Commonplace book

“A book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The culture of industry

“… having the advanced technology in itself is not sufficient without the resources and culture to develop and deploy it. It was the culture of the industry, of both the Post Office and its equipment suppliers, which determined that Britain would be a follower, not a leader, in the application of modern telecommunications technology in the post-war decades. Flowers’s real frustration was that, having seen the future, he could not get on with building it, but instead had to fight against the bureaucratic conservatism of the British post-war telecommunications industry.”

Gannon, Paul (2007) “Colossus: Bletchley Park’s greatest secret.” p.446

Objectivity is an instrument

“We will learn that what scientists require of objectivity, in the context of representing the world, is something instrumental rather than something absolute: not that it meet demands of truth, but rather that it meet those of reliability. We will learn that what we require of objectivity in making everyday decisions has little to do with stripping our beliefs of judgments and interpretations so as to make them more factual, but improving our judgments, which often means adding more interpretation, not less.”

Gaukroger, Stephen. (2018) “Objectivity: A very short introduction”, p11.

No overall direction to deep history

“Given the complexity and unpredictability of human relations there can be no overall direction to deep history, so that people move between wild and domesticated foods, settle for a while in large aggregations which they then abandon, try out technologies in some periods that later may not suit them. We now live in vast large populations, many of us in cities, producing and consuming unsustainable amounts of things. This has come about relatively recently, through the last five centuries of colonialism and capitalism. Our lives are by no means an inevitable outcome of long-term human history. The present flies in the face of long-term trends rather than deriving from them.”

Gosden, Chris. (2018) “Prehistory: A very short introduction”, p.108

Property is a Nuisance

“But if it wasn’t mathematics, Erdos wouldn’t be bothered. ‘Some French socialist said that private property was theft,’ Erdos recalled. ‘I’d say that private property is a nuisance.’ ”

Hoffman, Paul. (1998) “The Man Who Loved Only Numbers”, p.9

Paradoxical thinking

“One and the same object harbors many of these tensions simultaneously, even apparently simple objects like receptors for food molecules: they and their amino acid parts already harbor the tension between matter and meaning, part and whole, and creation and destruction. And each of the two opposing perspectives such tensions generate is incomplete with out the other, even though we cannot see the world both ways at the same time. To escape getting entangled in paradox, we have to choose a side. Such a choice is at its most powerful if we are aware of choosing, if we do not confound this choice with an ultimate truth. Because any such choice is justified only through the conversation it is a part of and how it propels that conversation onward through the questions it answers.”

Wager, Andreas. (2009) “Paradoxical Life.” p.195. 

When to Study

“Say not, ‘When I have free time I shall study’; for you may perhaps never have any free time.”

“If not now, when?”

Hillel the Elder, 2nd Century AD

A measure becomes a target

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”

“Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.”

Charles Goodhart (1975) 

Game Definition

“To play a game is to engage in activity directed towards bringing about a specific state of affairs, using only means permitted by rules, where the rules prohibit more efficient in favour of less efficient means, where such rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity.”

Suits, Bernard. (2014) “The Grasshopper: Games, life and utopia” (p.36)


“How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.”

Bible (New International Version) – Deuteronomy 18:21-22

History is…

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation”

Barnes, Julian (2011) “The Sense of an Ending” page 17

Triflers, cheats and spoilsports

“In summary it may be said that triflers recognize rules but not goals, cheats recognize goals but not rules, players recognize both rules and goals, and spoilsports recognize neither rules nor goals; and that while players acknowledge the claims of both the game and its institution, triflers and cheats acknowledge only institutional claims, and spoilsports acknowledge neither.”

Suits, Bernard. (2014) “The Grasshopper: Games, life and utopia” (p.51)

Known Knowns

“…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld, Feb 2002 (News Briefing)

Examples of Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, and Unknown Unknowns

  • Known known: a number being measured in an experiment, let’s say a time.
  • Known unknown: you know the accuracy with which you can press the button on the timer is 0.1s, so you assign a “systematic uncertainty” to your measurement of the time, saying that whatever you measured you don’t know to better than 0.1s.
  • Unknown unknown: the timer is faulty and is actually wrong by more than 0.1s!

Dr Seth Zenz, March 2020

Unknown Knowns

“Slavoj Žižek says that beyond these three categories there is a fourth, the unknown known, that which we intentionally refuse to acknowledge that we know: ‘If Rumsfeld thinks that the main dangers in the confrontation with Iraq were the unknown unknowns, that is, the threats from Saddam whose nature we cannot even suspect, then the Abu Ghraib scandal shows that the main dangers lie in the unknown knowns—the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values’ “.

Žižek, Slavoj (2009) “What Rumsfeld Doesn’t Know That He Knows About Abu Ghraib“.

Men with Machines

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.” Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam.

Herbert, Frank (1965) “Dune”

I followed the roads of England

“I have gone round England like a magpie, picking up any bright thing that pleased me. A glance at the route followed will prove that this is not a guide-book, and a glance at the contents will expose me to the scorn of local patriots who will see, with incredulous rage, that on many an occasion I passed silently through their favourite village. That was inevitable. It was a moody holiday, and I followed the roads; some of them led me aright and some astray. The first were the most useful; the others were the most interesting.”

H V Morton. (1927). In Search of England.

Generic, transferable skills

“Generic skills are high-order, transferable skills that are common to almost all complex endeavours. They include skills such as communicating, problem-solving, curiosity, patience, flexibility, purpose, persistence, resilience, courage, and creating — that apply across all specific fields. They enable us to organize, adapt, and strategically apply our specific skills in new situations and circumstances.”

