Quote: Two things are infinite, as far as we know - the universe and human stupidity (antedating 1947 attrib Einstein 1969)
adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 23 03:22:16 UTC 2010
Arnold Zwicky pointed to a Zippy cartoon entitled "Baby Einstein" that
contains a series of three quotations that are often ascribed to
John Baker helpfully replied with information about the three quotes.
In this post we attempt to trace the saying that appears in the second
panel of the Zippy strip:
Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not
sure about th'universe!
The Yale Book of Quotations contains a very close variant of this
quote on page 231:
Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity; and
I'm not sure about the former.
YBQ notes that the comment is attributed to Albert Einstein in a 1990
compilation of quotes created by Robert Byrne. John Baker remarked
that this is a relatively late date. Below is a 1947 citation for a
truncated version of the quote that is attributed to "a great
astronomer". The same author, Frederick S. Perls, in a later book
published in 1969 (see below) explicitly attributes this quotation
(slightly modified) to Albert Einstein.
Citation: 1947, Ego, Hunger, and Aggression: a Revision of Freud's
Theory and Method by Frederick S. Perls, Page 111, G. Allen and Unwin
Ltd, London. (Google snippet view only. Worldcat agrees with this
date. Amazon Look Inside displays the quote in a 1992 edition. Not
verified on paper)
As modern times promote hasty eating to a large extent, it is not
surprising to learn that a great astronomer said: "Two things are
infinite, as far as we know - the universe and human stupidity."
To-day we know that this statement is not quite correct. Einstein has
proved that the universe is limited.
The website gestalt.org presents a life chronology for Frederick Perls
that indicates the existence of an earlier edition of "Ego, Hunger,
and Aggression". The title of this earlier edition is not given but it
may be the same: "1942 First publication of this book in Durban, South
Africa." I could not locate this 1942 edition in Google Books, but it
may contain the quote.
As mentioned above Perls unambiguously attributes the quotation to
Albert Einstein in a 1969 book. Perls also simplifies the quotation by
deleting the phrase "as far as we know".
Citation: 1969, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim by Frederick S. Perls, Page
33, Real People Press. (Google snippet view only. Worldcat agrees with
this date. Amazon Look Inside displays the quote in a 1992 edition.
Not verified on paper)
As Albert Einstein once said to me: "Two things are infinite: the
universe and human stupidity." But what is much more widespread than
the actual stupidity is the playing stupid, turning off your ear, not
listening, not seeing.
A new extended version of the Einstein quote is given by the same
author, Frederick S. Perls, in a 1972 book. This version is close to
the one that cartoonist Bill Griffith uses in the Zippy comic and the
one in YBQ.
Citation: 1972, In and Out the Garbage Pail by Frederick S. Perls,
Page 52, Bantam Books. (Google snippet view only. Worldcat agrees with
this date. Not verified on paper)
I spent one afternoon with Albert Einstein: unpretentiousness, warmth,
some false political predictions. I soon lost my self-consciousness, a
rare treat for me at that time. I still love to quote a statement of
his: "Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I
am not yet completely sure about the universe."
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
More information about the Ads-l