I ran across and interesting quote by Albert Einstein the other day.
Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.
~ Albert Einstein
This isn’t exactly the best known quote by Einstein and I doubt many teachers quote this to their students. Reading is generally a good thing, but if it starts becoming a substitute for thinking on your own it can hold you back from reaching your potential.
This quote touches on a problem that holds many people back from actually accomplishing things. It is easy to spend so much time researching that you never actually execute. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read, do research and try to learn from others, but at some point you have to decide that you’ve gathered enough data and the time has come to do something. That may be starting your own business, writing a book or even repainting your living room. You have a very finite lifespan. Some people spend their life preparing for what they want to do without ever actually doing what they want to do.
Sometimes the most helpful situations are the ones that force you to go ahead and do something by removing the option to try to collect more information.
Juan Cruz Jr says
I certainly agree with Einstein’s quote. I am currently reading three books. I catch myself reguarly reading more during the day instead of spending some time thinking and meditating and writing those thoughts down on paper. I certainly can use a heavier those of thinking to help with my blog posts.
Daniel M. Wood says
I have as a rule when reading to think, “How can I use this in my life, how does this work into my system of living.”
When you do you learn a lot more and you find all kinds of creative ways to use the new knowledge.
That is how I create my blogposts and my course.
Ashley Beolens says
The question remains how much is too much?
Also surely it is good to give the brain a break from thinking about what you want to achieve, reading deosn’t just have to be to gain knowledge.
Mark Shead says
I think it probably comes down to whether or not you are using reading as a way to be lazy. Of course now days, far more people use television for that than reading.
But wasn’t the part of Eistein’s life, “after a certain age”, a relative failure?
Mark Shead says
Relative to what he had achieved at a younger age or relative to what others achieved?
Nick Thacker says
Haha, Einstein’s “other” theory of relativity…
Muhammad Maaviya says
does nobody else think “… falls into lazy habits of thinking” is possibly an example of Einstein’s characteristic witty use of facetiousness? Reading is in fact an active, thinking experience where the mind is constantly analyzing, critiquing, and making connections. In many cases the act of reading is actually the physical stuff that thinking is made of, even ignoring how often reading leads to seemingly aimless daydreaming, the source of many a genius idea and novel realization.
Nah, reading does not impair thinking. All you have to do is think between reading(s).
I’m not professor but I think, good ideas comes from knowledgeable minds, and reading is the gateway for the mind. however that I’m not a good reader :D
Tahlia Newland says
I can see what you’re saying and I think it could be a way of procrasinating for some people but for me this isn’t true. Good writing stimulates thinking. I analyse what I read & I write reviews, so I’m thinking about what I read.
I read a lot, partly just to support other authors, and I encourage others to read too. There’s too many people not reading these days. I also encourage people to evaluate what they read, ie I encourage thinking in readers. So it’s really a personality thing, not a fault of reading a lot.
Mark Shead says
I think Einstein’s quote is probably most relevant to scientific minds that he worked with and he was pointing out that some of them didn’t achieve what they were capable of because they kept trying to read more instead of going out and doing creative discovery for themselves. But I’d agree that it is more of a personality thing that a fault of reading. However, reading is one of those things that most people feel you can’t do enough, so it is easy to not see it as a problem.
marquita herald says
For me the most friviously reading is the news. I scan MSNBC in the morning and that’s it. As far as research – I set up Google alerts for topics I’m interested in or planning to write about and have them sent to folders I’ve set up in my gmail account. That said, I am a voracious reader, often have more than one book going at a time, and have been known to read through the night when I find a particularly compelling mystery novel – the trade off though is the wasteland of television. I work at home and when I’m done for the day, I head for a long walk and then a book rather than the boob tube.
Mark Shead says
The Internet has created a whole new type of reading that is probably different from what Einstein could imagine.
Nick Thacker says
Good point, Mark.
This was my initial reaction to the post–I agree with Einstein, and feel it has even greater impact today. With the amount of news services, RSS-based blogs, and marketing messages out there, we’re reading so much more on a daily basis (even without being stuck in books) that it’s more important than ever to be able to take a step back from it all!
I think there’s a balance that’s needed between reading, reflecting, and doing. So many authors and teachers give out practical, action-based advice, but we’re usually more willing to “think” about the advice than “act” on it. I’ve read so much about how to be more productive, but without actually doing some of those things, I wasn’t becoming more productive (on the contrary, I was just more aware of how UNproductive I was…!)
