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Why do people read? The answer, as regards the great majority, is: “They don’t.”

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
“Flight from Reality,” New York American (2 Mar 1932)
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Added on 12-Jan-23 | Last updated 12-Jan-23
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The mind is formed by the knowledge and the direction of ideas it receives and the guidance it is given. Great things alone can make a great mind, and petty things will make a petty mind unless a man rejects them as completely alien.

[Weil der menschliche Geist durch die ihm mitgetheilten Kenntnisse und Ideenrichtungen erzogen wild. Nor das Grosse kann ihn grostartig, das Kleine nur kleinlich machen, wenn er et nicht wie elwas ganz Fremdes ganz von sich stösst.]

Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) Prussian soldier, historian, military theorist
On War [Vom Kriege], Book 2, ch. 2 “On the Theory of War [Ueber die Theorie des Krieges],” § 40 (2.2.40) (1832) [tr. Howard & Paret (1984)]
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(Source (German)). Alternate translations:

The human mind is trained by the knowledge imparted to it, and the direction given to its ideas. Only what is great can make it great; the little can only make it little, if the mind itself does not reject it as something repugnant.
[tr. Graham (1874)]

The human mind is formed by the kinds of knowledge imparted to it and the direction given to its ideas. Only what is great can make it great; the little can only make it little, if the mind itself does not reject it as something repugnant to it.
[tr. Jolles (1943)]

 
Added on 8-Nov-22 | Last updated 24-Jan-23
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It is a melancholy truth that a suppression of the press could not more compleatly deprive the nation of its benefits, than is done by its abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. […] I will add that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Norvell (11 Jun 1807)
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Added on 22-Aug-22 | Last updated 22-Aug-22
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What happens when conspiracy theories become the coin of politics, and mainstream media and educational institutions are discredited, is that citizens no longer have a common reality that can serve as background for democratic deliberation. In such a situation, citizens have no choice but to look for markers to follow other than truth or reliability. What happens in such cases, as we see across the world, is that citizens look to politics for tribal identifications, for addressing personal grievances, and for entertainment. When news becomes sports, the strongman achieves a certain measure of popularity. Fascist politics transforms the news from a conduit of information and reasoned debate into a spectacle with the strongman as the star.

Jason Stanley (b. 1969) American philosopher, epistemologist, academic
How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, ch. 4 (2018)
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Added on 7-Jul-22 | Last updated 8-Jul-22
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If I had omitted setting down something of that which has appeared to me as clear, so that the knowledge would perish when I perish, as is inevitable, I should have considered that conduct as extremely cowardly with regard to you and everyone who is perplexed. It would have been, as it were, robbing one who deserves the truth of the truth, or grudging an heir his inheritance. And both those traits are blameworthy.

Maimonides
Maimonides (1135-1204) Spanish Jewish philosopher, scholar, astronomer, physician [Moses ben Maimon, Rambam, רמב״ם]
Guide for the Perplexed, Part 3, Introduction (c. 1190) [tr. Pines (1963)]
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Alternate translation:

But if, on the other hand, I were to abstain from writing on this subject, according to my knowledge of it, when I die, as I shall inevitably do, that knowledge would die with me, and I would thus inflict great injury on you and all those who are perplexed. I would then be guilty of withholding the truth from those to whom it ought to be communicated, and of jealously depriving the heir of his inheritance. I should in either case be guilty of gross misconduct.
[tr. Friedlander (1885)]

 
Added on 28-Jun-22 | Last updated 14-Jul-22
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Such is the privilege of genius; it perceives, it seizes relations where vulgar eyes see only isolated facts.

[Tel est le privilége du génie: il aperçoit, il saisit des rapports, là où des yeux vulgaires lie voient que des faits isolés.]

François Arago
François Arago (1786-1853) French Catalan mathematician, physicist, astronomer, politician
Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men, “Joseph Fourier” (1859) [tr. Smyth, Powell, Grant]
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Added on 20-Sep-21 | Last updated 20-Sep-21
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Knowledge breeds doubt, not certainty, and the more we know the more uncertain we become.

Taylor - Knowledge breeds doubt, not certainty - wist.info quote

A. J. P. Taylor (1906-1990) British historian, journalist, broadcaster [Alan John Percivale Taylor]
“What Else Indeed?” New York Review of Books (5 Aug 1965)
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Added on 20-Sep-21 | Last updated 20-Sep-21
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There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies.

