I've found these quotes over several years, but they are the only ones I remembered to record. They are in no particular order.

Copyright resides with the authors where applicable.


Government is a very dangerous toy. It is used to fight wars, impose ideologies and enrich rulers. True, nowadays, our leaders do not enrich themselves (at least not on the scale of the Sun King), but they enrich their clients: they preside over vast and insatiable parasitic bureaucracies that grow by Parkinson's Law and live off true wealth creators such as traders and inventors.

Sure, it is possible to have too little government. Only, that has not been the world's problem for millennia. After the century of Mao, Hitler and Stalin, can anybody really say that the risk of too little government is greater than the risk of too much? The dangerous idea we all need to learn is that the more we limit the growth of government, the better off we will all be.

 – Matt Ridley, Government is the Problem, not the Solution, What is Your Dangerous Idea?, (ed. John Brockman), Pocket Books, 2006


Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.

 – Adam Smith, An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book V, chap. I, part II, Glasgow, 1776


Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.

 – Samuel Johnson, Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, (Ch 41), 1759 [ available at]


In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.

 – James Madison, Speech, Constitutional Convention, 29 June 1787


Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion … Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.

 – Edmund Burke, Speech to the Electors of Bristol, 3 Nov. 1774.

The first duty of a member of Parliament is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgement is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain. His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate. Burke's famous declaration on this subject is well known. It is only in the third place that his duty to party organization or programme takes rank. All these three loyalties should be observed, but there in no doubt of the order in which they stand under any healthy manifestation of democracy.

 – Sir Winston Churchill, Duties of a Member of Parliament, Parliamentary Affairs, Volume 8, (1954-55), p302


Public Access to Information

NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources. For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

 – Richard Feynman, Appendix F, Report of the Rogers Commission, 1986 [also at]

News Services

If I'm to listen to someone else's opinion, it must be put in a positive way; I have enough problematic speculations in my own head.

 – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by Elisabeth Stopp in Sketchy, Doubtful, Incomplete Jottings (p 47)

Freedom of Speech

The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin. And it cannot be otherwise, for every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority, the cherishing of the keenest scepticism, the annihilation of the spirit of blind faith; and the most ardent votary of science holds his firmest convictions, not because the men he most venerates hold them; not because their verity is testified by portents and wonders; but because his experience teaches him that whenever he chooses to bring these convictions into contact with their primary source, Nature--whenever he thinks fit to test them by appealing to experiment and to observation--Nature will confirm them. The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.

 – Thomas Henry Huxley, On the Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge, printed in his Lectures and Essays available at He spoke the words in a Lay Sermon on 7 January 1866 in St Martin's Hall.


At Cambridge University I was taught a laudable method of argument: you never personalize, but you have absolutely no respect for people's opinions. You are never rude to the person, but you can be savagely rude about what the person thinks. That seems to me a crucial distinction: You cannot ring-fence their ideas. The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it's a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.

 – Salman Rushdie, Defend the right to be offended, dated "7-02-2005" at

Intellectual Honesty in Debate

  1. Do not overstate the power of your argument
  2. Show a willingness to publicly acknowledge that reasonable alternative viewpoints exist
  3. Be willing to publicly acknowledge and question one’s own assumptions and biases
  4. Be willing to publicly acknowledge where your argument is weak
  5. Be willing to publicly acknowledge when you are wrong
  6. Demonstrate consistency
  7. Address the argument instead of attacking the person making the argument
  8. When addressing an argument, do not misrepresent it
  9. Show a commitment to critical thinking
  10. Be willing to publicly acknowledge when a point or criticism is good

 – Mike Gene 20 May 2009. Details on each are found at the reference, but only the titles are listed here.


One has to remember that there are quite a lot of people who would like to say something significant without being productive, and then the most peculiar things see the light of day.

 – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by Elisabeth Stopp in Sketchy, Doubtful, Incomplete Jottings (p 46)


There is ... no genuine progress in scientific insight through the Baconian method of accumulating empirical facts without hypotheses or anticipation of nature. Without some guiding idea we do not know what facts to gather ... we cannot determine what is relevant and what is irrelevant.

