Edward Thorp

As I finally had some capital from playing blackjack and from book sales, I decided to let it grow through investing while I focused on family and my academic career. I bought one hundred shares at $40 and watched the stock decline over the next two years to $20 a share, losing half of my $4,000 investment. I had no idea when to sell. I decided to hang on until the stock returned to my original purchase price, so as not to take a loss. This is exactly what gamblers do when they are losing and insist on playing until they get even. It took four years, but I finally got out with my original $4,000. Fifty years later, legions of tech stock investors shared my experience, waiting fifteen years to get even after buying near the top on March 10, 2000.

Years later, discussing my Electric Autolite purchase with Vivian as we drove home from lunch, I asked, “What were my mistakes?”

She almost read my mind as she said, “First, you bought something you didn’t really understand, so it was no better or worse than throwing a dart into the stock market list. Had you bought a low-load mutual fund [no-load funds weren’t available yet] you would have had the same expected gain but less expected risk.” I thought the story about Electric Autolite meant it was a superior investment. That thinking was wrong. As I would learn, most stock-picking stories, advice, and recommendations are completely worthless.

Then Vivian remarked on my second mistake in thinking, my plan for getting out, which was to wait until I was even again. What I had done was focus on a price that was of unique historical significance to me, only me, namely, my purchase price. Behavioral finance theorists, who have in recent decades begun to analyze the psychological errors in thinking that persistently bedevil most investors, call this anchoring (of yourself to a price that has meaning to you but not to the market). Since I really had no predictive power, any exit strategy was as good or bad as any other. Like my first mistake, this error was in the way I thought about the problem of when to sell, choosing an irrelevant criterion—the price I paid—rather than focusing on economic fundamentals like whether cash or alternative investments would serve me better.

Anchoring is a subtle and pervasive aberration in investment thinking. For instance, a former neighbor, Mr. Davis (as I shall call him), saw the market value of his house rise from his purchase price of $2,000,000 or so in the mid-1980s to $3,500,000 or so when luxury home prices peaked in 1988–89. Soon afterward, he decided he wanted to sell and anchored himself to the price of $3,500,000. During the next ten years, as the market price of his house fell back to $2,200,000 or so, he kept trying to sell at his now laughable anchor price. At last, in 2000, with a resurgent stock market and a dot-com-driven price rise in expensive homes, he escaped at $3,250,000. In his case, as often happens, the thinking error of anchoring, despite the eventual sale price he achieved, left him with substantially less money than if he had acted otherwise.

Mr. Davis and I used to jog together occasionally and chat about his favorite topics, money and investments. Following my recommendation, he joined a limited partnership that itself allocated money to limited partnerships, so-called hedge funds, which it believed were likely to make superior investments. His expected rate of return after paying his income taxes on the gains was about 10 percent per year, with considerably more stability in the value of the investment than was to be found in residential real estate or the stock market. I advised him to sell his house at current market just after the 1988–89 peak. He would have received perhaps $3,300,000 and then, as was his plan, moved to a $1,000,000 house. After costs and taxes he would have ended up with an additional $1,600,000 to invest. Putting this into the hedge fund he had already joined at my recommendation, the money would have grown at 10 percent per year for eleven years, becoming $4,565,000. Add that to the $1,000,000 house, whose market price would have declined, then recovered, and Mr. Davis would have had $5,565,000 in 2000 instead of the $3,250,000 he ended up with.

I’ve seen my own anchoring mistake repeatedly made by real estate buyers and sellers, as well as in everyday situations. As I was driving home one day in heavy traffic, an SUV forced its way in front of me, giving me a choice of yielding or “maintaining my rights” and having a fender bender. Since I receive these invitations daily, I saw no need to accept this one for fear I would miss out. The SUV was in “my” space (anchoring: I’ve attached myself to an abstract moving location that has a unique historical meaning to me, and am allowing it to dictate my driving behavior). We were now lined up about seventy cars deep in the most notoriously slow left-turn lane in Newport Beach. Ordinarily the road is two lanes wide, but construction had narrowed it to one, and the complex sequence of light changes allowed only about twenty cars through on each two-minute cycle. What if, when we finally got to the signal, the evil SUV was the last one through the yellow? Since it was really “my” space, was I justified in risking an accident by rolling through on the red? Otherwise, the time thief gains two minutes at my expense. The temptation may sound as foolish to you as it does in cold print to me, but I see this kind of behavior regularly.

