Significance

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A religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. ~ Albert Einstein
A society which is mobile, which is full of channels for the distribution of a change occurring anywhere, must see to it that its members are educated to personal initiative and adaptability. Otherwise, they will be overwhelmed by the changes in which they are caught and whose significance or connections they do not perceive. ~ John Dewey

Significance is a word which implies a designated concept, act, event or other thing has a great level of importance, meaning, or purpose.

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  • A society which is mobile, which is full of channels for the distribution of a change occurring anywhere, must see to it that its members are educated to personal initiative and adaptability. Otherwise, they will be overwhelmed by the changes in which they are caught and whose significance or connections they do not perceive.
  • Only a philosophy of pluralism, of genuine indetermination, and of change which is real and intrinsic gives significance to individuality. It alone justifies struggle in creative activity and gives opportunity for the emergence of the genuinely new.

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  • I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today — and even professional scientists — seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest.
    • Albert Einstein, in a letter to Robert A. Thorton, Physics Professor at University of Puerto Rico (7 December 1944) [EA-674, Einstein Archive, Hebrew University, Jerusalem]. Thorton had written to Einstein on persuading colleagues of the importance of philosophy of science to scientists (empiricists) and science.
  • A religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself.
    • Albert Einstein, in Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium, published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York (1941); later published in Out of My Later Years (1950)
  • The individual, if left alone from birth would remain primitive and beast-like in his thoughts and feelings to a degree that we can hardly conceive. The individual is what he is and has the significance that he has not so much in virtue of his individuality, but rather as a member of a great human society, which directs his material and spiritual existence from the cradle to the grave.
    • Albert Einstein, in The World As I See It (1949), "Society and Personality"
  • Myths reveal that the World, man, and life have a supernatural origin and history, and that this history is significant, precious, and exemplary.
    • Mircea Eliade, in Myth and Reality (1963), as translated by Willard R. Trask

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  • Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance.
    • Václav Havel, in a letter to the downthrown Czechoslovak Communist Party chairman Alexander Dubček (August 1969), as translated in Disturbing the Peace (1986), Ch. 5 : The Politics of Hope, p. 115
  • If we could sniff or swallow something that would, for five or six hours each day, abolish our solitude as individuals, atone us with our fellows in a glowing exaltation of affection and make life in all its aspects seem not only worth living, but divinely beautiful and significant, and if this heavenly, world-transfiguring drug were of such a kind that we could wake up next morning with a clear head and an undamaged constitution-then, it seems to me, all our problems (and not merely the one small problem of discovering a novel pleasure) would be wholly solved and earth would become paradise.
    • Aldous Huxley, in "Wanted, A New Pleasure" in Music at Night and Other Essays (1931)
  • Now experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and co-ordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.
  • In recent years, many men of science have come to realize that the scientific picture of the world is a partial one — the product of their special competence in mathematics and their special incompetence to deal systematically with aesthetic and moral values, religous experiences and intuitions of significance.
  • First Shakespeare sonnets seem meaningless; first Bach fugues, a bore; first differential equations, sheer torture. But training changes the nature of our spiritual experiences. In due course, contact with an obscurely beautiful poem, an elaborate piece of counterpoint or of mathematical reasoning, causes us to feel direct intuitions of beauty and significance. It is the same in the moral world.
  • In the mescaline experience the implied questions to which the eye responds are of another order. Place and distance cease to be of much interest. The mind does its perceiving in terms of intensity of existence, profundity of significance, relationships within a pattern.
  • Istigkeit — wasn't that the word Meister Eckhart liked to use? "Is-ness." The Being of Platonic philosophy — except that Plato seems to have made the enormous, the grotesque mistake of separating Being from becoming and identifying it with the mathematical abstraction of the Idea. He could never, poor fellow, have seen a bunch of flowers shining with their own inner light and all but quivering under the pressure of the significance with which they were charged; could never have perceived that what rose and iris and carnation so intensely signified was nothing more, and nothing less, than what they were — a transience that was yet eternal life, a perpetual perishing that was at the same time pure Being, a bundle of minute, unique particulars in which, by some unspeakable and yet self-evident paradox, was to be seen the divine source of all existence.

