Exploring the inquiring mind of one of our greatest thinkers
It’s a funny thing: People are sometimes afraid to ask questions out of fear of seeming “stupid.” And yet the smartest people on the planet are often the ones who ask the most questions. Case in point: Albert Einstein.
To get a sense of how Einstein felt about questioning, just look at some of the many famous quotes from him on this subject.
Let’s start with this one: “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” This is actually the first part of a longer quote, which ends with the wonderful line: “Never lose a holy curiosity.”
Einstein thought questioning and curiosity were the key to learning. In my book, I address the matter of encouraging students to question and explore in school (as opposed to just throwing “knowledge” at them and requiring them to memorize it). Einstein was keenly aware of this problem many years ago, when he said, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” He also said, “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
Then there is my own favorite quote from Einstein:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
By the way, I’ve seen this quote worded in various ways. Sometimes it has Einstein saying that he’d spend “55 minutes thinking about the problem, and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Hopefully I can track down the original quote and its exact wording, but either way, it makes the same point (because in this case, “question” and “problem” are almost interchangeable terms). The point is, you’ve got to figure out the crux of the matter—the essential problem or question to be addressed—before focusing in on answers.
One more bit of Einstein/questioning lore: From my understanding, Einstein’s theory of relativity began with an early “beautiful question” he posed, along the lines of “What if I rode a beam of light across the universe?” and then set out to answer.
Anybody have more stories or insights on Einstein and questioning? Would love to hear them.