Having learned the folly of anchoring from my investment experience, I have seen that it can be equally foolish on the road. Being a more rational investor has made me a more rational driver!

Edward Thorp, A Man for All Markets: From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market, New York, 2017, pp. 146-148

Robert Lucas

Within the advanced countries, growth rates tend to be very stable over long periods of time, provided one averages over periods long enough to eliminate business-cycle effects (or corrects for short-term fluctuations in some other way). For poorer countries, however, there are many examples of sudden, large changes in growth rates, both up and down. Some of these changes are no doubt due to political or military disruption: Angola’s total GDP growth fell from 4.8 in the 60s to – 9.2 in the 70s; Iran’s fell from 11.3 to 2.5, comparing the same two periods. I do not think we need to look to economic theory for an account of either of these declines. There are also some striking examples of sharp increases in growth rates. The four East Asian ‘miracles’ of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore are the most familiar: for the 1960-80 period, per capita income in these economies grew at rates of 7.0, 6.5, 6.8 and 7.5, respectively, compared to much lower rates in the 1950’s and earlier. Between the 60s and the 70s, Indonesia’s GDP growth increased from 3.9 to 7.5; Syria’s from 4.6 to 10.0.

I do not see how one can look at figures like these without seeing them as representing possibilities. Is there some action a government of India could take that would lead the Indian economy to grow like Indonesia’s or Egypt’s? If so, what, exactly? If not, what is it about the ‘nature of India’ that makes it so? The consequences for human welfare involved in questions like these are simply staggering: Once one starts to think about them, it is hard to think about anything else.

Robert Lucas, ‘On the Mechanics of Economic Development’, Journal of Monetary Economics, vol. 22, no. 1 (July, 1988), pp. 4-5

Miguel Braun & Lucas Llach

Cuando se incorpora la idea de que las economías crecen, y que lo hacen a tasas que pueden llegar a ser tan altas como para hacer rico a un país no muy rico en el curso de una generación, muchos de los dilemas que se presentan en las discusiones públicas sobre temas económicos desaparecen o quedan en un segundo plano. En particular, se resiente la idea de que la economía es un juego de suma cero, es decir, una situación en la que la ganancia de unos implica necesariamente pérdidas para otros (como sí ocurre, por ejemplo, entre equipos que participan de un campeonato de fútbol o entre la banca y el jugador en un casino). Por tomar un caso típico: la idea de que necesariamente hay un conflicto de clase entre empresarios y trabajadores queda relativizada cuando se comprueba que, si existe crecimiento económico, unos y otros pueden mejorar sus ingresos (lo cual no quita sentido a la pregunta sobre cuánto recibirá cada una de las partes del aumento en el ingreso total). De la misma manera, el crecimiento permite al gobierno obtener una mayor recaudación de impuestos sin necesidad de incrementar las tasas impositivas que cobra el sector privado de la economía. El crecimiento económico puede, también, hacer lugar para las distintas actividades productivas sin que sea necesario que pierdan unas para que ganen otras: con crecimiento, las grandes empresas pueden aumentar su facturación sin que ello disminuya el de las medianas y pequeñas; los supermercados pueden crecer sin perjudicar a los almacenes; las industrias manufactureras pueden prosperar en armonía con las rurales o las de servicios.

Miguel Braun & Lucas Llach, Macroeconomía argentina: Manual para (tratar de) comprender el país, 3rd ed., Buenos Aires, 2018, sect. 2.4

John Stuart Mill

The remedies for all our diseases will be discovered long after we are dead; and the world will be made a fit place to live in, after the death of most of those by whose exertions it will have been made so. It is to be hoped that those who live in those days will look back with sympathy to their known and unknown benefactors.

John Stuart Mill, ‘Diary’, April 15, 1854, in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Toronto, 1988, vol. 27, p. 668

Carl Sagan

Computers routinely do mathematics that no unaided human can manage, outperform world champions in checkers and grand masters in chess, speak and understand English and other languages, write presentable short stories and musical compositions, learn from their mistakes, and competently pilot ships, airplanes, and spacecraft. Their abilities steadily improve. They’re getting smaller, faster, and cheaper. Each year, the tide of scientific advance laps a little further ashore on the island of human intellectual uniqueness with its embattled castaways. If, at so early a stage in our technological evolution, we have been able to go so far in creating intelligence out of silicon and metal, what will be possible in the following decades and centuries? What happens when smart machines are able to manufacture smarter machines?

