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40 Eridani A

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Peace and Long Life

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A Secular Catechism

Without Evidence
    There is only Ignorance
Without Reason
    There is only Faith
Without Knowledge
    There is only Dogma
Without Science
    There is only Ideology
Without Kindness
    There is only Cruelty
Without Wisdom
    There is only Folly
Without Light
    There is only Darkness

Meaning and Purpose

The Seeking of Pleasure
The Avoidance of Pain

The Hunger for Love
The Thirst for Knowledge

The Cultivation of Virtue
The Exercise of Wisdom

The Craving for Approval
The Need to Belong

The Pursuit of Happiness
The End of Suffering

Denial: there is no problem.
Indifference: there is a problem, but it doesn't bother me.
Resignation: there is a problem, it does bother me, but there's nothing I can do about it.
Acceptance: there is a problem, it bothers me, and there is something I can do about it.

Fear begets Anger
Anger begets Hatred
Hatred begets Cruelty
Cruelty begets Suffering

Anyone but me
Anywhere but here
Anywhen but now


Is what we believe the truth?
Or, is truth what we believe?

Knowledge: belief based on evidence.
Faith: belief in the absence of evidence.
Error: belief contrary to evidence.

The reference point for science is reality.
The reference point for values is consensus.

Science tells us about the world.
Religion tells us about ourselves.

Why we believe
Is as important as what we believe.

If Life is a journey.
Death is it's destination.

Mon Coeur Sauvage

Loudly sing my Savage Heart,
Upon the darkened windswept plain,
Of bitter battles yet to fight,
With weapons worn, and armor stained.

Listen for the Havoc's cry,
Beneath the blackened winter sky,
Sing within, memories fading pale,
Of distant dreams, and hopes assailed.

Loudly sing my Savage Heart,
Be strong, before the coming of the Dark.

(Dedicated to Limor Theedar)

The Universe

The universe does not care.
It does not hear our prayers.
It is not flattered by our offerings or sacrifices.
It is neither vengeful nor forgiving.

There is no relationship to be had with the universe, no reciprocity, no intentionality.
There is only direction without purpose.
It is a blank canvas on which humanity projects its needs and desires for pattern and meaning.

Human values are the by products of the sociobiological history of the human species.
As is our freedom to choose between them.
Our purposes are our own.
To be pursued with such dignity and courage as we can command.

The universe is a wondrous and a terrifying place.
But it is neither friend nor foe.
For those, we only have each other.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


(Storm Thorgerson, Graphic Designer, Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd, 1975)

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004)

A person's freedom ends at the exact point where another person's freedom begins. …

Our world is crazy. …
It's the intensity of the means of destruction and creation.
It's the way science is applied.
Our world is mad and suicidal. …

Where's this mad race taking us? …
We know too many useless things. …

What matters is what you do the next day, in a minute and right now. …

There's the moment and there's eternity.
And the void in between. …

It's not so much about photography.
It's about the joy of being there and recording. …

We're like thieves, except that we give. …

Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Dominion of Fear

Benedict de Spinoza (1632–1677):
[Only] while under the dominion of fear, do men fall prey to [superstition.]
(Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1677)

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970):
[The] function of religion [is] not conducive to the exercise of intellectual adventure.
(Wisdom of the West, 1959, p 11)

David Hume (1711-1776):
It is an absurdity to believe that the Deity [is subject to that lowest of] human passions, a restless appetite for applause.
(Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1776)

Jules Verne (1828–1905):
Science … has been built upon many errors; but they are errors which it was good to fall into, for they led to the truth.
(Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864)

Philip Kindred Dick (1928–1982):
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
(How to Build a Universe that Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later, 1978)

William Gibson:
Conspiracy theories and the occult comfort us because they present models of the world that more easily make sense than the world itself, and, regardless of how dark or threatening, are inherently less frightening.
(Review of London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd, The Whole Earth Catalog, Summer, 2001)

Henri Poincare (1854-1912):
We also know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether delusion is not more consoling.

