What is a Commonplace Book?
A Commonplace Book was something used before books and printing were cheap and ubiquitous. Ancient Rome and Ancient Greek’s used to keep Commonplace Books and they were popular amongst educated Europeans from late Medieval times up until the 19th Century.
If a reader was inspired or intrigued by a passage in a book they might choose to write the passage out in their Commonplace Book.
The Commonplace Book was regarded as a handy reference for good quotes or for ideas that you might wish to peruse later. The habit was regarded as a useful tool for your intellectual betterment.
I have kept notebooks filled with quotes since I was a teenager. And I have lost all of them apart from one; a present, a lovely thin book, of little use for note taking. This webpage is my digital Commonplace Book and will be less hard to lose.
If it inspires you, let me know — firstname.lastname@example.org
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Friends, Routines and Writing
“Apart from a few friends, and many routines, the problematic pursuit of literature constituted the whole of his life; like every other writer, he measured other men’s virtues by what they had accomplished, yet asked that other men measure him by what he planned someday to do.”
Jorge Luis Borges. “The Secret Miracle”. 1943
Goal of Education
“The ultimate goal of education is to shift to the individual the burden of pursuing their own education.”
Repetitive work, convention and obligation
“Like many of my fellow citizens of a similar age most of my time was being spent in a sepulchre constructed of repetitive work, convention and obligation and the crumbling bricks and mortar of long years of marriage.
For a large number of people this is no doubt an ideal and noble arrangement blessed by God and man and essential to a decent and stable society.
For others the slow dissolution of independence, the surrender of privacy and individuality, the nagging erosion of love and tolerance are a descent at best to boredom, at worst to continuous conflict fought out in a state of inescapable and soul-destroying proximity…
It may not be quite a definition of slow death – and there are clearly a lot of people who are happy with it – but it is surely a definition of stagnation and immobility. So I decided to come alive again. To move again. I would walk out of my home, out of my marraige, out of my tomb into a totally new environment and a new life.”
Robert Crisp. “Zen and the art of donkey maintenance.” Bloomsbury Reader, 2015, p.xxiv
Kant’s Copernican thought
“But Kant said knowledge, scientific knowledge, objective knowledge, was of appearances, of phenomena that the mind itself has constructed and made agreeable to the mind, subjected to the conditions of the mind, while the true world lies outside the scope of knowledge. There’s a bit more madness: the mark of ‘knowledge’ is that it cannot possibly be of the ‘true’ world.”
John D Caputo. “Truth: Philosophy in Transit.” Penguin, 2013, p.133
- Direct treatment of the “thing” whether subjective or objective.
- To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
- As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.
Ezra Pound. “A Retrospect”, in T. S. Eliot. (1968). Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions Publishing. 3–5; first published 1918
Exposure to the hazard of refutation
Bold ideas, unjustified anticipations, and speculative thought, are our only means for interpreting nature: our only organon, our only instrument, for grasping her. And we must hazard them to win our prize. Those among us who are unwilling to expose their ideas to the hazard of refutation do not take part in the scientific game.
Karl Popper. The Path of Science. Ch. 10, Section 85, p. 280
“The main lesson of thirty-five years of AI research is that the hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard. The mental abilities of a four-year-old that we take for granted – recognizing a face, lifting a pencil, walking across a room, answering a question – in fact solve some of the hardest engineering problems ever conceived… As the new generation of intelligent devices appears, it will be the stock analysts and petrochemical engineers and parole board members who are in danger of being replaced by machines. The gardeners, receptionists, and cooks are secure in their jobs for decades to come.”
Steven Pinker. The Language Instinct
“it is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.”
Moravec, Hans (1988), Mind Children, Harvard University Press
“If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.”
Attributed to John Cleese, quoted in “Best New Games” (2002) by Dale N. LeFevre, p. 9
A demagogue, in addition to hypnotic glibness, must also be intellectually inconsistent, sometimes boldly so. This eliminates challenges to authority by weeding out clear-thinking young people from the flock.
