If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Category: General

Alan Lightman – Dance for Two (1996)

When we finally do the experiment, we relish the knowledge. At one time or another, we have all learned something for ourselves, from the ground floor up, taking no one’s word for it. There is a special satisfaction and joy in being able to tell somebody something you have pieced together from scratch, something you really know. I think that exhilaration is a big reason why people do science.

Alan Lightman – Dance for Two (1996)

…Eventually, a large fraction of the trillion neurons in the man’s brain become involved with computing the visual and auditory data just acquired. Sodium and potassium gates open and close. Electrical currents speed along neuron fibers. Molecules flow from one nerve ending to the next.

All of this is known. What is not known is why, after about a minute, the man walks over to the woman and smiles.

Alan Lightman – Dance for Two (1996)

But I did not possess that peculiar knack for making things work. I could write poetry, I could play “Clair de Lune” on the piano, but I could not make things work.

…But it also occurred to me that we theorists were needed to make sure the moon would be there at the same time the astronauts were. There are abstractionists and there are tinkerers, and I was not unhappy to have discovered my lot.

Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World (1995)

Despite plentiful opportunities for misuse, science can be the golden road out of poverty and backwardness for emerging nations. … The corollary, one that the United States sometimes fails to grasp, is that abandoning science is the road back into poverty and backwardness.

Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World (1995)

You can often see error bars in public opinion polls (“an uncertainty of plus or minus 3 percent,” say). Imagine a society in which every speech in the Congressional Record, every television commercial, every sermon had an accompanying error bar or its equivalent.

Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World (1995)

We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements – transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertaining, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting – profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World (1995)

Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.

Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World (1995)

We’re good in some things, but not in everything. Wisdom lies in understanding our limitations.

Edmund Way Teale – Circle of the Seasons (1953)

It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it.

Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World (1995)

Emerging from a particularly credulous Southern California culture, Nancy and Ronald Reagan relied on an astrologer in private and public matters – unknown to the voting public. Some portion of the decision-making that influences the future of our civilization is plainly in the hands of charlatans.