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Madness Quotes (29 quotes)

“Advance, ye mates! Cross your lances full before me. Well done! Let me touch the axis.” So saying, with extended arm, he grasped the three level, radiating lances at their crossed centre; while so doing, suddenly and nervously twitched them; meanwhile, glancing intently from Starbuck to Stubb; from Stubb to Flask. It seemed as though, by some nameless, interior volition, he would fain have shocked into them the same fiery emotion accumulated within the Leyden jar of his own magnetic life. The three mates quailed before his strong, sustained, and mystic aspect. Stubb and Flask looked sideways from him; the honest eye of Starbuck fell downright.
“In vain!&rsdquo; cried Ahab; “but, maybe, 'tis well. For did ye three but once take the full-forced shock, then mine own electric thing, that had perhaps expired from out me. Perchance, too, it would have dropped ye dead. ...”
[Commentary by Henry Schlesinger: Electricity—mysterious and powerful as it seemed at the time—served as a perfect metaphor for Captain Ahab's primal obsession and madness, which he transmits through the crew as if through an electrical circuit in Moby-Dick.]
Extract from Herman Melville, Moby-Dick and comment by Henry Schlesinger in The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution (2010), 64.
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Across the road from my cabin was a huge clear-cut—hundreds of acres of massive spruce stumps interspersed with tiny Douglas firs—products of what they call “Reforestation,” which I guess makes the spindly firs en masse a “Reforest,” which makes an individual spindly fir a “Refir,” which means you could say that Weyerhauser, who owns the joint, has Refir Madness, since they think that sawing down 200-foot-tall spruces and replacing them with puling 2-foot Refirs is no different from farming beans or corn or alfalfa. They even call the towering spires they wipe from the Earth's face forever a “crop”--as if they'd planted the virgin forest! But I'm just a fisherman and may be missing some deeper significance in their nomenclature and stranger treatment of primordial trees.
In David James Duncan, The River Why (1983), 71.
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All frescoes are as high finished as miniatures or enamels, and they are known to be unchangeable; but oil, being a body itself, will drink or absorb very little colour, and changing yellow, and at length brown, destroys every colour it is mixed with, especially every delicate colour. It turns every permanent white to a yellow and brown putty, and has compelled the use of that destroyer of colour, white lead, which, when its protecting oil is evaporated, will become lead again. This is an awful thing to say to oil painters ; they may call it madness, but it is true. All the genuine old little pictures, called cabinet pictures, are in fresco and not in oil. Oil was not used except by blundering ignorance till after Vandyke’s time ; but the art of fresco painting being lost, oil became a fetter to genius and a dungeon to art.
In 'Opinions', The Poems: With Specimens of the Prose Writings of William Blake (1885), 276-277.
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As to rocket ships flying between America and Europe, I believe it is worth seriously trying for. Thirty years ago persons who were developing flying were laughed at as mad, and that scorn hindered aviation. Now we heap similar ridicule upon stratoplane or rocket ships for trans-Atlantic flights.
Predicting high-altitude jet aircraft for routine long-distance travel. As quoted by Gobind Behari Lal, Universal Service Science Editor, as printed in 'Prof. Piccard Reaches U.S.', Syracuse Journal (13 Jan 1933), 4.
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Because a fact seems strange to you, you conclude that it is not one. ... All science, however, commences by being strange. Science is successive. It goes from one wonder to another. It mounts by a ladder. The science of to-day would seem extravagant to the science of a former time. Ptolemy would believe Newton mad.
In Victor Hugo and Lorenzo O'Rourke (trans.) Victor Hugo's Intellectual Autobiography: (Postscriptum de ma vie) (1907), 322.
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Every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.
Address to the United Nations General Assembly, (25 Sep 1961). On U.S. Department of State website.
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Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.
In David Chronenberg and Chris Rodley (ed.), Chronenberg on Chronenberg (1992), 7. As cited in Carl Royer, B Lee Cooper, The Spectacle of Isolation in Horror Films: Dark Parades (2013), 55.
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For to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?
Hamlet (1601), II, ii.
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I cannot calculate the madness of people.
