Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Insanity is doing something over and over, and expecting different results.


"Insanity is doing something over and over, and expecting different results." This was said by author Rita Mae Brown, who rose to notoriety for writing a mystery novel, that really was a thinly disguised memoir, about her life as tennis star Martina Navratilova's girl friend. She created a furor about lesbianism in woman's tennis in 1984. She said it in "Sudden Death," page 68. (No I haven't personally checked the reference, but I have it from several sources.)

The insanity quote is almost always attributed to Albert Einstein, who would not have said it.  Einstein's earliest work was in diffusion theory, where he made progress in developing a theory for Brownian Motion. A particle in Brownian Motion moves randomly. Secondly, at the end of his life, he was deeply involved in quantum theory, where events are probabilistically determined -- his better attributed quote about god not rolling dice, not withstanding.

This quote attracted me because I don't agree with it. It is pretty common to try things over and over again, like how I try several times a week to do ten pull-ups, but never quite get there. It seems to me it is sometimes used to encourage people to give up when they should persevere. In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is used to encourage people to change, who really need to change.

The quote is also sometimes called an "Ancient Chinese Proverb." This is funny because insanity is a modern idea, and what would an ancient chinese person have thought of that? Confucius valued rote consistency, and would have not developed a proverb encouraging people to think for themselves.

I agree with blogger Visitacion who said that this is a proverb 1990's era "marketers, life coaches, and sofa philosophers" use to get people to make changes.

This proverb would not bother me so much if sometimes doing something over was not the most sensible thing to do.