Good post, and great point. We need to make sure we’re not only taking the time to reflect on our readings/studies/whatever, we need to make sure that after a point, we go on an information diet and start DOING!
This quote about reading too much definitely won’t apply to everyone, and I think Mark is correct in saying it may be relevant only to certain personalities, although not only at older ages as Einstein suggests. As a Perfectionist Procrastinator I found myself researching homeschooling endlessly, feeling that there was no end to finding better curriculums, methods, projects, organization of fore mentioned items, etc… When it came to actually implementing my plans, I was frozen in a sea of too much information. I was not able to think for myself at this point, with information overload. It has taken me a semester, with my daughter in school, to step back and figure out how I really wanted to homeschool, while purposely not reading another homeschooling book. So yes – I think Einsteins quote is relevant in certain situations. I’ll be curled up on the couch with a fiction book this afternoon though!
Yuval Goren says
This is very true. We see this a lot in the self-help “industry” where people read ton of self-help books and listen to audio programs but they don’t take the next most critical step, which is taking action and implementing all their new knowledge in their life. Knowledge is great but it doesn’t help you much if you don’t find how to utilize and leverage it to grow and enrich your life.
If Einstein were living in today’s age of computers, smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, iPods, iPads, NetFlix, and TV, I don’t he’d be talking about “after a certain age” … or even about reading.
Mark Shead says
That is probably true.
Not everyone is a victim of corporate advertising, do you think scientists of Einsteins credibility would be all that interested in a sophisticated marketing campaign.
Promod Sharma | @mActuary says
The problem isn’t reading too much. The problem is thinking too little.
Some people continually consume content and perhaps share it. However, they do not create content or act on what they are learning. That takes thinking, effort and some courage.
At least that’s what I think :)
Mark Shead says
Excellent point or in Einstein’s words, you don’t reading to divert you from creative pursuits.
Depends what kind of reading… Reading to acquire new skills and nurture imagination can be beneficial at any age. Everyone has a few sentences that aren’t on their level. Including Einstein…
Λεβητες ξυλου says
I agree with Bojan. It depends on what you are reading. Also, we should bare in mind that Einstein lived in a period that the information was limited…. It would be very interesting to have Albert nowadays with facebook, twitter, blogs etc…
i dont think albert einstein would be jumping on twitter to exercise his mind. Information was not limited for someone like Albert, he was discovering information and does not really have an equal in modern society. I would argue that sites like facebook and twitter encourage misinformation
faizan ali says
i m totally agree with the Einstein point of view but sometime i become in dilemma that reading too much is decent or rubbish but however i may be true .In my community it is observed that person understand by reading very low as compared to that of another .
Rich Young says
“It is easy to spend so much time researching that you never actually execute. ”
I can’t quote where I learned it, but often use the term “analysis paralysis”
It’s easy to remember and share, particularly with new employees.
Tara Jenkins says
Thanks for sharing this Mark. Interestingly, I’ve heard people express their observation that I “read too much”, and (LOL) it wasn’t until I read it that it sank! Of course, all things being relative …
When ‘thinking’ (with the brain) is more enjoyable that experiencing life with the whole being, truly connecting with others becomes aggravating to one’s addiction : )
Happy New Year!
Chris Sketch says
Quoting Einstein, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who quotes Einstein too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.
:-D he’s a very quotable guy, but I’m not so sure he knows everything.
M Hoepken says
Considering Einstein had difficulty in school and it is often speculated that he was dyslexic, I don’t find it interesting that he would be against reading.
Akos Fintor says
I always thought that knowledge build prison walls around creativity.
one thing I can’t really understand is how can one really GRASP when reading more than just one book at a time… i mean real significant learning that is… :p
Mark Shead says
Most colleges have you taking multiple courses at the same time. Is reading that much different?
I don’t think reading too much is, by itself, a problem. It can become a negative when a person spends too much time reading about subjects that don’t expand his or her knowledge of the world (i.e., anything about the Kardashians).
Moazzam Jamil says
It is quiet right,and during reading when we relate the previous knowledge with that we are gaining from study and then from this correlation we create something new or for it actually we are making research,and this is the thing which Eistein recomende.
