Thoughts about Science


Not just with science having become a profession (and an increasingly popular one, for that matter), the desire rises for 'measuring' scientific progress and performance: Objectivity and measurement are, after all, core virtues of science itself. But also politicians and administrators love being able to make, or justify, decisions about science based on 'scientific' quantities. So people started counting, then weighing: publications (although this was never the motivation of Derek de Solla Price), external funding, (invited) talks, (graduated) students, (declined) job offers, board membership etc.: one leading to another, the well-known Matthew Effect.

In fact any explicit criterion of performance unfortunately automatically turns into a goal and means to an end of its own to strive for primarily -- and neglect other, implicit ones: creating and involuntary but unavoidable distortion. Measuring scientific progress in terms of employees, projects, funding, prizes, patents, and publications (in that order) is like judging a restaurant from its supplies and sewerage: Although not uncorrelated, these quantities are neither necessary nor sufficient for quality; and using the former to define the latter rewards and boosts mere actionism.

For instance Alvin Weinberg wrote already in 1961:

Or Erwin Chargaff, also in 1961:

The following advice is due to Clemens Albrecht (2007):

Michael Hartmann zu Bildung und sozialer Ungleichheit...


The Ministry Of Creativity (MOC) has developed a thorough classification system of all arts, thus finally organizing the formerly anarchic chaos into a well-ordered field of the most positive possible characteristic.

This administrative breakthrough will simplify the comparison of apples and oranges in any sort of aesthetic display, from drawings via paintings to sculptures, and even includes a category "abstract art".
This promises to (i) foster competition among artists,
to thus (ii) create advanced artefacts of the highest conceivable quality in each separate category,
and is expected to (iii) instill inspiration combined with a renewed degree of drive and purpose for all rautavistic endeavours for the benefit of entire society.

Any contribution is to be placed by its creator into one of the major categories and their refined sub-categories,
and then assessed to act affirmatively upon objective criteria including (a) performance, (b) progress, and (c) prospect.
The top 30% to 40% will then be recommended for promotion.


How to kill an idea

Every now and again, somebody gets an idea:
that and how the world could be changed for the better.
This of course is dangerous,
particularly to those currently in power;
power they might then loose!

So how to effectively kill an idea?
People have tried before, and failed:
killing Jesus for instance hampered his vision only briefly;
and 40 years after assassinating Martin Luther King Jr for for combating racial inequality, the United States elected an African-American as president.

But here is what does work:
Build an organization on, towards, and around the very vision to be quelled;
with objective goals and rules and funds and administration and careers.
That will attract the right mix of technocrats and opportunists to gild, bend, take over, obscure, and thus effectively kill the original idea!



What is the Purpose of Mathematics?

Pure vs. Applied (=impure?) Mathematics

To clarify: Some quotes don't need nor deserve clarification.

Art, and some atavistic opinions on its purpose:

Les savants et les artistes

L'esprit qui dirige les savants, permettez-moi de vous 
l'observer, n'est nullement celui qui dirige et qui doit diriger les artistes. Le savant ne 
travaille que par attachement pour les sciences et pour ajouter à la réputation dont il 
jouit. A-t-il fait une découverte, il s'empresse de la publier, et son objet est rempli s'il 
s'en est assuré la propriété, s'il est constaté authentiquement qu'elle est de lui. 
L'artiste, au contraire, soit dans ses recherches, soit dans les applications qu'il fait 
des découvertes d'autrui, a toujours en vue une spéculation de bénéfice ; il ne publie 
que ce qu'il ne peut se réserver ; il ne raconte que ce qu'il ne peut pas cacher.

La Société profite et de la découverte du savant et de la spéculation intéressée de 
l'artiste. Tous deux sont des êtres précieux pour la chose publique. Mais, réunissez 
les artistes et les savants, chacun d'eux perdra l'esprit qui leur est propre : le savant 
deviendra spéculateur, il ne travaillera plus, ni pour la gloire, ni pour l'avancement des 
connaissances humaines ; il lui paraîtra plus doux de s'occuper de son profit, et dès 
lors il n'y aura plus d'académiciens proprement dits.

