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Quotes of the day: Arthur Koestler

Published Friday, September 04, 2015 @ 2:08 PM EDT
Sep 04 2015

Arthur Koestler, CBE (September 5, 1905 – March 1, 1983) was a Hungarian-British author and journalist. Koestler was born in Budapest and, apart from his early school years, was educated in Austria. In 1931 Koestler joined the Communist Party of Germany until, disillusioned by Stalinism, he resigned in 1938. In 1940 he published his novel Darkness at Noon, an anti-totalitarian work that gained him international fame. Over the next 43 years, from his residence in Britain, Koestler espoused many political causes, and wrote novels, memoirs, biographies and numerous essays. In 1968 he was awarded the Sonning Prize "for [his] outstanding contribution to European culture" and in 1972 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1976 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and in 1979 with terminal leukemia. In 1983 he and his wife killed themselves at their home in London. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


A publisher who writes is like a cow in a milk bar.

Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears.

Creative activity could be described as a type of learning process where teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.

Creativity is the defeat of habit by originality.

Einstein's space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh's sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist's discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrant nude differs from a nude by Manet.

God seems to have left the receiver off the hook, and time is running out.

History knows no scruples and no hesitation. Inert and unnering flows towards her goal. History knows her way. She makes no mistakes.

Honor is decency without vanity.

I think most historians would agree that the part played by impulses of selfish, individual aggression in the holocausts of history was small; first and foremost, the slaughter was meant as an offering to the gods, to king and country, or the future happiness of mankind. The crimes of a Caligula shrink to insignificance compared to the havoc wrought by Torquemada. The number of victims of robbers, highwaymen, rapists, gangsters and other criminals at any period of history is negligible compared to the massive numbers of those cheerfully slain in the name of the true religion, just policy or correct ideology. Heretics were tortured and burnt not in anger but in sorrow, for the good of their immortal souls. Tribal warfare was waged in the purported interest of the tribe, not of the individual. Wars of religion were fought to decide some fine point in theology or semantics. Wars of succession dynastic wars, national wars, civil wars, were fought to decide issues equally remote from the personal self-interest of the combatants.

If one looks with a cold eye at the mess man has made of history, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he has been afflicted by some built-in mental disorder which drives him towards self- destruction.

In the social equation, the value of a single life is nil; in the cosmic equation, it is infinite.

Indeed, the ideal for a well-functioning democratic state is like the ideal for a gentleman's well-cut suit- it is not noticed. For the common people of Britain, Gestapo and concentration camps have approximately the same degree of reality as the monster of Loch Ness. Atrocity propaganda is helpless against this healthy lack of imagination.

Man's destiny was no longer determined from 'above' by a super- human wisdom and will, but from 'below' by the sub-human agencies of glands, genes, atoms, or waves of probability. ...they could determine his fate, but could provide him with no moral guidance, no values and meaning. A puppet of the Gods is a tragic figure, a puppet suspended on his chromosomes is merely grotesque.

Men cannot be treated as units in operations of political arithmetic because they behave like the symbols for zero and the infinite, which dislocate all mathematical operations.

Nothing is more sad than the death of an illusion.

One may not regard the world as a sort of metaphysical brothel for emotions.

Scientists are peeping toms at the keyhole of eternity.

The crimes of violence committed for selfish, personal motives are historically insignificant compared to those committed ad majorem gloriam Dei, out of a self-sacrificing devotion to a flag, a leader, a religious faith or a political conviction. Man has always been prepared not only to kill but also to die for good, bad or completely futile causes. And what can be a more valid proof of the reality of the self-transcending urge than this readiness to die for an ideal?

The evolution of the brain not only overshot the needs of prehistoric man, it is the only example of evolution providing a species with an organ which it does not know how to use.

The hangman is a disgrace to any civilized country.

The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterward.

The most persistent sound which reverberates through history is the beating of war drums.

The prerequisite of originality is the art of forgetting, at the proper moment, what we know.

The principle mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers.

The principle that the end justifies the means is and remains the only rule of political ethics; anything else is just a vague chatter and melts away between one's fingers.

The progress of science is strewn, like an ancient desert trail, with the bleached skeletons of discarded theories which once seemed to possess eternal life.

The sixth pre-Christian century- the miraculous century of Buddha, Confucius and Lao-Tse, of the Ionian philosophers and Pythagoras- was a turning point for the human species. A March breeze seemed to blow across the planet from China to Samos, stirring man into awareness, like the breath of Adam's nostrils. In the Ionian school of philosophy, rational thought was emerging from the mythological dream- world. ...which, within the next two thousand years, would transform the species more radically than the previous two hundred thousand had done.

True creativity often starts where language ends.

When one contemplates the streak of insanity running through human history, it appears highly probable that homo sapiens is a biological freak, the result of some remarkable mistake in the evolutionary process. The ancient doctrine of original sin, variants of which occur independently in the mythologies of diverse cultures, could be a reflection of man's awareness of his own inadequacy, of the intuitive hunch that somewhere along the line of his ascent something has gone wrong.

Without the hard little bits of marble which are called 'facts' or 'data' one cannot compose a mosaic; what matters, however, are not so much the individual bits, but the successive patterns into which you arrange them, then break them up and rearrange them.


(September 5 is also the birthday of John Milton Cage, Jr. and Bob Newhart .)

Categories: Arthur Koestler, Quotes of the day


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