1. “…people are uncomfortable comparing their friends and partners with others they might have had instead, and in the absence of comparison most people think those they love are pretty good. You rarely hear ‘there are likely about half a billion wives I would like more than you out there, but you are the one I’m arbitrarily in love with’.” (Katja Grace)

2. “Much of what our moral intuitions tell us is in contradiction with what we think are worthy principles. We like to think life is worth a lot for instance, yet in practice life more than a few miles away is worth nothing unless we are personally acquainted with the potentially deceased. Even if we calculate that organ markets would benefit users, many of us feel bad about them. What do you do when feeling virtuous comes into conflict with doing good? Most people go with their feelings.” (-ll-)

3. “There is simply too much to think about. It is hopeless — too many kinds of special preparation are required. In electronics, in economics, in social analysis, in history, in psychology, in international politics, most of us are, given the oceanic proliferating complexity of things, paralyzed by the very suggestion that we assume responsibility for so much. This is what makes packaged opinion so attractive.” (Saul Bellow)

4. “You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.” (John Steinbeck)

5. “It would be different if the Government were a team, but in fact they’re a loose confederation of warring tribes.” (Permanent Secretary for Health, Yes Prime Minister, The Smoke Screen)


May 12, 2010 - Posted by | ethics, Philosophy, Psychology, Quotes/aphorisms


  1. Regarding the first quote: have you seen this analysis of the optimal strategy for finding your “best” life-partner? Human emotions are maddeningly out of sync with reason. Evolutionary psychology has some interesting hypotheses as to the reasons for this – in a nutshell, human emotions and instincts mostly developed during (and thus are most suited to) the Pleistocene period. Whenever we let our rational guard down, behavioral evaluation mechanisms from from our distant past kick in – thus most of us recoil in primal horror from large hairy spiders and snakes, but not from genocide happening a continent away (back in those dark ages, we did not have the information about others, and even when we did, we viewed them as rivals, not as “our tribe”). This also might shed some light on Katja Grace’s observation. Back when saber-tooth felines were our concern, humans did not live long enough to be able to date for any meaningful length of time. They took every opportunity to procreate – and the ones devoid of this urge simply died childless, taking with them their genes. Now we do have the opportunity to date, and humans (on average) are discovering slowly, through trial and error, that “commit now” and “marry your high-school sweetheart” are not the best strategies in view of our wealth and longevity. This, in conjunction with women’s (and to a lesser extent, men’s) limited procreation windows, poses some interesting problems for the future of humanity. For example, I forecast that the use of frozen eggs and sperm will explode soon – it is a good (and not terribly expensive) way to extend one’s procreation window to allow more “dating”, and avoid early commitment. It will also make conversations like the one Katja Grace does not hear often obsolete – monogamous marriage is a dying institution in an age of economically independent women and paternity tests.

    Comment by Plamus | May 13, 2010 | Reply

  2. @Plamus

    I hadn’t read the study (now I have – thanks for the link! Ok, well, at least I’ve skimmed it…), but I remember having seen the result mentioned before somewhere (‘implement implicit stop-rule where you ‘go for it’ when you meet the first prospect that is better than all previous prospects after you’ve drawn from 35-40% of the pool, regardless of N’).

    monogamous marriage is a dying institution…

    Maybe you’re right, but I’m pretty sure young people living in the Western world said the same thing in the 60’es. Then most of them got a job, got a house and got married. In Denmark, appr. half of all children are born out of wedlock (I believe we’ve talked about this subject before here on this blog?), but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t living in monogamous relationsships nor does it mean that they don’t get married later on.

    I’ve previously on this blog mentioned in a Danish discussion that given the current legislative framework, I’d be very unlikely to marry a woman and have children with her, even if she was ‘the greatest thing that ever happened to me’ (that wouldn’t take much). As it is, females have a huge incentive to be with a guy for some years until she gets tired of him, then kick him out, rob him blind (both the divorce itself and the future child support payments) and take his children away from him and find someone younger/richer/whatever. I’d likely not survive going through something like that, and the amount of trust a partnership like that would require in the long run is just unreal to me – I don’t get why any male would voluntarily go into an arrangement like that.

    Comment by US | May 16, 2010 | Reply

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