Quotes from The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Good quotes from the book The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, via this review:

"I have no children, I do not watch television, and I do not believe in God — all paths taken by mortals to make their lives easier. Children help us to defer the painful task of confronting ourselves, and grandchildren take over from them. Television distracts us from the onerous necessity of finding projects to construct in the vacuity of our frivolous lives: by beguiling our eyes, television releases our mind from the great work of making meaning. Finally, God appeases our animal fears and the unbearable prospect that someday all our pleasures will cease."

"And here I am now and my tiny bladder has just reminded me of its existence. Painfully aware that I have imbibed liters of tea that very afternoon, I cannot ignore its message: reduced autonomy."

"The peace of mind one experiences on one's own, one's certainty of self in the serenity of solitude, are nothing in comparison to the release and openness and fluency one shares with another, in close companionship."

"We don't recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors. If we actually realized this, if we were able to become aware of the fact that we are only ever looking at ourselves in the other person, that we are alone in the wilderness, we would go crazy."

"In our world, that's the way you live your grown-up life: you must constantly rebuild your identity as an adult, the way it's been put together is wobbly, ephemeral, and fragile, it cloaks despair and, when you're alone in front of the mirror, it tells you the lies you need to believe."

Instructions for Life

"My code of life and conduct is simply this: work hard, play to the allowable limit, disregard equally the good and bad opinion of others, never do a friend a dirty trick, eat and drink what you feel like when you feel like, never grow indignant over anything, trust to tobacco for calm and serenity, bathe twice a day . . . learn to play at least one musical instrument and then play it only in private, never allow one's self even a passing thought of death, never contradict anyone or seek to prove anything to anyone unless one gets paid for it in cold, hard coin, live the moment to the utmost of its possibilities, treat one's enemies with polite inconsideration, avoid persons who are chronically in need, and be satisfied with life always but never with one's self."

— George Jean Nathan  (via Josh Newman)

How to Think About Money

"Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don't want to run out of gas on your trip, but you're not doing a tour of gas stations. You have to pay attention to money, but it shouldn't be about the money." — Tim O'Reilly

Approaching Love with Utter Openness and Reasonable Caution

"In every human being there is only so large a supply of love. It's like the limbs of a starfish, to some extent: if you chew off a chunk, it will grow back. But if you chew off too much, the starfish dies. Valerie B. chewed off a chunk of love from my dwindling reserve … a reserve already nibbled by Charlotte and Lory and Sherri and Cindy and others down through the years. There's still enough there to make the saleable appearance of a whole creature, but nobody gets gnawed on that way without becoming a little dead. So, if Cupid (that perverted little motherfucker) decides his lightning ought to strike this gnarly tree trunk again, whoever or whatever gets me is going to get a handy second, damaged goods, something a little dead and a little crippled.

Having learned that, all I can advise is an impossible stance for all of you: utter openness and reasonable caution. Don't close yourself off, but jeezus, be careful of monsters with teeth. And just so you know what they look like when they come clanking after you, here is a photo of one. The package is so pretty, one can only urge you to remember Pandora. Be careful which boxes you open, troops."

From Harlan Ellison's Valerie: A True Memoir (1972).

(thanks to Maria Pacana for the pointer)

Quote of the Day

The craziest sentences uttered at the Vancouver Olympics came from Norwegian silver medalist Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset describing his performance in the men's 4×10 cross-country relay:

"My name is Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset. I skied the second lap and I fucked up today. I think I have seen too much porn in the last 14 days. I have the room next to Petter Northhug and every day there is noise in there. So I think that is the reason I fucked up. By the way, Tiger Woods is a really good man."


In other news that made me laugh:

Quote of the Day

"The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one's curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day. Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length. It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between."

— Diane Ackerman in A Natural History of the Senses.

On the same page she says that "uncertainty is the essence of romance," which is interesting.


James Fallows had the best analysis of what Google pulling out of China means. What Afghanistan can learn from Colombia. Robin Hanson's pithy take on efficient markets hypothesis in response to John Cochrane's piece and the ensuing pile-on against the Chicago School. How DNA Testing is Changing Fatherhood is haunting and well-written.

Quotes of the Day

"Just a few centuries ago, the smartest humans alive were dead wrong about damn near everything. They were wrong about gods. Wrong about astronomy. Wrong about disease. Wrong about heredity. Wrong about physics. Wrong about racism, sexism, nationalism, governance, and many other moral issues. Wrong about geology. Wrong about cosmology. Wrong about chemistry. Wrong about evolution. Wrong about nearly every subject imaginable."

Luke Muehlhauser

(via Eliezer Yudkowsky)


"The public's conception of new ideas: Crazy. Crazy. Crazy. Obvious." – Lant Pritchett.

Quote of the Day from Cormac McCarthy

Continuing the James Ellroy theme of talented people being obsessed, here's writer Cormac McCarthy in a rare interview with the WSJ:

I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

The pointer is from Roger Ebert's very interesting Twitter feed. Elsewhere in the interview McCarthy explains why he doesn't travel.

Of course, most Americans are not working on activities that drive them to suicide. The average American spent nearly five hours a day watching television in last year's TV season. It's the highest ever — up 20% from 10 years ago.

A Mind Capable of Not Thinking

On achieving a quiet mind, from British philosopher Alan Watts:

One cannot act creatively, except on the basis of stillness. Of having a mind that is capable from time to time of stopping thinking. And so this practice of sitting may seem very difficult at first, because if you sit in the Buddhist way, it makes your legs ache. Most Westerners start to fidget; they find it very boring to sit for a long time, but the reason they find it boring is that they're still thinking. If you weren't thinking, you wouldn't notice the passage of time, and as a matter of fact, far from being boring, the world when looked at without chatter becomes amazingly interesting. The most ordinary sights and sounds and smells, the texture of shadows on the floor in front of you. All these things, without being named, and saying 'that's a shadow, that's red, that's brown, that's somebody's foot.' When you don't name things anymore, you start seeing them.

To turn off the mind and observe things without naming them — to really observe them. To smell the roses instead of analyzing them: I aspire to the level of mind control which I hear enables such present moment living.

Oh, silent meditation retreat, where art thou?


Here's my post on self-consciousness and one on the art of self-overhearing. Thanks to Colin Marshall for the pointer.

Quote of the Day

"It was just a brief moment, and already it’s over.  Once more I see the furniture all around me, the pattern on the old wallpaper, and the sun through the dusty panes.  I saw the truth for a moment.  For a moment I was consciously what great men are their entire lives.  I recall their words and deeds and wonder if they were also successfully tempted by the Demon of Reality.  To know nothing about yourself is to live.  To know yourself badly is to think.  To know yourself in a flash, as I did in this moment, is to have a fleeting notion of the intimate monad, the soul’s magic word.  But that sudden light scorches everything, consumes everything.  It strips us naked of even ourselves."

— Fernando Pessoa, Portuguese novelist, in The Book of Disquiet. Here's the Google Book page.

The quote is via Scott Sumner who identifies as a personal identity skeptic. Paul Graham wrote an essential essay called Keeping Your Identity Small. Here are my other posts on identity.