Isaiah Berlin once said that there are two kinds of writers, hedgehogs and foxes. He said the fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows just one thing. So Shakespeare is a typical fox; Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky are typical hedgehogs. Now, I'm a typical hedgehog. I know just one thing, and I repeat it over and over again. I try to approach it from different angles to make it look different, but it's the same thing.
One cannot ignore half of life for the purposes of science, and then claim that the results of science give a full and adequate picture of the meaning of life. All discussions of 'life' which begin with a description of man's place on a speck of matter in space, in an endless evolutionary scale, are bound to be half-measures, because they leave out most of the experiences which are important to use as human beings.
It seemed perfectly possible that, in spite of my certainty of my own genius, I might die of some illness, or perhaps even in a street accident, before I had ever glimpsed the meaning of life. My moods of happiness and self-confidence convinced me that I had a "destiny" to become a famous writer, and to be remembered as one of the most important thinkers of the century.
The effects of mescalin or LSD can be, in some respects, far more satisfying than those of alcohol. To begin with, they last longer; they also leave behind no hangover, and leave the mental faculties clear and unimpaired. They stimulate the faculties and produce the ideal ground for a peak experience.
Now the basic impulse behind existentialism is optimistic, very much like the impulse behind all science. Existentialism is romanticism, and romanticism is the feeling that man is not the mere he has always taken himself for. Romanticism began as a tremendous surge of optimism about the stature of man. its aim like that of science was to raise man above the muddled feelings and impulses of his everyday humanity, and to make him a god-like observer of human existence.
Now individual consciousness, as typified in human beings, has great advantages and great disadvantages. Individuality means a narrowing, and narrowness can be useful. It is good for close-up work. We have invented the magnifying glass and the microscope to narrow our vision, because narrowness makes for precision. But narrowness also makes for a failure of purpose, for exhaustion of the will; for purpose depends upon a broad vision, a clear sight of one's objective.
No matter how honest scientists think they are, they are still influenced by various unconscious assumptions that prevent them from attaining true objectivity. Expressed in a sentence, Fort 's principle goes something like this: People with a psychological need to believe in marvels are no more prejudiced and gullible than people with a psychological need not to believe in marvels.
The basic paradox about sex is that it always seems to be offering more than it can deliver. A glimpse of a girl undressing through a lighted bedroom window induces a vision of ecstatic delight, but in the actual process of persuading the girl into bed, the vision somehow evaporates.
Religion, mysticism and magic all spring from the same basic 'feeling' about the universe: a sudden feeling of meaning, which human beings sometimes 'pick up' accidentally, as your radio might pick up some unknown station. Poets feel that we are cut off from meaning by a thick, lead wall, and that sometimes for no reason we can understand the wall seems to vanish and we are suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of the infinite interestingness of things.
I was aggressively nonpolitical. I believed that people who make a fuss about politics do so because their heads are too empty to think about more important things. So I felt nothing but impatient contempt for Osborne's Jimmy Porter and the rest of the heroes of social protest.
I have a strong antipathy to everything connected with gardens, gardening and gardeners. . . . Gardening seems to me a kind of admission of defeat. . . . Man was made for better things than pruning his rose trees. The state of mind of the confirmed gardener seems to me as reprehensible as that of the confirmed alcoholic. Both have capitulated to the world. Both have become lotus eaters and drifters.
It struck me that the popularity of Christmas is a matter of web-like consciousness. Childhood conditions us to relax and expand at Christmas, to forget petty worries and irritations and think in terms of universal peace. And so Christmas is the nearest to mystical experience that most human beings ever approach, with its memories of Dickens and Irving's Bracebridge Hall.