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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index K > Arthur Koestler Quotes

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Arthur Koestler
(5 Sep 1905 - 3 Mar 1983)

Hungarian-British novelist whose best-known work is Darkness at Noon (1940). Among other books he also wrote his classic trilogy on the mind of men: The Sleepwalkers (1959), The Act of Creation (1964) and The Ghost in the Machine (1967).

Science Quotes by Arthur Koestler (38 quotes)

As modern physics started with the Newtonian revolution, so modern philosophy starts with what one might call the Cartesian Catastrophe. The catastrophe consisted in the splitting up of the world into the realms of matter and mind, and the identification of “mind” with conscious thinking. The result of this identification was the shallow rationalism of l’esprit Cartesien, and an impoverishment of psychology which it took three centuries to remedy even in part.
— Arthur Koestler
The Act of Creation (1964), 148.
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Chemically induced hallucinations, delusions and raptures may be frightening or wonderfully gratifying; in either case they are in the nature of confidence tricks played on one’s own nervous system.
— Arthur Koestler
In 'Return Trip to Nirvana', Sunday Telegraph (12 Mar 1961), as collected in Kaleidoscope: Essays from Drinkers of Infinity, and The Heel of Achilles and Later Pieces and Stories (1981), 80 (source cited on p.72, footnote).
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Creative activity could be described as a type of learning process where teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.
— Arthur Koestler
In Drinkers of Infinity: Essays, 1955-1967 (1969), 235.
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Einstein’s space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh’s sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist’s discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrandt nude differs from a nude by Manet.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Act of Creation (1964), 252.
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Faith is a wondrous thing; it is not only capable of moving mountains, but also of making you believe that a herring is a race horse.
— Arthur Koestler
In Andre Gide et al., "The God That Failed" (1952), 39
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God seems to have left the receiver off the hook, and time is running out.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Ghost in the Machine (1967), 339.
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Hitherto man had to live with the idea of death as an individual; from now onward mankind will have to live with the idea of its death as a species.
— Arthur Koestler
As excerpted in Paul S. Burtness, 'Arthur Koestler (1905-)', The Contemporary University Reader (1963), 286.
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If one looks with a cold eye at the mess man has made of history, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he has been afflicted by some built-in mental disorder which drives him towards self-destruction.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Ghost in the Machine (1967).
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If the creator had a purpose in equipping us with a neck, he surely meant us to stick it out.
— Arthur Koestler
Essay in magazine, Encounter (May 1970), collected in Kaleidoscope: Essays from Drinkers of Infinity, and The heel of Achilles and Later Pieces and Stories (May 1981), 191.
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If there is a lesson in our story it is that the manipulation, according to strictly self-consistent rules, of a set of symbols representing one single aspect of the phenomena may produce correct, verifiable predictions, and yet completely ignore all other aspects whose ensemble constitutes reality.
— Arthur Koestler
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1968), 533.
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If time is treated in modern physics as a dimension on a par with the dimensions of space, why should we a priori exclude the possibility that we are pulled as well as pushed along its axis? The future has, after all, as much or as little reality as the past, and there is nothing logically inconceivable in introducing, as a working hypothesis, an element of finality, supplementary to the element of causality, into our equations. It betrays a great lack of imagination to believe that the concept of “purpose” must necessarily be associated with some anthropomorphic deity.
— Arthur Koestler
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1968), 537.
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In my youth I regarded the universe as an open book, printed in the language of physical equations, whereas now it appears to me as a text written in invisible ink, of which in our rare moments of grace we are able to decipher a small fragment.
— Arthur Koestler
From Epilogue in Bricks to Babel (1980).
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In the course of the last century science has become so dizzy with its successes, that it has forgotten to ask the pertinent questions—or refused to ask them under the pretext that they are meaningless, and in any case not the scientists concern.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Ghost in the Machine (1967), xi.
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In the index to the six hundred odd pages of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, abridged version, the names of Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes and Newton do not occur yet their cosmic quest destroyed the medieval vision of an immutable social order in a walled-in universe and transformed the European landscape, society, culture, habits and general outlook, as thoroughly as if a new species had arisen on this planet.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), Preface, 13.
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In the index to the six hundred odd pages of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, abridged version, the names of Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes and Newton do not occur … yet their cosmic quest destroyed the mediaeval vision of an immutable social order in a walled-in universe and transformed the European landscape, society, culture, habits and general outlook, as thoroughly as if a new species had arisen on this planet.
— Arthur Koestler
First lines of 'Preface', in The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 13.
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In the social equation, the value of a single life is nil; in the cosmic equation, it is infinite… Not only communism, but any political movement which implicitly relies on purely utilitarian ethics, must become a victim to the same fatal error. It is a fallacy as naïve as a mathematical teaser, and yet its consequences lead straight to Goya’s Disasters, to the reign of the guillotine, the torture chambers of the Inquisition, or the cellars of the Lubianka.
— Arthur Koestler
In 'The Invisible Writing', Arrow in the Blue: An Autobiography (1952), Vol. 2, 357.
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Indeed, the ideal for a well-functioning democratic state is like the ideal for a gentleman’s well-cut suit—it is not noticed. For the common people of Britain, Gestapo and concentration camps have approximately the same degree of reality as the monster of Loch Ness. Atrocity propaganda is helpless against this healthy lack of imagination.
— Arthur Koestler
In 'A Challenge to “Knights in Rusty Armor”', The New York Times (14 Feb 1943), Sunday Magazine, 5.
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It is entirely unprecedented that evolution should provide a species with an organ which it does not know how to use. … But the evolution of man’s brain has so wildly overshot man’s immediate needs that he is still breathlessly catching up with its unexploited, unexplored possibilities.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Ghost in the Machine (1967), 298-299. This is often seen paraphrased as “The evolution of the brain not only overshot the needs of prehistoric man, it is the only example of evolution providing a species with an organ which it does not know how to use.”
