Quotations about   reality

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The validity of an idea or action is determined not by whether it is widely believed or widely reviled but by whether it obeys the rules of logic. It is not because an argument is denounced by a majority that it is wrong nor, for those drawn to heroic defiance, that it is right.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 1 “Consolation for Unpopularity” (2000)
Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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I believe that you can reach the point where there is no longer any difference between developing the habit of pretending to believe and developing the habit of believing.

Umberto Eco (b. 1932) Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, novelist
Foucault’s Pendulum, ch. 87 (1988) [tr. W. Weaver (1989)]
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See also Hawthorne.
Added on 26-Jan-19 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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It was always my hope in writing novels and stories which asked the question, “what is reality?”, to someday get an answer. This was the hope of most of my readers, too. Years passed. I wrote over thirty novels and over a hundred stories and I still couldn’t figure out what was real. One day a girl college student in Canada asked me to define reality for her, for a paper she was writing for her philosophy class. She wanted a one-sentence answer. I thought about it and finally said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” That’s all I could come up with. That was back in 1972. Since then I haven’t been able to define reality any more lucidly.

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) American writer
“How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” (1978)
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Although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he wants is to feel that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Notes on Nationalism” (1945)
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Added on 3-Aug-18 | Last updated 3-Aug-18
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Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

Timothy Snyder (b. 1969) American historian, author
On Tyranny, ch. 10 (2017)
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Added on 7-Jun-18 | Last updated 7-Jun-18
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Though the terrain of frustration may be vast — from a stubbed toe to an untimely death — at the heart of every frustration lies a basic structure: the collision of a wish with an unyielding reality.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 3 “Consolation For Frustration” (2000)
Added on 2-Nov-17 | Last updated 2-Nov-17
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Ah, Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits — and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

Omar Khayyám (1048-1123) Persian poet, mathematician, philosopher, astronomer
Rubáiyát, 99 [tr. FitzGerald]
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A wise man weaves a philosophy out of each acceptance life forces upon him.

Elizabeth Bibesco (1897-1945) Romanian-English writer
Haven (1951)
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Perhaps a man’s character was like a tree, and his reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
(Attributed)

In Noah Brooks "Lincoln's Imagination," _Scribner's Monthly (Aug 1879).
Added on 16-May-17 | Last updated 16-May-17
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Life is not made up of dramatic incidents — even the life of a nation. It is made up of slowly evolving events and processes, which newspapers, by a score of different forms of emphasis, can reasonably attempt to explore from day to day. But television news jerks from incident to incident. For the real world of patient and familiar arrangements, it substitutes an unreal world of constant activity, and the effect is already apparent in the way which the world behaves. It is almost impossible, these days, to consider any problem or any event except as a crisis; and, by this very way of looking at it, it in fact becomes a crisis.

Henry Fairlie (1924-1990) British journalist and social critic
“Can You Believe Your Eyes?” Horizon (Spring 1967)
Added on 31-Mar-17 | Last updated 31-Mar-17
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Nature is more subtle, more deeply intertwined and more strangely integrated than any of our pictures of her — than any of our errors. It is not merely that our pictures are not full enough; each of our pictures in the end turns out to be so basically mistaken that the marvel is that it worked at all.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
Science and Human Values, Part 4 “The Abacus and the Rose” (1956)
Added on 26-Dec-16 | Last updated 26-Dec-16
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Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
(Misattributed)

Misattributed to Kierkegaard by Cyril Connolly, Horizon, vol. 11 (1945). More properly attributed to Jacobus Johannes van der Leeuw (1893–1934), The Conquest of Illusion, ch. 1: "The mystery of life in not a problem to be solved, it is a reality to be experienced."
Added on 8-Dec-16 | Last updated 11-Dec-16
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In effect what Luther said in 1517 was that we may appeal to a demonstrable work of God, the Bible, to override any established authority. The Scientific Revolution begins when Nicolaus Copernicus implied the bolder proposition that there is another work of God to which we may appeal even beyond this: the great work of nature. No absolute statement is allowed to be out of reach of the test, that its consequence must conform to the facts of nature.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
Science and Human Values, Part 2 “The Habit of Truth”, §11 (1956)
Added on 5-Dec-16 | Last updated 5-Dec-16
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It remains true, however, that an inconveniently placed railing or sharp corner will not remove itself from the path of a drunkard, even if that drunkard is unaware of the obstacles on the path he has set for himself; in other words, no matter to what degree we are oblivious to the world, it makes its own choices as to how oblivious it will be to us.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
The Phoenix Guards (1991)
Added on 23-Nov-16 | Last updated 23-Nov-16
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DRUMLIN: I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that’s an understatement. What you don’t know is I agree. I wish the world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

ARROWAY: Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.

Carl Sagan (1934-1996) American scientist and writer
Contact, film (1997) [screenplay by J. Hart and M. Goldenberg
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It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, ch. 19 (1980)
Added on 19-Sep-16 | Last updated 19-Sep-16
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The difference between life and the movies is that a script needs to make sense, and life doesn’t.

