phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

'man is the sum total of his own thoughts'

Posted by Smokey Stover on January 19, 2007

In Reply to: 'man is the sum total of his own thoughts' posted by sian on January 18, 2007

: what does 'man is the sum total of his own thoughts' mean?

I'm pretty sure you knew where you had read this, and I wish you had told us. It comes from

"The Master Key System
Written By Charles F. Haanel
born May 22, 1866 in Ann Arbor Michigan
died November 27, 1949"

This system belongs to the category of spiritual self-help, and is divided into lessons. To give something of the flavor of Haanel's writing, I'm including both Sian's quotation and the paragraph above it.

"26. It used to be said that man is completely built over every seven years, but some scientists now declare that we build ourselves over entirely every eleven months; so we are really only eleven months old. If we build the defects back into our bodies year after year, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

27. Man is the sum total of his own thoughts; so the question is, how are we going to entertain only the good thoughts and reject the evil ones? At first we can't keep the evil thoughts from coming, but we can keep from entertaining them. The only way to do this is to forget them -- which means, get something for them. This is where the ready-made affirmation comes into play."

There is a serious philosophical system in which the quoted statement makes sense, but I'm not sure whether or not we should view Haanel's statement in that context.

In the early 18th century the Anlo-Irish Anglican bishop, George Berkeley, made a considerable stir with a simple but bold philosophical point of view. His "Empiricist philosophy, which holds that everything save the spiritual exists only insofar as it is perceived by the senses." The corollaries ramifications are obvious and pretty far-reaching. Essentially, everything material that we know has no demonstrable reality outside our mind. Our perception is our only reality. Do we have a body? Our mind says so. Do we have friends and acquaintances? Our perceptions say so. Do we communicate? Our perceptions say so. Scientists prove this and that, philosophers teach this and that. How do we know? Our minds say that we read it somewhere, or heard it; or that we talked with so-and-so. Other than our perceptions, what do we have to go on? Does Sian exist? Yes, in my mind. Other than that? Who knows besides God, who may simply have planted all those memories and perceptions in our minds, like the monks who created Buffy's sister Dawn out of pure green energy and then planted memories in the minds of her mother and sister to give Dawn a plausible history. Stretching it? Just carrying Berkeley's philosophy to one of its several logical conclusions.

Berkeley, incidentally, is the author of the well-known conundrum, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really fall?" This very popular quotation may be Bishop Berkeley's most enduring legacy. It has given rise to all sorts of silliness, including:

There was a young man who said, "God,
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there's no one about in the Quad."

"Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd:
I am always about in the Quad.
And that's why the tree
Continues to be,
Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God."

Did Haanel get his statement from his studies, and therefore from Berkeley? I don't know any other context in which to view the statement and have it make sense. No matter. The statement, by itself, is not, I think, essential to his teaching.