Nice Von

“If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.” — John von Neumann

This quote is popular on web pages about von Neumann, and about computing and mathematics generally. It is apparently not from a published work of von Neumann’s, but Franz L. Alt recalls it as a remark made from the podium by von Neumann as keynote speaker at the first national meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery in 1947. The exchange at that meeting is described at the end of Alt’s brief article “Archaeology of computers: Reminiscences, 1945–1947”, Communications of the ACM, volume 15, issue 7, July 1972, special issue: Twenty-fifth anniversary of the Association for Computing Machinery, p. 694. Alt recalls that von Neumann “mentioned the ‘new programming method’ for ENIAC and explained that its seemingly small vocabulary was in fact ample: that future computers, then in the design stage, would get along on a dozen instruction types, and this was known to be adequate for expressing all of mathematics…. Von Neumann went on to say that one need not be surprised at this small number, since about 1,000 words were known to be adequate for most situations of real life, and mathematics was only a small part of life, and a very simple part at that. This caused some hilarity in the audience, which provoked von Neumann to say: ‘If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.’ ”

Source of John von Neumann quote

Lesz is More

• Matematyka jest najpotężniejszym intelektualnym wehikułem, jaki kiedykolwiek został skonstruowany, za pomocą którego uciekamy przed czasem, lecz nie ma powodu przypuszczać, że mogłaby kiedyś umożliwić tego rodzaju ucieczkę, jaką ucieleśnia pogoń za Absolutem. — Leszek Kołakowski

• Mathematics is the most powerful intellectual vehicle that has ever been constructed, by means of which we flee ahead of time, but there is no reason to suppose that it could someday enable the kind of escape embodied by the pursuit of the Absolute. — Leszek Kołakowski

Lost Lustre

Adonis, M. Cytheris, and M. Menelaus, is indescribable; the eyes are pained as they gaze upon it; yet there is said to be an unnamed species from the emerald mountains of Bogota, of which a single specimen is in a private cabinet in London, which is far more lustrous than these.” — The Romance of Natural History (1861), Philip Henry Gosse

Nail Supremacy

Ὁ γαρ ἡδονής και ἀλγηδόνος ἧλος, ὃς πρὸς το σώμα τήν ψυχην προσηλοῖ, μέγιστον κακὸν ἔχειν ἔοικε, τὸ τα αἰσθητά ποιεῖν ἐναργέστερα τῶν νοητῶν, καὶ καταβιάζεσθαι καὶ πάθει μᾶλλον ἢ λόγῳ κρίνειν τήν διάνοιαν.

• ΠΡΟΒΛΗΜΑ Β’. Πώς Πλάτων ἔλεγε τον θεὸν άεὶ γεωμετρεῖν.


Nam voluptatis et doloris ille clavus, quo animus corpori affigitur, id videtur maximum habere malum, quod sensilia facit intelligibilibus evidentiora, vimque facit intellectui, ut affectionem magis quam rationem in judicando sequatur.

• QUÆSTIO II: Qua ratione Plato dixerit, Deum semper geometriam tractare.


For the nail of pain and pleasure, which fastens the soul to the body, seems to do us the greatest mischief, by making sensible things more powerful over us than intelligible, and by forcing the understanding to determine them rather by passion than by reason.

• Plutarch’s Symposiacs, QUESTION II: What is Plato’s Meaning, When He Says that God Always Plays the Geometer?

Locke’s LOX

“He that will not set himself proudly at the top of all things; but will consider the Immensity of this Fabrick, and the great variety, that is to be found in this little and inconsiderable part of it, which he has to do with, may be apt to think, that in other Mansions of it, there may be other, and different intelligent Beings, of whose Faculties, he has as little Knowledge or Apprehension, as a worm shut up in one drawer of a Cabinet, hath of the Senses or Understanding of a Man.” — John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), viâ David Wootton’s The Invention of Science (2015)


Performative Post-Scriptum

The title of this incendiary intervention is intended to suggest the idea of Locke’s ideas acting as a rocket-fuel for the imagination like LOX or lox, meaning “liquid oxygen explosive; later interpreted as representing liquid oxygen” (OED).