 – Morris Cohen, A Preface to Logic (p 148)


Research is the process of going up alleys to see if they are blind.

 – Marston Bates, quoted in Jefferson Hane Weaver, The World of Physics, vol II (p.63)


Although this may seem a paradox; all exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation.

 – Bertrand Russell, quoted in Jefferson Hane Weaver, The World of Physics, vol II (p. 22)


He that complies against his will
is of his own opinion still.

 – Samuel Butler, Hudibras, Part iii. Canto iii. Line 547


It has often and confidently been asserted, that man's origin can never be known:  but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

 – Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, Introduction, para 4, 1871


The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but [t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts. …  To this end, copyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work. This result is neither unfair nor unfortunate. It is the means by which copyright advances the progress of science and art.

 – US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, (Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 US 340, 349(1991))


If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.

 – Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Isaac McPherson, August 13, 1813. Available at


For an idea to be successful, you have to give it away, you have to be willing to let other people think that it was theirs! You can't be possessive, you can't be jealous! …

 – Gregory Chaitin, Meta Maths, the Quest for Omega, ch. 4, p. 90, Atlantic Books, London, 2005, ISBN 978-1-84354-525-5

On the antiquity of restrictions on learning

pustakasthā tu ya vidyā parahastagatam dhanam

[Translation from Sanskrit: Knowledge in a book – money in another's hand.]

 – G.H. Ojha, Bhāratāya Prācāna Lipī Mālā, (first published 1894), 14 no. 6, attributed to Cānakya-nīti (ca 200 BCE) quoted in Nicholas Ostler, Empires of the Word, p 183, HarperCollins, 2005, ISBN 0-00-711871-6

Intellectual Property

Corporate views on IP law might be described, I think, as similar to a 2-year-old's concept of who gets to play with all the toys in the playground, regardless of who brought them. This results in a conflict between free speech rights of the majority and laws that restrict it in the name of the corporate property rights of a few:

“The indiscriminate application of patents to software algorithms and other encryption and copyright laws, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), are construed as threats to the free ability of programmers to write source code, which hackers and programmers have only recently come to conceptualize as a form of communication worthy of the broadest protections afforded by First Amendment law.” --  Gabriella Coleman, Anthropological Quarterly, Summer 2004

 – Pamela Jones, Groklaw (now available from the Wayback Machine here. )


There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or a corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back, for their private benefit.

 – Robert Heinlein, Life-Line (1939) [quoted by D. Wheeler in]

Commercial Success

No government could have planned these [internet] successes, and not just because governments are unlikely to have the talent of the geniuses at the likes of a Google or an eBay. Rather, governments couldn't plan these successes because governments, at least as we Americans know them, are inherently corrupted - not by bribery, not by greed, but by the reality of campaign financing, which lets them understand the views of only the last great success, and never the views of the next great success (which, as yet, lacks the funds to influence the government).

 – Lawrence Lessig, Remix: making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy Bloomsbury, 2008, ISBN 9-781-4081-1347-9, p 142

Theory of Economics

Traditional economics is about creating mathematical models that are well-defined, tractable, and have nothing to do with reality.

 – Janós Kertész, quoted in Adrian Cho, Econophysics: Still Controversial After All These Years,  Science vol 325, 24 July 2009, p 408

On the the Western Economic System

[The economic system has persuaded us] to spend money we don't have on things we don't need to create impressions that don't last on people we don't care about.

 – Tim Jackson, speaking at TED UK in July 2010. Talk is at

On Publicity

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.

 – Justice Louis Brandeis, Other People’s Money, and How the Bankers Use It (1914)


Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.

 – Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See (Heinemann, 1990)


What I would refer to as spirituality is a human quality arising from the mind, human consciousness, thought, experiences and feelings. All contingent on having material existence and a functioning human brain. The things about ourselves that we may think of as spiritual, such as the ways we feel when we have some kind of 'peak experience' are part and parcel of how we have evolved. Thus the spirituality I speak of arises from the very human capacity to constitute meaning. It lies in our capacity to love and our relationships with others. It can be seen in the pursuit of truth and justice. It is found when we advance politically, morally and socially. It touches us, moves us and inspires us in our art, our writing and our music. We feel it when we stop to appreciate the world we live in and how we are part of it. It is demonstrated in the history of human kind and our place in it.

