“Great are the stars, and man is of no account to them. But man is a fair spirit, whom a star conceived and a star kills. He is greater than those bright blind companies. For though in them there is incalculable potentiality, in him there is achievement, small, but actual. Too soon, seemingly, he comes to his end. But when he is done he will not be nothing, not as though he had never been; for he is eternally a beauty in the eternal form of things.”

—Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men

“He who forsakes a companion in knowledge
Has no way left open of sharing the word.
Indeed whatever he hears, he hears in vain;
He knows nothing of the path of right action.”

—Rgveda 10.71.6

“It is not new continents the earth needs, but new men.”

—Jules Verne, Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

“Man is a mystery. It needs to be unraveled, and if you spend your whole life unraveling it, don’t say that you’ve wasted time. I am studying that mystery because I want to be a human being.”

—Theodorŭ Mihajlovičĭ Dostojevskıj

“Arriving at each new city, the traveller finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”

—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

“The one reasonable goal of social life was affirmed to be the creation of a world of awakened, of sensitive, intelligent, and mutually understanding personalities, banded together for the common purpose of exploring the universe and developing the human spirit’s manifold potentialities.”

—Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker

“This principle is so perfectly general that no particular application of it is possible.”

—George Pólya

“The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual. That is why the revolutionary spiritual movements that declare all former things worthless are in the right, for nothing has yet happened.”

—Franz Kafka

“But come, my friends, as we stand here mourning, do you see the lightning?
See its glittering, like the flash of two moving hands, amid the thick gathering clouds.”

—Imrū’ Al-Qays, “Let us stop and weep” (trans. Charles F. Horne)

“Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that:
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that…

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”

—Robert Burns, “Is there for Honest Poverty”

“There must be a new world if there is to be any world at all!… These days of universal death must be days of universal new birth, if the ruin is not to be total and final! It is Time to make the dullest man consider; and ask himself, Whence he came? Whither he is bound?”

—Thomas Carlyle

“MEPHISTOPHELES. Ich bin der Geist, der stets verneint!”
(“MEPHISTOPHELES. I am the spirit that ever denies!”)

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

“Balance up your accounts: show your figures. If the world owes you anything more than a decent burial, our mathematical computations are wrong.”

—C. H. Kent

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what​’s a heaven for?”

—Robert Browning, “Andrea del Sarto”

“Biti čovek, rođen bez svoga znanja i bez svoje volje, bačen u okean postojanja. Morati plivati. Postojati. Nositi identitet. Izdržati atmosferski pritisak svega oko sebe, sve sudare, nepredvidljive i nepredviđene postupke, svoje i tuđe, koji ponajčešće nisu po meri naših snaga. A povrh svega, treba još izdržati i svoju misao o svemu tome. Ukratko: biti čovek.”

(“To be a human, born without one’s knowledge and without one’s will, thrown into the ocean of existence. To have to swim. To exist. To bear an identity. To withstand the atmospheric pressure of everything around oneself, all the collisions, the unforeseeable and unforeseen proceedings, one’s own and others’, that most often are not within the measure of our strengths. And on top of it all, one also needs to hold out one’s thought about all of that. In short: to be a human.”)

—Ivo Andrić

“Beholde, I shewe you a mistery.”

The Boke of Common Prayer

“The foundation for a new era was laid but yesterday. The human was given its first chance to become truly civilised when it took courage to question all things and made ‘knowledge and understanding’ the foundation upon which to create a more reasonable and sensible society of human beings.”

—Hendrik Willem Van Loon, The Story of Mankind

“ὁρᾶτε δεσμώτην με δύσποτμον θεόν
τὸν Διὸς ἐχθρόν, τὸν πᾶσι θεοῖς
δι᾽ ἀπεχθείας ἐλθόνθ᾽ ὁπόσοι
τὴν Διὸς αὐλὴν εἰσοιχνεῦσιν,
διὰ τὴν λίαν φιλότητα βροτῶν.”

