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Albert Einstein's Quote on Human Being As Part of the Whole

Updated on February 9, 2013

Many people know Albert Einstein for his E=mc2 equation and his theory of relativity and his accomplishments in physics. Einstein was indeed a genius. Because he has wisdom and insights in other realms as well, including the nature of our being.

It is no wonder that during the days when Einstein was alive, many people seek his advice in all matters of physics, life, and even philosophy.

A rabbi who had lost a child wrote to Einstein for guidance. Einstein wrote back and in his letters were the following words ...

"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe", a part limited in time and space. He experience himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind." [reference]

We as Part of the Whole

The Einstein quote is the idea that we are part of a whole. The idea that we are an individual separate from the rest is only an illusion created by what psychologists call the "ego". Once we get beyond the ego and see that we are not separate selves and that we are part of the whole, morality and compassion will come naturally.

We no longer step on the person in front of us in order to step up, because that person in front is us. We no longer block another car from entering the freeway, because that person trying to get in is us. Like the cells of our body, if we are to be healthy, one cell do not harm another cell because they are all a part of the larger organism. Harming another is like harming ourselves.

Different Versions of the Story

The exact reason for the Einstein letter is not clear. Some sources say that it was the rabbi's daughter that had died and other sources say it was the rabbi's son. Some sources said the child died of polio. Some sources say that the rabbi wanted advice from Einstein as to how to explain the senseless death to the rabbi's other 19-year-old daughter.

Other sources say that the letter was addressed to a man named "Mr. Robert S Marcus" at the address of the World Jewish Congress in New York, New York. And that the letter was dated February 12, 1950. Perhaps Mr. Marcus is the rabbi?

Different Version of the Quote

Because Einstein is so widely quoted and re-quoted, there are different versions of the quote and it is difficult to know which is the original Einstein quote.

The words in the above quote was quoted based on images of the typewritten and handwritten Einstein letters found on the blog of OnBeing.org. There in the blog post titled "Einstein Sleuthing" by Nancy Rosenbaum, you see a pictures of an old type-written letter and another picture of Einstein's handwritten letter in German and English.

It is not clear who translated Einstein's words into English. One difference between the type-written image and the handwritten image is in the sentence...

"The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion."

where the typewritten version uses the word "in" instead of the word "is". The latter usage is more grammatically correct and is what appears in the handwritten version. Hence presumably the word "is" would be the more accurate version and that the word "in" in typewritten version may be a typo.

On Wikiquotes.org they have Einstein quote as ...

"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe", a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security." (as of January 22, 2012)

which they sourced from The New York Times (29 March 1972) and The New York Post (28 November 1972).

Quoted in Einstein Books

However WikiQuote did note that there is a supposed different (and possibly more accurate) version of that quote found in "The New Quotable Einstein" by Alice Calaprice page 206.

Alice Calaprice has the quote on page 184 of another book that she co-author titled "Dear Professor Einstein". The Alice Calaprice versions more closely matches the version seen in the photos of the Einstein letters.

More Reference Sources

I first heard of the Einstein quote and the story from Daniel Siegel's Audio CD version of his book "The Mindful Brain". You can see the quote in printed form in his book "The Mindful Brain Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being" page 163.

And because Einstein is widely quoted, a simple web search of the quote brings about many references to this quote. Some of which are ...

And if you do a web search on the words of the first sentence of the quote: "A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe a part limited in time and space".

You will find dozens and dozens more re-quoting of these insightful words.

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