Words of Wisdom

In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato says that the wisdom of Thales and the other Seven Sages was reflected in the brief but memorable remarks they each uttered when they met. In this spirit we put together a list of thought-provoking and insigthful quotes from our panel debates at Thales Day (alphabetically organized):


“I find it quite fascinating how the human brain might be a bit limited, because it is hard for us to think of something that is completely meaningless. In this way we are part of nature and the universe; we cannot help but think of something that fits with it.”

-  Anja C. Andersen (Astronomer)


“One of the articles I am most proud of was completely wrong but it was a great idea, and it was very well written and still quoted. It just turned out to be wrong.”

-  Anja C. Andersen (Astronomer)


“I think it is a strength when philosophers want to help natural science get to grips with reality, because reality is complex and sometimes it is also more complex than physicists care for.”

-  Anja C. Andersen (Astronomer)


““I think perhaps the biggest danger in science today… is that we all become more and more specialized and then we all know a lot about something very specific, but it is not really useful to society, you might say, because you are so far down the knowledge silo that you don't talk to those in the other silos, so I can sometimes be worried about the lack of cross-info.”

Anja C. Andersen (Astronomer)


"Happiness consists in many different types of experiences… however a vital element is not just to have your desires and wishes fulfilled, but that you have developed an ability to appreciate life as it is, and find meaning in it"

-  Erik Bendtsen (Philosopher)


“Central to understanding happiness is to begin by reflecting on what a human being is, and to understand that we are much more complex creatures than we sometimes think, not least with respect to our emotions”. 

-  Erik Bendtsen (Philosopher)


“(happiness) has to do with satisfaction, but behind this is a foundation of meaning which you could call a spiritual desire-- a desire to navigate life, to understand, and to not feel impotence in too many situations.”

 -  Erik Bendtsen (Philosopher)


"A very important aspect of self-respect is that you don’t just pat yourself on the back and say you are good enough, but that you take time to self-reflect and evaluate what values to base your life upon...”

-  Erik Bendtsen (Philosopher)


"There are two kinds of complaining: The kind where we are just angry and which is thoughtlessly directed at whatever seems most selfevidently at fault, and then there is the thoughtful criticism, or critical thinking, where we take a step back and try to analyse ourselves objectively from a third person perspective."

-  Erik Bendtsen (Philosopher)


“An engineer is not necessarily an expert on ethics or good interactions between humans and machines. Therefore it is important that there are philosophers, psychologists and others working in this field...”

-  Thomas Bolander (A.I. Engineer)


“The problem with A.I. is that it is a very general concept and it develops so fast. This leads us to wonder what to do and to this story of disruption, a story of exponential growth, and how things develop so quickly that suddenly it is too late. It is a very dangerous story, in my opinion, because people are too quick to accept it and say we have to act quickly. I think the right thing to do is to do things slowly, and to regulate it and make sure that we do not become slaves to the technology. After all, it is the technology that is supposed to help us and not the other way around.”

-  Thomas Bolander (A.I. Engineer)


“It is actually fair enough that we have this dystopian fear because there is something about it being dangerous. However, it is not dangerous because the machines themselves run wild or decide to take over the world, but because us humans are a bit too naive, a bit too fast, and don't quite demand enough from these algorithms, and then it can spiral out of control.”

-  Thomas Bolander (A.I. Engineer)


“A.I. literature and movies always seem to tell us to fear ourselves. It is their main message. Take for instance Mary Shelley's story of Frankenstein… the monster is exhibited as a creature we should understand and have feelings for, whereas the mad scientist Frankenstein is the one we should fear.”

-  Per Juul Carlsen (Film Critic)


“...what is very interesting in many of these (A.I) stories is how the human being is imperfect. We create an A.I. that we wish to make smarter than ourselves, and this A.I. also feels insecure and therefore wants to exceed its master. In this way there is a dizzying competition over who is most important, God, human beings, or the A.I.”

-  Per Juul Carlsen (Film Critic)


“...at one point she felt like it (SIRI) was alive, because when she said certain words it instantly responded to her... When listening in we all got the feeling that it was a living entity. We projected emotions on to this little silly phone, and I think with respect to emotions and A.I., it is not just about what we can put into these machines. It has as much to do with what we can project onto them, because we have emotions and imagination, and because we function the way we do.”

 -  Per Juul Carlsen (Film Critic)


“I have great respect for politicians who say that there are better ways to spend our money even though the climate is warming. But to say that you do not believe in it, I think is a very strange way to approach the research.”

-  Dorthe Dahl-Jensen (Climate Scientist)


“It is true that a lot more people have now got a voice... and that is good for democracy. But we have to have a society that is built on trust to the extent that we recognize, that some people know more than others... and I think it is a bit in danger at the moment.”

