Apt aphorisms, terse truths, and subtle sayings

Updated: Oct 14

by Jeff Hulett

The following are some of my favorite aphorisms. Per the dictionary, an aphorism is “... a concise, terse, iconic, or memorable expression of a general truth or principle. They are often handed down by tradition from generation to generation.” I have placed them in different categories, though, as often is the case with a good Aphorism, they often defy categorization.

Also, I have added some of my own entries. I will leave it to the reader’s judgment whether my entries are deserving.


  1. History

  2. Emotional control

  3. Evolution

  4. Rationality

  5. Risk Management

  6. Intelligence and knowledge

  7. Teaching

  8. Fear

  9. Leadership

  10. Work

  11. Change and Time

  12. Business

  13. Politics


The Greek philosopher Thucydides was the first to observe,

“History repeats itself,” but Karl Marx added,

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.”

Playing off Marx’s view of history as a cosmic joke, Mark Twain noted,

“History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme a lot.”

I said. probably because I heard it from someone else / take off on Twain:

“History doesn't repeat itself but it does resemble itself. “

George Santayana - “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Robert Sapolsky - “Those who do not remember [the great examples of love] are condemned to be less likely to repeat these reasons to hope.” (See chapter 17 of Behave for Sapolsky’s great examples of love)

NN Taleb - “A mistake is not something to determine after the fact, but in light of the information to that point.”

Emotional control

“You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing things with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.” - Warren Buffett


“A chicken is just an egg’s way of making another egg.”

“Evolution is a tinkerer, not an inventor”

“The road to hell is paved with rationalization.”

- from Sapolsky’s book Behave


“Rationality is user defined and relates to the user’s framing and incentives.” - Jeff Hulett

“Seemed like a good idea at the time” - quote relating to framing and incentives.

“Rationality is a boundary condition of human behavior. It drags the mean but it rarely resembles the mean.” - Jeff Hulett

“The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” - NN Taleb. I.e., just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it is not there...

“Markets look less efficient from the banks of the Hudson than from the banks of the Charles” - Fischer Black

“...what is rational is that which allows for survival”

“Not everything that happens happens for a reason, but everything that survives survives for a reason.”

- NN Taleb, Skin In The Game

“Being intelligent is understanding the difference between price and value. Being rational is arbitraging the two.” - Jeff Hulett

Hofstadter's Law: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.” - D. Hofstadter, Godel, Escher, Bach

When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do sir?” - John Maynard Keynes

”A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.” - George Carlin

“Before you criticize someone you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.” - Jack Handey, Saturday Night Live Writer.

Risk Management

“Perfect is the enemy of good” - Voltaire related to the Pareto Principal - 80/20 rule, see also Arthur Rudolph leaky valve toleration quote found in Against The Gods

"When the capital development of a country becomes the by product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done." - John Maynard Keynes

to wit: house flipping, day trading, state run lottery

“Well planned risk taking often ends with positive outcomes, yet with outcomes different than planned”

- Jeff Hulett

“Risk and time are opposite sides of the same coin, for if there were no tomorrow there would be no risk. Time transforms risk, and the nature of risk is shaped by the time horízon: the future is the playing field.” -Peter Berenstein, Against the God

“Investment risk management is a function of time.” - Jeff Hulett, Investment Thoughts For My Children

“Well informed investors diversify because they do not believe that investing is a form of entertainment.”- Peter Bernstein, Against the Gods

“Fragility is (negative) sensitivity to disorder” - NN Taleb, Skin In he Game. (More specifically, That which is fragile has an asymmetric response to volatility and other stressors, that is, will experience more harm than

benefit from it. I added the parenthesis)

“Rationality is risk management.” - NN Taleb, Skin In he Game.

“Don't test the depth of the river with both your feet...” - Warren Buffett

“There is a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable.” - Thomas Schilling

“We all hope for the best, but we need to be ready in the event the best isn’t what we hoped.” - Jeff Hulett

“One may be risk loving yet completely adverse to ruin.” - NN Taleb, Skin In he Game. I think of the barbell approach to investing. Majority of your investments should be in well diversified, risk appropriate investments. This gives you room for a few riskier investments, with a minority of your capital.

