We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of whirling snow and blinding mist…

“We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of whirling snow and blinding mist, through which we get glimpses now and then of paths which may be deceptive. If we stand still we shall be frozen to death. If we take the wrong road we shall be dashed to pieces. We do not certainly know whether there is any right one. What must we do? ‘Be strong and of a good courage.’ Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes.… If death ends all, we cannot meet death better.”

Fitz James Stephen, quoted in The Will to Believe, William James.

Thoughts and How You Feel

In fact, your thoughts often have much more to do with how you feel than what is actually happening in your life.

This isn’t a new idea. Nearly two thousand years ago the Greek philosopher, Epictetus, stated that people are disturbed “not by things, but by the views we take of them.” In the Book of Proverbs (23: 7) in the Old Testament you can find this passage: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” And even Shakespeare expressed a similar idea when he said: “for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2).

Burns M.D., David D.. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy 

Separation of Tasks

PHILOSOPHER: All you can do with regard to your own life is choose the best path that you believe in. On the other hand, what kind of judgment do other people pass on that choice? That is the task of other people, and is not a matter you can do anything about.

YOUTH: What another person thinks of you—if he or she likes you or dislikes you—that is that person’s task, not mine. Is that what you are saying?

PHILOSOPHER: That is what separating is. You are worried about other people looking at you. You are worried about being judged by other people. That is why you are constantly craving recognition from others. Now, why are you worried about other people looking at you, anyway? Adlerian psychology has an easy answer. You haven’t done the separation of tasks yet. You assume that even things that should be other people’s tasks are your own. Remember the words of the grandmother: “You’re the only one who’s worried how you look.” Her remark drives right to the heart of the separation of tasks. What other people think when they see your face—that is the task of other people and is not something you have any control over.

Kishimi, Ichiro. The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness

You cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace – Thomas A. Kempis quote

A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of all lessons. To take no account of oneself, but always to think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection. Should you see another person openly doing evil, or carrying out a wicked purpose, do not on that account consider yourself better than him, for you cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace. We are all frail; consider none more frail than yourself.

Thomas A. Kempis

Lightness and Heaviness. Kundera

Eternal Return dictates that all things in existence recur over and over again for all eternity. This is to say that human history is a preset circle without progress, the same events arising perpetually and doomed never to alter or to improve. Existence is thus weighty because it stands fixed in an infinite cycle. This weightiness is “the heaviest of burdens”, for “if every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross.” At the same time, it is necessary for any event to occur in the cycle of events exactly as it has always occurred for the cycle to be identical; consequently, everything takes on an eternally fixed meaning. This fact prevents one from believing things to be fleeting and worthless.

The inverse of this concept is Kundera’s “unbearable lightness of being.” Assuming that eternal return were impossible, humankind would experience an “absolute absence of burden,” and this would “[cause] man to be lighter than air” in his lack of weight of meaning. Something which does not forever recur has its brief existence, and, once it is complete, the universe goes on existing, utterly indifferent to the completed phenomenon. “Life which disappears once and for all, which does not return” writes Kundera, is “without weight…and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime…means nothing.” Each life is insignificant; every decision does not matter. Since decisions do not matter, they are “light”: they do not tie us down. However, at the same time, the insignificance of our decisions – our lives, or being – is unbearable. Hence, “the unbearable lightness of being.” On the other hand, eternal existence would demand of us strict adherence to pre-scripted rules and laws; a sense of duty and rigorous morality.

“What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?” Kundera notes that this is not a new question. Parmenides posed it in the sixth century BC. He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness etc. One half of the opposition he called positive (light, fineness, warmth, being), the other negative. We might find this division into positive and negative poles simple except for one difficulty: which one is positive, weight or lightness? Parmenides responded that lightness is positive, weight negative. Kundera then questions “Was he correct or not?” The lightness/weight opposition remains the most ambiguous of all. Kundera then asks, should one live with weight and duty or with lightness and freedom? In Nietzschean terms, weight is life-affirming in that to live with positive intensity is to live in a way you’d be prepared to repeat. The emptiness of Sabina’s life in ‘The Unbearable Lightness Of Being’, and that she wanted to “die in lightness” — which is to say that she is indifferent to her life — shows that she would not want to repeat her life and would not accept an eternal return.


Would you have been the same you had things been otherwise?

PASADENA, Calif. — On a Thursday in mid-October, Flea sat in a patio chair he’d dragged down to the lawn, looking out at the green lake in his backyard. As the late-morning sun beat down on his graying skull and the tattoo-dotted arms under his Vin Scully T-shirt, he curled his battered bare toes in the grass just centimeters from an ashy fossil that was once a piece of dog waste, and began reckoning with the unanswerable:

“Like, your heart, your spirit, who you are — does it come out no matter what context you get put in?” he asked, “Or is it shaped immeasurably and irretrievably by your circumstances? I don’t know.”

