Robin Hanson

In an ideal math paper, the abstract and intro make clear the assumptions and conclusions. So a reader who trusts the authors to avoid error can ignore the rest of the paper for the purpose of updating their beliefs. In non-ideal math papers, in contrast, readers are forced to dig deep, as key assumptions are scattered throughout the paper.

Robin Hanson, Review of ‘Semi-informative priors over AI timelines’, December 9, 2020

Robert Caro

When Lyndon Johnson came to believe in something, […] he came to believe in it totally, with absolute conviction, regardless of previous beliefs, or of the facts in the matter, came to believe in it so absolutely that, George Reedy says, “I believe that he acted out of pure motives regardless of their origins. He had a remarkable capacity to convince himself that he held the principles he should hold at any given time, and there was something charming about the air of injured innocence with which he would treat anyone who brought forth evidence that he had held other views in the past. It was not an act…. He had a fantastic capacity to persuade himself that the ‘truth’ which was convenient for the present was the truth and anything that conflicted with it was the prevarication of enemies. He literally willed what was in his mind to become reality.”

Robert Caro, Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, New York, 2002, ch. 37

Richard Thaler

It is […] interesting to note a peculiar tendency among many economic theorists. A theorist will sweat long and hard on a problem, finally achieving a new insight previously unknown to economists. The theorist then assumes that the agents in a theoretical model act as if they also understood this new insight. In assuming that the agents in the economy intuitively grasp what it took so long to work out, the theorist is either showing uncharacteristic modesty and generosity, or is guilty of ascribing too much rationality to the agents in his model.

Richard Thaler, ‘Anomalies: The Winner’s Curse’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 2, no. 1 (1988), p. 200

Al Sweigart

Note that the convention for importing pathlib is to run from pathlib import Path, since otherwise we’d have to enter pathlib.Path everywhere Path shows up in our code. Not only is this extra typing redundant, but it’s also redundant.

Al Sweigart, Automate the Boring Stuff with Python: Practical Programming for Total Beginners, 2nd ed., San Francisco, 2020, p. 203

David Bjorklund & Carlos Hernández Blasi

On a tour of the Galápagos Islands, we had the opportunity to visit a field of Galápagos giant turtles, some who may have been the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the same turtles Charles Darwin saw when he visited the islands in the 1820s (they can live to be more than 100 years old). Our guide told the group that, unlike humans and other mammals, male and female Galápagos turtles are not genetically different. For these turtles, as well as for other reptiles including alligators and crocodiles, sex is not determined by differences in genes, but by differences in the temperature at which the eggs are incubated. We could, theoretically, have genetically identical twin turtles, one a male and one a female. The guide told us the mnemonic he uses to remember the relationship between incubation temperature and sex for Galápagos giant turtles: “Hot chicks and cool dudes.”

Peter Gray & David Bjorklund, Child and Adolescent Development: An Integrated Approach, Belmont, California, 2011, p. 85

Anna Funder

‘You’re late—we were expecting you earlier,’ the man behind the desk said.
‘What? Who told you I was coming? I didn’t know myself I was coming here until half an hour ago.’

Anna Funder, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, New York, 2002, p. 39

Evan Osnos

Like others his age, Tang Jie lived largely online. When the riots erupted in Lhasa in March, he followed the news closely on American and European news sites, in addition to China’s official media. He had no hesitation about tunneling under the government firewall. He used a proxy server—a digital way station overseas that connected a user with a blocked website. He watched television exclusively online, because it had more variety and he didn’t have a TV in his room. He also received foreign news clips from Chinese students abroad, a population that has grown by nearly two-thirds in the previous decade to some sixty- seven thousand people. Tang was baffled that foreigners might imagine that people of his generation were somehow unwise to the distortions of censorship. “Because we are in such a system, we are always asking ourselves whether we are brainwashed,” he said. “We are always eager to get other information from different channels.” Then he added, “But when you are in a so-called free system you never think about whether you are brainwashed.”

Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, New York, 2014, p. 138

Richard Gott

The odds are against our colonizing the Galaxy and surviving to the far future, not because these things are intrinsically beyond our capabilities, but because living things usually do not live up to their maximum potential. Intelligence is a capability which gives us in principle a vast potential if we could only use it to its maximum capacity, but […] to succeed the way we would like, we will have to do something truly remarkable (such as colonizing space), something which most intelligent species do not do.

Richard Gott, Implications of the Copernican Principle for Our Future Prospects, Nature, vol. 363, no. 6427 (May 27, 1993), p. 319

Thomas Malthus

The great and unlooked for discoveries that have taken place of late years in natural philosophy; the increasing diffusion of general knowledge from the extension of the art of printing; the ardent and unshackled spirit of inquiry that prevails throughout the lettered, and even unlettered world; the new and extraordinary lights that have been thrown on political subjects, which dazzle, and astonish the understanding […] have all concurred to lead many able men into the opinion, that we were touching on a period big with the most important changes, changes that would in some measure be decisive of the future fate of mankind.

Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, London, 1798, pp. 1-2

James Boswell

[Johnson] bid me always remember this, that after a system is well settled upon positive evidence, a few objections ought not to shake it. “The human mind is so limited that it cannot take in all parts of a subject; so that there may be objections raised against anything. There are objections against a plenum, and objections against a vacuum. Yet one of them must certainly be true.”

James Boswell, London Journal, 22 July 1763

Bertrand Russell

Since the nuclear stalemate became apparent, the Governments of East and West have adopted the policy which Mr. Dulles calls ‘brinkmanship’. This is a policy adapted from a sport which, I am told, is practised by some youthful degenerates. This sport is called ‘Chicken!’. It is played by choosing a long straight road with a white line down the middle and starting two very fast cars towards each other from opposite ends. Each car is expected to keep the wheels of one side on the white line. As they approach each other, mutual destruction becomes more and more imminent. If one of them swerves from the white line before the other, the other, as he passes, shouts ‘Chicken!’, and the one who has swerved becomes an object of contempt. As played by irresponsible boys, this game is considered decadent and immoral, though only the lives of the players are risked. But when the game is played by eminent statesmen, who risk not only their own lives but those of many hundreds of millions of human beings, it is thought on both sides that the statesmen on one side are displaying a high degree of wisdom and courage, and only the statesmen on the other side are reprehensible.

Bertrand Russell, Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare, 1959, London, p. 30

Bertrand Russell

The political background of the atomic scientists’ work was the determination to defeat the Nazis. It was held—I think rightly—that a Nazi victory would be an appalling disaster. It was also held, in Western countries, that German scientists must be well advanced towards making an A-bomb, and that if they succeeded before the West did they would probably win the war. When the war was over, it was discovered, to the complete astonishment of both American and British scientists, that the Germans were nowhere near success, and, as everybody knows, the Germans were defeated before any nuclear weapons had been made. But I do not think that nuclear scientists of the West can be blamed for thinking the work urgent and necessary. Even Einstein favoured it. When, however, the German war was finished, the great majority of those scientists who had collaborated towards making the A- bomb considered that it should not be used against the Japanese, who were already on the verge of defeat and, in any case, did not constitute such a menace to the world as Hitler. Many of them made urgent representations to the American Government advocating that, instead of using the bomb as a weapon of war, they should, after a public announcement, explode it in a desert, and that future control of nuclear energy should be placed in the hands of an international authority. Seven of the most eminent of nuclear scientists drew up what is known as ‘The Franck Report’ which they presented to the Secretary of War in June 1945. This is a very admirable and far-seeing document, and if it had won the assent of politicians none of our subsequent terrors would have arisen. It points out that ‘the success which we have achieved in the development of nuclear power is fraught with infinitely greater dangers than were all the inventions of the past’. It goes on to point out that there is no secret which can be kept for any length of time, and that Russia will certainly be able to make an A-bomb within a few years. It took Russia, in fact, almost exactly four years after Hiroshima. The danger of an arms race is stated in terms which subsequent years have horrifyingly verified. ‘If no efficient international agreement is achieved,’ it states, ‘the race for nuclear armaments will be on in earnest not later than the morning after our first demonstration of the existence of nuclear weapons. After this, it might take other nations three or four years to overcome our present head start.’ It proceeds to suggest methods of international control and concludes: ‘If the United States were to be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race for armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons.’ This was not an isolated expression of opinion. It was a majority opinion among those who had worked to create the bomb. Niels Bohr—after Einstein, the most eminent of physicists at that time—approached both Churchill and Roosevelt with earnest appeals in the same sense, but neither paid any attention. When Roosevelt died, Bohr’s appeal lay unopened on his desk. The scientists were hampered by the fact that they were supposed to be unworldly men, out of touch with reality, and incapable of realistic judgements as to policy. Subsequent experience, however, has confirmed all that they said and has shown that it was they, and not the generals and politicians, who had insight into what was needed.

