At page 260 in Bertrand Russell’s autobiography there’s this gem:
Late into the night I stayed alone in the streets, watching the temper of the crowd, as I had done in the August days four years before. The crowd was frivolous still, and had learned nothing during the period of horror, except to snatch at pleasure more recklessly than before. I felt strangely solitary amid the rejoicings, like a ghost dropped by accident from some other planet. True, I rejoiced also, but I could find nothing in common between my rejoicing and that of the crowd. Throughout my life I have longed to feel that oneness with large bodies of human beings that is experienced by the members of enthusiastic crowds. The longing has often been strong enough to lead me into self-deception. I have imagined myself in turn a Liberal, a Socialist, or a Pacifist, but I have never been any of these things, in any profound sense. Always the sceptical intellect, when I have most wished it silent, has whispered doubts to me, has cut me off from the facile enthusiasms of others, and has transported me into a desolate solitude.
I find it quite interesting then to compare this to Russell’s Paradox in Set Theory. Here’s the excempt from Wikipedia:
According to naive set theory, any definable collection is a set. Let R be the set of all sets that are not members of themselves. If R is not a member of itself, then its definition dictates that it must contain itself, and if it contains itself, then it contradicts its own definition as the set of all sets that are not members of themselves. This contradiction is Russell’s paradox. Symbolically:
I’m probably just seeing shadow beings where no beings reside, but somehow I see Russell’s paradox describing exactly the feeling he had in the crowd. The paradox of the skeptic. I find it hard right now to formulate what I exactly mean with that, since I am myself not sure what it is that I’m seeing.
Nevertheless, I felt a deep connection to Russell upon reading the excerpt. Having also been through war, and having been within a crowd akin to his, feeling both the need to belong and the need for the sober yet somber skepticism, the excerpt put a bittersweet smile on my face.