Prior Quotes of the Week

November 3, 1996--December 29, 1996

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On Metaphors

"... the 'body' [as in the human body] of modern developmental biology has been radically transformed. It is not only that we now have different ways of talking of the body (for example, as a computer, an information-processing network, or a multiple input-multiple output transducer) but that, because of the advent of the modern computer (and other new technologies), we now have dramatically new ways of experiencing and interacting with that body. As a result of the technologies developed to elucidate that most elusive of nature's secrets, the beginnings of life, the material subject of embryology appears before biological researchers as a multimedia spectacle--visually available to a degree unthinkable in earlier years and tangibly and electronically available. This body is not only evocative of new ways of thinking, talking, and doing but, by virtue of the very techniques that have brought its microstructure into view (such as the gene tagging and fluorescent labels introduced to make it visible), it has already been constitutively transformed. The body of modern developmental biology is already a new kind of body; it is already 'the body of a new machine.'"

Evelyn Fox Keller
Refiguring Life: Metaphors of Twentieth-Century Biology
Columbia University Press, 1995


"Awe and respect have become powerfully unfashionable in our confused postmodern society.... has not our Baconian tradition, which celebrates science as the power to predict and control, also brought us a secular loss of awe and respect? If nature were truly ours to command and control, then we might well afford the luxury of contempt. Power corrupts, after all.

"Friend, you cannot even predict the motions of three coupled pendula. You have hardly a prayer with three mutually gravitating objects. We let loose pesticides on our crops; the insects become ill and are eaten by birds that sicken and die, allowing the insects to proliferate in increased abundance. The crops are destroyed. So much for control. Bacon, you were brilliant, but the world is more complex than your philosophy.

"We have presumed to command, based on our best knowledge and even our best intentions. We have presumed to commandeer, based on the availability of resources, renewable or not, that lay readily at hand. We do not know what we are doing...

"If we find renewed concern about the untellable consequences of our own best actions, that is wise. It is not as though we could find a stance with either moral or secular certainty. We make our worlds together. All we can do is to be locally wise, even though our own best efforts will ultimately create the conditions that lead to our transformations to utterly unforeseeable ways of being."

Stuart Kauffman
At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity
Oxford University Press, 1995


"The problem is not that people cannot overcome their surroundings. We all do, in ways conscious and unconscious, with efforts large and small... We cope, but the cost can be high. Overcoming places that reduce our effectiveness and threaten our dignity always takes time and energy.

"Good facilities will not guarantee success, nor will poorly designed ones guarantee failure. The same can be said for management, employees, and equipment. By themselves, none of these elements of a business is enough to ensure success. They are all part of an integrated system, and to function effectively all the parts have to be in harmony. "

Franklin Becker and Fritz Steele
Workplace by Design: Mapping the High Performance Workscape
Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995



"If one is confronted with a very elementary situation where he has to choose one of two alternative messages, then it is arbitrarily said that the information, associated with this situation, is unity. Not that it is misleading (although often convenient) to say that one or the other message conveys unit information. The concept of information applies not to the individual messages (as the concept of meaning would), but rather to the situation as a whole, the unit information indicating that in this situation one has a freedom of choice, in selecting a message, which it is convenient to regard as a standard or unit amount.

"Information is a measure of one's freedom of choice in selecting a message. The greater this freedom of choice, the greater the information, the greater is the uncertainty that the message actually selected is some particular one. Greater freedom of choice, greater uncertainty, greater information go hand in hand."

Shannon and Weaver
The Mathematical Theory of Communication
University of Illinois Press, 1959


"Everything works upon everything else.

"The science of mathematics applies to the clouds; the radiance of starlight nourishes the rose; no thinker will dare to say that the scent of hawthorn is valueless to the constellations. Who can predict the course of a molecule? How do we know that the creation of worlds is not determined by the fall of grains of sand? Who can measure the action and counter-action between the infinitely great and the infinitely small, the play of causes and the depths of being, the cataclysms of creation? ... within that inexhaustible compass, from the sun to the grub, there is no room for disdain; each thing needs every other thing....There is the same affinity, if still more inconceivable, between the things of the mind and material things. Elements and principles are intermingled; they combine and marry and each increases and completes the other, so that the material and the moral world both are finally manifest. The phenomenon perpetually folds in upon itself."

Victor Hugo
Les Miserables
Translated by Norman Denny
Penguin Books, 1976


"Confusion and clutter are failures of design, not attributes of information. And so the point is to find design strategies that reveal detail and complexity--rather than to fault the data for an excess of complication. Or, worse, to fault viewers for a lack of understanding. among the most powerful devices for reducing noise and enriching the content of displays is the technique of layering and separation, visually stratifying various aspects of the data.

"Standards of excellence for information design are set by high quality maps, with diverse bountiful detail, several layers of close reading combined with an overview, and rigorous data from engineering surveys. In contrast, the usual chartjunk performances look more like posters than maps. Posters are meant for viewing from a distance, with their strong images, large type, and thin data densities. Thus poster design provides very little counsel for making diagrams that are read more intensely. Display of closely-read data surely requires the skilled craft of good graphic and poster design: typography, object representation, layout, color, production techniques, and visual principles that inform criticism and revision."

Edward Rolf Tufte
Envisioning Information
Graphics Press, 1990


"Among the essentials needed to turn survival into the art of living, perhaps none are more important than wisdom and knowledge. In a certain sense, these two human aptitudes are almost indistinguishable from each other; in another sense they are polar opposites. Wisdom is a putting together, knowledge a taking apart. Wisdom synthesizes and integrates, knowledge analyzes and differentiates. Wisdom sees only with the eyes of the mind; it envisions relationship, wholeness, unity. Knowledge accepts only that which can be verified by the senses; it grasps only the specific and the diverse.

"Both wisdom and knowledge are based on experience, but wisdom more so than knowledge, which frequently retains experience only through the filter of conceptual thought, at times discarding the seeds of life. In contrast, wisdom often stammers, or speaks in images, symbols, paradoxes, or even riddles"

György Doczi
The Power of Limits: Proportional Harmonies in Nature, Art, and Architecture
Shambhala, 1994


"When I stopped waiting for something 'significant' to happen, and instead began noticing what was happening, not what I wished was happening, a series of small miracles occurred.

"When I began to trust what I was doing even when it didn't seem to make sense, when I understood that what I was doing was seeking, then what I was seeking was shown to me....

"When I trusted I was doing something of value, goals and timetables had a way of taking care of themselves....

"Today, stapled on a telephone pole crowded with other posters, I saw:

"'Allow--for the possibilities.'"

Sue Bender
Everyday Sacred: A Woman's Journey Home
HarperCollins, 1996


"To find out what you love to do is one of the most difficult things. That is part of education. To find that out you may have to go into yourself very very deeply... Right education is not to help you to find careers; for God's sake, throw that out of the window... Education is to help you to understand problems as they arise, and that requires a good mind—a mind that reasons, a mind that is sharp, a mind that has no belief. For belief is not fact. Right education is to help you to find out for yourself what you really—with all your heart—love to do. It does not matter what it is, whether it is to cook or to be a gardener, but it is something in which you have put your mind, your heart. Then you are really efficient, without becoming brutal. And this school should be a place where you are helped to find out for yourself through discussion, through listening, through silence—to find out right through your life—what you really love to do."

J. Krishnamurti
On Right Livelihood
HarperCollins, 1992


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