These are quotes I have collected from all over (books, web sites, mailing lists, media), on a variety of topics. The one thing they all have in common is that they struck a chord of some kind. They triggered my truth perception center, tickled my funny bone, or touched me in some way.

I also have a bunch of movie quotes in my DVD Collection.




The peculiar evil genius of Amazon is that Amazon seems to be trying to simultaneously establish a wholesale monopsony and a retail monopoly in the ebook sector.

The real driver for piracy is the lack of convenient access to desirable content at a competitive price.

By foolishly insisting on DRM, and then selling to Amazon on a wholesale basis, the publishers handed Amazon a monopoly on their customers — and thereby empowered a predatory monopsony.

If the major publishers switch to selling ebooks without DRM, then they can enable customers to buy books from a variety of outlets and move away from the walled garden of the Kindle store. They see DRM as a defense against piracy, but piracy is a much less immediate threat than a gigantic multinational with revenue of $48 Billion in 2011 (more than the entire global publishing industry) that has expressed its intention to “disrupt” them, and whose chief executive said recently “even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation” (where “innovation” is code-speak for “opportunities for me to turn a profit”).

—Charles Stross, What Amazon’s ebook strategy means (blog article) (also see his follow-up, More on DRM and ebooks)

Good ideas are like butterflies: they may land, but they soon take off again. Write them down!

—Brian Luke Seaward, Managing Stress

Ideas are like soap bubbles. They can pop or float away so easily. Then they’re gone forever.

One idea leads to another, like bubbles coming out together. ... The trick is to catch them before they disappear.

Never trust your memory. All too often what seems like a marvelous idea at midnight is gone in the morning.

Write them down. ... Do whatever you have to do to hold onto an idea until you have time to sit down at your desk with it and see where it goes. Even if most ideas turn out to be like the little bubbles that break as soon as they hit the air, don’t let them go. You never know which bit of nonsense will turn out to be the bubble that floats all the way to heaven.

—Sue Lick, Capture Those Ideas Before They Float Away

Ideas are like dreams, if you don’t write them down they disappear.

—Roald Dahl

Ideas are like the sparkling fireflies; they happen randomly and unless you have reached Nirvana, you can hardly control them. It is always better to devise a mechanism to preserve them whenever they grace you.

Amrit Hallan

Ideas are like slippery fish; they have a peculiar knack for getting away from us unless we gaffe them on the point of a pencil.

—Earl Nightingale

The education of a poker player is never complete until he dies. There’s nothing as important to a poker player as experience.

—Doyle Brunson, High Stakes Poker (TV show)

In your life expect some trouble
But when you worry
You make it double
Don’t worry, be happy

—Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

The old and powerful never want to let go. They always think they’re both profoundly indispensable and uniquely right. They are always wrong. Part of the function of ageing and dying is to let the next generation have its say, its time in the sun, to sweep away the mistakes of the previous age while, if they’re lucky, retaining the advances made and the benefits accrued.

—spoken by the character Mrs Mulverhill in the novel Transition by Iain Banks

People who are habitual about their habits, who keep on truckin’ regardless of what happened, is happening, or is going to happen, are the people who are more likely to succeed.

—Ian Newby-Clark, My Bad Habits blog

In order to manipulate somebody, you have to understand them.

—John Walker, The Hacker’s Diet

Bob Bickford, computer and video guru, defined the true essence of the hacker as “Any person who derives joy from discovering ways to circumvent limitations.”

—John Walker, The Hacker’s Diet

If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.

—Red Adair

If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.

—spoken by character Nehemiah Trot in The Graveyard Book by Neal Gaiman

And the greatest arrogance of all: “save the planet.” What? Are these fucking people kidding me? Save the planet, we don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven’t learned how to care for one another, we’re gonna save the fucking planet?

There is nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The people are fucked. ... Compared to the people, the planet is doing great. ... The planet has been here four and a half billion years. We’ve been here, what, a hundred thousand? Maybe two hundred thousand? And we’ve only been engaged in heavy industry for a little over two hundred years. Two hundred years versus four and a half billion. And we have the conceit to think that somehow we’re a threat? That somehow we’re gonna put in jeopardy this beautiful little blue-green ball that’s just a-floatin’ around the sun?

... The planet isn’t going anywhere. We are! ... The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas. ...

The planet will be here for a long, long, long time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, ’cause that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new pardigm: the Earth plus plastic. The Earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the Earth. The Earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the Earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?” Plastic, assholes.

George Carlin

Obscurity, not piracy, is the biggest problem writers face. In the 21st century, if you are not making art with the intention of it being copied, you are not making contemporary art.

It’s how we all learn to do stuff. That’s how we are, we are descendants of molecules formed a million years ago because they figured out how to replicate themselves. We have a name for things that don’t copy themselves: dead.

—Cory Doctorow, New Scientist

DRM doesn’t inconvenience pirates — indeed, over time it trains law-abiding users to become pirates out of sheer frustration.

Charles Stross

Uncritical thinking kills

The most important thing [a parent] can do for [their children] is to teach [them] how to live in the real world. And that means showing [them] how to think. Not what to think, but how.

Question authority. Be skeptical of claims. Ask for evidence. Apply good logic. Avoid bad logic. Analyze the results. Look for bias.

And doubt. Doubt doubt doubt. It’s one of the greatest strengths of the human mind, and perhaps the least used of all.

Too many people choose not to think. But our technology, our society, our impact is vast, and now, today, in this world, that choice is one we can no longer afford.

—Phil Plait, from his “Bad Astronomy” blog

People say “time is money”, but the fact is, time is a lot more precious than money. Because you can always get more money. But you can’t really make any more time, and you can’t make any more attention.

—Merlin Mann, YouTube video

Too many people go through life complaining about their problems. ... Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.

—Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.

—Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.


A communicable ease.

—Robert Charles Wilson, Spin (2006 Tor paperback: p. 211)

Forgiveness is the economy of the heart... forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.

—Hannah More

The universe tends toward maximum irony. Don’t push it.

Jamie Zawinski

There isn’t any greater potential threat to the status quo than the discovery of extraterrestrial life, which is why some people would prefer we didn’t try.

—Luke McKinney, The METI Controversy: Is Detection by Alien Life a Threat to the Human Species?

[You and I,], we’re two computers, if you think about it. It’s easy to make a computer that’s as intelligent as a human. It’s called a baby.

—Steve Wozniak, CIO video interview at a FIRST Robotics competition in Boston

When new technology meet old business models, technology trumps. Every time.

—Nora Young, Spark, episode 31

You couldn’t go back, but you couldn’t jump forward, either. There was only now.

—Frederic S. Durbin, from “The Bone Man”, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 2007

You need to beware of dictionaries. They really don’t contain the meanings of words; they just contain other words.

—Robert Epstein, Ph.D., Self-Help Without the Hype

Watch out for false comforters, the ones who deny that life is hard. Only death is easy.

—Albert E. Cowdrey, from “The Recreation Room”, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October/November 2007

Four things do not come back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity.

—Ted Chiang, from “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 2007

Any voluntary organization is no more and no less than the sum of its active members.

—Charles Stross, in a comment to an article by Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing

You were once shoved headfirst through someone’s vagina. Why are you acting so dignified?


Algorithmic knowledge doesn’t translate into good taste.

David Turner (of FreeType)

He could also fail, and although he did not fear death, he feared dying and believed that knowledge of the difference between the two was the true wellspring of courage.

—Alex Irvine, “Wizard’s Six” (F&SF June 2007)

We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive.

—Chief Dan George

Character does count. For too long we have gotten by in a society that says the only thing right is to get by and the only thing wrong is to get caught. Character is doing what’s right when nobody is looking.

—J. C. Watts

We must not take the choice of another being. What is community but a means to... for all we individuals to have... our choices.

