Friday, May 2, 2014

Someone, somewhere, came up with this attributed triple injunction:
Out of clutter find simplicity. From discord find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. -- Albert Einstein
Someone else has made it virtual "wall-art" (as in Facebook "wall") as it reads above.

When a Facebook friend posted the text, I wondered, did Einstein really say or write it? An Internet search produces the probable intermediate source for the "wall-art" in the quotation:
Einstein's "Rules of Work"1. Out of clutter find simplicity.2. From discord find harmony.3. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. - Albert Einstein
...from a collection of Einsteinians and Einsteinishes, The New Quotable Einstein, compiled by Alice Calaprice and Freeman Dyson (Princeton Press, 2005, p. 296; also in The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, 2013, p 480). The "Rules" is included in a chapter of quotes attributed to the great physicist; so it is that they are only Einsteinish.  

The compilers' comments on the "Rules" read:
The first "rule" is probably a paraphrase of Einstein's many quotations about the value of simplicity. I traced the second rule to Horace, the Roman poet and satirist, who had it as "Concordia discors" (harmony in discord) in his Epistles I, xii. 19. And the third rule has probably been in general use for ages.
Using the "Search inside" feature in Google Books, the only other "cluttered" quotation included in either version of Quotable is documentably Einsteinian:
My intuition was not strong enough in the field of mathematics to differentiate clearly the fundamentally important...from the rest of the more or less dispensable erudition. Also, my interest in the study of nature was no doubt stronger... In this field I soon learned to sniff out that which might lead to fundamentals and to turn aside...from the multitude of things that clutter up the mind and divert from the essentials. (p. 17 [18 in The Ultimate Quotable Einstein], from "Autobiographical Notes," in Schilpp, Albert Einstein Philosopher-Scientist, 15)
The third "rule" is similar to a near-cliché, quoted in Wikipedia:
When written in Chinese the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.
This quotation, taken from a speech by then Senator John F. Kennedy in 1959 has a history of usage both before and since his.

I think we can infer that the contrasting senses of "clutter" between the documented Einsteinian and attributed Einsteinish mean that he did not say or write any of the three Rules.

My reason for this post is to deconstruct the Rules in this way:

Clutter, discord, difficulty...
Simplicity, harmony, opportunity...

Clutter and simplicity are near opposites, as are discord and harmony. But, difficulty and opportunity do not exhibit an apposite relationship. On the other hand, the rules could describe Thomas Kuhn's normal science and science in crisis. When all is well with a paradigm, normal science applies and extends the paradigm in a self-similar simple and harmonic manner. When clutter and discord enter and, ultimately endanger the working theory, the onset of a revolution is at hand -- a new paradigm is required. However, sometimes recognition of the existence of crisis doesn't come about until a new perspective emerges and supplant the cluttered and discordant predecessor. So it was when plate tectonics arose; so much of the previous simplicity and harmony were operating in the midst of hidden clutter and discord. 

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