Blaise Pascal on man as a “thinking reed”

"L'homme est un roseau pensant III" by Jacek Jarnuszkiewicz (Cartier metro station, Montréal, Quebec: 2007)

"L'homme est un roseau pensant III" by Jacek Jarnuszkiewicz (Métro Cartier, Montréal, Quebec: 2007).
Photograph by Pierre Bélanger.
Image credit: EGODESIGN.CA: Jacek Jarnuszkiewicz - Man is a thinking reed No3


Thought constitutes the greatness of man.


Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.

All our dignity consists then in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavour then to think well; this is the principle of morality.


A thinking reed.—It is not from space that I must seek my dignity, but from the government of my thought. I shall have no more if I possess worlds. By space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; by thought I comprehend the world.
Blaise Pascal in Thoughts, translated from the French by William Finlayson Trotter, Mary Louise Booth and Orlando Williams Wight, (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910), p. 120. First published as Pensées de M. Pascal sur la religion et sur quelques autres sujets, qui ont été trouvées après sa mort, parmy ses papiers (“Thoughts of M. Pascal on religion and on some other subjects, which were found after his death, among his papers”), edited, with a preface by Étienne Périer, (Paris, France: Chez Guillaume Desprez, 1669). High quality scan available at Gallica; text in translation available at Project Gutenberg.

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"Thought constitutes the greatness of man."
Blaise Pascal Posted on behalf of on Thursday, October 21st, 2010 under Quotations.

John Archer on “The Truth in These Stories”

But this attempt of mine to connect up historical details is just minor left-brain stuff.

[audio:/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/paul_knapp_jr-rapture_of_the_deep-humpback_whale_singing-2001-01-caribbean_humpback_whale-excerpt.mp3|titles=A field recording “Caribbean Humpback Whale” by Paul Knapp, Jr. on “Rapture of the Deep: Humpback Whale Singing” (Bridgeport, Connecticut: Compass Recordings, 2001)]

When you hear people from the East Coast of Aotearoa proclaim…

“Ko Paikea te tipuna taniwha tangata.”

…they are proudly acknowledging, in vivid symbolic format, that…

“…our Polynesian ancestors lived life to the very edge by venturing far across the deep and distant waters,

…they succeeded in their ventures because they strove to become at one with the great animals of the deep ocean,

…and these ancestors are still there in front of us, calling us to follow their example, until we also achieve one-ness with other creatures.”

— John Archer in his article “Paikea: 1870s” (New Zealand: New Zealand Folk Song, August 2007). Originally published (New Zealand: New Zealand Folk Song, November 5, 2003). Field recording by John Knapp, Jr. excerpted from “Caribbean Humpback Whale” on the album “Rapture of the Deep: Humpback Whale Singing” (Bridgeport, Connecticut: Compass Recordings, 2001).

Related Media: Explosion sequence during the conclusion of the film Zabriskie Point (Los Angeles, California: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 1970)

John Archer Posted on behalf of on Saturday, October 16th, 2010 under Quotations.

Kahu Paikea Apirana on strength

This speech is a token of my deep love and respect for Koro Apirana, my grandfather.

My name is Paikea Apirana. And I come from a long line of chiefs, stretching all the way back to Hawaiki, where our ancient ones are. The ones that first heard the land crying and sent a man.

His name was also Paikea. And I am his mos-most recent descendant.

But I was not the leader my grandfather was expecting. And by being born, I broke the line back to the ancient ones.

But we can learn. And if the knowledge is given to everyone, then we can have lots of leaders. And soon, everyone will be strong, not just the ones that’ve been chosen. Because sometimes, even if you’re the leader and you need to be strong – you can get tired.

Like our ancestor, Paikea, when he was lost at sea…and he couldn’t find the land, and he probably wanted to die. But he knew the ancient ones were there for him. So he called out to them to lift him up and give him strength.

This is his chant. I dedicate it to my grandfather.
— Kahu Paikea Apirana (Keisha Castle-Hughes) in the film “Whale Rider” directed and written by Niki Caro (New Zealand: South Pacific Pictures; ApolloMedia; Pandora Film, January 30, 2003). Based upon the book “The Whale Rider” by Witi Tame Ihimaera-Smiler (Witi Ihimaera), (Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann, 1987). Quotation adapted from source transcription at Drew’s Script-o-Rama.

Related Media: Kahu Paikea Apirana’s Speech in the film Whale Rider (edited)

Related Media: Hatupatu and Kurangaituku – Maori Legend Animation by Preston McNeil of Mofresh

Kahu Paikea Apirana Niki Caro Witi Tame Ihimaera-Smiler Posted on behalf of , and on Saturday, October 9th, 2010 under Quotations.