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, New York, 1994, pp. 29-30

Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson

One promising approach to institutional reform is to try to acknowledge people’s need to show off, but to divert their efforts away from wasteful activities and toward those with bigger benefits and positive externalities. For example, as long as students must show off by learning something at school, we’d rather they learned something useful (like how to handle personal finances) instead of something less useful (like Latin). As long as scholars have a need to impress people with their expertise on some topic, engineering is a more practical domain than the history of poetry. And scholars who show off via intellectual innovation seem more useful than scholars who show off via their command of some static intellectual tradition.

Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, Oxford, 2018, p. 312

C. D. Broad

Philosophy is essentially a middle-aged man’s game, though certain philosophers (notably Plato and Kant) have put up their best performances when they were well past middle life. Those of us who are not Platos or Kants are well advised to retire gracefully before they have too obviously lost their grip. Medical science would almost have made the world safe for senility, if physics had not made it unsafe for everybody; and there are far too many old clowns arthritically going through their hoops, to the embarrassment of the spectators:

From X’s eyes the streams of dotage flow,
And Y expires a driveller and a show.

My younger colleagues would have no difficulty in substituting appropriate constants for the variables in these lines. Moreover, though philosophies are never refuted, they rapidly go out of fashion, and the kind of philosophy which I have practised has become antiquated without having yet acquired the interest of a collector’s piece:

New forms arise, and different views engage,
Superfluous lags the veteran on the stage.

So this veteran now definitely makes his last bow as a professional performer, though he may occasionally make a graceful appearance “by request” at a matinee for charity.

C. D. Broad, ‘A Reply to My Critics’, in Paul A. Schilpp (ed.) The Philosophy of C. D. Broad, New York, 1959, pp. 711-830

Robert Nozick

When I arrived in the fall of 1969, there was a philosophy course listed in the catalog entitled “Capitalism.” And the course description was “a moral examination of capitalism.” Of course, for most students, then, it would be taken for granted that a moral examination would be a moral condemnation of capitalism. But that’s not what I intended. We were going to read critics of capitalism. But we were also planning to read defenses of capitalism, and I was going to construct some of my own in the lectures. Some of the graduate students in the philosophy department knew what ideas I held, and they weren’t very happy about a course being taught in the department defending those ideas. Now it was true that there was another course in the department on Marxism by someone who was then a member of the Maoist Progressive Labor Party and students did not object to that. But still some students objected to my giving a lecture course on capitalism. I remember early in the fall (I guess I was scheduled to give the course in the spring term), a graduate student came to me at a departmental reception we had, and said, “We don’t know if you’re going to be allowed to give this course.” I said “What do you mean, not allowed to give this course?” He said, “Well, we know what ideas you hold. We just don’t know whether you will be allowed to give the course.” And I said, “If you come and disrupt my course, I’m going to beat the shit out of you!”

Robert Nozick, in Albert Zlabinger, ‘An Interview with Robert Nozick’, Libertarian Review (December, 1977), p. 15

Alan Walker

Hans von Bülow once arrived in a small German town to give a piano recital. He was informed by the somewhat nervous organizers that the local music critic could usually be counted on to give a good review, pro- vided that the artist first agreed to take a modestly priced lesson from him. Bülow pondered this unusual situation for a moment, and then replied, ‘He charges such low fees he could almost be described as incor- ruptible’. On another occasion Bülow got back to his London hotel after dark. As he was climbing the dimly lit staircase, he collided with a stranger hurrying in the opposite direction. ‘Donkey!’ exclaimed the man angrily. Bülow raised his hat politely, and replied, ‘Hans von Bülow’!

Volumes could be filled with the wit and wisdom of Hans von Bülow, and the biography that follows teems with examples. His banter was woven into the very weft and weave of his complex personality. He had, moreover, the enviable gift of instant retort. A gentleman eager to be seen in his company once observed Bülow taking a morning stroll. He overtook the great musician, but was unsure of how to introduce himself. Finally he thought of something to say. ‘I’ll bet you don’t remember who I am.’ ‘You just won your bet’, replied Bülow, and walked on. Equally withering were Bülow’s observations on the follies of everyday life. Having heard that an eligible young bachelor wanted to improve his social station through marriage, he observed, ‘It will never work. The young lady wants to do the same thing’.