“The time value of money benefits the young, but the young don’t appreciate the time value of money” - Jeff Hulett

“Measure twice, cut once” - proverb, I couldn’t find the definitive author

“Money adds meta data to economic interaction (value, risk, etc) much the way neurotransmitters add meta data to sensory input (fear, greed, love, etc).” - George Dyson

In the short term:

“That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” - Friedrich Nietzsche

[to wit: working out or short term work stress builds strength.]

In the long term:

“That which doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”

[to wit: commuting or bad relationships may lead to stress / glucocorticoid related issues like cancer or diabetes.]

”When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure” - Goodhart’s Law

”The market can stay wrong longer than you can stay solvent” - John Maynard Keynes (maybe)

“As a practical matter, regulation tends to swing with the times. After major economic calamities, regulations become more prescriptive - to address specific harm-causing failures. During good times, regulations become more principle-based - to give those regulated the latitude to create in a more flexible environment.

“In my view, good regulation is consistent over time, acting as a countercyclical guidepost to balance the natural swings of our economy.” - Jeff Hulett

”Only when the tide goes out can we see who has been swimming naked.” - Warren Buffett

"Investing in diverse plant communities is a lower-risk strategy than investing in just one species.” - Suzanne Simard

(on why mycorrhizal fungal networks broker carbon between trees)

"I judge a person's intentions by weighing their actions higher than their words." - Jeff Hulett

“An algorithm is just a tool. Data is a representation of past reality. Don’t blame the tool for our past mistakes…. fix the mistakes as found in our past reality.” - Jeff Hulett

“The problem with the ‘Malthusian Fallacy’ is you don’t find out it is a fallacy until after the sky doesn’t fall.” - Jeff Hulett

Intelligence and knowledge

“While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is curiosity that fulfills the eye.” - Jeff Hulett

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” - James Baldwin

“There are no geniuses, really, only what people make with what they are given - that, and a confluence of circumstances.” - Justus Rosenberg, from The Art of Resistance

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing that a tomato doesn't belong in a fruit salad.” - Miles Kington (May 13,1941 – January, 30 2008) was a British journalist, musician and broadcaster

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." Albert Einstein (Also, the Psychologist Iain McGilchrist wrote an entire book about this, called The Master and His Emissary)

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” - Arthur Conan Doyle

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russel

This aphorism reminds me of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

“When we cannot formulate a problem with precision, it is often not because the problem is profound: it is because the problem is false” - Carlo Rovelli

“Intelligence should be viewed as a physical process that tries to maximize future freedom of action and avoid constraints in its own future.” (F = T ∇ Sτ) - Alex Wissner-Gross

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” - Carl Sagan and others

“Transforming communication into thought feeds an introverts energy.

Transforming thought into communication feeds an extroverts energy.

Combining the energy creates intelligence.”

- Jeff Hulett

“When an image is produced by an action upon the external

senses, the actions on the organs of sense concur with the actions in the brain; and the image is then a Reality. When an image occurs to the mind without a corresponding simultaneous action of the body, it is called a Thought. The power to distinguish between a thought and a reality is called Consciousness," - William Smee from Principles of the Human Mind deduced from Physical Laws

(Taking it a step further, it is the entrepreneur that can transform a thought into reality)

“All intelligence is collective. Intelligence arises by the accumulation of random bits of wisdom through the power of small mistakes.” - Alan Turing as presented by George Dyson in Darwin Among The Machines.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” - Michelangelo

"Art is the elimination of the unnecessary." - Pablo Picasso

“Where is the wisdom?

Lost in the knowledge.

Where is the knowledge?

Lost in the information.” - T. S. Eliot

“Where is the information?

Lost in the data.

Where is the data?

Lost in the damn database!” - Joe Celko

"the best we can do is to divide all processes into those things which can be better done by machines and those which can be better done by humans and then invent methods by which to pursue the two." - John von Neumann

“Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet.” - Seneca

“Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet with energetic pursuit.” - Jeff Hulett

“There is a difference between empathy and agreement” - Rais Bhuiyan

(After the September 11 terror attacks, Bhuiyan was one of several people shot by white supremacist Mark Anthony Stroman. Bhuiyan survived, but lost sight in one of his eyes.)

