1. Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares. (Daniel Dennett)

2. When comparing the time scales of genetic and cultural evolution, it is useful to bear in mind that we today – every one of us – can easily understand many ideas that were simply unthinkable by the geniuses in our grandparents’ generation! (-ll-)

3. It really is a nice theory. The only defect I think it has is probably common to all philosophical theories. It’s wrong. (Saul Kripke)

4. No matter how good you are at something, there’s always about a million people better than you. (Homer Simpson)

5. We rarely recognize how wonderful it is that a person can traverse an entire lifetime without making a single really serious mistake — like putting a fork in one’s eye or using a window instead of a door. (Marvin Minsky)

6. The best material model of a cat is another, or preferably the same, cat. (Norbert Wiener)

7. I don’t mind your thinking slowly; I mind your publishing faster than you think. (Wolfgang Pauli)


May 28, 2010 - Posted by | Philosophy, Quotes/aphorisms


  1. Pauli has an eternal hat-tip from me for his immortal: “Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch! “Not only is it not right, it’s not even wrong!”

    He understood the concept of falsifiability that Karl Popper promoted, and most people nowadays (including scientists) cannot wrap their minds around.

    Really, what is so hard about understanding that if you assert something that cannot be disproved, you are doing religion, not science? Oh, pardon me… you do not get government funding for doing science, just for doing science your government likes.

    Comment by Plamus | May 30, 2010 | Reply

  2. @Plamus

    I was actually for a short while considering posting the quote you mention in your comment as well, but I decided against it and chose to post the quote above instead.

    One thing in your comment I take issue with. You write that: “If you assert something that cannot be disproved, you are doing religion, not science”

    I don’t agree. Even if that way of stating things is popular, it’s still problematic, as most religions are simply filled with stuff that both can be disproven and has in fact been disproven, for any reasonable level of confidence. No religions are stripped bare of empirical content, but priests ect. often try to make us forget this, because it’s actually some really moronic stuff that’s hidden in those old books. I am reminded of this Eliezer Yudkowsky-post. A couple of quotes:

    The vast majority of religions in human history – excepting only those invented extremely recently – tell stories of events that would constitute completely unmistakable evidence if they’d actually happened. The orthogonality of religion and factual questions is a recent and strictly Western concept. The people who wrote the original scriptures didn’t even know the difference.


    The idea that religion is a separate magisterium which cannot be proven or disproven is a Big Lie – a lie which is repeated over and over again, so that people will say it without thinking; yet which is, on critical examination, simply false. It is a wild distortion of how religion happened historically, of how all scriptures present their beliefs, of what children are told to persuade them, and of what the majority of religious people on Earth still believe.

    As to Popper, I’ve read (almost all of…) Logic of Scientific Discovery and The Open Society. Reading the former has made me conclude that most of what goes on in economics departments has nothing to do with science. However to most students, it seems that a very simple relation holds: Mathematical Equations = Science. Depressing.

    Comment by US | May 30, 2010 | Reply

  3. I agree about religion, and I apologize – I was using “religion” metaphorically, but that was not clear. Thanks for the Yudkowsky link. However, “for any reasonable level of confidence” is the salient point. Most people have an amazing capacity for self-delusion and/or being deluded by others coupled with unreasonable levels of confidence.

    On economics: I fully agree that “most of what goes on in economics departments has nothing to do with science”. IMHO, economics is by an large not a science, but a field of study. Parts of economics that are amenable to examination by scientific method – experiments (including natural experiments, of which I am a big fan) – does qualify as science. Most of the graduate level stuff does not – it accepts data-mining as confirming evidence. Trust me, I do data-mining for a living, as part of my job [chuckle]. I find spectacular trends that have held historically all the time – and they seem to break down the moment we try to incorporate them in trading models. But (similar to academic economists) that is what I am paid to do, so I do it. The difference is that I warn about my work’s limitations, and I do not claim to be doing economics. I am just a quant. But I know (from training and experience) enough to be able to smell the BS most of the time – so I confirm your conclusion.

    Comment by Plamus | May 31, 2010 | Reply

  4. Some fields of economics I would classify as moral philosophy. In some of the main works of economics by the likes of Marx, Mises, Keynes and Hayek its the key ingredient. And lots of lesser works concerning why humans choose how they choose are also touching that field, even though they probably usually will be more descriptive where the former were normative.

    Comment by info | May 31, 2010 | Reply

  5. @Plamus

    You have nothing to apologize for. Yes, the ‘reasonable level of confidence’-remark is key.

    Re. economics, I think it’s a mixed bag, but I’d like the field to let go of stuff that has nothing to do with science. In some areas that’s a lot easier than in others, and of course what I’d like is irrelevant.

    @info: In general I believe economists like to think that the normative stuff should be strictly separated from the field of economics, even if it is closely related to it. They like to think it, but they don’t in practise – but that is perhaps a separate discussion.

    When economists start talking about policy or related subjects, they stop being economists and start being politicians. Of course many economists have been, or are, both, but that doesn’t change the fact that I think most economists within the field today would prefer that people think of ie. the ‘moral philosophy’-components of some economists’ thinking as exactly that: Moral philosophy – not economics.

    As it is, I’ve never had a lecture about the thinking of Marx, Mises or Hayek. The ‘moral philosophy’ part of economics, if you prefer that this be thought of as economics, is not something most students of economics spend much time on.

    Comment by US | June 1, 2010 | Reply

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