Spinoza Contemporaries

February 17, 2012

From Rembrandt to Spinoza, the Golden Age of the Netherlands casts its long shadow into the 21st century. Candle light flickered and the sand in the timer flowed silently but he barely noticed, he was so engrossed in his reading. With his left hand he held unto the globe while all around him in the darkness others slept deeply. The work of these candle-lit-scientists continues to be honoured today. Indeed their century, the 17th century is now recognised as one that was crowded with genius [2].

Spinoza Contemporaries

Spinoza Contemporaries,
originally uploaded by ocean.flynn.

Damasio chose a reproduction of this painting by Dutch artist Gerrit Dou entitled Astronomer by Candlelight (c.1665) for the cover of his splendid,insightful book1 (2003)entitled Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain in which he combines his own research as head of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center with the writings of Spinoza, a contemporary of Rembrandt.

In Chapter 6, “A Visit to Spinoza,” Damasio revisited the historical period which he calls a century of genius in which Spinoza’s life unfolded. He noted that it was in the Netherlands in the 17th century that the makings of contemporary justice through such enlightened minds as that of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) who introduced modern concepts of international law (1625). It was also during this period that modern capitalism emerged in the Netherlands (2003:231).

While he lived in the most tolerant country of the 17th century Spinoza’s iconoclastic ideas regarding truth claims and legitimization of truth were too radical even for Holland.

Spinoza was born into a prosperous family of Sephardic Jewish merchants who had fled Portugal during the Inquisition shortly before Spinoza was born.

Their acquired wealth from trade in sugar, spices, dried fruit and Brazilian wood was Spinoza’s inheritance. But he valued his intellectual independence more than money and learned to live frugally even refusing professorial positions so as not to have his time or thinking compromised. He never owned his own home preferring to occupy only a bedroom and study. In that bedroom was the one object upon which Spinoza fixated. This was the four-poster, canopied and curtained bed where he was conceived, birthed and in which he finally died. It is called a ledikant and contrasted sharply with the armoire or cupboard bed that was more common in Amsterdam homes of the 17th century (to be continued p.229). Other than that he only needed paper, ink, glass, tobacco and money for room and board. He reminds me in some ways of our contemporary Russian mathematician Perelman who learned to live on $100 a month to devote himself solely to the elevated apolitical study of pure mathematics.

Damasio chose a reproduction of this painting by Dutch artist and Rembrandt (1606–1669) student from 1627 to 1628, Gerrit Dou (1613 – 1675) entitled Astronomer by Candlelight (c.1665) for the cover of his splendid, insightful book in which he combines his own research as head of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center with the writings of Spinoza, a contemporary of Rembrandt.

In Chapter 6, “A Visit to Spinoza,” Damasio revisited the historical period which he calls a century of genius [5] in which Spinoza’s life unfolded. He noted that it was in the Netherlands in the 17th century that the makings of contemporary justice through such enlightened minds as that of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) who introduced modern concepts of international law (1625). It was also during this period that modern capitalism emerged in the Netherlands (2003:231).


See also this timeline entitled “Before, During and After Spinoza’s Time (Building on Damasio 2003) / based on Damasio’s book (2003) Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain.

Continued at Before, During and After Spinoza’s Life (Building on Damasio 2003) and at Google Docs

Michael S. Gazzaniga [1] argued that our beliefs about the world and the nature of human experience are merely tendentious and our memories fallible. Therefore we should rely not on “the ubiquitous personal belief systems held by billions of people (which he describes as akin to believing in Santa Claus (Gazzaniga 2005:163) but on modern science to seek out, understand and define our universal ethics grounded in the natural order (Gazzaniga 2005:178). From his viewpoint great religions of the world were conceived by ill-informed humans (not received from the Divine) who lacked competing data about the essence of the natural world (Gazzaniga 2005:162). He explains religious experiences as Temporary Lobe Epilepsy (TLE). He compares the conception of a fetus to the “conception” of a house at Home Depot. When is a fetus a person? When is a house a house? Gazzaniga believes that a fertilized egg is hardly deserving of the same moral status we confer on the newborn child or the functioning adult (Gazzaniga 2005:17-8). He also argued that the aging brain’s level of consciousness should be assessed by scientific means and euthanasia considered as an option (Gazzaniga 2005:33). His reasoning is not robust and appears to be directed to those already converted to his belief system.