Gareth Southwell:
[A] 2012 report by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago … revealed that, since 1991, religious belief declined in 14 of 18 countries surveyed by an average of 2.4%, while atheism rose in all but three countries by an average of 1.7%. …
In Elaine Howard Eckland's 2010 book, Science vs Religion: What Do Scientists Say?, of nearly 1,700 scientists working at American universities, 64% [as opposed to 37% of the general public] had no religious belief (30% were atheists, and 34% were agnostics).
(50 Philosophy of science ideas you really need to know, Quercus, 2013, p 100)

Pope Gregory the Great (c540–604):
We are almost ashamed to refer to the fact that a report has come to us that your brotherhood is teaching grammar to certain people …
If it should be clearly proved here-after that the report we have heard is false and that you are not devoting yourself to the vanities of worldly learning, we shall render thanks to God for keeping you heart from defilement.
(Epistles XI, 54)

John Stuart Mill (1806–1873):
Christian morality {is essentially a doctrine of passive obedience …}
It holds out the hope of heaven and the threat of hell, as the appointed and appropriate motives to a virtuous life [giving] to human morality an essentially selfish character, by disconnecting each man's feelings of duty from the interests of his fellow creatures …
What little recognition the idea of obligation to the public obtains in modern morality is derived from Greek and Roman sources, not from Christian …
[The] Christian system is no exception to the rule, that in an imperfect state of the human mind the interests of truth require a diversity of opinions. …
[A] large portion of the noblest and most valuable moral teaching has been the work, not only of men who did not know, but of men who knew and rejected, the Christian faith.

In former days, when it was proposed to burn atheists, charitable people used to suggest putting them in a madhouse instead …
(On Liberty, 1859)

Tim Minchin:
Science adjusts its belief based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observations so that belief can be preserved.

George Berkeley (1685–1753):
[There] is not perhaps any one thing that hath more favored and strengthened the depraved bent of the mind toward atheism, than the use of [the term: 'matter'.]
(Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists, 1713)

Carl Sagan (1934–1996)

[Better] the hard truth … than the comforting fantasy.
(p 191)

And if the world does not in all respects correspond to our wishes, is this the fault of science, or of those who would impose their wishes on the world?
(p 254)

Liberation from superstition is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for science.
(p 294)

(Demon Haunted World, 1997)

Epicurus (341–271 BCE)

Letter to Menoeceus

[Death] is nothing to us since:
  • when we exist, death is not yet present, and
  • when death is present, then we do not exist. …

[When] we say that pleasure is the goal, we do not mean the pleasures of the profligate or the pleasures of consumption …
[On the contrary, the pleasant life is produced by] sober calculation which searches out the reasons for every choice and avoidance and drives out the opinions which are the source of the greatest turmoil for men's souls. …

Prudence … is the greatest good [since] it is the source of all other virtues …
[It] is impossible to live pleasantly without living prudently, honourably and justly …

The Principal Doctrines

It was impossible for someone ignorant about the nature of the universe — but still suspicious about the subjects of the myths — to dissolve his feelings of fear about the most important matters.
So it was impossible to receive unmixed pleasures without knowing natural science. …

Of the things which wisdom provides for the blessedness of one's whole life, by far the greatest is the possession of friendship.

The Great Thaw

The older medieval philosophers, like Anslem, had said:
I must believe, in order that I may understand.
Abelard took the opposite course:
I must understand, in order that I may believe. ...
By doubting, we come to questioning.
And by questioning, we perceive the truth.
Strange words to have been written in the year 1122. ...

(Kenneth Clark, Civilisation, BBC Television, 1969)

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Ideology and Fanaticism

Robert Putnam:
[Dozens] of studies have linked religious participation to political intolerance …
(Bowling Alone, Simon & Schuster, 2000, Note 9, p 496)

Alvin Toffler (1928–2016):
For those who lack an intelligent, comprehensive programme, who cannot cope with the novelties and complexities of blinding change, terrorism substitutes for thought.
Terrorism may not topple regimes, but it removes doubts.
(Future Shock, Pan, 1971, p 329)

From Latin fānāticus (“of a temple, divinely inspired, frenzied”), from fānum (“temple”).
(Wiktionary, 22 December, 2012)

Odo of Châtillon (1042–1099) / Pope Urban II (1088–1099):
Deus lo vult!
[God wills it!]
(Summons to the First Crusade, 1095)

Plato (c428–c347 BCE):
The greatest principle of all … is that nobody, whether male or female, should ever be without a leader.
Nor should the mind of anybody be habituated to letting him do anything at all on his own initiative, neither out of zeal, nor even playfully.
But in war and in the midst of peace — to his leader he shall direct his eye, and follow him faithfully.
And even in the smallest matters he should stand under leadership.
For example, he should get up, or move, or wash, or take his meals … only if he has been told to do so …
In a word, he should teach his soul, by long habit, never to dream of acting independently, and to become utterly incapable of it.
In this way the life of all will be spent in total community.

