Eureka Moments I

A selection of intentive quotations, in three parts. Part II can be found on page 84, part III on page 102.

Tuesday, October 01, 1996
Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life . . . to find . . . the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.

Albert Einstein, address to the Physical Society, 1918*

I go to bed at six or seven in the evening, like the chickens; I’m waked at one o’clock in the morning, and I work until eight; at eight I sleep again for an hour and a half; then I take a little something, a cup of black coffee, and go back into my harness until four; I receive guests, I take a bath, and I go out, and after dinner I go to bed. I’ll have to lead this life for some months, not to let myself be snowed under by my debts.

Honoré de Balzac, letter, March 1833

Genius, observed the French biologist Buffon, is nothing but a great aptitude for patience. Bach put it his own way. I have had to work hard; anyone who works just as hard will get just as far.

Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators

For a research worker, the unforgotten moments of his life are those rare ones, which come after years of plodding work, when the veil over nature’s secret seems suddenly to lift and when what was dark and chaotic appears in a clear and beautiful light and pattern.

Gerty Cori, from Nobel Prize Women in Science, by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne

When a person has discovered the truth about something and has established it with great effort, then, on viewing his discoveries more carefully, he often realizes that what he has taken such pains to find might have been perceived with the greatest ease. For truth has the property that it is not so deeply concealed as many have thought. . . . Yet it often happens that we do not see what is quite near at hand and clear. And we have a clear example of this right before us. For everything that was demonstrated and explained above so laboriously, is shown to us by Nature so openly and clearly that nothing could be plainer or more obvious.

Galileo, from Galileo at Work: His

Scientific Biography, by Stillman Drake

I had returned from captivity three months before and was living badly. The things I had seen and suffered were burning inside of me; I felt closer to the dead than the living, and felt guilty at being a man, because men had built Auschwitz, and Auschwitz had gulped down millions of human beings, and many of my friends, and a woman who was dear to my heart. It seemed to me that I would be purified if I told its story, and I felt like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, who waylays on the street the wedding guests going to the feast, inflicting on them the story of his misfortune. I was writing concise and bloody poems, telling the story at breakneck speed, either by talking to people or by writing it down, so much so that gradually a book was later born: by writing I found peace for a while and felt myself become a man again, a person like everyone else, neither a martyr nor debased nor a saint: one of those people who form a family and look to the future rather than the past.

Primo Levi, The Periodic Table

This story, The Judgement, I wrote at one sitting during the night of 22nd-23rd, from ten o’clock at night to six o’clock in the morning. I was hardly able to pull my legs out from under the desk, they had got so stiff. . . . The fearful strain and joy, how the story developed before me, as if I were advancing over water. . . . How everything can be said, how, for everything, for the strangest fancies there awaits a great fire in which they perish and rise up again. . . . Only in this way can writing be done, only with such coherence, with such a complete opening out of the body and soul.

Franz Kafka, diary for September 1912

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth,

from earth to heaven;

And, as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the

poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy

nothing

A local habitation and a name.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

*For full references, please see Further Reading, page 118.
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