1. “Originally, I set out to understand why the state has always seemed to be the enemy of “people who move around,” to put it crudely. […] Nomads and pastoralists (such as Berbers and Bedouins), hunter-gatherers, Gypsies, vagrants, homeless people, itinerants, runaway slaves, and serfs have always been a thorn in the side of states. Efforts to permanently settle these mobile peoples (sedentarization) seemed to be a perennial state project—perennial, in part, because it so seldom succeeded. The more I examined these efforts at sedentarization, the more I came to see them as a state’s attempt to make a society legible, to arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion. Having begun to think in these terms, I began to see legibility as a central problem in statecraft. […] much of early modern European statecraft seemed […] devoted to rationalizing and standardizing what was a social hieroglyph into a legible and administratively more convenient format. The social simplifications thus introduced not only permitted a more finely tuned system of taxation and conscription but also greatly enhanced state capacity. […] These state simplifications, the basic givens of modern statecraft, were, I began to realize, rather like abridged maps. They did not successfully represent the actual activity of the society they depicted, nor were they intended to; they represented only that slice of it that interested the official observer. They were, moreover, not just maps. Rather, they were maps that, when allied with state power, would enable much of the reality they depicted to be remade. Thus a state cadastral map created to designate taxable property-holders does not merely describe a system of land tenure; it creates such a system through its ability to give its categories the force of law.” (James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State, pp.1-2)
  2. “No cynicism or mendacity need be involved. It is perfectly natural for leaders and generals to exaggerate their influence on events; that is the way the world looks from where they sit, and it is rarely in the interest of their subordinates to contradict their picture.” (-ll-, p.160)
  3. “Old-growth forests, polycropping, and agriculture with open-pollinated landraces may not be as productive, in the short run, as single-species forests and fields or identical hybrids. But they are demonstrably more stable, more self-sufficient, and less vulnerable to epidemics and environmental stress, needing far less in the way of external infusions to keep them on track. Every time we replace “natural capital” (such as wild fish stocks or old-growth forests) with what might be called “cultivated natural capital” (such as fish farms or tree plantations), we gain in ease of appropriation and in immediate productivity, but at the cost of more maintenance expenses and less “redundancy, resiliency, and stability.”[14] If the environmental challenges faced by such systems are both modest and predictable, then a certain simplification might also be relatively stable.[15] Other things being equal, however, the less diverse the cultivated natural capital, the more vulnerable and nonsustainable it becomes. The problem is that in most economic systems, the external costs (in water or air pollution, for example, or the exhaustion of nonrenewable resources, including a reduction in biodiversity) accumulate long before the activity becomes unprofitable in a narrow profit-and-loss sense.
    A roughly similar case can be made, I think, for human institutions — a case that contrasts the fragility of rigid, single-purpose, centralized institutions to the adaptability of more flexible, multipurpose, decentralized social forms. As long as the task environment of an institution remains repetitive, stable, and predictable, a set of fixed routines may prove exceptionally efficient. In most economies and in human affairs generally, this is seldom the case, and such routines are likely to be counterproductive once the environment changes appreciably.” (-ll-, pp. 353-354)
  4. “If the facts — that is, the behavior of living human beings — are recalcitrant to […] an experiment, the experimenter becomes annoyed and tries to alter the facts to fit the theory, which, in practice, means a kind of vivisection of societies until they become what the theory originally declared that the experiment should have caused them to be. (Isaiah Berlin, “On Political Judgment”)
  5. “Before a disaster strikes, all your preparation looks like waste. After a disaster strikes, it looks like you didn’t do enough. Every time.” (‘Coagulopath’, here)
  6. “The effort an interested party makes to put its case before the decisionmaker will be in proportion to the advantage to be gained from a favorable outcome multiplied by the probability of influencing the decision.” (Edward Banfeld, quote from Albert Otto Hirschman’s Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Harvard University Press)
  7. The argument to be presented [in this book] starts with the firm producing saleable outputs for customers; but it will be found to be largely — and, at times, principally — applicable to organizations (such as voluntary associations, trade unions, or political parties) that provide services to their members without direct monetary counterpart. The performance of a firm or an organization is assumed to be subject to deterioration for unspecified, random causes which are neither so compelling nor so durable as to prevent a return to previous performance levels, provided managers direct their attention and energy to that task. The deterioration in performance is reflected most typically and generally, that is, for both firms and other organizations, in an absolute or comparative deterioration of the quality of the product or service provided.1 Management then finds out about its failings via two alternative routes: (1) Some customers stop buying the firm’s products or some members leave the organization: this is the exit option. As a result, revenues drop, membership declines, and management is impelled to search for ways and means to correct whatever faults have led to exit. (2) The firm’s customers or the organization’s members express their dissatisfaction directly to management or to some other authority to which management is subordinate or through general protest addressed to anyone who cares to listen: this is the voice option.” (ibid.)
  8. “Voice has the function of alerting a firm or organization to its failings, but it must then give management, old or new, some time to respond to the pressures that have been brought to bear on it. […] In the case of any one particular firm or organization and its deterioration, either exit or voice will ordinarily have the role of the dominant reaction mode. The subsidiary mode is then likely to show up in such limited volume that it will never become destructive for the simple reason that, if deterioration proceeds, the job of destruction is accomplished single-handedly by the dominant mode. In the case of normally competitive business firms, for example, exit is clearly the dominant reaction to deterioration and voice is a badly underdeveloped mechanism; it is difficult to conceive of a situation in which there would be too much of it.” (-ll-)
  9. “The reluctance to exit in spite of disagreement with the organization of which one is a member is the hallmark of loyalist behavior. When loyalty is present exit abruptly changes character: the applauded rational behavior of the alert consumer shifting to a better buy becomes disgraceful defection, desertion, and treason. Loyalist behavior […] can be understood in terms of a generalized concept of penalty for exit. The penalty may be directly imposed, but in most cases it is internalized. The individual feels that leaving a certain group carries a high price with it, even though no specific sanction is imposed by the group. In both cases, the decision to remain a member and not to exit in the face of a superior alternative would thus appear to follow from a perfectly rational balancing of prospective private benefits against private costs.” (-ll-)
  10. “The preference that [an] individual ends up conveying to others is what I will call his public preference. It is distinct from his private preference, which is what he would express in the absence of social pressures. By definition, preference falsification is the selection of a public preference that differs from one’s private preference. […] It is public opinion, rather than private opinion, that undergirds political power. Private opinion may be highly unfavorable to a regime, policy, or institution without generating a public outcry for change. The communist regimes of Eastern Europe survived for decades even though they were widely despised. They remained in power as long as public opinion remained overwhelmingly in their favor, collapsing instantly when street crowds mustered the courage to rise against them.” (Timur Kuran, Private Truths, Public Lies, Harvard University Press).
  11. “Even in democratic societies, where the right to think, speak, and act freely enjoys official protection, and where tolerance is a prized virtue, unorthodox views can evoke enormous hostility. In the United States, for instance, to defend the sterilization of poor women or the legalization of importing ivory would be to raise doubts about one’s civility and morality, if not one’s sanity. […] strictly enforced, freedom of speech does not insulate people’s reputations from their expressed opinions. Precisely because people who express different opinions do get treated differently, individuals normally tailor their expressions to the prevailing social pressures. Their adjustments vary greatly in social impact. At one extreme are harmless, and possibly beneficial, acts of politeness, as when one tells a friend wearing a garish shirt that he has good taste. At the other are acts of spinelessness on issues of general concern, as when a politician endorses a protectionist measure that he recognizes as harmful to most of his constituents. The pressures generating such acts of insincerity need not originate from the government. Preference falsification is compatible with all political systems, from the most unyielding dictatorship to the most libertarian democracy.” (-ll-)
  12. “How will the individual choose what preference to convey? Three distinct considerations may enter his calculations: the satisfaction he is likely to obtain from society’s decision, the rewards and punishments associated with his chosen preference, and finally, the benefits he derives from truthful self-expression. If large numbers of individuals are expressing preferences on the issue, the individual’s capacity to influence the collective decision is likely to be negligible. In this case he will consider society’s decision to be essentially fixed, basing his own preference declaration only on the second and third considerations. Ordinarily, these offer a tradeoff between the benefits of self-expression and those of being perceived as someone with the right preference. Where the latter benefits dominate, our individual will engage in preference falsification.” (-ll-)
  13. “Issues of political importance present individuals with tradeoffs between outer and inner peace. Frequently, therefore, these matters force people to choose between their reputations and their individualities. There are contexts, of course, in which such tradeoffs are dealt with by remaining silent […]. Silence has two possible advantages and two disadvantages. On the positive side, it spares one the penalty of taking a position offensive to others, and it may lessen the inner cost of preference falsification. On the negative side, one gives up available rewards, and one’s private preference remains hidden. On some controversial issues, the sum of these various payoffs may exceed the net payoff to expressing some preference. Certain contexts present yet another option: abandoning the decision-making group that is presenting one with difficult choices. This option, “exit,” is sometimes exercised by group members unhappy with the way things are going, yet powerless to effect change. […] For all practical purposes, exit is not always a viable option. Often our choices are limited to expressing some preference or remaining silent.” (-ll-)
  14. “In a polarized political environment, individuals may not be able to position themselves on neutral ground even if they try. Each side may perceive a declaration of neutrality or moderation as collaboration with the enemy, leaving moderates exposed to attacks from two directions at once.” (-ll-)
  15. “[C]ontinuities [in societal/organizational structures] arise from obstacles to implementing change. One impediment, explored in Albert Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, consists of individual decisions to “exit”: menacing elements of the status quo survive as people capable of making a difference opt to abandon the relevant decision-making group.2 Another such mechanism lies at the heart of Mancur Olson’s book on patterns of economic growth, The Rise and Decline of Nations: unpopular choices persist because the many who support change are less well organized than the few who are opposed.3 Here I argue that preference falsification is a complementary, yet more elementary, reason for the persistence of unwanted social choices. Hirschman’s exit is a form of public identification with change, as is his “voice,” which he defines as vocal protest. Preference falsification is often cheaper than escape, and it avoids the risks inherent in public protest. Frequently, therefore, it is the initial response of people who become disenchanted with the status quo.” (-ll-)
  16. “Public opinion can be divided yet heavily favor the status quo, with the few public dissenters being treated as deviants, opportunists, or villains. If millions have misgivings about a policy but only hundreds will speak up, one can sensibly infer that discussion on the policy is not free.” (-ll-)
  17. “…heuristics are most likely to be used under one or more of the following conditions: we do not have time to think carefully about an issue; we are too overloaded with information to process it fully; the issues at stake are unimportant; we have little other information on which to base a decision; and a given heuristic comes quickly to mind.” (-ll-)
  18. “What most people outside of analytics often fail to appreciate is that to generate what is seen, there’s a complex machinery that is unseen. For every dashboard and insight that a data analyst generates and for each predictive model developed by a data scientist, there are data pipelines working behind the scenes. It’s not uncommon for a single dashboard, or even a single metric, to be derived from data originating in multiple source systems. In addition, data pipelines do more than just extract data from sources and load them into simple database tables or flat files for analysts to use. Raw data is refined along the way to clean, structure, normalize, combine, aggregate, and at times anonymize or otherwise secure it. […] In addition, pipelines are not just built — they are monitored, maintained, and extended. Data engineers are tasked with not just delivering data once, but building pipelines and supporting infrastructure that deliver and process it reliably, securely, and on time.” (Data Pipelines Pocket Reference, James Densmore, O’Reilly Media)
  19. “The S in IoT stands for security.” (‘Windowsteak’, here)
  20. “Do not seek for information of which you cannot make use.” (Anna C. Brackett)