And study for only absorbing the knowledge like info is dangerous for creativity
I’ve always wondered what exactly did he mean by those words.
I’d also like to add that he also said:
“Knowledge exists in two forms – lifeless, stored in books, and alive, in the consciousness of men. The second form of existence is after all the essential one; the first, indispensable as it may be, occupies only an inferior position.”
Finding the right men to share (and raise) knowledge is very rare (at least in my case) & in this situation books are the savior.
Curtis Waston says
See my interpretation of this is slightly different to yours.
My mind is cast back to the times when people had closed minds, back in the days when ‘myasthma’ was the cause of the many diseased which plagued the world, a theory which was held for many centuries until someone pushed the envelope. Those many scientists and scholars had read these so called ‘facts’ in books and they put them to use. Although they were able to create appreciable results using these ideas, people such as Bazalgette for instance, they were fundamentally wrong. What’s more, because of this they were close-minded to the developments of the time, that Cholera was water-born.
I believe Einstein is saying: “Read books and learn things, that’s good, but don’t stop there. Add your own ideas into the mix, expand and develop other peoples ideas to make a better one. Don’t just learn and remember then stop. Improve on it. Otherwise you fall into the habit of lazy thinking”
Just an alternative, I hadn’t thought of it your way before. “If I gave you an apple and you gave me an apple, we’d both have just one apple. If I gave you an Idea, and you gave me an Idea, we’d both have two apples.”
It’s not a “complex” thing. In fact,like many things in life, it’s quite simple….too much of anything is not good for you.
The quote is taken out of context. To explain it means to understand learning in its simplest form. When young, humans are like sponges…they absorb tremendous amounts of information. That does not mean that they understand or learn how to use the information abstractly. Throughout their years of life they begin to understand and actually learn information. Many people never sort out this information for themselves. They rely on other people to understand themselves…never going through self learning to evolve their self awareness. People use other people’s ideas and understandings of themselves and apply it to themselves rather than going through the difficulty of figuring it out for themselves.. The process of using other people destroys the ability for abstract thought. Reading isn’t bad if you have that ability. However, looking at the American society…very few have the ability and out of that group few of them actually employ it.
John west says
Yes exactly there is reading as simpley an information gathering process and then there is thinking about what you read. To many of our suppsile very smart leaders in since and life are simpley very efficient Information storage and Retrieval machines wich explanes all the clareing inconsistencies and conterdictions in todays since and soical/ political world
Christina Burkhart says
I am 10 and all of my friends think I read way to much but I think it is just because they never read but I always have read up to a least 5 hours a day like on the bus or during free time or while outside at school but one reason I do is because I like to read and I am usually on 5 books at a time and have one month to finish them all!
Mark Shead says
If you are 10 and reading 5 hours each day, I’m sure Einstein would approve. :)
Here are my humble opinions about Einstein quote. He doesn’t means reading is not good. We can read a book just in a day and absorb may be 10 years of knowledge and experience from other. A huge leap from people that doesn’t read.
What’s Einstein catch is the “Creative”, and again it doesn’t mean one will not creative if reading too much. I see it as a very high “risks” causing the reader into lazy habits of thinking. Yes we could think between reading, but you are most likely just thinking within the shadow of the book. The more we read, the more our brain being shape by the pattern of learning knowledge. It become a habit that we might not even notice. It never easy to fix our bad habits.
Most people read and they just “practising” the knowledge they have read for entire life. Few fortunate people read and able put their thought on it, they innovate it but still based on the foundation of other people knowledge.
What truly “creative” are what Einstein create. He came out a totally new theory about gravity that have to oppose Newton’s theory that have been read/study/research/practice by all other physicists at that time.
Even Newton himself discover gravity from a falling apple and his thinking. never initiated by reading or end with reading. If this happen to us, I am certainly most of our very first thinking is to find books/internet to read to find out why apple fall instead of think.
To think a truly creative idea is extremely hard. I believe Einstein realised that reading too much of other people experience will even make it worse.
Lastly, sorry for my bad grammar.
I agree with Einstein but, only if people are reading as a means to find answers to questions the the individual doesnt have an answer too. Stumbling upon answers is a trade off of reading; one of my favorites to be exact. But I feel if your reading to learn about different perspectives, not necessarily to become better equipped to solve problems but just the passion to gain knowlege then reading at any age shouldnt have any downsides. I do understand his point cleary.