 – Lifelinking at dated 2008-01-27


Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us – then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls.

The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.

 – Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World, ch. 2, (New York, 1995)

Social cohesion

… humans are a sacred species. We treat sacred places, sacred objects, and sacred lives as beyond commercial value. The value placed on each depends on who is making the decision, but each sacred thing could literally be 'priceless'. The alternative is to accept that everything has its price.

The trouble with such a market-driven approach to decision-making is that it undermines the cohesion of the group, which is bound together by shared sacred values. If we think that anything and anyone can be bought, then this cohesion fragments as sacred items lose their special nonmonetary value. For this reason, certain sacred values must exist that cannot be measured by rational analysis. Every society needs things that are taboo and cannot be reduced to trade-offs and comparisons. People do not sign on explicitly to these rules, but we understand that as members of a social group we are expected to share in the same collective sacred values.

 – Bruce Hood, Supersense (Constable 2009)

Altruism and Co-operation

Thanks to the power of reputation, we help others without expecting an immediate return. ... We are often troubled by the thought of what others may think of our deeds. In this way, our actions have consequences that go far beyond any individual act of charity, or indeed any act of mean-spirited malice. Our behaviour is affected by the possibility someone else might be watching us. We all behave differently when we know we live in the shadow of the future.

 – Martin Nowak (with Roger Highfield), Super Cooperators (Cannongate 2011)

Spying and Control

My act of conscience began with a statement: "I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That's not something I'm willing to support, it's not something I'm willing to build, and it's not something I'm willing to live under."

Days later, I was told my government had made me stateless and wanted to imprison me. The price for my speech was my passport, but I would pay it again: I will not be the one to ignore criminality for the sake of political comfort. I would rather be without a state than without a voice.

 – Edward Snowden, open letter to Brazil, 17 December 2013, copy at

Threat Detection

Data mining systems don't identify and take out terrorist groups; people do.

 – Keith Devlin, The NSA : A Betrayal of Trust, Notices of the AMS, volume 61, no. 6, June/July 2014, available at

Custom and Habit

[...] it seems to be a recognized form of human progression that practices which continue to be observed over a period tend, especially if they appear to possess a distinct social function or utility, to be norm-creating. That is to say that the 'done thing' eventually proves to be the thing that ought to be, and perhaps ultimately, must be done.

 – Dennis Lloyd (later Lord Lloyd), The Idea of Law Ch 10 Law and Custom (Penguin, 1964), p 230 in 1991 edition.

Law of the Environment

Where our decisions are not intrinsically-value based, then our decision-making will be built on fast dissipating sands, which can do little to ensure we create a better world. Climate negotiations demonstrate a non-engagement on owing a duty of care, instead the focus was on ownership. Markets to buy and trade trumped any dialogue about owing a duty to ensure the climate is restored. The very fact that we have a 'negotiation' about a global issue, as if it were a market trading house where everyone has a different pricing scheme, is an indication of just how far removed we have become. Our climate is not for negotiating as a commodity; it is our duty to create a system that guarantees its and our health and well-being.

 – Polly Higgins, Earth is our Business, Ch 1 The Law of Ecocide (Shepheard-Walwyn, 2012), pp 10-11.

Social Development

We've arranged a global civilization in which the most crucial elements — transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting, profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

 – Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World, ch. 2, (New York, 1995)

Change and Adaptation

If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less.

 – Gen. Eric Shinseki, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, 1999 – 2003, reported in a transcript of an interview on 2002-06-18 between Dep Sec of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and the New Yorker magazine at

Microsoft and engineers' reputations

In 25 years as a programmer, I have never written a windows *anything* for a client, and never will. Because when the sucker crashes (and it will), will the client blame microsoft? No, they'll blame ME - and it will affect MY reputation.

When I write for Unix/Linux/QNX/VRTX/Anything the hell else, I can be pretty sure that if something goes boom, it IS my fault - and I should take the blame, and if it reflects badly on me, I deserve it.

