Collected quotes


It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.

Oscar Wilde (The Picture Of Dorian Gray)



Have you ever heard of G.B. Shaw's razor-sharp wit? For all his Shavian wit, the bearded Irishman could be bettered. The actress Cornelia Otis Skinner got the best of Shaw in the following exchange of telegrams (!) after a revival of his "Candida."

Shaw: Excellent. Greatest.

Skinner: Undeserving such praise.

Shaw: I meant the play.

Skinner: So did I.



When your Daemon is in charge,
do not try to think consciously. 
Drift, wait and obey.


R. Kipling



Como no me he preocupado de nacer, no me preocupo de morir

Federico García Lorca



Dario Vergassola: Si parla tanto di fuga di cervelli. Il suo quando e' scappato?
Valeria Marini: Non ha avuto bisogno di scappare.

(Scherzi a parte, 12 dicembre 2003. La risposta e' stata istantanea. Da quel giorno ho rivalutato la Marini)


It is good to have an end to journey toward;
but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

Ursula K. Le Guin



You cannot prevent and prepare for war at the same time.

Albert Einstein. A very actual statement, nowadays.



My clan against the enemy,
my family against the clan,
my brother and I against my family,
myself against my brother.

Somali proverb, as told by a Somali friend of mine (forgive my translation)


In 1748 the Shahinshah of Persia, Nadir Shah, invaded India and he marched on to Delhi. He inflicted a severe defeat on the Great Mogul of India. Delhi submitted and the two kings met to negotiate peace. At the conclusion of these negotiations, which included the transfer of the famous Peacock Throne to Iran from Delhi, the Grand Vizier of the defeated Indian King, Asifiah was summoned to present to the two monarchs some wine to pledge the peace. The Vizier was faced with a real dilemma of protocol. The dilemma was this; to whom should he present the first cup of wine? If he presented it first to his own master, the insulted Persian might draw his sword and slice the Vizier's head off. If he presented it to the Persian invader first, his own master might resent it. After a moment of reflection, the Grand Vizier hit on a brilliant solution. He presented a golden tray with two cups on it to his own master and retired saying, "Sire it is not my station to present wine today. Only a King may serve a King." In this spirit I request one Grand Master of our subject, Professor Dirac, to introduce another Grand Master, Professor Werner Heisenberg.

Abdus Salam
, (not) introducing W. Heisenberg at a Conference on Contemporary Physics in Trieste.
You can find Dirac's enigmatic introduction in "From a life of physics" (World Scientific, Singapore, 1989)



Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. 

Albert Einstein



Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.

Ford Prefect, in "The Hitch-Hiker to the Galaxy" (Douglas Adams)



Temet Nosce


("Know Thyself" in Latin.) From the great movie series "Matrix."

[Actually, this comes from "gnothi seauton" (Greek): a precept inscribed in gold letters over the portico of the temple at Delphi. Its authorship has been ascribed to Pythagoras, to several of the wise men of Greece, and to Phemonoe, a mythical Greek poetess. According to Juvenal, this precept descended from heaven.]


(... and then one proceeds to determine “the” speed of a particle, which turns out to vanish (the only real solution: check!); from a student report)


Ramanujan-Hardy's conjecture on the number of partitions p of the number n. You must have heard of the intricate relationship between Hardy and Ramanujan. The "combination" of Hardy's skill at negotiating complex proofs and Ramanujan's blind insistence (!) that a formula must exist carried them both through to its discovery.
Incidentally, Littlewood never understood "why Ramanujan was so certain there was one [formula]".
I learned this story from du Sautoy's book "The music of the primes" (beware of a small misprint in the above formula...). I cannot help finding this formula extraordinary: I wonder from where it was conjured.