Category Archives: Books

Can Such Things Be by Ambrose Bierce

From my Notion book template

What It’s About

A collection of short stories by mysterious and cynical hall of famer Ambrose Bierce

How I Discovered It

I was originally looking up the name “Carcosa” from the series true detective, which led me to the fictional city, which was created by Bierce, and used by HP Lovecraft in a few of his stories. The “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” story was written in 1886. I came across Bierce in Florence King’s With Charity Towards None book in the 90s. I think I read The Devil’s Dictionary then too.


I liked it – it was very uneven with minimal editing, which made some things hard to follow, but kept a mystery around others. Bierce felt uncompelled to end things neatly which has the effect of keeping me as the reader in suspense.

What I Liked About It

I liked the genuine feeling of suspense and periodically dread. I had very little idea of where many of the stories were going – very much a random walk in a horrible place.

What I Didn’t Like About It

Sometime the editing was too minimal – events in the stories made very little sense and a lot of stuff was under introduced.

Who Would Like It?

Anyone who like HP Lovecraft

Related Books

Anything by HP Lovecraft.


As he grew to such manhood as is attainable by a Southerner who does not care which way elections go.

and there is a graveyard that would delight a poet.

Nevertheless, there was something lacking. I had a sense of comfort, but not of security.

Unfortunately, our feelings do not always respect the law of probabilities, and to me that evening, the possible and the impossible were equally disquieting.

If there is ever sunshine I do not recall it; if there are birds they do not sing.

To each and all, the peace that was not mine.

“Because you cannot without affirming what you wish to deny, namely, intelligent cooperation among the constituent elements of the crystals. When soldiers form lines, or hollow squares, you call it reason. When wild geese in flight take the form of a letter V you say instinct. When the homogeneous atoms of a mineral, moving freely in solution, arrange themselves into shapes mathematically perfect, or particles of frozen moisture into the symmetrical and beautiful forms of snowflakes, you have nothing to say. You have not even invented a name to conceal your heroic unreason.”

I had never been invited into the machine-shop— had, indeed, been denied admittance, as had all others, with one exception, a skilled metal worker, of whom no one knew anything except that his name was Haley and his habit silence.

“Who rescued me?” “Well, if that interests you— I did.” “Thank you, Mr. Haley, and may God bless you for it. Did you rescue, also, that charming product of your skill, the automaton chess-player that murdered its inventor?” The man was silent a long time, looking away from me. Presently he turned and gravely said: “Do you know that?” “I do,” I replied; “I saw it done.”

The forest was boundless; men and the habitations of men did not exist. The universe was one primeval mystery of darkness, without form and void, himself the sole, dumb questioner of its eternal secret.

What we inherit as a superstition our barbarous ancestors must have held as a reasonable conviction. Doubtless they believed themselves justified by facts whose nature we cannot even conjecture in thinking a dead body a malign thing endowed with some strange power of mischief, with perhaps a will and a purpose to exert it.

The old belief in the malevolence of the dead body was lost from the creeds and even perished from tradition, but it left its heritage of terror, which is transmitted from generation to generation— is as much a part of us as are our blood and bones.”

I ventured faintly to remonstrate with Jo. for his unchristian spirit, but he merely explained that there was nothing about Chinamen in the New Testament, and strode away to wreak his displeasure upon his dog, which also, I suppose, the inspired scribes had overlooked.

It was as if the Old-World barbarism and the New-World civilization had reconciled their differences by the arbitration of an impartial decay— as is the way of civilizations.

They had a child which they named Joseph and dearly loved, as was then the fashion among parents in all that region.

“I have so frequently related them that nothing but observation could shake my conviction. Why, gentlemen, I have my own word for it.”

Many of the graves were sunken, from others grew sturdy pines, whose roots had committed unspeakable sin.

the place was a dishonor to the living, a calumny on the dead, a blasphemy against God.

As to John Bartine, my friend, my patient for five minutes, and— Heaven forgive me!— my victim for eternity, there is no more to say. He is buried, and his watch with him— I saw to that.

Soldiers in the intervals of battle laugh easily, and a jest in the death chamber conquers by surprise.

Scattered here and there, more massive blocks showed where some pompous tomb or ambitious monument had once flung its feeble defiance at oblivion.

And then I knew that these were ruins of the ancient and famous city of Carcosa.

Such are the facts imparted to the medium Bayrolles by the spirit Hoseib Alar Robardin.

man is like a tree: in a forest of his fellows he will grow as straight as his generic and individual nature permits; alone in the open, he yields to the deforming stresses and tortions that environ him.

Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger

The Book in 3 Sentences

Ernst Junger writes about his experiences in the trenches of World War 1. It covers events of epic drama in a hyper-descriptive, unemotional fashion, which creates a weird, ambient feel of both drama and dread over time. What struck me most was how small the difference was between a victory and defeat for Junger.

How I Discovered It

I think I came across Junger on Time Ghost or the Great War on YouTube

Who Should Read It?

History buffs, and anyone needing to see a contrast between our times of excessive virtuality and something very, very different.

How the Book Changed Me

Over time, and maybe not on purpose, but Storm of Steel presented a very broad view of the human experience by detailing a very narrow view of a very broad event – such is life in the trenches. Junger is pretty much one of a kind, and made to thrive on trench warfare – pretty much a German Sargent York, Audie Murphy, Captain America and Sargent Rock all rolled into one. The Great War was a transcendent experience for him, who knows how.

Maybe this is just what autism looks like in German people.


Regardless, an officer must not be separated under any circumstances from the dangers experienced by his men. Danger is the noblest moment of his military profession, because it is needed to prove superior manliness. Honor and chivalry elevate an officer to the lord of the hour. What is more lofty than for a hundred men to march forward to death? The rank and file will never deny the commands of a noble personality; his acts of courage spread in a flash through the ranks with exhilarating power.

The Battle of Eparges was my first. It was very different from what I expected. I had been in a major combat operation, without having an opportunity to directly face an opponent. Only much later, I experienced that confrontation.

The security of a position is based on the freshness and the inexhaustible courage of its defenders, not on its construction and approaches, or on the depth of its trenches.

Old men crept along, slumped over by the new order of things. The war alienated them with brutal ruthlessness from the place where they had spent all their lives.

We interacted with the French locals only if we brought them our laundry for cleaning, or wanted to buy butter and eggs. Intimate relations among the sexes were extremely rare. Eroticism found no place in the dry, disrupted order of things.

was dubbed “Bellevue,” or “Beautiful View,” because of its wide-ranging vista of the battlefront.

Large pits were in the ground, strangely beckoning with their mysterious darkness. They sometimes revealed a cellar of a leveled house. Perhaps down below, the skeletons of unfortunate former residents were being gnawed by very busy swarms of rats.

However, we had in our company commander, Lieutenant d. R. Brecht, an officer who was the right man for defending such a place. A former German emigrant to America, he had hurried back over at the beginning of the war. His bold nature sought danger and brought him, in the end, a death full of glory.

Some cats are drawn from the destroyed villages into the trenches. They like to be close to the people. A large white cat, with a gunshot through the front paw, often haunts us, and seems to frequent both sides of the front.

The trench makes thousands of construction requests daily to us. We dig deep tunnels; build bomb shelters and concrete blockhouses; and prepare barbed-wire obstacles. We also create drainage systems; put down floor boarding and supports; level, increase, and slope off the earth; pour out latrines; and so on.

Thus our days passed in stressful monotony.

The only consolation was that the opposing Englishman fared no better. Our troops saw how energetically water was pumped from his trenches. Since we are somewhat on higher ground, we pumped downstream to him our abundance of water and mud.

The cascading water eroded trench walls. A number of buried bodies were exposed from the fighting of the previous autumn.

The local inhabitants (French civilians) were under strict discipline. Transgressions and offenses were punished by the local commander with prompt justice, e.g., painful fines and imprisonment. As much as I am in favor of the logic of the power concept, i.e., might makes right, its excesses were, in my view, too repugnant and embarrassing, even at that time.

For example, it was the duty of every inhabitant, even the women, to salute the German officers they encountered on the street. Such arrangements are pointless, degrading, and harmful. Yet we generated a lot of this animosity throughout the war. We were “smart” in little things, but weak in opposing severe harm to the heart of our cause.