June 26, 2021 Posted by | Anthropology, Books, culture, Data, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “‘Intuition’ comes first. Reasoning comes second.” (Llewelyn & Doorn, Clinical Psychology: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press)

ii. “We tend to cope with difficulties in ways that are familiar to us — acting in ways that were helpful to us in the past, even if these ways are now ineffective or destructive.” (-ll-)

iii. “We all thrive when given attention, and being encouraged and praised is more effective at changing our behaviour than being punished. The best way to increase the frequency of a behaviour is to reward it.” (-ll-)

iv. “You can’t make people change if they don’t want to, but you can support and encourage them to make changes.” (-ll-)

v. “You shall know a word by the company it keeps” (John Rupert Firth, as quoted in Thierry Poibeau’s Machine Translation, MIT Press).

vi. “The basic narrative of sedentism and agriculture has long survived the mythology that originally supplied its charter. From Thomas Hobbes to John Locke to Giambattista Vico to Lewis Henry Morgan to Friedrich Engels to Herbert Spencer to Oswald Spengler to social Darwinist accounts of social evolution in general, the sequence of progress from hunting and gathering to nomadism to agriculture (and from band to village to town to city) was settled doctrine. Such views nearly mimicked Julius Caesar’s evolutionary scheme from households to kindreds to tribes to peoples to the state (a people living under laws), wherein Rome was the apex […]. Though they vary in details, such accounts record the march of civilization conveyed by most pedagogical routines and imprinted on the brains of schoolgirls and schoolboys throughout the world. The move from one mode of subsistence to the next is seen as sharp and definitive. No one, once shown the techniques of agriculture, would dream of remaining a nomad or forager. Each step is presumed to represent an epoch-making leap in mankind’s well-being: more leisure, better nutrition, longer life expectancy, and, at long last, a settled life that promoted the household arts and the development of civilization. Dislodging this narrative from the world’s imagination is well nigh impossible; the twelve-step recovery program required to accomplish that beggars the imagination. I nevertheless make a small start here. It turns out that the greater part of what we might call the standard narrative has had to be abandoned once confronted with accumulating archaeological evidence.” (James C. Scott, Against the Grain, Yale University Press)

vii. “Thanks to hominids, much of the world’s flora and fauna consist of fire-adapted species (pyrophytes) that have been encouraged by burning. The effects of anthropogenic fire are so massive that they might be judged, in an evenhanded account of the human impact on the natural world, to overwhelm crop and livestock domestications.” (-ll-)

viii. “Most discussions of plant domestication and permanent settlement […] assume without further ado that early peoples could not wait to settle down in one spot. Such an assumption is an unwarranted reading back from the standard discourses of agrarian states stigmatizing mobile populations as primitive. […] Nor should the terms “pastoralist,” “agriculturalist,” “hunter,” or “forager,” at least in their essentialist meanings, be taken for granted. They are better understood as defining a spectrum of subsistence activities, not separate peoples […] A family or village whose crops had failed might turn wholly or in part to herding; pastoralists who had lost their flocks might turn to planting. Whole areas during a drought or wetter period might radically shift their subsistence strategy. To treat those engaged in these different activities as essentially different peoples inhabiting different life worlds is again to read back the much later stigmatization of pastoralists by agrarian states to an era where it makes no sense.” (-ll-)

ix. “Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire” (Voltaire, on the Holy Roman Empire, as quoted in Joachim Whaley’s The Holy Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press)

x. “We don’t outgrow difficult conversations or get promoted past them. The best workplaces and most effective organizations have them. The family down the street that everyone thinks is perfect has them. Loving couples and lifelong friends have them. In fact, we can make a reasonable argument that engaging (well) in difficult conversations is a sign of health in a relationship. Relationships that deal productively with the inevitable stresses of life are more durable; people who are willing and able to “stick through the hard parts” emerge with a stronger sense of trust in each other and the relationship, because now they have a track record of having worked through something hard and seen that the relationship survived.” (Stone et al., Difficult Conversations, Penguin Publishing Group)

xi. “[D]ifficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values. […] They are not about what is true, they are about what is important. […] Interpretations and judgments are important to explore. In contrast, the quest to determine who is right and who is wrong is a dead end. […] When competent, sensible people do something stupid, the smartest move is to try to figure out, first, what kept them from seeing it coming and, second, how to prevent the problem from happening again. Talking about blame distracts us from exploring why things went wrong and how we might correct them going forward.” (-ll-)

xii. “[W]e each have different stories about what is going on in the world. […] In the normal course of things, we don’t notice the ways in which our story of the world is different from other people’s. But difficult conversations arise at precisely those points where important parts of our story collide with another person’s story. We assume the collision is because of how the other person is; they assume it’s because of how we are. But really the collision is a result of our stories simply being different, with neither of us realizing it. […] To get anywhere in a disagreement, we need to understand the other person’s story well enough to see how their conclusions make sense within it. And we need to help them understand the story in which our conclusions make sense. Understanding each other’s stories from the inside won’t necessarily “solve” the problem, but […] it’s an essential first step.” (-ll-)

xiii. “I am really nervous about the word “deserve”. In some cosmic sense nobody “deserves” anything – try to tell the universe you don’t deserve to grow old and die, then watch it laugh at [you] as you die anyway.” (Scott Alexander)

xiv. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” (Annie Dillard)

xv. “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” (Lao Tzu)

xvi. “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” (Chomsky)

xvii. “If we don’t believe in free expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” (-ll-)

xviii. “I weigh the man, not his title; ’tis not the king’s stamp can make the metal better.” (William Wycherley)

xix. “Money is the fruit of evil as often as the root of it.” (Henry Fielding)

xx. “To whom nothing is given, of him can nothing be required.” (-ll-)

March 26, 2021 Posted by | Archaeology, Books, History, Psychology, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


  • “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” (Eugène Ionesco)
  • “Where would be the merit if heroes were never afraid?” (Alphonse Daudet)
  • “In wartime a man is called a hero. It doesn’t make him any braver, and he runs for his life. But at least it’s a hero who is running away.” (Jean Giraudoux)
  • “Love is worth whatever it costs.” (Françoise Sagan)
  • “It is healthier to see the good points of others than to analyze our own bad ones.” (-ll-)
  • “When a man has dreamed of winning something by a colossal stroke of luck, he is prone to neglect petty but more practical ways of attaining it.” (-ll-)
  • “I find war detestable but those who praise it without participating in it even more so.” (Romain Rolland)
  • “There is something sadder to lose than life – the reason for living; Sadder than to lose one’s possessions is to lose one’s hope.” (Paul Claudel)
  • “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.” (Douglas Adams)
  • “The Englishman of 1750 was closer in material things to Caesar’s legionnaires than to his own great-grandchildren.” (Walter Scheidel, Escape from Rome (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World, Princeton University Press))
  • “In the Western world, […] mature male stature rose by five inches between the late eighteenth and the late twentieth centuries.” (-ll-)
  • People exaggerate both happiness and unhappiness; we are never so fortunate nor so unfortunate as people say we are. (/On amplifie également le malheur et le bonheur, nous ne sommes jamais ni si malheureux, ni si heureux qu’on le dit.) (Honoré de Balzac)
  • “When women love, they forgive everything, even our crimes; when they do not love, they cannot forgive anything, not even our virtues.” (/Lorsque les femmes nous aiment, elles nous pardonnent tout, même nos crimes; lorsqu’elles ne nous aiment pas, elles ne nous pardonnent rien, pas même nos vertus!) (-ll-)
  • “Those who spend too fast never grow rich.” (/Qui dépense trop n’est jamais riche) (-ll-)
  • “Numerical results of mathematical problems can be tested by comparing them to observed numbers, or to a commonsense estimate of observable numbers. […] Yet every teacher knows that students achieve incredible things in this respect. Some students are not disturbed at all when they find 16,130 ft. for the length of the boat and 8 years, 2 months for the age of the captain who is, by the way, known to be a grandfather. Such neglect of the obvious does not show necessarily stupidity but rather indifference toward artificial problems. […] [A] teacher of mathematics has a great opportunity. If he fills his allotted time with drilling his students in routine operations he kills their interest, hampers their intellectual development, and misuses his opportunity. But if he challenges the curiosity of his students by setting them problems proportionate to their knowledge, and helps them to solve their problems with stimulating questions, he may give them a taste for, and some means of, independent thinking.” (George Pólya, How to Solve It. Princeton University Press)
  • “If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can’t solve. Find it.” (-ll-)
  • “No idea is really bad, unless we are uncritical. What is really bad is to have no idea at all. […] in theoretical matters, the best of ideas is hurt by uncritical acceptance and thrives on critical examination.” (-ll-)
  • “Let us sum up. Recollecting formerly solved problems with the same or a similar unknown (formerly proved theorems with the same or a similar conclusion) we have a good chance to start in the right direction and we may conceive a plan of the solution. In simple cases, which are the most frequent in less advanced classes, the most elementary problems with the same unknown (theorems with the same conclusion) are usually sufficient. Trying to recollect problems with the same unknown is an obvious and common-sense device […]. It is rather surprising that such a simple and useful device is not more widely known […] neither students nor teachers of mathematics can afford to ignore the proper use of the suggestion: Look at the unknown! And try to think of a familiar problem having the same or a similar unknown.” (-ll-)
  • “Speaking and thinking are closely connected, the use of words assists the mind. […] choosing a suitable notation may contribute essentially to understanding the problem. […] A good notation should be unambiguous, pregnant, easy to remember; it should avoid harmful second meanings, and take advantage of useful second meanings; the order and connection of signs should suggest the order and connection of things. […] we should choose our notation carefully, and have some good reason for our choice. […] Not only the most hopeless boys in the class but also quite intelligent students may have an aversion for algebra. There is always something arbitrary and artificial about notation; to learn a new notation is a burden for the memory. The intelligent student refuses to assume the burden if he does not see any compensation for it. The intelligent student is justified in his aversion for algebra if he is not given ample opportunity to convince himself by his own experience that the language of mathematical symbols assists the mind. To help him to such experience is an important task of the teacher, one of his most important tasks.” (-ll-)
  • Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules. […] To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry. Some pedants are poor fools; they never did understand the rule which they apply so conscientiously and so indiscriminately. Some pedants are quite successful; they understood their rule, at least in the beginning (before they became pedants), and chose a good one that fits in many cases and fails only occasionally. To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery.” (-ll-)
  • “L’amour est un tyran qui n’épargne personne.” (/Love is a tyrant, sparing none.) (Pierre Corneille)
  • “To conquer without risk is to triumph without glory.” (-ll-)
  • “Il faut bonne mémoire après qu’on a menti.” (/It takes a good memory to keep up a lie.) (-ll-)
  • “The immune system functions so well that most of the time we do not notice it is actually working at all. However, it is continuously active, preventing severe infection from the micro-organisms which colonize our skin and our gut, and suppressing the chronic virus infections most of us picked up as infants. […] There are [even] data to suggest that mate choice (including in humans) can be driven by olfactory signals derived from […] MHC molecules — such that those with divergent MHC types are chosen, hence maximizing the number of different MHC molecules available to the offspring.” (Paul Klenerman – The Immune System: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press)
  • “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” (Victor Hugo)
  • “Being a husband is a whole-time job. That is why so many husbands fail. They can’t give their entire attention to it.” (Arnold Bennett)
  • “Journalists say a thing that they know isn’t true, in the hope that if they keep on saying it long enough it will be true.” (-ll-) (They are wrong, and people should really stop taking those people seriouslysee part ii. here)
  • “Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.” (W. Somerset Maugham)
  • “People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise.” (-ll-)
  • “Unfortunately, theories that explain everything often explain very little.” (William Bynum. The History of Medicine: A Very Short Introduction (p. 76). Oxford University Press)
  • “Whatever the system of medical care, in Western societies, third-party arrangements are the norm in hospital payments, so large are the bills. The costs of building, heating, lighting, maintaining, equipping, and staffing these complex institutions have been an increasing concern for the past century. The guaranteeing body has been variously the state, the municipality, a religious organization, an insurance company, a charitable group, individual governors, a rich benefactor, or a combination of these. […] the drive for efficiency, and the adoption of business models, characterizes almost all modern hospitals. […] While developed nations can take the surveillance and regulations of public health for granted, or be incensed when they fail, […] the problems encountered in poorer parts of the world would not have surprised Edwin Chadwick or other advocates in 19th-century Europe. Issues of child and maternal mortality, epidemic diseases, poverty, and poor sanitation are still with us.” (Ibid., pp. 127-128, 136)
  • “I used to watch a lot of news and commentary until one day I tried to tally up what I had learned during a month of it and found the quantity of facts could fit on a postage stamp.” (Zach Weiner)
  • Eppur si muove…” (Galileo Galilei)
  • “Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness.” (Alejandro Jodorowsky)

