My So-Called Truth: William James and the Will to Believe

My William James revery continues. It’s easy to like this American philosopher, and it’s fascinating to learn about the other great intellects he interacted with: Ralph Waldo Emerson was his godfather, Henry James was his sibling rival, Gertrude Stein and W. E. B. DuBois were among his students at Harvard. He was a medical doctor and a superb writer as well as a career academic. As one of the first Americans to pay serious attention to an emerging European science that called itself “psychology”, he mingled with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

James stood for a number of controversial opinions on issues that are still hotly debated today. His signature theory, Pragmatism, posits that willfulness is the primary ingredient in human belief. It did not puzzle William James that two people can look at the same evidence and arrive at completely separate conclusions, because James believed that a person’s understanding of truth is inexorably bound to that person’s motivation. We are practical above all else, and within the range of all possible belief systems we will always choose the belief system that benefits us the most. This leads to the pragmatist’s definition of truth: truth is that which is useful for us to believe in.

Let’s allow the philosopher speak for himself, though:

“The great assumption of the intellectualists is that truth means essentially an inert static relation. When you’ve got your true idea of anything, there’s an end of the matter. You’re in possession; you know; you have fulfilled your thinking destiny. You are where you ought to be mentally; you have obeyed your categorical imperative; and nothing more need follow on that climax of your rational destiny. Epistemologically you are in stable equilibrium.

Pragmatism, on the other hand, asks its usual question. “Grant an idea or belief to be true,” it says, “what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone’s actual life? How will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth’s cash-value in experiential terms?”

The moment pragmatism asks this question, it sees the answer: True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot. That is the practical difference it makes to us to have true ideas; that, therefore, is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known-as.

This thesis is what I have to defend. The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events.”

Or …

“It is quite evident that our obligation to acknowledge truth, so far from being unconditional, is tremendously conditioned. Truth with a big T, and in the singular, claims abstractly to be recognized, of course; but concrete truths in the plural need be recognized only when their recognition is expedient. A truth must always be preferred to a falsehood when both relate to the situation; but when neither does, truth is as little of a duty as falsehood. If you ask me what o’clock it is and I tell you that I live at 95 Irving Street, my answer may indeed be true, but you don’t see why it is my duty to give it. A false address would be as much to the purpose.”

And, just because I love these quotes and can’t stop clipping them, here’s one more …

Believe truth! Shun error!-these, we see, are two materially different laws; and by choosing between them we may end by coloring differently our whole intellectual life. We may regard the chase for truth as paramount, and the avoidance of error as secondary; or we may, on the other hand, treat the avoidance of error as more imperative, and let truth take its chance. Clifford, in the instructive passage which I have quoted, exhorts us to the latter course. Believe nothing, he tells us, keep your mind in suspense forever, rather than by closing it on insufficient evidence incur the awful risk of believing lies. You, on the other hand, may think that the risk of being in error is a very small matter when compared with the blessings of real knowledge, and be ready to be duped many times in your investigation rather than postpone indefinitely the chance of guessing true. I myself find it impossible to go with Clifford. We must remember that these feelings of our duty about either truth or error are in any case only expressions of our passional life. Biologically considered, our minds are as ready to grind out falsehood as veracity, and he who says, ” Better go without belief forever than believe a lie!” merely shows his own preponderant private horror of becoming a dupe. He may be critical of many of his desires and fears, but this fear he slavishly obeys. He cannot imagine any one questioning its binding force. For my own part, I have also a horror of being duped; but I can believe that worse things than being duped may happen to a man in this world: so Clifford’s exhortation has to my ears a thoroughly fantastic sound. It is like a general informing his soldiers that it is better to keep out of battle forever than to risk a single wound. Not so are victories either over enemies or over nature gained. Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf. At any rate, it seems the fittest thing for the empiricist philosopher.

A pragmatist turns his back resolutely and once for all upon a lot of inveterate habits dear to professional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action and towards power. That means the empiricist temper regnant and the rationalist temper sincerely given up. It means the open air and possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality, and the pretence of finality in truth.”

It’s important to note that William James did not try to frame his theory of pragmatism as a revolutionary idea, but rather as an obvious fact of life that nobody wants to admit. He called one of his books Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, and indeed we all know privately (though we may not want to say it out loud) that it is our basic human nature to bend truth so that it fits our wishes and serves our goals. James’ unique contribution to the field of philosophy and epistemology was to spell this out proudly and simply, to admit that his own beliefs were completely willful, and to challenge his fellow thinkers to find any form of belief or opinion that is not subject to the shaping and molding we willful humans place upon it.