—China Miéville, Perdido Street Station

... a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not. See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting. Most scientists forget that. ... So, the other reason I call myself Wonko the Sane is so that people will think I am a fool. That allows me to say what I see when I see it. You can’t possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking that you’re a fool.

—Douglas Adams, So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

The problem with saying something like that is that you would be talking cross-eyed badger spit.

—Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

Let the past hold on to itself and let the present move forward into the future.

—Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

Don’t keep your mind so open that your brain falls out.

A comment by “Invincible Cow” on an article on OSNews

Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly
Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?”
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land
Man got to tell himself he understand.

—Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.

Melvin Kranzberg’s first law of technology

The interests of all humans are interlocked ... and politics is no more than a temporal expression of social mathematics.

—C.J. Cherryh, Cyteen

Republicans like to run by saying that government doesn’t work. Then they get elected, and they prove it.

Al Franken (good luck, Al!)

Question everything
Understand logic, fairness and equality
Explore the world
Study science, technology and the arts
Think for yourself

Camp Quest Ontario

Science doesn’t work by vote and it doesn’t work by authority.

—Richard Dawkins, Big Mistake (The Guardian)

With higher intelligence comes an awareness of the complexity of the world, and from this awareness arises a sense of mystery, wonder. Superstition is the dark side of wonder.

In wonder is the seed of joy.

—Dean Koontz, Seize The Night

No matter how far down the wrong road you’ve gone, turn back.

—Turkish proverb

The user is always right that there’s a problem. The user is often wrong about what the best solution is.

—David Abrahams on docutils-develop, 2004-04-20

The customer isn’t always right, but is always the customer.

—Dru Scott

When you lose small businesses, you lose big ideas.

—Ted Turner, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0407.turner.html

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

—Douglas Hofstadter

Which statement seems more true?

  1. I have a brain.
  2. I am a brain.

—Douglas Hofstadter

  • most people are fools
  • most authority is malignant
  • God does not exist
  • everything is wrong

—Ted Nelson’s maxims, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/3.06/xanadu_pr.html

A problem is an opportunity in work clothes.

—Jorge Gonzalez

The basic idea behind office hours is that if you can’t make people work, you can at least prevent them from having fun.

—Paul Graham, OSCON 2005

One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.

—Elbert Hubbard

Invention does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.

—Mary Shelley (quoted in Feynman’s Rainbow)

My rule is, when you are unhappy, think about it. But when you’re happy, don’t. Why spoil it? You’re probably happy for some ridiculous reason and you’d just spoil it to know it.

—Richard Feynman, quoted in Feynman’s Rainbow by Leonard Mlodinow, p. 159

Everybody dies. It’s just a matter of when. But with Arlene I was really happy for a while. So I have had it all. After Arlene, the rest of my life didn’t have to be so good, you see, because I had already had it all.

[Arlene was his first wife; she died at a young age from TB.]

—Richard Feynman, quoted in Feynman’s Rainbow, p. 159-160

Quantum economics:

When a bozon accelerates, it emits morons and can create a field of ignorance.


Simplicity is prerequisite for reliability.

—Edsger W. Dijkstra

I learned from him [Frank Herbert] that authors exist merely for the story’s sake, not the other way around, and a good story had to do two things: inform and entertain. The informing part must be entertaining enough to let readers live the story without feeling like they’re on the receiving end of a sermon. Writing entertainment without information, without some insight into what it is to be human, is a waste of good trees.

—Bill Ransom, in the forward to The Road To Dune by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson

Most people are trustworthy, and I’d prefer to be more cynical, but I’m finding overwhelmingly that people figure, “The right way to live is to treat other people the way you want to be treated.”

—Craig Newmark (founder, craigslist.org), on Cranky Geeks Episode 19, July 19, 2006

Software patents provide one more means of controlling access to information. They are the tool of choice for the internet highwayman.

—Anthony Taylor, http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/articles/standards_battleground

Free/Libre & Open Source Software (FLOSS)

As our society grows more dependent on computers, the software we run is of critical importance to securing the future of a free society. Free software is about having control over the technology we use in our homes, schools and businesses, where computers work for our individual and communal benefit, not for proprietary software companies or governments who might seek to restrict and monitor us.

About the Free Software Foundation

An appliance is not a stripped-down computer — it is a fully functional computer with spyware on it out of the box.

Digital rights management always converges on malware.

As a member of the Walkman generation, I have made peace with the fact that I will require a hearing aid long before I die, and of course, it won’t be a hearing aid, it will be a computer I put in my body. So when I get into a car (a computer I put my body into) with my hearing aid (a computer I put inside my body) I want to know that these technologies are not designed to keep secrets from me, and to prevent me from terminating processes on them that work against my interests.

Freedom in the future will require us to have the capacity to monitor our devices and set meaningful policy on them, to examine and terminate the processes that run on them, to maintain them as honest servants to our will, and not as traitors and spies working for criminals, thugs, and control freaks.

—Cory Doctorow, The Coming War on General Computation keynote talk at the 28C3, the Chaos Computer Congress in Berlin (transcript here)

Proprietary software is an unsafe building material.

You can’t inspect it. You can’t assess its complex failure modes easily, by simply poking at the finished article. And most important of all, if you were aware of a [safety] problem ... that you could fix, you couldn’t fix it. If you were aware of a catastrophic failure mode, you couldn’t do anything about it -- except ask the manufacturer to fix it... who sells software to consumers under shrinkwrap... which basically says, “if the software fails catastrophically and obliterates your town, we’ll give you your money back.”

So proprietary software is an unsafe building material. We shouldn’t use it for purposes that could conceivably cause harm, like running personal computers. Let alone should we use it for things like anti-lock brakes or throttle control in automobiles.

We wouldn’t allow people to build black-box elevators. They’ve got to be inspectable. And they have to be repairable by the people in whose buildings they are. That’s a sensible rule, arrived at over a long period of experience with what can happen when things fall. Which you would expect us to carry unchanged into our experience of the digital environment, but which is not.

The basic principle of the difficulty that we face is we can’t see enough and we can’t modify it fast enough to ... [assess] what went wrong after it fails. What we actually need is the ability to harness civil society to prevent failure.

This is a problem which can be prevented more easily than it can be coped with after the fact.

—Eben Moglen, from “When Software is in Everything: Future Liability Nightmares Free Software Helps Avoid”, a speech to the Scottish Society for Computers and Law (SSCL) in Edinburgh, Scotland on June 30 (Software Freedom Law Show, Episode 0x2C, July 20, 2010)

You give away the infinite goods, not the scarce goods. Your time is a scarce good. No one is saying that everything needs to be free -- they’re saying that infinite goods will be free, because of it’s very nature in economics. ... Most programmers don’t earn any kind of royalties for the software they write. They are paid a salary, for their time -- but not for the software itself (which is an infinite good). And, I won’t even get into the number of programmers who work on open source projects for free...

But free alone isn’t a business model. And it’s wrong to blame free for the lack of establishing a complete business model. Just because “give it away and pray” isn’t a workable business model, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t business models that do work.

—Mike Masnick, Techdirt.com

People who don’t value their freedom are likely to lose it.

—Richard Stallman, in an interview

For a private business to blithely entrust their data to proprietary formats and protocols is irresponsible at best. For a public company to do so can be looked upon as a breach of the shareholder’s trust.

Ray Yeargin

The whole GNU Project is really one big hack. It’s one big act of subversive playful cleverness. To change society for the better because I’m only interested in changing it for the better, but in a clever way.