Hermann Goring (1893–1946):
We love Adolf Hitler because we believe firmly and profoundly that he was sent to us by God to save Germany.
To those who follow him there is no quality that he does not possess to the greatest perfection.

Benito Mussolini / Giovanni Gentile:
[Our movement rejects the view of man] as an individual, standing by himself, self-centered, subject to natural law, which instinctively urges him toward a life of selfish momentary pleasure …
[It] sees not only the individual but the nation and the country:
[Individuals] and generations bound together by a moral law, with common traditions and a mission which … builds up a higher life, founded on duty …
[A] life free from the limitations of time and space, in which the individual, by self-sacrifice [and] the renunciation of self-interest … can achieve that purely spiritual existence in which his value as a man consists.
(The Doctrine of Fascism, 1932)

George Santayana (1863–1952):
Intuitive ethics has nothing to offer in the presence of discord except an appeal to force and to ultimate physical sanction.
It can instigate, but not resolve, the battle of nations and the battle of religions.
  • the same zeal,
  • the same patriotism, [and]
  • the same readiness for martyrdom
fires adherents to rival societies, and fires them especially in view of the fact that the adversary is no less uncompromising and fierce. …
Here are two flagrant instances where pre-rational morality defeats the ends of morality.
Viewed from within, each religious or national fanaticism stands for a good; but in its outward operation it produces and becomes an evil.
(Intuitive Morality, 1903)

Isaiah Berlin (1909–1997):
Toleration is historically the product of the realisation of the irreconcilability of equally dogmatic faiths, and the practical improbability of complete victory of one over the other.
Those who wished to survive realised that they had to tolerate error.
They gradually came to see merits in diversity, and so became sceptical about definitive solutions in human affairs.
(The Originality of Machiavelli, Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas, 1979)

Emile Durkheim (1858–1917):
A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden — beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community … all those who adhere to them.
(The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1915, K E Fields, Translator, Free Press, 1995)

Jonathan Haidt:
Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.
(The Righteous Mind, Pantheon Books, 2012)

Yuval Harari:
Religion can thus be defined as a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order.
(Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, Chapter 12, Harvill Secker, 2014 / 2011)

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860):
Hegel, installed from above, by the powers that be, as the certified Great Philosopher, was a flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan, who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense. …
The extensive field of spiritual influence with which Hegel was furnished by those in power has enabled him to achieve the intellectual corruption of a whole generation.
(Works, 2nd Ed, 1888)

Heraclitus (c535–c475 BCE):
War … proves some to be gods and others to be mere men, by turning the latter into slaves and the former into masters …

Georg Hegel (1770–1831)

The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth …
We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth …
The State is the march of God through the world …
(p 247)

In the perfect form of the State in which each and every element … has reached its free existence, this will is that of one actual decreeing [Individual: the monarch.]
The monarchical constitution is therefore the constitution of developed reason; and all other constitutions belong to lower grades of the development …
(pp 257-8)

Without its monarch [(Frederick William III) the Prussian people] are just a formless multitude.
(p 268)

The deeds of Great Men, of the Personalities of World History, … must not be brought into collision with irrelevant moral claims.
The Litany of private virtues, of modesty, humility, philanthropy, and forbearance, must not be raised against them.
The History of the World can, in principle, entirely ignore the circle within which morality … lies.
(p 278)

The Nation State is … the Spirit of the People itself.
The actual State is animated by this spirit, in all its particular affairs, its Wars, and its Institutions …
The self-consciousness of one particular Nation is the vehicle for the … development of the collective spirit …
(p 269)

Each particular National Genius is to be treated as only One Individual in the process of Universal History. …
Against this absolute Will the other particular national minds have no rights: that Nation dominates the World …
(p 275)

Out of this [dialectical struggle of the different National Spirits] rises the universal Spirit, the unlimited World-Spirit, pronouncing its judgement — and its judgement is the highest — upon the finite Nations of the World’s History; for the History of the World is the World’s court of justice. …
(p 277)

In civilized nations true bravery consists in the readiness to give oneself wholly to the service of the State so that the individual counts but as one among many. …
Not personal valor is significant; the important aspect lies in self-subordination to the universal. …
(p 280)

