Less Wrong has semi-monthly open threads for user to post quotes about rationality. DanielVarga recently compiled a collection of the best quotes from 2011.
Below are a few that stood out to me. Check out the full list here. Warning: Procrastination opportunities ahead!
The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.
–Daniel J. Boorstin
The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
–John W. Gardner
Although this may seem a paradox, all exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in inferring that he is an inexact man.
Day ends, market closes up or down, reporter looks for good or bad news respectively, and writes that the market was up on news of Intel’s earnings, or down on fears of instability in the Middle East. Suppose we could somehow feed these reporters false information about market closes, but give them all the other news intact. Does anyone believe they would notice the anomaly, and not simply write that stocks were up (or down) on whatever good (or bad) news there was that day? That they would say, hey, wait a minute, how can stocks be up with all this unrest in the Middle East?
It was a good answer that was made by one who when they showed him hanging in a temple a picture of those who had paid their vows as having escaped shipwreck, and would have him say whether he did not now acknowledge the power of the gods,—‘Aye,’ asked he again, ‘but where are they painted that were drowned after their vows?’ And such is the way of all superstition, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happens much oftener, neglect and pass them by.
Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
The discovery that the universe has no purpose need not prevent a human being from having one.
Complex problems have simple, easy to understand wrong answers.
The typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes primitive again.
–Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy
We are built to be effective animals, not happy ones.
–Robert Wright, The Moral Animal
The proposition here is that the human brain is, in large part, a machine for winning arguments, a machine for convincing others that its owner is in the right – and thus a machine for convincing its owner of the same thing. The brain is like a good lawyer: given any set of interests to defend, it sets about convincing the world of their moral and logical worth, regardless of whether they in fact have any of either. Like a lawyer, the human brain wants victory, not truth; and, like a lawyer, it is sometimes more admirable for skill than for virtue.
–Robert Wright, The Moral Animal
You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.
–David Foster Wallace
“Holmes,” I cried, “this is impossible.”
“Admirable!” he said. “A most illuminating remark. It is impossible as I state it, and therefore I must in some respect have stated it wrong.”
–Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Priory School
Most people would rather die than think; many do.
Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.
–Douglas Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Apathy on the individual level translates into insanity at the mass level.
Check out the complete list: Best of Rationality Quotes 2011