Last Modified: February, 2008

 Random Quotes

[Earth, NASA]

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. --George Bernard Shaw

About brains: "My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery-- always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. And why? What's this passion for?" -- Virginia Woolf, quoted by LeDoux

About minds: "What we call a mind is nothing but a heap or collection of different perceptions united together by certain relations and suppos'd, tho' falsely, to be endow'd with a perfect simplicity and identity." -- David Hume, quoted by Minsky

And why I study them: "Distributed intelligence is a law of nature. It is more than a technology. It's also a law of culture and politics and evolution. -- Al Gore

About planning: "To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time." --Leonard Bernstein

About planning reactively: "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley"
And using state: "Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me, The present only toucheth thee: But, Och! I backward cast my e'e On prospects drear! An' forward, tho' I canna see, I guess an' fear!" -- Robert Burns, To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough

About using stats: "It’s easy to lie with statistics, but it’s easier to lie without them." -- Fred Mosteller

About the words my fields throw around:

About theory: "In teoria, non c'e' differenza tra teoria e pratica. Ma in pratica c'e'" (In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.) -- Jan L.A. van de Snepscheut

And about proofs: "Some people say there are true things to be found, some people say all kinds of things can be proved. I don't believe them. The only thing for certain is how complicated it all is..." -- Jeanette Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit

About doing research: "Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you." -- Jesus, according to the Gospel of Thomas

About `agent' research: "Navigation is hard. Let's go shopping!" -- Talking Robot Barbie Agent

About researching agents: "Objects do it for free. Agents do it for money." -- Sam Joseph (well, at least he's the one who said it to me!)

About business: "Customers aren't like other problems. They really do go away."  -- The CEO of Boeing, according to Richard Wojcik.

"Any time I consider a new project, I ask myself, is this pushing the state of gaming toward Nobel Prizes? If it's not, then it's not doing anything important enough to spend my time." -- Jane McGonigal, quoted in Salon 10 July 2007.

"You can't have everything; where would you put it?" -- Steven Wright

"If I had everything I'd have a closet big enough to put it in." -- David Gunkel

"There is definitely, definitely, definitely no logic to human behavior"  -- Björk

About both freedom of speech and software engineering (how cool is that?): "Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being `pushed to an extreme'; not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case." -- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

"Liberals have a set of folk theories that are fallacious. One of them comes from the Enlightenment, and the assumption is that you are supposed to be logical. They assume all you have to do is tell people the facts and they will reason to the right conclusion. This is utterly ridiculous. Thought is mainly metaphorical. The frames trump all the facts." -- George Lakoff, interviewed by Katy Butler

About the goals of AI: "No, I'm not interested in developing a powerful brain. All I'm after is just a mediocre brain, something like the President of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company." -- Alan Turing, 1943, in a Bell Labs cafeteria.

"If the best the roboticists can hope for is the creation of some crude, cheesy, second-rate, artificial consciousness, they still win." -- Dan Dennett, The Practical Requirements for Making a Conscious Robot, 1994

About learning: "Generalisation is not the goal of learning. Being right is the goal of learning." -- Will Lowe (again)

"Great mathematics is achieved by solving difficult problems not by fabricating elaborate theories in search of a problem." -- Harold Davenport

About funding: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the houses of its children." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 16, 1953

About what we promise the military: "With software products, it is usual to find that the software has major `bugs' and does not work reliably for some users... The lay public, familiar with only a few incidents of software failure, may regard them as exceptions caused by exceptionally inept programmers. Those of us who are software professionals know better; the most competent programmers in the world cannot avoid such problems." -- David L. Parnas, Software Aspects of Strategic Defense Systems, American Scientist 1985

"I don't even drink Coke. It tastes like robot sweat." -- David Rees

About precedent: "Nixon used it, and we said, 'Oh, Jesus, what have we done?"' -- Edward Cramer, the lawyer who threw together a letter getting Truman out of testifying at a McCarthy hearing."

"Naturally if you were born in the nineteenth century when evolution first began to be known, and everything was being understood, really understood everybody knew that if everything was really being and going to be understood, and if there was going to be progress there would not be any wars, and if there were not any wars then everything could be and would be understood, and even if death and life were not understood and eternity and beginning was not understood well that is to say if they were not understood more than science understood them better after all except in the unhappiness of adolescence better not think about that." -- Gertrude Stein, Wars I have Seen, 1945

"Our long national nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is finally over." -- President-elect Bush, 17 January 2001 (well, according to The Onion.)

