Category Archives: Anais Nin

The Eye Sees Only What the Mind Is Prepared To Comprehend

Henri Bergson? Robertson Davies? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Thomas Carlyle? Anais Nin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: One might see a duck when looking at the famous ambiguous image above, or one might see a rabbit. Perceiving one animal partially blocks the recognition of the other animal, and mental effort is required to switch one’s viewpoint. The influential French philosopher Henri Bergson and the Canadian novelist Robertson Davies have both been credited with a germane remark:

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.

Would you please explore the provenance of this statement?

Quote Investigator: QI has not yet found any substantive evidence linking the quotation to Henri Bergson who died in 1941.

An exact match occurred in the 1951 novel “Tempest-Tost” by Robertson Davies. One of the primary characters in the book observed two young lovers. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

At some distance from the path, under the trees, was a bench, and upon it were a boy and girl in a close embrace. Ordinarily Hector would not have noticed them, for the eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. He saw them now; Hector the actor, rather than Hector the teacher of mathematics took note of what they were doing.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1980 (Copyright 1951), Tempest-Tost by Robertson Davies, Chapter 3, Quote Page 116, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England. (Verified with scans)

One Sees What One Carries In One’s Own Heart

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Anais Nin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During a Rorschach test a patient is shown a series of ambiguous inkblots and his or her reactions and interpretations are recorded. This assessment reminds me of an adage. Here are two versions:

  • You see in the world what you carry in your heart.
  • They will see what they carry in their own heart.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: There is a strong match in the work “Faust” by the major German literary figure Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The dramatic poem begins with a prelude scene featuring a director, a poet, and a comedian. The following excerpt is an English prose translation of German verses spoken by the comedian. Emphasis added by QI: 1

Then assembles youth’s fairest flower to see your play, and listens to the revelation. Then every gentle mind sucks melancholy nourishment for itself from out your work; then one while this, and one while that, is stirred up; each one sees what he carries in his heart.

“Faust Part One” was published in 1808. The translation above from A. Hayward appeared in 1851.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1851, Faust: A Dramatic Poem by Goethe (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), Translation by A. Hayward, Third Edition, Prologue for the Theatre, Speaker: Merryman, Quote Page 33, Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

Whatever We Achieve Inwardly Will Change Outer Reality

J. K. Rowling? Anaïs Nin? Plutarch? Otto Rank?

thinking10Dear Quote Investigator: J. K. Rowling created the beloved fantasy universe of Harry Potter and the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She delivered a humorous and touching commencement address at Harvard University in 2008. While in college she studied the classics, and her address included a quotation from a prominent ancient Greek essayist: 1

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

Did Plutarch really write this? Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI and other researchers have not yet found this statement in Plutarch’s writings.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in an essay by the prominent diarist and eroticist Anaïs Nin published in the “Journal of the Otto Rank Association” in 1973. The text was based on a talk delivered by Nin during an Association meeting in October 1972. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Just as the deep sea diver carries a tank of oxygen, we have to carry the kernel of our individual growth with us into the world in order to withstand the pressures, the shattering pressures of outer experiences. But I never lost sight of their interdependence, and now I find in Dr. Rank the following statement: “Whatever we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”

Nin credited psychoanalyst Otto Rank who was an influential early colleague of Sigmund Freud. QI has not yet found the statement in Rank’s voluminous German writings, but the search has been restricted by limited access. Nin read a French translation of Rank’s “Truth and Reality” in the 1930s. Rank was her therapist and ultimately her lover.

Based on current evidence QI would provisionally credit Otto Rank with the quotation under examination. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 2008 June, Harvard Magazine, The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination (Commencement Address delivered at Harvard University by J. K. Rowling on June 5, 2008), Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Accessed on December, 13 2016) link
  2. 1973 June, Journal of the Otto Rank Association, Volume 8, Number 1, On Truth and Reality by Anaïs Nin (From a tape recording of talk given by Anaïs Nin at the meeting of The Otto Rank Association held on October 28, 1972 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania), Start Page 51, Quote Page 56, Otto Rank Association, Doylestown, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans; thanks to the library system of University of North Carolina)

This Diary Is My Kief, Hashish, and Opium Pipe. This Is My Drug and My Vice

Anaïs Nin? Apocryphal?

opium09Dear Quote Investigator: The acclaimed modern diarist Anaïs Nin apparently experienced an addictive intensity when writing in her diary. The following words have been attributed to her:

This diary is my kief, hashish, and opium pipe.