However, I am tempted to say that we conversed more in a manner like a sportsman’s mutual respect, than as enemies. At the end of our talk, we even would have liked to exchange a gift as a souvenir. It has always been my ideal in war, to look at the enemy as opponents only in battle. I eliminate any personal feeling of hatred, and consider the courage of the man. I have learned that many English officers had similar feelings. As regards to our truce that day, we restored normal relations: The English officer and I solemnly agreed to return to war within three minutes after breaking off the negotiations.

In this and similar ways, we all had moments of losses due to carelessness that occurred with the constant handling of explosives. One unsettling neighbor in this respect was Lieutenant Pook. He lived in a lonely dugout in an intricate confusion of trenches behind the left flank. He had dragged there a number of huge artillery duds and busied himself by unscrewing the fuses and studying their design. If my duties led me near his place, I made a big detour around this eerie abode every time.

With all my energy, I had provided for the defense of my 200 meters (220 yards) of combat trenches, and for the welfare of my 60 men.

They had lit a roaring log fire and bent over the purifying flame to escape the effects of the chlorine. I joined them in this activity, until the shell fire had subsided, and then went forward through runner-trench Number 6.

We had endured an open air “blister” attack of pure chlorine, a poison gas that works by etching and burning the lungs.

Only a single Englishman climbed over and got through the obstacle. Our Lieutenant Brecht grabbed the man by the throat and greeted him in English with “Come here, you son of a bitch!” (Lieutenant Brecht had been a planter in America before the war.)

I only realized later that this patrol experience had gone to my nerves. That night, I lay with chattering teeth on a cot in the dugout and could not sleep despite the exhaustion. The next morning, I could barely walk, because out of one of my knees I extracted a long broken wire, and in the other, a piece of shrapnel protruded from the grenade thrown by Bartels.

You could tell that the man had tasted every horror until he despaired, and then had learned to despise it all. Nothing seemed left in him except a great and manly indifference.

Because of violent headaches and ear pains, we could communicate only by fragmentary, shouted words. The ability for logical thought and the sense of gravity seemed suspended.

Finally, our guide found the way again to reach the rendezvous point to deliver his promised squads of living corpses.

Behind me there was a persistent, unpleasant sound. I had a remarkable lack of emotion when I realized what it was. The noise came from a gigantic, decomposing corpse that was slowly merging into the surrounding soil. (The sound was the hissing outgas of rotting flesh.)

The excited, misplaced grasp of a single man, Sergeant H., had triggered our whole mighty war machine. He was, and remained, a man of misfortune. That same night, while loading his pistol, he even fired a flare into the legging of his boot. He had to be carried back with severe burns.

The doctor congratulated me for being so lucky, because the lead ball passed cleanly between the tibia and fibula, without injuring any bones. “Habent sua fata libelli et balli,” (“Books and bullets have their own destinies”) said the old Medical Corps student in Latin.

The days of Guillemont made known to me for the first time the devastating effects of the battle of materiel, the battle against things. We had to adapt to completely new forms of war.

Above all, there fell the flower of our disciplined youth into the dust. The lofty values that had made great the German people, shone there again in dazzling splendor. Yet, slowly those same values perished in a sea of mud and

Such small observations gave me a comforting assurance:  In France, national pride is also not a characteristic of the general public. After the war, this realization helped me endure the remarkable reception which some of our comrades received upon returning to Germany, after four honorable years of hard combat. “Il y a des cochons partout.” (French for “There are pigs everywhere.”)―

stopped in my tracks. On the modern battlefield, unpopulated areas are always suspicious.

There were only five men remaining in the 2nd Company who had also celebrated the previous Christmas with me in the trenches of Monchy.

In war, everything is determined by unintended effects. From that probably also came the preference of field troops for alcohol in its concentrated forms. Sexual relations with the opposing civilian population was, in part, unwanted intimacy. Venus, the mythical goddess of love, deprived Mars, the god of war, of some of his servants.

We later learned that the whole position was undermined by the enemy (tunneling underneath to plant explosives).

Note:That is where that word originates

As for the English sergeant, he had both legs all but torn off by shrapnel from hand grenades. Yet with a stoic peace, he clenched his short pipe in his teeth up to the moment of death.

Soon, the land that awaited the advancing enemy, was transformed into a most desolate wasteland. The moral justification for this destruction is much disputed. However, it seems to me that the chauvinistic howls of rage then supporting it, is best interpreted as the satisfied cheers of armchair soldiers and newspaper writers. When thousands of peaceful people living in these areas were robbed of their homes, one has to mention the selfish pleasure of power.

As a necessity of fact, I am, as a Prussian officer, naturally without a moment of doubt (and follow orders). The conduct of war calls for seeking to destroy the opponent by varied uses of power without regards to consequences. War is the hardest of crafts; its master may be humane morality only so long as the heart is open to it, and as long as that heart itself cannot be hurt in the war.

This was the sole, but very important, message that I passed on to my superiors during the three weeks of my stay in Fresnoy. By itself, it justified my large organization devoted solely to the collection of intelligence. Alas, now, when my men were of greatest value, artillery fire knocked out of action almost all of my installations.This was the consequence of over-centralization, i.e., basing too many assets in a small area.

The frontline officer in war must sometimes commit tactical mistakes for reasons of a subjective nature (i.e., accept personal risk so as to maintain the respect of the men).

The respect for this commander raises every chivalrous-minded man in the ranks above himself, and spurs him on to ever greater achievements. As such, commander and men kindle within each other powerful manifestations of energy. The morale factor is the most important element of war.

I could say with satisfaction, that through mastery of the situation and personal influence on my people, I gave the enemy leader a bad disappointment and an early grave.

What did Nietzsche say about a warrior people? “You may only have enemies which are to be hated, but not enemies to be held in contempt. You must be proud of your enemy, then the achievements of the enemy are also your achievements (when you defeat him).”

To be a leader with a clear head, is in itself the finest reward a man can have, just as cowardice is its own punishment. I have always pitied the coward. For him, a battle becomes a series of hellish torments. By contrast, the courageous man is filled with great vigor, and views battle only as a chain of more exciting events.

This shows above all the consequences of an arcane system of promotion. Based solely on their seniority, i.e., years of service, officers of obscure military specialties are given command of infantry companies engaged in combat. Yet, in their previous service, they have not once ordered “Guns at the ready! Prepare to fire!” (The above company commander formerly belonged to the horse cavalry.) One may prefer such ancient traditions as seniority, if you believe you cannot manage without it. However, it should only be used where men’s lives are not at risk. O

Following the principle of old soldiers: “A good breakfast holds body and soul together,” my first action was to eat heartily. I then lit my pipe, and looked at what was going on outside our house.

The hours we just experienced were without a doubt the most dreadful of the whole war. You cower alone, scrunched up in your foxhole, and feel abandoned to a relentless, blind force of destruction. With horror, you sense that all your intelligence, skills, spiritual and physical abilities, have become trivial, laughable things. Already, while you are thinking this, iron projectiles could have begun their whining path through the sky to smash you into a formless nothing. Your anxiety focuses on your sense of hearing: You try to pick out the approaching flutter of the “Bringer of Death” from the clutter of background noise. For

Yet you are observed by someone. The symbolic man of morals may unconsciously work in you. He confines you to this place because of two powerful forces: Duty and Honor. You know you are placed in this piece of trench to fight, and a whole nation trusts that you will do your job. The feeling is that if I leave my position, I am a coward in my own eyes, a villain who must later blush at every word of praise. Hence, you clench your teeth and remain where you are, standing your ground.

The limestone was a reddish-white rock and crawling with fossils. After every time I walked through the trench, I came back to my dugout with pockets full of fossilized mussel shells, starfish, and Ammon horns.

The division commander greeted me very kindly and soon soothed my discontent. At lunch I sat next to him in a ragged field coat with a bandaged hand. I remembered the old saying, “Only bums are modest!”, and endeavored to depict our actions of the morning in the best light.

I jumped on this pathetic soldier, a product of a failed military training. By holding a pistol under his nose, I forced information from him. If since then, the man has not yet been killed or deserted, he will certainly have bolstered the antiwar activists of the German Spartacus League as a worthy member.

