quotes from how the mind worksquotes

August 19, 2010

I just finished Steven Pinkers excellent "How The Mind Works" -- in reading it electronic form I made a backlog of quotes from it, often him quoting others but some new passages as well...

"Friday is covering Saturday and Sunday so I can't have Saturday and Sunday if I don't go through Friday."
--Preschooler in a study by psychologist Melissa Bowerman, showing how children spontaneously develop there own space and motion metaphors

"I don't like spinach, and I'm glad I don't, because if I liked it I would eat it, and I just hate it."
--Charles Darrow

"No, but for two brothers or eight cousins."
--Biologist J.B.S.Haldane when asked if he would lay down his life for his brother... genetic humor!

"It takes a mind debauched by learning to carry the process of making the natural seem strange so far as to ask 'why' of any instinctive human act."
--William James

"If there were a verb meaning 'to believe falsely,' it would not have any significant first person, present indicative."
--Ludwig Wittgenstein

"There's one way to find out if a man is honest: ask him; if he says yes, you know he's crooked."
--Mark Twain

"Was it a millionaire who said 'Imagine no possessions'?"
--Elvis Costello

"Natural selection does not forbid cooperation and generosity; it just makes them difficult engineering problems, like stereoscopic vision."
--Steven Pinker

Parental love causes the fundamental paradox of politics: no society can be simultaneously fair, free, and equal. If it is fair, people who work harder can accumulate more. If it is free, people will give their wealth to their children. But then it cannot be equal, for some people will inherit wealth they did not earn. Ever since Plato called attention to these tradeoffs in The Republic, most political ideologies can be defined by the stance they take on which of these ideals should yield.
--Steven Pinker

In the laboratory, some early experiments claimed that men and women showed identical physiological arousal to a pornographic passage. The men, however, showed a bigger response to the neutral passage in the control condition than the women showed to the pornography. The so-called neutral passage, which had been chosen by the female investigators, described a man and a woman chatting about the relative merits of an anthropology major over pre-med. The men found it highly erotic!
--Steven Pinker. This says so much to be about the male condition. Like Susan Sarandon's character says in "Bull Durham", "a guy'll listen to anything if he thinks it's foreplay"...

"Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing."
--H.L. Mencken

The conclusion of the book was a pitch for the idea that maybe brains aren't smart enough to understand themselves; that we're darn lucky to be able to figure out so much of the universe, from atomic theory to art, with a brain that was basically setup to help us navigate complex social relationships and manage hunting and gathering... as he puts it:

We can well imagine creatures with fewer cognitive faculties than we have: dogs to whom our language sounds like "Blah-blah-blah-Ginger-blah-blah," rats that cannot learn a maze with food in the prime-numbered arms, autistics who cannot conceive of other minds, children who cannot understand what all the fuss around sex is all about, neurological patients who see every detail in a face except whose it is, stereoblind people can understand a stereogram as a problem in geometry but cannot see it pop out in depth. If stereoblind people did not know better, they might call 3-D vision a miracle, or claim that it just is and needs no explanation, or write it off as some kind of trick.

So why should there not be creatures with more cognitive faculties than we have, or with different ones? They might readily grasp how free will and consciousness emerge from a brain and how meaning and morality fit into the universe, and would be amused by the religious and philosophical headstands we do to make up for our blankness when facing these problems. They could try to explain the solutions to us, but we would not understand the explanations.
--Steven Pinker, "How The Mind Works"
Wish I had someone who was an advocate for divs vs tables, layout-wise, and not sick of arguing about it. To me it seems that tables provide a robust, flexible, "stretchy" grid-style layout, and avoid some of the weird alignment crap you can get into with float and overflow issues with div-- but I hate designers thinking I'm sort of Web 1.0 baboon for thinking this way. It's not like I'm advocating giving up CSS styling...
Skywriters at the Public Garden- it says INTL AIRSHOW- you know skywriting is cool but the dot-matrix type seems a bit lazy...

August 31, 2014quotes

More Usenet fun- my favorite .signature quotes... i had a Perl script that would pick a random one each time, and glue it onto my contact information.

