RIP Paul Meehl (1920–2003)

Meanwhile our eager-beaver researcher, undismayed by logic-of-science considerations and relying blissfully on the “exactitude” of modern statistical hypothesis-testing, has produced a long publication list and been promoted to a full professorship. In terms of his contribution to the enduring body of psychological knowledge, he has done hardly anything. His true position is that of a potent-but-sterile intellectual rake, who leaves in his merry path a long train of ravished maidens but no viable scientific offspring.

RIP Robert Quine (1942–2004)

By many peoples' standards, my playing is very primitive but by punk standards, I'm a virtuoso.

RIP Czesław Miłosz (1911–2004)

How it should be in heaven I know, for I was there.
By its river. I heard its birds.
In its season: in summer, shortly after sunrise...
But where is our dear mortality?
Where is time, that destroys and saves us?
This is too difficult for me. Peace eternal
Could have no mornings and no evenings.
This deficiency speaks against it.

RIP John Maynard Smith (1920–2004)

You can live some sort of life and die without ever hearing the name of Darwin. But if, before you die, you want to understand why you lived in the first place, Darwinism is the one subject that you must study.

RIP Francis Crick (1916–2004)

Nonlinear behaviour is common in real life, especially in love and war.

RIP John Peel (1939–2004)

Somebody was trying to tell me that CDs are better than vinyl because they don't have any surface noise. I said, 'Listen, mate, life has surface noise.'

At the heart of anything good there should be a kernel of something undefinable, and if you can define it, or claim to be able to define it, then, in a sense, you’ve missed the point.
There's always the possibility that you're going to come across a record that transforms your life. And it happens weekly. It's like a leaf on the stream. There are little currents and eddies and sticks lying in the water that nudge you in a slightly different direction. And then you break loose and carry on down the current. There's nothing that actually stops you and lifts you out of the water and puts you on the bank, but there are diversions and distractions and alarums and excursions, which is what makes life interesting, really.

RIP Hans Bethe (1906–2005)

Finally I got to carbon, and as you all know, in the case of carbon the reaction works out beautifully. One goes through six reactions, and at the end one comes back to carbon. In the process one has made four hydrogen atoms into one of helium. The theory, of course, was not made on the railway train from Washington to Ithaca ... It didn't take very long, it took about six weeks, but not even the Trans-Siberian railroad [has] taken that long for its journey.

RIP Andrea Dworkin (1946–2005)

The death facing her now is the death of all her possibilities: the end of youth, already gone; no more hope and heart, both needed to pick up men... Carried by life and sex towards death, the human experience is one of being pushed until crushed.

RIP Maurice Hilleman (1919–2005)

This sketchy thing estimates about 100m people saved by his measles vaccine alone.

RIP Paul Halmos (1916–2006)

Don't just read it; fight it! Ask your own question, look for your own examples, discover your own proofs. Is the hypothesis necessary? Is the converse true? What happens in the classical special case? What about the degenerate cases? Where does the proof use the hypothesis?

What does it take to be [a mathematician]? I think I know the answer: you have to be born right, you must continually strive to become perfect, you must love mathematics more than anything else, you must work at it hard and without stop, and you must never give up.

RIP Hugh Thompson Jnr (1943–2006)

One of the ladies that we had helped out that day came up to me and asked, ‘Why didn’t the people who committed these acts come back with you?’ And I was just devastated. And then she finished her sentence: she said, ‘So we could forgive them.’ I’m not man enough to do that. I’m sorry. I wish I was, but I won’t lie to anybody. I’m not that much of a man.”

RIP Stanisław Lem (1921–2006)

Each civilization may choose one of two roads to travel, that is, either fret itself to death, or pet itself to death. And in the course of doing one or the other, it eats its way into the Universe, turning cinders and flinders of stars into toilet seats, pegs, gears, cigarette holders and pillowcases - and it does this because, unable to fathom the Universe, it seeks to change that Fathomlessness into Something Fathomable... We don't want to conquer the cosmos, we simply want to extend Earth's boundaries to the frontier of the cosmos.

RIP Muriel Spark (1918–2006)

Arriving late sometimes and never
Quite expected, still they come,
Bringing a folded meaning home
Between the lines, inside the letter.

As a scarecrow in the harvest
Turns an innocent field to grief
These tattered hints are dumb and deaf,
But bring the matter to a crisis.

They are the messengers who run
Onstage to us who try to doubt them,
Fetching our fate to hand; without them
What would Sophocles have done?

RIP Richard Rorty (1931–2007)

They are not trying to surmount time and chance, but to use them. They are quite aware that what counts as resolution, perfection, and autonomy will always be a function of when one happens to die or to go mad. But this relativity does not entail futility. For there is no big secret which the ironist hopes to discover, and which he might die or decay before discovering. There are only little mortal things to be rearranged by being redescribed.

