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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.
Science quotes on:  |  Cosmos (31)  |  Deduction (47)  |  Elementary (23)  |  Experience (209)  |  Intuition (33)  |  Law (366)  |  Logic (169)  |  Path (44)  |  Physicist (108)  |  Supreme (15)  |  Task (52)  |  Understanding (309)

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.
Science quotes on:  |  Blind Alley (2)  |  Reliability (10)  |  Search (66)  |  Significant (14)  |  Small (63)  |  Truth (645)  |  Understanding (309)

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.
Science quotes on:  |  Aspiration (15)  |  Blind (23)  |  Comprehensible (2)  |  Existence (207)  |  Faith (101)  |  Feeling (74)  |  Goal (59)  |  Lame (3)  |  Rational (27)  |  Reason (245)  |  Reciprocal (4)  |  Relationship (51)  |  Science And Religion (241)  |  Truth (645)  |  Understanding (309)

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 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.
Science quotes on:  |  Invention (262)

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.
Science quotes on:  |  Contribution (40)  |  Feeling (74)  |  Human Condition (3)  |  Improvement (57)  |  Independence (26)  |  Interest (129)  |  Irresistible (5)  |  Justice (14)  |  Longing (8)  |  Love (115)  |  Motivation (19)  |  Nature (835)  |  Scientific (117)  |  Secret (80)  |  Understanding (309)  |  Work (330)

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).
Science quotes on:  |  Ancient (56)  |  Concept (66)  |  Connection (71)  |  Construction (60)  |  Conviction (42)  |  Discovery (531)  |  Dream (64)  |  Enabling (7)  |  Experience (209)  |  Feeling (74)  |  Grasp (27)  |  Ideal (36)  |  Justification (30)  |  Key (31)  |  Law (366)  |  Mathematics (526)  |  Nature (835)  |  Pure (38)  |  Reality (98)  |  Simplicity (118)  |  Thought (281)  |  Truth (645)  |  Understanding (309)

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.
Science quotes on:  |  Enquiry (74)

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
Science quotes on:  |  Alternation (4)  |  Appear (29)  |  Break (25)  |  Clarity (28)  |  Confidence (26)  |  Dark (34)  |  Effort (72)  |  Experience (209)  |  Express (20)  |  Feel (32)  |  Final (25)  |  Intelligent (17)  |  Intense (6)  |  Know (121)  |  Research (442)  |  Result (198)  |  Search (66)  |  Simple (76)  |  Theory Of Relativity (10)  |  Trouble (41)  |  Truth (645)  |  Undergraduate (7)  |  Understand (71)  |  Work (330)  |  Year (141)

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.
Science quotes on:  |  Understanding (309)

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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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.
Science quotes on:  |  Johannes Kepler (68)  |  Sir Isaac Newton (235)  |  Science And Religion (241)  |  Universe (433)

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.
Science quotes on:  |  Acuteness (2)  |  Clarity (28)  |  Concept (66)  |  Correspondence (7)  |  Data (84)  |  Distinguish (23)  |  Language (127)  |  Mutual (17)  |  Ordinary (33)  |  Relation (75)  |  Science (1323)  |  Sense (160)  |  Striving (2)  |  Understanding (309)  |  Utmost (6)  |  Word (180)

[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.”
Science quotes on:  |  Explanation (147)  |  Grandmother (3)  |  Something (9)  |  Understanding (309)


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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