Georg Christoph Lichtenberg quotes

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Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Birthdate: 1. July 1742
Date of death: 24. February 1799

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg was a German physicist, satirist, and Anglophile. As a scientist, he was the first to hold a professorship explicitly dedicated to experimental physics in Germany. He is remembered for his posthumously published notebooks, which he himself called Sudelbücher, a description modelled on the English bookkeeping term "scrapbooks", and for his discovery of tree-like electrical discharge patterns now called Lichtenberg figures. Wikipedia

„Cautiousness in judgment is nowadays to be recommended to each and every one:“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

A 38
Aphorisms (1765-1799), Notebook A (1765-1770)
Context: Cautiousness in judgment is nowadays to be recommended to each and every one: if we gained only one incontestable truth every ten years from each of our philosophical writers the harvest we reaped would be sufficient. … To grow wiser means to learn to know better and better the faults to which this instrument with which we feel and judge can be subject.

„A book is a mirror: if an ape looks into it an apostle is hardly likely to look out.“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

E 49
Variant translations of first portion: A book is a mirror: If an ape peers into it, you can't expect an apostle to look out.
A book is a mirror: If an ass peers into it, you can't expect an apostle to look out. — this has actually been the most commonly cited form, but it is based on either a loose non-literal translation or a mistranslation of the German original: Ein Buch ist Spiegel, aus dem kein Apostel herausgucken kann, wenn ein Affe hineinguckt.
Aphorisms (1765-1799), Notebook E (1775 - 1776)
Context: A book is a mirror: if an ape looks into it an apostle is hardly likely to look out. We have no words for speaking of wisdom to the stupid. He who understands the wise is wise already.

„With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another.“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Bei den meisten Menschen gründet sich der unglaube in einer Sache auf blinden Glauben in einer anderen.
http://books.google.com/books?id=oK1LAAAAcAAJ&q=%22Bei+den+meisten+Menschen+gr%C3%BCndet+sich+der+unglaube+in+einer+Sache+auf+blinden+Glauben+in+einer+anderen%22&pg=PA104#v=onepage
L 81
Variant translation: With most people disbelief in a thing is founded on a blind belief in some other thing.
Aphorisms (1765-1799), Notebook L (1793-1796)

„All mathematical laws which we find in Nature are always suspect to me, in spite of their beauty.“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

As quoted in Lichtenberg : A Doctrine of Scattered Occasions (1959) by Joseph Peter Stern, p. 84
Context: All mathematical laws which we find in Nature are always suspect to me, in spite of their beauty. They give me no pleasure. They are merely auxiliaries. At close range it is all not true.

„To grow wiser means to learn to know better and better the faults to which this instrument with which we feel and judge can be subject.“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

A 38
Aphorisms (1765-1799), Notebook A (1765-1770)
Context: Cautiousness in judgment is nowadays to be recommended to each and every one: if we gained only one incontestable truth every ten years from each of our philosophical writers the harvest we reaped would be sufficient. … To grow wiser means to learn to know better and better the faults to which this instrument with which we feel and judge can be subject.

„The motives that lead us to do anything might be arranged like the thirty-two winds and might be given names on the same pattern“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Referring to a diagrammatic "Compass of Motives", as quoted in Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewussten [Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious] (1905) by Sigmund Freud, as translated by James Strachey (1960), p. 101; also quoted by Freud in an open letter to Albert Einstein, Why War? (1933).
Variant translation: The motives that lead us to do anything might be arranged like the thirty-two winds and might be given names on the same pattern: for instance, "food-food-fame" or "fame-fame-food".
Context: The motives that lead us to do anything might be arranged like the thirty-two winds and might be given names on the same pattern: for instance, "bread-bread-fame" or "fame-fame-bread."

„We can see nothing whatever of the soul unless it is visible in the expression of the countenance;“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

B 11
Aphorisms (1765-1799), Notebook B (1768-1771)
Context: We can see nothing whatever of the soul unless it is visible in the expression of the countenance; one might call the faces at a large assembly of people a history of the human soul written in a kind of Chinese ideograms.

„As the few adepts in such things well know, universal morality is to be found in little everyday penny-events just as much as in great ones.“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

B 33
Aphorisms (1765-1799), Notebook B (1768-1771)
Context: As the few adepts in such things well know, universal morality is to be found in little everyday penny-events just as much as in great ones. There is so much goodness and ingenuity in a raindrop that an apothecary wouldn't let it go for less than half-a-crown.

„Sense and understanding thus come to the aid of memory. Sense is order and order is in the last resort conformity with our nature. When we speak rationally we are only speaking in accordance with the nature of our being.“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

J 65
Aphorisms (1765-1799), Notebook J (1789)
Context: A great speech is easy to learn by heart and a great poem even easier. How hard it would be to memorize as many words linked together senselessly, or a speech in a foreign tongue! Sense and understanding thus come to the aid of memory. Sense is order and order is in the last resort conformity with our nature. When we speak rationally we are only speaking in accordance with the nature of our being. That is why we devise genera and species in the case of plants and animals. The hypotheses we make belong here too: we are obliged to have them because otherwise we would unable to retain things... The question is, however, whether everything is legible to us. Certainly experiment and reflection enable us to introduce a significance into what is not legible, either to us or at all: thus we see faces or landscapes in the sand, though they are certainly not there. The introducion of symmetries belongs here too, silhouettes in inkblots, etc. Likewise the gradation we establish in the order of creatures: all this is not in the things but in us. In general we cannot remember too often that when we observe nature, and especially the ordering of nature, it is always ourselves alone we are observing.

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„It is almost impossible to bear the torch of truth through a crowd without singeing somebody’s beard.“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

G 4
Variant translations:
It is almost impossible to carry the torch of wisdom through a crowd without singeing someone's beard.
It is virtually impossible to carry the torch of truth through a crowd, without singeing someone's beard
Aphorisms (1765-1799), Notebook G (1779-1783)

„It is we who are the measure of what is strange and miraculous“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

A 26
Aphorisms (1765-1799), Notebook A (1765-1770)
Context: It is we who are the measure of what is strange and miraculous: if we sought a universal measure the strange and miraculous would not occur and all things would be equal.

„There are people who believe everything is sane and sensible that is done with a solemn face.“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

E 59
Variant translation: There are people who think that everything one does with a serious face is sensible...
Aphorisms (1765-1799), Notebook E (1775 - 1776)
Context: There are people who believe everything is sane and sensible that is done with a solemn face. … It is no great art to say something briefly when, like Tacitus, one has something to say; when one has nothing to say, however, and none the less writes a whole book and makes truth … into a liar — that I call an achievement.

„A book which, above all others in the world, should be forbidden, is a catalogue of forbidden books.“

—  Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

As quoted in A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991) edited by Alan Lindsay Mackay, p. 153

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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