"Nevertheless, I do not think for a minute that science will ever provide the consolations that have been offered by religion in facing death. The finest statement of this existential challenge that I know is found in 'The Ecclesiastical History of the English', written by the Venerable Bede sometime around A.D. 700. Bede tells how King Edwin of Northumbria held a council in A.D. 627 to decide on the religion to be accepted in his kingdom, and gives the following speech to one of the king's chief men:
Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter's day with your thanes and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for but a little while; but of what came before this life or of what follows, we know nothing.It is an almost irresistable temptation to believe with Bede and Edwin that there must be something for us outside the banqueting-hall. The honor of resisting this temptation is only a thin substitute for the consolations of religion, but it is not entirely without satisfactions of its own."
-- Steven Weinberg, "Dreams of a Final Theory"
[Following a short note about some simple theorems of elementary number theory
which the author rediscovered on his own...]
"...it was with great delight that I disclosed to myself a whole system of numerical behaviour of which my mathematical teachers had left me (I am glad to say) in complete ignorance. ... They had never told me, and I had never suspected, that Numbers play these grave and beautiful games with each other, from everlasting to everlasting, independently (apparently) of time, space, and the human mind."
-- H.D.F. Kitto, "The Greeks"
"Johann Sebastian Bach's most widely known work for organ, the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, was the creation of a musician perhaps not twenty years old. It is justly considered a stroke of genius. The richly dissonant harmonies hark back to Nicholas Bruhns, while the three-part form of the Tocatta and Fugue are reminiscent of the great North German masters Dietrich Buxtehude and Georg Bohn. Yet, not a single work of these earlier composers can be remotely compared to the brilliance of even the very first bars of the Tocatta. Here is elemenal and unbounded power, in impatiently ascending and descending runs and rolling masses of chords, that only with difficulty abates sufficiently to give place to the logic and balance of the Fugue. With the reprise of the initial Toccata, the dramatic idea reaches its culmunation amidst flying scales and with an ending of great sonority."
-- Hans-Joachim Schulze, from the liner notes to "Bach: Great Organ Favourites", by E. Power Biggs, Columbia 42644
"A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the
standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who
have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the
illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked
the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which
is about the scientific equivalent of: 'Have you read a work of
I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question -- such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, 'Can you read?' -- not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had."
-- C.P. Snow, "Two Cultures"
"I have often asked myself whether, given the choice, I would chose to have manic-depressive illness. ... Strangely enough, I think I would chose to have it. It's complicated. Depression is awful beyond words or sounds or images ... So why would I want anything to do with this illness? Because I honestly believe that as a result of it I have felt more things, more deeply; had more experiences, more intensely; ... worn death 'as close as dungarees', appreciated it - and life - more; seen the finest and most terrible in people ... But, normal or manic, I have run faster, thought faster, and lover faster than most I know. And I think much of this is related to my illness - the intensity it gives to things"
-- Kay Redfield Jamison, "An Unquiet Mind"
"Yet sometimes in the night watch, when the Galaxy unrolled its book across a moonless sky, I knew what we were about, and where Socrates was sending us. ... I would feel my soul climb love as a mountain, which at the foot has wide slopes ... but at the top one peak, to which if you go upward all paths lead; and beyond it, the blue ether where the world swims like a fish in its ocean, and the winged soul lies free. And thence returning, for a while I found nothing created I could not love: the comrade I had been angry with in the day, the [enemy] sitting in [their fort] ... Yet I was not drowsy, nor lost in dreams, but saw the night sparkle like a crystal, and every cony stirring, or the silent owl."
-- Mary Renault, "Last of the Wine"
"Werner von Braun died on Thursday, June 16, 1977. He was 65 years old. [In his wallet] was found a clipping, yellowed with age and barely readable for all the handling it had received in the end. It was from Pearl Buck:
'The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To them, a touch is a a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create - so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or building or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off from them. They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating.'"
-- Charles R. Pellegrino, "Chariots for Apollo"
"among horses, those of the finest breeding, which are the most spirited and mettlesome, become the most useful and the best horses if they are broken in as colts; and if they are not broken in, they are intractable and very poor. ... It is the same thing with [people] of the finest breeding, that is to say the bravest in soul, and the best able to carry out what they undertake. If they are educated and learn what they must do, they become the best and most useful, and they do the greatest and the most good. The uneducated and untaught become the most evil and the most harmful, for they do not know how to judge what they should do. They often take part in evil undertakings and, because they are high-spirited and energetic, they are very hard to restrain and very stubborn; therefore they do the greatest evil."