It is not good to send two sons to war in the same regiment. We had four pairs of brothers in the officer corps of the regiment. Of these eight young people, five fell in battle, and two, including my brother, took severe injuries back to their homes. I am the only one who has come out in some measure unharmed. This small example illustrates the losses of the Fusiliers Regiment.

His first words demonstrated that I had a man in front of me: “We were surrounded.” He was compelled to declare to his opponent why his company had so quickly yielded. We chatted in French about different topics.

Even modern industrial war has its moments of glory. One hears so often the mistaken view that infantry combat has sunk to a dull mass slaughter. On the contrary, today more than ever, the individual soldier decides the outcome. This is known by everyone who has seen them in their kingdom: Soldiers are princes of the trench, and rule with hard, determined faces. They are daring and fluid, gracefully jumping back and forth with sharp, bloodthirsty eyes. They are the heroes that no official report ever cites by name.

One time, a gunner in my company tested his light machine gun and accidentally shot the commander of a regiment of foreign allies. The latter was on a saddle-horse in the midst of a parade review. Fortunately, the wound was slight, and our involvement not clearly proven.

Every midday at exactly 12 noon, a black ball was lowered from our observation balloons, and then disappeared at 12:10 p.m. This was apparently done to provide the troops with more exact hourly time.

Someday, after the passage of many years, the waves of hatred against us will fade; history will then recognize that we fought like a people never before us.

Yet immediately retorted the other voice, “Man, you’re the company commander!” Exactly so. I do not say it to boast. I would rather say: To whom God gives a position of authority, God also gives the wisdom to do it.

I reached the end of my mental rope with this last observation. I threw myself to the ground and burst into convulsive sobs. My people stood around me in a dark mood.

Also in the bomb shelter were the advanced scouts who had gotten us lost in the first place. Since that day, whenever we moved into a new position, I have always personally made the selection of the advanced scouts, and with the greatest care. War is a great teacher of fundamental lessons, but the tuition is expensive.

Our joy was disturbed by tears and the burning of our mucous membranes. The wind was blowing back the toxic vapors of our own gas-filled shells!  The unpleasant effects of “Blue Cross” gas (hydrogen cyanide)—gagging and coughing—forced many people to tear off their gas masks. I was very worried about the gas, but I firmly trusted our leaders. They could not possibly have made a miscalculation that would be our undoing. Still, by summoning all my energy, I forced back my first coughs, so as to avoid increasing attention to the problem.

fell short

Note:So mny expressions came from ww1

The immense desire for destruction dominated our thinking and behavior. It weighed heavily upon the battlefield, and concentrated itself in the brain. This was not unique in history. The men of the Renaissance were in the grip of passion. Cellini, the Florentine artist, wanted to be full of fury. Werewolves, on the other hand, rushed howling through the night to drink blood.

A bullet hit him in the eye, and he fell dead at the bottom of the trench. The man had been the last man alive in Lieutenant Wedelstädt’s company. When Wedelstädt saw him fall, he leaned his head on the trench wall and wept. The lieutenant would also not survive the day. I

As I learned later, the artillery had orders to fire continuously at maximum range into the enemy’s rear. This incomprehensible arrangement tore from our grasp the most beautiful fruits of victory. Grudgingly gnashing our teeth, we had to call a halt to our advance in front of the fiery wall of artillery blasts.

However, my escort claimed that he could not see my brains coming out. So, I pulled myself up and ran on with him.

There this sixth double-wounding healed as well as the previous ones.


Then we had to one more time to retreat to the main defensive trench in the rear, because our relief battalion had been nearly wiped out by the Spanish disease (a world-wide flu epidemic). Also in our own company, several men daily reported sick. In the neighboring division the flu also raged strongly.

I attempted to stop the “friendly fire.” I sent one protest after another to the artillery command posts. I urgently called for a cease fire, or for the presence of artillery officers, or spotters, in the trench. Instead of answering me, a heavy mortar began to again fire on us, and, in my opinion, completely made the trench into a slaughterhouse.

Note:Friendly Fire way higher than thought

The bright full moon of the nights favored frequent visits by enemy aircraft. They gave us an idea of the overwhelming material superiority of the opposite side. Night after night, multiple squadrons floated and zoomed

The discipline of drilling, e.g., practice marching in formation, is a means to an end. No army can do without it. Neither formal education, nor athletic training, can entirely replace strict drilling. A man who has doubtful self-esteem in a crisis, must learn to obey orders, even in a dull stupor. His instincts to run from danger must be curbed by the spirited demands of his commander, even in the most terrifying moments.

found it quite smart for the English to bomb the German mind with poems, and also quite flattering for us. A war where you fight through poetic verses would be a quite blessed invention.

A bullet had pierced his steel helmet and struck him in the temple. This brave man sealed his loyalty to his commander with death. He was a teacher’s son from Letter, a town near Hanover. I later visited his family, and hold his memory sacred.

Although I have not been an enemy of women, their feminine nature irritated me every time when my fate after battle was thrown into the bed of a sick ward. From the masculine, goal-oriented, and practical actions of war, I was immersed in an atmosphere of indefinable, emotional outpourings. A pleasant exception was the down-to-earth practicality of the Catholic order of sisters.

However, at age 23, author Ernst Jünger finished the war as one of the most decorated soldiers on either side. He survived being wounded on seven occasions, and never fought troops from his cherished American West. See

A “Fusilier” was an 18th-cenetury soldier armed with a light flintlock musket, or “fusil.”]

No less than Hitler himself admired Mr. Jünger’s war memoir, and the Nazis actively courted Mr. Jünger.  Mr. Jünger, though, politely, but firmly, refused to join the Nazi Party.

Mr. Jünger also distanced himself from rising antisemitism. He and his brother both resigned in protest from their veterans’ organization, after its Jewish members were expelled.

wing organizations associated with Mr. Jünger.  On the eve of the Second World War, the author published On Marble Cliffs, a thinly veiled, anti-Hitler allegory.

Mr. Jünger ultimately published around 50 books. In 1982, he won the much-coveted Goethe Prize of the City of Frankfurt. However, passionate left-wing protesters raged through the streets, denouncing his alleged militarism.

In 1992, captured Nazi archives from the collapsed Soviet Union became available. A stunning 1944 memo confirmed the planned arrest by the Nazis of one Captain Ernst Jünger for disloyalty. Surprisingly, the German dictator Adolf Hitler abruptly halted the proceedings, without comment, and much to the disappointment of his henchmen.

Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday

From my notion template – goodreads digest here

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. The story of Peter Theil’s feud with Gawker
  2. A periodically interesting look at the nature of conspiracies and grudges
  3. A nice study in patience and the power of our modern tech oligarchs
  4. The oligarch’s power resides in the ability to be patient and thoroughly work the system


Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday – would have made a great Atavist article, as a book it is ignorable – the subject matter is interesting, but it is overlong and very padded

My Top Quotes

  • Alexandre Dumas once wrote that the king of the press has a throne everywhere.
  • To begin you must study the end. You don’t want to be the first to act, you want to be the last man standing.
  • Ethics don’t win the war, but they do help keep the peace.
  • The majority of their communication is done over the phone or alone in Peter’s home. Emails can be subpoenaed, or can be hacked. Meeting in public, being seen at Thiel’s offices or in public
  • Mr. A claims that the conspirators had nothing to do with starting Gamergate, but they undoubtedly fanned the flames. His description of Gamergate to me as “largely autonomous but very helpful” is perfectly typical of the lawyerly gymnastics I’ve come to expect from him.
  • The line attributed to the management guru Peter Drucker is that culture eats strategy. It’s a truism that applies as much to conspiracies as it does to businesses. It doesn’t matter how great your plan is, it doesn’t matter who your people are, if what binds them all together is weak or toxic, so, too, will be the outcome—if you even get that far. But if the ties that bind you together are strong, if you have a sense
  • As far as I know, Gawker conducted no mock trials—at least it couldn’t in the Tampa Bay region. Because Mr. A claims he hired the only two firms in the area to conflict them out of being able to work with Gawker. His simple move had kept the fog of war thick around them. No chance for last-minute clarity or perspective.
  • “It became very clear that the kind of jurors we wanted were overweight women. Most people can’t empathize with a sex tape, but overweight women are sensitive about their bodies and feel like they have been bullied on the internet. Men don’t have that problem. Attractive women don’t have that problem. They haven’t been body shamed,” Mr. A tells me proudly. Hypothetical Juror #3 might not have been a victim of revenge porn. She might not care about celebrity privacy. Hypothetical Juror #3 might not have known what it feels like to be Hulk Hogan, but she knows what it’s like to have an unflattering picture of herself on the internet. She knows what it feels like to be embarrassed or ashamed. Which is why they would choose her.
  • The great sin for a leader, Frederick the Great once observed, was not in being defeated but in being surprised.
  • Without a way out, tensions only increase and combatants have no choice but to fight on. Scipio Africanus, the general who defeated Hannibal, would say that an army should not only leave a road for their enemy to retreat by, they should pave it. The Romans had a name for this road, the Gallic Way.

