If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Tag: knowledge

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

…the nice thing about having a brain is that one can learn, that ignorance can be supplanted by knowledge, and that small bits of knowledge can gradually pile up into substantial heaps.

author unknown – The Elder Eddas (ca. 13th century)

Moderately wise should each one be, but never over-wise; for a wise man’s heart is seldom glad, if he is all-wise who owns it.

(sound like anyone we know?)

Lewis Thomas – Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)

It is the very strangeness of nature that makes science engrossing. That ought to be at the center of science teaching. …

…Science, especially twentieth-century science, has provided us with a glimpse of something we never really knew before, the revelation of human ignorance. We have been used to the belief, down one century after another, that we more or less comprehend everything bar one or two mysteries like the mental processes of our gods.

“Humanities and Science”

Neil Gaiman – The Sandman, vol. 7 (1994)

Destruction: Then she told me everyone can know everything Destiny knows. And more than that. She said we all not only could know everything. We do. We just tell ourselves we don’t to make it all more bearable.
Dream: It sounds unlikely.
Destruction: That was what I said to her. I said, if they do that, why do they keep wandering around and falling down manholes and tripping on banana skins? Why does it seem like none of us—Endless or mortal, ghost or god—knows what we’re doing?
Dream: And she said?
Destruction: I told you. She said everyone knows everything. We just pretend to ourselves we don’t. I never knew what to make of that.
Delirium: She is. Um. Right. Kind of. Not knowing everything is all that makes it okay, sometimes.

John Milton – Paradise Lost (1674)

And O fair Plant, said he, with fruit surcharg’d,
Deigns none to ease thy load and taste thy sweet,
Nor God, nor Man; is Knowledge so despis’d?

John Milton – Paradise Lost (1674)

…Knowledge forbidd’n?
Suspicious, reasonless. Why should thir Lord
Envie them that? can it be sin to know,
Can it be death? and do they onely stand
By Ignorance, is that thir happie state,
The proof of thir obedience and thir faith?

Hence will I excite thir minds
With more desire to know, and to reject
Envious commands, invented with designe
To keep them low whom knowledge might exalt
Equal with Gods;…

(wherein Milton tries to make curiosity the bogeyman by giving one of the most thoughtful passages to Satan)

Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool – Peak (2016)

Deliberate practice is all about the skills. You pick up the necessary knowledge in order to develop the skills; knowledge should never be an end in itself.

(Posted because I find it an interesting claim. I agree with the first part, under the assumption that you are pursuing development of a skill. But that is not always the goal, so the last part is far too sweeping.)

Mary Shelley – Frankenstein (1818)

Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.

Mary Shelley – Frankenstein (1818)

The untaught peasant beheld the elements around him, and was acquainted with their practical uses. The most learned philosopher knew little more.

Raymond Smullyan – The Tao Is Silent (1977)

MORTAL: All right, I’ll grant your point! But what I really want to know is do you exist?

GOD: What a strange question!

MORTAL: Why? Men have been asking it for countless millennia.

GOD: I know that! The question itself is not strange; what I mean is that it is a most strange question to ask of me!


GOD: Because I am the very one whose existence you doubt! I perfectly well understand your anxiety. You are worried that your present experience with me is a mere hallucination. But how can you possibly expect to obtain reliable information from a being about his very existence when you suspect the nonexistence of the very same being?

excerpt (“Is God a Taoist?”) appears in The Mind’s I, ed. Daniel Dennett and Douglas R. Hofstadter, 1981