Quotations about   intelligence

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Ever see a bird hurt itself by flying into a glass window? The bird is not stupid; he simply did not have all the data.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
The Puppet Masters (1951)
Added on 3-Nov-17 | Last updated 3-Nov-17
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No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) British writer [Herbert George Wells]
The War of the Worlds, Book 1, ch. 1 (1898)
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Added on 22-Aug-17 | Last updated 22-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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We do disagreeable things so that ordinary people here and everywhere can sleep safely in their beds at night.

John le Carré (b. 1931) English novelist, intelligence officer [pseud. of David Moore Cornwell]
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, ch. 2 (1963)
Added on 20-Mar-17 | Last updated 20-Mar-17
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As the man put it: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Any sufficiently advanced alien intelligence is indistinguishable from God — the angry monotheistic sadist subtype. And the elder ones … aren’t friendly. (See? I told you I’d rather be an atheist!)

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Fuller Memorandum (2010)

See Clarke..
Added on 7-Feb-17 | Last updated 7-Feb-17
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The exact measure of the progress of civilization is the degree in which the intelligence of the common mind has prevailed over wealth and brute force.

George Bancroft (1800-1891) American historian, statesman, education reformer
Speech, Adelphi Society, Liamstown College (Aug 1835)
Added on 30-Jan-17 | Last updated 30-Jan-17
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Lady Linette had warned them of this. “Try not to think it glamorous, ladies. Intelligencer work is nine-tenths discontented ennui, and one-tenth abject terror. Rather like falling in love.”

Gail Carriger (b. 1976) American archaeologist, author [pen name of Tofa Borregaard]
Waistcoats & Weaponry (2014)
Added on 1-Dec-16 | Last updated 1-Dec-16
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She hung up and I set out the chess board. I filled a pipe, paraded the chessmen and inspected them for French shaves and loose buttons, and played a championship tournament game between Gortchakoff and Meninkin, seventy-two moves to a draw, a prize specimen of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, a battle without armour, a war without blood, and as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you could find anywhere outside an advertising agency.

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) American novelist
The Long Goodbye, ch. 24 (1953)
Added on 26-Jul-16 | Last updated 26-Jul-16
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Some of you are really smart. You know who you are.

Some of you are really thick. Unfortunately, you don’t know who you are.

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Twitter (20 Jan 2013)
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Added on 21-Jul-16 | Last updated 21-Jul-16
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It was not the absence of intelligence which led us into trouble but our unwillingness to draw unpleasant conclusions from it.

H. A. de Weerd (1902-1979) American military historian, author [Harvey Arthur de Weerd]
“Strategic Surprise in the Korean War,” Orbis (1962)

On the US decision in 1950 to call China's bluff by advancing above the 38th parallel.
Added on 24-Feb-16 | Last updated 24-Feb-16
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I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me.

A. A. Milne (1882-1956) English poet and playwright [Alan Alexander Milne]
Winnie-the-Pooh, ch. 4 (1926)
Added on 17-Feb-16 | Last updated 17-Feb-16
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There is a large number of women whose brains are closer in size to the gorillas than to the most developed male brains. This inferiority is so obvious that no one can contest it for a moment; only its degree is worth discussion. All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women … recognize today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution, and that they are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man.

Gustave LeBon (1841-1931) German psychologist
Revue d’Anthropologie (1879)
Added on 10-Feb-16 | Last updated 10-Feb-16
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I could wile away the hours
Conferrin’ with the flowers,
Consultin’ with the rain;
And my head I’d be scratchin’
While my thoughts were busy hatchin’,
If I only had a brain.

E. Y. "Yip" Harburg (1896-1981) American lyricist [Edgar Yipsel Harburg, b. Isidore Hochberg]
“If I Only Had a Brain,” The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Added on 3-Feb-16 | Last updated 3-Feb-16
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Even a feeble-minded man wants to be like other men.

Daniel F. Keyes (1927-2014) American author
Flowers for Algernon (novel) (1966)
Added on 9-Nov-15 | Last updated 9-Nov-15
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The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Jingo (1997)
Added on 26-Aug-15 | Last updated 26-Aug-15
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One of the functions of intelligence is to take account of the dangers that come from trusting solely to intelligence.

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) American writer, philosopher, historian, architect
The Transformations of Man, 7.1 (1956)
Added on 28-Jul-15 | Last updated 28-Jul-15
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You never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion. … Dogs do not ritually urinate in the hope of persuading heaven to do the same and send down rain. Asses do not bray a liturgy to cloudless skies. Nor do cats attempt, by abstinence from cat’s meat, to wheedle the feline spirits into benevolence. Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly. It is the price he has to pay for being intelligent but not, as yet, quite intelligent enough.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
Texts and Pretexts, “Amor Fati” (1932)
Added on 29-Oct-14 | Last updated 29-Oct-14
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When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) Polish-American rabbi, theologian, philosopher
(Attributed)

Quoted by his student, Harold S. Kushner, in When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough (1986).The following variant is attributed (without citation) to Milton Steinberg and Oscar Wilde: "When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am older, I admire kind people.
Added on 12-Jun-14 | Last updated 17-Mar-17
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Not clamour, but love,
Not rumour but dedication,
Not violence but intelligence
Sings in the ear of God.

[Non clamor, sed amor,
non vox, sed votum,
non cordula, sed cor
cantat in aure Dei]

Thomas of Celano (c.1200 - c.1265) Italian friar, poet, hagiographer [Tommaso da Celano]
(Attributed)

A similar phrase -- "Not the voice but the deed, not the music of the heart but the heart, not noise but love sings in the ear of God" -- is attributed to Jordanus de Saxonia, an Augustinian hermit born in Quedlinburg in 1299.
Added on 8-Apr-10 | Last updated 2-Nov-17
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In view of the fact that God limited the intelligence of man, it seems unfair that he did not also limit his stupidity.

Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) German politician
(Attributed)

Quoted by Dean Atchison in Arthur Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, ch. 11 (1965).
Added on 17-Dec-08 | Last updated 26-Jul-16
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One thing that humbles me deeply is to see that human genius has its limits while human stupidity does not.

[Une chose qui m’humilie profondément est de voir que le génie humain a des limites, quand la bêtise humaine n’en a pas.]

Alexandre Dumas, fils (1824-1895) French writer and dramatist
(Attributed)
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Earliest attribution is in the Great Universal Dictionary of the Nineteenth Century [Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle], Vol. 2, "Stupidity [Bêtise]" (c. 1865) 

Attributed to a wide variety of individuals, including (spuriously) to Albert Einstein.

Variants:

  • "What distresses me is to see that human genius has limitations, and human stupidity has none."
  • "How despairing it is to see that human genius has limitations, while human stupidity has none."
  • "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits."
  • "Human genius has its limits, but stupidity does not."
  • "Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped." (Elbert Hubbard, ed., The Philistine, title epigraph (Sep 1906)

See here for more discussion.

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Aug-14
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