Insanity is Doing The Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results

Albert Einstein was one of, if not THE, most influential minds in physics (if not all of science). It is perhaps precisely for that reason, which we'll get to, that many quotes were attributed to him that he did not in fact say. The old line "Insanity is Doing The Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results" is one such example. We'll speculate a little about why it was attributed to him, but the short answer (in the event that's why you're here) is that he did not say it.

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This article is about the famous quote that is claimed to have been said by Albert Einstein about the definition of insanity. Before we get into the breakdown, we’ll go ahead and let you know that Albert Einstein did not in fact make this quote (nor is it the definition of insansity). We’ll work through it below.

Did he say it?

No. Albert Einstein did not say it, and much has been written about this fact.

Citation 1:

Business Insider

Citation 2:

Quote Investigator

Who said he did?

This is pretty interesting because no one seems to claim that Einstein in fact said it any particular moment to any particular person. Leaving room for reasons why people claim it was Einstein who said it. As we’ll get to, a local newspaper accidentally slipped the quote into the wrong version of the story.

Where did it come from?

The actual quote, as obscure as it may sound, comes from a mystery author named Rita Mae Brown. She wrote, in her 1983 book Sudden Death, that “Unfortunately, Susan didn’t remember what Jane Fulton once said. ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.'”

Why do people say that Einstein said it?

Like other fake quotes, it’s true that the reason most people think Albert Einstein  seemed to say it because they heard that he did. Let’s unpack this a little.

Here’s what happened: Michael Becker, the editor for the Bozeman Daily, accidentally allowed the wrong version of the article to appear in print. He described the line of events that lead to his becoming aware of the situation and how he reacted to it but, essentially, a reader notified him that the quote was misworded. Becker, being the good editor that he is, then looked into the situation. He found that, not only did Einstein not say the quote, but also it was attributable to an author of mystery books. What gives?

The best answer is perhaps that Albert Einstein was a legendary intellectual figure at the time (and currently) and whoever originally falsified the quote was, was probably defaulting to Einstein’s intelligence as a means of giving the quote more credibility (perhaps knowing that the person would not be able to verify the quote).

What is the actual definition of insanity?

One of the reasons for adding to the literature on this particular quote was to actually say what the definition of mental insanity is. Relying on the dictionary, one might receive the definiton “the state of being seriously mentally ill; madness” which is decidedly unhelpful. The definition of insanity, in the real world, takes a number of different faces that make sense why a fake quote with significant intellectual backing and public acceptance would take hold in society. The researcher Fingarette, suggested that the definiton of insanity (in a criminal context) need be a question of whether one is competent for their actions.

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