[Thus, it is through War that] the ethical health of a nation is preserved …
War protects the people from the corruption which an everlasting peace would bring upon it. …
History shows [how] Nations, torn by internal strife, win peace at home as a result of war abroad.
(p 279)

(Quoted by Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, 5th Ed, 1966, Ch 12)

Karl Popper (1902–1994)

[The] whole story of Hegel would indeed not be worth relating, were it not for its more sinister consequences, which show how easily a clown may be a ‘maker of history’.
(Ch 12, p 247)

[For Hegel] all personal relations can … be reduced to the fundamental relation of master and slave, of domination and submission.
Each must strive to assert and prove himself, and he who has not the nature, the courage, and the general capacity for preserving his independence, must be reduced to servitude.
[Likewise,] Nations must assert themselves on the Stage of History; it is their duty to attempt the domination of the World.
(Ch 11, p 225)

[The] most important principles of humanitarian and equalitarian ethics [are:]

  1. Tolerance towards all who are not intolerant and who do not propagate intolerance. …
  2. ‘Minimize suffering’ …
  3. The fight against tyranny …

(Ch 5, Note 6, pp 548-9)

It is one of the gravest mistakes if a philosophy ever offers self-evidence as an argument in favour of the truth of a sentence; yet this is done by practically all idealist philosophies.
It shows that idealist philosophies are often systems of apologetics for some dogmatic beliefs.
(Ch 11, Note 43, p 651)

Marx showed that a social system can, as such, be unjust; [and] that if the system is bad, then all the righteousness of the individuals who profit from it is a mere sham righteousness, is mere hypocrisy.
For our responsibility extends to the system, to the institutions which we allow to persist. …

‘Scientific’ Marxism is dead.
[But its] feeling of social responsibility and its love for freedom must survive.
(Ch 22, p 416)

[Reason,] supported by imagination, enables us to understand that men who are far away, whom we shall never see, are like ourselves, and that their relations to one another are like our relations to those we love. …
[It is thus] by the use of thought and imagination, [that] we may become ready to help all who need our help.
(p 444)

… Western civilization owes
  • its rationalism,
  • its faith in the rational unity of man … and especially
  • its scientific outlook,
to the ancient Socratic and [early] Christian belief in
  • the brotherhood of all men
  • intellectual honesty and
  • [individual] responsibility.
(p 448)

What I have tried to show is that the choice with which we are confronted is between
  • a faith in reason and in human individuals and
  • a faith in the mystical faculties of man by which he is united to a collective;
and that this choice [corresponds with a further] choice between
  • an attitude that recognizes the unity of mankind and
  • an attitude that divides men into friends and foes, into masters and slaves.
(p 450)

[The strain of civilization] is a consequence of the breakdown of the closed [concrete tribal] society.
It is still felt even in our day, especially in times of social change.
It is the strain created by the effort which life in an open and partially abstract society continually demands from us — by the endeavour
  • to be rational,
  • to forgo at least some of our emotional social needs,
  • to look after ourselves, and
  • to accept responsibilities.
We must, I believe, bear this strain as the price to be paid for every increase
  • in knowledge,
  • in reasonableness,
  • in co-operation and … mutual help, and consequently
  • in our chances of survival and … the size of the population.
It is the price we have to pay for being human.
(Ch 10, p 168)

Once we begin to rely upon our reason, and to use our powers of criticism, once we feel the call of personal responsibilities, and with it, the responsibility of helping to advance knowledge, we cannot return to a state of implicit submission to tribal magic.
For those who have eaten of the tree of knowledge, paradise is lost.
The more we try to return to the heroic age of tribalism, the more surely do we arrive
  • at the Inquisition,
  • at the Secret Police, and
  • at a romanticized gangsterism.
Beginning with the suppression of reason and truth, we must end with the most brutal and violent destruction of all that is human.
(Ch 10, p 189)

[The] human situation with respect to knowledge is … exhilarating: [Here] we are, with the immensely difficult task before us of getting to know the beautiful world we live in, and ourselves; and fallible though we are, we nevertheless find that our powers of understanding, surprisingly, are almost adequate for the task — more so than we ever dreamt in our wildest dreams.
We really do learn from our mistakes, by trial and error.
And at the same time we learn how little we know — as when, in climbing a mountain; every step upwards opens some new vista into the unknown, and new worlds unfold themselves of whose existence we knew nothing when we began our climb.

