Quotes

Quotes

(with reference to the mind, brain, and science)…

big data

Big Data: Data that is cheaper for a system to store than to sort into information, bullshit and noise (my modification of a definition due to George Dyson).
An Information Age Glossary by Venkatesh ("Venkat") Rao


Big data is like teenage sex:
everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it...
— Dan Ariely (quoted at a Big Data Initiative Launch for UW/Berkeley/NYU)

science

This isn't right. It's not even wrong.
— Wolfgang Pauli


As for my own views, they’ve of course evolved over the years. This conception of ‘renouncing beliefs’ is very odd, as if we’re in some kind of religious cult. I ‘renounce beliefs’ practically every time I think about the topics or find out what someone else is thinking.
— Noam Chomsky, as quoted by Gary Marcus in his blog for The New Yorker


In science, if an idea is not falsifiable, it is not that it is wrong, it is that we cannot determine if it is wrong, and thus it is not even wrong.
— Michael Shermer, Wronger Than Wrong in Scientific American, Nov 2006


Every good scientist is half B. F. Skinner and half P. T. Barnum.
— Principal Skinner, The Simpsons


There are only 10 types of people in the world: Those who understand binary, and those who don't.
— Unknown, as seen on a t-shirt


There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!
— Terry Pratchett, The Truth


Such faculty members run at least three or four research projects at a time, and "that turns that investigator into a grant-writing machine perhaps more than a doing-of-science machine," Dr. Collins said.
—Excerpt from an interview with NIH Director Francis S. Collins (Feb. 2010)

random

When people ask how I got into human-computer interaction, I tell them, "Well, originally I wanted to be a graphic designer, but a few serendipitous events changed my course. The first is that on my first day at college, in line at the computer store, I got into a conversation with a young guy with blue hair. It turned out he was a professor! He offered me a work-study job in his lab, and that opened my eyes to cognitive science. From there, one thing led to another…"
— Scott Klemmer, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Stanford (the blue-haired professor being me)


intelligence

Primates are intelligent, but their intelligence is overestimated.
— Professor and theoretical biologist Charlotte Hemelrijk, as quoted in Science Daily, 1-10-2010, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100107083909.htm


It is a popular fact that nine-tenths of the brain is not used and, like most popular facts, it is wrong. Not even the most stupid Creator would go to the trouble of making the human head carry around several pounds of unnessary gray goo if its only real purpose was, for example, to serve as a delicacy for certain remote tribesmen in unexplored valleys. It is used. And one of its functions is to make the miraculous seem ordinary and turn the unusual into the usual.
— Terry Pratchett, Small Gods


It's not generally realized that camels have a natural aptitude for advanced mathematics, particularly where they involve ballistics.
— Terry Pratchett, Pyramids


Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.
— Terry Pratchett, Hogfather


Stupid men are often capable of things the clever would not dare to contemplate…
— Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay


Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
— Douglas Adams (1952-2001), Last Chance to See


because your brain is constructed something like a chessboard.
— "Marketplace" commentator K.C. Cole on why we can't comprehend the meaning of one trillion. (FYI I am still not sure what she is talking about).


"There is no intelligence without context," she continued, watching her hand go through the flame and back. "Just as a magnifying glass effectively casts a partial shadow around the point of its focus — the debt required to produce the concentration elsewhere — so meaning is sucked out of our surroundings, concentrated in ourselves, in our minds."
— Iain M. Banks, Transition


In 1965, the Russian mathematician Alexander Kronrod said, "Chess is the Drosophila of artificial intelligence." However, computer chess has developed much as genetics might have if the geneticists had concentrated their efforts starting in 1910 on breeding racing Drosophila. We would have some science, but mainly we would have very fast fruit flies.
— John McCarthy, AI as Sport


memory and cognition

How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?
— Matt Groening, The Simpsons


David Starr Jordan, an ichthyologist and one of the early Presidents of Stanford University apparently decided that in order to be a good President he needed to learn the names of all the students he could. But he found, to his dismay, that every time he learned the name of a student he forgot the name of a fish.
— various


Why is it that our memory is good enough to retain the least triviality that happens to us, and yet not good enough to recollect how often we have told it to the same person?
— Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613 - 1680)


evolution

… the existence of a badly put-together watch proved the existence of a blind watchmaker. You only had to look around to see that there was room for improvement practically everywhere.
— Terry Pratchett, Small Gods


