quotes

On Science, Skepticism, and Knowledge

What's happening in science is the most interesting thing in the world, and if you don't agree with me just fuck off...
~Alun Anderson

...when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.
~Isaac Asimov

Physics is like sex: sure it has some practical results, but thats not why we do it.
~Richard P. Feynman (unsourced)

Je n'ai pas eu besoin de cette hypothèse.
(I have no need for that hypothesis.)
~Pierre-Simon Laplace

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.
~Bertrand Russell

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.
~Albert Einstein

"How do we account for self-awareness?" This has a relatively easy answer. Through natural selection, organisms come to model their environment. Sometimes this modeling is reflected in their geometric structure: a camel has a very different body profile than a shark. But organisms also sense the natural world and react to it. Having a better model — one that allows an organism to predict future events in the world — clearly would contribute to better survival and reproductive success. As the model becomes more sophisticated, eventually it will have to encompass the organism itself. Self-awareness is just when your model of the world becomes so detailed that it has to include yourself.
~Jeffrey Shallit

If you want to investigate the relationship of consciousness to matter, and in particular the brain, just take a heavy blunt instrument and bash yourself over the head and see which bits of thinking you can no longer do.
~A. C. Grayling

If, in some cataclysm, all scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence you will see an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.
~Richard Feynman

Encouraging skepticism is a moral issue. This is not about winning debates or pursuing pleasant feelings of intellectual superiority. This is about the quality of life for billions. For many it is a life and death issue. Ultimately, nothing less than the fate of the world may be at stake. Science vs. nonsense is no game. It is not difficult to imagine how the strange coupling of anti-science thinking with the more destructive products of science may one day result in our collective doom. It’s time to get serious about the need to put thinking before believing. We might consider the last several thousand years of human history to have been an experiment, one that has yielded more than enough data to support this call for action. The work of scientists has revealed that merely being human sets one up to tumble over one delusion after another. Falling for fantasies is part of the human condition. This is who we are. It’s nothing to be ashamed of but neither is it something to ignore or surrender to. Fortunately the same brain that so often trips us up can also be commissioned to escape and evade irrational beliefs.
~Guy P. Harrison

It seems to me that educated people should know something about the 13-billion-year prehistory of our species and the basic laws governing the physical and living world, including our bodies and brains. They should grasp the timeline of human history from the dawn of agriculture to the present. They should be exposed to the diversity of human cultures, and the major systems of belief and value with which they have made sense of their lives. They should know about the formative events in human history, including the blunders we can hope not to repeat. They should understand the principles behind democratic governance and the rule of law. They should know how to appreciate works of fiction and art as sources of aesthetic pleasure and as impetuses to reflect on the human condition.
On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.
~Steven Pinker

Science

Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve.
~John Archibald Wheeler

Karl Popper:

  • Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification — the art of discerning what we may with advantage omit.
    • The Open Universe : An Argument for Indeterminism (1992), p. 44

“What is wanted is not the will-to-believe, but the wish to find out, which is its exact opposite.”
Bertrand Russell
“Free Thought and Official Propaganda” speech
Delivered at South Place Institute in London, England on March 24, 1922

Other

Bad company is as instructive as licentiousness. One makes up for the loss of one’s innocence with the loss of one’s prejudices.
~Denis Diderot

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.
~Bertrand Russell

I was appalled that the San Francisco ethic didn’t mushroom and envelope the whole world into this loving community of acid freaks. I was very naive.
~Grace Slick

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.
~Albert Einstein

Encouraging skepticism is a moral issue. This is not about winning debates or pursuing pleasant feelings of intellectual superiority. This is about the quality of life for billions. For many it is a life and death issue. Ultimately, nothing less than the fate of the world may be at stake. Science vs. nonsense is no game. It is not difficult to imagine how the strange coupling of anti-science thinking with the more destructive products of science may one day result in our collective doom. It’s time to get serious about the need to put thinking before believing. We might consider the last several thousand years of human history to have been an experiment, one that has yielded more than enough data to support this call for action. The work of scientists has revealed that merely being human sets one up to tumble over one delusion after another. Falling for fantasies is part of the human condition. This is who we are. It’s nothing to be ashamed of but neither is it something to ignore or surrender to. Fortunately the same brain that so often trips us up can also be commissioned to escape and evade irrational beliefs.
~Guy P. Harrison

When a child hits a child, we call it aggression.
When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility.
When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault.
When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline.
~Haim G. Ginott

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Why, madam,” Lincoln replied, “do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?