Joseph Mankiewicz (1909-1993) American screenwriter, director, producer
(Attributed)

See Twain.
Added on 15-Sep-16 | Last updated 15-Sep-16
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Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them.

Verne - facts so romantic - wist_info quote

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
The Fur Country (1873)
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In a book, all would have gone according to plan. … but life was so fucking untidy — what could you say for an existence where some of your most crucial conversations of your life took place when you needed to take a shit, or something? An existence where there weren’t even any chapters?

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
Misery (1987)
Added on 24-Aug-16 | Last updated 24-Aug-16
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Your God is the best God.
In fact, he’s the only God.
All other Gods are ridiculous, made up rubbish.
Not yours though. Yours is real.

Gervais - your god is the best god - wist_info quote

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Twitter (11 Sep 2012)
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We are much beholden to Machiavel and others, that write what men do, and not what they ought to do.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
De Augmentis Scientiarum [Advancement of Learning], Book 2, ch. 21, #9 (1605)
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We make ourselves miserable by first closing ourselves off from reality and then collecting this and that in an attempt to make ourselves happy by possessing happiness. But happiness is not something I have, it is something I myself want to be. Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over my body.

Corless - taping sandwiches - wist_info quote

Roger J. Corless (1938–2007) Anglo-American religious academic, Buddhist scholar, ecumenicist
Vision of Buddhism: the Space Under the Tree (1989)

The last sentence is frequently misattributed to George Carlin (with "your body").
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Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
Around the World in Eighty Days (1873)
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He shrugged his shoulders. “I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) American author
“Queen of the Black Coast” (1934)
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It is a profound mistake to imagine that Christianity ever intended to dissipate the bewilderment and even the terror, the sense of our own nothingness, which come upon us when we think about the nature of things. It comes to intensify them. Without such sensations there is no religion. Many a man, brought up in the glib profession of some shallow form of Christianity, who comes through reading Astronomy to realise for the first time how majestically indifferent most reality is to man, and who perhaps abandons his religion on that account, may at that moment be having his first genuinely religious experience.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Miracles (1947)
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It sometimes seems to me that we are all afflicted with an urge and possessed by a longing for the impossible. The reality around us, the three-dimensional world surrounding us, is too common, too dull, too ordinary for us. We hanker after the unnatural or supernatural, that which does not exist, a miracle. As if that everyday reality isn’t enigmatic enough!

M. C. Escher (1898-1972) Dutch artist [Maurits Cornelius Escher]
“The Impossible”
Added on 4-Mar-16 | Last updated 4-Mar-16
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So the universe is not quite as you thought it was. You’d better rearrange your beliefs, then. Because you certainly can’t rearrange the universe.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Nightfall (1990) [with Robert Silverberg]
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Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

Francis Pharcellus Church (1839-1906) American publisher and editor
“Is There a Santa Claus?” The New York Sun (21 Sep 1897)
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Now I understand one of the important reasons for going to college and getting an education is to learn that the things you’ve believed in all your life aren’t true, and that nothing is what it appears to be.

Daniel F. Keyes (1927-2014) American author
Flowers for Algernon (novel) (1966)
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“You put a spell on the dog,” I said as we left the house.
“Just a small one,” said Nightingale.
“So magic is real,” I said. “Which makes you a … what?”
“A wizard.”
“Like Harry Potter?”
Nightingale sighed. “No,” he said. “Not like Harry Potter.”
“In what way?”
“I’m not a fictional character,” said Nightingale.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Rivers of London [Midnight Riot] (2011)
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Life is a very bad novelist. It is chaotic and ludicrous.

Javier Marías (b. 1951) Spanish novelist, translator, columnist
“Javier Marías, The Art of Fiction No. 190,” Interview with Sarah Fay, The Paris Review (Winter 2006)
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See also Twain.
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There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
A Hat Full of Sky (2004)
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SPOCK: Physical reality is consistent with universal laws. Where the laws do not operate, there is no reality.

Gene L. Coon (1924-1973) American screenwriter and television producer
Star Trek, 3×06 “Spectre of the Gun” (25 Oct 1968) [writing as Lee Cronin]
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There are more truths in twenty-four hours of a man’s life than in all the philosophies.