Thus we can learn [and] we can grow in knowledge …
[And] since we can never know [with absolute certainty,] there are no grounds here for smugness, or for conceit over the [completeness] of our knowledge.
(Addenda to Volume II, p 498)

[In Marxism] the religious element is unmistakable.
In the hour of their deepest misery and degradation, Marx’s prophecy gave the workers an inspiring belief in their mission, and in the great future which their movement was to prepare for the whole of mankind.
(Ch 21, p 402)

(The Open Society and Its Enemies, 5th Ed, 1966, Routledge 2011)

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Stage and Screen

Mamoru Oshii:
Let one walk alone
Committing no sin
With few wishes
Like elephants in the forest
(Based on a Buddhist poem, Ghost in the Shell — Innocence, 2004)

Free your mind!
The Matrix, 1999)

Harry Morant:
Shoot straight you bastards:
Don't make a mess of it!
(Bruce Beresford, Breaker Morant, 1980)

SBS Television:
The world is an amazing place.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Eva Rodriguez

Just because people are poor, or have little, doesn't mean that their dreams aren't big and their soul isn't rich.

Rick Emmerson

[Sixto] had this kind of magical property that all genuine artists and poets have.
To elevate things, to get above the mundane and the prosaic … all the bullshit, all the mediocrity that's everywhere.
The artist … the artist is the pioneer.

Even when his musical hopes were dashed, the spirit remained.
And he just had to keep finding the place, refining the process of how to apply himself.
He knew that there was something more.

It was in the early 80s.
He wanted to … do something righteous.
He wanted to make a difference.
So, lo and behold, he told me that he was going to run for mayor.
And I thought:
Well, God bless you Rodriguez.
If you can become mayor of Detroit, anything is possible! …

What he has demonstrated very clearly is that you have choice.
He took
  • all that torment,
  • all that agony,
  • all that confusion and pain.
And he transformed it into something beautiful.
He's like the silk worm.
You take this raw material and you transform it and you come out with something that wasn't there before:
  • something beautiful,
  • something perhaps transcendent,
  • something perhaps eternal.
In so far as he does that … he is representative of the human spirit — of what's possible.
That you have a choice and this has been my choice: to give you Sugar Man.

(Malik Blenjelloul: Writer, Editor and Director)

Kenneth Clark

The Smile of Reason

Belief in Natural Law.
Belief in Justice.
Belief in Toleration. …

The philosophers of the Enlightenment pushed European civilisation some steps up the hill.
And in theory at, at any rate, this gain was consolidated throughout the nineteenth century.
Up to the 1930's people were supposed not to
  • burn witches and other members of minority groups, or
  • extract confessions by torture, or
  • pervert the course of justice, or
  • go to prison for speaking the truth
— except of course during wars. …

Grandeur and Obedience

… Ignatius Loyola, the visionary soldier turned psychologist. …

The great achievement of the Catholic Church lay in harmonising, humanising, civilising, the deepest impulses of ordinary people.

(Civilisation, 1969)

NOBODY Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Monty Python

Our CHIEF weapon is Surprise …
Surprise and Fear. …

Our TWO weapons are Fear and Surprise …
And Ruthless Efficiency. …

Our THREE weapons are Fear, Surprise, and Ruthless Efficiency …
And, An Almost Fanatical Devotion To The Pope. …

Our FOUR …

AMONGST our weaponry are such diverse elements as:
  • Fear,
  • Surprise,
  • Ruthless Efficiency,
  • An Almost Fanatical Devotion To The Pope,
  • (and Nice Red Uniforms …)
(BBC, 22 September, 1970)


Cameron, James

Clark, Kenneth
Hanson, Hart

Oliver, Neil

Roddenberry, Gene

Scott, Ridley

Shakespeare, William

Thorpe, Jerry

Verhoeven, Paul

Whedon, Joss

Saturday, 24 December 2011


Nicolas de Condorcet (1743–1794):
The time will come, when the sun will shine only on free men, who know no other master, but their reason.

James Branch Cabell (1879–1958):
The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.
(The Silver Stallion, 1926)

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951):
Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.
(Philosophical Investigations, 3rd Ed, 1967, Blackwell, p 4)

Arthur C Clarke (1917–2008):
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Isaac Asimov (1920–1992):
[Science] gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

Democritus (c460–c370 BCE):
The wise man belongs to all countries, for the home of a great soul is the whole world.

