Einstein Quotes / Was He Autistic?
Like many people, I have always been fascinated by Einstein, although I knew very little about his life. I decided to remedy this one day after looking for some Einstein quotes on the internet and being confronted by a series of dubious memes. The book I chose for my enlightenment was:
‘Einstein – His Life and Universe’ by Walter Isaacson, Pocket Books 2008. (first published in the UK in 2007 by Simon & Schuster Ltd.)
I highly recommend it, but I will point out that ‘other biographies of Einstein are available’.
One of the reasons that Albert Einstein fascinates me is that some people believe that he was on the autistic spectrum. In his book, Walter Isaacson states that Simon Baron-Cohen , the director of the Autism research Centre at the University of Cambridge has suggested that Einstein might have exhibited characteristics of autism. However, the reason given by Baron-Cohen is that autism is associated with a “particularly intense drive to systemize and an unusually low drive to empathize”. As an autistic person myself, I’m not totally convinced by this.
Walter Isaacson himself does not seem to believe that Einstein had any form of autism, stating in the book’s notes that
“I do not find such a long distance diagnosis to be convincing. Even as a teenager, Einstein made close friends, had passionate relationships, enjoyed collegial discussions, communicated well verbally, and could empathize with friends and humanity in general”.
I can do all of these things and I am autistic, so these are not valid reasons to rule out autism.
It is my own personal belief that he probably was on the autistic spectrum. These include, but are not limited to the following:
- His non-conformity, independence and unwavering self-belief.
- His great empathy and compassion for humanity as a whole, which was not tainted by mawkish sentimentality.
- His strong sense of social justice
- His seemed to have had a way of looking at the world which immediately got to the heart of the issue, transcending any bullshit.
- He had a lifelong thirst for knowledge and childlike wonder about the world around him.
- He was also capable of changing his political beliefs about something when exposed to new evidence, showing that he cared more about ‘truth’ than about ‘image’.
- His unusual pattern of childhood language development and echolalia
If he didn’t appear to be obviously autistic to the outside world, it didn’t mean that he wasn’t autistic. It is well known that autistic people are capable of ‘masking’ i.e. developing a public persona which enables them to function successfully in a neurotypical world. As this ‘masking’ persona is developed using the intellect, rather than by instinct, it would seem likely that this is something that Einstein would have been rather good at.
One thing that I will mention is that if he was ‘on the spectrum’, he definitely did not have Asperger’s Syndrome. His well documented speech delay and early language problems would have made a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome impossible using the diagnostic criteria of both the ICD-10 and the DSM-4.
The following quotes are taken from Walter Isaacson’s book and represent a selection of my favourites. They comprise mainly of quotes from Einstein himself, but also quotes about him from those who knew him. I have given references and dates where possible.
List of People Mentioned
Maja Einstein – his younger sister
Mileva Maric – his first wife and fellow physics student at Zurich Polytechnic
Hans Albert Einstein – his oldest son
Eduard Einstein a.k.a. Tete – his second (and youngest) son. He suffered from a mental illness and lived in an institution in Switzerland for years (possibly for the rest of his life – it’s not clear to me from the book)
Elsa Einstein – His cousin and second wife. She seems to have been a very witty woman.
Jost Winteler – landlord and friend when living in Aarau
Paul Ehrenfest – physicist and friend
George Viereck – poet and propagandist
Otto Juliusburger – friend
Rudolf Ladenberg – physicist and colleague
Joseph Scharl – friend of Einstein
Hans Muehsam – friend of Einstein
Elisabeth of Belgium – the Belgian Queen Mother and Einstein’s friend
Ernst Strauss – scientific assistant and fellow arms control advocate
Philipp Frank – Austrian physicist
J. Robert Oppenheimer – theoretical physicist and colleague of Einstein
Leopold Infeld – scientific colleague
Byland – a classmate
Heinrich Zangger – friend of Einstein and Mileva Maric
Einstein Quotes in Date Order
1) Second violinist – “Do you count the beats?”