Human spirit is my bourgeois luxury
“… I tried to work out how I felt about being in the slum. First of all I felt alienated; I believe that emanated from disgust at my rich and privileged life. I also felt despair. Nobody except the likes of Father Tony was ever going to do anything for them – and there were few like him. Their lives were never going to get any easier, or less anguished, or more comfortable. The power of despair to diminish struck me very hard during that bus journey.
Once the two eldest children were running along their street, bursting to tell their mother what they had been doing, I thought, conversely, that being with Evelyn gave me hope for the human spirit. I suspect now that hope was my bourgeois luxury.”
Sara Wheeler, “Chile: travels in a thin country”, 2006, p295.
Continuity of human desire
“It is by focusing on the continuity of human desire that we can best understand what the next disruption might be. The technology may be new but, except perhaps for the earliest adopters who eagerly look to beyond the edge of their comfort zones, our needs and desires have inertia. We expect the technology to shape itself to us, to our existing needs and modus operandi. The new tech must first disguise itself in familiar clothes – skueomorphs, the functionally unecessary design cues given to new technologies so we know how to place them, such as the Kindle’s aping of print. Only then, once it’s found a place in the world, does a new technology start to change these needs, and our expectations of how they should be fulfilled.”
Tamar Kasriel, “Spot the future – it looks much like the present” Wired, Oct 2012, pp67-68.
Formal and everyday knowledge
“Scholars and academics naturally tend to believe that formal knowledge is the most important way of knowing, and perhaps they are right, yet even so it is not formal but common knowledge which informs nearly all the day-to-day decisions and actions people take, even the most learned among them.”
William Gosling, “Helmsmen and Heroes – Control Theory as a Key to Past and Future”, 1995
Society is a public project
In a networked society, who among us gets to decide where the moral boundaries lie? This isn’t an easy question and it’s at the root of how we, as a society, conceptualize justice.
Governance and the construction of a society is not a fact of life; it’s a public project that we must continuously make and remake. Networked technologies are going to increasingly put pressure on ourregulatory structures as conflicting social values crash into one another. In order to benefit from innovation, we must also suffer the destabilizing aspects of new technology.
Yet … that destabilizion and suffering allows us, as a society, to interrogate our collective commitments. The hard moral conundrums are just beginning.
Danah Boy, “Truth, Lies, and ‘Doxxing’: The Real Moral of the Gawker/Reddit Story“ Wired.com,29 October 2012.
Interfaces get in the way
“The real problem with the interface is that it is an interface. Interfaces get in the way. I don’t want to focus my energies on an interface. I want to focus on the job…I don’t want to think of myself as using a computer, I want to think of myself as doing my job.”
Donald a Norman. The Art of Human-Computer Design. 1990, p.210
Proud of his friends
“Every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it. They alone take his meaning; they find private messages, assurances of love, and expressions of gratitude, dropped for them in every corner. The public is but a generous patron who defrays the postage. Yet though the letter is directed to all, we have an old and kindly custom of addressing it on the outside to one. Of what shall a man be proud, if he is not proud of his friends?”
Robert Louis Stevenson. Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes.
Never solved by thinking hard
“Randomised trials are catching on, and many objections boil down to a single point: how can we justify trials when we already know the answer? But we often know less than we realise. In a complex world, it’s rare that we can figure out answers by sitting in an armchair and thinking hard.”
Tim Harford. The Undercover Economist: The complex world of the policy maker. FT Weekend Magazine, August 18/19 2012.
Reading by Satisficing
“Satisficing – reading through a text until the rate of information gain drops below a threshold and then skipping to the next section of text.”
Geoffrey B Duggan & Stephen J Payne.
“Skim Reading by Satisficing: Evidence from Eye Tracking.” Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference on Human factors in computing systems.http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/1978942.1979114
What I express appears in the picture
“Words are no help to me when I try to speak about my painting, they talk around the picture. What I have to express appears in the picture.”
Searching: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
- Only librarians like to search, everyone else prefers to find.
- One place to search is better than two.
- Good enough is just that.
- If you can’t centralize metadata, centralize searching.
