Quotations and poems


Occupational Hazard

He has slept with accountants and brokers,
With a cowgirl (well, someone from Healds).
He has slept with non-smokers and smokers
In commercial and cultural fields.

He has slept with book-keepers, book-binders,
Slept with auditors, florists, PAs
Child psychologists, even child minders,
With directors of firms and of plays.

He has slept with the stupid and clever.
He has slept with the rich and the poor
But he sadly admits that he's never
Slept with a poet before.

Real poets are rare, he confesses,
While it's easy to find a cashier.
So I give him some poets' addresses
And consider a change of career.

– Sophie Hannah

“It took me some time to learn this, but I think that I truly became a philosopher when I understood that there is no dialogue in philosophy.  Plato’s dialogues, for example, are clearly fake dialogues in which one guy is talking most of the time and the other guy is mostly saying ‘yes, I see, yes my God it is like you said — Socrates, my God that’s how it is’.  I fully sympathise with Deleuze who said somewhere that the moment a true philosopher hears a phrase like ‘let’s discuss this point’, his response is ‘let’s leave as soon as possible; let’s run away!’  Show me one dialogue which really worked.  There are none!”

Slavoj Žižek in Conversations with Žižek

“… In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting a single authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognise no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.

“I bow before the authority of special [people] because it is imposed on me by my own reason. I am conscious of my own inability to grasp, in all its detail, and positive development, any very large portion of human knowledge. [... T]here is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subbordination.” 

—Mikhail Bakunin, What is Authority?

“… in what respect does the philosopher, who pursues science in order that he may pass life pleasantly to himself, differ from that drunkard there, who only seeks the immediate gratification that gin affords him? The philosopher has, past all question, chosen his enjoyment more wisely, since it affords him a pleasure far deeper and more lasting than that of the toper. But that is all! Both one and the other have the same selfish end in view, personal gratification.”
–Peter Kropotkin in An Appeal to the Young

"I got married in 1970. My wife is an artist, and I learned a lot from her; the fact that I can talk about things, for instance. I remember I was going out with her, before we were married, and we were walking from one part of the university to another part. My objective was to get from A to B, she wanted to stop and look at the moon, because it looked very nice. And I thought: “What the hell would I want to look at the moon for, when I want to go to B?” Now, of course, I will look at the moon at all times with her."
Dov Gabbaylogician, fan of psychologism, from an interview with “Ta!”

"Oh, you're going to zap me with penicillin and pesticides. Spare me that and I'll spare you the bomb and aerosols. But don't confuse progress with perfectibility. A great poet is always timely. A great philosopher is an urgent need. There's no rush for Isaac Newton. We were quite happy with Aristotle's cosmos. Personally, I preferred it. Fifty-five crystal spheres geared to God's crankshaft is my idea of a satisfying universe. I can't think of anything more trivial than the speed of light. Quarks, quasars - big bangs, black holes - who gives a shit? [...] I'd push the lot of you over a cliff myself. Except the one in the wheelchair, I think I'd lose the sympathy vote before people had time to think it through. [...] If knowledge isn't self-knowledge it isn't doing much, mate. Is the universe expanding? Is it contracting? Is it standing on one leg and singing 'When Father Painted the Parlour'? Leave me out. I can expand my universe without you." 
–Part of a wee rant by Bernard, in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia

"This series of lectures on proof-theory is a priori dedicated to mathematicians and computer-scientists, physicists, philosophers and linguists ; and, since we are no longer in the XVI—not to speak of the XVIII—century, it is doomed to failure. […] This being said, plain success is not the only possible goal ; mine might simply be the exposition of a disorder in this apparently well-organised universe, in which logic eventually took its place between two beer mugs and the Reader’s Digest, and does not disturb, no longer disturbs—a sort of fat cat purring on the carpet."
–Jean-Yves Girard, The Blind Spot


"I see him [Daniel Wegner] as the killjoy scientist who shows that Cupid doesn't shoot arrows and then insists on entitling his book The Illusion of Romanic Love. [...] Wegner and I agree on the bottom line; what we disagree on is tactics. [...] I prefer to make the same points by saying that no, free will is not an illusion; all the varieties of free will worth wanting are, or can be, ours—but you have to give up a bit of false and outdated ideology to understand how this can be so. Romantic love minus Cupid's arrow is still worth yearning for. It is still, indeed, romantic love, real romantic love."
–Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolves , pp. 224-225


"A wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul, like these sweet mornings of spring which I enjoy with my whole heart. I am alone, and feel the charm of existence in this spot, which was created for the bliss of souls like mine.  I am so happy, my dear friend, so absorbed in the exquisite sense of mere tranquil existence, that I neglect my talents.  I should be incapable of drawing a single stroke at the present moment; and yet I feel that I never was a greater artist than now."
– A letter from Wether (Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther)


