Over the years, beginning in late high school, I’ve collected quotes that I liked for one reason or another, and have put many of them here. The first bunch is vaguely grouped by subject matter, followed by the rest which are added in the order I find or remember them. It is interesting to go back and reflect on how the meaning and significance of these quotes changes as I get older: some don’t seem profound as they did when I first found them, others take on different shades of meaning when looked at with more mature eyes.
I hope the attributions are correct, but no guarantees. Let me know if you find any mistakes.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” – Galileo Galilei
“The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” – Niels Bohr (1885-1962)
“We all agree that your theory is crazy, but is it crazy enough?” – Niels Bohr (1885-1962)
“When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” – Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)
“This isn’t right, this isn’t even wrong.” – Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958), upon reading a young physicist’s paper
“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.” – Wernher Von Braun (1912-1977)
If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants. –Sir Isaac Newton
“I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” – Robert J. Oppenheimer (1904-1967) (citing from the Bhagavad Gita, after witnessing the world’s first nuclear explosion)
“To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.” -Stephen Hawking
“As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow.” -A. C. Benson, From a College Window
“Black holes are where God divided by zero.” – Steven Wright
“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” – Tom Clancy
“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” – Sherlock Holmes (by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1859-1930)
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” – Mark Twain (1835-1910)
“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” – Mark Twain (1835-1910)
“Always do right- this will gratify some and astonish the rest.” – Mark Twain (1835-1910)
“Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
“There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” – Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964)
“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” – Henry Ford (1863-1947)
“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” – Henry Ford (1863-1947)
“Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’.” – Yoda (‘The Empire Strikes Back’)
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” – Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
“There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life.” – Frank Zappa
“It is much more comfortable to be mad and know it, than to be sane and have one’s doubts.” – G. B. Burgin
“I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure — that is all that agnosticism means.” – Clarence Darrow, Scopes trial, 1925.
“Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear. ” -Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826)
“Everyone is a genius at least once a year; a real genius has his original ideas closer together.” – Georg Lichtenberg (1742-1799)
“Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.” – Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
“You are a possibility that has never occured before and will never occur again. No one else has had or will ever have your unique combination of talents, experiences and dreams. So don’t waste that uniqueness.” -Patrick Combs
“In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it’s the exact opposite.” – Paul Dirac (1902-1984)
“I am not young enough to know everything.” – Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
“When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.” – Mae West (1892-1980)
“Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.” – Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961)
“Happiness is good health and a bad memory.” – Ingrid Bergman (1917-1982)
“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” – Woody Allen (1935-)
“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” – Sun Tzu
“Silence is argument carried out by other means.” – Ernesto”Che”Guevara (1928-1967)
“Well done is better than well said.” – Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
“He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.” – Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” – Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
“The average person thinks he isn’t.” – Father Larry Lorenzoni
“Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century.” – Perelman
“There is only one nature – the division into science and engineering is a human imposition, not a natural one. Indeed, the division is a human failure; it reflects our limited capacity to comprehend the whole.” – Bill Wulf
“For centuries, theologians have been explaining the unknowable in terms of the-not-worth-knowing.” – Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)
The problem with America is stupidity. I’m not saying there should be a capital punishment for stupidity, but why don’t we just take the safety labels off of everything and let the problem solve itself? -Anonymous
“If you are going through hell, keep going.” – Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
…man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but usually manages to pick himself up, walk over or around it, and carry on. –Sir Winston Churchill
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Sir Winston Churchill
“An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.” – Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936)
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)
“Love is friendship set on fire.” – Jeremy Taylor
Give me a place to stand, and I will move the Earth. –Archimedes
“I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.” – Xenocrates (396-314 B.C.)
“No Sane man will dance.” – Cicero (106-43 B.C.)
“After I’m dead I’d rather have people ask why I have no monument than why I have one.” – Cato the Elder (234-149 BC, AKA Marcus Porcius Cato)
“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” – H. G. Wells (1866-1946)
“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” – Isaac Asimov
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” -Aldous Huxley
“Pray, v.: To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.” – Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
“All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusion is called a philosopher.” – Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” – Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
“Men have become the tools of their tools.” – Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
“Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.” – Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
“If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
“I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.” – Umberto Eco
“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.” -Bessie Stanley(a variation of this is often attributed to Emerson)
“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that 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 only this sense, I am a deeply religious man… I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence — as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.”
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”
“Science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”
Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
Carl Sagan is one of my favorite writers, and is one of the main reasons I’m studying astronomy. The following quotation is my favorite, period. I hope you enjoy it too.
We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam. The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
Excerpted from a commencement address delivered May 11, 1996. Dr. Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot expands on these ideas.
Image from Voyager 1, 1990.Here is a nice video with Sagan himself reading the quote from the book:
“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”
“Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries.” –Cosmos p.333
“Once we overcome our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe that utterly dwarfs–in time, in space, and in potential–the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors. We gaze across billions of light-years of space to view the Universe shortly after the Big Bang, and plumb the fine structure of matter. We peer down into the core of our planet, and the blazing interior of our star. We read the genetic language in which is written the diverse skills and propensities of every being on Earth. We uncover hidden chapters in the record of our origins, and with some anguish better understand our nature and prospects. We invent and refine agriculture, without which almost all of us would starve to death. We create medicines and vaccines that save the lives of billions. We communicate at the speed of light, and whip around the Earth in an hour and a half. We have sent dozens of ships to more than seventy worlds, and four spacecraft to the stars. We are right to rejoice in our accomplishments, to be proud that our species has been able to see so far, and to judge our merit in part by the very science that has so deflated our pretensions.” –Pale Blue Dot p.53-54
“It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works–that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.” –Pale Blue Dot p.159-160
“It took the Church until 1832 to remove Galileo’s work from its list of books which Catholics were forbidden to read at the risk of dire punishment of their immortal souls.” –Pale Blue Dot p.43
“Science fiction. You’re right, it’s crazy. In fact, it’s even worse than that, it’s nuts. You wanna hear something really nutty? I heard of a couple guys who wanna build something called an airplane, you know you get people to go in, and fly around like birds, it’s ridiculous, right? And what about breaking the sound barrier, or rockets to the moon? Atomic energy, or a mission to Mars? Science fiction, right? Look, all I’m asking is for you to just have the tiniest bit of vision. You know, to just sit back for one minute and look at the big picture. To take a chance on something that just might end up being the most profoundly impactful moment for humanity, for the history… of history.” –Ellie Arroway, Contact
“In our tenure on this planet we have accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage, hereditary propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders and hostility to outsiders, which place our survival in some question. But we have also acquired compassion for others, love for our children and our children’s children, a desire to learn from history, and a great soaring passionate intelligence–the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our vision and understanding and prospects are bound exclusively to the Earth–or, worse, to one small part of it. But up there in the immensity of the Cosmos, an inescapable perspective awaits us.” –Cosmos p.318
“Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together–surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.” –Cosmos p.339
Here is the H.G. Wells quote that Sagan was referring to:
“There—there they go! That faint gleam of light.”
“I feel what they’ve done is monstrous.”
“What they’ve done is magnificent.”
“Will they come back?”
“Yes, yes. And go again and again, until a landing is made and the moon is conquered. This is only a beginning.”
“If they don’t come back—my son and your daughter—what of that Cabel?”
“Then, presently, others will go.”[on the heavenly breezes]
“Oh,God is there ever to be any age of happiness? Is there never to be any rest?”