Roy Tennant, “Federated Searching: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” 2010.
Causation: a slippery story, a catchy conjecture
…causes are a strange kind of knowledge. This was first pointed out by David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher. Hume realized that, although people talk about causes as if they are real facts—tangible things that can be discovered—they’re actually not at all factual. Instead, Hume said, every cause is just a slippery story, a catchy conjecture, a “lively conception produced by habit.” When an apple falls from a tree, the cause is obvious: gravity. Hume’s skeptical insight was that we don’t see gravity—we see only an object tugged toward the earth. We look at X and then at Y, and invent a story about what happened in between. We can measure facts, but a cause is not a fact—it’s a fiction that helps us make sense of facts.
Jonah Lehrer Trials And Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us, Wired, 28 January 2010
If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.
Andrew Lewis MetaFilter, August 26, 2010
The thing knowledge cannot eat
“In the culture of my people, the Dagara, we have no word for the supernatural. The closest we come to this concept is Yielbongura, ‘the thing that knowledge can’t eat.’ This word suggests that the life and power of certain things depend upon their resistance to the kind of categorizing knowledge that human being apply to everything. In Western reality, there is a clear split between the spiritual and the material, between religious life and secular life. This concept is alien to the Dagara. For us, as for many indigenous cultures, the supernatural is part of our everyday lives. To a Dagara man or woman, the material is just as the spiritual taking on form”
Malidoma Patrice Some “Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman“
A solitary peak of perfection
“Silently, he would place two chairs opposite each other, put me in the one facing the light, sit himself in the other, and then ponder me long and sadly while I played [my guitar]. Infinite compassion, as from one who has seen much suffering, possessed his face while he listened. An expression also of one who, forced to inhabit a solitary peak of perfection, has nowhere to look but downwards at the waste of a fumbling world.”
Laurie Lee “A Rose for Winter: travels in Andalusia.” 1987, p.43
To renounce as though it was no reununciation
“To live in the world as though it were not the world, to respect the law and yet to stand above it, to have possessions as though ‘one possessed nothing’, to renounce as though it was no renunciation, all these favourite and often formulated propositions of an exalted worldly wisdom, it is in the power of humour alone to make efficacious.”
Herman Hesse – “Steppenwolfe” Penguin, 1965, p.67
Making a Difference
“I don’t feel very brave, just rather weary. You know, to live for along time, Doctor, is not in itself an achievement. It’s really what you do with your life. In my small way I may have made a small difference in people’s lives.”
Gervase Phinn – “All these lonely people” Penguin, 2009, p.78.
Behind me stretched an aimless, six-year, expatriate trail through the South Seas, Asia, and Latin America that began when divorce and its inevitable byproducts – second thoughts, solitude, and the taste of ashes in the mouth – spread a shadow over every corner of my life and seduced me with a lie: that the sun had stopped shining where I was and that I must go seek it elsewhere. The wounded drift downhill, and so did I. I headed south, a middle-aged dropout, dazzled by visions of healing blue waves and waving palms. On one alien strand and then another, and another, the waves broke and the palms waved and my capital dwindled. The memory of those Wandervogel years has faded badly. About all I remember now are too many cold beers on hot tropical nights, too many bottles of guaro and arak beras, and an endless procession of hollow days, one just like the other, while I waited, with mounting agitation, for the sun to burst through the clouds that I had brought along with me.
John Brooke. “The Gentle Art of Poverty.” The Atlantic, October 1977.
Powers of Observation
“Rivers notes the Papuans’ great powers of observation, as distinguished from an unexceptional visual acuity, and recognizes that these powers derive from the islanders’ knowledge of and attention to critical details in each visual field. He concludes that the close attention to detail required of ‘those who live in a state of nature’ inhibits ‘higher mental development… If too much energy is expended on the sensory foundation, it is natural that the intellectual superstructure should suffer’. Some years later, in conversation with Robert Graves, he contrasts what he regards as the abstract, imageless thought processes of the scientist and mathematician with the detailed visual and auditory imagination of the poet. Graves probably would have accepted, if Rivers had offered it, an equation between the mind of the ‘native’ and that of the poet.