To get at the heart of intelligence, we should have started by looking at the part of human life ordinarily considered "irrational," the opposite of "logical," that perennial problem for computers: emotions.” - Ellen Ullman, Life In Code

“It is easy to lie with statistics - but it is even easier to lie without them.” - Tim Harford, The Data Detective

"We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge." - John Naisbitt, Megatrends

”When we know better, we do better” - Dr. Maya Angelou

“To attain knowledge add things every day. To attain wisdom subtract things every day.” - Lao Tzu

“Our knowledge is amazing; our ignorance even more so.” - Donella Meadows

"Stupid is as stupid does" - said by the main character in the movie Forest Gump

Faith and Religion

“Religion is a faith delivery vehicle. Engaging the vehicle helps support our faith journey, leading to joy achievement.” -Jeff Hulett

“Yet, fundamentally, all spiritual traditions perform the same function, which is to help us tame our mental state, overcome our negativities and perfect our inner potential.”

- Dalai Lama, An Introduction to Buddhism

“Money does not buy you happiness, but a lack of money certainly buys you misery.” - Daniel Kahneman

The good day

A good marriage is

- One part personality compliment,

- Two parts faith alignment, and

- All parts honest and patient.

A good business partnership is

- One part skill and ability compliment

- Two parts value alignment

- All parts honest and patient.

Let’ be good today....

Jeff Hulett


“Teaching should endeavor to make the beautiful simple and to make the simple beautiful." - Justus Rosenberg, The Art of Resistance

"An education isn't how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It's being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don't." - Anatole France (1844-1924)

”I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” - Mark Twain


“Fear does not stop death. lt stops life. And worrying does not take away tomorrow's troubles. It takes away today’s peace ” - Randy Armstrong

“We grow and thrive when we are brave enough to stand in the center of our own pain and listen to what it is trying to communicate.” - Jill Bolte Taylor


“A champion is someone willing to be uncomfortable” - Pat Summitt, Sum It Up

“They don’t care how much you know, unless they know how much you care” - Pat Summitt, Sum It Up

Churchill was fond of quoting a French maxim, "On ne règne sur les àmes que par le calme," meaning, essentially, "One leads by calm. - from The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

"Risk more than others think is safe.

Care more than others think is wise.

Dream more than others think is practical.

Expect more than others think is possible. "

- Cadet Maxim, USMA, West Point, NY

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” - Michelangelo

“Of all the manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most." - Thucidides, Athenian historian (471-400 BC)

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those that mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” - Bernard Baruch

“Confidence is thinking well of your ability. Arrogance is when that confidence causes you to think less of others.” - Randy Walton

"I prefer the errors of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom." - Anatole France, 1844-1924

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." - Luke 12:48

"In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. "

-Thomas Jefferson

"Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." - Napoleon Bonaparte

"Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better." - Pat Reilly

How accuracy, precision, and inspiration enable great teams…..

  1. Precise work is when we individually do our jobs well

  2. Accurate work is when we align our individual jobs to the vision

  3. Inspired work is when we take ownership for the success of the vision, not just our job

Success comes when teams do all well....good leaders enable great teams!

-Jeff Hulett


“....engaging in an activity that, when abused, causes the loss of mental clarity, in addition to bad posture and loss of definition in facial features.” - NN Taleb, Skin In The Game

“His life was a case study in the profitable use of time.” - Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton

Change and Time

“The entire evolution of science would suggest that the best grammar for thinking about the world is that of change, not of permanence. Not of being, but of becoming.” - Carlo Rovelli, The Order Of Time

“The present is the intermediary between past and future; it contains the active agent that produces the future, and it contains the records of the past, which is completed and

irretrievable.” - Hans Reichenbach, The Direction Of Time

“Life is this network of processes for increasing entropy - processes that act as catalysts to each other.” - Carlo Rovelli, The Order Of Time

“Life is humanity’s epic struggle against the inexorable march of entropy.” - Jeff Hulett

“I suppose it is human nature to get anchored in our beliefs. The key is knowing when to drop anchor and sail away.” - Jeff Hulett


“If you are not paying for the product, you are the product” - from the documentary The Social Dilemma (though I think this was quoted from others)

“Invention is the mother of necessity” - Thorstein Veblen, The Instinct of Workmanship: And the State of Industrial Arts

"Technology is not the driver of change; what drives technology is human desire" - Ellen Ullman, Life in Code

{Veblen and Ullman's quotes remind me of the Insatiable Principle, as suggested by David Autor in his article: Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation}


“All people are conservative, we just conserve different things” - Jeff Hulett