This informal paper catalogs a collection of general principles that apply to all, most, or many disciplines and areas of interest. Learn each of these principles once and they can be applied in many situations. The general idea is that an individual will live a happier and more productive life if they possess and live by these principles. These principles apply to intelligent entities whether they are people or smart machines or AI systems possessing Strong AI.
Please note that the conception of general wisdom presented here should not be confused with conventional wisdom, traditional wisdom, or common wisdom. Rather, the intention is to learn from the past and keep what is good, reject what is bad or not so good, and add new value. The bottom line is that general wisdom is what works and can be expected to work for the indefinite future, regardless of the situation.
Conventional wisdom deals more with common current beliefs which don’t necessarily have a completely sound rational basis and have a fair chance of not being true or not as unequivocally true and generally applicable as people say or believe. General wisdom has a significantly higher standard.
The intent here is not to record all popular sayings, but certainly those that really have stood the test of time and shown significant utility in both daily life and not so daily life, including professional and governmental pursuits.
The concept of general wisdom applies to artificial intelligence (AI) as well. Not so much for weak AI systems such as today’s intelligent digital assistants, but certainly for strong AI systems. No robot or AI system would be considered to have human-level intellectual capacity without a significant sense of general wisdom. Teaching machines to be intelligent is rather tedious. What we really want are machines which are intelligent — and possess wisdom.
This collection is not intended to be absolutely exhaustive, but reasonably comprehensive.
It is a work in progress and will be incrementally enhanced as thinking on this topic advances.
Foundation level general wisdom — Level 0 general wisdom
This collection is nominally intended to be the foundation level of general wisdom required for an intelligent entity to be considered to have human-level intellectual capacity. Call it level 0 general wisdom.
At present, no other levels are envisioned, but conceptually level 1 general wisdom would be built on and extend level 0 general wisdom.
There is no current conception of level 2 or beyond. But as definitions of levels of intelligence get more refined, more levels of general wisdom would similarly be defined.
In theory, there would be a level k which is the highest level of general wisdom achievable by a human being.
Then, level k+1 and above (level k+j) would represent the general wisdom for Strong AI systems and ultimately superintelligence systems.
Given the intense interest in endowing machines, AI systems, and robots with near human-level intelligence, it becomes more urgent to more clearly identify the notion of wisdom which such machines will need for us to consider them our intellectual peers.
It is hoped that this paper will be a starting point for discussion of how to endow machines with general wisdom.
Core principles of general wisdom for Strong AI
To state it more boldly, this paper intends to detail the core principles of general wisdom which every machine must possess in order to merit classification as a strong AI system.
They may not be sufficient, but they are necessary.
This paper covers only general wisdom whose principles apply across many domains.
There is also plenty of domain-specific wisdom which is quite useful, but may only have relevance to a much narrower area, such as a single domain or even a narrow fraction of a single domain.
The distinction between knowledge and wisdom can be rather subtle. Knowledge includes facts and know-how, coupled with meaning to an intelligent entity. Wisdom and principles tend to be less specific, more abstract, and more applicable to varying situations.
General knowledge is in between simple knowledge and wisdom, being applicable to varying situations, but more focused on facts and know-how than principles.
In any case, as useful as general knowledge is, the focus of this paper is general wisdom and principles rather than more concrete knowledge, no matter how general.
Common sense encompasses both knowledge and wisdom which comprise good sense and sound judgment in everyday matters which apply to the average, ordinary person.
So we have two areas of common sense:
- Common sense knowledge.
- Common sense wisdom.
Common sense knowledge
Common sense knowledge is relatively synonymous with general knowledge, although the latter may also include more advanced knowledge which is applicable across many domains but not necessarily accessible or of interest to the ordinary person.
Common sense wisdom
Common sense wisdom is the subset of general wisdom which is applicable and accessible to the average, ordinary person. Some principles of general wisdom apply across many domains but are too advanced or specialized for the ordinary person to appreciate or access.
Operationalizing wisdom and principles
How to turn simple plain natural language statements of wisdom and principles into actionable knowledge which can be acted upon by an AI system — or a human being — is an interesting issue.
