Penn State Harrisburg


Steve Carabello


I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Note: These have been found primarily from assorted places on the web. In most cases, I've lost track of where I first saw it, but where possible, I've given the original source. (At least, according to the web sources, I haven't confirmed them independently.)

Teaching, Learning, etc.

You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.
-- Albert Einstein
Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.
-- Confucius
Being ignorant is not so much a Shame, as being unwilling to learn.
-- Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard's Almanack, 1755)
I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.
-- Confucius
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
-- William Blake (Proverbs of Hell, 1790)
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
The will to succeed is important, but the will to prepare is more important.
-- Bobby Knight
One can only learn by teaching.
-- John Archibald Wheeler
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.
-- Francis Bacon (Essays (1625))
These are scraps from the table of wisdom that if well digested, yield strong nourishment to thy mind.
-- Franklin on an edition of Poor Richard's Almanack
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring
-- Alexander Pope (Essay on Criticism)
The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.
-- Aristotle (Apothegm, circa 340 B.C.)
That which we must learn to do, we learn by doing.
-- Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics II)
Exercise is the beste intrument in learnyng.
-- Robert Recorde (The Whetstone of Witte (1557))
Excellence is never granted to man but as the reward of labor. It argues no small strength of mind to persevere in the habits of industry without the pleasure of perceiving those advances, which, like the hands of a clock, whilst they make hourly approaches to their point, proceed so slowly as to escape observation.
-- Sir Joshua Reynolds
It is of great advantage to the student of any subject to read the original memoirs on that subject, for science is always most completely assimilated when it is in the nascent state...
-- James Clerk Maxwell, A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism, 1873
The mathematical difficulties of the theory of rotation arise chiefly from the want of geometrical illustrations and sensible images, by which we might fix the results of analysis in our minds.
-- James Clerk Maxwell
When a student is ready, the teacher appears.
-- Andrew Franklin
This question of trying to figure out whether a book is good or bad by looking at it carefully or by taking the reports of a lot of people who looked at it carelessly is like this famous old problem: Nobody was permitted to see the Emperor of China, and the question was, What is the length of the Emperor of China's nose? To find out, you go all over the country asking people what they think the length of the Emperor of China's nose is, and you average it. And that would be very "accurate" because you averaged so many people. But it's no way to find anything out; when you have a very wide range of people who contribute without looking carefully at it, you don't improve your knowledge of the situation by averaging.
-- Richard Feynman, Judging Books by Their Covers
I think, however, that there isn't any solution to this problem of education other than to realize that the best teaching can be done only when there is a direct individual relationship between a student and a good teacher -- a situation in which the student discusses the ideas, thinks about the things, and talks about the things. It's impossible to learn very much by simply sitting in a lecture, or even by simply doing problems that are assigned. But in our modern times we have so many students to teach that we have to try to find some substitute for the ideal.
-- Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics
No individual and no generation has had enough personal experience to ignore the vast experience of the human race that is called history. Yet most of our schools and colleges today pay little attention to history. And many of our current policies repeat mistakes that were made, time and again, in the past with disastrous results.
-- Thomas Sowell, Controversial Essays
You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him discover it in himself.
-- Galileo Galilei
The capacity to learn is a gift;
The ability to learn is a skill;
The willingness to learn is a choice.
-- Dune: House Harknonnen, p. 437
Some [Romans] hate learning like poison, but read Juvenal and Marius Maximus with avidity. These are the only volumes that they turn over in their idle moments, but why this should be so is not for a man like me to say. Considering their claims to distinction and long descent, they ought to read a variety of books. They should be aware that Socrates, when in prison and under sentence of death, asked a musician who was giving a fine rendering of a lyric by Stesichorus to teach him to do the same while there was still time. The musician asked what good this would be to him, seeing that he was to die the next day, but Socrates answered: "It would give me some new knowledge before I depart."
-- Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History (Rerum Gestarum Libri) XIV.6: xxviii.4, died c. 395 A.D.
I've noticed that with the creation of the computer virus, fewer students' grandparents are dying on the day papers are due.
-- Dr. Kellermann, English 30 - commenting on common excuses for not having work done. Quoted from The Daily Jolt: PSU quote archive
And yes, I am aware of the study that says professors will only wait 8 seconds before answering their own questions.
-- Dr. Steven Haynes, IST 240: "Introduction to Computer Languages." Quoted from The Daily Jolt: PSU quote archive
You're really going out on a limb there, and i'm gonna saw it off.
-- Professor McGraw, Math 110. Quoted from The Daily Jolt: PSU quote archive
Ok...good...You guys learned how to do it completely wrong.
--PSU Karate Sensei. Quoted from The Daily Jolt: PSU quote archive
My message to all educators is, what counts is not what you cover; but what counts is what you uncover. And this is often forgotten. So, there is a general tendency, not everyone but a general tendency, to ram too much down the throats of the students, and overlook that that's very antiproductive, because it goes one ear in, as we say in Holland, and it goes the other ear out again. So what you cover is not what matters, but what you uncover is what matters. And if you can somehow do it so that there are parts of the course that they will remember for the rest of their lives, that's even more important. If a student has come to my lectures, on rainbows, and haloes, and glories, for the rest of their lives, rainbows will never be the same. And they will always think of me when they see a rainbow. And in fact sometimes 20 or 30 years after a lecture, they send me still pictures. and they say, "Professor Lewin, I saw a rainbow, and I thought of you and here is a picture." And the interesting thing is, they sometimes send me a picture which is not even a rainbow, which is a glory; but that doesn't matter. What it shows is, that I have succeeded in making them love physics. And that is my goal. And that should be the goal of every educator. To make them love physics.
-- Walter Lewin, MIT professor (in this video clip. You can also see his mechanics lectures, his electricity and magnetism lectures, and his vibrations and waves lectures on MIT Open Course Ware.)

