Thoughts, Ideas, Observations

In the end deceivers deceive only themselves.

--M.K. Gandhi


All human knowledge is precious, whether or not it serves the slightest human use.

--A.E. Housman


Learning is a good thing, but more often it leads to mistakes. It is worthwhile just looking at the deeds of accomplished persons for the purpose of knowing our own insufficiencies. But often this does not happen. For the most part, we admire our own opinions and become fond of aguing.



Children at Mahalaxmi played ankh micholi, hide-and-go-seek, in and out of the crowds of adult legs. This is how we are to one another, I thought, divided by generations. Do jungle animals understand the true nature of the trees among which they have their daily being? In the parent-forest, amid those mighty trunks, we shelter and play; but whether the trees are healthy or corroded, whether they harbor demons or good sprites, we cannot say. Nor do we know the greatest secret of all:  that one day we, too, will become as arboreal as they. And the trees, whose leaves we eat, whose bark we gnaw, remember sadly that they were animals once, they climbed like squirrels and bounded like deer, until one day they paused, and their legs grew down into the earth and stuck there, spreading, and vegetation sprouted from their swaying heads. They remember this as a fact; but the lived reality of their fauna-years, the how-it-felt of that chaotic freedom, is beyond recapture. They remember it as a rustle in their leaves.

--Salman Rushdie, The Moor's Last Sigh


The sun now it shines on the green fields of France,
And a warm summer breeze makes the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished under the plow,
There's no gas, no barbed wire, they're no guns firing now,
But here in this graveyard it's still no man's land
And the countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man,
To a whole generation that was butchered and damned.
Did they beat the drum slowly?
Did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the Death March as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play The Flowers of the Forest

--Eric Bogle, The Green Fields of France


I am not sure whether what the philosophers call ethical absolutes exist, but I am sure that we have to act as if they existed.

--Arthur Koestler


But, indeed, the dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution is one of those pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplaces, but which all experience refutes.

--John Stuart Mill


The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery -- even if mixed with fear -- that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds -- it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God  who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind we experience ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness  and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.

--Albert Einstein


They never fight with one another, unless drunk, nor do you even hear any scolding amongst them.  They say, the Europeans are always rangling and uneasy, and wonder they do not go out of the world, since they are so unhappy and discontented in it.

--John Lawson on the Carolina Indians, 1709


Is Cuvier not the greatest poet of our century?  Our immortal naturalist has reconstructed worlds from blanched bones.  He picks up a piece of gypsum and says to us, "See!"  Suddenly stone turns into animals, the dead come to life, and another world unrolls before our eyes.

--Honore de Balzac


What can be done with fewer assumptions is done in vain with more.

--William of Ockham


Anybody can become angry--that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way--that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.



A rule, which, in speculation, may seem the most advantageous to society, may yet be found, in practice, totally pernicious and destructive.

--David Hume


"Love thy neighbor as thyself"; that is the whole of the law, and the rest is commentary.

--Rabbi Hillel


We live on haunted land, on land that is layers deep in human passion and memory.  There is, today, no longer any point in sorting out these passions and memories into starkly separate forms of ownership.  Whether the majority who died in any particular site were Indians or white, these placed ground Americans of all backgrounds in their common history.  In truth, the tragedies of the wars are our national joint property, and how we handle that property is one test of our unity and disunity, maturity or immaturity as a people wearing the label "American."

--Patricia Nelson Limerick, Something in the Soil


Nobody seriously doubts the possibility, or the usefulness, of finding things out; that is something we all take for granted when we inquire about plane schedules, or the state of our bank accounts, or the best treatment for our child's illness, and so forth.  Nobody seriously doubts, either, that sometimes, instead of really trying to find things out, people fudge, fake, and obfuscate to avoid discovering unpalatable truths; that is something we all take for granted when we ask who paid for this reassuring study, which party this expert witness works for, who stands to gain from an Official Inquiry minimizing that scandal, and so on.

Of late, however, radical feminists, multiculturalists, sociologists of knowledge, literary theorists, and (I am embarrassed to say) a good many philosophers as well--though they look into questions about their plane schedules, bank accounts, medical treatments, etc., just like the rest of us--profess to have seen through what the rest of us take for granted.  It's all an illusion, they tell us:  honest inquiry is really neither possible nor desirable.  All that high-minded talk about disinterested inquiry, respect for evidence, finding out how things really are, is nothing but a smokescreen hiding the operations of power, politics, social negotiation, rhetoric.  those of us who are still taken in, they say, don't have a clear view of things; not to be quite so tactful about it, we are "old-fashioned prigs."

On the contrary; it is the devotees of the Higher Dismissiveness who don't have a clear view of things.

--Susan Haack, Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate


To you insane world
But one reply -- I refuse.

--Marina Tsvetaeva


Our greatest blessings came to us by way of madness.

--Plato, Phaedrus


We came in peace for all mankind.

--Apollo 11


It is good to ask ourselves, from time to time, what sort of person we should wish to be.  When I ask myself this question, I find that I desire at once a kind of pride and a kind of humility.  As for pride:  I do not wish to be forced or cajoled into any opinion because others desire that I should hold it, nor do I wish to be the victim of my own hopes and fears to the extent of allowing myself to live in an unreal world of pleasant make-believe.  I respect, in myself and others, the power of thought and of scientific investigation, by means of which we have acquired whatever knowledge we possess of the universe in which we live.  And thought, when it is genuine thought, has its own intrinsic morality and its own brand of asceticism.  But it has also its rewards:  a happiness, amounting at moments to ecstasy, in understanding what had been obscure, and surveying in a unified vision what had seemed detached and chaotic in fragments.

But the pursuit of truth, when it is profound and genuine, requires also a kind of humility, which has some affinity to submission to the will of God.  The universe is what it is, not what I choose that it should be.  If it is indifferent to human desires, as it seems to be; if human life is a passing episode, hardly noticeable in the vastness of cosmic processes; if there is no superhuman purpose, and no hope of ultimate salvation, it is better to know and acknowledge this truth than to endeavor, in futile self-assertion, to order the universe to be what we find comfortable.

Toward facts, submission is the only rational attitude, but in the realm of ideals there is nothing to which to submit.  The universe is neither hostile nor friendly; it neither favors our ideals nor refutes them. Our individual life is brief, and perhaps the whole life of mankind will be brief if measured on an astronomical scale.  But that is no reason for not living it as seems best to us.  The things that seem to us good are none the less good for not being eternal, and we should not ask of the universe an external approval of our own ethical standards.

--Bertrand Russel, The Value of Free Thought


Less and less do I see any difference now between research and adoration.

--Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

From the 
Commonplace Book

"He who by reanimating the old can gain knowledge of the new is fit to be a teacher."



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