Especially for machines and AI systems.
But for people as well. Wisdom comes easy for some, but is much more problematic for many.
Knowledge can be represented as a semantic tree or network.
Wisdom and principles may be represented as patterns which can be matched to either preconditions or goals.
But that is easier said than done.
This remains an open issue.
In the human world, we operationalize wisdom and principles through the power of our intellect, education, training, and through repeated experience over an extended period of time.
In the machine and AI world, we wish to greatly accelerate that process.
Either way, operationalization of wisdom and principles is an extreme challenge.
Acquiring wisdom — How to learn and discover wisdom
Ideally, it would be highly desirable that an intelligent entity could learn and discover wisdom on its own, but that can be a very tedious and error prone process and not even practical for current AI systems. In any case, it is well beyond the scope of this paper.
The presumption here is that general wisdom must be taught or preprogrammed rather than independently learned or discovered. At least for the vast majority of individuals.
That said, even diligent attempts to teach, preprogram, and learn general wisdom will fail or be problematic except as experience is used to reinforce its value.
Still, even that is beyond the scope of this paper, which lists the principles rather than how an intelligent entity actually acquires those principles.
Machine detection of wisdom?
Even short of being able to learn general wisdom on its own, could a machine (AI system) even detect wisdom, either by parsing knowledge or by observing entities which are behaving wisely?
That’s a great and open question, ripe for debate.
The immediate answer is that today’s AI systems have no such ability, but who’s to say what abilities AI systems may have 2, 5, 10, 20, 25, or 50 years from now.
But, part of the difficulty with this question at this immediate juncture is that nobody has even asked the question before, let alone attempted to answer it.
So, ask me again in a few years.
Stage of life
It is worth contemplating at which stage of life a given principle becomes apparent and real to the individual. Is it:
- Toddler (1–3)?
- Small children (4–6)?
- Later childhood (7–10)?
- Pre-adolescent (11–13)?
- Adolescent (13–18)?
- Post-adolescent young adult (18–22)?
- Young adult (22–35)?
- Mature adult (35–45)
- Middle age (45–65)?
- Post-middle age (55–75)?
- Elderly (75 and over)
How much can be expected for a child?
How much can be expected for a kid in middle school?
How much can be expected for a teenager or high school student?
How much can be expected for a college student?
How much can be expected for a young adult just out of college?
How much can be expected for a young adult 2–3 years out of college?
How much can be expected for a young adult 5 years out of college?
At what age can a person be expected to be a true adult? 25? 35? 45?
How much of general wisdom can be learned by being taught versus must be learned through experience?
And how might these stages of development of general wisdom apply to machines and AI?
Are there clearly defined stages in development of wisdom, or is it of necessity a generally haphazard process driven by specific life experiences of the individual?
I pondered and agonized over how to organize these principles, but ultimately failed to come up with any satisfying organizing principle other than a simple alphabetical ordering of the text.
Unlike knowledge, which can readily be organized into distinctive and orderly subject areas, general principles, by definition, are generally applicable to all or at least many subject areas.
That said, a future revision of this list of principles of general wisdom may indeed take on some more rational structure.
The list from this paper may also be turned into a spreadsheet which also indexes each principle by both explicit keywords used in the text of the principle plus more abstract keywords conceptually related to the principle.
Proposed level 0 principles of general wisdom
This proposed list of general principles of general wisdom is ordered alphabetically, but ignoring trivial words in the ordering.
The numbering of principles is purely for convenient reference, with no value or priority implied by the numbers.
- Active listening. Asking questions to confirm that one’s interpretation of a communication is correct.
- All knowledge is provisional — subject to change. Everything can change. Perceptions can change. Thinking can evolve.
- All things in moderation. Moderation is generally the optimal path.
- Always consider consequences. Every path or action has consequences, even the choice to do nothing. Consequences have costs — what are they.
- Always consider risks. Every path or action has risks, even the risk of doing nothing. Risks have costs — what are they.
- Always seek peaceful and amicable resolutions as a first choice. Refrain from violence. Resort to violence only as a last resort or in self-defense.