October 16, 2020 Posted by | Books, History, Immunology, Mathematics, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


In recent months I have been reading both The Major Works of Samuel Johnson and The Life of Samuel Johnson, but to some extent I have neglected to keep track of my quotes; the Samuel Johnson quotes below are almost certainly all of them from one of those books, but which one of them? I don’t know, and I frankly don’t see any plausible scenario in which I would be justified spending the time and effort figuring it out (…I do however feel confident stating that most of the quotes below are from The Major Works…).

i. “Many complain of neglect who never tried to attract regard.” (Samuel Johnson)

ii. “It ought to be the first endeavour of a writer to distinguish nature from custom, or that which is established because it is right from that which is right only because it is established” (-ll-)

iii. “To fix the thoughts by writing, and subject them to frequent examinations and reviews, is the best method of enabling the mind to detect its own sophisms, and keep it on guard against the fallacies which it practises on others: in conversation we naturally diffuse our thoughts, and in writing we contract them; method is the excellence of writing, and unconstraint the grace of conversation. To read, write, and converse in due proportions is, therefore, the business of a man of letters.” (-ll-)

iv. “It were to be wished that they who devote their lives to study would at once believe nothing too great for their attainment, and consider nothing as too little for their regard” (-ll-)

v. “Nothing has so much exposed men of learning to contempt and ridicule as their ignorance of things which are known to all but themselves.” (-ll-)

vi. “He that can only converse upon questions about which only a small part of mankind has knowledge sufficient to make them curious must lose his days in unsocial silence, and live in the crowd of life without a companion.” (-ll-)

vii.“No degree of knowledge attainable by man is able to set him above the want of hourly assistance, or to extinguish the desire of fond endearments, and tender officiousness; and therefore no one should think it unnecessary to learn those arts by which friendship may be gained. Kindness is preserved by a constant reciprocation of benefits or interchange of pleasures; but such benefits can only be bestowed as others are capable to receive, and such pleasures only imparted as others are qualified to enjoy.

By this descent from the pinnacles of art no honour will be lost; for the condescensions of learning are always overpaid by gratitude.” (-ll-)

viii. “…the world cannot reward those qualities which are concealed from it” (-ll-)

ix. “…if we make the praise or blame of others the rule of our conduct, we shall be distracted by a boundless variety of irreconcilable judgments, be held in perpetual suspense between contrary impulses, and consult forever without determination.” (-ll-)

x. “… marriage is the strictest tie of perpetual friendship” (-ll-)

xi. “There is no doubt that being human is incredibly difficult and cannot be mastered in one lifetime.” (Terry Pratchett)

xii. “It’s difficult to say just where a marriage goes wrong, because the accepted reason often isn’t the real one.” (Dick Francis, Odds Against)

xiii. “Success depends on three things: who says it, what he says, how he says it; and of these three things, what he says is the least important.” (John Morley)

xiv. “Windbags can be right. Aphorists can be wrong. It is a tough world.” (James Fenton)

xv. “Here we must begin with the most fundamental fact about the impact of television on Americans: Nothing else in the twentieth century so rapidly and profoundly affected our leisure. In 1950 barely 10 percent of American homes had television sets, but by 1959, 90 percent did, probably the fastest diffusion of a technological innovation ever recorded. […] Time diaries show that husbands and wives spend three or four times as much time watching television together as they spend talking to each other, and six to seven times as much as they spend in community activities outside the home.” (Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone)

xvi. “We have changed the environment more quickly than we know how to change ourselves.” (Walter Lippmann, ibid.)

xvii. “If a lover is wretched who invokes kisses of which he knows not the flavor, a thousand times more wretched is he who has had a taste of the flavor and then had it denied him.” (Italo Calvino, The Nonexistent Knight)

xviii. “Where there is no bread, there is no philosophy.” (Avram Davidson, The Phoenix and the Mirror)

xi. “No one ever lacks a good reason for suicide.” (Cesare Pavese)

xx. “For the two or three years before she finally left us, Keiko had retreated into that bedroom, shutting us out of her life. She rarely came out, although I would sometimes hear her moving around the house after we had all gone to bed. I surmised that she spent her time reading magazines and listening to her radio. She had no friends, and the rest of us were forbidden entry into her room. At mealtimes I would leave her plate in the kitchen and she would come down to get it, then shut herself in again. […] I had to coax her to put out her laundry, and in this at least we reached an understanding: every few weeks I would find a bag of washing outside her door, which I would wash and return. In the end, the rest of us grew used to her ways, and when by some impulse Keiko ventured down into our living room, we would all feel a great tension. Invariably, these excursions would end with her fighting, with Niki or with my husband, and then she would be back in her room. I never saw Keiko’s room in Manchester, the room in which she died. It may seem morbid of a mother to have such thoughts, but on hearing of her suicide, the first thought that ran through my mind — before I registered even the shock — was to wonder how long she had been there like that before they had found her. She had lived amidst her own family without being seen for days on end; little hope she would be discovered quickly in a strange city where no one knew her. Later, the coroner said she had been there “for several days”. It was the landlady who had opened the door, thinking Keiko had left without paying the rent. I have found myself continually bringing to mind that picture — of my daughter hanging in her room for days on end. The horror of that image has never diminished, but it has long ceased to be a morbid matter; as with a wound on one’s own body, it is possible to develop an intimacy with the most disturbing of things.” (Kazuo Ishiguro, A Pale View of Hills)

November 23, 2019 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “Experience is a dim lamp, which only lights the one who bears it.” (Louis-Ferdinand Céline)

ii. “The house of delusions is cheap to build, but draughty to live in, and ready at any instant to fall.” (A. E. Housman)

iii. “Three minutes’ thought would suffice to find this out; but thought is irksome and three minutes is a long time.” (-ll-)

iv. “Do not do an immoral thing for moral reasons!” (Thomas Hardy)

v. “The value of old age depends upon the person who reaches it. To some men of early performance it is useless. To others, who are late to develop, it just enables them to finish the job.” (-ll-)

vi. “Dying young is rarely worth it.” (James Thompson)

vii. “I have never thought there was much to be said in favor of dragging on long after all one’s friends were dead.” (Murasaki Shikibu)

viii. “A typical part of culture/social norms is the idea that it is very bad if people (have to) lie about X, should tell the truth about Y, should lie about Z and should not even believe A.

If you have internalized the surrounding (sub)culture and/or fit the (sub)culture so these restrictions don’t feel stifling, then you aren’t so much free, but rather: compatible. I think that most people have a hard time noticing restrictions that they are very comfortable with.

If you travel to a different (sub)culture that you are not compatible with and that feels oppressive to you, you will typically find people who don’t consider those restrictions to be stifling, but consider yours to be.” (Aapje, here)

ix. “I had a deprived childhood, you see. I had lots of other kids to play with and my parents bought me outdoor toys and refused to ill-treat me, so it never occurred to me to seek solitary consolation with a good book.” (Terry Pratchett)

x. “The destruction of the natural world is not the result of global capitalism, industrialisation, ‘Western civilisation’ or any flaw in human institutions. It is a consequence of the evolutionary success of an exceptionally rapacious primate. Throughout all of history and prehistory, human advance has coincided with ecological devastation.” (John Gray)

xi. “A lover who promises eternal fidelity is more likely to be believed if he believes his promise himself; he is no more likely to keep the promise.” (-ll-)

xii. “As commonly practised, philosophy is the attempt to find good reasons for conventional beliefs. In Kant’s time the creed of conventional people was Christian, now it is humanist. Nor are these two faiths so different from one another. Over the past 200 years, philosophy has shaken off Christian faith. It has not given up Christianity’s cardinal error — the belief that humans are radically different from all other animals.” (-ll-)

xiii. “There is no more consensus on what justice means than there is on the character of the good. If anything, there is less. Among the virtues, justice is one of the most shaped by convention. For that reason it is among the most changeable.” (-ll-)

xiv. “My friends are much more dangerous than my enemies. These latter – with infinite subtlety – spin webs to keep me out of places where I hate to go, – and tell stories of me to people whom it would be vanity and vexation to meet; – and they help me so much by their unconscious aid that I almost love them.” (Yakumo Koizumi)

xv. “He was too much concerned with his own perfection ever to think of admiring any one else.” (Max Beerbohm)

xvi. “The Socratic manner is not a game at which two can play.” (-ll-)

xvii. “Death cancels all engagements.” (-ll-)

xviii. “A crowd, proportionately to its size, magnifies all that in its units pertains to the emotions, and diminishes all that in them pertains to thought.” (-ll-)

xix. “Keeping up with the Joneses was a full-time job with my mother and father. It was not until many years later when I lived alone that I realized how much cheaper it was to drag the Joneses down to my level.” (Quentin Crisp)

xx. “Health consists of having the same diseases as one’s neighbours.” (-ll-)