—Richard Stallman in Revolution OS

My view is it’s just the unrolling of a thing that came from very far, long ago. It’s a reversal of a local eddy in the current of time. Microsoft made it appear that software was a product, for a little while. But knowledge is rarely a product, and the technological information about the terms on which we and the digital brains exist [i.e. software], that’s not a product. That’s a culture. That’s the record of a deposit of human beings and the “other” in conversation. It’s like literature: it can’t be a product. So what we are discovering is it’s a culture made by communities. And we could have known that in 1965 or 1970. It was hard to see in 1990. But it’s easy to see again in 2006. In my judgement, this is in that historical sense more about clearing away a temporary confusion than it is about some strange and amazing departure that suddenly occurred.

Eben Moglen, interview with Joe Barr, on how free software got to where it is today

Here are some general principles applicable to open source projects (including Docutils):

  • If it’s important to you, you should see it done.
  • If you don’t do it, nobody else will.
  • If you do it right, it will succeed and be adopted by others.
  • If making changes to a project is important enough to you, and the project leaders don’t listen, consider forking the project. But discuss your ideas thoroughly first.

—David Goodger (original?) on docutils-users, 2005-04-04

If open source is the soil from which your business has sprouted, it makes sense to keep the soil healthy.

Open source does not allow for exclusive access to the inner workings of anything. That’s what it means.

—Daniel Robbins, http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/library/l-dist2.html

And if there is anything I’ve learnt from Linux, it’s that projects have a life of their own, and you should _not_ try to enforce your “vision” too strongly on them. Most often you’re wrong anyway, and if you’re not flexible and willing to take input from others (and willing to change direction when it turned out your vision was flawed), you’ll never get anything good done.

—Linus Torvalds, http://www.linuxtimes.net/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=145

Your company may not have the resources to maintain an operating system or other major piece of software on its own, but if that software is essential to your business, it is likely to be essential to many others with whom you can cooperate to keep it alive and growing -- and your company’s share of that new project’s costs will almost certainly be less than you’d spend to purchase equivalent proprietary software.

—Robin ‘Roblimo’ Miller, http://trends.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=05/02/02/2321235

  1. Don’t confuse motion for progress.
  2. Don’t undermine your own authority.
  3. If you have authority, don’t shy away from using it where appropriate.
  4. If you expect professional behaviour you’ll get it, so expect it all around.
  5. The easier you make it to do things, the more people will be able to do.
  6. Be open and above-board always. If you’re embarrassed to do so because of what’s going on, that’s a sign of a big problem.
  7. It’s only software and not worth your life.
  8. People suck. Deal. (And never forget that you’re people too.)

—Dan Sugalski’s rules for open-source projects, http://www.sidhe.org/~dan/blog/archives/000435.html

I came for the quality. I stayed for the freedom.

—Sean Neakums, http://www.perkypants.org

Free software.
Free society.

—Free Software Foundation

Freedom is not just for geeks

—Jeff Waugh, http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/8752

Our code is free, but we do strictly enforce our trademark rights, we must, in order to keep them valid.



I write programs because it’s fun. (“Hey look, I just created something out of pure thought!”) I write Python programs because it’s more fun to write programs in Python than in any other language. I help people to use Python because I want them to have fun too.

—Matthew Dixon Cowles

Dynamic languages let you experiment and fail faster.

Bruce Eckle in his 2007 CodeMash keynote (paraphrased by Kevin Dangoor)

It seems to me that Java is designed to make it difficult for programmers to write bad code, while Python is designed to make it easy to write good code.

—Magnus Lycka, http://permalink.gmane.org/gmane.comp.python.announce/5493

A: I don’t like Python because of significant whitespace.
B: Do you indent your code?
A: Yes, of course.
B: And the problem is?

—Marko Samastur, http://markos.gaivo.net/blog/?p=126

Thus spake the Lord: Thou shalt indent with four spaces. No more, no less. Four shall be the number of spaces thou shalt indent, and the number of thy indenting shall be four. Eight shalt thou not indent, nor either indent thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to four. Tabs are right out.

—Georg Brandl’s email signature


Be transparent. Share your work constantly. Solicit feedback. Appreciate critiques. Let other people point out your mistakes. You are not your code. Do not be afraid of day-to-day failures — learn from them. (As they say at Google, “don’t run from failure — fail often, fail quickly, and learn.”) Cherish your history, both the successes and mistakes. All of these behaviors are the way to get better at programming. If you don’t follow them, you’re cheating your own personal development.

Ben Collins-Sussman

Designing software is hard, and unfortunately, a lot of the people who call themselves programmers can’t really do it.

—Joel Spolsky, “How Hard Could It Be?: Five Easy Ways to Fail” (Inc.com)

Programming combines right- and left-brain activity simultaneously: creativity and analysis. Linear, looping, chaotic, organized, rote, inspired, work, and fun.

—David Goodger

Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it.

—Brian W. Kernighan

Programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute.

—Abelson & Sussman, Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

  1. Rule of Modularity: Write simple parts connected by clean interfaces.
  2. Rule of Clarity: Clarity is better than cleverness.
  3. Rule of Composition: Design programs to be connected with other programs.
  4. Rule of Separation: Separate policy from mechanism; separate interfaces from engines.
  5. Rule of Simplicity: Design for simplicity; add complexity only where you must.
  6. Rule of Parsimony: Write a big program only when it is clear by demonstration that nothing else will do.
  7. Rule of Transparency: Design for visibility to make inspection and debugging easier.
  8. Rule of Robustness: Robustness is the child of transparency and simplicity.
  9. Rule of Representation: Fold knowledge into data, so program logic can be stupid and robust.
  10. Rule of Least Surprise: In interface design, always do the least surprising thing.
  11. Rule of Silence: When a program has nothing surprising to say, it should say nothing.
  12. Rule of Repair: Repair what you can -- but when you must fail, fail noisily and as soon as possible.
  13. Rule of Economy: Programmer time is expensive; conserve it in preference to machine time.
  14. Rule of Generation: Avoid hand-hacking; write programs to write programs when you can.
  15. Rule of Optimization: Prototype before polishing. Get it working before you optimize it.
  16. Rule of Diversity: Distrust all claims for one true way.
  17. Rule of Extensibility: Design for the future, because it will be here sooner than you think.

—Eric S. Raymond, Basics of the Unix Philosophy, from The Art of Unix Programming

The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures.

—Fred Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month

Programmers are procrastinators. Get in, get some coffee, check the mailbox, read the RSS feeds, read the news, check out latest articles on techie websites, browse through political discussions on the designated sections of the programming forums. Rinse and repeat to make sure nothing is missed. Go to lunch. Come back, stare at the IDE for a few minutes. Check the mailbox. Get some coffee. Before you know it, the day is over.


The Internet

The best way to get information on Usenet is not to ask a question, but to post the wrong information.

—Aahz on docutils-develop, 2004-04-21

On the one hand, I think [the Internet] is the coolest thing in the world, on the other, it’s the most dangerous time sink.

—Neil Gaiman, on Cranky Geeks Episode 30, October 2, 2006

The greatest thing about the Internet is that it allows anyone to publish anything. That’s also the worst thing about the Internet.

—me (although I’m pretty sure it’s not original to me; I probably paraphrased somebody here)

Reality & Delusion: Rationality vs. Religion/Faith/Belief/Superstition

You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.

—attributed to US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

The question I was asking [in the film Riligulous] was, how can otherwise intelligent people believe in a talking snake? How do people build this wall in their mind between what they must know, in part of their mind, is untrue, and yet they maintain this belief?

If it was as simple as saying, all the smart people are atheists and all the stupid people are religulous, it would be very simple. But it’s not that simple, because we all know very intelligent people who somehow put that wall up in their mind. That doesn’t mean I respect it intellectually. ... If you do hold that belief, if you believe in Santa Claus, a god, Jesus, whatever you want, I really have to disqualify you from the highest rank of thinkers. I’m sorry, I just do.