Joseph Campbell on the mythos of the Admiralty Islands

A young woman—we are told—went into the forest. The serpent saw her. “Come!” he said. But the young woman answered, “Who would have you for a husband? You are a serpent. I will not marry you.” He said, “My body is indeed that of a serpent, but my speech is that of a man. Come!” And she went with him, married him, and presently bore a boy and girl; after which the serpent husband put her away, saying, “Go! I shall take care of them and give them food.”

The serpent fed the children and they grew. One day the serpent said to them, “Go, catch some fish!” They did so and returned, and he said, “Cook the fish!” but they replied, “The sun has not yet risen.” When the sun rose and warmed the fish with its rays, they consumed the food, still raw and bloody.

And the serpent said, “You two are spirits; for you eat your food raw. Perhaps you will eat me. You, girl, stay here! You, boy, crawl into my belly!” The boy was afraid and said, “What shall I do?” But the snake said, “Come!” and he crept into the serpent’s belly. The serpent said to him, “Take the fire and bring it out to your sister! Come out and gather coconuts, yams, taro, and bananas!” So the boy crept out again, bringing the fire from the belly of the serpent.

Then, having gathered roots and fruit, as told, they lit a fire with the brand the boy had brought forth, and cooked their food; and when they had eaten, the serpent asked, “Is my kind of food or yours the better?” To which they answered, “Yours! Our kind is bad.”[1]

Here is a legend of the planting world such as might have been told practically anywhere along the tropical arc of the primary migration, from Africa eastward (south of the Elburz-Himalayan mountain line) to southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Melanesia; whereas, actually, its place along the arc was a primitive enclave at the remote eastern end of the great tropical province: the Admiralty Islands, just off the northern coast of New Guinea.
Joseph Campbell in The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, Volume 1, Chapter 10 “Mythological Thresholds of the Neolithic”, Section I “The Great Serpent of the Earliest Planters (c. 7500 B.C.?)”, (New York: Arkana, 1991), p. 384-5. Originally published (New York: Viking Press, 1959).


[1] J. Meier, “Mythen und Sagen der Admiralitäts-insulaner, Anthropos, Vol. II (1907), p. 654.

Joseph Campbell Posted on behalf of on Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 under Quotations.

Anh Crutcher and Dale Stover on Yakoana, Ya̧nomamö shamanism, and “the breath, of the planet”

[52] [Anh Crutcher (AC):] Bruce Albert, an anthropologist had spoken with Davi [Yanomami] and Davi had told him the creation myth of the Yanomami, and it had been transcribed and somehow along the road I had gotten a copy. And in the copy they talk about Yakoana, and they spelled it y-a-k-o-a-n-a, and I realized that’s what it is, it’s not Akwana, it’s Yakoana. During the Amazon week conference that Parabola flew me out for, Davi Yanomami was there. I was trying to make sure that everything I did was okay by the indigenous people, that I wasn’t accidentally screwing up or disrespecting them. So, I showed him all the footage and everything and I said, “I want to name it Yakoana, is that okay with you?” And that’s when he said, “Yakoana.” And he was the one who said “Yakoana helps us to hear the voice, the breath, of the planet and the song of the earth.” He’s the one that told that to me verbally. So, Yakoana is a sacred hallucinogen that’s used in ceremony.

[53] [Dale Stover (DS)]: Have you ever been in a ceremony where it’s been used?

[54] AC: No, although it might have been used when Davi and Levi [Yanomami] did that ceremony, which may be why he said that. But I didn’t see because the way it’s given is that one person stands there and the other stands here, there’s a huge reed that’s hollow, and if you were taking it you’d put it in your nose and I would blow. And apparently it hurts like hell, and only shamans do it. And I think in the Yanomami tribe only men are shamans. From what I understand, I learned this about the Kayapo, which is another tribe from the Amazon, is that shamans are the people that can cross through this spider web, or the membrane between life and death and come back sane. People who go insane are not able to be shamans, and people who die are not able to be shamans. Shamans are the ones that can go to both worlds. And that’s why only shamans can take this. And what it does, apparently, is it brings the Shaburi. Shaburi are the little creatures in nature that are on the bottom of the Yakoana poster that look like little people. They are the spirits of nature, so when you take the Yakoana or Ayahuasca or other ceremonial medicines from an indigenous point of view, from what I’ve been told, it is the Shaburi who come and talk to you and help you to see how to help nature. That’s the essence of the film, enabling us to be the song of the earth.
— Anh Crutcher as interviewed by Dale Stover (San Francisco, California: January 29, 1999) regarding her film “Yakoana” (Brazil; USA: Under Your Nose Productions, 1998). Transcription available as “The Story Behind YAKOANA: an Interview with Anh Crutcher” in The Journal of Religion and Film, Volume 3, Number 1, (Omaha, Nebraska: University of Nebraska at Omaha, Department of Philosophy and Religion, April 1999).

