If you had asked your chemistry teacher fifty years ago, once you looked at that mysterious chart of boxes that sat in front of your class, the periodic table of elements, Where did those elements come from? The chemistry teacher would not have had an answer for you. He would have said, Well, you dig them from out of the earth. That’s not where they come from. It took modern astrophysics to determine the origin of the chemical elements.
We observe stars. They explode, laying bare their contents. And what we have discovered is that the elements of the periodic table derive from the actions of stars that have manufactured the elements, exploded, and scattered their enriched guts across the galaxy, contaminating – or enriching – gas clouds that then form a next generation of stars populated by planets, and possibly life.
When you look at the ingredients of the universe, the number one ingredient is hydrogen. Next is helium, next is oxygen, carbon, nitrogen. Those are the top ingredients in the universe. Then you look at earth, because we like to think of ourselves as special … We say, We’re special! Well, what are we made of? What’s the number one molecule in our bodies? Water! What’s water made of? H-two-O. Hydrogen and oxygen.
If you rank the elements in the human body, with the exception of helium, which is chemically inert, useless to you for any reason other than just to inhale it so you sound like Micky Mouse … number one is hydrogen. Matches the universe. Number two: oxygen. Matches the universe. Number three? Carbon! Matches the universe. Number four, nitrogen – matches the universe!
We learned in the last fifty years that, not only do we exist in this universe, it is the universe itself that exists within us. Had we been made of some rare isotope of bismuth, you would have an argument to say, We are something special! There are people who are upset by that fact, saying, Well, does that mean we are not special? Well, I think it’s special in another kind of way. When you look up at the night sky it’s no longer, we’re here, and that’s there. It’s, We are part of that! That association, for me, is quite enlightening and ennobling and enriching. In fact, it’s almost spiritual, looking up at the night sky and finding a sense of belonging.
So, now we have ourselves – are we alone in the universe? We’re made of the most common ingredients there are! Our chemistry is based on carbon! Carbon is the most chemically active ingredient in the periodic table! If you were to find a chemistry on which to base something really complex, called life, you would base it on carbon! Carbon is, like, the fourth most abundant ingredient in the universe! We’re not rare! You can make more molecules out of carbon than you can out of all the other ingredients in the periodic table combined. If we were to ask ourselves, Are we alone in the universe? It would be inexcusably egocentric to suggest that we are alone in the cosmos. The chemistry is too rich to declare that! The universe, too vast! There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the beaches of the world. There are more stars in the universe than there are all sounds and words ever uttered by all the humans who have ever lived. To say we’re alone in the universe!
No, we haven’t found life outside of earth yet. We’re looking. Haven’t looked very far yet. Galaxy’s this big – we’ve looked about that far, but we’re looking. And how about life on earth? Is it hard to form? Just because we don’t know how to do it in the lab doesn’t mean nature had problems. So it may be, given that information, that, given the right ingredients, which are everywhere, life may be inevitable – an inevitable consequence of complex chemistry.
NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON
The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death – however mutable man may be able to make them – our existence as a species can have a genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch!”
Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics. You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because all the elements, the carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life, weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode.
I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world that I knew yesterday, and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.
NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON
To certain individuals of small mind and overweening ambition, there is no greater insult than to be proved wrong.
THOMAS DYER, 1985, senior staff member of the Combat Intelligence Unit, also know variously as “the dungeon” and Station Hypo
Once you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy.
From a human point of view, the difference between the mind of a human being and that of a mountain goat is wonderful; from the point of view of the infinite ignorance that surrounds us, the difference is not impressive.
1. What the [boss] wants
2. What [my supervisor] wants
3. What anybody else wants
4. What has to get done
998. Things I should have done long ago
999. My job
Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
Man: An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada.
How many boards / Would the Mongols hoard / If the Mongol hordes / Got bored?
There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
I ain’t a Communist necessarily, but I been in the red all my life.
If a parent is remembered by his children only for what he did, then he spent too much time at work.
I forget who it was that recommended men for their soul’s good to do each day two things they disliked: It was a wise man, and it is a precept that I have followed scrupulously; for ever day I have got up and I have gone to bed.
Remember that it is nothing to do your duty; that is demanded of you and is no more meritorious than to wash your hands when they are dirty.
