AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

Thursday, 27 April 2017


A review...

Blood and memory

Do we have a duty of remembrance to the dead? Galen Strawson is not entirely convinced by Avishai Margalit's The Ethics of Memory

Is there an ethics of memory – do we have obligations to remember people or events from the past? Avishai Margalit takes up the question in memory of his parents, who both lost huge families in the Nazi Holocaust, but had very different views on how to cope. His mother's position was that the Jews were irretrievably destroyed, and that "the only honorable role for the Jews that remain is to form communities of memory - to serve as 'soul candles' like the candles that are ritually kindled in memory of the dead". His father disagreed: "We, the remaining Jews, are not candles. We should create a community that thinks predominantly about the future, not a community that is governed from mass graves."

Should we not at least remember their names? A recurrent anxiety in the Old Testament is that one's name not be "cut off" or blotted out after one's death. Margalit begins his book with the story of a colonel in the Israeli army who, as a junior officer in command of a small unit, lost one of his men to friendly fire. Interviewed after his promotion to colonel, he failed to remember the man's name. There was a flood of outrage. Why wasn't the name of this fallen soldier scorched on his commander's heart?

Memory of the name is not essential, as Margalit says. It is enough that the colonel remembers the man. But names can seem painfully important. Yad Vashem, the memorial sanctuary in Jerusalem dedicated to gathering the names of all Jews murdered by the Nazis, is an idea and a reality of enormous power. In David Edgar's play Pentecost, a group of children are being transported to a concentration camp. Packed in a cattle truck and starving, they are reduced to eating the cardboard nametags tied round their necks. Already lost, now they are lost utterly.

So is there an ethics of memory, a duty of remembrance? Margalit worries the issue from all sides before giving a qualified yes. He doesn't think that memory obligations are inevitable. If you aren't caught up in what he calls "thick" relations, family relations or relations of love or friendship or community, then you may have none at all. But if you are involved in such relations you do have obligations of memory, individual and communal. Remembrance Sunday was not set up just to fulfil a need of the living, or to pass a warning message down the years. There was, quite separately, an obligation to the dead, a duty of commemoration.

It seems right. So why on earth does Margalit say that there is little or no morality of memory? Well, it's a matter of terminology. Like many philosophers, Margalit distinguishes between ethics and morality and more or less reverses their ordinary meanings. Most of us think morality is what governs our thick personal relations (among other things), while ethics, a matter of official committees and rules, covers our impersonal, thin relations. But philosophers switch the terms. For them, ethics is the thick, local, particular, personal stuff. Morality, by contrast, is thin, general, abstract, detached: it's about how you should treat others whoever they are and whether you know them or not.

The Ethics of Memory is highly erratic, but it's also a lovely and often brilliant book. Margalit is, as he says, an illustrator rather than an explicator. He's an "eg philosopher" (one for whom striking examples are crucial) rather than an "ie philosopher" (who prioritises definitions and general principles). His book runs on cases, stories, quotations but, at the same time, there is considerable order and structure. As far as I can see, Margalit's views flow from three central premisses or intuitions: 1) it is care, or caring, that lies at the core of thick relations; 2) memory is the cement that holds thick relations together; and 3) "we dread the idea of dying without leaving a trace".

The first point is exactly right: care is the heart of good personal relations. But I don't think the second two are correct as they stand: I don't think they're true for everyone. I'll take the third point first.

Margalit knows that some deny that they dread the idea of leaving no trace, but he's sure he speaks for many. I think he does, but I think it's a minority. For my own part, I don't give a hoot about leaving a trace. Most people dread dying rather than tracelessness. It's not being forgotten by others that matters, it's eternal future non-existence. That's why the story of an afterlife is so popular. That's why so many people make Dostoevsky's mistake – the mistake of thinking it would be better to shiver on a ledge in hell for all eternity than not to exist at all. (Cf chapter 10 of Julian Barnes's History of the World in 10½ Chapters.)

Suppose you do desperately want to be remembered after death. Fine. How long do you want? Until all those you have known have died? Not enough? How about a million years? Ten million any better? How about until the earth is engulfed by the sun expanding into a red giant? It bothers me when I see 18th-century gravestones in churchyards pulled up and turned into pathways or decoration, because I don't think that's what their owners wanted. But what's the timescale of remembrance? In the end Ecclesiastes is right. In the end there is "no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come amongst those who shall come after".

Margalit opposes Ecclesiastes, claiming that "the project of memory is not vanity of vanities". And it's true that lasting public institutions of commemoration can be a good thing (also a bad thing: see the ruinous Serbian obsession with their defeat in the battle of Kosovo in 1389). But it seems to me that the desire to be personally remembered reveals a confusion about life, a mistake about its point. And it's certainly not a good motive (in fact it's a terrible motive) for behaving in one way rather than another: for being good or kind or working hard.

Margalit speaks of the yearning for personal glory and ties it to the desire to be remembered after death, but I just don't get it. Even if you have the yearning (few do), you don't have to have the desire to be remembered. The desire for posthumous fame seems to me utterly mysterious, as it did to Isaiah Berlin. Why on earth should I care? In the end the issues comes to this: some care and some don't. There is no general human truth.

As for the second point: are actual, explicit memories the cement of thick relations? It sounds attractive, but again I don't think it's generally true. It depends what kind of person you are. Don't worry, reader, if you have a lousy memory, because it doesn't follow that you're no good at thick relations. Michel de Montaigne, famous for his friendship with Etienne de la Boétie, reckoned that he was better at friendship than at anything else, but thought himself ill-equipped to write about memory because "I can find hardly a trace of it in myself; I doubt if there is any other memory in the world as grotesquely faulty as mine is!" When asked why their friendship was as it was, he gave the right answer: because it was him, because it was me. Same with love. Nothing to do with memory.

I agree with the radical Earl of Shaftesbury: "The now; the now. Mind this: in this is all." The now doesn't exclude the past because the past shapes and animates the present. The past is alive in the present without being alive as the past, alive in explicit memory – just as a violinist's phrasing flows from her practice sessions without her needing to have any explicit memory of them. I believe this shaping is what matters most; this is the deepest continuance of memory. But this time I expect I'm in the minority.


