Cloud Study, 1893
The Brave Sage of Timbuktu, how one librarian saved Mali’s illustrious past from jihadists
I met some scholars in Egypt who organized efforts to save manuscripts from fires and other violence around Tahrir Square, but in that case the documents weren’t targets themselves but incidental casualties.
Suppose you ask where a particular comet will be seen in the sky in fifty years time, given where it is now. Well, the prevailing conception [of physics] will probably do, for that. It will make a prediction and it can only be in one place: only one thing will happen, and anything that doesn’t happen, couldn’t have. But ask a slightly different question, ask where we could make the comet go—we—and it’s no good replying that we will make it go wherever the laws of motion tell us to make it go, because the question is about what is possible, and it requires the mode of explanation that makes the concept of possibility legitimate. — David Deutsch
I think that this fashionable reductionism is just a mistake. I’m sure that free will exists. However, I think that free will is one of a constellation of emergent, abstract (we’re not exactly sure what proportion free will is abstract or emergent) properties, that are not yet understood. Things like consciousness, creativity, choice, free will, and so on—we do have good explanations about them at the emergent level, but we don’t understand them well enough to make artificial ones. I say in the book that my criterion for judging any theory of consciousness, free will, and so on, is: can you program it? If you can’t program it, then I cannot take seriously your theory of it. Now, I don’t have a theory of it, I only have a theory that it exists. If someone says that it doesn’t exist because we can explain everything without invoking it, then I want to see those explanations. — David Deutsch
Easy to see that naught save sorrow could bring a man to such a view of things. And yet a sorrow for which there can be no help is no sorrow. It is some dark sister traveling in sorrow’s clothing. Men do not turn from God so easily you see. Not so easily. Deep in each man is the knowledge that something knows of his existence. Something knows, and cannot be fled nor hid from. To imagine otherwise is to imagine the unspeakable. It was never that this man ceased to believe in God. No. It was rather that he came to believe terrible things of Him. — Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing
I wonder what the first suicide was like.
Many ideas may be excellent as parts of a great whole, which, when violently torn from their connection, will not only cease to be excellent, but may in some cases become positively injurious. — William Godwin (1793:121)
Doomed enterprises divide lives forever into the then and the now. — Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing
I have more ideas in my head than I could ever carry out, but without it clouding my mind. — Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, Saint-Rémy, 2 May 1890.
But on principle it is quite wrong to try founding a theory on observable magnitudes alone. In reality the very opposite happens. It is the theory which decides what we can observe. — Einstein to Heisenberg
It’s a beautiful theory, but more to the point, it’s how the world is: you and I are collections of, not just particles at particular positions at each instant, but of matrices, walking around, performing measurements, perceiving the world and ourselves. You may not want to be a bunch of matrices; I quite like the idea. But either way we have no choice: if we want to understand the physical world at the deepest level currently known to human beings, it has to be via quantum theory. — David Deutsch
Rudimentary organs may be compared with the letters in a word still retained in the spelling but become useless in pronunciation, but which serve as a clue in seeking for its derivation. — Darwin 1859 432
The Greeks always thought of personality as actively related to the world (in fact, to two worlds, the world of nature and the world of human society) and not as isolated from it. Therefore Greek expressions of personal emotion and thought have nothing purely and exclusively subjective in them: it might rather be said that a poet like Archilochus has learnt how to express in his own personality the whole objective world and its laws—to represent them in himself. Personality, for the Greeks, gains its liberty and its consciousness of selfhood not by abandoning itself to subjective thought and feeling, but by making itself an objective thing; and, as it realizes that it is a separate world opposed to the external law, it discovers its own inner laws. — Werner Jaeger, Paideia 1.117
It’s true that you worry about the fact that they’ll be able to store information better, and have more information about people, and whether that will produce a Big Brother. That depends on the attitude of the leaders of society. Rather interestingly, the country which is more democratic, and which is less interested in all the information about what everybody is doing, to make sure they’re not doing something wrong, is where the computers are developed the most. And the place where’d you think the government would find the computer the greatest use, because you can file all the information about everybody—they don’t develop the computer very much and they don’t know how to use them. — Feynman (1985)