The quote

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.

is attributed to Einstein with some regularity. (For example, Google returns 47,700 results, of which all except 5,780 include the word Einstein. Google Books returns 645 results, of which 14 don't include the word Einstein.)

However, on Albert Einstein's Wikiquote page, which is pretty thorough from what I can see, there is no mention of this quote.

Did he really say this?

  • 3
    Cross-posted on History, HSM and Physics. – HDE 226868 Oct 13 '15 at 15:30
  • 25
    I suppose that also the reason for space is so that everything doesn't happen in the same place? – Eric Lippert Oct 13 '15 at 15:33
  • 1
    And effort is the thing that keeps everything from happening at all. – Zibbobz Oct 13 '15 at 16:50
  • Without time nothing would happen... – Gabe12 Mar 5 '16 at 4:01
  • Without time, maybe everything would happen at once. But what would at once mean ? – Evargalo Feb 13 at 13:30
up vote 38 down vote accepted

The oldest confirmed use of any version of this quote that I was able to find is from Ray Cummings' short story The Time Professor, published in the Jan. 8, 1921 issue of Argosy All-Story Weekly (thanks to mgkrebbs for pointing this one out):

"I do know what time is," Tubby declared. He paused. "Time," he added slowly -- "time is what keeps everything from happening at once. I know that--I seen it in print too."

Pg. 371 - Emphasis mine - Ray Cummings - Google Books

He used it again in his novel The Girl in the Golden Atom, published in 1922:

The Big Business Man smiled. "Time," he said, "is what keeps everything from happening at once."

Ch. 5 - Ray Cummings - Project Gutenberg - Public Domain

This quote has been mistakenly attributed to Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Woody Allen, John Archibald Wheeler, and likely others, in many different forms.


EDIT: Added an earlier use of the term by the same author.

  • 2
    This may be the only answer we'll ever get, but "I seen it in print too" may mean that Cummings got it from an earlier source. Of course, it could also just be part of the story. I suppose we might never know! – called2voyage Jul 19 '16 at 20:37
  • Woody Allen!?... – wordsforthewise Mar 22 '17 at 3:55

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .