Quotes

Donella Meadows Thinking in Systems

It’s a great art to remember that boundaries are of our own making, and that they can and should be reconsidered for each new discussion, problem or purpose. It’s a challenge to stay creative enough to drop the boundaries that worked for the last problem and to find the most appropriate set of boundaries for the next question. It’s also a necessity, if problems are to be solved well. (p. 99)

Donella Meadows Thinking in Systems

There always will be limits to growth. They can be self-imposed. If they aren’t they will be system-imposed.

Arthur Koestler The Act of Creation

Humor is the only domain of creative activity where a stimulus on a high level of complexity produces a massive and sharply defined response on the level of physiological reflexes.

Benjamin H. Bratton The Stack

Similarly, it is the legal and practical standard size of the humble paper envelope that makes it possible for it to shuttle messages both discrete and discreet; like the urban grid, the envelope’s power is in its dumbness. In the 1970s as the world’s cities began to more fully merge into the networked hierarchies of today with the widespread standardization of very-large-scale envelopes, made of steel instead of paper, in the form of fixed proportion and attribute shipping containers. Containerization migrated the packet switching from telecommunications onto the transit of physical objects (or perhaps the other way around). It traded the standardized, linear traffic program of the grounded asphalt grid for another, now smoothed into liquid shipping lanes, pacing big packets of objects back and forth across avenues of oceans.

Kurt Vonnegut Cat’s Cradle

New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.

James Gleick The Information

The complexity of an object is the size of the smallest computer program needed to generate it. An object that can be produced by a short algorithm has little complexity. On the other hand, an object needing an algorithm every bit as long as the object itself has maximal complexity.

James Gleick The Information

To do anything requires energy. To specify what is done requires information.

James Gleick The Information

Richard Dawkins: “What I am doing is emphasizing the potential near-immortality of a gene, in the form of copies, as its defining property.” This is where life breaks free from its material moorings. The gene is not an information-carrying macromolecule. The gene is the information. The physicist Max Delbrück wrote in 1949, “Today the tendency is to say ‘genes are just molecules, and hereditary particles,’ and thus to do away with the abstractions.” Now the abstractions returned.

“Where, then, is any particular gene—say, the gene for long legs in humans? This is a little like asking where is Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in E minor? Is it in the original handwritten score? The printed sheet music? Any one performance—or perhaps the sum of all performances, historical and potential, real and imagined?”

The quavers and crotchets inked on paper are not the music. Music is not a series of pressure waves sounding through the air; nor grooves etched in vinyl or pits burned in CDs; nor even the neuronal symphonies stirred up in the brain of the listener. The music is the information. Like-wise, the base pairs of DNA are not genes. They encode genes. Genes themselves are made of bits.

Shunryū Suzuki Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

And we should not hoard knowledge; we should be free from our knowledge. If you collect various pieces of knowledge, as a collection it may be very good, but this is not our way. We should not try to surprise people by our wonderful treasures. We should not be interested in something special. If you want to appreciate something fully, you should forget yourself. You should accept it like lightning flashing in the utter darkness of the sky.

Shunryū Suzuki Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Once you are in the midst of delusion, there is no end to delusion. You will be involved in deluded ideas one after another. Most people live in delusion, involved in their problem, trying to solve their problem. But just to live is actually to live in problems. And to solve the problem is to be a part of it, to be one with it.

Kevin Kelly What Technology Wants

If you are a web designer today, it is only because many tens of thousands of other people around you and before you have been expanding the realm of possibilities. They have gone beyond farms and home shops to invent a complex ecology of electronic devices that require new expertise and new ways of thinking. If you are an accountant, untold numbers of creative people in the past devised the logic and tools of accounting for you. If you do science, your instruments and field of study have been created by others. If you are a photographer, or an extreme sports athlete, or a baker, or an auto mechanic, or a nurse—then your potential has been given an opportunity by the work of others. You are being expanded as others expand themselves.

Unlike the Amish and mennonites, the tens of millions of migrants headed into cities each year may invent a tool that will unleash choices for someone else. If they don’t, then their children will. Our mission as humans is not only to discover our fullest selves in the technium, and to find full contentment, but to expand the possibilities for others. Greater technology will selfishly unleash our talents, but it will also unselfishly unleash others: our children, and all our children to come.

Christopher Alexander The Timeless Way of Building

We are afraid, perhaps, that without images and methods, chaos will break loose; worse still, that unless we use images of some kind, ourselves, our own creation will itself be chaos. And why are we afraid of that? Is it because people will laugh at us, if we make chaos? Or is it, perhaps, that we are most afraid of all that if we do make chaos, when we hope to create art, we will ourselves be chaos, hollow, nothing?

This is why it is so easy for others to play on our fears. They can persuade us that we must have more method, and more system, because we are afraid of our own chaos. Without method and more method, we are afraid the chaos which is in us will reveal itself. And yet these methods only make things worse.

