Is intellect the ultimate weapon in the fight for self-preservation?

“In some remote corner of the universe poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the haughtiest and most mendacious minute of ‘world history”– yet only a minute. After nature had. drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.

One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated inefficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life. It is human, rather, and only its owner and producer gives it such importance, as if the world pivoted around it.

But if we could communicate with the mosquito, then we would learn that it floats through the air with the same self-importance, feeling within itself the flying center of the world.

There is nothing in nature so despicable or insignificant that it cannot immediately be blown up like a bag by a slight breath of this power of knowledge; and just as every Porter wants an admirer, the proudest human being, the philosopher thinks that he sees the eyes of the universe telescopically focused from all sides on his actions and thoughts.

It is strange that this should be the effect of the intellect, for after all it was given only as an aid to the most unfortunate, most delicate, most evanescent beings in order to hold them for a minute in existence from” which otherwise, without this gift they would have every reason to flee as quickly as Lessing’s son.

That haughtiness which goes with knowledge and feeling, which shrouds the eyes and senses of man in a blinding fog, therefore deceives him about the value of existence by carrying in itself the most flattering evaluation of knowledge itself. Its most universal effect is deception; but even its most particular effects have something of the same character.

The intellect as a means for the presentation of the individual, unfolds its chief powers in simulation; for this is the means by which the weaker, less robust individuals preserve themselves, since they are denied the chance of waging the struggle for existence with horns or the fangs of beasts of prey.”

                                       — Nietzsche from “On Truth & Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense.”


2 thoughts on “Is intellect the ultimate weapon in the fight for self-preservation?

  1. Good quote.
    I concur – the ego and the intellect is probably the latest part of evolution, as in making us more capable at surviving.

    Thinking (thought process) and decision making are mostly connected with the neocortex and the prefrontal cortex – both very new parts of our brain compared to, say, the amygdala (“lizard brain”) which is mainly preoccupied with emotion and survival.

    As for the end of the quote about how “lesser people” are trapped in their own imagination, I counter with another quote:

    “Entropy is the normal state of consciousness—a condition that is neither useful nor enjoyable. To avoid this condition, people are naturally eager to fill their minds with whatever information is readily available, as long as it distracts attention from turning inward and dwelling on negative feelings. This explains why such a huge proportion of time is invested in watching television, despite the fact that it is very rarely enjoyed. Compared to other sources of stimulation—like reading, talking to other people, or working on a hobby—TV can provide continuous and easily accessible information that will structure the viewer’s attention, at a very low cost in terms of the psychic energy that needs to be invested.”


    1. That’s a great quote about Entropy and the television, I think Mihaly was right. Not everyone can simulate their intellect, and that by its own account shouldn’t make them out to be lesser.

      Am not a big fan of television, but I do recognize its use in what you just said. Basically, I don’t think intellect on its own is the ultimate weapon for self-preservation, problem is television and intellect simulation don’t always go together. So you get scenarios where the intellectual focuses on only intellectual simulation, and the ‘lesser’ man on television only.

      We need a compromise.

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