RIP Stanislav Petrov (1939–2007)

All that happened didn't matter to me — it was my job. I was simply doing my job, and I was the right person at the right time, that's all. My late wife for 10 years knew nothing about it. 'So what did you do?' she asked me. 'Nothing. I did nothing.'

RIP Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007)

I love you sons of bitches [sci-fi writers]. You’re all I read any more. You're the only ones who’ll talk all about the really terrific changes going on, the only ones crazy enough to know that life is a space voyage, and not a short one, either, but one that’ll last for billions of years. You’re the only ones with guts enough to really care about the future, who really notice what machines do to us, what wars do to us, what cities do to us, what big, simple ideas do to us, what tremendous misunderstanding, mistakes, accidents, catastrophes do to us. You're the only ones zany enough to agonize over time and distance without limit, over mysteries that will never die, over the fact that we are right now determining whether the space voyage for the next billion years or so is going to be Heaven or Hell.

RIP David Foster Wallace (1962–2008)

I'm talking about the individual US citizen's deep fear, the same basic fear that you and I have and that everybody has except nobody ever talks about it except existentialists in convoluted French prose. Our smallness, our insignificance and mortality, yours and mine, the thing that we all spend all our time not thinking about directly, that we are tiny and at the mercy of large forces and that time is always passing and that every day we've lost one more day that will never come back... "pass away," the very sound of it makes me feel the way I feel at dusk on a wintry Sunday... That everything is on fire, slow fire, and we're all less than a million breaths away from an oblivion more total than we can even bring ourselves to even try to imagine, in fact, probably that's why the manic US obsession with production, produce, produce, impact the world, contribute, shape things, to help distract us from how little and totally insignificant and temporary we are...

RIP Irena Sendler (1910–2008)

What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal. I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little.

RIP IJ Good (1916–2009)

The subjectivist states his judgements, whereas the objectivist sweeps them under the carpet by calling assumptions knowledge, and he basks in the glorious objectivity of science.

There may be occasions when it is best to behave irrationally, but whether there are should be decided rationally.

RIP Norman Borlaug (1914–2009)

Little did I imagine then, in the early 1950s, that the quiet revolution in wheat production in Mexico would become popularly known as the Green Revolution in famine-plagued India and Pakistan, and subsequently spread to many other countries... India's accomplishments are even more impressive, especially when recalling the widespread famine of 1965 and 1966 which led many authorities to state that India's population had outgrown its food supply and a disastrous "die-off" of the population was inevitable. India became self-sufficient in wheat in 1972, and remains so despite population having more than doubled.

RIP David Blackwell (1919–2010)

RIP Philippa Foot (1920–2010)

RIP Angus Maddison (1926–2010)

RIP Jack Kevorkian (1928–2011)

I gambled and I lost. I failed in securing my options for [euthanasia] for myself, but I succeeded in verifying the Dark Age is still with us.

RIP Leslie Collier (1921–2011)

This [Master's thesis] was undertaken to develop a smallpox vaccine suitable for use under tropical conditions...

I was given a laboratory, a junior technician (a young lady straight from school with no laboratory experience) and a little hut that housed an experimental freeze drier... [The apparatus needed for sealing large numbers of ampoules was made from a children’s construction set.] It was characteristic of the somewhat Heath Robinson approach used at the time.

RIP John McCarthy (1927–2011)

God did not design human beings in accordance with Christian principles, fascist principles, feminist principles, socialist principles, romantic principles, secular humanist principles, vegetarian principles, deep environmentalist principles, biocentric principles, or libertarian principles. Any of these groups could have told God a thing or two.

RIP Adrienne Rich (1929–2012)

It was an old theme even for me:
Language cannot do everything -
chalk it on the walls where the dead poets
lie in their mausoleums
If at the will of the poet the poem
could turn into a thing
a granite flank laid bare, a lifted head
alight with dew
If it could simply look you in the face
with naked eyeballs, not letting you turn
till you, and I who long to make this thing,
were finally clarified together in its stare.

RIP Ronald Coase (1910–2013)

We must first note that economic factors are taken into account in a world in which ignorance, prejudice, and mental confusion, encouraged rather than dispelled by political organization, exert a strong influence on policy making.

RIP Iain Banks (1954–2013)

“But in the end, it’s still just cleaning a table.”
“And therefore does not really signify on the cosmic scale of events?” the man suggested.
He smiled in response to the man’s grin, “Well, yes.”
“But then, what does signify? My [academic] work? Is that really important, either? I could try composing wonderful musical works, or day-long entertainment epics, but what would that do? Give people pleasure? My wiping this table gives me pleasure. And people come to a clean table, which gives them pleasure.