Attributed. As given, without citation, in Samuel Arthur Bent, Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men: With Historical and Explanatory Notes (1882), 422. Bent states it was Newton’s reply “When asked how high he thought South Sea stock would rise.” Also seen beginning with “I can calculate the orbit of a comet, but…” or “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies….” Note that in a letter to letter to Nicholas Fatio de Duillier (14 Sep 1724) Newton tells that he had himself “lost very much by the South Sea Company.” Lord Radnor is quoted as saying, “When Sir Isaac Newton was asked about the continuance of the rising of South Sea stock?—He answered, “that he could not calculate the madness of the people.” From Second Memorandum Book 1756 of Rev. Spence, in Samuel Weller Singer’s supplement to Rev. Joseph Spence’s collection of anecdotes, Anecdotes, Observations, and Characters, of Books and Men: Collected from the Conversation of Mr. Pope and Other Eminent Persons of His Time. (1820), 368. The South Sea Scheme is referenced in 'Mammon and the Money Market', The Church of England Quarterly Review (Jan 1850), 27, 142, stated without any quotation marks, that: Sir Isaac Newton, when asked what he thought of the infatuation of the people, answered that he could calculate the motions of erratic bodies, but not the madness of a multitude.
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I have been branded with folly and madness for attempting what the world calls impossibilities, and even from the great engineer, the late James Watt, who said ... that I deserved hanging for bringing into use the high-pressure engine. This has so far been my reward from the public; but should this be all, I shall be satisfied by the great secret pleasure and laudable pride that I feel in my own breast from having been the instrument of bringing forward new principles and new arrangements of boundless value to my country, and however much I may be straitened in pecuniary circumstances, the great honour of being a useful subject can never be taken from me, which far exceeds riches.
From letter to Davies Gilbert, written a few months before Trevithick's last illness. Quoted in Francis Trevithick, Life of Richard Trevithick: With an Account of his Inventions (1872), Vol. 2, 395-6.
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I will not go so far as to say that to construct a history of thought without profound study of the mathematical ideas of successive epochs is like omitting Hamlet from the play which is named after him. That would be claiming too much. But it is certainly analogous to cutting out the part of Ophelia. This simile is singularly exact. For Ophelia is quite essential to the play, she is very charming-and a little mad. Let us grant that the pursuit of mathematics is a divine madness of the human spirit, a refuge from the goading urgency of contingent happenings.
In Science and the Modern World (1926), 31.
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If Melancholy increases so far, that from the great motion of the Liquid of the Brain the Patient be thrown into a wild Fury, it is call’d Madness.… The greatest Remedy for it is to throw the Patient unwarily into the Sea, and to keep him under Water as long as he can possibly bear without being quite stifled.
Aphorism No. 1118 and 1123 in Boerhaave’s Aphorisms: Concerning The Knowledge and Cure of Diseases (1715), 302-303.
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It calls Devotion! genuine growth of night!
Devotion! Daughter of Astronomy!
An undevout astronomer is mad!
The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (1742, 1750), Night 9, 260.
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Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. It is potential liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death.
Politics of Experience (1967), 110.
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Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—does not spring from disease of thought—from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.
In Eleonora (1850). Collected on The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe (1859), Vol. 1, 446.
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Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs and tears. Through it, in particular, we think, see, hear, and distinguish the ugly from the beautiful, the bad from the good, the pleasant from the unpleasant, in some cases using custom as a test, in others perceiving them from their utility. It is the same thing which makes us mad or delirious, inspires us with dread or fear, whether by night or by day, brings sleeplessness, inopportune mistakes, aimless anxieties, absent-mindedness, and acts that are contrary to habit. These things that we suffer all come from the brain, when it is not healthy, but becomes abnormally hot, cold, moist, or dry, or suffers any other unnatural affection to which it was not accustomed. Madness comes from its moistness.
The Sacred Disease, in Hippocrates, trans. W. H. S. Jones (1923), Vol. 2, 175.
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Organic chemistry just now is enough to drive one mad. It gives me the impression of a primeval forest full of the most remarkable things, a monstrous and boundless thicket, with no way of escape, into which one may well dread to enter.
Letter to J.J. Berzelius (28 Jan 1835). In Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Nov 1949), 310. Date of letter as given in Alan L. Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991), 267. An alternate translation is “Organic chemistry nowadays almost drives one mad to me it appears like a primeval tropical forest full of the most remarkable things a dreadful endless jungle into which one dare not enter for there seems no way out.” as given in J.R. Partington, A History of Chemistry (1901), Vol. 4, 327.
