Tuesday, October 10, 2017

these algorithms ... show up when there's a really difficult conversation that people want to avoid

--- Cathy O’Neil, author of the book Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, on the 99 Percent Invisible podcast episode 274, "The Age of the Algorithm", at timecode 10:50

Excerpt:
I feel like, just by observation, that these algorithms, they don't show up randomly. They show up when there's a really difficult conversation that people want to avoid.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context

--- Eliel Saarinen, quoted by Eero Saarinen, "The Maturing Modern," in Time, July 2, 1956:51, cited in Saarinen Houses by Jari Jesonen and Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen, p. 11

Full quote:
Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context—a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The terror you feel in quiet moments is not misplaced, just mistimed.

--- Welcome to Night Vale, written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, episode 42, "Numbers" (transcript; around 6:00)

Quote in context

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Sunday, August 06, 2017

The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life

--- Mohammed Ali, via the Ear Hustle, Episode Two. The quote is given near the end, from about 25:50.

Quote Investigator has the backstory. The first instance was a 1974 quote in a UPI wire story, “If a man looks at the world when he is 50 the same way he looked at it when he was 20 and it hasn’t changed, then be has wasted 30 years of his life.” By November 1975 he'd streamlined it to, The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Just as it takes time for a speck of fish spawn to mature into a fully-grown fish, so we need time for everything that develops and crystallizes in our world of ideas

--- Alvar Aalto, quoted in The Pool and the Stream by Avery Trufelman

Extended quote:

"Architecture and its details are in some way all part of biology. Perhaps they are, for instance, like some big salmon or trout. They are not born fully grown; they are not even born in the sea or water where they normally live. They are born hundreds of miles away from their home grounds, where the rivers narrow to tiny streams. Just as it takes time for a speck of fish spawn to mature into a fully-grown fish, so we need time for everything that develops and crystallizes in our world of ideas."

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Conway, whom experience had taught that rudeness is by no means a guarantee of good faith, was even less inclined to regard a well-turned phrase as a proof of insincerity.

-- "Glory" Conway, in James Hilton's Lost Horizon, Chapter 10

Laziness in doing stupid things can be a great virtue

--- the High Lama, in James Hilton's Lost Horizon, Chapter 8

In context

Conway was startled by the accuracy of the judgment. "That's so," he replied. "I'm unmarried; I have few close friends and no ambitions.
"No ambitions? And how have you contrived to escape those widespread maladies?" 
For the first time Conway felt that he was actually taking part in a conversation. He said: "It always seemed to me in my profession that a good deal of what passed for success would be rather disagreeable, apart from needing more effort than I felt called upon to make. I was in the Consular Service—quite a subordinate post, but it suited me well enough." 
"Yet your soul was not in it?" 
"Neither my soul nor my heart nor more than half my energies. I'm naturally rather lazy." 
The wrinkles deepened and twisted till Conway realized that the High Lama was very probably smiling. "Laziness in doing stupid things can be a great virtue," resumed the whisper. 

Thursday, June 01, 2017

vices are habits to be corrected, rather than sins to be punished

--- Matthew Treherne, in the BBC In Our Time program on Purgatory, discussing Dante's Purgatorio, at time code 21:07:

Matthew Treherne: Dante divides the mountain into seven terraces, each of which corresponds to a particular vice. 
Melvyn Bragg: Are they the seven deadly sins? 
Treherne: Yes. Dante would think of these as vices, which are habits to be corrected, rather than sins to be punished - that's a really important distinction to what happens in Hell.
According to Wikipedia, "The Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between vice, which is a habit of sin, and the sin itself, which is an individual morally wrong act. ... It is the sin, and not the vice, that deprives one of God's sanctifying grace and renders one deserving of God's punishment. Thomas Aquinas taught that "absolutely speaking, the sin surpasses the vice in wickedness". On the other hand, even after a person's sins have been forgiven, the underlying habit (the vice) may remain."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Enlightenment is a destructive process

--- Adyashanti, in "The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment", p. 136

Full quote:
Make no mistake about it- enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It's seeing through the facade of pretense. It's the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences

--- William Isaac Thomas and Dorothy Swaine Thomas, the "Thomas theorem" per wikipedia

Cited by Mireille Hildebrandt in David Runciman's Talking Politics podcast episode on Power in the Digital Age, 6 April 2017, around timecode 13:29

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Meaningful prediction does not lie in serving up the present larded with startling improvements or revelations in lieu of the future.

--- Stanisław Lem, quoted by Simon Ings in a profile "Stanisław Lem: The man with the future inside him, " New Scientist, 19 November 2016

In context
Writing in the 1950s, Ray Bradbury predicted earbud headphones and elevator muzak, and foresaw the creeping eeriness of today's media-saturated shopping mall culture. But even Bradbury's guesses – almost everyone's guesses, in fact – tended to exaggerate the contemporary moment. More TV! More suburbia! Videophones and cars with no need of roads. The powerful, topical visions of writers like Frederik Pohl and Arthur C. Clarke are visions of what the world would be like if the 1950s (the 1960s, the 1970s...) went on forever.
And that is why Stanisław Lem, the Polish satirist, essayist, science fiction writer and futurologist, had no time for them. "Meaningful prediction," he wrote, "does not lie in serving up the present larded with startling improvements or revelations in lieu of the future." He wanted more: to grasp the human adventure in all its promise, tragedy and grandeur. He devised whole new chapters to the human story, not happy endings.

More from the piece

Twenty years before the term "virtual reality" appeared, Lem was already writing about its likely educational and cultural effects.