- Always tell the truth. But with the intent to be helpful. Never with the intent to harm. And never with the intent to use truth as a weapon to gain advantage over others. There are always exceptions: children who may not understand, people near death or gravely ill, or the very elderly, near end of life.
- An apple once bitten cannot be unbitten. Some actions or mistakes cannot be easily or completely rectified or undone. We must accept the consequences no matter how badly we regret the original action or mistake.
- Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Murphy’s Law. Not that everything always goes wrong, but simply that there is some statistical chance that something will go wrong at any moment. When you least expect it. At the worst possible time.
- Avoid distractions. Maintain focus. Distractions can reduce the amount of energy applied to the main matter of interest.
- Avoid obsession. Much time, costs, and resources can be expended for little net benefit.
- Bad judgment. Lack of wisdom.
- Balance between competing interests. Very desirable, but can be very difficult to achieve. May be overrated, but still worth pursuing.
- Be careful what you ask for because you might just get it. It may not turn out to be what you expect, and may have more negative consequences than positive consequences.
- Be careful with formal or strict rules. They may be perfectly reasonable in many situations, but it takes… wisdom… to discern when and where that is the case.
- Be careful with issues that are neither fish nor fowl. Rules or values which are pertinent to one domain may not be as pertinent to another domain, so clearly identifying the relevant domain is essential, especially when it is a hybrid domain where the rules and values of neither domain strictly apply.
- Be fair and equitable to all. Unless there is some compelling reason for special treatment, fairness and equity should be the default treatment for all individuals in all matters.
- Be methodical. Strive for completeness with a sense of discipline — and a plan. Lack of method can result in gaps or missed opportunities, or inefficiency.
- Be patient. Frequently the passage of time can permit a matter to be resolved without further significant effort.
- Be wary of gift horses. A gift may have serious flaws which can be so costly to fix that the cost of correcting the flaws may be significant if not greater than the cost of buying something outright, or the energy and attention needed to compensate for the flaws may be such a distraction as to greatly diminish if not outright totally negate the perceived value or benefit of the gift. Alternatively phrased as: Beware of gift horses.
- Beauty is only skin deep. Superficial appearance is a poor guide to what value lies within.
- Belt-and-suspenders. Use more than one method to address an issue to assure that the issue will remain addressed even if one of the methods happens to fail.
- Best house in a bad neighborhood. Something might be deficient in some way, but relatively speaking it may still be superior to the readily available or nearby alternatives. Also phrased as: Buying the best house in a bad neighborhood.
- Beware of the Big Lie. Repetition does not make a proposition true, no matter how many times it is repeated, or with what passion.
- Beware of false negatives. A rule or test may work most of the time, but occasionally fail when it should pass.
- Beware of false positives. A rule or test may work most of the time, but occasionally pass when it shouldn’t.
- Beware of gift horses. A gift may have serious flaws which can be so costly to fix that the cost of correcting the flaws may be significant if not greater than the cost of buying something outright, or the energy and attention needed to compensate for the flaws may be such a distraction as to greatly diminish if not outright totally negate the perceived value or benefit of the gift. Alternatively phrased as: Be wary of gift horses.
- Beware of groupthink. It diminishes the opportunity to exploit individual contributions.
- Beware of hubris. Excessive pride and overconfidence can trip up even the most powerful and most competent. Can cause even the mightiest to stumble.
- Beware of unintended consequences. Your motives may be pure and well-intentioned, but your efforts may result in distinctly undesirable effects which were not intended. Try to consider more carefully any potential consequences in advance of your actions. Seek feedback from others before moving forward with any action. On the other hand, don’t overthink it — sometimes it may be better to simply accept and deal with unintended consequences rather than delay action.
- Be wary of so-called conventional wisdom, so-called traditional wisdom, or so-called common wisdom. Sure, some of it really is still valid, but, a lot of it is dated or no longer contextually relevant. Which is which? Ahhh… that requires… wisdom — which is the whole point of wisdom, a refusal to be strictly guided or strictly limited by rules.