Source: The Guardian, Saturday 4 January 2003.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017


Scientists and psychologists agree that interaction with a cat can have a very positive effect on the physiological and psychological well-being of humans. They tell us that people who frequently pet their cats have lower stress levels and reduced blood pressure. Having a friendly feline around can speed up recovery from a variety of health problems. Older people who adopt cats tend to be healthier in the first place. At the other end of the age spectrum, cats are frequently used as helpers in therapy with autistic children. So it is clear – cats are good for us, mentally and physically. But do we reciprocate? Do cats get any psychological benefits from hanging around with humans, or are they just in it for the regular dinners?

Actually it turns out that petting a cat is not just good for humans, it also has medical benefits for the cat. Veterinarians at the Cornell Feline Health Center tested a cat's blood pressure following petting. They attached a small pressure cuff to a cat's leg and checked the blood pressure after different lengths of petting. After being stroked for five minutes blood pressure dropped by 25 points, indicating the cat was calmer and less stressed.

In another experiment a scientist at the Honolulu Zoo measured cortisol levels in cats. Cortisol is a hormone which increases under stress. Over time, high cortisol levels weaken the immune system and make a cat (or human) more prone to illness. All the cats in this experiment were well socialized, which means that they found being stroked more relaxing than stressful. They were put into two groups. One group received the usual amount of petting and being talked to. The other group of cats was left with minimal human interaction. The results showed that cats which found that they now had much less interaction with humans became stressed, as shown by their increased cortisol level. In other words, the cats were actually missing human company, even though the food kept coming on a regular basis.

In another experiment cortisol levels were measured after a stressful procedure; in this case when a catheter had to be inserted into cat's leg. A well-socialized cat which was petted during the procedure had an almost unchanged level of cortisol. However, cats which were not socialized and cats that were not petted had higher cortisol levels. In other words this proves scientifically what most people with cats already know – petting a cat during an unpleasant experience helps calm the cat. However, they probably don't know that the petting actually helps the cat's health.

So if petting a cat relaxes both human and cat, what's the cat's favourite? Drs. Susan Soennichsen and Arnold Chamove from the University of Massey in New Zealand carried out experiments to find where cats most enjoyed being petted. (Yup – your research money at work, folks!) For most cats the answer is stroking at the side of the head between the eyes and the ears. The cats probably prefer this area because a major scent gland is located there, and it enables the cat to deposit her scent on the hand of the person stroking.

But remember – as if you could ever forget – that every cat is an individual, and stroking heaven for one cat might be an impermissible invasion of privacy for another. Also cats like routine, so many cats prefer to be stroked or petted at a particular time of the day or in a particular place. For example a cat might prefer that you do your stroking behind the ears while the cat is sitting on her favourite rug. Cats are masters at training their people, so let the cat teach you what she likes most and you both will get the maximum health benefit from your friendship.

Well, then, I think I'm gonna grab my cat Sylvester and do a session...


Tuesday, 25 April 2017


How Has Jewish Thought Influenced Science?

I'm posting here a number of replies to the above question from various eminent personalities of the Jewish world, published on Moment in 2014: it's an exploration of the relationship between Judaism and the evolution of scientific thinking.

Jonathan Sacks
Firstly, we shouldn’t exaggerate. Jews were not the first scientists; that distinction goes to Greece and the Pre-Christian century. But according to the great German sociologist Max Weber, it was Judaism that first led to what he calls Western rationality, which made science possible, and the reason it did so was because Bereshit Chapter One is the first act of demythologizing the universe. Until then, the universe was seen to be the result of vast and capricious cosmic forces—it could not be predicted, could only be. It was the abandonment of myth that made people able for the first time to see the universe for what it was, and Weber regarded that as the root of Western rationality out of which came science.
Moses Maimonides says that science is one of the routes to the love and fear of God. Jews were not in the scientific mainstream because they were not in the social mainstream until the modern era. In the 15th century, in the Italian Renaissance, for the first time we have real contact between Jewish and Christian scholars. In Krakow in the 16th century, when Poland is enjoying one of its rare moods of tolerance, you have an interchange between Jewish and non-Jewish scholars—Maharal of Prague and Judah Ganz, who knew Tycho Brahe.
The 17th century is really the birth of modern science. Here the influence was of Judaism, not of Jews. The Christians who read the Bible understood that the Bible was giving us a warrant to understand the universe. The study of the natural universe was as holy a task as studying the Bible.
Why are Jews so good at science? First, there is a profound Jewish sense that this universe is intelligible. Second is the Jewish almost-obsession with asking questions. You can’t even begin the Seder without asking a question. Third is this immense Jewish value placed on intellect. Fourth, Jews since the days of Abraham have been iconoclasts, prepared to challenge the conventional wisdom, and they still do it. Fifth, and very importantly, Jews don’t have a prohibition against playing God. On the contrary, God wants us to be his partner in the work of creation.
Lord Jonathan Sacks is the former chief rabbi of The United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, in the United Kingdom, and author of The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.

Gerald Schroeder

Jewish philosophy tells us that the world is a single, unified system. This means that the universe makes sense—that one part shouldn’t conflict with another—and allows for deductive reasoning. If you see A, B and C over here, it will also make sense over there, in another environment. It also means that scientific discovery will eventually parallel biblical claims. For instance, the Big Bang theory says that the universe began from a single burst of energy, and that this energy has taken the form of matter. All ancient commentaries have said that this beginning was a physical creation, and now, thousands of years later, science has come to match that understanding. When I look in the mirror in the morning, it’s sometimes depressing, but what I’m looking at is the light of creation. That’s not poetry or New Age philosophy—that’s reality. Everything is the energy of creation in its present form.
If you look at the development of science over the centuries, it’s gone from a completely materialist view to one that includes both the physical and the non-physical. Hundreds of years ago, Newton had a completely materialist view of the world, but in the 20th century, that gave way to Einstein’s theory of relativity. Twenty or 30 years after that came quantum physics, which examines the very small. When you get down to this level, the physical world literally evaporates, and the world becomes pure information. The quantum physics view of the world is a mix of the physical and the metaphysical—and starts to sound a bit theological.
Gerald Schroeder is a nuclear physicist and author of several books, including Genesis and the Big Bang and The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom.

