Over the last few years, there’s been an often mentioned quote supposedly from Einstein about being asked about being the smartest man alive. It goes like this. einstein was asked how it felt to be the smartest man alive to which he replied, I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Nikola Tesla. Now, that certainly appears to be a rather humble reply, but is it true? We believe not.
Over recent years Nikola Tesla has started to gain a cult following online. Many of his discoveries have been touted as revolutionary breakthroughs, and he is often regarded as having been cheated of credit for many of them. He has gained somewhat of an underdog status. But we’re not here to discuss his greatness or intelligence, well, to some degree anyway. We’re here to discuss the supposed quote from Einstein.
So why do we believe that it is indeed false? There are several reasons for it, principle among them being a complete and total lack of proof.
Since the moment Einstein’s theory of relativity was proven to be true he gained celebrity status. He was followed, admired and listened to all around the world and wherever he went. He was like a true rock star of the time. However, the adoration didn’t come from everywhere, and many in the scientific community openly opposed his theory of relativity, which has now become universally accepted as scientific fact. Among those to openly disagree was Nikola Tesla. In fact, he quite disliked Einstein.
Now a long haired crank, Einstein by name,
Puts on your high teaching all the blame.”
Fragments of Olympian Gossip ~ Poem by Nikola Tesla late 1920’s
Now, that poem was just the beginning of his open dislike of the world’s greatest scientific mind. He followed it up with a piece in the New York Times in 1935.
a beggar wrapped in purple whom ignorant people take for a king” and “a mass of error and deceptive ideas violently opposed to the teachings of great men of science of the past and even to common sense… the theory wraps all these errors and fallacies and clothes them in magnificent mathematical garb which fascinates, dazzles and makes people blind to the underlying errors…. its exponents are very brilliant men, but they are metaphysicists rather than scientists. Not a single one of the relativity propositions has been proved.”
Nikola Tesla ~ Discussing Einstein with The New York Times, 1935
By golly, he didn’t hold back, did he? You can see that there was very little admiration towards Einstein from Tesla, but it went both ways. While far from being as openly critical of Tesla as Tesla was of him, Einstein refrained from open admiration of his accomplishments. When Tesla on the cover of Time magazine in 1931 Einstein was asked for a quote.
As an eminent pioneer in the realm of high frequency currents… I congratulate you on the great successes of your life’s work.
Albert Einstein ~ As quoted to Time magazine in 1931
Talk about taking the high ground. But would it be right to assume that Einstein would go further and say what he was supposed to have said? That when Einstein was asked how it felt to be the smartest man alive he replied, I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Nikola Tesla? Not likely. And if it were actually said it would most likely have been in jest rather than open and honest admiration. But we still doubt that it was ever said.
While Einstein often joked and made quips, that sort of comment doesn’t appear to be in his nature. Not only that, but it appears to be a spin on the other popular urban myth about Jimi Hendrix that has also been proven to be false
Jimi Hendrix was on the Tonight Show one time in the late 60s. Johnny Carson turned and asked him how it felt to be the greatest guitarist ever. Hendrix quickly responded: “I don’t know. You’d have to ask Phil Keaggy.”
Sound familiar? It does, doesn’t it? To tell you the honest truth, it sounds more like a modern day internet myth designed to prop up a modern-day viral champion of the people than actual words spoken by the men themselves. In fact, the first reference to the quote didn’t appear until 2010, over half a century after Einstein’s death. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”