Mirjam Neelen & Paul A. Kirschner (2018) Domain-specific knowledge: 1, Domain-independent skills: 0.

Will Artificial Intelligence Enhance or Hack Humanity?

“…The question is, who decides what is a good enhancement and what is a bad enhancement?

So our immediate fallback position is to fall back on the traditional humanist ideas, that the customer is always right, the customers will choose the enhancement. Or the voter is always right, the voters will vote, there will be a political decision about the enhancement. Or if it feels good, do it. We’ll just follow our heart, we’ll just listen to ourselves. None of this works when there is a technology to hack humans on a large scale. You can’t trust your feelings, or the voters, or the customers on that.

The easiest people to manipulate are the people who believe in free will, because they think they cannot be manipulated. So how do you how do you decide what to enhance if, and this is a very deep ethical and philosophical question—again that philosophers have been debating for thousands of years—what is good? What are the good qualities we need to enhance? So if you can’t trust the customer, if you can’t trust the voter, if you can’t trust your feelings, who do you trust? What do you go by?”

Yuval Noah Harari (2019)  Will Artificial Intelligence Enhance or Hack Humanity?

Teaching for themselves

“And what about teachers? They might simply take pleasure at watching others learn and grow. Or they might cherish conversations with their students, where insightful questions sometimes help them see their field in a new light. In the end, teachers may be teaching for themselves as much as for their students.”

Wager, Andreas. (2009) “Paradoxical Life.” p.33. 

Reaching your students

“If your method reaches only the attentive students, then you must either invent new methods or call yourself a failure.”

Price, Reynolds. (2000) Feasting the heart.

Disinterested Behaviour

“For instance, news items regularly report that when a human – or even some other animal – has been in danger of drowning, not only relatives but unconnected bystanders have spontaneously plunged in to the rescue, and can sometimes die in the attempt.

Is there something fishy about calling this kind of response disinterested? It certainly is not a scheme planned for one’s own future profit, which is what “interested” actually means. It is indeed done to fulfil or satisfy one’s own impulse, but that is true of all our actions, including completely self-destructive ones, so the point seems trivial.”

Midgley, Mary. (2010) The Solitary Self: Darwin and the Selfish Gene. p.32.

Combining Intellect with Social Feelings

” ‘Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or nearly as well-developed as in man.’ [Charles Darwin] In short, what makes our moral constitution possible – and indeed what makes us characteristically human – is not primarily our intellect. It is the difficulty of combining that intellect with a given set of pre-existing social feelings.”

Midgley, Mary. (2010) The Solitary Self: Darwin and the Selfish Gene. p.27-28.

Ties That Hold

“In this life that sometimes seems like a vast wasteland without any signpost, in the midst of all the escape routes and the lost horizons, we long to find reference points and establish a sort of land register so that we no longer have the sense of navigating aimlessly.  So, we construct ties, we try to make chance encounters more stable. I said nothing, my gaze concentrated on the pile of magazines. In the middle of the low table was a large yellow ashtray bearing the inscription Cinzano. And a paperback, the title of which was Adieu Focolara. Zannatacci, Hean-Pierre Choureau. Cinzano. Jacqueline Delanque. Neuilly town hall. Focolara. And one was supposed to find a meaning in all this.”

Modiano, Patrick (2016) In the cafe of the Lost Youth, p.48

Weaponized Software

“There are some mundane practical reasons why countries would want to develop cyber attack capability, in addition to the fact that it can be very effective. The most important one is cost.  So-called “weaponised software” is much cheaper than the hardware equivalent. It has been estimated, for example, that Stuxnet cost around the same as a cruise missile – and did far more damage to the Iranian nuclear programme than a cruise missile would have done. Yet the “low cost of entry” in cyber warfare compared with conventional war or nuclear weapons has a serious downside, too. It has opened up the world to a number of powers who were nowhere near getting a bomb or posing a serious military threat to anyone, but who can afford a cyber weapon. Naturally, it is the more developed powers that are most vulnerable to such attacks because of their reliance on computer technology.”

Peter Warren & Michael Streeter. (2013) “Cyber Crime and Warfare.” p.121-2. 

Emergent Play

“Intentional emergence occurs when some creative uses of the game are intended by the game designers. Since the 1970s and 1980s board games and table top role playing games such as Cosmic Encounter or Dungeons & Dragons have featured intentional emergence as a primary game function by supplying players with relatively simple rules or frameworks for play that intentionally encouraged them to explore creative strategies or interactions and exploit them toward victory or goal achievement.”

Wikipedia. Emergent Gameplay,

The Larval Phase of Digital Life

“Sixty-some years ago, biochemical organisms began to assemble digital computers. Now digital computers are beginning to assemble biochemical organisms. Viewed from a distance, this looks like part of a life cycle.  But which part? Are biochemical organisms the larval phase of digital computers? Or are digital computers the larval phase of biochemical organisms?”

George Dyson. “Turing’s Cathedral: The origins of the digital universe”. 2012. p.291

Good bedfellows

“Religion is interested above all in order. It aims to create and maintain the social structure. Science is interested above all in power. It aims to acquire the power to cure diseases, fight wars and produce food. As individuals, scientists and priests may give immense importance to the truth; but as collective institutions, science and religion prefer order and power over truth. They can therefore make good bedfellows. The uncompromising quest for truth is a spiritual journey, which can seldom remain within the confines of either religious or scientific establishments.”

Yuval Noah Harari. “Homo Deus.” 2016, p.198

A System of Moral Laws

“Religion asserts that we humans are subject to a system of moral laws that we did not invent and that we cannot change. A devout Jew would sat that this is the system of moral laws created by God and revealed in the Bible. A Hindu would say that Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva created the laws. which were revealed to us us humans in the Vedas. Other religions, from Buddhism and Daoism to Nazism, communism, liberalism, argue that the superhuman laws are natural laws, and not creation of this or that God. Of course, each believes in  a different set of natural laws discovered and revealed by different seers and prophets, from Buddha and Laozi to Hitler and Lenin.”

