Arthur Koestler CBE (5 September 1905 – 1 March 1983) was a Hungarian-British author, novelist, political activist, social philosopher and journalist was the author of The Ghost In The Machine.
Koestler was born in Budapest and, apart from his early school years, was educated in Austria. In 1931 Koestler joined the Communist Party of Germany until, disillusioned by Stalinism, he resigned in 1938.
In 1940 he published his novel Darkness at Noon, an anti-totalitarian work, which gained him international fame.
Over the next 43 years from his residence in Great Britain, Koestler espoused many political causes and wrote novels, memoirs, biographies, and numerous essays. In 1968, he was awarded the Sonning Prize “for outstanding contribution to European culture” and, in 1972, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1976, Koestler was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and, in 1979, with terminal leukaemia. In 1983 he and his wife committed suicide at home in London.
Much of Koestler’s work was completely out of step with mainstream views. He did not merely arrive at different answers to common questions. Instead, Koestler answered, or tried to answer, important questions that others were not even asking. Some considered this a sign of his true creative genius.
Arthur Koestler was born in 1905 in Budapest. Though he studied science and psychology in Vienna, at the age of twenty he became a foreign correspondent and worked foe various European newspapers in the Middle East, Paris, Berlin, Russia and Spain. During the Spanish Civil War, which he covered from the Republican side, he was captured and imprisoned for several months by the Nationalists, but was exchanged after international protest. In 1939-1940 he was interned in a French detention camp. After his release, due to British government intervention, he joined the French Foreign Legion, subsequently escaped to England, and joined the British Army.
Like many other intellectuals in the thirties, Koestler saw in the Soviet experiment the only hope and alternative to fascism. He became a member of the Communist Parry in 1931, but left it in disillusionment during the Moscow purges in 1938. His earlier books were mainly concerned with these experiences, either in autobiographical form or in essays or political novels. Among the latter, Darkness At Noon has been translated into thirty-three languages.
After World War II, Koestler became a British citizen, and all his books since 1940 have been written in English. He now lives in London, but he frequently lectures at American universities, and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford in 1964-65.
In 1968 Koestler received the Sonning Prize at the University of Copenhagen for his contributions to European culture. He is also a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, as well as one of the ten Companions of Literature, elected by the Royal Society of Literature. His works are now being republished in collected editions of twenty volumes.
Quotes from Arthur Koestler
- The more backwoodish a social group, juvenile or adult, the stricter its conception of the normal, and the readier it will ridicule any departure from it.
- …the more original a discovery the more obvious it seems afterwards.
- Conscious and unconscious experiences do not belong to different compartments of the mind; they form a continuous scale of gradations, of degrees of awareness.
- The prerequisite of originality is the art of forgetting, at the proper moment, what we know.
- The collective matrix of a science at a given time is determined by a kind of establishment, which includes universities, learned societies, and, more recently, the editorial offices of technical journals. Like other establishments, they are consciously or unconsciously bent on preserving the status quo- partly because unorthodox innovations are a threat to their authority, but also because of the deeper fear that their laboriously erected an intellectual edifice might collapse under the impact.
- Modern man lives isolated in his artificial environment, not because the artificial is evil as such, but because of his lack of comprehension of the forces which make it work- of the principles which relate his gadgets to the forces of nature, to the universal order. It is not central heating which makes his existence ‘unnatural,’ but his refusal to take an interest in the principles behind it. By being entirely dependent on science, yet closing his mind to it, he leads the life of an urban barbarian.
- From the psychological point of view, the self-asserting emotions, derived from emergency reactions, involve a narrowing of consciousness; the participatory emotions an expansion of consciousness by identificatory processes of various kinds.
- When reality becomes unbearable, the mind must withdraw from it and create a world of artificial perfection. Plato’s world of pure Ideas and Forms, which alone is to be considered as real, whereas the world of nature which we perceive is merely its cheap Woolworth copy, is a flight into delusion.
- …the cosmology of a given age is not the result of unilinear, “scientific” development, but rather the most striking, imaginative symbol of its mentality- the projection of its conflicts, prejudice and specific ways of double-think onto the graceful sky.
- The revolutions of thought which shape the basic outlook of an age are not disseminated through text-books- they spread like epidemics, through contamination by invisible agents and innocent germ carriers, by the most varied forms of contact, or simply by breathing the common air.
- The inertia of the human mind and its resistance to innovation are most clearly demonstrated not, as one might expect, by the ignorant mass- which is easily swayed once its imagination is caught- but by professionals with a vested interest in tradition and in the monopoly of learning. Innovation is a twofold threat to academic mediocrities: it endangers their oracular authority, and it evokes the deeper fear that their whole, laboriously constructed intellectual edifice might collapse. The academic backwoodsmen have been the curse of genius from Aristarchus to Darwin and Freud; they stretch, a solid and hostile phalanx of pedantic mediocrities, across the centuries.