Bertrand Russell, Has Man a Future?, London, 1961, ch. 2

Nick Bostrom

Suppose we were convinced that the (by far) most likely scenario involving infinite values goes something like follows: One day our descendants discover some new physics which lets them develop a technology that makes it possible to create an infinite number of people in what otherwise would have been a finite cosmos. If our current behavior has some probabilistic effect, however slim, on how our descendants will act, we would then (according to EDR) have a reason to act in such a way as to maximize the probability that we will have descendants who will develop such infinite powers and use them for good ends. It is not obvious which courses of action would have this property. But it seems plausible that they would fall within the range acceptable to common sense morality. For instance, it seems more likely that ending world hunger would increase, and that gratuitous genocide would decrease, the probability that the human species will survive to develop infinitely powerful technologies and use them for good rather than evil ends, than that the opposite should be true. More generally, working towards a morally decent society, as traditionally understood, would appear to be a good way to promote the eventual technological realization of infinite goods.

Nick Bostrom, ‘Infinite Ethics’, Analysis and Metaphysics, vol. 10, p. 40

Arthur Schopenhauer

Denn grenzenloses Mitleid mit allen lebenden Wesen ist der festeste und sicherste Bürge für das sittliche Wohlverhalten und bedarf keiner Kasuistik, Wer davon erfüllt ist, wird zuverlässig Keinen verletzen. Keinen beeinträchtigen, Keinem wehe thun, vielmehr mit Jedem Nachsicht haben. Jedem verzeihen. Jedem helfen, so viel er vermag, und alle seine Handlungen werden das Gepräge der Gerechtigkeit und Menschenliebe tragen. Der Geschmack ist verschieden; aber ich weiß mir kein schöneres Gebet, als Das, womit die Alt-Indischen Schauspiele (wie in früheren Zeiten die Englischen mit dem für den König) schließen. Es lautet: “Mögen alle lebende Wesen von Schmerzen frei bleiben.”

Arthur Schopenhauer, Über die Grundlage der Moral, 1840

Toby Ord

A further reason some people avoid giving numbers is that they don’t want to be pinned down, preferring the cloak of vagueness that comes with natural language. But I’d love to be pinned down, to lay my cards on the table and let others see if improvements can be made. It is only through such clarity and openness to being refuted that we make intellectual progress.

Toby Ord, The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, London, 2020, p. 379

Steven Landsburg

[T]here are two technologies for producing automobiles in America. One is to manufacture them in Detroit, and the other is to grow them in Iowa. Everybody knows about the first technology; let me tell you about the second. First you plant seeds, which are the raw material from which automobiles are constructed. You wait a few months until wheat appears. Then you harvest the wheat, truck it to California, load it onto ships, and sail the ships westward into the Pacific Ocean. After a few months the ships reappear with Toyotas on them.