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  • A teacher and guide of humankind is Job, whose significance by no means consists in what he said but in what he did. He did indeed leave a statement that by its brevity and beauty has become a proverb preserved from generation to generation, and no one has presumptuously added anything to it or taken anything from it; but the statement itself is not the guide, and Job’s significance consists not in his having said it but in his having acted upon it.
  • In the last analysis, what is the significance of life? If we divide mankind into two great classes, we may say that one works for a living, the other does not need to. But working for a living cannot be the meaning of life, since it would be a contradiction to say that the perpetual production of the conditions for subsistence is an answer to the question about its significance which, by the help of this, must be conditioned. The lives of the other class have in general no other significance than that they consume the conditions of subsistence. And to say that the significance of life is death, seems again a contradiction.
  • My admiration, my sympathy, my piety, the child in me, the woman in me, demanded more than thought could give. My thought found repose, rested happy in its knowledge; then I came to it and begged it yet once more to set itself in motion, to venture the utmost. I knew very well that it was in vain; but since I am accustomed to living on good terms with my thought, it did not refuse me. However, its efforts accomplish nothing; incited by me it constantly transcended itself, and constantly fell back into itself. It constantly sought a foothold, but could not find it; constantly sought bottom, but could neither swim nor wade. It was something both to laugh at and to weep over. Hence, I did both, and I was very thankful that it had not refused me this service. And although I know perfectly well that it will accomplish nothing, I am still as likely to ask it once more to play the same game, which is to me an inexhaustible source of delight. Any reader who finds the game tiresome is, of course, naturally not of my kind; for him the game has no significance, and it is true here as elsewhere, that like-minded children make the best play-fellows.
  • It is an earnest and significant moment when a person links himself to an eternal power for an eternity, when he accepts himself as the one whose remembrance time will never erase, when in an eternal and unerring sense he becomes conscious of himself as the person he is. And yet one can refrain from doing it!
  • A person half as reflective as I would be able to be of significance for many people, but precisely because I am altogether reflective I have none at all. As soon as I am outside my religious understanding, I feel as an insect with which children are playing must feel, because life seems to have dealt with me so unmercifully; as soon as I am inside my religious understanding, I understand that precisely this has absolute meaning for me. Hence, that which in one case is a dreadful jest is in another sense the most profound earnestness.
  • It would indeed also be strange if an insignificant person like me were to succeed in what not even Christianity has succeeded — bringing the speculative thinker into passion. And if that should happen, well, then my fragment of philosophy would suddenly take on a significance of which I had scarcely ever dreamed. But the person who is neither cold nor hot is an abomination and God is no more served by dud individualities than a rifleman is served by a rifle that in the moment of decision clicks instead of firing. If Pilate had not asked objectively what truth is, he would never have let Christ be crucified. If he had asked the question subjectively, then the passion of inwardness regarding what he in truth had to do about the decision facing him would have prevented him from doing an injustice.
  • The understanding, reflection, is also a gift of God. What shall one do with it, how dispose of it if one is not to use it? And if one then uses it in fear and trembling not for one’s own advantage but to serve the truth, if one uses it that way in fear and trembling and furthermore believing that it still is God who determines the issue in its eternal significance, venturing to trust in him, and with unconditional obedience yielding to what he makes use of it: is this not fear of God and serving God the way a person of reflection can, in the somewhat different way than the spontaneously immediate person, but perhaps more ardently.
    • Søren Kierkegaard, in The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard : JP VI 6234; Pap. IX A 222 (1848)
  • The more I understand the problem, the more significance there is in it. To understand, I must approach it quietly, not impose on the problem my ideas, my feelings of like and dislike. Then the problem will reveal its significance. Why is it not possible to have tranquillity of the mind right from the beginning?
  • There can be understanding of life, and of the significance and beauty of death, only when the mind on the instant perceives "what is." You know, sirs, although we differentiate them, love, death, and sorrow are all the same; because, surely, love, death, and sorrow are the unknowable. The moment you know love, you have ceased to love. Love is beyond time; it has no beginning and no end, whereas knowledge has; and when you say, "I know what love is", you don’t. You know only a sensation, a stimulus. You know the reaction to love, but that reaction is not love. In the same way, you don’t know what death is. You know only the reactions to death, and you will discover the full depth and significance of death only when the reactions have ceased.
  • One can go on endlessly reading, discussing, piling up words upon words, without ever doing anything about it. It is like a man that is always ploughing, never sowing, and therefore never reaping. Most of us are in that position. And words, ideas, theories, have become much more important than actual living, which is acting, doing. I do not know if you have ever wondered why, throughout the world, ideas, formulas, concepts, have tremendous significance, not only scientifically but also theologically.