Science, Physics, Math, etc.

Production of useful work is limited by the laws of thermodynamics, but the production of useless work seems to be unlimited.
-- Donald Simanek
You can always tell a physicist, but you can't tell him much.
-- Anonymous
The Book of Nature is written in mathematical characters, without whose help it is impossible to comprehend a single word, without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth.
-- Galileo
Mathematicians are like Frenchmen: whenever you say something to them, they translate it into their own language, and at once it is something entirely different.
-- Goethe (Maxims and Reflexions (1829))
Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.
-- Mark Twain
There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
-- Mark Twain
I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
-- Isaac Newton (in 1727 shortly before his death)
The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.
-- Albert Einstein
If I can't picture it, I can't understand it.
-- Albert Einstein
We will first understand
How simple the universe is
When we realize
How strange it is.
-- Anonymous
What is necessary for 'the very existence of science,' and what the characteristics of nature are, are not to be determined by pompous preconditions, they are determined always by the material with which we work, by nature herself. We look, and we see what we find, and we cannot say ahead of time successfully what it is going to look like. ... It is necessary for the very existence of science that minds exist which do not allow that nature must satisfy some preconceived conditions.
-- Richard Feynman (The Character of Physical Law, 1967)
I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics. ... I am going to tell you what nature behaves like. If you will simply admit that maybe she does behave like this, you will find her a delightful, entrancing thing. Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, 'But how can it be like that?', because you will get 'down the drain', into a blind alley from which nobody has escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.
-- Richard Feynman (The Character of Physical Law, 1967)
The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific "truth." But what is the source of knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from? Experiment, itself, helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us hints. But also needed is imagination to create from these hints the great generalizations---to guess at the wonderful, simple, but very strange patterns beneath them all, and then to experiment to check again whether we have made the right guess.
-- Richard Feynman (The Feynman Lectures on Physics, 1963)
What it means really to understand an equation -- that is, in more than in a strictly mathematical sense -- was described by Dirac. He said: "I understand what an equation means if I have a way of figuring out the characteristics of its solution without actually solving it." So if we have a way of knowing what should happen in given circumstances without actually solving the equations, then we "understand" the equations, as applied to those circumstances. A physical understanding is a completely unmathematical, imprecise, and inexact thing, but absolutely necessary for a physicist.
-- Richard Feynman (The Feynman Lectures on Physics, 1963)
Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.
-- Richard Feynman, ("What is Science", 1969)
One may ask the question as to the extent to which the quest for beauty is an aim in the pursuit of science. . . . It is, indeed, an incredible fact that what the human mind, at its deepest and most profound, perceives as beautiful finds its realization in external nature.
What is intelligible is also beautiful.
-- S. Chandrasekhar, ("Beauty and the Quest for Beauty in Science", 1979)
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
-- Max Planck, (Scientific Autobiography, 1949)
The arrogance of some of those who are so damned sure they are right is just astounding. Scientific witch hunts are often the worst kind, and have been since the secular authorities stopped enforcing the local bishop's decrees of anathema.
-- Jerry Pournelle
"... there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new."
-- Machiavelli, The Prince
9 London inches are equal to 8.447 Paris inches
-- Matthew Raper (Philosophical Transactions (1760))
During the French Revolution a philosopher, a poet, and a physicist were condemned to die by the guillotine. First they bring up the philosopher and put his head in the block. Then the executioner pulls the cord, but the blade doesn't fall and remains at the top. The executioner exclaims, "It's a sign from God! You may go free." Next they bring up the poet and put his head in the block. The executioner pulls the cord, but again the blade doesn't fall and remains at the top. The executioner exclaims, "It's another sign from God! You may go free." Finally they bring up the physicist, but being a different sort he asks to be placed into the block looking up at the blade. Just as the executioner gets ready to pull the cord, the physicist shouts, "Hold it! I think I see your problem."
It is odd, but on the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics.
-- Richard Feynman
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" ("I found it!") but rather "hmm....that's funny..."
-- Isaac Asimov
Why should there be the method of science? There is not just one way to build a house, or even to grow tomatoes. We should not expect something as motley as the growth of knowledge to be strapped to one methodology.
-- Ian Hacking
An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.
-- Niels Bohr (1885-1962), Danish physicist. Quoted in: Alan Mackay, The Harvest of a Quiet Eye (1977).
Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.
-- Leibniz, Gottfried Whilhem (1646-1716)
In symbols one observes an advantage in discovery which is greatest when they express the exact nature of a thing briefly and, as it were, picture it; then indeed the labor of thought is wonderfully diminished.
-- Leibniz, Gottfried Whilhem (1646-1716)
Mechanics is the paradise of the mathematical sciences, because by means of it one comes to the fruits of mathematics.
-- da Vinci, Leonardo (1452-1519)
He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.
-- da Vinci, Leonardo (1452-1519)
There is no branch of mathematics, however abstract, which may not some day be applied to phenomena of the real world.
-- Lobatchevsky, Nikolai
In mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them.
-- von Neumann, Johann (1903 - 1957)
The mathematical sciences particularly exhibit order, symmetry, and limitation; and these are the greatest forms of the beautiful.
-- Aristotle
I thought the following four [rules] would be enough, provided that I made a firm and constant resolution not to fail even once in the observance of them. The first was never to accept anything as true if I had not evident knowledge of its being so; that is, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to embrace in my judgment only what presented itself to my mind so clearly and distinctly that I had no occasion to doubt it. The second, to divide each problem I examined into as many parts as was feasible, and as was requisite for its better solution. The third, to direct my thoughts in an orderly way; beginning with the simplest objects, those most apt to be known, and ascending little by little, in steps as it were, to the knowledge of the most complex; and establishing an order in thought even when the objects had no natural priority one to another. And the last, to make throughout such complete enumerations and such general surveys that I might be sure of leaving nothing out.
-- Descartes, Rene(1596-1650)
In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite.
-- Dirac, Paul Adrien Maurice (1902- )
It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.
-- Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan (1859-1930)
In scientific thought we adopt the simplest theory which will explain all the facts under consideration and enable us to predict new facts of the same kind. The catch in this criterion lies in the world "simplest." It is really an aesthetic canon such as we find implicit in our criticisms of poetry or painting. The layman finds such a law as dx/dt = K(d^2x/dy^2) much less simple than "it oozes," of which it is the mathematical statement. The physicist reverses this judgment, and his statement is certainly the more fruitful of the two, so far as prediction is concerned. It is, however, a statement about something very unfamiliar to the plainman, namely, the rate of change of a rate of change.
-- Haldane, John Burdon Sanderson (1892-1964)
Science is only valuable when it arrives at knowledge different than common sense.
History will remember the inhabitants of this century as the people who went from Kitty Hawk to the moon in 66 years, only to languish for the next 30 in low Earth orbit. At the core of the risk-free society is a self-indulgent failure of nerve.
-- Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 astronaut
There remain a few people in NASA who are there to accomplish great things; but most of NASA now consists of the people who accomplished the extraordinary feat of making mankind's greatest achievements look dull, then making it impossible to repeat them.
Yet what man has done man can aspire to.
About light I am in the dark.
-- Benjamin Franklin
Next you'd see a raft sliding by, away off yonder, and maybe a galoot on it chopping. . . you'd see the ax flash and come down--you don't hear nothing; you see the ax go up again, and by the time it's above the man's head then you hear the k'chunk!--it had took all that time to come over the water.
-- Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.
-- Wernher von Braun
Big whorls have little whorls
Which feed on their velocity,
And little whorls have lesser whorls
And so on to viscosity.
-- Lewis F. Richardson
We adore chaos because we love to produce order.
-- M. C. Escher
The mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meaning is unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.
-- René Magritte (1898-1967), Belgian surrealist painter
In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.
-- Carl Jung (1875-1961), Swiss psychiatrist
Everybody's a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We're all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.
-- David Cronenberg (b. 1943), Canadian filmmaker. Cronenberg On Cronenberg, ch. 1 (ed. by Chris Rodley, 1992).
I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
-- Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), English mathematician, physicist. Memoirs of Newton, vol. 2, ch. 27 (ed. by David Brewster, 1855).
Man is an artifact designed for space travel. He is not designed to remain in his present biologic state any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole.
-- William Burroughs (b. 1914), U.S. author. The Adding Machine, "Civilian Defense" (1985).
Space isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight upwards.
-- Sir Fred Hoyle (b. 1915), British astronomer. Observer (London, 9 Sept. 1979).
Here Men from The Planet Earth
First Set Foot upon The Moon
July, 1969 AD
We Came in Peace for All Mankind.
-- Plaque left behind on the moon's surface by the crew of Apollo 11.
"There was a young girl named Miss Bright,
Who could travel much faster than light.
She departed one day,
In an Einsteinian way,
And came back on the previous night."
-- George Gamow, One, Two, Three... Infinity p. 102