- Be wary of strong claims with weak evidence. Be careful about making strong statements when the evidence is not so strong, and be cautious about accepting statements based on the strength of the emotion and passion with which they are made rather than the calm reason of their evidence and rational justification.
- The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. No matter how well any project is planned, unexpected contingencies tend to crop up and interfere with those plans. One needs to expect the unexpected. The greater the complexity of the plans, the more unexpected contingencies crop up, and/or the greater their negative impact on the plans.
- Better safe than sorry. Some degree of caution is usually warranted.
- Binge — never. Moderation — always.
- Black and white. A clear distinction which identifies two alternatives. A strong need for clarity rather than able to accept ambiguity or nuance. See also: shades of gray.
- Blind men and the elephant. A parable which teaches about subjective truths and vantage points. Each view or experience of the elephant is valid, but each person only sees or experiences a small fraction of the whole elephant. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant
- Boil the ocean. Taking on an impossible task. An effort that may be conceptually sound but very impractical in terms of resources required. A seemingly good idea that is simply laughably impractical and doomed to fail due to its grandiosity.
- Buridan’s ass. A philosophical dilemma in which a donkey is midway between two choices of equal value, in which case it is unable to choose between them, in which case the poor beast dies. In theory. The practical solution is the fielder’s choice — when choosing between alternatives, sometimes the relative merits are so close as to be essentially equal, in which can you can feel free to literally flip a coin and pick any of the comparable alternatives.
- Buying a pig in a poke. Be wary of buying, buying into, believing, or committing to something that you haven’t and cannot see clearly and cannot examine closely. A poke being regional vernacular for a bag or sack, which you cannot see into.
- Buying the best house in a bad neighborhood. Something might be deficient in some way, but relatively speaking it may still be superior to the readily available or nearby alternatives. Also phrased as: Best house in a bad neighborhood.
- Calmly accept the things you cannot change, have the courage to change the things you can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. From the Serenity Prayer.
- A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
- Clarify definitions and assumptions. Don’t take anything for granted. Question everything. Even if there were no malevolent intentions, inadvertent mistakes may have been made. Terms may be defined poorly, vaguely, ambiguously, or outright incorrectly. Assumptions may not be valid or not completely valid in all situations.
- Clear your head. Clear your mind. When too many factors have confused a situation, it can be best to step away from the problem, distance yourself from commitment to all factors, take a little time for your thoughts to settle, and approach the problem with a fresh perspective.
- Common sense — is not so common. But generally quite useful.
- Comparing apples and oranges. Be careful when comparing things which are from distinct categories. Such comparisons are fraught with opportunities for invalid comparisons.
- Compromise only sparingly. Compromise can be a very useful tool, but must be used only occasionally and only in the most appropriate situations. Carefully and mindfully evaluate the costs of what is being conceded against the benefits that are being gained, including the cost of being distracted from continuing on the current path.
- Consider consequences. Including 2nd, 3rd, and 4th-order effects.
- Consider context. Well beyond the immediate matter at hand.
- Correlation does not equal causation. Need to understand the underlying mechanism to discern whether causality exists. Correlation may be mere coincidence.
- Count your blessings. Be grateful for and appreciate all of the good things that you have in your life, not envious of what others have or frustrated or disappointed or angry about what you don’t have.
- Crazy like a fox. Odd behavior which appears foolish or strange may in fact be clever and cunning.
- Crazy like a fox, or just crazy. Whether odd behavior actually has cleverness and cunning behind it or not needs to be carefully assessed.
- Cut your losses. Despite significant investment in an effort, when best efforts are failing to bear fruit, it may be that the cheapest and best path forward is to discard the current effort and start over with a blank slate. Can the current effort be fixed with minimal effort? If not, starting over may be optimal.
- Darwinian evolution. Survival of the fittest. Natural selection based of survival advantages.
- A determined adversary can defeat or find a way around any defense. There will almost always be weaknesses, gaps, or deficiencies of some sort in any defense.
- The devil is in the details. A problem is likely to be more complex than it seems from superficial first glance.