October 24, 2019 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “The advantage of living is not measured by length, but by use; some men have lived long, and lived little; attend to it while you are in it. It lies in your will, not in the number of years, for you to have lived enough.” (Michel de Montaigne)

ii. “All of the days go toward death and the last one arrives there.” (-ll-)

iii. “Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know.” (-ll-) (Variant: “Men are most apt to believe what they least understand.”)

iv. “The plague of man is boasting of his knowledge.” (-ll-)

v. “Saying is one thing and doing is another.” (-ll-)

vi. “Let no man be ashamed to speak what he is not ashamed to think.” (-ll-)

vii. “Few men have been admired by their own households.” (-ll-)

viii. “There is no wish more natural than the wish to know.” (-ll-)

ix. “It is not without good reason said, that he who has not a good memory should never take upon him the trade of lying.” (-ll-)

x. “Religion abhors the competition for truth. Science can’t live without it.” (Scott Atran, In gods we trust)

xi. “Imagination and intelligence enter into our existence in the part of servants of the primary instincts.” (Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (1950)), as quoted in Scott Atran’s In Gods we trust)

xii. “…yes, we are smart, but not because we stand on the shoulders of giants or are giants ourselves. We stand on the shoulders of a very large pyramid of hobbits. The hobbits do get a bit taller as the pyramid ascends, but it’s still the number of hobbits, not the height of particular hobbits, that’s allowing us to see farther.” (Joseph Heinrich, The Secret of Our Success)

xiii. “Underlying these failures is the assumption that we, as humans, all perceive the world similarly, want the same things, pursue these things based on our beliefs (the “facts” about the world), and process new information and experience in the same way. We already know all these assumptions are wrong. […] Different societies possess quite different social norms, institutions, languages, and technologies, and consequently they possess different ways of reasoning, mental heuristics, motivations, and emotional reactions. […] Culture, social norms, and institutions all shape our brains, biology, and hormones, as well as our perceptions, motivations, and judgments. We can’t pick our underlying cultural perceptions and motivations any more than we can suddenly speak a new language.” (-ll-)

xiv. “One of the debates in this literature involves opposing “innate” and “learned” in explaining our abilities and behaviors. [However,] much behavior is both 100% innate and 100% learned. For example, humans have clearly evolved to walk on two legs, and it’s one of our species’ behavioral signatures. Yet we also clearly learn to walk. […] showing that something is learned only tells us about the developmental process but not about whether it was favored by natural selection acting on genes.” (-ll-)

xv. “People always talk about the body as a beautiful well-oiled machine. But sometimes the body communicates with itself by messages written with radioactive ink on asbestos-laced paper, in the hopes that it’s killing itself slightly more slowly than it’s killing anyone who tries to send it fake messages. Honestly it is a miracle anybody manages to stay alive at all.” (Scott Alexander)

xvi. “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.” (André Gide)

xvii. “No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better.” (William James, Principles of Psychology)

xviii. “It is the duty of every man to endeavour that something may be added by his industry to the hereditary aggregate of knowledge and happiness. To add much can indeed be the lot of few, but to add something, however little, every one may hope” (Samuel Johnson, The Major Works of Samuel Johnson)

xix. ” …we should always wish to preserve the dignity of virtue by adorning her with graces which wickedness cannot assume.” (-ll-)

xx. “Let pain deserved without complaint be borne.” (“Leniter ex merito quicquid patiare ferendum est”) (Ovid, as quoted in -ll-)


August 20, 2019 Posted by | Anthropology, Books, culture, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

The pleasure of finding things out (II)

Here’s my first post about the book. In this post I have included a few more quotes from the last half of the book.

“Are physical theories going to keep getting more abstract and mathematical? Could there be today a theorist like Faraday in the early nineteenth century, not mathematically sophisticated but with a very powerful intuition about physics?
Feynman: I’d say the odds are strongly against it. For one thing, you need the math just to understand what’s been done so far. Beyond that, the behavior of subnuclear systems is so strange compared to the ones the brain evolved to deal with that the analysis has to be very abstract: To understand ice, you have to understand things that are themselves very unlike ice. Faraday’s models were mechanical – springs and wires and tense bands in space – and his images were from basic geometry. I think we’ve understood all we can from that point of view; what we’ve found in this century is different enough, obscure enough, that further progress will require a lot of math.”

“There’s a tendency to pomposity in all this, to make it all deep and profound. My son is taking a course in philosophy, and last night we were looking at something by Spinoza – and there was the most childish reasoning! There were all these Attributes, and Substances, all this meaningless chewing around, and we started to laugh. Now, how could we do that? Here’s this great Dutch philosopher, and we’re laughing at him. It’s because there was no excuse for it! In that same period there was Newton, there was Harvey studying the circulation of the blood, there were people with methods of analysis by which progress was being made! You can take every one of Spinoza’s propositions, and take the contrary propositions, and look at the world – and you can’t tell which is right. Sure, people were awed because he had the courage to take on these great questions, but it doesn’t do any good to have the courage if you can’t get anywhere with the question. […] It isn’t the philosophy that gets me, it’s the pomposity. If they’d just laugh at themselves! If they’d just say, “I think it’s like this, but von Leipzig thought it was like that, and he had a good shot at it, too.” If they’d explain that this is their best guess … But so few of them do”.

“The lesson you learn as you grow older in physics is that what we can do is a very small fraction of what there is. Our theories are really very limited.”

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.”

“When I was an undergraduate I worked with Professor Wheeler* as a research assistant, and we had worked out together a new theory about how light worked, how the interaction between atoms in different places worked; and it was at that time an apparently interesting theory. So Professor Wigner†, who was in charge of the seminars there [at Princeton], suggested that we give a seminar on it, and Professor Wheeler said that since I was a young man and hadn’t given seminars before, it would be a good opportunity to learn how to do it. So this was the first technical talk that I ever gave. I started to prepare the thing. Then Wigner came to me and said that he thought the work was important enough that he’d made special invitations to the seminar to Professor Pauli, who was a great professor of physics visiting from Zurich; to Professor von Neumann, the world’s greatest mathematician; to Henry Norris Russell, the famous astronomer; and to Albert Einstein, who was living near there. I must have turned absolutely white or something because he said to me, “Now don’t get nervous about it, don’t be worried about it. First of all, if Professor Russell falls asleep, don’t feel bad, because he always falls asleep at lectures. When Professor Pauli nods as you go along, don’t feel good, because he always nods, he has palsy,” and so on. That kind of calmed me down a bit”.

“Well, for the problem of understanding the hadrons and the muons and so on, I can see at the present time no practical applications at all, or virtually none. In the past many people have said that they could see no applications and then later they found applications. Many people would promise under those circumstances that something’s bound to be useful. However, to be honest – I mean he looks foolish; saying there will never be anything useful is obviously a foolish thing to do. So I’m going to be foolish and say these damn things will never have any application, as far as I can tell. I’m too dumb to see it. All right? So why do you do it? Applications aren’t the only thing in the world. It’s interesting in understanding what the world is made of. It’s the same interest, the curiosity of man that makes him build telescopes. What is the use of discovering the age of the universe? Or what are these quasars that are exploding at long distances? I mean what’s the use of all that astronomy? There isn’t any. Nonetheless, it’s interesting. So it’s the same kind of exploration of our world that I’m following and it’s curiosity that I’m satisfying. If human curiosity represents a need, the attempt to satisfy curiosity, then this is practical in the sense that it is that. That’s the way I would look at it at the present time. I would not put out any promise that it would be practical in some economic sense.”

“To science we also bring, besides the experiment, a tremendous amount of human intellectual attempt at generalization. So it’s not merely a collection of all those things which just happen to be true in experiments. It’s not just a collection of facts […] all the principles must be as wide as possible, must be as general as possible, and still be in complete accord with experiment, that’s the challenge. […] Evey one of the concepts of science is on a scale graduated somewhere between, but at neither end of, absolute falsity or absolute truth. It is necessary, I believe, to accept this idea, not only for science, but also for other things; it is of great value to acknowledge ignorance. It is a fact that when we make decisions in our life, we don’t necessarily know that we are making them correctly; we only think that we are doing the best we can – and that is what we should do.”

“In this age of specialization, men who thoroughly know one field are often incompetent to discuss another.”

“I believe that moral questions are outside of the scientific realm. […] The typical human problem, and one whose answer religion aims to supply, is always of the following form: Should I do this? Should we do this? […] To answer this question we can resolve it into two parts: First – If I do this, what will happen? – and second – Do I want that to happen? What would come of it of value – of good? Now a question of the form: If I do this, what will happen? is strictly scientific. […] The technique of it, fundamentally, is: Try it and see. Then you put together a large amount of information from such experiences. All scientists will agree that a question – any question, philosophical or other – which cannot be put into the form that can be tested by experiment (or, in simple terms, that cannot be put into the form: If I do this, what will happen?) is not a scientific question; it is outside the realm of science.”

June 26, 2019 Posted by | Astronomy, Books, Mathematics, Philosophy, Physics, Quotes/aphorisms, Science | Leave a comment


i. “Roughly, religion is a community’s costly and hard-to-fake commitment to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents who master people’s existential anxieties, such as death and deception.” (Scott Atran)

ii. “The more one accepts what is materially false to be really true, and the more one spends material resources in displays of such acceptance, the more others consider one’s faith deep and one’s commitment sincere.” (-ll-)

iii. “Cultures and religions do not exist apart from the individual minds that constitute them and the environments that constrain them, any more than biological species and varieties exist independently of the individual organisms that compose them and the environments that conform them. They are not well-bounded systems or definite clusters of beliefs, practices, and artifacts, but more or less regular distributions of causally connected thoughts, behaviors, material products, and environmental objects. To naturalistically understand what “cultures” are is to describe and explain the material causes responsible for reliable differences in these distributions.” (-ll-)

iv. “Religions are not adaptations and they have no evolutionary functions as such.” (-ll-)

v. “Mature cognitions of folkpsychology and agency include metarepresentation. This involves the ability to track and build a notion of self over time, to model other minds and worlds, and to represent beliefs about the actual world as being true or false. It also makes lying and deception possible. This threatens any social order. But this same metarepresentational capacity provides the hope and promise of open-ended solutions to problems of moral relativity. It does so by enabling people to conjure up counterintuitive supernatural worlds that cannot be verified or falsified, either logically or empirically. Religious beliefs minimally violate ordinary intuitions about the world, with its inescapable problems, such as death. This frees people to imagine minimally impossible worlds that seem to solve existential dilemmas, including death and deception. […] Religion survives science and secular ideology not because it is prior to or more primitive than science or secular reasoning, but because of what it affectively and collectively secures for people.” (-ll-)

vi. “Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.” (Howard H. Aiken)

vii. “As long as scientists are free to pursue the truth wherever it may lead, there will be a flow of new scientific knowledge to those who can apply it to practical problems.” (Vannevar Bush)

viii. “Scientific progress on a broad front results from the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown.” (-ll-)

ix. “There are some people who imagine that older adults don’t know how to use the internet. My immediate reaction is, “I’ve got news for you, we invented it.”” (Vinton Cerf)

