Aphorisms Galore!


Peter Wastholm  ·  www.wastholm.com  ·  user since 2004

Most Recent Submissions by peter

tiny.ag/pipgvzvf  ·   Fair (59 ratings)  ·  submitted 2011 by peter

Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.

Kenneth Boulding, in Wealth and Poverty

tiny.ag/wfkpsrpx  ·   Fair (57 ratings)  ·  submitted 2011 by peter

Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.

Niels Bohr, in Science and Religion

tiny.ag/mgrteolp  ·   Fair (258 ratings)  ·  submitted 2011 by peter

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Robert J. Hanlon, in Altruism and Cynicism and Vice and Virtue

tiny.ag/yo9sehi5  ·   Fair (69 ratings)  ·  submitted 2011 by peter

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the
man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

Bruce Lee, in Work and Recreation and Wisdom and Ignorance

tiny.ag/k0emebpg  ·   Fair (75 ratings)  ·  submitted 2011 by peter

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Neil Postman, in Wisdom and Ignorance and Law and Politics

tiny.ag/q9h2hw7e  ·   Fair (77 ratings)  ·  submitted 2011 by peter

Some people say I'm afraid of conflicts. I disagree but don't dare contradict them.

Peter Wastholm, in Wisdom and Ignorance

tiny.ag/0csjlftm  ·   Fair (70 ratings)  ·  submitted 2011 by peter

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Success and Failure

tiny.ag/g3vhom0x  ·   Fair (79 ratings)  ·  submitted 2010 by peter

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

Isaac Asimov, in Science and Religion and Success and Failure

Most Recent Comments by peter

Tiny links to aphorisms  ·  posted Jun '20 by Peter Wastholm

Every aphorism now has a short link that looks something like this:


That last bit is just a short random sequence of numbers and letters that identifies a single aphorism. Not very memorable, perhaps, but at least short and share-friendly. Feel free to use them in social media, print them on T-shirts, tattoo them on your forearm, or whatever else you want.

Aphorisms Galore! Is 20 Years Old Today!  ·  posted 2017 by Peter Wastholm

Aphorisms Galore! celebrates its first twenty years by launching a few improvements:

  • A new and more mobile-friendly layout with fewer images so pages load faster.
  • All web traffic is now encrypted (i.e., HTTPS instead of plain HTTP). This improves your privacy and security on the Internet. Thanks to Letsencrypt for making this possible by providing free automatically renewed SSL/TLS certificates!
  • All network ads have been removed. This too improves your privacy and security since these ads try to track your online behavior and since these ad networks are sometimes used as a vector for malware. Over the years, I have run banner ads from various networks -- Doubleclick, Fastclick, Valueclick, Google, and others. While they have provided me with many an interesting learning experience, I feel these ads have now outlived their usefulness, especially since what revenue they have yielded has been small and shrinking. In the future, I may run sponsor ads -- i.e., ads from companies paying me directly to advertise specifically on my site. Or I may not. We'll see how that goes.
  • Google Analytics code has been removed, again to improve your online privacy. While I'm sure the data they provide is useful to many site owners, I find myself not using it a lot and therefore can't justify subjecting my visitors to the tracking that Google does across all sites that use its analytics service. I'll probably add some sort of local analytics software instead, like Piwik.

As an experiment, I will also add a cryptocurrency tip jar where users and visitors can throw me a virtual coin if they want to show appreciation for the site and encourage its continued development.

Finally, if you haven't had enough of my ramblings, you...

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Ideologies Considered Harmful  ·  posted 2011 by Peter Wastholm

Beware the man of one book. -- St. Thomas Aquinas

Ideologies can be a great thing. They can provide us with consistent belief systems. They can help us make decisions in line with our moral convictions. In a way, they can simplify our lives.

Ideologies can be a terrible thing. They can cause us to get stuck in dogmatic thinking. They can make us blind to other perspectives than our own. They can encourage us to oppress those we disagree with, or even to go to war.

In 1931, an Austrian mathematician named Kurt Gödel proved that, in layman's terms (I am not a mathematician myself), any nontrivial logical system cannot be both consistent and complete -- in other words, it must either have a contradiction built into it somewhere, or there must exist cases that the system doesn't cover. Sure, he was talking about mathematics, but still: it's an interesting point to consider when encountering systems (such as ideologies) that claim to be both consistent (free of contradictions) and complete (applicable everywhere). Actually, I contend that all ideologies contain fundamental assumptions about the world that are dubious at best, or downright false at worst.

If you're reading this, chances are you are living in a country that largely subscribes to the ideology called capitalism (though some people think this term sounds scary somehow and choose to call their systems "market economies" or even "free markets" instead). As we know, capitalism posits that the state should stay away from commerce, and that it should be consumers' preferences that dictate what goods and services should get produced, and how much they should cost, the idea being that this should result in the most efficient use of resources. That's great, except it seems to assume that w...

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Fukushima Conspiracy Theories: Neat, Plausible, and Wrong  ·  posted 2011 by Peter Wastholm

There's always an easy solution to every human problem -- neat, plausible, and wrong. -- Henry Louis Mencken

I have relatives in Fukushima, Japan; their house is only 4 km (2.5 miles) from the now-infamous Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. I have therefore spent considerable time lately following the news via television, newspapers, and web sites, both Japanese and Western. It has occurred to me that people relying entirely on Western media must have gotten a very distorted image of this disaster, and a very skewed sense of its proportions.

