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This quote has often been cited to me in a variety of settings--from well-intentioned friends trying to advise me on the best course of action in solving a problem to managers who use it as a plug for change. Whenever it is said, I have an immediate cringe factor toward its implications, many of which seem overwhelmingly obvious to me.
The primary apprehension I have is its disregard for the nature of an action--that it cannot be separated from the time and place in which it is executed. This, to me, right out of the gate puts a wedge in the wisdom of its counsel. If each time I perform an action, I am aggregating it to the mounting body of instances in which it has taken place, time may be the crucial factor in the actualization of either failure or success. One cannot stipulate from a week long diet that it will not bear results. Nor would it be insanity to persist in doing it "over and over again expecting different results."
What this means is that it is very often the case that results lie dormant, waiting to emerge after a sufficient quantity of time. This length of time is surely to vary case by case. So to merely assert that we are yet to see results and, consequently, change is in order, is to draw attention away from the central argument. Whether or not there has been sufficient time for the fruit to manifest itself ought to be inextricably tied to a discussion on modification. Otherwise, we are led to believe we are "insane" if we refuse to accept the wave of change.
Granted, I understand that the frequently intended use is merely to imply that sometimes we need a new game plan, rather than remaining resolute on a path that seems destined for defeat. My issue, however, lies in its misapplication backed by a slightly slanderous inference that requires little more than rhetoric to induce its passive consent in the abortion of a plan, that perhaps, may have yielded fruit given sufficient time.
In conclusion, this is one among many quotes that gets thrown around whimsically to successfully garner support without the enlistment of substantial critical thought. To a person, like myself, who is generally amicable to a utilitarian approach to things, I am frustrated that such a poorly devised statement gets so much traction.
And I totally agree that if taken at face value the quote does, as you say, seem to be a discouragent of perseverance...lol. But i believe if we set it in the context of Einstein's vocation, it can be interpreted as cogent advice for one who truly seeks to affect a change in their circumstance.
So, if Einstein was a scientist, considered by some to be the greatest of the modern age..the quote can reasonably be placed in the context of scientific experimentation (humor me, please..lol) i.e., in the setting of a controlled environment. Now this is not to say that the quote should be exclusively applied to laboratory mangers...lol, but rather that a rational person ought be aware of all the variables (actions/thoughts) that lead to a certain outcome. So, continuing to apply an experiment (action) with the same variables that lead to an undesired result would be considered insanity.
If one is aware of time (change over time) then they are in fact applying it as a variable which would not be the same experiment, and would therefore be adherent to the advise of the quote. The view that one should simply 'try try again' however, in the anticipation that results will change over time, is purely speculative. So i believe the quote is predicated on a certain awareness of one's actions and their consequences...
I hope this makes some sense, I would hate to have wasted your time...
Very nice topic!!!
Let me start by saying that I think you captured the argument quite well. My offense to the quote lies largely in the neglect of time as a variable, thus rendering repetitive behavior "un-insane." I agree that in the context of a laboratory experiment in which the isolation of variables has presumably been achieved, there would be a level of insanity there, or at least redundancy, to remove the disparaging label. Still, being the captious person that I am, I at least must assert my belief that no experiment is able to truly isolate all variables, time and space being among the most paramount examples.
I think, if I have understood your argument correctly, you would agree with this, yet say it doesn't eliminate some practical value of the saying. In other words, we ought to be mindful of whether we are sounding a deaf horn and desist in our actions, rather than persist in vain. To this, I would agree. Certainly a mindfulness regarding our actions and their corresponding consequences is good practice. I would even go as far as to say that many behave in an "insane manner" when they fail to recognize the futility of their efforts.
Overall, I think you and I would find some pretty solid common ground to rest on if we were to "persist" :) in this argument for a decent amount of time. I feel content with the conclusions that have been drawn, and thank you again for choosing to take your time in responding.
I hope to see you active in future debates that I initiate. :)
P.S. Please do respond to this. My concluding lines sounded somewhat of a conclusion to the debate as a whole. Not intentional.
I too have been accused of trudging in the deep/floating away into the abstract in respect to arguments. Lol. But I find that such musings stabilize our stance on what we believe/how we divine the truth of our experience.
I agree that we can never isolate or even be aware of all of the variables, but I think the quote only aims at those variables of which we are aware, and that we decide which require modification. Those that we don't know about are excluded, as 'apply' assumes a conscious effort, at least in my mind...lol.
I also agree with your example of time and space, but would argue that it is not as relevant in quotidian matters (managers, jobs, this discussion lol, etc.) because for these actions, time and space remain constant.
As to my argument...exactly! Lol
I too, believe we would swiftly reach a common ground if we were to continue... We may be there now...lol...but I hope that is the desired end for all debates, to root out all the minute differences and arrive at some commonality...even if that commonality is solely that we've arrived at a better understanding of the topic and the perceptions of others. That's always my goal...
Likewise, it has been a sincere pleasure...very much looking forward to future engagements...
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