x. “When we are young we are often puzzled by the fact that each person we admire seems to have a different version of what life ought to be, what a good man is, how to live, and so on. If we are especially sensitive it seems more than puzzling, it is disheartening. What most people usually do is follow one person’s ideas and then another’s depending on who looms largest on one’s horizon at the time. The one with the deepest voice, the strongest appearance, the most authority and success, is usually the one who gets our momentary allegiance; and we try to pattern our ideals after him. […] Each person thinks that he has the formula for triumphing over life’s limitations and knows with authority what it means to be a man, and he usually tries to win a following for his particular patent. Today we know that people try so hard to win converts for their point of view because it is more than merely an outlook on life: it is an immortality formula.” (Ernest Becker)

xi. “A human being cannot survive alone and be entirely human.” (Peter Farb)

xii. “The members of a society do not make conscious choices in arriving at a particular way of life. Rather, they make unconscious adaptations. …they know only that a particular choice works, even though it may appear bizarre to an outsider.” (-ll-)

xiii. “To say that the invention “was in the air” or “the times were ripe for it” are just other ways of stating that the inventors did not do the inventing, but that the cultures did.” (-ll-)

xiv. “Culture is best seen not as complexes of concrete behavior patterns — customs, usages, traditions, habit clusters — as has, by and large, been the case up to now, but as a set of control mechanisms — plans, recipes, rules, instructions (what computer engineers call “programs”) — for the governing of behavior.” (Clifford Geertz)

xv. “In the status game […] the working-class child starts out with a handicap and, to the extent that he cares what the middle-class persons think of him or has internalised the dominant middle-class attitudes toward social class position, he may be expected to feel some ‘shame’.” (Albert Cohen)

xvi. “It is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way round.” (Ernest Gellner)

xvii. “Doubt is the offspring of knowledge” (William Winwood Reade)

xviii. “Civilization after civilization, it is the same. The world falls to tyranny with a whisper. The frightened are ever keen to bow to a perceived necessity, in the belief that necessity forces conformity, and conformity a certain stability. In a world shaped into conformity, dissidents stand out, are easily branded and dealt with. There is no multitude of perspectives, no dialogue. The victim assumes the face of the tyrant, self-righteous and intransigent, and wars breed like vermin. And people die.” (Steven Erikson)

xix. “Helping myself is even harder than helping others.” (Gerald Weinberg)

xx. “Science is the study of those things that can be reduced to the study of other things. ” (-ll-)

June 15, 2019 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “The surest way to be deceived is to think oneself more clever than others.” (Rochefoucauld)

ii. “It is more trouble to make a maxim than it is to do right.” (Mark Twain)

iii. “Between us, we cover all knowledge; he knows all that can be known, and I know the rest.” (-ll-)

iv. “Customs do not concern themselves with right or wrong or reason. But they have to be obeyed; one reasons all around them until he is tired, but he must not transgress them, it is sternly forbidden.” (-ll-)

v. “Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” (-ll-)

vi. “Often, the surest way to convey misinformation is to tell the strict truth.” (-ll-)

vii. “A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.” (-ll-)

viii. “It is not worth while to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man’s character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible.” (-ll-)

ix. “Man will do many things to get himself loved; he will do all things to get himself envied.” (-ll-)

x. “Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.” (-ll-)

xi. “Science, at bottom, is really anti-intellectual. It always distrusts pure reason, and demands the production of objective fact.” (H. L. Mencken)

xii. “It is the natural tendency of the ignorant to believe what is not true. In order to overcome that tendency it is not sufficient to exhibit the true; it is also necessary to expose and denounce the false.” (-ll-)

xiii. “It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull.” (-ll-)

xiv. “…enlightenment, among mankind, is very narrowly dispersed. It is common to assume that human progress affects everyone-that even the dullest man, in these bright days, knows more than any man of, say, the Eighteenth Century, and is, far more civilized. This assumption is quite erroneous.” (-ll-)

xv. “…there are more viruses in the world than all other forms of life added together.” (Dorothy H. Crawford, Viruses: A Very Short Introduction).

xvi. “People don’t think about you nearly as much as you think about people thinking about you.” (‘Abstrusegoose‘)

xvii. “Most people are not intellectuals — a fact that intellectuals have terrible trouble coming to terms with.” (John Derbyshire)

xviii. “Few of the great tragedies of history were created by the village idiot, and many by the village genius.” (Thomas Sowell)

xix. “If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing on my shoulders.” (Hal Abelson)

xx. “If I have seen further than others, it is because I am surrounded by dwarfs.” (Murray Gell-Mann. RIP.)


May 25, 2019 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “Everyone knows that he and his friends and the people he knows will die sooner or later, and after a while the thought recedes to the back of your mind, being a problem that must be faced when the time comes. But you feel that you at least have a right to some notice of such an event, to give you time to prepare your mind for it.” (Tom Holt, The Walled Orchard)

ii. “He was speaking tremendously well, even I could tell that; but he didn’t actually seem to be saying anything.” (-ll-)

iii. “As we walked we saw another column of smoke coming up from a sheltered little combe below us, but this time we didn’t try and interfere. ‘Callicrates,’ I said as we hurried along. ‘Do the Spartans always do things like that? I haven’t heard any stories about it.’ ‘Only the last year or so,’ Callicrates said, ‘ever since we started doing that sort of thing in Messenia when we go raiding there.’ I was horrified. ‘You mean we started it,’ I said. ‘We’re in the wrong.’ ‘What do you mean, in the wrong?’ Callicrates replied. ‘It’s a war, things like that happen. And they only happen when people are stupid enough to hang around when the enemy are approaching.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. ‘Are you trying to say it was their fault they got killed?’ I asked. Callicrates stopped walking and looked at me. ‘Don’t you understand anything?’ he said. ‘It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the way things are. Why does everything have to be somebody’s fault all the time?’” (-ll-)

iv. “I hate posterity – it’s so fond of having the last word” (Saki, The Complete Saki: 144 Collected Novels and Short Stories)

v. “The young have aspirations that never come to pass, the old have reminiscences of what never happened.” (-ll-)

vi. “In the minds of those who come after us we may be remembered for qualities and successes which we quite left out of the reckoning.” (-ll-)

vii. “Lost dignity is not a possession which can be restored at a moment’s notice” (-ll-)

viii. “My mother is thinking of getting married.” “Again!” “It’s the first time.” “Of course, you ought to know. I was under the impression that she’d been married once or twice at least.” “Three times, to be mathematically exact. I meant that it was the first time she’d thought about getting married; the other times she did it without thinking.” (-ll-)

ix. “It is the tragedy of human endeavour that it works so often unseen and unguessed.” (-ll-)

x. ““Tell me a story,” said the Baroness […] “What sort of story?” […] “One just true enough to be interesting and not true enough to be tiresome[”]”. (-ll-)

xi. “It is the golden rule of all religions that no one should really live up to their precepts; when a man observes the principles of his religion too exactly he is in immediate danger of founding a new sect.” (-ll-)

xii. “Given how evolution operates on populations subjected to different selective pressures it seems one would have to invoke divine intervention for human intelligence to be unvaried completely across the board. Everything else varies; variation in intelligence would be expected.” (‘Young’, from this westhunt comment thread)

xiii. “As long as there have been cells on Earth there have been viruses infecting them.” (John M. Archibald, Genomics, A Very Short Introduction)

xiv. “Giraffes are so tall because their ancestors ate the top branches of trees. The shorter Giraffes could not reach the top branches and died off. Why the shorter Giraffes did not eat the tops of shorter trees seems very strange. Perhaps it never occurred to them.1 When standing beside a mimosa the Giraffe is indistinguishable from the tree except that he has four legs and a head and a tail. Some hunters will stalk a mimosa tree for days without getting results. Others take to stalking apple trees. […] The herd is governed by an experienced male who is governed by several experienced females.” (Will Cuppy, How to Tell Your Friends From the Apes)

xv. “The Screech Owl makes a most amusing pet. The bird flies at visitors and buries its talons in their scalps, sometimes causing them to break a leg in their headlong flight, to the accompaniment of gales of laughter from the owners. After a mass meeting of neighbors, the bird sometimes disappears as suddenly as it came. The owners often disappear, too.” (-ll-)

xvi. “The Man-eating Tiger is old and decrepit. He has lost his strength and vigor and we should feel sorry for him. Young normal Tigers do not eat people. If eaten by a Tiger you may rest assured that he was abnormal. Once in a while a normal Tiger will eat somebody but he doesn’t mean anything by it.” (-ll-)

xvii. “During my labors I found time for my first intensive study of Aristotle, whose “History of Animals” provided me with a footnote or two. The more one peruses this author, and ponders upon him, the more one realizes the wide range, the almost universal scope of his misinformation.” (-ll-)

xviii. “Sometimes you have to give weight to a principle to keep it from being taken away in a storm.” (Jim Butcher, Brief Cases)

xix. “Harry told me once that you can always tell when you’re about to rationalize your way to a bad decision. It’s when you start using phrases such as It would be wrong, but … His advice was to leave the conjunction out of the sentence: It would be wrong. Period.” (-ll-)

xx. “He met his day in the shower, washing his hair with shampoo that was guaranteed to have never been put in a bunny’s eyes and from which ten percent of the profits went to save the whales. He lathered his face with shaving cream free of chlorofluorocarbons, thereby saving the ozone layer. He breakfasted on fertile eggs laid by sexually satisfied chickens that were allowed to range while listening to Brahms, and muffins made with pesticide-free grain, so no eagle-egg shells were weakened by his thoughtless consumption. He scrambled the eggs in margarine free of tropical oils, thus preserving the rain forest, and he added milk from a carton made of recycled paper and shipped from a small family farm. By the time he finished his second cup of coffee, which would presumably help to educate the children of a poor peasant farmer named Juan Valdez, Sam was on the verge of congratulating himself for single-handedly saving the planet just by getting up in the morning.” (Christopher Moore, Coyote Blue)

May 6, 2019 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


Many of the quotes below are from Stanislaw Jerzy Lec’s book Unkempt Thoughts.

i. “Aristotle’s remark about wit in general, that it is “educated insolence,” frequently applies to the aphorism in particular. […] Dozens of the greater ones dispense life’s bitter rather than its sweet. They are moralists whose barbs do not spur us on to the higher morality. We read them not to improve ourselves but to feel the pleasure that comes of recognizing how unimproved (or, still more gratifying, how unimprovable) are all the other fellows.” (Clifton Fadiman)

ii. “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.” (W. Somerset Maugham)

iii. “The solar system has no anxiety about its reputation.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

iv. “In love, as in war, a fortress that parleys is half taken.” (Marguerite de Valois)

v. “He that leaveth nothing to chance will do few things ill, but he will do very few things.” (George Savile).

