How Can I Know What I Think Till I See What I Say?

Graham Wallas? E. M. Forster? André Gide? Anonymous Little Girl? Anonymous Old Lady? Herbert Samuel? W. H. Auden? C. S. Lewis? Arthur Koestler? Christopher Hollis?

Dear Quote Investigator: Pre-verbal and non-verbal thoughts are vitally important. Yet, there is an intimate relationship between thinking and using language especially when analysis and reflection are required. A family of comical remarks reflect this connection:

  • How can I know what I think till I see what I say?
  • How can I tell what I think till I know what I’ve said?
  • I don’t know what I think until I hear what I say.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in the 1926 book “The Art of Thought” by Graham Wallas who was Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of London. Wallas suggested that the processes of thinking and expressing were entangled for the poet because the precise selection of words was crucial to success. Wallas attributed the saying under examination to an anonymous young girl. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

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 know what I think till I see what I say?” A modern professed thinker must, however, sooner or later in the process of thought, make the conscious effort of expression, with all its risks.

The next match known to QI appeared in the 1927 book “Aspects Of The Novel” by the prominent literary figure E. M. Forster who discussed the recent novel “Les Faux Monnayeurs” (“The Counterfeiters”) by André Gide. Gide’s complex work employed a novel-within-a-novel framework, and its plot was presented via fragments. Forster stated that the novel was “all to pieces logically”.

In the following passage, Forster attributed the saying under examination to an old lady in an anecdote. The phrase “distinguished critic” was a humorous reference to the old lady: 2

Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide—that old lady in the anecdote who was accused by her nieces 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.

Thus, the saying was popularized by both Graham Wallas and E. M. Forster although both disclaimed credit for authorship. Instead, the words were ascribed to two anonymous figures: a little girl and an old lady. The saying has also been attributed to Gide. The passage above is not easy to parse. But QI believes that the attribution to Gide is based on a misreading of Forster.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading How Can I Know What I Think Till I See What I Say?

Notes:

  1. 1926 Copyright, The Art of Thought by Graham Wallas (Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of London), Chapter 4: Stages of Control, Quote Page 106, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1927 Copyright, Aspects Of The Novel by E. M. Forster, Chapter 5: The Plot, Quote Page 152, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

The Difficulty Is To Persuade the Human Race To Acquiesce in Its Own Survival

Bertrand Russell? George Orwell? Arthur Koestler? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Humanity faces many existential dangers: hydrogen bombs, bioweapons, asteroid impacts, nanoplagues, and artificial intelligence. Yet, most of these dangers were created by humankind, and all can be ameliorated by wise decisions. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell once said something like:

The question is how to persuade humanity to consent in its own survival.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The first atomic bombs were detonated in 1945. Scientists involved in the creation of these astonishingly powerful weapons began to publish “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” that same year. Bertrand Russell wrote a piece titled “The Atomic Bomb and the Prevention of War” for the periodical in October 1946 which discussed the momentous challenges emerging from the new scientific and technological advances. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

If any of the things that we value are to survive, the problem must be solved. How it can be solved is clear; the difficulty is to persuade the human race to acquiesce in its own survival. I cannot believe that this task is impossible.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Difficulty Is To Persuade the Human Race To Acquiesce in Its Own Survival

Notes:

  1. 1946 October 1, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Volume 2, Numbers 7 and 8, The Atomic Bomb and the Prevention of War by Bertrand Russell, Start Page 19, Quote Page 21, Column 3, Published by The Atomic Scientists of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books full view) link

So What? I Paint Fakes, Too

Pablo Picasso? Leonard Lyons? Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler? Arthur Koestler? Marshall McLuhan? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The most fascinating anecdote about authenticity that I have ever heard features Pablo Picasso repudiating a painting that he apparently created. Are you familiar with this tale? Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest occurrence of this anecdote located by QI appeared in the popular syndicated column of Leonard Lyons in 1957. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

One of Picasso’s friends asked him to look at a picture he’d bought: “Is this a genuine Picasso?” The painter examined it and said, “No, it’s a fake.” The friend was crestfallen, then said: “Oh, well, I have this other one — a genuine Picasso.” The artist looked at the second picture and said: “That’s a fake, too” . . .”But that’s impossible,” said the friend, bewildered. “I saw you paint it myself”. . .“So what?” Picasso shrugged. “I paint fakes, too.”

Lyons did not identify the confused individual in this article, but ten years later in 1967 Lyons revisited the topic and pointed to Picasso’s art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler as the owner of the disavowed painting.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading So What? I Paint Fakes, Too

Notes:

  1. 1957 February 22, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Picasso Can ‘Paint Fakes, Too’ by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 27, Column 1 and 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Looked at the Right Way It Becomes Still More Complicated

Poul Anderson? Arthur Koestler? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement has been called Anderson’s Law and Koestler’s motto:

I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated.

The words have been attributed to the prominent science fiction author Poul Anderson and the influential literary figure Arthur Koestler. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: In April 1957 Poul Anderson published a novelette titled “Call Me Joe” in the magazine “Astounding Science Fiction”. The story concerned a paraplegic who was given the task of psionically controlling an artificially constructed creature who was located on the planet Jupiter with its challenging environment. The tale has been reprinted frequently and appeared in prestigious collections of the “Hall of Fame” and “Masterpieces” variety. Curiously, the plot and situation displayed several parallels with the enormously popular movie “Avatar”. 1

One character named Jan Cornelius complained that he was visiting the satellite research station near Jupiter on a simple mission that should only take a few weeks, but he was required to spend 13 months waiting for a return spaceship to Earth. A scientist on the station named Arne Viken replied as follows. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

“Are you sure it’s that simple?” asked Viken gently. His face swiveled around, and there was something in his eyes that silenced Cornelius. “After all my time here, I’ve yet to see any problem, however complicated, which when you looked at it the right way didn’t become still more complicated.”

The popular modern version of this quotation differed slightly. The original employed the contractions “I’ve” and “don’t”. Also, it used the phrase “the right way” instead of “in the right way”. Arthur Koestler did include an instance of the saying in one of his books in 1967, but he did not claim credit; instead, he ascribed the words to Poul Anderson.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Looked at the Right Way It Becomes Still More Complicated

Notes:

  1. Website: io9, Article Title: Did James Cameron Rip Off Poul Anderson’s Novella?, Article Author: Lauren Davis, Date: October 26, 2009, Website description: “io9 is a daily publication that covers science, culture, and the world of tomorrow”. (Accessed io9.comon June 15, 2015) link
  2. April 1957, Astounding Science Fiction, Edited by John W. Campbell Jr., Call Me Joe by Poul Anderson, Start Page 8, Quote Page 12, Published by Street & Smith Publications, New York. (Verified on paper; great thanks to Dennis Lien)