The quote is often wrongly attributed to his famous paper "Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality be Considered Complete?" written in collaboration with Podolski and Rosen (often called APR after the initials of the authors).
In fact, it is from a private letter of Einstein to Max Born from 1947 in which he wrote literally:
"I cannot make a case for my attitude in physics which you would consider at all reasonable. I admit, of course, that there is a considerable amount of validity in the statistical approach which you were the first to recognise clearly as necessary given the framework of the existing formalism. I cannot seriously believe in it because the theory cannot be reconciled with the idea that physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky actions at a distance."
In that text, Einstein does refer though to the same phenomenon discussed in the EPR paper, namely quantum entanglement. However, was Einstein really reluctant to accept that phenomenon due to its apparent “spookiness”, or rather he was more puzzled by the physics and math behind it?
It turns out that entanglement was not the only spooky phenomenon intriguing him at the time. For example, he was taking seriously the evidence about dowsing and telepathy. Reportedly, he became a dowser after observing a professional dowser work in his garden. In a private letter to Mr. Herman Peisach he wrote the following opinion about dowsing:
Dear Mr. Peisach: 15 February 1946
I read with great interest the reports from your father and I think that they deserve attention. To publish them in the daily press would have little effect. However, if you send these reports to a medical journal, you will have to re-write some of the other aspects that are not really pertinent to this matter.
I know very well that many scientists consider dowsing as they do astrology, as a type of ancient superstition. According to my conviction this is, however, unjustified. The dowsing rod is a simple instrument which shows the reaction of the human nervous system to certain factors which are unknown to us at this time.
That the same circumstances can bring forth nervous difficulties in breathing appears entirely plausible. However, I do not think there is any connection with the occurrence of cancer. This latter connection, if true, would not be easy to prove with supporting statistics.
If you submit the carefully revised reports to a medical journal you may attach a copy of my letter, so that this matter will receive the attention I feel it deserves.
Very truly yours
In Germany, Einstein’s native country, dowsing had been miners’ standard technique in the 16th century despite being persecuted by the Catholic Church as witchcraft. Fortunately, that persecution was discontinued a couple of centuries later, but even nowadays dowsing continues to be considered by the public an occult science or an extravagance at best.
American government-funded program Star Gate secretly performed experiments, which proved that dowsing is a psychic manifestation similar to clairvoyance (called “remote viewing” by the program’s members) and that both phenomena are absolutely real and useful. They were found so useful that several governmental organizations including CIA spent about 20 billion dollars in the program for over 20 years. That research was declassified after the end of the program in 1995 but today, the topic is still a taboo, similar to other psi-manifestations.
Another evidence for Einstein’s open-mindedness about spooky effects usually considered to be occult science is the fact that he wrote a preface to a book about telepathy, called “Mental Radio” by prolific writer and Pulitzer winner Upton Sinclair:
I have read the book of Upton Sinclair with great interest and am convinced that the same deserves the most earnest consideration, not only of the laity, but also of the psychologists by profession. The results of the telepathic experiments carefully and plainly set forth in this book stand surely far beyond those, which a nature investigator holds to be thinkable. On the other hand, it is out of the question in the case of so conscientious an observer and writer as Upton Sinclair that he is carrying on a conscious deception of the reading world; his good faith and dependability are not to be doubted. So if somehow the facts here set forth rest not upon telepathy, but upon some unconscious hypnotic influence from person to person, this also would be of high psychological interest. In no case should the psychologically interested circles pass over this book heedlessly.
A. Einstein May 23, 1930
Today, one of Einstein’s favorite spooky effects, quantum entanglement is totally accepted by the entire scientific community. The other two, dowsing and telepathy are not yet. Do we have to wait for the birth of another genius for these phenomena to be accepted and explained once and for all?