% fortune -a

One of my favorite pasttimes on UNIX systems is reading the fortunes and seeing what sort of useful and humorous quotes I can find. Unfortunately, my habit has gone beyond what 3 out of 4 psychologists would consider healthy, as I have begun to incorporate UNIX fortunes into everyday conversation. Here are just a few of my favorite quotes, from fortune and elsewhere.

A man said to the Universe, "Sir, I exist!"
"However," replied the Universe, "the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation."

- Stephen Crane

"It is clear that the individual who persecutes a man, his brother, because he is not of the same opinion, is a monster."

- Voltaire

"When you have shot and killed a man you have in some measure clarified your attitude toward him. You have given a definite answer to a definite problem. For better or worse you have acted decisively. In a way, the next move is up to him."

- R.A. Lafferty

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; there is where they should be. Now put foundations under them."

- Henry David Thoreau

"You might as well ask: Why is life? Don't ask about it. Live it."
"There's got to be more to life than just living," Foyle said to the robot.
"Then find it for yourself, sir. Don't ask the world to stop moving because you have doubts."

- Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination

"Why live? Life was its own answer. Life was the propagation of more life and the living of as good a life as possible."

- Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

"The good news is, Windows is curable.
We just need a massive Windows-awareness education campaign."

"When the Universe was not so out of whack as it is today, and all the stars were lined up in their proper places, so you could easily count them from left to right, or top to bottom, and the larger and bluer ones were set apart, and the smaller, yellowing types pushed off to the corners as bodies of a lower grade, when there was not a speck of dust to be found in outer space, nor any nebular debris - in those good old days..."

- Stanislaw Lem, The Cyberiad

"Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself. Being true to anyone else or anything else is not only impossible, but the mark of a fake messiah."

- Messiah's Handbook: Reminders for the Advanced Soul

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life. It goes on."

- Robert Frost

"Our ability to adapt and therefore to accept everything is one of our greatest dangers. Creatures that are completely flexible, changeable, can have no fixed morality."

- Stanislaw Lem, His Master's Voice

"Better to be occasionally cheated than perpetually suspicious."

- B.C. Forbes

"The library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history."

- Carl Rowan

"Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

"This is so because the greatest threat to civility - and ultimately to civilization - is an excess of certitude."

- George Will, "The Oddness of Everything"

In that hour when the Egyptians died in the Red Sea the ministers wished to sing the song of praise before the Holy One, but he rebuked them saying: My handiwork is drowning in the sea; would you utter a song before me in honor of that?

- The Sanhedrin (paraphrased by Frank Herbert in The Jesus Incident)

"The Earth's age has no more to do with their salvation than the atomic weight of tin."

- Richard Fox, "Science in a Postmodern World"

"A profound joke is that one can measure the progress of physics by the problems that can't be solved. In Newtonian gravity, the three-body problem is difficult, but the two-body problem can be done exactly; in general relativity, two bodies are difficult but one body can be done exactly; in quantum gravity, the vacuum is intractable."

- Frank Wilczek, Physics Today May 2003 pg 11

"... ignorance, while it checks the enthusiasm of the sensible, in no way restrains the fools."

- Stanislaw Lem, His Master's Voice

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

- Dylan Thomas

"The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner"

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

- Randall Jarrel

"Tales of a Wayside Inn"

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness.
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another.
Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and a silence.

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longer passages

"Besides, we aren't even here," he added. ...

"Have you any idea of the mathematical probabilities involved for any given chunk of matter in the universe to be eligible for participation in the biosphere, whether as a leaf, a sausage, or even drinkable water? Or breathable air? The odds are about a quadrillion to one against it! Our universe is a prodigiously lifeless place. One particle in a quadrillion may enter into the life cycle, the procession of birth and death, growth and decay -- consider what a rare event that must be. And now I ask you to consider not the probability of a piece of food, or of a drop of water, or of a breath of air -- but the probability of an embryo! Take the ratio of the mass of the universe -- the burnt-out suns, nebulae, that enormous cloaca of dust and rubble and noxious gas we think of as the Milky Way, all that thermonuclear fermentation, that swirling of debris -- take the ratio of that total mass to the mass of a human body; there you have your probability for a chunk of matter, equal in weight to a man, to be a man -- and that probability is negligible!" ...
"In other words, you and I, all of us in this room, statistically we can't exist, we aren't really here.."

-- Stanislaw Lem, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub

"Man's quest for knowledge is an expanding series whose limit is infinity, but philosophy seeks to attain that limit at one blow, by a short circuit providing the certainty of complete and inalterable truth. Science meanwhile advances at its gradual pace, often slowing to a crawl, and for peiriods it even walks in place, but eventually it reaches the various ultimate trenches dug by philosophical thought, and, quite heedless of the fact that it is not supposed to be able to cross those final barriers to the intellect, goes right one.

