Food For Thought

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

author index



[see also: EDUCATION]

When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it - this is knowledge.

Confucius (551-479 BC)
The Confucian Analects, book 2:17
from The Chinese Classics, 1861-1886
translated by James Legge

...Then anyone who leaves behind him a written manual, and likewise anyone who receives it, in the belief that such writing will be clear and certain, must be exceedingly simple-minded....

Plato (c.428-348 BC)
Phaedrus, c.360 BC

It is better, of course, to know useless things than to know nothing.

Seneca (4 BC - AD 65)
Epistles, 88, 45

Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.

Bible, Acts 26:24

Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.

Bible, 1 Corinthians 8:1-2

For in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:18

What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.

Epictetus (c.55-c.135)
Discourses, Book III, Chapter 17

Knowledge is power.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Meditationes Sacrae, 1597
De Haeresibus

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Hamlet, 1600-1601
Act I, scene v, line 166

The utmost extent of man's knowledge, is to know that he knows nothing.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
"Essay on Pride"
Interesting Anecdotes, Memoirs, Alegories, Essays, and Poetical Fragments, 1794

Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
18 April 1775
Life of Johnson, 1791
by James Boswell (1740-1795)

The things we know best are those we have not learned.

Luc, Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747)
Reflexions et Maximes, 1746
Number 479

Knowledge is not enough, we have to apply it; wanting is not enough, there has to be action.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Maxims and Reflections, 1998
Maxim 689
From Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years, 1829
"From Makarie's Archive"
Translated by Elisabeth Stopp (1911-1996)
Edited by Peter Hutchinson

Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o'er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of life.

Lord Byron (1788-1824)
Manfred, Act I, Scene i

There is no knowledge that is not power.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Society And Solitude, 1870
Chapter XII "Old Age"

The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin. And it cannot be otherwise, for every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority, the cherishing of the keenest scepticism, the annihilation of the spirit of blind faith; and the most ardent votary of science holds his firmest convictions, not because the men he most venerates hold them; not because their verity is testified by portents and wonders; but because his experience teaches him that whenever he chooses to bring these convictions into contact with their primary source, Nature - whenever he thinks fit to test them by appealing to experiment and to observation - Nature will confirm them. The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)
"On the Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge"
A Lay Sermon delivered in St. Martin's Hall
Sunday, 07 January 1866
Subsequently published in the 'Fortnightly Review'

If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)
On Elemental Instruction in Physiology, 1877

The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of in illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land.

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)
The Reception of the 'Origin of Species', 1887

It is far safer to know too little than too much. People will condemn the one, though they will resent being called upon to exert themselves to follow the other.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
The Way of All Flesh, 1903
Chapter 5

We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow that a savage has, because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we gained by prying into that matter.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)
A Tramp Abroad, 1879
Volume 2, Chapter 11

There is much pleasure to be gained in useless knowledge.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1967)
Headnote to "Three Papers on Useless Knowledge", 1933-1935

As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious.

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)
The Schweitzer Album, 1965

Knowledge is power -- if you know it about the right person.

Ethel Watts Mumford (1878-1940)
The Entirely New Cynic's Calendar of Revised Wisdom, 1905

It is not enough for a handful of experts to attempt the solution of a problem, to solve it, and then apply it. The restriction of knowledge to an elite group destroys the spirit of society and leads to its intellectual impoverishment.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Address at Caltech, 1931
The Expanded Quotable Einstein, 2000
Edited by Alice Calaprice

The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
"Science and Religion", Part II
From Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium
Published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion
in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., 1941

It is the tragedy of the world that no one knows what he doesn't know -- and the less a man knows, the more sure he is that he knows everything.

Joyce Cary (1888-1957)
Art and Reality: Ways of the Creative Process, 1958
Chapter X "Value And Meaning"

Dare to be naive.

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)
"Moral of the Work"
Synergetics, 1975

There are some things which cannot be learned quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man's life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Death in the Afternoon, 1932
Chapter 16

The suspicion of the city and all it represents seems to run so deep in our culture that it would be impossible to eradicate it, even if anyone were naive enough to wish to. In its sophisticated variants it is a suspicion necessary for sanity. And perhaps, for all we know, it is a suspicion emblematic of some ineradicable tragedy in the human condition: the knowledge that makes us cherish innocence makes innocence unattainable.

Irving Howe (1920-1993)
"The City in Literature", Section VI
Commentary Magazine, May 1971

The price one pays for pursuing any profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.

James Baldwin (1924-1987)
Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son, 1961
Part 2 "...With Everything on My Mind"
Chapter 13 "The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy" not a series of self-consistent theories that converges towards an ideal view; it is not a gradual approach to the truth. It is rather an ever increasing ocean of mutually incompatible alternatives, each single theory, each fairy-tale, each myth that is part of the collection forcing the others into greater articulation and all of them contributing, via this process of competition, to the development of our consciousness. Nothing is ever settled, no view can ever be omitted from a comprehensive account.

Paul Karl Feyerabend (1924-1994)
Against Method, 1975
Part 2

...true knowledge is the discerning of pattern, and wisdom in its right interpretation.

Robert Coover (b.1932)
The Origin of the Brunists, 1966
Part II, Chapter 12

The only interesting answers are those which destroy the questions.

Susan Sontag (1933-2004)
Esquire, July 1968

There's a theory, one I find persuasive, that the quest for knowledge is, at bottom, the search for the answer to the question: "Where was I before I was born." In the beginning was...what? Perhaps, in the beginning, there was a curious room, a room like this one, crammed with wonders; and now the room and all it contains are forbidden you, although it was made just for you, had been prepared for you since time began, and you will spend all your life trying to remember it.

Angela Carter (1940-1992)
The Curious Room, Unpublished
Quoted in New Writing, 1992
by Malcolm Bradbury and Judy Cooke

Man knows 100 years by experience, 1000 years by history, 10000 years by myth, 100000 years by faith.

Ellis Praecox (b.1943)

There presumably can be no limit to how much consciousness a species can acquire, since understanding is not a finite project with an imaginable conclusion, but rather a stance toward immediate experience. This appears self-evident from within a world view that sees consciousness as analogous to a source of light. The more powerful the light, the greater the surface area of darkness revealed.

Terence McKenna (1946-2000)
Food of the Gods, 1992
Part I Paradise
Chapter 4 "Plants and Primates: Postcards From the Stoned Age"
"Patterns and Understanding"

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