Aristotle (384–322 BCE):
Citizens should not lead the life of mechanics or tradesmen, for such a life is ignoble and inimical to virtue.

John Locke (1632-1704):
Good men are men still liable to mistakes, and are sometimes warmly engaged in errors, which they take for divine truths, shining in their minds with the clearest light.
(An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690)

Richard Tawney (1880–1962):
Freedom for the pike is death for the minnows.
(Equality, 3rd Ed, 1938)

If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years.
Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom.

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are.
If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again.
But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners …
And if the slave girl's owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter.
If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife.
If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment.

[The] truth shall make you free.
(8: 32)

[They] shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks …
[Nation] shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
(2: 4)

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven …

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527):
It is much safer to be feared than loved.
Love is sustained by a bond of gratitude which, because men are excessively self-interested, is broken whenever they see a chance to benefit themselves.
But fear is sustained by a dread of punishment that is always effective.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882):
The order of things is as good as the character of the population permits.
(The Conservative, 1841)

Jules Verne (1828–1905):
The sea is everything.
It covers seven tenths of the globe …
The sea is only a receptacle for all the prodigious, supernatural things that exist inside it.
It is only movement and love; it is the living infinite.
(Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1870)

H L Mencken (1880–1956):
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

Herman Melville (1819–1891):
He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it …
(Moby Dick, Chapter 41, 1851)

Imam Ali (599-661 CE):
Knowledge is power …
(Saying 146, Nahj Al-Balagha)

Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827):
An intelligence that, at a given instant, could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings that make it up, if moreover it were vast enough to submit these data to analysis, would encompass in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atoms.
For such an intelligence nothing would be uncertain, and the future, like the past, would be open to its eyes. (Philosophical Essay on Probabilities)

Charles Dickens (1812–1870)

She raised her eyes to the bright stars, looking down so mildly from the wide worlds of air, and, gazing on them, found new stars burst upon her view, and more beyond, and more beyond again, until the whole great expanse sparkled with shining spheres, rising higher and higher in immeasurable space, eternal in their numbers as in their changeless and incorruptible existence.
(Ch 42)

On every side, and far as the eye could see into the heavy distance, tall chimneys, crowding on each other, and presenting that endless repetition of the same dull, ugly, form, which is the horror of oppressive dreams, poured out their plague of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air.
On mounds of ashes by the wayside, sheltered only by a few rough boards, or rotten penthouse roofs, strange engines spun and writhed like tortured creatures; clanking their iron chains, shrieking in their rapid whirl from time to time as though in torment unendurable, and making the ground tremble with their agonies. …
Men, women, children, wan in their looks and ragged in attire, tended the engines, fed their tributary fire, begged upon the road, or scowled half-naked from the doorless houses.
(Ch 45)

(The Old Curiosity Shop, 1840-1)

Greg Bear

The biological weapons and processes in [Quantico] are possible, but not in the way I have described them.
I have tried to persuade of the dangers without providing salient details.

The dangers are real, and immediate.
Sober judgment, self-less, nonpartisan planning, and sanity are the only solutions.

For those who go in harm's way, there is ultimately no politics.
Only pain, loss, death — and hope.

(Quantico, Harper, 2015, p 439)

Plato (c428–c347 BCE)

[How] can he who has magnificence of mind and is the spectator of all time and all existence, think much of human life?


It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have true knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body …
[For] if while in company with the body the soul cannot have pure knowledge, knowledge must be attained after death, if at all.

For the impure are not permitted to approach the pure. …
And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body? …
And this separation and release of the soul from the body is termed death.


David Hume (1711-1776)

The sweetest and most inoffensive path of life leads through the avenues of knowledge and learning; and anyone who can either remove any obstacles along the path or open up new views ought to that extent to be regarded as a benefactor to mankind. …

Here indeed lies the justest and most plausible objection against a considerable part of metaphysics, that they are not properly a science; but arise either from the fruitless efforts of human vanity, which would penetrate into subjects utterly inaccessible to the understanding, or from the craft of popular superstitions, which, being unable to defend themselves on fair ground, raise these entangling brambles to cover and protect their weakness.
Chased from the open country, these robbers fly into the forest, and lie in wait to break in upon every unguarded avenue of the mind, and overwhelm it with religious fears and prejudices. …

Accurate and just reasoning is the only catholic remedy, fitted for all persons and all disposition; and is alone able to subvert that abstruse philosophy and metaphysical jargon, which, being mixed up with popular superstition, renders it in a manner impenetrable to careless reasoners, and gives it the air of science and wisdom.

