Tag Archives: emo

Bertrand Russell was emo

Another entry in the series of “towering early 20th century thinkers were emo” (previously:  B.F. Skinner was emo.)  Bertrand Russell, age 31, writing to his friend Gilbert Murray:

I have been merely oppressed by the weariness and tedium and vanity of things lately: nothing stirs me, nothing seems worth doing or worth having done: the only thing that I strongly feel worth while would be to murder as many people as possible so as to diminish the amount of consciousness in the world. These times have to be lived through: there is nothing to be done with them.

This quote is pretty famous but glancing through his letters, holy cow, I had no idea how brutal Russell’s thoughts were.  Here’s his take on math:

Abstract work, if one wishes to do it well, must be allowed to destroy one’s humanity: one raises a monument which is at the same time a tomb, in which, voluntarily, one slowly inters oneself.

And on marriage:

It is ghastly to watch, in most marriages, the competition as to which is to be torturer, which tortured; a few years, at most, settle it, and after it is settled, one has happiness and the other has virtue.  And the torturer smirks and speaks of matrimonial bliss; and the victim, for fear of worse, smiles a ghastly assent.

All these letters are from the period when his first marriage was breaking up, so maybe he cheered up later?



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Blaise Pascal: also emo

This man spends his life without weariness in playing every day for a small stake. Give him each morning the money he can win each day, on condition he does not play; you make him miserable. It will perhaps be said that he seeks the amusement of play and not the winnings. Make him then play for nothing; he will not become excited over it, and will feel bored. It is then not the amusement alone that he seeks; a languid and passionless amusement will weary him. He must get excited over it, and deceive himself by the fancy that he will be happy to win what he would not have as a gift on condition of not playing; and he must make for himself an object of passion, and excite over it his desire, his anger, his fear, to obtain his imagined end, as children are frightened at the face they have blackened.

Whence comes it that this man, who lost his only son a few months ago, or who this morning was in such trouble through being distressed by lawsuits and quarrels, now no longer thinks of them? Do not wonder; he is quite taken up in looking out for the boar which his dogs have been hunting so hotly for the last six hours. He requires nothing more. However full of sadness a man may be, he is happy for the time, if you can prevail upon him to enter into some amusement; and however happy a man may be, he will soon be discontented and wretched, if he be not diverted and occupied by some passion or pursuit which prevents weariness from overcoming him. Without amusement there is no joy; with amusement there is no sadness. And this also constitutes the happiness of persons in high position, that they have a number of people to amuse them, and have the power to keep themselves in this state.

Consider this. What is it to be superintendent, chancellor, first president, but to be in a condition wherein from early morning a large number of people come from all quarters to see them, so as not to leave them an hour in the day in which they can think of themselves? And when they are in disgrace and sent back to their country houses, where they lack neither wealth nor servants to help them on occasion, they do not fail to be wretched and desolate, because no one prevents them from thinking of themselves.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées 139

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BF Skinner was emo

I’m sorry there’s been so much “young B.F. Skinner” material here but I can’t get enough of this stuff!

In 1926, age 22, living in his parents’ attic, he writes an essay in his notebook called “WHAT I ACHIEVE I DESPISE,” which includes this:

Nothing is worth doing.  But we have the instinct to do, and we should be wise enough to do the thing which is most nearly worth doing.

The world considers me lazy because I do not earn bread.  The world expects of me that I should measure up to its standard of strength, which means that if I “got a job” for eight hours of office work (minus the time spent in being friendly to the other employees, in arranging for a party for the evening, in arguing the merits of a baseball scandal, etc.) [if it] constituted a day and paid me respectable money, I should be a man.  It’s not so much my “being a man” that people desire, it is my being one of them.

I see clearly now that the only thing left for me to do in life is to justify myself for doing nothing.

Pace Tolstoy, unhappy 22-year-olds are all alike.


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Duel at Dawn

Speaking of Galois, my review of Amir Alexander’s Duel at Dawn is up at BN Review today.  The book draws an interesting connection between the Romantic literary area and the invention of the “romantic” mathematical hero, of whom Galois is obviously the sterling example.  But Alexander commendably reaches past the endlessly-repeated Galois story to cover a lot of material less familiar to readers of pop math; I learned a lot about Abel, Bolyai, D’Alembert, and Cauchy (who was constantly getting rebuked by his deans for teaching epsilons and deltas in first-year calculus!)

The uncollected and very worthwhile David Foster Wallace essay “Rhetoric and the Math Melodrama,” which I mention towards the end of the piece, can be found in .pdf here.

Also, writing this review gave me the opportunity to use the word “emo” in print for the first time.  I hope my younger readers will let me know whether my usage is roughly correct.

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