And anyway” — the man laughed — “people die; stars die; universes die... Of course, if all I did was wipe tables, then of course it would seem a mean and despicable waste of my huge intellectual potential. But because I choose to do it, it gives me pleasure. And,” the man said with a smile, “it’s a good way of meeting people."

RIP Aaron Swartz (1986–2013)

A ticker at the bottom of the TV news gives people up-to-the-minute information about how well the stock market is doing. Nobody tells us how many people are dying right now (107 people every minute, 5 of them in the US). When a major stock drops, we hear which and how much and why and how it fits into the bigger market picture. Nobody does the same for deaths, either individual or in outbreaks. Nobody’s provided an overall look at why people are dying and how all our attempts to make the world a better place — from economic growth to clean water — are helping. Somebody should start.
Or his disquotation.

RIP Umberto Eco (1932–2013)

“Master, how can we best approach death?”
I replied that the only way to prepare for death is to convince yourself that everyone else is a complete idiot.

how can you approach death, even if you are a believer, if you think that, as you lay dying, desirable young people of both sexes are dancing in discos and having the time of their lives, enlightened scientists are revealing the last secrets of the universe, incorruptible politicians are creating a better society, newspapers and television are bent on giving only important news, responsible business people are ensuring that their products will not damage the environment and doing their utmost to restore a nature in which there are streams with drinkable water, wooded hillside, clear, serene skies protected by a providential ozone layer, and fluffy clouds from which sweet rain falls once more? The thought that you must leave while all these marvelous things are going on would be intolerable.

So try to think, when you sense the time has come for your departure from this vale, that the world (six billion beings) is full of idiots, that the dancers at the disco are all idiots, the scientists who think they have solved the mysteries of the universe are idiots, the politicians who propose panaceas for all our ills are idiots, the journalists who fill page after page with vacuous gossip are idiots, and the manufacturers who are destroying the planet are idiots. In that moment, would you not be happy, relieved, and satisfied to leave this vale of idiots?

...Wisdom consists in recognizing only at the right moment (and not before) that he too is an idiot. Only then can you die.

The great art lies in studying universal thought a bit at a time; scrutinizing changes in customs; monitoring the mass media day by day, the statements of self-assured artists, the apothegms of politicians who shoot their mouths off, the philosophemes of apocalyptic critics, the aphorisms of charismatic heroes; studying theories, propositions, appeals, images, and visions. Only then, in the end, will you experience the insight that everyone is an idiot. And at that point, you are ready for death.

Until the end, you must doggedly insist that some people say sensible things, that a certain book is better than others, that a certain leader really desires the common good. It’s natural, human, and proper to our species to resist the idea that all people are idiots, otherwise why go on living? But at the end, you will understand why it is worth the effort and how it can be a splendid thing to die.

Then Crito said to me: “Master, I wouldn’t like to make hasty decisions, but I suspect that you are an idiot.” See, I replied, you are already on the right track.

RIP Carl Djerassi (1923–2014)

Before learning about the postoperative prognosis, I was very depressed, and for the first time thought about mortality. Strangely enough I had not thought about death before... I realized that who knows how long I would live? In cancer they always talk about five years: if one can survive five years then presumably the cancer had been extirpated. And I thought: gee, had I known five years earlier that I would come down with cancer, would I have led a different life during these five last years? And my answer to myself was yes. I said, well, Carl Djerassi, now you know it... I decided I wanted to live another intellectual life: a very different one... So, by 1989, when I really started reducing the size of my research group on a substantial scale I wrote the first autobiography. I wrote my first novel...

But suicide is a death that has a purpose, and the person who commits suicide usually sends out a message... the survivors ought to be able to figure out what had prompted this irrevocable step... So, this was my answer in the context of my daughter’s death and why I founded an artist’s colony in her memory... I wanted to create again something living out of death.

RIP Stephanie Kwolek (1923–2014)

FERGUSON: Do you feel comfortable financially now? Has the "Kevlar" discovery made your day?
KWOLEK: The "Kevlar" discovery has not made my day. It takes a lifetime of saving to assure a fairly comfortable old age, particularly if you start out at a salary of $240 per month and you progress at the rate that women of my generation did.
FERGUSON: The usual stories go around that so-and-so invented "Kevlar" and they got huge bonuses.
KWOLEK: Well, I certainly did not receive a huge bonus, and any amount that was received was greatly diminished by federal and state income taxes...

