6 min read



when i come across good quotes, i write them down. the below are those i collected between october 2022 and november 2023.

It is much, much easier to pick out a way in which a system is sub-optimal, than it is to implement or run that system at anything like its current level of optimization.

(zvi, Leaders of Men)

Prediction markets are a truth generator, powered by the invisible hand.

(oliver roeder, Financial Times)

127. know what you want

(alexey guzey, lifehacks (also see "questions to ask people" by me))

friendships are not ledgers of obligations.

(me, here)

Definition: Slack. The absence of binding constraints on behavior.

Poor is the person without Slack. Lack of Slack compounds and traps.

Slack means margin for error. You can relax.

Slack allows pursuing opportunities. You can explore. You can trade.

Slack prevents desperation. You can avoid bad trades and wait for better spots. You can be efficient.

Slack permits planning for the long term. You can invest.

Slack enables doing things for your own amusement. You can play games. You can have fun.

Slack enables doing the right thing. Stand by your friends. Reward the worthy. Punish the wicked. You can have a code.

Slack presents things as they are without concern for how things look or what others think. You can be honest.

You can do some of these things, and choose not to do others. Because you don’t have to.

Only with slack can one be a righteous dude.

Slack is life.

(zvi, Slack)

My teachers used to say that I could do great things if only I applied myself. I used to tell them that if they wanted me to apply more effort, they would need to invent higher letter grades.

(nate soares, Half-Assing it with everything you’ve got)

The power of reason lies in its ability to generate highly detailed maps. Where direct experience gives us rough sketches (“things fall”, “sun is bright”), reason gives us mathematical precision. Reason showed us the path to advanced medicine and computing. Reason has mapped entire worlds that were previously hidden behind tiny points of light painted on the night sky.

But on reason’s map, there are also huge swaths of territory labeled: “here be dragons”.

These are spaces where reason’s cartographic skills fail. Try falling in love rationally. Try reasoning with a conspiracy theorist, or with a jealous partner. Try navigating the dream world with reason, and watch Morpheus laugh. No amount of studying psychology, sociology, and neurology is going to tell you what it feels like to be an Evangelical Christian, or prepare you for your first psychedelic trip.

In these spaces, intuition and empathy are better guides than logic.
Obligatory xkcd. NB: the Fourier transform of love was later proven to be a dog. Cf. Bae et al. 2017, 2018
[cont.] Rationalism deals with these spaces by ignoring them (“dreams are just random noise!”) or by quixotically trying to conquer them (“our proprietary algorithm will help you find your soulmate!”). Both approaches reinforce the imagined superiority of rational thought, while providing very little value.

Rationalism, no matter how powerful and successful, is limited in scope. It can never give us the full picture.

(max goodbird, You Don't Always Have to be Rational)

being good at something doesn’t feel like you’re good at it. it feels like everyone else is terrible, and you’re just not terrible.

(paraphrased from Rob Miles, who himself forgot from where he got it)

you sorta realize that, under the hood, it’s all just people.

(paraphrased from austin chen, after he saw me interact behind the scenes with “famous people” at manifest.)

Some people are obsessed with using brute force to warp their world into what they want it to be. Others lie dormant, waiting for their desires to materialize. I think somewhere in between the two lies the ideal strategy: you need to set things in motion, but momentum takes a life of its own.

(nix, falling into life)

a lot of life is about avoiding absolutely catastrophic risks.

(david rapperport. this feels like kelly betting with life?)

Tyler Cowen: Uncertainty should not paralyze you. Try to do your best, pursue maximum expected value, and just avoid the moral nervousness. Be a little Straussian out about it. Like, here's a rule, on average it’s a good rule, we're all gonna follow it. Bravo, go to the next thing. Be a builder.

Joe Walker [interviewer]: Get on with it?

TC: Yes. Because ultimately, the kind of nervous Nellies, they're not philosophically sophisticated, they’re overindulging in their own neuroticism when you get right down to it. So it's not like there's some kind of brute ‘let’s be a builder’ view and then in contrast there's some deeper wisdom that the real philosophers pursue. I think it’s: you be a builder or you’re a nervous Nelly. Take your pick. I say be a builder.

(tyler cowen, Joe Walker Podcast #104, 12:06-12:58)

Thus “phenomenology” means αποφαινεσθαι τα φαινομενα – to let that which shows itself be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself.

(heidigger, Being in Time. this quote is a good reminder of why i dislike continental philosophy.)

People want to be loved; failing that admired; failing that feared; failing that hated and despised. They want to evoke some sort of sentiment. The soul shudders before oblivion and seeks connection at any price.”

(hjalmar söderberg)

It is better to change an opinion than to persist in the wrong one.


Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales.

(bertrand russel, History of Western Philosophy)

The important thing is to be ruthless with the books that are not good. Just stop reading, put them down, usually throw them away, don’t give them away – if you give them away you could be doing harm to people.

(tyler cowen, The Time Ferris Show #436: Books I’ve Loved — Maria Popova and Tyler Cowen, 14:34-14:43)

You are increasingly defined by what you say no to.

(zeke dee, blake’s blog)

Practicing forecasting encourages intellectual honesty.

(seth blumberg, Talk and Q&A at OPTIC, 30:05)

If i am going to be fooled by randomness, it’d better be of the beautiful, and harmless kind.

(nassim taleb, fooled by randomness)

It takes hard work to make sales look easy.

(peter thiel, zero to one)

A lot of philosophy is the demolition of common sense followed by damage control.

(alan hájek, 80,000 Hours Podcast: Alan Hájek on puzzles and paradoxes in probability and expected value)

Whenever I find an author I like, I try to study their influences.

(david perell, “friday finds” of 12/23/2022)

the condition of unconditional love is flaws. that’s how its unconditional. if someone was perfect in every way, how could you love them?


Notoriety wasn't as good as fame, but was heaps better than obscurity.

(neil gaiman, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch)

It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles. Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, "Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe," or "Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet." They cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complex picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority.

(g. k. chesterton, The Ball and The Cross)

I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.

(immanuel kant, Critique of Pure Reason. this is almost always taken to mean “we must have Faith, even above Knowledge!” and that's a complete misinterpretation. i like this quote because it's almost always misinterpreted.)

Habitual want of care about what I believe leads to habitual want of care in others about the truth of what is told to me. Men speak the truth to one another when each reveres the truth in his own mind and in the other’s mind; but how shall my friend revere the truth in my mind when I myself am careless about it, when I believe thing because I want to believe them, and because they are comforting and pleasant? Will he not learn to cry, “Peace,” to me, when there is no peace? By such a course I shall surround myself with a thick atmosphere of falsehood and fraud, and in that I must live.

(william k clifford, The Ethics of Belief)

He who begins by loving Christianity better than Truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or Church better than Christianity, and end loving himself better than all.

(samuel coleridge, Aids to Reflection)

…complete indifferentism, [is] the mother of all chaos and night in the sciences, but at the same time also the origin, or at least the prelude, of their incipient transformation and enlightenment.

(immanuel kant, The Critique of Pure Reason)