"Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we
read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the
tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers,
our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes
desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive
from the same source. There is no mystery about the origins of things. We are all part of
creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover
what is already there."
"If things are not clear, do nothing."
The Battle For Investment Survival
"Stupidity well packaged can sound like wisdom."
A Random Walk Down Wall Street
"How can men take joy in nonsense? They do so, wherever there is laughter- in fact,
one can almost say that wherever there is happiness there is joy in nonsense. It gives us
pleasure to turn experience into its opposite, to turn purposefulness into purposelessness,
necessity into arbitrariness, in such a way that the process does no harm and is performed
simply out of high spirits. For it frees us momentarily from the forces of necessity,
purposefulness, and experience, in which we usually see our merciless masters. We can
laugh and play when the unexpected (which usually frightens us and makes us tense) is
discharged without doing harm. It is the slaves' joy at Saturnalia."
Human, All Too Human
"It takes two to invent anything. The one makes up combinations; the other chooses,
recognizes what he wishes and what is important to him in the mass of things which the
former has imparted to him. What we call genius is much less the work of the first one
than the readiness of the second one to grasp the value of what has been laid before him
and to choose it. "
"The poet is he who inspires, rather than he who is inspired."
"To make two bald statements: There's nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A
poem is a small (or large) machine made of words...When a man makes a poem...[i]t isn't
what he says that counts as a work of art, it's what he makes."
William Carlos Williams,
Introduction to The Wedge
"There was this kid poet, and he wrote and wrote. He rubbed the magic lamp until
the poetic self-abuse police threatened to come impound him. And still nothing happened.
The incantation seemed defective. Then they put the kid in front of this terminal and
initiated him into the secret syntax. A few simple rules, combined in a few elegant ways,
and blamm-o. The thing works. It runs. the world does move. The rules churn. The
descriptions step their way through their own internal logic. The lines of code set more
switches, change more states. Commands produce results.
The word made flesh.
Spiegel flinched. Don't mock me.
I'm not mocking."
Plowing The Dark
"....chance alone is the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere.
Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of
evolution: this central concept of modern biology is no longer one among other possible
or even conceivable hypotheses. It is today the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one
compatible with observed and tested fact. And nothing warrants the supposition (or the
hope) that conceptions about this should, or ever could, be revised."
Chance & Necessity
"To chaos, law destroys; to law, chaos."
" ...'disorder, yes, my boy, disorder, is the quintessence of your very life! Of your
whole physical and metaphysical being! Why, it's your very soul...millions, trillions of
intricate folds...plunging deep down into the gray matter, complex, subjacent,
evasive...limitless! That's Harmony...all nature! A flight into the imponderable! And
nothing else! Put your wretched thoughts in order...! That's where to begin. Not with
grotesque, material, negative, obscene substitutions, but with the essential, that's what I'm
getting at. Are you going to assault the brain, correct it, scrape it, mutilate it, force it to
comply with an assortment of stupid rules? carve it up geometrically? recompose it
according to the rules of your excruciating idiocy?...Arrange it in slices? like an Epiphany
cake? with a prize in the middle. Tell me that. I'm asking you. Frankly? Would that by
any good? Would it make sense? Heaven help us! There's no doubt about it...your soul is
overwhelmed by errors. It makes you, like so many others, a unanimous nonentity. Great
instinctive disorder is the father of fertile thoughts! It's the beginning of
everything...Once the propitious moment has passed there's no hope...You, I'm afraid,
will spend your whole life in the garbage pail of reason...So much the worse for your!
You're a numbskull...a nearsighted, blind, preposterous, deaf, one-armed dolt!...befouling
my magnificent disorder with your vicious reflections. In Harmony...resides the worlds
only joy! The only deliverance! The only truth!...Harmony! Find Harmony, that's the
ticket!...Do you hear me...? Like a brain, neither more nor less! Order! Pah! Order! Rid
men of that word, that thing. Accustom yourself to Harmony and Harmony will reward
you. You'll find everything you've been looking for so long on the highways of the
world...and far more! Many other things...! A brain...that's what the whole lot of you will
find! Yes!...Have I made myself clear? That's not what you're after? You and your kind?
An inane ambush of pigeonholes! A barricade of brochures! A house of the dead! A
chartist necropolis! No, never! Here everything is in movement! Swarming with life!
You're not satisfied! It stirs, it quivers! Just touch it! Put out your little finger. Everything
comes to life. Everything trembles instantly! Asking only to surge up! to blossom! to
shine! I don't live by destroying. I take life as it comes! Do you take me for a cannibal...?
