Who said “The Definition of Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”?

Last night over dinner my father tells me, “Einstein said – The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I thought about this for a second and considered the fact that Einstein was a scientist. By profession scientists tend to do the same thing over and over and tend to get different results. Granted the variables change through the course of the process, however, each experiment must be performed repetitiously as close to the same way as possible to account for the various results and determine what variable must be changed to achieve a different and sometimes desired result. In my mind there was no way Einstein or any scientist worth their salt could ever manifest a quote such as this.

So, I told him this. He says he heard it on the news. It was Einstein. Then he dared me to “Look it up.” I do not know what news broadcast spouted this obvious misinformation. Knowing my father’s politics and the reference he was making toward the Obama entitlement spending force I can only assume it was probably FOX.

Einstein also proclaimed that “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” I do not see FOX repeating this quote anytime in the near future.

Anyway, I took his challenge and decided to look it up. This is what I have found:

The quote, through great debate, has been attributed to Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein and Rita Mae Brown. It has been repeated through variation by coaches, athletes, overweight women, neurotic psych patients, housewives and, most recently, conservative political commentators.

I decided to look for primary sources with years and dates attributed to the article. There is no citation of Franklin or Twain actually writing this piece of wisdom or being recorded saying it in an interview. Franklin is cited in Wikiquotes without documentation and with serious debate about redacting it. In that same discussion one user claims to have found an article in an issue of the 1925 New Yorker verifying that it was, actually, an Einstein quote. I followed her link to Google Books to find not enough information to satisfy myself. The picture near the article did not look like it was from 1925, nor did the citation reveal any dates printed on the page. The image was too small to be zoomed into a legibly readable size and there were no links for further perusal. Finally, it seems through context to have been written by a fiction author offhandedly claiming that someone else, Einstein for instance, said it. Thankfully the comment and source was redacted as being unreliable.

Did this leave Rita Mae Brown’s novel, Sudden Death, as the only originator? No. Narcotics Anonymous also used the quote “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results” in their Basic Text (otherwise known as the Red Book yet filed under the title Narcotics Anonymous: Approved Literature) published about the same time. I went to the Library of Congress to determine the actual date of publication for these texts. Brown’s Sudden Death was published by Bantam in 1983. It appears on pg 68. Narcotics Anonymous has a publication date stating 1982, however, a source profiling rare books states that the actual publication was March of 1983. To further shroud the origination in mystery there are claims (without documentation that I could find) that Brown used it in a 1981 interview before her book was published and that the quote was included in the original preview edition of the NA handbook in the same year and that it dates as far back as 1979 when NA began researching and putting together the manuscript.

Who knows? It could very well be just an ancient Chinese proverb. I would sincerely love any information you come across regarding this. After all, the great Einstein once said, “Knowledge is power and knowing is half the battle.”

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14 Responses to “Who said “The Definition of Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”?”

  1. ps – einstein did not say that either.

  2. Okay, actually NA borrowed this frm AA , in which attrubutes this adage to the original founder, Billar Wilson aka Founder oferta The

  3. Look up Thea Oxford Group, also :)

  4. Wilson said, “Making a mistake once is called learning. Making it twice means you’re not learning.” This is similar, but not the same. I actually think it is more accurate.

  5. Neil Eddinger Says:

    I shared Tyson Moore’s skepticism as to the attribution of this expression to Einstein for the the same reason. I’m still open to an
    new evidence but generally I find that the brainiest comments have been said over and over for centuries in different words and different languages.

  6. Jersey Girl Says:

    I use this saying all the time and always thought it was Einstein. I, too, questioned why a scientist would say this for the same obvious reasons the author implied. For whomever came up with it I wish to say “thank you” nonetheless, as it is just so appropriate for so many situations. And, it makes me smile to think of the irony. :-)

    • It must be remembered that in addition to being a great scientist Dr. Einstein was also a brilliant philosopher. The two can often contradict each other and I think a more accurate statement made somewhere here is that this is just one of those kind of expressions that evolve over time it probably never will be figured out as to who really originated. Dr. Einstein said that God doesn’t roll dice with the universe but he didn’t believe in God. As a consequence had to explain over and over again by what he meant by God.

  7. Coming up with different answers to this question, Is Insane :)

  8. Einstein meant to entail a retrospective philosophy. To work your life earning money for daily bread, or to spend all your time studying, are cycles that could classify a person as insane for following them and expecting difference in the routine.
    The Moral: Difference happens when you DO something different.

  9. N. C. Jones Says:

    Anyone who repeats this comment obviously never used a computer.

  10. A friend recently asked me to look at his blog in which he attributed that quote to Einstein. I told him I liked the blog, but thought he had the source of that quote wrong. Just don’t see Einstein saying that either. The first time I heard it was in a small church in Minnesota in the early eighties when Earnie Larsen — recently deceased and the true ground-breaking pioneer in codependency — gave a lecture that changed my life. He did not claim or deny originating it; he incorporated it into his lecture. I don’t know who came up with that definition of insanity but I don’t believe it’s insane for a writer to research until he or she digs deep to find the true source of any quote for proper attribution but we can’t always find it. Often in recovery quotes are anonymous. Congratulations on your search and for trusting yourself. M Beattie

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