William James died in 1910, four years before the start of the first World War. He stood against all forms of smug piety and intellectual bigotry, but unfortunately his theory of pragmatism was no match for the violent belief-crazed excesses of the century that followed. These days, we need his brand of honesty more than ever.

Here’s a decent jumping-off point if you’d like to learn more about William James. I’ve also got at least one more article to write about his stance on the question of free will, and then I’d like to explore an interesting question: how did it affect novelist Henry James to grow up with this guy as an older brother? Stay tuned for more.

23 Responses

  1. just a few badly constructed
    just a few badly constructed points

    I have to say (in response to yesterday’s post) that I would run away from a bear because I am frightened it might destroy me. Bears are huge carnivores with sharp claws and large teeth from which saliva drips. Only Grizzly Adams could stand and face a bear.

    I am not entirely sure that it is important whether smiling makes you happy or whether you are happy because you smile because either way it is the stimulus that caused the response. Whether it be first (by at the most a milisecond) the outward manifestation of joy/amusement or the other does not matter. How does the answer to this question of which is the first part of me to react effect my responses to others, or my understanding of myself and others? Surely this is something of interest/use to a psychologist/therapist dealing with a patient with a mental illness, like Tourettes or something, which is very bound up with the idea of response and emotion. But then again I am sure I have not thought it through correctly. It might well lead to a clearer way of thinking. Something tells me that this might be the case, but I cannot for the life of me see how.

    And the whole thing about being afraid of being duped: I was thining about that today already, thinking about that line from Bukowski’s ‘Genius of the crowd’ poem where he says:

    ‘Beware those quick to censure.
    They are afraid of what they do not know.’

    And I was thinking that I am a little troubled by what I do not know, and then I started thinking that it is good not to trust or believe in anything until you have considered it from all angles and in different frames of mind. Afraid of being duped? You are damned straight! Everyone should be afraid of being duped. Being duped by themselves, ourselves, mostly, by associations taken from the tellybox and our parents and other stupider children.

    William James sure makes you think. I guess. But like you said he said: this stuff is kind of obvious. It’s like liberalism and conservatism, I think. Some cling and some float.

    I never fit things into my beliefs. I doubt everything entirely always. I wait for inspiration, wait quietly for the truth, like Kafka said, just sitting in a room, just like that, and the world will appear to you. It has, said Kafka, no other choice.

    I like the whole piece you wrote here. It is good to think about these things. Sometimes. And I will consult his tomes forthwith.

  2. On Pragmatism and the
    On Pragmatism and the Brothers James

    Nice post on pragmatism. This is the sort of thing I was hoping for out of the PEN Faith & Reason panels, but oh well. Looking forward to what you have to say about Henry James’ and pragmatism. I have a few ideas about that topic myself. (see url below.) It seems to me that Henry James took the lessons of pragmatism to heart (not that I’ve read or thought enough about either James brother to write with any authority on the matter).

  3. The Will to Believe excerptsI
    The Will to Believe excerpts

    I read my textbook in the mid ’90s and after scanning the essay I can find nothing of what I felt it said before, i.e., a person’s beliefs can manifest their reality. Possibly I got this idea from my textbook.

    For the record, C.S. Peirce is the real grand daddy of pragmatism which some like to call American philosophy and Peirce wanted to be differentiated from James with the term Pragmaticism.

    by William James
    An Address to the Philosophical Clubs of Yale and Brown Universities. Published in the New World, June, 1896.

    …let us call the decision between two hypotheses an option. Options may be of several kinds. They may be:

    1, living or dead;
    2, forced or avoidable;
    3, momentous or trivial;
    and for our purpose we may call an option a gennine option when it of the forced, living, and momentous kind.

    1. A living option is one in which both hypotheses are live ones. If I say to you: “Be a theosophist or be a Mohammedan,” it is probably a dead option, because for you neither hypothesis is likely to be alive. But if I say: ” Be an agnostic or be Christian,” it is otherwise: trained as you are, each hypothesis makes some appeal, however small, to your belief.

    We must know the truth; and we must avoid error,–

    If religion be true and the evidence for it be still insufficient, I do not wish, by putting your extinguisher upon my nature (which feels to me as if it had after all some business in this matter), to forfeit my sole chance in life of getting upon the winning side,–that chance depending, of course, on my willingness to run the risk of acting as if my passional need of taking the world religiously might be prophetic and right.

