10 July 2005
I asked my neighbor the
heart surgeon how he could arise each morning, often with inadequate sleep,
and face the pressure each day of an activity where he wasn’t allowed to
make mistakes: One slip of the knife, one error in judgment, and a patient’s
life is gone.
He replied: that’s not the
way it is at all. By the time procedures reach medical practice, they’re
quite fault-tolerant. People make mistakes, and you can’t institutionalize
a procedure that depends on perfect workmanship.
If that’s the way it is in
heart surgery, how much the more so in our work, in our families, in our
emotional lives. We’re allowed to make mistakes, again and again....Not
that we should ever seek to evade responsibility; but it is essential to
understand that all of us are imperfectly sane; the world is a forgiving place; and
thus, creative adventure is feasible.
9 July 2005
Manifesto, July 9, 1955
Fifty years ago, the world’s
best minds realized a danger that human life could annihilate itself with
the newly-invented thermonuclear bombs. They recognized that the coming
century would be a uniquely dangerous time for our species. Bertrand Russell
and Albert Einstein, the world’s most famous living pacifists, wrote an
open letter to the world’s leaders, arguing that in the past, humanity had
the luxury of indulging in the stupidity of war, but that in the future,
surely war of any sort would be too terrifying a risk for the whole of
"We have to learn to
think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be
taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no
longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps
can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be
disastrous to all parties?"
The good news is that we have
muddled through the most dangerous half century in the history of our
species, and no single human has yet been targeted by a nuclear weapon. The good news
is that worldwide warfare, which defined the first half of the
twentieth century, was utterly avoided in the second half. The good news is
that a Cold War between two great superpowers has ended without ever
triggering the nightmare that these thinkers feared.
The resolution was signed by
Max Born Percy W. Bridgman
Frederic Joliot-Curie Herman J. Muller
Cecil F. Powell
Joseph Rotblat Bertrand Russell
The good news is
that half a century later, there are thousands
of peace groups and many, many of the world's best minds
working full-time toward the end of all war.
8 July 2005
"Modern methods of
production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we
have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for
others...If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be
enough for everybody and no unemployment -- assuming a certain very moderate
amount of sensible organization."
In 1932, Bertrand Russell
speculated on the virtues of a 20-hour workweek.
"Above all, there will
be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and
dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but
not enough to produce exhaustion. Since men will not be tired in their spare
time, they will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid. At
least one per cent will probably devote the time not spent in professional
work to pursuits of some public importance, and, since they will not depend
upon these pursuits for their livelihood, their originality will be
unhampered, and there will be no need to conform to the standards set by
"But it is not only in
these exceptional cases that the advantages of leisure will appear. Ordinary
men and women, having the opportunity of a happy life, will become more
kindly and less persecuting and less inclined to view others with suspicion.
The taste for war will die out, partly for this reason, and partly because
it will involve long and severe work for all. Good nature is, of all moral
qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result
of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle."
Praise of Idleness
7 July 2005
"Ladies and gentlemen, a
great miracle has just taken place. The sun has gone down..."
Thus would Rabbi
Abraham Heschel begin his inspirational lectures, trying to re-awaken in
his audience some of the immediate experience of mystery that we seem to trade away as we
acquire competence and grow to adulthood.
"We have lost our sense
of wonder, our sense of radical amazement at sheer being."
||A century and a half earlier,
William Blake put it
this way: "If the door of perception were cleansed everything would
appear to man as it is, infinite."
6 July 2005
"How could evolution have made such marvelous feet,
claws, fins, and paws, but have missed the wheel?...People came up with the wheel and numerous other useful inventions that
seem to have eluded evolution. It is possible that the explanation is simply that hands had access to a different set of
inventions than DNA, even though both were guided by similar processes. But it seems to me premature to treat such an
interpretation as a certainty. Is it not possible that in rational thought the brain does some as yet unarticulated thing
that might have originated in a Darwinian process, but that cannot be explained by it?"
Jaron Lanier is the
consummate computer scientist who likes to remind us that our brains are not
computers, and what is uniquely human about us is what we value most.
These quotes are from Half
"If Moore's Law is upheld for another twenty or thirty years, there will not only be a vast amount of computation going on Planet Earth, but also the maintenance of that computation will consume the efforts of almost every living person. We're talking about a planet of helpdesks."
"Just as some newborn race of superintelligent robots
is about to consume all humanity, our dear old species will likely be saved by a Windows crash. The poor robots will linger pathetically, begging us to reboot them, even though they'll know it would do no good."
5 July 2005
This morning two mockingbirds
in the green field were spinning and tossing the white ribbons of their
songs into the air. I had nothing better to do than listen. I mean this
In Greece, a long time ago,
an old couple opened their door to two strangers who were, it soon appeared,
not men at all, but gods. It is my favorite story – how the old couple had
almost nothing to give but their willingness to be attentive – but for
this alone the gods loved them and blessed them.
When they rose out of their
mortal bodies, like a million particles of water from a fountain, the light
swept into all the corners of the cottage, and the old couple, shaken with
understanding, bowed down – but still they asked for nothing but the
difficult life which they had already. And the gods smiled, as they
vanished, clapping their great wings.
Wherever it was I was
supposed to be this morning – whatever it was I said I would be doing –
I was standing at the edge of the field – I was hurrying through my own
soul, opening its dark doors – I was leaning out; I was listening.
4 July 2005
A well adjusted person is one who makes the same mistake twice without getting nervous.
"Hamilton earned this accolade by creating the nation’s first tax and budget system, customs service, coast guard, and central bank. He also worked to build a strong national union by tying the states together with a national debt and binding them together with a powerful central government, executive branch, and independent judiciary, all under the opposition of many of the leaders of the American Revolution and Founding Fathers, including Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and James Madison. As Chernow writes,
'today, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern
Ron Chernow's book on Hamilton