Benjamin Franklin and Rita Mae Brown are often credited for this definition as well.
And while I understand the meaning of the statement and agree that there are times when this general premise is true (particularly in the case of carefully controlled scientific experimentation), I have two thoughts on the subject:
1. This is not the only definition of insanity. In fact, it’s not a definition at all. It’s little more than a small bit of sometimes-applicable wisdom. A proverb, perhaps (in fact the definition is also credited to an ancient Chinese proverb). Yet time and time again I hear this definition quoted as if there is some profound truth behind it.
It’s merely a way of saying that in some cases, banging your head against the wall again and again is stupid.
2. It’s rarely an accurate statement. Once you leave the laboratory, there are many, many instances in life in which you can do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.
I know an author who wrote three novels and failed to sell any of them before launching a successful career with her fourth book. Had she adhered to this definition of insanity, she would still be an advertising executive today.
Were this definition of insanity true, none of my students would ever memorize their multiplication tables or learn the proper use of the words their/they’re/there. There are times when knowledge and skill acquisition require repetition.
Practice your multiplication tables enough and you will eventually memorize them, even if you are doing the same thing over and over and over again.
Were this definition of insanity true, I would’ve quit the game of golf after my very first round. It is only through the hitting of ball after ball after ball that muscle memory begins to kick in and allow you to strike the ball with consistency and effectiveness. It is only through doing the same thing over again and expecting different results that a golfer can become a better player.
These seem like fairly obvious examples of times in which this so-called definition does not apply, yet I continue to hear this definition repeated again and again as justification for a variety of decisions and changes in strategy.
Utilizing a misunderstood definition of insanity over and over again and expecting a different result seems more like insanity to me.