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A question about a quote from Einstein

  1. Sep 20, 2011 #1
    Back when I was in high school I had this chapter on Albert Einstein. I remember reading something to the following effect:

    Can anyone confirm/deny whether Einstein said anything like this? (I mean is there something like "Collected works of Einstein" as there is for other philosophers?)

    I am thinking of quoting this (even if not verbatim, while verbatim would certainly be preferable) in a paper I intend to present at a conference, so I would like to be sure before doing so. TIA.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 20, 2011 #2
    I wouldn't quote it unless you can find the actual quote and the exact source.

    If it's a real quote it is most likely it's something he expressed in a private letter, because it seems uncharacteristic of any public expression or utterance of his I know of. So, I'd probably check for books that might contain a lot of his letters verbatim.
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2011
  4. Sep 20, 2011 #3


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    You could try here, although micromass recently found a sentence in one of his books that wasn't searchable in the archives.


    http://findingaids.princeton.edu/getEad?eadid=C0701&kw= [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  5. Sep 20, 2011 #4
    I doubt it, since his laws were confirmed with such precision. It's probably one of those phrases attributed wrongly, if it's attributed at all. Like the famous "your theory is not even wrong" phrase, which seems to be attributed to nearly everyone and so on. Also if he's talking about something other than relativity it could quite possibly be true, but even then it seems unlikely, photoelectric effect, and Brownian motion are the only other ones I can think of, well except for GUT but he admitted himself they were unsatisfactory so... That said if it was anything to do with quantum mechanics, then he was never a great fan of its probabilistic implications, so it could well be that...
  6. Sep 20, 2011 #5


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    You could attribute that quote to Einstein, then follow it with this one:

  7. Sep 20, 2011 #6
    "My only regret is that I will not be alive to see the demise of quantum mechanics."

    Erwin Schroedinger.

    That one is true though. :smile:

    Wow he was a prophet and a visionary old Abe. :wink:

    Incidentally Al Gore invented the internet.
  8. Sep 21, 2011 #7
    One of my favorites is from H. L. Mencken: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."
  9. Sep 21, 2011 #8
    Hi people thanks for your replies. And I remember reading it not on the internet but in one of my old schoolbooks chapters on Einstein, as I said.
  10. Sep 22, 2011 #9


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    I think I have a solution for your problem. Get a GPS and program it to take you to the conference and follow the GPS no matter what happens.

    Now, if you end up in a 'strange' place (like in the middle of the Sahara desert or Easter Island) you know that Einstein’s theories are indeed flawed and that you can use the quote anyway you like.

    If this is not happening, and you end up at the conference, then you know for sure that there’s something terrible wrong about that quote, and you must dump it permanently in the thrash.

    Cool huh? :rolleyes:

    Seriously, I’m not an expert on Einstein quotes, but I’m 100% sure that this is not something dear old Albert would have stated, neither in private or public, because it’s shows that the person who falsified this don’t understand one iota about the very foundation of science and scientific evolution.

    Albert Einstein would ever never have used the word "flawed". Not a chance.

    Physics and the laws of nature do NOT stop working when a scientist discovers a brand new paradigm in science. Einstein didn’t shout; – Haha! The old fart Newton was totally WRONG! The apple does NOT fall to the ground! It’s the Earth who jumps up to the apple! Eureka!!!

    It doesn’t work that way. Everything that Newton discovered is still valid – i.e. inside the 'framework' that his theories are aimed for. Classical Newtonian mechanics was used to put a man on the Moon; hence it works perfectly today and will continue to do so as long as humans have a need for calculating the motion of bodies (at moderate speeds) under the action of forces.

    And the same goes for Albert Einstein’s Relativity. Special Relativity is mathematically self-consistent and is experimentally tested to extremely high degree of accuracy (10−20). General Relativity has so far passed every unambiguous observational and experimental test.

    And the same goes for Quantum Mechanics.

    A scientific theory cannot be proven; its key attribute is that it is falsifiable, that is, it makes predictions about the natural world that are testable by experiments. This does (of course) not mean that "vintage experiments" stops working when a newer theory is discovered. That’s just dumb.

    Does this mean that everything is cool? We know everything there is to know about nature and the universe?

    Absolutely not, we know already that QM and GR break down under extreme conditions like singularities. We (probably) need a theory for Quantum Gravity to solve that problem...

    However Albert Einstein’s theories will never be "flawed", just extended by newer and deeper understandings/theories.

    ”As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” -- Albert Einstein

    p.s. wtf this is the second time I have my "1,000 posts birthday"??? :bugeye: apparently I’m a little bit flawed... :yuck:
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2011
  11. Sep 22, 2011 #10
    The person who falsified what?
  12. Sep 22, 2011 #11
    Hello people. It seems there is some misunderstanding possibly due to the wording I used in my remembering of the quote. As I noted, it was not verbatim.