My office contains many large unexplored toenail deposits that have built up over the years because I’m a professional writer, which means that I spend as many as five hours a day engaged in foot maintenance while waiting for professional sentences to appear in my brain.
Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are part of the same Great Adventure.
Finish each day and be done with it.
You have done what you could. Some absurdities and blunders no doubt crept in. Forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well and serenely
RALPH WALDO EMERSON
Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derilects.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
Actually, there’s a very good reason for rationalization.
If something is preposterous, but in the past tense, is it postposterous?
Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will.
Hutchison’s Law: If a situation requires your undivided attention, it will occur simultaneously with a compelling distraction.
Harrison’s Postulate: For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.
Whistler’s Law: You never know who’s right, but you always know who’s in charge.
Wellington’s Law of Command: The cream rises to the top. So does the scum.
Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity.
Cole’s Law: Finely chopped cabbage.
The problem with capitalism is all the capitalists. They’re too damn greedy.
Jealousy is the puke of love.
Some people think about what’s wrong in the world and ask, Why? Some people think about what the world could be like and ask, Why not? Some people have to go to work and don’t have time to think about shit like that.
Get a big dog. And have that dog sleep in your bed with you. Dogs know nothing of mortality, and they share that peace with you.
The tumult of time disconsolate to inarticulate murmurs dies away while the eternal ages watch and wait.
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
“What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted? / Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just / And he but naked, though locked up in steel, / Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted.
One thing that I loved in Paraguay was the ironic grass that showed the tip of its nose between the pavements of the capital, that slipped in on behalf of the invisible but ever-present virgin forest to see if man still held the town, if the hour had not come to send all the stones tumbling.
ANTOINE de SAINT-EXUPERY
To what base uses we may return, Horatio! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander, till he find it stopping a bung-hole?
Wherever there is trust in a union, the risk of betrayal becomes a real possibility. And betrayal, as a continual possibility to be lived with, belongs to trust just as doubt belongs to a living faith.
Discipline is the channel in which our acts run strong and deep; where there is no direction, the deeds of men run shallow and wander and are wasted.
URSULA LE GUIN
Most people have a furious itch to talk about themselves and are restrained only by the disinclination of others to listen.
What bothers me is how many loudmouths there are walking around, not caring who they are offending when they use certain words. And the reason they can get away with it is that we have freedom of speech in this country. Which is as it should be. But you know, someone fought to preserve that freedom for them. And it’s like they never stop to think that some of the older people they are offending are the people who fought as hard as human beings can fight to save those rights for future generations.
It was shocking thing to say, and I knew it was a shocking thing to say, but no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. If they open it and read it, they don’t have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don’t have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can publish your own book – you can do all those things, but there your right stop. No one has the right to stop the writing of this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or sold, or bought, or read.
With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this little globe about their affairs, dreaming themselves the highest creatures in the whole vast universe, and serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is just possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same.
Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable world is but a faint shadow.
Let us sing and let us dance, two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.
When people listened to Duke Ellington’s music, they forgot they were white. They became human beings listening to great music. It gave them a moment in which to transcend themselves.
I was a late bloomer, but anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky. Many lives don’t allow that, the good fortune of being able to work at it and try, and keep trying.
You can have power over people as long as you don’t take everything away from them, but when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power.
Nobody in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful. / Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful.
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS
He kissed her. There was such an incredible logic to kissing, such a metal-to-magnet pull between two people that it was a wonder that they found the strength to prevent themselves from succumbing every second. Rightfully, the world should be a whirlpool of kissing into which we sank and never found the strength to rise up again.
Man thrives where angels would die of ecstacy and where pigs would die of disgust.
If you done it, you ain’t braggin!
What have you done lately, besides what’s expected of you?
I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up.
I care not much for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.
I can walk like an ape, talk like an ape, / I can do what monkeys do. / God made man, but the monkeys applied the glue.
All things are connected, like the blood which unites one family. It is all like one family, I tell you.
There’s a funny thing about comics … you’ve got to simplify your drawings because you’re working with sharp black and white (and) most panels are very small … you have to simplify gesture to make it communicate quickly because it’s a kind of picture writing, and … you can’t fit much text into a panel and therefore to do something really potent you have to suggest much, much more than you can actually state. In that sense, maybe comics have more in common with poetry than prose.
Did a large procession wave their torches as my head fell in the basket / and was everybody dancing on the casket? / Now it’s over, I’m dead and I haven’t done anything I wanted / or I’m still alive, and there’s nothing I want to do.