    Since belief is measured by action, he who forbids us to believe religion to be true, necessarily also forbids us to act as we should if we did believe it to be true. The whole defence of religious faith hinges upon action. If the action required or inspired by the religious hypothesis is in no way different from that dictated by the naturalistic hypothesis, then religious faith is a pure superfluity, better pruned away, and controversy about its legitimacy is a piece of idle trifling, unworthy of serious minds. I myself believe, of course, that the religious hypothesis gives to the world an expression which specifically determines our reactions, and makes them in a large part unlike what they might be on a purely naturalistic scheme of belief.] till doomsday, or till such time as our intellect and senses working together may have raked in evidence enough, –this command, I say, seems to me the queerest idol ever manufactured in the philosophic cave. Were we scholastic absolutists, there might be more excuse. If we had an infallible intellect with its objective certitudes, we might feel ourselves disloyal to such a perfect organ of knowledge in not trusting to it exclusively, in not waiting for its releasing word. But if we are empiricists [pragmatists], if we believe that no bell in us tolls to let us know for certain when truth is in our grasp, then it seems a piece of idle fantasticality to preach so solemnly our duty of waiting for the bell. Indeed we may wait if we will, –I hope you do not think that I am denying that, –but if we do so, we do so at our peril as much as if we believed. In either case we act, taking our life in our hands. No one of us ought to issue vetoes to the other, nor should we bandy words of abuse.

    We ought, on the contrary, delicately and profoundly to respect one another’s mental freedom: then only shall we bring about the intellectual republic; then only shall we have that spirit of inner tolerance without which all our outer tolerance is soulless, and which is empiricism’s glory; then only shall we live and let live, in speculative as well as in practical things.

  4. Rick, first I’d like to say
    Rick, first I’d like to say that I really like your reply to the previous post, re the parallel development of psychology and literature in parallel. That is a fascinating idea and if someone hasn’t written a book on it, someone should.

    I have so many ideas floating about this, I don’t know where to begin. First, we know that there is a link between our physical and mental facilities. One of the things that separates humans from other animals is the written word. People are said to “give their word” on something. The Bible has phrases like, “In the beginning was the word.” The nature of that sentence can be either secular or spiritual; ie, the introduction of words marked the beginning of human history as we know it, or, as some people believe, the word is God. Or is it one in the same? Then, some philosophers believe that every word carries preconceived shades of meaning to each individual. William S. Burroughs said words are a virus. They replicate through humans, independent of humans. Maybe what some people call the Holy Spirit is a gene in our DNA? I’m not arguing for or against the existence of God here, I’m just saying maybe mental + physical = spiritual.

    Well, I said at the beginning of this post that I don’t know where to begin. I’m rambling and I know it. Maybe I can add more to this and tie it all together some day.

    Well, gotta go!

  5. Fine review!Good quotes, good
    Fine review!

    Good quotes, good info, stimulating discussion! Great for a Friday morning.

    Here’s an old “trick” that a former president of the local Mensa chapter president showed me once. Not sure if it’s significant.

    On one side of a piece of paper, write “The statement on the other side of this paper is false.” Then turn the paper over and write the same statement on the other side.

    The thing is, whatever you decide the first statement is, true or false, it is! If you say, “Statement A is true” it becomes true, because Statement B says Statement A is false, which is wrong. If you say, “Statement A is false” it is false. The statement on the other side says so.

    A lot of people think this is just a joke, like the old joke where you write on both sides of the paper, “How do you keep a moron busy all day? See other side for answer.” The joke being that a moron would keep turning the paper over & over, looking for the answer. Maybe it is, but it seems to suggest more.

  6. One Outa Two Ain’t BadI’m all
    One Outa Two Ain’t Bad

    I’m all on board with James’ pragmatism/truth/honesty diatribe. Just makes sense when you stop and think about it, but…

    I’m not too sold on the whole “The physical reaction happens first before the emotion” idea from your first post.

    I am looking forward to the effect he had on his younger brother though.

  7. Truth happens to an Idea”The
    Truth happens to an Idea

    “The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events.”

    Truth becomes truth by events, by motivations, by acts — and, yes, it becomes true by beliefs.

    Fides quae creditur, Fides qua creditur — the belief that is believed and the belief through which is believed. Content of belief and act of belief. Belief that receives and belief that gives. Truth. Faith. Are they separable? Are they either – or? Do they exclude each other, mutually limit each other, intensify each other? Are they twins or enemies?

    The truth of an idea is made true by events. Are these events subject to our choice? Is there a difference between conscious and unconscious belief — between the belief we choose and the one we don’t?