- The process of evolution may be described as differentiation of structure and integration of function. The more differentiated and specialized the parts, the more elaborate co-ordination is needed to create a well-balanced whole. The ultimate criterion of the value of a functional whole is the degree of its internal harmony or integratedness, whether the “functional whole” is a biological species or a civilization or an individual. A whole is defined by the pattern of relations between its parts, not by the sum of its parts; and a civilization is not defined by the sum of its science, technology, art and social organization, but by the total pattern which they form, and the degree of harmonious integration in that pattern.
- …in the course of the last century science has become so dizzy with its successes, that it has forgotten to ask the pertinent questions- or refused to ask them under the pretext that they are meaningless, and in any case not the scientists concern.
- No man is an island — he is a holon. A Janus-faced entity who, looking inward, sees himself as a self-contained unique whole, looking outward as a dependent part. His self-assertive tendency is the dynamic manifestation of his unique wholeness, his autonomy and independence as a holon. Its equally universal antagonist, the integrative tendency, expresses his dependence on the larger whole to which he belongs: his ‘part-ness’.
- …the self-assertive tendency is the dynamic expression of the holon’s wholeness, the integrative tendency, the dynamic expression of its partness.
- Wherever we find orderly, stable systems in Nature, we find that they are hierarchically structured, for the simple reason that without such structuring of complex systems into sub-assemblies, there could be no order and stability- except the order of a dead universe filled with a uniformly distributed gas.
- …man has an irrepressible tendency to read meaning into the buzzing confusion of sights and sounds impinging on his senses; and where no agreed meaning can be found, he will provide it out of his own imagination.
- …the integrative tendencies of the individual are incomparably more dangerous than his self-assertive tendencies.
- I think most historians will agree that the part played by impulses of selfish, individual aggression in the holocausts of history was small; first and foremost, the slaughter was meant as an offering to the gods, to king and country, or the future happiness of mankind. The crimes of Caligula shrink to insignificance compared to the havoc wrought by Torquemada. The number of victims of robbers, highwaymen, rapists, gangsters and other criminals at any period of history is negligible compared to the massive numbers of those cheerfully slain in the name of the true religion, just policy, or correct ideology.
- …the crimes of violence committed for selfish, personal motives are historically insignificant compared to those committed ad majorem gloriam Dei, out of a self-sacrificing devotion to the flag, a leader, a religious faith or political conviction.
- The integrative tendencies of the individual operate through the mechanisms of empathy, sympathy, projection, introjection, identification, worship- all of which make him feel that he is a part of some larger entity which transcends the boundaries of the individual self. This psychological urge to belong, to participate, to commune is as primary and real as its opposite. The all-important question is the nature of that higher entity of which the individual feels himself a part.
- War is a ritual, a deadly ritual, not the result of aggressive self-assertion, but of self-transcending identification. Without loyalty to tribe, church, flag or ideal, there would be no wars.
- …we are apt to forget that the vast majority of men and women who fell under the totalitarian spell was activated by unselfish motives, ready to accept the role of martyr or executioner, as the cause demanded.
- The inner censor of the mind of the true believer completes the work of the public censor; his self-discipline is as tyrannical as the obedience imposed by the regime; he terrorizes his own conscience into submission; he carries his private Iron Curtain inside his skull, to protect his illusions against the intrusion of reality.
- …the evils of mankind are caused, not by the primary aggressiveness of individuals, but by their self-transcending identification with groups whose common denominator is low intelligence and high emotionality.
- The new frontiers to be conquered are mainly in the convolutions of the cortex.
- Brain-washing starts in the cradle.
- The continuous disasters of man’s history are mainly due to his excessive capacity and urge to become identified with a tribe, nation, church or cause, and to espouse its credo uncritically and enthusiastically, even if its tenets are contrary to reason, devoid of self-interest and detrimental to the claims of self-preservation. We are thus driven to the unfashionable conclusion that the trouble with our species is not an excess of aggression, but an excess capacity for fanatical devotion.
- Even a cursory glance at history should convince one that individual crimes committed for selfish motives play a quite insignificant part in the human tragedy, compared to the numbers massacred in unselfish loyalty to one’s tribe, nation, dynasty, church, or political ideology, ad majorem gloriam dei. The emphasis is on unselfish. Excepting a small minority of mercenary or sadistic disposition, wars are not fought for personal gain, but out of loyalty and devotion to king, country or cause. Homicide committed for personal reasons is a statistical rarity in all cultures, including our own. Homicide for unselfish reasons, at the risk of one’s own life, is the dominant phenomenon of history.
- The individual is not a killer, but the group is, and by identifying with it the individual is transformed into a killer.
- Some tribes [of monkeys] have taken to washing potatoes in the river before eating them, others have not. Sometimes migrating groups of potato-washers meet non-washers, and the two groups watch each other’s strange behavior with apparent bewilderment. But unlike the inhabitants of Lilliput, who fought holy crusades over the question at which end to break the egg, the potato-washing monkeys do not go to war with the non-washers, because the poor creatures have no language which would enable them to declare washing a diving commandment and eating unwashed potatoes a deadly heresy.
- …one of the tests of a theory is that, once grasped, it appears self-evident.
- The ‘missing link’ between ape and man will probably never be found- because it was an embryo.
- Habit is the denial of creativity and the negation of freedom; a self-imposed straitjacket of which the wearer is unaware.