No Sense Friday: Our Biggest Error

One of my favorite Einstein quotes is this:

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

There’s only one problem: Einstein never said it.

There’s a great website called Quote Investigator, on which I find myself often, looking for proper attribution. In this case, it belongs to William Bruce Cameron. In 1963, talking about sociology, he wrote:

It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

Meanwhile, the ghost of everyone’s favorite scientist keeps floating around the web, getting false credit for something he never said nor wrote on his famous blackboard.

This is called misattribution - and it’s our biggest error as humans. But not in the way you’d think.

Getting our facts wrong is one thing. We should do our best to source information properly, but, thanks to the internet and our flawed brain, it is impossible to always have the whole truth in front of you. Sometimes, we have to make do.

What we can never afford, however, is to misattribute other people’s character. Sadly, that too is something we do all the time. It’s called the fundamental attribution error.

We see other people’s behavior as a result of their identity when, most of the time, it’s a matter of circumstance.

  • The lady cutting in line at the grocery store isn’t rude. She’s in a rush to get to an appointment and, when she saw what felt like an open slot, she took it.

  • The surgeon recommending the traditional procedure isn’t senile and nostalgic. He’s considered the context and your situation and thinks it’s the best way to go.

  • The new hire spilling coffee on her first day isn’t clumsy, she’s nervous.

People aren’t as mean, selfish, and arrogant as we think. We just catch them in bad moments. So let’s not split hairs. Let’s not count people’s missteps and draw permanent conclusions.

We too make mistakes. And not everything that counts can be counted. Just as not everything that can be counted counts.

-Nik


About No Sense Friday: Most people live for Friday. Relaxing on the weekend is fine, but we can’t just waste it away every time. That’s why Friday is the most important day to call out things that make no sense. Because in a way, the concept of ‘Friday’ itself makes no sense.

A good life is lived every day, not just once a week.


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