Talk:Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

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The English translation of the "a book is a mirror" aphorism is not correct. The original is "Ein Buch ist Spiegel, aus dem kein Apostel herausgucken kann, wenn ein Affe hineinguckt." ein Affe means "an ape", not "an ass". Check the Lichtenberg article on German Wikiquote here.

If Google hits are the criteria for decision (?!?), "wenn ein Affe hineinguckt" gets about 630, "wenn ein Esel hineinguckt" gets 0.

(The similarity of lowercase f and s in old German script may be a source of this interesting error.) RJCraig 21:18, 3 January 2006 (UTC)

(Later note: Googling for Lichtenberg "Notebook E" "Aphorism 49" turns up interesting results. RJCraig 08:23, 4 January 2006 (UTC))
The above information was helpful, and a proper translation as well as the original has now been incorporated into the article. ~ Achilles 15:26, 4 January 2006 (UTC)


Wikiquote no longer allows unsourced quotations, and they are in process of being removed from our pages (see Wikiquote:Limits on quotations); but if you can provide a reliable and precise source for any quote on this list please move it to Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. --Antiquary 11:01, 15 March 2009 (UTC)

  • As nations improve, so do their gods.
  • Concerning the body, there are at least as many, if not more, imaginary sick as really sick people. Concerning the mind, there are as many, if not more, imaginary sane people as really sane ones.
  • Do not have too artificial an idea of man but judge him naturally. Don't consider him too good or too bad. It is a golden rule that one should not judge people according to their opinions, but according to what these opinions make of them.
    • Variants: It is a golden rule not to judge men by their opinions but rather by what their opinions make of them.
      One must judge men not by their opinions, but by what their opinions have made of them.
      Don't judge a man by his opinions, but what his opinions have made of him.
  • Even the gentlest, most modest and best of girls are always better, gentler and more modest if their mirrors have told them they are looking more beautiful than ever.
  • Everyone is a genius at least once a year. The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together.
  • First there is a time when we believe everything, then for a little while we believe with discrimination, then we believe nothing whatever, and then we believe everything again — and, moreover, give reasons why we believe.
  • God created man in His own image, says the Bible; philosophers reverse the process: they create God in theirs.
  • How happy would many people live if they cared about other people's affairs as little as about their own.
  • I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.
  • I have scattered seeds of ideas on almost every page which, if they fall on the right soil, may grow into chapters and even whole dissertations.
  • If another Messiah was born he could hardly do so much good as the printing-press.
  • If moderation is a fault, then indifference is a crime.
  • Just as we outgrow a pair of trousers, we outgrow acquaintances, libraries, principles, etc., at times before they're worn out and times — and this is the worst of all — before we have new ones.
  • Men still have to be governed by deception.
  • Most subjects at universities are taught for no other purpose than that they may be retaught when the students become teachers.
  • My head lies at least a foot closer to my heart than is the case with other men: that is why I am so reasonable.
  • My inquiries into physics could perhaps be given the title: legacies. For people do also bequeath trifles, after all.
    • These "trifles" for which he could find no practical use include the principle used in all modern xerographic copiers and printers.
  • Never undertake anything for which you wouldn't have the courage to ask the blessing of heaven.
  • Not only did he not believe in ghosts, he wasn't even afraid of them.
  • One should never trust a person who, while assuring you of something, puts his hands on his heart.
  • One of the main conveniences of marriage is that if you can't stand a visitor, you can pass him along to your wife.
  • One of the strangest applications of reason is to believe that it is a masterpiece to abstain from using it and thus, born with wings, to cut them off.
  • One's first step in wisdom is to question everything — and one's last is to come to terms with everything.
  • People don't think so differently about the events of life as they talk about them.
  • Perhaps in time the so-called Dark Ages will be thought of as including our own.
  • Popularizing should always be done in such a manner that one would elevate people by it. If one stoops down, one should always take care of elevating even those people to whom one descends.
  • Some people read because they are too lazy to think.
  • Sometimes men come by the name of genius in the same way that certain insects come by the name of centipede — not because they have a hundred feet, but because most people can't count above fourteen.
  • The expression divine service should cease to be applied to church attendance and be applied instead to good deeds.
  • The grave is still the best shelter against the storms of destiny.
  • The highest point a poor brain can reach from experience is the ability to find out the weaknesses of superior people.
  • The intercourse with reasonable people is advisable to everybody because, in this way, a blockhead can become wise by imitation, for the greatest blockheads can imitate, even apes and elephants can do it.
  • The late M. who had a Catholic maid, once told me entirely bona fide: This person is a Catholic, it is true, but she is an honest, good soul. Recently she committed a perjury on my behalf.
  • The preaching in the churches does not make the lightning rods on them unnecessary.
  • Theologians always try to turn the Bible into a book without common sense.
  • There are people that can believe everything they want. These are happy creatures.
  • There can hardly be stranger wares in the world than books: printed by people who do not understand them; sold by people who do not understand them; bound, reviewed and read by people who do not understand them; and now even written by people who do not understand them.
  • There is a great difference between still believing something and again believing it.
  • Those who never have time do least.
    • Variant translation: People that never have time do the least of all.
  • We live in a world in which one fool makes many fools but one wise man only a few wise men.
  • We must not seek to abstract from the busts of the great Greeks and Romans rules for the visible form of genius as long as we cannot contrast them with Greek blockheads.
  • What a blessing it would be if we could open and shut our ears as easily as we open and shut our eyes!
  • Why are young widows in mourning so beautiful? (Look into it.)
  • You must not allow your reading to dominate you but you should dominate your reading.