Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing

--- Wernher von Braun, POLITICO Space's Quote for the Day, 12/12/2018 (also sometimes given as "Basic research is...")

Saturday, December 01, 2018

the ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand

--- Richard Saul Wurman, in Information Anxiety, via Kenneth Gergen's The Saturated Self

Quote

[Information anxiety is] produced by the ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. It is the black hole between data and knowledge, and what happens when information doesn't tell us what we want or need to know.

You must not avert your eyes ... this is what a collective anonymous body of marjority wants to see

--- Werner Herzog, from an interview at Intelligence Squared in 2009 (YouTube)

The poet or the filmmaker or the musician must not avert his eyes. We should not be sitting in the library and study it as academic subject... Paul I think you've started watching Wrestlemania... because you must not avert your eyes. This what is coming at us. This is what a collective, anonymous body of majority wants to see on television.

I found it thanks to Nerdwriter1, who used it to open his YouTube essay, Why Are There So Few Smartphones In Popular Movies?, which was inspired by John Hunter's TEDx Talk, The Hollywood Guide to the Future-Past.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream

--- Joseph Campbell, from The Hero With a Thousand Faces (from The Monomyth, ch. 1, “Myth and Dream”)

Extended quote:

Dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamic of the psyche. But in the dream the forms are quirked by the peculiar troubles of the dreamer, whereas in myth the problems and solutions shown are directly valid for all mankind.

I found this via Steven Aizenstat, who said in Dream Tending: "A myth is a story that expresses something meaningful about a culture, from origins to values to sanctioned social interactions.   Every night the dreaming psyche is generating something of our own personal mythology, informing us about our origins, values, and so on."

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The fastest progress is achieved by those who are content with the stage they are on now. It is the deepening of that contentment that ripens into the next stage.

--- Ajahn Brahmavamso, quoted by Christopher K. Germer in The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (2009)

This comment occurs in The Five Hindrances (Nivarana) by Ajahn Brahmavamso, said to have been published in the newsletter of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, April 1999. Excerpt:
4. Restlessness refers to a mind which is like a monkey, always swinging on to the next branch, never able to stay long with anything. It is caused by the fault-finding state of mind which cannot be satisfied with things as they are, and so has to move on to the promise of something better, forever just beyond.

The Lord Buddha compared restlessness to being a slave, continually having to jump to the orders of a tyrannical boss who always demands perfection and so never lets one stop.

Restlessness is overcome by developing contentment, which is the opposite of fault-finding. One learns the simple joy of being satisfied with little, rather than always wanting more. One is grateful for this moment, rather than picking out its deficiencies. For instance, in meditation restlessness is often the impatience to move quickly on to the next stage. The fastest progress, though is achieved by those who are content with the stage they are on now. It is the deepening of that contentment that ripens into the next stage. So be careful of 'wanting to get on with it' and instead learn how to rest in appreciative contentment. That way, the 'doing' disappears and the meditation blossoms.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

by 2040 or so ... 30 percent [of Americans] will choose 70 senators

--- Norm Ornstein, in a tweet on July 10, 2018

Tweet text:

I want to repeat a statistic I use in every talk: by 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30% will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent. Unsettling to say the least
According to Jason Devaney in Newsmax quoting the Washington Post, the claim is supported by a 2016 population study by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service of the University of Virginia.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell

--- CG Jung, from Ch. 5, Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (1951) (per u/moscheles in a reddit thread)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Complexity is not a condition to be tamed, but a lesson to be learned.

--- Artist James Bridle, quoted in NewScientist issue 3189, August 2018, in a review by Pat Kane of his book New Dark Age.

In context:

Bridle expresses moral distaste at the excesses and cruelties of digital culture, with its devastating access to our rawest selves, and its historical links to war and imperialism.

But he also possesses a near-Buddhist acceptance of how inescapably we are caught up in it. Perhaps this is why he writes so approvingly of initiatives like “centaur” chess, in which humans team up with AIs so that together they can beat the most advanced programmes.