FERGUSON: ... any further additions?
KWOLEK: On reflection, I realized that I gave some incorrect values for the first liquid crystalline polyamide fiber that I prepared and I would like to correct these now. These poly(1,4,-benzamide) fibers had a breaking tenacity of about 6 grams per denier, and a modulus or stiffness of about 430 grams per denier. For comparison, glass fibers have a modulus of about 300 grams per denier.
FERGUSON: Thank you again, Stephanie, for having given us the time for this interview.

RIP Alastair Reid (1926–2014)

It was a day peculiar to this piece of the planet,
when larks rose on long thin strings of singing
and the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels.
Greenness entered the body. The grasses
shivered with presences, and sunlight
stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.
Walking into town, I saw, in a radiant raincoat,
the woman from the fish-shop. 'What a day it is!'
cried I, like a sunstruck madman.
And what did she have to say for it?
Her brow grew bleak, her ancestors raged in their graves
as she spoke with their ancient misery:
'We'll pay for it, we'll pay for it, we'll pay for it!'"

RIP Terry Pratchett (1948–2015)

...
ACTUALLY, NO. I AM IMPRESSED AND INTRIGUED, said Death. THE CONCEPT YOU PUT BEFORE ME PROVES THE EXISTENCE OF TWO HITHERTO MYTHICAL PLACES. SOMEWHERE, THERE IS A WORLD WHERE EVERYONE MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE, THE MORAL CHOICE, THE CHOICE THAT MAXIMISED THE HAPPINESS OF THEIR FELLOW CREATURES, OF COURSE, THAT ALSO MEANS THAT SOMEWHERE ELSE IS THE SMOKING REMNANT OF THE WORLD WHERE THEY DID NOT ...

"Oh, come on! I know what you're implying, and I've never believed in any of that Heaven and Hell nonsense!"

The room was growing darker. The blue gleam along the edge of the reaper's scythe was becoming more obvious.

ASTONISHING, said Death. REALLY ASTONISHING. LET ME PUT FORWARD ANOTHER SUGGESTION: THAT YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN A LUCKY SPECIES OF APE THAT IS TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE COMPLEXITIES OF CREATION VIA A LANGUAGE THAT EVOLVED IN ORDER TO TELL ONE ANOTHER WHERE THE RIPE FRUIT WAS?

Fighting for breath, the philosopher managed to say: "Don't be silly."

THE REMARK WAS NOT INTENDED AS DEROGATORY, said Death. UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES, YOU HAVE ACHIEVED A GREAT DEAL.

"We've certainly escaped from outmoded superstitions!"

WELL DONE, said Death. THAT'S THE SPIRIT. I JUST WANTED TO CHECK.
He leaned forward.

AND ARE YOU AWARE OF THE THEORY THAT THE STATE OF SOME TINY PARTICLES IS INDETERMINATE UNTIL THE MOMENT THEY ARE OBSERVED? A CAT IN A BOX IS OFTEN MENTIONED.

"Oh, yes," said the philosopher.

GOOD, said Death. He got to his feet as the last of the light died, and smiled. I SEE YOU...'

RIP Nicholas Winton (1909–2015)

RIP Ornette Coleman (1930–2015)

RIP John Forbes Nash (1928–2015)

gradually I began to intellectually reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation. This began, most recognizably, with the rejection of politically oriented thinking as essentially a hopeless waste of intellectual effort. So at the present time I seem to be thinking rationally again in the style that is characteristic of scientists. However this is not entirely a matter of joy as if someone returned from physical disability to good physical health. One aspect of this is that rationality of thought imposes a limit on a person’s concept of his relation to the cosmos.

RIP Donald Ainslie Henderson (1928–2016)

Q: Did you really send a jeep tyre to a WHO official who said he would eat one if the India smallpox eradication campaign were successful?

A: [laughs] I reminded him later on of his bet and said that we had a tyre waiting and where should we send it. He laughed and said “No, no, I really didn’t mean it.” So the tyre never got sent.

RIP Leonard Cohen (1934–2016)

If it be your will / that I speak no more
that my voice be still / as it was before
I will speak no more

RIP Hilary Putnam (1926–2016)

I propose that each philosopher ought to leave it more problematic what is left for philosophy to do - but philosophy should go on. If I agree with Derrida on anything, it is on this: that philosophy... must learn to be a writing whose authority is always to be won anew, not inherited or awarded because it is philosophy.

Philosophers inherit a field, not authority, and that is enough. It is, after all, a field which fascinates a great many people. If we have not entirely destroyed that fascination by our rigidities or by our posturings, that is something for which we should be truly grateful.

Temporary RIP Marvin Minsky (1927–?)

I was surprised to find that the idea of extending one's lifetime to thousands of years was often seen as a dismal suggestion. The response to my several informal polls included such objections as these: "Why would anyone want to live for a thousand hundred years? What if you outlived all your friends? What would you do with all that time? Wouldn't one's life become terribly boring?"

