0
$\begingroup$

According to various sources on the Web, Albert Einstein is likely to have said or written one of the following:

  1. Probleme kann man niemals mit derselben Denkweise lösen, durch die sie entstanden sind.

(German)

  1. We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.

(English)

  1. Problems can never be solved by the way of thinking that first created them.

(English)

The closest quote I found is "We have to learn to think in a new way." (Russel-Einstein Manifesto, July 9, 1955, London), which is pretty different. Since it is well known that the Web is a huge garbage-bin, this information can be well unreliable, perhaps even invented. Does anyone know the original language and source that one could look up, say, in a library (or a scanned book at worst)?

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

I am afraid there is no original source. Wikipedia has talk pages where sourcing is discussed, and its editors did extensive searches on this one and its variants. It is listed under the heading Unsourced and dubious/overly modern sources, and the "original" appears to have been made up by Ram Dass around 1970. Dass (born Richard Alpert) is an American academic turned spiritual teacher after an epiphany in 1967, known for associations with Timothy Leary and the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba. Dass is also the author of another "Einstein" quote dating to about the same time, "I didn't arrive at my understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe through my rational mind". No earlier occurrences of the "quote" have been found so far, Einstein passed away in 1955. Here is the surmise:

"Searching for "Einstein" and "level of thinking" rather than "same level of thinking" turns up a much earlier example from The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Volumes 1-4, which is dated 1969 by google books though these snippets show it contains pieces from 1969 and 1970. The quote, on p. 124, is "The world that we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level as the level we created them at." It's prefaced by "Einstein said an interesting thing", and the same phrase and quote appears in a 1974 book by Ram Dass (who needs his own wikiquote page!), The Only Dance There Is... so presumably the one in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology is the same piece by Ram Dass.

Also, the next two earliest versions I find on google books (searching for "Einstein" and "level of thinking" on an advanced search with date range 1900-1979) use wording nearly identical to the version given by Ram Dass... The supposed Einstein quote from Skeptic reads "the world we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the level of thinking at which we created them", and the one from New Age reads "the world that we have made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level we created them", both identical to Ram Dass' quote in the first part and very close in the second part.

Since Ram Dass generally spoke extemporaneously without using notes, and The Only Dance There Is says the section with the Einstein quote is from talks he gave to "spiritual seekers" at "the Menninger Foundation in 1970", it's likely he would have been paraphrasing a bit even if his source was some other unknown one that also misquoted Einstein (as opposed to him being the original source of the misquote as I am speculating). So if the only other sources found in the 1970s repeat Ram Dass' exact wording, it seems pretty likely that Ram Dass (or some secondary source that got the quote from Ram Dass) was the source for them. And the later variants that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s might well be all from authors that got their quotes in a chain of influences that goes back to Ram Dass' version."

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. Even if we believe that Ram Dass or one of his listeners is the author of the quote, there must be a quote of Einstein which is close enough to the given ones. In fact, this is the case for many Einsteins mis-quotations: there is always a sufficiently near quote. Yes, I read icarus-falling.blogspot.com/2009/06/einstein-enigma.html I even had a HUGE book about Einstein when I was a schoolchild; it had a list of quotes, I wish I had this book now! $\endgroup$ – user49915 Oct 3 '18 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @user49915 I doubt it, almost all quotes on Wikipedia's dubious list are just made up. And it is a long list. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Oct 3 '18 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ The wikiquote site has questionable information itself. It says, e.g., "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. Earliest sources on this search are from 1999, but it appears on the internet before that, like this post from 1996." I read myself about it before 1996 at school, though you'd have to believe me on that: I cannot provide a citation any more. $\endgroup$ – user49915 Oct 3 '18 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ @user49915 Sure, but what you are suggesting would be more likely if there were multiple misquoted versions appearing independently. That Dass should be the only one to get hold of it strains credulity. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Oct 3 '18 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ In fact, the quote in the OP might even be folklore. As for the "Anyone who has never made a mistake...", it was even present before Einstein in a different wording going back to the ancient Greeks. Anyway, thanks for replying! $\endgroup$ – user49915 Oct 3 '18 at 20:03

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.