Computers, Technology, etc.

On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament]: 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.
-- Charles Babbage.
If you put tomfoolery into a computer, nothing comes out of it but tomfoolery. But this tomfoolery, having passed through a very expensive machine, is somehow ennobled and no-one dares criticize it.
-- Pierre Gallois
The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.
-- Harris, Sydney J., In H. Eves Return to Mathematical Circles, Boston: Prindle, Weber and Schmidt, 1988.
The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.
-- Edsgar W. Dijkstra (1930-2002)
Vampireware /n/, a project, capable of sucking the lifeblood out of anyone unfortunate enough to be assigned to it, which never actually sees the light of day, but nonetheless refuses to die.
We've been doubling sales every 18 months. However, when you start from zero, it takes a long while.
-- Stephen Yeo, a marketing director at Windows-terminal manufacturer Wyse, explaining his company's less-than-meteoric rise, to ZDNet UK
If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.
-- Gerald Weinberg
If it's not on fire, it's a software problem.
I haven't failed. I've found 10,000 ways that don't work.
-- Thomas Edison.
To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
-- Thomas Edison.
A theory has only the alternative of being right or wrong. A model has a third possibility; it may be right, but irrelevant.
-- Manfred Egan
All sorts of computer errors are now turning up. You'd be surprised to know the number of doctors who claim they are treating pregnant men.
-- Isaac Asimov
Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft... and the only one that can be mass-produced with unskilled labor.
-- Wernher von Braun
"The best way to prepare [to be a programmer] is to write programs, and to study great programs that other people have written. In my case, I went to the garbage cans at the Computer Science Center and fished out listings of their operating system."
-- Bill Gates; Source: Programmers at Work by Susan Lammers (1986)
Measuring programming progress by lines of code is like measuring aircraft building progress by weight.
"That's the thing about people who think they hate computers. What they really hate is lousy programmers."
-- Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in "Oath of Fealty"
The nice thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.
-- Andres S. Tannenbaum, computer science professor (source found here)
An engineer is out walking in the park and sees a wild-eyed man hitting a strangely painted block of wood with a stick. The engineer's curiosity gets the better of him, so he asks the wild-eyed man, "Why are you hitting that block?"
The wild-eyed man replies with a bit of a crazed smile, "The sound keeps the elephants away."
The engineer, now fully intrigued, digs deeper, "But why? There are no elephants here."
As the wild-eyed man continues to make his noise with renewed vigor, he says, "See! It's working."