“Rest enough for the individual man: too much, too soon and we call it death. But for Man, He must go on, conquest beyond conquest. First this little planet with its winds and ways, and then all the laws of mind and matter than restrain him. Then the planets around him, and at last out across the immensity to the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning.”
“But…we’re such little creatures. Poor humanity’s so fragile, so weak. Little, little animals.”
“Little animals. If we’re no more than animals we must snatch each little scrap of happiness and live and suffer and pass, mattering no more than all the other animals do or have done. It is this—or that: all the universe or nothing. Which shall it be Passworthy? Which shall it be?”
-Things to Come (movie version of H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come), quote taken from This New Ocean
All of the books in the world contain no more information than is broadcast as video in a single large American city in a single year. Not all bits have equal value.
For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]
Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.
Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.
Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.
The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.
The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.
Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
(I learned from the book “For Small Creatures Such as We” by Sagan’s daughter, that he didn’t actually say this. It is from a Newsweek article about Sagan.)
How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverenve and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.
Is our self-esteem so precarious that nothing short of a universe custom-made for us will do?
The evidence, so far at least and laws of Nature aside, does not require a Designer. Mayber there is one hiding, maddeningly unwilling to be revealed. Sometimes it seems a very slender hope.The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We long for a Parent to care for us, to forgive our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is prefereable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable.If we crave some cosmic purpose, the let us find ourselves a worthy goal.
Apart from a thin film of life at the very surface of the Earth, an occasional intrepid spacecraft, and some radio static, our impact on the universe is nil. It knows nothing of us.
Life is but a momentary glimpse of the wonder of this astonishing universe, and it is sad to see so many dreaming it away on spiritual fantasy.
Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science?
We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think its forever.
Douglas Adams (1952-2001)
In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry, and is generally considered to have been a bad move.
Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea… This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.
All it takes to fly is to hurl yourself at the ground… and miss.
It is not the fall that kills you. it’s the sudden stop at the end.
A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
It’s no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase “As pretty as an airport” appear.
Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.
I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.
Plenty of people did not care for him much, but then there is a huge difference between disliking somebody — maybe even disliking them a lot — and actually shooting them, strangling them, dragging them through the fields and setting their house on fire. It was a difference which kept the vast majority of the population alive from day to day.
Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which follows its own laws.
Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn’t have a good answer to.
I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.
Perhaps I’m old and tired, but I always think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied.
You live and learn. At any rate, you live.
Most of the preceeding quotes were put together in 2002 as a group. From here on are quotes that I’ve found since then.
“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” – – Stephen Roberts
“He that will not sail till all dangers are over must never put to sea.” -Thomas Fuller
“Three passions have governed my life:
The longings for love, the search for knowledge,
And unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.
Love brings ecstasy and relieves loneliness.
In the union of love I have seen
In a mystic miniature the prefiguring vision
Of the heavens that saints and poets have imagined.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge.
I have wished to understand the hearts of men.
I have wished to know why the stars shine.
Love and knowledge led upwards to the heavens,
But always pity brought me back to earth;
Cries of pain reverberated in my heart
Of children in famine, of victims tortured
And of old people left helpless.
I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot,
And I too suffer.
This has been my life; I found it worth living.”
– Bertrand Russel
“But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.” –Samwise Gamgee
“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” — Mary Pickford
Lester Burnham (Last line): I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me. But it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and not try to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. Don’t worry, you will someday. -American Beauty
“Be glad of life, because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars.” -Henry Van Dyke
“A little while and I will be gone from among you, when I cannot tell. From no where we came, into nowhere we go. What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night. It is a breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” -Ispwo Mukika Crowfoot
“We are bits of stellar matter that got cold by accident, bits of a star gone wrong.” — Sir Arthur Eddington
“As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life – so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls.” — M. Cartmill
“If you can see a thing whole,” he said, “it seems that it’s always beautiful. Planets, lives….But close up, a world’s all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life’s a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval. The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.” “The Disposessed” pg 169 Ursula K. LeGuin
“May you find serenity and tranquility in a world you may not always understand. May the pain you have known and the conflict you have experienced give you the strength to walk through life facing each new situation with courage and optimism. Always know that there are those whose love and understanding will always be there, even when you feel most alone. May you discover enough goodness in others to believe in a world of peace. May a kind word, a reassuring touch, and a warm smile be yours every day of your life, and may you give these gifts as well as receive them. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending. Teach love to those who hate, and let that love embrace you as you go out into the world. May the teachings of those you admire become part of you, so that you may call upon them. Remember, those whose lives you have touched and whose have touched yours are always a part of you, even if the encounters were less than you would have wished. It is the content of the encounter that is more important than the form. May you not become too concerned with material matters, but instead place immeasurable value on the goodness in your heart. Find time each day to see beauty and love in the world around you. Realize that each person has limitless abilities, but each of us is different in our own way. What you feel you lack in the present may become one of your strengths in the future. May you see your future as one filled with promise and possibility. Learn to view everything as a worthwhile experience. May you find enough inner strength to determine your own worth by yourself, and not be dependent on another’s judgment of your accomplishments. May you always feel loved.” -Unknown
“I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together again and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken — and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived.” – Margaret Mitchell
“The most beautiful things in the universe are the starry heavens above us and the feeling of duty within us.” -Indian Proverb
“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” -Neil Armstrong
“Ends and beginnings — there are no such things. There are only middles.” -Robert Frost
“How happy is the blameless Vestal’s lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.” — Alexander Pope
“The best sunrises are the ones you see as you’re going to bed.” -John Huchra, Astrophysicist at CfA
Only as high as I reach can I grow, Only as far as I seek can I go, Only as deep as I look can I see, Only as much as I dream can I be. — Karen Ravn
“The heights by great men reached and kept,
Were not obtained by sudden flight
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night. Standing on what too long we bore
With shoulders bent and downcast eyes,
We may discern — unseen before,
A path to higher destinies.”-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened ~T.S. Eliot
“Enlightenment is not an attainment; it is a realization. When you wake up, everything changes and nothing changes. If a blind man realizes that he can see, has the world changed?” -Dan Millman
“Okay. The story is about a little wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He’s enjoying the wind and the fresh air – until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore. ” ‘My God, this is terrible,’ the wave says ‘look what’s going to happen to me!’ “Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim, and it says to him, ‘Why do you look so sad?’ “the first wave says, ‘You don’t understand! we’re all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn’t that terrible?’ “The second wave says, ‘No you don’t understand. You’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean.’ ” -Tuesdays With Morrie, Mitch Albom
“Do you believe then that the sciences would ever have arisen and become great if there had not beforehand been magicians, alchemists, astrologers and wizards, who thirsted and hungered after abscondite and forbidden powers”? Friedrich Nietzsche, 1886
Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous. -Voltaire
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool. — Richard Feynman
“Who is crazy, the world because it sees itself as it is, or I, because I see how it could be?” -Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.
Text QIV (decto)
(Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse Dune)
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. -George Bernard Shaw
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. -Arthur C. Clarke
Waking life is an interesting movie that deals with the question of how to tell the difference between life and dreams, and in the process explores a lot of other philosophical territory. Here are some cool quotes from it:They say that dreams are only real as long as they last. Couldn’t you say the same thing about life?
On really romantic evenings of self, I go salsa dancing with my confusion.
There’s only one instant, and it’s right now. And it’s eternity.
As the pattern gets more interesting and subtle, being swept along is no longer enough.