However, it is his argument for brain enhancement through genetic intervention that causes a shiver of repugnance:

“Perhaps we should be free to try whatever we can think to try- this is the nature of scientific inquiry. Let an innate moral-ethics system assert itself and stop us from going too far. We have never annihilated ourselves; we have managed to stop short of doing that so far. I am confident that we will always understand what is ultimately good for the species and what is not (Gazzaniga 2005:54).”

One wonders on what planet he has been living.

We are currently listening to political debates around the clock as two nations head to the polls. Different value systems clash as “facts” are presented on each side of debates over contentious issues. We live in a time when scientific facts themselves are challenged as informed readers inquire about motivation and agendas of scientific researchers. Who finances the research? We are all too aware of the ease with which policy makers and decision makers choose comfortable truths over the uncomfortable.

Gazzaniga oversimplifies the awe-inspiring mind-soul-spirit by reducing humans to the chemical brain. He grossly underestimates followers of religions capable of making ethical decisions by considering both scientific information and their religious principles.

He argued that universal ethics are social, contextualized, influenced by emotions and natural survival-instincts. Whether your guide in life is simply “received wisdom” or “the confluence of neuroscientific data, historical data, and other information illuminating our past” he claim s we all share the same hard-wired moral networks and systems and therefore respond in similar ways to similar issues. He further claims that social systems explain individual feelings which are institutionalized into social structure (Gazzaniga 2005:162).”

According to his logic philosophers involved in neuroethics[2] should “use understandings of the brain’s hard-wiring to contextualize and debate gut instincts that serve the greatest good- or the most logical solutions- given specific contexts (Gazzaniga 2005:178).”

“Neuroscience reads brains, not minds. The mind, while completely enabled by the brain, is a totally different beast (Gazzaniga 2005:119).”

Gazzaniga (2005:iv-v) describes neuroethics as a spin-off of bioethics [which] was developed and defined to take medical ethics further, as scientific findings became more advanced and needed more specialized philosophers thinking about what is acceptable and unacceptable in areas like genetic engineering, reproductive science, defining brain death, and so on. [. . . Neuroethics are involved] whenever a bioethical issue involves the brain or central nervous system (2005: v).”

“We now step into the world of neuroethics. This is the field of philosophy that discusses the rights and wrongs of the treatment of, or enhancement of, the human brain.” “Was the medical team acting ethically, putting the patients’ interests first, or was it influenced by the humanitarian prospect of the advancement of specific knowledge about the brain — or by the attraction of the world fame and professional prestige that would follow a high achievement?” “Not just neurosurgeons but other brain scientists are thinking long and hard about the morality (right or wrong) and the ethics (fair or unfair) of what such breakthroughs as genomics, molecular imaging and pharmaceuticals will make it possible for them to do.” “In the treatment or cure of brain disease or disability, the public tends to support neuroscience’s needs for closely controlled and informed experimentation. But in the enhancement of the brain’s ability to learn or remember, or to be cheerful at home or attentive in school, many of the scientists are not so quick to embrace mood-manipulating drugs or a mindless race to enhance the mind (Safire 2003-07-10).”

“The brain’s ethical sense may run deeper than we think. ”The essence of ethical behavior,” writes the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio in Looking for Spinoza, his newest book, ”does not begin with humans.” Ravens and vampire bats ”can detect cheaters among the food gatherers in their group and punish them accordingly.” Though human altruism is much further evolved, in one experiment ”monkeys abstained from pulling a chain that would deliver food to them if pulling the chain caused another monkey to receive an electric shock. Damasio does not believe that there is a gene for ethical behavior or that we are likely to find a moral center in the brain. But we may one day understand the ”natural and automatic devices of homeostasis” — the brain’s system that balances appetites and controls emotions, much as a constitution and a system of laws regulates and governs a nation (Safire 2003-07-10).”

“[Brain] scientists . . . debate going beyond the cure of disease to the possibilities of meddling with memory or implanting a happy demeanor (Safire 2003-07-10).”

“Maybe the human brain has a self-defense mechanism that causes brain scientists to pause before they improve on the healthy brain. Would we feel guilty about discovering the chemistry of conscience (Safire 2003-07-10)?”

