Food For Thought

A Collection of Heretical Notions and Wretched Adages
compiled by Jack Tourette

author index



[see also: IDENTITY]

The strangest case of nicknaming we know concerns a man whose first name is Copeland. In three different parts of the country where he has gone, not knowing anyone, he has been called first "Copenhagen" and then "Hagen". This has happened automatically. He is Hagen. We don't know what quality of Hagen-ness he has, but there must be some. Why not "Copen" or "Cope"? It is never that. He is invariably Hagen. This, we realize, has become mystical, and anyone who wishes may now toss the whole thing into his taboo-box and slam the lid down on it.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
and Edward Flanders Ricketts (1897-1948)
The Log from the Sea of Cortez, 1951
Chapter 8 "March 17"

Names are a great mystery. I've never known whether the name is molded by the child or the child changed to fit the name. But you can be sure of this -- whenever a human has a nickname it is a proof that the name given him was wrong.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
East of Eden, 1952
Part Two, Chapter 22, 3


[see also: PATRIOTISM]

I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world.

Eugene Victor Debs (1855-1926)
Appeal to Reason newspaper, Girard Kansas
25 December 1915

Nationalist pride, like other variants of pride, can be a substitute for self-respect.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)
The Passionate State of Mind, 1955
Aphorism 38

Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage -- torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians -- which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by "our" side.

George Orwell (1903-1950)
"Notes on Nationalism"
Polemic magazine, May 1945

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.

George Orwell (1903-1950)
"Notes on Nationalism"
Polemic magazine, May 1945

What would this country be without this great land of ours?

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)


[see also: STATE]

The history of any nation follows an undulatory course. In the trough of the wave we find more or less complete anarchy; but the crest is not more or less complete Utopia, but only, at best, a tolerably humane, partially free and fairly just society that invariably carries within itself the seeds of its own decadence.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
Grey Eminence: A Study in Religion and Politics, 1941
Chapter 10

The great nations have always acted like gangsters, and the small nations like prostitutes.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999)
Guardian, London, 05 June 1963



You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, yet she still will hurry back.

Horace (65-8 BC)
Epistles, Book I
Epistle iv, line 24

You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters.

Saint Bernard (1091-1153)
Epistle 106

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Novum Organum, 1620
Aphorism 129

[In a state of nature] No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
Leviathan, 1651
Part I, Chapter 13

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677)
Ethics, 1677, Part I
Proposition 15: note

We cannot remember too often that when we observe nature, and especially the ordering of nature, it is always ourselves alone we are observing.

G.C. Lichtenberg (1742-1799)
"Notebook J", Aphorism 65
Aphorisms, 1765-1799

Society is like a lawn, where every roughness is smoothed, every bramble eradicated, and where the eye is delighted by the smiling verdure of a velvet surface; he, however, who would study nature in its wildness and variety, must plunge into the forest, must explore the glen, must stem the torrent, and dare the precipice.

Washington Irving (1783-1859)
The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., 1820-1821
"Philip of Pokanoket: An Indian Memoir"

The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Nature, 1836, 1849

Nothing is great but the inexhaustible wealth of Nature. She shows us only surfaces, but she is million fathoms deep.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Letters and Social Aims, 1895

Nature is a revelation of God;
Art a revelation of man.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Hyperion, Book iii, Chapter 5

As if our birth had at first sundered things, and we had been thrust up through into nature like a wedge, and not until the wound heals and the scar disappears, do we begin to discover where we are, and that nature is one and continuous everywhere.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, 1849

...going to the mountains is like going home. We always find that the strangest objects in these fountain wilds are in some degree familiar, and we look upon them with a vague sense of having seen them before.

John Muir (1838-1914)
"In the Heart of the California Alps"
Scribner's Magazine, July 1880

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

John Muir (1838-1914)
"The Yellowstone National Park"
Our National Parks, 1901

Only to the white man was nature a "wilderness" and only to him was the land "infested" with "wild" animals and "savage" people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families that we loved was it "wild" for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his approach, then it was that for us the "Wild West" began.

Luther Standing Bear (1868-1939)
Land of the Spotted Eagle, 1933

I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)

Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment.

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)
Interview, Minneapolis Tribune
30 April 1978

In relation to nature, early man was so weak and nature so strong as to make man almost her slave. It was natural, therefore, that he should have dreamed of a future in which their relative positions would be reversed, a time when he would be the master and nature the slave.

We have already reached the point where there is almost nothing we cannot compel nature to do, but we are finding to our cost that nature cannot be enslaved without enslaving ourselves. If nobody or nothing in the universe is responsible for man, then we must conclude that man is responsible, to God, for the universe, just as Adam was made responsible for the Garden of Eden. This means that it is our task to discover what everything in the universe, from electrons upwards, could, to its betterment, become, but cannot become without our help. This means reintroducing into science the notion of teleology, long a dirty word. For our proper relation to nonliving things, the right analogy might be that of the sculptor. Every sculptor thinks of himself, not as someone who forcibly imposes a form on stone, but as someone who reveals a form already latent in it. For our relation to living creatures, the analogy might be that of the good trainer of animals. A well-trained, well-treated sheep dog is more of a dog than a wild one, just as a stray, terrified by ill-usage, or a spoilt lap dog has its "dogginess" debased. We have to realize that every time we make an ugly lampstand, we are torturing helpless metal, every time we make a nuclear bomb we are corrupting the morals of a host of innocent neutrons below the age of consent.