What can one conclude from this? Perhaps some of those persons lived with a sense that they did not deserve to live so long. Perhaps others did not regard themselves as having worthy long term goals. In any case, I find it worrisome that so many of our citizens are resigned to die. A planetful of people who feel that they do not have much to lose: surely this could be dangerous.

RIP David Mackay (1967–2016)

RIP Ken Arrow (1921–2017)

RIP Thomas Schelling (1927–2017)

Who loses if a death occurs? First, the person who dies. Exactly what he loses we do not know. But, before it happens, people do not want to die and will go to some expense to avoid it...

Death is a comparatively private event. Society may be concerned but is not much affected. There is a social interest in schools and delinquency, discrimination and unrest, infection and pollution, noise and beauty, obscenity and corruption, justice and fair practice, and the examples that men set; but death is a very local event...

Society's interest, moreover, may be in whether reasonable efforts were made to conserve life than in whether those efforts succeed. A missing man has to be searched for, but whether or not he is found is usually of interest to only a very few.

RIP Derek Parfit (1942–2017)

Is the truth depressing? Some may find it so. But I find it liberating, and consoling. When I believed that [nonreductionist personal identity was critical], I seemed imprisoned in myself. My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others...

Instead of saying ‘I shall be dead’, I should say, ‘There will be no future experiences that will be related, in certain ways, to these present experiences’. Because it reminds me what this fact involves, this redescription makes this fact less depressing.

My death will break the more direct relations between my present experiences and future experiences, but it will not break various other relations. This is all there is to the fact that there will be no one living who will be me. Now that I have seen this, my death seems to me less bad.

RIP Hans Rosling (1948–2017)

'The Mozambican government assigned Rosling to a northern part of the country, where he would be the only doctor serving 300,000 people. Because of the scarcity of health care, patients were often in excruciating pain by the time he saw them. Rosling recalls performing emergency surgery to extract dead fetuses from women on the verge of death. He watched helplessly as children perished from diseases that should have been simple to prevent...

“Extreme poverty produces diseases. Evil forces hide there. It is where Ebola starts. It’s where Boko Haram hides girls. It’s where konzo disease occurs.” '

RIP Mark Fisher (1968–2017)

The great Cold Rationalist lesson is that everything in the so-called personal sphere is in fact the product of impersonal processes of cause and effect which could be delineated very precisely. And this act of delineation, this stepping outside the character armour that we have confused with ourselves, is what freedom is...

We can now see why becoming inhuman is in the best interests of humanity. The human organism is set up to produce misery. What we like may be damaging for us. What feels good may poison us...

We could say it is the human condition to be grotesque, since the human animal is the one that does not fit in, the freak of nature who has no place in the natural order and is capable of re-combining nature's products into hideous new forms...

the centre is missing, but we cannot stop searching for it or positing it. It is not that there is nothing there - it is that what is there is not capable of exercising responsibility...

RIP Tom Regan (1938–2017)

Harms viewed as deprivations need not cause or involve pain or suffering... [welfarists] assume that the only harm we can do to animals is to cause them to suffer; they completely overlook the other type of harm we may visit upon them - namely, the harm done by deprivation. And an untimely death is a deprivation of a fundamental and irreversible kind...

Death for them is a misfortune, a harm, when death for them is a deprivation, a loss, and it is the latter when their death is contrary to their welfare-interests, even assuming that they themselves have no preference-interest in remaining alive or in avoiding death...

RIP Herb Needleman (1927–2017)

I was working on the infant ward, and a child was bought up from the ER with severe acute lead toxicity. I did what I’d been trained to do. I gave her [chelation]. She was stuporous and very ill. Slowly she got better... I felt very smug. I told the mother that she had to move out of that house...

She looked at me and said, “Where am I going to move to? All the houses I can afford are the same age.”

RIP grognor (1993–2017)

I will be dead soon. if you want to honor my memory,
become vegan
don't pay attention to the news
think hard
create a posthuman eutopia

RIP Ursula le Guin (1926–2018)

S: "...close up, the world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need a distance. The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it from the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage of death."

T: "That's all right for the moon. Let it stay off there and be the moon - I don't want it! I’m not going to stand up on a gravestone and look down on life and say, ‘O lovely!’ I want to see it whole right in the middle of it. I don't give a hoot for eternity."

S: "It's nothing to do with eternity... The sun's going to burn out; what else keeps it shining?"

T: "Ach! your talk, your damned philosophy!"

RIP Doug Altman (1948–2018)

What should we think about a doctor who uses the wrong treatment, either wilfully or through ignorance, or who uses the right treatment wrongly (such as by giving the wrong dose of a drug)? Most people would agree that such behaviour was unprofessional, arguably unethical, certainly unacceptable.

