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“The findings of science entail that the belief systems of all the world’s traditional religions and cultures—their theories of the origins of life, humans, and societies—are factually mistaken. We know, but our ancestors did not, that humans belong to a single species of African primate that developed agriculture, government, and writing late in its history. We know that our species is a tiny twig of a genealogical tree that embraces all living things and that emerged from prebiotic chemicals almost four billion years ago. We know that we live on a planet that revolves around one of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, which is one of a hundred billion galaxies in a 13.8-billion-year-old universe, possibly one of a vast number of universes. We know that our intuitions about space, time, matter, and causation are incommensurable with the nature of reality on scales that are very large and very small. We know that the laws governing the physical world (including accidents, disease, and other misfortunes) have no goals that pertain to human well-being. There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayers—though the discrepancy between the laws of probability and the workings of cognition may explain why people believe there are. And we know that we did not always know these things, that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including some we hold today.” – Stephen Pinker, “Science Is Not Your Enemy”

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“Only in a vague way can we conceive the character of ant-society, and the nature of ant-morality; and to do even this we must try to imagine some yet impossible state of human society and human morals. Let us, then, imagine a world full of people incessantly and furiously working,—all of whom seem to be women. No one of these women could be persuaded or deluded into taking a single atom of food more than is needful to maintain her strength; and no one of them ever sleeps a second longer than is necessary to keep her nervous system in good working-order. And all of them are so peculiarly constituted that the least unnecessary indulgence would result in some derangement of function. The work daily performed by these female laborers comprises road-making, bridge-building, timber-cutting, architectural construction of numberless kinds, horticulture and agriculture, the feeding and sheltering of a hundred varieties of domestic animals, the manufacture of sundry chemical products, the storage and conservation of countless foodstuffs, and the care of the children of the race. All this labor is done for the commonwealth—no citizen of which is capable even of thinking about ‘property,’ except as a res publica;—and the sole object of the commonwealth is the nurture and training of its young,—nearly all of whom are girls. The period of infancy is long: the children remain for a great while, not only helpless, but shapeless, and withal so delicate that they must be very carefully guarded against the least change of temperature. Fortunately their nurses understand the laws of health: each thoroughly knows all that she ought to know in regard to ventilation, disinfection, drainage, moisture, and the danger of germs,—germs being as visible, perhaps, to her myopic sight as they become to our own eyes under the microscope. Indeed, all matters of hygiene are so well comprehended that no nurse ever makes a mistake about the sanitary conditions of her neighborhood. In spite of this perpetual labor no worker remains unkempt: each is scrupulously neat, making her toilet many times a day. But as every worker is born with the most beautiful of combs and brushes attached to her wrists, no time is wasted in the toilet-room. Besides keeping themselves strictly clean, the workers must also keep their houses and gardens in faultless order, for the sake of the children. Nothing less than an earthquake, an eruption, an inundation, or a desperate war, is allowed to interrupt the daily routine of dusting, sweeping, scrubbing, and disinfecting.” – Lafcadio Hearn, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things

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“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty, a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.” – Bertrand Russell, Study of Mathematics

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“The universe, the real universe, might actually be much, much larger than the part we see today, because the velocity of light is finite and therefore we cannot look infinitely far. By looking into the sky with a telescope, we can only see as far as light can have travelled since the beginning of the universe…. it could be that the real universe is an extremely large domain, and that what we are seeing now is perhaps what has been started by some disastrous experiment performed some twenty billion years ago by a post-graduate student in order to test the structure of a vacuum of another universe. Then what happened was that the vacuum was suddenly changed, and the result is our universe.” – Johann Rafelski and Berndt Müller, The Structured Vacuum: Thinking About Nothing

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“The Sumerians, according to their own records, cherished goodness and truth, law and order, freedom and justice, mercy and compassion—and abhorred their opposites. The gods, too, preferred the ethical and the moral to the unethical and the immoral. Unfortunately, in their inscrutable fashion, they had created sin, evil, suffering, and misfortune, and there was little that could be done about it. The proper course for a Sumerian Job to pursue was not to complain and argue, but to plead, lament, and wail, tearfully confessing his sins and failings. And since the great gods were far away in the distant sky and might have more important matters to attend to, the Sumerian theologians evolved the notion that each individual, or at least each head of a family, had a special personal god, a kind of good angel, who would hear his prayer and through whom he would find his salvation.” – Samuel Noah Kramer, “Sumerian History, Culture, and Literature”