International trade is nothing but a form of technology. The fact that there is a place called Japan, with people and factories, is quite irrelevant to Americans’ well-being. To analyze trade policies, we might as well assume that Japan is a giant machine with mysterious inner workings that convert wheat into cars.

Steven Landsburg, The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life, New York, 2012, pp. 252-253

William Poundstone

A long human future is not an impossible goal. It may, however, be something that has to be earned by being smarter, wiser, kinder, more careful—and luckier—than we’ve ever had to be before. The first rule of defying the odds is to never deny the odds.

Early though we may be in the future running through our heads, we are always and already running out of time. Like our remote ancestors, and like all who come after, we see in the distance a singularity, a boundary of the reference class, a monolith marking the end of the world as we know it. We are about to discover the truth of how special we are.

William Poundstone, The Doomsday Calculation: How an Equation That Predicts the Future Is Transforming Everything We Know about Life and the Universe, New York, 2019, p. 262

Michael Huemer

This is how our species is going to die. Not necessarily from nuclear war specifically, but from ignoring existential risks that don’t appear imminent‌ at this moment. If we keep doing that, eventually, something is going to kill us – something that looked improbable in advance, but that, by the time it looks imminent, is too late to stop.

Michael Huemer, The Case for Tyranny, Fake Nous, July 11, 2020

Jack Kerouac

Like a king who rules all within the four seas, yet sill seeks beyond for something more, so is desire, so is lust; like the unbounded ocean, it knows not when and where to stop. Indulge in lust a little, and like the child it grows apace. The wise man seeing the bitterness of sorrow, stamps out and destroys the risings of desire.

Jack Kerouac, Wake Up: A Life of the Buddha, London, 2008

Stanisław Ulam

At one time I had undertaken to write a book on von Neumann’s scientific life. In trying to plan it, I thought of how I, along with many others, had been influenced by him; and how this man, and some others I knew, working in the purely abstract realm of mathematics and theoretical physics had changed aspects of the world as we know it. […] It is still an unending source of surprise for me to see how a few scribbles on a blackboard or on a sheet of paper could change the course of human affairs.

Stanisław Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician, New York, 1976, pp. 4-5

Scott Aaronson

[W]e all know that arguments from authority carry little weight: what should sway you is not the mere fact of some other person stating their opinion, but the actual arguments and evidence that they’re able to bring.  Except that as we’ve seen, for Bayesians with common priors this isn’t true at all!  Instead, merely hearing your friend’s opinion serves as a powerful summary of what your friend knows.  And if you learn that your rational friend disagrees with you, then even without knowing why, you should take that as seriously as if you discovered a contradiction in your own thought processes.  This is related to an even broader point: there’s a normative rule of rationality that you should judge ideas only on their merits—yet if you’re a Bayesian, of course you’re going to take into account where the ideas come from, and how many other people hold them!  Likewise, if you’re a Bayesian police officer or a Bayesian airport screener or a Bayesian job interviewer, of course you’re going to profile people by their superficial characteristics, however unfair that might be to individuals—so all those studies proving that people evaluate the same resume differently if you change the name at the top are no great surprise.  It seems to me that the tension between these two different views of rationality, the normative and the Bayesian, generates a lot of the most intractable debates of the modern world.

Scott Aaronson, ‘Common Knowledge and Aumann’s Agreement Theorem’, Shtetl-Optimized, August 14, 2015

Bernard Davis

In The Mismeasure of Man Gould fails to live up to the trust engendered by his credentials. His historical account is highly selective; he asserts the non-objectivity of science so that he can test for scientific truth, flagrantly, by the standards of his own social and political convictions; and by linking his critique to the quest for fairness and justice, he exploits the generous instincts of his readers. Moreover, while he is admired as a clear writer, in the sense of effective communication, he is not clear in the deeper sense of analyzing ideas sharply and with logical rigor, as we have a right to expect of a disciplined scientist.

