Bertrand Russell On Confirmation Bias

If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance with his instincts, he will accept it even on the slenderest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.

-Bertrand Russell, Proposed Roads to Freedom, 1918.

I Have Never Attended the Funeral of a Murdered Man, But . . .

I have never attended the funeral of a murdered man, but I take it that at such a ceremony some distinction is made between the mourners and the assassins.

-Harold Macmillan, quoted in The Last Lion, Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874-1965, by Paul Reid.

Salman Rushdie on Freedom of Thought

The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a 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, Do we have to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again?, 2005

Carl Sagan: I Try Not To Think With My Gut

I try not to think with my gut. If I’m serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble. Really, it’s okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in.

-Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, 1995, p. 180.