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Learning to see the structures within which we operate begins a process of freeing ourselves from previously unseen forces and ultimately mastering the ability to work with them and change them. ~ Peter Senge

This page is for quotes about the processes of Thought.


  • Great thoughts, like great deeds, need
    No trumpet.
  • What exile from himself can flee?
    To zones, though more and more remote,
    Still, still pursues, where'er I be,
    The blight of life—the demon Thought.
  • The power of Thought,—the magic of the Mind!
    • Lord Byron, The Corsair (1814), Canto I, Stanza 8.
  • Nay, in every epoch of the world, the great event, parent of all others, is it not the arrival of a Thinker in the world?
  • Thought once awakened does not again slumber.
  • Secret thoughts are only half free: they fly undisturbed in the skies of the inner freedom, but they can never leave them.
    • Fausto Cercignani in: Brian Morris, Simply Transcribed. Quotations from Fausto Cercignani, Lulu Press (Raleigh, NC, USA),, 2013 (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Unported License), p. 19.
  • My thoughts ran a wool-gathering.
  • Perhaps 'tis pretty to force together
    Thoughts so all unlike each other;
    To mutter and mock a broken charm,
    To dally with wrong that does no harm.
  • Reader! — You have been bred in a land abounding with men, able in arts, learning, and knowledges manifold, this man in one, this in another, few in many, none in all. But there is one art, of which every man should be'master, the art of reflection. If you are not a thinking man, to what purpose are you a man at all? In like manner, there is one knowledge, which it is every man's interest and duty to acquire, namely, self-knowledge: or to what end was man alone, of all animals, endued by the Creator with the faculty of self-consciousness?
  • The Master [Confucius] said, 'If one learns from others but does not think, one is still at a loss. If, on the other hand, one thinks but does not learn from others, one is in peril.'
    • Confucius, The Analects (475 BC – 221BC), II, 15.
  • Chi Wen Tzu always thought three times before taking action. When the Master was told of this, he commented, 'Twice is quite enough.'
    • Confucius, The Analects (475 BC – 221 BC), V, 20.
  • The Master said, 'I once spent all day thinking without taking food and all night thinking without going to bed, but I found that I gained nothing from it. It would have been better for me to have spent the time in learning.'
    • Confucius, The Analects (475 BC – 221 BC), XV, 31.
  • In indolent vacuity of thought.
    • William Cowper, The Task (1785), Book IV. The Winter Evening, line 297.
  • He trudg'd along, unknowing what he sought,
    And whistled as he went, for want of thought.
  • When everyone thinks outside the box you should think inside the box.
  • Thought is the seed of action; but action is as much its second form as thought is its first.
  • Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force, that thoughts rule the world.
  • I'll put that in my considering cap.
    • John Fletcher, The Loyal Subject, (licensed 16 November 1618; revised c. 1633; published 1647), Act II, scene 1.
  • Thinking is a momentary dismissal of irrelevancies.
  • People should think things out fresh and not just accept conventional terms and the conventional way of doing things.
    • Buckminster Fuller, as quoted in The Peter Plan: A Proposal for Survival (1977) by Laurence J. Peter
  • We are powerfully imprisoned in these Dark Ages simply by the terms in which we have been conditioned to think.
  • I say that conceit is just as natural a thing to human minds as a centre is to a circle. But little-minded people's thoughts move in such small circles that five minutes' conversation gives you an arc long enough to determine their whole curve. An arc in the movement of a large intellect does not sensibly differ from a straight line. Even if it have the third vowel ['I', the first-person pronoun] as its centre, it does not soon betray it. The highest thought, that is, is the most seemingly impersonal; it does not obviously imply any individual centre.
  • A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times.
  • 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?
  • Thought must be divided against itself before it can come to any knowledge of itself.
    • Aldous Huxley, in "Wordsworth in the Tropics", in Do What You Will (1929).
  • Today's banalities apparently gain in profundity if one states that the wisdom of the past, for all its virtues, belongs to the past. The arrogance of those who come later preens itself with the notion that the past is dead and gone. ... The modern mind can no longer think thought, only can locate it in time and space. The activity of thinking decays to the passivity of classifying.
    • Russell Jacoby, Social Amnesia (1975), p. 1
  • That fellow seems to me to possess but one idea, and that is a wrong one.
  • The history of human thought recalls the swinging of a pendulum which takes centuries to swing. After a long period of slumber comes a moment of awakening. Then thought frees herself from the chains with which those interested — rulers, lawyers, clerics — have carefully enwound her.