How could this not drive the philosophers to despair? One form of that despair was Positivism, remarkable in its hostility, because it played the loyal ally of science but in fact sought to abolish it. The thing that had undermined and destroyed philosophy, annulling its great discoveries, now was to be severely punished, and Positivism, the false friend, passed that sentence - demonstrating that science could not truly discover anything, inasmuch as it constituted no more than a shorthand record of experience. Positivism desired to muzzle science, to compel it somehow to declare itself helples in all transcendental matters (which, however, as we know, Positivism failed to do).
The history of philosophy is the history of successive and nonidentical retreats. Philosophy first tried to discover the ultimate categories of the world; then the absolute categories of reason; while we, as knowledge accumulates, see more and more clearly philosophy's vulnerability: because every philosopher must regard himself as a model for the entire species, and even for all possible sentient being. But it is science that is the transcendence of experience, demolishing yesterday's categories of thought. Yesterday, absolute space-time was overthrown; today, the eternal alternative between the analytic and the synthetic in propositions, or between determinism and randomness, is crumbling. But somehow it has not occurred to any of our philosophers that to deduce, from the pattern of one's own thoughts, laws that hold for the full set of people, from the eolithic until the day the suns burn out, might be, to put it mildly, imprudent."

-- Stanislaw Lem, His Master's Voice

Before the Law stands a doorkeeper. A man from the country comes to this doorkeeper and requests admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he can't grant him admittance now. The man thinks it over and then asks if he'll be allowed to enter later. 'It's possible,' says the doorkeeper, 'but not now.' Since the gate to the Law stands open as always, and the doorkeeper steps aside, the man bends down to look through the gate into the interior. When the doorkeeper sees this he laughs and says: 'If you're so drawn to it, go ahead and try to enter, even though I've forbidden it. But bear this in mind: I'm powerful. And I'm only the lowest doorkeeper. From hall to hall, however, stand doorkeepers each more powerful than the one before. The mere sight of the third is more than even I can bear.' The man from the country has not anticipated such difficulties; the Law should be accessible to anyone at any time, he thinks, but as he now examines the doorkeeper in his fur coat more closely, his large, sharply pointed nose, his long, thin, black tartar's beard, he decides he would prefer to wait until he receives permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at the side of the door. He sits there for days and years. He asks time and again to be admitted and wearies the doorkeeper with his entreaties. The doorkeeper often conducts brief interrogations, inquiring about his home and many other matters, but he asks such questions indifferently, as great men do, and in the end he always tells him he still can't admit him. The man, who has equipped himself well for his journey, uses everything he has, no matter how valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. And the doorkeeper accepts everything, but as he does so he says: 'I'm taking this just so you won't think you've neglected something.' Over the many years, the man observes the doorkeeper almost incessantly. He forgets the other doorkeepers and this first one seems to him the only obstacle to his admittance to the Law. He curses his unhappy fate, loudly during the first years, later, as he grows older, merely grumbling to himself. He turns childish, and since he has come to know even the fleas in the doorkeeper's collar over his years of study, he asks the fleas too to help him change the doorkeeper's mind. Finally his eyes grow dim and he no longer knows whether it's really getting darker around him or if his eyes are merely deceiving him. And yet in the darkness he now sees a radiance that streams forth inextinguishably from the door of the Law. He doesn't have much longer to live now. Before he dies, everything he has experienced over the years coalesces in his mind into a single question he has never asked the doorkeeper. He motions to him, since he can no longer straighten his stiffening body. The doorkeeper has to bend down to him, for the difference in size between them has altered greatly to the man's disadvantage. 'What do you want to know now,' asks the doorkeeper, 'you're insatiable.' 'Everyone strives to reach the Law,' says the man, 'how does it happen, then, that in all these years no one but me has requested admittance.' The doorkeeper sees that the man is nearing his end, and in order to reach his failing hearing, he roars at him: 'No one else could gain admittance here, because this entrance was meant solely for you. I'm going to go and shut it now.'

-- Franz Kafka The Trial

Every Horse has an Infinite Number of Legs (a proof):

Horses have an even number of legs. Behind they have two legs, and in front they have fore-legs. This makes six legs, which is certainly an odd number of legs for a horse. But the only number that is both even and odd is infinity. Therefore, horses have an infinite number of legs. Now to show this for the general case, suppose that somewhere, there is a horse that has a finite number of legs. But that is a horse of another color, and by the [above] lemma ["All horses are the same color"], that does not exist.