Yuval Noah Harari. “Homo Deus.” 2016, p.181

Grip of the Past

“Studying history aims to loosen the grip of the past. It enables us to turn our head this way and that, and begin to notice possibilities that our ancestors could not imagine, or didn’t want us to imagine. By observing the accidental chain of events that led us here, we realise how our very thoughts and dreams took shape- and we begin to think and dream differently. Studying history will not tell use what to choose, but at least it gives us more options.”

Yuval Noah Harari. “Homo Deus.” 2016, p.59

Long threads

“Even at school she had often wished for books with more in them: everything she learned there seemed like the ends of long threads that snapped immediately.”

“If she had been taught ‘real learning and wisdom, such as great men knew,’ she thought she would have held the secrets of life; if she had only books that she might learn for herself what wise men knew! She knew little of saints and martyrs, and had gathered , as a general result of her teaching, that they were a temporary provision against the spread of Catholicism and had all died at Smithfield.”

George Eliot. “Mill on the Floss.” 1860.

Some magic words.

“Could I make tongue say more than tongue could utter! Could I make brain grasp more than brain could think! Could I weave into immortal denseness some small brede of words, pluck out of sunken depths the roots of living, some hundred thousand magic words that were as great as all my hunger, and hurl the sum of all of my living out upon three hundred pages – then death could take my life, for I had lived it ere he took it: I had slain hunger, beaten death!”

Thomas Wolfe. “The Web and The Rock.” 1947

Autobiographies of Great Nations

‘Ruskin said: “Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts, the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others, but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last”  If I must choose a speech of the the housing minister or the buildings he put up, I’ll believe the latter.’

Kenneth Clark. “Skin of our teeth”. Civilisation, 1969. [TV Documentary]

Friends, Routines and Writing

“Apart from a few friends, and many routines, the problematic pursuit of literature constituted the whole of his life; like every other writer, he measured other men’s virtues by what they had accomplished, yet asked that other men measure him by what he planned someday to do.”

Jorge Luis Borges. “The Secret Miracle”. 1943

Goal of Education

“The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursuing his own education.”

J W Gardner

Repetitive work, convention and obligation

“Like many of my fellow citizens of a similar age most of my time was being spent in a sepulchre constructed of repetitive work, convention and obligation and the crumbling bricks and mortar of long years of marriage.

For a large number of people this is no doubt an ideal and noble arrangement blessed by God and man and essential to a decent and stable society.

For others the slow dissolution of independence, the surrender of privacy and individuality, the nagging erosion of love and tolerance are a descent at best to boredom, at worst to continuous conflict fought out in a state of inescapable and soul-destroying proximity…

It may not be quite a definition of slow death – and there are clearly a lot of people who are happy with it – but it is surely a definition of stagnation and immobility. So I decided to come alive again. To move again. I would walk out of my home, out of my marraige, out of my tomb into a totally new environment and a new life.”

Robert Crisp. “Zen and the art of donkey maintenance.” Bloomsbury Reader, 2015, p.xxiv

Kant’s Copernican thought

“But Kant said knowledge, scientific knowledge, objective knowledge, was of appearances, of phenomena that the mind itself has constructed and made agreeable to the mind, subjected to the conditions of the mind, while the true world lies outside the scope of knowledge. There’s a bit more madness: the mark of ‘knowledge’ is that it cannot possibly be of the ‘true’ world.”

John D Caputo. “Truth: Philosophy in Transit.” Penguin, 2013, p.133


  1. Direct treatment of the “thing” whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

Ezra Pound. “A Retrospect”, in T. S. Eliot. (1968). Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions Publishing. 3–5; first published 1918

Exposure to the hazard of refutation

Bold ideas, unjustified anticipations, and speculative thought, are our only means for interpreting nature: our only organon, our only instrument, for grasping her. And we must hazard them to win our prize. Those among us who are unwilling to expose their ideas to the hazard of refutation do not take part in the scientific game.

Karl Popper. The Path of Science. Ch. 10, Section 85, p. 280

Moravec’s paradox

“The main lesson of thirty-five years of AI research is that the hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard. The mental abilities of a four-year-old that we take for granted – recognizing a face, lifting a pencil, walking across a room, answering a question – in fact solve some of the hardest engineering problems ever conceived… As the new generation of intelligent devices appears, it will be the stock analysts and petrochemical engineers and parole board members who are in danger of being replaced by machines. The gardeners, receptionists, and cooks are secure in their jobs for decades to come.”

Steven Pinker. The Language Instinct

“it is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.”

Moravec, Hans (1988), Mind Children, Harvard University Press

Creative workers

“If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.”

Attributed to John Cleese, quoted in “Best New Games” (2002) by Dale N. LeFevre, p. 9

A demagogue

A demagogue, in addition to hypnotic glibness, must also be intellectually inconsistent, sometimes boldly so. This eliminates challenges to authority by weeding out clear-thinking young people from the flock.

One nation under Galt: How Ayn Rand’s toxic philosophy permanently transformed America

Human spirit is my bourgeois luxury

“… I tried to work out how I felt about being in the slum. First of all I felt alienated; I believe that emanated from disgust at my rich and privileged life. I also felt despair. Nobody except the likes of Father Tony was ever going to do anything for them – and there were few like him. Their lives were never going to get any easier, or less anguished, or more comfortable. The power of despair to diminish struck me very hard during that bus journey.