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

One might argue that Jewish thought influenced science by arguing that Spinoza influenced Einstein—which he did, profoundly. Einstein accepted Spinoza’s idea that the laws of nature are thoroughly intelligible, and, by Einstein’s own admission, this Spinozist belief inspired much of his thinking.  However, just how Jewish is Spinoza? Is there anything of traditional Jewish thought that might have influenced Spinoza to take such a radical view about the ultimate intelligibility of the universe, understood on its own terms alone, without any supernatural principles required to render the universe comprehensible—in other words, no room for a transcendent God to have an explanatory role? That doesn’t sound very Jewish!
The roots of modern science lie in Plato, most especially in the Timaeus, with its view that reality has a self-explanatory mathematical structure, which means a structure of eternal, never-changing truths. An outstanding problem for Plato at the end of his life was reconciling this structure of eternal truths—which he expressed as having a Oneness—with the world of plurality and change we encounter in our senses—a Manyness. This is the problem, in Platonic terms, of reconciling the One with the Many. The neo-Platonists, both Christian and Jewish, inherited this preoccupation from Plato, including the very influential Philo Judaeus. The monotheistic neo-Platonists tried to
answer the problem of the One and the Many by elaborating on God’s emanations as structurally upholding the created world. Jewish Neo-Platonism morphed into full-blooded mysticism when it got absorbed into the thinking of the Kabbalists of Spain. Through the Kabbalists a strain of neo-Platonism was transmitted through Jewish learning, learning with which Spinoza himself was familiar. Kabbalist thinking was rife in the Sephardic Jewish Amsterdam that had excommunicated him, and among his private books at the time of his death was that of the Kabbalist Herrera. In fact, many of Spinoza’s Christian contemporaries read Spinoza, when he was published posthumously, as a kind of Kabbalist.
Now it’s perverse to think of Spinoza, an über-rationalist, as being a mystical Kabbalist. Spinoza makes some very cutting remarks about what he calls Kabbalistic foolishness, just as he makes cutting remarks about Maimonides. He doesn’t align himself with Jewish thinking, neither orthodox nor heterodox, nor should he be so aligned. Cartesian rationalism, as well as ancient Greek Stoicism, are far more traceable influences on him. But I’d tentatively hazard the ghost of a speculation that his rationalism, which far exceeds that of Descartes, might have received some of its creative daring from the neo-Platonist strain transmitted in Kabbalah. Certainly their preoccupation with reconciling the One with the Many is mirrored in Spinoza’s system, which posits a strong version of monism, namely the thesis that reality consists of only one substance, which is as eternal and unchanging as mathematics, and yet which, when viewed in another way, is the teeming world of many individual things, including ourselves, subject to fleeting time. And if there is any bit of truth clinging to this ghost of a speculation, then we can say that Einstein, in being so thoroughly inspired by Spinoza, was touched by a bit of Kabbalah as well.
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is a philosopher and novelist. Her newest book is Plato at the Googleplex.

Judea Pearl

There are many ways in which Jewish thinking has influenced science. Through the ages, rabbis made allowances for educating poor children even though their parents couldn’t pay for it. This is the essence of what I call democratization of learning: It has the potential to create the next Einstein as well as rabbis.
The Jewish religion reveres innovation. There is a saying in the Talmud: “Whatever an earnest scholar will someday teach has already been spoken to Moses at Sinai.” On the one hand, this means that there is no innovation, because everything was given over to Moses at Sinai. The other interpretation is that the Torah is sanctifying innovation with the Seal of Moses, no matter how heretical it is. So innovations have a holiness. Throughout the generations, the notion of chiddush—innovation—was highly competitive. The rabbis used to compete with each other to see who made the most innovative innovation. These were not theoretical interpretations, but new ways of interpreting Torah. They couldn’t have cared less about science; science was an occupation of the goyim. There was no Jewish innovation in science until 1600.
As Jews, we have a chance to look at our evolution over 3,000 to 3,500 years, and we see fallible human beings who change their minds constantly. In the Bible it says, “take an eye for an eye,” but the Mishneh was smart enough to say this is not what Jewish people should do and interprets this as monetary compensation. So a child can look at this today and say, “My ancestors were smart enough to change this to reflect changes in how people lived.” So on the one hand, we respect our ancestors, and on the other, we see their fallibility and how they evolved. That means that no authority should be dogmatic, not even scientific authority. Whatever you learn in school, you are prepared to discard or question tomorrow. That has a lot to do with science and the idea that you don’t accept truth as the final word and that every truth can be totally revamped.
Judea Pearl is professor of computer science and statistics, and director of the Cognitive System Library at UCLA and the 2011 winner of the ACM Turing Award.

Yehuda Bauer

There is no such thing as Jewish thinking. There is thinking by Jews, and Jews have developed various types of philosophies, contradictory to each other. In fact, the whole of Jewish civilization is based on constant internal debate, and Jewish thinking as such may have influenced science because of logical thinking, with a great emphasis on rationality and logic. But Jews were not the first to develop a way of thinking logically. The calculations of ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian astronomers were complex. And whoever built the ancient Mayan cities calculated the rays of the sun and knew when they hit the peak of the pyramid. That said, this very tiny group of people has contributed a great deal to the richness of human civilization—and science. But Jewish religious thinking has absolutely no influence on science, because it is theology. It is the invention of God, and God doesn’t exist.
Yehuda Bauer is professor emeritus of Holocaust studies at the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a winner of the Israel Prize.

Menachem Kellner

According to Maimonides, God, as it were, wrote two books, one called Torah and one called Nature—therefore they can’t contradict each other, and if one wants to learn about God, one must study both. In order to understand the commandments, Maimonides explains in the introduction to his Guide For the Perplexed, one needs to know something about metaphysics, and to understand metaphysics one must first study physics—or what Maimonides called physics. That’s why he says the Torah begins with an explanation of physics in “mythological” terms, so that we can understand and properly obey the commandments in a serious and adult fashion. Obedience to the commandments, in turn, enables us to progress more easily to attaining some level of that perfection which is truly human, namely perfection of our intellects. Here we see Maimonides’ elitism and universalism coming together.
When we use the word “science,” and when Maimonides used the word chochma, wisdom, he and we are not talking about the same thing. To be fair, the science Maimonides knew cohered with the Torah much more easily than the science we know now. His science is Aristotelian, and hence teleological. We look at science and expect development in our view of the universe. For us, the scientific view of the universe is dynamic. Maimonides knew there was development and progress, but for him it was incremental. These differences, important as they may be, do not undermine Maimonides’ basic contention that the proper study of Torah must include the study of what we call science.
Menachem Kellner, a Maimonides scholar, is chair of the Interdisciplinary Program in Philosophy and Jewish Thought at Shalem College, Jerusalem, and professor emeritus at the University of Haifa. 

