In my e-mail signature you find a number of quotes that were inserted over time. Since a number of people keep asking about the meaning of this signature here is a short explanation.
<<We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish>>
Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, The University of Chicago Press, Fiftieth anniversary edition, 1994, p 262.
Friedrich Hayek (Austrian-British Economist 1899 – 1992) wrote “Road to Serfdom” as a reaction to World War I and World War II between 1940 and 1943. In his book he elaborates on the issue of conviction and the consequences of our actions based on our convictions. The phrase quoted here points at the fact that we typically prefer to assume that reality is flawed if it does not coincide with our convictions. As scientists we tend to believe that we are immune to such interference of conviction and facts. However, the history of science is full of errors and mistakes based on such convictions. If such scientific convictions spill over into the political arena – as Hayek observed – they can get out of control. He addresses this problem by saying « … there could hardly be a more unbearable – and more irrational – world than one in which the most eminent specialists in each field were allowed to proceed unchecked with the realization of their ideals. « RtS, 1994, p 62
<< Je ne capitule pas >>
Eugéne Ionesco, Rhinocéros, 1958
This is the final sentence of a play by the Romanian/French author Eugéne Ionesco (1909 – 1994) in which Ionesco addresses the issue of mass movements. His play Rhinocéros was obviously inspired by the massive French patriotic and rassist uprise during the Algerien war in 1956/1957 but later on Ionesco stated that it should be seen as a general criticism of mass movements. The phrase quoted here is the last sentence of the play in which the protagonist Berenger defends himself against a world in which all other humans have turned voluntarily into rhinoceroses.
The full qoute is: « Je suis le dernier homme, je le resterai jusqu’au bout ! Je ne capitule pas ! «
The quote struck me because the least "qualified expert" in the play is able to resist a mass movement by simply sticking to basic logic and humanness.
<< e l'ambizione è un vizio che scompare soltanto con la morte >>
Leonardo Da Vinci, Favole sulli uccelli, around 1495
This is a quote from Leonardo da Vinci’s collection of fables that he wrote around 1495. In the fable “The Peacok” - from which I took the quote - the peacock keeps showing his beatiful tail walking around in pride although everyone - including the peacock - is starving to death. A young chicken asks his mother about this strange behaviour and she replies that ambition is a vice that finds its end only when we die. As a scientist ambition is part of my professional career and in a sense ambition is what drives scientists to keep pushing for new questions and answers. The quote keeps reminding me of the limits of ambition.
<< wir alle gehen der Richtung nach, in die wir geworfen worden sind >>
Christine Lavant, Aufzeichnungen aus einem Irrenhaus, Haymon, 2001, p 29
Christine Lavant (1915 – 1973) was an Austrian author and I hence share the experience of growing up in the Austrian catholic society of the alpine region. In “Records from a madhouse” Lavant describes her time in an Austrian mental institution. As a keen observer she also notices her own desire to describe things and write them down. Reflecting about her own urge to write she generalizes “Andere müssen Brücken bauen, andere Kinder zum Leben bringen oder Dinge, die in ihnen liegen, in Töne umsetzen, irgendwo malt einer vielleicht ein Bild und haßt sich bei jedem Pinselzug mehr, ach, wir alle gehen der Richtung nach, in die wir geworfen werden.“ (Others have to build bridges, others have to bear children or have to transform into tones things that lie inside them, somewhere maybe someone is painting a picture and hates himself more with every stroke of his brush, alas, we all follow the direction in which we were thrown.). Reflecting on Christine Lavant I feel the ambivalence between what we ourselves want and actively pursue and the forces that act upon us through education and social pressure.
Drei Zeichen Klassiker, S.Fischer, 2009, p 9
This one I found as the initial line of theThree-Character Classical when reading through classical Chinese literature in 2009 (China was the guest country of the Frankfurt book fair in 2009). The quote translates roughly to “People at birth are naturally good”. Discussions with my Chinese colleagues showed that a literal translation is not easily possible. However, the translation given above pretty much reflects the meaning of these six (2x3) signs. The meaning resonates with my basic believe that all people have the ability to do good and that every child is born naturally good.
The Three-Character Classical for a long time was a mandatory poem for Chinese school children. It was removed from public education in 1949 when the foundation of the People’s Republic of China officially replaced the traditional Confucian thinking by Marxism. The poem is known from a compilation created by Wang Yinglin (1223 – 1296). The quote shown here is said to be originally a thought of Meng Zi (~370 B.C. – ~290 B.C.).