Mullennial Mysterium

Mull (island) Arg. Malaios c. 150. Pre-Celtic island name. (The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names)


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Place of Glades — a review of The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names, A.D. Mills (1991)

Go Too Woke on an Egg

Goop to pay out over unproven health benefits of vaginal eggs

Goop, the new age lifestyle and publishing company founded by the [actress] Gwyneth Paltrow, has agreed to pay a substantial settlement over unproven claims about the health benefits of its infamous vaginal eggs. Goop’s website still claims that inserting the eggs into the vagina helps “cultivate sexual energy, clear chi pathways in the body, intensify femininity, and invigorate our life force”.

Its $66 Jade Egg and $55 Rose Quartz egg are still offered for sale on the site, but the company has agreed to pay $145,000 to settle allegations that it previously made unscientific claims about the eggs, and a herbal essence that it had said helped tackle depression.

It also agreed to refund customers who purchased the products from January to August last year. During that period it claimed the eggs could balance hormones, regulate menstrual cycles, prevent uterine prolapse, and increase bladder control, according to officials in Santa Clara part of a group of California district attorneys who filed the lawsuit. — Goop to pay out over unproven health benefits of vaginal eggs, The Guardian, 5ix2018.


N.B. The title of this incendiary intervention is a paronomasia on the old British advertising slogan “Go to work on an egg.”

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #48

• « S’il est un homme tourmenté par la maudite ambition de mettre tout un livre dans une page, toute une page dans une phrase, et tout une phrase dans un mot, c’est moi. » — Joseph Jourbet (1754-1824)

• “If there is a man tormented by the cursed ambition to compress an entire book into a page, an entire page into a phrase, and that phrase into a word, it is I.” — Joseph Jourbet

A Seriously Sizzling Series of Super-Saucy Salvadisms

Some good quotes by Salvador Dalí (1904-89), who will need no introduction to keyly committed core components of the quixotically contrarian community. The Spanish should be reliable, but the English translations may not be (coz i dun em).


• A los seis años quería ser cocinero. A los siete quería ser Napoleón. Mi ambición no ha hecho más que crecer; ahora sólo quiero ser Salvador Dalí y nada más. Por otra parte, esto es muy difícil, ya que, a medida que me acerco a Salvador Dalí, él se aleja de mí.
 — At six years of age I wanted to be a chef. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. My ambition has only grown since then, but now I only want to be Salvador Dalí and nothing more. Still, it’s very difficult, because the closer I get to Salvador Dalí, the further he gets from me.

• El canibalismo es una de las manifestaciones más evidentes de la ternura.
 — Cannibalism is a sure sign of affection.

• El que quiere interesar a los demás tiene que provocarlos.
 — He who wishes to interest other people needs to provoke them.

• …Es curioso, a mi me interesa mucho mas hablar, o estar en contacto con la gente que piensa lo contrario de lo que yo pienso, que de los que piensan lo mismo que pienso yo.
 — …It’s strange, but I’d much rather talk with or be in touch with people who think the opposite of what I think than with those who think the same as I do.

• Es fácil reconocer si el hombre tiene gusto: la alfombra debe combinar con las cejas.
 — It’s easy to tell if a man has good taste: his carpet should harmonize with his eyebrows.

• De ninguna manera volveré a México. No soporto estar en un país más surrealista que mis pinturas.
 — Under no circumstances will I return to Mexico. I cannot bear to be in a country more surreal than my own paintings.

• Hoy, el gusto por el defecto es tal que sólo parecen geniales las imperfecciones y sobre todo la fealdad. Cuando una Venus se parece a un sapo, los seudoestetas contemporáneos exclaman: ¡Es fuerte, es humano!
 — Today, a taste for the defective is so strong that the only things that seem attractive are imperfections and, above all, ugliness. When a Venus looks like a toad, the pseudo-aesthetes of today shout: “That’s great, that’s human!”

• Los errores tienen casi siempre un carácter sagrado. Nunca intentéis corregirlos. Al contrario: lo que procede es racionalizarlos, compenetrarse con aquellos integralmente. Después, os será posible subliminarlos.
— Mistakes almost always have a sacred character. Never try to correct them. On the contrary, you need to ponder them, to examine them from every angle. Afterwards, you will be able to absorb them.

• La Revolución Rusa es la Revolución Francesa que llega tarde, por culpa del frío.
 — The Russian Revolution is the French Revolution arriving late due to the cold.