Folksonomy, taxonomy, tags, key words, classification, semantic web

cognitive neuroscience: moral and ethical aspects, ethics, Damasio, science and religion, chemical conscience, meddling with memory, permalink,



  1. Michael S. Gazzaniga is President of the American Psychology Society, and director of the Center of Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College.
  2. According to Gazzaniga it was William Safire who coined the term neuroethics to describe the field of philosophy that discusses the rights and wrongs of the treatment of, or enhancement of, the human brain.”
  3. The Dana Foundation: “The Dana Foundation is a private philanthropy with principal interests in brain science, immunology, and arts education. Charles A. Dana, a New York State legislator, industrialist and philanthropist, was president of the Dana Foundation from 1950 to 1966 and actively shaped its programs and principles until his death in 1975.”
  4. Some of these bibliographic entries were inserted using Zotero’s capacity to let “users choose a citation format, such as Chicago, MLA, APA, or others. To add a source from Zotero, a user simply drags that source into an application such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs [and WordPress!!!!], and a properly formatted citation is inserted. Zotero also generates a bibliography of all the sources included in a paper.” I did not choose my preferred citation format or generate the bibliography in the proper Zotero mode yet. This needs tweeking on my part but it was successful.

Citations from Antes, Geertz and Warne (2004).

4. “Body, Emotion, and Consciousness: The Portuguese born neurologist at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Antonio R. Damasio, has argued in a number of books that studies of the brain, cognition and consciousness are seriously hampered because neuroscientists traditionally ignore the role of functions and emotions in the brain. 47 He claims that “it is possible that feelings are poised at the threshold that separates being from knowing and thus have a privileged connection to consciousness” (Damasio 1999:43). Emotions are at a fairly high level of life regulation, and when they are sensed, that is when one has ‘feelings,’ the threshold of consciousness has been crossed. Emotions are part of homeostasis, which is the automatic regulation of temperature, oxygen contentration or pH in the body by the autonomatic nervous system, the endrocrine system and the immune system. According to Damasio, homeostasis is the key to consciousness (Damasio 1999:40). Damasio defined consciousness as constructing knowledge about two facts: “that the organism is involved in relating to some object, and that the object in the relation causes a change in the organism” (Damasio 1999:20). Understanding the biology of consciousness becomes, then, a matter of discovering “how the brain can map both the two players and the relationship they hold” (Damasio 1999:20). The interesting thing is that the brain holds a model of the whole thing, and this may be the key to understanding the underpinnings of consciousness (Antes, Geertz, Warne 2004:365).”

“[Damasio’s] explanation for this enigma is precisely as follows: “I have come to the conclusion that the organism, as represented inside its own brain, is a likely biological forerunner for what eventually becomes the elusive sense of self. The deep roots for the self, including the elaborate self which encompasses identity and personhood, are to be found in the ensemble of brain devices which continuously and nonconsciously maintain the body state within the narrow range and relative stability required for survival. These devices continually represent, nonconsciously, the state of the living body, along its many dimensions. I call the state of activity within the ensemble of such devices the proto-self, the nonconscious forerunner for the levels of self which appear in our minds as the conscious protagonists of consciousness: core self and autobiographical self.” (Damasio 1999:20) cited in (Antes, Geertz, Warne 2004:365).”

“This is, indeed, a radical embodiment theory and should be of interest to scholars of religion involved in studies of central religious concepts such as personalities, personhood, selves and souls. The very fact of plurality of selves in Damasio’s model should prove useful to the study of religions that deal with multiple selves and souls (Antes, Geertz, Warne 2004:365).”

Webliography and Bibliography

Antes, Peter; Geertz, Armin W.; Warne, Randi R. 2004. Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion. Walter de Gruyter: Berlin/New York.

Anthony Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness (New York: Harcourt, 1999).

Brain-Based Education – Summary Principles of Brain-Based Research, Critiques of Brain-Based Education,”

Michael S. Gazzaniga, The Ethical Brain (New York: Dana Press, 2005).

Henry T. Greely, “Prediction, Litigation, Privacy, and Property: Some Possible Legal and Social Implications of Advances in Neuroscience,” in Neuroscience and the Law: Brain, Mind, and the Scales of Justice . Dana Press.

Safire, William. 2003-07-10. “The Risk that Failed.” New York Times.