"Stars and People are made of the same stuff" --Bill Nye the Science Guy
Now is the winter of our discontent-- and I'm makin' snowballs!
There are no "facts"-- there is only *the fact* that man, every man
everywhere in the world, is on his way to ordination. Some men take the
long route and some take the short route. Every man is working out his
own way and nobody can be of help except by being kind, generous, and
patient. --Henry Miller, _Tropic of Capricorn_
"All life is 6-to-5 against, just enough to keep you interested" --Runyon
"I remember two things very well, and that is that ladies are pretty
and money pays the bills when you get it" --B.B.King
"The time has come," the walrus said, / "To speak of manic things,
Of shots and shouts, and sealing dooms / Of commoners and kings."
"It is not true that life is one damn thing after another--
it's one damn thing over and over." -- Edna St. Vincent Millay
There is no god and Murphy is his prophet
"Well, we all got misery, but it passes, it always passes!"
-Mike Feder,New_York_Son
Insecurity knocks once in a while. Invite her in. Sit down, have coffee
with her. And once you have heard Insecurity out for a while, take that
sugar spoon and poke her in the eye. --Erica Bial
"Context is strawberries" -- bas-jan@seneca.demon.nl
"When life gives you poop, make poop juice." --Max Canon's Red Meat
"Looking back on your life, what would you say satisfied you most?"
"...I'd say women."
--Interviewer and Man Ray (sculpter, photographer, artistic genius)
"And isn't sanity really just a one trick pony anyway? I mean all you get
is one trick, rational thinking, but when you're good and crazy, oooh
oooh oooh, the sky is the limit!" --The Tick
"The question is complex and life is short"--Protagoras on theism v. atheism
when you see infrared we're all luminescent
The cat is trying to open the door on the hinge side. I laugh, then
realize that I make the same mistake with people, ideas, and doors, too.
--New Yorker cartoon
"Life's too short to worry about it"
"I want to live like I type- fast, and with lots of mistakes"
"Obscenity, by itself, is the last refuge of the vulgarian
and the crutch of the inarticulate motherf**ker." --Lawrence Paros
"I'm going to kill everyone in this room."
"Now that's DARN rude."
--The Joker visits David Letterman, The Dark Knight Returns
"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the
winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got
about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies--
'God damn it, you've got to be kind.' " --Kurt Vonnegut
"I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around,
and don't let anybody tell you any different." --Kurt Vonnegut
"We're all soldiers in the war against entropy." --alt.folklore.computers
"I spent an interesting evening recently with a grain of salt."
--Mark V. Shaney
"No why. Just here." -John Cage, Life Magazine's "Why are we here"
But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me / The entirely beautiful.
--W.H Auden, from "Lullaby"
"If I cannot be free, I'll be cheap" --Joe Boswell
"I'm out to shave with Occam's Razor"
"We don't know if there's a god- but there *are* women..."
--Woody Allen, "Deconstructing Harry"
"How do we stop an elephant if it goes berserk? What do we do? Do we use
an AK-47? An M-16? An AR-15?... Frankly, would that stop an elephant?
I really doubt it. Do they have a bazooka?" --US Senator Bob Smith
"I believe that Ronald Reagan will someday make this country
what it once was. . . an artic wilderness." --Steve Martin
"The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews." --W.H.Auden
"When I'm clicking through the hundreds of E-mail messages that await me
each morning, sometimes I imagine I'm a mighty information whale, sifting
through thousands of tiny (but nutritious!) krill bits. Yum!"-J. Quittner
"So many women, so little nerve." --Bruce Bethke, "Headcrash"
"Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: This is the ideal life."
--Mark Twain
"The ant's a centaur in his dragon world" -- Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXI
"I think art should be in the place in our culture where religion
used to be. Where magic used to be, there should be art."--Teller
We come together making chance into starlight --Jeff Buckley
"We don't know who discovered water, but we're certain
it wasn't a fish." --20 Past Midnight
"As they say in my country, the only thing that separates us from the
animals are mindless superstition and pointless ritual."
--Latka Gravas in "Taxi"
"Since God is silent, man is his own master; he must live in a disenchanted
world, submit everything to criticism, and make his own way." --Peter Gay
[Stegosaurus] Two words: spiked tail. "Oh, so you're sneaking up
behind me to eat my delicious body? WHAM! Spikes! For you! In your head!"
--Brunching Shuttlecocks, http://www.brunching.com
God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is impotent.
Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?" --David Hume
"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad.
People are either charming or tedious." --Oscar Wilde
"Sleep... Those little slices of death; O how I LOATH them!"
-- Edgar Allen Poe
So we keep asking, over and over, / Until a handful of earth
Stops our mouths-- / But is that an answer?
--Henrich Heine, "Lazarus"
"...the greatest bargain since Jesus bar-Miriam was was sold for thirty
pieces of silver to the Romans, who, God wot, have been selling
him ever since..." -- Avram Davidson, "The Redward Edward Papers"
i seem to be constantly reminded that everything is temporary.
the older i get, the more this bothers me.
-- http://dancy.franz.com/~virago/
for excellence, like a moth beating itself
to death on the side of a light bulb."
--Josh Space, church of josh
"Without music, life would be a mistake. ...I would only believe
in a God that knew how to dance." --Friedrich Nietzsche
> All positive integers are interesting! Any doubters?
No, no, no. All positive integers are boring. Proof by contradiction:
Let n be the smallest non-boring positive integer. So what? QED.
Car broke down / Wife left me.
Life is lite, / and then Hefty.
--Rand Carlson
Tiger got to hunt, / Bird got to fly; / Man got to sit and wonder,
"Why, why, why?" / Tiger got to sleep, / Bird got to land, /
Man got to tell himself he understand. --Bokonon