Richard Slobodin. “W H R Rivers Pioneer Anthropologist, Psychiatrist of the The Ghost Road.” 2nd ed. p25.
Appetite for Distractions
Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, Foreword
“The salient point is the way to run a product successfully is to treat it as a product and not as a brand cipher.
It’s not that your-brand.org is too big, it’s just badly designed and is run as a brand cipher rather than an information source. That is to say, you go to your-brand.org to find out some information you need but all you get is force fed the your-brandphilosophy and the information is somehow ancillary.”
Anne, June 2010, Colleague
“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.”
J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, March 1941
To Love Nature
“I believe that sight is a more important thing than the drawing; and I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love Nature, than teach the looking at Nature that they may learn to draw”
John Ruskin. “The Elements of Drawing” p. xv-xvi , 1892.
“The meaning of life is creative love. Not love as an inner feeling, as a private sentimental emotion, but love as a dynamic power moving out into the world and doing something original.”
Tom Morris, “If Aristotle ran General Motors”
Ocean of Truth
“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me”
“Be yourself. You will not understand this bit of advice until you understand yourself. Give it 20 years or so. Maybe more. I didn’t get this one until I fell in love and someone was there to tell me that my tendencies were OK and not annoying. Love is really acceptance at its core.”
“The ‘Truth’ is equal to one’s initial observations plus the corrections discovered through added experience or knowledge”
R B Buckner, “Surveying measurements and their analysis” Diagram: “The Truth is equal to one’s initial observations”.
Passion, Drama and Love
“I had imagined that passion, drama, and love were all one and the same – proof that the others existed. But the opposite was true: drama and passion are just very clever disguises for a love that has never taken root.”
Kathleen Tessaro, “Elegance: True love never goes out of fashion.” BCA, 2003. (p.83-84)
“When you begin working on a role, you test out approaches; some may work better than others, some may not work at all. Then, one day, the external attitude — an outwardly worked-out technical attitude — suddenly leads you to the inner attitude, the inner situation, the inner pattern of behavior of the entire character. The same thing can happen the other way around, when through an inner drive you jump into the character all at once and the external expression is determined instantly by your inner being. But a technical attitude always leads to a spiritual change; as a technical as you may be about it, it has an effect on you. You conduct yourself differently, your inner bearing is suddenly another – and whether you can ever shed it completely, I don’t know.”
Kenneth Jacobson, “Embattled Selves: An investigation into the nature of identity through oral histories of holocaust survivors.”, 1994.
“From all I hear of Leibniz he must be very intelligent, and pleasant company in consequence. It is rare to find learned men who are clean, do not stink, and have a sense of humour.”
Liselotte in a letter to Sophie, 30 July 1705. Quoted in “Quicksilver” by Neal Stephenson.
Fluid of Fertility
“No miser with his hoard of gold can feel the pleasure which comes to Esme and me as we stroll now through our doubled flock. The farm has given birth, and we identify ourselves with its labour. We have shared many of the pangs. There is no greed in our eyes as we survey the teeming land; rather are we humbled before the courage, persistence, and simplicity of nature. We have been privileged, for the gods have performed before us the great play of life. A gigantic orgasm has been succeeded by a gigantic birth. The fluid of fertility has been poured over the hills and valleys by firm hands whose generosity shames humanity. We feel that we have assisted at a miracle. And, of course, we have.”
Thomas Firbank, “I Bought a Mountain”, 1940. Wikipedia entry on Thomas Firbank
“Our robot fly has materialized into a world where it so happens that the first group of inhabitants we come across is studying another world they have discovered – a world in which the inhabitants they watch are studying a report they have obtained from another world.”
Brian W Aldiss, Report from Probability A
Struggling Pig – Lord of the Flies
“He noticed Ralph’s scarred nakedness, and the sombre silence of all four of them. He sought, charitable in his happiness, to include them in the thing that had happened. His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink.
He spread his arms wide.
‘You should have seen the blood!’ ”
William Golding. Lord of the Flies
Two Worlds – Lord of the Flies
“There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhiliration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled common-sense.”
