Quintessential Quotations

Human Nature


Dependency is a marvelous thing. It does more for the soul than any formulation of doctor or material.

Nicholas St. John
The Addiction (screenplay)

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Athos was an advocate that every one should be left to his own free will. He never gave advice but when it was asked; and even then he required to be asked twice.

People in general, he said, only asked advice not to follow it or if they did follow it, it was for the sake of having someone to blame for having given it.

Alexandre Dumas
The Three Musketeers, Ch. XXXIV

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Changing Others

Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.

Thomas à Kempis
quoted in 30 March 1778, Life of Johnson, by James Boswell

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Compartmentalizing People

Adam, my son, Joshua howled over the sound of the engines, over the blasting of the wind, "don't expect any group of people to be all of a kind . . . People don't compartmentalize. One bad guy in a group doesn't make everybody else bad, and one good one doesn't make every else good."

Madeleine L'Engle
The Arm of the Starfish, Ch. 9

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Consciousness and the Brain

How is it possible for something made of matter to yield something that is composed of ideas, beliefs, and wishes? I am not suggesting that the mind is independent of the brain or that the brain is simply a mechanical instrument through which the immaterial mind executes its designs. What I am saying is that the way that the mind is dependent on the brain is not perhaps penetrable by human understanding and although there are scientists who claim that this is simply a soluble problem, I suspect that it may be a mystery which, for purely logical reasons, is beyond our grasp altogether. Meanwhile, and by meanwhile I mean for ever, being human, whatever that is, is something we have to survive as there is no prospect of rescue...

Jonathon Miller
Madness, BBC2 TV, quoted in John McCrone, The Myth of Irrationality

Not only our pleasure, our joy and our laughter but also our sorrow, pain, grief and tears arise from the brain, and the brain alone. With it we think and understand, see and hear, and we discriminate between the ugly and the beautiful, between what is pleasant and unpleasant and between good and evil.

quoted in Richard Restak, The Modular Brain

How curious and sobering it is to realize that our most advanced and evolved mental activities depend on unimpaired functioning of a specific part of the brain. As another way of putting it, our most human traits exist for us as a function of the human brain. Further, damage to our frontal areas can reduce any of us to an almost subhuman level of functioning, a kind of psychic limbo where we dwell in an eternal present, devoid of what I consider our most evolved mental ability: our capacity to empathize with others.

Richard Restak
The Modular Brain

Can it be that within our organic edifice there dwell innumerable inhabitants which palpate feverishly with impulses of spontaneous activity without our taking any notice of them? And our much talked of psychological unity? What has become of thought and consciousness in this audacious transformation of man into a colony of polyps? It is certain that millions of autonomous organisms populate our bodies, the eternal and faithful companions of glories and of toils, of which the joys and sorrows are our own; and certain also that the existence of entities so close to us passes unperceived by the ego; but this phenomenon has an easy and obvious explanation if we consider that man feels and thinks by means of his nerve cells and the not I, the true external world begins for him at the frontiers of the cerebral convolutions.

Santiago Ramon y Cajal
Recollections of My Life, quoted in J. Allan Hobson, The Dreaming Brain

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Creating Emotions

Rather than discovering emotions, Western culture has been busy inventing them. Insulated from normal evolutionary constraints by our recent — and probably temporary — economic success, we have had the freedom to develop feelings and attitudes that make less and less social sense. Our belief in human irrationality has turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy... We are no longer content to be cogs in a social machine. We now want our presence felt no matter what the cost to society as a whole...

Understanding that emotions are roles we play would remove the nagging feeling that we are emotionally inadequate because our passions do not sweep us away in quite the way we think they should. A strong bodily reaction is a part of feeling a higher emotion. Sensations of arousal, pleasure, and pain help give a feeling its psychological punch. But the mistake commonly made is to expect the physiological jolt to come first. In many situations, the bodily reaction is triggered by thinking of particular thoughts and ideas characteristic of the emotion, rather than the other way around.

