

Now here are five totally real and highly fact-checked Einstein quotes:

1. "Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of deeply felt needs and the assuagement of pain."

Courtesy of Albert Einstein's On Religion and Science

2. "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."

From a 1930 essay by Einstein called "The World as I See It"

3. "I believe in one thing—that only a life lived for others is a life worth living."

This comes from a series of meetings with the author of Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man. It resulted from the physicist's third conversation with Professor William Hermann in 1948.

4. "Hail to the man who went through life always helping others, knowing no fear, and to whom aggressiveness and resentment are alien."

This is from his Essays Presented to Leo Baeck on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday.

5. "If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician."

Einstein played the violin for most of his life. He loved it so much that he frequently brought up Lina (yes, he named his violin) in conversation.