William Golding. Lord of the Flies
“Up to then he had gone forward through the heedless season of early youth – along a road which to children seems infinite, where the years slip past slowly and with quiet pace so that no one notices them go. We walk along calmly, looking curiously around us; there is not the least need to hurry, no one pushes us on from behind and no one is waiting for us; our comrades, too, walk on thoughtlessly, and often stop to joke and play. From the houses, in the doorways, the grown-up people greet us kindly and point to the horizon with an understanding smile. And so the heart begins to beat with desires at once heroic and tender, we feel that we are on the threshold of the wonders awaiting us further on. As yet we do not see them, that is true – but it is certain, absolutely certain that one day we shall reach them.”
The Tartar Steppe, Dino Buzzati. Edinburgh: Canongate. 2007 p.51
“The contractions of the adiabatic clouds were the expression of this periodicity, of the cyclic nature of time, in the same way the seasons are. Cycles, endless cycles. Everything moved and nothing changed. This thought made Carmichael euphoric: What we call ‘time’ isn’t chronological but spatial; what we call ‘death’ is merely a transition between different kinds of matter. ”
The Theory of Clouds, Stephane Audeguy
Umberto Eco’s Anti-Library
“The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means… allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary”
The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Earth is Truly Beautiful
“As he sat there beside that young woman who seemed so beautiful at daybreak, soothed and enchanted at the sight of those magical surroundings – sea, mountains, clouds, wide skies – Gurov reflected that, if one thought hard about it, everything on earth was truly beautiful except those things we ourselves think of and do when we forget the higher aims of existence and our human dignity.”
The Lady with the Little Dog, Anton Chekov
“What meaningless nights, what dismal, unmemorable days! Frenetic card games, gluttony, constant conversations about the same old thing. Those pointless business affairs and perpetual conversations – always on the same theme – were commandeering the best part of his time, his best strength, so that in the end there remained only a limited, humdrum life, just trivial nonsense.”
The Lady with the Little Dog, Anton Chekov
“… if Jesus Christ had died in prison, with no one watching and no one to mourn or torture him, would we be saved?”
Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk, Vintage, 2003, p.152
“Since change is constant, you wonder if people crave death because it’s the only way they can get anything really finished.”
Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk, Vintage, 2003, p.150
“…the little life she lured him back to with the good sense of a woman who doesn’t believe in the other worlds, who knows there is only this world and that numbing routines and brief squabbles and financial worries are an essential part of it, that in spite of the aches and boredoms and disappointments, living in this world is the closest we will ever come to seeing paradise.”
Man in the Dark, Paul Auster, Faber & Faber, 2008, p.97
“…there’s something naive and fragile about her, and I wish to God she would learn that the rotten acts human beings commit against one another are not just aberrations – they’re an essential part of who we are.”
Man in the Dark, Paul Auster, Faber & Faber, 2008, p.46
Listless Playthings of Enormous Forces
“There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, 1969
Robots with Halitosis
[The book] “was about a robot who had bad breath, who became popular after his halitosis was cured. … [The book] predicted the widespread use of burning jellied gasoline on human beings.
It was dropped on them from airplanes. Robots did the dropping. They had no conscience, and no circuits which would allow them to imagine what was happening to the people on the ground.
Trout’s leading robot looked like a human being, and could talk and dance and so on, and go out with girls. And nobody held it against him that he dropped jellied gasoline on people. But they found his halitosis unforgivable. But then he cleared that up, and he was welcomed to the human race.”
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, 1969
A Writer and his Public
“Trout told him that he had never seen a book of his advertised, reviewed, or on sale. ‘All these years,’ he said, ‘I’ve been opening the window and making love to the world.’ ”
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, 1969
Too Many Words
“There are far too many people born into the world, and far too many words written. Millions and millions of them pouring from the presses every minute. It’s a horrible thought.”
The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey, 1951
“A man who is interested in what makes people tick doesn’t write history. He writes novels, or becomes an alienist, or a magistrate… A man who understands about people hasn’t any yen to write history. History is toy soldiers.”
