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“We are terrified by the idea of being terrified.” — Nietzsche

“Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.” — Shakespeare

“Fear of danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than danger itself.” — Defoe

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“History may be read as the story of the magnificent action fought during several thousand years by dogma against curiosity.” — Robert Lynd

“Perfection of means and confusion of ends seems to characterize our age.” — Albert Einstein

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” — H.G. Wells

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“The mind is at its best when at play.” — J.L. Synge

In this spirit, Synge invented Vish (for “vicious circle”), a game designed to illustrate the hopeless circularity of dictionary definitions.

Each player is given a copy of the same dictionary. When the referee announces a word, each player writes it down and looks up its meaning. Then she chooses one word from the definition, writes that down and looks up its meaning. A player wins when the same word appears twice on her list.

The point is that any such list must eventually yield circularity — if it’s continued long enough, the number of words in the list will eventually exceed the total number of words in the dictionary, and a repetition must occur.

“Vish is no game for children,” Synge writes. “It destroys that basic confidence in the reasonableness of everything which gives to society whatever stability it possesses. To anyone who has played Vish, the dictionary is never the same again.”

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“The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.” — Samuel Johnson

“If it were not for hopes, the heart would break.” — Thomas Fuller

“Always leave something to wish for; otherwise you will be miserable from your very happiness.” — Baltasar Gracián

Anthropology

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“Man is a biped without feathers.” — Plato

“Drinking when we are not thirsty and making love all year round, madam; that is all there is to distinguish us from other animals.” — Pierre Beaumarchais

“Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.” — Samuel Butler

“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps, for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.” — William Hazlitt

“Homo sapiens is the species that invents symbols in which to invest passion and authority, then forgets that symbols are inventions.” — Joyce Carol Oates

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“Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.” — Lewis Carroll