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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index E > Albert Einstein Quotes > Understanding

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Albert Einstein
(14 Mar 1879 - 18 Apr 1955)

German-American physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity. He was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect.



The supreme task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can reach them. In this methodological uncertainty, one might suppose that there were any number of possible systems of theoretical physics all equally well justified; and this opinion is no doubt correct, theoretically. But the development of physics has shown that at any given moment, out of all conceivable constructions, a single one has always proved itself decidedly superior to all the rest.
— Albert Einstein
Address (1918) for Max Planck's 60th birthday, at Physical Society, Berlin, 'Principles of Research' in Essays in Science (1934), 4.
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A man must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings.
— Albert Einstein
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Any fool can know. The point is to understand.
— Albert Einstein
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As for the search for truth, I know from my own painful searching, with its many blind alleys, how hard it is to take a reliable step, be it ever so small, towards the understanding of that which is truly significant.
— Albert Einstein
Letter to an interested layman (13 Feb 1934). In Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Albert Einstein: The Human Side: New Glipses From His Archives (1981), 18.
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Even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
— Albert Einstein
From paper 'Science, Philosophy and Religion', prepared for initial meeting of the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York City (9-11 Sep 1940). Collected in Albert Einstein: In His Own Words (2000), 212.
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Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of deeply felt needs and the assuagement of pain. One has to keep this constantly in mind if one wishes to understand spiritual movements and their development. Feeling and longing are the motive force behind all human endeavor and human creation, in however exalted a guise the latter may present themselves to us.
— Albert Einstein
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Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence and fulfills the duty to express the results of his thoughts in clear form.
— Albert Einstein
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I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence–as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.
— Albert Einstein
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I can understand your aversion to the use of the term ‘religion’ to describe an emotional and psychological attitude which shows itself most clearly in Spinoza ... I have not found a better expression than ‘religious’ for the trust in the rational nature of reality that is, at least to a certain extent, accessible to human reason.
— Albert Einstein
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I didn’t arrive at my understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe through my rational mind.
— Albert Einstein
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I do not see any reason to assume that the heuristic significance of the principle of general relativity is restricted to gravitation and that the rest of physics can be dealt with separately on the basis of special relativity, with the hope that later on the whole may be fitted consistently into a general relativistic scheme. I do not think that such an attitude, although historically understandable, can be objectively justified. The comparative smallness of what we know today as gravitational effects is not a conclusive reason for ignoring the principle of general relativity in theoretical investigations of a fundamental character. In other words, I do not believe that it is justifiable to ask: What would physics look like without gravitation?
— Albert Einstein
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I don’t pretend to understand the universe–it’s much bigger than I am.
— Albert Einstein
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In the light of knowledge attained, the happy achievement seems almost a matter of course, and any intelligent student can grasp it without too much trouble. But the years of anxious searching in the dark, with their intense longing, their alternations of confidence and exhaustion, and the final emergence into the light—only those who have experienced it can understand that.
— Albert Einstein
Quoted in Banesh Hoffmann and Helen Dukas, Albert Einstein: Creator and Rebel (1972), 124.
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It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and reverence from my fellow-beings, through no fault, and no merit, of my own. The cause of this may well be the desire, unattainable for many, to understand the few ideas to which I have with my feeble powers attained through ceaseless struggle. I am quite aware that for any organisation to reach its goals, one man must do the thinking and directing and generally bear the responsibility. But the led must not be coerced, they must be able to choose their leader.
— Albert Einstein
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It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man's blessings. Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavours... in order that the creations of our minds shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.
— Albert Einstein
Address to students of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California (16 Feb 1931). In New York Times (17 Feb 1931), p. 6.
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It is not the fruits of scientific research that elevate man and enrich his nature but the urge to understand, the intellectual work, creative or receptive.
— Albert Einstein
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It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
— Albert Einstein
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It would not be difficult to come to an agreement as to what we understand by science. Science is the century-old endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought the perceptible phenomena of this world into as thoroughgoing an association as possible. To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of existence by the process of conceptualization. But when asking myself what religion is I cannot think of the answer so easily. And even after finding an answer which may satisfy me at this particular moment, I still remain convinced that I can never under any circumstances bring together, even to a slight extent, the thoughts of all those who have given this question serious consideration.
— Albert Einstein
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My scientific work is motivated by an irresistible longing to understand the secrets of nature and by no other feeling. My love for justice and striving to contribute towards the improvement of human conditions are quite independent from my scientific interests.
— Albert Einstein
In Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Albert Einstein, the Human Side: New Glipses from his Archives (1971) 18. In Vladimir Burdyuzha, The Future of Life and the Future of Our Civilization (2006), 374.
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Our experience up to date justifies us in feeling sure that in Nature is actualized the ideal of mathematical simplicity. It is my conviction that pure mathematical construction enables us to discover the concepts and the laws connecting them, which gives us the key to understanding nature… In a certain sense, therefore, I hold it true that pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed.
— Albert Einstein
In Herbert Spencer Lecture at Oxford (10 Jun 1933), 'On the Methods of Theoretical Physics'. Printed in Discovery (Jul 1933), 14, 227. Also quoted in Stefano Zambelli and ‎Donald A. R. George, Nonlinearity, Complexity and Randomness in Economics (2012).
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Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth.
— Albert Einstein
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Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.
— Albert Einstein
