Friday, November 17, 2017

Humanity, Technology, and an "Einstein Quote" that Einstein Never Said.

I was recently thinking about the film Powder. Released in 1995 and starring Sean Patrick Flannery, Mary Steenburgen, Jeff Goldblum, and Lance Henriksen, Powder was about a young albino man, nicknamed Powder, with unique capabilities of intellect, telepathy, and paranormal ability. The man is an outcast due to his differences, and the film explores some of his interactions with others. The tagline for the film was "An extraordinary encounter with another human being!". Here's the trailer for the film:

It's definitely worth a watch. I remember being quite moved by it when I was a kid (I was 12 when the film came out). There's one scene in particular that stuck with me and comes up in my thoughts from time-to-time. Jeff Goldblum's character, Donald Ripley, is supportive of Powder and awed by Powder's abilities. In the scene that I still remember so well, the following exchange is had between the two of them:

Donald Ripley: “It’s become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.”

Powder: “Albert Einstein.”

Donald Ripley: “I look at you, and I think that someday our humanity might actually surpass our technology.”

Beautiful, right?! I loved that scene as a kid, and I still love it now. However, something very interesting that I just learned is that the first part of the quote ("It's become appallingly clear...") isn't actually a quote from Albert Einstein!

Folks at Quote Investigator and Snopes have tried to track down this claimed Einstein quote and have found that the first instance of the quote in known history actually is the movie Powder! The quote was written into the script as being from Einstein even though it wasn't actually an Einstein quote. Later, due to the film, others began using the quote and misattributing it to Einstein (such as DeAnna Emerson’s "Mars/Earth Enigma: A Sacred Message to Mankind" in 1996 and Nina L. Diamond's "Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers, and Healers" in 2000).

It's still a great quote and a moving sentiment. It reminds me of what I found to be the most powerful line in Martin Luther King Jr.'s essay "The World House":

"When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men."

Of course, the quote from Powder sounds like something that Albert Einstein would have said. And, even though I think it's good to be aware of things like misattribution, there's also something interesting about how we often will begin building legends around famous people from our past (and even present) and can slowly attribute talents, spoken words, and acts to those legends that may not have been true of the actual people the legends are based on. 
Maybe it doesn't matter that Einstein never actually said that. Maybe part of the legend of Einstein, the myth of the man, is that we build him up and attribute sayings and deeds to him that weren't really his. Even though I prefer knowing the truth in this instance, it might just be part of our human nature that we build our legends up in such ways. It's definitely something to ponder.

I'll leave you here with a quote that is pretty surely actually from Einstein:

"The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks."

(Of course, many have shortened the quote to say "The value of an education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think". Oh well.)

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