If you believe in something that is obviously ridiculous and anachronistic, something that some desert-dweller had as a brain fart 3000 years ago, wrote down, and somehow it got passed along in a game of telephone, and now you’re still following it? I’m sorry, you can’t be in the higest rank of thinkers. Amen!

Bill Maher, interviewed by Neil deGrasse Tyson on Startalk Radio (season 3, episode 15)

I believe that what we call “tolerance” is actually just a fear of being proven wrong. Because if you state what you believe over and over again loudly you will get busted every single time.

Penn Jillette on the Nerdist podcast 195

[Regarding a “unified field theory”:] We assume there’s one to be found, don’t we? That’s kind of audacious, isn’t it? We are layering onto the universe our own philosophical requirements for it to behave as we wish. The universe historically has not obeyed us in that way.

The history of science is replete with people trying to layer their own philosophical elegance onto [the universe].

Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Nerdist Podcast #139

If you walk up to something and say, “This is irreducibly complex,” which means of course that there is no way this can have existed in a simpler form and function, and it contains some complexity that we will never understand, thereby requiring some kind of intelligent force operating on it. Here’s what’s particularly ... inexcusiably hubristic. It’s [someone who says], “I can’t figure out how this works, and so no one alive today can figure out how this works, no one who will ever be born will figure out how this works. Therefore it is intelligently designed.” That is the height of hubristic thinking, to assert that because you can’t figure it out, no one who will ever be born after you will be able to do so as well.


In science, if you can’t admit you don’t know, you will never make a discovery in your life. The scientist has to not only be comfortable with ignorance, but embrace it. Because therein is that force which attracts you to the frontier where you put a foot in what is known, a foot in what is unknown, and you investigate with the intent of discovery.

You get these newspaper articles where a new science result comes out and the lead sentence is, “Scientists will be sent back to the drawing board. They’re baffled.” If you’re an active research scientist, you are always at the drawing board. You are always baffled. That is not a new state. That is a permanent state. The idea that a scientist might not know something is presented as presented as some kind of major finding in the newspapers. But in fact that’s a daily finding.


Science literacy is vaccine against charlatans of the world [who] would exploit your ignorance of the forces of nature.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, interviewed by Stephen Colbert at Montclair Kimberley Academy 2010-01-29 (or on YouTube) — well worth watching the whole thing, informative and highly entertaining

[Regarding the “Nemesis” extinction-causing companion star hypothesis:] It was an interesting hypothesis that was never supported by data. And when you’re not supported by data, you discard the hypothesis. That’s how science works. You don’t believe something just ’cause you want to, or think something’s true just ’cause it feels good. At some point you’ve got to confront the data.

Colbert: So you’ve never been in politics?

ibid, around 0:58:30

Faith — that comfortable sanctuary from the complications of reality.

—from The Technician (novel) by Neal Asher

Teach a man to reason and he’ll think for a lifetime.

—Dr. Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer

Human consciousness is vulnerable to certain types of transmissible memetic virus, and religions that promise life beyond death are a particularly pernicious example because they exploit our natural aversion to halting states.

—spoken by a character in Accelerando by Charles Stross

I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.

—Stephen Hawking

It annoys me that the burden of proof is on us. It should be: “You came up with the idea. Why do you believe it?” I could tell you I’ve got superpowers. But I can’t go up to people saying “Prove I can’t fly.” They’d go: “What do you mean, ‘Prove you can’t fly’? Prove you can!”

—Ricky Gervais on being an atheist

Science adjusts its views
based on what’s observed.
Faith is the denial of observation
so that belief can be preserved.

—Tim Minchin, Storm, the Animated Movie

Skeptical doubt is an antidote to foolish beliefs.

Skepticism is an antidote for nonsense.

It’s a pragmatic tool of inquiry and of knowledge.

—Paul Kurtz, on the For Good Reason podcast

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

—Philip K. Dick

Paraphrase [of the Philip K. Dick quote above]: reality is independent of belief. Belief doesn’t lead to truth or reality; rather, in the absence of evidence belief is often better termed “delusion”. Belief is neither necessary nor sufficient for reality.

Reality is that for which evidence exists, that which can be repeatably tested and rigorously proven.


Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.

—George Carlin

There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.

Stephen Hawking

And, of course, the irony is that creationism itself shows us that despite our highly-evolved brains, humans still cling to easily-disproven nonsense if it’s taught early enough and with fervor.

—Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy

Science learns ... dogma doesn’t.

—Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy

I think people are getting a bit fed up with other people thrusting their imaginary friends down their throats.

—Richard Dawkins on Real Time with Bill Maher, 2008-04-11

Richard Dawkins ... The God Delusion ... hopefully someday it’ll be by the bed in every hotel in America.

—Bill Maher on Real Time with Bill Maher, 2008-04-11

Be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.

—Carl Sagan

I too believe in people. I believe that, given proper encouragement to think, and given the best information available, people will courageously cast aside celestial comfort blankets and lead intellectually fulfilled, emotionally liberated lives.

—Richard Dawkins, Times Online

WARNING: This is a work of fiction. Do NOT take it literally.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Contains verses descriptive or advocating suicide, incest, bestiality, sadomasochism, sexual activity in a violent context, murder, morbid violence, use of drugs or alcohol, homosexuality, voyeurism, revenge, undermining of authority figures, lawlessness, and human rights violations and atrocities.

EXPOSURE WARNING: Exposure to contents for extended periods of time or during formative years in children may cause delusions, hallucinations, decreased cognitive and objective reasoning abilities, and, in extreme cases, pathological disorders, hatred, bigotry, and violence including, but not limited to fanaticism, murder, and genocide.

Sticker attached to a copy of the “HOLY BIBLE”

The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard, who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by “God,” one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.

—Carl Sagan

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

—Carl Sagan

I think the roots of this antagonism to science run very deep. They’re ancient. We see them in Genesis, this first story, this founding myth of ours, in which the first humans are doomed and cursed eternally for asking a question, for partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. It’s puzzling that Eden is synonymous with paradise when, if you think about it at all, it’s more like a maximum-security prison with twenty-four hour surveillance. It’s a horrible place. Adam and Eve have no childhood. They awaken full-grown. What is a human being without a childhood? Our long childhood is a critical feature of our species. It differentiates us, to a degree, from most other species. We take a longer time to mature. We depend upon these formative years and the social fabric to learn many of the things we need to know.

—Ann Druyan

When my husband [Carl Sagan] died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me -- it still sometimes happens -- and ask me if Carl changed at the end and converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl.

—Ann Druyan

People are always going on about “how did September the 11th change you?” Well here’s how it changed me: let’s all stop being so damned respectful.

Richard Dawkins, “An atheist’s call to arms” speech at TED

How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.

—Carl Sagan

But just what is the core of Dawkins’ radical message? Well, it goes something like this: If you claim that something is true, I will examine the evidence which supports your claim; if you have no evidence, I will not accept that what you say is true and I will think you a foolish and gullible person for believing it so.

Dan Gardner, The Ottawa Citizen, 2007-05-05

Religion ends and philosophy begins, just as alchemy ends and chemistry begins, and astrology ends and astronomy begins.

Christopher Hitchins, as interviewed by Lou Dobbs on CNN

Colbert:If I just think that God just—[claps]—did it, that I can understand.
Dawkins:And who just did God then?

—Stephen Colbert & Richard Dawkins, interview on The Colbert Report, 2006-10-17

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

—Richard P. Feynman

My suggestion is that you won’t find any intelligent person who feels the need for the supernatural. What you will find is the need for a sense of transcendent wonder, which I share as well.

—Richard Dawkins, from Religion: For Dummies, an interview

For the purposes of decision making, a permanently hidden god is equivalent to a non-existent one.

—From a comment by Adrian D. on Scott Adams’ Dilbert Blog

The wisdom is accessible to us. We’re not a stupid race. We invented the zipper; we can do it.