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) American journalist and author
“What Modern Liberty Means,” Liberty and the News (1920)
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Added on 16-Aug-21 | Last updated 16-Aug-21
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The whole truth would be an infinite concatenation of mostly irrelevant facts, with an occasional dose of, in textspeak, “TMI,” too much information — when, for example, you ruin the case you were making against factory farming by going into such detail about how painful de-beaking is for chickens that your listener shuts you out and struggles to think about something else. So we do not tell the whole truth; we tell carefully crafted stories, and we do this even when our moral purpose is to tell the truth.

Justin E. H. Smith (b. 1972) American-Canadian professor of history and philosophy of science
Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason, ch. 8 (2019)
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Added on 25-Jun-21 | Last updated 25-Jun-21
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When I hear scientists say, “The data speak for themselves,” I cringe. Data never speak.

Andrew J. Hoffman (b. 1961) American environmental scientist, sustainable enterprise scholar
“Taking On Climate Skepticism as a Field of Study,” Interview by Felicity Barringer, New York Times (9 Apr 2011)
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Added on 13-Apr-21 | Last updated 19-Apr-21
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There is no case where ignorance should be preferred to knowledge — especially if the knowledge is terrible.

Edward Teller (1908-2003) Hungarian-American theoretical physicist
Interview (1994)

Recalling the debate over the development of the hydrogen bomb. Quoted in Roger Shattuck, Forbidden Knowledge (1996).
 
Added on 30-Mar-21 | Last updated 30-Mar-21
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But everyone assumes causation when they should be thinking coincidence, and correlation when they should be asking whether Twitter is really a reliable source of information.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
False Value (2020)
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Added on 19-Mar-21 | Last updated 19-Mar-21
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The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed?

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Interview with Roger Errera (Oct 1973), The New York Review of Books (26 Oct 1978)
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Added on 14-Jan-21 | Last updated 14-Jan-21
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Decisions are always made with insufficient information. If you really knew what was going on, the decision would make itself.

Jack McDevitt (b. 1935) American author
Odyssey, ch. 39 (2006)
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Added on 21-Jul-20 | Last updated 21-Jul-20
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“We canna just rush in, ye ken.”

A big bearded Feegle raised his hand. “Point ‘o order, Big Man. Ye can just rush in. We always just rush in.”

“Aye, Big Yan, point well made. But ye gotta know where ye’re just gonna rush in. Ye cannae just rush in anywhere. It looks bad, havin’ to rush oout again straight awa’.”

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
The Wee Free Men, ch. 5 (2003)
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Added on 7-Feb-20 | Last updated 7-Feb-20
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Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) British writer [Herbert George Wells]
The Outline of History, Vol. 2, ch. 41, sec. 4 (1921)
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Also attributed to Wells: "Civilization is in a race between education and catastrophe. Let us learn the truth and spread it as far and wide as our circumstances allow. For the truth is the greatest weapon we have."
 
Added on 6-Jan-20 | Last updated 6-Jan-20
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Although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he wants is to feel that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Notes on Nationalism” (1945)
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Added on 3-Aug-18 | Last updated 3-Aug-18
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A lot of companies — I know it sounds crazy — but a lot of companies … hire people to tell them what to do. We hire people to tell us what to do. We figure we’re paying them all this money; their job is to figure out what to do and tell us.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011) American computer inventor, entrepreneur
“Steve Jobs: ‘Computer Science Is A Liberal Art’,” interview with Terry Gross, Fresh Air, NPR (1996)
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There are a number of variants on this quotation. A common one: "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."
 
Added on 23-Aug-17 | Last updated 23-Aug-17
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When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep.

Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929) American writer
The Left Hand of Darkness, ch. 3 (1969)
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Added on 12-Apr-17 | Last updated 12-Apr-17
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No fact in the world is instant, infinitesimal and ultimate, a single mark. There are, I hold, no atomic facts. In the language of science, every fact is a field — a crisscross of implications, those that lead to it and those that lead from it. We condense the laws around concepts. Science takes its coherence, its intellectual and imaginative strength together, from the concepts at which its laws cross, like knots in a mesh.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
Science and Human Values, Part 3: “The Sense of Human Dignity”, §1 (1956)
 
Added on 19-Dec-16 | Last updated 19-Dec-16
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SIR BEDEVERE: How do know so much about swallows?
KING ARTHUR: Well, you have to know these things when you’re a king, you know.