Once the two eldest children were running along their street, bursting to tell their mother what they had been doing, I thought, conversely, that being with Evelyn gave me hope for the human spirit. I suspect now that hope was my bourgeois luxury.”

Sara Wheeler, “Chile: travels in a thin country”, 2006, p295.

Continuity of human desire

“It is by focusing on the continuity of human desire that we can best understand what the next disruption might be. The technology may be new but, except perhaps for the earliest adopters who eagerly look to beyond the edge of their comfort zones, our needs and desires have inertia. We expect the technology to shape itself to us, to our existing needs and modus operandi. The new tech must first disguise itself in familiar clothes – skueomorphs, the functionally unnecessary design cues given to new technologies so we know how to place them, such as the Kindle’s aping of print. Only then, once it’s found a place in the world, does a new technology start to change these needs, and our expectations of how they should be fulfilled.”

Tamar Kasriel, “Spot the future – it looks much like the present” Wired, Oct 2012, pp67-68.

Formal and everyday knowledge

“Scholars and academics naturally tend to believe that formal knowledge is the most important way of knowing, and perhaps they are right, yet even so it is not formal but common knowledge which informs nearly all the day-to-day decisions and actions people take, even the most learned among them.”

William Gosling, “Helmsmen and Heroes – Control Theory as a Key to Past and Future”, 1995

Society is a public project

In a networked society, who among us gets to decide where the moral boundaries lie? This isn’t an easy question and it’s at the root of how we, as a society, conceptualize justice.

Governance and the construction of a society is not a fact of life; it’s a public project that we must continuously make and remake. Networked technologies are going to increasingly put pressure on our regulatory structures as conflicting social values crash into one another. In order to benefit from innovation, we must also suffer the destabilizing aspects of new technology.

Yet … that destabilizion and suffering allows us, as a society, to interrogate our collective commitments. The hard moral conundrums are just beginning.

Danah Boy, “Truth, Lies, and ‘Doxxing’: The Real Moral of the Gawker/Reddit Story,29 October 2012.

Interfaces get in the way

“The real problem with the interface is that it is an interface. Interfaces get in the way. I don’t want to focus my energies on an interface. I want to focus on the job…I don’t want to think of myself as using a computer, I want to think of myself as doing my job.”

Donald a Norman. The Art of Human-Computer Design. 1990, p.210

Proud of his friends

“Every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it. They alone take his meaning; they find private messages, assurances of love, and expressions of gratitude, dropped for them in every corner. The public is but a generous patron who defrays the postage. Yet though the letter is directed to all, we have an old and kindly custom of addressing it on the outside to one. Of what shall a man be proud, if he is not proud of his friends?”

Robert Louis Stevenson. Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes.

Never solved by thinking hard

“Randomised trials are catching on, and many objections boil down to a single point: how can we justify trials when we already know the answer? But we often know less than we realise. In a complex world, it’s rare that we can figure out answers by sitting in an armchair and thinking hard.”

Tim Harford. The Undercover Economist: The complex world of the policy maker. FT Weekend Magazine, August 18/19 2012.

Reading by Satisficing

“Satisficing – reading through a text until the rate of information gain drops below a threshold and then skipping to the next section of text.”

Geoffrey B Duggan & Stephen J Payne.
“Skim Reading by Satisficing: Evidence from Eye Tracking.” Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference on Human factors in computing systems.

What I express appears in the picture

“Words are no help to me when I try to speak about my painting, they talk around the picture. What I have to express appears in the picture.”

Alberto Burri

Searching: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

  • Only librarians like to search, everyone else prefers to find.
  • One place to search is better than two.
  • Good enough is just that.
  • If you can’t centralize metadata, centralize searching.

Roy Tennant, “Federated Searching: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” 2010.

Causation: a slippery story, a catchy conjecture

…causes are a strange kind of knowledge. This was first pointed out by David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher. Hume realized that, although people talk about causes as if they are real facts—tangible things that can be discovered—they’re actually not at all factual. Instead, Hume said, every cause is just a slippery story, a catchy conjecture, a “lively conception produced by habit.” When an apple falls from a tree, the cause is obvious: gravity. Hume’s skeptical insight was that we don’t see gravity—we see only an object tugged toward the earth. We look at X and then at Y, and invent a story about what happened in between. We can measure facts, but a cause is not a fact—it’s a fiction that helps us make sense of facts.

Jonah Lehrer Trials And Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us, Wired, 28 January 2010

Free Internet

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

Andrew Lewis MetaFilter, August 26, 2010

The thing knowledge cannot eat

“In the culture of my people, the Dagara, we have no word for the supernatural. The closest we come to this concept is Yielbongura, ‘the thing that knowledge can’t eat.’ This word suggests that the life and power of certain things depend upon their resistance to the kind of categorizing knowledge that human being apply to everything. In Western reality, there is a clear split between the spiritual and the material, between religious life and secular life. This concept is alien to the Dagara. For us, as for many indigenous cultures, the supernatural is part of our everyday lives. To a Dagara man or woman, the material is just as the spiritual taking on form”

Malidoma Patrice Some “Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman

A solitary peak of perfection

“Silently, he would place two chairs opposite each other, put me in the one facing the light, sit himself in the other, and then ponder me long and sadly while I played [my guitar]. Infinite compassion, as from one who has seen much suffering, possessed his face while he listened. An expression also of one who, forced to inhabit a solitary peak of perfection, has nowhere to look but downwards at the waste of a fumbling world.”