The “darkness” in Bridle’s title is generated by the unthinkable density of our information worlds, and the growing inscrutability of the machine intelligences that tend them. We can’t afford to be overwhelmed by all this, he says. Global warming’s knowledge explosion, for example, compels all good citizens to be amateur statisticians. But we should understand the scale and intractability of the problem: “Complexity is not a condition to be tamed,” Bridle cautions, “but a lesson to be learned.”

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Recognize what is before your eyes, and what is hidden will be revealed to you.

--- The Gospel of Thomas, verse 5, as given by Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul, as the Epigraph to begin Section III. Spiritual Practice and Psychological Depth.

This appears to be Moore's translation. A variety of translations is given in the The Gospel of Thomas Collection:

Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer: Jesus said, "Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. [And there is nothing buried that will not be raised.]"

Thomas O. Lambdin: Jesus said, "Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest."

Marvin Meyer: Yeshua said, / Know what is in front of your face / and what is hidden from you will be disclosed. / There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.

Stevan Davies: Jesus said, "Recognize what is right in front of you, and that which is hidden from you will be revealed to you. Nothing hidden will fail to be displayed. [And there is nothing that is buried that will not be raised.]


Stephen J. Patterson and James M. Robinson: Jesus says: / (1) "Come to know what is in front of you, and that which is hidden from you will become clear to you. / (2) For there is nothing hidden that will not become manifest."

Monday, October 08, 2018

what was true ... was not original, and most of what was original was known not to be true

--- Max Perutz on Erwin Schrodinger's What's Life, via Phil Ball in the Nature podcast of 5 Sep 2018, interview about his article in Nature Books and Arts, Schrödinger’s cat among biology’s pigeons: 75 years of What Is Life?

Ball's article cites a 1987 paper by Perutz, Physics and the riddle of life, where he grumbled that "what was true in his book was not original, and most of what was original was known not to be true even when the book was written”.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain

--- Mr Weasley, quoted by Oliver Bullough, author of the new book Moneyland: Why Thieves and Crooks Now Rule the World, on the Talking Politics podcast of 26 September 2018, at timecode 42:00

From the podcast transcript:

To my mind the threat is that this dark money, the 10 percent of the global economy which is out there somewhere, is a bit like a sort of malevolent Poltergeist. We can’t see it and we can’t touch it but it can see us and it can touch us. There’s this great line in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which I’m sure you’ve all read intensely, when Mr. Weasley scolds his daughter Ginny at the end because she’s been possessed by a diary which was sort of inhabited by the spirit of Lord Voldemort. And he says ‘How many times do I have to tell you. Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.’ And that’s the thing about dark money, offshore money, is it’s acting, it’s influencing our politics. It’s buying assets. It’s buying houses. It’s paying for the media. It’s paying for, you know, political campaigns, but we can’t see where it keeps its brain.

In the book, Bullough says in his Notes on Sources, p. 289, "The quotation from Arthur Weasley comes from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (London: Bloomsbury, 1998) by J. K. Rowling, and can — in my opinion — be applied to pretty much everything. "


Sunday, September 30, 2018

what forms of psychological manipulation will we consider to be acceptable business models?

--- James Williams, author of Stand out of our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy (CUP 2018), speaking on the Talking Politics podcast 25 April, 2018, at timecode 24:39

The fundamental question for society to answer is, what forms of psychological manipulation will we consider to be acceptable business models.

Friday, September 28, 2018

The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope

--- Samuel Johnson, quoted by Philip Mirowski in the final section, "5. The kicker" of  "On kicking the habit: A response to the JEBO Symposium on “Markets Come to Bits”", Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Vol. 63 (2007) 359–371

Here's more, per https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/samuel_johnson_134958

The mind is never satisfied with the objects immediately before it, but is always breaking away from the present moment, and losing itself in schemes of future felicity... The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.

I have gathered a posie of other men's flowers and nothing but the thread which binds them is my own

--- Michel de Montaigne, frontispiece of The Art of Botanical Illustration (Hardcover, 1989) by Lys de Bray

I haven't been able to find thesource for this translation.