What, then, should we think about researchers who use the wrong techniques (wilfully or in ignorance), use the right techniques wrongly, misinterpret their results, report their results selectively, cite the literature selectively, and draw unjustified conclusions? We should be appalled. Yet numerous studies of the medical literature, in both general and specialist journals, have shown that all of the above phenomena are common. This is surely a scandal.

RIP Mary Midgley (1919–2018)

Old age and death... make up a fixed cycle, a crescendo and diminuendo that frame human efforts everywhere, a rhythm that links us to the natural world in which we live. They mark us out as creatures akin to the rest of life, beings that are at home on the earth, not supernatural outsiders crashing in to conquer it. We have no idea how we would get on without that context. No doubt we would devise some other world-picture to replace it, but what would that picture be? Would the overcrowding be dealt with by colonizing space–a potent dream that has long ruled science-fiction?

...In fact, the question of how to view death isn’t a duel between black and white–saving it or losing it. It really is a choice of evils–one of those clashes where, as Aristotle saw, we have to navigate between equally unwelcome extremes. I have often been puzzled by the way philosophers, from Epicurus on, have argued abstractly about whether death is 'an evil’. It seems so obvious that the question about evils must always be 'is this one worse than the alternative?’

...However discontented we may be with our present mortality we might well find it still harder to adapt to the prospect of endless survival.

RIP Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (1922–2018)

While correcting the translation of one of my books, I was terrified to see that all my conditionals had been changed to indicatives — my safeguards had been eliminated... Many studies have been invalidated because of an inadequate number of observations. When we study polymorphisms directly on DNA, there is no dearth of evidence: we can study millions.

RIP Judith Rich Harris (1938–2018)

Larkin:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had.
And add some extra, just for you.
Harris:
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth
To hear your child make such a fuss.
It isn’t fair — it’s not the truth —
He’s fucked up, yes, but not by us.

RIP Robert Provine (1943–2019)

The ultimate cause of death in such cases is unknown, but the sustained, uncontrollable laughter and struggling of the victim may cause cardiac arrest or cerebral haemor rhage.

RIP Clive James (1939–2019)

it is only when they go wrong that machines remind you how powerful they are, how much they can do... before long you are armed with all kinds of jargon and have persuaded yourself that you know what’s going on. But you don't know what's going on. Only about two people in the entire building can really understand how the toys are put together.
The childish urge to understand everything doesn't necessarily fade when the time approaches for you to do the most adult thing of all: vanish.
I never feared growing old, because I was always very conscious that I was bad at being young.
The storm blew out and this is the dead calm.
The pain is going where the passion went.
Few things will move you now to lose your head
And you can cause, or be caused, little harm.
Tonight you leave your audience content:
You were the ghost they wanted at the feast,
Though none of them recalls a word you said.

RIP Mitch Feigenbaum (1944–2019)

When Feigenbaum talks, his passionate eyes opening like electronic shutters in sudden darkness, his hair sweeping stochastically back from his brow in the style of busts of German composers, he tends to start dropping certain articles and pronouns. "But the radio made music with nothing coming in, and it struck me to understand that was deepest thing in the world. It's not the stuff of wisdom, but maybe one can be struck by anything. In fact, even now, I don't know the answer."

RIP George Steiner (1929–2020)

The kinds of thing said about death offer a grammatical and ontological parallel. Language and death may be conceived of as the two areas of meaning or cognitive constants in which grammar and ontology are mutually determinant. The ways in which we try to speak of them, or rather to speak them, are not satisfactory statements of substance, but are the only ways in which we can question, i.e. experience their reality. According to the medieval Kabbalah...

there is in men and women a motivation stronger even than love or hatred or fear. It is that of being interested — in a body of knowledge, in a problem, in a hobby, in tomorrow’s newspaper.

RIP Catherine Hamlin (1924 – 2020)

My dream is to eradicate obstetric fistula forever. I won’t do this in my lifetime, but you can in yours.

RIP Freeman Dyson (1923–2020)

the principle of maximum diversity... says that the laws of nature and the initial conditions are such as to make the universe as interesting as possible. As a result, life is possible but not too easy. Always when things are dull, something turns up to challenge us and to stop us from settling into a rut. Examples of things which made life difficult are all around us: comet impacts, ice ages, weapons, plagues, nuclear fission, computers, sex, sin and death. Not all challenges can be overcome, and so we have tragedy... In the end we survive, but only by the skin of our teeth.

