Some quotes that I find interesting/amusing/revealing. Some are relevant to science, a few to climate science particularly, others to life generally.
As a disclaimer of sorts, I'll start with this quote from Nassim Taleb in The Black Swan: "It is... quite naive empiricism to provide, in support of some argument, series of eloquent confirmatory quotes by dead authorities. By searching, you can always find someone who made a well-sounding statement that confirms your point of view - and on every topic, it is possible to find another dead thinker who said the exact opposite."
"An academic career in which a person is forced to produce scientific writings in great amounts creates a danger of intellectual superficiality."
"A new idea comes suddenly and in a rather intuitive way. But intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier intellectual experience."
"I resemble a farsighted man who is charmed by the vast horizon and whom the foreground bothers only when an opaque object prevents him from taking the long view."
"The cult of individual personalities is always, in my view, unjustified... It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them."
"Nature hides her secret because of her essential loftiness, but not by means of ruse." More succintly: "Subtle is the Lord, but malicious he is not."
"The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think."
"We must remember that this is a very small star, and probably some of the larger and more important stars may be virtuous and happy."
"Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving."
"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world."
"The monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind."
"I simply enjoy giving more than receiving in every respect, do not take myself seriously, am not ashamed of my weaknesses and vices, and naturally take things as they come with equanimity and humor."
"I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious."
"Everybody is a genius. But when you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it's stupid." (It's disputed whether Einstein said this or not. I like it regardless.)
"Knowledge is obtained rather by the use of the ear than of the tongue."
"I would rather have it said, 'He lived usefully,' than, 'He died rich.'"
"As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by an invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously."
"We are men, all subject to errors. Our opinions are not in our own power, they are formed and governed much by circumstances, that are often as inexplicable as they are irresistible."
"Declarations of a fixed opinion, and of determined resolution never to change it, neither enlighten nor convince us."
“Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
“Although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself.”
“I dare not trust this case on presumptions that this court knows all things. I argued the case on the presumption that the court did not know any thing.” (while a practicing lawyer in Illinois)
“I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”
“[A]n idea…acquires scientific status only when it is presented in falsifiable form; that is to say, only when it has become possible to decide empirically between it and some rival theory.”
“How can we best criticize our theories (our hypotheses, our guesses), rather than defend them against doubts?”
“After having produced some criticism of a rival theory, we should always make a serious attempt to apply this or a similar criticism to our own theory.”
“Strict or pure statements, whether universal or existential, are not limited as to space and time. They do not refer to an individual, restricted, spatiotemporal region. This is the reason why strictly existential statements are not falsifiable. We cannot search the whole world in order to establish that something does not exist, has never existed, and will never exist. It is for precisely the same reason that universal statements are not verifiable. Again, we cannot search the whole world in order to make sure that nothing exists which the law forbids.”
“In this formulation we see that natural laws might be compared to ‘proscriptions’ or ‘prohibitions.’ They do not assert that something exists or is the case; they deny it. They insist on the non-existence of certain things or states of affairs, proscribing or prohibiting, as it were, these things or states of affairs: they rule them out. And it is precisely because they do this that they are falsifiable.”
“Theories are nets to catch what we call ‘the world’: to rationalize, to explain, and to master it. We endeavor to make the mesh ever finer and finer.”
“A subjective experience, or a feeling of conviction, can never justify a scientific statement, and within science it can play no part except that of an object of an empirical (a psychological) inquiry.”
“Now it is far from obvious, from a logical point of view, that we are justified in inferring universal statements from singular ones, no matter how numerous; for any conclusion drawn in this way may always turn out to be false: no matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed, that does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white.”
“Whenever we propose a solution to a problem, we ought to try as hard as we can to overthrow our solution, rather than defend it.”
“That quality of greatness that, once seen, it appears simple and almost obvious.” (not by Popper but by a newspaper review of his The Logic of Scientific Discovery
“You cannot do anything with knowledge unless you know where it stops, and the costs of using it.”
“To borrow from Warren Buffett, don’t ask the barber if you need a haircut – and don’t ask an academic if what he does is relevant.”
“And these cumulative errors depend largely on big surprises, the big opportunities. Not only do economic, financial, and political predictors miss them, but they are quite ashamed to say anything outlandish to their clients – and yet events, it turns out, are almost always outlandish. Furthermore, …economic forecasters tend to fall closer to one another than to the resulting outcome. Nobody wants to be off the wall.”
“This, perhaps, is true self-confidence: the ability to look at the world without the need to find signs that stroke one’s ego.”
“Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.” – George Washington
“I hold the man worthless who is not a dreamer, who does not see visions; but I also hold him worthless unless in practical fashion he endeavors to shape his actions so that his dreams and visions can be partially realized.” – Teddy Roosevelt
“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head; that’s assault, not leadership.” – Dwight Eisenhower
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please… but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” – Karl Marx
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman
“In developing general circulation theory and eddy flux closures, we must move beyond speculation followed by qualitative comparison with the atmosphere in all its complexity, toward formulating hypotheses that can be quantitatively tested against idealized numerical models designed for the purpose.” – Held and Hoskins 1985, “Large-scale eddies and the general circulation of the troposphere”
“No man steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” – Heraclitus
“I’ve found that any day’s routine interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress and may actually help it. It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters.” – Stephen King
“A nice adaptation of conditions will make almost any hypothesis agree with the phenomena. This will please the imagination but does not advance our knowledge.” – Joseph Black
“He was less interested in wisdom than in seeming convincingly wise.” – Boris Kachka (on Jonah Lehrer, a popular science writer exposed for plagiarism and making up data)
"Chance favors the prepared mind." - Louis Pasteur
"Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig." - Malcolm Gladwell