Here is the version from Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Chapter XII, Of Physiognomy, translated by Charles Cotton, edited by William Carew Hazlitt (1877) on http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3600:


Besides, the method of arguing, of which Socrates here makes use, is it not equally admirable both in simplicity and vehemence?  Truly it is much more easy to speak like Aristotle and to live like Caesar than to speak and live as Socrates did; there lies the extreme degree of perfection and difficulty; art cannot reach it.  Now, our faculties are not so trained up; we do not try, we do not know them; we invest ourselves with those of others, and let our own lie idle; as some one may say of me, that I have here only made a nosegay of foreign flowers, having furnished nothing of my own but the thread to tie them.
Certainly I have so far yielded to public opinion, that those borrowed ornaments accompany me; but I do not mean that they shall cover me and hide me; that is quite contrary to my design, who desire to make a show of nothing but what is my own, and what is my own by nature; and had I taken my own advice, I had at all hazards spoken purely alone, I more and more load myself every day, beyond my purpose and first method, upon the account of idleness and the humour of the age.  If it misbecome me, as I believe it does, ‘tis no matter; it may be of use to some others.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

True simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter and ornamentation. It's about bringing order to complexity.

--- Jonathan Ive, explaining the design philosophy behind iOS 7 in the product video shown at WWDC 2013 (according to Wikiquote) (h/t Agata Toromanoff for the quote in her article Conscious Environments about Elena Mora, Aesthetica Magazine, June/July 2018)

From Wikiquote:

I think there is a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity; in clarity, in efficiency. True simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter and ornamentation. It's about bringing order to complexity.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

What you see depends on where you stand

It's a variation, perhaps, of   C.S. Lewis in The Magician's Nephew:
What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.

Cf. "Where you stand depends on where you sit," attributed to Rufus Miles of Princeton University (sometimes call Miles's Law), among others.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

finding the right work is like discovering your own soul in the world

--- Thomas Moore, in Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life (1994)

Quote in context, p. 186:
When it is not possible to feel good about our work, then soulful pride, so necessary for creativity, turns into narcissism. Pride and narcissism are not the same thing; in a sense, they are opposites. Like Narcissus, we need to be objectified in an image, something outside ourselves. The products of our work are like the image in the pond—a means of loving ourselves. But if those products are not lovable, we are forced into a narcissistic where we lose sight of the work itself and focus on our own personal needs. Love of the world and our place in it, attained largely by our work, turns into solipsistic craving for love. Work becomes narcissistic when we cannot love ourselves through objects in the world. This is one of the deeper implications of the Narcissus myth: the flowering of life depends upon finding a reflection of oneself in the world, and work is an important place for that kind of reflection. In the language of Neoplatonism, Narcissus discovers love when he finds that his nature is completed in that part of his soul that is outside himself, in the soul of the world. Read in this way, the story suggests that we will never achieve the flowering of our own natures until we find that piece of ourselves, that lovable twin, which lives in the world and as the world. Therefore, finding the right work is like discovering your own soul in the world.

Let your meditation walk no further than pleasure, and even a little behind

--- Epicurus, quoted by Thomas Moore in Care of the Soul (1992). From Moore, p. 164:
Also curious is that whenever pleasure is tied to soul in the writings of philosophers, it is not separated from restraint. Epicurus, as we have seen, lived a simple life and taught a philosophy of pleasure. Ficino, who in his early years espoused the philosophy of Epicurus explicitly (later he lived it but did not speak about it openly), gave a high place to pleasure, yet he was a vegetarian, ate sparsely, traveled none and treasured friends and books over all other possessions. The motto of his Florentine academy was displayed on a banner that read PLEASURE IN THE PRESENT. In one of his letters he gave this epicurean advice: "Let your meditation walk no further than pleasure, and even a little behind."