For animals, the entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks.
— Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites


The scientific name for an animal that doesn't either run from or fight its enemies is lunch.
— Michael Friedman


statistics

Please grant me the serenity to accept the errors I can't explain (putting them in the denominator), the courage to explain as many errors as I can (putting them in the numerator), and the wisdom to know my degrees of freedom.
— Laurie Heller


Besides almost all dogs don't talk. Ones that do are merely a statistical error, and therefore can be ignored.
— Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms


It could not be happening because this sort of thing did not happen. Any contradictory evidence could be safely ignored.
— Terry Pratchett, Jingo


Susan Borman recalls being told by a NASA official, "You know, Susan, I think we’ve got a good 50-50 chance of getting them back," to which she replied, "Oh, thank you, because that’s a lot better than what I was thinking."
— As reported in a Discovery Channel special on the the Apollo Moon Program


If you're ever struggling to explain why the degrees of freedom on a t-test is N-1 and not N, consider these words of wisdom: "The best example to explain the concept of degrees of freedom is farting in an elevator. If there are only two of you (one degree of freedom), you both know who did it. If there are more than two, you're uncertain …"
— courtesy of Gordon Logan

perceptual experience

"Once you have opened the door to these hypotheticals that don't have to make internal sense, you quickly find yourself looking at a range of possibilities that might as well be infinitely numerous," Jersy said.


"So it is an intrinsic feature of human consciousness — this filtering ability."


"What then is the criterion that the mind uses to select an infinitesimal minority of possible outcomes to worry about?" Orolo asked. "Plausibility." "Possibility,"


"The mind knows…that there is an action principle that governs how the world evolves from one moment to the next — that restricts our world's path to points that tell an internally consistent story."
— Neal Stephenson, Anathem


If you could see an eighth distinct color just for a while, and then describe it back in the seven-colored world, it'd have to be… 'something like a sort of greenish-purple'. Experience did not cross over well between species.
— Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms


Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn't believing. It's where belief stops, because it isn't needed any more.
— Terry Pratchett, Pyramids


"My gut feeling, and it's nothing more than that," he says, "is that there's a 20 percent chance we're living in a computer simulation."
— Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University (as quoted in a NYT article by John Tierney, 8/14/07)


The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.
— Terry Pratchett, Hogfather


face recognition

I shouldn't know you again if we did meet, Humpty Dumpty replied in a discontented tone… You're so exactly like other people. The face is what one goes by, generally, Alice remarked in a thoughtful tone. That's just what I complain of, said Humpty Dumpty. Your face is the same as everybody has ? the two eyes, so ? (marking their places in the air with his thumb) nose in the middle, mouth under. It's always the same. Now if you had the two eyes on the same side of the nose, for instance? or the mouth at the top? that would be some help.
— Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass


Middle age is when you've met so many people that every new person you meet reminds you of someone else.
— Ogden Nash (1902-1971)


a set of stimuli composed of three rounded parts - a base, body, and head - one on top of the other, with protrusions that are readily labelled penis, nose, and ears. Unfortunately, these rounded, bilaterally symmetrical creatures closely resemble humanoid characters, such as the Yoda (in Return of the Jedi).
— Biederman, I., & Kalocsai, P. (1997). Neurocomputational bases of object and face recognition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 352(1358), 1203-1219.


It is the common wonder of all men, how among so many million faces, there should be none alike.
— Sir Thomas Browne, author and physician, 1605–1682


social cognition

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things.
— Terry Pratchett, Jingo


"Good grief!" groaned the ones who had stars at the first. "We're still the best Sneetches and they are the worst. But, now, how in the world will we know," they all frowned, "If which kind is what, or the other way round?"
— Dr. Seuss, The Sneetches


philosophy

On my bad days, I sometimes wonder what philosophers are for.
— Jerry Fodor, TLS Review of Adapting Minds by David J. Buller


One of the recurring philosophical questions is: 'Does a falling tree in the forest make a sound when there is no one to hear?' Which says something about the nature of philosophers , because there is always someone in a forest. It may only be a badger, wondering what that cracking noise was, or a squirrel a bit puzzled by all the scenery going upwards, but someone.
— Terry Pratchett, Small Gods


Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn't believing. It's where belief stops, because it isn't needed any more.
— Terry Pratchett, Pyramids