The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey, 1951
Absence of Trust
“In the absence of trust the pursuit of myopic self interest is the only
strategy that makes sense.”
This, rather than Sveiby’s “trust is the bandwidth of communication”, explains why knowledge sharing initiatives are a waste of time and money in (most) enterprises where there is a culture of mistrust.
The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few. James Surowiecki – quoted by Frank Ryan on km4dev
“Electronic searching means that no relevant paper is likely to go unread, but narrowing the definition of ‘relevance’ risks reducing the cross-fertilisation of ideas that sometimes leads to big, unexpected advances. As a wag once put it, an expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until, eventually, he knows everything about nothing. It would be ironic if that is the sort of expertise that the world wide web is creating.”
Great minds think (too much) alike The Economist, 31 July 2008, p.82
“…she found herself without the solace of being able to blame her own unhappiness on others, a solace which is the last protective device of the desperate.”
Tomasi di Lampedusa “The Leopard”, Vintage 2007, p.208
“Whatever the truth may be about love, there is certainly such a thing as friendship at first sight. They liked each other’s voices, they liked each other’s way of smiling and speaking.”
H G Wells “The History of Mr Polly”, Penguin 1946. p185
“The death of Socrates was too much for the herbalist; he had given up and was fast asleep. Father Pirrone noticed this and was pleased, for now he would be able to talk freely without fear of being misunderstood; and he felt a need of talking, so as to fix into a pattern of phrases some ideas obscurely milling in his head.”
Tomasi di Lampedusa “The Leopard”, Vintage 2007. p.150
A definition of perfection is that it has no opposite. There is imperfection, but this is merely the absence of perfection.
Perfection is, to my mind, unobtainable. It is an ideal dangled before us mortals, to encourage us always to be in a state of failure.
Café Philo Discussion, 23 Jan 2008
“All the best books I have read, were when I was sixteen.”
Adam, Participant at a Book Club.
Imagination — Stephen Fry
“Much of success in life comes from being able to put yourself in the shoes of another: in the shoes of a prince or a pauper, a dictator or a dick-head, a burgomaster or a burger-flipper, regardless of degree, status or esteem, it’s what imagination means – the ability to penetrate the consciousness and experience of another. It’s perhaps the defining characteristic of the artist. So, rather than look at fame from the outside which we can all do (only members of a royal family are born famous after all) try in the following paragraphs to look at fame from the inside. I’m not suggesting this because I think famous people need especial understanding or sympathy, it’s just that I suspect much of what’s written below will make more sense that way. Besides, isn’t it the best way to read anything? Only resentful bores and bitter egoists see everything from their own point of view, surely?”
Let Fame – Blessays, Blogs & Blisquisitions (2007)
Security is the most important thing in life.
“At the turn of the new millennium, the World Bank collected the voices of more than 60,000 poor women and men from 60 countries, in an unprecedented effort to understand poverty from the perspective of the poor themselves.
‘Voices of the Poor’, chronicles the struggles and aspirations of poor people for a life of dignity. Poor people are the true poverty experts. Poor men and women reveal, in particular, that poverty is multidimensional and complex — raising new challenges to local, national and global decision-makers. Poverty is voicelessness. It’s powerlessness. It’s insecurity and humiliation, say the poor across five continents.”
Voices of the Poor, World Bank (2000)
The Rose that Never saw a Gardner Die — Diderot
“If Heraclitus were right, even the constants upon which science depends would have a shelf life. Practically, that might not worry us too much: a landscape does not have to be unchanging for us to be able to find our way about in it. It just has to change slowly, in human terms, so that things are constant enough for us to rely upon them. We may mistake anything that changes this slowly for permanence. (In D’Alembert Dream…Diderot christens this mistake the ‘fallacy of the ephemeral’, giving the lovely illustration… of the rose who said that as fas as any rose could remember, no gardener had ever died.”