It has been uncomfortable to dissect a colleague’s book and his background so critically. But I have felt obliged to do so because Gould’s public influence, well-earned for his popular writing on less political questions, is being put to mischievous political use in this book. Moreover, its success undermines the ideal of objectivity in scientific expositions, and also reflects a chronic problem of literary publications. My task has been all the more unpleasant because I do not doubt Gould’s sincerity in seeking a more just and generous world, and I thoroughly share his conviction that racism remains one of the greatest obstacles.

Unfortunately, the approach that Gould has used to combat racism has serious defects. Instead of recognizing the value of eliminating bias, his answer is to press for equal and opposite bias, in a virtuous direction—not recognizing the irony and the danger of thus subordinating science to fashions of the day. Moreover, as a student of evolution he might have been expected to build on a profound insight of modern genetics and evolutionary biology: that the human species, and each race within it, possesses a wide range of genetic diversity. But instead of emphasizing the importance of recognizing that diversity, Gould remains locked in combat with a prescientific, typological view of heredity, and this position leads him to oppose studies of behavioral genetics altogether. As the reviewer for Nature stated, The Mismeasure of Man is “a book which exemplifies its own thesis. It is a masterpiece of propaganda, researched in the service of a point of view rather than written from a fund of knowledge.”

In effect, we see here Lysenkoism risen again: an effort to outlaw a field of science because it conflicts with a political dogma. To be sure, the new version is more limited in scope, and it does not use the punitive powers of a totalitarian state, as Trofim Lysenko did in the Soviet Union to suppress all of genetics between 1935 and 1964. But that is not necessary in our system: A chilling atmosphere is quite sufficient to prevent funding agencies, investigators, and graduate students from exploring a taboo area. And such Neo-Lysenkoist politicization of science, from both the left and the right, is likely to grow, as biology increasingly affects our lives—probing the secrets of our genes and our brain, reshaping our image of our origins and our nature, and adding new dimensions to our understanding of social behavior. When ideologically committed scientists try to suppress this knowledge they jeopardize a great deal, for without the ideal of objectivity science loses its strength.

Bernard Davis, ‘Neo-Lysenkoism, IQ, and the Press’, The Public Interest, vol. 74 (Fall 1983), pp. 57-59

Geoffrey Miller

When the instincts to virtue signal are combined with curiosity about science, open-mindedness about values and viewpoints, rationality about priorities and policies, and strategic savvy about ways and means, then wonderful things can happen. These more enlightened forms of virtue signaling have sparked the Protestant Reformation, American Revolution, abolitionist movement, anti-vivisection movement, women’s suffrage movement, free speech movement, and Effective Altruism movement. But when the instincts to virtue signal are not combined with curiosity, open-mindedness, rationality, and strategic savvy, then you get Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, Stalin’s Holodomor, Hitler’s Holocaust, mao’s Cultural Revolution, and Twitter.

Geoffrey Miller, Virtue Signaling: Essays on Darwinian Politics & Free Speech, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2019

Yew‐Kwang Ng

I have also no difficulties saying that my welfare level is positive, zero, or negative. When I am neither enjoying nor suffering, my welfare is zero. Thus, the value of my welfare is a fully cardinal quantity unique up to a proportionate transformation. I am also sure that I am not bestowed by God or evolution to have this special ability of perceiving the full cardinality (both intensity and the origin) of both my welfare and preference levels. In fact, from my daily experience, observation, and conversation, I know that all people (including ordinalist economists) have this ability, except that economists heavily brainwashed by ordinalism deny it despite actually possessing it. This denial is quite incredible. If your preference is really purely ordinal, you can only say that you prefer your present situation (A) to that plus an ant bite (B) and also prefer the latter to being bodily thrown into a pool of sulphuric acid (C). You cannot say that your preference of A over B is less than your preference of B over C. Can you really believe that!