I see religion as one of the last overwhelming vestiges of barbarism in our culture.

All of this recourse to religious thinking -- expressions like “we shouldn’t play God”, etc. -- how do we get past all that? How do we manage to get beyond it so that we become rational beings instead of irrational beings? That to me is the central question.

—Harlan Ellison, in the “Science Future Science Fiction” panel discussion, UCLA, 2002-01-26 (available on the Dune [2000] special edition director’s cut DVD, 2nd disc)

Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.

—author unknown

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.

—George Bernard Shaw

It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

—Carl Sagan

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. ... But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose -- which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.

—Richard Feynman

Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.

—Laurens van der Post, The Lost World of the Kalahari (1958)

Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you, dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living. But we stand dumbstruck by you as well -- by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God.

—Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

We’re going to look back and be amazed that we approached this asymptote of destructive capacity while allowing ourselves to be balkanized by fantasy. ... At some point, there is going to be enough pressure that it is just going to be too embarrassing to believe in God.

—Sam Harris, quoted in Wired News: Battle of the New Atheism

We explain our existence by a combination of the anthropic principle and Darwin’s principle of natural selection. That combination provides a complete and deeply satisfying explanation for everything that we see and know. Not only is the god hypothesis unnecessary. It is spectacularly unparsimonious. Not only do we need no God to explain the universe and life. God stands out in the universe as the most glaring of all superfluous sore thumbs. We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can’t disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can’t disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.

—Richard Dawkins, conclusion to Why There Almost Certainly Is No God

We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.

—Richard Dawkins, “Root of All Evil? part 1: The God Delusion”, Channel 4 Television Corporation (2006)

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

—Stephen Henry Roberts

As a scientist, I’m increasingly worried about how faith is undermining science. It’s something we must resist, because irrational faith is feeding murderous intolerance throughout the world.

—Richard Dawkins, “Root of All Evil? part 2: The Virus of Faith”, Channel 4 Television Corporation (2006)

Science weighs up evidence and advances. Religion is hidebound belief for belief’s sake. It’s bad for our children, and it’s bad for you.

—Richard Dawkins, “Root of All Evil? part 2: The Virus of Faith”, Channel 4 Television Corporation (2006)

Let me explain why, when it comes to children, I think of religion as a dangerous virus. It’s a virus which is transmitted partly through teachers and clergy, but also down the generations from parent to child to grandchild. Children are especially vulnerable to infection by the virus of religion.

A child is genetically pre-programmed to accumulate knowledge from figures of authority. The child brain, for very good Darwinian reasons, has to be set up in such a way that it believes what it’s told by its elders, because there just isn’t time for the child to experiment with warnings like “Don’t go too near the cliff edge!” or “Don’t swim in the river, there are crocodiles!” Any child who applied a scientific sceptical questioning attitude to that, would be dead.

No wonder the Jesuits said, “Give me the child for his first seven years and I’ll give you the man.”

The child brain will automatically believe what it’s told even if what it’s told is nonsense. And then when the child grows up it will tend to pass on that same nonsense to its children.

And so religion goes on from generation to generation.

For many people, part of growing up is killing off the virus of faith with a good strong dose of rational thinking. But if an individual doesn’t succeed in shaking it off, his mind is stuck in a permanent state of infancy. And there is a real danger that he will infect the next generation.

—Richard Dawkins, “Root of All Evil? part 2: The Virus of Faith”, Channel 4 Television Corporation (2006)

Nobody not brought up in the faith could reach any verdict other than: barking mad.

—Richard Dawkins, “Root of All Evil? part 2: The Virus of Faith”, Channel 4 Television Corporation (2006)

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

—Steven Weinberg, Nobel-prize-winning theoretical physicist

Some say that while religious fundamentalists betray reason, moderate believers betray reason and faith equally.

—Richard Dawkins, “Root of All Evil? part 2: The Virus of Faith”, Channel 4 Television Corporation (2006)

... the brain is responsible for consciousness. And we can be reasonably sure that when that brain ceases to be, when it falls apart and decomposes, that will be the end of us. From that quite a lot of things follow, especially morally. We are the very privileged owners of a brief spark of consciousness. And we therefore have to take responsibility for it. We cannot rely, as Christians or Muslims do, on a world elsewhere, a paradise, to which one can work towards and maybe make sacrifices, and, crucially, make sacrifices of other people. We have a marvelous gift. When you see it develop in children, this ability to become aware that other people have minds just like your own and feelings that are just as important as your own, and this gift of empathy seems to me to be the building block of our moral system.


And if you have a sacred text that tells you how the world began or what the relationship is between this sky-god and you, it does curtail your curiosity, it cuts off a source of wonder. The loveliness of the world in its wondrousness is not apparent to me in Islam or Christianity and all the other major religions.

—Ian McEwen, interviewed in “Root of All Evil? part 2: The Virus of Faith”, Channel 4 Television Corporation (2006)

Look around you. Nature demands our attention, begs us to explore, to question. Religion can only provide facile, ultimately unsatisfying answers. Science, in constantly seeking real explanations, reveals the true majesty of our world in all its complexity.

People sometimes say, “there must be more than just this world, than just this life.” But how much more do you want?!?

—Richard Dawkins, “Root of All Evil? part 2: The Virus of Faith”, Channel 4 Television Corporation (2006)

We are privileged to be alive and we should make the most of our time on this world.

—Richard Dawkins, “Root of All Evil? part 2: The Virus of Faith”, Channel 4 Television Corporation (2006)

Getting Things Done

ZH:For a lot of people your books are so full of mind-blowing and life-changing ideas, that they get overwhelmed. They want to start, but don’t know how to. What would be the best first step they can take to make a positive change?
Covey:Listen to your conscience regarding something that you simply know you should do, then start small on it—make a promise and keep it. Then move forward and make a little larger promise and keep it. Eventually you’ll discover that your sense of honor will become greater than your moods, and that will give you a level of confidence and excitement that you can move to other areas where you feel you need to make improvements or give service.
ZH:To give us some insight into your life, what is your typical morning routine on a work day, that incorporates some of your principles into your everyday life?
Covey:I make an effort every morning to win what I call the “private victory.” I work out on a stationary bike while I am studying the scriptures for at least 30 minutes. Then I swim in a home pool vigorously for 15 minutes, then I do yoga in a shallow part of the pool for 15 minutes. Then I go into my library and pray with a listening spirit, listening primarily to my conscience while I visualize the rest of my entire day, including important professional activities and key relationships with my loved ones, working associates and clients. I see myself living by correct principles and accomplishing worthy purposes. One of my favorite quotes is, “The greatest battles of life are fought out every day in the silent chambers of one’s own soul.” (David O. McKay) Much of this listening and visualizing work is very challenging, so I win the private victory when I have made my mind up and commit to live by correct principles and to serve worthy purposes.

Zen Habits interview with Stephen R. Covey

GTD has helped me develop my own idea of what a project really is:

  1. It has more than one physical action.
  2. Its projected outcome is valuable, desirable, and well articulated (even if it needs to change or adapt as the project’s constraints evolve).
  3. Everyone involved in the project understands and agrees on the project’s value and desirable outcome (or, failing at that, they at least understand what their role in its envisionable success must be).
  4. It’s something to which I’ve made some kind of commitment--either a public commitment to others or even just a mental obligation I’ve made with myself. This is something in the world that I agree deserves my time and attention to the exclusion of other things.

—Merlin Mann, A Year of Getting Things Done: Part 1, The Good Stuff

My definition of “stuff” goes like this: Anything that has landed in your world, psychologically or physically, that doesn’t belong where it is, the way it is, for all eternity, but you haven’t decided what to do with it yet.

