Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

Each of us is a tiny being, permitted to ride on the outermost skin of one of the smaller planets for a few dozen trips around the local star. …

… If the Earth were as old as a person, a typical organism would be born, live, and die in a sliver of a second. We are fleeting, transitional creatures, snowflakes fallen on the hearth fire. That we understand even a little of our origins is one of the great triumphs of human insight and courage.


Ansel Adams – Examples (1983)

Absent from these pages are statements of what the photographs “mean.” I cannot, and will not, attempt to describe, analyze, or define the creative-emotional motivations of my work, or the work of others. Description of the inspiration or the meaning of a work of photography, or of any other medium of art, lies in the work itself. The endless discussions of creativity appear to me to be pointless intellectual carousels; their purpose seems more the presenting of burnt offerings and worshiping of modish identifications than the achieving of mutual enlightenment. Only the print contains the artist’s meaning and message.

Salman Rushdie – The Satanic Verses (1988)

Any new idea, Mahound, is asked two questions. The first is asked when it’s weak: WHAT KIND OF AN IDEA ARE YOU? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? – The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will change the world.


Isaac Asimov – Foundation and Empire (1952)

If, from a distance of seven thousand parsecs, the fall of Kalgan to the armies of the Mule had produced reverberations that had excited the curiosity of an old Trader, the apprehension of a dogged captain, and the annoyance of a meticulous mayor–to those on Kalgan itself, it produced nothing and excited no one. It is the invariable lesson to humanity that distance in time, and in space as well, lends focus. It is not recorded, incidentally, that the lesson has ever been permanently learned.

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Daniel Dennett – “Thank Goodness!” (2006)

…For another, we now have quite solid grounds (e.g., the recently released Benson study at Harvard) for believing that intercessory prayer simply doesn’t work. Anybody whose practice shrugs off that research is subtly undermining respect for the very goodness I am thanking. If you insist on keeping the myth of the effectiveness of prayer alive, you owe the rest of us a justification in the face of the evidence.

(quoted in The Portable Atheist)

Lewis Thomas – Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)

We cannot say to ourselves, we need this or that sort of technology, therefore we should be doing this or that sort of science. It does not work that way. We will have to rely, as we have in the past, on science in general, and on basic, undifferentiated science at that, for the new insights that will open up the new opportunities for technological development. Science is useful, indispensable sometimes, but whenever it moves forward it does so by producing a surprise; you cannot specify the surprise you’d like. Technology should be watched closely, monitored, criticized, even voted in or out by the electorate, but science itself must be given its head if we want it to work.

“Making Science Work”

Snorri Sturluson – The Younger Eddas (ca 13th century)

“After this, the gods despaired of ever being able to bind the wolf; wherefore All-father sent Skirnir, the messenger of Frey, into the country of the Dark Elves (Svartalfaheim) to engage certain dwarfs to make the fetter called Gleipnir. It was fashioned out of six things; to wit, the noise made by the footfall of a cat; the beards of women; the roots of stones; the sinews of bears; the breath of fish; and the spittle of birds. Though thou mayest not have heard of these things before, thou mayest easily convince thyself that we have not been telling thee lies. Thou may have seen that women have no beards, that cats make no noise when they run, and there are no roots under stones. Now I know what has been told thee to be equally true, although there may be some things thou art not able to furnish a proof of.”

“Binding the Wolf Fenrir”

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Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

Did I expect that a few simple chords could work the magic that I felt? No, if I had thought it over, I would have realized this was impossible. The only possible source of that magic was in some kind of complexity—patterned complexity, to be sure. And I think this experience taught me a lifelong lesson: that phenomena perceived to be magical are always the outcome of complex patterns of nonmagical activities taking place at a level below perception. More succinctly: The magic behind magic is a pattern. The magic of life itself is a perfect example, emerging as it does out of patterned but lifeless activities at the molecular level. The magic of music emerges from complex, nonmagical—or should I say metamagical?—patterns of notes.