W.H. Auden (1907-1973)
A Certain World; A Commonplace Book, 1970

The "control of nature" is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man. The concepts and practices of applied entomology for the most part date from that Stone Age of science. It is our alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth.

Rachel Carson (1907-1964)
Silent Spring, 1962
Chapter 17 "The Other Road"

A man who lives with nature is used to violence and is companionable with death. There is more violence in an English hedgerow than in the meanest streets of a great city.

P.D. James (b.1920)
Devices and Desires, 1989
Chapter 8

Finally, the more experience you gain in gardening a Two Acre Eden, the more you will realize that, in the final analysis, nature is not a mother or a friend. Adapting yourself to the ways of nature is a truce, a compromise, a necessary condition of survival. You do not commune with nature, you outfox her. All she really wants is our decaying bones to make compost for the forested jungle that she could turn America into in 100 years, if no one stopped her.

Gene Logsdon (b.1932)
Two Acre Eden, 1980
Chapter 4 "Some of My Best Friends re Night Crawlers:
Heretical Horticulture, Part II"
Rule 9

Nature is, above all, profligate. Don't believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn't it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once. This is what the sign of the insects says. No form is too gruesome, no behavior too grotesque. If you're dealing with organic compounds, then let them combine. If it works, if it quickens, set it clacking in the grass; there's always room for one more; you ain't so handsome yourself. This is a spendthrift economy; though nothing is lost, all is spent.

Annie Dillard (b.1945)
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 1974
Chapter 4 "The Fixed"

I don't know what it is about fecundity that so appalls. I suppose it is the teeming evidence that birth and growth, which we value, are ubiquitous and blind, that life itself is so astonishingly cheap, that nature is as careless as it is bountiful, and that with extravagance goes a crushing waste that will one day include our own cheap lives, Henle's loops and all. Every glistening egg is a momento mori.

Annie Dillard (b.1945)
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 1974
Chapter 10 "Fecundity"



Often when looking at a mass of things for sale, he would say to himself, "How many things I have no need of!"

Socrates (c.470-399 BC)
from Lives of Eminent Philosophers
Book II, section 25
by Diogenes Laertius (fl. 2nd century)

Having the fewest wants, I am nearest to the gods.

Socrates (c.470-399 BC)
from Lives of Eminent Philosophers
Book II, section 27
by Diogenes Laertius (fl. 2nd century)

But if one should guide his life by true principles, man's greatest riches is to to live on a little with contented mind; for a little is never lacking.

Lucretius (c.96-55 BC)
De Rerum Natura
(On the Nature of Things)
Book V, line 1117

The desires of men increase with his acquisitions; every step which he advances brings something into view, which he did not see before, and which, as soon as he sees it, he begins to want. Where necessity ends curiosity begins, and no sooner are we supplied with every thing that nature can demand, than we sit down to contrive artificial appetites.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
The Idler (1758-60), Number 30
Saturday, 11 November 1758

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.

George Eliot (1819-1880)
The Mill on the Floss,
Book V, Chapter 1 "In the Red Deeps"

Whatever the country, capitalist or socialist, man was everywhere crushed by technology, made a stranger to his own work, imprisoned, forced into stupidity. The evil all arose from the fact that he had increased his needs rather than limited them; instead of aiming at an abundance that did not and perhaps never would exist, he should have confined himself to the essential minimum, as certain very poor, primitive, or religious communities still do....

As long as fresh needs continued to be created, so new frustrations would come into being. When had the decline begun? The day knowledge was preferred to wisdom and mere usefulness to beauty.... Only a moral revolution -- not a social or a political or a technological one -- only a moral revolution would lead man back to his lost truth.

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)
Les Belles Images, 1966



Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.

Carl Gustave Jung (1875-1961)
Psychology and Religion, 1938

Work and love - these are the basics. Without them there is neurosis.

Dr. Theodor Reik (1888-1969)
Of Love and Lust, 1959



Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)
Attributed and unverified

That sign of old age, extolling the past at the expense of the present.

Sydney Smith (1771-1845)
Lady Holland's Memoir, 1855

Can anybody remember when times were not hard and money not scarce?

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
"Works and Days"
Society and Solitude, 1870

There is, indeed, a current misjudgment...which the exaggerated tone of rural literature generally, from Virgil down, has greatly encouraged. The rural writers dodge all the dirty work of the farm, and regale us with the odors of the new mown hay.

Donald Grant Mitchell (1822-1908)
My Farm of Edgewood, 1863
Part II "Taking Reins in Hand"

Many an old-timer laments the disappearance of this ale or that lager, and becomes nostalgic about the glories of some fondly-remembered brew, when he is really mourning the passing of his youth.

Brewing in Canada, 1965
Chapter V "Consumer's Taste"


"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly. "I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more." "You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865
Chapter 7 "A Mad Tea-Party"


There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988)
Lecture, Caltech, 13 March 1987
Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher, 1994
Special Preface (from Lectures on Physics, 1963)
By David L. Goodstein and Gerry Neugebauer, April 1989

You know, there are about a hundred billion stars in a galaxy -- ten to the eleventh power. That used to be considered a huge number. We used to call numbers like that "astronomical numbers". Today it's less than the national debt. We ought to call them "economical numbers".

Richard Feynman (1918-1988)
Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun, 1996
Chapter 2 "Feynman: A Reminiscence"
By David Goodstein and Judith R. Goodstein

© 1999 by MonkeyPants Press, an imprint of Bonobo Books, a division of Consolidated Trout, Ltd.
Last update: 03-July-2015
updates |  caveat |  surf