The Internet, once a place for academic collaboration and knowledge sharing, has become fertile soil for the emergence and growth of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” We are all complicit in the spread and planting of this mental kudzu, and it speaks volumes about us – all of us – when we share what we share. “Alternative facts” can be very revealing of the human mindset: They shed light on our biases, our aspirations and ambitions, our vision of the future, our wishful thinking. They lay bare our fears, our loves, our casual bigotry, and our hate.
They do nothing to advance knowledge.
For #FridayReflections, I was most drawn to the suggestion to use, as inspiration, the following quotation:
Imagination is the highest form of research.
– Albert Einstein
Unfortunately, he didn’t say this. Spend sixty seconds reflecting on the meaning of the words. How likely is it that any scientist, let alone Einstein, would utter them?
Why are so many people eager to share and memorize quotations without caring who really said that? Why do they become so defensive when asked to cite sources? Are our friends all out to deceive us, and irked when we call them out on it? My theory is that they lack confidence in their own thoughts and ideas, and slide as easily into rhetorical fallacy – in this case, appeal to authority – as they slide into a comfy pair of yoga pants. Being intellectually lazy, they don’t care who said what; they’d be happy spreading platitudes like fortune cookies on a cheap Chinese buffet, as if they believed those little scraps of paper imparted the wisdom of an ancient philosopher instead of the mind-numbed ramblings of a bored writer, trapped in a fortune cookie factory in Los Angeles.
In this case, the prompt quotation appears to be a conflation of something Einstein actually said, and another misattributed quotation. The first is, amazingly, not a misattribution, according to Quote Investigator:
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
– Albert Einstein
The second, according to Quote Investigator, is likely the result of faulty association:
In 1962 the journal “Childhood Education” published an article titled “Play is Education” by N. V. Scarfe that contained the following passage: 2
All play is associated with intense thought activity and rapid intellectual growth.
The highest form of research is essentially play. Einstein is quoted as saying, “The desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of a vague play with basic ideas. This combinatory or associative play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought”
I would rather get an accurate glimpse into the inner workings of Einstein’s brain than a muddled mess of disjointed thoughts plucked from tertiary sources, such as a quotation generator on Twitter or a meme machine, where “a penny for your thoughts” is nothing but cheap plagiarism. Were Einstein’s own words not good enough for us all?
If you are new to Friday Reflections, here’s what it’s about. It’s the end of the week, you’re probably exhausted with work, and all you want to do is sit back, put your feet up, sip on some fancy cocktail or wine, and write away. Sanch of Living My Imperfect Life and Everyday Gyaan give you writing prompts and all you have to do is choose any one of those prompts to blog about and link up between Friday and Monday. After you link up, be sure to spread the love by visiting other bloggers who have linked up too. Follow them on Twitter @FridayReflect and join our Facebook Group. Share your post on social media with the hashtag #FridayReflections.