Howard Smith

Life in the universe has been considered and discussed by Jews for at least 3,000 years, from the earliest manuscripts of Tanach. The Jewish offering is: The earth is a special planet, it’s not a typical planet. Life is not common, life is uncommon. What does that mean? It means that we as Jews have responsibilities. If we want to use the language of chosen-ness, chosen-ness comes with responsibility, to take care of one another, to take care of our environment. That’s a Jewish point of view.
The way we think about God and our relationship to God, and the way we think about our relationship to God in the world are all deeply informed by what we know about the world and modern cosmology. We live in the universe as one of many but completely separate universes. That’s called a multiverse. Scientists have developed the idea of the multiverse in order to explain some miraculous features of our world—in particular, what’s called the anthropic principle: basically, the observation that our world is perfectly suited for intelligent life, and if anything were any different, we wouldn’t be here. The Jewish point of view is not that we’re lucky but that we’re blessed, and that it’s not that the universe is chaotic and random but that the universe is purposeful. Science and Judaism are part of a system, and it’s worthwhile to see how they come together because it’s terrifically enriching, enlightening and gets us to a place that wasn’t available to Maimonides or to the Ramah or to Rav Soloveitchik.
Howard Smith is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and author of Let There Be Light: Modern Cosmology and Kabbalah, a New Conversation Between Science and Religion.

Jonathan Ben-Dov

Between the time of cuneiform science in the first millennium BCE and Roman Egypt, there are several hundred years of a black hole. Jewish writers filled this black hole with very interesting astronomical material we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls. There’s a significant body of Jewish scientific literature in the Hellenistic age, which those Jews cherished, learned and interpreted. Studying this work was considered a religious obligation, to discover the mysteries of the world. These mysteries could be many things, such as the end of the world and the structure of the world. Some people say that when rabbinic thought developed, it was a reaction to these trends of Judaism. There’s a famous passage in the apocryphal Book of Ben Sira that rabbis read to mean you weren’t supposed to engage with the mysteries; you were just to study Torah. There’s an interesting contrast drawn there between two competing trends of ancient Judaism.
Jonathan Ben-Dov is a senior lecturer in the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa and editor of the forthcoming collection, Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple Literature.

Gad Freudenthal

Jewish thought has its legitimation and the source of its authority in revelation and in sacred texts, whereas science has its source of authority in human reason and empirical experience. The idea of integrating science, as an alien body of thought, into Judaism has been problematic. Only in the Middle Ages were science and Judaism integrated. It began with Maimonides, who knew a lot of science and said how important it was for Jews; he posited that it was a religious obligation, nothing less! However, although in the following centuries Jews studied science, their writings—almost always addressed to their brethren in Hebrew—only rarely describe new discoveries. In the early modern period, too, writers usually inform their readers about what’s going on in the general literature in English, German, Latin or Italian. After the Middle Ages there was no intrinsic relationship any more between Jewish thought and the contents of science. Such a relationship was alleged only by the Nazis, who sought to distinguish between “Jewish” and “Aryan” mathematics and physics.
In the modern period, many Jews were scientists. As I see it, this resulted from the fact that many Jews went into intellectual professions. But what they did in their scientific research had nothing to do with their identity as Jews or with any elements derived from  Jewish thinking. The fact that a Jew chose to become a scientist may be connected to his or her Jewish background and the place of Jews in society, but their research agenda depends only on that of the scientific community.
Gad Freudenthal is a historian of science at the University of Geneva, in Switzerland. He is the editor of Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism.

Daniel Matt

The search for the secret of creation is really a shared project between scientists and deep religious thinkers. The Mishneh warns against looking too deeply into two fields—one is creation and the other is God’s inner being. Those are seen as the two most profound secrets.
There are numerous parallels between Kabbalah and cosmology. The Big Bang theory says that everything began from one cosmic seed, and ever since that moment there has been an expansion. Kabbalah also speaks of a primordial point—which it identifies as chochma, or wisdom. Science speaks of an original oneness. All the forces of nature were once one primordial force, but this original symmetry was soon broken and became four forces: gravity, electro-magnetism and what are called the strong and weak nuclear forces. If the original symmetry (or oneness) had not fractured, the world wouldn’t exist as we know it. The parallel in Kabbalah is called the breaking of the vessels, shevirat ha-kelim. According to the Kabbalistic myth of creation, in the beginning there was only “oneness,” unified energy. God began to bring that energy forth but the vessels that were intended to contain the energy shattered under the impact of the light. This breaking of the vessels may sound like a catastrophe, but without it, there would be no separate existence, none of the unique individuality that enriches life. Without the primordial “breaking”—in both science and Kabbalah—there would just be oneness, but it would be a bland, rather boring existence, without the wondrous variety that we all treasure.
Daniel Matt lives in Berkeley, California, and is best known for his multi-volume annotated work, The Zohar: Pritzker Edition.

Jeremy Brown

If you take your tradition seriously and you take knowledge seriously, then you really need to figure out where Judaism and Copernican thought can harmonize. There really isn’t a singular Jewish response to Copernicus—who posited that the earth orbits the sun. There are responses of individual Jews at individual times in individual places. And those are often very different and depend on what was going on in the local society. By the 1630s, an important Jewish scholar, Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, a student of Galileo, had accepted the Copernican model. He was comfortable with it Jewishly and also comfortable with it scientifically, when the rest of the scientific world had not yet really accepted the model. Copernicanism was not widely received at the time, so Delmedigo was a Jew on the cutting edge of science. Some Jews, such as Tobias Kohn of Padua in 1708, rejected the Copernican model because they understood the Bible as describing the world as unmoving. In the 19th century, a rabbi named Reuven Landau wrote that the world is the spiritual center of the universe and that this has to be reflected in a physical reality. Earth, therefore, must be the physical center of the universe. Even in the contemporary Haredi world, a Jerusalem rabbi named Moshe Sternbuch remarkably writes that the Copernican model is completely acceptable. Observant Jews, who take their Judaism seriously and scientific thought seriously, have to sit down and think about how these things can coexist.
Jeremy Brown is an associate professor of emergency medicine at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and author of New Heavens and New Earth: The Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought.