Simon Blackburn “Truth” Penguin Books, 2006. p.101
Happiness — André Gide
“Our happiness, during this last part of the trip, was so untroubled, so calm , that I have nothing to tell about it. The loveliest creations of man are persistently painful. What would be the description of happiness? Nothing, except what prepares and then what destroys it, can be told.”
André Gide “The Immoralist” Bantam Modern Classics, 1970. p.43
A Dull Mind and Inference — George Eliot
“A dull mind, once arriving at an inference that flatters desire, is rarely able to retain the impression that the notion from which the inference started was purely problematic. And Dunstan’s mind was a dull as the mind of a possible felon usually is. ”
George Eliot “Silas Marner” Everyman’s Library: 1993, p.43
The Glue of Meaning — George Eliot
“..meanin’ goes but a little way i’ most things, for you may mean to stick things together and your glue may be bad, and then where are you? And so I says to mysen, “It isn’ the meanin’ it’s the glue.”
George Eliot “Silas Marner” Everyman’s Library: 1993, p.56.
Souvenirs of the way we Felt — Economist
“…they want paper books for what digitisation is revealing them to be. Books are not primarily artefacts, nor necessarily vehicles for ideas. Rather, as Mr Godin puts it, they are “souvenirs of the way we felt” when we read something. That is something that people are likely to go on buying.”
The Simple Art of Murder — Raymond Chandler
“In her introduction to the first Omnibus of Crime, Dorothy Sayers wrote: “It (the detective story) does not, and by hypothesis never can, attain the loftiest level of literary achievement.” And she suggested somewhere else that this is because it is a “literature of escape” and not “a literature of expression.” I do not know what the loftiest level of literary achievement is: neither did Aeschylus or Shakespeare; neither does Miss Sayers. Other things being equal, which they never are, a more powerful theme will provoke a more powerful performance. Yet some very dull books have been written about God, and some very fine ones about how to make a living and stay fairly honest. It is always a matter of who writes the stuff, and what he has in him to write it with. As for literature of expression and literature of escape, this is critics’ jargon, a use of abstract words as if they had absolute meanings. Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality; there are no dull subjects, only dull minds. All men who read escape from something else into what lies behind the printed page; the quality of the dream may be argued, but its release has become a functional necessity. All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts. It is part of the process of life among thinking beings. It is one of the things that distinguish them from the three-toed sloth; he apparently — one can never be quite sure — is perfectly content hanging upside down on a branch, and not even reading Walter Lippmann. I hold no particular brief for the detective story as the ideal escape. I merely say that all reading for pleasure is escape, whether it be Greek, mathematics, astronomy, Benedetto Croce, or The Diary of the Forgotten Man. To say otherwise is to be an intellectual snob, and a juvenile at the art of living.”
Antic Past — Laurie Lee
“The village in fact was like a deep-running cave still linked to its antic past, a cave whose shadows were still cluttered by spirts and by laws still vaguely ancestral. This cave that we inhabited looked backwards through chambers that led to our ghostly beginnings; and had not, as yet, been tidied up, or scrubbed clean by electric light, or suburbanized by a Victorian church, or papered by cinema screens.
It was something we just had time to inherit, to inherit and dimly know — the blood and beliefs of generations who had been in this valley since the Stone Age. That continuous contact has a last been broken, the deeper caves sealed off for ever. But arriving, as I did, at the end of that age, I caught whiffs of something old as the glaciers. There were ghosts in the stones, in the trees, and the walls, and each field and hill had several. The elder people knew these things and would refer to them impersonal terms, and there were certain landmarks about the valley — tree-clumps, corners in woods — that bore separate, antique, half-muttered names that were certainly older than Christian. The women in their talk still used these names which are not used now any more. There was also a frank and unfearful attitude to death, and an acceptance of violence as a kind of ritual which no one accused or pardoned.”
Laurie Lee Cider with Rosie Penguin: 1974 p.104-5
Mankind’s Alternatives — Pliny
“And Pliny leaves mankind this only alternative; either of doing what deserves to be written, or of writing what deserves to be read.”
