Two Things Are Infinite: The Universe and Human Stupidityfleeting
- External reference: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/04/universe-einstein/#r+173+1+1
it’s worth noting that back in 1942, when Perls was closest in time to the occasion on which he first heard or read the remarks, when they were freshest in his mind, he did not attribute them to Einstein, but did mention the physicist as having debunked the concept of an infinite universe and thereby having undercut half of the quip.
In 1969 — a quarter of a century more distant from the first time Perls came across the “infinite stupidity” maxim, he suddenly attributed it to Einstein. To this writer, it seems significantly more plausible that Einstein was not the originator of the remarks, but that over time, Einstein’s role in Perls' anecdote shifted in Perls’ own recollection and retelling.
In conclusion, this quotation has evolved over time in the books of Frederick S. Perls. A sub-phrase was deleted and a sub-phrase was added. Also, the initial attribution in 1947 is not very clear. The accuracy of the saying apparently depends on the mutable memory of Perls
we don’t know whether Einstein wrote or uttered the maxim attributed to him by Perls, or whether he communicated it directly to Perls. Our efforts to find an instance of the quotation that was earlier than 1942 and did not involve Einstein were unsuccessful. Hence our rating of “Unproven.”
first citation: in 1942
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
it is odd to label him an astronomer. Also, the subsequent comment by Perls depicts Einstein’s results disagreeing with the quotation.
he presented him as having directly contradicted the source of the quotation, the “great astronomer.” It does not seem plausible that Perls was presenting Einstein as both stating “The universe is infinite” and also proving himself wrong.
However, it is conceivable that Perls is referring to Einstein
next, in 1969
in later books Perls unambiguously attributes the saying to Einstein
As Albert Einstein once said to me: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity.”
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.”
side note, infinity of human stupidity is older than Einstein
the notion that human stupidity is unlimited has a long history. An entertaining precursor statement written in French appeared in volume 2 of the “Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle” (Great Universal Dictionary of the Nineteenth Century) within an entry for “Bêtise” (Stupidity). This volume was published circa 1865, and the quotation was credited to Alexandre Dumas:
Une chose qui m’humilie profondément est de voir que le génie humain a des limites, quand la bêtise humaine n’en a pas. (Alex. Dum.)