If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Category: General

Michio Kaku – Physics of the Future (2011)

Beginning in 1405, the Yongle emperor of China ordered a massive naval armada, the largest the world had ever seen, to explore the world. (The three puny naval ships of Columbus would have fit nicely on the deck of just one of these colossal vessels.) Seven massive expeditions were launched, each larger than the previous one. This fleet sailed around the coast of Southeast Asia and reached Africa, Madagascar, and perhaps even beyond that. The fleet brought back a rich bounty of goods, delicacies, and exotic animals from the far reaches of the earth. There are remarkable ancient woodcuts of African giraffes being paraded at a Ming Dynasty zoo.

Michio Kaku – Physics of the Future (2011)

In 2002, with the best demographic data, scientists estimated that 6 percent of all humans who have ever walked the face of the earth are still alive today. This is because the human population hovered at around 1 million for most of human history.

Alan Lightman – Dance for Two (1996)

The field finch is a small sparrow-sized bird with a delicate pointed tail. The bird does not twitter or chirp but instead gives out a continuous drawn-out song. When hundreds sing in unison, the sound is an unbroken chorus, with the effect on the hearing like that of a waterfall on the sight, a multitude of tiny droplets combining to make one sweeping flow.

Alan Lightman – Dance for Two (1996)

Pure science deals in truth, and there is no greater gift we can pass to our descendants….

Hundreds of years from now, when automobiles bore us, we will still treasure the discoveries of Kepler and Einstein, along with the plays of Shakespeare and the symphonies of Beethoven.

Alan Lightman – Dance for Two (1996)

Why should our nation, or any nation, support pure science? Why should a nation pay for an activity that brings it no clear economic or military advantage? Why should a nation support an activity that seems useless?

It seems to me that pure science has several different values. In order of increasing range into the future, pure science entertains us, it provides the soil from which technology grows, it changes our worldview, and it grants us cultural immortality.

Alan Lightman – Dance for Two (1996)

Even in science, our minds can flutter to heights where bodies cannot follow.

Alan Lightman – Dance for Two (1996)

It seems to me that in both science and art we are trying desperately to connect with something–this is how we achieve universality. In art, that something is people, their experiences and sensitivities. In science, that something is nature, the physical world and physical laws.

Alan Lightman – Dance for Two (1996)

After doing science for a number of years, one has the overwhelming feeling that there exists some objective reality outside ourselves, that various discoveries are waiting fully formed, like plums to be picked. If one scientist doesn’t pick a certain plum, the next one will. It is an eerie sensation.

Alan Lightman – Dance for Two (1996)

But we cannot have advances in technology without an accompanying consideration of human values and quality of life.

…Perhaps we each must think about what is truly important in our lives and decide which technologies to accept and which to resist. This is a personal responsibility. In the long run, we need to change our thinking, to realize that we are not only a society of production and technology but also a society of human beings.

Alan Lightman – Dance for Two (1996)

E-mail has undeniable benefits. It is faster than regular mail and cheaper and less obtrusive than the telephone. It can promote conversations among far-flung communities of people, and it can encourage otherwise reticent talkers to speak up, via computer terminals. But E-mail, in my view, also contributes to the haste, the thoughtlessness, and the artificial urgency that increasingly characterize our world.