When it was over, all I could think about was how this entire notion of oneself, what we are, is just this logical structure, a place to momentarily house all the abstractions. It was a time to become conscious, to give form and coherence to the mystery, and I had been a part of that. It was a gift. Life was raging all around me and every moment was magical. I loved all the people, dealing with all the contradictory impulses – that’s what I loved the most, connecting with the people. Looking back, that’s all that really mattered.
The worst mistake that you can make is to think you’re alive when really you’re asleep in life’s waiting room.
Dream is destiny.
“If one knows only what one is told, one does not know enough to be able to arrive at a well-balanced decision.” ~ Leó Szilárd
“Oh, if a man tried to take his time on earth and prove before he died what one man’s life could be worth, I wonder what would happen to this world?” ~ Harry Chapin
“Is there not A tongue in every star that talks with man, And wooes him to be wise? nor wooes in vain; This dead of midnight is the noon of thought, And wisdom mounts her zenith with the stars.” -Anna Letitia Barbauld, A Summer Evening’s Meditation (l. 48)
Nothing shocks me. I’m a scientist. — Harrison Ford, as Indiana Jones
For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream. -Vincent Van Gogh
Remember that no man loses any other life than this which he now lives, nor lives any other than this which he now loses. –Marcus Aurelius
A man must be both stupid and uncharitable who believes there is no virtue or truth but on his own side. -Joseph Addison
The stars are forth, the moon above the tops Of the snow-shining mountains–Beautiful! I linger yet with Nature, for the night Hath been to me a more familiar face Than that of man; and in her starry shade Of dim and solitary loveliness I learn’d the language of another world. – Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron)
What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail? -Sydney Smith
Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. -Jean-Paul Sartre
Life has no meaning a priori…It is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that you choose. -Jean-Paul Sartre
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts. -Bertrand Russell
“Things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that dreams— daydreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain machinery whizzing— are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to invent, and therefore to foster, civilization.” — L. Frank Baum
The people I distrust most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action. — Frank Herbert
Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world. — Arthur Schopenhauer
“Either this is madness or it is Hell.”
“It is neither,” calmly replied the voice of the Sphere, “it is Knowledge.”
Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives’ mouths.
– Bertrand Russell, Impact of Science on Society (1952) ch. 1
“Blind faith can justify anything. If a man believes in a different god, or even if he uses a different ritual for worshipping the same god, blind faith can decree that he should die — on the cross, at the stake, skewered on a crusader’s sword, shot in a Beirut street, or blown up in a bar in Belfast … This is true of patriotic and political as well as religious blind faith.” – Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
The human psyche has two great sicknesses: the urge to carry vendetta across generations, and the tendency to fasten group labels on people rather than see them as individuals. Abrahamic religion mixes explosively with (and gives strong sanction to) both. Only the willfully blind could fail to implicate the divisive force of religion in most, if not all, of the violent enmities in the world today. -Richard Dawkins, A Devil’s Chaplain
You cannot be both sane and well educated and disbelieve in evolution. – Richard Dawkins
I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world. – Richard Dawkins
Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. – Richard Dawkins
What has ‘theology’ ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has ‘theology’ ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? What makes you think that ‘theology’ is a subject at all?” – Richard Dawkins
If you want to do evil, science provides the most powerful weapons to do evil; but equally, if you want to do good, science puts into your hands the most powerful tools to do so. The trick is to want the right things, then science will provide you with the most effective methods of achieving them. – Richard Dawkins
We should take astrology seriously. No, I don’t mean we should believe in it. I am talking about fighting it seriously instead of humouring it as a piece of harmless fun. – Richard Dawkins
Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. – Richard Dawkins
Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do. – Richard Dawkins
I think that somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with that decision. — Eleanor Roosevelt
When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion. — Abraham Lincoln, (attributed)
The future is a hundred thousand threads, but the past is a fabric that can never be rewoven. -Orson Scott Card, Xenocide
I have tasted the heat of many stars, and all of them were sweet. -Orson Scott Card, Xenocide
“Uneducated people delight in argument and fault-finding, for it is easy to find fault, but difficult to recognize the good and its inner necessity. Education in its early stages always begins with fault-finding, but when it is complete, it sees the positive element in everything. In religion, it is equally easy to say that this or that is superstition, but it is infinitely more difficult to comprehend the truth which it contains.” -Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Death twitches my ear. “Live,” he says, “I am coming.” ~Virgil
Now is the time to get drunk! To stop being the martyred slaves of time, to get absolutely drunk – on wine, poetry, or on virtue, as you please. ~Charles Baudelaire
We do not do what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are – that is the fact. ~Jean Paul Sartre
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
The Bene Gesserit Littainy against Fear
Frank Herbert, Dune
“We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture.” — Pastor Ray Mummert, on the hardships involved in supporting Creationism
Sometimes at night I light a lamp so as not to see. ~Antonio Porchia, Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin
Folly, thou conquerest, and I must yield!
Against stupidity the very gods
Themselves contend in vain. Exalted reason,
Resplendent daughter of the head divine,
Wise foundress of the system of the world,
Guide of the stars, who art thou then if thou,
Bound to the tail of folly’s uncurbed steed,
Must, vainly shrieking with the drunken crowd,
Eyes open, plunge down headlong in the abyss.
Accursed, who striveth after noble ends,
And with deliberate wisdom forms his plans!
To the fool-king belongs the world. -Friedrich Schiller; “The Maid of Orleans”, Act III, Scene 6
To live content with small means, to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich, to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart, to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never, in a word to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common, this is to be my symphony. – William Henry Channing
We have a hunger of the mind which asks for knowledge of all around us; and the more we gain, the more is our desire. The more we see, the more we are capable of seeing. – Maria Mitchell
It may be that the old astrologers had the truth exactly reversed, when they believed that the stars controlled the destinies of men. The time may come when men control the destinies of stars. — Arthur C. Clarke, First on the Moon, 1970
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt
If our society seems more nihilistic than that of previous eras, perhaps this is simply a sign of our maturity as a sentient species. As our collective consciousness expands beyond a crucial point, we are at last ready to accept life’s fundamental truth: that life’s only purpose is life itself. — Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, “Looking God in the Eye”
Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature; but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows nothing of this. – Blaise Pascal
Oh, greatest of mass media, thank you for elevating emotion, reducing thought, and stifling imagination. Thank you for the artificiality of quick solutions and for the insidious manipulation of human desires for commercial purposes. This bowl of lukewarm tapioca represents my brain. I offer it in humble sacrifice. Bestow thy flickering light forever.” -Calvin and Hobbes
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away” -Philip K. Dick
People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun? That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these. -Fahrenheit 451
Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.-Fahrenheit 451
There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before Christ: every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember, every generation.-Fahrenheit 451
‘I hate a Roman named Status Quo!’ he said to me. ‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said, ‘live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,’ he said, ‘shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.'”
– Fahrenheit 451
We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.
“What ever happened to happy endings?”
They got them on shows at Saturday matinees.”
Sure, but what about life?”
“All I know is I feel good going to bed nights, Doug. That’s a happy ending once a day. Next morning I’m up and maybe things go bad. But all I got to do is remember that I’m going to bed that night and just lying there a while makes everything okay.”
The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance – the idea that anything is possible.
* If we listened to our intellect we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical: “It’s gonna go wrong.” Or “She’s going to hurt me.” Or,”I’ve had a couple of bad love affairs, so therefore . . .” Well, that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.
We are the miracle of force and matter making itself over into imagination and will. Incredible. The Life Force experimenting with forms. You for one. Me for another. The Universe has shouted itself alive. We are one of the shouts.