Odd John by Olaf Stapledon

From my notion template – good reads link here

What the book is about

A new race “Homo Superior” much like mutants in X-men, emerges – this is their story

How I Discovered It

From Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon


Pretty weird and brilliant

What I Liked About It

It was a big story, lots of weird detail – insightful in lots of ways – particularly with the “only part he had to play was to be an ugly hateful trap (paraphrase)” and the part about the wise old man letting the kids do their thing, while he did important work like contemplating God.

What I Didn’t Like About It

Kind of short – no clear resolution to several of the characters

Who Would Like It?

Science Fiction people – between wars fiction people

Related Books

Star Maker


  • To this day I know little but the amazing facts of his career. I know that he never walked till he was six, that before he was ten he committed several burglaries and killed a policeman, that at eighteen, when he still looked a young boy, he founded his preposterous colony in the South Seas, and that at twenty-three, in appearance but little altered, he outwitted the six warships that six Great Powers had sent to seize him. I know also how John and all his followers died.
  • discovered, the great majority of these very rare supernormals, whom John sometimes called “wide-awakes,” are either so delicate physically or so unbalanced mentally that they leave no considerable mark on the world.
  • John’s birth had put the great maternal animal to a severe strain. She carried her burden for eleven months, till the doctors decided that at all costs she must be relieved.
  • On a certain Tuesday he was merely babbling as usual. On Wednesday he was exceptionally quiet, and seemed for the first time to understand something of his mother’s baby-talk. On Thursday morning he startled the family by remarking very slowly but very correctly, “I—want—milk.” That afternoon he said to a visitor who no longer interested him, “Go—away. I—do—not—like—you—much.”
  • The latter was for John the easier task. He set about studying our conduct and our motives, partly by questioning us, partly by observation. He soon discovered two important facts, first that we were often surprisingly ignorant of our own motives, and second that in many respects he differed from the rest of us. In later years he himself told me that this was the time when he first began to realize his uniqueness.
  • He was at this time plainly going through a phase of concentrated self-assertion.
  • “Philosophy,” he said, “is really very helpful to the growing mind, but it’s terribly disappointing too. At first I thought I’d found the mature human intelligence at work at last. Reading Plato, and Spinoza, and Kant, and some of the modern realists too, I almost felt I had come across people of my own kind. I walked in step with them. I played their game with a sense that it called out powers that I had never exercised before. Sometimes I couldn’t follow them. I seemed to miss some vital move. The exhilaration of puzzling over these critical points, and feeling one had met a real master mind at last! But as I went on from philosopher to philosopher and browsed around all over the place, I began to realize the shocking truth that these critical points were not what I thought they were, but just outrageous howlers. It had seemed incredible that these obviously well-developed minds could make simple mistakes; and so I had respectfully dismissed the possibility, and looked for some profound truth. But oh my God, I was wrong! Howler after howler! Sometimes a philosopher’s opponents spot his howlers, and are frightfully set up with their own cleverness. But most of them never get spotted at all, so far as I can discover. Philosophy is an amazing tissue of really fine thinking and incredible, puerile mistakes. It’s like one of those rubber ‘bones’ they give dogs to chew, damned good for the mind’s teeth, but as food—no bloody good at all.”
  • He wanted my affair with the Pax-like girl to go forward and complete itself not only because, as my friend, he espoused my need, but also because, if I were to give it up for his sake, I should become a vindictive rather than a willing slave. He preferred, I imagine, to be served by a free and roving hound rather than by a chained and hungry wolf.
  • But he regarded the whole commercial world with a contempt which suggested now the child, and now the philosopher. He was at once below it and above
  • Examining her racquet, she suddenly asked, “Do you blame me, about John?” While I was trying to reply, she added, “I expect you know what a power he has. He’s like—a god pretending to be a monkey. When you’ve been noticed by him, you can’t bother about ordinary people.”
  • “Well, they’re damned fine stuff, these fishermen, and Abe and Mark are two of the best. You see, when Homo sapiens is up against the sort of job and the sort of life that’s not really beyond him, he’s all right. It’s only when civilization gives him a job that’s too much for his intelligence or too much for his imagination that he fails. And then the failure poisons him through and through.”
  • “Ninety-nine per cent. slush and one per cent.—something else, but what?”
  • What’s the group, anyhow, but just everybody lumped together, and nearly all fools or pimps or knaves? It’s not simply the group that fires him. It’s justice, righteousness, and the whole spiritual music that ought to be made by the group. Damned funny, that! Of course, I know all Communists are not religious, some are merely—well, like that bloody little man the other day. But this fellow is religious. And so was Lenin, I guess. It’s not enough to say his root motive was desire to avenge his brother. In a sense that’s true. But one can feel behind nearly everything he said a sense of being the chosen instrument of Fate, of the Dialectic, of what might almost as well be called God.”
  • Things haven’t got bad enough for that in England yet. At present all that can be done by blokes like this is to spout hate and give the other side a fine excuse for repressing Communism. Of course, hosts of well-off people and would-be-well-off people are just as ashamed of themselves subconsciously as that blighter, and just as full of hate, and in need of a scapegoat to exercise their hate upon. He and his like are a godsend to them.”
  • “You talk,” he said, “as if hate were rational, as if men only hated what they had reason to hate. If you want to understand modern Europe and the world, you have to keep in mind three things that are really quite distinct although they are all tangled up together. First there’s this almost universal need to hate something, rationally or irrationally, to find something to unload your own sins on to, and then smash it. In perfectly healthy minds (even of your species) this need to hate plays a small part. But nearly all minds are damnably unhealthy, and so they must have something to hate. Mostly, they just hate their neighbours or their wives or husbands or parents or children. But they get a much more exalted sort of excitement by hating foreigners. A nation, after all, is just a society for hating foreigners, a sort of super-hate-club. The second thing to bear in mind is the obvious one of economic disorder. The people with economic power try to run the world for their own profit. Not long ago they succeeded, more or less, but now the job has got beyond them, and, as we all know, there’s the hell of a mess. This gives hate a new outlet. The have-nots with very good reason exercise their hate upon the haves, who have made the mess and can’t clean it up. The haves fear and therefore zestfully hate the have-nots. What people can’t realize is that if there were no deep-rooted need to hate in almost every mind the social problem would be at least intelligently faced, perhaps solved. Then there’s the third factor, namely, the growing sense that there’s something all wrong with modern solely-scientific culture. I don’t mean that people are intellectually doubtful about science. It’s much deeper than that. They are simply finding that modern culture isn’t enough to live by. It just doesn’t work in practice. It has got a screw loose somewhere. Or some vital bit of it is dead. Now this horror against modern culture, against science and mechanization and standardization, is only just beginning to be a serious factor. It’s newer than Bolshevism. The Bolshies, and all the socially left-wing people, are still content with modern culture. Or rather, they put all its faults down to capitalism, dear innocent theorists. But the essence of it they still accept. They’re rationalistic, scientific, mechanistic, brass-tack-istic. But another crowd, scattered about all over the place, are having the hell of a deep revulsion against all this. They don’t know what’s the matter with it, but they’re sure it’s not enough. Some of them, feeling that lack, just creep back into church, specially the Roman Church. But too much water has passed under the bridge since the churches were alive, so that’s no real use. The crowds who can’t swallow the Christian dope are terribly in need of something, though they don’t know what, or even know they’re in need at all. And this deep need gets mixed up with their hate-need; and, if they’re middle class, it gets mixed up also with their…
  • Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
  • Note the sin eater
  • what happened in Italy. That sort of thing will spread. I’d bet my boots that in a few years there’ll be a tremendous anti-left movement all over Europe, inspired partly by fear and hate, partly by that vague, fumbling suspicion that there’s something all wrong with scientific culture. It’s more than an intellectual suspicion. It’s a certainty of the bowels, call it a sort of brute-blind religious hunger. Didn’t you feel the beginnings of it in Germany last year when we…
  • so worthy and so easily twisted into something bloody. If Christianity could hold it in and discipline it, it might do wonders. But Christianity’s played out. So these folk will probably invent some ghastly religion of their own. Their God will be the God of the hate-club, the nation. That’s what’s coming. The new Messiahs (one for each tribe) won’t triumph by love and gentleness, but by hate and ruthlessness. Just because…
  • “The best minds!” he said. “One of the main troubles of your unhappy species is that the best minds can go even farther astray than the second best, much farther than the umpteenth best. That’s what has been happening during the last few centuries. Swarms of the best minds have been leading the populace down blind alley after blind alley, and doing it with tremendous courage and resource. Your trouble, as a species, is that you can’t keep hold of everything at once. Any one who is very wide awake toward one set of facts invariably loses sight of all the other equally important sets. And as you have practically no inner…
  • They also demanded aesthetic pleasure of a rather self-indulgent sort, and the thoroughly self-indulgent pleasure of tasting ideas, just for their spiciness or tang, so to speak. Bright young things! Yes, blowflies of a decaying civilization. Poor wretches! How they must hate themselves, really. But damn it, after all, they’re mostly good stuff gone wrong.”