Allison Coudert

Over the past 30 or 40 years, there has been this idea that good science emerges when bad religion disappears. But this isn’t true—it’s always been impossible to distinguish science from religion. What scholars have discovered recently is that it was the mix of Kabbalah, Hermeticism, neo-Platonism and even magical texts boiling over in the 17th century that gave way to the genesis of modern science. Kabbalah was particularly important, because it was the idea of tikkun olam—that humans had to be active partners with God in restoring the world—that fostered an activist, interventionist view of human behavior and the idea that humans could control progress. Even the Kabbalah Denudata was dedicated to the lover of Hebrew, the lover of philosophy and the lover of chemistry. So people during this time saw Kabbalah as a way of integrating the study of nature—i.e., science—with philosophy and religion. But it wasn’t just Kabbalah. There are very clear ways in which Christianity also supported science, particularly in the idea that God gave two books—Scripture and the Book of Nature. Sincere Christians, such as Robert Boyle, the father of modern chemistry, believed that he and other scientists were the true priests, because they were reading the Book of Nature. Isaac Newton was also a dedicated religious thinker, and he spent as much time trying to decipher the revelations in the Book of Daniel as he did physics. So when we look at of the scientific revolution, we see all these different forces converging to promote what we now think of as modern science and various doctrines of tolerance.
Allison Coudert is a professor of religious studies at the University of California, Davis, and author of Religion, Magic, and Science in Early Modern Europe and America.

Shmuel Feiner

The passionate desire of the maskilim for knowledge (which included mainly the natural sciences, but Hebrew, European languages and philosophy as well), their intense curiosity, their urge to acquire knowledge that was not accessible in the cultural circles of traditional Jewish society were all hallmarks of the early-18th-century transformation of Jewish culture. From our own perspective at the beginning of the 21st century, it is sometimes hard to appreciate the sense of sin, guilt and subversiveness experienced by those who engaged in the world of knowledge that lay beyond the bounds of Jewish and religious life. It is also difficult to comprehend the barriers of language, the social norms and the fear of undermining religious faith that these men had to overcome in order to gain access to this knowledge. Hence, to correctly assess how momentous a step it was, we need to listen with sensitivity to the voices of intellectuals of that very time, which testify to their passion for knowledge as a spiritual, even a religious, experience of special significance. The emergence of the Jewish Enlightenment was also a collective experience of Jewish frustration and even humiliation. The early maskilim sometimes expressed a sense of intellectual inferiority. We now realize that the encounter of the Ashkenazi elite in 18th-century Europe with secular knowledge engendered a traumatic conflict. As the modern Hebrew library expanded and the number of maskilim grew, the threat to the exclusive status of the canonical texts of Talmudic culture was taken more seriously. It is therefore not surprising that the Orthodox reacted defensively to prevent the breakdown of norms and accused those unable to resist temptation of heresy. But the force of this seduction was unstoppable, and the new secular elite and its desire for science developed from the end of the 18th century and challenged the traditional structure of Jewish society and culture in Europe.
Shmuel Feiner is a professor of modern Jewish history at Bar-Ilan University, where he specializes in German Jewry and the Haskalah.

Moshe Tendler

So much information came down from Moses that all through history our view of the world has been more scientific, more rational, than anyone else’s. For example, up until the 1840s, Aristotle’s statement that man’s seed grows in the fertile ground of the mother to produce a child was generally accepted. Today, we know that the mother not only contributes equal genetic material to her child, but also exchanges critical cells with the fetus during pregnancy. Yet in our religion, 2,000 years ago, we spoke about the three partners in creating man—the husband and wife who contributed half each, and God adding the soul. These notions came to us from the divine inspiration that gave us the Torah.
The one critical common denominator between science and Jewish thought is that God made a world that man can understand. He gave us the Torah that can be understood by mankind, and at the same time, He gave us the laws of nature with the expectation that we could understand them. This was a major advance over the alchemy that had once dominated the world. As Jews, we respect the laws of nature as the laws that God has put into this world and don’t try to change them. We don’t spend a lifetime trying to change lead into gold through alchemy. Today, Jews are the forerunners in how to have a rational view of the interaction of religion and science in the world.
Moshe Tendler is an Orthodox rabbi and a professor of biology at Yeshiva University. He is the author of the textbook, Practical Medical Halachah.

Hermona Soreq

I recently read a paper on evolution which says that human cognition, wisdom and the capacity to develop tools and technologies depended on group thinking and exchange of ideas. There seems to have been a leap in the development of human societies when people started to communicate with each other, suggesting that one brain is not enough. That article connected this evolutionary jump to the development of communities. I would like to bring this over to the Jewish concept of havruta, thinking together, discussing concepts. That concept had existed in Jewish tradition for many, many years, so this is a cultural advantage, if you wish, which is supported by evolutionary evidence.
Another element is Darwinian theory. Only the most capable survived. When Jews were not allowed to hold land or own wealth or to be associated with different professional guilds, they survived in a hostile society thanks to their wisdom and skills. Additionally, any skills that helped them to survive would be emphasized in the next generations, because this was such a small community that kept marrying within itself. So, genetically speaking, they kept the genes of the more fit individuals. The late professor Shneur Lipson used to joke that in Catholic communities, if there was a very bright son, they would send him to become a priest, killing the genes—there would be no next generation. But in the Jewish communities, if there were a bright son, they would marry him to the daughter of the richest man in the village, thus protecting these genes. So there are both genetic and cultural reasons that link Jewish communities with intellectual skills.
Hermona Soreq is professor of molecular neuroscience at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has won the Landau Prize for Biomedical Research and the Kaye Prize for Innovative Research at the Hebrew University.