 – Gorshkov (932507)  on Slashdot Thursday June 01, 2006

Microsoft and Trust

Myself, I don't hate Microsoft. I distrust them, and I distrust their software, and I decline to deal with them if I've any choice. Not because of any philosophical hatred of them, but simply because of their proven track record. You just have to look to their patent threats. They won't take the honest route of saying what the patents are and what infringes on them so it can be fixed, they'd rather make veiled threats that can't be countered because they're not actually saying what they think you're doing wrong. When the guys come around saying "Nice shop you got here, be a pity if anything happened to it.", the quality of their suits doesn't change who they are. And when those same guys come around offering me something, you betcha I'm going to be leery of strings attached to it because I know who's offering it and that they've never before offered gifts out of the goodness of their hearts without expecting to get something for them and they're unlikely to have started now.

When you invite someone over and he turns out to be nicking your stuff when you're not watching, after about the third or fourth time you simply stop inviting him in. Everyone may say he's such a great guy, but his track record speaks for itself. And Microsoft's speaks for itself too. I don't need to hate them to look at that record and feel it's just not worth taking the risk.

 – tknarr on Groklaw Friday 24 July 2009 in a comment under story 20090723043232981.



My adversary's argument
is not alone malevolent
    but ignorant to boot.
He hasn't even got the sense
to state his so-called evidence
    in terms I can refute.


The road to wisdom? -- Well, it's plain
and simple to express:
           and err
           and err again
           but less
           and less
           and less.


The noble art of losing face
may one day save the human race
     and turn into eternal merit
what weaker minds would call disgrace.

 – Piet Hein, Grooks


When I encounter contentious law, I am an anarchist.
As I witness the waste of war, I am a pacifist.
When the needy knock at my door, I am a philanthropist.
And the greedy take even more, I am a Marxist.
When disgusted by gross corporate greed, I am an anti-capitalist.
When I clash with the conflicts of creed, I am a secularist.
I subscribe to children in need, I am an altruist.
As I see our beautiful earth bleed, I am an ecologist.
If the charlatan shows no shame, I am a moralist.
As I hear proud patriots proclaim, I am an internationalist.
When winning means more than the game, I am an idealist.
When flattered by fleeting fame, I am an egotist.
Until Kings cast off their crown, I am an anti-monarchist.
When the loves of my life let me down, I am a pragmatist.
Faced with a forlorn frown, I am a therapist.
When my sorrows I seek to drown, I go and get pissed.
As I have faith that, only by working together, will we solve the problems of the world without regard to the supernatural, I'm humanist.
But, as I have made so few plans in my life, (the best-laid plans... (Robbie Burns)) I have just taken advantage of opportunities as they arise, I have concluded that I am a serendipitist.

 – P John Langdon, BHA Members' Forum (, 31 October 2006.


As I recite the alphabet to one who's only three
The world of mathematics is opened to me.
For a, b, c are constants or parameters assigned
and D is a determinant or distance undefined.
The image which e gives to me is one I can't erase
For it can only mean for me the logarithmic base.
F, G, H are functions with appropriate domain
And i's a unit vector in the Gauss or complex plane.
J's a Bessel function and another kind is K.
L's a linear operator or inductance one could say.
M and N are integers, but m could be mass.
O is the number zero, but ∅ 's the empty class.
P and Q give odds that you will win or lose a bet.
R gives correlation of two variables you have met.
I see before me Einstein's world when I hear S and T
For they make me think of space and time and relativity.
At this point I'm so deep in thought of time and space and such
That velocity components u, v, w don't seem much.
Perhaps some day that three-year old may learn when fully grown
Why x, y, z imply for me how much there is unknown.

 – M.R. Spiegel, Mathematics Magazine, vol 57 / 3, May 1984 (p.141)

Mad English

I'll sight you a cite that's a site for saw I's
And your sure to show you're delight
When I tell you there their
On the stare as we stair
At they're write to rite wrongs as they right
Copywrite 2008 Frank H

 – Frank H, Groklaw, on January 27 2008

[ Corrected version:
I'll cite you a site that's a sight for sore eyes
And you're sure to show your delight
When I tell you they're there
On the stair as we stare
At their rite to right wrongs as they write.
Copyright 2008 Frank H ]