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The Human Evasion (1969)
- On the face of it there is something rather strange about human psychology. Human beings live in a state of mind called sanity, on a small planet in space. They are not quite sure whether the space around them is infinite or not, either way it is unthinkable. If they think about time, they find that it is inconceivable that it had a beginning. It is also inconceivable that it did not have a beginning. Thoughts of this kind are not disturbing to sanity, which is obviously a remarkable phenomenon that deserves more recognition.
The Decline and Fall of Science (1976)
- The way to do research is to attack the facts at the point of greatest astonishment.
- Only the impossible is worth attempting. In everything else one is sure to fail.
- The fact that something is far-fetched is no reason why it should not be true; it cannot be as far-fetched as the fact that something exists.
- Astonishment is the only realistic emotion.
- People accept their limitations so as to prevent themselves from wanting anything they might get.
- It is inconceivable that anything should be existing. It is not inconceivable that a lot of people should also be existing who are not interested in the fact that they exist. But it is certainly very odd.
- The remarkable thing about the human mind is its range of limitations.
- The human race has to be bad at psychology; if it were not, it would understand why it is bad at everything else.
- When someone says his conclusions are objective, he means that they are based on prejudices which many other people share.
- The psychology of committees is a special case of the psychology of mobs.
- Society expresses its sympathy for the geniuses of the past to distract attention from the fact that it has no intention of being sympathetic to the geniuses of the present.
- In an autocracy, one person has his way; in an aristocracy a few people have their way; in a democracy, no one has his way.
- Democracy: everyone should have an equal opportunity to obstruct everybody else.
- When people talk about 'the sanctity of the individual' they mean 'the sanctity of the statistical norm'.
- In an unenlightened society some people are forced to play degrading social roles; in an enlightened society, everyone is.
- Society is everybody's way of punishing one another because they daren't take it out on the universe.
- 'Social justice' - the expression of universal hatred.
- Society is a self-regulating mechanism for preventing the fulfilment of its members.
- Human nature: vindictiveness lightly coated with dishonesty.
- The human race believes in not taking its problems seriously enough to solve them.
- People having religions is an insult to the universe.
- People have been marrying and bringing up children for centuries now. Nothing has ever come of it.
- The object of the educational system is to make the child feel suitably guilty for the harm that has been done to him.
- Education by the State is a contradiction in terms. Intellectual development is only possible to those who have seen through society.
- In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is lucky to escape with his life.
- What is scandalous is not that stupid people should sometimes inherit private incomes; but that clever people should sometimes not.
- The human race knows enough about thinking to prevent it.
- One of the greatest superstitions of our time is the belief that it has none.
- That society exists to frustrate the individual may be seen from its attitude to work. It is only morally acceptable if you do not want to do it. If you want to, it becomes a personal pleasure.
- Lack of clarity is always a sign of dishonesty.
- It is superfluous to be humble on one's own behalf; so many people are willing to do it for one.
- The only important thing to realise about history is that it all took place in the last five minutes.
- I cannot write long books; I leave that for those who have nothing to say.
Advice to Clever Children (1981)
- The perception that existence exists invalidates the normal personality,as does the imminence of death.
- Now if you see that it is inconceivable that anything should exist, it is evident that at least one inconceivable fact is there. That is to say, that which exists is not limited to the conceivable. Since the inconceivable is there, it is impossible to set any limit to the quantity of inconceivableness which may be present in the situation. Now were the existence of anything consistently to remind you of the fact of inconceivability, since it is impossible to live without interacting with a large number of existing things, it would be impossible for you to feel in the same way about the conceivable.
- Now if anyone were reminded about the inconceivable by the fact of existence at all constantly, he would sooner or later have the perception that there may be inconceivable considerations which are inconceivably more important than any conceivable consideration could be.
- Now if you do have a perception that any conceivable consideration may be utterly invalidated by some other consideration which you do not know, and if you are reminded of this perception constantly by the fact that things exist, certain modifications take place in the way you feel about things. These modifications have not taken place in the psychology of most people.
- The starting point is that one is interested in the universe, one observes that one is finite and that this is intolerable. One has a limited time and apparently limited capacity with which to find anything out. Therefore it is possible to despair. There are many orders of despair, and none of them are known to normal psychology. This is demonstrated by the fact that it has not become existential. Normal psychology will never devalue anything. Existential psychology, at least to a certain point, consists of exploiting the recoil from the despair of finiteness. The recoil is a drive with at least the instinctive immediacy of the survival instinct. There is no point in saying, 'What is there to do? What could such a drive possibly tend towards?'. The survival instinct tends to prolong life. The fundamental drive tends to inform itself about the universe.
- Young people wonder how the adult world can be so boring. The secret is that it is not boring to adults because they have learned to enjoy simple things like covert malice at one another's expense. This is why they talk so much about the value of human understanding and sympathy - it has a certain rarity value in their world.
- Children need admiration rather than affection.
- Progress towards sanity is achieved by abandoning first the desire for omnipotence and then that for exceptional achievement.
- In the universe there is room for an infinite series of beginnings.
- I have long had a theory that the popularity of Christianity has always depended on its appeal to the sadism of its adherents. The exceptional should be crucified, saith Society; and somehow everyone suspects (in spite of all arguments to the contrary) that if there is a God, he may be exceptional in some way. So the figure of Christ crucified becomes the figure of the dangerous exceptional alien—suitably defeated. 'Only a suffering God can help', said Bonhoeffer, licking his lips.
- The most exciting thing possible is actually true.
The Lost Cause (2003)
- What appear to be the most valuable aspects of the theoretical physics we have are the mathematical descriptions which enable us to predict events. These equations are, we would argue, the only realities we can be certain of in physics; any other ways we have of thinking about the situation are visual aids or mnemonics which make it easier for beings with our sort of macroscopic experience to use and remember the equations.
Letters from Exile (2004)
- It is actually a principle of modern paternalism that if you want something you should be stopped from having it[…] Most foods are harmful to some people if taken in excess, and I expect the only reason that carrots are still available without a prescription is that no one has got very excited about them, or claimed that they might cure cancer.
- It is easier to make people appear equally stupid than to make them equally clever, so teaching methods are adopted which make it practically impossible for anyone to learn anything.
- I spent a couple of years between eleven and thirteen analysing the social evaluations that were taken for granted, also acquiring a thorough scepticism about processes regarded as causal, and the consistency of the physical world, as well as the reliability of my own mental processes. By the time I was thirteen I was running out of things to think about, so starting on a run of exam-taking seemed all the more appropriate, as I was finding it difficult to make use of spare time.
- It is when the commercial factor enters into the situation that the possibility of genuine individual liberty arises.
The Corpse and the Kingdom (2023)
- It has never seemed to me offensive that persons should be other persons' paid servants; but that other persons should be other persons' doctors, who are able to prescribe and refuse chemicals, has always seemed to me abominable.
- The basis of capitalism is that if a tiger rushes towards you, you need a gun. If you acquired a gun at some point in time previous to the tiger's attack, and have it ready to hand, this is useful. If you have not actually got a gun, but know that you could acquire one at some point in the future, this is not so good. The problem is to survive so as to reach the future.
The essence of communism is that nobody may have guns unless everybody has guns, and the only way anybody can get guns is if the collective-at-large sees fit to make a universal issue. And you may not have a better gun than the collective sees fit to issue for everybody. So if the collective does not actually get round to issuing any guns at all, everybody will be equally likely to be eaten by tigers.
- Couched, of course, in tones of the utmost friendliness and benevolence, they unite in regretting that he [Somerset Maugham] was able to fulfil his own wishes.