Noah Efron

Is there some affinity between being Jewish and doing science? Lots of bright people have thought so. Thorstein Veblen, the great sociologist, concluded 95 years ago that being pariahs for so long fostered in Jews skepticism toward conventional wisdoms, whatever they might be. This skepticism, Veblen wrote, is the “first requisite for constructive work in modern science.” Writer and Cambridge don George Steiner believed that modern Jews are heirs to a particular style of thought that developed in the yeshivas of past centuries which these days makes them ace scientists.
It’s easy to see why a century of scholars have sought a link between Judaism and science, because for the past century, Jews have been abundantly successful in the sciences. Pick any measure—crucial discoveries, prestigious prizes, patents, grants, university appointments, honorary societies—and Jews excel. It’s only natural to wonder why, and to conclude that there must be something in the nature of Jews or Judaism that accounts for it.
And yet, such a conclusion has its problems. Explanations that attribute Jews’ successes in science to their genes or their age-old traditions of learning fail to account for the fact that, with a few remarkable exceptions, Jews showed little interest in science and no special talent for it until a few generations ago. And the Jews who have since then excelled at sciences are a strikingly secular bunch; few ever cracked a tractate of Talmud or received much Jewish education at all.
Why, then, did Jews in the past century embrace science with such vigor and succeed with such extravagance? The answer is infinitely complicated, as these things are, and I’d like to offer just one part of it. Jews in the first decades of the 20th century often found themselves in a New World of one sort or another. Immigrants to the shores of America did. Jews in Russia did, especially after the revolution. Jews in Palestine did. In each of these places, and in many others, Jews struggled to adapt and also struggled to make their new homes adapt to them. In these struggles, science helped. The “values” that science was taken to represent and promote helped; values like democracy, equality, progress and meritocracy. To achieve a modus vivendi with the societies in which they found themselves, some Jews judged it necessary to advance two reform projects of staggering ambition. The first was a reform of Jews themselves, from parochials to full participants in the broader cultures in which they found themselves. The second was the reform of these broader cultures that would enable Jews to participate in them. Science was a way to do both things at once. It was a path that led to the faculty lounge and, sometimes, to the banquet hall of the King of Sweden. It offered the respectability of universally admired achievement. Science also refashioned the societies in which Jews found themselves into more porous and permeable places. The values that early-20th-century science increasingly championed—objectivity, rationality and meritocracy foremost among them—fit perfectly with the needs of a minority people anxious to make it.
And if all this is true, then Veblen’s thesis about Jewish preeminence in science may have matters exactly backwards. Rather than reflecting Jewish virtuosity in skepticism that was a product of alienation, the powerful appeal that sciences held for many Jews may have resulted, in part, from the longing of these Jews to assimilate into those same societies.
Noah Efron teaches at Bar-Ilan University, where he pioneered the Program in Science, Technology and Society. His newest book, A Chosen Calling: Jews in Science in the Twentieth Century, will be out in April. 

Yossi Vardi

Jews have always sought knowledge; this is part of the Jewish value system. Since the destruction of the Temple, Jews have been required to read the Bible, and to do this they had to read and write. This allowed them to go into and to excel in commerce and science. Today you see an exceptional number of Jews in cutting-edge technology, especially in Israel. I say time and again that the explanation of the phenomenon of Israel high-tech is more cultural than military. It stems from the Jewish mother, who tells her children, “After all we have done for you, is a Nobel Prize too much to ask?” Add to this that Jews have high motivation to explore and push the envelope. I think these are the main driving forces. This entrepreneurship doesn’t only have to be manifested in science. It is part of the cultural DNA.
Yossi Vardi is an Israeli angel investor, high-tech entrepreneur and the chairman of International Technologies. 

Susan Greenfield

The Greeks believed that discussion leads to advancement, and this is echoed in Jewish culture. It is an integral part of our civilization to ask questions. We are an intensely inquisitive people for whom everything is debated and discussed. Our abiding curiosity is often perceived as being querulous, but this is an entirely mistaken interpretation. In truth, we are using people as a sounding board for our views. Judaism is a very practical religion. People want to find out how things work. Look at yeshivot: The simplest matter can be the subject of intense disputation—even down to the width of straws that should be used in a sukkah! There are no limits on intellectual inquiry. This is reflected in that Israel now punches well above its weight in science and in the commercialization of science.
Baroness Susan Greenfield is a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University and a member of the British House of Lords.

Edward Bormashenko

Monotheism exerted a crucial but not straightforward influence on what we call the “scientific way of thinking.” I also think that Jews are exceptional scientists because of the unique system of spiritual priorities inherent to Judaism. Within this system, the highest value is related to knowledge and the uncompromising search for truth (whatever we mean by “truth”). Judaism cultivates a “passion for truth,” using the excellent definition by Abraham Joshua Heschel. Spiritual priorities could not be developed by science, and they are external to science. First of all we have to decide that a truth is better than falsehood. And this decision is not “scientific;” it is the moral decision. However, there exists the continuous conflict between science and religion. This conflict is due to the anti-dogmatic nature of science. Science trains us to doubt in everything. There is nothing “immortal” in science. In spite of this, the collision between science and religion is healthy. Spiritual life without collisions is indolent, atonic. Of course this is very personal. Some people prefer steady-state spiritual life without painful conflicts and collisions. They close their windows and doors, and they are not interested in the external world. This kind of spiritual life may be full-fledged and rich. But it is impossible for scientists. If you open your windows and doors, conflicts are inevitable.
Edward Bormashenko is the head of the Laboratory of Polymer and Composite Materials at Ariel University Center of Samaria. 
  • Web Only Responses
Steven Gimbel
The nature of Jewish thought is the ability to look at multiple perspectives when approaching a question. If you look at the way Einstein worked, there’s a style to it—it’s news to many people that scientists have styles the way musicians and artists do, but they do. Einstein’s looks at conflicting interpretations of a given observable happening in the universe and derives insight by finding a way to bring these different interpretations together, and it does look a whole lot like the Talmudic method.
Steven Gimbel is the chair of the philosophy department at Gettysburg College and author of Einstein’s Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion.
Josef Eisinger
It’s the force tradition, of Jewish culture. Being interested in learned things—not necessarily religious of course—that becomes a family value. For Einstein, Jewish thought did not influence his scientific work. For Einstein, his father was not a practicing Jew. Einstein did become religious for one year when he was about 12—he wrote a hymn to God. Then at about age 13 he realized the story in the Old Testament couldn’t be true and became a non-believer. His family was not scholarly at all probably a merchant tradition. There is a Jewish tradition of inviting a yeshiva bochur for Friday evening. Einstein’s father knew about it but he wasn’t interested in yeshiva bochurs but every Thursday night invited a medical student to dinner. This guy really turned Einstein into becoming a scientist. Einstein was a little bit mystical.  Thought there was something up there, not necessarily called a God. But something that produced these laws and nature. His main interest in studying nature. He often said that there was some design out there but he wasn’t willing to call it God.
Josef Eisinger is professor emeritus of structural and chemical biology at Mount Sinai Hospital and author of Einstein on the Road.
Maxine Singer
A lot of Jewish people have participated in scientific advances, and a lot of them have been very seminal contributors. I don’t think it has anything to do with being Jewish. It has a lot to do with being smart, with valuing learning, with working hard and with being willing to go off the beaten path—and I don’t think that Jews, as a group have any leg up on that, compared to other people. One can be misled by the fact that there are a considerable number of Jewish people who have been very prominent scientists. If we face up to history, it’s not true because Jews, by and large, didn’t enter the world of science. If you think about all the contributors to the Enlightenment that led to science, or the Renaissance that led to science, there were not a lot of big Jewish players in any of that. It was the development of modern society and the turning back from religion that gave the opportunity to a lot of Jewish people to use their skills in the world of science.
Maxine Singer is scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health and also president emeritus of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC. Trained in biochemistry and molecular biology, Singer was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1992.
Felix Posen
Jews were prohibited from owning land, pre-Enlightenment and prohibited from this and that profession. They went into permitted fields. Science was permitted. Anything that was new was permitted, because there were not yet rules against Jewish participation. Medicine was one of those fields.  Jews went into modern medicine because there was no restriction. Anything that was new had no quota on it. If there was not Jewish regulation, and it was open to everybody, Jews piled into it.
Felix Posen founded the Posen Foundation in 2004 .
Mark Friedlin
Modern science was not initiated by Jews but when Jews gained entrance they were already ready to face complexity of models and logic of modern science because of their education and traditions. When new notions and ideas appear, they often are vague and non-perfect. I think that Jews were ready to work with such not perfect objects and to be persistent. Of course, not only Jews have these features, the but specific life of Jews for many centuries made these features among Jews statistically more likely.
Mark Freidlin is a Distinguished University Professor in Mathematics at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Ruth Arnon
First of all, I think that there is a special way of Jewish thinking about learning altogether. During the centuries that Jews have been in the diaspora, special value has been given to learning, and those who excelled in it received the appreciation of the entire community. This attitude, namely the valuation of knowledge, prevails today in Israel and among Jews elsewhere.  Not just science, but perhaps, science attracts in a particular way. Science is an example of this attitude toward knowledge, and especially advanced knowledge.
Why are there so many new findings and so much scientifically driven new product development in Israel?  I don’t like to think that it is a specifically Jewish attribute.  For example, I’m not sure there is any difference between a Jewish and a non-Jewish graduate student when it comes to finding or seeing applications for their findings.  But Israelis have an aversion to “being square,” and have a penchant for thinking “outside-the-box.”  Thinking inside the box just doesn’t solve hard problems.
Ruth Arnon is the Paul Ehrlich Professor of Immunology at the Weitzmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel and is currently is President of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
Fred Alan Wolf
I wouldn’t say there has been a Jewish route to the advancement of theoretical physics, per se. However, it is perhaps astonishing that there have been so many outstanding Jewish physicists over the 20th century, continuing into the 21th century, with so many receiving Nobel Prizes for their work. Nobel Prizes in theoretical physics are given for creative discoveries and new mathematical insights in the nature of reality, which is basically seeing a vision that had not been seen before. One could argue that within Jewish DNA lies a penchant for making such ground-breaking discoveries, perhaps for survival. Jews are raised to ask questions, to not just accept everything that happens. There’s a questioning of: Why does God do it this way, why is it this way and not that way? There’s kind of an ingrained desire for questioning everything, and I think that is exhibited in Jewish family life, where questioning is encouraged.
Fred Alan Wolf is a theoretical physicist and author of several books, including Taking the Quantum Leap: The New Physics for Nonscientists, which won the 1982 National Book Award in Science.

