Historic Quotes

An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarised with the ideas from the beginning. — Max Planck

Found here — a great source of quotations, some just plain "historic", others forecasting the future, greeting new discoveries/ideas, etc, and getting things badly wrong:

"What use could this company make of an electrical toy?" — The President of Western Union responding to Alexander Graham Bell's offer to Western Union of the exclusive rights to the telephone for $100,000 in 1876.

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Via bowblog, a Will Self anecdote from The Independent. Steve Borwick says: 'The good thing about the paper's otherwise-annoying paid-for service is that the free taster is just long enough to include the punchline of a very good coincidence gag'. Here it is:

In this space last week, I recalled a drive through the Australian outback - from Alice Springs to Ayer's Rock - during which I managed to miss the only turn for 500 kilometres due to marijuana intoxication. The same journey was notable also for the most extreme coincidence involving children's literature. We were bombing along, the desert on either side of the thin, tarmac strip, dimming from ochre, to magenta, to purple; my wife was reading our then two-year-old son a jolly little book that had the hook line: "Children, children what do you see?" Whereupon the lector turned the page to reveal a creature, then chanted - hopefully accompanied by the compliant kiddie - "I see a green turtle looking at me!"

She had just got to the point where the chant was "I see a red bird looking at me!" when a large red bird flew into the windscreen, leaving a smear of blood, a few wing feathers and a large crack. Shocked as much by the synchronicity as the near-fatal SVR ("Single Vehicle Rollover" as this most common accident is termed in Australia) I pulled over and panted atop the wheel for a few minutes. "If you think that was a lucky escape," my wife said after a while, "on the next page there's a blue horse."

Another one for the file

I have a (paper) file, 'Strange But True', of stories that I pick up occasionally from newspapers and magazines. I've not really maintained this zealously online, but here's one that's too good to miss. Why do I sometimes collect these stories of extraordinary coincidences? Teaching literature, particularly novels (no surprise there), frequently leads to students saying — 'that's ridiculous/incredible/implausible', when it's "just" a matter of coincidence. Ours is a world where miracles are anything but extraordinary (apparently!), and these stories, whipped out and flourished before a disbelieving class, have a sobering effect. This one's from yesterday's Daily Telegraph:

A soldier's 60-year quest to return a fallen comrade's rosary beads to his family has ended - with his widow's next-door neighbours. After numerous searches and nationwide appeals, the relatives of Pte Tom Jackson, who died in 2000 at the age of 83, have traced Pte Stanley Cloughton's family. In an extraordinary coincidence, it emerged that neighbours of Pte Jackson's widow, in Darlington, Co Durham, were related to Pte Cloughton through marriage.

In an emotional meeting yesterday, two of Pte Cloughton's descendants, Tom Cloughton and Gladys Dodd, were presented with the beads and met Pte Jackson's widow, Vera, 83. The two privates served in the 8th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry in the Second World War and were stationed together in France in 1940. The rosary was thought to have been exchanged at Arras. Pte Cloughton asked Pte Jackson to keep it safe because he thought his comrade was more likely to survive. Pte Jackson never saw him again but kept up the search until he died. Mrs Jackson said: "Tom always wanted to find the family. I really couldn't believe it when we found relatives after all this time, but especially the connection with next door. …

The Jacksons later learned that Pte Cloughton had been killed during fighting in Tunisia on March 22, 1943, at the age of 24. He is buried in the Medjez-el-Bab war cemetery. When Mr Jackson died, his widow continued the search. After fruitless appeals through newspapers and magazines, a letter printed in her local newspaper was seen by chance by Mrs Dodd, from Darlington, a distant relative of Pte Cloughton. She contacted Mrs Jackson, who said: "I couldn't believe that her brother, Tom, is married to my next-door neighbour's daughter. All this time and the answer was on my doorstep.

It's worth repeating here what John Forster, Dickens' friend and biographer, wrote in his The Life of Charles Dickens:

On the coincidences, resemblances, and surprises of life, Dickens liked especially to dwell, and few things moved his fancy so pleasantly. The world, he would say, was so much smaller than we thought it; we were all so connected by fate without knowing it; people supposed to be far apart were so constantly elbowing each other; and to-morrow bore so close a resemblance to nothing half so much as to yesterday. (Volume I, Book First, V)

Ig Nobel Awards

I keep being asked about these awards and the un-related, but nonetheless also entertaining, Darwin Awards ('The Darwin Awards honor those who improve our gene pool... by removing themselves from it'). The Ig Nobel Awards have the merit of being awards for real scientific or academic work of often unimaginably esoteric "worth", but which can also be understood, as the awarders explain, as work 'that first makes people laugh, then makes them think': An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces; Navigation-Related Structural Change In the Hippocampi of Taxi Drivers; What percentage of young people wear baseball caps with the peak facing to the rear rather than to the front?; Chickens Prefer Beautiful Humans — all winners, inter alia, in 2003.

The shouting men of Finland


'Take a group of men from the northern Finnish town of Oulu - population 100,000 - dress them in dark suits with black ties made from the inner tubes of car tyres. Next, send them out on to the ice floes of the frozen Baltic and get them to shout - in choral unison - at a stranded 10,000-ton ice breaking vessel, and you have got something called Mieskuoro Huutajat. Otherwise known as the shouting men of Finland, it is more than a bunch of Finns getting things off their chests by upping their decibels. It is a new art form, and it is taking parts of the world by arctic storm. Audiences in France, Iceland, Britain and Japan - to name but a few - have already been either entranced or baffled by the choristers of Oulu.' BBC News

Mieskuoro Huutajat: video and audio clips.