Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

Eleven thousand successive generations of paramecia have been carefully nurtured in the test tube, with no senescence or aging apparent. (In humans, eleven thousand generations would take us all the way back to the dawn of our species.) Except for the slow buildup of mutations, the paramecia at the end of this train of generations were genetically identical to those at the beginning. In a way, the longing for immortality, so characteristic of Western civilization, is a longing for the ultimate regression into the past–to our single-celled ancestors in the seething primeval ocean.

Christopher Hitchens – Hitch-22 (2010)

The usual duty of the “intellectual” is to argue for complexity and to insist that phenomena in the world of ideas should not be sloganized or reduced to easily repeated formulae. But there is another responsibility, to say that some things are simple and ought not to be obfuscated.

Umberto Eco – Foucault’s Pendulum (1988)

You can be obsessed by remorse all your life, not because you chose the wrong thing—you can always repent, atone—but because you never had the chance to prove to yourself that you would have chosen the right thing.

Michael Pollan – The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006)

While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest.


Harry Frankfurt – On Bullshit (1986)

What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.

This is the crux of the distinction between him and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor [to] conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are.

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is therefore responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.