  • You see they’re all very sensitive creatures, very susceptible to pleasure and pain; and early in their lives, whenever they bumped into anything like a fundamental experience, they found it terribly upsetting. And so they formed habits of avoiding that sort of thing. And they made up for this persistent avoidance by drenching themselves in all sorts of minor and superficial (though sensational) experiences; and also by talking big about Experience with a capital E, and buzzing intellectually.”
  • Homo sapiens is a spider trying to crawl out of a basin. The higher he crawls, the steeper the hill. Sooner or later, down he goes. So long as he’s on the bottom, he can get along quite nicely, but as soon as he starts climbing, he begins to slip. And the higher he climbs the farther he falls. It doesn’t matter which direction he tries. He can make civilization after civilization, but every
  • with bleeding blisters. But the deed was accomplished. The hunters of all the ages saluted him, for he had done what none of them could have done. A child, he had gone naked into the wilderness and conquered it. And the angels of heaven smiled at him, and beckoned him to a higher adventure.
  • It began to dawn on me that the discovery of his own kind, even in a lunatic asylum, must have been for John a deeply moving experience. I began to realize that, having lived for nearly eighteen years with mere animals, he had at last discovered a human being.
  • In fact he’s the sort any decent society would drown at birth. But the mother loves him like a tigress; though she’s scared stiff of him too, and loathes him. Neither parent has any idea he’s—what he is. They think he’s just an ordinary little cripple. And because he’s a cripple, and because they treat him all wrong, he’s brewing the most murderous hate imaginable.
  • Presently I began to ask myself what sort of a devil this baby Satan really was. Was he one of ‘us,’ or something quite different? But there was very little doubt in my mind, actually. Of course he was one of us, and probably a much mightier one than either J. J. or myself. But everything had gone wrong with him, from conception onwards. His body had failed him, and was tormenting him, and his mind was as crippled as his body, and his parents were quite unable to give him a fair chance. So the only self-expression possible to him was hate. And he had specialized in hate pretty thoroughly. But the oddest thing about it all was this. The further I got away from the experience, the more clearly it was borne in on me that his ecstasy of hate was really quite self-detached. He wasn’t hating for himself. He hated himself as much as me. He hated everything, including hate.
  • And why? Because, as I begin to discover, there’s a sort of minute, blazing star of worship right down in the pit of his hell. He sees everything from the side of eternity just as clearly as I do, perhaps more clearly; but—how shall I put it?—he conceives his part in the picture to be the devil’s part, and he’s playing it with a combination of passion and detachment like a great artist, and for the glory of God, if you understand what I mean. And he’s right. It’s the only thing he can do, and he does it with style. I take off my hat to him, in spite of everything. But it’s pretty ghastly, really. Think of the life he’s living; just like an infant’s, and with his powers! I dare say he’ll manage to find some trick for blowing up the whole planet some day, if he lives much longer. And there’s another thing. I’ve got to keep a sharp look-out or he’ll catch me again. He can reach me anywhere, in Australia or Patagonia. God! I can feel him now!
  • I asked what language they had been talking. “English,” he said. “She wanted to tell me a lot about herself, and didn’t want the old one to know about it, so she started in on English-back-to-front. I’ve never tried that before, but it’s quite easy, for us.” There was a faint stress on the “us.”
  • For some years she lived upon him, latterly giving him nothing in return but the terrible charm of her society once a week at dinner.
  • Save for these, John found nothing but lunatics, cripples, invalids, and inveterate old vagabonds in whom the superior mentality had been hopelessly distorted by contact with the normal species.
  • But Adlan’s brilliance made his way of life seem all the more perplexing. With some complacency John assured himself that if he were to live as long as Adlan he would not have to spend his old age toiling for a pittance from Homo sapiens. But before he parted from Adlan he began to take a humbler view of himself and a more respectful attitude to Adlan.
  • “My son, my dear son,” he said, “Allah wills of his creatures two kinds of service. One is that they should toil to fulfil his active purpose in the world, and that is the service which you have most at heart. The other is that they should observe with understanding and praise with discriminate delight the excellent form of his handiwork. And this is my service, to lay at Allah’s feet such a life of praise that no man, not even you, my very dear son, can give him. He has fashioned you in such a manner that you may serve him best in action, though in action inspired always by deep-searching contemplation. But me he has fashioned such that I must serve him directly through contemplation and praise, though for this end I had first to pass through the school of action.”
  • One morning she came down to breakfast as though nothing had happened, but looking, so John said, “like a corpse animated by a soul out of Hell.”
  • Distance, apparently, made no difference to the ease with which he could pick up the psychic processes of other supernormals. Success depended entirely on his ability to “tune in” to their mental “setting” or mode of experience, and this depended on the degree of similarity of their mode to his own.
  • And we know, you must remember, that Homo sapiens has little more to contribute to the music of this planet, nothing in fact but vain repetition. It is time for finer instruments to take up the theme.”
  • One bit of hypnotic technique (or magic, if you like) I felt sure I could now perform successfully on normal minds in which there were strong religious convictions. This we decided to use. The natives had welcomed us to their island and arranged a feast for us. After the feast there were ritual dances and religious rites. When the excitement was at a climax, I made Lo dance for them. And when she had done, I said to them, in their own language, that we were gods, that we needed their island, that they must therefore make a great funeral pyre for themselves, mount it together, lie down together, and gladly die. This they did, most gladly, men, women and children. When they had all died we set fire to the faggots and their bodies were burnt.”
  • Her general appearance was that of a cretin; yet she had supernormal intelligence and temperament, and also hyper-sensitive vision. Not only did she distinguish two primary colours within the spectrum-band that we call blue, but also she could see well down into the infra-red. In addition to this colour-discrimination, she had a sense of form that was, so to speak, much finer-grained than ours. Probably there were more nerve-endings in her retinae than in normal eyes, for she could read a newspaper at twenty yards’ distance, and she could see at a glance that a penny was not accurately circular.
  • Seeing all these supernormals together, I was struck by a pervading Chinese or Mongolian expression about them. They had come from many lands, but they had a family likeness. John might well be right in guessing that all had sprung from a single “sporting point” centuries ago, probably in Central Asia. From that original mutation, or perhaps from a number of similar mutations, successive generations of offspring had spread over Asia, Europe, Africa, interbreeding with the normal kind, but producing occasionally a true supernormal individual.
  • One of the most disconcerting features of life on the island was that much of the conversation of the colonists was carried on telepathically. So far as I could judge, vocal speech was in process of atrophy. The younger members still used it as the normal means of communication, and even among the elders it was often indulged in for its own sake, much as we may prefer to walk rather than take a bus. The spoken language was prized chiefly for its aesthetic value. Not only did the islanders make formal poems for one another as frequently as the cultured Japanese; they also delighted sometimes to converse with one another in subtle metre, assonance and rhyme. Vocal speech was used also for sheer emotional expression, both deliberately and inadvertently. Our civilization had left its mark on the island in such ejaculations as “damn” and “blast” and several which we do not yet tolerate in print. In all reactions to the personality of others, too, speech played an important part. It was often a vehicle for the expression of rivalry, friendship and love. But even in this field all finer intercourse, I was told, depended on telepathy. Speech was but an obbligato to the real theme.
  • “helped greatly by Shên Kuo, whose genius moves in that sphere. We attained also a kind of astronomical consciousness. Some of us at least glimpsed the myriads of peopled worlds, and even the minds of stars and of nebulae. We saw also very clearly that we must soon die. And there were other things which I must not tell you.”
  • The true purpose of the awakened spirit, they reminded me, is twofold, namely to help in the practical talk of world-building, and to employ itself to the best of its capacity in intelligent worship. Under the first head they had at least created something glorious though ephemeral, a microcosm, a world in little. But the more ambitious part of their practical purpose, the founding of a new species, they were destined never to fulfil. Therefore they were concentrating all their strength upon the second aim. They must apprehend existence as precisely and zestfully as they could, and salute That in the universe which was of supreme excellence.
  • The Commander was one of those exceptional seamen who spend a good deal of their time in reading. His mind had a background of ideas which rendered him susceptible to the technique.
  • Note:That is deep. the more ideas the more convincible you are or susceptible to bad ideas maybe
  • But at this point, apparently, Shên Kuo interposed, and urged that the project should be abandoned. He pointed out that it would absorb the whole energy of the colony, and that the great spiritual task would have to be shelved, at any rate for a very long time. “Any resistance on our part,” he said, “would bring the whole force of the inferior species against us, and there would be no peace till we had conquered the world. That would take a long time. We are young, and we should have to spend the most critical years of our lives in warfare. When we had finished the great slaughter, should we be any longer fit mentally for our real work, for the founding of a finer species, and for worship? No! We should be ruined, hopelessly distorted in spirit. Violent practical undertakings would have blotted out for ever such insight as we have now gained into the true purpose of life. Perhaps if we were all thirty years older we should be sufficiently mature to pass through a decade of warfare without becoming too impoverished, spiritually, for our real work. But as things are, surely the wise course is to forego the weapon, and make up our minds to fulfil as much as possible of our accepted spiritual task of worship before we are destroyed.”