There has been a massive focus on the nuclear accident, which, in the grand scheme of things, has had and will have much, much less dire consequences than the unbelievable devastation caused by the earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. There has also been a lot of talk of "coverups" on the part of the power plant's owners (Tepco) and even on the part of the Japanese government; sometimes, these speculations have bordered on outright conspiracy theories. (And I'm only talking about big mainstream media here; many outlets on the fringes of the media landscape have of course provided a diet of "journalism" firmly rooted in conspiracy-land.)

Conspiracy theories are appealing because they seem to provide simple explanations for complex problems: if I can't get ahead in my career, it's because I am being actively held back by this or that group of people; if the police haven't solved this or that murder, it's because they are secretly in cahoots with the perpetrator; if Tepco's reports on the power plant are incomplete and sometimes contradictory, it's because the company is engaged in a coverup. Complicating points -- like the immense difficulties involved in collecting data from a highly sophisticated piece of technology in which sensors have been drowned in seawater, blown to smithereens, and/or cut off from e...

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The Illusion of Precision  ·  posted 2011 by Peter Wastholm

There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. -- Benjamin Disraeli

Many years ago, while I was in the employ of a large international consulting company, I once helped a colleague out with a document he was working on. This took maybe half an hour, but ended up causing at least four different people to spend a total of at least a couple of days' worth of work trying to satisfy the corporate hunger for precise numbers, thereby illustrating the irrationality of trying to measure things too exactly.

At this and, I'm sure, most other consulting companies, keeping track of time spent on various activities was considered very important, and weekly time cards were expected. So, at the end of our brief work session, I asked my colleague how I should report the time. He gave me an activity number and, come Friday, I submitted my time card (which wasn't actually a card but a file) and forgot about the whole thing. Well, until a few days later when someone from elsewhere in the company called me and asked me why I had reported time on a one-off activity that had been concluded months earlier.

To make a long story short, this resulted in a whole lot of back-and-forth between various organizational units in different parts of the company's sprawling bureaucracy. (At this point, I'd like to point out that this was largely a well-functioning company -- but, as far as I know, every organization in history above a certain size has had a sprawling bureaucracy. I'm sure the builders of the Great Pyramid had some hellish paperwork, uh, papyruswork, to contend with.)

Now, since I bring it up here, clearly I feel there is something to learn from this incident, and I have already hinted at it. In everyday life, most people understand that close enough is, well, close enough. We let the soup simmer "a while," we add "a pinch" of salt to it, we serve it with "a few" bread rolls. In everyday...

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You Are Better at Getting Things Done than You Think  ·  posted 2011 by Peter Wastholm

If you do what you've always done, you'll be what you've always been. -- Unknown

Some people seem to get so much work done. Alexandre Dumas wrote 277 novels, including classics like ''The Three Musketeers'' and ''The Count of Monte Cristo''. Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize twice, the physics prize in 1903 and the chemistry prize in 1911. Thomas Alva Edison held 1,093 patents. (But he didn't invent the light bulb. Not exactly, anyway. He did, however, make important improvements that made electrical lighting practical for home use.)

It's easy to feel like a hopeless couch potato compared to people like this. Or compared to prosperous businesspeople, popular artists, or victorious athletes. Even compared to that annoyingly successful neighbor or acquaintance or colleague. But I think there are two things that are easy to forget but important to keep in mind.

The first thing is that we, as external observers, can only see the things these supposedly hypereffective people did do, not the things they didn't do. Like us, they probably had an even longer laundry list of things they wanted to do, but never got around to. Or at least didn't consider important enough, compared with other to-do items, that they took the time to do them. From this we can learn that we shouldn't worry too much if our to-do lists keep getting longer instead of shorter. This isn't really a problem as long as we also learn that we have to prioritize. If we want to travel the world, maybe we can't also have a meteoric career. If we want to learn something really really well, maybe we have to settle for simply getting by with other things. If...

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Why Is It Okay to Be Ugly, But Not Stupid?  ·  posted 2010 by Peter Wastholm

Wisdom and beauty form a very rare combination. -- Petronius Arbiter

In Western society, we generally don't find it acceptable to criticize people for being ugly. Typically, the stated reason for this is that a person can't help the way he or she looks. At the same time, however, most people don't even flinch when someone complains about another person being stupid. This is interesting, since arguably both physical attractiveness and intellectual capacity (and their respective opposites) are largely innate qualities, dealt out at birth in some grand cosmic lottery. Fundamentally, a person can't help being stupid any more than he or she can help being ugly. Actually, even less.

Beauty may be highly subjective -- or "in the eye of the beholder," as the saying goes -- but, for a given culture and a given time period, certain physical traits will be generally accepted as attractive, and others as less so. There are even some physical qualities that are considered beautiful regardless of culture, like youthfulness and symmetry. Therefore, a person has a reasonable chance to assess his or her level of physical attractiveness, and thereby establish a "baseline" from which to improve (by, for example, gaining or losing weight, applying more or less makeup, or even subjecting to medical procedures). With intelligence, establishing such a baseline is much more difficult.

The reason for this is that intelligence is like a race in which all participants are running backwards: everyone can see how much further along they are than the ones behind them, but no one has a clear view of how many are ahead of them, or of how far they are from the finish line. It's entirely possible for every single runner in the race to believe that he or she is in the lead, or at least up there with the very best, and that he or she is considerably closer to the end than to the beginning. In fact, it...

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