(“Lo, a god in the anguish, a god in the chain!
The god Zeus hateth sore,
And his gods hate again,
As many as tread on his glorified floor,
Because I loved mortals too much evermore.”)

—Aeschylus, Prometheus in Prometheus Bound (trans. Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

“Either the world is so tiny or we are enormous; in either case, we fill it completely.”

—Franz Kafka

“И… и… Ведь кто же, кроме тебя, звезды-то считать будет?”
(“And… and… Oh, who but you knows how to count the stars?”)

—Jurij Norštejn, Bear Cub in Hedgehog in the Fog

“And cities arose and shed their houses in dust, and ever the desert returned again to its own, and covered over and hid the last of all that had troubled its repose.
And still men slew men.
And I came at last to a time when men set their yoke no longer upon beasts but made them beasts of iron.
And after that did men slay men with mists.
Then, because the slaying exceeded their desire, there came peace upon the world that was brought by the hand of the slayer, and men slew men no more.”

—Lord Dunsany, The Gods of Pegāna

“No one ever met with fidelity from the world or its people.
Oh, happy that man who has nothing to do with the world!”

—Mahmud Khan, Tarikh-i-Rashidi

“It is better to be destroyed than to triumph in slaying the spirit… We die praising the universe in which at least such an achievement as ours can be.”

—Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker

“The thing I can’t remember is, what came first? Us or the book?”

—Michael de Luca, Bearded Man in In the Mouth of Madness

“Do what you will, this life’s a fiction,
And is made up of contradiction.”

—William Blake, Gnomic Verses XXIII

The sheep man has his world. I have mine. And you have yours, too. Am I right?
‘That you are.’
So just because I don't exist in the sheep man's world, it doesn't mean that I don't exist at all.

—Haruki Murakami, The Strange Library (trans. Ted Goossen)

“Alls kommt aus Einem her und muß in Eines ein,
Wo es nicht will gezweit und in der Vielheit sein.”

(“The All proceedeth from the One,
And into One must All regress:
If otherwise, the All remains
Asunder-riven manyness.”)

—Angelus Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer (trans. J. E. Crawford Flitch)

“Thei miss yow, ye knowe. The tygers and the riveres. All the fayre corneres of childhood. The shadowes yet singe songes of yower deeds.”


“A man’s maturity — consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

“Does it feel that your life’s become a catastrophe?
Oh, it has to be — for you to grow, boy.”

—Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, “Take the Long Way Home”

“L’enfer, c’est les autres.”
(“Hell is other people.”)

—Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit

“What is hell? Hell is oneself.
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.”

—T. S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party

“176. The secrets of the human species’ success? Curiosity, cunning and co-operation. …
332. We are the conscience and humanity of the universe. …
397. I will not consent to the feeling that life is too much for us, all creativity is against it. Rather it is not enough for us: we ourselves burn with a greater flame. …
451. Empathy and creativity are the basis of the noble life.
452. Our purpose might be said to be, perhaps: to add value to the universe.”

—A. S. Kline, Aphorisms

“Most people would rather die than think. In fact, they do so regularly.”

—Bertrand Russell

“Let us suppose, gentlemen, that man is not stupid. (And really, you cannot say he is stupid, if only for the reason that if he is stupid, then who is intelligent?)”

—Theodorŭ Mihajlovičĭ Dostojevskıj, Notes from Underground

“Sanctius his animal mentisque capacius altae
deerat adhuc et quod dominari in cetera posset:
natus homo est, sive hunc divino semine fecit
ille opifex rerum, mundi melioris origo,
sive recens tellus seductaque nuper ab alto
aethere cognati retinebat semina caeli.
quam satus Iapeto, mixtam pluvialibus undis,
finxit in effigiem moderantum cuncta deorum,
pronaque cum spectent animalia cetera terram,
os homini sublime dedit caelumque videre
iussit et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus.”

