Making Einstein Simple

Jessie Scanlon has a great essay in the NYT on simplicity in design (“A Design Epiphany: Keep It Simple”) that includes this line that intrigued me:

“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler,” Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying. His actual wording was a tad more convoluted, but in any case, few in Silicon Valley heeded his advice.

A bit of Googling showed that indeed a lot of people like this quote and attribute it to Einstein. A bit more digging found more details on the attribution in a lengthy discussion of Occam’s Razor:

The pithiness of this quote disguises the fact that no one knows whether Einstein said it or not (this version comes from the Reader’s Digest, 1977). It may well be a precis of the last few pages of his ‘The Meaning of Relativity’ (5th edition), where he wrote about his unified field theory, saying ‘In my opinion the theory here is the logically simplest relativistic field theory that is at all possible. But this does not mean that nature might not obey a more complex theory. More complex theories have frequently been proposed. . . In my view, such more complicated systems and their combinations should be considered only if there exist physical-empirical reasons to do so.’

Funny that someone (probably Reader’s Digest) had to simplify the concept of not simplifying too much.