• La única diferencia entre un loco y Dalí, es que Dalí no está loco.
 — The only difference between a madman and Dalí is that Dalí is not mad.

• La vida es aspirar, respirar y expirar.
 — Life is aspiring, respiring and expiring.

• Lo importante es que hablen de ti, aunque sea bien.
 — What’s important is that people talk about you, even if they only say good things.

• Lo único de lo que el mundo no se cansará nunca es de la exageración.
 — The only thing the world never tires of is exaggeration.

• ¡No podéis expulsarme porque Yo soy el Surrealismo!
 — You cannot expel me: I am Surrealism! (After being expelled from the surrealist movement in Paris.)

• Picasso es pintor. Yo también. Picasso es español. Yo también. Picasso es comunista. Yo tampoco.
 — Picasso is a painter. So am I. Picasso is a Spaniard. So am I. Picasso is a communist. Nor am I.

• Sin una audiencia, sin la presencia de espectadores, estas joyas no alcanzarían la función para la cual fueron creadas. El espectador, por tanto, es el artista final. Su vista, corazón, mente — con una mayor o menor capacidad para entender la intención del creador — da vida a las joyas.
 — Without an audience, without a circle of spectators, these jewels would never realize the purpose for which they were created. The spectator is therefore the final artist. His eyes, his heart, his mind — whether better or worse equipped to understand the purpose of the creator — give life to the jewels.

• Llamo a mi esposa: Gala, Galuska, Gradiva; Oliva por lo oval de su rostro y el color de su piel; Oliveta, diminutivo de la oliva; y sus delirantes derivados: Oliueta, Oriueta, Buribeta, Buriueteta, Siliueta, Solibubuleta, Oliburibuleta, Ciueta, Liueta. También la llamo Lionette, porque cuando se enfada ruge como el león de la Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.
 — I call my wife Gala, Galuska, Gradiva; Oliva for her oval face and the colour of her skin; Oliveta, diminutive of Oliva; and its delirious derivations: Oliueta, Oriueta, Buribeta, Buriueteta, Siliueta, Solibubuleta, Oliburibuleta, Ciueta, Liueta. I also call her Lionette, because when she’s angry she roars like the MGM lion.

• Sólo hay dos cosas malas que pueden pasarte en la vida, ser Pablo Picasso o no ser Salvador Dalí.
 — There are only two things that can go wrong for you in life: being Pablo Picasso or not being Salvador Dalí.

• Si muero, no moriré del todo.
 — If I die, I will not die completely. (Compare Horace’s Non omnis moriar, I will not wholly die.)

• La inteligencia sin ambición es un pájaro sin alas.
 — Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.

• No tengas miedo de la perfección, nunca la alcanzarás.
 — Don’t be afraid of perfection, because you’ll never achieve it.

• Para comprar mis cuadros hay que ser criminalmente rico como los norteamericanos.
 — To buy my paintings you have to be criminally rich like the Americans.

• Hay días en que pienso que voy a morir de una sobredosis de satisfacción.
 — There are days when I think that I will die of an overdose of satisfaction.

• El termómetro del éxito no es más que la envidia de los descontentos.
 — The thermometer of success is nothing more than the envy of the discontent.

• Lo menos que puede pedirse a una escultura es que no se mueva.
 — The least that one can ask of a sculpture is that it stays still.

• Mientras estamos dormidos en este mundo, estamos despiertos en el otro.
 — When we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another.

• Yo no tomo drogas. Yo soy una droga.
 — I do not take drugs. I am a drug.

• Los que no quieren imitar nada, no producen nada.
 — Those who refuse to imitate will never create.

• Las guerras nunca han hecho daño a nadie, excepto a la gente que muere.
 — Wars have never done harm to anyone, except to those who die.

• Gustar el dinero como me gusta, es nada menos que misticismo. El dinero es una gloria.
 — To relish money as I do is nothing short of mysticism. Money is a glory.

• La existencia de la realidad es la cosa más misteriosa, más sublime y más surrealista que se dé.
 — The existence of reality is the most mysterious, most sublime and most surrealist thing of all.

Tutelary Trinity

“There are three golden rules to ensure computer security. They are: do not own a computer; do not power it on; do not use it.” — Robert H. Morris (1932-2011), computer scientist and once head of the NSA.