Re: "Ideas have a life of their own" (Origin of Quote?)

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Tue 02 Mar 2004 - 13:49:10 GMT

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    At 09:12 AM 02/03/04 +1100, you wrote:
    >Both Nietzsche and Max Weber said something like 'ideas occur to us when
    >they please, not when we please'. This is saying something similar.

          "Ideas occur to us when they please, not when it pleases us. The best ideas do indeed occur to one´s mind in the way in which Ihering describes it: when smoking a cigar on the sofa; or as Helmholtz states of himself with scientific exactitude: when taking a walk on a slowly ascending street; or in a similar way. In any case, ideas come when we do not expect them, and not when we are brooding and searching at our desks. Yet ideas would certainly not come to mind had we not brooded at our desks and searched for answers with passionate devotion."

    (M. Weber, Science as a Vocation, (1918), 1919)

    Nietzsche "ideas occur" gives a few hits, such as: but no close direct quotes by Nietzsche.

    I have now pushed the earliest example of the exact saying (I.e., meme) back to 1910, to an unknown interviewer of Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

          "From Chicago came an even odder example. "It is extremely difficult," wrote the Tribune, "to determine the proper relationship of the Chiesa-Prudente-Di Cossato duels to Mr. Gilbert K. Chesterton's book, The Ball and the Cross" . . .

          "The flight in search of a duelling ground; the pursuit by the police; the friendly intervention of the anarchist wineshop-keeper, Volpi; the offer of his backyard for fighting purposes; the unfriendly intervention of the police; the friendly intervention of the reporters; the renewed and insistently unfriendly intervention of the police commissioner; the disgust of the duellists; the extreme disgust of the anarchist; the renewed flight of the fighters, seconds, physicians, reporters, and the anarchist over the back fences--all these and other incidents are essentially Chestertonian.

          "The Di Cossato affair was carried off with fully as much spirit and dash; with fully as many automobiles, seconds, physicians, re-


         porters and police, all scampering over the country roads until the artistic deputy and the aged veteran of the war of 1859, outdistancing their pursuers, could find opportunity in comparative peace to cut the glorious gashes of satisfied honour in each other's faces. 1

    [ 1 Chicago Tribune, March 12, 1910.]

          "Two months after this an interviewer from the Daily News visited Beaconsfield and splashed headlines in the paper to the effect that the spirit of Chesterton was inspiring a fight between the leaseholders in Edwardes Square and a firm which had bought up their garden to erect a super-garage. Barricades were erected by day and destroyed in the night: a wild-eyed beadle held the fort with a garden roller, and, said G.K., "the creatures of my Napoleon [of Notting Hill] have entered into the bodies of the staid burghers of Kensington."

          "In none of these cases was there any likelihood, as the Chicago Tribune noted, of the actors in life having read the books they were spiritedly staging. "Ideas have a life of their own," the Daily News interviewer tentatively ventured, but he may have been surprised as G.K.
    "agreed heartily" in the words, "I am no dirty nominalist." "

    [From _Gilbert Keith Chesterton_ by Maisie E. Ward; Sheed & Ward, 1944]

    I get the impression that "Ideas have a life of their own" was an old formulation in 1910, but so far have not seen anything earlier.

    Keith Henson

    >Steven Thiele
    >At 08:48 AM 1/03/2004 -0500, you wrote:
    >>I have been trying to locate the (or at least *an*) origin for "ideas
    >>have a life of their own," a statement that encapsulated memetics if you
    >>take it literally. So far I have pushed it back with reasonable
    >>assurance to 1958. (See thread in alt.quotations)
    >>In the course of researching the origin of this quote I came upon some
    >>items worth sharing.
    >> "Rob Stocker, a lecturer and PhD student from Charles Sturt
    >> University in NSW, will simulate the effect media organisations have on
    >> public opinion in a series of computational runs. The complex
    >> relationships between people and the media they consume has been reduced
    >> to a series of assumptions and fed into an algorithm that he hopes will
    >> shed light on the reasons why the public chooses certain opinions. The
    >> interaction of even simple rules can deliver complex behaviours with
    >> many permutations that feed off each other, requiring computational
    >> power to simulate.
    >> "It is also possible that sim members of the network may themselves
    >> greatly influence others in their social circle. An example is the
    >> spread of urban myths or legends. This "thought contagion" or
    >> "mimetics", which suggests ideas have a life of their own and can become
    >> epidemic, is an area for future research, Stocker says."
    >>Keith Henson
    >>This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    >>Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    >>For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    >This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    >Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    >For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

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