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Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.
— Albert Einstein
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Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavour to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility or the meaning of such a comparison. But he certainly believes that, as his knowledge increases, his picture of reality will become simpler and simpler and will explain a wider and wider range of his sensuous impressions. He may also believe in the existence of the ideal limit of knowledge and that it is approached by the human mind. He may call this ideal limit the objective truth.
— Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, The Evolution of Physics (1938), 33.
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Science not only purifies the religious impulse of the dross of its anthropomorphism but also contributes to a religious spiritualization of our understanding of life.
— Albert Einstein
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Since the mathematicians have invaded the theory of relativity, I do not understand it myself anymore.
— Albert Einstein
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The fact that man produces a concept ‘I’ besides the totality of his mental and emotional experiences or perceptions does not prove that there must be any specific existence behind such a concept. We are succumbing to illusions produced by our self-created language, without reaching a better understanding of anything. Most of so-called philosophy is due to this kind of fallacy.
— Albert Einstein
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The final results [of his work on the theory of relativity] appear almost simple; any intelligent undergraduate can understand them without much trouble. But the years of searching in the dark for a truth that one feels, but cannot express; the intense effort and the alternations of confidence and misgiving, until one breaks through to clarity and understanding, are only known to him who has himself experienced them.
— Albert Einstein
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The hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax.
— Albert Einstein
…...
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The hardest thing to understand is why we can understand anything at all.
— Albert Einstein
…...
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The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.
— Albert Einstein
…...
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The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.
— Albert Einstein
In Banesh Hoffmann and Helen Dukas, Albert Einstein: Creator and Rebel (1972, 1973), 18.
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The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. In so far as the labor contract is free what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.
— Albert Einstein
…...
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There is no inductive method which could lead to the fundamental concepts of physics. Failure to understand this fact constituted the basic philosophical error of so many investigators of the nineteenth century.
— Albert Einstein
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We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s pantheism, but admire even more his contributions to modern thought because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and the body as one, not two separate things.
— Albert Einstein
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What a deep faith in the rationality of the structure of the world and what a longing to understand even a small glimpse of the reason revealed in the world there must have been in Kepler and Newton to enable them to unravel the mechanism of the heavens in long years of lonely work!
— Albert Einstein
'Religion and Science', The New York Times (9 Nov 1930), Sunday Magazine, 1.
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What distinguishes the language of science from language as we ordinarily understand the word? … What science strives for is an utmost acuteness and clarity of concepts as regards their mutual relation and their correspondence to sensory data.
— Albert Einstein
In Out of My Later Years (1950, 1956), 112. Footnoted on page 277 as from 'The Common Language of Science', a broadcast recording for the Science Conference, London (28 Sep 1941) and published in Advancement of Science, 2, No. 5, 16.
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You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.
When asked to describe radio
— Albert Einstein
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[Misquotation; not by Einstein.] You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.
— Albert Einstein
No evidence exists that this was ever said or written by Einstein, yet is often seen attribued to him, for example, in Rosemarie Jarski, Words from the Wise: Over 6,000 of the Smartest Things Ever Said (2007), 515. However, see a similar quote by Ernest Rutherford about explaining to a “barmaid.”
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See also:
  • 14 Mar - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Einstein's birth.
  • Albert Einstein - My Theory - The Times (1919).
  • Geometry and Experience - Address by Albert Einstein to the Prussian Academy of Sciences (27 Jan 1921).
  • Even Einstein's Little Universe Is Big Enough - New York Times article (2 Feb 1921).
  • Large color picture of Albert Einstein (850 x 1000 px).
  • Albert Einstein - Context of “God … integrates empirically” quote - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - Context of “Laws of mathematics refer to reality” quote
  • Albert Einstein - Context of “Laws of mathematics refer to reality” quote - with Large image (800 x 600 px).
  • Albert Einstein - Context of “God … integrates empirically” quote - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote Mathematics…a product of human thought - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote Mathematics…a product of human thought - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “Politics is more difficult than physics” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “Politics is more difficult than physics” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote The Lord God is subtle - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote The Lord God is subtle - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote Imagination is more important than knowledge - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote Imagination is more important than knowledge - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote A theory can be proved by experiment - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote A theory can be proved by experiment - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote Falling in love is not at all the most stupid thing - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote Falling in love is not at all the most stupid thing - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote That is relativity - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote That is relativity - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “One thing I have learned in a long life” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote One thing I have learned in a long life - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “Why is the electron negative?” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “Why is the electron negative?” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “The formulation of a problem is often far more essential than its solution” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “The formulation of a problem is often far more essential than its solution” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “Our exalted technological progress” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “Our exalted technological progress” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “There exists a passion for comprehension” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “There exists a passion for comprehension” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “An equation is for eternity” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Albert Einstein - context of quote “An equation is for eternity” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein, by Abraham Pais. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Albert Einstein.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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