  • Abraham Lincoln in response to an elderly lady who had chastised him for not calling Southerners, who he had referred to as fellow human beings who were in error, irreconcilable enemies who must be destroyed. See Robert Greene, Jost Elfers, The 48 Laws of Power (London, Great Britain: PROFILE BOOKS LTD, 2000), p. 12. Google Books link.
  • Abraham Lincoln may have paraphrased the above quoted question from Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. The Family Magazine Volume IV. from 1837 contains the following story: Some courtiers reproached the Emperor Sigismond that, instead of destroying his conquered foes, he admitted them to favour. “Do I not,” replied the illustrious monarch, “effectually destroy my enemies, when I make them my friends?” Source: The Reverend Joseph Belcher, Jost Elfers, THE FAMILY MAGAZINE VOl. IV (London, Great Britain: Thomas Ward and Co., 1837), p. 123. Google Books link.

So long as there is death there will be sorrow, and so long as there is sorrow it can be no part of the duty of human beings to increase its amount, in spite of the fact that a few rare spirits know how to transmute it.
~Bertrand Russell

To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization, and at present very few people have reached this level.
~Bertrand Russell

Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of [hu]mankind.

  • Albert Einstein, as quoted in Viereck, George Sylvester (26 October 1929), “What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck”, The Saturday Evening Post: 117, retrieved on 19 May 2013

Broken crayons still color. [I saw it quoted in a youtube video, referencing a note seen at burning man, no idea how to track down the original source.]

You can be mad as a mad dog at the way things went, you can curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go.
~Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screenplay

 

On Religion

You know what I’m gonna tell god when I see him?
I’m gonna tell him I was framed.
~The Way of the Gun

May her breasts always satisfy you.
~Proverbs 5:19

Il souhaitait que tous les grands de la Terre et que tous les nobles fussent pendus et étranglés avec les boyaux des prêtres.
~Jean Meslier
(From wikipedia, “In his most famous quote, Meslier refers to a man who ‘…wished that all the great men in the world and all the nobility could be hanged, and strangled with the guts of the priests.’ Meslier admits that the statement may seem crude and shocking, but comments that this is what the priests and nobility deserve, not for reasons of revenge or hatred, but for love of justice and truth.”)

I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.
~Daniel Dennett

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.
~Steven Weinberg

Truth is a very very, hard thing to find, except in local empirical circumstances. Much much more significant than that is rationality. And the word rationality is a very interesting one. The first part of it, ratio, is about proportioning evidence to the conclusions that you derive from it. It means being guided by your very best exploration of the evidence, your very best, most responsible reasonings, and submitting things to public test and debate. Rationality is the key. To behave, to think, and to believe, rationally, on the basis of evidence, that is the surest path towards truth. You have to remember what Voltaire said, “I will defend with my life the person who is seeking the truth, but I will not be so keen on the person who claims to have it.” Finally, there is one big difference between Richard Dawkins and myself on the question of the 6.5, and agnosticism [(on Dawkins’ 7 point scale of theistic belief)]. I am not one little bit agnostic about fairies, or pixies, or goblins, and so on for all the other super natural agencies that might be invoked… And for exactly the same kind of rational, I hope, reasons, I’m not agnostic about deities and gods and goddesses and the rest of it.
~A. C. Grayling

I am not even an atheist so much as an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful. Reviewing the false claims of religion I do not wish, as some sentimental materialists affect to wish, that they were true. I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually true…. There may be people who wish to live their lives under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring. But I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque.
~Christopher Hitchens

You see, no one is going to help you Bubby, because, there isn’t anybody out there to do it, no one. We are all just complicated arrangements of atoms and subatomic particles — we don’t live, but our atoms do move about in such a way as to give us identity and consciousness; we don’t die, our atoms just, rearrange themselves. There is no god, there can be no god, it’s ridiculous to think in terms of a superior being. An inferior being maybe, because we, we who don’t even exist, we arrange our lives with more order and harmony than god ever arranged the earth. We measure, we plot, we create wonderful music. We are the architects of our own existence. What a lunatic concept to bow down before a god that slaughters millions of innocent children. Who slowly and agonizingly starves them to death. Beats them, tortures them, rejects them. What foley to even think we should not insult such a god, damn him, think him out of existence. It is our duty to think god out of existence. It is our duty to insult him. Fuck you god, strike me down if you dare, you tyrant, you non-existent fraud. It is the duty of all human beings to think god out of existence, then we have a future. Because then, and only then, do we take full responsibility for who we are. And that is what you must do Bubby: think god out of existence — take responsibility for who you are!
~Bad Boy Bubby (the scientist)