vi. “You will always find some Eskimos ready to instruct the Congolese on how to cope with heat waves.” (Stanislaw Jerzy Lec)

vii. “Some hide truth because they fear it, others hide truth because they want to save it for the right occasion. Both truths are exactly the same.” (-ll-)

viii. “You have to climb to reach a deep thought.” (-ll-)

ix. “Never open the door to those who open them even without your permission.” (-ll-)

x. “In some lands exile is the greatest punishment; in others, the greatest humanitarians should fight for it.” (-ll-)

xi. “He who has a good memory can forget more, more easily.” (-ll-)

xii. “Some people’s thoughts are so shallow they don’t even reach their heads.” (-ll-)

xiii. “When gossip grows old it becomes myth.” (-ll-)

xiv. “It is unhealthy to live. He who lives, dies.” (-ll-)

xv. “If Newton’s Principia were published today, it would have 4 stars on Amazon. There would be one cluster of 5 star reviews by people saying it had revolutionized their thinking, and another cluster of 1 star reviews by people complaining it was pointless and hard to read.” (Paul Graham)

xvi. “I find I have a splendid appetite for the kindness of those I respect.” (Patrick O’Brian. The Thirteen Gun Salute)

xvii. “Man may sympathize with the underdog, but he wants to side with the winner.” (Erle Stanley Gardner. The Case of the Sulky Girl)

xviii. “Everyone is so proud of their own insignificant little boundaries. Scrupulously they vow, I would never do that! And perhaps they wouldn’t. More likely, they’ll never have to.” (John O’Brien, Leaving Las Vegas)

xix. “In this bundle, he said, I have a very powerful magical object. […] if you know how to use it, it will take you anywhere you wish to go in the twinkling of an eye; it will carry you from Spain to India in a heartbeat, or show you the heart of Asia or the deserts of Africa. It can even take you to where you can see the dead and listen to them talking to you.’ […] As it happens,’ he went on, ‘I have with me just such an object. Look.’ And he dived about inside the sleeve of his robe and pulled out a bronze tube about the size of a cucumber. ‘That’s remarkable,’ I said, wondering what he was looking to achieve. Obviously whatever the thing in the tube was, it couldn’t do all those things he’d said; he’d offer to give me a demonstration, it wouldn’t work, and we’d have a major loss of face and a serious diplomatic incident on our hands. Why me, I thought? But the ambassador just smiled and said, ‘Would you like to see it?’ Well, I couldn’t say no; so he pulled off the lid and started fishing about inside the tube with his fingers. […] ‘Here we are,’ the ambassador said, and he pulled out the contents of the tube; and of course you’re way ahead of me, and you guessed quite some time ago that what he’d got in there wasn’t some scrap of magical cloth but a plain, ordinary book.” (Tom Holt, Meadowland)

xx. “You will meet someone that will make you laugh, will put your stomach in knots every time they talk to you, will make you smile every time their name pops up on your phone, and whose smile you’ll see every night as you fall asleep and every morning as you wake up because it has such a calming and comforting effect on you.

All they’ll have met is someone they kinda like to talk to and see every now and again.” (‘Closer67’, here)

February 3, 2019 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “Progress in science is often built on wrong theories that are later corrected. It is better to be wrong than to be vague.” (Freeman Dyson)

ii. “The teacher’s equipment gives him an everlasting job. His work is never done. His getting ready for this work is never quite complete.” (George Trumbull Ladd)

iii. “The crust of our earth is a great cemetery, where the rocks are tombstones on which the buried dead have written their own epitaphs.” (Louis Agassiz)

iv. “Fortunately science, like that nature to which it belongs, is neither limited by time nor by space. It belongs to the world, and is of no country and of no age. The more we know, the more we feel our ignorance […] there are always new worlds to conquer.” (Humphrey Davy)

v. “Nothing is so fatal to the progress of the human mind as to suppose that our views of science are ultimate; that there are no mysteries in nature; that our triumphs are complete, and that there are no new worlds to conquer.” (-ll-)

vi. “The best way to learn Japanese is to be born as a Japanese baby, in Japan, raised by a Japanese family.” (Dave Barry)

vii. “What makes a date so dreadful is the weight of expectation attached to it. There is every chance that you may meet your soulmate, get married, have children and be buried side by side. There is an equal chance that the person you meet will look as if they’ve already been buried for some time.” (Guy Browning)

viii. “Always judge your fellow passengers to be the opposite of what they strive to appear to be. […] men never affect to be what they are, but what they are not.” (Thomas Chandler Haliburton)

ix. “Some folks can look so busy doin’ nothin’ that they seem indispensable.” (Kin Hubbard)

x. “Men are not punished for their sins, but by them.” (-ll-)

xi. “Do what we will, we always, more or less, construct our own universe. The history of science may be described as the history of the attempts, and the failures, of men “to see things as they are.”” (Matthew Moncrieff Pattison Muir)

xii. “You simply cannot invent any conspiracy theory so ridiculous and obviously satirical that some people somewhere don’t already believe it.” (Robert Anton Wilson)

xiii. “You know you are getting old when work is a lot less fun and fun is a lot more work.” (Joan Rivers)

xiv. “When I was a little boy, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised, the Lord, in his wisdom, doesn’t work that way. So I just stole one and asked Him to forgive me.” (Emo Philips)

xv. “I was walking down Fifth Avenue today and I found a wallet, and I was gonna keep it, rather than return it, but I thought: “Well, if I lost a hundred and fifty dollars, how would I feel?” And I realized I would want to be taught a lesson.” (-ll-)

xvi. “When I said I was going to become a comedian, they all laughed. Well, they’re not laughing now, are they?” (Robert Monkhouse)

xvii. “Things said in embarrassment and anger are seldom the truth, but are said to hurt and wound the other person. Once said, they can never be taken back.” (Lucille Ball)

xviii. “The beginning of wisdom for a programmer is to recognize the difference between getting his program to work and getting it right. A program which does not work is undoubtedly wrong; but a program which does work is not necessarily right. It may still be wrong because it is hard to understand; or because it is hard to maintain as the problem requirements change; or because its structure is different from the structure of the problem; or because we cannot be sure that it does indeed work.” (Michael Anthony Jackson)

xix. “One of the difficulties in thinking about software is its huge variety. A function definition in a spreadsheet cell is software. A smartphone app is software. The flight management system for an Airbus A380 is software. A word processor is software. We shouldn’t expect a single discipline of software engineering to cover all of these, any more than we expect a single discipline of manufacturing to cover everything from the Airbus A380 to the production of chocolate bars, or a single discipline of social organization to cover everything from the United Nations to a kindergarten. Improvement in software engineering must come bottom-up, from intense specialized attention to particular products.” (-ll-)

xx. “Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?” (Fanny Brice)

July 30, 2018 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “I only study the things I like; I apply my mind only to matters that interest me. They’ll be useful — or useless — to me or to others in due course, I’ll be given — or not given — the opportunity of benefiting from what I’ve learned. In any case, I’ll have enjoyed the inestimable advantage of doing things I like doing and following my own inclinations.” (Nicolas Chamfort)

ii. “Every day I add to the list of things I refuse to discuss. The wiser the man, the longer the list.” (-ll-)

iii. “There are more fools than wise men, and even in a wise man there is more folly than wisdom.” (-ll-)

iv. “People are always annoyed by men of letters who retreat from the world; they expect them to continue to show interest in society even though they gain little benefit from it. They would like to force them be present when lots are being drawn in a lottery for which they have no tickets.” (-ll-)

v. “Eminence without merit earns deference without esteem.” (-ll-)

vi. “Not everyone is worth listening to.” (Alain de Botton)

vii. “Innovation comes from those who see things that other don’t.” (Steve Blank)

viii. “Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there.” (William Zinsser)

ix. “Good approximations often lead to better ones.” (George Pólya)

x. “Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves.” (Ernest Dimnet)

xi. “Intellectual brilliance is no guarantee against being dead wrong.” (David Fasold)

xii. “Doubt is the beginning of wisdom. It means caution, independence, honesty and veracity. […] The man who never doubts never thinks.” (George William Foote)

xiii. “The idea that all problems either have a solution or can be shown to be pseudo-problems is not one I share.” (Raymond Geuss)

xiv. “Asking what the question is, and why the question is asked, is always asking a pertinent question.” (-ll-)

xv. “In many of the cases of conceptual innovation, … creating the conceptual tools is a precondition to coming to a clear understanding of what the problem was in the first place. It is very difficult to describe the transition after it has taken place because it is difficult for us to put ourselves back into the situation of confusion, indeterminacy, and perplexity that existed before the new “tool” brought clarity and this means it is difficult for us to retain a vivid sense of what a difference having the concept made.” (-ll-)

xvi. “I’m not a mathematician, but I’ve been hanging around with some of them long enough to know how the game is played.” (Brian Hayes)

xvii. “None is so deaf as those that will not hear.” (Matthew Henry)

xviii. “People who habitually speak positively of others tend to do so in all circumstances. Those who tend to criticize others in your presence and recruit you to agree with their cutting remarks will probably criticize you when you are out of the room.” (John Hoover (consultant))

xix. “People don’t learn much about themselves or others while they’re succeeding in spite of poor practices. When the real outcomes reflect the real work being done, the real learning begins.” (-ll-)

xx. “Respect yourself, if you want others to respect you.” (Adolph Freiherr Knigge)

July 12, 2018 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “At a high level of universality, to write anything well, whether it be intellectual or imaginative, is to assume at least two obligations: to be intelligible and to be interesting.” (Norman Maclean)

ii. “If any man seeks for greatness, let him forget greatness and ask for truth, and he will find both.” (Horace Mann)

iii. “Generosity during life is a very different thing from generosity in the hour of death; one proceeds from genuine liberality and benevolence, the other from pride or fear.” (-ll-)

iv. “The most ignorant are the most conceited. […] it is quite as important for a man to know the extent of his own ignorance as it is to know any thing else. To know how much there is that we do not know, is one of the most valuable parts of our attainments; for such knowledge becomes both a lesson of humility and a stimulus to exertion.” (-ll-)

v. “Books are not made for furniture but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house.” (-ll-)

vi. “Affectation hides three times as many virtues as charity does sins.” (-ll-)

vii. “It is well to think well. It is divine to act well.” (-ll-)

viii. “A new technology sometimes creates more than it destroys. Sometimes, it destroys more than it creates. But it is never one-sided. […] Technological change, in other words, always results in winners and losers.” (Neil Postman)

ix. “Apart from a few macroscopic quantum effects, at the moment fundamental physics is relatively useless in understanding biology, the mind, or society. Similar mistakes occur in genetics, when DNA is incorrectly framed as something that can explain all the features, diseases, and behaviours of humans. In general, the results of basic science should not be taken beyond their real range of effectiveness, and it should be acknowledged that more specialized disciplines can give much deeper insights beyond that range.” (Guido Caldarelli)

x. “Society is not just the product of its individual members; it is also the product of its constituent groups. The aggregate relations among individuals and groups, among individuals within groups, and among groups forms a network of astonishing complexity.” (Clay Shirky)

xi. “The way of truth is along the path of intellectual sincerity.” (Henry Smith Pritchett)

xii. “Disproving a claim that something exists is often quite difficult, and this difficulty is often mistaken for evidence that the claim is true … Presented as I am periodically with these and other fantastical claims, I sometimes feel a little like a formally dressed teetotaler at a drunken orgy for reiterating that not being able to conclusively refute the claims does not constitute evidence for them.” (John Allen Paulos)

xiii. “If we’re not keenly aware of the choices we’re making, we’re not likely to work for better ones.” (-ll-)

