The quotes on my wall

6 July 2024
6 Jul 2024
New York, NY
2 mins

My desktop wallpaper loops through a handful of screenshots of quotes I’ve collected over the years. These quotes push on my worldview in just the right places to help me approach my work in ways I find encouraging and energizing, so I like to have them in the periphery of my workspace like virtual post-it notes.

I prefer screenshots to purely textual excerpts because I think screenshots preserve a kind of texture of the original context in which I found the idea, whether Twitter or a magazine article or a blog.

In no particular order, here are the ones I thought worth sharing with you.

I’m drawn to Werner Herzog’s pursuit of a poetic kind of truth and focus on the human experience. Here, he speaks of a “deeper illumination” beyond the facts:

This image depicts a snippet from an interview: Murphy: There have been some accusations that you’ve taken liberties with facts in some of your documentaries and in “Rescue Dawn,” particularly from the family of Eugene DeBruin. What is your reaction to those accusations? Herzog: If we are paying attention about facts, we end up as accountants. If you find out that yes, here or there, a fact has been modified or has been imagined, it will be a triumph of the accountants to tell me so. But we are into illumination for the sake of a deeper truth, for an ecstasy of truth, for something we can experience once in a while in great literature and great cinema. I’m imagining and staging and using my fantasies. Only that will illuminate us. Otherwise, if you’re purely after facts, please buy yourself the phone directory of Manhattan. It has four million times correct facts. But it doesn’t illuminate.

and here, finding harmony in chaos.

Taking a close look at what is around us, there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder. And we in comparison to the articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle, we in comparison to that enormous articulation, we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban novel, a cheap novel. And we have to become humble in front of this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication, overwhelming growth, and overwhelming lack of order. Even the stars up here in the sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it, I love it very much, but I love it against my better judgment. - Werner Herzog

This one reminds me that, even in the most disorienting and confusing moments, some part of me usually knows the right thing to do, if I listen closely.

A tweet by @shauseth: you have access to your optimal policy at all times. you just choose not to follow it. you can literally access it by asking “what should i be doing rn?” when it’s time to reset the answer will be to stop thinking about random shit and rest. when it’s time to work the answer would be to work. same for planning or talking to people or leaving a place you don’t want to be in. literally all of that boils down to asking one simple course correcting question. you can accomplish pretty much anything by continuously asking it

I really enjoy sci-fi stories set in a world that hasn’t just overcome the current struggles of civilization, but has so transformed and advanced beyond them that they would look upon our greatest challenges as weekend projects.

There are many, many books I love and recommend all the time in this genre, including Greg Egan’s Diaspora, but I thought this screenshot captured a particularly “accelerationist” version of this view in a tweet.

Tweet from @mattparlmer: You will see mountains assembled in days, rivers cut in hours, cities conjured in minutes, flowers that materialize in the blink of an eye

A reminder for my personal work and research: as tool builders, we can choose to serve a wide range of audiences. The audience I’m most interested in building for are the experts, researchers, and artists working at the frontiers of what we know and what we’ve imagined. Hopefully by building for them, many of the key ideas will also turn out to be applicable to tools for the rest of us. This excerpt is from Andy Matuschak’s blog.

Crop of a screenshot that reads: “…expands the frontiers of practice tor the entire field. My collaborator Michael Nielsen has long argued that this is true of all our most powerful representations. If you make experts more capable, similar ideas will often also help novices; but if you focus on educational use, you’re unlikely to transform real work in the field. Mathematica is a great modern example of this: it was invented to support frontier research in cellular automata; happily it also allows novices to more easily build intuition for…”

Consistency wins, and the most important consequence of most decisions – and all small decisions – is changing the person making it.

Tweet reply by @IronEconomist: You are evaluating the act as a standalone, when the largest effect of almost any action is to change the person making it.

This is a photograph from Causal Islands, a conference that brought together a bunch of my favorite researchers and writers and designers to Toronto in April 2023. I believe this particular slide was from a talk by Chia Amisola.

A photograph of a presentation. The slides shows a quote that reads, “Remember to imagine and craft the worlds you cannot live without, just as you dismantle the ones you cannot live within…” The quote is from Ruha Benjamin’s book “Captivating Technology.”

Giving form to metaphor is the perfect description for so much of what I’m interested in: language and notation, tools for thought, research into interfaces, and artificial intelligence.

Tweet from @moultano: If you aren’t going to give form to metaphor, what good are you?

Synthesizer for thought

Epistemic calibration and searching the space of truth

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