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“Teeth outlast everything. Death is nothing to a tooth. Hundreds of years in acidic soil just keeps a tooth clean. A fire that burns away hair and flesh and even bone leaves teeth dazzling like daisies in the ashes. Life is what destroys teeth. Undiluted apple juice in a baby bottle, sourballs, the pH balance of drinking water, tetracycline, sand in your bread if you were in the Roman army, biting seal-gut thread if you are an Eskimo woman, playing the trumpet, pulling your own teeth with a pliers.” – Jane Smiley, “The Age of Grief”

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“I was committed for two weeks to a mental health hospital for depression and suicidal behavior. Two weeks doesn’t sound long, but let me assure you that time is, in fact, relative. Imagine, if you will, being driven off in the middle of the night, poked and prodded by a doctor, having everything about you catalogued from your earrings to your underwear, being stripped and shoved in a shower, dressed in ill-fitting pink scrubs, marched out to a white-walled cage, and then watched. Watched by a panel of placating smiles, who ask questions for which they’ve already decided the answers. Watched as you color with the bright colored crayons, smile at everyone, swallow your pills, laugh too much, line up for the cafeteria, attend group and circle the happy face when you just want to yell, ‘I’m not in kindergarten!’ But you don’t because you want out, and, perhaps even more so, because you’re afraid you shouldn’t be let out. Sometimes I think I could spend a lifetime finding words in those two weeks alone.” – Beth McKinney, Rattle 56

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“Even one war in space will create a battlefield that will last forever, encasing the entire planet in a shell of whizzing debris that will thereafter make space near the earth highly hazardous for peaceful as well as military purposes. With enough orbiting debris, pieces will begin to hit other pieces, whose fragments will in turn hit more pieces, setting off a chain reaction of destruction that will leave a lethal halo around the Earth.” – Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams, “Star Wars Forever?—A Cosmic Perspective”

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“Some people derive joy and understanding from the dogmas of different religions, and that’s one way to organize your life. I don’t find that possible because I don’t think any of the received religions do justice to what I’ve discovered about the physical world. It’s not so much that they’re wrong, although many details are wrong, but they just don’t do justice to the profound surprises that science turns up about how big the universe is, how old it is, how many little things go into making the big things we experience in life.” – Frank Wilczek, 2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics (interviewed by Steve Paulson in “Beauty is Physics’ Secret Weapon”)

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“We could only say things about the world as a whole if we could get outside the world, if, that is to say, it ceased to be for us the whole world. Our world may be bounded for some superior being who can survey it from above, but for us, however finite it may be, it cannot have a boundary, since it has nothing outside it.” – Bertrand Russell, “Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

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“According to Aristotle, the Pythagoreans held that the elements of number were the elements of things, and, therefore, that things were numbers. To us, accustomed as we are from childhood to the multiplication table, such an assertion seems simply meaningless. We are so familiar with the idea of counting without counting anything, that it is only by an effort that we can realise what a very abstract process this is. It is certain, however, that, natural as it may be to us to speak of numbers as things that can exist by themselves, it was long before men learnt to think of a number, except as a number of something.” – John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy

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“The discovery that individual events are irreducibly random is probably one of the most significant findings of the twentieth century. Before this, one could find comfort in the assumption that random events only seem random because of our ignorance. For example, although the brownian motion of a particle appears random, it can still be causally described if we know enough about the motions of the particles surrounding it. Thus, as Werner Heisenberg put it, this kind of randomness, of a classical event, is subjective. But for the individual event in quantum physics, not only do we not know the cause, there is no cause. The instant when a radioactive atom decays, or the path taken by a photon behind a half-silvered beam-splitter are objectively random. There is nothing in the Universe that determines the way an individual event will happen. Since individual events may very well have macroscopic consequences, including a specific mutation in our genetic code, the Universe is fundamentally unpredictable and open, not causally closed.” – Anton Zeilinger, “The message of the quantum”