Encouraging skepticism is a moral issue. This is not about winning debates or pursuing pleasant feelings of intellectual superiority. This is about the quality of life for billions. For many it is a life and death issue. Ultimately, nothing less than the fate of the world may be at stake. Science vs. nonsense is no game. It is not difficult to imagine how the strange coupling of anti-science thinking with the more destructive products of science may one day result in our collective doom. It’s time to get serious about the need to put thinking before believing. We might consider the last several thousand years of human history to have been an experiment, one that has yielded more than enough data to support this call for action. The work of scientists has revealed that merely being human sets one up to tumble over one delusion after another. Falling for fantasies is part of the human condition. This is who we are. It’s nothing to be ashamed of but neither is it something to ignore or surrender to. Fortunately the same brain that so often trips us up can also be commissioned to escape and evade irrational beliefs.
~Guy P. Harrison

I even believe in the Devil. [interviewer: You do?] Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that. [interviewer: Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …] If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it. [interviewer: Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?] You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore. [interviewer: No.] It’s because he’s smart. [interviewer: So what’s he doing now?] What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
~Antonin Scalia (a successful American adult)

When you consider that God could have commanded anything he wanted–anything!–the Ten [Commandments] have got to rank as one of the great missed moral opportunities of all time. How different history would have been had he clearly and unmistakably forbidden war, tyranny, taking over other people’s countries, slavery, exploitation of workers, cruelty to children, wife-beating, stoning, treating women–or anyone–as chattel or inferior beings.
~Katha Pollitt

The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation, and can be relieved only by that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance, called “faith.”
~Robert Green Ingersoll, The Gods

I’ll tell you what you did with atheists for about 1500 years. You outlawed them from universities or any teaching careers, besmirched their reputations, banned or burned their books or their writings of any kind, humiliated them, seized their properties, arrested them for blasphemy. You dehumanized them with beatings and exquisite torture, gouged out their eyes, slit their tongues, stretched, crushed, or broke their limbs, tore off their breasts if they were women, crushed their scrotums if they were men, imprisoned them, stabbed them, disemboweled them, hung them, burnt them alive. And you have nerve enough to complain to me that I laugh at you.
~Madalyn Murray O’Hair

You don’t get to advertise all the good that your religion does without first scrupulously subtracting all the harm it does and considering seriously the question of whether some other religion, or no religion at all, does better.
~Daniel Dennett

We are faced with the task of convincing a myth infaturated world that love and curiosity are sufficient and you don’t have to delude yourself and frighten youself with Iron Age fairy tales… This is a monumental task. I don’t think there is an intellectual struggle more worthy of our efforts.
~Sam Harris

It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, “mad cow” disease, and many others, but I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.
~Richard Dawkins

Luke 19:27 (KJV)
But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.
~Jesus(?)

What worries me about religion is that it teaches people to be satisfied with not understanding the world they live in.
~Richard Dawkins

Eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions god’s infinite love.
~Bill Hicks

On Religion

May her breasts always satisfy you.
~Proverbs 5:19

Luke 19:27 (KJV)
But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.
~Jesus(?)

Il souhaitait que tous les grands de la Terre et que tous les nobles fussent pendus et étranglés avec les boyaux des prêtres.
~Jean Meslier
(From wikipedia, “In his most famous quote, Meslier refers to a man who ‘…wished that all the great men in the world and all the nobility could be hanged, and strangled with the guts of the priests.’ Meslier admits that the statement may seem crude and shocking, but comments that this is what the priests and nobility deserve, not for reasons of revenge or hatred, but for love of justice and truth.”)

I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.
~Daniel Dennett

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.
~Steven Weinberg

Truth is a very very, hard thing to find, except in local empirical circumstances. Much much more significant than that is rationality. And the word rationality is a very interesting one. The first part of it, ratio, is about proportioning evidence to the conclusions that you derive from it. It means being guided by your very best exploration of the evidence, your very best, most responsible reasonings, and submitting things to public test and debate. Rationality is the key. To behave, to think, and to believe, rationally, on the basis of evidence, that is the surest path towards truth. You have to remember what Voltaire said, “I will defend with my life the person who is seeking the truth, but I will not be so keen on the person who claims to have it.” Finally, there is one big difference between Richard Dawkins and myself on the question of the 6.5, and agnosticism [(on Dawkins’ 7 point scale of theistic belief)]. I am not one little bit agnostic about fairies, or pixies, or goblins, and so on for all the other super natural agencies that might be invoked… And for exactly the same kind of rational, I hope, reasons, I’m not agnostic about deities and gods and goddesses and the rest of it.
~A. C. Grayling