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Men cannot be treated as units in operations of political arithmetic because they behave like the symbols for zero and the infinite, which dislocate all mathematical operations.
— Arthur Koestler
In The God That Failed: Six Studies in Communism (1965), 60.
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Nobody before the Pythagoreans had thought that mathematical relations held the secret of the universe. Twenty-five centuries later, Europe is still blessed and cursed with their heritage. To non-European civilizations, the idea that numbers are the key to both wisdom and power, seems never to have occurred.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), Preface, 40.
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One may not regard the world as a sort of metaphysical brothel for emotions.
— Arthur Koestler
In Arthur Koestler and Daphne Hardy (trans.), Darkness at Noon (1941), 152.
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Scientists are the peeping toms at the keyhole of eternity.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Roots of Coincidence (1972), 140.
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The central nerve chain of an invertebrate such as the lobster runs beneath its alimentary canal, whereas the main portion of its rudimentary brain is placed above it, in its forehead. In other words, the lobster’s gullet, from mouth to stomach, has to pass through the midst of its brain ganglia. If its brain were to expand—and expand it must if the lobster is to grow in wisdom—its gullet would be squeezed and it would starve.
— Arthur Koestler
In Epilogue, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 516.
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The moment of truth, the sudden emergence of new insight, is an act of intuition. Such intuitions give the appearance of miraculous flashes, or short circuits of reasoning. In fact they may be likened to an immersed chain, of which only the beginning and the end are visible above the surface of consciousness. The diver vanishes at one end of the chain and comes up at the other end, guided by invisible links.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Act of Creation (1964).
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The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterward.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Act of Creation (1964), 120.
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The most persistent sound which reverberates through men’s history is the beating of war drums.
— Arthur Koestler
In Prologue to Janus: A Summing Up (1978), 2.
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The principal mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Act of Creation (1964), 402.
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The progress of Science is generally regarded as a kind of clean, rational advance along a straight ascending line; in fact it has followed a zig-zag course, at times almost more bewildering than the evolution of political thought. The history of cosmic theories, in particular, may without exaggeration be called a history of collective obsessions and controlled schizophrenias; and the manner in which some of the most important individual discoveries were arrived at reminds one more of a sleepwalker’s performance than an electronic brain’s.
— Arthur Koestler
From 'Preface', in The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 15.
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The progress of science is strewn, like an ancient desert trail, with the bleached skeletons of discarded theories which once seemed to possess eternal life.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Ghost in the Machine (1967), 178.
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The real achievement in discoveries … is seeing an analogy where no one saw one before. … The essence of discovery is that unlikely marriage of … previously unrelated forms of reference or universes of discourse, whose union will solve the previously insoluble problem.
— Arthur Koestler
In Act of Creation (1964), 201.
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The sixth pre-Christian century—the miraculous century of Buddha, Confucius and Lâo-Tse, of the Ionian philosophers and Pythagoras—was a turning point for the human species. A March breeze seemed to blow across the planet from China to Samos, stirring man into awareness, like the breath of Adam's nostrils. In the Ionian school of philosophy, rational thought was emerging from the mythological dream-world. …which, within the next two thousand years, would transform the species more radically than the previous two hundred thousand had done.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 21-22.
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The traditional method of confronting the student not with the problem but with the finished solution means depriving him of all excitement, to shut off the creative impulse, to reduce the adventure of mankind to a dusty heap of theorems.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Act of Creation (1964), 266.
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Two half-truths do not make a truth, and two half-cultures do not make a culture.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Ghost in the Machine (1967), Preface, xii.
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We find in the history of ideas mutations which do not seem to correspond to any obvious need, and at first sight appear as mere playful whimsies—such as Apollonius’ work on conic sections, or the non-Euclidean geometries, whose practical value became apparent only later.
— Arthur Koestler
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 515.
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Without the hard little bits of marble which are called 'facts' or 'data' one cannot compose a mosaic; what matters, however, are not so much the individual bits, but the successive patterns into which you arrange them, then break them up and rearrange them.
— Arthur Koestler
In The Act of Creation (1964), 235.
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[After science lost] its mystical inspiration … man’s destiny was no longer determined from “above” by a super-human wisdom and will, but from “below” by the sub-human agencies of glands, genes, atoms, or waves of probability. … A puppet of the Gods is a tragic figure, a puppet suspended on his chromosomes is merely grotesque.
— Arthur Koestler
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 539.
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[In biological evolution,] there are organs which have lost their purpose and are yet carried over as an evolutionary legacy: modern science is full of appendices and rudimentary monkey-tails.
— Arthur Koestler
In Epilogue, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 515.
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[In] the evolution of ideas… New ideas are thrown up spontaneously like mutations; the vast majority of them are useless crank theories, the equivalent of biological freaks without survival-value.
— Arthur Koestler
In Epilogue, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 515.
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Quotes by others about Arthur Koestler (1)

Throughout his last half-dozen books, for example, Arthur Koestler has been conducting a campaign against his own misunderstanding of Darwinism. He hopes to find some ordering force, constraining evolution to certain directions and overriding the influence of natural selection ... Darwinism is not the theory of capricious change that Koestler imagines. Random variation may be the raw material of change, but natural selection builds good design by rejecting most variants while accepting and accumulating the few that improve adaptation to local environments.
In The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History (1990, 2010), 38.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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