Philosophers, that give themselves airs of superior wisdom and sufficiency, have a hard task, when they encounter persons of inquisitive dispositions, who push them from every corner, to which they retreat, and who are sure at last to bring them to some dangerous dilemma.
The best expedient to prevent this confusion, is to be modest in our pretensions; and even to discover the difficulty ourselves before it is objected to us.
By this means, we may make a kind of merit of our very ignorance. …

A wise man … proportions his belief to the evidence. …
A hundred instances or experiments on one side and fifty on another, afford a doubtful expectation of any event; though a hundred uniform experiments, with only one that is contradictory, reasonably beget a pretty strong degree of assurance.
In all cases we must balance the opposite experiments … and deduct the smaller number from the greater, in order to know the exact force of the superior evidence. …

[In the case of human testimony we] entertain a suspicion concerning any matter of fact,
  • when the witnesses contradict each other;
  • when they are but few, or of a doubtful character;
  • when they have an interest in what they affirm; [and / or]
  • when they deliver the testimony with hesitation, or on the contrary, with too violent asseveration.

(Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Eric Steinberg, Editor, 1777)

Rachel Carson (1907–1964)

[On the island's] western shore the wet sand of the narrow beach caught the same reflection of palely gleaming sky that laid a bright path across the water from island beach to horizon.
Both water and sand were the colour of steel overlaid with the sheen of silver, so that it was hard to say where water ended and land began. …

With the dusk a strange bird came to the island from its nesting grounds on the outer banks. …
[And as] he neared the shore [the pure black] skimmer drifted closer to the water, bringing his dark form into strong silhouette against the grey sheet, like the shadow of a great bird [passing] unseen above.
[So] quietly did he approach that the sound of his wings … was lost in the whisper song of the water turning over shells on the wet sand. …

Shadowy forms moved through the night skies and pipings so soft as barely to be audible drifted down to [the sleeping villages] below, as the birds of shore and marsh poured northward along ancestral air lanes, seeking their nesting places.

(Under the Sea-Wind, 1952)

Babbage and Lovelace

Charles Babbage (1791–1871)

It is the science of calculation — which becomes continually more necessary at each step of our progress, and which must ultimately govern the whole of the applications of science to the arts of life.
(p 114)

[If, in the future, any man should succeed in] constructing an [analytical] engine embodying in itself the whole of the executive department of mathematical analysis upon different principles or by simpler mechanical means, I have no fear of leaving my reputation in his charge, for he alone will be fully able to appreciate the nature of my efforts and the value of their results.
(p 123)

Every shower that falls, every change of temperature that occurs, and every wind that blows, leaves on the vegetable world the traces of its passage; slight, indeed, and imperceptible, perhaps, to us, but no the less permanently recorded in the depths of those wood fabrics.
(p 121)

Ada Lovelace (1815–1852)

[Imagination] is that which penetrates into the unseen worlds around us, the worlds of Science.
It is that which feels & discovers what is, the real which we see not, which exists not for our senses.
Those who have learned to walk on the threshold of the unknown worlds … may then, with the fair white wings of Imagination, hope to soar further into the unexplored amidst which we live.
(p 112)

(Quoted by James Gleick, The Information, Fourth Estate, 2011)

London Examiner

With an understanding thoroughly masculine in solidity, grasp and firmness, Lady Lovelace had all the delicacies of the most refined female character.
Her manners, her tastes, her accomplishments, were feminine in the nicest sense of the word; and the superficial observer would never have divined the strength and the knowledge that lay hidden under the womanly graces.
(p 44)

(Quoted by Jack Rochester and John Gantz, The Naked Computer, Morrow, 1983)

William Gibson (1948)

Idoru (1996)

[Beyond] a framing rectangle of glass that filtered out every tint of pollution, the sky … was perfectly blank, like a sky-blue paint chip submitted by the contractor of the universe.