Why would you clone people when you can go to bed with them and make a baby? C’mon, it’s stupid.
Video games are a waste of time for men with nothing else to do. Real brains don’t do that. On occasion? Sure. As relaxation? Great. But not full time — And a lot of people are doing that. And while they’re doing that, I’ll go ahead and write another novel.
Too late, I found you can’t wait to become perfect, you got to go out and fall down with everbody else. -Charles Holloway, in “Something Wicked This Way Comes”
“…Beware the autumn people… For some, autumn comes early, stays late, through life, where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the only normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No, the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks through their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud al clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them.”— Charles Holloway, quoting “Pastor Newgate Phillips” in Something Wicked This Way Comes
“I suppose one night hundreds of thousands of years ago in a cave by a night fire when one of those shaggy men wakened to gaze over the banked coals at his woman, his children, and thought of their being cold, dead, gone forever. Then he must have wept. And he put out his hand in the night to the woman who must die some day and to the children who must follow her. And for a little bit next morning, he treated them somewhat better, for he saw that they, like himself, had the seed of night in them. … So that man, the first one, knew what we know now: our hour is short, eternity is long. With this knowledge came pity and mercy, so we spared others for the latter, more intricate, more mysterious benefits of love.” -Charles Holloway, in “Something Wicked This Way Comes”
The stuff of nightmare is their plain bread. They butter it with pain. They set their clocks by death-watch beetles, and thrive the centuries. -Charles Holloway, in “Something Wicked This Way Comes”
Death doesn’t exist. It never did, never will. But we’ve drawn so many pictures of it, so many years, trying to pin it down, comphrehend it, we’ve got to thinking of it as an entity, strangely alive and greedy. All it is, however, is a stopped watch, a loss, an end, a darkness. Nothing. …we’re more afraid of Nothing than of Something. -Charles Holloway, in “Something Wicked This Way Comes”
[Mr. Dark, the evil carnival owner, covered head-to-toe with tatoos of strange creatures, searches for the two boys Jim and Will in the library]
Mr. Dark came carrying his panoply of friends, his jewel-case assortment of calligraphic reptiles which lay sunning themselves at midnight on his flesh. With him strode the stitch-inked Tyrannosaurus Rex, which lent to his haunches a machined and ancient wellspring mineral-oil glide. As the thunder lizard strode, all glass-bead pomp, so strode Mr. Dark, armored with vile lightning scribbles of carnivores and sheep blasted by that thunder and arun before storms of juggernaut flesh. It was the pterodactyl kite and scythe which raised his arms almost to fly the marbled vaults. And with the inked and stenciled flashburnt shapes of pistoned or bladed doom came his usual crowd of hangers-on, spectators gripped to each limb, seated on shoulder blades, peering from his jungled chest, hung upside down in microscopic millions in his armpit vaults screaming bat-screams for encounters, ready for the hunt and if need be the kill. Like a black tidal wave upon a bleak shore, a dark tumult infilled with phosphorescent beauties and badly spoiled dreams, Mr. Dark sounded and hissed his feet, his legs, his body, his sharp face forward. “Boys…?”-Something Wicked This Way Comes
This is a fantastic example of Bradbury’s writing style, which never ceases to amaze me.
More great quotes from Ray Bradbury are HERE
Only one rabbi dared to expect of us such a perfect balance that we could preserve the law and still forgive the deviation. So, of course, we killed him.- Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
Even if there is no such thing as free will, we have to treat each other as if there were free will in order to live together in society. Because otherwise, every time somebody does something terrible, you can’t punish him, because he can’t help it, because his genes or his environment or God made him do it, and every time somebody does something good, you can’t honor him, because he was a puppet, too. If you think that everybody around you is a puppet, why bother talking to them at all? Why even try to plan anything or create anything, since everything you plan or create or desire or dream of is just acting out the script your puppeteer built into you. So we conceive of ourselves and everyone around us as volitional beings. We treat everyone as if they did things with a purpose in mind, instead of because they’re being pushed from behind. We punish criminals. We reward altruists. We plan things and build things together. We make promises and expect each other to keep them. It’s all a made-up story, but when everybody believes that everybody’s actions are the result of free choice, and takes and gives responsibility accordingly, the result is civilization. -Xenocide, Orson Scott Card
Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars. -Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (1857)
“Sure, ninety percent of science fiction is crud. That’s because ninety percent of everything is crud.” — Theodore Sturgeon
With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. -Steven Weinberg
If a man wanted to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion. -L. Ron Hubbard (science fiction writer and inventor of Scientology)
Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances,… and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, which people see as ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn. -St. Augustine
…how vast those Orbs must be, and how inconsiderable the Earth, the Theatre upon which all our mighty Designs, all our Navigations, and all our Wars are transacted, is when compared to them. A very fit Consideration, and matter of Reflection, for those Kings and Princes who sacrifice the Lives of so many People, only to flatter their Ambition in being Masters of some pitiful corner of this small Spot. -Christiaan Huygens, 1698 (this quote was clearly the inspiration for Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot quote)
Research is the process of going up alleys to see if they are blind. — Marston Bates
The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it. — William James
It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end. -Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
“Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, unpredictable, inevitable — the one certain thing you know concerning your future, and mine?” “That we shall die.” “Yes, There’s really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer. … The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.” -Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
“How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession. … Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope.” -Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man. – Mark Twain
If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error. — John Kenneth Galbraith
Now, I know there are some polls out there saying that this man [George W. Bush] has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in “reality”. And reality has a well known liberal bias. -Stephen Colbert, at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner
There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. -Carl Jung
To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. -Emily Dickinson
Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry. -Mark Twain
Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies. ~Erich Fromm
Physics Student: Do you like spaceships? Little Girl: No. I only like ponies.
I ask not for a lighter burden, but broader shoulders. – Jewish Proverb
“If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul.”-Isaac Asimov
Like sailors we are, who must rebuild their ship upon the open sea, never able to dismantle it in dry dock or to reconstruct it there from the best materials. -Otto Neurath, “Protocol Sentences”
We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on. — Richard Feynman
Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock. — Ben Hecht
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says “I’ll try again tomorrow.” ~Mary Anne Radmacher
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
And why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up. -Thomas Wayne, Batman Begins
Because we do not know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustable well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even concieve of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless. -Brandon Lee, quoting Paul Bowles‘ book The Sheltering Sky
“I’m afraid sometimes you’ll play lonely games too, games you can’t win because you’ll play against you” -Dr. Seuss
A cult is a religion with no political power. — Tom Wolfe
The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best – and therefore never scrutinize or question. — Stephen Jay Gould
“You ask me the real point of it all. Each of us must take his own path on that… Different paths have their own advantages, their own perils. But for your own, human sake… you should consider: Each civilization has its time. Each science has its limits. And Each of us must die. If you truly understand those limits … then you are ready to grow up, to know what counts.” He was silent for a while. “Yes… just listen to the peace. It’s a gift to be able to do that. Too much time is spent in frenzied rushing. Listen to the breeze… Listen to the laughter of your children and grandchildren. Enjoy the time you have, however it is given to you, and for however long.”
