This page contains a list of quotations by various people which I have found to be particularly insightful, inspiring or amusing. Expect it to grow slowly over time.
Quotations are presented in alphabetical order of owner's surname within their category. If any quotes appear out of this order, it's a mistake, not an attempt to indicate preference.
Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love.
On two occasions I have been asked, "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?"....I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.
Unless you have a hundred unanswered questions in your mind you haven't read enough.
Daniel J. Bernstein
If you want to set off and go develop some grand new thing, you don't need millions of dollars of capitalization. You need enough pizza and Diet Coke to stick in your refrigerator, a cheap PC to work on and the dedication to go through with it.
People thought about things at MIT and they took that thought seriously. People meet in bars after work all over the world and talk about the great problems of life and death and the world and politics and they don't take themselves seriously. They can do nothing else except they chat about these things in bars after work. The things talked about in conversation at MIT, the people who were talking about them took themselves seriously. If they had good ideas on them they would recognise them and work on these things. That seems to me an immensely important attitude. That really is one of the things that separates good intellects from mediocre intellects, is the understanding that the intellect matters, that you matter. If you have ambition, you might not achieve anything, but without ambition, you are almost certain not to achieve anything, if you don't believe you can achieve something.
Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Hackers (and creative people in general) should never be bored or have to drudge at stupid repetitive work, because when this happens it means they aren't doing what only they can do - solve new problems. This wastefulness hurts everybody. Therefore boredom and drudgery are not just unpleasant but actually evil.
Eric S. Raymond
The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there's no good reason to go into space--each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.
If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Men wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.
Ernest Shackleton (possibly apocryphal)
You shouldn't trust any government, actually including this one. You should not trust government - full stop. The natural inclination of government is to hoard power and information; to accrue power to itself in the name of the public good.
The public is lied to every day by the President, by his spokespeople, by his officers. If you can't handle the thought that the President lies to the public for all kinds of reasons, you couldn't stay in the government at that level, or you're made aware of it, a week. ... The fact is Presidents rarely say the whole truth - essentially, never say the whole truth - of what they expect and what they're doing and what they believe and why they are doing it and rarely refrain from lying, actually, about these matters.
The idea that I can be presented with a problem, set out to logically solve it with the tools at hand, and wind up with a program that could not be legally used because someone else followed the same logical steps some years ago and filed for a patent on it is horrifying.
The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.
Liberty and privacy
Mankind has successfully adapted changes as monumental as electricity and the engine. It can also adapt to a world where state sponsored violence against the communications of consenting adults is not only unlawful, but physically impossible. As knowledge flows across nations it is time to sum the great freedoms of every nation and not subtract them. It is time for the world as an international collective of communicating peoples to arise and say "here I am".
Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favor of free speech.
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
It is a commonplace that the history of civilisation is largely the history of weapons. In particular, the connection between the discovery of gunpowder and the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie has been pointed out over and over again. And though I have no doubt exceptions can be brought forward, I think the following rule would be found generally true: that ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance. Thus, for example, tanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows and hand-grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon - so long as there is no answer to it - gives claws to the weak.
George Orwell (in "You and the Atomic Bomb")
...the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
My students, and I suspect many of the students of teachers in this room too, show constantly in our dialog the difficulty. They still think of privacy as "the one secret I don't want revealed" and that's not the problem. Their problem is all the stuff that's the cruft, the data dandruff of life, that they don't think of as secret in any way but which aggregates to stuff that they don't want anybody to know. Which aggregates, in fact, not just to stuff they don't want people to know but to predictive models about them that they would be very creeped out could exist at all.
Eben Moglin (in Freedom in the Cloud)
My friend and colleague Bradley Kuhn who works at the Software Freedom Law Center is one of those archaic human beings who believes that a social security number is a private thing. And he goes to great lengths to make sure that his Social Security is not disclosed which is his right under our law, oddly enough. Though, try and get health insurance or get a safe deposit box, or in fact, operate the business at all. We bend over backwards sometimes in the operation of our business because Bradley's Social Security number is a secret. I said to him one day "You know, it's over now because Google knows your Social Security number". He said "No they don't, I never told it to anybody". I said, "Yeah but they know the Social Security number of everybody else born in Baltimore that year. Yours is the other one".
And as you know, that's true. The data that we infer is the data in the holes between the data we already know if we know enough things.