Truth, Knowledge, etc.

Many errors, of a truth, consist merely in the application of the wrong names of things.
-- Spinoza
I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong.
-- Richard Feynman
Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.
-- Albert Einstein
The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.
-- Marcus Aurelius
The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best--and therefore never scrutinize or question.
-- Stephen Jay Gould
There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That's perfectly all right; they're the aperture to finding out what's right.
-- Carl Sagan
It is part of my thesis that all our knowledge grows only through the correcting of our mistakes.
-- Karl Popper
The most important of my discoveries have been suggested to me by my failures.
-- Humphrey Davy
In questions of science the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.
-- Galileo
It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition we discover.
-- Poincare
Correlation is usually used when knowledge is incomplete, and many times it leads to unsound conclusions. Every statistics student knows the story of the man who had a hangover after drinking scotch and water one night, bourbon and water the second, and vodka and water the third. A statistician advised him to stop drinking water.
Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet.
-- Chinese proverb
Knowing and not doing are equal to not knowing at all.
-- Chinese proverb
He who has imagination without learning has wings but no feet.
-- Chinese proverb
A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.
-- Benjamin Franklin
There are trivial truths and the great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.
-- Neils Bohr
The trouble with the media is that it seems unable to distinguish between the end of the world and a bicycle accident.
-- George Bernard Shaw
Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.
-- Will Rogers
When the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem you encounter resembles a nail.
You know the old saying: To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Well, that's only sometimes true. In the case of the academic-literary establishment -- the community I lovingly call "li-fi" -- the better analogy is: To a man with only a hammer, a screw is a defective nail.
-- Orson Scott Card, Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the 20th Century
If you torture the data enough, it will confess.
-- Ronald Coase
The errors of definitions multiply themselves according as the reckoning proceeds; and lead men into absurdities, which at last they see but cannot avoid, without reckoning anew from the beginning.
-- Hobbes, Thomas
Technical skill is mastery of complexity while creativity is mastery of simplicity.
-- Zeeman, E Christopher (1925 - )
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan
It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.
--Richard Feynman
All too often, we do smart things only after exhausting every conceivable dumb thing we could have done.
-- Thomas Sowell, Controversial Essays
The only thing better than "hands-on" experience is hands-off experience -- enough experience to understand that some things will turn out better if left alone.
-- Thomas Sowell, Controversial Essays
Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.
-- Isaac Asimov
I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated.
-- Poul Anderson (b. 1926), U.S. science fiction writer. New Scientist (London, 25 Sept. 1969).
"The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge."
-- Stephen Hawking
It is not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that make horseraces.
-- Mark Twain(Samuel Clemens), from Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar(1894)
During [these] periods of relaxation after concentrated intellectual activity, the intuitive mind seems to take over and can produce sudden clarifying insights which give so much joy and delight.
-- Fritjof Capra, physicist
A discovery is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind.
-- Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Having recognized this, we cannot any longer think of the conscious as being subordinated to the unconscious. On the contrary, it starts its action and defines, to a greater or lesser extent, the general direction in which that unconscious has to work.

To illustrate that directing action, Poincare uses a striking and remarkably fruitful comparison. He imagines that the ideas which are the future elements of our combinations are "something like the hooked atoms of Epicurus. During the complete repose of the mind, these atoms are motionless; they are, so to speak, hooked to the wall; so this complete rest may be indefinitely prolonged without the atoms meeting, and consequently without any combination between them." The act of studying a question consists of mobilizing ideas, not just any ones, but those from which we might reasonably expect the desired solution. It may happen that that work has no immediate result. "We think we have done no good, because we have moved these elements a thousand different ways in seeking to assemble them and have found no satisfactory aggregate." But, as a matter of fact, it seems as though these atoms are thus launched, so to speak, like so many projectiels and flash in various directions through space. "After this shaking-up imposed upon them by our will, these atoms do not return to their primitive rest. They freely continue their dance."

Consequences can now be foreseen. "The mobilized atoms undergo impacts which make them enter into combinations among themselves or with other atoms at rest, which they struck against in their course." In those new combinations, in those indirect results of the original conscious work, lie the possibilities of apparently spontaneous inspiration.