He’s just written his first book, a memoir called “Acid for the Children” that’s out Nov. 5. In it he recounts how he took up bass guitar, learned to thumb and finger-pop its strings and formed a band with three high-school buddies: Hillel Slovak, Jack Irons and Anthony Kiedis. That band became the Red Hot Chili Peppers and persevered for three wild, shirtless decades, weathering the loss of members to addiction and attrition, not to mention the waning of alternative rock as a commercial force.

Flea Had a Wild Life. Then He Joined Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Alex Pappademas

George Lakoff and Christopher Lydon discuss the embodied mind on The Connection


Brain Science, George Lakoff says, is overturning twenty-five centuries of Western Philosophy. The most basic philosophical ideas, ideas about truth and beauty, events and causes, mind and self, justice, morality, and what it means to be human, all are under siege today. Cognitive Science, according to Lakoff, is discovering that thought is mostly unconscious, abstract concepts mostly metaphorical, and that the mind is not just in the body, it is of the body; not separate from it, as in the old image of the ghost in the machine.

What all this means to Berkeley’s George Lakoff is that Plato, Descartes, and Kant were fooling themselves into thinking that they had constructed Great Philosophical Theories with something like pure reason. Their ideas, says Lakoff, are no more than elaborations of metaphors deeply rooted in our humanity that are probably oversold as universal truth. George Lakoff’s Philosophy in the Flesh is this hour on The Connection.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


George Lakoff, Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, author of “Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being” and “Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought.”

Check it out at The Connection Archives

Dostoevsky logarithm quote

Consequently, these laws of nature need only be discovered, and then man will no longer be answerable for his actions, and his life will become extremely easy. Needless to say, all human actions will then be calculated according to these laws, mathematically, like a table of logarithms, up to 108,000, and entered into a calendar; or, better still, some well-meaning publications will appear, like the present-day encyclopedic dictionaries, in which everything will be so precisely calculated and designated that there will no longer be any actions or adventures in the world.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Notes from Underground (Vintage Classics) (p. 20)

Castle Building, Two Types – C.S. Lewis

A pleasing imaginative construction entertained incessantly, and to his injury, by the patient, but without the delusion that it is a reality. A waking dream—known to be such by the dreamer—of military or erotic triumphs, of power or grandeur, even of mere popularity, is either monotonously reiterated or elaborated year by year. It becomes the prime consolation, and almost the only pleasure, of the dreamer’s life. Into ‘this invisible riot of the mind, this secret prodigality of being’ he retires whenever the necessities of life set him free. Realities, even such realities as please other men, grow insipid to him. He becomes incapable of all the efforts needed to achieve a happiness not merely notional. The dreamer about limitless wealth will not save sixpence. The imaginary Don Juan will take no pains to make himself ordinarily agreeable to any woman he meets. I call this activity Morbid Castle-building.

The same activity indulged in moderately and briefly as a temporary holiday or recreation, duly subordinated to more effective and outgoing activities. Whether a man would be wiser to live with none of this at all in his life, we need not perhaps discuss, for no one does. Nor does such reverie always end in itself. What we actually do is often what we dreamed of doing. The books we write were once books which, in a day-dream, we pictured ourselves writing—though of course never quite so perfect. I call this Normal Castle-building.

Lewis, C. S.. An Experiment in Criticism (pp. 51-52).

The Courage to be Disliked, quote on freedom

PHILOSOPHER: Yes, it is one’s instinctive desires, one’s impulsive desires. Now, if one were to say that living like a stone tumbling downhill and allowing such inclinations or desires or impulses to take one wherever they will is “freedom,” one would be incorrect. To live in such a way is only to be a slave to one’s desires and impulses. Real freedom is an attitude akin to pushing up one’s tumbling self from below.

YOUTH: Pushing oneself up from below?

PHILOSOPHER: A stone is powerless. Once it has begun to roll downhill, it will continue to roll until released from the natural laws of gravity and inertia. But we are not stones. We are beings who are capable of resisting inclination. We can stop our tumbling selves and climb uphill. The desire for recognition is probably a natural desire. So are you going to keep rolling downhill in order to receive recognition from others? Are you going to wear yourself down like a rolling stone, until everything is smoothed away? When all that is left is a little round ball, would that be “the real I”? It cannot be.

Kishimi, Ichiro. The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness (p. 143). Atria Books.