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Physicians get neither name nor fame by the pricking of wheals or the picking out thistles, or by laying of plaisters to the scratch of a pin; every old woman can do this. But if they would have a name and a fame, if they will have it quickly, they must do some great and desperate cures. Let them fetch one to life that was dead; let them recover one to his wits that was mad; let them make one that was born blind to see; or let them give ripe wits to a fool: these are notable cures, and he that can do thus, if he doth thus first, he shall have the name and fame he deserves; he may lie abed till noon.
In John Bunyan and Robert Philip (ed.), The Works of John Bunyan (1850), Vol. 1, 75.
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Sanity is a madness put to good uses.
Interpretations of Poetry and Religion (1900, 1921), 261.
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Science and technology have freed humanity from many burdens and given us this new perspective and great power. This power can be used for the good of all. If wisdom governs our actions; but if the world is mad or foolish, it can destroy itself just when great advances and triumphs are almost without its grasp.
As quoted in Suranjan Das 'The Nehru Years in Indian politics', Edinburgh Papers on South Asian Studies (16 Nov 2001), 16, 230. As cited in M.J. Vinod and Meena Deshpande, Contemporary Political Theory (2013), 507. Vinod and Deshpande introduce the quote by writing “Nehru was largely instrumental for building a scientific temper and culture in India” and “emphasized the need for building national laboratories and research institutes.”
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Science has not yet taught us if madness is or is not the sublimity of intelligence.
In Giancarlo Livraghi, The Power of Stupidity (2009), 179, but without further citation, and not yet found by Webmaster in a work before 2009. Please contact Webmaster if you know a primary source. Perhaps it is a short restatement of the quotation which begins, “Men have called me mad… ” (also on this page).
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Some men grow mad by studying much to know,
But who grows mad by studying good to grow.
In Poor Richard's Almanack (1734).
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There is a fine line between genius and madness—and you can achieve a lot when people are never quite sure which side of the line you’re on today.
From 'Quotable Spaf' on his faculty webpage at purdue.com with note that it is his own original aphorism.
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Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.
In Hamlet (1603), Act 2, Scene 2.
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Three causes especially have excited the discontent of mankind; and, by impelling us to seek remedies for the irremediable, have bewildered us in a maze of madness and error. These are death, toil, and the ignorance of the future.
From Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions (2nd ed., 1852), Vol. 1, 93.
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When the world is mad, a mathematician may find in mathematics an incomparable anodyne. For mathematics is, of all the arts and sciences, the most austere and the most remote, and a mathematician should be of all men the one who can most easily take refuge where, as Bertrand Russell says, “one at least of our nobler impulses can best escape from the dreary exile of the actual world.”
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 43.
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Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? ... or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. ... Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn't mad. They know the secrets of the sea, they don't bark.
[By walking a lobster at the end of a blue silk ribbon in the gardens of the Palais-Royal, he mocked middle-class pretensions, but caused concern for his sanity.]
Quoted by his friend, Théophile Gautier, in Portraits et souvenirs littéraires (1875). In Théophile Gautier, My Fantoms, translated by Richard Holmes (1976), 150.
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With the introduction of agriculture mankind entered upon a long period of meanness, misery, and madness, from which they are only now being freed by the beneficent operation of the machine.
In The Conquest of Happiness (1930), 152.
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[Alchemists] finde out men so covetous of so much happiness, whom they easily perswade that they shall finde greater Riches in Hydargyrie [mercury], than Nature affords in Gold. Such, whom although they have twice or thrice already been deluded, yet they have still a new Device wherewith to deceive um again; there being no greater Madness…. So that the smells of Coles, Sulphur, Dung, Poyson, and Piss, are to them a greater pleasure than the taste of Honey; till their Farms, Goods, and Patrimonies being wasted, and converted into Ashes and Smoak, when they expect the rewards of their Labours, births of Gold, Youth, and Immortality, after all their Time and Expences; at length, old, ragged, famisht, with the continual use of Quicksilver [mercury] paralytick, onely rich in misery, … a laughing-stock to the people: … compell’d to live in the lowest degree of poverty, and … at length compell’d thereto by Penury, they fall to Ill Courses, as Counterfeiting of Money.
In The Vanity of the Arts and Sciences (1530), translation (1676), 313.
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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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Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton

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