    … Unshaped ponderings. A thousand uncooked thoughts spring to my mind. Belief and truth. I’m trying to make the connection beyond the obvious. Let me think about this a little more…

  8. Just in reference to the
    Just in reference to the thing about the writing on both sides of the paper, I would say that there is a danger in trying to mystify things, when the answer is acutally much more simple than that, much more mundane, and, I suppose, less interesting. The answer to my tiny mind is that it is possible to claim all kinds of things with language and they not be true. The fact that you say something means nothing because it it not by saying something that you will things into being. Things are so, and all language can do is point out that they are so. Language does not create the world around it. It is shaped by the world around it. If there wasn’t any stuff then there wouldn’t be language, whereas stuff can exist just fine without language. It did do for aeons.

    There is that other one called sorites paradox which is all about the meaninglessness of words. It is all about a HEAP of sand (or whatever stuff you chose), and the point is supposed to be that you can’t define a heap. When does a heap become a heap? To me that is straight forward also, though the mathematicians seems to find hours of time and go through reams of paper breaking it down. The answer to my mind is, and here I pause because I can’t think of the answer… But it might be something like the idea that just because we have a word for something and it sort of works for most things that doesn’t mean it is a word of any real mathematical value. It’s like most words really. They are all pretty meaningless unless they describe very definite things. Most of language is conjecture and fear and guessing and feeling. This is getting too deep for me. I have a headache and I need to lie down.

    Language is a tool, huh? Often quite a blunt tool, but we are honing it down to a fine edge as the centuries go by, and soon, one day, I am sure we will all talk in maths, or, and this is an idea I had once when I was stoned, perhaps we humans overelaborate with language and are in fact, communicationly (is that a word?) speaking less efficient than the animals, who seem to get things done with a much simpler and straight-forward system.

    Like I said, I need to go and lie down for a moment.

    “Nurse, would you be a dear and pass me that flannel?”

  9. Like I said yesterday, the
    Like I said yesterday, the theory may not be 100% correct, but try this experiment:

    Right now, wherever you are, smile. I mean really smile.

    Doesn’t it seem to make you feel happier? It does to me.

  10. Language is shaped by the
    Language is shaped by the world around it which is shaped by language which is shaped by the world around it which….

    Turn the paper over and over and over and wonder which came first, the hen or the egg. Can we ever know beyond guesses, presumptions and belief? Do we not create our truth so that it fits our expectations, wishes and goals, as William James says?

    The word table is shaped by the thing table we created. History is shaped by words. Our experience of snow shaped our words for it. Words of judgement can shape a personality. The word belief stems from our understanding of it – it roots in the meaning of ‘trusting’/ ‘knowing’, or maybe, and even more accurate, in ‘to make something dear, well-known and trustworthy’, which probably comes directly from the word ‘leaf’, as in holding a bunch of leaves in front of a animal in order to tame it and make it trust. The name of Britain (from Pritani = painted) was shaped by how it was perceived — as a land with tatoo-ed and body-painted inhabitants. Encouraging words can change a situation. We coined many words by using their qualities. Words form, reflect and reinforce thoughts, attitudes and perceptions. Perceptions, thoughts and attitudes form words. The chronic use of certain words bolsters ideology and creates reality. Ideology and opinions coin new expressions, and their use create a new social, moral or psychologic reality.

    The world shapes language. Language shapes the world.

    Words are pretty meaningless unless they describe things, you say. Things are also meaningless unless they are named. Both is true. Both isn’t. It’s up to me which truth to choose, as I cannot know what the truth with a big T is, or if there is one at all. Maybe there isn’t. Maybe there is. My choice, your choice, our choice which to believe. And if I choose to believe that there is an absolute truth, then in retrospect I have also influenced by option to make such a decision, as with an absolute truth, these kind of decision would not be mine to make. And maybe I am right with that, and maybe I am not. How can we judge, or know, or ever be sure?

    We can only believe. For even non-belief is belief.

  11. Interesting stuff, Rick!
    Interesting stuff, Rick! Glad to see I’m not the only one pondering this question recently. I agree with you that there must be echoes of pragmatism in HJ’ work, but I want to know whether there are any big examples, any obvious cases. Certainly deception abounds in these stories — certainly many of Henry James characters are highly pragmatic, but are they pragmatistic?

    I am trying to find my copy of the Leon Edel biography of HJ to see what illumination that provides …

  12. Yeah, you may be right, but I
    Yeah, you may be right, but I don’t think it’s an absolute thing to the point where other stimuli don’t result in emotion.