From Eros To Gaia

From my notion template

From Eros to Gaia

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. A rambling book by Freeman Dyson – some nuggets not seen anywhere else, some duplicated in his other books. It could have been a bit more focused but I think this was a collection of essays that did not fit elsewhere

How I Discovered It

I’m working my way through all of the more mainstream Freeman Dyson Books

Who Should Read It?

Freeman Dyson Fans – everyone else should start with his other works

How the Book Changed Me

  • The most interesting nugget of wisdom is the thought that the size of any human endeavor, while measurable quantifiabley, is inherently a qualitative trait/attribute – i.e. comparisons are hard to accurately make and very few things are “just” half the size of, twice as long as, 3X the weight of, etc”
  • If it involves humans everything should be measured by my dad’s definition of order of magnitude – which is to say that all comparisons are imprecise by definition and are comparisons of fundamentally different things that differ by more than just the size, even if the size is the only apparently different variable

My Top 3 Quotes

  • Humanity is fortunate in having such a variety of energy resources at its disposal. In the very long run we shall need energy that is unpolluting; we shall have sunlight. In the fairly long run we shall need energy that is inexhaustible and moderately clean; we shall have deuterium. In the short run we shall need energy that is readily usable and abundant; we shall have uranium. Right now we need energy that is cheap and convenient; we have coal and oil. Nature has been kinder to us than we had any right to expect.
  • The destiny of our species is shaped by the imperatives of survival on six distinct time scales. To survive means to compete successfully on all six time scales. But the unit of survival is different at each of the six time scales. On a time scale of years, the unit is the individual. On a time scale of decades, the unit is the family. On a time scale of centuries, the unit is the tribe or nation. On a time scale of millennia, the unit is the culture. On a time scale of tens of millennia, the unit is the species. On a time scale of eons, the unit is the whole web of life on our planet. Every human being is the product of adaptation to the demands of all six time scales. That is why conflicting loyalties are deep in our nature. In order to survive, we have needed to be loyal to ourselves, to our families, to our tribes,
  • You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes.