Einstein (first violinist) – “Heavens no, it’s in my blood” c. 1896
2) “Blind respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth” – 1901 to Jost Winteler
3) “Long live impudence! It is my guardian angel in this world” – December 12th 1901, to Mileva Maric
4) “Europe in its madness has now embarked on something incredibly preposterous, at such times one sees to what deplorable breed of brutes we belong” – August 19th 1914 to Paul Ehrenfest
5) [After the death of his mother]
“One feels right into one’s bones what ties of blood mean” – March 1920, to Heinrich Zangger
6) His son Hans Albert, 15, announces that he’s going to be an engineer – 1923
Einstein – “I think it’s a disgusting idea”
Hans Albert – “I’m still going to be an engineer”
7) “Tete really has a lot of myself in him, but with him it seems more pronounced. He’s an interesting fellow, but things won’t be easy for him” – August 14th 1925 Einstein to Mileva Maric.
8) “Nationalism is an infantile disease, the measles of mankind” 1929 to George Viereck
9) “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” February 5th 1930 Einstein to Eduard Einstein
10) “To punish me for my contempt of authority, Fate has made me an authority myself” – September 1st 1930
11) “My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and communities” – Einstein, “The World as I See It” 1930
12) “I am an adversary of Bolshevism just as much as of fascism. I am against all dictatorships.” – September 19th 1933, New York World Telegram
13) “The monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind” – October 3rd 1933, speech at Royal Albert Hall
14) “The Jew who abandons his faith is in a similar position to a snail that abandons his shell. He is still a snail” – November 26th 1938, “Why do they Hate the Jews?”, Collier’s
15) “People like you and me never grow old, we never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born” – September 29th 1942 Einstein to Otto Juliusburger
16) “Brief is this existence, as a fleeting visit in a strange house.” April 1st 1952, eulogy for Rudolf Ladenberg
17) “It is true that many a rebel has in the end become a figure of responsibility, but I cannot bring myself to do so. 24th November 1952, Einstein to Joseph Scharl
18) “I have become a kind of enfant terrible in my new homeland due to my inability to keep silent and to swallow everything that happens.” 28th March 1954, Einstein to Queen Mother Elisabeth of Belgium
19) “I am a deeply religious nonbeliever” – 30th March 1954, Einstein to Hans Muehsam
20) “Everything – even lunacy is mass produced here. But everything goes out of fashion very quickly.” [Speaking of America] – 28th December 1954, unfinished letter from Einstein to Hans Albert Einstein
21) “Neckties exist for me only as remote memories” – 26th March 1955, letter from Einstein to Farmingdale Elementary School after receiving a gift of a tie
Einstein Quotes – Unknown Date
1)[On learning to speak] “My parents were so worried, that they consulted a doctor”- Einstein
2) “Beethoven created his music, Mozart’s music is so pure it seems to have been ever-present in the universe” – Einstein
3) “I know that philosophically a murderer is not responsible for his crime, but I prefer not to take tea with him” – Einstein to George Viereck
4) “Politics is for the present, while our equations are for eternity” – Einstein to Ernst Strauss 1948-195
Quotes About Einstein
1) “Every sentence he uttered, no matter how routine, he repeated to himself softly, moving his lips. It was all very worrying, he had such difficulty with language that those around him feared he would never learn” – Maja Einstein, date unknown
2) “He always liked to regard events in the world around him as if he were a spectator in a theatre” – Philipp Frank
3) “There was always in him a powerful purity at once childlike and profoundly stubborn” – J. Robert Oppenheimer, date unknown
4) “When my husband commits a breach of etiquette, it is said it’s because he’s a man of genius. In my case, however, it is attributed to a lack of culture” – Elsa Einstein
5) On a visit to the telescope at Mount Wilson, it was explained to Elsa that the equipment was used to determine the scope and shape of the universe. She replied
“ Well, my husband does that on the back of an old envelope” – commonly reported, but no exact source
6) “The professor does not drive, it’s too complicated for him” – Elsa Einstein, various times
7) “I do not know anyone as lonely and detached as Einstein. His heart never bleeds and he moves through life with mild enjoyment and emotional indifference. His extreme kindness and decency are thoroughly impersonal and seem to come from another planet” – Leopold Infeld
8) “He was one of those split personalities who know how to protect, with a prickly exterior, the delicate realm of his intense personal life” – Byland