Quotes Uncovered: The Universe and Stupidity

Quotes Uncovered

75 ThumbnailHere are more quote authors and origins Shapiro’s tracked down recently.

Seventeen weeks ago I invited readers to submit quotations for which they wanted me to try to trace the origins, using The Yale Book of Quotations and more recent research by me. Hundreds of people have responded via comments or e-mails. I am responding as best I can, a few per week.

Maria asked:

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Reagan? Truman? Lincoln? Some 19th-century white woman I saw credited with it on a poster many years ago?

Please help.

The Yale Book of Quotations, which attempts to trace all famous quotations to their earliest documented occurrences, cites:

“There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit for it.”
Charles Edward Montague, Disenchantment (1922).

Bette Neumann asked:

“The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest,” or “Compound interest is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time.”

It’s often attributed to Albert Einstein, but debunked by Snopes.

The YBQ cites The New York Times, May 27, 1983:

Asked once what the greatest invention of all times was, Albert Einstein is said to have replied, “compound interest.”

Snopes is of course correct that the Einstein attribution is undoubtedly apocryphal.

Antoine asked:

“Two things are infinite: universe and human stupidity. But I’m not sure for the universe.” (Or something approaching this. I’ve always heard it in French; the translation is mine.)

It is usually assigned to Einstein, what can you say about it?

The Yale Book of Quotations quotes as the earliest evidence found for this:

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
Attributed to Albert Einstein in Robert Byrne, … 637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said (1990).

Again, the attribution to Einstein is undoubtedly apocryphal.

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

Michael Witteried

I would like to step forward as the anonymous US Major referred to by posting above
"Vision without funding is hallucination"

I've seen it attributed to NATO Commander General Jones, or an anonymous US Major, as well as Henry Ford and others. I've also seen other variants (such as "research without funding is hallucination") so perhaps the vision one isn't the original version.

Thanks -- Kevin

The actual full quote is "Vision without funding is a hallucination, and programs without funding cuts are a dream" -Major, Mike Witteried 1995, USAFR, JS-IMA

I was assigned to the Navy staff and the Joint Staff, and used this many times in budget drills, including in my MILSATCOM AFCEA course dating back to 1995. I first used it to help obtain above threshold funding for the Global Broadcast Service communications satellite payloads hosted on the last three UFO satellites, and funded by then Admiral Mike Borda (Chief of Naval Operations). My cohorts at the time were CAPT Bill Roeting, VADM Davis, and CAPT Mike Raider.

I've been surprised by the explosion of use after a NASA testimony to Congress in Jan 2009, "Maximizing NASA Potential in Flight and on the Ground", which had good play with radio and TV exposure, although there are many other post 2005 uses.

However, after making such a bold claim the original quote is "Vision without execution is just hallucination. " - Thomas Edison

One of my favorite quotes from a mentor of mine is:
"Unsolved problems are like scabs, eventually they are picked at and soon the whole thing is re-exposed" -Dr. Fred Bond, first director of the MILSATCOM Systems Office (1973) died Aug 4th 1993

"some unsolved problems are like scabs on a wound. If you leave them alone, they'll heal." - President Clinton Interview by Reuters, Jan 11 2001

Other Dr. Fred Bond Quotes I attribute to him in interviews I did or his writings are:
"Beware of simplistic solutions --
Consider the spectrum of possibilities and don't ignore worse case scenarios --
Sometimes small progress is better than endless debate" - Dr. Fred Bond


"Economic and technical issues can be fun, but the political dimension often overrides" -Dr. Fred Bond

Mike Witteried, LtCol USAFR, retired


Julian Hubbard

on the Albert Einstein quote "Only two things are infinite..." it actually first appears in In and Out the Garbage Pail by Frederick S. Pearls, 1969, worded as "I spent one afternoon with Albert Einstein... I still love to quote a statement of his: 'Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I am not yet completely sure about the universe.'" I hope this helps clear up that the quote is correctly ascribed; I would count Frederick S. Pearls among reliable sources.


I have doubts about the following text, quoted as belonging to Einstein in several internet sources:

"Do not pretend that things will change if we always do the same. The crisis is the best blessing that can happen to people and countries, because the crisis brings progress. Creativity is born from the distress, as the day is born from the dark night. It is in crisis that invention, discovery and large strategies are born.Who ever overcomes crisis, outdoes himself without being overcome.

Who attributes their failures to the crisis and neglects, violent his own talent and gives most respect to the problems rather than solutions. The real crisis is the crisis of incompetence. The drawback of people and countries is laziness to find solutions to their problems. without crisis there are no challenges, without challenges life is a routine, a slow agony. without crisis there is no merit. It is in the crisis where the best of each other rise up, without crises any wind is caress. Talk of crisis is to promote it, and silent in the crisis is to exalt conformity. Instead of that, work hard. Get it over with the only crises threatening, that is the tragedy of not wanting to fight for it."