Wisdom and Ignorance

“That would indeed be shocking, and then I might really with justice be summoned to court for not believing in the gods, and disobeying the oracle, and being afraid of death, and thinking that I am wise when I am not. For let me tell you, gentlemen, that to be afraid of death is only another form of thinking that one is wise when one is not; it is to think that one knows what one does not know. No one knows with regard to death whether it is not really the greatest blessing that can happen to a man; but people dread it as though they were certain that it is the greatest evil; and this is ignorance, which thinks that it knows what it does not, must surely be ignorance most culpable.”

– The Last Days of Socrates by Plato.

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When the truth comes out

“I have no right to call myself one who knows. I was one who seeks, and I still am, but I no longer seek in the stars or in books; I’m beginning to hear the teachings of my blood pulsing within me. My story isn’t pleasant, it’s not sweet and harmonious like the invented stories; it tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves.”

– Demian by Herman Hesse.

 

The Most Important Story

“All I really wanted was to try and live the life that was spontaneously welling up within me. Why was that so very difficult? (…) When authors write novels, they usually act as if they were God and could completely survey and comprehend some person’s history and present it as if God were telling it to Himself, totally unveiled, in its essence at all points. I can’t, any more than those authors can. But my story is more important to me than any author’s is to him, because it’s my own; it’s the story of a human being—not an invented, potential, ideal, or otherwise nonexistent person, but a real, unique, living one.”

– Demian by Herman Hesse.

Transubstantiation from the brain to the soul.

“But then he knew nothing was gained – for how could the brain generate the soul? A woman can beget a child, and that was wondrous enough. But the child’s brain was the true father of the soul, the one who could engender consciousness, giving birth to it every time it woke, or every time it dreamed. Flesh could give rise to flesh, an earthly embrace could grow new seeds, it was a marvel, but it was not a miracle. How could mere matter generate mind? It was a mystery, stranger than an immaculate conception, an impossibility that defied belief. Perhaps there was a special part of the brain, an inner sanctum where consciousness’s conception was celebrated. Perhaps there was a pivot point where transubstantiation could transpire, not from bread to body, but from brain to soul.”

– Phi by Giulio Tononi.

Brilliant People Who Are Dull.

“During the ten years that were to elapse between Hugh Person’s first and second visits to Switzerland he earned his living in the various dull ways that fall to the lot of brilliant young people who lack any special gift or ambition and get accustomed to applying only a small part of their wits to humdrum and charlatan tasks. What they do with the other, much greater, portion, how and where their real fancies and feelings are housed, is not exactly a mystery – there are no mysteries now – but would entail explications and revelations too sad, too frightful, to face. Only experts, for experts, should probe a mind’s misery.”

– Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov.

Not for all the gold in their possession.

And I to him: “Master, among this kind I certainly hope to recognize some who have been bespattered by these crimes.”
And he to me: “That thought of yours is empty: the undiscerning life that made them filthy now renders them unrecognizable. For all eternity they will come to blow: these here will rise up from their sepulchers with fists clenched tight; and these, with hair cropped close. Ill giving and ill keeping have robbed both of the fair world and set them to this fracas – what that is like my words need not embellish. Now you can see, my son, how brief’s the sport of all those goods that are in Fortune’s care, for which the tribe of men contend and brawl; for all the gold that is or ever was beneath the moon could never offer rest to even one of these exhausted spirits.”

– Inferno (The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri) translated by Allen Mandelbaum.