If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Tag: social critique

Robert Jordan – The Fires of Heaven (1993)

Nynaeve shook her head. She supposed it was one way to find money for the poor. Simply rob anyone who was not poor. Of course, that would just make everyone poor in the end, but it might work for a time. She wondered if Uno and Ragan knew the whole of it. People who claimed they were collecting money to help others often had a way of letting a good bit stick in their own pockets, or else they liked the power that spreading it about gave them, liked it far too much. She had better feeling for the man who freely gave one copper from his own purse than for the fellow who wrested a gold crown from someone else’s.

Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

Those who would caution people that it might be counter-productive to work against the arms race—unless they believe one should work for the arms race—are in effect counseling paralysis. But would they do so in other areas of life? You never know if that car trip to the grocery store won’t be the last thing you do in your life. All life is a gamble.

What it seems to me is needed is a healthy dose of indignation: a spark, a flame, a fire inside.

Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

Once you know you are a typical member of a class of individuals, you must act as if your own individual actions were to be multiplied manyfold, because they inevitably will be. In effect, to sample yourself is to sample the field, and if you fail to do what you wish the rest would do, you will be very disappointed by the rest as well.

Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

Now, why is it good to find a glaring example of something bad? Actually, the answer is very simple. You need outrageously clear examples if you want to convince many people that there is a problem worth taking at all seriously.

Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

Imagine breaking up one second into as many tiny fragments as there are seconds in 30 years. That is how tiny a nanosecond—a billionth of a second—is. To a computer, a second is a lifetime! Of course, the computer is dawdling compared with the events inside the atoms that compose it. Take one atom. A typical electron circling a typical nucleus makes about 1015 orbits per second, which is to say, a million orbits per nanosecond.

Some stars—neutron stars—are so tightly packed that if you could remove from any of them a cube a millimeter on an edge, its mass would be about half a million tons, equal to the mass of the heaviest oil tanker every built, fully loaded!

There are about 25,000 megatons of nuclear weapons in the world [in mid-1982]. … Now if you just say to yourself “one megaton equals Paris’s doom” (or some suitable equivalent), then I think that the phrase “25,000 megatons” will become as vivid as the long string of zeros—in fact, probably more vivid.

Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

Can you imagine how we would react if someone said to us today: “Hey, everybody! I’ve come up with a really nifty invention. Unfortunately, it has a minor defect—every twelve years or so it will wipe out about as many Americans as the population of San Francisco. But wait a minute! Don’t go away! The rest of you will love it, I promise!” Now, these statistics are accurate for cars. And yet we seldom hear people chanting, “No cars is good cars!” How many bumper stickers have you seen that say, “No more cars!”? Somehow, collectively, we are willing to absorb the loss of 50,000 lives per year without any serious worry. And imagine that half of this—25,000 needless deaths—is due to drunks behind the wheel. Why aren’t you just fuming?

Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

Our society does a rather poor job of making us aware of, let alone interested in, the nature of common sense, the hidden assumptions that permeate thought, the complex mechanisms of sensory perception and category systems, the will to believe, the human tendency toward gullibility, the most typical flaws in arguments, the statistical inferences we make unconsciously, the vastly different temporal and spatial scales on which one can look at the universe, the many filters through which one can perceive and conceptualize people and events, and so on. … Of course everyone labors under some delusions, avoids certain kinds of thoughts, has an overly closed mind on this or that subject. What, however, are the consequences when this is multiplied by hundreds or thousands of millions, and all the small pieces are woven together into a vast fabric?

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Two Towers (1954)

It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace—all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind.

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Two Towers (1954)

‘Perilous to us all are the devices of an art deeper than we possess ourselves.’

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Hobbit (1937)

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

–Thorin, to Bilbo, after the Battle of the Five Armies