Citoyen, cet esprit de désintéressement qui règne dans l'Académie
des sciences est un don précieux qui lui a été transmis depuis son origine et qui n'a 
jamais varié. Les membres qui la composent vivent au milieu des artistes ; ils sont 
dépositaires de leurs secrets. Des moyens de fortune s'offrent tous les jours pour 
eux ; il n'est pas d'exemple qu'un seul académicien ait jamais eu l'idée d'en profiter. 
Convertissez cette simplicité de m.urs en un esprit de spéculation, et la plus belle 
des associations, celle où il règne le plus de morale, de simplicité et de vertus, 
l'Académie des sciences, n'existera plus.
(Antoine Lavoisier, seconde letter a M. Lakanal, le 18 juillet 1793)


The goal of humanity is to comprehend this reality thoroughly enough to arrive at mutual cooperation in life.

Aphorisms, own and others'

  • Altruism does not pay off.
  • Optimism requires ignorance.
  • Truth is no matter of majority.
  • Money is a constraint rather than objective function.
  • Success means obligation more than entitlement.
  • Life is a school where everybody graduates.
    (or has to repeat over and over, depending on your religion :-)
  • It is women's prerogative to expose male double standards.
  • Nature vs. Nurture,   gene vs. meme,   fate vs. free will, animalistic vs. humanistic:
    evolution of mankind beyond natural selection
  • The opposite of well-done is well-meant.
  • A professor is a servant to, more than a master of, science.
  • Success makes you blind for the growing mold under your throne.
  • Except for a mathematical one, any 'singularity' looks 'smooth' on a sufficiently small scale.
  • A good definition is the result of (and not precursor to) hundreds of theorems.
  • The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote. (Kosh, in Babylon 5)
  • Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. (Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell)
  • The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. (Bertrand Russell)
  • The competition between human beings destroys with cold and diabolic brutality....
    Under the pressure of this competitive fury we have not only forgotten what is useful to humanity as a whole, but even that which is good and advantageous to the individual.
    (Konrad Lorenz)
  • Morality is doing what's right, no matter what you're told. Obedience is doing what you're told, no matter what's right. (unknown)
  • Categorical Interrogative: Does it improve the world?
  • I don't like salmon. It's too orange. I don't eat anything orange. Except for oranges. Because they admit they're orange. (Outnumbered)
  • Is really "ambition the willingness to kill the things you love and eat them to stay alive" ??? (Jack Donaghy)
  • Feelings are the selfish genes' means of manipulation.
  • the logical contraposition of "Success is based on exploitation".
  • fundamentalistic, stubborn, fatalistic, pragmatic, opportunistic
  • "In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before.
    But in the case of poetry, it's the exact opposite.
    " (Paul Dirac)
  • "Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." (Martin Luther King) Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted." (William Bruce Cameron)
  • Bertrand Russell on Mankind's Future and Philosophy
  • Abilene Paradox
    More and more...

    dans les querelles entre un bon et une méchante et quand le droit est tout entier d'un côté, il arrive toujours qu'il y a une vétille qui peut donner à la méchante l'apparence de n'avoir pas tort sur un point. Et comme tous les autres points, elle les néglige, pour peu que le bon ait besoin d'elle, soit démoralisé par la séparation, son affaiblissement le rendra scrupuleux, il se rappellera les reproches absurdes qui lui ont été faits et se demandera s'ils n'ont pas quelque fondement. (Marcel Proust)

    When the Wright brothers said they thought together, what they really meant is that they argued together. One of their pivotal decisions was the design of a propeller for their plane. They squabbled for weeks, often shouting back and forth for hours. «After long arguments we often found ourselves in the ludicrous position of each having been converted to the other's side,» Orville reflected, «with no more agreement than when the discussion began.» Only after thoroughly decimating each other's arguments did it dawn on them that they were both wrong. They needed not one but two propellers, which could be spun in opposite directions to create a kind of rotating wing. «I don't think they really got mad,» their mechanic marveled, «but they sure got awfully hot.»
    The skill to get hot without getting mad — to have a good argument that doesn't become personal — is critical in life.
    (Adam Grant, The New York Times, Nov.4 2017)