There’s a pressing need for a “Fake Dalai Lama Quote” website and perhaps even more of a need for fakeeinsteinquotes.com. In the meantime, we have this post, “Debunking Fake Einstein Quotes,” by someone calling themselves “Borna” on the (now defunct) site, Skeptica Esoterica. (The link now takes you to the archive.org archive of the blog post.)
Presumably Fake Einstein Quotes appear for the same kinds of reasons that Fake Buddha quotes appear: things like people wanting a quote to seem more substantial by attaching the name of a great man, simple errors, wishful thinking, etc.
One of the quotes I saw most recently attributed to Einstein was this one:
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”
This was oohed and aahed over as if it was the most profound thought imaginable. But give it a moment’s thought and inquire whether these two positions do in fact constitute the “only two ways” to live life. Is there really no middle ground, where you could regard some things as being miracles and others as not being miracles? (I’m not arguing for the correctness of one view or another, but for the existence of this third view.) In fact I’d argue that many people fall into the third category — the one that’s dismissed as impossible in the quotation. A great many people believe in the existence of miracles as actually taking place, but only rarely.
So having established that the quotation presents a false dichotomy, and is an example of black-and-white thinking, ask yourself whether the Einstein you know was a black-and-white thinker. Of course it could be that he had off days, but the crudity of thought expressed in the quotation should make us pause before automatically assuming that this is a quotation from Einstein.
And investigating the quote online suggests that it only became attributed to Einstein around 1993, which casts further doubt on it being Einstein’s. Wikiquote has a section devoted to this quote. Apparently it dates back further than I’d originally thought, to the 1940’s, when Gilbert Fowler White attributed it to Einstein. But White provided no source, so this citation doesn’t do anything to directly connect the quote with Einstein himself. White may have made it up, been presenting what he thought Einstein believed, or have been paraphrasing something he did say (possibly from Einstein’s conversation with David Reichenstein, which is referred to in the Wikiquote article), which expressed a rather different view.
The article I’ve linked to debunks several Fake Einstein Quotes, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Have at it!