-  Dorthe Dahl-Jensen (Climate Scientist)


"My ideal is that these things will be met with public education. That is to say that it is not without consequence to say something that is not true. It has to involve a risk for a politician to say something that is not true. This is why we are all very happy that we have journalists even though they are annoying many of them."

-  Bertel Haarder (Politician- longest serving minister)


“That is the difficulty of freedom and enlightenment. It is easier to go without knowledge and kid yourself.”

-  Bertel Haarder (Politician- longest serving minister)


"...'self-driving cars' is the way language fools us. Self-driving cars are not self-driving. They are machines within an infrastructure that supports their self-driving capability…Autonomous technologies do not exist. In order to have self-driving cars we must change the infrastructure, the rules and the laws... In order to be intelligent we must take into consideration how these technologies might actually develop. We must consider what we want and what we don't want. We want a lot of it, I think, because it is really smart and it will make many things easier and better. However there is also a lot we would like to avoid before its negative consequences become reality.”

-  Cathrine Hasse (Cultural Analytic)


“I think it is worth mentioning that at one point a professor of economy analyzed the econometric models of prediction. He found that they are about 90 percent wrong, but it has not refrained anyone from using them, right? And it is possible that this will also be the destiny of A.I., that now we have it, and have invested so much in it, we will pretend that it has something sensible to say.”

 -  Cathrine Hasse (Cultural Analytic) 


“What perhaps surprises even philosophers sometimes, is; 'What happened to reality in our considerations?' If we look at the philosophers I consider great, such as Aristotle, Bertrand Russel, Leibniz and Norman Wiehler, what characterized them is that they were what you with a broad term can call natural philosophers. For them nature was always relatively close, and they were not as speculative.”

-  Vincent F. Hendricks (Professor of Philosophy)


"The reason why we got the idea that they must be similar, was philosophy, because epistemology try to find the correct structures of knowledge. So philosophy, in this way, helped us by giving us a structured way of looking at this problem. But it was necessary to use mathematics as a tool to justify what made good sense: would it not be strange if completely different mechanisms were at play with regards to bystander effects and lemming effects? It is, after all, based on the same fundamental principle. So here philosophy expanded our knowledge. But mostly because the structure we are looking for can be helped by philosophy, and can be verified or refuted- and then we are back with you, because then we do need to go out and attach a hook to reality."

-  Vincent F. Hendricks (Professor of Philosophy)


“I don´t want to put philosophy in the grave and I am happy it still exists, however, I would like to have it embalmed in such a way that what is around it is the other sciences- so it is embalmed in them. And then we can raise the question again next year, and the year after that and that is how it goes with philosophy and science together.”

-  Vincent F. Hendricks (Professor of Philosophy)


“Anja and I share a basic premise: The truth is always interesting for us, always alluring, also when it is burdensome. This is what characterizes being human, we are questioning individuals, it drives us forward. And in this way it is almost similar, to decide on whether to buy a new freezer or to ask what black holes look like. It is still questions that entice our curiosity…”

-  Vincent F. Hendricks (Professor of Philosophy)


“With regards to technologies, there are three places they always impact first: the economy where they make the powerful more powerful…,with regards to sex, and that is how it has always been-- and with respect to war... if democracy follows humanistic ideals, the technologies will also impact handicapped people, elder care and so on, but only if society has a certain idea of what it means to be human... so A.I. is perhaps just a way of saying that we should all just pull ourselves together and consider how technologies can potentially develop and be used, and for what purpose."

-  Ole Fogh Kirkeby (Philososopher)


“... there is a certain ethical logic to much technological development that says we should no longer think in terms of sustainability but in terms of resilience, because sustainability is no longer possible. There is no longer a balance between nature and society. The Chinese seem to have realized these things, and they have a philosophical background that enables this, that of Confucius, Mencius, and Laozi. They have a very fine ethical tradition if they want to make use of it, and it seems that they are beginning to.”

-  Ole Fogh Kirkeby (Philososopher)


“there might be a big confrontation in the future between those who are A.I. literate-- who can interpret these systems and understand the language of programming, and the logic and matematics behind it, and those who cannot...”

-  Ole Fogh Kirkeby (Philososopher)


 “Immanuel Kant once said something to the effect of; ‘The person who can use his reason would be able to think critically, put himself in anyone's shoes, and be in tune with himself.’ Thankfully we have not discussed these things with respect to computers, apart from putting yourself in someone else's place. However, if that is what characterizes a human being, we are in trouble, because I don't think people are very good at that.”