-Magnate Larson in A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ~T.S. Eliot
“In an age when the horizons have grown near, when the lands of mystery are as close as the travel channel, when everything seems known and tired, when all the wildernesses are conquered, the human soul is starved for challenge. Only our outbound quest can satisfy this hunger, which is a very real hunger that is at once spiritual, psychological, emotional, as well as intellectual. We do this for knowledge and to hone our technical capabilities. But most of all, we do it for our deepest hearts, which yearn outward.” — From James Cameron’s address to the International Mars Society, August 1999
It’s human nature to stretch, to go, to see, to understand. Exploration is not a choice, really; it’s an imperative. — Michael Collins
“I don’t like it, and I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it.” — Erwin Schrodinger talking about quantum mechanics.
“All science is either physics or stamp collecting.” — Ernest (1st Baron) Rutherford (1871-1937)
“The good Christian should beware of mathematicians and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and confine man in the bonds of Hell.” — St. Augustine (354-430)
“He seems to have an inordinate fondness for beetles.” — John Burdon Sanderson Haldane, British geneticist and writer (1892-1964), when asked late in his life whether his studies had taught him anything about God that he might care to share (Beetles comprise about a quarter of all known species.)
“Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: ‘My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly.’ This stranger is a theologian.” — Diderot, c1762
“First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.” — Richard Feynman, from a PBS show on Dr. Feynman. He was describing to his class how to look for a new law of physics
Each person who ever was or will be has a song. It isn’t a song that anybody else wrote. It has its own melody, it has its own words. Very few people get to sing their own song. Most of us fear we cannot do it justice with our voices, or that our words are too foolish or too honest or too odd. So people live their songs instead. – Neil Gaiman in ‘Anansi Boys’
Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment. ~Robert Benchley
There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum.
Arthur C. Clarke
English physicist & science fiction author (1917 – 2008)
I can’t say the pictures [of extrasolar planets] are surprising. We have known for a long time that these planets are out there and that someone someday would take pictures of them. But that doesn’t take away from the exciting fact that we are seeing planets around other stars for the first time. When you start to sail across the ocean you know that you are finally going to reach shore, but, still, when you see land for the first time it is the most beautiful and exciting thing in your universe. “Land ho!” is never said in a quiet voice. – Mike Brown
“Sir Ector has given me a glass of canary,” said the Wart, “and sent me to see if you can’t cheer me up.”
“Sir Ector,” said Merlyn, “is a wise man.”
“Well,” said the Wart, “what about it?”
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then–to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you. Look at what a lot of things there are to learn–pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a milliard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics–why, you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start again on mathematics, until it is time to learn to plough.”
“Apart from all these things,” said the Wart, “what do you suggest for me just now?”
– The Once and Future King – Book 1: The Sword in the Stone, T.H. White
“It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibility. They work with the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read and tell: subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.” – Birds of Heaven, Ben Okri
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pool singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
-“There will come soft rains”, Sara Teasdale
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
If more of us valued food and song and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
—Thorin Oakenshield, in “The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien
“The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there’s no good reason to go into space–each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.” – Randall Munroe, from this xkcd comic.
“The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.
Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?
We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.
They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.”
— George R.R. Martin (originally published in The Faces of Fantasy: Photographs by Pati Perret copyright © 1996 by Pati Perret, copied from George Martin’s website)
“…for you can make a soldier in six months but it takes five years to make a plumber.” – Frank Dudley Houck (my great grandfather)
“Not pointless.” I protested. “It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers.”
[…] “That way, when he finds the answers, they’ll be precious to him. The harder the question, the harder we hunt. The harder we hunt, the more we learn.”
– Kvothe in “The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss
There are days I really enjoy writing and there are days I f–king hate it. I can see it in my head and the words won’t come. I try to put it on the page and it feels stiff and wooden and it’s stupid. Writing is hard work. – George R. R. Martin
“Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” – G.K. Chesterton
“All that survives after our death are publications and people. So look carefully after the words you write, the thoughts and publications you create, and how you love others. For these are the only things that will remain.”
– Susan Niebur, planetary scientist
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. — Antoine St. Exupery
“This planet below you is our campsite, and you know of no other campground. – Kalpana Chawla, a shuttle astronaut that we tragically lost on Colombia’s final flight (STS-107).
If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. – George Monbiot
Story is our irrational advantage in the universe, and keeping it alive is a sacred duty.
As writers, we have a duty to tell stories. We have a duty to make our stories compelling, to impart wisdom, and yes to entertain. We are the stewards of humanity and the enlightenment or destruction of our species hangs in the balance.
This is why you must write.
So, it is enough that you write and that you continue to write. It is enough that you work hard to tell your stories to the best of your ability. It is enough that you try to get your word out to as many people as possible.
Humanity needs your work and this is why you must write. It’s really that simple. Without your very best stories, we will have a future which does not inspire. Without your stories, we will have a future that does not make us laugh. Without your stories, we will have a future that does not include you or the worlds to which you have born witness. Without your stories, we lose another piece of humanity and somewhere an individual loses out on a chance for enlightenment.
“It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who is not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.” – John Steinbeck, to his creative writing professor Edit Mirrieless
“You must never think at the typewriter. You must feel.” – Ray Bradbury
Cry, the beloved country,
for the unborn child
that is the inheritor of our fear.
Let him not love the earth too deeply.
Let him not laugh too gladly
when the water runs through his fingers,
nor stand too silent when the setting sun
makes red the veld with fire.
Let him not be too moved
when the birds of his land are singing,
nor give too much of his heart
to a mountain or a valley.
For fear will rob him of all
if he gives too much! – Alan Paton
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.
– Roy Batty, Blade Runner
We are not made for the mountains. For sunrises. Or for the other beautiful attractions in life. Those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley. And the Ordinary things of life. That is where we have to prove our stamina and strength. – Oswald Chambers
If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery — isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is. – Charles Bukowski
“Here is a list of fearful things:
The jaws of sharks, a vulture’s wings,
The rabid bite of the dog’s of war,
The voice of one who went before.
But most of all the mirror’s gaze,
which counts us out our numbered days.” – Clive Barker
They’re all here. All the things which had uses. All the mountains which had names. And we’ll never be able to use them without feeling uncomfortable. And somehow the mountains will never sound right to us; we’ll give them new names, but the old names are there, somewhere in time, and the mountains were shaped and seen under those names. The names we’ll give to canals and mountains and cities will fall like so much water on the back of a mallard. No matter how we touch Mars, we’ll never touch it.
– Ray Bradbury, The Moon Be Still as Bright, Martian Chronicles
“The rockets set the bony meadows afire, turned rock to lava, turned wood to charcoal, transmuted water to steam, made sand and silica into green glass which lay like shattered mirrors reflecting the invasion, all about. The rockets came like drums, beating in the night. The rockets came like locusts, swarming and settling in blooms of rosy smoke.”
― Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
The universe is full of matter and force. Yet in all that force, amongst all the bulks and gravities, the rains of cosmic light, the bombardments of energy — how little spirit, how small the decimal points of intelligence. Dumb, sometimes — yes. Awful, quite often. Dreadful apish brutes on occasion following occasion. That’s how we things that represent intelligence seem to ourselves, and quite often truly are. And yet I would not see our candle blown out in the wind. It is a small thing, this dear gift of life handed us mysteriously out of immensity. I would not have that gift expire. Crossing the wilderness, centuries ago, men carried in covered cows’ horns the coals of the previous nights’ fires to start new fires on the nights ahead. Thus we carry ourselves in the universal wilderness and blow upon the coals and kindle new lives and move on yet once more. […] Why, sweet Jesus, what’s the use of looking at Mars through a telescope, sitting on panels, writing books, if it isn’t to guarantee, not just the survival of mankind, but mankind surviving forever! Good God in heaven, we were born to live, and live in mystery, which crowds all about and would smother us if we let it. […] Some of you will immediately say we go to pollute Mars. You are the people who see a partially filled glass as half empty. I see the glass as half full. I say we go to save Mars from itself. And do ourselves favors, meanwhile. Paradoxically stated: what is not polluted is elevated. I live inside the last word. -Ray Bradbury
We live in a time of paradox — man is confronted with a terrifying, magnificent choice: destroying himself utterly to the atom, or survive utterly with the same means. Man has always been half-monster, half-dreamer. The very real fear is that now he’ll destroy himself just as he’s about to attain his dreams. Today we stand on the rim of space — man is about to flow outwards, to spread his seed to far new worlds — if he can conquer the seed of his own self-destruction. But man, at his best, is a mortal, and from his beginnings, he has dreamed of reaching the stars. I’m convinced he will.
