Quotes Roundup- Fall- Winter 2010

Anatole France:

An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t.


Reality has been around since long before you showed up. Don’t go calling it nasty names like “bizarre” or “incredible”. The universe was propagating complex amplitudes through configuration space for ten billion years before life ever emerged on Earth. Quantum physics is not “weird”. You are weird.

Steven Novella:

Questioning our own motives, and our own process, is critical to a skeptical and scientific outlook. We must realize that the default mode of human psychology is to grab onto comforting beliefs for purely emotional reasons, and then justify those beliefs to ourselves with post-hoc rationalizations. It takes effort to rise above this tendency, to step back from our beliefs and our emotional connection to conclusions and focus on the process. The process (i.e science, logic, and intellectual rigor) has to be more important than the belief.

Arthur C. Clarke:

Sometimes I think we’re alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering.

Carl Sagan:

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.


Long experience has taught me this about the status of mankind with regard to matters requiring thought: the less people know and understand about them, the more positively they attempt to argue concerning them, while on the other hand to know and understand a multitude of things renders men cautious in passing judgment upon anything new.

Goethe, 18th/19th-century German poet, novelist, playwright and philosopher:
You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.

Thomas Paine:

It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.

Martin Gardner:

Biographical history, as taught in our public schools, is still largely a history of boneheads: ridiculous kings and queens, paranoid political leaders, compulsive voyagers, ignorant generals – the flotsam and jetsam of historical currents. The men who radically altered history, the great scientists and mathematicians, are seldom mentioned, if at all.

Randall Monroe (Author XKCD):

You don’t use science to show you’re right, you use science to become right.

Mark Twain

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Bertrand Russell

There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.

From Sara Robinson, explaining perfectly the entire reason for the faux controversy over the “ground zero mosque”:

Conservatives can do without a god, but they can’t get through the day without a devil. Their entire model of reality revolves around the existence of an existential enemy who’s out to annihilate them. Take that focal point away, and their whole worldview collapses into incoherence. This need is so central to their thinking that if there are no actual enemies around, they’ll go to considerable lengths to make some (or just make some up).

Sir Winston Churchill:

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.

William Osler:

One special advantage of the skeptical attitude of mind is that a man is never vexed to find that after all he has been in the wrong.

Fred Brooks:

You can learn more from failure than success. In failure you’re forced to find out what part did not work. But in success you can believe everything you did was great, when in fact some parts may not have worked at all. Failure forces you to face reality.


The best substitute for brains is silence.

John Cleese:

The really good idea is always traceable back quite a long way, often to a not very good idea which sparked off another idea that was only slightly better, which somebody else misunderstood in such a way that they then said something which was really rather interesting.

kim hebert:

homeopathy is like paying to watch your body heal itself.

Samuel Butler

The man who lets himself be bored is even more contemptible than the bore.

PZ Myers, on burying his bible:

And so I have. I have treated my copies of the Koran and the Bible with greater respect than they deserve.

Right now, the pages swell with moisture, the fibers separate and the chapters turn into pulpy masses. Bacteria bloom and their colonies expand; fungi flourish and their hyphae infiltrate and convert cellulose into spores. The ink runs as nematodes writhe over the surfaces, etching the words with slime and replacing the follies of dead men with the wisdom of worms. The roots of flowers and grasses will fumble downwards to embrace the decaying leaves, and the roots of trees will impale the volumes laterally. Given only a little time, the madness will be reduced to compost.

At every instant in this gradual process of degradation, the books are being improved and given greater value. And with my decision to discard the poisonous symbols of past ignorance, I became a little more free.

J.B.S. Haldane:

My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.


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