Laurie Lee “A Rose for Winter: travels in Andalusia.” 1987, p.43

To renounce as though it was no renunciation

“To live in the world as though it were not the world, to respect the law and yet to stand above it, to have possessions as though ‘one possessed nothing’, to renounce as though it was no renunciation, all these favourite and often formulated propositions of an exalted worldly wisdom, it is in the power of humour alone to make efficacious.”

Herman Hesse – “Steppenwolfe” Penguin, 1965, p.67

Making a Difference

“I don’t feel very brave, just rather weary.  You know, to live for along time, Doctor,  is not in itself an achievement. It’s really what you do with your life. In my small way I may have made a small difference in people’s lives.”

Gervase Phinn – “All these lonely people” Penguin, 2009, p.78.

Wandervogel Years

Behind me stretched an aimless, six-year, expatriate trail through the South Seas, Asia, and Latin America that began when divorce and its inevitable byproducts – second thoughts, solitude, and the taste of ashes in the mouth – spread a shadow over every corner of my life and seduced me with a lie: that the sun had stopped shining where I was and that I must go seek it elsewhere. The wounded drift downhill, and so did I. I headed south, a middle-aged dropout, dazzled by visions of healing blue waves and waving palms. On one alien strand and then another, and another, the waves broke and the palms waved and my capital dwindled. The memory of those Wandervogel years has faded badly. About all I remember now are too many cold beers on hot tropical nights, too many bottles of guaro and arak beras, and an endless procession of hollow days, one just like the other, while I waited, with mounting agitation, for the sun to burst through the clouds that I had brought along with me.

John Brooke. “The Gentle Art of Poverty.” The Atlantic, October 1977.

Powers of Observation

“Rivers notes the Papuans’ great powers of observation, as distinguished from an unexceptional visual acuity, and recognizes that these powers derive from the islanders’ knowledge of and attention to critical details in each visual field. He concludes that the close attention to detail required of ‘those who live in a state of nature’ inhibits ‘higher mental development… If too much energy is expended on the sensory foundation, it is natural that the intellectual superstructure should suffer’. Some years later, in conversation with Robert Graves, he contrasts what he regards as the abstract, imageless thought processes of the scientist and mathematician with the detailed visual and auditory imagination of the poet. Graves probably would have accepted, if Rivers had offered it, an equation between the mind of the ‘native’ and that of the poet.

Richard Slobodin. “W H R Rivers Pioneer Anthropologist, Psychiatrist of the The Ghost Road.” 2nd ed. p25.

Appetite for Distractions

Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, Foreword

Brand Cipher

“The salient point is the way to run a product successfully is to treat it as a product and not as a brand cipher.

It’s not that is too big, it’s just badly designed and is run as a brand cipher rather than an information source. That is to say, you go to to find out some information you need but all you get is force fed the your-brandphilosophy and the information is somehow ancillary.”

Anne, June 2010, Colleague


“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.”

J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, March 1941

To Love Nature

“I believe that sight is a more important thing than the drawing; and I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love Nature, than teach the looking at Nature that they may learn to draw”

John Ruskin. “The Elements of Drawing” p. xv-xvi , 1892.

Creative Love

“The meaning of life is creative love. Not love as an inner feeling, as a private sentimental emotion, but love as a dynamic power moving out into the world and doing something original.”

Tom Morris, “If Aristotle ran General Motors

Ocean of Truth

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me”

Isaac Newton


“Be yourself. You will not understand this bit of advice until you understand yourself. Give it 20 years or so. Maybe more. I didn’t get this one until I fell in love and someone was there to tell me that my tendencies were OK and not annoying. Love is really acceptance at its core.”

Gism Butte


“The ‘Truth’ is equal to one’s initial observations plus the corrections discovered through added experience or knowledge”

R B Buckner, “Surveying measurements and their analysis” Diagram: “The Truth is equal to one’s initial observations”

Passion, Drama and Love

“I had imagined that passion, drama, and love were all one and the same – proof that the others existed. But the opposite was true: drama and passion are just very clever disguises for a love that has never taken root.”

Kathleen Tessaro, “Elegance: True love never goes out of fashion.” BCA, 2003. (p.83-84)

Inner Character

“When you begin working on a role, you test out approaches; some may work better than others, some may not work at all. Then, one day, the external attitude — an outwardly worked-out technical attitude — suddenly leads you to the inner attitude, the inner situation, the inner pattern of behavior of the entire character. The same thing can happen the other way around, when through an inner drive you jump into the character all at once and the external expression is determined instantly by your inner being. But a technical attitude always leads to a spiritual change; as a technical as you may be about it, it has an effect on you. You conduct yourself differently, your inner bearing is suddenly another – and whether you can ever shed it completely, I don’t know.”

Kenneth Jacobson, “Embattled Selves: An investigation into the nature of identity through oral histories of holocaust survivors.”, 1994.

Learned Men

“From all I hear of Leibniz he must be very intelligent, and pleasant company in consequence. It is rare to find learned men who are clean, do not stink, and have a sense of humour.”

Liselotte in a letter to Sophie, 30 July 1705. Quoted in “Quicksilver” by Neal Stephenson.

Fluid of Fertility

“No miser with his hoard of gold can feel the pleasure which comes to Esme and me as we stroll now through our doubled flock. The farm has given birth, and we identify ourselves with its labour. We have shared many of the pangs. There is no greed in our eyes as we survey the teeming land; rather are we humbled before the courage, persistence, and simplicity of nature. We have been privileged, for the gods have performed before us the great play of life. A gigantic orgasm has been succeeded by a gigantic birth. The fluid of fertility has been poured over the hills and valleys by firm hands whose generosity shames humanity. We feel that we have assisted at a miracle. And, of course, we have.”

