Archive for the ‘Random’ Category
This quote from Douglas Adams‘ 2001 interview with American Atheists (subsequently reproduced in The Salmon of Doubt) perfectly describes my attitude towards belief and religion (see also: this quote from Alan Turing):
AMERICAN ATHEISTS: Mr. Adams, you have been described as a “radical Atheist”. Is this accurate?
DNA: Yes. I think I use the term radical rather loosely, just for emphasis. If you describe yourself as “Atheist”, some people will say, “Don’t you mean ‘Agnostic’?” I have to reply that I really do mean Atheist. I really do not believe that there is a god — in fact I am convinced that there is not a god (a subtle difference). I see not a shred of evidence to suggest that there is one. It’s easier to say that I am a radical Atheist, just to signal that I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and that it’s an opinion I hold seriously.
Other people will ask how I can possibly claim to know? Isn’t belief-that-there-is-not-a-god as irrational, arrogant, etc., as belief-that-there-is-a-god? To which I say no for several reasons. First of all I do not believe-that-there-is-not-a-god. I don’t see what belief has got to do with it. I believe or don’t believe my four-year old daughter when she tells me that she didn’t make that mess on the floor. I believe in justice and fair play (though I don’t know exactly how we achieve them, other than by continually trying against all possible odds of success). I also believe that England should enter the European Monetary Union. I am not remotely enough of an economist to argue the issue vigorously with someone who is, but what little I do know, reinforced with a hefty dollop of gut feeling, strongly suggests to me that it’s the right course. I could very easily turn out to be wrong, and I know that. These seem to me to be legitimate uses for the word believe. As a carapace for the protection of irrational notions from legitimate questions, however, I think that the word has a lot of mischief to answer for. So, I do not believe-that-there-is-no-god. I am, however, convinced that there is no god, which is a totally different stance and takes me on to my second reason.
I don’t accept the currently fashionable assertion that any view is automatically as worthy of respect as any equal and opposite view. My view is that the moon is made of rock. If someone says to me “Well, you haven’t been there, have you? You haven’t seen it for yourself, so my view that it is made of Norwegian Beaver Cheese is equally valid” — then I can’t even be bothered to argue. There is such a thing as the burden of proof, and in the case of god, as in the case of the composition of the moon, this has shifted radically. God used to be the best explanation we’d got, and we’ve now got vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining. So I don’t think that being convinced that there is no god is as irrational or arrogant a point of view as belief that there is. I don’t think the matter calls for even-handedness at all.
Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.
(literally: I made this [letter] very long, because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter.)
Unfortunately, this is how I tend to feel about most things I write or pretty much every talk I give.
Yes, this actually happened — I met one of my childhood heroes at the National Media Museum in Bradford, whilst I was up there for the 2011 British Science Festival in September. Although in retrospect, this photo opportunity may have been designed for children.
I barely play any games now (although I have recently procured an Xbox 360 to play with the Kinect SDK), as I still hark back to the glory days of home gaming with the NES and SNES: I first played the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES when I was around eight years old and have played pretty much every Mario incarnation since (favourites: Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World).
Any other Mario fans or NES/SNES aficionados out there?
I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
Douglas Adams (1952-2001)
I agree with Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged (who has unlucky to have immortality inadvertently thrust upon him by an unfortunate accident with an irrational particle accelerator, a liquid lunch and pair of rubber bands) regarding Sunday afternoons :
It was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with, that terrible listlessness that starts to set in about 2:55, when you know you’ve taken all the baths that you can usefully take that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the newspaper you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.
After seeing some excruciatingly obtuse jargon discovered by David Waldock today [1,2], I was reminded of Sir Winston Churchill and his lifelong love of words, as well as being a fount of delicious anecdotes and epigrams. There is a story that an American general once asked Churchill to look over the draft of an address he had written. It was returned with the comment: “Too many passives and too many zeds“. The general asked him what he meant, and was told:
Too many Latinate polysyllabics like “systematize”, “prioritize” and “finalize”. And then the passives. What if I had said, instead of “We shall fight on the beaches”, “Hostilities will be engaged with our adversary on the coastal perimeter”?
(aside: this is of particular relevance, as many scientists (myself included!) are guilty of using unnecessarily baffling terminology and phrasing when writing papers; I highly recommend a presentation by Simon Peyton Jones (Microsoft Research Cambridge) on How to write a good research paper)
Churchill’s ability with words was not only employed in his speeches, but also in his impish (indeed, often childish) sense of humour. He could not resist making a quip — to the extent that over the years many witty remarks whose provenance is in fact far from certain have been ascribed to him. A further example that I have always appreciated is given in one of the many documents that came across Churchill’s desk; a civil servant has gone out of his way to be grammatically correct, and had clumsily avoided ending a sentence with a preposition. Churchill scribbled in the margin:
This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.
Churchill was also the progenitor of the delightful phrase terminological inexactitude, used as a euphemism or circumlocution meaning a lie or untruth (referring to the government’s denials in 1906 of the exploitation of Chinese coolies in South Africa).
(These quotes have been taken from the excellent The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill, compiled by Dominique Enright)