lena dunham's new book and the snippet journal formquotes

May 20, 2016
Lena Dunham just released a very brief kindle book, "is it evil not to be sure?", selections from a short-form/snippet journal she kept as she started college. In the introduction she writes
If I could be didactic about just one thing (though I hope to God that limit is never imposed upon me), it would be my belief that young people, young women in particular, must commit their experiences to paper. If for no other reason than this: only you will ever have these particular experiences and we won’t want to have lost them after you go, or forget, or grow up and get terrible snow boots.
(this after mentioning her moms Oscar Wilde-ish penchant for the devastating bon mot, like when she told her shrink she could never take advice from someone with such awful snow boots)

It's a good mandate. Here were some of my favorite pieces of the book:
This was the first time I’m realizing that snowflakes are actually shaped like snowflakes. I always thought it was an abstract thing like drawings of hearts.
A boy shared his umbrella with me and I got his name wrong and I loved being able to feel powerful in those two ways.
Ive taken to walking around the dorm in slips.
Its terrible to ride a bike in the cold.
we’re dunk on the floor in the dark. I say “your breath smells like babies.” You say “that’s because I just ate a baby.”
I’m learning that just because someone is smart, funny and good in bed, it doesn’t mean they’re nice
ocean meeting shore and the wet spot between
the French word he messaged her has a very specific meaning: to patch something up, but quickly and probably badly
we’ve nearly nicknamed him “hey, you can’t just throw my legs over your shoulders or wherever you please.”
I'm really fond of this genre... young and precocious and observant, mostly in the present tense, and usually romantically longing, so often written to an absent "you". I think of a spiral bound journal with a red cover a friend let me post excerpts from once upon a time, also some of Sandra Bernhard's books ("Lips kissed for the first time are kissed forever." is a good line, and once the entire content of a chapter was "I wish you had, but I'm glad you didn't.")

I guess I kind of dabbled in that form in my "Palm Pilot Journal" in the late 90s, http://kirk.is/khftcea/ , especially the early entries. I hadn't set out for it to be public, but EB kind of barged into, and my hope for attention or posterity has always been stronger than my sense of privacy. (I have a visceral memory of the device, transcribing that romantic moping and of course quotes from all over, using the scrawny little stylus on the spinach green monochrome screen.) In retrospect the 3 or 4 years I spent on it are dwarfed by the time I've been blogging since, but there was something beautiful in writing that way, and I kind of miss it, or maybe miss being the person who would do that.
I am glad the new Ghostbusters trailer seem so solid... the old one got such guff, I think for sexist reason.

But I am totally onboard the Kate McKinnon fan club. So many expressions.
Man, I can't even do a proper riffle shuffle.

Actually I can't think of anything I do as well as these guys do card manipulations.

October 6, 2016quotes

Finished Nicholson Baker "The Fermata" - I've always liked this author with his extreme sensitivity to the details of the inanimate objects of our life... and some of the animate one. Penn Jillette gave him a shout out in his book on his diet, so I picked this one up. It's the perviest thing I've read in a while, using the same scifi trope later presented in the film Cashback, both being about a young man who can gains the power to freeze time, and uses that poewr to undress women. Both justify it to themselves and their audience that they do it to see the women's hidden beauty, and take care not to not have the women alarmed once time restarts.