 -  Ole Fogh Kirkeby (Philosopher) 


Martin Krasnik (Journalist, Editor-in-chief):
"There are very few politicians who make an effort to say something meaningful. The closer they are to the centre of power the less this effort is, and the closer Bertel has been to the financial ministry the harder it has been for him to say something meaningful.”
Bertel Haarder (Politician- longest serving minister):
“There is some truth to that.”


“We are talking about enlightenment. It is not something that we can just take for granted. From the beginning of the enlightenment there has been a counter-enlightenment. The French Revolution was followed by counter-enlightenment, and this has continued throughout the 19th and 20th century."

-  Martin Krasnik (Journalist, Editor-in-chief)


“Thales was the first philosopher. He set philosophy in motion in Asia Minor, and his claim was that everything is water. The question is, is that a pre-post-factual claim? It seems to be untrue because anyone can see that not all is water. His claim was that you can see that water becomes air when it evaporates, and that it becomes earth when it settles and if you light it up, air becomes fire. All elements in the world are created from water. This was a claim that strongly contradicted our senses, and if the word had existed back then they could easily have said that it is not factual. Despite this, he did have a point: That you can say something that is seemingly untrue, and still be on to something.”

-  Ole Thyssen (Philosopher)


“Well, democracy is not about truth- you don't say that one party has the truth whereas the other is lying…There are many different truths, and what counts is to figure out in what way can you get a majority. And in this struggle it can be hard sometimes not to overbid or twist things because of specific interests.”

 Ole Thyssen (Philosopher)


“I have never, while watching politicians debate during an election, heard a politician from one party say to the other; "I never thought of that, you are right". It is not something they say because they disagree at a fundamental level. It is a clash between fundamental principles of the various political parties. It is a clash between opinions, and an opinion is not something that can simply be changed- it is also a way of viewing the world. A certain pattern is formed, and I think that this neither can or should change. The idea that all people think the same is a terrible idea.”

-  Ole Thyssen (Philosopher)


“...I think the feeling of happiness is only a fleeting part of happiness, whereas the idea of happiness as a lasting phenomena, which we talk about a lot within the tradition I represent, eternal bliss, has to do with a relation to oneself, but also to something bigger than oneself. Therefore I think that the biggest threat to human beings is not climate change or cancer, but time.”

-  Pia Søltoft (Priest)


“The only way philosophy can advance is through critique- not complaining, but one philosopher criticizing the next… If not, we would still be where Thales began.”

-  Pia Søltoft (Priest)


"At the end of the day it is the quality of our social relations that determine if we have lived a good life."

 -  Pia Søltoft (Priest)


“We talk a lot about self-improvement but in reality most people would rather be someone else- they want to be just like the rest and that which they aspire to, and I think he (Søren Kierkegaard) is right about this, and that this is true also in our day in age where we compare ourselves to each-other on social media.”

-  Pia Søltoft (Priest)


The highest good is to find meaning and structure...a deep and lasting sense that you are on the right track and on the right shelf,... We should reflect more on why we get up in the morning- what our ideal is- what has made us who we are, and consider if this is also what should bring us forward...human beings have always had this desire to find purpose and structure to life, even before we began contemplating it...it may not bring us a sudden burst of happiness, but it can give us a more lasting and deep sensation that life has a purpose."

-  Pia Søltoft (Priest)


"One of the best predictors of whether or not people feel happy, is if they have strong social relations.”

-  Meik Wiking (Happiness researcher)


“... you could call us the worlds happiest people, together with the other nordic countries, or the least unhappy, and this is perhaps more accurate. The welfare state is really good at reducing causes of unhappiness; We have access to health care, education, unemployment benefits, the lack of which makes a lot of people around the world unhappy.”

-  Meik Wiking (Happiness researcher)


"I don’t know if complaining is something uniquely Danish, because when I am in France they say that “Frenshmen always complain, and this is why we are not happy”, and later when I am in Portugal they say, “We Portugues people are not happy because we always complain”, and they say the same in Estonia and Russia and so on…so I think it is part of being human that we enjoy complaining. There should be a word for the joy of complaining."

 -  Meik Wiking (Happiness researcher)


“We all have an inner critic which speaks to us in a very foul language and tells us to be ashamed of ourselves, and as long as we blame ourselves we also blame each-other…Therefore I think it is crucial that we let self-love into our lives.”

-  Joan Ørting (Sex therapist)


"I think we should marry ourselves before we marry someone else…that we first create a life that we really enjoy, so that we are not seeking a partner because we cannot figure out how to be alone.”                 

-  Joan Ørting (Sex therapist)


"We live in a world where confidence reigns supreme, but we are all imperfect, and when we realize that we can love ourselves as imperfect- and therefore that we can love each other as imperfect, and actually enjoy it, then we can reach unconditional love, and there are probably not so many who experience that these days."

-  Joan Ørting (Sex therapist)