“When a book and a head collide . . . “


Georg Christoph Lichtenberg


Tonight, I’ve been savoring some of the aphorisms of the eighteenth-century German scientist and satirist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg.  I provide a few of them below.


Here, he expresses my feelings when certain people disdain books that I really like (not least of them the Book of Mormon):


“When a book and a head collide and a hollow sound is heard, must it always have come from the book?”


“A book is a mirror: if an ape looks into it an apostle is hardly likely to look out.”  (Ein Buch ist Spiegel, aus dem kein Apostel herausgucken kann, wenn ein Affe hineinguckt.)


On the progress of science:


“Where the frontier of science once was is now the center.”


He captures my attitude toward scientism, and the dogmatism that afflicts some “New Atheists” who like to imagine that only they appreciate science:


“The most heated defenders of a science, who cannot endure the slightest sneer at it, are commonly those who have not made very much progress in it and are secretly aware of this defect.”


“With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another.”


On one of the perennial defects of much scholarship:


“Erudition can produce foliage without bearing fruit.”


He was an Anglophile, and so am I:


“If countries were named after the words you first hear when you go there, England would have to be called Damn It.”


A wise principle for life:


“There is no more important rule of conduct in the world than this: attach yourself as much as you can to people who are abler than you and yet not so very different that you cannot understand them.”


On the kind of skepticism that cripples forward movement.  I’m reminded of the dwarfs in C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, terrified and trapped within a prison of their own making and, says Aslan, “so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out”:


“Doubt must be no more than vigilance; otherwise it can become dangerous.”


And, finally, on the need to be constantly restating the Gospel in terms that contemporary people can grasp:


“Even truth needs to be clad in new garments if it is to appeal to a new age.”

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  • RaymondSwenson

    Amazing how real wisdom sounds modern and up to date.

  • Stephen Smoot

    Speaking of the “New Atheists,” whenever I hear them talk about Mormonism, or most religion, for that matter, I’m reminded of this nice aphorism by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

    “Worüber man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.”

    If only they’d follow his advice, they’d save themselves a lot of embarrassment.

    • DanielPeterson


      “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”