Perseverance


Egyptian alabaster statuette of Alexander the ...

Perseverance requires us to change our way of looking at failure.  It requires that we adopt a scientific attitude and consider lack of success nothing more than confirmation that we need to look elsewhere and change tack – not that we should give up.

Alexander the Great inherited the throne of Macedonia when he was twenty.  By the time he died, at the age of thirty-two, he had conquered much of what was then considered the civilsed world.

Alexander is considered to be one of the greatest military strategists of all time. He destroyed the Persian empire and travelled with his men as far as modern Pakistan.  If there was one factor that contributed to Alexander’s success – even more than 13 foot lances or the army his father bequeathed him – it was, most definitely, perseverance.

Elephants, sheer rocky hide-outs, massive armies, determined opposition – Alexander faced it all – and more – throughout his campaigns. It took him nearly eight months to conquer the city of Tyre (in modern day Lebanon) – but he succeeded in spite of ingenious and determined opposition from the Tyrians.

Undeterred by failure he kept on going until he achieved his goal – whatever it might be. And while it might be better not to adopt Alexander’s attitude to world domination, we could, nevertheless, learn a lot from his application and his absolute and unwavering perseverance.

I think and think for months and years.  Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false.  The hundreth time I am right.  – Albert Einstein

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Why You Need Unity (even if you think you’re fine on your own)


The oneness of humanity is a biological fact.  Now that the human genome has been unravelled it is indisputable that we are all one big, untidy, unhappy and disunited family.

So, though we might find it hard to live together, trying to dominate, eliminate or harm each other is about as logical as taking a dislike to one of your limbs and trying to get rid of it.

As Albert Einstein described it –

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security. (1)

(1) Letter of 1950, as quoted in The New York Times (29 March 1972) and The New York Post (28 November 1972).

Why We All Need Science and Religion to Work Together (even if we think we don’t)


Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. Albert Einstein (1)

Everyone would agree that we are material beings but we also know that much of our experience of life is not material.  We love, hate, imagine, dream, think, guess, wish, hypothesize – and there is no one way to explain it all. Along with our material reality we have another reality – a transcendent reality. Which is why we need as many paths to knowledge as we can get.

Because, as Albert Einstein also famously said –

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. (2)

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Photograph – A glowing emerald nebula seen by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

(1) This article appears in Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions, pp.41 – 49. It is taken from an address at Princeton Theological Seminary, May 19, 1939. It was published in Out of My Later Years, New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.

(2) Albert Einstein“Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium”, 1941

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The Laughter of the Gods


Plato's Symposium (Anselm Feuerbach, 1873)

Plato's Symposium (Anselm Feuerbach, 1873)

Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods. (1)

Knowledge is a slippery customer.  History has shown us that progress requires us not only to investigate the world but also to approach this investigation with humility.  This humility is born of the realisation that knowledge is like a ladder and while we may be definitely resting on a real rung of that ladder, there are still countless rungs above us and out of our view.

Not Visible versus Non Existent

Even the physical universe can be difficult to truly ‘know’.  Sometimes we are unable to see a phenomenon itself – even with instruments – but we can see its effects. For example,

Electrons and other sub-atomic particles are too small to be observed directly, but physicists are able to infer their properties from the tracks they leave on photographic plates. (2)

If we have such difficulty with physical phenomena that can be relatively easily proven to exist at the very least, then what about human realities such as love and hope and sadness and courage and fear and faith?

We can now ‘prove’ the existence of emotions using sophisticated machinery but even so, we cannot, truly examine their reality with machinery. A brain-image of an emotion – let’s say fear – can show the parts of the brain involved but it cannot describe in any detail the exact nature of the individual’s fear or say what is causing it or why.

But everybody who has ever experienced a strong emotion like love or fear or anger or joy knows these emotions really do exist. So, what exactly is reality? Are the objects that we can see and feel and weigh and measure the only reality? If so, what about other objects that we haven’t discovered yet but will discover in the future – such as far away planets – are they not real? Do they only become real when we discover them?

It really does seem to be the case that – He, O men, is the wisest who, like Socrates, knows his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. (3)

TomorrowUnique Reality and the Unique Self

(1) Attributed to Albert Einstein

(2) Andre Kukla and Joel Walmsley, Mind – A Historical and Philosophical Introduction to the Major Theories, p.31

(3) PlatoThe Apology, (22d-e), The Last Days of SocratesPenguin Classics.