I Never Said That! #FridayReflections

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.


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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22 thoughts on “I Never Said That! #FridayReflections”

  1. There must be a human need to mangle or misquote, because a quick Internet search brings up so many examples of “alternate quotes”. And now, I would ask to be beamed back up to the Starship Enterprise, but, apparently, Captain Kirk’s “Beam me up, Scotty” doesn’t exist, either. (By the way, in case this comment goes through, I had to shorten my name because it was too long? Seriously?)
    Unknown Journey Ahead recently posted…April and Autism #FridayReflectionsMy Profile

  2. Actually I can well imagine Einstein saying that Imagination is the highest form of research as all great strides forward in science have been a result of imagination or perhaps some completely outlandish thoughts put into heads. Thoughts that at the time simply cannot be proved. Nice post and thought provoking.
    Suzy recently posted…Love Conquers All #FridayReflections #BARWoWeMy Profile

    1. He clearly thought imagination important, but it is not ANY form of research unless you redefine words. That was my point, and the clue that the the quotation was, most likely, not accurate. The positive attitude towards intuition, imagination, and play (experimentation) we know to be true, so on its surface, it’s something we could BELIEVE he said. What we shouldn’t believe are poorly researched quote-bots and memes.

  3. I learned recently that “alternative facts” is also a term used in law … an wrote about it in my most recent blog post.

    I find myself looking more closely at news articles and blog posts before sharing them online. I even weigh where on the political spectrum the source is, if possible. https://mediabiasfactcheck.com is great for that.

    I’m not big on using quotes, but if I ever do, I guess I’ll have to use “extreme vetting” to make sure that I get them right.
    Mike Goad recently posted…Alternative FactsMy Profile

      1. Actually, it was a horrible woman not unlike KC that provoked me into going to law school in the first place. That, and everyone saying, “You’re so good at arguing, you should be a lawyer!” (Let me tell you, kids, that’s NO reason to become a lawyer! LOL)

    1. LOL!!! Don’t be embarrassed. I looked it up, and you were SO not the only ones to do it – it wasn’t easy to debunk it, but served as a great springboard for a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while now. I hope you’re not irritated with me for making an example of it. 🙂 (Glad you’re “tickled” – and you DID say you admired me for speaking my mind and “damn the consequences!” LOL Please don’t kick me out of your lovely group – I’d rather that NOT be one of the consequences!)

    2. The one I WISHED he’d said was “Play is the highest form of research.” That would seem more “in character” for him, and would’ve made a better trap for the unwary. I might’ve fallen for it, but the first one sent me off to do real research, because I honestly couldn’t imagine what he meant by it!

  4. Like Corinne, I’m embarrassed we chose this quote. What’s interesting though, is that even though I chose it I remember thinking ‘huh?’ and wondered what it meant. It’s probably why I chose not to write a post on it but I guess I didn’t put in the effort to research it further. Interesting take on the prompt in any case 🙂

    1. Don’t be embarrassed! We all fall for these things. It’s getting harder and harder to research them, when everyone’s sharing without checking. Once upon a library, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations was THE authoritative source, short off digging through primary sources for the original. Now, I think it’s joined by http://www.bartleby.com/quotations/ and Quote Investigator. Other sources are less reliable, but fear more plentiful. And I’ve seen bogus quotations published in some of the most reputable magazines. So don’t beat yourself up over choosing the prompt! Just beware the pitfalls of finding quotations on the internet or copying them from any tertiary sources. And trust your intuition – that little “huh” in the back of your head. Don’t imagine you’re just not on Einstein’s intellectual level – you probably don’t understand it because it makes no sense!

  5. I did write my silly poem with the prompt but I never actually said that Einstein said this in the poem… I guess I just assume that quote prompts are accurate, but of course when you really think about it, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever that he would have said that. There is so much bogus stuff shared online, it’s good to think twice about it. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Sure thing! It’s a post I’ve been wanting to write, frankly, for several years now. I picture a time when there will be so much misinformation floating around that it will cease to be amusing and may be truly dangerous. Quotations are a “safe” illustration of how something untrue, repeated often enough, becomes accepted by smart people as the truth. (I even remember, years ago, googling for “most results” when trying to arbitrate discussions over grammar or spelling. I would not feel as safe doing that today.)
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…I Never Said That! #FridayReflectionsMy Profile

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