Full List of Quotations

Here’s my humble list of collected quotations, organized into rough categories. Just because I include a quotation doesn’t mean I agree with it, but rather that I find it thought-provoking or amusing. Let me know if you think of a better way to categorize these.


“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on marketing research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” — Steve Jobs


“The essential dilemma of education is to be found in the fact that the sort of man (or woman) who knows a given subject sufficiently well to teach it is usually unwilling to do so.” — H. L. Mencken

“The spread of secondary and latterly of tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.” — Peter Medawar

“No scientist, engineer, writer, psychologist, artist, or physician — and certainly no scholar, and therefore no serious university faculty member — pursues his or her vocation by getting right answers from a set of prescribed alternatives that trivialize complexity and ambiguity.” — Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, on multiple choice tests (and the SAT in particular)

“The metaphor for our age is the disappearance of high monkey bars from playgrounds across the country. We have made it impossible for our children to fall very far — and in so doing, we have robbed them of the joys of climbing high.” — Megan McArdle, in The Up Side of Down

“[The invention of writing] will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom.” — Socrates, as quoted in The Information, by James Gleick

History and Society:

“The early American economy was built on slave labor. The Capitol and the White House were built by slaves. President James K. Polk traded slaves from the Oval Office. The laments about “black pathology,” the criticism of black family structures by pundits and intellectuals, ring hollow in a country whose existence was predicated on the torture of black fathers, on the rape of black mothers, on the sale of black children. An honest assessment of America’s relationship to the black family reveals the country to be not its nurturer but its destroyer.” — Ta-Nehisi Coates, in “The Case for Reparation”

The Human Condition:

“‘Tis the temper of the hot and superstitious part of mankind in matters of religion ever to be fond of mysteries, and for that reason to like best what they understand least.” — Isaac Newton

“So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.” — Benjamin Franklin

“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.” — James Branch Cabell (American author of fantasy fiction)

“No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart.” — the character Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“This is one of the great scandals of intellectual life: The virtues of rational discourse are everywhere espoused, and yet witnessing someone relinquish a cherished opinion in real time is about as common as seeing a supernova explode overhead.” — Sam Harris

“Punishment is an extraordinarily blunt instrument. We need it because we understand so little about the brain, and our ability to influence it is limited.” — Sam Harris

“Depression is not ‘anger turned inward’; if anything, anger is depression turned outward. Follow the trail of anger inward, and there you will find the small, still voice of pain.” — Carol Tavris, author of Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion

“Tragedy is unavoidable, but in this country, it doesn’t usually come in the way one dies but rather in the way one lives.” — the character Miriam Black in Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig

“The individualism of American life, to our glory and despair, creates anger and encourages its release; for when everything is possible, limitations are irksome. When the desires of the self come first, the needs of others are annoying. When we think we deserve it all, reaping only a portion can enrage.” — Carol Tavris, author of Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion

“We are in the midst of an excuse epidemic, in which more and more physiological “conditions” are considered legitimate pardons for behavior that is immoral, illegal, or ” — Carol Tavris, in Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion

“No one seems to have learned, or can remember, the magic words that calm people when they are frightened or threatened: “I’m sorry; I didn’t see you; are you all right?” The inability to speak these words, I observe, goes right along with a propensity for mindless insults.” — Carol Tavris, in Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion

“It is clear, then, that whatever genetic heritage we have, it is not a straitjacket that traps us forever in the “beastly” ways of our forebears. Evolution tells us where we came from, not where we can go.” — Jerry A. Coyne, in Why Evolution Is True

Humor and Irony:

“Scientists have finally found the mind-body connection they’ve been looking for. It’s called the neck.” — unknown

“Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics; I can assure you that mine are even greater.” — Albert Einstein

“At my age, if I make it up, it’s still an old saying.” — the character Lini in The Fires of Heaven (book five of The Wheel of Time), by Robert Jordan

“Age is of course a fever chill
That every physicist must fear
He’s better dead than living still
When he’s past his thirtieth year.”
— A verse dubiously attributed to Paul Dirac (physicist, pioneer of quantum mechanics)
(Note: Dirac himself lived to be 82.)