You’ve received a letter ... you’ve opened it, you’ve read it, and that letter is still around. ... Why didn’t you throw it away? ... This letter is now stuff, folks. That letter does not belong where it is, the way it is, for all eternity in your life, but you haven’t decided what to do with it yet. It now has a piece of you psychologically.

—from a David Allen video

One of the core ideas in GTD is that the failing of a priority-based planning system is: it requires an incredible amount of conceit, because it assumes that you’re never going to be interrupted. When in fact, for almost all of us our entire work day is nothing but interruption.


I see GTD in the great pantheon as a subset of lifehacks, and not the other way around. To me lifehacks are all about making a synaptic leap between the smart part of your brain and the dumb part of your brain. Forcing these two parts of your brain that would otherwise have nothing to do with each other, forcing them to have a relationship that’s satisfying to everyone.


[Your brain] is not an alarm clock, and it’s not a whiteboard. Find affordances for getting stuff into the physical world, into a system you trust, and then making it all about action instead of meta-work.


Let’s be honest: multitasking is a myth. The idea that you can actually do two things at once is a myth. You can change modes very quickly and it looks like you’re doing two things at once.


“How to become more Dude-like” is an excellent topic. ... The Dude had the right approach.

—Merlin Mann, “Know How” talk at IDEO

Write it down or write it off.

—Eric MacNight, title of blog post

Goodgers & Badgers

Millennia ago, the badgers wiped out their peace-loving cousins the goodgers, and now, only the dedicated efforts of the ABC (the Anti-Badger Crusade) have kept them from overwhelming humanity in a tide of striped death.

Join the ABC today! Keep your children safe from the badger scourge!

Contact your nearest ABC mission for details.


Here the original text and formatting is left intact and unedited:

Unfine oneday there was two jollifriends, Badger and
Goodger, and one asses an utter “Quit fishing! and hand me
that tart while you’re at it.”
“That’s a hell of a thing to call someone’s mother and
I’m sure she’s something’s mother or will be or could be.”
“Metaphysics!” says Badger “I’m talking about pastry -
haven’t you got any and anyway who’s she?”
“I’m glad you asked. She’s one of my splinter
“ooo! I didn’t know that about you Goodger what’s that
she’s got all over her?”
“Rasberry jam, I think, and don’t those seeds itch!”
“I imagine they do. Mine do too.”
“Actually, Badger, I think I’m peering my have-a-rod.”
“Well make up your mind. If that’s not jam, it stinks.
What is this? The ocean?”
“No, it’s a fairy tale.”
“The hell it is.”
“Well after a fashion anyway. But I think that is the
ocean you’re stepping in.”
“Oh. Maybe that’s what stinks. Well now I wish that
you’d go back to metaphysics, because I’m certainly
not going to have sex with you.”
“ I wasn’t asking. Have you had a look at your own
nose lately?”
“Look whose talking!”
“ Wellokay just a minute I will...”
....so Goodger went off to a rock concert. He had some doped
cotton candy and went around snapping the elastics on
people’s pantyhose until he got unrested. Badger was stuck
on the beach with this sticky splinter personality who
smiled perfunctorily when Badger asked her anything but had
no suggestions as to what they should do.
“Maybe we should be like in that poem and look for
“Don’t look at me!” said the jam-covered unlady and
that was all she said from that time until the 16th
Century, which came back for a visit late that afternoon,
complete with pirates.
“ I can’t say I dislike the costumes,” said the woman
“but they didn’t believe in schizophrenia back now so I’ll
have to be a devil WOWF!”
The she-devil chased Badger up and down the beach
until 1952, when some people brought towels and an umbrella
and started to have a picnic.
“Help! Help!” cried Badger “A woman that my friend
Goodger used to think that he sometimes was has turned into
a devil and...”
Well you can imagine how this went over on Loose Rocks
Beach in 1952.
“Are you human?” asked a little girl “Because if you
are you look pretty sick.”
“Don’t strange to talkers.” said her father. “And for
gawdsake don’t stare. He was probably born that way.”
“What are you implying?” said Badger, but at that
moment a big paw clapped down on his shoulder. Thinking it
was the she-devil, which in a way it was (for instance he
was in the way of where Mom was going to put the bowl of
fruit salad) -thinking, I say, that it was a succubus,
Badger leaped out of his hair and splashed into the water,
wading for France, where he hoped that it would be 1902 or
sometime quiet.
“Wait!” cried Goodger, who had got out of prism by
exchanging faces with a dull old card sharp. “Wait! Wait!”
Badger thought that Goodger had said “Wade”, and so he
proceeded to swim just to be perverse. An oyster ate him.
Goodger sighed and chewed on some cotton candy. The little
girl grew up to be mayor of Fleabite, Oregon and the
pirates converted to Sikhs. An End.


By Others, About Me

These first two were written by my good friend “Fearsclave” in his LiveJournal blog. He uses “EKH” for my initials, weakly encoded [== “DJG”.encode(‘rot1’)] to protect my identity.

I spent the evening visiting my old friend EKH, who is pretty much your average Enlightenment philosopher’s ideal of a good human being whose life is governed by reason. He has a lovely wife and two perfect kids. He makes a living doing really arcane things that I do not even begin to understand in Python. He is the most brilliant person I have ever met in terms of sheer brute abstract reasoning power. He plays Go at a near-professional level, and is fluent in Japanese. And he can build houses. You want to be him. Trust me. Or at least have him for a friend.

It occurs to me that this is one area where I have been very lucky.


I feel obligated to correct certain errors in the above:

But I do appreciate the sentiment. Right back at ya, man.

I get married tomorrow. Yikes. ...

Also tomorrow, it’s my de facto niece Erika’s (daughter of my de facto brother EKH) birthday. She’ll be at the wedding. I plan on getting everybody to sing Happy Birthday to her. And sticking candles on her piece of wedding cake.


The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion is a powerful book which contains a lot of truth. Humanists, naturalists, brights, freethinkers, “atheists”, and agnostics will find it a very interesting and worthy read. People “of faith” may find it a challenge though—a challenge to their faith. In fact, I challenge any person of faith to read The God Delusion with an open mind and to try to refute its arguments. If their faith is entirely unaffected, they must be deluding themselves.

There are so many good quotes in this book that I had to make a special section for it. Below, other people quoted in The God Delusion are identified by name and page number. Direct quotes of Richard Dawkins’ words only show the page number.

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

—Douglas Adams, dedication page

I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.

—Douglas Adams, p. 117

Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance that drives them on.

—Matt Ridley, p. 125

Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a different reason: it gives them something to do. ... one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.

—p. 125

Why is God considered an explanation for anything? It’s not - it’s a failure to explain, a shrug of the shoulders, an ‘I dunno’ dressed up in spirituality and ritual. If someone credits something to God, generally what it means is that they haven’t a clue, so they’re attributing it to an unreachable, unknowable sky-fairy. Ask for an explanation of where that bloke came from, and odds are you’ll get a vague, pseudo-philosophical reply about having always existed, or being outside nature. Which, of course, explains nothing.

—“Ben”, from an entry on his “Religion is Bullshit” blog, p. 134

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

—Blaise Pascal, p. 249

Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.

—Napoleon Bonaparte, p. 276

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.

—Seneca the Younger, p. 276

But what is so hard for us to understand is that ... these people actually believe what they say they believe.

—p. 305

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

—Voltaire, p. 306

Many people would sooner die than think. In fact they do.

—Bertrand Russel, p. 306

As long as we accept the principle that religious faith must be respected simply because it is religious faith, it is hard to withhold respect from the faith of Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers. The alternative, one so transparent that it should need no urging, is to abandon the principle of automatic respect for religious faith. This is one reason why I do everything in my power to warn people against faith itself, not just against so-called ‘extremist’ faith. The teachings of ‘moderate’ religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism.