"The cheap drama brings cause and effect, will power and action, once more into relation and gives a man the thrilling conviction that he may yet be master of his fate." -- Jane Addams, 1909.

"The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it." -- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

"Whether ours shall be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people."  -- Archibald Cox's statement after being fired by President Nixon for refusing to stop investigating Watergate (October 1973).

More political quotes

About finishing one's PhD:  "Live as if you will die tomorrow - study as if you will live forever." -- Erasmus

And another: "I was going to write a long thesis. Then I got results." -- Yiannis Demiris

"The work that leads to a doctor's degree is a constant temptation to sacrifice one's growth as a man to one's growth as a specialist." -- William James

"It never gets easier, you just go faster." -- Greg Lemond

On why speed matters: "It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop." -- Confucius

"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum" -- Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

"Ainsi sera, groigne qui groigne -- Anne Boleyn

About MIT: "This month's slogan: `It's not a hack; it's a prototype.'"

About Edinburgh: "There Learning with his eagle eyes / Seeks Science in her coy abode." -- Robert Burns, (again) Address to Edinburgh

"MIT wanted me, you know. Wanted me to rule the world for them." -- Mad scientist in Help!

About writing in general: "Contemporary critical theory tells us that the very idea of communication is an illusion, or fallacy, though it is not clear what it thinks it is doing when it tells us that." -- David Lodge, The Practice of Writing

About joy: "It's so moving it brings tears to your eyes. How strange, but I guess that's what joy is." -- Junichiro Koizumi (about Japan's victory over Russia in the 2002 World Cup)

"I wish there was a true love; I was there was a great art. I wish there always was enough, but I'd not want if I were smart." -- The Roches Want Not

"Someday I'll be remembered for The phone calls I never made Letters I never mailed And the stories I never finished telling anyone." -- Yoko Ono, Dogtown

About alternative lifestyles "If married women are still seeking thrills, aren't there enough in the home? What is more of a thrill than to experience the joy in her husband's eyes as they wander over her tastily cooked meal? What a thrill when hubby is pleased with the charming gown she has made from an inexpensive remnant of material. And what, if you will, could surpass the joy of bringing lovely boys and girls into the world? They surpass poodles." -- Anna E. Jefferson Should Married Women Have Jobs? (A plea for independent wives to give dependent wage-earners a chance)

About the dangers of marriage: "Because we were trying ... to enforce something, a principle, that is much greater than this. We stand against the one world government, against the coming world of the antichrist." -- Bob Jones III explaining why his university banned interracial dating 50 years earlier. (Though now he says, "We realize that an interracial marriage is not going to bring in the world of antichrist by any means.")

"We have several Buddhas around the house, but I don't necessarily believe in that either. But if I'm going to have a god, I'm going to have a smiling god." -- Chuck Jones Fish Wars

About science and religion: " In the time of Galileo it was argued that the texts, 'And the sun stood still ... and hasted not to go down about a whole day' (Joshua x. 13) and 'He laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not move at any time' (Psalm cv. 5) were an adequate refutation of the Copernican theory." -- Alan Turing (again) Computing Machinery and Intelligence, Mind 59 (1950), 443.

"Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil." -- Richard Dawkins, Salon, 30 April 2005

More religious quotes

"... atheism, a term which will, I'm sure, eventually become as unnecessary as round-earthism..." -- Dan Dennett

About growing up: "As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life -- so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls." -- Matt Cartmill

About factual certainty: "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" -- from Latanya Sweeney's famous forecast collection

"I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong." -- Bertrand Russell

"Life is complex. It has real and imaginary components." -- Tom Potter

"Star Trek is kinda cool when it wants to be." -- Matt 'Neko' Sealey (maybe?)

Life as AI: "If travel is searching and home what's been found, I'm not stopping. I'm going hunting." -- Björk (again)

"I wish a robot would get elected president. That way, when he came to town, we could all take a shot at him and not feel too bad." -- Stephen Wright

"I want no hand in creating a world where only Keanu Reeves can protect my great-grandchildren." -- An MIT scientist, quoted in The Onion (21 January 2004.)

Q: "If you were young again, would you start writing TeX again or would you use Microsoft Word, or another word processor?" A: "I hope to die before I have to use Microsoft Word." -- Harald Koenig asking Donald Knuth

"I haven't lost my mind -- it's backed up on tape somewhere." -- Anonymous

[Balkan Sunflowers]

page author: Joanna Bryson