Quotes & Philosophy

The Tao

The Tao is a word signifying the way, path or route - I find it to be close to the English word 'flow'. Both in the sense of water flowing downhill, and in that feeling we call flow when engrossed in work or exercise or simply being with a loved one.

There is a concept that things are what they are, the universe is not configured for my benefit - but in a sense I am well fitted to this universe - being an integral part of it.

In a house position matters.
In mental quality depth matters.
In friends kindness matters.
In speaking honesty matters.
In government order matters.
In transactions ability matters.
In actions promptness matters.
Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu trans A. S. Kline

Marcus Aurelius

I find great wisdom in the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and philosopher of the Stoic School. Here are some selected quotes I find applicable to my life and work.

Focus on the job in front of you

If you do the job in a principled way, with diligence,
energy and patience, if you keep yourself free of distractions,
and keep the spirit inside you undamaged, as if you might
have to give it back at any moment—
If you can embrace this without fear or expectation—can
find fulfillment in what you’re doing now, as Nature
intended, and in superhuman truthfulness (every word, every
utterance)—then your life will be happy.
No one can prevent that
Mediations, Marcus Aurelius, Book 3, trans Gregory Hayes

Thorny people

In every group of people: families, teams, communities there are thorns that annoy. It's not always necessary to point out their faults - As my wise wife says - "Do you want to be right or in a relationship".

What’s there to complain about? People’s misbehavior?
But take into consideration:

  • that rational beings exist for one another;
  • that doing what’s right sometimes requires patience;
  • that no one does the wrong thing deliberately;
  • and the number of people who have feuded and envied and hated and fought and died and been buried.
    Mediations, Marcus Aurelius, Book 4, trans Gregory Hayes

... and keep your mouth shut


This version of keep it simple applies to the way we live our lives - but it also applies to good software design. Do what is essential, ask is this necessary.

Mediations, Marcus Aurelius, Book 4, trans Gregory Hayes

"If you seek tranquillity, do less", Or (more accurately) do what's essential - what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. While brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better.

Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you'll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, "Is this necessary?"

But we need to eliminate unnecessary assumptions as well. To eliminate the unnecessary actions that follow.


I'm a physics fan and have attempted to make some little progress towards understanding relativity and quantum mechanics. Especially how the deep structure of the universe might relate to our ability to perceive and think.

Richard Feynman was my first guide on this path, Leonard Susskind and Steven Hawking followed on.

This first quote relates to the need we have to unlearn old stuff as much as we need to learn new stuff. I claim to have a good forgettory which makes it easy for me to pick up new ideas, but a little flaky on dates and faces.

It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn't get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before in various periods in the history of man.
Richard Feynman

While this is true I think it shows up the nature of a scientific mind compared with an engineering/technical one. Play is one way to discover things.

There is a computer disease that anybody who works with computers knows about. It's a very serious disease and it interferes completely with the work. The trouble with computers is that you 'play' with them!
Richard Feynman

I guess I'm a believer in the strong anthropic principle.

The dark energy is not exactly zero, but the first 122 decimal points are zero. That's crazy. That is really one of the craziest things we've ever discovered.
Leonard Susskind

And I think we do need to be concerned about our ability to break the planet - the earth will be ok, but I'm less sure about the people.

Life is fragile: it thrives only in a narrow range of temperatures between freezing and boiling. How lucky that our planet is just the right distance from the sun: a little farther, and the death of the perpetual Antarctic winter - or worse - would prevail; a little closer, and the surface would truly fry anything that touched it.
Leonard Susskind

And yet I take it quite personally...

Man - life in general - seems irrelevant to the workings of the universe: a mere smudge of water, grease, and carbon on a pinpoint planet circling a star of no special consequence.
Leonard Susskind