We Ceased To Be the Lunatic Fringe. We’re Now the Lunatic Core

Creator: Geoffrey Hinton, leading researcher in machine learning and artificial neural networks

Context: In 2014 “Wired” magazine published a profile of Hinton titled “Meet the Man Google Hired to Make AI a Reality”. AI means artificial intelligence. The article discussed the recent sea change in AI research. The term “deep learning” refers to techniques using artificial neural networks: 1

Students at universities are turning away from more traditional machine learning projects to work on deep learning, says Max Welling, a computer scientist at the University of Amsterdam. “This information has trickled down all the way to the students who are sitting in the Netherlands, far away from where all this happens. They have all picked up on it. They all know about it,” he says. “That to me is the ultimate evidence that this has propagated everywhere.”

In other words, deep learning is now mainstream. “We ceased to be the lunatic fringe,” Hinton says. “We’re now the lunatic core.”

Image Notes: Illustration of an artificial neural network by Cburnett; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Picture of Geoffrey Hinton by Eviatar Bach; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. Images have been resized, retouched, and cropped.


  1. Website: Wired, Article title: Meet the Man Google Hired to Make AI a Reality, Article author: Daniela Hernandez, Date on website: January 16, 2014, Website description: A magazine and website that reports on technological developments and societal changes. (Accessed wired.com on May 18, 2018) link

Faced With the Choice Between Changing One’s Mind and Proving That There Is No Need To Do So, Almost Everyone Gets Busy On the Proof

Quotation 01: Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone opts for the latter.

Quotation 02: Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

Creator: John Kenneth Galbraith, Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Context: In 1965 Galbraith penned a book review for “The New York Times” of John Maynard Keynes’s famous work “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”. Galbraith discussed the slow acceptance in the U.S. of Keynes’s economic theories, and he highlighted the changing perspective of economist Alvin H. Hansen who had criticized Keynes’s previous book “A Treatise on Money”. Ultimately, Hansen embraced the ideas in “The General Theory”, and he became an influential advocate. Emphasis added: 1

The economists of established reputation had not taken to Keynes. Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone opts for the latter. So it was then. Hansen had an established reputation, and he did change his mind.

A revised version of Galbraith’s article was published in the 1971 collection “A Contemporary Guide to Economics, Peace, and Laughter” under the title “How Keynes Came to America”. Galbraith slightly modified his quotation: 2

Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

Related Article: When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?

Image Notes: Depiction of a new idea from TeroVesalainen at Pixabay.


  1. 1965 May 16, New York Times, Section: Book Review, Came the Revolution by John Kenneth Galbraith, (Book review of “The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money” by John Maynard Keynes), Start Page BR1, Quote Page BR34, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1971, A Contemporary Guide to Economics, Peace, and Laughter by John Kenneth Galbraith, Essays edited by Andrea D. Williams, Chapter 3: How Keynes Came to America, Quote Page 50, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with hardcopy)

All the Couples Were Triangles and Lived in Squares

Dorothy Parker? Margaret Irwin? Kingsley Martin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The writers, artists, and intellectuals of the Bloomsbury Group formed complex and shifting intimate relationships. A wit once said:

They lived in squares and loved in triangles.

The famous author Dorothy Parker has received credit for this quip and for a more elaborate version:

They were living in squares, painting in circles and loving in triangles.

Would you please explore the provenance of this family of sayings?

Quote investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in the column “A London Diary” of “The New Statesman and Nation” magazine in 1941. The word “love” was not employed. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I wonder what people mean by “Bloomsbury”? I asked myself as I looked at the dismantled flat. Certainly it is no longer what Margaret Irwin used to describe in the ‘twenties as the place where “all the couples were triangles and lived in squares”. Whatever it was once, it is gone now.

Kingsley Martin was the long-serving editor of the periodical, and he wrote “A London Diary” under the name “Critic”. 2 Martin credited Margaret Irwin, an ambiguous identifier that probably referred to the popular English historical novelist.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1941 March 29, New Statesman and Nation, A London Diary, Start Page 317, Quote Page 317, Column 1, London, England. (ProQuest Periodicals Archive Online)
  2. Website: New Statesman, Article title: The unconscious of the middle class: The life and times of Kingsley Martin, Article author: Norman Mackenzie, Date on website: May 22, 2013, Website description: British magazine of politics and culture based in London. (Accessed newstatesman.com on May 15, 2018) link

A Life Spent in Making Mistakes Is Not Only More Honorable But More Useful Than a Life Spent Doing Nothing

Creator: George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and critic

Context: Shaw’s play “The Doctor’s Dilemma” was first staged in London in 1906. In 1911 Shaw published the text of drama together with a lengthy preface which included the following passage. Emphasis added: 1

Attention and activity lead to mistakes as well as to successes; but a life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. The one lesson that comes out of all our theorizing and experimenting is that there is only one really scientific progressive method and that is the method of trial and error.