Monday, August 27, 2018

our failure is to form habits

--- Walter Pater, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, Conclusion (1st ed. 1873)

In context

To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life. In a sense it might even be said that our failure is to form habits: for, after all, habit is relative to a stereotyped world, and meantime it is only the roughness of the eye that makes any two persons, things, situations, seem alike.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

We live by admiration, hope and love

--- William Wordsworth, quoted by Carleton Noyes in the final paragraph of The Gate of Appreciation: Studies in the Relation of Art to Life, 1907 (on gutenberg.org)


From Noyes:
Art is within the range of every man who holds himself open to its appeal. But art is not the final thing. It is a means to an end; its end is personality. There are exalted moments in the experience of us all which we feel to be finer than any art. Then we do not need to turn to painting, music, literature, for our satisfaction. We are living. Art is aid and inspiration, but its fulfillment and end is life.
"We live," says Wordsworth, "by admiration, hope, and love." Admiration is wonder and worship, a sense of the mystery and the beauty of life as we know it now, and thankfulness for it, and joy. Hope is the vision of things to be. And love is the supreme enfolding unity that makes all one. Art is life at its best, but life is the greatest of the arts,--life harmonious, deep in feeling, big in sympathy, the life that is appreciation, responsiveness, and love.

Monday, July 30, 2018

the sadness of growing old is part of becoming an individual

--- Thomas Moore, in Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, Harper Perennial ppbk 1992, pp. 140-41.

Quote in context:
Aging brings out the flavors of a personality. The individual emerges over time, the way fruit matures and ripens. In the Renaissance view, depression, aging, and individuality all go together: the sadness of growing old is part of becoming an individual. Melancholy thoughts carve out an interior space where wisdom can take up residence.

Monday, July 16, 2018

There are no facts about the future

--- ascribed to risk expert Dr. David T. Hulett on https://www.gristprojectmanagement.us/statistics/there-are-no-facts-about-the-future.html and http://www.johngoodpasture.com/2014/10/there-are-no-facts-about-future.html. I learned it from Ed Thomas, former head of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology. It's cited by various people, see e.g. the search results at DuckDuckGo.

And of course, there's always Yogi Berra: “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Jim Gray's Properties of a Research Goal

--- from "What Next? A Few Remaining Problems in Information Technology" (pdf), 1998 Turing Lecture
  • Simple to state.
  • Not obvious how to do it.
  • Clear benefit.
  • Progress and solution is testable.
  • Can be broken in to smaller steps
    • - So that you can see intermediate progress.

... a model ... should yield answers we believe to questions that matter

--- Paul Romer, in his 2015 blog post Speeding-up and Missed Opportunities: Evidence reflecting on the 25th anniversary of the publication of his paper "Endogenous Technological Change" (JPE 1990)

The bar I set for a model is that it should yield answers we believe to questions that matter. For a model of growth, the two questions that matter most are ...

Saturday, July 07, 2018

A paradox you live with

--- Sister Gertrude, in Muriel Spark's  The Abbess of Crewe (1974)

From Chapter One, published in The Scotsman,

‘Gertrude, my excellent nun, my learned Hun, we have a problem and we don’t know what to do with it.’

‘A problem you solve,’ says Gertrude.

‘Gertrude,’ wheedles the Abbess, ‘we’re in trouble with Rome. The Congregation of Religious has started to probe. They have written delicately to inquire how we reconcile our adherence to the Ancient Rule, which as you know they find suspect, with the laboratory and the courses we are giving the nuns in modern electronics, which, as you know, they find suspect.’

‘That isn’t a problem,’ says Gertrude. ‘It’s a paradox.’

‘Have you time for a very short seminar, Gertrude, on how one treats of a paradox?’

A paradox you live with,’ says Gertrude, and hangs up.

Friday, July 06, 2018

The only thing more dangerous than an economist is an amateur economist

--- ascribed to Hal Varian by Ludwig Siegele in "The story of the internet is all about layers" in The Economist's June 2018 Special Report "Fixing the Internet."