    Maybe it works both ways.

  13. it does work both ways… at
    it does work both ways… at least some of the time.

    just observe what happens if you take up a certain body posture (ducked or upright), put on a particular facial expression (tensed up or relaxed), or walk in a specific manner (hesitantly or with winged steps).

    mood and body work closely together, and so do body and emotions, which we sometimes manage to influence positively through willfull physical actions (like breathing deeply to relax in a frightening or outraging situation, and smiling to soothe an upwelling anger), but also negatively by maintaining a grim look or a frown.

  14. Michael, yeah that piece of
    Michael, yeah that piece of paper thing might not mean a hill of beans. I jsut wanted to throw it into the mix. But when does a hill of beans become a hill?

    Panta, I like what you said about, “Language is shaped by the world around it which is shaped by language which is shaped by the world around it which….”

  15. Panta Rhei, Your piece
    Panta Rhei,

    Your piece stimulates thought and seems far deeper than I was able to go at the time.

    You wrote:

    “Turn the paper over and over and over and wonder which came first, the hen or the egg.”

    I think that questions of this type are a fun way to pass the time, but the bottom line, as you say, is that we cannot know. We can presume or believe or guess but the truth is something that must be got at over centuries, and the facts will, eventually, I “believe”, speak for themselves. Humans have a need (due to the fact that we have language and can pose big questions) to feel that certain certainties exist, whereas the truth is that we do not know (God, the universe, our place in all of this, life after death, spirituality), and the sooner we get used to this fact the sooner we might get somewhere. I mean, this is how it has always worked. Humans need to believe, so they build up an idea as the absolute truth and set up institutions and publications and repuatations around it like a comfort blanket, and then there is a revoloution and everyone changes (after much fist-waving etc). Oh, I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. Who am I kidding? And why do we need to know anyway. I happen to think the whole beginning and end idea of stuff quite ridiculous. Something has always existed.

    In response to what you said about words, I totally agree with everything you said and admit that I was selling language short with my imbecilic comment and promise never to be so very silly again.

    A word is a physical thing.

    William James said:

    “the proper coarse of action is to pick a self that seems admirable and to act
    like that self in as many situations as possible.”

    I like the word “seems” here, because I was thinking that the best writing is not so much about how the world is but how it seems, because that, in the main is how we commune with the world, through impressions and instincts, not through absolute truths and verifiable data streams. We guess and gather and make mistakes and learn. I do not like the use of the word “act” though, as that tends to speak ill of any notion of authenticity.

    I would say:

    the proper coarse of action is to pick a self that seems admirable and to aspire to understand and test that self in as many different situations as possible, whilst all the while knowing that you might very well be entirely mistaken about everything.

    Finally, to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald:

    “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

  16. One can know.One can have
    One can know.

    One can have ideas and be aware of other ideas and be certain that their beliefs are true and verify them via the scientific method.

    I exclude belief in faith-healing, the afterlife, hyper scepticism/ cynicism and dot-com boom economics and the philosophical questions without solutions, e.g., paradox of freedom, problem of evil, existence of god, etc.

    It’s good to be real and not the reality of a solipsist. The world exists. I can catch a bus, go to McD’s and pay for breakfast with cash–pieces of metal and cloth that we agree upon mutually that have value.

  17. I agree with Michael (I
    I agree with Michael (I think) that it’s not enough (at least for me) to conclude that everything is paradox and that all ideas are relative. On the issue of truth, or the issue of the core of consciousness, there is more at stake when these questions are asked then when discussing the chicken and the egg. For me, the answers to the questions James discusses are relevant to the way I live, the decisions I make, everything I see and do.

    Yes, absolutely, we all grasp truth well enough to live our lives, and beyond that “truth” is cloudy. Still, I feel a need to know whether or not James’ arguments are sound because it really does seem to make a concrete difference whether they are or not. And as far as I can see, they are sound.

  18. Truth isTruth is – whether
    Truth is

    Truth is – whether anyone knows it or not. It is the essential quest of philosophy, perhaps of humanity; the desire or need to eat of the tree of knowledge, which for some reason is forbidden.

    Socrates saw it reflected in the campfire of a cave. But no one has been able to capture it. I admire Thomas Hobbes’ equation – that which does not contradict itself, is at least not false. That is a starting point which is beyond Descartes’ leap of faith, beyond Spinoza’s false premises, beyond GE Moore’s practical logic.

