28 February 2008


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"Life is not only stranger than we imagine; life is stranger than we can imagine."
~ J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964)

As quoted in Robert Sapolsky's "Emperor Has No Clothes Award" acceptance speech, at the 25th annual convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (23 November 2003)

More J.B.S. Haldane online.


Steven LaRose said...

I just got absorbed in Haldane's bio, thanks. It is always interesting to read about someone who you actually know about, but don't know their name, or like Haldane, I had many stories in my head of people, like oxygen experiments, but I hadn't realized they were all one person.

It seems most references suggest that he said "queerer" rather than "stranger" which I think gives the quote a more uncanny feel.

Helquin said...

Given Haldane's era & British nationality, I agree that "queerer" is probably more accurate and definitely communicates a more uncanny feel. Given Sapolsky's era (our own), I can see why he may have fudged the quotation to avoid possible offense or misinterpretation.

I wish I kept better notes regarding how I stumbled across these things. No doubt I found Haldane via the Sapolsky link, but now I can't remember how I wound up on that page. I got absorbed in Haldane, too, spending an afternoon reading his correspondence with Arnold Lunn. Haldane was quite a character.

Steven LaRose said...

I finally recalled where I read about Haldane! It was in Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything". The "queerer" quote was on page 17 and the pages 242-245 are dedicated to his family.

Helquin said...

I don't think I'd ever encountered Haldane's name before -- or if I did, it was in the context of his work as a geneticist, and I promptly forgot it. I'm fascinated that a "short" history could afford to devote 3 pages to the Haldanes (presumably the famous father & son).

What a burden of history we carry into the 21st Century! I can almost forgive the public education system for ignoring most of it to charm us with tall tales of Pocahontas & Paul Revere.