Raoul Vaneigem (b. 1934) Belgian writer
The Revolution of Everyday Life, 1.1 (1967)
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Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 15, epigraph, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar” (1897)
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Sometimes paraphrased, "Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense." More on this quotation and its variants here.
Added on 17-Jul-15 | Last updated 20-Jan-19
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HAMLET: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Hamlet, Act 1, sc. 5, l. 166 (1600)
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Those who are destitute of philosophy may be compared to prisoners in a cave, who are only able to look in one direction because they are bound, and who have a fire behind them and a wall in front. Between them and the wall there is nothing; all that they see are shadows of themselves, and of objects behind them, cast on the wall by the light of the fire. Inevitably they regard these shadows as real, and have no notion of the objects to which they are due. At last, some man succeeds in escaping from the cave to the light of the sun; for the first time he sees real things, and becomes aware that he had hitherto been deceived by shadows. If he is the sort of philosopher who is fit to become a guardian, he will feel it is his duty to those who were formerly his fellow prisoners to go down again into the cave, instruct them as to the truth, and show them the way up. But he will have difficulty in persuading them, because, coming out of the sunlight, he will see shadows less clearly than they do, and will seem to them stupider than before his escape.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic, 7.514

Summ. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, ch. 15 (1946)
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When the gap between the ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down.

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989) American historian and author
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, Foreward (1978)
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Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Back to Methuselah, Part 5 (1921)
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If this is a dream, then perhaps our dreaming
Can touch life’s height to a finer fire:
Who knows but the heavens and all their seeming
Were made by the heart’s desire?

Edwin Markham (1852-1940) American poet
“The Crowning Hour” (2), The Shoes of Happiness, and Other Poems (1913)
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The worst of superstitions is to think
One’s own most bearable.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) German playwright, philosopher, dramiturg, writer
Nathan the Wise, Act 4, sc. 2 (1779)

Alt. trans.: "The worst superstition is to consider our own tolerable."
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Nothing we see or hear is perfect. But right there in the imperfection is perfect reality.

Shunryū Suzuki (1905-1971) Japanese Zen Buddhist master
Not Always So, “Wherever You Are, Enlightenment Is There” (2002)
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You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) American architect, engineer
(Attributed)
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All descriptions of reality are limited expressions of the world of emptiness. Yet we attach to the descriptions and think they are reality. That is a mistake.

Shunryū Suzuki (1905-1971) Japanese Zen Buddhist master
Not Always So, “Letters from Emptiness” (2002)
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The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.

Bill Hicks (1961-1994) American stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, musician [William Melvin "Bill" Hicks]
Revelations (1993)
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Left to themselves, the facts do not speak; left to themselves they do not exist, not really, since for all practical purposes there is no fact until some one affirms it.

Carl L. Becker (1873-1945) American historian
“Everyman His Own Historian” (3), speech, American Historical Association, Minneapolis (29 Dec 1931)
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Let us then admit that there are two histories: the actual series of events that once occurred; and the ideal series that we affirm and hold in memory. The first is absolute and unchanged — it was what it was whatever we do or say about it; the second is relative, always changing in response to the increase or refinement of knowledge. The two series correspond more or less, it is our aim to make the correspondence as exact as possible; but the actual series of events exists for us only in terms of the ideal series which we affirm and hold in memory.

Carl L. Becker (1873-1945) American historian
“Everyman His Own Historian” (1), speech, American Historical Association, Minneapolis (29 Dec 1931)
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Science admits no exceptions; otherwise there would be no determinism in science, or rather, there would be no science.

Claude Bernard (1813-1878) French physiologist, scientist
Leçons de Pathologie Expérimentale (1872)
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Since history is not an objective reality, but only an imaginative reconstruction of vanished events, the pattern that appears useful or agreeable to one generation is never entirely so to the next.

Carl L. Becker (1873-1945) American historian
The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932)
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I am an agnostic partly because I don’t think it is part of the human condition ever to have very much certainty about anything but moments of pleasure and of imminent and immanent death. I don’t think we have a language, will ever have a language, that can describe transcendence in any useful way and am aware that transcendence may be nothing more than the illusory aspiration of a decaying piece of meat on a random rock. The thing is to be humble enough to be content with that while acting to other people as generously as if better things were true, and making art as if it might survive and do good in the world. Because what else are we going to do with the few short years of our life?

Roz Kaveney (b. 1949) British writer, critic, poet
“On Good Friday, I may not have faith, but that doesn’t make me an atheist,” The Guardian (29 Mar 2013)
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‘Patriotism is not enough.’ But neither is anything else. Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
The Island, “Notes on What’s What” (1962)
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Style has to do with the way in which ideas are believed and advocated rather than with the truth or falsity of their content.

Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) American historian and intellectual
“The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Herbert Spencer Lecture, Oxford (Nov 1963)
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Reprinted in Harpers (Nov 1964). Often misattributed to Douglas Hofstadter.
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There is nothing that I tell you with more eager desire that you should believe — nothing with wider ground in my experience for requiring you to believe, than this, that you never will love art well, till you love what she mirrors better.

John Ruskin (1819-1900) English art critic, painter, writer, social thinker
Eagle’s Nest, Lecture 3, “Relation of Wise Art to Wise Science,” sec. 41 (15 Sep 1872)
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Paradox though it may seem — and paradoxes are always dangerous things — it is none the less true that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
“The Decay of Lying: A Dialogue,” Littell’s Living Age (16 Feb 1889)
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For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearance, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) Italian politician, philosopher, political scientist
The Discourses, 1.25 (1517)
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