Johnny Mnemonic

[Molly Millions was a slim] girl with mirrored glasses, her dark hair cut in a rough shag. …
White sodium glare washed her features, stark monochrome, shadows cleaving from her cheekbones. …

Her T-shirt was sleeveless, faint telltales of Chiba City circuitry traced along her thin arms. …
Her fingers were slender, tapered, very white against the polished burgundy nails. …
Ten blades snicked straight out from their recesses, beneath her nails, each one a narrow, double edged scalpel in pale blue steel. …

She was wearing leather jeans the color of dried blood.
And I saw for the first time that the mirrored lenses were surgical inlays, the silver rising smoothly from her high cheekbones, sealing her eyes in their sockets.

(Omni, May, 1981)

Distrust That Particular Flavour (2012)

The Street Finds its own uses for things …
(Rocket Radio, Rolling Stone, June, 1989)

I suspect [Millenials] inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory.
(Talk For Book Expo: New York, May, 2010)

[Dorodango are 3 inch] balls of mud compressed with the hands and painstakingly formed into perfect spheres …
The brogues, shined lovingly enough, for long enough … must ultimately become a universe unto themselves, a conceptual sphere of lustrous and infinite depth.
Just as a life, lived silently enough, in sufficient solitude, becomes a different sort of sphere, no less perfect.
(Shiny Balls of Mud: Hikaru Dorodango and Tokyu Hands, Tate Magazine, September / October, 2002)

Works we all our lives recall reading for the first time are among the truest milestones …
The events … were staged in some vast repurposed fortress or castle [which] hummed and gleamed like a vacuum tube within a thirteenth-century reliquary.
(Preface, Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges, 2007)

[London] is a city in which, [Ackroyd] suggests, subjective time flows differently, from one area to the next, and may have come to a near-complete halt in others. …
It is a city in which the eternal suffering of the poor may perpetually serve some mysterious and driving purpose in the life of the whole, some hidden dynamo of torture and sacrifice dating back to something stranger and less easily articulated …
(Metrophagy: The Art and Science of Digesting Great Cities, Review of London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd, The Whole Earth Catalog, Summer, 2001)

Both [Britain and Japan] display a sort of fractal coherence of sign and symbol, all the way down into the weave of history. …
[Truly,] there is something in the quality of a good translation that can never be captured in the original. …
I see it in the eyes of the [dealers, and in the eyes of the otaku:] a perfectly calm train-spotter frenzy, murderous and sublime.
(Modern Boys And Mobile Girls, The Observer, April, 2001)

In Istanbul, one chill misty morning in 1970, I stood in Kapali Carsi, the grand bazaar, under a Sony sign bristling with alien futurity, and stared deep into a cube of plate glass filled with tiny, ancient, fascinating things.
[The] Sony sign — very large, very proto-Blade Runner, illuminated in some way I hadn't seen before — made a deep impression.
(My Obsession, Wired, January 1999)

We are building ourselves mirrors that remember — public mirrors that wander around and remember what they've seen.
That is a basic magic.
(William Gibson's Filmless Festival, Wired, October, 1999)



Bear, Greg
Carson, Rachel

Coupland, Douglas

Gibson, William

Herbert, Frank
Hume, David
Le Guin, Ursula
Bruce Sterling
Vinge, Venor

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Poetry and Song

Bhagavad Gita:
Now I am become Death,
The Destroyer of Worlds.
(400 BCE)

Euripides (480–406 BCE):
To the dear lone lands untroubled of men,
Where no voice sounds, and amid the shadowy green
The little things of the woodland live unseen.
(Bacchae, Gilbert Murray, translator)

In the end, only kindness matters …

Laurie Anderson:
I don't know about your brain — but mine is really bossy …
(Babydoll, Strange Angels, 1989)

William Blake (1757–1827)

(Songs of Experience, 1794)

Alfred Tennyson (1809–1892)

I am part of all that I have met …

Tho' much is taken, much abides;
[And tho' we] are not now that strength
[Which in older days, moved] earth and heaven,

[T]hat which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

(Ulysses, 1842)

John Lederach

Maybe, he says, this
is as good as it will get.
Peaceful bigotry.

Don't ask the mountain
to move, just take a pebble
each time you visit.

Gods and men love maps
they draw borders with pens that
split lives like an ax.

(Quoted by Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise, Corsair, 2016, pp 47-8)


Anderson, Laurie

Black, Mary


McBride, Martina

Richey, Kim

Shakespeare, William

Talking Heads