Image Notes: Picture of shoe about to step on a banana from stevepb at Pixabay. George Bernard Shaw photographed circa 1909.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to the newsletter author who asked about this quotation because she wished to verify its accuracy before including it in an upcoming issue.


  1. 1911, The Doctor’s Dilemma, with Preface on Doctors by Bernard Shaw, Section: Preface on Doctors, Quote Page lxxxv and lxxxvi, Brentano’s, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

A Good Teacher Is Like a Candle that Consumes Itself While Lighting the Way for Others

Giovanni Ruffini? Mustafa Kemal Atatürk? Charles Wiseman? Edward Bulwer-Lytton? Emir Abdelkader? Henry Ward Beecher? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Being a teacher is wonderfully fulfilling, but it is also exhausting. The following astute simile reflects this tension:

A teacher is like a candle that consumes itself to light the way for others.

This saying has been credited to the Italian poet Giovanni Ruffini and the Turkish statesman Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: This saying is difficult to trace because it can be expressed in many ways. The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a 1764 book titled “A Complete English Grammar on a New Plan” by Charles Wiseman. While discussing figurative language Wiseman presented a collection of example similes; four are shown below. Interestingly, a candle was likened to an “author” instead of a “teacher”; both may serve an educational role. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

  • Like snow that melts away on the ground as it falls, i.e. words
  • Like a candle which lights others, and burns out itself, i.e. an author, or
  • Like a dog in a wheel that toils to roast meat for others eating, i.e. an author
  • Like a bucket at the bottom of a deep well, he must labour hard that will draw it up, i.e. truth

Wiseman presented thirty-two similes in this textbook section, and QI conjectures that most of them were already in circulation; thus, he may be credited with popularizing the candle simile but not constructing it.

Giovanni Ruffini was born in 1807, and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born in 1881; hence, neither crafted this simile.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1764, A Complete English Grammar on a New Plan: For the Use of Foreigners and Such Natives as would acquire a Scientifical Knowledge of their own Tongue by Charles Wiseman, Quote Page 383, Printed for W. Nicol, in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Genius: Seeing Things Others Don’t See. Or Rather the Invisible Links Between Things

Quotation: “What do you call ‘genius’?”
“Well, seeing things others don’t see. Or rather the invisible links between things.”

Creator: Vladimir Nabokov, author of “Pale Fire”, “Lolita”, and “Speak, Memory”

Context: The lines excerpted above show two characters talking from the 1974 novel “Look at the Harlequins!” by Nabokov. 1 These two lines are often compressed to yield the following statement: Genius is finding the invisible link between things. However, assigning this compressed remark to Nabokov is inaccurate.

Related Article: Research Is to See What Everybody Else Has Seen and Think What Nobody Has Thought

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Brad Davies who asked about this quotation. Thanks also to Athel Cornish-Bowden who led QI to add the link to the “Related Article” when he pointed out the conceptual connection.

Image Notes: Picture of Harlequin and Columbine from the mime theater at Tivoli,
Denmark; author: Malene Thyssen; CC BY-SA 3.0. Portrait of Vladimir Nabokov circa 1973; author: Walter Mori; public domain image accessed via Wikimedia.


  1. 1990 (1974 Copyright), Look at the Harlequins! by Vladimir Nabokov, Quote Page 40, (Originally published in 1974 by McGraw-Hill International) Vintage international: A Division of Random House, New York. (Google Books Preview)

If Anything Can Go Wrong, Fix It! (To Hell With Murphy!)

Quotation: If anything can go wrong, fix it! (To hell with Murphy!)

Creator: Peter H. Diamandis, founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation; bestselling author; cofounder of Singularity University

Context: In 2015 Diamandis published “Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World”. He described an episode that occurred shortly after he founded and began working at the International Space University. He shared an office with a colleague who placed a copy of Murphy’s Law on the wall which stated: “If anything can go wrong, it will”. Diamandis greatly disliked the sign. Boldface has been added to this excerpt: 1

There’s an old saying in business: You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. The same is true for ideas. . . Thus, a week into Murphy’s mental assault, I went to the whiteboard behind my desk and wrote: “If anything can go wrong, fix it! (To hell with Murphy!)” Then above the quote I wrote, “Peter’s Law.”

Image Notes: Still image from NASA animated sequence depicting the servicing of the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph during Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission 4.


  1. 2015, Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, Quote Page 108, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Google Books Preview)

What Has Posterity Ever Done for Us?

Groucho Marx? John Stuart Mill? Joseph Addison? Thomas Stafford? Boyle Roche? Adam Neale? Samuel Goldwyn? Bill Nye?