Thomas Firbank, “I Bought a Mountain”, 1940. Wikipedia entry on Thomas Firbank

Recursive Observation

“Our robot fly has materialized into a world where it so happens that the first group of inhabitants we come across is studying another world they have discovered – a world in which the inhabitants they watch are studying a report they have obtained from another world.”

Brian W Aldiss, Report from Probability A

Struggling Pig – Lord of the Flies

“He noticed Ralph’s scarred nakedness, and the sombre silence of all four of them. He sought, charitable in his happiness, to include them in the thing that had happened. His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink.

He spread his arms wide.

‘You should have seen the blood!’ ”

William Golding. Lord of the Flies

Two Worlds – Lord of the Flies

“There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhiliration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled common-sense.”

William Golding. Lord of the Flies

Endless Cycles

“Up to then he had gone forward through the heedless season of early youth – along a road which to children seems infinite, where the years slip past slowly and with quiet pace so that no one notices them go. We walk along calmly, looking curiously around us; there is not the least need to hurry, no one pushes us on from behind and no one is waiting for us; our comrades, too, walk on thoughtlessly, and often stop to joke and play. From the houses, in the doorways, the grown-up people greet us kindly and point to the horizon with an understanding smile. And so the heart begins to beat with desires at once heroic and tender, we feel that we are on the threshold of the wonders awaiting us further on. As yet we do not see them, that is true – but it is certain, absolutely certain that one day we shall reach them.”

The Tartar Steppe, Dino Buzzati. Edinburgh: Canongate. 2007 p.51

Endless Cycles

“The contractions of the adiabatic clouds were the expression of this periodicity, of the cyclic nature of time, in the same way the seasons are. Cycles, endless cycles. Everything moved and nothing changed. This thought made Carmichael euphoric: What we call ‘time’ isn’t chronological but spatial; what we call ‘death’ is merely a transition between different kinds of matter. ”

The Theory of Clouds, Stephane Audeguy

Umberto Eco’s Anti-Library

“The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means… allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary

The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Farnam Street

Earth is Truly Beautiful

“As he sat there beside that young woman who seemed so beautiful at daybreak, soothed and enchanted at the sight of those magical surroundings – sea, mountains, clouds, wide skies – Gurov reflected that, if one thought hard about it, everything on earth was truly beautiful except those things we ourselves think of and do when we forget the higher aims of existence and our human dignity.”

The Lady with the Little Dog, Anton Chekov

Trivial Nonsense

“What meaningless nights, what dismal, unmemorable days! Frenetic card games, gluttony, constant conversations about the same old thing. Those pointless business affairs and perpetual conversations – always on the same theme – were commandeering the best part of his time, his best strength, so that in the end there remained only a limited, humdrum life, just trivial nonsense.”

The Lady with the Little Dog, Anton Chekov

Getting Noticing

“… if Jesus Christ had died in prison, with no one watching and no one to mourn or torture him, would we be saved?”

Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk, Vintage, 2003, p.152

Finishing Something

“Since change is constant, you wonder if people crave death because it’s the only way they can get anything really finished.”

Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk, Vintage, 2003, p.150

Brief Squabbles

“…the little life she lured him back to with the good sense of a woman who doesn’t believe in the other worlds, who knows there is only this world and that numbing routines and brief squabbles and financial worries are an essential part of it, that in spite of the aches and boredoms and disappointments, living in this world is the closest we will ever come to seeing paradise.”

Man in the Dark, Paul Auster, Faber & Faber, 2008, p.97

Rotten Acts

“…there’s something naive and fragile about her, and I wish to God she would learn that the rotten acts human beings commit against one another are not just aberrations – they’re an essential part of who we are.”

Man in the Dark, Paul Auster, Faber & Faber, 2008, p.46

Listless Playthings of Enormous Forces

“There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, 1969

Robots with Halitosis

[The book] “was about a robot who had bad breath, who became popular after his halitosis was cured. … [The book] predicted the widespread use of burning jellied gasoline on human beings.

It was dropped on them from airplanes. Robots did the dropping. They had no conscience, and no circuits which would allow them to imagine what was happening to the people on the ground.

Trout’s leading robot looked like a human being, and could talk and dance and so on, and go out with girls. And nobody held it against him that he dropped jellied gasoline on people. But they found his halitosis unforgivable. But then he cleared that up, and he was welcomed to the human race.”

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, 1969

A Writer and his Public

“Trout told him that he had never seen a book of his advertised, reviewed, or on sale. ‘All these years,’ he said, ‘I’ve been opening the window and making love to the world.’ ”

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, 1969

Too Many Words

“There are far too many people born into the world, and far too many words written. Millions and millions of them pouring from the presses every minute. It’s a horrible thought.”

The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey, 1951


“A man who is interested in what makes people tick doesn’t write history. He writes novels, or becomes an alienist, or a magistrate… A man who understands about people hasn’t any yen to write history. History is toy soldiers.”

The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey, 1951

Absence of Trust

“In the absence of trust the pursuit of myopic self interest is the only
strategy that makes sense.”

This, rather than Sveiby’s “trust is the bandwidth of communication”, explains why knowledge sharing initiatives are a waste of time and money in (most) enterprises where there is a culture of mistrust.

The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few. James Surowiecki – quoted by Frank Ryan on km4dev


“Electronic searching means that no relevant paper is likely to go unread, but narrowing the definition of ‘relevance’ risks reducing the cross-fertilisation of ideas that sometimes leads to big, unexpected advances. As a wag once put it, an expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until, eventually, he knows everything about nothing. It would be ironic if that is the sort of expertise that the world wide web is creating.”

Great minds think (too much) alike The Economist, 31 July 2008, p.82

Blaming others

“…she found herself without the solace of being able to blame her own unhappiness on others, a solace which is the last protective device of the desperate.”