– Ray Bradbury
“I believe every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine.” – Neil Armstrong
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.”
― Ray Bradbury
“Sunsets are loved because they vanish.Flowers are loved because they go.The dogs of the field and the cats of the kitchen are loved because soon they must depart.These are not the sole reasons, but at the heart of morning welcomes and afternoon laughters is the promise of farewell. In the gray muzzle of an old dog we see goodbye. In the tired face of an old friend we read long journeys beyond returns.”
― Ray Bradbury, From the Dust Returned
“You must throw up every morning and clean up every noon.”
“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.” – John Adams
“If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth and claw, if we believe divers races and creeds can share the world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable and the riches of the Earth and its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.” – Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
I hear my father-inlaw’s response: “[…] He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain and his family must pay it along with him! And only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!”
Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?
-Cloud Atlas (last lines), David Mitchell
“Nothing any good isn’t hard” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
“We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.” —Roger Ebert
“Start. Don’t look back. If at the end it doesn’t meet your hopes, start again. Now you know more about your hopes.”-Roger Ebert on writing.
“Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. – Roger Ebert
“I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.” – Roger Ebert
His whole essay on death is excellent: http://www.salon.com/2011/09/15/roger_ebert/
Boy, there are days where I get up and say “Where the hell did my talent go? Look at this crap that I’m producing here. This is terrible. Look, I wrote this yesterday. I hate this, I hate this.” And I can see a scene in my head, and when I try to get it down in words on paper, the words are clunky, the scene is not coming across right. So frustrating. And there are days where it keeps flowing. Open the floodgates, and there it is. Pages and pages coming. Where the hell does this all come from? I don’t know. – George R.R. Martin
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” -Marcus Aurelius
“Despite what you’ve read, your sadness is not beautiful. No one will see you in the bookstore, curled up with your Bukowski, and want to save you.
for a salvation that will not come from the grey-eyed boy looking for an annotated copy of Shakespeare,
for an end to your sadness in Keats.
He coughed up his lungs at 25, and flowery words cannot conceal a life barely lived.
Your life is fragile, just beginning, teetering on the violent edge of the world.
Your sadness will bury you alive, and you are the only one who can shovel your way out with hardened hands and ragged fingernails, bleeding your despair into the unforgiving earth.
Darling, you see, no heroes are coming for you. Grab your sword, and don your own armor.” – Emily at http://starredsoul.tumblr.com/
I’ve been asked before if I have any special dying person wisdom. To which my answer is always, well, no, not really. But I have been thinking a lot about what life means to me, and what I see it meaning to people who seem to enjoy their own life the most. I come down to two basic concepts. Be kind, and don’t miss your opportunities. Kindness is highly underrated. We spend so much time aspiring to or defending our place in life, from how we behave in traffic to how we treat people in the workplace, at home and out in the world. If everybody tapped the brakes on their immediate needs long enough to be kind and pleasant to other people, the world would be a much better place. Sappy? Yes. True? Yes. The hardest part is being kind to people you don’t particularly want to be kind to. Or being kind at moments when you don’t have much kindness left in you, for whatever reason. I’ve come to realize that’s when it counts most. But in any case, be kind. It costs you nothing and makes the world around you a better place. As for opportunities… I suppose I mean that in every possible sense. Always wanted to go to Iceland? Go to Iceland. Missing out on your favorite meal? Make it. Want to hug someone? Hug them. Declare your love. Read that book. Go to Paris, France or Paris, Texas or Paris Street in your home town. Sleep in. Get up early and hike the Gorge. Go to the therapist. Start the diet. Stop the diet. See that band. Whatever. We spend so much time denying ourselves. There’s never enough time, there’s never enough money, it’s too complicated, they might reject you, you never got around to it. For my own part, I’m kind of done with self-denial. I’ve always been more than a bit of a hedonist, and rather too much in love with wretched excess, but of late in the face of my own impending death I’ve become an even bigger fan than ever of consensual, harm-free indulgence. Life at its very best is short and complicated and way too hard. Already I regret far more the things I didn’t do that I wanted, than doing the things I probably shouldn’t have. Spend some time doing what you want, doing it as big as you can manage. It will make you a happier person. Not much in the way wisdom, to be sure, but kindness and opportunity become more and more important to me as my life grows shorter. How long is your life? – Jay Lake ( http://jaylake.livejournal.com/3257157.html)
If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing. – Ben Franklin
Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends? – Abraham Lincoln
Do it now. Tomorrow is promised to no one. – John Chatterton (though variations on this quote appear in many places, so this may not be the original source)
I am the one thing in life I can control. / I am inimitable / I am an original. – Aaron Burr, in the song “Wait for it” in the musical Hamilton by Lin Manuel Miranda
I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory. – Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda
Specificity is the soul of narrative. – John Hodgman
“I have concluded through careful empirical analysis and much thought that somebody is looking out for me, keeping track of what I think about things, forgiving me when I do less than I ought. Giving me strength to shoot for more than I think I’m capable of. I believe they know everything that I do and think, and they still love me, and I’ve concluded, after careful consideration, that this person keeping score is me.” – Adam Savage
“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” – Jack London
“Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.”