So, where we live has become a place in which it would be very unwise to say about anything that it isn't known
Eben Moglin (in Freedom in the Cloud)
Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.
Bruce Schneier (in The Value of Privacy)
History will record what we, here in the early decades of the information age, did to foster freedom, liberty and democracy. Did we build information technologies that protected people's freedoms even during times when society tried to subvert them? Or did we build technologies that could easily be modified to watch and control? It's bad civic hygiene to build an infrastructure that can be used to facilitate a police state.
Bruce Schneier (in Risks of Data Reuse)
And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?... The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin's thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!
Freedom is, practically, given as much (or more) by the tools we can build to protect it, as it is by our ability to convince others who violently disagree with us not to attack us.
Unknown (early cypherpunks mailing list)
Whenever you hear someone explain that a concept is so foreign to this or that culture that people cannot even use their language to describe it, it is safe to assume your passport has just been stamped for entry into the Land of Bullshit
Mathematicians, who are only mathematicians, have exact minds, provided all things are explained to them by means of definitions and axioms; otherwise they are inaccurate and insufferable, for they are only right when the principles are quite clear.
There was a footpath leading across the fields to New Southgate, and I used to go there alone to watch the sunset and contemplate suicide. I did not, however, commit suicide, because I wished to know more of mathematics.
Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty - a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture.
I've always lived cheaply. I live like a student, basically. And I like that because it means that money is not telling me what to do. I can do what I think is important for me to do. It freed me to do what seemed worth doing. So make a real effort to avoid getting sucked into all of the expensive lifestyle habits of typical Americans ... because, if you do that, then the people with the money will dictate what you do with your life. You won't be able to do what's really important to you.
It was a good answer that was made by one who when they showed him hanging in a temple a picture of those who had paid their vows as having escaped shipwreck, and would have him say whether he did not now acknowledge the power of the gods, - "Aye", asked he again, "but where are they painted that were drowned after their vows?" And such is the way of all superstition, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happens much oftener, neglect and pass them by.
Napoleon: How can this be! You made the system of the world, you explain the laws of all creation, but in all your book you speak not once of the existence of God!
Laplace: No, Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis.
Napoleon Bonaparte & Pierre-Simon Laplace
A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.
Believe not because some old manuscripts are produced, believe not because it is your national belief, believe not because you have been made to believe from your childhood, but reason truth out, and after you have analysed it, then if you find it will do good to one and all, believe it, live up to it and help others live up to it
Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)
The Church says that the Earth is flat, but I know that it is round. For I have seen the shadow of the earth on the moon and I have more faith in the Shadow than in the Church.
Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is "mere." I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more ? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination: stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern - of which I am a part - perhaps my stuff was belched from some forgotten star, as one is belching there. Or see them with the greater eye of Palomar, rushing all apart from some common starting point when they were perhaps all together. What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined! Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
The world and the universe is an extremely beautiful place, and the more we understand about it the more beautiful does it appear. It is an immensely exciting experience to be born in the world, born in the universe, and look around you and realise that before you die you have the opportunity of understanding an immense amount about that world and about that universe and about life and about why we're here. We have the opportunity of understanding far, far more than any of our predecessors ever. That is such an exciting possibility, it would be such a shame to blow it and end your life not having understood what there is to understand.
It is impossible to dissociate language from science or science from language, because every natural science always involves three things: the sequence of phenomena on which the science is based; the abstract concepts which call these phenomena to mind; and the words in which the concepts are expressed. To call forth a concept, a word is needed; to portray a phenomenon, a concept is needed. All three mirror one and the same reality.
The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures.... Yet the program construct, unlike the poet's words, is real in the sense that it moves and works, producing visible outputs separate from the construct itself. [...] The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time. One types the correct incantation on a keyboard, and a display screen comes to life, showing things that never were nor could be.
Fred Brooks (in The Mythical Man-Month)
There are two ways of constructing a software design; one way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies, and the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies.
C. A. Hoare
The most amazing achievement of the computer software industry is its continuing cancellation of the steady and staggering gains made by the computer hardware industry.
Increasingly, people seem to misinterpret complexity as sophistication, which is baffling -- the incomprehensible should cause suspicion rather than admiration. Possibly this trend results from a mistaken belief that using a somewhat mysterious device confers an aura of power on the user
Software is getting slower more rapidly than hardware becomes faster
Niklaus Wirth ("Wirth's Law")