This 1947 photo by Philippe Halsman was a favorite of Einstein's.
An article in Sunday’s paper about the possible evolutionary advantages of curiosity introduced me to a “famed quote” from Albert Einstein that was nonetheless new to me. He told a college student “never lose a holy curiosity.”
Of course, my “holy curiosity” got the better of me and I clicked on the link to that quote and found an intriguing conversation Einstein had with an interviewer, William Miller of Life magazine, and his “nihilistic” college-age son about religious beliefs.
Granting that we are free to name any power we believe in “God,” Einstein explains, “I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil. … The presence of a superior reasoning power…revealed in the incomprehensible universe forms my idea of God.”
“I cannot accept any concept of God based on the fear of life or the fear of death, or blind faith. I cannot prove to you that there is no personal God, but if I were to speak of him I would be a liar. … I am an honest man.”
“Certainly there are things worth believing. I believe in the brotherhood of man and the uniqueness of the individual. But if you ask me to prove what I believe, I can’t. You know them to be true but you could spend a whole lifetime without being able to prove them. The mind can proceed only so far upon what it knows and can prove. There comes a point where the mind takes a leap—call it intuition or what you will—and comes out upon a higher plane of knowledge, but can never prove how it got there. All great discoveries have involved such a leap.”
When asked if he believes in a soul, Einstein responds, “Yes, if by this you mean the living spirit that makes us long to do worthy things for humanity.”
He suggests to the student that he (and by inference, we) find something “to occupy your curiosity for a lifetime.”
“Then do not stop to think about the reasons for what you are doing, about why you are questioning. The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. Never lose a holy curiosity. Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives.”
As the interviewer and son are leaving, the son points to a tree “and asked whether one could truthfully say it was a tree.” “This could all be a dream,” Einstein replies. “You may not be seeing it all.”
“If I assume that I can see it, how do I know exactly that the tree exists and where it is?” the student asks.
“You have to assume something. Be glad that you have some little knowledge of something that you cannot penetrate. Don’t stop to marvel.”
Reading this exchange, I couldn’t help but think of my and your “little knowledge” of God and the spiritual life. Einstein’s counsel never to stop marveling rings in my ears and rings true in my heart.
“It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. Never lose a holy curiosity. Try not to become a person of success but rather try to become a person of value. One is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than one puts in. But a person of value will give more than he/she/they receives.”
Related post: What Is Truth?
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