Yew‐Kwang Ng, ‘A Case for Happiness, Cardinalism, and Interpersonal Comparability’, The Economic Journal, vol. 107, no. 445 (November, 1997), p. 1852

Robin Hanson

Most people who play commodity markets… lose their stake and quit within a year. Such markets are dominated by the minority who have managed to play and not go broke. If you believe otherwise, and know of some market where the prices are obviously wrong, I challenge you to ‘put your money where your mouth is’ and take some of that free money you believe is there for the taking. It’s easy to bad-mouth the stupid public before you have tried to beat them.

Robin Hanson, ‘Could Gambling Save Science? Encouraging an Honest Consensus’, Social Epistemology, vol. 9, no. 1 (1995), p. 22

Robin Hanson

Consider Julian Simon, a population and natural resource optimist, who found that he could not compete for either popular or academic attention with best-selling doomsayers like Paul Ehrlich. In 1980 Simon challenged Ehrlich to bet on whether the price of five basic metals, corrected for inflation, would rise or fall over the next decade. Ehrlich accepted, and Simon won, as would almost anyone who bet in the same way in the last two centuries. This win brought Simon publicity, but mostly in the form of high-profile editorials saying ‘Yeah he won this one, but I challenge him to bet on a more meaningful indicator such as …’. In fact, however, not only won’t Ehrlich bet again, although his predictions remain unchanged, but also none of these editorial writers will actually put their money where their mouths are! In addition, the papers that published these editorials won’t publish letters from Simon accepting their challenges.

Robin Hanson, ‘Could Gambling Save Science? Encouraging an Honest Consensus’, Social Epistemology, vol. 9, no. 1 (1995), p. 8

Iohannes Baptista van Helmont

Si verum dicitis, Scholae, quod possitis sanare quaslibet febres citra evacuationem: sed nolle, prae metu deterioris recidivae. Ad luctam descendite, Humoristae. Sumamus e Xenodociis, e castris, vel aliunde 200 aut 500 pauperes febrientes, pluriticos, &c. partiamur illos per medium: mittamus sortes, ut mihi illorum una medietas cedat, & altera vobis. Ego illos curabo citra phlebotomiam, & evacuationem sensibilem; vos vero facite ut scitis (nec enim vos adstringo ad iactantiam phlebotomi, vel solutivi abstinentiam) videbimus quot funera uterque noftrum habiturus: praemium autem certaminis sint 300 floreni, utrimque depositi. Hic vestrum agitur negotium. O Magistratus, quibus cordi est salus populi! Pro bono publico certabitur, pro veritatis cognitione, pro vita & anima vestra, filiorum, viduarum, pupillorum totiusque sanitate populi. Ac tandem pro methodo curativa, in actuali contradictorio disputata. Superaddite praemium, honorarii loco, ex officio. Compellite nolentes intrare in certamen, vel palaestra obmutescentes cedere. Ostendant tum, quod modo oblatrando stentantur. Sic namque diplomata ostendenda sunt.

Iohannes Baptista van Helmont, Ortus medicinæ: Id est Initia physicæ inaudita. Progressus medicinae novus, in morborum ultionem, ad vitam longam, Amsterdam, 1648

Immanuel Kant

Der gewöhnliche Probierstein: ob etwas blosse Ueberredung, oder wenigstens subiective Ueberzeugung, d. i. festes Glauben sey, was iemand behauptet, ist das Wetten. Oefters spricht iemand seine Sätze mit so zuversichtlichem und unlenkbarem Trotze aus, daß er alle Besorgniß des Irrthums gänzlich abgelegt zu haben scheint. Eine Wette macht ihn stutzig. Bisweilen zeigt sich: daß er zwar Ueberredung genug, die auf einen Ducaten an Werth geschäzt werden kan, aber nicht auf zehn, besitze. Denn, den ersten wagt er noch wol, aber bey zehnen wird er allererst inne, was er vorher nicht bemerkte, daß es nemlich doch wol möglich sey, er habe sich geirrt. Wenn man sich in Gedanken vorstellt: man solle worauf das Glück des ganzen Lebens verwetten, so schwindet unser triumphirendes Urtheil gar sehr, wir werden überaus schüchtern und entdecken so allererst, daß unser Glaube so weit nicht zulange.

Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 1781/1787, A824-5/B852-3

Steven Landsburg

Often the best way to make sure you’re being logical is to express your arguments mathematically. Early in this century, the eminent economist Alfred Marshall offered this advice to his colleagues: when confronted with an economic problem, first translate into mathematics, then solve the problem, then translate back into English and burn the mathematics.

Steven Landsburg, More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics, New York, 2007, p. 174

Norman Cousins

Several months after the end of the Cuban crisis, I was involved in negotiations with Premier Khrushchev for the release of two cardinals who had been under house arrest in the Ukraine and in Czechoslovakia for almost two decades. Premier Khrushchev spoke freely about the situation in the Kremlin during the week of the Cuban crisis. From his description, the Soviet situation emerged as a mirror image of the American experience. The people around Khrushchev sought to steer him away from any action that would be a confession of weakness.

“When I asked the military advisers if they could assure me that holding fast would not result in the death of five hundred million human beings, they looked at me a though I was out of my mind or, what was worse, a traitor,” he told me. “The biggest tragedy, as they saw it, was not that our country might be devastated and everything lost, but that the Chinese or the Albanians would accuse us of appeasement or weakness. So I said to myself: ‘To hell with these maniacs. If I can get the United States to assure me that it will not attempt to overthrow the Cuban government, I will remove the missiles.’ That is what happened. And so now I am being reviled by the Chinese and the Albanians. They say I was afraid to stand up to a paper tiger. It is all such nonsense. What good would it have done me in the last hour of my life to know that though our great nation and the United States were in complete ruins, the national honor of the Soviet Union was intact?”

Norman Cousins, ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis: An Anniversary’, The Saturday Review, October 15, 1977, p. 4

Edward Thorp

[U]sing the mathematical theory of probability, it was proven that if all roulette numbers were equally likely to come up, and they appeared in random order, it was impossible for any betting system to succeed. Despite this, hope flared briefly at the end of the nineteenth century when the great statistician Karl Pearson (1857–1936) discovered that the roulette numbers being reported daily in a French newspaper showed exploitable patterns. The mystery was resolved when it was discovered that rather than spend hours watching the wheels, the people recording the numbers simply made them up at the end of each day. The statistical patterns Pearson detected simply reflected the failure of the reporters to invent perfectly random numbers.

Edward Thorp, A Man for All Markets: From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market, New York, 2017, p. 123

Demis Hassabis

We need to use the downtime, when things are calm, to prepare for when things get serious in the decades to come. The time we have now is valuable, and we need to make use of it.

Demis Hassabis, quoted in Cade Metz, “Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and the Feud over Killer Robots”, The New York Times, June 9, 2018

John Stuart Mill

In his views of life he partook of the character of the Stoic, the Epicurean, and the Cynic. In his personal character the Stoic predominated: his standard of morals was Epicurean, in so far as that it was utilitarian, taking as the sole test of right and wrong, the tendency of actions to produce pleasure or pain. But he had (and this was the Cynic element) scarcely any belief in pleasure: at least in his later years, of which alone on this subject I can speak confidently. He deemed very few pleasures worth the price which at all events in the present state of society, must be paid for them. The greatest miscarriages in life he considered attributable to the overvaluing of pleasures. Accordingly, temperance in the large sense intended by the Greek philosophers—stopping short at the point of moderation in all indulgences—was with him as with them, almost the cardinal point of moral precept.