Is this an authentic quotation, or is it simply a hallucination?

Quote Investigator: The publication of Anais Nin’s personal diary entries began in 1966 and continued into the 1970s. A series of seven edited and expurgated volumes were released under the umbrella title “The Diary of Anais Nin”. The content was based on her life and thoughts commencing in the 1930s. An entry in volume 1 dated June 1934 discussed the dichotomous struggle between private and public writing. Nin employed figurative language to express her drug-like dependence on the composition of the diary: 1

This diary is my kief, hashish, and opium pipe. This is my drug and my vice. Instead of writing a novel, I lie back with this book and a pen, and dream, and indulge in refractions and defractions, I can turn away from reality into the reflections and dreams it projects, and this driving, impelling fever which keeps me tense and wide-awake during the day is dissolved in improvisations, in contemplations. I must relive my life in the dream. The dream is my only life. I see in the echoes and reverberations the transfigurations which alone keep wonder pure. Otherwise all magic is lost.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1966, The Diary of Anais Nin: 1931-1934: Volume 1, by Anaïs Nin, Edited by Gunther Stuhlmann, (Diary entry dated June 1934), Start Page 325, Quote Page 333 and 334, A Harvest/HBJ Book, Published by The Swallow Press / Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York. (Verified with scans)

We Don’t See Things As They Are, We See Them As We Are

Anaïs Nin? Babylonian Talmud? Immanuel Kant? G. T. W. Patrick? H. M. Tomlinson? Steven Covey? Anonymous?

ninvision16Dear Quote Investigator: Our preconceptions can dramatically alter the way we perceive the world. There is a saying attributed to the prominent writer Anaïs Nin that reflects this idea:

We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.

These words have also been assigned a Talmudic origin. In addition, the popular motivational author Steven Covey used this maxim. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: Anaïs Nin did employ this statement in her 1961 work “Seduction of the Minotaur”. She also presented two illustrations of distinctive perceptions in passages that occurred shortly before she wrote the adage. In the first example, two characters named Lillian and Jay reacted very differently to the Seine River in France: 1

Lillian was bewildered by the enormous discrepancy which existed between Jay’s models and what he painted. Together they would walk along the same Seine river, she would see it silky grey, sinuous and glittering, he would draw it opaque with fermented mud, and a shoal of wine bottle corks and weeds caught in the stagnant edges.

In the second example, Nin described a homeless woman who slept in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the Panthéon in Paris:

…when they tried to remove her to an old woman’s home she had refused saying: “I prefer to stay here where all the great men of France are buried. They keep me company. They watch over me.”

When Nin wrote the adage she did not take credit for the notion. Instead, she pointed to a major religious text: 2

Lillian was reminded of the talmudic words: “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

In 2005 an article in Newsweek magazine contained an epigraph that matched the adage under investigation. The statement was identified as an English translation of a comment from a section within the Talmud: 3

“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.”— Rabbi Shemuel ben Nachmani, as quoted in the Talmudic tractate Berakhot (55b.)

This modern citation may help to give insight into the recurrent ascriptions to the Talmud in previous decades. However, the referenced part of the Talmud was concerned with the interpretation of dreams. Another translation indicated that the original statement was within this domain of dream analysis. Thus, the Newsweek translation may be somewhat loose: 4

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan: A man is shown in a dream only what is suggested by his own thoughts…

The maxim has a long history and close matches in English were in circulation by the 1800s as detailed below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1961 copyright, Seduction of the Minotaur by Anaïs Nin, Quote Page 124, The Swallow Press, Chicago, Illinois. (Afterword added in 1969; sixth printing in 1972) (Verified on paper in sixth printing 1972)
  2. 1961 copyright, Seduction of the Minotaur by Anaïs Nin, Quote Page 124, The Swallow Press, Chicago, Illinois. (Afterword added in 1969; sixth printing in 1972) (Verified on paper in sixth printing 1972)
  3. 2005 January 9, Newsweek, How We See Sharon—and Israel by Marc Gellman (Newsweek Web Exclusive) (Online Newsweek archive at; accessed January 14, 2014) link
  4. Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth, Folio 55b, Translated into English by Maurice Simon, Under the editorship of Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein. (Online at – accessed March 8, 2014) link