“I find all books too long.” — Voltaire

“The covers of this book are too far apart.” — Ambrose Bierce

“A big book is a big nuisance.” — Callimachus

“Long books, when read, are usually overpraised, because the reader wants to convince others and himself that he has not wasted his time.” — E.M. Forster

“I made this letter very long, because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter.” — Pascal

Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.” — Samuel Johnson


“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” — J.M. Barrie

“No, Sir, not a day’s work in all my life. What I have done I have done because it has been play. If it had been work I shouldn’t have done it.” — Mark Twain, New York Times interview, 1905

From a letter by Isaac Asimov, July 20, 1965:

You have a vacation when you do something you like better than your work. But there isn’t anything I like better than my work. My vacation therefore exists all year long — except when I am forced to go away.

But James Thurber wrote, “I suppose that even the most pleasurable of imaginable occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the RCA Building, would pall a little as the days ran on.”


Image: Wikimedia Commons

“[John] von Neumann gave me an interesting idea: that you don’t have to be responsible for the world that you’re in. So I have developed a very powerful sense of social irresponsibility as a result of von Neumann’s advice. It’s made me a very happy man ever since. But it was von Neumann who put the seed in that grew into my active irresponsibility!” — Richard Feynman

He expands on this in Christopher Sykes’ No Ordinary Genius (1994):

“I got the idea of ‘active irresponsibility’ in Los Alamos. We often went on walks, and one day I was with the great mathematician von Neumann and a few other people. I think Bethe and von Neumann were discussing some social problem that Bethe was very worried about. Von Neumann said, ‘I don’t feel any responsibility for all these social problems. Why should I? I’m born into the world, I didn’t make it.’ Something like that. Well, I’ve read von Neumann’s autobiography and it seems to me that he felt perpetually responsible, but at that moment this was a new idea to me, and I caught onto it. Around you all the time there are people telling you what your responsibilities are, and I thought it was kind of brave to be actively irresponsible. ‘Active’ because, like democracy, it takes eternal vigilance to maintain it — in a university you have to perpetually watch out, and be careful that you don’t do anything to help anybody!”

Hans Bethe:

“Feynman somehow was proud of being irresponsible. He concentrated on his science, and on enjoying life. There are some of us — including myself — who felt after the end of the Second World War that we had a great responsibility to explain atomic weapons, and to try and make the government do sensible things about atomic weapons. … Feynman didn’t want to have anything to do with it, and I think quite rightly. I think it would be quite wrong if all scientists worked on discharging their responsibility. You need some number of them, but it should only be a small fraction of the total number of scientists. Among the leading scientists, there should be some who do not feel responsible, and who only do what science is supposed to accomplish.”

Marvin Minsky:

“I must say I have a little of this sense of social irresponsibility, and Feynman was a great inspiration to me — I have done a good deal of it since. There are several reasons for a scientist to be irresponsible, and one of them I take very seriously: people say, ‘Are you sure you should be working on this? Can’t it be used for bad?’ Well, I have a strong feeling that good and bad are things to be thought about by people who understand better than I do the interactions among people, and the causes of suffering. The worst thing I can imagine is for somebody to ask me to decide whether a certain innovation is good or bad.”



“In dreams I do not recollect that state of feeling so common when awake, of thinking of one subject and looking at another.” — Coleridge

“In dreams you sometimes fall from a height, or are stabbed, or beaten, but you never feel pain.” — Dostoevsky

“In a dream you are never eighty.” — Anne Sexton

“The waking have one common world, but the sleeping turn aside each into a world of his own.” — Heraclitus