If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Category: Science

W. M. Priestley – Calculus: A Liberal Art (1998)

The purpose of education is to learn to tell the truth, and mathematics—if taught for its own sake—promotes this end by helping students to sharpen their intuition, to learn to reason better, to recognize valid reasoning, and to write and say more precisely what they intend. Such an education is essential to freedom, for without knowing how to tell the truth one is easily boxed in by sophistries. … Nothing is more abhorrent to Plato than the Sophists who use their art of persuasion to empower themselves through deliberately deceptive arguments with no concern for truth or other ultimate ends such as goodness and beauty.

W. M. Priestley – Calculus: A Liberal Art (1998)

A surprising amount of mathematics consists in simply saying the same thing in many different ways, until it is finally said in a way that makes it simple.

Daniel Dennett – The Mind’s I (1981)

Still, the storytelling side of science is not just peripheral, and not just pedagogy, but the very point of it all. Science properly done is one of the humanities, as a fine physics teacher once said.

from the reflections on Hofstadter’s “A Conversation with Einstein’s Brain”

Daniel Dennett – The Mind’s I (1981)

Science advances haltingly, bumping against the boundaries of the unthinkable: the things declared impossible because they are currently unimaginable.

from the reflections on Hofstadter’s “A Conversation with Einstein’s Brain”

Daniel Dennett – The Mind’s I (1981)

The problems of transferring massive amounts of information between structurally different brains – such as yours and ours – are not insurmountable. The technology that already exists for accomplishing that task may, however, turn out in the end to be the most efficient possible. One of the most recent and advanced examples of that technology is in your hands at this instant.

from the reflections on an excerpt from Justin Leiber’s Beyond Rejection (1980)

Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene (1976)

Elizabeth II is a direct descendent of William the Conqueror. Yet it is quite probable that she bears not a single one of the old king’s genes. We should not seek immortality in reproduction.

But if you contribute to the world’s culture, if you have a good idea, compose a tune, invent a spark plug, write a poem, it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dissolved in the common pool. Socrates may or may not have a gene or two alive in the world today, as G. C. Williams has remarked, but who cares? The meme-complexes of Socrates, Leonardo, Copernicus, and Marconi are still going strong.

excerpt appears in The Mind’s I, ed. Daniel Dennett and Douglas R. Hofstadter, 1981

Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene (1976)

The trouble with overt trial is that it takes time and energy. The trouble with overt error is that it is often fatal. Simulation is both safer and faster.

excerpt appears in The Mind’s I, ed. Daniel Dennett and Douglas R. Hofstadter, 1981

Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene (1976)

Human suffering has been caused because too many of us cannot grasp that words are only tools for our use, and that the mere presence in the dictionary of a word like “living” does not mean it necessarily has to refer to something definite in the real world.

excerpt appears in The Mind’s I, ed. Daniel Dennett and Douglas R. Hofstadter, 1981

A. M. Turing – “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (1950)

The original question, “Can machines think?” I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion. Nevertheless I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted. I believe further that no useful purpose is served by concealing these beliefs. The popular view that scientists proceed inexorably from well-established fact to well-established fact, never being influenced by any unproved conjecture, is quite mistaken. Provided it is made clear which are proved facts and which are conjectures, no harm can result. Conjectures are of great importance since they suggest useful lines of research.

excerpt appears in The Mind’s I, ed. Daniel Dennett and Douglas R. Hofstadter, 1981

Douglas Hofstadter – Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979)

The first human to conceive of the immense computing potential of machinery was the Londoner Charles Babbage (1792-1871). A character who could almost have stepped out of the pages of the Pickwick Papers, Babbage was most famous during his lifetime for his vigorous campaign to rid London of “street nuisances”—organ grinders above all. These pests, loving to get his goat, would come and serenade him at any time of day or night, and he would furiously chase them down the street.