  • The pilgrimage from Eros to Gaia is a good metaphor for the life of a writer, beginning with a joyful fantasy of interplanetary fireworks and ending with a serene fantasy of green leaves and peaceful death.
  • You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes.
  • Plan B gave the political authorities in Moscow what they wanted, a tangible symbol of Soviet greatness. Plan A might have been better for science. Plan A might have saved a whole generation of astronomers from frustration. But with plan A, the political authorities would not have had the satisfaction of building the biggest telescope in the world, and there would have been no hundred-foot wall for the visitors to write their names
  • In science, as in the quest for a village water supply, big projects bring enhanced status; small projects do not. In the competition for status, big projects usually win, whether or not they are scientifically justified. As the committees of academic professionals compete for power and influence, big science becomes more and more preponderant over small science.
  • Fortunately, the American academic system is pluralistic and chaotic enough that first-rate small science can still be done in spite of the committees. In odd corners, in out-of-the-way universities, and in obscure industrial laboratories, our Fulanis are still at work.
  • One of the main differences is that accelerators have short working lives, whereas telescopes last forever. An accelerator usually does its most important work within five years of being switched on. At the age of ten it is ready to be scrapped or converted into an injector for a larger machine. Telescopes are still young at forty. The forty-year-old 200-inch at Palomar is still as productive as it has ever been. The seventy-year-old 100-inch at Mount Wilson was recently retired, not because the telescope itself was obsolete but because the growth of the city of Los Angeles had made the sky too bright for serious astronomy. Almost all the major telescopes that have ever been built are still in use.
  • A high-visibility accelerator project, driven by political prestige rather than by scientific need, usually sets back the progress of particle physics in a country by about ten years.
  • This is another criterion for deciding the right size for a scientific project. The right size means a size at which you can afford to take a gamble. If you are too big to gamble, you are too big to do creative science.
  • The success of Apollo was mainly due to the fact that the project was conceived and honestly presented to the public as an international sporting event and not as a contribution to science. The order of priorities in Apollo was accurately reflected by the first item to be unloaded after each landing on the Moon’s surface, the television camera. The landing, the coming and going of the astronauts, the exploring of the Moon’s surface, the gathering of Moon rocks and the earthward departure, all were expertly choreographed with the cameras placed in the right positions to make a dramatic show on television.
  • The history of the shuttle is a typical example of a generic problem that occurs frequently in the development of science and technology, the problem of premature choice. Premature choice means betting all your money on one horse before you have found out whether she is lame. Politicians and administrators responsible for large projects are often obsessed with avoiding waste. To avoid waste they find it reasonable to choose one design as soon as possible and shut down the support of alternatives. So it was with the shuttle.
  • In science and technology, as in biological evolution, waste is the secret of efficiency. Without waste you cannot find out which horse is the fittest. This is a hard lesson for politicians and administrators to learn.
  • It occurred to me then that there might be a connection between the wastefulness and the flourishing of science at Cornell. If you want to do well in science, you had better not be too much concerned with saving envelopes.
  • The moral of this story is clear. Even a smart twenty-two-year-old is not a reliable guide to the future of science.
  • From a military point of view the attack was more costly to England than to Germany. Like many other such follies, it was a public-relations triumph and was made into a successful movie.
  • He chose to keep his squadron busy with operations which were technically brilliant, emotionally satisfying to the British public, and not too dangerous to his crews. Bert Harris, usually a hard man to please, loved these cheap and spectacular victories. The cheapest and most spectacular of all was the sinking of the Tirpitz. So it happened that Tait achieved the ritualization of strategic bombing operations, even before the war was over. And the operational exercise at Fairchild was only the same process of ritualization carried to its logical conclusion. I
  • The reason why LeMay succeeded while Bert Harris failed was that the Japanese did not have effective defenses. LeMay was able to ignore such defenses as there were over Japan. The fact that the Japanese defenses were negligible is well known. Another fact is not so well known. The Japanese might have had an effective defense when LeMay attacked. It was, like the Battle of Waterloo, a close-run thing. The Japanese had a twin-engined night fighter, called by them the Gekko and by the Americans the Irving.
  • While I was inspecting Tomahawks at various stages of their manufacture and deployment, I could see the pride and joy which these weapons inspire in those who handle them. That is the tragedy of the Tomahawk. It is a genuine work of art. It is an expression of human genius. Thousands of talented and dedicated people are devoting their lives to it. My friend and colleague Sidney Drell said, after visiting one of our cruise missile assembly plants, “these people build cruise missiles the way Stradivarius built violins.” Why must our skilled craftsmen and engineers find their fulfillment in building such lethal toys? Why can’t they build violins?
  • Physicists talk about two kinds of fields: classical fields and quantum fields. Actually, we believe that all fields in nature are quantum fields. A classical field is just a large-scale manifestation of a quantum field. But since classical fields were discovered first and are easier to understand, it is useful to say what we mean by a classical field first, and to talk about quantum fields later.
  • Quantum field theory is a theory of the behavior of field strengths averaged over finite regions of space and time.
  • Some ten or twenty different quantum fields exist. Each fills the whole of space and has its own particular properties. There is nothing else except these fields; the whole of the material universe is built of them. Between various pairs of fields there are various kinds of interaction. Each field manifests itself as a type of elementary particle. The particles of a given type are identical and indistinguishable. The number of particles of a given type is not fixed, for particles are constantly being created or annihilated or transmuted into one another. The properties of the interactions determine the rules for creation and transmutation of particles.
  • For any speculation that does not at first glance look crazy, there is no hope.
  • Energy of a higher form can be degraded into a lower form, but a lower form can never be wholly converted back into a higher form. The direction of energy flow in the universe is determined by one basic fact, that gravitational energy is not only predominant in quantity but also highest in quality. Gravitation carries no entropy and stands first in the order of merit.
  • I do not say that the experts are giving us wrong answers. I say that they are frequently not asking the right questions.
  • To indicate the crucial nature of the nonclimatic effects of carbon dioxide, it is sufficient to mention the fact that a field of corn plants growing in full sunshine will completely deplete the carbon dioxide from the air within one meter of ground in a time of the order of five minutes.
  • We scientists must share the blame. It is much more comfortable for a scientist to run a computer model in an air-conditioned supercomputer center rather than to put on winter clothes and try to keep instruments correctly calibrated outside in the mud
  • Up to a point, the computer models are useful and necessary. They are only harmful when they become a substitute for real-world observation.
  • The moral of this story is that for plants growing under dry conditions, enriched carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a substitute for water. Give a plant more carbon dioxide, and it can make do with less water.
  • But the snobs at our Institute could not tolerate the presence of electrical engineers who sullied with their dirty hands the purity of our scholarly atmosphere. Von Neumann was like Bragg, strong enough to override the opposition. But when von Neumann tragically died, the snobs took their revenge and got rid of the computing project root and branch.
  • We are trying to strengthen and extend in our own era the scientific conspiracy of nations.
  • “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”
  • intelligent enough to tell the difference between a challenging intellectual adventure and a welfare program for holders of the Ph.D.
  • Complementarity says that nature is too subtle to be described from any single point of view.
  • Perhaps that is why, during all those years when the schools were teaching Latin and Greek and totally neglecting science, England produced so few great classical scholars and so many great scientists.
  • At Cambridge I learned that it is almost impossible for a Russian, even a Russian with wide knowledge of the Western world, to grasp the idea of a government being unable to do whatever it decides to do.
  • One fact of human life is nationalism. In all parts of the world nationalism is the strongest political force. In most places it is the only effective force making possible the organization of people’s efforts for peace or war. Where nationalism is weak, as in Nigeria or Belgium, it is usually because a smaller political unit, a tribe or a province, has usurped the place of the nation in people’s minds. The strength of nationalism in the world as a whole has steadily increased during recent centuries, and is probably still increasing.
  • In the pure white English society into which I was born, having at that time no racial problems to worry about, we developed our famous class system instead. As a middle-class child, I was unable to communicate with most of the children of my neighborhood, since they were “Oiks” and spoke a different dialect.
  • This is human life the way it is, my son wearing his hair odiously long because I dislike to be seen together with it in public, and we of the older generation fulfilling our duty as parents by keeping our hair short and marijuana illegal.
  • We all have a psychological need to feel identified with a group, preferably not too large a group, with a common purpose and a common enemy. Countries as big as the United States are already far too big to fulfill this need satisfactorily. Countries as small as Holland or Switzerland generally handle social problems better than big countries do. Nationalism is most genuine and spontaneous in countries which are both small and threatened, such as Finland or Israel.
  • People will prefer to live in filth with the threat of annihilation hanging over their heads, rather than allow foreigners to tax them.
  • After a government kills one thorium-breeding reactor project, nobody has the heart to try to begin another.
  • Inventive spirits rebel against such rules and leave the leadership of technology to the uninventive. These are the hidden costs of saying no. To mitigate such costs, lawyers and legislators should carry in their hearts the other lesson that Blake has taught us: “One Law for the Lion and Ox is Oppression.”
  • He fails to understand the historical background of the 1940s and 1950s because his interpretations are dominated by the ideological clichés of the 1960s and 1970s. I am not saying that history ought to be morally neutral. I am saying only that history ought to understand before it condemns
  • He came closer than any later historian can come to answering the crucial question, “Would Japan have surrendered if the atomic bombs had not been dropped?” I asked Butow this question explicitly when he was visiting Princeton. Butow replied, “The Japanese leaders themselves do not know the answer to that question, and if they cannot answer it, neither can I.” Butow went on to explain that the Japanese government in 1945 was delicately balanced between the civilian leaders, who were trying to open peace negotiations through the Soviet Union, and the military leaders, who were preparing to defend every inch of Japanese soil with the same suicidal ferocity with which they had defended Okinawa.
  • preventive war in 1936, when Germany was still effectively disarmed and incapable of serious resistance against invading forces, might have overturned Hitler’s regime in a few days and saved the 50 million human beings who were to die in World War 2.
  • a free society needed superior military technology to withstand the superior discipline of a totalitarian enemy, and the military establishment needed a free society to allow scientists and soldiers to work together in an informal and creative style that a totalitarian state could not match.
  • When Heims writes of von Neumann and of the arms race without discussing the notion of “Fighting for Freedom,” that grand illusion that lies at the root of the turmoil and tragedy of our times, he is plowing a shallow furrow in the rich soil of history.
  • The healthy growth of science requires that both traditions be honored. Bacon without Descartes would reduce science to butterfly collecting; Descartes without Bacon would reduce science to pure mathematics.
  • Tolstoy’s uniqueness lies in his profound understanding of the ordinary, and in the very ordinariness of his profound understanding. In his view, truth is not buried but camouflaged. Unlike most thinkers of his time and ours, he rejected philosophy’s prevailing impulse to locate meaning in the distance, in a concealed order. Tolstoy was instead a philosopher of the present, of the open present, with all its unrealized opportunities and wasteful carelessness. (Steve Note – i.e. the god of the open spaces)
  • My friend and colleague, the physicist Chen Ning Yang, told me once that when he was a boy of six in China he looked up at the stars and asked what are the laws that make them move across the sky. But when I was a boy of six in England, I looked up at the stars and asked what are their names
  • When fear of death assails me, as it assails everyone from time to time, I take courage from that memory of green leaves and blue sky. Perhaps, when death comes, he will once again come as a friend.
  • Just as no single termite knows how to build a nest, no single human knows how to build a culture. A single termite alone cannot survive, and a single human being alone is not human. Termite societies are glued together with mud and saliva; human societies are glued together with conversation and friendship. Conversation is the natural and characteristic activity of human beings. Friendship is the milieu within which we function.
  • The destiny of our species is shaped by the imperatives of survival on six distinct time scales. To survive means to compete successfully on all six time scales. But the unit of survival is different at each of the six time scales. On a time scale of years, the unit is the individual. On a time scale of decades, the unit is the family. On a time scale of centuries, the unit is the tribe or nation. On a time scale of millennia, the unit is the culture. On a time scale of tens of millennia, the unit is the species. On a time scale of eons, the unit is the whole web of life on our planet. Every human being is the product of adaptation to the demands of all six time scales. That is why conflicting loyalties are deep in our nature. In order to survive, we have needed to be loyal to ourselves, to our families, to our tribes,

A Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson

From my notion book review template

A Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson

What It’s About – lowlife surrounded by other lowlife’s meets desperate woman – the lowlife reveals himself to be quite low over the course of the book

How I Discovered It – Amazon sent me an email saying I would like it, and it was on sale

Thoughts – The pacing is the most interesting part – Thompson starts the main character off in the first person as the inner dialogue of a regular guy, then it changes to the dialogue of the average lowlife, then it gets much worse – all very believable though.

