He was lucid, not with an everyday lucidity, the sort one finds acceptable, but on the contrary the sort of which one subsequently feels ashamed, perhaps because it confers on supposedly commonplace things the grandeur ascribed to them by poetry and religion.
~ Georges Simenon, Monsieur Monde Vanishes
I used to experience moments of similar lucidity late at night or walking alone in the afternoon. In my twenties these moments came once or twice each week. Aha! (I would say to myself) There it is again! Hold it tight! But what was it exactly? It was the one bright, thrilling, unutterable thing I knew I must always repeat to myself so as never to forget it, and then seconds later it was gone.
Catfish are basically swimming tongues.
~ Mary Roach, Gulp
If your epidermis were covered in taste buds, like the catfish, your clothes would become unpalatable before they became unfashionable. You would always eat dinner with your hands. You would distinguish between rain showers that were sweet, savory, sour or bitter.
Others advocated the great elementary theory, which refers the construction of our globe and all that it contains, to the combinations of four material elements, air, earth, fire and water; with the assistance of a fifth, an immaterial and vivifying principle; by which I presume the worthy theorist meant to allude to that vivifying spirit contained in gin, brandy and other potent liquors.
~ Washington Irving, A History of New York
Some days it’s only that mysterious fifth element which keeps old chaos at bay. No sooner had I come home from work yesterday than the beloved spouse informed me that I was required to pour the vivifying principle in the form of gin into two glasses of ice, cucumber and superior tonic water. The results managed to hold the world together for yet another night.
Possession of virtue seems actually compatible with being asleep, or with lifelong inactivity, and, further, with the greatest sufferings and misfortunes; but a man who was living so no one would call happy, unless he were maintaining a thesis at all costs.
~ Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
The ambiguity (in English translation) of the pronoun in that final clause is delightful. Is “he” the person who insists that the narcoleptic is happy, or is “he” the virtuous narcoleptic himself? Maintaining a thesis at all costs will often give a satisfactory thrill. “You see what I must endure?” asks the whining longsufferer who never acts to improve his situation. Misery is sometimes converted to happiness by the alchemy of being proven right.
A tree would never have spoken to me like this.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage
How disappointing it would be to discover that we were wrong about the trees. A willow, for example, might be the most petty, vindictive creature on the planet.
I hereby join the success circle of the Psychic Club of America, with the right to withdraw whenever I see fit. While I am a member, I pledge myself to join my brethren in sending out thoughts of love, encouragement, help, and success, to myself, my brothers and sisters of the success circle; and all mankind. I will do my best to refrain from all thoughts of fear, discouragement, failure, and hate, and I will do my best to add to the loving and helpful thought wave being sent out by the circle.
~ Pscyhic Club of America “Success Circle” pledge (circa 1900)
I don’t know how long the loving and helpful thought wave produced by members of the success circle was maintained, or how large it managed to swell before breaking on the pebbly, saline shore of reality, but let us bless its memory. To paraphrase Montaigne, at a time when to do evil is so common, to do only what is ridiculous, useless or absurd is commendable.
The abnormal expression of mirth is shown in clownishness, levity, and caricaturing of persons… When excessive it can be restrained by devoting more time to serious and practical principles of science. If deficient it can be cultivated through the study of wit and humor.
~ John T. Miller, Applied Character Analysis
The arch-phrenologist Johann Spurzheim located mirthfulness in a particular corner of the forehead where, he said, Voltaire, Rabelais and Sterne each showed a considerable bulge. It’s a little known fact that all three were solemn and severe children who only developed a sense of humor after years of study.
In the coming century phrenology will assuredly attain general acceptance. It will prove itself to be the true science of mind. Its practical uses in education, in self-discipline, in the reform treatment of criminals and in the medical treatment of the insane will give it one of the highest places in the hierarchy of the sciences; and its persistent neglect and obloquy during the last sixty years will be referred to as an example of the most inconceivable narrowness and prejudice…
~ Alfred Russel Wallace
If it didn’t require us for its survival, science would do just fine. Instead, it’s like a telescope mounted on top of a swaying tree. There’s something almost endearing in how easily we admit the errors of former times while insisting on our own enlightened certainties. We like to mistake the advancement of science and technology for moral progress. The first inventor of the wheel probably thought he could never be wrong about anything ever again.
The ascetic is the inverted libertine.
~ Gilbert Seldes, The Stammering Century
Montaigne observes that “it is much easier to go along the sides, where the outer edge serves as a limit and a guide, than by the middle way, wide and open.” It seems true, at least, that one extremity is more readily traded for another than for anything in-between. The righteous Puritan is less tempted by lukewarm agnosticism than by outright devil-worship.
He had not the gift of expression, but rather the gift of suggestion… His mind was never quite in focus and there was always something left over after each discharge of the battery, something which now became the beginning of a new thought. When he found out his mistake or defect of expression, when he came to see that he had not said quite what he meant, he was the first to proclaim it, and move on to a new position, a new misstatement of the same truth.
~ John Jay Chapman, “William James”
I think of the Boudin Bakery of San Francisco which has used the same sourdough starter for over 150 years, kneading a portion of the ancient “mother dough” into loaves of endless elaboration. William James was not alone in saying (or trying to say) the same things over and over again. There is a mother dough at the root of all we say and think, a leaven of shared nature that expresses itself in questions, desires and fears that we all recognize. For all the really shocking variety among human individuals and cultures, it is this habitual defect of expression, of misstating the same truths, that impresses me most.