Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Geek of the Week: Bertrand Russell

My youngest reader Lia sent me this quote from Bertrand Russell for the blog.
There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge.
It made me think of another great quote Jean-Marc introduced me to from Russell's autobiography. (BTW, Russell had a very unhappy youth.)
There was a footpath leading across 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 mathematics.
It suggests that all anyone seriously depressed needs is a little more math. I'm not sure geometry is ready to replace Prozac, but if it worked for Russell, it's worth a shot.

I googled Russell quotes because I forgot the exact wording on Jean-Marc's quote, and I found out that Russell was a master of the form. QuotationsPage had 63 entries for Russell. Here are some good ones.
Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise.
This beautifully echoes the wonderful failure of his project Principia Mathematica.
If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years.
I have to believe he's exaggerating for effect, but let's hear it for a little enlightened self-interest! I could go on forever, but I'll end on this one about teaching.
Passive acceptance of the teacher's wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favour of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes man to seek and to accept a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position.

pic by Gisela Giardino

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