Not Through Ignorance

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I’m not good at writing things down.  Maybe I’m too impressed with my own memory, but I often think to myself, on reading something, “Oooh, that’s good, I should write that down” – only to argue with myself in that next instant that I’ll remember it or I’ll be able to find it later or, most reasonably, I’ll lose the notebook I wrote it down in anyway.

This blog seems like the perfect solution.  And so, this page will collect aphorisms on science and the scientific method by scientists and science commentators that I find insightful and perhaps useful in the future.  At first it will be stream of consciousness, but once it reaches critical mass, I will attempt to organize it in some meaningful way.

Some Favorite Quotes

Isaac Asimov

“If there is the slightest possibility that something vital to health is ‘mysterious,’ we know that all sorts of nonsense will be used to victimize the general public.” – Isaac Asimov, p.119, Far As Human Eye Could See (1987), from Tracing The Traces (1985).

“[T]here seems to be a rule that the more foolish an assertion, the more ardently people will believe it.” – Isaac Asimov, p. 189, Far As Human Eye Could See (1987), from Far, Far Below (1985).

“[I]f, when everything impossible has been eliminated and what remains is supernatural, then someone is lying.” – Isaac Asimov, p. 112, Tales of the Black Widowers (1974).

“People are entirely too disbelieving of coincidence.”  –Isaac Asimov, in The Planet That Wasn’t (1976), in the essay of the same title (1975).

Thomas Jefferson

“When a man accepts a public trust, he should consider himself a public property.”  –Thomas Jefferson

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” –Thomas Jefferson

“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god.  It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg.” –Thomas Jefferson

Quotes by Scientists

“It is amazing how many neuroscientists study the brain without ever turning it on.” – Michael Merzenich, during a talk at the Oregon Health Sciences University, sometime between 2001 and 2004.

“It is important to realize that television, the Internet, and the print media will publicize virtually any outlandish claim in the area of psychology if they think there is an audience for it, no matter how much the claim is contradicted by the available evidence.” –Keith Stanovich, Ph.D., in How to Think Straight About Psychology (2013).

“Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.” –Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., in Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), page 201.

“We know that people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers.” –Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., in Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), page 217.

“The man who catches a meningococcus is in considerably less danger for his life, even without chemotherapy, than the meningococci with the bad luck to catch a man.” –Lewis Thomas, Ph.D., in Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1971).

“Our first conclusion, then, is that a certain amount of brain-physiology must be presupposed or included in Psychology.” –William James, Ph.D., M.D., The Principles of Psychology, Volume 1 (1890/1950), p. 5.

“Time is strange.  Five years in the future can seem like a century, and five years in the past like yesterday.” –David Hubel, Ph.D., in The History of Neuroscience In Autobiography, Volume 1 (1996), p. 309.

“[T]he scientific method is best construed as a toolbox of techniques designed to prevent one’s common sense from fooling one into believing what is not true.” –Scott Lilienfeld, in American Psychologist (2002), volume 57(3), p. 186.

“There is a sense among many Americans that food is as much a poison as it is a nutrient, and that eating is almost as dangerous as not eating.”  –Paul Rozin, Appetite (1993), 33, p. 164.  Note:  Rozin was commenting on an irrational, or overblown, worry.

Quotes by Philosophers

“[G]iven the way dualism wallows in mystery, accepting dualism is giving up.” –Daniel Dennett, Ph.D., in Consciousness Explained (1991), p. 37.

“A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.” –David Hume

“In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest.” –Thomas Reid, in Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1786).

“The major factor in stopping people from admitting qualia is the belief that they would have to be given a causal role with respect to the physical world and especially the brain; and it is hard to do this without sounding like someone who believes in fairies.”  –Frank Johnson (1982), Philosophical Quarterly, 32, p. 128.

“Art is bad design on purpose.” –Alva Noe, Strange Tools, p. 101.

Quotes by Authors

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”  –Mark Twain

“There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.” –Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883).

“Fears are a matter of fashion.”  –Michael Crichton

“Under the pressure of reality, we become credulous.” –Michael Shermer, Ph.D., in Why People Believe Weird Things: Revised and Expanded Edition (2002), p. 5.


“All models are wrong, but some are useful.” – George Box, quoted in Ignorance (2012) by Stuart Firestein, pg. 72.

“To use a big word or a foreign word when a small one and a familiar one will answer the same purpose, is a sign of ignorance.” –Joseph Devlin, How To Speak and Write Correctly (1910).

“To suppress free speech is a double wrong.  It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” –Frederick Douglass

“It has taken centuries to convince people to relocate the basis of disease in science rather than in sin; health promotion should not be the vehicle that undermines such progress.”  –Marshall H. Becker, Ph.D., in The Tyranny of Health Promotion, Public Health Review (1986), volume 14, p. 21.

“The harder you work, the luckier you get.” –Gary Player

“We have seen the mere distinction of color made, in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.” –James Madison

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  –Martin Luther King, Jr., 1962.

“Sincerity is to goodness what cauliflower is to goodness.”  –Dennis Prager, The Dennis Prager Show, August 23, 2017.

Stuff I’ve Said That I Like

“Knowledge is something the nervous system does, not something it has to achieve in order to do stuff.” –NeuroProf



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