“The world is like a ride at an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it, you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it’s very brightly coloured and it’s very loud and it’s fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: Is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, ‘Hey—don’t worry, don’t be afraid ever, because this is just a ride…’ And we … kill those people. Ha ha, ‘Shut him up. We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up. Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and my family. This just has to be real.’ It’s just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn’t matter, because—it’s just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace."
–Bill Hicks


"Love, the warmth of bodies in contact, is the only mercy shown to us in the darkness. But the only union is that of the organs, and it can’t bridge over the cleavage made by speech. Yet they unite in order to produce beings to stand by them in their hopeless isolation. And the generations look coldly into each other’s eyes. If you cram a ship full to bursting with human bodies, they all freeze with loneliness."
- Brecht, In the Jungle of Cities


"With possible rare exceptions, their [scientists’] motive is neither curiosity nor a desire to benefit humanity but the need to go through the power process: to have a goal (a scientific problem to solve), to make an effort (research) and to attain the goal (solution of the problem). Science is a surrogate activity because scientists work mainly for the fulfillment they get out of the work itself. […] Other motives do play a role for many scientists. Money and status for example. Some scientists may be persons of the type who have an insatiable drive for status and this may provide much of the motivation for their work. No doubt the majority of scientists, like the majority of the general population, are more or less susceptible to advertising and marketing techniques and need money to satisfy their craving for goods and services…"
- Theodore Kaczynski (a mathematician... not famous for his maths - thanks Rob for this one)


"I am not a writer, a philosopher, a great figure of intellectual life: I am a teacher. There is a social phenomenon that troubles me a great deal: Since the 1960s, some teachers are becoming public men with the same obligations. I don’t want to become a prophet and say, 'Please sit down, what I have to say is very important.' I have come to discuss our common work."
- Foucault


"Perhaps I was drawn towards the topic of reasoning because most things in life seemed unreasonable."
- Peter C. Wason


"... it is the simplest and most difficult thing in the world for one person, genuinely being his or her self, to give, in fact and not just in appearance, another person, realised in his or her own being by the giver, a cup of tea, really, and not in appearance."
- From Self and Others by Ronnie D. Laing


They are playing a game.
They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me.
I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.
- From Knots by Ronnie D. Laing

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
There is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other"
Doesn't make any sense.
- Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī


Someone left the mirror running
I pulled the plug out
      it emptied my face
      and drowned my reflection.
I tried mouth to mouth resuscitation
      the glass broke
      my reflection died
Now there's only one of me.

-Spike Milligan, Lo Speccio


"... if I wish to be understood by others, and if I wish to enlist others for my purposes, then I must present myself in a way that conforms to folk-psychological platitudes, or laws. To explain my actions - even my most outrageous ones - to others is to find an appropriate set of folk-psychological platitudes in the light of which I am understandable and predictable...

"Given the fundamental role of folk psychology, it should not come as a surprise that it is also the intuition most strongly protected by sanctions. Inability to come up with acceptable folk-psychological accounts of ourselves and others is sanctioned by disapproval, lack of acceptance, or even referral to psychiatric services. No wonder, therefore, that social psychologists find their subjects 'telling more than they know': rather than admit that they have no introspective access to many of their higher cognitive processes, subjects will tell folk-psychological stories of how their mind allegedly works."

-Martin Kusch, Psychological Knowledge


"The nights in the room were false and useless and meaningless and the nights walking the city were false and useless and meaningless, the notes for the box were false and useless and meaningless and this freewheeling account of the progress of the glass is false and useless and meaningless, late and doubly late and unaware of its lateness, nothing and again nothing and worse than nothing."
- The Big Glass by Gabriel Josipovici

"... there was no other sport I watched with such good heart, such entertainment and elation as a good cross-country. I loved the racked, contorted faces of the runners as they came up to the tunnel of flags and crossed the finishing line; I found especially interesting those who came after the first fifty or so, running harder than any of the other contestants and competing demoniacally among themselves for the hundred and thirteenth place in the field. I watched them stumble up the tunnel of flags, clawing at their throats, retching, flailing their arms and falling to the grass, convinced that I had before me here a vision of human futility..."
- Homemade by Ian McEwan


"When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness. All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal or world problem whose eloquent solution did not exist in some hexagon. [...]

"As was natural, this inordinate hope was followed by an excessive depression. The certitude that some shelf in some hexagon held precious books and that these precious books were inaccessible, seemed almost intolerable. A blasphemous sect suggested that the searches should cease and that all men should juggle letters and symbols until they constructed, by an improbable gift of chance, these canonical books. The authorities were obliged to issue severe orders. The sect disappeared, but in my childhood I have seen old men who, for long periods of time, would hide in the latrines with some metal disks in a forbidden dice cup and feebly mimic the divine disorder."