… this seeming chaos which is in us is a rich, rolling, swelling, dying, lilting, singing, laughing, shouting, crying, sleeping order. If we will only let this order guide our acts of building, the buildings that we make, the towns we help make, will be the forests and the meadows of the human heart.

Robert J. Glushko The Discipline of Organizing

We can contrast organization imposed on resources ‘on the way in’ when they are created or made part of a collection with ‘on the way out’ organization imposed when an interaction with resources takes place.

Robert J. Glushko The Discipline of Organizing

The effectiveness of a system for accessing information is a direct function of the intelligence put into organizing it

Henry Miller Big Sur

The windows of the soul are infinite, we are told. And it is through the eyes of the soul that paradise is visioned. If there are flaws in your paradise, open more windows! Vision is entirely a creative faculty: it uses the body and the mind as the navigator uses his instruments. Open and alert, it matters little whether one finds a supposed short cut to the Indies—or discovers a new world. Everything is begging to be discovered, not accidentally, but intuitively. Seeking intuitively, one’s destination is never in a beyond of time or space but always here and now. If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored. One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things. Which is to say that there are no limits to vision. Similarly, there are no limits to paradise. Any paradise worth the name can sustain all the flaws in creation and remain undiminished, untarnished.

Richard Hollis Swiss Graphic Design

At every moment of the past all variations of the past were ‘new’. But it was not ‘THE’ new. We should not forget that we stand at the end of a culture, at the end of everything old.

Orson Scott Card Ender’s Game

A small reserve, held back until the end of the game, can be decisive. And soldiers can sometimes make decisions that are smarter than the orders they’ve been given.

Picasso in Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World

When you make a thing, a thing that is new, it is so complicated making it
that it is bound to be ugly.
But those that make it after you,
they don’t have to worry about making it.
And they can make it pretty, and so everybody can like it
when the others
make it after you.

Dennis M. Ritchie C Programming Language

C retains the basic philosophy that programmers know what they are doing; it only requires that they state their intentions explicitly.

Jeff Hawkins On Intelligence

Looking across the history of science, we see our intuition is often the biggest obstacle to discovering the truth. Scientific frameworks are often difficult to discover, not because they are complex, but because intuitive but incorrect assumptions keep us from seeing the correct answer. Astronomers before Copernicus wrongly assumed that the earth was stationary at the center of the universe because it feels stationary and appears to be at the center of the universe. It was intuitively obvious that the stars were all part of a giant spinning sphere, with us at its center. To suggest the Earth was spinning like a top, the surface moving at nearly a thousand miles an hour, and that the entire Earth was hurtling through space—not to mention that stars are trillions of miles away—would have marked you as a lunatic. But that turned out to be the correct framework. Simple to understand, but intuitively incorrect.

Nigel Cross Designerly Ways of Knowing

Objects are a form of knowledge about how to satisfy certain requirements, about how to perform certain tasks. And they are a form of knowledge that is available to everyone; one does not have to understand mechanics, nor metallurgy, nor the molecular structure of timber, to know that an axe offers (or ‘explains’) a very effective way of splitting wood. Of course, explicit knowledge about objects and about how they function has become available, and has sometimes led to significant improvements in the design of the objects. But in general, ‘invention comes before theory’—the world of ‘doing and making’ is usually ahead of the world of understanding—technology leads to science, not vice versa as is often believed.

Robin Dunbar How Many Friends Does One Person Need?

Words are fickle, open to abuse, double meaning and downright deceit—all too often, they say what we don’t really mean. But the intimacy of touch catapults communication between us into another dimension, a world of feeling and emotion that words can never penetrate.

Jean Edward Smith Eisenhower in War and Peace

Focus, common sense, simplicity, and attitude—the recipe for Ike’s success.

Christopher Hitchens Mortality

Death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are able to see anything.

Christopher Hitchens Mortality

The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct god how to put them right.

Ernest Hemingway On Writing

…writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done—so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well.

David Foster Wallace Infinite Jest

The 46-year-old recipient of the Jarvik IX Exterior Artificial Heart was actively window shopping in Cambridge, Massachusetts’ fashionable Harvard Square when a transvestite purse snatcher, a drug addict with a criminal record all too well known to public officials, bizarrely outfitted in a strapless cocktail dress, spike heels, tattered feather boa, and auburn wig, brutally tore the life sustaining purse from the woman’s unwitting grasp.

Peter Schwartz The Art of the Long View

Scenarios are not conceived of one at a time. You develop a range of two or three potential futures, allowing you to address an array of possibilities and rehearse your responses to each of them. At the same time, more than four scenarios tend to be too complex; you cannot keep track of their ramifications in your mind. Using scenarios is not a matter of memorizing “Plan A” and “Plan B,” because in the real world, A and B overlap and recombine in unexpected ways. It is a matter of training yourself to think through how things might happen that you might otherwise dismiss—to get to know the shape of unfolding reality. To have at hand the answer to the question, “What if… ?”