Educause, “7 Things You Should Know About Geolocation,” 2008,

We know that we feel an emotion by sensing something happening in our organism (Damasio 1999:279). When the sense of the feeling self is created in our minds through consciousness, then we can know that we feel an emotion. Our proto-self interprets activity patterns of changes to our organism and represents them as knowable patterns necessary for our core consciousness. Mental images arise from neural patterns representing biological changes in our body and brain (1999:280). Without this second level representation into knowable emotions these neural patterns would be simply noise.

Changes related to the body and cognitive states are related to different mechanisms in different sites of the brain although they are both constituted by a collection of neural patterns in a number of brain circuits and involve changes in the body’s chemical profile (1999:281).

Damasio summarizes this feeling an emotion,

[I] s the representation of that transient change in organism state in terms of neural patterns and ensuing images. When those images are accompanied, one instant later, by a sense of self in the act of knowing, and when they are enhanced, they become conscious. They are, in the true sense, feelings of feelings (Damasio 1999:282).

Damasio argues that this cognitive state, when we know we are feeling our emotions, allows us to plan specific, nonstereotyped responses to the emotive bodily state — to choose to pay attention or not to the biochemical changes in our organism. Damasio claims then that this endowment of consciousness of the knowing subject, provides a marked advantage in evolutionary terms over those creatures who have emotions but lack subjective knowledge and therefore the incentive or ability to solve complex problems of survival (1999:284-5).

Damasio distinguishes between core consciousness and extended consciousness. Core consciousness is only slightly above “other foundational capacities, such as action, emotion, and sensory representation, which we share with several nonhuman species (1999:311).” Consciousness begins with a ‘vague, elusive and yet unmistakable’ feeling, a mental image ‘like some kind of pattern built with nonverbal vocabulary or signs of body states.’ (1999:312). The transient core self, which emerges in core consciousness is ‘ceaselessly re-created for each and every object with which the brain interacts’ (1999:17).

Extended consciousness at its most complex and elaborate level provides the key to the examined life (Damasio 1999:5). I interpret this as meaning that extended consciousness allows us to nurture ethical relationships of mutual respect between ourselves and the other-I. The more traditional sense of self “linked to a notion of identity and corresponds to a nontransient collection of unique facts and ways of being which characterizes a person” is what Damasio calls the autobiographical self. The autobiographical self depends on systematized memory and organized recording of the organism’s unique biography.

The recognizable universal Darwinian core emotions are fear, anger, disgust, surprise and happiness. Damasio suggests that most of the time we do not experience these emotions or the secondary or social emotions but we do experience low-grade background feelings. Background emotions such as ‘fatigue, energy, excitement, wellness, sickness, tension, relaxation, surging, dragging, stability, instability, balance, imbalance, harmony and discord (1999: 286) are intimately linked to consciousness, moods, drives and motivations. Core emotions can be experienced as a burst pattern with a rapid onset-intensity-release pattern or a wavelike pattern. Sadness in some forms and background emotions are wavelike patterns. A particular background emotion that is fairly frequent or sustained over a long period of time is better described as a mood not simply a background emotion (1999:341). Damasio acknowledges resonance between his notion of background feelings and developmental psychologist Daniel Stern’s concept of vitality affects and the work of Susanne Langer.

Damasio uses the term image to refer to a mental image as synonym for mental pattern. He distinguishes between this mental pattern or mental image (as in feeling states) and the neural pattern or map of the processing of neural activities as studied in current neuroscience. Damasio’s notion of mental images refers to unconscious images and conscious images that are only accessible through qualia or first-person perspective. Consciousness is an entirely private, first-person phenomenon which occurs as part of the mind (1999:12). Neurologists are able to access neural patterns and maps through advanced technologies so that most individuals will never see this image of their own neural architecture (1999:318). The brain is constantly constructing mental images or mental patterns with a structure composed of ‘visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and somatosensory modalities’. So Damasio’s images are in no way limited to visual pictures.

For Damasio, the notion of the mind is as a process of continual flow of mental images that become conscious and may be logically interrelated. He uses the notion of thought to describe this flow of mental images that moves forward in time concurrently, convergent or divergent (1999:318).

He describes the limitations of our minds to attend to all the mental images constructed by our brains. He offers the metaphor of a multiple layered subterranean underneath the conscious mind of unconscious mental image, those that our minds did not attend to, a layer of neural patterns and relationships among neural patterns which subtend all conscious and unconscious mental images and a layer of neural machinery which holds records of neural patterns in memory (1999:319).

In spite of his status as leader of thought in consciousness studies, Damasio adopts a humble stance. He reminds us that as science helps us understand consciousness better and ravel some of the mysteries of the mind, there is still enough awe at nature to keep us modest for the foreseeable future (1999:28). It is not through neuroscience, psychology or biology that we will explain the origin of the universe or the meaning of life.

BibliographyDamasio, Antonio R. Descartes’ Error.

Damasio, Antonio R. 1999. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt.

Langer, Susanne. 1942. Philosophy in a New Key: a Study in the Symbolism of Reasons, Rite and Art. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Stern, Daniel. 1985. The Interpersonal World of the Infant: a View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology. New York: Basic Books.

How can I know what I’m feeling isn’t just me imagining that I am feeling? What is counterfeit and what is real?

Psychological analysis lost all interest for me from the moment that I became aware that men feel what they imagine they feel. From that to thinking that they imagine they feel what they feel was a very short step . . .! I see it clearly in the case of my love for Laura: between loving her and imagining I love her- between loving her less and imagining I love her less – what God could tell the difference? In the domain of feeling, what is real is indistinguishable from what is imaginary. And if it is sufficient to imagine one loves, in order to love, so it is sufficient to say to oneself that when one loves one imagines one loves, in order to love a little less and even in order to detach oneself a little from one’s love, or at any rate to detach some of the crystals from one’s love. But if one is able to say such a thing to oneself, must one not already love a little less? (Gide 1925 [1958:84])

These are the questions asked by Edouard, the narrator and protagonist of André Gide’s novel Les Faux-Monnayers (1925). Edouard reads the letters, poetry and novels of others and writes in his journal as a background to his experiment in writing a new, more authentic form of novel entitled Les Faux-Monnayers. In the post WWI period of confused values and identities, Edouard begins to question his own reality:

The only existence that anything (including myself) has for me, is poetical – I restore this word its full signification. It seems to me sometimes that I do not really exist, but that I merely imagine I exist. The thing that I have the greatest difficulty in believing in, is my own reality. I am constantly getting outside myself, and as I watch myself act I cannot understand how a person who acts is the same as the person who is watching him act, and who wonders in astonishment and doubt how he can be an actor and a watcher at the same moment. (Gide 1925 [1958:84])

But is it Gide who also experiencing an existential crisis?

André Gide introduced the concept of the mise en abîme in his Journal (1893),

J’aime assez qu’en une œuvre d’art on retrouve ainsi transposé, à l’échelle des personnages, le sujet même de cette œuvre par comparaison avec ce procédé du blason qui consiste, dans le premier, à mettre le second en abyme (Gide 1893).

It is defined by Rimmon-Kenan as,

An analogy which verges on identity, making the hypodiegetic level a mirror and reduplication of the diegetic, is known in French as mise en abyme. It can be described as the equivalent in narrative fiction of something like Matisse’s [1933 painting La Condition Humaine] of a room in which a miniature version of the same painting hangs on one of the walls (Rimmon-Kenan 2002: 94).

and described by Wenche Ommundsen, who foregrounds the metatextual significance of such text-segments, considers mise en abyme as ‘an embedded self-representation or mirror-image of the text within the text. The mise en abyme may […] refer to the whole work which includes it; it may also refer to a particular element within that work, or it may take as its subject the processes of fictional creation and communication’ (Ommundsen 1993: 10 cited by Weiss).


Bal, Mieke. 1985. Narratology. Introduction to the Theory of Narrative (transl.).Toronto/London: University of California Press.

Boheemen. “Notes on Narrative Embedding.” Poetics Today 2.2 (1981): 41-59.

Gide, André. 1925. Les Faux-Monnayers.

Gide, André. 1958. The Coiners. Trans. Dorothy Bussy. London: Cassell & Company.

Gide, André. 1958. XIII. “Edouard’s Journal: Douviers and Profitendieu.” The Coiners. Trans. Dorothy Bussy. London: Cassell & Company. p. 358

Caws, Mary Ann. 1986. Reading Frames in Modern Fiction. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP.

Dällenbach, Lucien. 1977. Le récit spéculaire. Essai sur la mise en abyme .– Paris : Seuil, 1977. The Mirror in the Text.– Cambridge : Polity Pres, 1989.