Calling Thompson the “Dimestore Dostoevsky” is pretty accurate

What I Liked About It – the character progression as a moral descent, which in hindsight, was obvious. Also the book was a very fast read – I read it in two or three sittings.

What I Didn’t Like About It – the ending had too many new things which hurt the concepts a bit

Who Would Like It? – any hard boiled fiction fans

Related Books – Pop 1280, the Grifters

Book Review – The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

From my notion book review template

The Book

The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

What It’s About

Letters from an older demon to his demon nephew on how to lure humanity into damnation – similar to the role of mobile phones and social media in our modern age

How I Discovered It

A book by Freeman Dyson – in his Templeton section on Theological Fiction


An interesting approach to the subject of moral progress

What I Liked About It

The perspective – one never hears the devil’s perspective, not does one ever read a book about moral progress as a process, instead of just arriving at an ideal end state

What I Didn’t Like About It

Nothing in particular

Who Would Like It?

People who are more prone to pondering religion and existence than going to church

Related Books

StarMaker by Olaf Stapledon

Money Quotes

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.

What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these ‘smug’, commonplace neighbours at all.

Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practise self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.

Once this habit is well established you have the delightful situation of a human saying things with the express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken

And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless.

Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.

the healthy and out-going activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at least he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’

Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience.

who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that ‘only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations’. You see the little rift? ‘Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game,

The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’. You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform.

At any rate, you will soon find that the justice of Hell is purely realistic, and concerned only with results. Bring us back food, or be food yourself.

American Republics by Alan Taylor – a series of thoughts

I recently finished American Republics by Alan Taylor and liked it quite a bit – some random disjointed thoughts

  1. America is optimized for grand irony and strives for it at  all times
  2. The whole notion of states rights, and that people saw themselves as citizens of individual states is quite true but incomplete – during the early American days there was no “American” identity with which to identify – it would be like identifying as a member of NATO
  3. John Marshall was much more influential than one would think in the long term
  4. American did not have priorities as much as it had an agenda of “Let’s support whatever the settlers are already doing and act like it’s our idea”
  5. There was much, much more European involvement in North America than I would have thought, or knew about
  6. It was mostly a record of American public crime and barbarism, which is fine, the shoe fits, but it does leave out anything that could be labeled “good” or “neutral” – it barely discusses any sort of technology or anything that happened in the free states, or immigrants
  7. The whole notion of defensive imperialism makes more sense now – it’s similar to Russian imperialism over time in some ways
  8. The whole notion of States Rights is truer than I would have thought, but slavery was built way into the fabric of society to about the same degree that I thought too (very, very built in) – the two notions are an odd sort of separate, but related in practice
  9. Andrew Jackson (and Polk) were more thorough bastards than I would have thought possible
  10. Settlers led, and the government followed
  11. Anti-British sentiment loomed larger than I would have thought
  12. Being informed about the relative populations put a lot of things into focus
  13. The fear of slave revolts (which never really happened at all) was a driving force behind a lot of things 

Star Maker – a review

I recently/finally finished Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker (Kindle Version)- a weird classic written in 1937. I found it strangely written, filled with novel ideas about a time and space traveler that wanders the cosmos, ultimately discovering everything there is to discover.

Stapledon’s worlds resemble Arthur C. Clarke in scale and detail (think really, really big). Stapledon goes way weirder, and isn’t afraid to mix physics, math, metaphysics, religion and psychology in one giant bundle. Apparently Freeman Dyson conceived of the Dyson Sphere after reading this book.

Now that I think of it is reminds me a little of Paul Wallace’s book Stars Beneath Us (a ramble on the book of Job as the really, really big picture.)

The Good:

  1. The concept – explaining the whole universe – and doing it well
  2. The progression – starting with one guy taking a walk, and ending with “The supreme moment of the cosmos”
  3. The science – all pretty accurate as far as I can tell for the time.

The Bad

  1. Transitions – they go by so fast you’ll think you missed them. The narrator goes from guy walking at night to space traveler very quickly, then off to other planets, then back to Earth. Stapledon underexplains how these things happen.
  2. Paragraph length – really, really long – an editor could have helped – sometimes they go for pages

On the whole I really liked it. Very different than anything I’ve ever read before in many ways. Here are some of the choice quotes from the book:


Further, the God whom they worshipped with the superb and heart-searching language of an earlier age was now conceived either as a just but jealous employer

In Bvalltu’s view man had climbed approximately to the same height time after time, only to be undone by some hidden consequence of his own achievement.

This slender hope the war had destroyed by setting the clock of scientific research back for a century just at the time when human nature itself was deteriorating and might never again be able to tackle so difficult a problem

But even the most spiritual life has its temptations. The extravagant fever of industrialism and intellectualism had so subtly poisoned the plant-men that when at last they rebelled against it they swung too far, falling into the snare of a vegetal life as one-sided as the old animal life had been. Little by little they gave less and less energy and time to “animal” pursuits, until at last their nights as well as their days were spent wholly as trees, and the active, exploring, manipulating, animal intelligence died in them forever.

But since the fluctuating progress of a world from bare animality to spiritual maturity takes, on the average, several thousands of millions of years, the maximum population of Utopian and fully awakened worlds occurred very late, when physically the galaxy was already somewhat past its prime.

For suddenly it was clear to me that virtue in the creator is not the same as virtue in the creature. For the creator, if he should love his creature, would be loving only a part of himself; but the creature, praising the creator, praises an infinity beyond himself. I saw that the virtue of the creature was to love and to worship, but the virtue of the creator was to create, and to be the infinite, the unrealizable and incomprehensible goal of worshipping creatures.

Meanwhile, since each rocky sphere that had once been a galaxy had been borne beyond every possible physical influence of its fellows, and there were no minds to maintain telepathic contact between them, each was in effect a wholly distinct universe. And since all change had ceased, the proper time of each barren universe had also ceased.

Thus it was that, through the succession of his creatures, the Star Maker advanced from stage to stage in the progress from infantile to mature divinity. Thus it was that in the end he became what, in the eternal view, he already was in the beginning, the ground and crown of all things.

And the Star Maker, that dark power and lucid intelligence, found in the concrete loveliness of his creature the fulfilment of desire. And in the mutual joy of the Star Maker and the ultimate cosmos was conceived, most strangely, the absolute spirit itself, in which all times are present and all being is comprised; for the spirit which was the issue of this union confronted my reeling intelligence as being at once the ground and the issue of all temporal and finite things.

The above is the Holy Ghost

But sympathy was not ultimate in the temper of the eternal spirit; contemplation was. Love was not absolute; contemplation was. And though there was love, there was also hate comprised within the spirit’s temper, for there was cruel delight in the contemplation of every horror, and glee in the downfall of the virtuous. All passions, it seemed, were comprised within the spirit’s temper; but mastered, icily gripped within the cold, clear, crystal ecstasy of contemplation.

An interesting interview on urban planning

One wouldn’t think it would be that good, but I found this interview with Alain Bertaud on EconTalk fascinating. The gist –

  • Cities are a large, people dense labor market first and foremost, whether you want them to be or not.
  • All urban planners should focus on is affordability and mobility – anything else is not doable through urban planning
  • A good metric/optimization is – can a schoolteacher afford to live within 30 minutes of her school. Optimize for that and you’re taking care of pretty much everyone.