    Obviously experiments which were done previously will not suddenly stop to work.

    What I meant by "flawed" (which is quite possible not the word Einstein himself used) is "incomplete". Newtonian mechanics is not so much flawed as it is incomplete, and hence superseded by Einstein's theories. Likewise, he would have expected that his own theories would be superseded.
  13. Sep 23, 2011 #12


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    The quote, but it’s a misunderstanding, see next post.
  14. Sep 23, 2011 #13


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    Okay, now it all makes sense, and the keyword is "incomplete".

    This is how you remember it:
    "if my theories are not found flawed in a quite short time in the future, it would mean that somewhere along the line, there has been a serious lapse"

    Most would associate "my theories" with Special & General Relativity, but that is probably wrong in this context.

    What we are talking about is Quantum Mechanics, but It takes too long to long to go into the details. Einstein had a 20 year long debate with Niels Bohr about Quantum Mechanics know as the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohr%E2%80%93Einstein_debates" [Broken].

    Einstein was indeed involved in development of QM, but somewhere around 1927 his skepticism turned to dismay, which resulted in the world-famous 1935 paper, aka the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPR_paradox" [Broken]:

    What bothered Einstein was the fact that if QM is correct we are forced to abandon the very natural assumption of a Local Reality at the very lowest level of nature, i.e. we have to give up either locality and/or reality. None of this was appealing to Einstein and he coined the expression "spooky action at a distance" (spukhafte fernwirkung).

    Einstein spent the rest of his life, until 1955, searching for more complete description of the microscopic world (without success).

    Therefore, Einstein might very well have said something like:
    "if quantum mechanics are not found incomplete in a quite short time in the future, it would mean that somewhere along the line, there has been a serious lapse"

    However, I wouldn’t use it as a quote if you can’t find a reliable source (more reliable than me :smile:)...

    Sad to say, we know today (by 99%) that Einstein was in fact wrong. Both QM theory and every EPR-Bell experiment, performed this far, confirms that a Local Reality is not compatible with QM (you have to refute QM to get pass this fact, which is not plausible).

    If you are interested in a personal background of the Einstein-Bohr Debate, I recommend http://web.mit.edu/dikaiser/www/".

    And also Niels Bohr’s http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de/~lxl/personal/images/science/BE.htm" [Broken] originally published in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, P. A. Schilpp, ed., pp. 200-41 The Library of Living Philosophers, Evanston (1949).

    WOW! Check out https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=532620"! :bugeye::bugeye::bugeye:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  15. Sep 23, 2011 #14
    If you re-read the OP you'll see he never claimed he was even quoting his source exactly. "I remember reading something to the following effect..." is the only claim.

    The possibility exists that Einstein might actually have said something along those lines at some point in his life, referring to his own theories, and all it would mean is that he said it during some moment of humility or when he was actually in a depression about something else. It might have been a facetious remark he made about himself after having discovered he arrived at a meeting with a colleague having brought the wrong stack of papers to discuss, by way of speculative example. The quote might be essentially authentic, but the context misunderstood. He frequently gets quoted out of context.

    Anyway, there's no need to scramble to squelch it because no hard and fast assertion was ever made that it's authentic.
  16. Sep 23, 2011 #15


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    As already said – it was a misunderstanding.
  17. Oct 31, 2011 #16
    Update: I have just run across this tracable quote which is quite similar in tone to the unverified one in the OP:

    "You imagine that I look back on my life's work with calm satisfaction. But from nearby it looks quite different. There is not a single concept of which I am convinced that it will stand firm, and I feel uncertain whether I am in general on the right track."

    Einstein to Maurice Solovine
    28 March 1949

    Quoted in the book Einstein: A centenary volume
    Edited by A.P. French
    Harvard University Press
    1979, page 158
  18. Oct 31, 2011 #17


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    Interesting. I would posit that reflects self doubts about his search for a unified field theory. Given that even he had doubts about where this was going (though he continued to publish variants until his death), and he viewed this quest as logically following from his earlier work, the result is doubt about his whole edifice: that in the moment of this letter he was admitting his life's work might lead to a dead end. In a sense, that's true - purely classical physics was a dead end.

    Another late life observation of his was that if you take quantum mechanics seriously, noting that there are only finite number of possible states for a finite system (rather than infinite as for classical theories), that a purely algebraic theory should be sought. This was also perspicacious. (this is a comment in he "Meaning of Relativity", 1956 edition, with his final form of unified field theory).
  19. Nov 1, 2011 #18


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    Thanks PAllen! Extremely well expressed!

    This is, of course, closer to the truth than anything else in this thread.
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