On orchestral players Bülow could be particularly hard, especially if he felt that they were incompetent. He once berated a trombone player who was failing to deliver the right kind of sound, and told him that his tone resembled roast beef gravy running through a sewer. In Italy, during a rehearsal of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Bülow found himself confronted by a timpanist who simply could not master the intricate rhythms of the Scherzo. There comes a moment in this dynamic movement when the timpanist must break through with force, hammering out the basic rhythm of the main theme. Bülow strove with might and main to pound the pattern into the poor man’s head, but to no avail. Suddenly the solution occurred to him. Timp-a-ni! Timp-a-ni! Timp-a-ni! he kept yelling. A smile of comprehension slowly dawned on the player’s face, as he caught the rhythm of the one word with which he was familiar, and in no time at all he was playing the passage in the correct manner.

Bülow could also be severe on fledgling composers, particularly if he suspected that they wanted him to endorse their music. During a visit to Boston, in the spring of 1889, a local composer of modest talent sent Bülow one of his compositions and was bold enough to request an opinion. The piece was titled ‘O Lord, hear my prayer!’ Bülow glanced briefly at the manuscript and wrote beneath the title, ‘He may, if you stop sinning like this!’

A more famous case was that of Friedrich Nietzsche who, in the summer of 1872, was indiscreet enough to send Bülow an ambitious orchestral composition of his own—a ‘Manfred Meditation’—for the conductor’s critical appraisal. It was one of the philosopher’s major blunders. He had witnessed Bülow conduct Tristan at the Munich Royal Opera House a few weeks earlier, and by way of thanking him for ‘the loftiest artistic experience of my life’ he had sent Bülow a copy of his newly published ‘The Birth of Tragedy’. When he heard that Bülow was sufficiently impressed with the book to carry it with him everywhere, he was emboldened to send him his ‘Manfred Meditation’, doubtless hoping that the famous conductor would favour him with the usual assortment of platitudes that professionals are sometimes apt to offer distinguished amateurs. If Nietzsche thought to secure some fine phrases from Bülow, proffered by virtue of who he was, rather than by virtue of what the music itself was worth, he was sadly mistaken. Bülow looked at the ‘Manfred Meditation’ and knew that he must do his duty. He told Nietzsche that his score was ‘the most unedifying, the most anti-musical thing that I have come across for a long time in the way of notes put on paper.’ Several times, Bülow went on, he had to ask himself if it were not some awful joke. Having inserted the blade, Bülow now twisted the hilt and used Nietzsche’s own philosophical precepts against him. ‘Of the Apollonian element I have not been able to discover the smallest trace; and as for the Dionysian, I must say frankly that I have been reminded less of this than of the “day after” a bacchanal.’ In brief, Nietzsche’s score had produced in Bülow a hangover.

Schadenfreude, too, was never far from the surface, for like most of us Bülow found occasional joy in the misfortune of others. Two of his orchestral players, named Schulz and Schmidt, were slowly driving him to distraction because of their evident inability to understand what he required of them. One morning he got to the rehearsal only to be met with the sad news that Schmidt had died during the night. ‘And Schulz?’ he inquired.

Alan Walker, Hans von Bülow: A Life and Times, Oxford, 2010, pp. 3-5

Thomas Schelling

The book has had a good reception, and many have cheered me by telling me they liked it or learned from it. But the response that warms me most after twenty years is the late John Strachey’s. John Strachey, whose books I had read in college, had been an outstanding Marxist economist in the 1930s. After the war he had been defense minister in Britain’s Labor Government. Some of us at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs invited him to visit because he was writing a book on disarmament and arms control. When he called on me he exclaimed how much this book had done for his thinking, and as he talked with enthusiasm I tried to guess which of my sophisticated ideas in which chapters had made so much difference to him. It turned out it wasn’t any particular idea in any particular chapter. Until he read this book, he had simply not comprehended that an inherently non-zero-sum conflict could exist. He had known that conflict could coexist with common interest but had thought, or taken for granted, that they were essentially separable, not aspects of an integral structure. A scholar concerned with monopoly capitalism and class struggle, nuclear strategy and alliance politics, working late in his career on arms control and peacemaking, had tumbled, in reading my book, to an idea so rudimentary that I hadn’t even known it wasn’t obvious.

Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1960, pp. vi-vii [‘Preface to the 1980 edition’]

Eric Kandel

When Auguste Rodin visited Vienna in june 1902, Berta Zuckerkandl invited the great French sculptor, together with Gustav Klimt, Austria’s most accomplished painter, for a Jause, a typical Viennese afternoon of coffee and cakes. Berta, herself a leading art critic and the guiding intelligence of one of Vienna’s most distinguished salons, recalled this memorable afternoon in her autobiography:

Klimt and Rodin had seated themselves beside two remarkably beautiful young women—Rodin gazing enchantedly at them.… Alfred Grünfeld [the former court pianist to Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany, now living in Vienna] sat down at the piano in the big drawing room, whose double doors were opened wide. Klimt went up to him and asked: “Please play us some Schubert.” And Grünfeld, his cigar in his mouth, played dreamy tunes that floated and hung in the air with the smoke of his cigar.

Rodin leaned over to Klimt and said: “I have never before experienced such an atmosphere—your tragic and magnificent Beethoven fresco; your unforgettable, temple-like exhibition; and now this garden, these women, this music … and round it all this gay, childlike happiness.… What is the reason for it all?”

And Klimt slowly nodded his beautiful head and answered only one word: “Austria.”

Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present, New York, 2012, p. xiii

Daniel Keyes

How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes—how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence.

Daniel Keyes, ‘Flowers for Algernon’, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, vol. 16, no. 4 (April, 1959), p. 22

Anna Funder

The Russians ran the eastern parts of Germany directly until the German Democratic Republic was established as a satellite state of the USSR in 1949. Production was nationalised, factories and property turned over to the state, health care, rent and food were subsidised. One-party rule was established with an all-powerful secret service to back it up. And the Russians, having refused the offer of American capital, plundered East German production for themselves.

They stripped factories of plant and equipment which they sent back to the USSR. At the same time, they required a rhetoric of ‘Communist brotherhood’ from the East Germans whom they had ‘liberated’ from fascism. Whatever their personal histories and private allegiances, the people living in this zone had to switch from being (rhetorically, at the very least) Nazis one day to being Communists and brothers with their former enemies the next.

And almost overnight the Germans in the eastern states were made, or made themselves, innocent of Nazism. It seemed as if they actually believed that Nazis had come from and returned to the western parts of Germany, and were somehow separate from them—which was in no way true. History was so quickly remade, and so successfully, that it can truly be said that the easterners did not feel then, and do not feel now, that they were the same Germans as those responsible for Hitler’s regime. This sleight-of-history must rank as one of the most extraordinary innocence manoeuvres of the century.

Anna Funder, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, New York, 2002, p. 161

George Gamow

There was hunger in the cities but not in the food-producing villages, and the peasants hoarded and hid food. One way to get some bread and butter, or maybe a chicken, was to walk to a village not too far from [Odessa], carrying along some silk handkerchiefs, a few pieces of family silver, or even a golden watch, and to exchange these for food. Many enterprising city inhabitants did this, even though it was a dangerous undertaking.

Here is a story told to me by one of my friends who was at that time a young professor of physics in Odessa. His name was Igor Tamm (Nobel Prize laureate in Physics, 1958). Once when he arrived in a neighboring village, at the period when Odessa was occupied by the Reds, and was negotiating with a villager as to how many chickens he could get for half a dozen silver spoons, the village was captured by one of the Makhno bands, who were roaming the country, harassing the Reds. Seeing his city clothes (or what was left of them), the capturers brought him to the Ataman, a bearded fellow in a tall black fur hat with machine-gun cartridge ribbons crossed on his broad chest and a couple of hand grenades hanging on the belt.

“You son-of-a-bitch, you Communistic agitator, undermining our Mother Ukraine! The punishment is death.”

“But no,” answered Tamm, “I am a professor at the University of Odessa and have come here only to get some food.”

“Rubbish!” retorted the leader. “What kind of professor are you?”

“I teach mathematics.”

“Mathematics?” said the Ataman. “All right! Then give me an estimate of the error one makes by cutting off Maclaurin’s series at the nth term. Do this, and you will go free. Fail, and you will be shot!”