    She shatters the chains. She subjects to severe criticism all that has been taught her, and lays bare the emptiness of the religious political, legal, and social prejudices amid which she has vegetated. She starts research in new paths, enriches our knowledge with new discoveries, creates new sciences.
  • No brain is stronger than its weakest think.
  • What is the difference between merely knowing (or remembering, or memorizing) and understanding? We all agree that to understand something, we must know what it means... A thing or idea seems meaningful only when we have several different ways to represent it–different perspectives and different associations. Then we can turn it around in our minds, so to speak: however it seems at the moment, we can see it another way and we never come to a full stop. In other words, we can 'think' about it. If there were only one way to represent this thing or idea, we would not call this representation thinking.
  • We all have a tendency to think that the world must conform to our prejudices. The opposite view involves some effort of thought, and most people would die sooner than think — in fact they do so.
  • Learning to see the structures within which we operate begins a process of freeing ourselves from previously unseen forces and ultimately mastering the ability to work with them and change them.
  • But now behold,
    In the quick forge and working-house of thought,
    How London doth pour out her citizens!
  • A thought by thought is piled, till some great truth
    Is loosened, and the nations echo round,
    Shaken to their roots, as do the mountains now.
  • In matters of conscience that is the best sense which every wise man takes in before he hath sullied his understanding with the designs of sophisters and interested persons.
    • Jeremy Taylor, Ductor Dubitantium (Rule of Conscience) (1660), Book I, Chapter I. Rule VI.
  • Large elements in order brought,
    And tracts of calm from tempest made,
    And world-wide fluctuation sway'd,
    In vassal tides that follow'd thought.
  • Yet I doubt not thro' the ages one increasing purpose runs,
    And the thoughts of men are widened with the process of the suns.
  • To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning.
  • Knocks at our hearts, and finds our thoughts at home.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 787-90.
  • Upon the cunning loom of thought
    We weave our fancies, so and so.
  • Sempre il miglior non è il parer primiero.
  • The kings of modern thought are dumb.
  • Qui sait si l'on ne verra pas que le phosphore et l'esprit vont ensemble?
    • Who knows whether it is not true that phosphorus and mind are not the same thing?
    • Henri Beyle (Stendhal), Histoire de la Peinture en Italie, Chapter XCI, p. 209. (Ed. 1854).
  • Thought is valuable in proportion as it is generative.
  • The first thought is often the best.
    • Bishop Butler, Sermon on the Character of Balaam, Seventh Sermon.
  • With curious art the brain, too finely wrought,
    Preys on herself, and is destroyed by thought.
  • Cujusvis hominis est errare; nullius, nisi insipientis, in errore perseverare. Posteriores enim cogitationes (ut aiunt) sapientiores solent esse.
    • Any man may make a mistake; none but a fool will stick to it. Second thoughts are best as the proverb says.
    • Cicero, Philippicæ, XII. 2.
  • Old things need not be therefore true,
    O brother men, nor yet the new;
    Ah! still awhile the old thought retain,
    And yet consider it again!
  • Je pense, done je suis.
    • I think, therefore I am.
    • Rene Descartes, Principes de la Philosophie, I, Section VII; Cogito, ergo sum (Latin of same).
  • Second thoughts, they say, are best.
    • John Dryden, The Spanish Friar, Act II, scene 2. Euripides, Hippolytus, 438.
  • For thoughts are so great—aren't they, sir?
    They seem to lie upon us like a deep flood.
  • Our growing thought
    Makes growing revelation.
  • The revelation of thought takes men out of servitude into freedom.
  • Every thought which genius and piety throw into the world, alters the world.
  • Wer kann was Dummes, wer was Kluges denken,
    Das nicht die Vorwelt schon gedacht.
  • Those who think must govern those that toil.
  • Thoughts that breathe and words that burn.
  • Their own second and sober thoughts.
  • Every man who speaks out loud and clear is tinting the "Zeitgeist." Every man who expresses what he honestly thinks is true is changing the Spirit of the Times. Thinkers help other people to think, for they formulate what others are thinking. No person writes or thinks alone—thought is in the air, but its expression is necessary to create a tangible Spirit of the Times.
  • My thoughts and I were of another world.
    • Ben Jonson, Every Man Out of His Humour, Act III, scene 3.
  • Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose,
    Flushing his brow.
  • 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 Mr. Samuel Bold, May 16, 1699.
  • The surest pledge of a deathless name
    Is the silent homage of thoughts unspoken.
  • My own thoughts
    Are my companions.
  • Thoughts so sudden, that they seem
    The revelations of a dream.
