Professors Miscellany


Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth
more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is
subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible;
thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions,
and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless,
indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried
wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell
and is not afraid. It sees man, a feeble speck,
surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it
bears itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the
universe. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of
the world, and the chief glory of man.
     Bertrand Russell, Why Men Fight (1917)


Arouse! Fight on! Combat and conquer;
Evil are the forces.
I have struggled and am tired
Of this road embriared;
Let things take their courses.

I have fought and got no gain;
Toiled and been passed by
By all save wound and pain;
Others work and take their joy;
Now, stern comrade, so shall I,
Sick, sick, of thy endless employ.

Shall I never know pleasure?
Never know rest from strain?
Let me sail a sea of azure
Wave on wave of pleasure
Turn from treading this path of rocks
With no drug for bruise save its stain.

Give me rest for I am tired;
Nor ask me how I reconcile
My cowards choice of pleasured ease
with ideals that once inspired.

Comrade conscience, cease thy talk—
Your part but talk as mine was strife—
While I do take this flowered walk
And dally with sweet soft things alluring.
Rested mayhap, Ill resume thy hard life
Of search, stern comrade, for things enduring.
      John Dewey, To Conscience, Lyric Poems, No. 43


…Come, my friends,
Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
     Alfred Tennyson, Ulysses, Poems (1842), Lines 56–64


…mathematical ideas originate in empirics, although the
genealogy is sometimes long and obscure. But, once they are
so conceived, the subject begins to live a peculiar life of its
own and is better compared to a creative one, governed by
almost entirely aesthetical motivations, than to anything else
and, in particular, to an empirical science. There is, however,
a further point which, I believe, needs stressing. As a
mathematical discipline travels far from its empirical source,
or still more, if it is a second and third generation only
indirectly inspired by ideas coming from reality, it is beset
with very grave dangers. It becomes more and more purely
aestheticising, more and more purely lart pour lart. This
need not be bad, if the field is surrouned by correlated
subjects, which still have closer empirical connections, or if
the discipline is under the influence of men with an
exceptionally well-developed taste. But there is a grave
danger that the subject will develop along the line of least
resistance, that the stream, so far from its source, or after
much abstract inbreeding, a mathematical subject is in
danger of degeneration.
      von Newmann (from the first paper in his collected works)