Words of Wisdom

Here is a list of sayings that I've compiled over the years which I believe to contain, in varying amounts, that elusive quantity called "truth".

It's not an idea until you write it down.

Ivan Sutherland (1938 - )

The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low.

Wallace Stanley Sayre (1905 - 1972)

Philosophy is written in this grand book - I mean the Universe - which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written.  It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it.

Galileo Galilei (1623)

When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything.

G. K. Chesterton

In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love -- they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Orson Welles (not Graham Greene)
"The Third Man" 

If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and the fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

Louis Brandeis (U. S. Supreme Court Justice) 

I have been the whole day without eating, and the whole night without sleeping -- occupied with meditation. It was of no use. Learning is better.

from "Analects" 

I will show you what the highest in the land stand in need of, what the man who possesses everything lacks: someone, assuredly who will tell him the truth, who will deliver him from the constant cant and falsehood that so bewilder him with lies that the very habit of listening to flatteries instead of facts has brought him to the point of not knowing what truth really is. Do you not see how such persons are driven to destruction by the absence of frankness and the substitution of cringing obsequiousness for loyalty? No one is sincere in expressing approval or disapproval, but one person vies with another in flattery, and, while all the man's friends have only one object, a common aim to see who can deceive him most charmingly, he himself remains ignorant of his own powers, and, believing himself to be as great as he hears he is, he brings on wars that are useless and will imperil the world, breaks up a useful and necessary peace, and, led on by a madness that no one checks, sheds the blood of numerous persons, destined at last to spill his own. While without investigation such men claim the undetermined as assured and think that it is as disgraceful to be diverted from their purpose as to be defeated and believe that what has already reached its highest development and is even then tottering, will last for ever, they cause vast kingdoms to come crashing down upon themselves and their followers. And, living in that gorgeous show of unreal and swiftly passing blessings, they failed to grasp that from the moment when it was impossible for them to hear a word of truth, they ought to have expected nothing but misfortune.

Seneca from "De Beneficiis" 

You can have either my sympathy or my respect, but not both.


Find a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.


We trained hard - but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we were reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while actually producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.

Petronius Arbiter (210BC) 

If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do. Whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard; you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.

Bertrand Russell
from "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish" 

A wise man will enjoy the goods of which there is an abundant supply, and of intellectual rubbish he will find an abundant diet, in our own age as in every other.

Bertrand Russell
from "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish" 

Is not a Patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed until I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it.

Samuel Johnson
in reply to Lord Chesterfield 

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..."

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) 

Work on the right problem.
Explore the design space of solutions.
Look at the data.
Use the back of the envelope.
Design with components.
Build prototypes.
Make tradeoffs when you have to.
Keep it simple.

Jon Louis Bentley 

Lund's first response was to repeat his objections. But then Mason said something that made him think again. Mason asked him to THINK LIKE A MANAGER INSTEAD OF AN ENGINEER (the exact words seemed to have been "take off your engineering hat and put on your management hat.") Lund did and changed his mind. The next morning the shuttle exploded, killing all aboard. An O-ring had failed.

Michael Davis
from "Thinking Like an Engineer: the Place of a Code of Ethics in the Practice of a Profession" Philosophy and Public Affairs Spring 1991, Vol. 20 #2 

Facts are simple and facts are straight,
Facts are lazy and facts are late,
Facts all come with points of view,
Facts don't do what I want them to.

David Byrne 

I wish TV had a knob so you could turn up the intelligence. The one marked Brightness doesn't work.


Though learning may be conferred by solitude, its application must be attained by general converse...The acquisition of knowledge is often much facilitated by the advantages of society: he that never compares his notions with those of others, readily acquiesces in his first thoughts, and very seldom discovers the objections which may be raised against his opinions; he, therefore, often thinks himself in possession of truth, when he is only fondling error.

Samuel Johnson
from "On Learning and Society", 1754 

A man should be able to say he has done his best to form a conception of life after death, or to create some image of it -- even if he must confess his failure. Not to have done so is a vital loss.

Carl Gustav Jung 

The enjoyment of one's tools is an essential ingredient of successful work.

Donald E. Knuth 

But we're talking about a republic. Surely we can turn this into an emotional debate with charges of elitism and the stifling of creativity on one side, and of throwing people out of work and wasting the earth's resources on the other.

Miss Manners (Judith Martin) 

Reason sets the boundaries far too narrowly for us, and would have us accept only the known -- and that, too, with limitations -- and live in a known framework, just as if we were sure how far life actually extends. As a matter of fact, day after day we live far beyond the bounds of our own consciousness; without our knowledge, the life of the unconscious is also going on within us. The more the critical reason dominates, the more impoverished life becomes; but the more of the unconscious and the more of the myth we are capable of making conscious, the more of life we integrate. Overvalued reason has this in common with political absolutism: under its dominion the individual is pauperized.

Carl Gustav Jung 

Try and be nice to people.
Avoid eating fat.
Read a good book every now and then.
Get some walking in.
Try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.

Monty Python
from "The Meaning of Life" 

Last updated by Bob Lewis on 27 Oct 1995.