I am not even an atheist so much as an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful. Reviewing the false claims of religion I do not wish, as some sentimental materialists affect to wish, that they were true. I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually true…. There may be people who wish to live their lives under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring. But I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque.
~Christopher Hitchens

You see, no one is going to help you Bubby, because, there isn’t anybody out there to do it, no one. We are all just complicated arrangements of atoms and subatomic particles — we don’t live, but our atoms do move about in such a way as to give us identity and consciousness; we don’t die, our atoms just, rearrange themselves. There is no god, there can be no god, it’s ridiculous to think in terms of a superior being. An inferior being maybe, because we, we who don’t even exist, we arrange our lives with more order and harmony than god ever arranged the earth. We measure, we plot, we create wonderful music. We are the architects of our own existence. What a lunatic concept to bow down before a god that slaughters millions of innocent children. Who slowly and agonizingly starves them to death. Beats them, tortures them, rejects them. What foley to even think we should not insult such a god, damn him, think him out of existence. It is our duty to think god out of existence. It is our duty to insult him. Fuck you god, strike me down if you dare, you tyrant, you non-existent fraud. It is the duty of all human beings to think god out of existence, then we have a future. Because then, and only then, do we take full responsibility for who we are. And that is what you must do Bubby: think god out of existence — take responsibility for who you are!
~Bad Boy Bubby (the scientist)

Encouraging skepticism is a moral issue. This is not about winning debates or pursuing pleasant feelings of intellectual superiority. This is about the quality of life for billions. For many it is a life and death issue. Ultimately, nothing less than the fate of the world may be at stake. Science vs. nonsense is no game. It is not difficult to imagine how the strange coupling of anti-science thinking with the more destructive products of science may one day result in our collective doom. It’s time to get serious about the need to put thinking before believing. We might consider the last several thousand years of human history to have been an experiment, one that has yielded more than enough data to support this call for action. The work of scientists has revealed that merely being human sets one up to tumble over one delusion after another. Falling for fantasies is part of the human condition. This is who we are. It’s nothing to be ashamed of but neither is it something to ignore or surrender to. Fortunately the same brain that so often trips us up can also be commissioned to escape and evade irrational beliefs.
~Guy P. Harrison

I even believe in the Devil. [interviewer: You do?] Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that. [interviewer: Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …] If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it. [interviewer: Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?] You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore. [interviewer: No.] It’s because he’s smart. [interviewer: So what’s he doing now?] What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
~Antonin Scalia (a successful American adult)

When you consider that God could have commanded anything he wanted–anything!–the Ten [Commandments] have got to rank as one of the great missed moral opportunities of all time. How different history would have been had he clearly and unmistakably forbidden war, tyranny, taking over other people’s countries, slavery, exploitation of workers, cruelty to children, wife-beating, stoning, treating women–or anyone–as chattel or inferior beings.
~Katha Pollitt

The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation, and can be relieved only by that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance, called “faith.”
~Robert Green Ingersoll, The Gods

I’ll tell you what you did with atheists for about 1500 years. You outlawed them from universities or any teaching careers, besmirched their reputations, banned or burned their books or their writings of any kind, humiliated them, seized their properties, arrested them for blasphemy. You dehumanized them with beatings and exquisite torture, gouged out their eyes, slit their tongues, stretched, crushed, or broke their limbs, tore off their breasts if they were women, crushed their scrotums if they were men, imprisoned them, stabbed them, disemboweled them, hung them, burnt them alive. And you have nerve enough to complain to me that I laugh at you.
~Madalyn Murray O’Hair

You don’t get to advertise all the good that your religion does without first scrupulously subtracting all the harm it does and considering seriously the question of whether some other religion, or no religion at all, does better.
~Daniel Dennett

We are faced with the task of convincing a myth infaturated world that love and curiosity are sufficient and you don’t have to delude yourself and frighten youself with Iron Age fairy tales… This is a monumental task. I don’t think there is an intellectual struggle more worthy of our efforts.
~Sam Harris

It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, “mad cow” disease, and many others, but I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.
~Richard Dawkins

 

What worries me about religion is that it teaches people to be satisfied with not understanding the world they live in.
~Richard Dawkins

Eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions god’s infinite love.
~Bill Hicks