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  • What do I mean by saying that a man is treated as a boy? I mean that he is told, the moment he arrives, that his secret dream of greatness is a pipe-dream; that it will be a long time before he makes a significant, personal contribution — if ever.
    He is told this not with words. He is told this in a much more convincing way. He is shown, in everything that happens to him, that nobody could dream that he could make a significant, personal contribution.
  • In my opinion, neither organisms nor organizations evolve slowly and surely into something better, but drift until some small change occurs which has immediate and overwhelming significance. The special role of the human being is not to wait for these favorable accidents but deliberately to introduce the small change that will have great significance.
    To treat young men like men; to use modern recording techniques to capture the moment of exciting teaching; to gather ninety great men out of our one-hundred and seventy million — these, in retrospect, will seem like small changes indeed if they succeed in building a generation of greatness.
  • Over the years, I have learned that every significant invention has several characteristics. By definition it must be startling, unexpected, and must come into a world that is not prepared for it. If the world were prepared for it, it would not be much of an invention.
    • Edwin H. Land, in"A Talk with Polaroid's Dr. Edwin Land" in Forbes Vol. 115, No. 7 (1 April 1975), p. 50
  • There's a tremendous popular fallacy which holds that significant research can be carried out by trying things. Actually it is easy to show that in general no significant problem can be solved empirically, except for accidents so rare as to be statistically unimportant. One of my jests is to say that we work empirically — we use bull's eye empiricism. We try everything, but we try the right thing first!
    • Edwin H. Land, as quoted in The Journal of Imaging Science and Technology, Vol. 37, No. 3 (1992), p. 537
  • All that any living man normally wants — and all that any man worth calling such will stand for — is as stable and pure a perpetuation as possible of the set of forms and appearances to which his value-perceptions are, from the circumstances of moulding, instinctively attuned. That is all there is to life — the preservation of a framework which will render the experience of the individual apparently relevant and significant, and therefore reasonably satisfying.
    • H. P. Lovecraft, in a letter to James F. Morton (January 1931), in Selected Letters III, 1929-1931 edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, p. 253
  • The only conflict which has any deep emotional significance to me is that of the principle of freedom or irregularity or adventurous opportunity against the eternal and maddening rigidity of cosmic law . . . especially the laws of time. . . . Hence the type of thing I try to write.
    • H. P. Lovecraft, in a letter to E. Hoffmann Price (15 August 1934) , quoted in Lord of a Visible World : An Autobiography in Letters, edited by S.T. Joshi, p. 268

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  • Science is an organized pursuit of triviality.
    Art is a casual pursuit of significance.

    Let's keep it in perspective.

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  • Generally speaking, the significance of the indirect results may very often be of more importance than the significance of direct ones. And since we are able to trace how the energy of love transforms itself into instincts, ideas, creative forces on different planes of life; into symbols of art, song, music, poetry; so can we easily imagine how the same energy may transform itself into a higher order of intuition, into a higher consciousness which will reveal to us a marvelous and mysterious world.
    In all living nature (and perhaps also in that which we consider as dead) love is the motive force which drives the creative activity in the most diverse directions.

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  • A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.
    • Jackie Robinson, in I Never Had It Made : An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson (1972) by Jackie Robinson and Alfred Duckett, Epilogue
    • This has also sometimes been misquoted as:
A life isn't significant except for its impact on other lives.
  • As reported in The Quotable Quote Book (1990) edited by Merrit Malloy and Shauna Sorensen, p. 137

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The only significance of life consists in helping to establish the kingdom of God; and this can be done only by means of the acknowledgment and profession of the truth by each one of us. ~ Leo Tolstoy
  • I find it so difficult to dispose of the few facts which to me are significant, that I hesitate to burden my attention with those which are insignificant, which only a divine mind could illustrate. Such is, for the most part, the news in newspapers and conversation. It is important to preserve the mind's chastity in this respect.
  • There is a spirit in man and in the world working always against the thing that destroys and lays waste. Always he must know that the contradictions of life are not final or ultimate; he must distinguish between failure and a many-sided awareness so that he will not mistake conformity for harmony, uniformity for synthesis. He will know that for all men to be alike is the death of life in man, and yet perceive harmony that transcends all diversities and in which diversity finds its richness and significance.
    • Howard Thurman, in The Search For Common Ground : An Inquiry Into The Basis Of Man's Experience Of Community (1971), p. 6
  • The only significance of life consists in helping to establish the kingdom of God; and this can be done only by means of the acknowledgment and profession of the truth by each one of us.
    • Leo Tolstoy, in The Kingdom of God is Within You (1894) Ch. 12
    • Variant translation: The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity by contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God, which can only be done by the recognition and profession of the truth by every man.'
  • How good is it to remember one's insignificance: that of a man among billions of men, of an animal amid billions of animals; and one's abode, the earth, a little grain of sand in comparison with Sirius and others, and one's life span in comparison with billions on billions of ages. There is only one significance, you are a worker. The assignment is inscribed in your reason and heart and expressed clearly and comprehensibly by the best among the beings similar to you. The reward for doing the assignment is immediately within you. But what the significance of the assignment is or of its completion, that you are not given to know, nor do you need to know it. It is good enough as it is. What else could you desire?
    • Leo Tolstoy, in Last Diaries (1979) edited by Leon Stilman, p. 77

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Disputed[edit]

  • Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.
    • Anonymous; though often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, the earliest occurrence of this yet located is in a T-shirt advertisement attributing it to him in Mother Jones, Vol. 8, No. 5 (June 1983), p. 46

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