Tomasi di Lampedusa “The Leopard”, Vintage 2007, p.208


“Whatever the truth may be about love, there is certainly such a thing as friendship at first sight. They liked each other’s voices, they liked each other’s way of smiling and speaking.”

H G Wells “The History of Mr Polly”, Penguin 1946. p185


“The death of Socrates was too much for the herbalist; he had given up and was fast asleep. Father Pirrone noticed this and was pleased, for now he would be able to talk freely without fear of being misunderstood; and he felt a need of talking, so as to fix into a pattern of phrases some ideas obscurely milling in his head.”

Tomasi di Lampedusa “The Leopard”, Vintage 2007. p.150


A definition of perfection is that it has no opposite. There is imperfection, but this is merely the absence of perfection.

Perfection is, to my mind, unobtainable. It is an ideal dangled before us mortals, to encourage us always to be in a state of failure.

Café Philo Discussion, 23 Jan 2008


“All the best books I have read, were when I was sixteen.”

Adam, Participant at a Book Club.

Imagination — Stephen Fry

“Much of success in life comes from being able to put yourself in the shoes of another: in the shoes of a prince or a pauper, a dictator or a dick-head, a burgomaster or a burger-flipper, regardless of degree, status or esteem, it’s what imagination means – the ability to penetrate the consciousness and experience of another. It’s perhaps the defining characteristic of the artist. So, rather than look at fame from the outside which we can all do (only members of a royal family are born famous after all) try in the following paragraphs to look at fame from the inside. I’m not suggesting this because I think famous people need especial understanding or sympathy, it’s just that I suspect much of what’s written below will make more sense that way. Besides, isn’t it the best way to read anything? Only resentful bores and bitter egoists see everything from their own point of view, surely?”

Let FameBlessays, Blogs & Blisquisitions (2007)

Security is the most important thing in life.

“At the turn of the new millennium, the World Bank collected the voices of more than 60,000 poor women and men from 60 countries, in an unprecedented effort to understand poverty from the perspective of the poor themselves.

‘Voices of the Poor’, chronicles the struggles and aspirations of poor people for a life of dignity. Poor people are the true poverty experts. Poor men and women reveal, in particular, that poverty is multidimensional and complex — raising new challenges to local, national and global decision-makers. Poverty is voicelessness. It’s powerlessness. It’s insecurity and humiliation, say the poor across five continents.”

Voices of the Poor, World Bank (2000)

The Rose that Never saw a Gardner Die — Diderot

“If Heraclitus were right, even the constants upon which science depends would have a shelf life. Practically, that might not worry us too much: a landscape does not have to be unchanging for us to be able to find our way about in it. It just has to change slowly, in human terms, so that things are constant enough for us to rely upon them. We may mistake anything that changes this slowly for permanence. (In D’Alembert DreamDiderot christens this mistake the ‘fallacy of the ephemeral’, giving the lovely illustration… of the rose who said that as fas as any rose could remember, no gardener had ever died.”

Simon Blackburn “Truth” Penguin Books, 2006. p.101

Happiness — André Gide

“Our happiness, during this last part of the trip, was so untroubled, so calm , that I have nothing to tell about it. The loveliest creations of man are persistently painful. What would be the description of happiness? Nothing, except what prepares and then what destroys it, can be told.”

André Gide “The Immoralist” Bantam Modern Classics, 1970. p.43

A Dull Mind and Inference — George Eliot

“A dull mind, once arriving at an inference that flatters desire, is rarely able to retain the impression that the notion from which the inference started was purely problematic. And Dunstan’s mind was a dull as the mind of a possible felon usually is. ”

George Eliot “Silas Marner” Everyman’s Library: 1993, p.43

The Glue of Meaning — George Eliot

“..meanin’ goes but a little way i’ most things, for you may mean to stick things together and your glue may be bad, and then where are you? And so I says to mysen, “It isn’ the meanin’ it’s the glue.”

George Eliot “Silas Marner” Everyman’s Library: 1993, p.56.

Souvenirs of the way we Felt — Economist

“…they want paper books for what digitisation is revealing them to be. Books are not primarily artefacts, nor necessarily vehicles for ideas. Rather, as Mr Godin puts it, they are “souvenirs of the way we felt” when we read something. That is something that people are likely to go on buying.”

Source of Quote

The Simple Art of Murder — Raymond Chandler

“In her introduction to the first Omnibus of Crime, Dorothy Sayers wrote: “It (the detective story) does not, and by hypothesis never can, attain the loftiest level of literary achievement.” And she suggested somewhere else that this is because it is a “literature of escape” and not “a literature of expression.” I do not know what the loftiest level of literary achievement is: neither did Aeschylus or Shakespeare; neither does Miss Sayers. Other things being equal, which they never are, a more powerful theme will provoke a more powerful performance. Yet some very dull books have been written about God, and some very fine ones about how to make a living and stay fairly honest. It is always a matter of who writes the stuff, and what he has in him to write it with. As for literature of expression and literature of escape, this is critics’ jargon, a use of abstract words as if they had absolute meanings. Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality; there are no dull subjects, only dull minds. All men who read escape from something else into what lies behind the printed page; the quality of the dream may be argued, but its release has become a functional necessity. All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts. It is part of the process of life among thinking beings. It is one of the things that distinguish them from the three-toed sloth; he apparently — one can never be quite sure — is perfectly content hanging upside down on a branch, and not even reading Walter Lippmann. I hold no particular brief for the detective story as the ideal escape. I merely say that all reading for pleasure is escape, whether it be Greek, mathematics, astronomy, Benedetto Croce, or The Diary of the Forgotten Man. To say otherwise is to be an intellectual snob, and a juvenile at the art of living.”