—p. 306

More generally (and this applies to Christianity no less than to Islam), what is really pernicious is the practice of teaching children that faith itself is a virtue. Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument. Teaching children that unquestioned faith is a virtue primes them — given certain other ingredients that are not hard to come by — to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for future jihads or crusades.

—p. 307

If children were taught to question and think through their beliefs, instead of being taught the superior virtue of faith without question, it is a good bet that there would be no suicide bombers.

—p. 308

Faith can be very very dangerous, and deliberately to implant it into the vulnerable mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong.

—p. 308

Children, I’ll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas — no matter who these other people are. Parents, correspondingly, have no God-given licence to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith.

In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.

—Nicholas Humphrey, p. 326

I thank my own parents for taking the view that children should be taught not so much what to think as how to think. If, having been fairly and properly exposed to all the scientific evidence, they grow up and decide that the Bible is literally true or that the movements of the planets rule their lives, that is their privilege. The important point is that it is their privilege to decide what they shall think, and not their parents’ privilege to impose it by force majeure. And this, of course, is especially important when we reflect that children become the parents of the next generation, in a position to pass on whatever indoctrination may have moulded them.

—p. 327

What can be more soul shaking than peering through a 100-inch telescope at a distant galaxy, holding a 100-million-year-old fossil or a 500,000-year-old stone tool in one’s hand, standing before the immense chasm of space and time that is the Grand Canyon, or listening to a scientist who gazed upon the face of the universe’s creation and did not blink? That is deep and sacred science.

—Michael Shermer, p. 345

I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting. Many a man has borne himself proudly on the scaffold; surely the same pride should teach us to think truly about man’s place in the world. Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigour, and the great spaces have a splendour of their own.

—Bertrand Russell (1925 essay “What I Believe”), p. 354:

If your pet is dying in pain, you will be condemned for cruelty if you do not summon the vet to give him a general anaesthetic from which he will not come round. But if your doctor performs exactly the same merciful service for you when you are dying in pain, he runs the risk of being prosecuted for murder. When I am dying, I should like my life to be taken out under a general anaesthetic, exactly as if it were a diseased appendix. But I shall not be allowed that privilege, because I have the ill-luck to be born a member of Homo sapiens rather than, for example, Canis familiaris or Felis catus. At least, that will be the case unless I move to a more enlightened place like Switzerland, the Netherlands or Oregon. Why are such enlightened places so rare? Mostly because of the influence of religion.

—p. 357

As many atheists have said better than me, the knowledge that we have only one life should make it all the more precious. The atheist view is correspondingly life-affirming and life-enhancing, while at the same time never being tainted with self-delusion, wishful thinking, or the whingeing self-pity of those who feel that life owes them something.

—p. 361

That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.

—Emily Dickinson, p. 361

Now, my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose ... I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of, or can be dreamed of, in any philosophy.

—J. B. S. Haldane, p. 364

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas-covered planet going around a nuclear fireball ninety million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

—Douglas Adams, p. 364

‘Tell me,’ the great twentieth-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once asked a friend, ‘why do people always say it was natural for man to assume that the sun went round the Earth rather than that the Earth was rotating?’ His friend replied, ‘Well, obviously because it just looks as though the Sun is going round the Earth.’ Wittgenstein responded, ‘Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating?’ I sometimes quote this remark of Wittgenstein in lectures, expecting the audience to laugh. Instead, they seem stunned into silence.

—p. 367

Science flings open the narrow window through which we are accustomed to viewing the spectrum of possibilities. We are liberated by calculation and reason to visit regions of possibility that had once seemed out of bounds or inhabited by dragons.

—p. 374

I genuinely don’t know the answer, but I am thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.

—p. 374 (the conclusion to the main text)

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan

Below, other people quoted in The Demon-Haunted World are identified by name and page number. Direct quotes of Carl Sagan’s words only show the page number.

All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike—and yet it is the most precious thing we have.

—Albert Einstein, p. 2

Skepticism does not sell well.

—p. 5

Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it. But if they called everything divine which they do not understand, why, there would be no end of divine things.

—Hippocrates, p. 8

Leave nothing to chance. Overlook nothing. Combine contradictory observations. Allow yourself enough time.

—Hippocrates, p. 8

It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

—p. 12

Except for hydrogen, all the atoms that make each of us up—the iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones, the carbon in our brains—were manufactured in red giant stars thousands of light-years away in space and billions of years ago in time. We are, as I like to say, starstuff.

—p. 14

Religions are often the state-protected nurseries of pseudoscience.

—p. 15

Science is far from a perfect instrument of knowledge. It is just the best we have. In this respect, as in many others, it’s like democracy. Science by itself cannot advocate courses of human action, but it can certainly illuminate the possible consequences of alternative courses of action.

The scientific way of thinking is at once imaginative and disciplined. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which best fits the facts. It urges on us a delicate balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous skeptical scrutiny of everything—new ideas and established wisdom. This kind of thinking is also an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change.

One of the reasons for its success is that science has built-in, error-correcting machinery at its very heart. Some may consider this an overbroad characterization, but to me every time we exercise self-criticism, every time we test our ideas against the outside world, we are doing science. When we are self-indulgent and uncritical, when we confuse hopes and facts, we slide into pseudoscience and superstition.

Every time a scientific paper presents a bit of data, it’s accompanied by an error-bar—a quiet but insistent reminder that no knowledge is complete or perfect. It’s a calibration of how much we trust what we think we know. If the error bars are small, the accuracy of our empirical knowledge is high; if the error bars are large, then so is the uncertainty in our knowledge. Except in pure mathematics, nothing is known for certain (although much is certainly false).

Moreover, scientists are usually careful to characterize the veridical status of their attempts to understand the world—ranging from conjectures and hypotheses, which aer highly tentative, all the way up to laws of Nature which are repeatedly and systematically confirmed through many interrogations of how the world works. But even laws of Nature are not absolutely certain. There may be new circumstances never before examined—inside black holes, say, or within the electron, or close to the speed of light—where even our vaunted laws of Nature break down and, however valid they may be in ordinary circumstances, need correction.

Humans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it; they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science—by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans—teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes, an asymptotic approach to the Universe, but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us.

—p. 27-28

Despite usage to the contrary, there is no necessary implication in the word “spiritual” that we are talking of anything other than matter (including the matter of which the brain is made), or anything outside the realm of science. ... Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.

—p. 29

Science may be hard to understand. It may challenge cherished beliefs. When its products are placed at the disposal of politicians or industrialists, it may lead to weapons of mass destruction and grave threats to the environment. But one thing you have to say about it: It delivers the goods.

—p. 30

Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on the prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? There isn’t a religion on the planet that doesn’t long for a comparable ability—precise, and repeatedly demonstrated before committed skeptics—to foretell future events. No other human institution comes close.

—p. 30

Valid criticism does you a favor.

—p. 32

Science, Ann Druyan notes, is forever whispering in our ears, “Remember, you’re very new at this. You might be mistaken. You’ve been wrong before.” Despite all the talk of humility, show me something comparable in religion. Scripture is said to be divinely inspired—a phrase with many meanings. But what if it’s simply made up by fallible humans? Miracles are attested, but what if they’re instead some mix of charlatanry, unfamiliar states of consciousness, misapprehensions of natural phenomena, and mental illness? No contemporary religion and no New Age belief seems to me to take sufficient account of the grandeur, magnificence, subtlety and intricacy of the Universe revealed by science. The fact that so little of the findings of modern science is prefigured in Scripture to my mind casts further doubt on its divine inspiration.

But of course I might be wrong.

—p. 35

The difference between physics and metaphysics, [Robert W.] Wood concluded as he raised his glass high, is not that the practitioners of one are smarter than the practitioners of the other. The difference is that the metaphysicist has no laboratory.