(Baker dabbles a bit more into the technical details of what such a power might actually be like, and why and how the whole rest of the universe isn't absolutely static, plunged into darkness with photons stopped in their tracks, etc... it reminds me of H.F. Saint's "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" that did the same for invisibility... the title character has to take care eating transparent food (broths, clear gelatin, etc) since the food doesn't share his invisibility until he digests it...)

Anyway, some nice quotes:

"Women are much more in touch with the backs of themselves than men are: they can reach higher up on their back, and do so daily to unfasten bras; they can clip and braid their hair; they can keep their rearward blouse-tails smoothly tucked into their skirts. They give thought to how the edges of their underpants look through their pocketless pants from the back."
--Nicholson Baker, "The Fermata"
"I had not been aware before that moment of the straightforward erogenousness of a ring: it suddenly occurred to me that the sides of the fingers are sensitive in an upper-thigh sort of way, and that the singling out of that fourth vulnerable shy finger, the planet Neptune of fingers, which otherwise gets no unique treatment in life and does very little on its own except control the C on the high school clarinet or type the number two and the letter X, to be held and gently stimulated forever by an expensive circle of gold is really quite surprisingly sexual."
--Nicholson Baker, "The Fermata"
"I wanted to tell Joyce these dreams. But she wasn't my lover, and lovers are the only people who will put up with hearing your dreams."
--Nicholson Baker, "The Fermata"
"(Fingertips are so durable. They don't even explode when you use them as temp shoehorns; they just tingle for a second as your impassive heel forces itself past.)"
--Nicholson Baker, "The Fermata"
"I guess I had simply forgotten that there is no satisfactory autoerotic substitute for a kiss."
--Nicholson Baker, "The Fermata"

October 31, 2016quotes

"Peeple of zee wurl, relax,"
--Tom Robbins, "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates" - this is what a parrot says, I think it's a reference to the work of Joe Brainard that I need to check out

(Switters's granny, by contrast, wore an outsized, owlishly round, horn-rimmed pair that made her look rather exactly like the late theatrical agent, Swifty Lazar.)
--FWIW I'm pretty sure Swifty Lazar was the inspiration for that old Six Flags commercials with the dancing old man Mr. Six -

"But what about self-esteem?"
"Heh! Self-esteem is for sissies. Accept that you're a pimple and try to keep a lively sense of humor about it. That way lies grace--and maybe even glory."
--Tom Robbins, "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates"

Tennessee Williams once wrote, "We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it." In a certain sense, the playwright was correct. Yes, but oh! What a view from that upstairs window! What Tennessee failed to mention was that if we look out of that window with an itchy curiosity and a passionate eye; with a generous spirit and a capacity for delight; and, yes, the language with which to support and enrich the things we see, then it DOESN'T MATTER that the house is burning down around us. It doesn't matter. Let the motherfucker blaze!
--Tom Robbins, "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates"

"I know what you're saying. But it isn't because words are inadequate. I won't go that far."
"Certain things words can't convey."
"Oh, but they can. Because those things you're referring to are . . . well, if they're not actually made of words or derived from words, at least inhabit words: language is the solution in which they're suspended. Even love ultimately requires a linguistic base."
--Tom Robbins, "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates"

but the poet, Andrei Codrescu, once wrote that 'Physical intimacy is only a device for opening the floodgates of what really matters: words.'
--Tom Robbins, "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates"

The Syrians in general are sympathetic people, nice people. It is only the Muslim Brotherhood that makes the problem for Christians, but, then, fundamentalists are the same everywhere, are they not?"
"Yeah. Their desperate craving for simplicity sure can create complications. And their pitiful longing for certainty sure can make things unsteady."
--Tom Robbins, "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates"

"Et tu?" she asked breathily. "And you? Are you sure?" "I'm sure I want every youness of you," he answered,
--Tom Robbins, "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates"

You only live twice: once after you're born and once before you die. --Basho
--Tom Robbins, "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates"

"I love myself," he said. "But it's unrequited."
--Tom Robbins, "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates"