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Jan 8, 2012               

GW: A few of Lichtenberg's aphorisms

It is certainly better not to have studied a subject at all than to have studied it superficially. For when unaided healthy common sense seeks to form an opinion of something it does no go so far wrong as semi-erudition does.
-- Lichtenberg,
K33. (*)


Not feeling well today, I have spend most of the time in bed, and only feel fit to do some copying, but then the writer I copy should be quite attractive to fine minds.

I like aphorisms - see e.g.
Why I like Chamfort - 1 and Why I like Chamfort - 2 - and Georg Christoph Lichtenberg was one of the finest German writers of aphorisms.

He lived from 1742-1799 and was a German physicist, and what one may call a great small man, since he had a birth-defect that manifested as a curved spine, that eventually also caused his death, and which he refers to in the second of the aphorisms I reproduce below. 

He was admired by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

From Georg Christoph Lichtenberg - Aphorisms (*)

Prejudices are so to speak the mechanical instincts of men: through their prejudices they do without any effort many things they would find to difficult to think through to the point of resolving them.

My head lies at least a foot closer to my heart than is the case with other men: that is why I am so reasonable. Resolutions can be ratified only while they are still warm.

Past pain is in recollection pleasant, so is past pleasure; future pleasure is also pleasant, as is present pleasure: thus all that torments us is present and future pain - a notable preponderance of pleasure in the world, which is augmented by the fact that we continually seek to obtain pleasure and can in many ways foresee with reasonable certainty that we shall in fact obtain it, whereas pain that still lies in the future is much more rarely foreseable.

That there are a hundred with wit for one with understanding is a true proposition with which many a witless Dummkopf consoles himself, when he should reflect - if that is not to much to ask of a Dummkopf - that there are also a hundred people possessing neither wit nor understanding for everyone possessing wit.

'Give strength to my good resolutions' is a plea that could stand in the Lord's Prayer.

I have very often reflected on what it is that really distinguishes the great genius from the common crowd. Here are a few observations I have made. The common individual always conforms to the prevailing opinion and the prevailing fashion; he regards the state in which everything now exists as the only possible one and passively accepts it all. It does not occur to him that everything, from the shape of the furniture to the subtlest hypothesis, is decided by the great council of mankind of which he is a member. He wears thin-soled shoes even though the sharp stones of the street hurt his feet, he allows fashion to dictate him that the buckles of his shoes must extend as far as the toes even though that means the shoe is often hard to get on. He does not reflect that the form of the shoe depends as much upon him as the it does upon the fool who first wore thin shoes on cracked pavement. To the great genius it always occurs to ask: could this too not be false? He never gives his vote without first reflecting...

Do you perhaps believe that your convictions owe their strength to arguments? Then you are certainly wrong, for otherwise everyone who hears them would have been as convinced as you are...One can be deluded in favour of a proposition as well as against it. Reasons are often and for the most part only expressions of pretensions designed to give colouring of legitamacy and rationality to something we would have done in any case...

Anyone who had from childhood on known the masterpieces of the human mind would make an incredulous face if he read some of our moderns. It would seem to him  like music played on an out-of-tune piano or on pots, pans and plates.

Like a great philosophical babbler he is concerned not so much with the truth as with the sound of his prose.

Really good systems of logic, says Alembert, are of use only to those who can do without them. Through a telescope the blind see nothing.


A17: Indeed, and that holds for all men and nearly all of their convictions: True or false, probable or improbable, their beliefs are based on their prejudices and wishes rather than on what they could have found had they thought seriously - if indeed they could have thought seriously and well, which is given to few.
Lichtenberg was a hunchback.
C5: This is fair enough, if a bit optimistic: If one is not in pain or fear, life tends to feel well.
C12: Indeed - and for somewhat more optimistic proportions (!), see my
A realistic numerical look at human morality + 12 references.
C13: Then again, most prayers seem both vain and in vain.
C25: In brief: Bright minds think for themselves - but it is a mistake to believe one can do this by wanting it, just as one cannot understand mathematics by wanting it.
C50: Quite so: Very few can be convinced by rational arguments, especially if they have some personal interest in the matter argued about.
D7: Then again, most masterpieces are beyond the understanding of most men. Were it different, even in most of the brightest, most of those who passed through grammar school would have read more of the classics.
D28: Most modern and postmodern academic philosophy is written for reasons of personal or financial advancement, and not to further truth or science.
D51: This is true in the sense that logic doesn't and can't teach one to think, false in the sense that mathematical logic (created after Alembert and Lichtenberg lived) does clarify some things, for those who can think, that can hardly be clarified without it. It's the same with mathematics.

(*) The letters plus numbers refer to the original German edition, and I have copied them to avoid pagenumbers.

My source is (and I cite after Wikipedia):
Aphorisms, 1990 (trans. with an introduction and notes by R. J. Hollingdale) Penguin Classics. According to Wikipedia this was reprinted as The Waste Books, in 2000. I owe a copy of the former, and also owe a copy of a far more extensive German version, and can testify Hollingdale translated well. My choices are in the order of writing and of printing, and are from the first 58 of 203 pages.

The remarks that follow Lichtenberg's aphorisms are mine.

Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later. 


As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):
1.  Anthony Komaroff Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)
3.  Hillary Johnson The Why
4.  Consensus of M.D.s Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5.  Eleanor Stein Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)
6.  William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7.  Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8.  Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
 Maarten Maartensz
ME in Amsterdam - surviving in Amsterdam with ME (Dutch)
 Maarten Maartensz Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Short descriptions of the above:                

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:

7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
9. I tell my story of surviving (so far) in Amsterdam/ with ME.
10. The directory on my site about ME.

See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.

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