From Ernst Mach’s “On Mental Adaptation” (1898)

New Bitmap Image“A granite boulder on a mountain-side tends towards the earth below. It must abide in its resting-place for thousands of years before its support gives way. The shrub that grows at its base is farther advanced; it accommodates itself to summer and winter. The fox which, overcoming the force of gravity, creeps to the summit where he has scented his prey, is freer in his movements than either. The arm of man reaches further still… What an immense portion of the life of other men is reflected in ourselves; their joys, their affections, their happiness and misery! And this too, when we survey only our immediate surroundings, and confine our attention to modern literature. How much more do we experience when we travel through ancient Egypt with Herodotus, when we stroll through the streets of Pompeii, when we carry ourselves back to the gloomy period of the crusades or to the golden age of Italian art, now making the acquaintance of a physician of Molière, and now that of a Diderot or of a D’Alembert. What a great part of the life of others, of their character and their purpose, do we not absorb through poetry and music! And although they only gently touch the chords of our emotions, like the memory of youth softly breathing upon the spirit of an aged man, we have nevertheless lived them over again in part. How great and comprehensive does self become in this conception; and how insignificant the person! Egoistical systems both of optimism and pessimism perish with their narrow standard of the import of intellectual life. We feel that the real pearls of life lie in the ever changing contents of consciousness, and that the person is merely an indifferent symbolical thread on which they are strung.”

From Ernst Mach’s “On Mental Adaptation” (1898)

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