Tamm could not believe his ears, since this problem belongs to a rather special branch of higher mathematics. With a shaking hand, and under the muzzle of the gun, he managed to work out the solution and handed it to the Ataman.

“Correct!” said the Ataman. “Now I see that you really are a professor. Go home!”

George Gamow, My World Line: An Informal Autobiography, New York, 1970, pp. 19-20

Arnold Harberger

If taxes are to be levied, or income imputed, on the basis of the value of agricultural and/or residential properties, it is important that assessment procedures be adopted which estimate the true economic value of property with reasonable accuracy. […] The economist’s answer to the assessment problem is simple and essentially foolproof: allow each property owner to declare the value of his own property, make these declared values a matter of public record, and require that an owner sell his property to any bidder who is willing to pay, say, 20 percent more than the declared value. This simple scheme is self-enforcing, allows no scope for corruption, has negligible costs of administration, and creates incentives, in addition to those already present in the market, for each property to be put to that use in which it has the highest economic productivity. The beauty of this scheme, so evident to economists, is not, however, appreciated by lawyers, who object strongly to the idea of requiring the sale of properties, possibly against the will of their owners. The economist can retort here that if owners value their property at the price at which they would be willing to sell, they should not be unwilling to sell at a price 20 percent higher.

Arnold Harberger, ‘Issues of Tax Reform in Latin America’, Fiscal Policy for Economic Growth in Latin America: Papers and Proceedings of a Conference Held in Santiago, Chile, December, 1962; under the Auspices of Joint Tax Program Organization of American States, Inter-American Development Bank, Economic Commission for Latin America, Baltimore, Maryland, 1965, p. 290

G. H. Hardy

Classical scholars have, I believe, a general principle, difficilior lectio potior—the more difficult reading is to be preferred—in textual criticism. If the Archbishop of Canterbury tells one man that he believes in God, and another that he does not, then it is probably the second assertion which is true, since otherwise it is very difficult to understand why he should have made it, while there are many excellent reasons for his making the first whether it be true or false.

G. H. Hardy, Ramanujan: Twelve Lectures on Subjects Suggested by His Life and Work, Cambridge, 1940, p. 4

Anna Funder

“How are you treated today, as a former Stasi man?’ I ask. I would like to find out why he is disguised as a westerner.

‘The foe has made a propaganda war against us, a slander and smear campaign. And therefore I don’t often reveal myself to people. But in Potsdam people come up and say’—he puts on a small sorry voice—‘“You were right. Capitalism is even worse than you told us it would be. In the GDR you could go out alone at night as a woman! You could leave your apartment door open!”’

You didn’t need to, I think, they could see inside anyway.

‘This capitalism is, above all, exploitation! It is unfair. It’s brutal. The rich get richer and the masses get steadily poorer. And capitalism makes war! German imperialism in particular! Each industrialist is a criminal at war with the other, each business at war with the next!’ He takes a sip of coffee and holds his hand up to stop me asking any more questions.

‘Capitalism plunders the planet too—this hole in the ozone layer, the exploitation of the forests, pollution—we must get rid of this social system! Otherwise the human race will not last the next fifty years!’

There is an art, a deeply political art, of taking circumstances as they arise and attributing them to your side or the opposition, in a constant tallying of reality towards ends of which it is innocent. And it becomes clear as he speaks that socialism, as an article of faith, can continue to exist in minds and hearts regardless of the miseries of history. This man is disguised as a westerner, the better to fit unnoticed into the world he finds himself in, but the more he talks the clearer it becomes that he is undercover, waiting for the Second Coming of socialism.

Anna Funder, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, New York, 2002, p. 86

Daniel Kevles

In 1905. Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker rejected the sterilization act of the Pennsylvania legislature with the ringing broadside: “It is plain that the safest and most effective method of preventing procreation would be to cut the heads off of the inmates.” (Not long afterward, Pennypacker wise­ cracked down a raucous political audience: “Gentlemen, gentlemen! You forget you owe me a vote of thanks. Didn’t I veto the bill for the castration of idiots?”)