Meyer-Minnemann, Klaus, Schlickers, Sabine. 2004. “La mise en abyme en narratologie.” Vox Poetica. January 7. http://www.vox-poetica.org/t/menabyme.html

Ommundsen, Wenche. 1993. Metafictions? Reflexivity in Contemporary Texts. Victoria: Melbourne University Press.

Ricardou, Jean.1990 [1973]. Le Nouveau Roman. Paris : Seuil.

Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. 2002. Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics. 2nd edn. London and New York: Routledge.

Consciousness begins when brains acquire the simple power of telling a story without words using a nonverbal vocabulary of body signals about the living organism constantly altered by internal and external adjustments of the life process. The self appears then as the feeling of a feeling. Knowledge of those feelings emerge as a response to a question never asked (Damasio 1999:30-31).

Consciousness is, in effect, the key to a life examined […] At its simplest and most basic level, consciousness lets us recognize an irresistible urge to stay alive and develop a concern for the self. At its most complex and elaborate level, consciousness helps us develop a concern for other selves and improve the art of life.” (Damasio 1999:5)

Damasio calls these two phases of consciousness core consciousness which engenders and is engendered by a core self in the here and now, and extended consciousness, the zenith of consciousness, which is dependent on and built upon the foundation of core consciousness. Extended consciousness has many levels and grades with a unique autobiographical self and autobiographical memory (Damasio 1999:16-18).

In describing the course of events from emotion to conscious feeling, Damasio argues that there is no central feeling state before the emotion occurs and that expressing an emotion precedes feeling. To illustrate this Damasio paraphrased E. M. Forster words as “How can I know what I think before I say it?” 1

Damasio’s (1999) perspectives on emotion, feeling and knowing is unorthodox. Neural patterns or images arise in changes related to body state and changes related to cognitive states. Through chemical and electrochemical messages the body landscape is changed. Having a feeling and knowing a feeling are not the same. Knowing a feeling requires a knowing subject endowed with the faculty of consciousness (Damasio 1999:283-4).

Damasio, Antonio. 1999. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.

1Daniel Dennett also cited Forster’s phrase in Consciousness Explained. Damasio’s paraphrase in spite of its quotes is incorrect according to bloggers Zimmermann (2005) and Fitzgerald (2006).

Zimmerman argues that‘How can I tell what I think till I see what I say? is from E. M. Forster’s (1879-1970) essay Aspects of the Novel (1927) written when he was forty eight years old and after he completed his final novel, A Passage to India. It was first delivered as part of a series of Clark Lectures given at Trinity College, Cambridge. In it Forster reveals his own unique perspective on literary history, style and form from Defoe to Joyce including a criticism of Henry James’ The Ambassadors.

“Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide–that old lady in the anecdote who was accused by her niece of being illogical. For some time she could not be brought to understand what logic was, and when she grasped its true nature she was not so much angry as contemptuous. ‘Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish!’ she exclaimed. ‘How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?’ Her nieces, educated young women, thought that she was passée; she was really more up-to-date than they were.” (Zimmermann, Heiko . 2005. citing Forster, E. M. 1976. Ed. Stallybrass, Oliver. Aspects of the Novel. Harmondsworth: Penguin. p.99 )

Aspects of the Novel (1927) was written when Forster was forty eight years old and after he completed his final novel, A Passage to India. It was first delivered as part of a series of Clark Lectures given at Trinity College, Cambridge. In it Forster reveals his own unique perspective on literary history, style and form from Defoe to Joyce including a criticism of Henry James’ The Ambassadors. Childs. 2001. Aspects of the Novel.

Fitzgerald claims that this is the source of the citation:
The little girl had the making of a poet in her who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said, ‘How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?’ Graham Wallas The Art of Thought (1926) [ODQ & B16] cited by Fitzgerald (2006).


Essayist and poet Matthew Arnold (1822-12-24 – 1888-04-15) wrote in “St. Paul and Protestantism” (1870),

“Below the surface stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say and feel — below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel, there flows
With noiseless current, strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed.”


Alan Greenspan: “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

“I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Robert McCloskey. U.S. State Department spokesman at one of his regular noon briefings during the worst days of the Vietnam War. Marvin Kalb in TV Guide, Mar. 31, 1984.

Alternative: “I believe that you think you understand what I said, but I fear, that you don´t realize, that what I say is not always what I really mean.”

John Weakland: “‘The meaning of any communication is the response that it gets.”