- Dip your toe into the water. Find a subset of an activity that can be engaged in in a provisional manner to evaluate a subset of consequences and whether it might be successful before diving in and being exposed to the full consequences. Save costs, save time, and avoid significant negative consequences. See also: testing the waters.
- Distinction without a difference. Technically different, but close enough to be treated as the same. How significant is the distinction? Or should it be a difference without distinction? Superficial vs. deeper meaning.
- Don’t believe everything you hear. Some things can be false, mistaken, exaggerated, misleading, or irrelevant.
- Don’t believe everything you read. Some things can be false, mistaken, exaggerated, misleading, or irrelevant.
- Don’t believe everything you see. Some things can be false, mistaken, exaggerated, misleading, or irrelevant.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Commit only to tasks and goals which you have a reasonable chance of achieving. Understand costs and consequences before embarking on any venture.
- Don’t borrow trouble. Don’t imagine and act as if an action is required when it is not a certainty, especially when the unwarranted action will have significant costs or negative consequences.
- Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow. Don’t anticipate and worry about difficulties that may or may not not come to pass in the future, especially when the anxiety can cause one to fail to enjoy the present to the fullest or have significant costs or negative consequences.
- Don’t cast pearls before swine. Don’t waste valuable resources on those who are unable to appreciate them. Don’t waste your time speaking to an unreceptive audience. Source: Bible — Matthew 7:6 — Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
- Don’t chase after white whales. Ala Captain Ahab of Moby-Dick, obsessing after some unachievable or dubious goal can require much time, expenditure, and resources with little net benefit to show for it.
- Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Good enough is commonly good enough.
- Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Accept a gift as it is, without looking for possible flaws. Take joy from the simple act of giving and receiving the gift — don’t diminish that joy by looking for something to criticize. Alternatively, don’t be surprised if a gift is flawed in some way — if you look hard enough, you can always find some flaw. Also phrased as: Never look a gift horse in the mouth.
- Don’t overthink. Analysis is good, but can reach diminishing returns.
- Don’t rush. Take your time — rushing can result in avoidable mistakes or missed opportunities.
- Don’t take anything for granted. Question everything.
- Don’t waste your time. Efficient use of resources, including time, permits them to be applied to more activities, some of which may have higher value.
- Don’t waste your time on fools. Fools invariably waste time and resources, and distract from more valuable activities.
- Drop in the bucket. Drop in the ocean. Something may seem significant on its own but be rather insignificant in a larger context,
- Dry runs can minimize costs and negative consequences. Dry runs can be easily rerun with variations to test out a wide variety of parameters and assumptions, with minimal cost and none of the negative consequences of actual action in the real world.
- Dubious nature of predictions. “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” “Never make predictions — especially about the future.” “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” “Predictions are very difficult, especially when the future in involved.”
- Easy come, easy go. Don’t be surprised that something that was easy to achieve might be lost very easily as well. Alternatively, used to characterize the attitude of individuals who expect things to be gotten easily and then don’t exert much effort to keep them, such as money or love.
- Eat shit — ten billion flies can’t be wrong. Raw numbers don’t necessarily tell the truth. Popularity is not a reasonable guide to truth. Source: Scratched into the wooden writing surface of my seat in my freshman college chemistry lecture hall. Other wisdom from this “library” of “wisdom”: Flush twice — it’s a long way to the cafeteria.
- Even in victory, avoid triumphalism in favor of humility. Victory can be fleeting, so it is better to prepare for further efforts in the future, and to seek to find value in those over whom victory has been achieved. Hubris can have severe negative consequences, either by distracting one from important tasks, or rendering own oblivious to looming threats.
- Every dark cloud has a silver lining. Adversity usually offers opportunity.
- Every form of refuge has its price. Every accomplishment has costs and consequences, no matter how positive its benefits.
- Everybody deserves a second chance.
- Everything and everyone has something to teach. We can all learn from everything and each other.
- Everything happens for a reason. Does everything happen for a reason? Does everything need a reason? Still, this is an enduring belief.
