Monday, October 7, 2013

Quote of the Day

There are no significant facts about individual human beings. Or, to wrap it up in philosophese, a human has no qualities which partake of factness sufficiently to make it sensible to treat those qualities in the same way that one would treat, say, the weight of a brick or the length of a stick. Yes, I have physical and chronological dimensions, but in themselves they don’t indicate anything very significant about me. If you told me your date of birth, I could say how long, according to the conventional metrics, you had been alive on the planet: but so what? Your cells age at a different rate from anyone elses, and neither of us knows with which juggernaut the mischievous universe has planned to flatten you, or when. ‘You are as young as you feel’, you will say, and who but you knows how you feel? No one at all thinks that significance lies in the mere accumulation of years, or the mere number of inches from the ground to the top of your head. Where does it lie, then? In the events that fill the years? They, or their corollaries, are the interesting parts of biographies. But what are the events? Yes, a few people have lives marked significantly by their association with undoubted facts: leave the undoubted fact of the double helix out of a biography of Crick or Watson and there would be a serious gap; but even Crick and Watson were infinitely more than their Eureka moment and its prologue and epilogue.

I can know, in a scientific sense, almost nothing about myself. I have no real insight into my motives or influences. I say that I have views and desires, but I have no way of saying whether they are really mine, rather than parroted. It’s immensely unlikely that I’ve ever had a remotely original thought. Nothing that I say is mine really is: my genes and my preferences are all bequests from unnamed and unnameable donors. Those close to me probably know me better than I know myself. At least they constantly surprise me by telling me things about me that I would never have suspected, or never had the psychological ability to identify or acknowledge. But, although their view of me is more accurate than my own, it’s still woefully incomplete and distorted.

- Charles Foster

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