It is one of the essential features of such incompetence that the person so afflicted is incapable of knowing that he is incompetent. To have such knowledge would already be to remedy a good portion of the offense.
-- Miller, W.I., 1993

Errors in Judgment

Gathered primarily from It'll Never Work!
In my own time there have been inventions of this sort, transparent windows, tubes for diffusing warmth equally through all parts of a building, short-hand which has been carried to such a pitch of perfection that a writer can keep pace with the most rapid speaker. But the inventing of such things is drudgery for the lowest slaves; philosophy lies deeper...
-- Roman poet Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C.E.-65 C.E.)
[W]hen the Paris Exhibition closes electric light will close with it and no more be heard of.
-- Erasmus Wilson (1878) Professor at Oxford University.
This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a practical form of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.
-- Western Union internal memo, 1878.
Well informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value.
-- Editorial in the Boston Post (1865).
While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.
-- Lee DeForest, 1926 (American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube.).
[Television] won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.
-- Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century-Fox, 1946.
A new source of power... called gasoline has been produced by a Boston engineer. Instead of burning the fuel under a boiler, it is exploded inside the cylinder of an engine.
  The dangers are obvious. Stores of gasoline in the hands of people interested primarily in profit would constitute a fire and explosive hazard of the first rank. Horseless carriages propelled by gasoline might attain speeds of 14 or even 20 miles per hour. The menace to our people of vehicles of this type hurtling through our streets and along our roads and poisoning the atmosphere would call for prompt legislative action even if the military and economic implications were not so overwhelming... [T]he cost of producing [gasoline] is far beyond the financial capacity of private industry... In addition the development of this new power may displace the use of horses, which would wreck our agriculture.
-- U. S. Congressional Record, 1875.
Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.
-- Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), ca. 1895, British mathematician and physicist possible combination of known substances, known forms of machinery, and known forms of force, can be united in a practical machine by which man shall fly long distances through the air...
-- Simon Newcomb (1835-1909), astronomer, head of the U. S. Naval Observatory.
I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years. Two years later we ourselves made flights. This demonstration of my impotence as a prophet gave me such a shock that ever since I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions.
-- Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) [In a speech to the Aero Club of France (Nov 5, 1908)]
This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd length to which vicious specialization will carry scientists working in thought-tight compartments. Let us critically examine the proposal. For a projectile entirely to escape the gravitation of earth, it needs a velocity of 7 miles a second. The thermal energy of a gramme at this speed is 15,180 calories... The energy of our most violent explosive--nitroglycerine--is less than 1,500 calories per gramme. Consequently, even had the explosive nothing to carry, it has only one-tenth of the energy necessary to escape the earth... Hence the proposition appears to be basically impossible.
-- W. A. Bickerton, Professor of Physics and Chemistry at Canterbury College (Christchurch, New Zealand), 1926.
"That Professor Goddard with his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react--to say that would be absurd. Of course, he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."
-- New York Times, January 13, 1920, pg. 12
Computers in the future may...perhaps only weigh 1.5 tons.
-- Popular Mechanics, 1949.
There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.
-- Kenneth Olsen, president and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.