  • All thoughts that mould the age begin
    Deep down within the primitive soul.
  • A penny for your thought.
    • John Lyly, Euphues. Swift, Polite Conversation, Introduction.
  • Annihilating all that's made
    To a green thought in a green shade.
  • Grand Thoughts that never can be wearied out,
    Showing the unreality of Time.
  • Ohne Phosphor kein Gedanke.
    • No thought without phosphorus.
    • Jacob Moleschott, Lehre der Nahrungsmittel, II. 1. 4.
  • His thoughts have a high aim, though their dwelling be in the vale of a humble heart.
  • It is often said that second thoughts are best. So they are in matters of judgment, but not in matters of conscience. In matters of duty, first thoughts are commonly best. They have more in them of the voice of God.
  • Man is but a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed.
  • Thought can wing its way
    Swifter than lightning-flashes or the beam
    That hastens on the pinions of the morn.
  • As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.
    • Proverbs, XXIII. 7.
  • Gaily I lived as ease and nature taught,
    And spent my little life without a thought,
    And am amazed that Death, that tyrant grim,
    Should think of me, who never thought of him.
  • Sweetest mother, I can weave no more to-day,
    For thoughts of him come thronging,
    Him for whom my heart is longing—
    For I know not where my weary fingers stray.
    • Sappho, Fragment. J. S. Easby-Smith's translation.
  • At Learning's fountain it is sweet to drink,
    But 'tis a nobler privilege to think.
  • Es lebt ein anders denkendes Geschlecht!
    There lives a race which otherwise does think.
  • Men's first thoughts in this matter are generally better than their second; their natural notions better than those refin'd by study, or consultation with casuists.
  • Still are the thoughts to memory dear.
  • Ah! comme vous dites, il faut glisser sur bien des pensées, et ne faire pas semblant de les voir.
  • Come near me! I do weave
    A chain I cannot break—I am possest
    With thoughts too swift and strong for one lone human breast.
  • Second thoughts oftentimes are the very worst of all thoughts.
  • They are never alone that are accompanied with noble thoughts.
  • If I could think how these my thoughts to leave,
    Or thinking still, my thoughts might have good end:
    If rebel sense would reason's law receive;
    Or reason foil'd would not in vain contend:
    Then might I think what thoughts were best to think:
    Then might I wisely swim, or gladly sink.
  • Oh, the fetterless mind! how it wandereth free
    Through the wildering maze of Eternity!
  • Thinking is but an idle waste of thought,
    And naught is everything, and everything is naught.
    • Horace and James Smith, Rejected Addresses, Cui Bono? (Imitation of Byron).
  • Thought can never be compared with action, but when it awakens in us the image of truth.
  • Time to me this truth has taught,
    ('Tis a treasure worth revealing)
    More offend from want of thought
    Than from any want of feeling.
  • What a man thinks in his spirit in the world, that he does after his departure from the world when he becomes a spirit.
  • Though man a thinking being is defined,
    Few use the grand prerogative of mind.
    How few think justly of the thinking few!
    How many never think, who think they do.
    • Jane Taylor, Essays in Rhyme, On Morals and Manners, Prejudice, Essay I, Stanza 45.
  • And yet, as angels in some brighter dreams
    Call to the soul when man doth sleep,
    So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted themes,
    And into glory peep.
    • Henry Vaughan, They are all gone into the World of Light, Stanza 7.
  • Lorsqu'une pensée est trop faible pour porter une expression simple, c'est la marque pour la rejeter.
  • His high-erected thoughts look'd down upon
    The smiling valley of his fruitful heart.
  • But hushed be every thought that springs
    From out the bitterness of things.
  • Yet, sometimes, when the secret cup
    Of still and serious thought went round,
    It seemed as if he drank it up,
    He felt with spirit so profound.
  • Like thoughts whose very sweetness yieldeth proof
    That they wore born for immortality.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)[edit]

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • We cannot keep thieves from looking in at our windows, but we need not give them entertainment with open doors.
  • Be not troubled by the wanderings of your imagination which you cannot restrain. How often do we wander through the fear of wandering and the regret that we have done so. What would you say of a traveler who, instead of constantly advancing in his journey, should employ his time in anticipating the falls he might suffer, or in weeping over the place where one had happened?
  • Every thought willingly contemplated, ever word meaningly spoken, every action freely done, consolidates itself in the character, and will project itself onward in a permanent continuity.
  • They are never alone that are accompanied with noble thoughts.
  • Every man has some peculiar train of thought which he falls back upon when he is alone. This, to a great degree, moulds the man.

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