Never!...Bent on reducing it to my chickenshit concepts? Pah! Everything shakes?
Everything topples? Splendid! I have no desire to count stars 1! 2! 3! 4! and 5! I'm not
the kind that thinks he's entitled to do anything he pleases. The right to shrink! rectify!
corrupt! prune! transplant!...No!...where would I get it?...From the Infinite?...From life
itself? It's not natural, my boy! It's not natural! It's infamous meddling!...I prefer to keep
on good terms with the Universe! I take it as I find it!...I'll never rectify it! No! The
Universe is master of its own house! I understand it! It understands me! It gives me a
hand when I ask it! When I'm through with it, I drop it! That's the long and short of
it...It's a cosmogonic question! I have no orders to give! You have no orders! He has no
orders!...Bah! Bah! Bah!...'
He got sore as hell, like somebody who's definitely in the wrong... "
Death On The Installment Plan
"There are only two things in the world - semantics and nothing."
as quoted in: A. Bry
"Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing. "
Robert Charles Benchley
"...Brahman is the cause of the many. There is no other cause. And yet Brahman is
independent of the law of causation."
"As to what pertains to manifestation, the Principle causes the succession of its
phases, but is not this succession. It is the author of causes and effects, but is not the
causes and effects."
The Book Of Chuang Tzu
"You cannot take hold of it, but equally you cannot get rid of it,
And while you can do neither, it goes on its own way."
"A 'bit' of information is definable as a difference which makes a difference. Such
a difference, as it travels and undergoes successive transformation in a circuit, is an
Steps To An Ecology Of Mind
"Because information does not inform unless it is received, it does not exist until it
is consumed. It exists only in its assimilation and dies when it becomes redundant.
Information is intrinsically sacrificial. What seemed mad and illogical in the old order of
production becomes sane and logical in the new order of semiotic consumption. So, for
example, the 'insanity' of sacrifice, of giving something for nothing, becomes the royal
road to the sublime, not an altruistic act of self-denial."
Living Without A Goal
"A type has rightly come to be recognized as a mental realisation with no bone and flesh
embodiment;...the race becomes, as it were, a great amoeboid form, with its prepondering
variations thrown out as pseudopodia feeling towards adaptation."
The modes of origin of the carotid and subclavian arteries from the arch of
the aorta in some of the higher primates, Journal of Anatomy & Physiology, 29:453-58
"Power is nothing if not the power to choose...there is all the difference between
deciding and choosing...Perhaps every human act involves a chain of calculations of what
a system engineer would call decision nodes. But the difference between a mechanical act
and an authentically human one is that the latter terminates at a node whose decisive
parameter is not 'Because you told me to' but 'Because I chose to'. "
Computer Power And Human Reason
"we must look at all acts of perception as acts of creativity. "
How We Know
Nobel Conference, 1985
"...effective searching procedures become, when the search-space is sufficiently
large, indistinguishable from true creativity."
As quoted in: Kevin Kelly
Out Of Control
"The program found in the head of the average poet, after all, was written by the
poet's civilization, and that civilization was in turn programmed by the civilization which
preceded it, and so on to the very Dawn Of Time, when those bits of information that
concerned the poet-to-be were still swirling about in the primordial chaos of the cosmic
deep. Hence in order to program a poetry machine, one would first have to repeat the
entire universe from the beginning."
"The first umpire ,. . .a man of small knowledge of how meanings are made, says I
calls 'em as they are. The second umpire, knowing something about human perception
and its limitations, says 'I calls 'em as I sees 'em.' The third umpire, having studied at
Cambridge with Wittgenstein himself, says 'Until I calls em, they ain't.' "
Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk
"Symptoms can become criteria."
"'But how can a rule shew me what I have to do at this point? Whatever I do is, on
some interpretation, in accord with the rule.'- That is not what we ought to say, but rather:
any interpretation still hangs in the air along with what it interprets, and cannot give it
any support. Interpretations by themselves do not determine meaning. "
"Our mistake is to look for an explanation where we ought to look at what happens
as a 'protophenomenon'. "
"I think one reason why the attempt to find an explanation is wrong is that we have
only to put together in the right way what we know, without adding anything, and the
satisfaction we are trying to get from the explanation comes of itself."
Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough
"In the use of words one might distinguish 'surface grammar' from 'depth
grammar'.What immediately impresses itself upon us about the use of a word is the way
it is used in the construction of the sentence, the part of its use- one might say- that can be
taken in by the ear.------- And now compare the depth grammar, say of the word 'to
mean', with what its surface grammar would lead us to suspect. No wonder we find it
difficult to know our way about."
"I caught this insight on the way and quickly seized the rather poor words that were
closest to hand to pin it down lest it fly away again. And now it has died of these arid
words and shakes and flaps in them - and I hardly know any more when I look at it how I
could ever have felt so happy when I caught this bird."
The Gay Science
"Once, when the holy man of Toganoo was journeying along a road he encountered
a man washing a horse by a river. 'Ashi, ashi', said the man. ['Ashi' means 'leg'. The man
is telling the horse to lift its leg.] The holy man stopped in his tracks and exclaimed 'How
inspiring! Some deed of virtue in a previous existence has brought this man
enlightenment! He is reciting the invocation aji,aji! [The priest believes or pretends that
the man is saying aji, the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, which has a religious
significance for the priest.] I wonder whose horse it might be? Such piety overcomes me!'
When he asked about the owner, the man replied 'The horse belongs to Lord Fush.'
'Splendid!' cried the holy man. 'This is truly a case of ajo hon fush. [The formula ajo hon
fush means that there is no beginning of creation; that is, that the world has always
existed. The washing man's phonological prime brings the holy formula to the priest's
mind.] What a fortunate link you have established with the Way of the Buddha!' He
wiped away the tears of gratitude."
Essays In Idleness
"Repetition always commits us to imagining an unknown cause, so true is it that in
the popular consciousness, the aleatory is always distributive, never repetitive: chance is
supposed to vary events; if it repeats them, it does so in order to signify something
through them; to repeat is to signify...."
Structure of the Fait-Divers
"Our mistake is to look for an explanation where we ought to look at what happens
as a 'protophenomenon'. "
"Any arrangement of acts and events is comic which gives us, in a single
combination, the illusion of life and the distinct impression of a mechanical
"A portion of the mind abundantly commissured to other portions works almost
mechanically. It sinks to a condition of a railway junction. But a portion of mind almost
isolated, a spiritual peninsula, or cul-de-sac, is like a railway terminus. Now mental
commisures are habits. Where they abound, originality is not needed and is not found; but
where they are in defect, spontaneity is set free. Thus, the first step in the Lamarckian
evolution of mind is the putting of sundry thoughts into situations in which they are free
"If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight.
Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all."
"But just think of the unfathomable laziness of man; all the schemes which are
supposed to keep him awake and watchful end up by putting him to sleep. We wear a
hairshirt the way we might wear a monocle; we sing matins the way other people play
golf. If only scientists today, instead of constantly inventing new means to make life
easier, would devote their resourcefulness to producing instruments for rousing man out
of his torpor! There are machine guns, of course, but that's going a bit too far..."
I want objects
Like pagan alcohol
To scrawl the stomach of reason
And the cock's crow
To curse the sun
The devil's pastime
Whims what happiness
I proceed entirely
"All messages and parts of messages are like phrases or segments of equations
which a mathematician puts in brackets. Outside the brackets there maybe a qualifier or
multiplier which will alter the whole tenor of the phrase. Moreover, these qualifiers can
always be added, even years later. They do not have to precede the phrase inside the
brackets. Otherwise, there could be no psychotherapy...What exists today are only
messages about the past that we call memories, and these messages can always be framed
and modulated from moment to moment."
Steps To An Ecology Of Mind
"That is how man's anguish ends- in masterly conjuring tricks: pure poetry, pure
music, pure thought. The last man- who has freed himself from all belief, from all
illusions, and has nothing more to expect or to fear- sees the clay of which he is made
reduced to spirit, and this spirit has no soil left for its roots, from which to draw its sap.
The last man has emptied himself; no more seed, no more excrement, no more blood.
Everything having turned into words, every set of words into musical jugglery, the last
man goes even further: he sits in his utter solitude and decomposes the music into mute
Zorba, The Greek
"We will never get a calculus to do all that a natural language such as Inuktitut or
French does because not all the moves in a natural language are analytic: sometimes
thoughts are connected by tonal associations; images; family resemblances. Not every
linguistic impulse is disintegrative; some clear and expressible thoughts aim at a tapestry,
rather than a complex, or a peak.
Many of our finest expressions slip through the lattice of even the most most
"Who else but the naive poet is able to pucker his lips to kiss that old sourpuss, the
As quoted in: The Montreal Gazette
October 19, 1985