“It is most absurdly said, in popular language, of any man, that he is disguised in liquor; for, on the contrary, most men are disguised by sobriety.” — Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, 1856
I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.
— Charles Darwin, letter to Asa Gray, May 22, 1860
“Foolish man, what do you bemoan, and what do you fear? Wherever you look there is an end of evils. You see that yawning precipice? It leads to liberty. You see that flood, that river, that well? Liberty houses within them. You see that stunted, parched, and sorry tree? From each branch liberty hangs. Your neck, your throat, your heart are all so many ways of escape from slavery … Do you enquire the road to freedom? You shall find it in every vein in your body.” — Seneca
In the West Indies, according to the Spanish historian Girolamo Benzoni, four thousand men and countless women and children died by jumping from cliffs or by killing each other. He adds that, out of the two million original inhabitants of Haiti, fewer than 150 survived as a result of the suicides and slaughter. In the end the Spaniards, faced with an embarrassing labor shortage, put a stop to the epidemic of suicides by persuading the Indians that they, too, would kill themselves in order to pursue them in the next world with even harsher cruelties.
— Alfred Alvarez, The Savage God: A Study of Suicide, 1971
“I find all books too long.” — Voltaire
“The covers of this book are too far apart.” — Ambrose Bierce
“A big book is a big nuisance.” — Callimachus
“Long books, when read, are usually overpraised, because the reader wants to convince others and himself that he has not wasted his time.” — E.M. Forster
“I made this letter very long, because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter.” — Pascal
“Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.” — Samuel Johnson
“It is disconcerting to reflect on the number of students we have flunked in chemistry for not knowing what we later found to be untrue.” — Attributed to Deming by B.R. Bertramson, in Robert L. Weber, Science with a Smile, 1992
“Via ovicapitum dura est. The way of the egghead is hard.” — Adlai Stevenson
“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” — J.M. Barrie
“No, Sir, not a day’s work in all my life. What I have done I have done because it has been play. If it had been work I shouldn’t have done it.” — Mark Twain, New York Times interview, 1905
From a letter by Isaac Asimov, July 20, 1965:
You have a vacation when you do something you like better than your work. But there isn’t anything I like better than my work. My vacation therefore exists all year long — except when I am forced to go away.
But James Thurber wrote, “I suppose that even the most pleasurable of imaginable occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the RCA Building, would pall a little as the days ran on.”
“[John] von Neumann gave me an interesting idea: that you don’t have to be responsible for the world that you’re in. So I have developed a very powerful sense of social irresponsibility as a result of von Neumann’s advice. It’s made me a very happy man ever since. But it was von Neumann who put the seed in that grew into my active irresponsibility!” — Richard Feynman
He expands on this in Christopher Sykes’ No Ordinary Genius (1994):
“I got the idea of ‘active irresponsibility’ in Los Alamos. We often went on walks, and one day I was with the great mathematician von Neumann and a few other people. I think Bethe and von Neumann were discussing some social problem that Bethe was very worried about. Von Neumann said, ‘I don’t feel any responsibility for all these social problems. Why should I? I’m born into the world, I didn’t make it.’ Something like that. Well, I’ve read von Neumann’s autobiography and it seems to me that he felt perpetually responsible, but at that moment this was a new idea to me, and I caught onto it. Around you all the time there are people telling you what your responsibilities are, and I thought it was kind of brave to be actively irresponsible. ‘Active’ because, like democracy, it takes eternal vigilance to maintain it — in a university you have to perpetually watch out, and be careful that you don’t do anything to help anybody!”
“Feynman somehow was proud of being irresponsible. He concentrated on his science, and on enjoying life. There are some of us — including myself — who felt after the end of the Second World War that we had a great responsibility to explain atomic weapons, and to try and make the government do sensible things about atomic weapons. … Feynman didn’t want to have anything to do with it, and I think quite rightly. I think it would be quite wrong if all scientists worked on discharging their responsibility. You need some number of them, but it should only be a small fraction of the total number of scientists. Among the leading scientists, there should be some who do not feel responsible, and who only do what science is supposed to accomplish.”
