Pascal’s Iconic Quote About Humanity’s Central Dilemma

It’s about our torturous minds.

David Gerken
Change Your Mind Change Your Life

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Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Blaise Pascal was, along with his French countryman Rene Descartes, one of the great mathematicians and physicists of the 17th century. As a teenager he invented a mechanical calculator to help his dad figure out his complicated taxes. The guy was special.

But for me, Pascal will be best remembered for something he wrote that had nothing to do with science or mathematics. In his seminal philosophical work, The Pensees (thoughts), Pascal wrote:

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

That’s a wise observation at any time, but especially from a guy living 400 years ago.

What is Pascal saying here? Why is it that we can’t stand doing nothing while we’re alone?

It’s all in the mind

The answer: Our minds drive us, and everyone around us, crazy. And the world suffers mightily as a result.

Before answering why our minds drive us crazy, let’s dive into what our minds are. There are lots of ways to define the mind, but one way is to break it down into two parts.

Voluntary thinking

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David Gerken
Change Your Mind Change Your Life

Meditation and Mindfulness teacher. Dad of three precious kids. Former writer for THE WEST WING. Follow me at davidgerken.net.