This quote is commonly attributed to Albert Einstein:

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

However, there are many cases of quotes misattributed to Einstein. There are many sources that use this quote, and it's quite popular in image form (as shown by a simple Google Image search). There is no mention of it on Albert Einstein's Wikiquote page, which is otherwise pretty thorough, from what I can see.

What evidence is there that Einstein really said this?


1 Answer 1


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.

  • 3
    According to the ISFDB a shorter version of Cummings' novel The Girl in the Golden Atom, corresponding to the first eight chapters of the novel, was published as a novella in the March 15, 1919, issue of All-Story Weekly. Since the definition of time is from Chapter V, there's a good chance that it appeared in the 1919 novella. Of course there's also a good chance that it was added later.
    – bof
    Oct 15, 2015 at 6:34
  • 7
    Ray Cummings was my grandfather. Thank you for tracking the quote back to his writing.
    – Brad Hill
    Sep 13, 2017 at 2:32
  • 6
    As Leibniz once exclaimed: "That's yet another quote misattributed to Einstein !"
    – Evargalo
    May 7, 2018 at 14:31

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