Zach is a double major in Industrial Engineering and Philosophy who shared with me a proverb from the 1938 book Alamut that explores complex philosophical ideas. He cited as his favorite for the manner it which it “pulls a complex idea from the esoteric, nebulous realm where philosophy lives and brings it down to a place where everyone can understand it.”
“I got a proverb. ‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted.’ The only way you interact with reality is through your perception, and it’s refreshing to remind yourself that reality.. if you remind yourself that reality is perceived you can alter the world that you choose to live in. It’s like Heidegger, the priest and the gatekeeper. You know Foucault and the panopticon? It’s actually a prison designed by some engineer in the late 18th century and it had this guard tower in center with mirrors facing up. The guard could look at any of the prisoners at any time, but no prisoner could tell if they were being watched at any given moment. If you don’t know who he’s looking at, he’s looking at you. So they self-regulate.
Other people’s power is being exerted on you through your own mind, through the perception that they have encouraged you to accept. So when you remind yourself that reality is subjective, you can step back, reexamine this reality you’ve chosen to live in, and step outside this enframement surrounding you to live a more free life.”
This short proverb is able to fully demonstrate a set of complex philosophical concepts. Behind the fascade of simple logic lies a complex rationale for a large subset of human behavior. The simple statement condenses Zach’s lengthy analysis while managing to retain its essence; if the actual words reflected the complexity of the ideas that they represent, the purpose of a proverb – to pass complex pieces of wisdom along in a palatable form – would not be achieved.