Related Media: “Yakoana” on YouTube

Anh Crutcher Dale Stover Davi Yanomami Levi Yanomami Bruce Albert Marcos Terena Posted on behalf of , , , , and on Saturday, September 25th, 2010 under Quotations.

Daistesu Teitaro Suzuki on “self-forgetfulness”

Man is a thinking reed but his great works are done when he is not calculating and thinking. “Childlikeness” has to be restored with long years of training in the art of self-forgetfulness. When this is attained, man thinks yet he does not think. He thinks like the showers coming down from the sky; he thinks like the waves rolling on the ocean; he thinks like the stars illuminating the nightly heaven; he thinks like the green foliage shooting forth in the relaxing spring breeze. Indeed, he is the showers, the ocean, the stars, the foliage.
Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (also transliterated as Daisetz; often abbreviated D. T.) in his introduction (Ipswich, Massachusetts: May 1953) to Eugen Herrigel‘s Zen in the Art of Archery, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), p. viii-ix. First published as Zen in der Kunst des Bogenschießens, (Konstanz Weller, 1948). First English translation from the German by R.F.C. Hull (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953).

Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki Posted on behalf of on Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 under Quotations.

Robert Moss’ poem “Sun Stealer”

They say you stole the sun.
This is inexact.
You hid the light in darkness
where the light-killers could not find it
so the sun could shine brighter than before.

They say you are black
because you are evil and unkind.
They do not say you swallowed
your own shadow and mastered it
at the price of wearing its colors.

Shivering, they call you death-knell,
Death-eater, bad omen, flying banshee
because you feed on death that feeds on men.
You strip what rots from what remains.
You give us the purity of the bones.

Trickster, they call you.
Oh yes, you’ll do your wickedest
to ensure our way is never routine
and we are forced to improvise and transform.
You won’t let us swap our souls for a plan.

At least they don’t accuse you of minor crimes.
I praise and claim your gifts
of putting on darkness to come and go safely
in the darkest places, jesting with Death.
Robert Moss‘ poem “Sun Stealer” on his blog “Dream Gates” in the blog post “Raven Eye” (beliefnet, September 21, 2010); written “…for Raven at the end of a marvelous adventure in group dreaming, when many of us were able to see true with the help of that raven eye.” Earlier revision available as “RAVEN EYE: Sun Stealer” (The Robert Moss BLOG, January 2, 2009 1:58am); note earlier rendering of final line as “joking with Death.”

Robert Moss Posted on behalf of on Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 under Quotations, Source Texts.

William S. Burroughs on his notes after a Led Zeppelin concert before interviewing Jimmy Page

I summarized my impressions after the [Led Zeppelin] concert in a few notes to serve as a basis for my talk with Jimmy Page. “The essential ingredient for any successful rock group is energy – the ability to give out energy, to receive energy from the audience and to give it back to the audience. A rock concert is in fact a rite involving the evocation and transmutation of energy. Rock stars may be compared to priests, a theme that was treated in Peter Watkins‘ film ‘Privilege‘. In that film a rock star was manipulated by reactionary forces to set up a state religion; this scenario seems unlikely, I think a rock group singing political slogans would leave its audience at the door.

“The Led Zeppelin show depends heavily on volume, repetition and drums. It bears some resemblance to the trance music found in Morocco, which is magical in origin and purpose – that is, concerned with the evocation and control of spiritual forces. In Morocco, musicians are also magicians. Gnaoua music is used to drive out evil spirits. The music of Joujouka evokes the God Pan, Pan God of Panic, representing the real magical forces that sweep away the spurious. It is to be remembered that the origin of all the arts––music, painting and writing––is magical and evocative; and that magic is always used to obtain some definite result. In the Led Zeppelin concert, the result aimed at would seem to be the creation of energy in the performers and in the audience. For such magic to succeed, it must tap the sources of magical energy, and this can be dangerous.”
William S. Burroughs in his article “Rock Magic: Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin, And a search for the elusive Stairway to Heaven” in Crawdaddy Magazine, (New York: Crawdaddy Publishing Company, June 1975). Available in John Coulthart‘s blog post “William Burroughs on…Led Zeppelin!” in Arthur Magazine (Joshua Tree, California: Jay Babcock, December 5, 2007). Thanks to @jamreilly for the lead.

William S. Burroughs Jimmy Page Posted on behalf of and on Saturday, September 18th, 2010 under Quotations, Source Texts.