Dost thou love Life? then do not squander Time; for that's the Stuff Life is made of.
-- Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard's Almanack, 1746)
Stapp's Ironical Paradox, AKA Stapp's Law: The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.
-- John Paul Stapp
Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.
-- Napoleon Bonaparte
If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.
-- Catherine Aird
The fates lead him who will; him who won't they drag.
-- Old Roman Aphorism
To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven. The same key opens the gates of hell.
-- Buddhist saying
Everything that is not forbidden is compulsory.
-- Swiss proverb
Decide what you want to do. Then decide to do it. Then do it.
-- William Zinsser, On Writing Well
Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.
-- Mark Twain
Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
-- Mark Twain
Love your enemy; it will ruin his reputation.
-- Desmond Tutu
Keep ones body as if one were going to live forever, and ones soul as if one were going to die tomorrow.
-- Leon Kass
Symmetry, as wide or as narrow as you may define it, is one idea by which man through the ages has tried to comprehend and create order, beauty, and perfection.
-- Hermann Weyl, (Symmetry)
You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.
-- Al Capone
A perfectionist is one who takes infinite pains---and gives them to others.
-- Frank Bartholomew
A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.
-- Winston Churchill
If it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it.
-- Marcus Aurelius
"Arguments with the furniture are rarely productive."
-- Kehlog Albran, "The Profit"
I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.
-- Douglas Adams
Every man usually has something he can do better than anyone else.
Usually it is reading his own handwriting.
-- Unknown
I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying.
-- Woody Allen
I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.
-- Agatha Christie
Our children are watching us live, and what we ARE shouts louder than anything we say.
-- Wilfred A. Peterson
If you can't beat them or join them, then do something weird.
No matter how much the passengers eat, the weight of the plane stays the same.
Do you sometimes feel that you are necessary but not sufficient?
-- Thomas Sowell, Controversial Essays
Deception is one of the quickest ways to gain little things and lose big things.
-- Thomas Sowell, Controversial Essays
I have sometimes almost wished it had been my destiny to be born two or three centuries hence.
-- Benjamin Franklin, 1788
In America, they do not inquire of a stranger, "What is he?" but, "What can he do?"
-- Benjamin Franklin
It is a bad temper of mind that takes delight in opposition.
-- Benjamin Franklin
I would advise you to read with a pen in your hand and enter in a little book short hints of what you feel that is common or that may be useful; for this will be the best method of imprinting such portcullis in your memory.
-- Benjamin Franklin
Whenever I found out anything remarkable, I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper, so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof.
-- Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)
Some books we read, tho' few there are that hit
The happy point where wisdom joins with wit.
-- Benjamin Franklin
Can anything be constant in a world which is eternally changing?
-- Benjamin Franklin
Whenever we attempt to mend the scheme of Providence and to interfere in the Government of the world, we had need be very circumspect lest we do more harm than good.
-- Benjamin Franklin
If any form of government is capable of making a nation happy, ours I think bids fair now for producing that effect. But after all much depends upon the people who are governed.
-- Benjamin Franklin
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
-- Benjamin Franklin, 1755
If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.
-- Isaac Asimov
It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.
-- Isaac Asimov's like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable because all you ever get back is another box of chocolates. So you're stuck with this undefinable whipped mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there's nothing else left to eat. Sure once in a while there's a peanut butter cup or an english toffy but they're gone too fast and the taste is fleeting. You end up with nothing but broken bits filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts. If you're desperate enough to eat those, all you've got left is an empty box filled with useless brown paper wrappers.
-- Cigarette Smoking Man, The X-Files
Of all follies there is none greater than wanting to make the world a better place.
-- Molière (1622-73), French dramatist
It's not the bullet with my name on it that worries me. It's the one that says "To whom it may concern."
-- Anonymous Belfast resident. Quoted in: Guardian (London, 16 Oct. 1991).
Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.
-- Mark Twain(Samuel Clemens), Notebooks(1935)
It is better to deserve honours and not have them than to have them and not to deserve them.
-- Mark Twain(Samuel Clemens)
Chance is always powerful. Let your hook be always cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be a fish.
-- Ovid
A painting is never finished -- it simply stops in interesting places.
-- Paul Gardner
Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one.
-- Salman Rushdie (b. 1947), Indian-born British author. Independent on Sunday (London, 4 Feb. 1990).
Of all the ways of acquiring books, writing them oneself is regarded as the most praiseworthy method. . . . Writers are really people who write books not because they are poor, but because they are dissatisfied with the books which they could buy but do not like.
-- Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), German critic, philosopher. Unpacking My Library (1931; repr. in Illuminations, ed. by Hannah Arendt, 1968).
The one function TV news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you with the same emphasis as if there were.
-- David Brinkley
"Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things....Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain. ...The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. ... And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside, that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric, for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it."
--C. S. Lewis (1944) Address given at King's College, London. The Weight of Glory & Other Addresses. Macmillan, 1980
(Found via
"The cure for boredom is curiosity.
There is no cure for curiosity."
-- Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.
-- Steven Wright

Random Oddities

Ross Rubin, an analyst at the market research firm NPD Group, said trying to speculate what Apple might announce is a "fruitless guessing game."
-- Matthew Yi, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
"We expected something unexpected, but we did not expect this," said Skinner, rather splendidly, suggesting that nobody could have expected so much unexpectedness.
-- Lewis Page, for The Register ®, in the story Boffins: Antimatter comes from black holes, neutron stars

Page last modified: Thursday, 07-Feb-2008 15:10:24 EST