Monday, April 24, 2017

Crowds are often mad rather than wise

--- The Economist's review of Douglas Carswell's book "Rebel: How to Overthrow the Emerging Oligarchy" (April 8, 2017)

Quote in context

"Mr Carswell thinks that a new oligarchy is the biggest threat to the welfare of mankind.... Big companies are tightening their hold over the global economy. Established parties are rigging the political system in their own favour. And business and politics are becoming ever more intertwined as companies offer jobs to ex-politicians. Journalists snobbishly dismiss populism as proof that their fellow citizens are bigots rather than as evidence that they are waking up to the fact that the system is rigged. Yet Mr Carswell has no time for the leftist solution—enlisting the state to regulate capitalism and redistribute wealth." 
"Mr Carswell makes his case well. He is right that capitalism is going through a worrying period of concentration: .... He is also right that today’s meritocratic elite is hard to stomach, ... But he is wrong to think that people-power is the answer. There is a good reason that America’s Founding Fathers, whom Mr Carswell so admires, built up checks and balances to the will of the people: the people are often moved by short-term passions, swayed by demagogues, deceived by rumours. Crowds are often mad rather than wise."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

how much of physics is real, and how much of reality is physics?

--- Richard Webb, in a book review in NewScientist, 3 December 2016

Quote in context

A veteran of particle physics and cosmology behind at least two Nobel-prizewinning strands of research, [Richard] Muller [author of "Now: The physics of time"] isn’t pouring cold water on an entire discipline. But he is addressing a theme that, one way or another, exercises him and the authors of three other major new books: how much of physics is real, and how much of reality is physics?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Disciplines are now defined too much by methods rather than by questions

--- Economist Hamish Low, in Exams and Expectations: The art and science of economics at Cambridge, The Economist, 24 December 2016

Quote in context:

Hamish Low, a Cambridge professor who works in applied economics, does not mourn the loss of philosopher kings’ grand intellectual debates. “Now we need to be much more evidence based”, he says. But the discipline’s development has come with a cost. The specialisation associated with expertise can encourage narrow thinking. “Disciplines are now defined too much by methods rather than by questions”, Low says. This narrowness feeds through to policy advice, which too often applies established models to current circumstances, rather than considering fundamental reinterpretions of the issues. Economists can give you an estimate of how much revenue a tax increase will raise, the income loss associated with Brexit, or the employment effects of a minimum wage rise. It calls to mind another aphorism from Keynes about economists being at their best as “humble, competent people on a level with dentists”, using their technical skill to solve pressing problems within a limited area of expertise.

Monday, March 06, 2017

since he made only what he wanted, what he could comprehend, he learned nothing

--- Stanislaw Lem, from "Doctor Diagoras" in Memoirs of a Space Traveler, transl. Joel Stern and Maria Swiecicka-Ziemianek, p. 127

Quoting Dr. Diagoras

"Corcoran wasn't seeking knowledge; he merely wanted to create what he had planned, and since he made only what he wanted, what he could comprehend, he learned nothing and proved nothing except that he is a skillful technician. I am much less confident than Corcoran. I say: I don't know, but I want to know. Building a manlike machine, a grotesque rival for the good things of this world, would be ordinary imitation."

Friday, March 03, 2017

"Sire, do you like yourself?" "What's not to like?"

--- Exchange between Nathaniel and Prince Edward in the 2007 movie Enchanted

Nathaniel: Sire, do you like yourself?
Prince Edward: What's not to like?

Monday, January 09, 2017

A man may search for a shilling and find a sovereign. The important thing is to search

--- Parasitologist Patrick Manson, quoted in EPOD's "Accidental Discoveries: Unusual Salt Crystal Whiskers," January 09, 2017

It's also quoted in Tales from the Torrid Zone: Travels in the Deep Tropics by Alexander Frater

Weeks later, after his wife complained about the smell, he saw the eggs had grown into creatures he reckoned to be embryonic lung flukes that had originated in snails. Snails? How did he know? In truth he didn't; snails had been an inspired guess yet, later, he would be proved right on both counts—and find himself the first person in history studying the lung fluke' s life cycle. An organism lurking in bad water and uncooked food, it becomes a worm in the gut, reaches the lungs after penetrating the intestinal wall, in a few cases continues upwards to lay its eggs in the dark little cerebellic burrows of the brain. 
Manson, contemplating another big breakthrough, denied luck had anything to do with it. "A man may search for a shilling," he said, "and find a sovereign. The important thing is to search." 
Of the forty diseases that flourish between the ecliptics Manson studied no fewer than a quarter and created a more profound understanding of them all. Giant statues should be raised to him throughout the region.