Source of Quote

Antic Past — Laurie Lee

“The village in fact was like a deep-running cave still linked to its antic past, a cave whose shadows were still cluttered by spirts and by laws still vaguely ancestral. This cave that we inhabited looked backwards through chambers that led to our ghostly beginnings; and had not, as yet, been tidied up, or scrubbed clean by electric light, or suburbanized by a Victorian church, or papered by cinema screens.

It was something we just had time to inherit, to inherit and dimly know — the blood and beliefs of generations who had been in this valley since the Stone Age. That continuous contact has a last been broken, the deeper caves sealed off for ever. But arriving, as I did, at the end of that age, I caught whiffs of something old as the glaciers. There were ghosts in the stones, in the trees, and the walls, and each field and hill had several. The elder people knew these things and would refer to them impersonal terms, and there were certain landmarks about the valley — tree-clumps, corners in woods — that bore separate, antique, half-muttered names that were certainly older than Christian. The women in their talk still used these names which are not used now any more. There was also a frank and unfearful attitude to death, and an acceptance of violence as a kind of ritual which no one accused or pardoned.”

Laurie Lee Cider with Rosie Penguin: 1974 p.104-5

Mankind’s Alternatives — Pliny

“And Pliny leaves mankind this only alternative; either of doing what deserves to be written, or of writing what deserves to be read.”

Lord Chesterfield’s Letters

When I Have Ceased to Be — Andre Gide

“You who will come when I have ceased to hear the noises of this earth and taste its dew upon my lips, it is for you I write these pages; for perhaps you are not sufficiently amazed at being alive; you do no wonder as you should at this astounding miracle of your life.”

Rare revolving reads — Rachel McAlpine

“Charming, neurotic Proust acts on me as a kind of drug. I read a few lines, and drift into a daydream. When ‘reading’ Proust, I spend more time meditating on my own parallel internal experience than actually looking at the words.Online, most of us don’t want a compelling read: we want information fast, or we want to get a job done, fast. But some online content does grab people so they revisit again and again.Games, for instance. And it strikes me that the rare revolving reads involve us in exactly the same way as games do. Reading is never passive, but those rare revolving reads get us actively working, choosing, deciding, comparing, planning, dreaming, and thinking our own thoughts. Like a game does.”

Source of Quote – Contented blog

We rationalists are the oppressed minority — Jon Ronson

“I pause, stare out of the window, and clean my glasses. “They’re indicative of a whole New Irrationality sweeping the land,” I think. “Yes, that’s it. This is a cultural shift I’m identifying. Nowadays everyone’s either a conspiracy theorist or a believer in mysticism or the paranormal or a religious zealot. What’s happened to the enlightenment? Where is our voice? Nowadays, we rationalists are the oppressed minority.”I stare out of the window a bit more. Then I have a very significant thought: “It is time for rational, sceptical people like me to get off the fence and make ourselves known. It is time for us to be publicly and assertively rational.”I’m serious. And I know how to do it. I determine that, from this moment forth, whenever I meet someone with irrational beliefs, I’ll patiently take the time to sit them down and point out to them why the things they believe are nutty and stupid.”

Source of Quote

On Design — Daveybot

“I mean plenty of people think that the deisgn of a computer or a kettle is unimportant, but they’re wrong. No, it’s not a matter of opinion – they’re wrong. A computer screen is the single item I look at more than anything else on the planet – it had damn well better be beautiful. Jonathan Ive deserves a knighthood for his work at Apple if you ask me, and let’s not forget that design is about more than appearances. The main reason the iPod is the best mp3 player out there is because it’s so frickin intuitive to use, and the same goes for most of their other products too. Ever compared the power draw between an iMac and Dell’s or Gateway’s simlarly specced offerings? Guess which uses the least – it’s the one that’s been designed properly.”

Source of Quote

Dreams of a Final Theory — Steven Weinberg

“Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find God wherever they look for him. One hears it said that ‘God is the ultimate’ or ‘God is our better nature’ or ‘God is the universe.’ Of course, like any other word, the word ‘God’ can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say that ‘God is energy, ‘ then you can find God in a lump of coal.”

All Other Possible Gods — Stephen Roberts

“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

Source of Quote

A Teapot Orbiting The Sun — Bertrand Russell

“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 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.”

Library — Matthew Battles

“…natural philosophers of the Latin Medieval Ages… held that three classes of substance were capable of magic: the herbal, the mineral, and the verbal. With their leaves of fiber, their inks of copperas and soot, and their words, books are an amalgm of the three. The notion that words, like plants and stones have existences independent of our uttering them — that they have power and do things in the world — is a commonplace in many traditions. Brought together in multitudes, heaped up and pared down, read and forgotten, library books take on lives and histories of thier own, not as texts but as physical objects in the world.”

Matthew Battles. Library: an unquiet history Vintage: 2004 (p.10)

Slum Girl — George Orwell

“She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye. She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever-seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that ‘It isn’t the same for them as it would be for us,’ and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her — understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.”

George Orwell. “The Road to Wigan Pier”

The Selfish Gene — Richard Dawkins

“We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.”

The view from Dawkins’ mountain — Daniel Dennett

“Homo sapiens, is exceptional: of all the species on the planet, it is the only species that has evolved that can understand that it’s one of the fruits on the tree of life. We are unique in that regard. It is human language and culture that has made this possible. Not just our brain power, but the fact that we have a division of labor — because we have language and culture we can fill our brains with the fruits of the labors of everybody else on earth, not merely those who are our ancestors.”

Source of Quote