    I agree (to an extent) with your quote of James – willfulness is the primary ingredient in belief. Thus religion; but that is such a visceral need, that overpowering craving to have things answered for us; to fill in the vacuum with something to hold on to. It cannot be dismissed as an idle desire, but more properly, an essential part of Maslowe’s hierarchy.

    But that immediately contradicts another James’ quote – we are practical above all else. No…we’ll follow Jim Jones to Guyana, if he’ll fill that spiritual/knowledge void for us. We’ll even believe Condi Rice if she starts throwing out mushroom cloud images. Practical we are not, willing to believe the fantasmagorical, we are.

    Finally, to extremely disagree with another quote of James – what concrete difference will truth make in anyone’s actual life. What an absurd statement, and it impacts our every facet of daily life. Remember the Alamo? that was a lie (I refer to the Wikipedia history of Texas). Remember the Maine? that was a lie, fostered by self-interested media marketers. Remember the wmd? that was a lie too, but don’t tell the parents and children of the dead soldiers; or the 600 corpses at Jonestown that the Canal Zone search and rescue folks bagged up.

    The Crusades were based on lies; does that impact us today? The Inquisition was based on lies; that still impacts us today. Truth is, independent of willful belief. Everyone thought the earth was flat until Thomas Friedman proved that the media is overwhelmingly pro-Isreali. I used to think I was a pragmatist, when I was young; but now I realize that we are all idealists at heart, until that is squashed out of us by education or societal pressures.

    imprinting preferences
    like a russian or machine
    it is so warm and peaceful there
    I never want to leave
    and if a pragmatist has values
    other people don’t
    what most people think they don’t know that I do
    laik a duck

  19. ThanksVery interesting,

    Very interesting, thanks for discussing this subject.

  20. We just sat with friends and
    We just sat with friends and wine and cheese and discussed this topic tonight, while nocturnal breezes rushed through the garden, nightdrunk kids whispered in the bushes, and distant clouds roared with melodic thunder.

    Six persons, six ways to approach truth. Six ways to perceive. Six ways to understand. Six choices to believe. Six ways to put it into words.

    And how easy to change stance just for the sake of discussion, and this way, discover how experience and motivation, hope and history influence our choice of belief according to the specific combinations of factors.

    How easy, all of a sudden among nightwind and wine, to simultaneously encompass all possible truths, all truths ever thought or unthought, with equal acceptance and dedication, with the same respect and aspiration.

    “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function” – two opposed ideas or more, while still remaining clear enough to make your own particular choice… the ability to understand this choice within the context of all other possible options, while staying clear and true of your own choice of belief .

    Six ideas of meaning and truth that are as relevant or relative as we are ourselves in our very existence. Did anyone of us come closer to absolute truth than the others?

    Maybe. Maybe not. And I know that even this choice of the notion of having a choice may be wrong. That the carte blanche of free will may be an illusion. That truth may not be relative at all.

    And I think that we cannot find this out with our intellectually analyzing mind, but have to detect or develop different channels to ever “know”. If we ever can.

    And now I’m going to sleep.

  21. Physicians and psychologists
    Physicians and psychologists agree about the positive effect of laughter to the body. It stimulates circulation, strengthens the immune system and helps to reduce stress. In 1995, Indian physician Madan Kataria developed “Hasya-Yoga”, the yoga of laughter, and founded the first laughing club in Bombay. Three years later, he called into being the first “World Day of Laughter”. Since then, the organized smiling and cheering has been travelling around the world; more than 70 laughter clubs exist in Germany only, for example. The first World Day of Laughter outside of India happened in Copenhagen in Denmark in 2000; about 10’000 joyous Danes chuckled themselevs into the Guiness Book of Records back then. In Berlin, the organized laughter started a year later and since then, is celebrated every first sunday in May.

    So, this weekend, the “World Day of Laughter” is happening Berlin. It begins tonight with a “long night of laughing”, followed by a laughter party, a laughter marathon and a laugh parade. And Madan Kataria invites everyone in the world to experience the postive effects of laughter and laugh along… even from afar.

  22. My last comment on this whole
    My last comment on this whole subject of knowing and grasping is a small poem I wrote last night on the back of a till receipt in a pub:

    in the fall
    of our best expectations
    when the wind
    is blowing
    like a secret friend
    we might catch
    the timid outreaching hand
    of the eternal
    thinking it
    a presumptuous stranger
    we let go
    and send it on its way
    with a kick.

    and the universe keeps turning turning
    the universe keeps turning.

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What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!