- Everything I say is false. The infamous Liar paradox. Superficially, if the statement is true then it can’t be false, and so on, ad infinitum. The superficial analysis doesn’t always uncover nuances of deeper, multi-level meaning. Semantics is everything. The nuanced meaning of words can vary in context. Beware of superficial word games. Sometimes literal (and superficial) meaning is not the whole story.
- Everything in moderation. Excess is almost always a bad thing.
- Everything has a purpose. Does everything have a purpose? Does everything need to have a purpose?
- Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. Paraphrase of Einstein.
- Evidence is not necessarily proof. Evidence may support a proposition, but support is not necessarily definitive proof.
- Examples, anecdotes, and “such as” illustrate but do not prove a generalization. They serve only to illustrate. They have no value as evidence or proof.
- Excess is almost always a bad thing. Everything in moderation.
- Experience is a great teacher but a fool will learn from no other. Much knowledge can be learned a lot less painfully than from hard experience. Paraphrase of Ben Franklin.
- Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Carl Sagan.
- Fair inference. There is no great clarity about what constitutes a reasonable and acceptable inference. Subjective judgment is needed in many situations, but some degree of consistency is usually warranted unless an exception is very clearly needed.
- Fairness in all matters. Unless there is some compelling reason for special treatment, fairness should be the default treatment for all individuals in all matters.
- False until proven true. It is not necessary to disprove every notion that is advanced.
- Falsification. Disprove a general claim by identifying a counterexample.
- The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Fear is an irrational emotional response, either a reaction to a real event, or anticipation of a potential event. Caution is a more deliberate, calm, methodical, reasoned approach to matters which might otherwise incite an uncontrollable fear response. Source: FDR.
- Fielder’s choice. When choosing between alternatives, sometimes the relative merits are so close as to be essentially equal, in which can you can feel free to literally flip a coin and pick any of the comparable alternatives. See also: Buridan’s ass.
- Fire is both a tool and a danger. Lack of care can result in more harm than any intended benefit.
- First, do no harm. It may be better to do nothing than take an action that may cause more harm than good. Consider the potential negative consequences before taking action — or taking no action. Don’t take an action without first considering the potential consequences. Source: allegedly the Hippocratic Oath, but that’s not accurate.
- A first fit solution is generally as good as best fit. A best fit solution may be technically superior, but it could take more resources and time to find it and the net benefit no better or even worse than a first fit solution given the extra resources required for the search. And commonly, there is a significant chance that first fit is indeed the best fit.
- First things first. Establish clear and rational priorities and stick to them, highest priority first.
- Focus on getting the question right before focusing too much on getting the answer. The quality of the answer will never be greater than the quality of the question.
- Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. We should learn from our mistakes and have no excuse for being tricked in the same way again.
- A fool will lose tomorrow reaching back for yesterday. The past may have had some value, but past experience may not have the same value in the future, or may not be achievable or as easily achievable in the future, and the distraction of seeking to replicate the past may interfere with our achievement in the future. Source: line from the popular song I’ll Never Love This Way Again by Dionne Warwick.
- A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Consistency is generally a good thing, but in some situations an alternative, inconsistent approach may be needed or beneficial. Source: Ralph Waldo Emerson.
- For every measure there is a countermeasure and for every countermeasure there is a counter-countermeasure, so on ad infinitum. There are no measures that cannot be countered, and there are no countermeasures that cannot be countered.
- Fortune favors the bold. Fortune favors the brave. Success frequently has an element of chance and uncertainty, which can best be overcome by being bold or brave. See also: Luck favors the bold. See also: Luck favors the brave.
- Friend or foe identification. Since an actor may pose a threat, it is essential to identify whether each actor is more of a friend or more of a foe. The degree of threat is spectrum from friend to foe, from close friend, casual friend, associate or neighbor, partner, ally, neutral and possibly disinterested, competitor, adversary, enemy, and ultimately to evil.
- Frugality. Use as little of a resource as possibly. Constantly try to further reduce your consumption of resources. Keep costs and budget as low as possible.
- Game of telephone. As a message (information or a story) is passed from one party to another among numerous or many parties, each party expressing the meaning of the message in their own words, the message will tend to get corrupted, with some information lost at each stage, some information interpreted differently, new information fabricated either intentionally or inadvertently, and the whole message expressed somewhat differently, such that after no more than a few parties the message may bear little resemblance to the original message.
- Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO). A process is unlikely to produce acceptable results if invalid or inappropriate input is provided. Especially true for computer programs.
- General rules can have exceptions. The exception that proves the rule — doesn’t invalidate the rule per se. The point of a general rule is that it applies generally, rather than universally. A true universal rule would have no exceptions.
- Get a second opinion before deciding.
- Give it time. Value of patience. Things frequently do work themselves out. Things change.
- Give it time to bake. Frequently only the passage of time can allow necessary refinements to thinking, plans, and work products to become apparent. This can give time for fresh information to become available and incorporated into thinking, plans, and work products.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt. To accept what someone says as true even if there is no solid justification for its truth or even if there is some doubt or suspicion that it is false, on the theory that there is more potential upside from presuming truth relative to potential downside from presuming it is not true. The benefit could be extended based on trust, past experience with the speaker, or even simply as a courtesy, even to strangers with whom has no experience to base any judgment. In some cases it may be clear that the proposition is outright false, possibly a lie or maybe simply a mistake, but confronting and challenging the speaker might take more effort and have little upside compared to simply accepting the false statement as if it were true so that you may more quickly move on to more important matters.
- Good enough is usually good enough. Perfect, best, and optimal solutions are commonly not required for many situations.
- Good judgment. Fixed rules are frequently not sufficient for all situations.
- The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. At least it looks greener, or at least we feel that it is greener. We’re always less satisfied with what we actually have compared to what we wish we had. We want the new and the different. We want change. We expect that change will make us happier. We always want more. We always want something better, but that is not to say that what we have is necessarily inferior to what we wish we had. And maybe the grass we have is actually good enough for our needs.
- Great value of humility and being humble, even when we believe ourselves to be in possession and masters of perceived significant knowledge.
- Hanlon’s razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor
- Have faith, have a little faith. Belief and hope can tide you over uncertainty or bad times. Bad to be cynical or pessimistic. Good to have some optimism.
- History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. We’re supposed to learn lessons from history. We do, in a fashion, but we commonly fail to apply those lessons in a sensible manner when the time comes again. Source: Karl Marx.
- Hope springs eternal. Optimism is always warranted, even in the face of very real challenges. It is natural to be optimistic. Sometimes good things happen even when they are not expected.
- How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg? Four. Saying that a tail is a leg doesn’t make it a leg. Superficial semantic meaning vs. deep, real meaning. Attributed to Abraham Lincoln. The correctly documented attribution: “the boy who, when asked how many legs his calf would have if he called its tail a leg, replied, ‘ Five,’ to which the prompt response was made that calling the tail a leg would not make it a leg.” Also phrased as: If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?” Answer: Four, because calling it a leg doesn’t make it a leg.
- I know that I know nothing. Socrates, paraphrased. Don’t be so sure of yourself, or even of experts.
- If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Persistence and perseverance are important.
- If everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible. No one can be held accountable. Everyone expects that someone else will take responsibility. Clarity and specificity of personal responsibility is needed — is essential.
- If everything is a priority, then nothing is the priority. You have to pick a very small number of items to be top priority, preferably one or two, or at most three. More than that and focus, attention, and momentum will be too diffused and dispersed to make a big impact.
- If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell. See: If you have a case, thump the case, otherwise thump the table.
- If the facts are on your side, thump the case, otherwise thump the table. See: If you have a case, thump the case, otherwise thump the table.
- If the facts are on your side, thump the facts, otherwise thump the table. See: If you have a case, thump the case, otherwise thump the table.
- If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. Common heuristic or shortcut. Saves time and energy of a full analysis. But can be misleading since it is superficial and may miss nuance.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Sounds just too good to be true.
- If it was easy, somebody would have done it by now. Either something is not as easy as it seems, or nobody has yet discovered the easy way. Or, people know the easy way, in theory, but it has been impractical, so far, but it could become practical as time passes and technology, knowledge, processes, and ingenuity advance.