Lord Chesterfield’s Letters
When I Have Ceased to Be — Andre Gide
“You who will come when I have ceased to hear the noises of this earth and taste its dew upon my lips, it is for you I write these pages; for perhaps you are not sufficiently amazed at being alive; you do no wonder as you should at this astounding miracle of your life.”
Rare revolving reads — Rachel McAlpine
“Charming, neurotic Proust acts on me as a kind of drug. I read a few lines, and drift into a daydream. When ‘reading’ Proust, I spend more time meditating on my own parallel internal experience than actually looking at the words.Online, most of us don’t want a compelling read: we want information fast, or we want to get a job done, fast. But some online content does grab people so they revisit again and again.Games, for instance. And it strikes me that the rare revolving reads involve us in exactly the same way as games do. Reading is never passive, but those rare revolving reads get us actively working, choosing, deciding, comparing, planning, dreaming, and thinking our own thoughts. Like a game does.”
We rationalists are the oppressed minority — Jon Ronson
“I pause, stare out of the window, and clean my glasses. “They’re indicative of a whole New Irrationality sweeping the land,” I think. “Yes, that’s it. This is a cultural shift I’m identifying. Nowadays everyone’s either a conspiracy theorist or a believer in mysticism or the paranormal or a religious zealot. What’s happened to the enlightenment? Where is our voice? Nowadays, we rationalists are the oppressed minority.”I stare out of the window a bit more. Then I have a very significant thought: “It is time for rational, sceptical people like me to get off the fence and make ourselves known. It is time for us to be publicly and assertively rational.”I’m serious. And I know how to do it. I determine that, from this moment forth, whenever I meet someone with irrational beliefs, I’ll patiently take the time to sit them down and point out to them why the things they believe are nutty and stupid.”
On Design — Daveybot
“I mean plenty of people think that the deisgn of a computer or a kettle is unimportant, but they’re wrong. No, it’s not a matter of opinion – they’re wrong. A computer screen is the single item I look at more than anything else on the planet – it had damn well better be beautiful. Jonathan Ive deserves a knighthood for his work at Apple if you ask me, and let’s not forget that design is about more than appearances. The main reason the iPod is the best mp3 player out there is because it’s so frickin intuitive to use, and the same goes for most of their other products too. Ever compared the power draw between an iMac and Dell’s or Gateway’s simlarly specced offerings? Guess which uses the least – it’s the one that’s been designed properly.”
Dreams of a Final Theory — Steven Weinberg
“Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find God wherever they look for him. One hears it said that ‘God is the ultimate’ or ‘God is our better nature’ or ‘God is the universe.’ Of course, like any other word, the word ‘God’ can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say that ‘God is energy, ‘ then you can find God in a lump of coal.”
All Other Possible Gods — Stephen Roberts
“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.”
A Teapot Orbiting The Sun — Bertrand Russell
“Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake.
If I were to suggest that between Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.
If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”
Library — Matthew Battles
“…natural philosophers of the Latin Medieval Ages… held that three classes of substance were capable of magic: the herbal, the mineral, and the verbal. With their leaves of fiber, their inks of copperas and soot, and their words, books are an amalgm of the three. The notion that words, like plants and stones have existences independent of our uttering them — that they have power and do things in the world — is a commonplace in many traditions. Brought together in multitudes, heaped up and pared down, read and forgotten, library books take on lives and histories of thier own, not as texts but as physical objects in the world.”
Matthew Battles. Library: an unquiet history Vintage: 2004 (p.10)
Slum Girl — George Orwell
“She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye. She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever-seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that ‘It isn’t the same for them as it would be for us,’ and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her — understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.”
George Orwell. “The Road to Wigan Pier”
The Selfish Gene — Richard Dawkins
“We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.”
The view from Dawkins’ mountain — Daniel Dennett
“Homo sapiens, is exceptional: of all the species on the planet, it is the only species that has evolved that can understand that it’s one of the fruits on the tree of life. We are unique in that regard. It is human language and culture that has made this possible. Not just our brain power, but the fact that we have a division of labor — because we have language and culture we can fill our brains with the fruits of the labors of everybody else on earth, not merely those who are our ancestors.”