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“Human freedom stands out as an apparent fact of our consciousness, while it is also, I conceive, a highly probable deduction of analogy from the nature of that portion of the mind whose scientific constitution we are able to investigate. But whether accepted as a fact reposing on consciousness, or as a conclusion sanctioned by the reason, it must be so interpreted as not to conflict with an established result of observation, viz.: that phænomena, in the production of which large masses of men are concerned, do actually exhibit a very remarkable degree of regularity, enabling us to collect in each succeeding age the elements upon which the estimate of its state and progress, so far as manifested in outward results, must depend.” – George Boole, The Laws of Thought

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“It is the business of science not to create laws, but to discover them. We do not originate the constitution of our own minds, greatly as it may be in our power to modify their character. And as the laws of the human intellect do not depend upon our will, so the forms of the science, of which they constitute the basis, are in all essential regards independent of individual choice.” – George Boole, The Laws of Thought

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“He took home many women, and one day he found that he had en noua. He knew that was a bad disease, because it stays in the blood and eats the nose from inside. ‘A man loses his nose only long after he has already lost his head.’ He asked a doctor for medicine. The doctor gave him a paper and told him to take it to the Pharmacie de l’Etoile. There he bought six vials of penicillin in a box. He took them home and tied each little bottle with a silk thread, stringing them so that they made a necklace. He wore this always around his neck, taking care that the glass vials touched his skin. He thought it likely that by now he was cured, but his cousin in Fez had just told him that he must go on wearing the medicine for another three months, or at least until the beginning of the moon of Chouwal.” – Paul Bowles, “He of the Assembly”

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“Then it happened. The lighted end of a cigarette touched me in the fleshy part of my upper left arm. That was all. It just felt like a sudden burn and nothing worse. The burned part did not seem to be any larger in area than that part which could be burned by the lighted end of a cigarette. At the time there was no feeling within the arm, that is, no feeling as to aches or pain … Then the second one hit. It nicked the top of my left shoulder. And again came the burning sensation, only this time the area affected seemed larger … And then the third one struck me … there came a crash. It sounded to me like someone had dropped a glass bottle into a porcelain bathtub … it seemed that everything in the world turned white … pure white … I did not know whether I was alive or dead, but I did know that my mind was still working … I brought my right hand up toward my face and placed it to the left of my nose. My fingers rested on something soft and wet. I withdrew the hand and looked at it. It was covered with blood. As I looked at it, I was not aware that my entire vision was confined to my right eye, although there was considerable pain in the entire left side of my face … a bullet striking the ground immediately under my left cheek bone had ricocheted upward, going completely through the left eye and then crashing out through my forehead, leaving the eyeball and upper eyelid completely halved, the lower eyelid torn away, and a compound fracture of the skull.” – Floyd Gibbons, “Wounded—How It Feels to Be Shot”

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“Now and then we were bitten and stung by the venomous fire ants, and ticks crawled upon us. Once we were assailed by more serious foes, in the shape of a nest of marabunta wasps, not the biggest kind, but about the size of our hornets. We were at the time passing through dense jungle, under tall trees, in a spot where the down timber, holes, tangled creepers, and thorns made the going difficult. The leading men were not assailed, although they were now and then cutting the trail. Colonel Rondon and I were in the middle of the column, and the swarm attacked us; both of us were badly stung on the face, neck, and hands, the colonel even more severely than I was. He wheeled and rode to the rear and I to the front; our horses were stung too; and we went at a rate that a moment previously I would have deemed impossible over such ground. In these forests the multitude of insects that bite, sting, devour, and prey upon other creatures, often with accompaniments of atrocious suffering, passes belief. The very pathetic myth of ‘beneficent nature’ could not deceive even the least wise being if he once saw for himself the iron cruelty of life in the tropics. Of course ‘nature’—in common parlance a wholly inaccurate term, by the way, especially when used as if to express a single entity—is entirely ruthless, no less so as regards types than as regards individuals, and entirely indifferent to good or evil, and works out her ends or no ends with utter disregard of pain and woe.” – Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness (ed. Dain Borges)

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