RIP Mario Molina (1943–2020)

We realized that the chlorine atoms produced by the decomposition of the CFCs would catalytically destroy ozone. We became fully aware of the seriousness of the problem when we compared the industrial amounts of CFCs to the amounts of nitrogen oxides which control ozone levels... We were alarmed at the possibility that the continued release of CFCs into the atmosphere would cause a significant depletion of the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer.

COVID-19 Memorial (2020-2021)

John Horton Conway
John Prine
Adam Schlesinger
Gita Ramjee
Li Wenliang
Julian Perry Robinson
Dave Greenfield
Ann Katharine Mitchell
Paul Matewele
Maria de Sousa
Toots Hibbert
Ben Bova
Peter M Neumann (1940–2020)
Arianna Rosenbluth (1927–2020)
Lewis Wolpert
Edmund M Clarke
Leo Goodman

RIP John Horton Conway (1937–2020)

Schleicher: Some of your achievements have had a great influence on people, especially on young people, and many of them consider you a role model or a hero. How do you feel about this?
Conway: Let me say, I may have had a great influence on a lot of people, but quite often that influence has been to the bad.
Schleicher: Why is that?
Conway: I feel very guilty; I have one particular person in mind. He didn’t get a Ph.D. because he became too interested in the kinds of games I was teaching him. I suspect that sort of thing has happened quite a lot, not necessarily to the extent of damaging a person’s career as much as I fear I have in that case, but by making it harder for people to concentrate on the work they should be doing, because I am telling things that are more interesting. So I’m rather worried when I influence people...
Schleicher: I’m surprised that you have these worries.
Conway: I might do good... Incidentally, I was imprisoned in the same prison in which John Bunyan was imprisoned about three hundred years earlier. When I was a student I participated in a “ban the bomb” demonstration. There was a magistrate who asked everybody a few questions and then sent us to jail... So, in some sense, the book is alien to me, except that I recognize the “Slough of Despond”, a phrase he used to refer to being depressed.
Schleicher: For how long?
Conway: I was very depressed in 1993. I attempted suicide. And I very nearly succeeded. That was just personal problems — my marriage was breaking down.
Schleicher: I was asking about the prison term.
Conway: That was, I think, eleven days. That’s the number I remember.

The Vow: "Thou shalt stop worrying and feeling guilty; thou shalt do whatever thou pleasest.” He no longer worried that he was eroding his mathematical soul when he indulged his curiosity and followed wherever it went, whether towards recreation or research, or somewhere altogether nonmathematical, such as his longing to learn the etymology of words.

RIP Yuri Orlov (1924–2020)

... the authorities repeated: “Die! There are no political prisoners in the USSR!"...

Science... Start all over again from the very beginning. New life. New language. Okay, we'll handle this too. To the end, your head's still there.

RIP Robert May (1936–2020)

Interviewer: Bob, of all the “ologists”–physicist, chemical engineer, chemist and mathematician–what kind of “ologist” are you?

I would say that I am a scientist with a short attention span. To put it in more ecological terms, I think there are different kinds of people in science, not just theoreticians and experimentalists but people who like to pick on one problem and devote their life to it, and people who accidentally stumble across various things. There is a rough rather glib analogy with a distinction ecologists use between species that are weedy species, often called “R selected” and species that are “K selected”, “K” for carrying capacity. R selected means that rapid growth rate is all important: they find an empty space and swarm into it. As distinct from “K selected” organisms that are more skilled in competitive, crowded situations where they are one of the mob. I am an “early stage”, R-selected person. I like to get in early when you can do nice, simple things that are important. Then, as the field grows and it becomes more a matter of important and systematic elaboration, I find that less congenial. Perhaps that is over-interpreting it.

But my career is as much “accident” as anything else. It is not that I go around deliberately thinking of what is a different thing to do. It is just that my scientific career has been a sequence of accidents, from the fact that it even exists onwards.

Mathematics is ultimately no more but no less than thinking very clearly about something. I like puzzles, so I am a mathematician. I am not a pure mathematician’s mathematician because I don’t like abstract, formal problems. I like tricks and devices. I am essentially a mathematician but in the sense that I like thinking about complicated things, asking what are potential simplicities hidden in them and expressing that tentative thought in mathematical terms and seeing where it leads me in testable ways.


gold

RIP Daniel Dumile (1971–2020)

Ever since the womb ‘til I'm back where my brother went
That's what my tomb will say, right above my government:
Dumile. Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who's to say?
I wrote this one in BCDC O-section
If you don't believe me, go get bagged and check then:
Cell number 17, up under the top bunk...

When I was led to you, I knew you were the one for me
I swear the whole world could feel you, MC

RIP Norton Juster (1929–2021)

In this box are all the words I know... Most of them you will never need, some you will use constantly, but with them you may ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made with these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is to use them well and in the right places.