However, The Big Apple cites it as "Bentley’s Second Law of Economics" in an entry from July 30, 2010, suggesting that it has been cited in print since at least 2002. It also observes,
“Bentley’s second law” has been accompanied by another law since at least 2002: “Berta’s Fundamental Law of Economic Rents: The only thing more dangerous than an amateur economist is a professional economist.”

Sunday, June 03, 2018

You can’t run, and you can’t hide from complexity; there’s no point in even trying

--- Russ White, in "Considerations in network complexity," The Internet Protocol Journal, vol. 21, no. 1, Apr. 2018 (pdf)

Quote in context

You can’t run, and you can’t hide from complexity; there’s no point in even trying. You’re going to encounter it; ignoring it doesn’t make the problem go away, it just allows the problem to fester under some “rug” in some corner of your network. The complexity problems you create today will return as bigger, more complex problems in just a few years.  
… 
When dealing with engineering problems, then, a little humility around what can, and cannot, be solved is in order. Don’t ignore complexity, but don’t think you can solve it, either. Instead, remember to treat every situation as a set of tradeoffs—and if you don’t see the tradeoffs, you’re not looking hard enough.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in Heaven above,or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth

--- quoted by David Hockney, in Secret Knowledge (New and Expanded Edition): Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters (2006), the visual evidence, p.231 (closing three paragraphs of this part of the book)

In context:

Why pursue all this? Isn't it just about pictures? But images have power, they are used to control. All of us still have 'primitive' thoughts about images and their individual power over us. I sometimes think of the Second Commandment - very clear in the King James's English version: 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in Heaven above,or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.' [Exodus 20:4, KJV] What did Moses know that we don't? It isn't discussed today.
Two old and respected religions have a prohibition on images (if the Middle East were truly 'fundamentalist' is wouldn't have television), but these aspects of religious life are never discussed. Islam has only recently been taken over by images (television). There weren't that many before. Its art is abstract, derived from natural forms, and influenced European Modernism through the arabesque.
The pull between idolatry and iconoclasm is something I know about. I have it myself. What would a world without images be like? But don't images help us see the world? Earlier in this book, I made a diagram trying to explain the history of the lens. Does the lens have relationships with power? If one sees that the camera was almost a secret until 1839, and that the Church had social power (controlling pictures), one can also see its power began to decline with the manufacture of cameras, and social power followed the lens into the 'media'. We now have a new revolution. Millions more cameras have been made (even on phones now) and the distribution of images is changing. The continuum is the mirror and lens. Exciting times were in the past as well.

Film and video bring their time to us; we bring our time to painting

--- David Hockney, in Secret Knowledge (New and Expanded Edition): Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters (2006), the visual evidence, p. 197

Quote in context:
In mid-century, people believed that Cecil B. DeMille had replaced Alma-Tadema;
at the beginning of the new century, Alma-Tadema is still with us (a popular poster at
the Getty Museum is proof of that) and Cecil B. DeMilIe is becoming harder to see. With
paintings and books you don't need batteries or a machine. A painting is a physical,
crafted object; a film is not. Still pictures don't move, don't talk, and last longer. Film and video bring their time to us; we bring our time to painting - it's a profound difference that won't go away.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Understanding trumps truth

--- Philip Ball, in a New Scientist book review, "Science isn’t everything – and it’s not even after the truth," 28 Feb 2018

Quote in context:
But philosopher Angela Potochnik’s ambitious book Idealization and the Aims of Science is an antidote to the view that the philosophy of science tries to pronounce grandly on what scientists ought to do. Even so, many might still resent her assertion that “science isn’t after the truth”. But she’s right. While our picture of the universe is in some sense truer than it was in the Middle Ages, and science typically does work its way closer to some sort of truth, that isn’t what scientists are trying to achieve.
What they want are useful, comprehensible, workable theories of the world. Understanding trumps truth: scientists will generally settle for a less accurate model if it is more cognitively transparent. They don’t strive to map models perfectly onto reality. This doesn’t seem so controversial. Even Hawking agrees, indulging in a bit of philosophy himself when he states: “There is no model-independent test of reality.”
...
There is no “scientific method”, but there is a collection of tried-and-tested principles: try to use reason, compare theory against experiment, attempt to replicate results, that kind of thing. The precise emphases differ by discipline. Some depend more heavily on statistics. Some are necessarily empirical, with few theories. Some, like chemistry, are as much concerned with making as with understanding. At any rate, science doesn’t do just one thing over and over again in different fields of enquiry. That, says Potochnik, is why there are also no clear boundaries between science and non-science.