John McCrone
The Myth of Irrationality

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Creating Reality

What is the source of our knowledge of the formal elements that give our experience its structure? According to Kant, this structure is the result of the creative activity of the mind. When the mind receives the input of the senses—the shapes, colors, sounds, and so on—it simultaneously does its work of organizing these raw data into coherent structures or objects in a single unified whole. The results of its activity (of which we are conscious) and that of the senses working together is the coherent world we experience.

Oliver A. Johnson
quoted in Richard Restak, The Modular Brain

He remembered his math teacher at school, a brilliant young Irishman, telling of his personal confusion when he first began to study higher mathematics and discovered that not all mathematical problems have one single and simple answer, that there is a choice of answers and a decision to be made by the mathematician even when dealing with something like an equation that ought to be definite and straightforward and to allow of no more than one interpretation. "And that's the way life is," the teacher had said. "Right and wrong, good and evil, aren't always clear and simple for us; we have to interpret and decide; we have to commit ourselves, just as we do with this equation."

Madeleine L'Engle
The Arm of the Starfish, Ch. 9

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Bartlett concluded that people recall the key points of a memory and then with a liberal dash of guesswork and deduction, weave these elements into a story that stands a good chance of being close to the original experience. [speaking of the English psychologist Frederick Bartlett]

John McCrone
The Myth of Irrationality

If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient—at others, so bewildered and so weak—and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! —We are to be sure a miracle in every way—but our powers of recollecting and forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.

Jane Austen
Mansfield Park, Chapter 22

Stated baldly, recollection is a process of self-interrogation in which we use the inner voice to pose questions of ourselves and jog buried memories back to life.

John McCrone
The Myth of Irrationality

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Sleep and Dreams

Sleep is a state in which a great part of every life is passed. No animal has yet been discovered, whose existence is not varied with intervals of insensibility; and some late philosophers have extended the empire of sleep over the vegetable world.

Yet of this change so frequent, so great, so general, and so necessary, no researcher has yet found either the efficient or the final cause; or can tell by what power the mind and body are thus chained down in irresistible stupefaction; or what benefits the animal receives from this alternate suspension of its active powers.

Dr. Sam: Johnson
The Idler, cited in J. Allan Hobson, The Dreaming Brain

I am accustomed to sleep and in my dreams to imagine the same things that lunatics imagine when awake.

Rene Descartes
Meditations on First Philosophy, cited in J. Allan Hobson, The Dreaming Brain

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The Inner Voice

[Charles] Cooley saw language as the genetic code of a culture, giving a society's accumulated habits of thought an existence that outlasted the generation that created them.

John McCrone
The Myth of Irrationality

In very young children, jumping occurs only when the immediate context, including the child's own desires, requires it. Jumping "just happens." We cannot evoke it. Then, gradually, the child begins to use auxilliary stimuli to master his own movements. At first these auxilliary stimuli are of an external nature; a board is placed in front of the child to guide jumping as an adult gives the verbal command, "Jump." Later the child can attain the same level of proficiency by giving the command to himself, saying the word "Jump" in a whisper. Finally, the child can simply think "Jump" and the movements unfold in a voluntary way.

Alexander Luria
The Making of Mind: A Personal Account of Soviet Psychology, cited in John McCrone, The Myth of Irrationality

The halting of the normal traffic of thought takes away the most important cue by which we measure passing time.

John McCrone
The Myth of Irrationality

Let anyone try the experiment and he will see that we can as little think without words as we can breathe without lungs.

Max Muller
The Science of Thought, cited in John McCrone, The Myth of Irrationality

Minds are formed by the character of language, not language by the minds of those who speak it.

Giambattista Vico
Cited in Norman Hampson, The Enlightenment, recited in John McCrone, The Myth of Irrationality

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The Multiplicity of Self

With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two. I say two, because the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyond that point. Others will follow, others will outstrip me on the same lines; and I hazard the guess that man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous, and independent citizens.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

I was not one man only, but the steady parade hour after hour of an army in close formation, in which there appeared, according to the moment, impassioned men, indifferent men, jealous men—jealous men no two of whom were jealous of the same woman.

Marcel Proust
Quoted in J. M. Young, Doubt and Certainty in Science

Each human mind is a galaxy of intelligences, wherein shines the light of a billion stars.

Timothy Ferris
The Mind's Sky, p. 115

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