Monday, 24 April 2017


In the course of his fruitful years, my cat Sylvester has collected a number of sapiential quotes, mottos, and apothegms — and wishes for me to post them here. Enjoy...

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."
~Albert Einstein

Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.

Look busy: Jesus's coming!

"There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable."
~Mark Twain

"I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is."
~Albert Camus

"I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."
~Oscar Wilde

Quitters never win, and winners never quit, but those who never quit AND never win are idiots.

"If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"
~ Rabbi Hillel

"If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing."
~Kingsley Amis

The enemy invariably attacks on one of two occasions:
1. When you're ready for them.
2. When you're not ready for them.

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
~Albert Einstein

"Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy." 
~Nora Ephron

"Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done."
~Andy Rooney

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work ... I want to achieve it through not dying."
~Woody Allen

"Everyone who got to where they are had to begin where they were."
~Richard Paul Evans

Always remember you're unique, just like everyone else!

"Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better."
~The Pink Panther, on behalf of Couéism

"As you get older three things happen. The first is your memory goes, and I can't remember the other two."
~Sir Norman Wisdom

"Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life."
~Daniel Francois Esprit Auber

"If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done."
~Ludwig Wittgenstein

From Groucho Marx:
  1. "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
  2. "I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception.
  3. "The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.
  4. "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know.
  5. "If you're not having fun, you're doing something wrong.
  6. "He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot.
  7. "Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.
  8. “If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere.
  9. "Whatever it is, I don't like it."
"When I die, I want to go peacefully like my grandfather did–in his sleep. Not yelling and screaming like the passengers in his car."
~Bob Monkhouse
"The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage."
~ Mark Russell

"First the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me."
~Steve Martin

"My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far I’ve finished two bags of M&Ms and a chocolate cake. I feel better already."
~Dave Barry

"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad."
~Mile Kington

"The only mystery in life is why the kamikaze pilots wore helmets."
~Al McGuire

"I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness."
~Emo Philips

"Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car."
~Billy Sunday

"A bargain is something you don’t need at a price you can’t resist."
~Franklin Jones

"If at first you don’t succeed . . . so much for skydiving."
~Henny Youngman

"Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night."
~Dave Barry

"If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments."
~Flip Wilson

"My mother never saw the irony in calling me a son-of-a-bitch."
~Jack Nicholson

"God gave us our relatives; thank God we can choose our friends."
~Ethel Mumford

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."
~Oscar Wilde

"Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you, but not in one ahead."
~Bill McGlashen

"I intend to live forever. So far, so good." 
~Steven Wright

"A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you will look forward to the trip."
~Caskie Stinnet

Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.

"By the time a man realizes that his father was right, he has a son who thinks he’s wrong." 
~Charles Wadsworth

"We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true."
~Robert Wilensky

Why didn’t Noah swat those two mosquitoes?