(“A holier creature, of a loftier mind,
fit master of the rest, was lacking still.
Then man was made, perhaps from seed divine
formed by the great Origo Mundi, so to found
a better world, perhaps the new-made earth,
so lately parted from the ethereal heavens,
kept still some essence of the kindred sky —
earth that Prometheus moulded, mixed with water,
in likeness of the gods that govern the world —
and while the other creatures on all fours
look downwards, man was made to hold his head
erect in majesty and see the sky,
and raise his eyes to the bright stars above.”)

—Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book I (trans. A. D. Melville)

“We are nothing but a string of gut on a stick of bone riding this piece of astral soot for one piteous splinter of eternity.”

—Peter De Vries

“Quelle chimère est-ce donc que l’homme ? Quelle nouveauté, quel monstre, quel chaos, quel sujet de contradiction, quel prodige ! Juge de toutes choses, imbécile ver de terre ; dépositaire du vrai, cloaque d’incertitude et d​’erreur, gloire et rebut de l’univers.”

(“What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, helpless worm of the earth; depository of truth, sink of uncertainty and error, glory and scum of the universe.”)

—Blaise Pascal, Pensées, no. 434

“Ignoramus et ignorabimus.”
(“We know not and will not know.”)

—Emil du Bois-Reymond, Über Die Grenzen des Naturkennes

“Die Ehre des menschlichen Geistes, so sagte der berühmte Königsberger Mathematiker Jacobi, ist der einzige Zweck aller Wissenschaft. Wir dürfen nicht denen glauben, die heute mit philosophischer Miene und überlegenem Tone den Kulturuntergang prophezeien und sich in dem Ignorabimus gefallen. Für uns gibt es kein Ignorabimus, und meiner Meinung nach auch für die Naturwissenschaft überhaupt nicht. Statt des törichten Ignorabimus heisse im Gegenteil unsere Losung: Wir müssen wissen — wir werden wissen!

(“The glory of the human spirit, so said the famous Königsberg mathematician Jacobi, is the single purpose of all science. We must not believe those, who today with philosophical bearing and a tone of superiority prophesy the downfall of culture and accept the ignorabimus. For us there is no ignorabimus, and in my opinion none whatever in natural science. In opposition to the foolish ignorabimus our slogan shall be: We must know — we will know!”)

—David Hilbert, “Retirement Address”

“I am away from home and must always write home, even if any home of mine has long since floated away into eternity.”

—Franz Kafka

“Благословенны: труд и знанья,
Идеи, опыты, мечты,
Умов пытливыя исканья.
И треволненья суеты.

Благословенно всё, что учит,
Что совершенствует умы:
Оно то радует, то мучит,
Но им вперед ведемся мы.”

(“Blessed too are work and learning,
Dreams, ideas, experience,
Minds inquiring and endless searching,
And the anguished heart’s disturbance.

Blessed is every work and offering
that teaches and perfects the mind:
’Tis this that brings both joy and suffering,
Yet henceforth this shall be our guide.”)

—Mužik Mikula, The Russian National Hymn (trans. Marian Schwartz)

“I am become a name for always roaming
with a hungry heart,
and I have passed through fire and through the storm
only to find that I must wither or depart.”

—Adele McAllister, “Ulysses”

“Ceterum censeo humanitatem preservandam esse.”
(“For the rest, I opine that humanity must be preserved.”)

—Stanisław Lem, Peace on Earth

“When the wind blows not, where, then, is the wind?
Or when thou art not living, where art thou?
What should the wind care for the hours of calm or thou for death?
Thy life is long, Eternity is short.
So short that, shouldst thou die and Eternity should pass, and after the passing of Eternity thou shouldst live again, thou wouldst say: ‘I closed mine eyes but for an instant.’”

—Lord Dunsany, Yoharneth-Lahai in The Gods of Pegāna