“As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me. They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are only ‘doing their duty.’ ” — George Orwell

“Absolute seriousness is never without a dash of humor.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.” — Albert Einstein

“Now and then you have to waste time to save it.” — the character Rand al’Thor in Lord of Chaos (book six of The Wheel of Time), by Robert Jordan

Inspiration and Advice:

“The world seems full of good men — even if there are monsters in it.” — the character Mina Harker, in her journal, in Dracula, by Bram Stoker

“He who has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” — Benjamin Franklin

“The way to chastity is not to struggle directly with incontinent thoughts but to avert the thoughts by some imployment, or by reading, or meditating on other things.” — Isaac Newton

“The essence of chastity is not the suppression of lust, but the total orientation of one’s life towards a goal. Without such a goal, chastity is bound to become ridiculous. Chastity is the sine qua non of lucidity and concentration.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Good prose is like a windowpane.” — George Orwell, in “Why I Write”

“If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things to govern your soul and your senses . . . only through discipline may a man learn to be free.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“He strains to hear a whisper who refuses to hear a shout.” — the character Egwene al’Vere in The Fires of Heaven (book five of The Wheel of Time), by Robert Jordan

“It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share; it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.” — Albert Einstein, in response to doctors’ offers to attempt to repair his aortic aneurysm

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again . . . ” — Theodore Roosevelt

“Failure is an instruction manual written in scar tissue.” — Chuck Wendig

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” — T. S. Eliot

“I think most creative people want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that’s been done by others before us. I didn’t invent the language or mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and add something to the flow. It’s about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know how–because we can’t write Bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That’s what has driven me.” — Steve Jobs

“Being frugal is the cornerstone of wealth-building.” — Thomas Stanley and William Danko, in The Millionaire Next Door

Marriage and Relationships

“It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Math and Science:

“In mathematics you don’t understand things. You just get used to them.” — John von Neumann (mathematician, speaking to a student)

“In science, you want to say something nobody knew before, in words everyone can understand. In poetry, you are bound to say something that everybody knows already in words that nobody can understand.” — Paul Dirac (physicist, pioneer of quantum mechanics)

“It was very easy in those days for any second-rate physicist to do first-rate work; it is very difficult now for a first-rate physicist to do second-rate work.” — Paul Dirac (physicist, pioneer of quantum mechanics)

“To earn the right to be criticized on a scientific level is a high compliment indeed.” — Neil DeGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist and author)

“Reality is a huge mystery, and you have a choice to make. You can run from it, you can placate yourself with fairy tales, you can just pretend everything’s normal, or you can stare that mystery in the eye and try to solve it. If you are one of the brave ones to choose the latter, welcome to science. Science is the quest to solve the eternal riddle.” — Amanda Gefter, in Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn

“Physics isn’t the machinery behind the workings of the world; physics is the machinery behind the illusion that there is a world.” — Amanda Gefter, in Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn

Religion and Philosophy:

“God wants to see human beings, not ghosts who shun the world. . . . Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too.”  — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“A termination of one’s life is necessary in the scheme of things to provide a logical reason for unselfishness. . . . The fact that there is an end to one’s life compels one to take an interest in things that will continue to live after one is dead.” — Paul Dirac

“Duty is heavier than a mountain, death lighter than a feather.” — the character Lan Mandragoran in The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” — Seneca the Younger

“When a people prays, there is the church; and where the church is, there is never loneliness.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious.” — Albert Einstein

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of the Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton.” — Richard Dawkins

“One feels the insignificance of the individual, and it makes one happy.” — Albert Einstein

“Intolerance is the natural concomitant of strong faith; tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty; certainty is murderous.” — Will Durant

“Debating is not an honest intellectual exercise. It’s like a trial in which the goal is not to get to the truth but to win.” — Victor Stenger

“You can make [Pascal’s] wager if you want, but that does not make God exist. If he doesn’t, think of all the time and money you wasted going to church. But more than that, if God is a just God, wouldn’t he be more likely to want to share eternity with someone who honestly disbelieved for lack of evidence than a liar who pretended to believe just to get his ass into heaven?” — Victor Stenger

“The sense of self seems to be the product of the brain’s representing its own acts of representation.” — Sam Harris

“It is often said that there is a God-shaped gap in the brain which needs to be filled: we have a psychological need for God–imaginary friend, father, big brother, confessor, confidant–and the need has to be satisfied whether God really exists or not. But could it be that God clutters up a gap that we’d be better off filling with something else?” — Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion

“The Roman Catholic Church is an institution for whose gains the phrase “ill-gotten” might have been specially invented. And of all its money-making rip-offs, the selling of indulgences must surely rank among the greatest con tricks in history, the medieval equivalent of the Nigerian Internet scam but far more successful.” — Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion

“Whatever is true about us, spiritually and ethically, must be discoverable now. Consequently, it makes no sense at all to have one’s spiritual life pegged to rumors of ancient miracles.” — Sam Harris, in Letter to a Christian Nation

“You can find religions without creationism, but you never find creationism without religion.” — Jerry A. Coyne, in Why Evolution Is True

War and Politics:

“It seems to me an utterly futile task to prescribe rules and limitations for the conduct of war. War is not a game; hence one cannot wage war by rules as one would in playing games. Our fight must be against war itself. The masses of people can most effectively fight the institution of war by establishing an organization for the absolute refusal of military service.” — Albert Einstein

“Nationalism is an infantile disease, the measles of mankind.” — Albert Einstein

“In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.” — Bertrand Russell

“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” — Winston Churchill

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