This question asks about an Einstein quote:

Did Einstein say "if you can't explain it simply you don't understand it well enough"?

I know the origin of this quote is in a well referenced Feynman anecdote and sentiment, and I referenced the Feynman stuff. Further, I know the Einstein literature, and I said it doesn't appear there (although some similar sentiments do).

The question is answered, but I was told it was "unreferenced". I don't know how to reference a claim that someone didn't say something, other than by saying he didn't say it after a review, and letting someone with contrary evidence pipe up if they find the quote.

Is this answer really below the correct standard for a referenced answer? If not, can the "unreferenced" warning be removed? It contains references to all the Feynman material, some additional Schwinger/Feynman material, and Isaacson's biography, as a source for the similar sentiment Einstein makes for the EPR paper (I am pretty certain that this is where I read the EPR sentiment).


Thanks for pointing this one out. I shall delete the answer immediately! :)


In your answer, you claim that

the quote is most likely derived from this famous Feynman sentiment.

While you did reference the Feynman quote, you have provided no proof that the quote which is referenced to Einstein comes from that.

In fact, you posted a different quote, and therefore you have merely proven that a different quote comes from Feynman.

There is also the following alternative theory, making the rounds of the internet, that Einstein actually said the following quote:

"It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid."

See e.g. wikiquote.

So... why attribute the quote to Feynman without any example of him making that exact claim?

Einstein also made the following statement (which I can explicitly reference)

It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.

"On the Method of Theoretical Physics" The Herbert Spencer Lecture, delivered at Oxford (10 June 1933); also published in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 1, No. 2 (April 1934), pp. 163-169., p. 165.

They are all very similar. Why choose one and not another? Can you provide factual proof?

  • It is because I am intimately familiar with the Einstein simplicity quotes--- they are referring to Occam's razor. This is the sentiment that the laws should be mathematically elegant, and conceptually simple, as far as possible. It doesn't necessarily mean that they can be explained to a mathematically ignorant person. It was Feynman who is very famously associated with explaining to mathematically ignorant people, not Einstein. It is possible that Einstein made the barmaid quote (it sounds like him), but I have never heard it attributed, and I wouldn't trust it 100% without a good reference. – Ron Maimon Apr 9 '12 at 5:37
  • If you find the barmaid quote in a proper source, it would make a good answer. I am not sure that Einstein meant it as seriously as Feynman does--- Feynman imagines he actually can explain modern quantum physics, in full precise glory, to laypeople. See QED and Character of Physical Law for a very successful example of Feynman methods of lay popularization that are fully mathematically precise. – Ron Maimon Apr 9 '12 at 5:40
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    @RonMaimon, I am well aware of the way the two scientists thought. My intent is not to choose one possible answer over the other. I was merely answering your question: "Why is the answer marked as unreferenced?" :-) – Sklivvz Apr 9 '12 at 10:02
  • It is not appropriate to label a referenced answer unreferenced, even if you don't like the references. I am pretty sure that the sentiment was at the very least popularized by Feynman, and probably due to him. If not Feynman, maybe Fermi, or maybe Isaac Asimov. It probably isn't due to Einstein, and that's because I don't the relevant Einstein quote is nonexistent, or restricted to the bar-maid business at best. – Ron Maimon Apr 9 '12 at 23:42

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