His abiding concern was the way people use reason as a white stick as they steer blindly through a world dominated by chance and accident. This perspective was acquired early, while he was being pressed up against a wall by the muzzle of a Nazi machine gun – just one of several narrow escapes.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Crowds are often mad rather than wise

--- The Economist's review of Douglas Carswell's book "Rebel: How to Overthrow the Emerging Oligarchy" (April 8, 2017)

Quote in context

"Mr Carswell thinks that a new oligarchy is the biggest threat to the welfare of mankind.... Big companies are tightening their hold over the global economy. Established parties are rigging the political system in their own favour. And business and politics are becoming ever more intertwined as companies offer jobs to ex-politicians. Journalists snobbishly dismiss populism as proof that their fellow citizens are bigots rather than as evidence that they are waking up to the fact that the system is rigged. Yet Mr Carswell has no time for the leftist solution—enlisting the state to regulate capitalism and redistribute wealth." 
"Mr Carswell makes his case well. He is right that capitalism is going through a worrying period of concentration: .... He is also right that today’s meritocratic elite is hard to stomach, ... But he is wrong to think that people-power is the answer. There is a good reason that America’s Founding Fathers, whom Mr Carswell so admires, built up checks and balances to the will of the people: the people are often moved by short-term passions, swayed by demagogues, deceived by rumours. Crowds are often mad rather than wise."

Friday, April 14, 2017

Democracy demands that little men should not take big ones too seriously -- it dies when it is full of little men who think they are big themselves

--- C.S. Lewis, in the essay "Democratic Education" (1944), with thanks to Pierre-Yves Saintoyant for the reference

In context:
"A mild pleasure in ragging, a determination not to be much interfered with, is a valuable brake on reckless planning and a valuable curb on the meddlesomeness of minor officials. Envy bleating "I'm as good as you", is, on the other hand, the hotbed of Fascism. You are going about to take away the one and foment the other. Democracy demands that little men should not take big ones too seriously -- it dies when it is full of little men who think they are big themselves !!"


Sunday, March 26, 2017

how much of physics is real, and how much of reality is physics?

--- Richard Webb, in a book review in NewScientist, 3 December 2016

Quote in context

A veteran of particle physics and cosmology behind at least two Nobel-prizewinning strands of research, [Richard] Muller [author of "Now: The physics of time"] isn’t pouring cold water on an entire discipline. But he is addressing a theme that, one way or another, exercises him and the authors of three other major new books: how much of physics is real, and how much of reality is physics?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Disciplines are now defined too much by methods rather than by questions

--- Economist Hamish Low, in Exams and Expectations: The art and science of economics at Cambridge, The Economist, 24 December 2016

Quote in context:

Hamish Low, a Cambridge professor who works in applied economics, does not mourn the loss of philosopher kings’ grand intellectual debates. “Now we need to be much more evidence based”, he says. But the discipline’s development has come with a cost. The specialisation associated with expertise can encourage narrow thinking. “Disciplines are now defined too much by methods rather than by questions”, Low says. This narrowness feeds through to policy advice, which too often applies established models to current circumstances, rather than considering fundamental reinterpretions of the issues. Economists can give you an estimate of how much revenue a tax increase will raise, the income loss associated with Brexit, or the employment effects of a minimum wage rise. It calls to mind another aphorism from Keynes about economists being at their best as “humble, competent people on a level with dentists”, using their technical skill to solve pressing problems within a limited area of expertise.

Monday, March 06, 2017

since he made only what he wanted, what he could comprehend, he learned nothing

--- Stanislaw Lem, from "Doctor Diagoras" in Memoirs of a Space Traveler, transl. Joel Stern and Maria Swiecicka-Ziemianek, p. 127

Quoting Dr. Diagoras

"Corcoran wasn't seeking knowledge; he merely wanted to create what he had planned, and since he made only what he wanted, what he could comprehend, he learned nothing and proved nothing except that he is a skillful technician. I am much less confident than Corcoran. I say: I don't know, but I want to know. Building a manlike machine, a grotesque rival for the good things of this world, would be ordinary imitation."

Friday, March 03, 2017

"Sire, do you like yourself?" "What's not to like?"

--- Exchange between Nathaniel and Prince Edward in the 2007 movie Enchanted

Nathaniel: Sire, do you like yourself?
Prince Edward: What's not to like?

Monday, January 09, 2017

A man may search for a shilling and find a sovereign. The important thing is to search

--- Parasitologist Patrick Manson, quoted in EPOD's "Accidental Discoveries: Unusual Salt Crystal Whiskers," January 09, 2017

It's also quoted in Tales from the Torrid Zone: Travels in the Deep Tropics by Alexander Frater

Weeks later, after his wife complained about the smell, he saw the eggs had grown into creatures he reckoned to be embryonic lung flukes that had originated in snails. Snails? How did he know? In truth he didn't; snails had been an inspired guess yet, later, he would be proved right on both counts—and find himself the first person in history studying the lung fluke' s life cycle. An organism lurking in bad water and uncooked food, it becomes a worm in the gut, reaches the lungs after penetrating the intestinal wall, in a few cases continues upwards to lay its eggs in the dark little cerebellic burrows of the brain. 
Manson, contemplating another big breakthrough, denied luck had anything to do with it. "A man may search for a shilling," he said, "and find a sovereign. The important thing is to search." 
Of the forty diseases that flourish between the ecliptics Manson studied no fewer than a quarter and created a more profound understanding of them all. Giant statues should be raised to him throughout the region.