Dear Quote Investigator: Making sacrifices now for the people and environment of the future is difficult. This challenge has been encapsulated with a humorous remark. Here are two versions:

  • Why should I care about posterity? What’s posterity ever done for me?
  • Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?

Groucho Marx often receives credit for this quip, but I have been unable to find a proper citation. Would you please explore the provenance of this statement?

Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx died in 1977, and an instance of this jest was ascribed to him near the end of his life in 1975, but the quip can be traced back to the 1700s.

A close variant appeared in “The Spectator” magazine in 1714. Joseph Addison and Richard Steele founded and operated the magazine, and both were significant literary and political figures. The passage below was reprinted in the works of Addison. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I know when a man talks of posterity in matters of this nature he is looked upon with an eye of ridicule by the cunning and selfish part of mankind. Most people are of the humour of an old fellow of a colledge, who when he was pressed by the society to come into something that might redound to the good of their successors, grew very peevish, We are always doing, says he, something for posterity, but I would fain see posterity do something for us.

Addison disclaimed credit for the joke which he attributed to an “old fellow of a colledge”. The most likely candidate is Oxford scholar Thomas Stafford.

The Oxford Historical Society has published material from the papers of Thomas Hearne, an English diarist and antiquarian. An entry dated February 27, 1722/3 stated that on that day a great bell was sounded at Magdalen College, Oxford to honor Thomas Stafford, Fellow of the College, who had died that morning. Hearne then presented an anecdote from Stafford’s past: 2

He was a Man that lov’d to get Money, but was, however, very kind to his poor Relations. There is this Story going of him, that some of the College talking once of doing something by way of Benevolence or Generosity, upon some publick Account, & he asking for what reason, it was answered, to do good to Posterity. Posterity, says the Dr., What good will Posterity do for us?

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1721, The Works of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison, Esq; Volume 4 of 4, The Spectator, Number 583, Issue Year: 1714, Issue Date: “Friday, August 20”, Start Page 105, Quote Page 107, Printed for Jacob Tonson at Shakespear’s-Head, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1907, Oxford Historical Society, Volume 50, Hearne’s Remarks and Collections: September 23, 1722 to August 9. 1725, Volume 8, Entry Date: February 27, 1722/3, Quote Page 50, Oxford Historical Society, Printed for the Society at Clarendon Press, Oxford, England. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Always Do What You Are Afraid To Do

Quotation: Always do what you are afraid to do.

Popularizer: Ralph Waldo Emerson (He did not create the adage.)

Context: In 1841 Emerson published the essay “Heroism”, and he recommended a simple maxim to readers for overcoming trepidation. Some fears are justified, and the guidance does not encourage foolish or self-destructive actions. Emerson disclaimed credit for the saying with the phrase “I once heard”: 1

Be true to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant, and broken the monotony of a decorous age. It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, “Always do what you are afraid to do.”

Related Article 01: Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You
Related Article 02: Make It a Point To Do Something Every Day That You Don’t Want To Do

Image Notes: Picture of wingsuits; author: Richard Schneider from Los Angeles; CC BY 2.0. Portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson circa 1857; via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been cropped and resized.


  1. 1841, Essays by R. W. Emerson (Ralph Waldo Emerson), Essay VIII: Heroism, Start Page 247, Quote Page 262, James Fraser, London. (Google Books full view) link

Within Thirty Years, We Will Have the Technological Means To Create Superhuman Intelligence. Shortly After, the Human Era Will Be Ended

Quotation: Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.

Creator: Vernor Vinge, prize-winning science fiction author; retired professor of computer science at San Diego State University

Context: In 1993 NASA sponsored a symposium titled “Vision 21: Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering in the Era of Cyberspace”. Vernor Vinge introduced the term “technological singularity” and predicted a cataclysmic change in human society resulting from the construction of superintelligent agents by 2023: 1

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.

Is such progress avoidable? If not to be avoided, can events be guided so that we may survive? These questions are investigated. Some possible answers (and some further dangers) are presented.

Vinge outlined four pathways that lead toward surpassing human intelligence:

  • The development of computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent. (To date, most controversy in the area of AI relates to whether we can create human equivalence in a machine. But if the answer is “yes, we can”, then there is little doubt that beings more intelligent can be constructed shortly thereafter.
  • Large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity.
  • Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
  • Biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural human intellect.

Related Article: If We’re Lucky, Robots Might Decide To Keep Us as Pets

Image Notes: Robot with companion from kellepics at Pixabay.


  1. 1993, Proceedings of Symposium Vision 21, Held in Westlake, Ohio on March 30-31, 1993, Cosponsored by the NASA Lewis Research Center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, NASA Conference Publication 10129, Article: The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era by Vernor Vinge (San Diego State University), Section: Abstract, Quote Page 11, Published by NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Management, Scientific and Technical Information Program. (Accessed May 7 2018 via archive at ntrs.nasa.gov)