-- Xenophon, "Recollections of Socrates", Bk. 4, Chap. 1,
"We live in a time when 'war' is on everyone's lips ... if their talk be only about the prevention of war. ... They talk much *about* war, but rarely do they talk *of* it - as a subject so serious as to be worth the serious study of every thinking man and woman. ... For the failure to treat it as a branch of scientific knowledge, responsibility lies as much on [those] of learning as on [those] of war. ... The study of war as a branch of knowledge requires the method of work that prevails in a University as well as the attitude of mind which is inculcated there. But it is not likely that these needs will be fulfilled until [scholars] change their attitude of mind towards war, and learn to regard it as a branch of knowledge worthy of exploration."
-- B. H. Liddell Hart, "The Ghost of Napoleon", 1934
"experience has shown that opposite opinions of persons professing to be experts may be obtained to any amount" ... "[cross-examination of all these experts was virtually useless,] wasting the time and wearying the patience of both court and jury, and perplexing, instead of elucidating, the questions involved."
-- U.S. Supreme Court, 1858 (Quoted in Marcia Angell, "Science on Trial")
"When information which properly belongs to the public is systematically withheld by those in power, the people soon become ignorant of their own affairs, distrustful of those who manage them, and - eventually - incapable of determining their own destinies."
-- Richard M. Nixon, "Classification and Declassification of National Security Information and Material", March 8, 1972 (quoted in David Wise, "The Politics of Lying")
"An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning."
-- Max Planck, "The Philosophy of Physics"
"[Theories] are creations of the human mind, and they are not, however it might seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavour to understand reality we are somewhat like a person trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. They see the face and moving hands, but they have no way of opening the case. If they are ingenious they may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things they see, but they may never be quite sure their picture is the only one which will explain their observations. They will never be able to compare their picture with the real mechanism..."
-- Albert Einstein
"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge ... At the stroke of the midnight hour, while the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long surpressed, finds utterance..."
-- Jawaharlal Nehru, August 14, 1947
"Will you not allow that I have as much of the spirit of prophecy in me as the swans? For they, when they perceive that they must die, having sung all their life long, do then sing more than ever... But men ... slanderously affirm of the swans that they sing a lament at the last, not considering that no bird sings when cold, or hungry, or in pain..."
-- Plato, "Phaedo"
"... I sought chill comfort in an analogy .. that has been with me for
years. It doesn't explain or justify. It just seems to remind me of how
Picture a very swift torrent, a river rushing down between rocky walls. There is a long, shallow bar of sand and gravel that runs right down the middle of the river. It is under water. You are born and have to stand on that narrow, submerged bar, where everyone stands. The ones born before you, the ones older than you are, are upriver from you. The younger ones stand braced on the bar downriver. And the whole long bar is slowly moving down that river of time, washing away at the upstream end, and building up downstream.
Your time, the lives of all your contemporaries, schoolmates, your loves and your adversaries, is that part of the shifting bar on which you stand. And it is crowded at first. You can see the way it thins out, upstream from you. The old ones are washed away and their bodies go swiftly by, like logs in the current. Downstream where the younger ones stand thick, you can see them flounder, lose footing, wash away. Always there is more room where you stand, but always the swift water grows deeper, and you feel the shift of the sand and the gravel under your feet, as the river wears it away. Someone looking for a safer place can nudge you off balance, and you are gone. Someone who has stood beside you for a long time gives a forlorn cry and you reach to catch their hand, but the fingertips slide away, and they are gone. There are the sounds in the rocky gorge, the roar of the water, the shifting, gritty sound of sand and gravel underfoot, the forlorn cries of despair as the nearby ones, and the ones upstream, are taken by the current. Far downstream from you are the thin, startled cries of the ones who never got planted, never got set, never quite understood the message of the torrent. Some old ones who stand on a good place, well braced, understanding currents and balance, last a long time. A Churchill, fat cigar atilt, sourly amused at his own endurance, and, in the end, indifferent to rivers and the rage of waters."
-- John D. MacDonald, "Pale Grey for Guilt"