Ascribing Meaning to Experience, Alfred Adler Quote

“No experience is in itself a cause of success or failure,” he wrote in his 1931 book, What Life Could Mean to You. “We are not determined by our experiences, but are self-determined by the meaning we give to them; and when we take particular experiences as the basis for our future life, we are almost certain to be misguided to some degree. Meanings are not determined by situations. We determine ourselves by the meanings we ascribe to situations.”

A Psychology of Change, Gina Stepp

Consciousness metaphors – Desultory Quotes

“The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning—the stream of words and images of which we are fully aware. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes—the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior.”

Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“That ability would seem to be at odds with early epiphenomenalism, which according to Huxley is the broad claim that consciousness is “completely without any power… as the steam-whistle which accompanies the work of a locomotive engine is without influence upon its machinery”.

Epiphenomenalism @ Wikipedia

“when I woke in the middle of the night, since I did not know where I was, I did not even understand in the first moment who I was; I had only, in its original simplicity, the sense of existence as it may quiver in the depths of an animal; I was more destitute than a cave dweller; but then the memory—not yet of the place where I was, but of several of those where I had lived and where I might have been—would come to me like help from on high to pull me out of the void from which I could not have got out on my own; I crossed centuries of civilization in one second, and the image confusedly glimpsed of oil lamps, then of wing-collar shirts, gradually recomposed my self’s original features.”

Proust, Marcel. Swann’s Way (In Search of Lost Time) (pp. 5-6). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
(alternate translation – “would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being”. See that quote @ goodreads)

“But let us go further. Consciousness is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of. How simple that is to say; how difficult to appreciate! It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it does not.”

Jaynes, Julian. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (p. 23). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.


-ism is a suffix in many English words, originally derived from the Ancient Greek suffix -ισμός(-ismós), and reaching English through the Latin -ismus, and the French -isme. It means “taking side with” or “imitation of”, and is often used to describe philosophies, theories, religions, social movements, artistic movements and behaviors. The suffix “-ism” is neutral and therefore bears no connotations associated with any of the many ideologies it identifies; such determinations can only be informed by public opinion regarding specific ideologies.

The concept of an -ism may resemble that of a grand narrative.

via wikipedia

First ones I thought of:

A kinder, gentler philosophy of success | Alain de Botton

I’m drawn to a lovely quote by St. Augustine in “The City of God,” where he says, “It’s a sin to judge any man by his post.” In modern English that would mean it’s a sin to come to any view of who you should talk to, dependent on their business card. It’s not the post that should count. According to St. Augustine, only God can really put everybody in their place;

General vs Particular

“But you must observe this, my dear Rodion Romanovitch, the general case, the case for which all legal forms and rules are intended, for which they are calculated and laid down in books, does not exist at all, for the reason that every case, every crime, for instance, so soon as it actually occurs, at once becomes a thoroughly special case and sometimes a case unlike any that’s gone before.”

Porfiry Petrovitch in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Sick Soul – Anhedonia

Conceive yourself, if possible, suddenly stripped of all the emotion with which your world now inspires you, and try to imagine it as it exists, purely by itself, without your favorable or unfavorable, hopeful or apprehensive comment. It will be almost impossible for you to realize such a condition of negativity and deadness. No one portion of the universe would then have importance beyond another; and the whole collection of its things and series of its events would be without significance, character, expression, or perspective.

In Tolstoy’s case the sense that life had any meaning whatever was for a time wholly withdrawn. The result was a transformation in the whole expression of reality. When we come to study the phenomenon of conversion or religious regeneration, we shall see that a not infrequent consequence of the change operated in the subject is a transfiguration of the face of nature in his eyes. A new heaven seems to shine upon a new earth. In melancholiacs there is usually a similar change, only it is in the reverse direction. The world now looks remote, strange, sinister, uncanny. Its color is gone, its breath is cold, there is no speculation in the eyes it glares with. “It is as if I lived in another century,” says one asylum patient.—”I see everything through a cloud,” says another, “things are not as they were, and I am changed.”—”I see,” says a third, “I touch, but the things do not come near me, a thick veil alters the hue and look of everything.”—”Persons move like shadows, and sounds seem to come from a distant world.”—”There is no longer any past for me; people appear so strange; it is as if I could not see any reality, as if I were in a theatre; as if people were actors, and everything were scenery; I can no longer find myself; I walk, but why? Everything floats before my eyes, but leaves no impression.”—”I weep false tears, I have unreal hands: the things I see are not real things.”—Such are expressions that naturally rise to the lips of melancholy subjects describing their changed state.

The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James, via wikisource