—p. 37

An extraterrestrial being, newly arrived on Earth—scrutinizing what we mainly present to our children in television, radio, movies, newspapers, magazines, the comics, and many books—might easily conclude that we are intent on teaching them murder, rape, cruelty, superstition, credulity, and consumerism. We keep at it, and through constant repetition many of them finally get it. What kind of society could we create if, instead, we drummed into them science and a sense of hope?

—p. 39

There are wonders enough out there without our inventing any.

—p. 59

Those who have something to sell, those who wish to influence public opinion, those in power, a skeptic might suggest, have a vested interest in discouraging skepticism.

—p. 77

Special cautions are necessary when the stakes are high. We are not obliged to make up our minds before the evidence is in. It’s permitted not to be sure.

—p. 180

I’m frequently asked, “Do you believe there’s extraterrestrial intelligence?” I give the standard arguments—there are a lot of places out there, the molecules of life are everywhere, I use the word billions, and so on. Then I say it would be astonishing to me if there weren’t extraterrestrial intelligence, but of course there is as yet no compelling evidence for it.

Often, I’m asked next, “What do you really think?”

I say, “I just told you what I really think.”

“Yes, but what’s your gut feeling?”

But I try not to think with my gut. If I’m serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble. Really, it’s okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in.

—p. 180

Keeping an open mind is a virtue, but not so open that your brains fall out.

—James Oberg, p. 187

Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy.

—p. 204

Gullibility kills.

—p. 218

Those who invalidate reason ought seriously to consider whether they argue against reason with or without reason; if with reason, then they establish the principles that they are laboring to dethrone: but if they argue without reason (which, in order to be consistent with themselves they must do), they are out of reach of rational conviction, nor do they deserve a rational argument.

—Ethan Allen, p. 255

We are all flawed and creatures of our times.

—p. 259

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

—Charles Darwin, Introduction, The Descent of Man, 1871

Nature free at once and rid of her haughty lords is seen to do all things spontaneously of herself without the meddling of the gods.

—Lucretius, p. 310

In a world in transition, students and teachers both need to teach themselves one essential skill—learning how to learn.

—p. 321

Or we might say: “I don’t know the answer. Maybe no one knows. Maybe when you grow up, you’ll be the first person to find out.”

—p. 323

If you accept the literal truth of every word of the Bible, then the Earth must be flat. The same is true for the Qu’ran. Pronouncing the Earth round then means you’re an atheist.

—p. 325

We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who say that only the educated are free.

—Epictetus, Roman philosopher and former slave, Discourses

Free thought is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for democracy.

—p. 417

It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.

—U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, 1950

The cost of education is trivial compared to the cost of ignorance.

—Thomas Jefferson, p. 427

In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, [the scientific method] may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.

—p. 434

The Procrastinator’s Handbook by Rita Emmett

Below, other people quoted in The Procrastinator’s Handbook are identified by name and page number. Direct quotes of Rita Emmett’s words only show the page number.

Emmett’s Law: The dread of doing a task uses up more time and energy than doing the task itself.

—p. 9

Life is difficult.

—Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, p. 13

We do not stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

—Benjamin Franklin, p. 28

You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.

—Charles Buxton, p. 28

Unless each day can be looked back upon by an individual as one in which he has had some fun, some joy, some real satisfaction, that day is a loss.

—Dwight D. Eisenhower, p. 29

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.

—Sir J. Lubbock, p. 29

In creating, the hardest part is
To begin.

—Anonymous, p. 29

Tomorrow’s fate, though thou be wise,
Thou canst not tell nor yet surmise;
Pass, therefore, not today in vain,
For it will never come again.

—Omar Khayyam, p. 29

What ever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.

—Napoleon Hill, p. 36

Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.

—William James, p. 45

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right!

—Henry Ford, p. 45

Time is not measured by the passing of years, but by what one does, what one feels, and what one achieves.

—Jawaharlal Nehru, p. 45

Remember that lost time does not return.

—Thomas a Kempis, p. 46

Time wasted is existence; time used is life.

—Edward Young, p. 46

Success breeds success.
Failure breeds failure.

—p. 57

Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he or she is supposed to be doing at the moment.

—Robert Benchley, p. 62

Beware the barrenness of a too busy life.

—Socrates, p. 63

It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.

—Roy Disney, p. 63

Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today, because if you enjoy it today you can do it again tomorrow.

—James A. Michener, p. 63

Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin.

—Victor Kiam, p. 63

Lost, yesterday,
somewhere between sunrise and sunset,
two golden hours,
each set with sixty diamond minutes.
No reward is offered
for they are gone forever.

—Horace Mann, p. 63

Emmett’s Second Law: Obsession with perfection is the downfall of procrastinators.

—p. 69

The person who never makes a mistake probably isn’t doing anything.

—p. 77

A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.

—Cardinal John Henry Newman, p. 95

When you aim for perfection you discover it’s a moving target.

—George Fisher, p. 95

There is no perfect time to write. There’s only now.

—Barbara Kingsolver, p. 95

We should not let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes.

—John F. Kennedy, p. 95

What you are afraid to do is a clear indication of the next thing you need to do.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, p. 96

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

—Helen Keller, p. 96

Though right or wrong you’re bound to find
Relief in making up your mind

—Thornton Burgess, p. 96

In any moment of decision,
the very best thing you can do, is what is right;
the next best thing you can do, is what is wrong;
the worst thing you can do is NOTHING.

—Theodore Roosevelt, p. 96

Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had it to do over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else.

If I had it to do again, I would travel lighter next time.

—Nadine Stair, p. 98

Is it possible that being busy is the new status symbol of our age?

—p. 100

If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.

—Lin Yutang, p. 108

It’s easy to say “no” when there’s a deeper “yes!” burning inside.

—Stephen R. Covey, p. 109

Time is the stuff of which life is made.

—Benjamin Franklin, p. 109

Sometimes you must slow down to go faster.

—Ann McGee Cooper, p. 109

A journey of 10,000 miles begins with but a single step.

—Chinese proverb, p. 114

If certain things in your life are always hard to find, it’s probably because they don’t have their own special place.

—p. 119

At any given time we are actually the best we can be at that time.

—Wayne Dyer, p. 132

The person who wastes today lamenting yesterday will waste tomorrow lamenting today.

—Philip M. Raskin, p. 132

Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished—if you’re alive, it isn’t.

—Richard Bach, p. 132

The really unhappy people are the ones who leave undone what they can do, and start doing what they don’t understand; no wonder they come to grief.

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, p. 132

I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate.

—George Burns, p. 132

Success is never final, failure is never fatal; it is courage that counts.

—Winston Churchill, p. 133

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.

—Will Rogers, p. 133

If you fail to plan,
You plan to fail.

—p. 144

By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be.

—Mark Victor Hansen, p. 146

The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.

—Ben Stein, p. 146

You must have long-range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-range failures.

—Charles C. Noble, p. 147

Handle each piece of paper only once.

—Alan Lakein, p. 150

Life, is not a having and a getting, but a being and a becoming.

—Myrna Loy, p. 174

Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.

—John Petit-Senn, p. 175

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

—Eleanor Roosevelt, p. 175

Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes.

—Hal Roach, p. 192

Regret for the things we DID can be tempered by time;
it is regret for the things we did NOT do that is inconsolable.

—Sydney J. Harris, p. 193

A man in debt is so far a slave.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, p. 193

Never spend your money before you have it.

—Thomas Jefferson, p. 193

Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, p. 193

For of all sad words
of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these,
“It might have been.”

—John Greenleaf Whittier, p. 195

Live each day as if it were your last ... and one day you’ll be right!

—Hal Roach, p. 198

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

—from Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”; p. 211

Goals are dreams with a deadline.

—Dottie Walters