xiv. “Bad things happen periodically, and they’re going to happen to somebody. Why not you?” (-ll-)

xv. “There is no such thing as free lunch, and even if there were, there’d be no guarantee against indigestion.” (-ll-)

xvi. “An unknown but certainly significant proportion of the population has almost completely given up on learning. These people seldom, if ever engage in deliberate learning and see themselves as neither competent at it nor likely to enjoy it. The social and personal cost is enormous… Deficiency becomes identity: “I can’t learn French, I don’t have an ear for languages;” “I could never be a businessman, I don’t have a head for figures;”… These beliefs are often repeated ritualistically, like superstitions… Although these negative self-images can be overcome, in the life of and individual they are extremely robust and powerfully self-reinforcing. If people believe firmly enough that they cannot do math, they will usually succeed in preventing themselves from doing whatever they recognize as math. The consequences of such self-sabotage is personal failure, and each failure reinforces the original belief. And such beliefs may be most insidious when held not only by individuals, but by our entire culture.” (Seymour Papert)

xvii. “We should be very careful to distinguish between our knowledge of phenomena and our interpretations of them.” (Alfred Stillé)

xviii. “Secure web servers are the equivalent of heavy armored cars. The problem is, they are being used to transfer rolls of coins and checks written in crayon by people on park benches to merchants doing business in cardboard boxes from beneath highway bridges. Further, the roads are subject to random detours, anyone with a screwdriver can control the traffic lights, and there are no police.” (Gene Spafford)

xix. “The first object of any act of learning, over and beyond the pleasure it may give, is that it should serve us in the future. Learning should not only take us somewhere; it should allow us later to go further more easily.” (Theodore Sizer)

xx. “Tradition is a persuasive teacher, even when what it teaches is erroneous.” (Sherwin Nuland)

June 20, 2018 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “Never esteem anything as of advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect.” (Marcus Aurelius)

ii. “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” (-ll-)

iii. “If it is not right, do not do it, if it is not true, do not say it.” (-ll-)

iv. “Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.” (-ll-)

v. “The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.” (-ll-)

vi. “Memories are like flagstones, time and distance work upon them like drops of acid.” (Ugo Betti)

vii. “We have all forgot more than we remember.” (Thomas Fuller)

viii. “The free market in ideas has never been free, but always a market.” (Russell Jacoby)

ix. “Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.” (Henry Adams)

x. “Nowhere do men remain loyal for long when Fortune proves unstable.” (Silius Italicus)

xi. “The sin of thousands always goes unpunished.” (Lucan)

xii. “Software engineering is the part of computer science which is too difficult for the computer scientist.” (Friedrich Bauer)

xiii. “What we call human reason, is not the effort or ability of one, so much as it is the result of the reason of many, arising from lights mutually communicated, in consequence of discourse and writing.” (Hugh Blair)

xiv. “Universities should be safe havens where ruthless examination of realities will not be distorted by the aim to please or inhibited by the risk of displeasure.” (Kingman Brewster, Jr.)

xv. “To be left alone is the most precious thing one can ask of the modern world.” (Anthony Burgess)

xvi. “It is no great accomplishment to take people as they are, and we must always do so eventually, but to wish them to be as they are, that is a genuine love.” (Émile Chartier)

xvii. “In religion, faith is a virtue. In science, faith is a vice.” (Jerry Coyne)

xviii. “No one will ever follow you down the street if you’re carrying a banner that says, “Onward toward mediocrity.”” (Martin de Maat)

xix. “Blame the process, not the people.” (W. Edwards Deming)

xx. “One of life’s best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.” (Robert Fulghum)

May 10, 2018 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “La vérité ne se possède pas, elle se cherche.” (‘You cannot possess the truth, you can only search for it.’ – Albert Jacquard)

ii. “Some physicist might believe that ultimately, we will be able to explain everything. To me, that is utterly stupid […] It seems to me that, if you accept evolution, you can still not expect your dog to get up and start talking German. And that’s because your dog is not genetically programmed to do that. We are human animals, and we are equally bound. There are whole realms of discourse out there that we cannot reach, by definition. There are always going to be limits beyond which we cannot go. Knowing that they are there, you can always hope to move a little closer – but that’s all.” (James M. Buchanan)

iii. “Physics is a wrong tool to describe living systems.” (Donald A. Glaser)

iv. “In the seventeenth century Cartesians refused to accept Newton’s attraction because they could not accept a force that was not transmitted by a medium. Even now many physicists have not yet learned that they should adjust their ideas to the observed reality rather than the other way round.” (Nico van Kampen)

v. “…the human brain is itself a part of nature, fanned into existence by billions of years of sunshine acting on the molecules of the Earth. It is not perfectible in the immediate future, even if biologists should wish to alter the brain […]. What men make of the universe at large is a product of what they can see of it and of their own human nature.” (Nigel Calder)

vi. “If you torture the data enough, nature will always confess.” (Ronald Coase)

vii. “If economists wished to study the horse, they wouldn’t go and look at horses. They’d sit in their studies and say to themselves, “what would I do if I were a horse?”” (-ll-)

viii. “Nothing is as simple as we hope it will be.” (Jim Horning)

ix. “There’s an old saying in politics: anyone dumb enough to run for the job probably is too stupid to have it.” (Ralph Klein)

x. “I never felt the need to do what everyone else did. And I wasn’t troubled by the fact that other people were doing other things.” (Saul Leiter)

xi. “Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself.” (Doris Lessing)

xii. “All political movements are like this — we are in the right, everyone else is in the wrong. The people on our own side who disagree with us are heretics, and they start becoming enemies. With it comes an absolute conviction of your own moral superiority.” (-ll-)

xiii. “An ideological movement is a collection of people many of whom could hardly bake a cake, fix a car, sustain a friendship or a marriage, or even do a quadratic equation, yet they believe they know how to rule the world.” (Kenneth Minogue)

xiv. “The natural order of organisms is a divergent inclusive hierarchy and that hierarchy is recognized by taxic homology.” (Alec Panchen)

xv. “Don Kayman was too good a scientist to confuse his hopes with observations. He would report what he found. But he knew what he wanted to find.” (Frederik Pohl)

xvi. “A barbarian is not aware that he is a barbarian.” (Jack Vance)

xvii. “I do not care to listen; obloquy injures my self-esteem and I am skeptical of praise.” (-ll-)

xviii. “People can be deceived by appeals intended to destroy democracy in the name of democracy.” (Robert A. Dahl)

xix. “If we gather more and more data and establish more and more associations, […] we will not finally find that we know something. We will simply end up having more and more data and larger sets of correlations.” (-ll-)

xx. “Thoughts convince thinkers; for this reason, thoughts convince seldom.” (Karlheinz Deschner)

March 24, 2018 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “One ground for suspicion of apparently sincere moral convictions is their link with some special interest of those who hold them. The questions cui bono and cui malo are appropriate questions to raise when we are searching for possible contaminants of conscience. Entrenched privilege, and fear of losing it, distorts one’s moral sense.” (Annette Baier)

ii. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” (Stephen Covey)

iii. “Plastic surgery is a way for people to buy themselves a few years before they have to truly confront what ageing is, which of course is not that your looks are falling apart, but that you are falling apart and some-day you will have fallen apart and ceased to exist.” (Nora Ephron)

iv. “Just because you know a thing is true in theory, doesn’t make it true in fact. The barbaric religions of primitive worlds hold not a germ of scientific fact, though they claim to explain all. Yet if one of these savages has all the logical ground for his beliefs taken away — he doesn’t stop believing. He then calls his mistaken beliefs ‘faith’ because he knows they are right. And he knows they are right because he has faith. This is an unbreakable circle of false logic that can’t be touched. In reality, it is plain mental inertia.” (Harry Harrison)

v. “A taste is almost defined as a preference about which you do not argue — de gustibus non est disputandum. A taste about which you argue, with others or yourself, ceases ipso facto being a taste – it turns into a value.” (Albert O. Hirschman)

vi. “I will be ashamed the day I feel I should knuckle under to social-political pressures about issues and research I think are important for the advance of scientific knowledge.” (Arthur Jensen)

vii. “My theory is that we are all idiots. The people who don’t think they’re idiots — they’re the ones that are dangerous.” (Erik Sykes)

viii. “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” (Zig Ziglar)

ix. “If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.” (-ll-)

x. “The rights of individuals to the use of resources (i.e., property rights) in any society are to be construed as supported by the force of etiquette, social custom, ostracism, and formal legally enacted laws supported by the states’ power of violence of punishment. Many of the constraints on the use of what we call private property involve the force of etiquette and social ostracism. The level of noise, the kind of clothes we wear, our intrusion on other people’s privacy are restricted not merely by laws backed by police force, but by social acceptance, reciprocity, and voluntary social ostracism for violators of accepted codes of conduct.” (Armen Alchian)

xi. “Whenever undiscussables exist, their existence is also undiscussable. Moreover, both are covered up, because rules that make important issues undiscussables violate espoused norms…” (Chris Argyris)

xii. “Experience can be merely the repetition of […the? – US] same error often enough.” (John Azzopardi)

xiii. “Empathize with stupidity and you’re halfway to thinking like an idiot.” (Ian Banks)

xiv. “A man in daily muddy contact with field experiments could not be expected to have much faith in any direct assumption of independently distributed normal errors.” (George E. P. Box)

xv. “There is nothing that makes the mind more elastic and expandable than discovering how the world works.” (Edgar Bronfman, Sr.)

xvi. “I don’t give advice. I can’t tell anybody what to do. Instead I say this is what we know about this problem at this time. And here are the consequences of these actions.” (Joyce Diane Brothers)

xvii. “Don’t fool yourself that you are going to have it all. You are not. Psychologically, having it all is not even a valid concept. The marvelous thing about human beings is that we are perpetually reaching for the stars. The more we have, the more we want. And for this reason, we never have it all.” (-ll-)

xviii. “We control fifty percent of a relationship. We influence one hundred percent of it.” (-ll-)

xix. “Being taken for granted can be a compliment. It means that you’ve become a comfortable, trusted element in another person’s life.” (-ll-)

xx. “The world at large does not judge us by who we are and what we know; it judges us by what we have.” (-ll-)