Henry David Thoreau on philanthropy

Billboard advertisement from Cordaid's People in Need campaign (Amstelveen, The Netherlands: Saatchi & Saatchi, 2007)

Billboard advertisement from Cordaid's People in Need campaign (Amstelveen, The Netherlands: Saatchi & Saatchi, 2007).
Image credit: The Inspiration Room - Cordaid Help For People in Need

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve. It is the pious slave-breeder devoting the proceeds of every tenth slave to buy a Sunday’s liberty for the rest. Some show their kindness to the poor by employing them in their kitchens. Would they not be kinder if they employed themselves there? You boast of spending a tenth part of your income in charity; may be you should spend the nine tenths so, and done with it. Society recovers only a tenth part of the property then. Is this owing to the generosity of him in whose possession it is found, or to the remissness of the officers of justice?

[audio:/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/walden-or_life_in_the_woods-1854-chapter_01-economy-part_05-excerpt.mp3|titles=Henry David Thoreau in Walden: Or, Life in the Woods, Volume 1, (Boston, Massachusetts; New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1897), p. 120-2.]

Philanthropy is almost the only virtue which is sufficiently appreciated by mankind. Nay, it is greatly overrated; and it is our selfishness which overrates it. A robust poor man, one sunny day here in Concord, praised a fellow-townsman to me, because, as he said, he was kind to the poor; meaning himself. The kind uncles and aunts of the race are more esteemed than its true spiritual fathers and mothers. I once heard a reverend lecturer on England, a man of learning and intelligence, after enumerating her scientific, literary, and political worthies, [William] Shakespeare, [Francis] Bacon, [Oliver] Cromwell, [John] Milton, [Isaac] Newton, and others, speak next of her Christian heroes, whom, as if his profession required it of him, he elevated to a place far above all the rest, as the greatest of the great. They were [William] Penn, Howard, and Mrs. [Elizabeth] Fry. Every one must feel the falsehood and cant of this. The last were not England’s best men and women; only, perhaps, her best philanthropists.

I would not subtract anything from the praise that is due to philanthropy, but merely demand justice for all who by their lives and works are a blessing to mankind. I do not value chiefly a man’s uprightness and benevolence, which are, as it were, his stem and leaves. Those plants of whose greenness withered we make herb tea for the sick serve but a humble use, and are most employed by quacks. I want the flower and fruit of a man; that some fragrance be wafted over from him to me, and some ripeness flavor our intercourse. His goodness must not be a partial and transitory act, but a constant superfluity, which costs him nothing and of which he is unconscious. This is a charity that hides a multitude of sins. The philanthropist too often surrounds mankind with the remembrance of his own cast-off griefs as an atmosphere, and calls it sympathy. We should impart our courage, and not our despair, our health and ease, and not our disease, and take care that this does not spread by contagion.
Henry David Thoreau in Walden: Or, Life in the Woods, Volume 1, (Boston, Massachusetts; New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1897), p. 120. First published (Boston, Massachusetts: Ticknor and Fields, 1854). Complete audio recording by Gord Mackenzie available at LibriVox.

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"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root"
Henry David Thoreau Posted on behalf of on Thursday, September 16th, 2010 under Quotations.

Kahlil Gibran’s Almustafa on everyday gods

“Let us speak no more now of God the Father. Let us speak rather of the gods, your neighbours, and of your brothers, the elements that move about your houses and your fields.

“You would rise in fancy unto the cloud, and you deem it height; and you would pass over the vast sea and claim it to be distance. But I say unto you that when you sow a seed in the earth, you reach a greater height; and when you hail the beauty of the morning to your neighbour, you cross a greater sea.

“Too often do you sing God, the Infinite, and yet in truth you hear not the song. Would that you might listen to the songbirds, and to the leaves that forsake the branch when the wind passes by, and forget not, my friends, that these sing only when they are separated from the branch!

“Again, I bid you to speak not so freely of God, who is your All, but speak rather and understand one another, neighbour unto neighbour, a god unto a god.

“For what shall feed the fledgling in the nest if the mother bird flies skyward? And what anemone in the field shall be fulfilled unless it be husbanded by a bee from another anemone?

“It is only when you are lost in your smaller selves that you seek the sky which you call God. Would that you might find paths into your vast selves; would that you might be less idle and pave the roads!

“My mariners and my friends, it were wiser to speak less of God, whom we cannot understand, and more of each other, whom we may understand. Yet I would have you know that we are the breath and the fragrance of God. We are God, in leaf, in flower, and oftentimes in fruit.”
Kahlil Gibran (also transliterated Khalil and Kalil; Jubrãn, Gubran, Jibran) in The Garden of the Prophet, completed and published posthumously by Barbara Young, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981), p. 39-41. First published (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1933).

Kahlil Gibran Barbara Young Posted on behalf of and on Monday, September 13th, 2010 under Quotations.