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS
Maybe there is no devil. Maybe it’s just god when he’s drunk.
The price of apathy is to be ruled by evil men.
You can only be young once, but you can always be immature.
We are only young once. That is all society can stand.
A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.
Life is a gamble, at terrible odds. If it was a bet, you wouldn’t take it.
Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.
Some enchanted evening, someone may be laughing, / you may hear her laughing across a crowded room, / and night after night, as strange as it seems, / the sound of her laughter will sing in your dreams …
Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.
We no longer have men in public life of the stature of our Founding Fathers. The impact of immediacy created by TV has placed a premium not on reflection and reason, but on the glib answer and the bland statement. The politician is concerned with public relations, not with public principles. In the founding of the nation we needed charismatic figures, but today we could do with honest ones. In Harding’s time, they stole national assets; at Watergate, they tried to steal the country.
There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.
URSULA LE GUIN
America demonstrates invincibly one thing that I had doubted up to now: that the middle classes can govern a State. … Despite their small passions, their incomplete education, their vulgar habits, they can obviously provide a practical sort of intelligence and that turns out to be enough.
ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE
How shall the soul of a man be larger than the life he has lived?
EDGAR LEE MASTERS
Language fits over experience like a straight jacket.
Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
If (a) lack of motivation is a constant problem, perhaps writing is not your forte. I mean, what is the problem? If writing bores you, that is pretty fatal. If that is not the case, but you find that it is hard going and it just doesn’t flow, well, what did you expect? It is work; art is work.
URSULA K LE GUIN
Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.
We don’t have to save the world. The world is big enough to look after itself. What we have to be concerned about is whether or not the world we live in will be capable of sustaining us in it.
It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.
America wasn’t created so that we could all be better. America was created so that we could be anything we damned well please.
The government of the United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion.
A just government has no need for the clergy or the church.
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Materialistic democracy beckons every man to make himself a king; republican citizenship incites every man to be a knight.
WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY JR.
He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.
JOHN L. LEWIS
It’s my theory that when you’re about thirty-eight, your laugh divides – you have a big laugh, which is really you, and then you have this other laugh, the one you’ve developed for social occasions. And to my horror, I sometimes hear this second kind of chortle come out of me. But whenever you hear someone really laugh, then you’re seeing them the way they truly are, the way you don’t often see them.
The earth is four and a half billion years old. Imagine it as a forty-five year old person. Nothing is known about the first sixteen years of his life. Last week, apelike creatures evolved into man. Agriculture began at the weekend. In the last sixty seconds, industrialization began and, in that one minute, we turned paradise into a toilet.
Sure and I’d rather be in jail than in love again.
dialog in COME HEAR THE MUSIC
When I get a little money, I buy books, and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.
As good almost kill a good man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself.
There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
Freedom consists in doing what you can do best, your work, what you have to do, doesn’t it? It’s nothing you have or keep. It is action, it is life itself.
URSULA LE GUIN
I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.
War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.
There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed. I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.
To say oil was not important was stupid. On the other hand, to say ‘blood for oil’ is stupidly simplistic.
H. NORMAN SCHWARTZKOPF on Desert Storm
I really do believe that people are nice, one at a time. Even Germans.
Mom and dad can make the rules
And certain things forbid
But I can make them wish that they
Had never had a kid.
My tiger is deep in somnolent sleep
Dreaming of chases remembered
His keen eyes are glinting
He dreams of a sprinting
Sambar who’ll soon be dismembered
Upon this quarter-eagle’s leveled face
The Lord’s Prayer legibly inscribed, I trace.
“Our Father which” – the pronoun here is funny,
And shows the scribe to have addressed the money –
“Which art in Heaven” – an error this, no doubt:
The preposition should be stricken out.
Needless to quote; I only have designed
To praise the frankness of the pious mind
Which thought it natural and right to join,
With rare significancy, prayer and coin.
The more I love man in general, the less I love men in particular. The more I detest men individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.
A Citizen who would not vote
And, therefore, was detested,
Was one day with a tarry coat
(With feathers backed and breasted)
By patriots invested.
“It is your duty,” cried the crowd,
“Your ballot true to cast
For the man o’ your choice.” He humbly bowed,
And explained his wicked past:
“That’s what I very gladly would have done,
Dear patriots, but he has never run.”
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