March 5, 2018 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “Culture hides more than it reveals, and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants.” (Edward T. Hall)

ii. “A new idea becomes believable when it predicts something that has not yet been measured or explained, especially when the idea is really trying to explain other facts.” (Peter Molnar, Plate Tectonics: A Short Introduction)

iii. “…when something seems complicated, we do not understand it, but when we do understand something, it has become simple.” (-ll-)

iv. “Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.” (Henry Kissinger)

v. “There are many examples of old, incorrect theories that stubbornly persisted, sustained only by the prestige of foolish but well-connected scientists. … Many of these theories have been killed off only when some decisive experiment exposed their incorrectness. […] the yeoman work in any science, and especially physics, is done by the experimentalist, who must keep the theoreticians honest.” (Michio Kaku)

vi. “The relation between experimentalists and theorists is often one of healthy competition for truth and less healthy competition for fame.” (Alvaro De Rujula)

vii. “Divided minds, getting lost on different paths, are losing the huge advantage that would result from their combined forces.” (Jean-Baptiste Biot)

viii. “If we are honest — and scientists have to be — we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions. I can’t for the life of me see how the postulate of an Almighty God helps us in any way.” (Paul Dirac)

ix. “On your way towards becoming a bad theoretician, take your own immature theory, stop checking it for mistakes, don’t listen to colleagues who do spot weaknesses, and start admiring your own infallible intelligence.” (Gerardus ‘t Hooft, How to become a bad theoretical physicist)

x. “In practice, quantum mechanics merely gives predictions with probabilities attached. This should be considered as a normal and quite acceptable feature of predictions made by science: different possible outcomes with different probabilities. In the world that is familiar to us, we always have such a situation when we make predictions. Thus the question remains: What is the reality described by quantum theories? I claim that we can attribute the fact that our predictions come with probability distributions to the fact that not all relevant data for the predictions are known to us, in particular important features of the initial state.” (Gerardus ‘t Hooft)

xi. “Ask anyone today working on foundational questions in quantum theory and you are likely to hear that there is still no consensus on many of these questions—all the while, of course, everybody seems to be in perfect agreement on how to apply the quantum formalism when it comes to making experimental predictions.” (Maximilian Schlosshauer)

xii. “The last bastions of resistance to evolutionary theory are organized religion and cultural anthropology.” (Napoleon Chagnon)

xiii. “There are always alternative interpretations of the same data. It is often the case, however, that the alternatives that are rejected are treated as if they don’t exist. But they do. And we should be aware not only of their existence and potential viability, but of the possibility that the hypotheses that we might embrace so strongly today may very well be the rejects of tomorrow.” (Jeffrey H. Schwartz)

xiv. “Roughly, religion is a community’s costly and hard-to-fake commitment to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents who master people’s existential anxieties, such as death and deception. […] The more one accepts what is materially false to be really true, and the more one spends material resources in displays of such acceptance, the more others consider one’s faith deep and one’s commitment sincere.”  (Scott Atran)

xv. “Cultures and religions do not exist apart from the individual minds that constitute them and the environments that constrain them, any more than biological species and varieties exist independently of the individual organisms that compose them and the environments that conform them. They are not well-bounded systems or definite clusters of beliefs, practices, and artifacts, but more or less regular distributions of causally connected thoughts, behaviors, material products, and environmental objects. To naturalistically understand what “cultures” are is to describe and explain the material causes responsible for reliable differences in these distributions.” (-ll-)

xvi. “If making money is a slow process, losing it is quickly done.” (Ihara Saikaku)

xvii. “Mankind has always made too much of its saints and heroes, and how the latter handle the fuss might be called their final test.” (Wilfrid Sheed)

xviii. “The bad debater never knows that one explanation is better than five.” (-ll-)

xix. “They say the first sentence in any speech is always the hardest. Well, that one’s behind me, anyway.” (Wisława Szymborska, Nobel lecture)

xx. “If you are a hard drinking man with lots of swastikas tattooed all over your torso you may want to consider that you are at risk for perforating your ulcer and that the good Dr. Rosenberg will be called in to save your life resulting in an awkward situation for everyone.” (‘docB’, things I learn from my patients)

December 22, 2017 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment


i. “The party that negotiates in haste is often at a disadvantage.” (Howard Raiffa)

ii. “Advice: don’t embarrass your bargaining partner by forcing him or her to make all the concessions.” (-ll-)

iii. “Disputants often fare poorly when they each act greedily and deceptively.” (-ll-)

iv. “Each man does seek his own interest, but, unfortunately, not according to the dictates of reason.” (Kenneth Waltz)

v. “Whatever is said after I’m gone is irrelevant.” (Jimmy Savile)

vi. “Trust is an important lubricant of a social system. It is extremely efficient; it saves a lot of trouble to have a fair degree of reliance on other people’s word. Unfortunately this is not a commodity which can be bought very easily. If you have to buy it, you already have some doubts about what you have bought.” (Kenneth Arrow)

vii. “… an author never does more damage to his readers than when he hides a difficulty.” (Évariste Galois)

viii. “A technical argument by a trusted author, which is hard to check and looks similar to arguments known to be correct, is hardly ever checked in detail” (Vladimir Voevodsky)

ix. “Suppose you want to teach the “cat” concept to a very young child. Do you explain that a cat is a relatively small, primarily carnivorous mammal with retractible claws, a distinctive sonic output, etc.? I’ll bet not. You probably show the kid a lot of different cats, saying “kitty” each time, until it gets the idea. To put it more generally, generalizations are best made by abstraction from experience. They should come one at a time; too many at once overload the circuits.” (Ralph P. Boas Jr.)

x. “Every author has several motivations for writing, and authors of technical books always have, as one motivation, the personal need to understand; that is, they write because they want to learn, or to understand a phenomenon, or to think through a set of ideas.” (Albert Wymore)

xi. “Great mathematics is achieved by solving difficult problems not by fabricating elaborate theories in search of a problem.” (Harold Davenport)

xii. “Is science really gaining in its assault on the totality of the unsolved? As science learns one answer, it is characteristically true that it also learns several new questions. It is as though science were working in a great forest of ignorance, making an ever larger circular clearing within which, not to insist on the pun, things are clear… But as that circle becomes larger and larger, the circumference of contact with ignorance also gets longer and longer. Science learns more and more. But there is an ultimate sense in which it does not gain; for the volume of the appreciated but not understood keeps getting larger. We keep, in science, getting a more and more sophisticated view of our essential ignorance.” (Warren Weaver)

xiii. “When things get too complicated, it sometimes makes sense to stop and wonder: Have I asked the right question?” (Enrico Bombieri)

xiv. “The mean and variance are unambiguously determined by the distribution, but a distribution is, of course, not determined by its mean and variance: A number of different distributions have the same mean and the same variance.” (Richard von Mises)

xv. “Algorithms existed for at least five thousand years, but people did not know that they were algorithmizing. Then came Turing (and Post and Church and Markov and others) and formalized the notion.” (Doron Zeilberger)

xvi. “When a problem seems intractable, it is often a good idea to try to study “toy” versions of it in the hope that as the toys become increasingly larger and more sophisticated, they would metamorphose, in the limit, to the real thing.” (-ll-)

xvii. “The kind of mathematics foisted on children in schools is not meaningful, fun, or even very useful. This does not mean that an individual child cannot turn it into a valuable and enjoyable personal game. For some the game is scoring grades; for others it is outwitting the teacher and the system. For many, school math is enjoyable in its repetitiveness, precisely because it is so mindless and dissociated that it provides a shelter from having to think about what is going on in the classroom. But all this proves is the ingenuity of children. It is not a justifications for school math to say that despite its intrinsic dullness, inventive children can find excitement and meaning in it.” (Seymour Papert)

xviii. “The optimist believes that this is the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears that this might be the case.” (Ivar Ekeland)

xix. “An equilibrium is not always an optimum; it might not even be good. This may be the most important discovery of game theory.” (-ll-)

xx. “It’s not all that rare for people to suffer from a self-hating monologue. Any good theories about what’s going on there?”

“If there’s things you don’t like about your life, you can blame yourself, or you can blame others. If you blame others and you’re of low status, you’ll be told to cut that out and start blaming yourself. If you blame yourself and you can’t solve the problems, self-hate is the result.” (Nancy Lebovitz & ‘The Nybbler’)

December 1, 2017 Posted by | Mathematics, Quotes/aphorisms, Science, Statistics | 4 Comments


i. “Much of the skill in doing science resides in knowing where in the hierarchy you are looking – and, as a consequence, what is relevant and what is not.” (Philip Ball – Molecules: A very Short Introduction)

ii. “…statistical software will no more make one a statistician than a scalpel will turn one into a neurosurgeon. Allowing these tools to do our thinking is a sure recipe for disaster.” (Philip Good & James Hardin, Common Errors in Statistics (and how to avoid them))

iii. “Just as 95% of research efforts are devoted to data collection, 95% of the time remaining should be spent on ensuring that the data collected warrant analysis.” (-ll-)

iv. “One reason why many statistical models are incomplete is that they do not specify the sources of randomness generating variability among agents, i.e., they do not specify why otherwise observationally identical people make different choices and have different outcomes given the same choice.” (James J. Heckman, -ll-)

v. “If a thing is not worth doing, it is not worth doing well.” (J. W. Tukey, -ll-)

vi. “Hypocrisy is the lubricant of society.” (David Hull)

vii. “Every time I fire a linguist, the performance of our speech recognition system goes up.” (Fred Jelinek)

viii. “For most of my life, one of the persons most baffled by my own work was myself.” (Benoît Mandelbrot)

ix. “I’m afraid love is just a word.” (Harry Mulisch)

x. “The worst thing about death is that you once were, and now you are not.” (José Saramago)

xi. “Sometimes the most remarkable things seem commonplace. I mean, when you think about it, jet travel is pretty freaking remarkable. You get in a plane, it defies the gravity of an entire planet by exploiting a loophole with air pressure, and it flies across distances that would take months or years to cross by any means of travel that has been significant for more than a century or three. You hurtle above the earth at enough speed to kill you instantly should you bump into something, and you can only breathe because someone built you a really good tin can that has seams tight enough to hold in a decent amount of air. Hundreds of millions of man-hours of work and struggle and research, blood, sweat, tears, and lives have gone into the history of air travel, and it has totally revolutionized the face of our planet and societies.
But get on any flight in the country, and I absolutely promise you that you will find someone who, in the face of all that incredible achievement, will be willing to complain about the drinks. The drinks, people.” (Jim Butcher, Summer Knight)

xii. “The best way to keep yourself from doing something grossly self-destructive and stupid is to avoid the temptation to do it. For example, it is far easier to fend off inappropriate amorous desires if one runs screaming from the room every time a pretty girl comes in.” (Jim Butcher, Proven Guilty)

xiii. “One certain effect of war is to diminish freedom of expression. Patriotism becomes the order of the day, and those who question the war are seen as traitors, to be silenced and imprisoned.” (Howard Zinn)

xiv. “While inexact models may mislead, attempting to allow for every contingency a priori is impractical. Thus models must be built by an iterative feedback process in which an initial parsimonious model may be modified when diagnostic checks applied to residuals indicate the need.” (G. E. P. Box)

xv. “In our analysis of complex systems (like the brain and language) we must avoid the trap of trying to find master keys. Because of the mechanisms by which complex systems structure themselves, single principles provide inadequate descriptions. We should rather be sensitive to complex and self-organizing interactions and appreciate the play of patterns that perpetually transforms the system itself as well as the environment in which it operates.” (Paul Cilliers)

xvi. “The nature of the chemical bond is the problem at the heart of all chemistry.” (Bryce Crawford)

xvii. “When there’s a will to fail, obstacles can be found.” (John McCarthy)

xviii. “We understand human mental processes only slightly better than a fish understands swimming.” (-ll-)

xix. “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.” (-ll-)

xx. “The trouble with men is that they have limited minds. That’s the trouble with women, too.” (Joanna Russ)


November 10, 2017 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment