Friday, March 05, 2010

Proverbs of Heck, Anti-Pensées, Fragments of Heraclitus of Aphasia

In an effort to train a dictation program for my computer, I’ve been reading out assorted sentences from the copybook I keep next to my bed. A lot of these lines come more or less directly from dreams. The exercise has taught me a lot, for example that I mumble dreadfully.

The monuments sloth builds to her own glory are not likely to challenge the heavens.

We Americans should make good classicists since we have no great literature of our own to obsess about.

You are perfectly entitled to be skeptical about the Enlightenment. But why do you have to embrace such ripe and stinking superstitions in order to express your disappointment with reason?

It shouldn't bother you to be accused of elitism. It ought to bother you not to be elite.

As with other serious conditions, apotheosis often has an insidious onset. Strokes of luck occur with suspicious frequency. Old women with startling blue eyes fall on their knees in spontaneous adoration, an occurrence that is always embarrassing and often quite inconvenient for everybody, especially on crowded buses.

Nanotechnology has been under way for hundreds of years under the title of chemistry.

It was late winter and the vampires were tapping the diabetics to make syrup.

Reading Marsden's life of Jonathan Edwards, I was struck by the practical similarity of the Christian quest for conversion and a Zen Buddhist quest for enlightenment. Both enterprises are deeply irrational. Both promote the power of religious teachers. Both have a distinct flavor of sadism—which is not to deny either their due as spiritual adventures highly meaningful to the participants. Religion would make a lot more sense if its goal were temporary spiritual thrills instead of permanent beatitude or definitive insight.

Despite its greater rationality, science is much more dispersed than common sense because it addresses the real diversity of the world while the popular mind is fixed on a tiny subset of topics. The people talk a lot, but they don't talk about much.

Like would-be novelists, philosophers think their ideas are shocking, but both the daring sex scenes and the revolutionary concepts generally put the readers to sleep.

"Being" is the Maginot line of the theologians, impregnable but easy to go around.

I've encountered so many grand theories of everything that I've become quite indifferent to them. Explaining anything is so much harder than explaining everything.

The quirkiness of dreams is like the diction of people writing in a foreign language. The combinations don't outrage logic or probability so much as usage.

Culture is a subgroup of nature, not its opposite or rival.

I have to remind myself that most people have never followed a complicated proof or the argument of the serious novel. Forget about what it is to be like a bat. Do philosophers know what it is to be a normal man?

In tightly argued scholarly books, every footnote is like a piton driven into the granite face of a sheer cliff.

Life really is too short to worry about extremely unlikely hypotheses just because they are sacred to the majority of human beings.

Thinking is much easier once you accept the unlikelihood of reaching definitive results just as soldiers fight better when they assume they won't survive the war.

The affairs of men are much simpler than the doings of atoms. We call them complex, but they are really just more interesting to us.

The Republicans fear we will become too much like Europe, but much of what they fear from Europe is what Europe learned from us.

As frequently happens, their love affair ended in marriage.

Self-education is highly problematic, but every original thinker has to turn autodidact for the same reason you can't become the valedictorian by copying the other guy’s answers.

Any detailed passage of history has to be normalized to fit in with the rest. It isn't enough to simplify what happened or merely summarize it as one reduces a body of data to the mean and variance. The events have to be systematically distorted so they will play for a single mind just as the notes are tempered so they can be sounded on a single piano. In my experience, however, historians do a lot more cheating than piano tuners.

The secret principle that explains cosmic inflation: every word deserves its commentary, but once that's admitted there is no place to stop even if in the beginning there was only a single word. Eventually you wind up with the world of glossed glosses and glossing glosses expanding to infinity. What would really be comforting is the assurance that there'll eventually be a reader at the end, a God of love, which is to say, a celestial pedant (for whose love surpasses the pedant’s who cherishes every detail long after the others have closed the book in scorn or mere boredom).

Basic problem: the absence of a large class of people who can afford to tell the rest of us to fuck off.

It says a great deal about our situation that one of the greatest corporations created in the last 10 years is dedicated to answering the old man's question, "where the hell are my keys?"

It was the historians who taught me the strategy of willful stupidity, and I am sincerely grateful to them for that.