Daniel Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity, Berkeley, 1985, p. 109

Tristam Hunt

To Engels’s mind, there was nothing in math that was not already in nature; mathematics was simply a reflection and an explanation of the physical world. As a result, he attempted to crowbar all sorts of mathematical models into his system of dialectics. “Let us take an arbitrary algebraic magnitude, namely a,” begins one passage in Dialectics of Nature. “Let us negate it, then we have -a (minus a). Let us negate this negation by multiplying -a by -a, then we have +a, that is the original positive magnitude, but to a higher degree, namely to the second power.” As the Trotskyist scholar Jean van Heijenoort points out, this is all horribly confused: to take just one example, ”negation” in Engels’s usage can refer to any number of differing mathematical operations. Worse was to come as Engels, playing the reductive philistine, dismissed complex numbers and theoretical mathematics—those parts of theoretical science that went beyond a reflection of natural phenomena—as akin to quackery: “When one has once become accustomed to ascribe to the [square root of] -1 or to the fourth dimension some kind of reality outside of our own heads, it is not a matter of much importance if one goes a step further and also accepts the spirit world of the mediums.”

Tristam Hunt, Marx’s General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels, New York, 2009, pp. 286-287

Tim Wu

At some magical moment during that first year, it happened: the lift generated by paid advertising exceeded the gravity of costs. And at that point, like the Wrights’ aeroplane, the New York Sun took flight, and the world was never really the same again.

Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants: The Epic Struggle to Get Inside Our Heads, New York, 2016, p. 14

Charles Mackay

Raymond [Lull] married an early age; and, being fond of pleasure, he left the solitudes of his native isle, and passed over with his bride into Spain. He was made Grand Seneschal at the court of King James, and led a gay life for several years. Faithless to his wife, he was always in the pursuit of some new beauty, till his heart was fixed at last by the lovely but unkind Ambrosia de Castelo. This lady, like her admirer, was married; but, unlike him, was faithful to her vows, and treated all his solicitations with disdain. Raymond was so enamoured, that repulse only increased his flame; he lingered all night under her windows, wrote passionate verses in her praise, neglected his affairs, and made himself the butt of all the courtiers. One day, while watching under her lattice, he by chance caught sight of her bosom, as her neckerchief was blown aside by the wind. The fit of inspiration came over him, and he sat down and composed some tender stanzas upon the subject, and sent them to the lady. The fair Ambrosia had never before condescended to answer his letters; but she replied to this. She told him that she could never listen to his suit; that it was unbecoming in a wise man to fix his thoughts, as he had done, on any other than his God; and entreated him to devote himself to a religious life, and conquer the unworthy passion which he had suffered to consume him. She, however, offered, if he wished it, to show him the fair bosom which had so captivated him. Raymond was delighted.

Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, London, 1841

Kenneth Williams

Went to bed reflecting on the difficulty age has in pretending. It’s easier for youth & middle age to cheat despair, but after 60 life’s utter futility becomes cruelly obvious. The whole con is exposed & you see that there is not going to be any happy ending, contentment, or fulfilment… just a waiting for death as the final, sole, and only relief.

Kenneth Williams, The Kenneth Williams Diaries, London, 1993, p. 764

Kenneth Williams

Thought a lot about the trip to Dublin. The atmosphere of seediness and decay about the city, and the feeling of utter provinciality combined to make me feel depressed. There is something terribly doomed about the Irish. They’ve got the poetry—you can hear it in their speech and feel it in their art: but they need the organising genius to prosper. They need the English. They need a nation of shopkeepers, mercenary philistines, to counterbalance them: And ironically they reject them (quite reasonably of course judging from the past) but one sees that Wales would go irrevocably to the same kind of arable-ism if she severed her ties with England.

Kenneth Williams, The Kenneth Williams Diaries, London, 1993, p. 361

David Hoffman

Gorbachev did not set out to change the world, but rather to save his country. In the end, he did not save the country but may have saved the world.

David Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy, New York, 2009, p. 174

C. D. Broad

Experience as a member of many committees in Cambridge and elsewhere has taught me the desirability of retiring before one has become too ‘ga-ga’ to realize just how ‘ga-ga’ one is becoming. I am now approaching the end of my 83rd year, and prudence and laziness combine in advising me not to expose myself further in print.

C. D. Broad, ‘Preface’, in David Cheney (ed.), Broad’s Critical Essays in Moral Philosophy, New York, 1971, p. 15

Robert Nozick

One might hold that nothingness as a natural state is derivative from a very powerful force toward nothingness, one any other forces have to overcome. Imagine this force as a vacuum force, sucking things into nonexistence or keeping them there. If this force acts upon itself, it sucks nothingness into nothingness, producing something or, perhaps, everything, every possibility.

Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981, p. 123

Scott Alexander

I think about this every time I hear someone say something like “I lost all respect for Steven Pinker after he said all that stupid stuff about AI”. Your problem was thinking of “respect” as a relevant predicate to apply to Steven Pinker in the first place. Is he your father? Your youth pastor? No? Then why are you worrying about whether or not to “respect” him? Steven Pinker is a black box who occasionally spits out ideas, opinions, and arguments for you to evaluate. If some of them are arguments you wouldn’t have come up with on your own, then he’s doing you a service. If 50% of them are false, then the best-case scenario is that they’re moronically, obviously false, so that you can reject them quickly and get on with your life.

Scott Alexander, ‘Rule Thinkers In, Not Out’, Slate Star Codex, February 26, 2019

Tyler Cowen

[W]hen people say, “Oh, I’m a deontologist. Kant is my lodestar in ethics,” I don’t know how they ever make decisions at the margin based on that. It seems to me quite incoherent that deontology just says there’s a bunch of things you can’t do or maybe some things you’re obliged to do. But when it’s about more or less — “Well, how much money should we spend on the police force?” Try to get a Kantian to have a coherent framework for answering that question, other than saying, “Crime is wrong,” or “You’re obliged to come to the help of victims of crime.” It can’t be done.

Tyler Cowen, ‘Rob Wiblin interviews Tyler on Stubborn Attachments‘, October 16, 2018

David Reich

The genomic evidence of the antiquity of inequality—between men and women, and between people of the same sex but with greater and lesser power—is sobering in light of the undeniable persistence of inequality today. One possible response might be to conclude that inequality is part of human nature and that we should just accept it. But I think the lesson is just the opposite. Constant effort to struggle against our demons—against the social and behavioral habits that are built into our biology—is one of the ennobling behaviors of which we humans as a species are capable, and which has been critical to many of our triumphs and achievements. Evidence of the antiquity of inequality should motivate us to deal in a more sophisticated way with it today, and to behave a little better in our own time.

David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, New York, 2018, p. 246

Steve Andreas

A young soldier wakes up in his army barracks one morning and begins acting very strangely. He spends all his time searching, looking under, in, behind—everywhere—in an obsessive search for something. When his commanding officer asks what is going on, the soldier says, “Sir, I’m looking for a piece of paper.” “Did you lose it?” “No, sir.” “What is it?” “I don’t know, sir.” “Well, what does it look like?” “I don’t know, sir.” After a lot of fruitless questioning like this, the officer gives up. Meanwhile the soldier keeps searching everywhere.

Finally, after a few days of this incessant searching, the officer sends the soldier over to the psychiatrist who asks, “Well, what seems to be the problem?” Again the soldier says “Well, I’m trying to find a piece of paper.” As the psychiatrist asks him questions, the soldier goes through all the papers on the psychiatrist’s desk, looks in the waste basket, on the shelves, under the rug, and so on. He continues to search everywhere for the paper, incessantly. Finally after several days of this, the psychiatrist gives up and says, “Well, son, I think the Army’s been a little too rough on you. I think we had better give you a psychiatric discharge.” He fills out the discharge form, and as the hands it over, the soldier says excitedly, “There it is!

Steve Andreas, Transforming Your Self: Becoming Who You Want to Be, Moab, Utah, 2002, p. 26

Bryan Caplan

I have a dream that one day, people who refuse to bet on their statements will be viewed with greater contempt than those who bet and lose.  Who’s with me?

Bryan Caplan, ‘The Mankiw-Krugman Non-Bet’, EconLog, March 11, 2009

Brian Tracy

It’s been said that you should never share your problems with others because 80% of people don’t care about your problems anyway, and the other 20% are kind of glad that you’ve got them in the first place.

Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, 3rd ed., Oakland, 2017, p. 73

Nicholas Christakis & James Fowler

You don’t need to be the most beautiful or most wealthy person to get the most desirable partner; you just need to be more attractive than all the other women or men in your network. In short, the networks in which we are embedded function as reference groups[.]

Nicholas Christakis & James Fowler, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, New York, 2009, p. 74

Paul Bloom

It is because of empathy that we often enact savage laws or enter into terrible wars; our feeling for the suffering of the few leads to disastrous consequences for the many.

Paul Bloom, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, New York, 2016, p. 127