John Stuart Mill, Autobiography, in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Toronto, 1988, vol. 1, p. 48

Jorge Luis Borges

[M]e acaba de llamar un señor que quiere hacerme una entrevista. Un tal «Cacho» Fontana. Yo le dije que no. ¡Cómo voy a aceptar que me entreviste alguien que usa ese apodo! Es más o menos como si yo me hiciera llamar «Pepe» Borges.

Jorge Luis Borges, quoted in Roberto Alifano, El humor de Borges, Sevilla, 2016

Nick Bostrom

what hangs in the balance is at least 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 human lives (though the true number is probably larger). If we represent all the happiness experienced during one entire such life with a single teardrop of joy, then the happiness of these souls could fill and refill the Earth’s oceans every second, and keep doing so for a hundred billion billion millennia. It is really important that we make sure these truly are tears of joy.

Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, Oxford, 2014, p. 103

Jeremy Bentham

I became once very intimate with a colony of mice. They used to run up my legs, and eat crumbs from my lap. I love everything that has four legs: so did George Wilson. We were fond of mice, and fond of cats; but it was difficult to reconcile the two affections.

Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 11, Edinburgh, 1843, p. 81

Helen Keller

I remember my first day at Radcliffe. It was a day full of interest for me. I had looked forward to it for years. A potent force within me, stronger than the persuasion of my friends, stronger even than the pleadings of my heart, had impelled me to try my strength by the standards of those who see and hear. I knew that there were obstacles in the way; but I was eager to overcome them. I had taken to heart the words of the wise Roman who said, “To be banished from Rome is but to live outside of Rome.” Debarred from the great highways of knowledge, I was compelled to make the journey across country by unfrequented roads—that was all; and I knew that in college there were many bypaths where I could touch hands with girls who were thinking, loving and struggling like me.

I began my studies with eagerness. Before me I saw a new world opening in beauty and light, and I felt within me the capacity to know all things.

Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, New York, 1903, ch. 20

C. D. Broad

This gigantic tome (it is of about the same size as a volume of the Encyclopædia Britannica in the ordinary edition) contains Boseovich’s chief work in Latin with an English translation on the opposite pages. The text is that of the Venetian edition of 1703, the translation has been made by Mr. J. M. Child. Dr. Branislav Petronievie of the University of Belgrade provides a short life of Boscovich and Mr. Child writes an introduction in which he states and explains the main outlines of Boscovich’s theory of nature.

The expenses of publication have been partly met by the government of the new kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. So far as I am aware, this is the only instance on record in which one of the succession states of the late Austrian empire has done anything which can be counted to its credit. It is a little pathetic that patriotic Jugo-Slavs should have had to take Boscovich as their leading representative in Science, for it is admitted that he left his native land as a boy and only returned to it once for a few months. He is said to have been acquainted with the Serbo-Croatian tongue, but he had the good sense to write nothing whatever in it. M. Petronievie makes the best of a bad job by saying that, ‘although Boscovich had studied in Italy and passed the greater part of his life there, he had never penetrated to the spirit of the language’. We may, perhaps, conclude that the Serbo-Croatian genius has not blossomed very freely in science when such a very indirect representative has had to be chosen for the purpose of patriotic ‘boosting’.

Setting these nationalist absurdities aside, we may say that Boscovich was undoubtedly a great man, and that it was well worth while to produce an edition of his works for the use of English readers. It seems a pity that the volume should be so extremely unhandy; it is better adapted to form part of a bomb-proof shelter than of a library. But the binding and printing are excellent. So far as I (who can make no claim to be an accurate Latin scholar) can judge, the translation is quite satisfactory. Mr. Child’s introduction is both interesting and helpful; and I am afraid that many readers will be tempted to read it and leave Boscovich’s own exposition to take care of itself.

C. D. Broad, Review of R. J. Boscovich, Theoria philosophiae naturalis, Mind, vol. 32, no. 127 (July, 1923), p. 374