RichardNeill.org

Selected Quotations

Here are some quotations which I have chanced across, and which I think are interesting, inspiring, or entertaining.

"The stars are made of the same atoms as the earth." I usually pick one small topic like this to give a lecture on. Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere gobs of gas atoms. Nothing is "mere." I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination - stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern - of which I am a part - perhaps my stuff was belched from some forgotten star, as one is belching there. Or see them with the greater eye of Palomar, rushing all apart from some common starting point when they were perhaps all together. What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the *why?* It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined! Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
- Richard Feynman [famous physicist]
A philosopher is a blind man in a dark cellar at midnight looking for a black cat that isn't there. He is distinguished from a theologian, in that the theologian finds the cat. He is also distinguished from a lawyer, who smuggles in a cat in his overcoat pocket, and emerges to produce it in triumph.
- William L. Prosser, "My Philosophy of Law," Cornell Law Quarterly, 1942
I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
- Michael Jordan [basketball player]
Q: "When is a noodle not a noodle?"
A: "When it's a knödel"
- Utterances of the Dragon, Seefeld, 31st December Two Thousand and Four.
Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it.
- Brian W. Kernighan [computer scientist]
Basic Principles - no woman wakes up saying "God, I hope I don't get swept off my feet today!"
- Hitch [in the movie]
Faith is believing things you know aren't true.
- Mark Twain
Ice-cream is exquisite - what a pity it isn't illegal.
- Voltaire
All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current concepts, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships. There is the whole case against censorships in a nutshell.
- George Bernard Shaw [ in The Author's Apology (preface to "Mrs Warren's Profession")]
For more than six hundred years — that is, since Magna Carta, in 1215 — there has been no clearer principle of English or American constitutional law, than that, in criminal cases, it is not only the right and duty of juries to judge what are the facts, what is the law, and what was the moral intent of the accused; but that it is also their right, and their primary and paramount duty, to judge the justice of the law, and to hold all laws invalid, that are, in their opinion, unjust or oppressive, and all persons guiltless in violating, or resisting the execution of, such law.
- Lysander Spooner [on Jury Nullification]
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
- Thomas Jefferson [on "Intellectual property"]
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
- Benjamin Franklin [statesman (11th Nov 1755)]
Stoning non conformists is part of science. Stoning conformists is also part of science. Only those theories that can stand up to a merciless barrage of stones deserve consideration. It is the Creationist habit of throwing marshmallows that we find annoying.
- Dr Pepper [on creationism]
With sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine. However, this is not necessarily a good idea...."
On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.
- Charles Babbage [Mathematican and inventor of the Difference Engine]
Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.
- Winston Churchill
If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
- George Orwell
"That this house prefers the Oxford System, which is dedicated to the acquisition of culture, to the Cambridge System, which is dedicated to the acquisition of knowledge."
- Motion for interdebate between the Cambridge and Oxford Unions in the 1880's
Youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind; it is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over love of ease.

Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old only by deserting their ideals. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear, and despair - these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.

Whether seventy or sixteen, there is in every being's heart the love of wonder, the sweet amazement at the stars and the starlike things and thoughts, the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing childlike appetite for what next, and the joy and the game of life.

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear, as young as your hope, as old as your despair.

So long as your heart receives messages of beauty, cheer, courage, grandeur and power from the earth, from man, and from the Infinite, so long you are young.
- Samuel Ullman [poet]
"It's got Fruit in it."
- Helen on why it's acceptable to have Pimm's for breakfast.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
- Epicurus [Greek philosopher, ~ 300 BC]
The trouble with quotes on the internet is that it is difficult to discern whether or not they are genuine.
- Abraham Lincoln [16th president of the United States, 1909-1865]
What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school... It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don't understand it. You see my physics students don't understand it... That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does.
- Richard Feynman [in QED]
"Live in Secret"
- Juvenal [Roman satirist]
"If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said 'a faster horse'."
- Henry Ford [on the perils of listening to your customers without understanding them.]
"Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake.
If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes.
But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.
If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time."
- Bertrand Russell ["Russell's Teapot", 1952]
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
- George Bernard Shaw
"[Using] Microsoft Access is like [typing with] oven-gloves: you won't get burned, but you can't do very much with it either."
- Christian Gowers [on why one should use a real database, not a GUI]
"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."
- Richard Dawkins [Biologist, and author]
Meeting a friend in the corridor, Ludwig Wittgenstein asked:
"Tell me, why do people always say that it was natural for men to assume that the sun went around the earth rather than that the earth was rotating?"

His friend answered:
"Well, obviously, because it just looks as if the sun is going around the earth."

To which the philosopher replied:
"Well, what would it look like if it had looked as if the earth were rotating?"
- Wittgenstein [Philosopher, 1889-1951]
"Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower."
- Karl Marx [Philosopher]
"A sufficiently advanced bureaucracy is indistinguishable from malice."
- Seen on LWN [a generalisation of Clarke's Third Law]
"Science adjusts it's beliefs based on what's observed
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved."
- Tim Minchin ["Storm", 2011]
"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but rather, 'hmm... that's funny...'"
- Isaac Asimov [Author and Biochemist, 1920-1992]
"Arguing that you don't care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say."