Quotations

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“Basic research is what I am doing when I don’t know what I am doing.” — Wernher von Braun

“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.” — Niels Bohr

“An expert is one who knows so much about so little that he neither can be contradicted, nor is worth contradicting.” — Henry Ward

The Road Not Taken

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“You know, many a man realizes late in life that if when he was a boy he had known what he knows now, instead of being what he is he might be what he won’t; but how few boys stop to think that if they knew what they don’t know instead of being what they will be, they wouldn’t be?” — Stephen Leacock, How to Make a Million Dollars, 1910

There was a young man of Cadiz,
Who inferred that life is what it is,
For he early had learnt,
If it were what it weren’t,
It could not be that which it is.

— J. St. Loe Strachey (editor of The Spectator)

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“The origin of science is in the desire to know causes; and the origin of all false science and imposture is in the desire to accept false causes rather than none; or, which is the same thing, in the unwillingness to acknowledge our own ignorance.” — William Hazlitt

Observations

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More maxims of La Rochefoucauld:

  • “We endeavour to get Reputation by those Faults we won’t amend.”
  • “We never desire vehemently what we desire rationally.”
  • “Whatever Distrust we may have of People’s Sincerity, we always believe they are more ingenuous with us than with any body else.”
  • “We promise according to our Hopes, and perform according to our Fears.”
  • “Repentance is not so much Remorse for what we have done, as Fear of its Consequences.”
  • “Our Enemies come nearer the Truth in their Judgment of us, than we do ourselves.”
  • “We don’t despise all those who have Vices, but we despise all those who have no Virtues.”
  • “None but such as are contemptible are apprehensive of Contempt.”
  • “That Conduct often seems ridiculous the secret Reasons of which are wise and solid.”
  • “Censorious as the World is, it oftner shews Favour to false Merit, than it does Injustice to true.”
  • “Our Fancy sets the Value on all we receive from Fortune.”

And “We take less Pains to be happy, as to appear so.”

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“It vexes me greatly that having to earn my living has forced me to interrupt the work and to attend to small matters.” — Leonardo

“I cannot afford to waste my time making money.” — Louis Agassiz

“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?” — Charles Bukowski

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“A science is any discipline in which the fool of this generation can go beyond the point reached by the genius of the last generation.” — Max Gluckman

Insight

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Maxims of François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680):

  • “An extraordinary Haste to discharge an Obligation is a Sort of Ingratitude.”
  • “Did we not flatter ourselves, the Flattery of others could never hurt us.”
  • “Before we passionately desire a Thing, we should examine into the Happiness of its Possessor.”
  • “Few Men are able to know all the Ill they do.”
  • “Fortune never seems so blind to any as to those on whom she bestows no Favours.”
  • “Happiness is in the Taste, not in the Thing; and we are made happy by possessing what we love, not what others think lovely.”
  • “Men may boast of their great Actions; but they are oftner the Effects of Chance, than of Design.”
  • “The Glory of great Men ought always to be rated according to the Means used to acquire it.”
  • “We should manage our Fortune as our Constitution; enjoy it when good, have Patience when ’tis bad, and never apply violent Remedies but in Cases of Necessity.”
  • “We bear, all of us, the Misfortunes of other People with heroic Constancy.”
  • “Whatever great Advantages Nature can give, she can’t without Fortune’s Concurrence make Heroes.”

And “Hope, deceitful as it is, carries us thro’ Life agreeably enough.”

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“It is only through fiction that facts can be made instructive or even intelligible.” — George Bernard Shaw

“People think that because a novel’s invented, it isn’t true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true, since they cannot include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that.” — Anthony Powell

“I write fiction and I’m told it’s autobiography, I write autobiography and I’m told it’s fiction, so since I’m so dim and they’re so smart, let them decide what it is or it isn’t.” — Philip Roth

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“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing that a tomato doesn’t belong in a fruit salad.” — Miles Kington

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“Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again.” — Will and Ariel Durant

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“It has been said, not truly, but with a possible approximation to truth, that in 1802 every hereditary monarch was insane.” — Walter Bagehot

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“When hungry, eat your rice; when tired, close your eyes. Fools may laugh at me, but wise men will know what I mean.” — Lin-Chi

Misc

  • Juneau, Alaska, is larger than Rhode Island.
  • After reading Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, Byron said, “I wish he would explain his explanation.”
  • If A + B + C = 180°, then tan A + tan B + tan C = (tan A)(tan B)(tan C).
  • Five counties meet in the middle of Lake Okeechobee.
  • “Life resembles a novel more often than novels resemble life.” — George Sand

No one knows whether Andrew Jackson was born in North Carolina or South Carolina. The border hadn’t been surveyed well at the time.

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“All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill.'” — Duke of Wellington

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“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” — Aristotle

“Education enables you to express assent or dissent in graduated terms.” — William Cory

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” — Robert Frost

“To change an opinion without a mental process is the mark of the uneducated.” — Geoffrey Madan

“To have doubted one’s own first principles is the mark of a civilized man.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes

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“An inventor is simply a fellow who doesn’t take his education too seriously.” — Charles F. Kettering

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“There is a danger in being persuaded before one understands.” — Thomas Wilson

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“The success of most things depends upon knowing how long it will take to succeed.” — Montesquieu

You Are Here

Metaphors for life:

“A theater in which the worst people often have the best seats.” — Aristonymus

“A hospital in which every patient is possessed by the desire to change his bed.” — Charles Baudelaire

“A maze in which we take the wrong turning before we have learned to walk.” — Cyril Connolly

“A garish, unrestful hotel.” — Joseph Conrad

“Like eating artichokes — you’ve got to go through so much to get so little.” — Tad Dorgan

“For most men … a search for the proper manila envelope in which to get themselves filed.” — Clifton Fadiman

“A library owned by an author. In it are a few books which he wrote himself, but most of them were written for him.” — Harry Emerson Fosdick

“An onion, and one peels it crying.” — French proverb

“The only riddle that we shrink from giving up.” — W.S. Gilbert

“Life is something like this trumpet. If you don’t put anything in it, you don’t get anything out.” — W.C. Handy

“A succession of frontispieces. The way to be satisfied is never to look back.” — William Hazlitt

“A long headache in a noisy street.” — John Masefield

“A foreign language: all men mispronounce it.” — Christopher Morley

“A party: one arrives long after it’s started, and one’s going to leave long before it’s over.” — Robert Morley

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“Honesty is the best policy: but he who acts on that principle is not an honest man.” — Archbishop Richard Whately

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“There is nothing so easily made offensive as good reasoning.” — Sir Arthur Helps

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“One of my chief objections to the management of the universe is that we suffer so much more from our gentler and more amiable vices than from our darkest crimes.” — A.E. Housman, letter to Grant Richards, 1913

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“It is true that that may hold in these things, which is the general root of superstition; namely, that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss; and commit to memory the one, and forget and pass over the other.” — Francis Bacon

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“What leapings of the heart must there not have been throughout that long warfare! What moments of terror and triumph! What acts of devotion and desperate wonders of courage!” — H.G. Wells, of prehistoric man