Monday, May 07, 2018

What forms of psychological manipulation will we consider to be acceptable business models?

--- James Williams, doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute, speaking on the Talking Politics podcast, April 25, 2018, ahead of the publication of his book Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy.
“The fundamental question for society to answer is, What forms of psychological manipulation will we consider to be acceptable business models?” (timecode 24:40)
Lots of great stuff in this discussion; for example:
“That’s what’s one of the rhetorical risks in the near term: Political issues will be reframed as design issues.” (timecode 28:10)

Sunday, April 22, 2018

a dumb algorithm with lots and lots of data beats a clever one with modest amounts of it

--- Pedro Domingos, professor of computer science at UW Seattle, in "A few useful things to know about machine learning" (2012), Comm. of the ACM.

Quote in context:
Suppose you have constructed the best set of features you can, but the classifiers you receive are still not accurate enough. What can you do now? There are two main choices: design a better learning algorithm, or gather more data (more examples, and possibly more raw features, subject to the curse of dimensionality). Machine learning researchers are mainly concerned with the former, but pragmatically the quickest path to success is often to just get more data. As a rule of thumb, a dumb algorithm with lots and lots of data beats a clever one with modest amounts of it. (After all, machine learning is all about letting data do the heavy lifting.)
The immediately following paragraph also has some good stuff:
This does bring up another problem, however: scalability. In most of computer science, the two main limited resources are time and memory. In machine learning, there is a third one: training data. Which one is the bottleneck has changed from decade to decade. In the 1980s it tended to be data. Today it is often time. Enormous mountains of data are available, but there is not enough time to process it, so it goes unused. This leads to a paradox: even though in principle more data means that more complex classifiers can be learned, in practice simpler classifiers wind up being used, because complex ones take too long to learn. Part of the answer is to come up with fast ways to learn complex classifiers, and indeed there has been remarkable progress in this direction (for example, Hulten and Domingos).

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Most people who’d love to be novelists don’t write novels, and that’s because they’re not really interested in doing so

--- Paul J. Griffiths, Warren Professor of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School, in "Letter to an Aspiring Intellectual: Outlines of the Life of the Mind," First Things, May 2018

Quote in context:
From your letter, and especially from your list of people you like to read, I think that at the moment you’re in love with the idea of being an intellectual rather than with some topic for thought. You’d like to be the kind of person who writes books like Regarding the Pain of Others or the Lam-rim chen-mo, rather than being already deeply enmeshed in the toils of thought about some particular topic. This may be a sign that you’re not yet serious, that, as Augustine said of himself in his salad days, you’re in love with love rather than simply in love. Most people who’d love to be novelists don’t write novels, and that’s because they’re not really interested in doing so. They’re infatuated with an image and a rôle rather than with what those who play that rôle do. So, perhaps, with you; if so, the infatuation will fade as you grow older, and you’ll do something closer to the rough ground of material necessity.
Some other gems:
"So: Find something to think about that seems to you to have complexity sufficient for long work, sufficient to yield multifaceted and refractory results when held up to thought’s light as jewelers hold gemstones up to their loupes. And then, don’t stop thinking about it."
"You need a life in which you can spend a minimum of three uninterrupted hours every day, excepting sabbaths and occasional vacations, on your intellectual work. ... You need this because intellectual work is, typically, cumulative and has momentum."
"The most essential skill is surprisingly hard to come by. That skill is attention. Intellectuals always think about something, and that means they need to know how to attend to what they’re thinking about. Attention can be thought of as a long, slow, surprised gaze at whatever it is."
"Don’t do any of the things I’ve recommended unless it seems to you that you must. ... Undertake it if, and only if, nothing else seems possible."

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Most exciting ideas are not important, most important ideas are not exciting, not every problem has a good solution, and every solution has side effects.

--- Dan Geer, Testimony to U. S. House of Representatives Committee on Science Subcommittee on Technology Washington, DC, 11 February 1997

I am reminded of what I know as the four verities of government:

  • Most exciting ideas are not important,
  • Most important ideas are not exciting,
  • Not every problem has a good solution, and
  • Every solution has side effects.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

If you want to look at what the future of AI really holds, it’s not the highlight reels that matter – it’s the out-takes.

--- Douglas Heaven, in "The epic robot fails that say AI will never rule the world," New Scientist, 19 December 2017

In context:
Far from being a steady march to greatness, the past and present of robotics and AI are littered with examples of banal practicalities tying machines down. If you want to look at what the future of AI really holds, it’s not the highlight reels that matter – it’s the out-takes.
...  don’t even talk about stairs. Judging by the awkward ascents of most robots, to avoid the rise of the machines we only need to retreat to the mezzanine.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Ideology - what determines how you think when you don't know you're thinkin

--- John Naughton, in Reformation Then and Now, Talking Politics podcast, 10 January 2018, at timecode 11:59

"You could define ideology as what determines how you think when you don't know you're thinking. And some things become unthinkable in any ideological climate."

See also Naughton's "95 theses about Technology"

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are very strange and those whom you don't know well

--- John Allen Paulos, afterword to Edwin Abbott's "Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions" (Signet, new edition, 2013), p. 153

Quote in context
I myself have sketched an attempt along these lines that utilizes the rich notion of dimension, and there is probably no better place than here to sketch it. Specifically, I've developed a mathematical metaphor for the old chestnut "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are very strange and those whom you don't know well." In other words, I'm suggesting that each of us is actually very strange and not a completely integrated personality, and there is a way in which higher dimensions can illustrate this.

[He goes on to calculate the percentage of an N-square that is more than 5% from both edges, e.g. for a line of length 10 inches "Consider the part within a half inch of aside of this square and call this border the extreme part of the square." The normal part is (10 - 2*0.5)^2 = 9^2 = 81 square inches. Taken as a percentage, one has for an N-dimensional square 0.9^N, and evidently this shrinks as N increases. Line: 90%; square: 81%; cube: 72.9%; hypercube: 65.61%; etc. "For one hundred dimensions, the interior or normal part shrinks to only 0.0027 percent of the total volum"

Monday, January 01, 2018

Poverty is not a lack of character. Poverty is a lack of cash.

--- Rutger Bregman at TED 2017

From the transcript, at 14:33 (the final words of the presentation):


Now, more than 500 years after Thomas More first wrote about a basic income, and 100 years after George Orwell discovered the true nature of poverty, we all need to change our worldview, because poverty is not a lack of character. Poverty is a lack of cash.






religion has generally been an activity, not a set of true-or-false propositions, and above all a collective activity in which the tribe or nation finds meaning

--- from The Economist, "Transcendental meditation: Neil MacGregor on living with gods," 4 Nov 2017, a review of Neil MacGregor's show at the British Museum "Living with Gods" and associated podcast

Quote in context:


Mr MacGregor is a social anthropologist on a vast plane, whereas Ms Cook leans more to the neuroscience of religion. By including sounds, such as softly heard bells and flutes, she draws attention to the aural stimuli that can arouse people’s spiritual antennae.


However, they have a common purpose: to bring home the ubiquity, and the social character, of religion to a mainly secular public. To the modern mind, speculating about moral and philosophical questions is something people engage in individually. In most eras of history, and in many parts of the world today, such freedom would be inconceivable.


As the exhibition and the radio series both proclaim, religion has generally been an activity, not a set of true-or-false propositions, and above all a collective activity in which the tribe or nation finds meaning.