“If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist. – Robert Jones Jr.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Shakespeare, Hamlet (1.5.167-8)
The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack. – Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book
“We are accustomed to repeating the cliché, and to believing, that ‘our most precious resource is our children.’ But we have plenty of children to go around, God knows, and as with Doritos, we can always make more. The true scarcity we face is practicing adults, of people who know how marginal, how fragile, how finite their lives and their stories and their ambitions really are but who find value in this knowledge, even a sense of strange comfort, because they know their condition is universal, is shared.” – Michael Chabon, Manhood for Amateurs
“Every day is like a kid’s drawing, offered to you with a strange mix of ceremoniousness and offhand disregard, yours for the keeping. Some of the days are rich and complicated, others inscrutable, others little more than a stray gray mark on a ragged page. Some you manage to hang on to, though your reasons for doing so are often hard to fathom. But most of them you just ball up and throw away.” – Michael Chabon, Manhood for Amateurs
God: “The trouble is that very small beings write books that contradict the rocks, then say I wrote the books and the rocks are lies.” – Sherri Tepper, Grass
“What artists do is make a particularly skillful selection of fragments of cosmos, unusually useful and entertaining bits chosen and arranged to give an illusion of coherence and duration amidst the uncontrollable streaming of events. An artist makes the world her world. An artist makes her world the world. For a little while. For as long as it takes to look at or listen to or watch or read the work of art. Like a crystal, the work of art seems to contain the whole, and to imply eternity. And yet all it is is an explorer’s sketch-map. A chart of shorelines on a foggy coast.” – Ursula K. LeGuin
Conquistadores, always running into new worlds, and quickly running out of them. Conquest is not finding, and it is not making. Our culture, which conquered what is called the New World, and which sees the world of nature as an adversary to be conquered: look at us now. Running out of everything. – Ursula K. LeGuin
It is hard to tell a really gripping tale of how I wrested a wild-oat seed from its husk, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then I scratched my gnat bites, and Ool said something funny, and we went to the creek and got a drink and watched newts for a while, and then I found another patch of oats…. No, it does not compare, it cannot compete with how I thrust my spear deep into the titanic hairy flank while Oob, impaled on one huge sweeping tusk, writhed screaming, and blood spouted everywhere in crimson torrents, and Boob was crushed to jelly when the mammoth fell on him as I shot my unerring arrow straight through eye to brain. That story not only has Action, it has a Hero. Heroes are powerful. Before you know it, the men and women in the wild-oat patch and their kids and the skills of the makers and the thoughts of the thoughtful and the songs of the singers are all part of it, have all been pressed into service in the tale of the Hero. But it isn’t their story. It’s his. – Ursula K. LeGuin
[In response to the theory that the first tool used by humans was a bag or basket, not a spear or other weapon.] Where is that wonderful, big, long, hard thing, a bone, I believe, that the Ape Man first bashed somebody with in the movie and then, grunting with ecstasy at having achieved the first proper murder, flung up into the sky, and whirling there it became a space ship thrusting its way into the cosmos to fertilize it and produce at the end of the movie a lovely fetus, a boy of course, drifting around the Milky Way without (oddly enough) any womb, any matrix at all? I don’t know. I don’t even care. I’m not telling that story. – Ursula K. LeGuin
Why have we abandoned and despised the interesting things that happen when the word behaves like music and the author is not just “a writer” but the player of the instrument of language? – Ursula K. LeGuin
Once you start writing, it is fatal to think about anything but the writing. True work is done for the sake of doing it. – Ursula K. LeGuin
I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. – Ursula K. LeGuin
Question 14: “Are you living your secret desires?” Floored again. I finally didn’t check Yes, Somewhat, or No, but wrote in “I have none, my desires are flagrant.”
– from LeGuin’s blog post here, and republished in her collection No Time to Spare
We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words. – Ursula LeGuin
A hero whose heroism consists of killing people is uninteresting to me, and I detest the hormonal war orgies of our visual media, the mechanical slaughter of endless battalions of black-clad, yellow-toothed, red-eyed demons. – Ursula LeGuin
Treat yourself like someone you love. – Adam Roa (many other variations of this exist)
No matter what the universe has in store, it cannot take away from the fact that you were born. You’ll have some joy and some pain, and all the other experiences that make up what it’s like to be a tiny part of a grand cosmos. No matter what happens next, you were here. And even when any record of our individual lives is lost to the ages, that won’t detract from the fact that we were. We lived. We were part of the enormity. All the great and terrible parts of being alive, the shocking sublime beauty and heartbreak, the monotony, the interior thoughts, the shared pain and pleasure. It really happened. All of it. On this little world that orbits a yellow star out in the great vastness. And that alone is cause for celebration.
-Sasha Sagan, For Small Creatures Such as We
The following few quotes were shared among the Perseverance rover science team on February 18, 2021, a few hours after the successful landing on Mars:
All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.
– T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), Seven Pillars of Wisdom
This is a great moment, when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly become part of the tangible world. It matters not how many ranges, rivers or parching dusty ways may lie between you; it is yours now forever.
– Freya Stark
Left alone, I am overtaken by the northern void – no wind, no cloud, no track, no bird, only the crystal crescents between peaks, the ringing monuments of rock that, freed from the talons of ice and snow, thrust an implacable being into the blue. In the early light, the rock shadows on the snow are sharp; in the tension between light and dark is the power of the universe.
– Peter Matthiessen, Snow Leopard
We have an unknown distance yet to run; an unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things. […] With some eagerness, and some anxiety, and some misgiving, we enter the canyon below, and are carried along by the swift water…
– John Wesley Powell
To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That’s crudely put, but…
If we’re not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?
– “To Be Alive” by Gregory Orr from Concerning the Book That Is the Body Of the Beloved (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
“What makes us human is our capacity for hopelessness. Our ability to confront our own smallness, and even there, in the face of our grief, to still want to help. To make things better for people.”
– Carlos Maza, from his excellent video “How to be Hopeless” analyzing The Plague by Camus, in the context of the rise of COVID-19 and fascism
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and being alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You have to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes too near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.”
― Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum
Writing is easy: you just open a vein and bleed. – Anonymous (origin disputed)
“It turns out life isn’t a puzzle that can be solved one time and it’s done. You wake up every day, and you solve it again.”
– Chidi Anagonye, The Good Place 4×09
“Picture a wave in the ocean. You can see it, measure it, its height, the way the sunlight refracts when it passes through, and it’s there, and you can see it, you know what it is. It’s a wave. And then it crashes on the shore, and it’s gone. But the water is still there. The wave was just a different way for the water to be for a little while.
You know it’s one conception of death for Buddhists: the wave returns to the ocean, where it came from and where it’s supposed to be.”
– Chidi Anagonye, The Good Place 4×13
So, why do it then? Why choose to be good, every day, if there is no guaranteed reward we can count on, now or in the afterlife? I argue that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.
– Chidi Anagonye, The Good Place
I think that most of us really want to offer the world something of quality, something that the world will consider good or important. And that’s really the enemy, because it’s not up to us whether what we do is any good, and if history has taught us anything, the world is an extremely unreliable critic.
So you have to ask yourself: Do you think human creativity matters?
We know this: the time of our life is so short, and how we spend it – are we spending it doing what’s important to us? Most of us not.
[…] It’s a thing that worries me sometimes whenever you talk about creativity, because it can have this kind of feel that it’s just nice, you know, or it’s warm, or it’s something pleasant. It’s not. It’s vital. It’s the way we heal each other.
If you want to help your community, if you want to help your family, if you want to help your friends, you have to express yourself. And to express yourself, you have to know yourself. It’s actually super easy. You just have to follow your love.
There is no path until you walk it, and you have to be willing to play the fool.
– Ethan Hawke
“The man who thinks himself virtuous in fearing an angry God will soon begin to see virtue in submission to earthly tyrants.”
— Bertrand Russell, Understanding History and Other Essays (1957), Essay II. The Value of Free Thought (1944), p. 20
“The only way in which a society can live for any length of time without violent strife is by establishing social justice, and social justice appears to each man to be injustice if he is persuaded that he is superior to his neighbors.”
— Bertrand Russell, The Art of Philosophizing and Other Essays (1968), Essay I, How to Become a Philosopher: The Art of Rational Conjecture, p. 5
We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time towards a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.”
— Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (1927)
I came across a Facebook page that posts quotes from Bertrand Russell, and I was struck by how obvious it is that Carl Sagan borrowed *very* heavily from Russell. Compare some of these quotes with the ones from Sagan above on this page.
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 and supernatural purpose, and no hope of ultimate salvation, it is far better to understand and acknowledge this truth than to endeavor, in futile self-assertion, to order the universe to be what we may find comfortable.
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 humankind 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.
The freethinker’s universe may seem bleak and cold to those who have been accustomed to the comfortable indoor warmth of the various religious cosmologies. But to those who have grown accustomed to it, it has its own sublimity, and confers its own joys. In learning to think freely we have hopefully learnt to thrust fear out of our thoughts, and this lesson, once learnt, brings a kind of peace which is impossible to the slave of hesitant and uncertain credulity.”