A good few from Woody Allen:
  1. "It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens."
  2. “I don't know the question, but sex is definitely the answer.” 
  3. “The difference between sex and love is that sex relieves tension and love causes it.” 
  4. “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” 
  5. “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.” 
  6. “To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.” 
  7. “I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens.” 
  8. “I don't know the question, but sex is definitely the answer.” 
  9. “In my next life I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in an old people's home feeling better every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, and then when you start work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for 40 years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous, then you are ready for high school. You then go to primary school, you become a kid, you play. You have no responsibilities, you become a baby until you are born. And then you spend your last 9 months floating in luxurious spa-like conditions with central heating and room service on tap, larger quarters every day and then Voila! You finish off as an orgasm!” 
  10. “Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television.” 
  11. “The difference between sex and love is that sex relieves tension and love causes it.” 
  12. “To you, I'm an atheist. To God, I'm the loyal opposition.” 
  13. “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” 
  14. “Is sex dirty? Only when it's being done right.” 
  15. “God is silent. Now if only man would shut up.” 
  16. “Men learn to love the woman they are attracted to. Women learn to become attracted to the man they fall in love with.” 
  17. “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.” 
  18. “To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.” 
  19. “Love is the answer, but while you are waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty good questions.” 
  20. “I'm not anti-social. I'm just not social.” 
  21. “I just can't listen to any more Wagner, you know...I'm starting to get the urge to conquer Poland.” 
  22. “Sex is the most fun you can have without laughing.” 
  23. “I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.” 
  24. “It's a match made in a retarded angel.” 
  25. “I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That's the two categories. The horrible are like, I don't know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don't know how they get through life. It's amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you're miserable, because that's very lucky, to be miserable.” 
  26. “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” 
  27. “I took a test in Existentialism. I left all the answers blank and got 100.” 
  28. “If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative.” 
  29. “If it turns out that there is a God...the worst that you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever.” 
  30. “I believe there is something out there watching us. Unfortunately, it's the government.” 
  31. “You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.” 
  32. “Confidence is what you have before you understand the problem.” 
  33. “If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he'd never stop throwing up.” 
  34. “Sex without love is a meaningless experience, but as far as meaningless experiences go its pretty damn good.”
  35. “There are two types of people in this world, good and bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours much more.” 
“Adults...struggle desperately with fiction, demanding constantly that it conform to the rules of everyday life. Adults foolishly demand to know how Superman can possibly fly, or how Batman can possibly run a multibillion-dollar business empire during the day and fight crime at night, when the answer is obvious even to the smallest child: because it's not real.”
~Grant Morrison

“Socrates should have written comics.”
~Mark Waid

“Abstract art is a product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.”
~Al Capp

"Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans."
~John Lennon

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
~Anais Nin

"I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do."
~Leonardo da Vinci

A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty.

"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop."

"If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?"
~Milton Berle

I dream of a better tomorrow, where chickens can cross the road and not be questioned about their motives.

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do."
~Isaac Asimov

When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

"It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?"
~Ronald Reagan

Some from P.G. Wodehouse:
  1. The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.
  2. It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them. 
  3. There is only one cure for gray hair. It was invented by a Frenchman. It is called the guillotine.
  4. I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don't know what I did before that. Just loafed I suppose.
  5. Unseen in the background, Fate was quietly slipping lead into the boxing-glove.
  6. And she's got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.
  7. Few of them were to be trusted within reach of a trowel and a pile of bricks.
  8. It was my Uncle George who discovered that alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.
  9. There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.
  10. Everything in life that’s any fun, as somebody wisely observed, is either immoral, illegal or fattening.
  11. I always advise people never to give advice.
  12. If there is one thing I dislike, it is the man who tries to air his grievances when I wish to air mine.
Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.

War doesn't determine who's right. War determines who's left.

The real trouble with reality is that there's no background music.

If you think things can't get worse it's probably only because you lack sufficient imagination.

A train station is where the train stops. A bus station is where the bus stops. On my desk, I have a work station...

You can't be late until you show up.

Knowledge is realizing that the street is one-way, wisdom is looking both directions anyway.

Parents spend the first part of our lives teaching us to walk and talk, and the rest of it telling us to sit down and shut up.

Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.

Books have knowledge, knowledge is power, power corrupts, corruption is a crime, and crime doesn't if you keep reading, you'll go broke.

Advice for the day: If you have a headache, do what it says on the aspirin bottle: Take two, and KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN.

Optimism: Waiting for a ship to come in when you haven't sent one out.

As Long As There Are Tests, There Will Be Prayer In Public Schools.

Never interrupt your opponent while he's making a mistake.

You can go anywhere you want if you look serious and carry a clipboard.

If you don't pray in my school, I won't think in your church.

You know your god is man-made when he hates all the same people you do.

Love is like pi - natural, irrational, and very important.

Life, n.: A whim of several billion cells to be you for a while.

Evolutionists have proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty without any proof.

It isn't homework unless it's due tomorrow.

You never learn anything by doing it right.

Friendships last when each friend thinks he has a slight superiority over the other.

It may look like I'm doing nothing, but I'm actively waiting for my problems to go away.

I come from a small town whose population never changed. Each time a woman got pregnant, someone left town.

Anyone who uses the phrase "easy as taking candy from a baby" has never tried taking candy from a baby.

It only takes 20 years for a liberal to become a conservative without changing a single idea.

The shortest distance between two points is under construction.

Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing.

A criminal is a person with predatory instincts who has not sufficient capital to form a corporation.

I don't suffer from insanity. I enjoy every minute of it.

Last night I lay in bed looking up at the stars in the sky and I thought to myself, where the heck is the ceiling.

Anything you say will be held against you. ... "tits"

A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing.

In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and is widely regarded as a bad move.

I am not a vegetarian because I love animals; I am a vegetarian because I hate plants.

"War is God's way of teaching Americans about geography."
~Ambrose Bierce

I could've eaten Alphabits and crapped out a better essay!!

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It's just that yours is stupid.

Few women admit their age. Few men act theirs.

When people talk to God, it's called prayer. When God talks back, it's called schizophrenia.

The only reason people get lost in thought is because it's unfamiliar territory.

Don't sweat the petty things, and don't pet the sweaty things.

Murderer? Well, that's a harsh word. I prefer to think of myself as a Mortality Technician.

Corduroy pillows: They're making headlines!

I love deadlines. I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by.

There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college.

I planted some bird seed. A bird came up. Now I don't know what to feed it.

If you don't like the way I drive, stay off the sidewalk.

Worst excuse for not turning in homework: I couldn't find anyone to copy it from.

After twelve years of therapy my psychiatrist said something that brought tears to my eyes. He said, "No hablo ingles."

Go into a store's fitting room and announce loudly "there's no toilet paper in here!"

Everyone must believe in something. I believe I'll have another drink.

I sat down beside her, said hello, offered to buy her a drink... and then natural selection reared its ugly head.

Every rule has an exception. Especially this one.