Monty Python (contemp.) British comedy troupe
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
 
Added on 6-May-16 | Last updated 6-May-16
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There are persons who honestly do not see the use of books in the home, either for information — have they not radio and even television? — or for decoration — is there not the wallpaper?

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) American writer
“In Search of Readers,” in Helen Hull, The Writer’s Book (1950)
 
Added on 7-Apr-16 | Last updated 7-Apr-16
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The desire of knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it.

Sterne - desire of knowledge - wist_info quote

Laurence Sterne (1713-1786) Anglo-Irish novelist, Anglican clergyman
Tristam Shandy, Book 1, ch. 3 (1760-1767)
 
Added on 3-Mar-16 | Last updated 3-Mar-16
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It’s easy to think that as a result of the extinction of the dodo, we are now sadder and wiser, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that we are merely sadder and better informed.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
Last Chance to See, ch. 6 (1990)
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Added on 17-Aug-15 | Last updated 17-Aug-15
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My experience indicates that most managers receive much more data (if not information) than they can possibly absorb even if they spend all of their time trying to do so. Hence they already suffer from an information overload. They must spend a great deal of time separating the relevant documents. For example, I have found that I receive an average of 43 hours of unsolicited reading material each week. The solicited material is usually half again this amount. Most MIS designers “determine” what information is needed by asking managers what information they would like to have. This is based on the assumption that managers know what information they need and want.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
“Management Misinformation Systems,” Management Sciences (Dec 1967)
 
Added on 5-Feb-15 | Last updated 5-Feb-15
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I do not deny that most managers lack a good deal of information that they should have, but I do deny that this is the most important informational deficiency from which they suffer. It seems to me that they suffer more from an overabundance of irrelevant information.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
“Management Misinformation Systems,” Management Sciences (Dec 1967)
 
Added on 29-Jan-15 | Last updated 29-Jan-15
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Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) American expatriate author, feminist
“Reflection on the Atomic Bomb” (1946), Yale Poetry Review (Dec 1947)
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Added on 4-Aug-14 | Last updated 18-Apr-22
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Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Richard Price (8 Jan 1789)
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Added on 23-May-13 | Last updated 2-Aug-22
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Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler, #2 (24 Mar 1750)
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Added on 11-Jan-13 | Last updated 25-Jun-22
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If at first you don’t succeed, that’s one data point.

Randall Munroe (b. 1984) American webcomic writer, roboticist, programmer
XKCD, #1154 “Resolution” [rollover] (31 Dec 2012)
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Added on 3-Jan-13 | Last updated 20-Jan-16
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I hold it, therefore, certain, that to open the doors of truth, and to fortify the habit of testing everything by reason, are the most effectual manacles we can rivet on the hands of our successors to prevent their manacling the people with their own consent.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Tyler (28 Jun 1804)
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Added on 23-May-11 | Last updated 14-Jul-22
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No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Tyler (28 Jun 1804)
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Added on 18-Feb-11 | Last updated 14-Jul-22
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Knowledge is power.
[Nam et ipsa scientia potestas est.]

Bacon - knowledge is power - wist_info quote

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Sacred Meditations [Meditationes Sacræ], “Of Heresies [De Hæresibus]” (1597)

Alt. trans.: "Knowledge itself is power."
 
Added on 30-Apr-10 | Last updated 22-Jan-16
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A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps, both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

James Madison (1751-1836) American statesman, political theorist, US President (1809-17)
Letter to W. T. Barry (4 Aug 1822)
 
Added on 11-Aug-09 | Last updated 21-Apr-17
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To paraphrase Oedipus, Hamlet, Lear, and all those guys, I wish I had known this some time ago.

Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) American writer
Sign of the Unicorn, ch. 3 [Corwin] (1975)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 2-Feb-22
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Get the facts first. You can distort them later.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Attributed)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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If you must play, decide on three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Chinese proverb
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 11-Feb-20
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The opinion of ten thousand men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
(Attributed)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Mar-21
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