— Bertrand Russell, The Value of Free Thought: How to Become a Truth-Seeker and Break the Chains of Mental Slavery (1944), pp. 40-41
“To understand the actual world as it is, not as we should wish it to be, is the beginning of wisdom.”
— Bertrand Russell, Mortals and Others: American Essays 1931–1935, Vol. II, Essay, CXL : Censorship by Progressives (11 October 1934), p. 454
“The secret of happiness is this: Let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile. The world is vast and our own powers are limited. If all our happiness is bound up entirely in our personal circumstances it is difficult not to demand of life more than it has to give. And to demand too much is the surest way of getting even less than is possible. The man who can forget his worries by means of a genuine interest in, say, gardening, or the life history of stars, will find that, when he returns from his excursion into the impersonal world, he has acquired a poise and calm which enable him to deal with his worries in the best way, and he will in the meantime have experienced a genuine even if temporary happiness.”
— Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness (1930), Part II. Causes of Happiness, Chapter X: Is Happiness Still Possible?, p. 140
“I was not born happy … In adolescence, I hated life and was continually on the verge of suicide, from which, however, I was restrained by the desire to know only more mathematics. Now, on the contrary, I enjoy life; I might almost say that with every year that passes I enjoy it more.
This is due partly to having discovered what were the things that I most desired, and having gradually acquired many of these things. Partly it is due to having successfully dismissed certain objects of desire — such as the acquisition of indubitable knowledge about something or other — as essentially unattainable. But very largely my current happiness is due to a diminishing preoccupation with myself.
… Gradually I learned to be indifferent to myself and my deficiencies; I came to centre my attention increasingly upon external objects: the state of the world, various branches of knowledge, individuals for whom I felt affection. External interests, it is true, bring each its own possibility of pain: the world may be plunged in war, knowledge in some direction may be hard to achieve, friends may die. But pains of these kinds do not destroy the essential quality of life, as do those that spring from disgust with the self.”
― Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness (1930), Part I. Causes of Unhappiness, Ch: I, What Makes People Unhappy?, p. 9
Children are instinctively hostile to anything ‘odd’ in other children, especially in the ages from ten to fifteen. […] The intolerance of eccentricity that I am speaking of is strongest in the stupidest children, who tend to regard the peculiar tastes of clever children as affording just grounds for persecution. When the authorities also are stupid (which may occur), they will tend to side with the stupid children, and acquiesce, at least tacitly, in rough treatment for those who show intelligence. In that case, a society will be produced in which all the important positions will be won by those whose stupidity enables them to please the herd.
Such a society will have corrupt politicians, ignorant schoolmasters, policemen who cannot catch criminals, and judges who condemn innocent men. Such a society, even if it inhabits a country full of natural wealth, will in the end grow poor from inability to choose able men for important posts. Such a society, though it may prate of Liberty and even erect statues in her honour, will be a persecuting society, which will punish the very men whose ideas might save it from disaster.
All this will spring from the too intense pressure of the herd, first at school and then in the world at large. Where such excessive pressure exists, those who direct education are not, as a rule, aware that it is an evil; indeed, they are quite apt to welcome it as a force making for good behaviour.”
— Bertrand Russell, The Basic Writings of Bertrand (1961), Part. XI The Philosopher of Politics Russell, 49. The Reconciliation of Individuality and Citizenship, p. 436
“And so, to the man tempted by despair, I say: Remind yourself that the world is what we make it, and that to the making of it each one of us can contribute something. This thought makes hope possible: and in this hope, though life will still be painful, it will be no longer purposeless.”
— Bertrand Russell, The Wisdom of Bertrand Russell, A Philosophy for You in These Times (1941), p. 56
When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of ‘getting to know you’ questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.
And he went wow. That’s amazing! And I said, ‘Oh no, but I’m not any good at any of them.’
And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: ‘I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.’
And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could ‘win’ at them.
– Comment from tumblr user three–rings here, NOT Kurt Vonnegut! It is in response to this post about a letter from Vonnegut:
In 2006 a high school English teacher asked students to write a famous author and ask for advice. Kurt Vonnegut was the only one to respond – and his response is magnificent: “Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:
I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?
Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash receptacles. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
God bless you all!
One of the things that is a classic trope of the religious bigot, is while they’re denying people their rights, they claim that their rights are being denied. While they are persecuting people, they claim to be persecuted. While they are behaving colossally offensively, they claim to be the offended party.
– Salman Rushdie
The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind. Please, be kind. Especially when we don’t know what’s going on.
– Waymond Wang, Everything Everywhere All At Once
“When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I’ve learned to survive through everything.”
– Waymond Wang, Everything Everywhere All At Once
So, even though you have broken my heart yet again, I wanted to say, in another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.
– Waymond Wang, Everything Everywhere All At Once
“As the Secretary General of the United Nations, an organization of the 147 member states who represent almost all of the human inhabitants of the planet Earth, I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet. We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship, to teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate. We know full well that our planet and all its inhabitants are but a small part of this immense universe that surrounds us and it is with humility and hope that we take this step.”
– Kurt Waldheim, Secretary General, United Nations
The only thing harder than writing is not writing.
Writing is hard—we must acknowledge that. Writing requires us to card the wool of the mind, to take experiences and memories and sort them into letters so other people might think, feel, understand. One must take an uncategorizable, inexplicable, throbbing knot of perception and emotion and experience and somehow render it legible to outsiders. I tasted a fig once and knew that no one else in the world, anywhere, ever, would taste the same fig as me—once I’d eaten it, there was nothing to be shared. I might write about the fig: I’d call the flavor green and sweet and crushing, I’d explain how every fig is an inside-out flower, I’d pick my way through a deep and fervent and frankly graphic description of the textures involved. But if I did that, I’d know while I was choosing those words that they could never make the reader understand precisely how the fig felt on my tongue.
Writing is impossible. The alphabet I use to write only has twenty-six letters in it. No matter how many ways I rearrange those letters, I don’t think they can possibly be enough to encapsulate the way it feels to be alive.
Maybe it’s hopeless.
But oh, god, at least it isn’t not writing.
Not writing is a hellish expanse of time spent wandering the house, staring at packed dirt in the yard, dusting the tops of doorframes and rearranging the kitchen cupboards. Not writing is a commute: a damp bench on a train platform, dreading the hot breath that will rush out of the tunnel ahead of the train, wondering if there will be a less-damp seat available once it arrives. If writing is a puzzle that can never quite be solved, then not writing is a puzzle in a box that can never be opened—what’s the point of it? It stales on the shelf.
The worst part of not writing is that writing always lingers at the edges of it. There’s a prickle on the back of my neck when I’m not writing, an unanswered-message feeling. Because the story is waiting. It’s perched in the future somewhere and it wants to be real and I am the only one preventing that from happening. And yes, I might tell that patient expectant story, writing is hard. How, I might ask, does one begin to explain the transgressive thrill of biting through the flesh of the fig?
But then again, I am the only one who ate that fig. I am the only one who can write about what it was like to eat that fig. And because I am the only one who can write that description, the joy of trying to figure out how to write it belongs only to me. It’s mine to claim, that toil, that triumph—and what do I have to do to claim it? I have to turn away from the awful clinging hours of not writing.
I can do that, so the story can become what it’s meant to be. It’s not so hard to write.
Not compared to the alternative.