-Jorge Luis Borges in The Library of Babel


"Language only lives in and through human culture, which on the one hand needs mutual understanding but on the other hand makes direct communication impossible. [...] People who use language lose their primitive desires which, however sinful, remain close to the self. Frightened by solitude, their only home, they become automata, slaves of the monster-machine of public relations."
- from Life, Art, and Mysticism by Brouwer


"Use i before e except after c or when sounded like a as in neighbor or weigh; and except seize and seizure and also leisure, weird, height, and either, forfeit, and neither."
- The Complete Word Book by Mary A. DeVries


Zen and the Art of Going to the Lavatory

Relax mind.
Relax body.
Relax bowels.
Do not fall over.
You are a cloud.
You are raining.
Do not rain
Whilst the train
Is standing at a station.
Move with the wind.
Apologize where necessary.

from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, somewhere, possibly only the TV series


The right method of philosophy would be this: To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other - he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy - but it would be the only strictly correct method.
- Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus , 6.53


Too blue for logic
Marianne Jones

My axioms were so clean-hewn,
The joins of 'thus' and 'therefore' neat
But, I admit
Life would not fit
Between straight lines
And all the cornflowers said was 'blue,'
All summer long, so blue.
So when the sea came in and with one wave
Threatened to wash my edifice away -
I let it.


I thought I had seen everything,
He wasn’t white and fluffy,
He just had side burns, [...]
And a quiff.
- Sugarcubes, ”Deus”


On languages with finitely many numerals:

... The Winnebagoes are said to use their numerals as high as one million. Indefinite and countless numbers they represent by the terms "leaves on the trees", "stars of the heaven", "blades of grass on the prairie", "sand on the lake shore". The Crows do not count above a thousand, as they say honest people have no use for higher numerals!

- In W. C. Eels "Number Systems of the North American Indians", The Am. Mathematical Monthly Vol XX:10, 1913 p. 298. (Thanks Harald!)


Attending a mathematics lecture is like walking through a thunderstorm at night. Most of the time you are lost, wet and miserable but at rare intervals there is a flash of lightening and the whole countryside is lit up.
- Tom Körner, In Praise of Lectures


I should also like to offer a piece of friendly advice to anyone who might attempt in the future to study Domain Theory. It is this.

Does your conjecture make any nontrivial statement about finite posets?
If so, then it's false: look for a counterexample.

- Paul Taylor in the introduction to his PhD thesis (see the bottom of that link).


If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity, or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matters of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames. For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
- David Hume (see Ayer, "Language, Truth, and Logic", for more of the same flavour...)


... if anyone spends almost the whole day in reading, and by way of relaxation devotes the intervals to some thoughtless pastime, he gradually loses the capacity for thinking; just as the man who always rides at last forgets how to walk. This is the case with many learned persons: they have read themselves stupid.
- in Religion: A Dialogue And Other Essays by Arthur Schopenhauer


ABILENE (adj.): Descriptive of the pleasing coolness on the reverse side of the pillow.
GREAT WAKERING (participal vb.): Panic which sets in when you badly need to go to the lavatory and cannot make up your mind about what book or magazine to take with you.
- in The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams


PROOF-THEORY: The proof-theorist is the guy who proposes Hilbert's Program as the challenge for the new century, a victim of the millenium bug so to speak.
PHILOSOPHICAL LOGIC: Same problem with the proof-theorists, but the internal clock shows 1600.
- Jean-Yves Girard, in Locus Solum


I get completely confused as soon as logicians drag "models" and "interpretations" into the picture. [...] Doing mathematics is one thing, applying one's mathematics to a more or less real world out there is an extra-mathematical activity, and never, I think, should the two be confused.
- Edsger W. Dijkstra, in EWD1227


Can I say "bububu" and mean "If it doesn't rain I shall go for a walk"?
- Ludwig Wittgenstein


Thinking is the most unhealthy thing in the world, and people die of it just as they die of any other disease. Fortunately, in England at any rate, thought is not catching. Our splendid physique as a people is entirely due to our national stupidity.
- Vivian, in "The Decay of Lying" by Oscar Wilde


There is nothing for it; one must go forward, that is step by step further into decadence.
- Friedrich Nietzsche


N'oubliez pas le cas de base.
- Oraklet på Matematisk Centrum


The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.
- Bertrand Russell


People who count their chickens before they are hatched, act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly that it is impossible to count them accurately.
- Oscar Wilde


In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
- Douglas Adams


There might be even more quotations over here!  (But duplications likely.)