"And, most important of all," added the Mathemagician, "here is your own magic staff. Use it well and there is nothing it cannot do for you." He placed in Milo's breast pocket a small gleaming pencil which, except for the size, was much like his own.

"I am the Terrible Trivium, demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit."...
"But why do only unimportant things?" asked Milo, who suddenly remembered how much time he spent each day doing them.
"Think of all the trouble it saves," the man explained, and his face looked as if he'd be grinning an evil grin - if he could grin at all. "If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you'll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won't have the time. For there's always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing, and if it weren't for that dreadful magic staff, you'd never know how much time you were wasting.”

RIP Yuan Longping (1930–2021)

Famished, you would eat whatever there was to eat, even grass roots and tree bark. At that time I became even more determined to solve the problem of how to increase food production so that ordinary people would not starve... I had learned some background of Mendel and Morgan's theory, and I knew from journal papers that it was proven by experiments and real agricultural applications, such as seedless watermelon. I desired to read and learn more, but I could only do so secretly.

RIP Steven Weinberg (1933–2021)

The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather. The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.

If there is no point in the universe that we discover by the methods of science, there is a point that we can give the universe by the way we live, by loving each other, by discovering things about nature, by creating works of art...

although we are not the stars in a cosmic drama, if the only drama we're starring in is one that we are making up as we go along, it is not entirely ignoble that faced with this unloving, impersonal universe we make a little island of warmth and love and science and art for ourselves. That's not an entirely despicable role for us to play.

RIP János Kornai (1928–2021)

A typical American textbook on economic systems is not written with the same ambition about capitalism with which I wrote about socialism. It doesn’t give you a general model of capitalism, including the characterization of the political, ideological, and social spheres...

Now as I look back on my life there are times when I regret the way my career turned out, but times also when I look back contented. Here again is a personal example of what I said at the general theoretical level about the theory of preference ordering. I am not consistent in the retrospective judgment of my own behavior. That is because my preference ordering in the same decision space is significantly different on a day when I am in good mood and look back proudly to my past behavior from the ordering when I am in a bad mood and regret my earlier actions.

RIP Aaron T Beck (1921–2021)

If our thinking is bogged down by distorted symbolic meanings, illogical reasoning and erroneous interpretations, we become, in truth, blind and deaf

RIP Joan Didion (1934–2021)

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced... hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends... We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were. I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be...

You get the sense that it’s possible simply to go through life noticing things and writing them down and that this is OK, it’s worth doing. That the seemingly insignificant things that most of us spend our days noticing are really significant, have meaning, and tell us something.

RIP Richard Leakey (1944–2022)

Protecting elephants and conserving natural ecosystems remain my personal priorities. But I am not so sure this would be so were I ill, hungry, and living in dispair... We must somehow find a way to provide for our own species if we are also to preserve others...

A vital leap in the evolution of intellectual capacity would have been the ability to form concepts, to conceive of individual objects as belonging to distinct classes, and thus do away with the almost intolerable burden of relating one experience to another.

RIP David Cox (1924–2022)

Then the question was how to actually do the statistical analysis. I wrote down the full likelihood function and was horrified at it because it’s got exponentials of integrals of products of all sorts of things, unknown functions and so forth. I was stuck for quite a long time — I would think the best part of five years or maybe even longer.

(life as time to failure: burn-in or wear-out)

RIP Drew McDermott (1949–2022)

In this paper I have criticized AI researchers very harshly. Let me express my faith that people in other fields would, on inspection, be found to suffer from equally bad faults. Most AI workers are responsible people who are aware of the pitfalls of a difficult field and produce good work in spite of them. However, to say anything good about anyone is beyond the scope of this paper.

RIP Juris Hartmanis (1928–2022)

That good life unfortunately changed when I was about 12 years old. The Soviets occupied Latvia, and in the winter of 1940 my father was arrested. We did not know for years what happened to him. Only after the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s and their archives were opened did we find out that my father has been taken to Moscow, tried, convicted, and executed.

After our arrival in Independence I worked for Gleaner Harvester Company, which built agricultural combines. When production was cut back and the new hires were let go, I went to work for Sheffield Steel in Kansas City as a steel worker. I even became a union member. It was interesting.

I was delighted to be accepted as a graduate student, but there was a problem: there was no graduate program in physics. There was a graduate program in mathematics, so they said, "You will be completely happy studying mathematics." And I was.

I did not keep a log, so I do not know exactly when I started working in this problem and when I solved it. My recollection is that it was a very intensive period of research. I gained real insights about the lattice of geometries and solved the embedding problem. I gave a seminar on my results that was very well received. Dilworth urged me to write up my results, and I was told that I had my thesis.