Quotes via Siobhan Roberts "Genius At Play: The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway"

January 23, 2022
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.
Emily Dickinson

There is a strong sense in which infinite numbers don't exist. There doesn't seem to be anything actually infinite in the real world at all. I don't know, maybe there is. But here are these infinite numbers, and whatever their ontological status is, I'm sure that you know they are not just an invention--I think "discovery" is the right word.
John Conway
Discovering something that doesn't exist is pretty remarkable... I guess what we are saying is that it's the discovery of a procedure or pattern.
If a lot can happen, everything will happen.
Conway's Presumption (Sometimes given as "If a lot is going on, everything can." or "If you can't understand what's going on, then probably *everything* is going on."

If Conway had never turned his hand to designing cellular-automata worlds--if Conway had never even existed--some other mathematician might very well have hit upon exactly the Life world that Conway gets the credit for. So, as we follow the Darwinian down this path, God the Artificer turns first into God the Law*giver*, who now can be seen to merge with God the Law*finder*. God's hypothesized contribution is thereby becoming less personal--and hence more readily performable by something dogged and mindless!
Siobhan Roberts, "Genius At Play"

Suppose surreal numbers had been invented first and real numbers second--suppose it had gone the other way and we had all grown up learning surreal numbers. And then someone said, 'Well, yeah, but there is this special case of the numbers you can write in decimal notation and so on.' If everybody had known surreal numbers from childhood, then physicists would believe that surreal numbers were real and that the universe, the laws of physics, would be defined by surreal numbers--and they would assume that things that are true of the surreal numbers are true in quantum theory. This makes me realize how much a leap of faith it is even to believe that physics based on real numbers is real. Because there is no more reason to believe that all the things in our universe can be infinitely divisible according to real numbers than there is to believe in surreal numbers. It's just a matter of familiarity with a concept. So when people develop theories of chaos based on real numbers, there is no reason to think that this could actually be true of the real world. In the same way, it wasn't until Einstein came along that people realized that there could be curvature in space with non-Euclidean geometries or that maybe the universe is only finite.
John Conway

The day can be saved with 45 minutes of work.
John Conway, citing words of wisdom of a graduate student

Princeton is a wonderful little spot. A quaint and ceremonious village of puny demigods on stilts.
Albert Einstein

Geometry is the user-friendly interface of math.
Bill Thurston

Marx is nowadays not regarded as a very great philosopher. But his ideas are still useful. And in particular he said something that applies to teaching. It was something to the effect that "the secrets to success in life are honesty and sincerity. If you can fake those, then you've got it made."

And I think that is terribly important in teaching. I would stick enthusiasm in with honesty and sincerity--enthusiasm is very important in teaching. You don't have to fake it. If you actually have it, that's the best thing. But if not, you better fake it. So you know, I've been teaching such-and-such a subject for 50 years--my god, half a century. And so it's difficult sometimes to pretend not to be a bit bored with it, when I am actually quite a lot bored with it. How do I do it? Fake it. I'm really serious that if you can fake it you've got it made.

By the way, it was Groucho Marx who said that, not Karl. Groucho has a lot of lessons to teach us. "I won't belong to any club that will have me as a member," that's another one.
John Conway

Well, "lustrum" is an English word meaning a period of 5 years.
John Conway
I like thinking in different frames of time like that. "Lustrum" seems pretty good! For a long while I tended to think in 4 year chunks, since that matched up with high school and college.
I was struck down with this awful thing and it changed my life, utterly. It was 20 seconds that aged me by 20 years. And I feel such a fool. Had I paid attention to my diet it wouldn't have happened. The road not taken was not taken at my folly. I feel old now; I never felt old before the stroke. It's a permanent intimation of mortality. Every day I think about death. With these lectures, I want to get the message out before I die; I want to get this damn stuff out. I want people to recognize the truth of it about the world. And not in 100 years' time. I want to see them recognize it.
John Conway (Roberts says he framed it for himself as a choice: to be depressed, or not to be depressed.)

I have people asking me whether Einstein's brain got to be the way it is because he did so much physics. And of course I think it is the other way around. I think he did so much physics because his brain had a certain anatomy.
Neuroscientist Sandra Witelson

They've been putting me through a battery of tests, and I feel pretty battered.
John Conway

Ha Ha Aaron Rodgers sit your "yeah im immunized" bullshitter ass down and quit sprouting nonsense.
Oh, Buffalo and KFC - my favorite types of chicken!