“I must say I have a little of this sense of social irresponsibility, and Feynman was a great inspiration to me — I have done a good deal of it since. There are several reasons for a scientist to be irresponsible, and one of them I take very seriously: people say, ‘Are you sure you should be working on this? Can’t it be used for bad?’ Well, I have a strong feeling that good and bad are things to be thought about by people who understand better than I do the interactions among people, and the causes of suffering. The worst thing I can imagine is for somebody to ask me to decide whether a certain innovation is good or bad.”
“Why can’t somebody give us a list of things that everybody thinks and nobody says, and another list of things that everybody says and nobody thinks?” — Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
“Isn’t it strange that we talk least about the things we think about most!” — Charles Lindbergh
“Mr. Hoover, if you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you and you have to battle with only one of them.” — Calvin Coolidge, to Herbert Hoover
“Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.” — Seneca
“In dreams I do not recollect that state of feeling so common when awake, of thinking of one subject and looking at another.” — Coleridge
“In dreams you sometimes fall from a height, or are stabbed, or beaten, but you never feel pain.” — Dostoevsky
“In a dream you are never eighty.” — Anne Sexton
“The waking have one common world, but the sleeping turn aside each into a world of his own.” — Heraclitus
“Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.” — Cicero
“The animal needing something knows how much it needs, the man does not.” — Democritus
“My living in Yorkshire was so far out of the way, that it was actually twelve miles from a lemon.” — Sydney Smith
“The thoughts that come often unsought, and, as it were, drop into the mind, are commonly the most valuable of any we have, and therefore should be secured, because they seldom return again.” — John Locke, letter to Samuel Bold, May 16, 1699
- Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times.
- EMBARGO spelled backward is O GRAB ME.
- The numbers on a roulette wheel add to 666.
- The fourth root of 2143/22 is nearly pi (3.14159265258).
- “A prosperous fool is a grievous burden.” — Aeschylus
Six countries have names that begin with the letter K, and each has a different vowel as the second letter: Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan.
“I have always observed that to succeed in the world one should appear like a fool but be wise.” — Montesquieu
“It is a profitable thing, if one is wise, to seem foolish.” — Aeschylus
“All wisdom is folly that does not accommodate itself to the common ignorance.” — Montaigne
“I don’t believe in playing down to children, either in life or in motion pictures. I didn’t treat my own youngsters like fragile flowers, and I think no parent should. Children are people, and they should have to reach to learn about things, to understand things, just as adults have to reach if they want to grow in mental stature. Life is composed of lights and shadows, and we would be untruthful, insincere, and saccharine if we tried to pretend there were no shadows. Most things are good, and they are the strongest things; but there are evil things too, and you are not doing a child a favor by trying to shield him from reality. The important thing is to teach a child that good can always triumph over evil, and that is what our pictures attempt to do.” — Walt Disney
“One will rarely err if extreme actions be ascribed to vanity, ordinary actions to habit, and mean actions to fear.” — Nietzsche
“How wonderful opera would be if there were no singers.” — Gioacchino Rossini
“No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.” — W.H. Auden
“People are wrong when they say that the opera isn’t what it used to be. It is what it used to be — that’s what’s wrong with it!” — Noël Coward
“All men are mortal. Socrates was mortal. Therefore, all men are Socrates.” — Woody Allen
“I am by heritage a Jew, by citizenship a Swiss, and by makeup a human being, and only a human being, without any special attachment to any state or national entity whatsoever.” — Albert Einstein
“I want to be a human being, nothing more and nothing less. … I don’t suppose we can ever stop hating each other, but why encourage that by keeping the old labels with their ready-made history of millennial hate?” — Isaac Asimov
“Patriots always talk of dying for their country, and never of killing for their country.” — Bertrand Russell
“If I knew of something that could serve my nation but would ruin another, I would not propose it to my prince, for I am first a man and only then a Frenchman … because I am necessarily a man, and only accidentally am I French.” — Montesquieu
“Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” — George Bernard Shaw
“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.” — G.K. Chesterton