- If something cannot go on forever, eventually it will stop by itself without any intervention needed. There is not necessarily an urgent need to step in and stop something if there is some reasonable possibility that it will eventually stop of its own accord, which is usually the case. Granted, there may be practical and pressing reasons why you cannot wait for a natural end, but one should set emotion and fear aside and judge with calm, dispassionate reason whether the unintended consequences of explicit intervention are really worth the presumed benefits. Source: Stein’s Law attributed to economist Herb Stein — “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
- If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?” Answer: Four, because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg. Superficial semantic meaning vs. deep, real meaning. Attributed to Abraham Lincoln. The correctly documented attribution: “the boy who, when asked how many legs his calf would have if he called its tail a leg, replied, ‘ Five,’ to which the prompt response was made that calling the tail a leg would not make it a leg.” Also phrased as: How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg? Four. Saying that a tail is a leg doesn’t make it a leg.
- If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Don’t make things worse than they already are. Review your recent actions and beliefs to assess whether any of them have been making your situation worse, and if so, revise your thinking and actions to avoid repeating the dysfunctional or counterproductive behavior.
- If you have a case, thump the case, otherwise thump the table. Rather than being literal advice and wisdom, this is a caution that if you hear someone doing a lot of table thumping — noisy rhetoric — it probably means that they do not have a sound case or sound, rational argument to make. In other words, beware of table thumping. Appears to have been derived from lawyers and courtroom litigation of legal cases, but commonly applied to any form of argument and rhetoric where emotion and passion take over from sound logical reasoning. Alternatively, if facts, reason, and sound judgment are not in your favor, you could resort to noisy, passionate rhetoric, table pounding, and other appeals to emotion, but only as an act of desperation — not the preferred course of action.
- If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table. See: If you have a case, thump the case, otherwise thump the table.
- Ignorance is bliss. You won’t need to worry about that which you don’t know or are not aware of. Consider withholding information from someone if it would only cause them to worry — and potentially become unproductive due to the distraction — and they couldn’t do much about it anyway. Offer knowledge where it is needed and has value — if it’s not needed or has no value, there is no need to offer it.
- In adversity there is opportunity. At a minimum, adversity provides an opportunity to grow. Possibly to learn new things needed to overcome the challenge.
- In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Even limited abilities can have great value in environments where such abilities are not found otherwise.
- In for a penny, in for a pound. When it comes to commitment, you’re either all-in or all-out. If you want to be in a little, you need to make a full commitment. If you are unable or unwilling to to make a full commitment, it’s better to simply stay out. If you’re going to be involved in some matter, be prepared to be fully engaged.
- Inference. Using reason and evidence to arrive at a conclusion. A conclusion which can be justified by a reliance on reason and evidence. Not merely a guess, opinion, or speculation.
- Innocent until proven guilty.
- It always seems impossible until it’s done. Beware of over-confidence in preconceptions. Be open to possibilities.
- It stands to reason. Assertion that a fact or conclusion is obvious, that the assertion or inference should be accepted as true without formally providing the justification for that belief. Generally, this approach should be avoided, but it can be used in a casual or informal setting where full justification is not required. Alternatively, asserting that a fully justified argument could be made in support of a conclusion (fact), but is being skipped as an expediency. This is reasonable to move discussion forward more rapidly, provided that the full justification can be promptly communicated upon request.
- It takes great talent, but it also takes great discipline. Talent or skill alone are not sufficient for success.
- It’s complicated. People commonly want simple answers to seemingly simple questions, but commonly the underlying matter is more complex than it may seem from a superficial first glance.
- It’s the thought that counts. Action and behavior do matter, but the depth and sincerity of intention behind even a very modest action can matter more than the actual action.
- The importance and value of listening — over speaking.
- It’s complicated. Be aware of complexities, nuances, hidden details, and consequences.
- It’s the lightning bolt you don’t see that kills you.
- Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. Voltaire, paraphrased.
- Judgment. The cornerstone of wisdom. Good judgment brings success, bad judgment tends to lead to failure or less than stellar or optimal results.
- Judicious and principled compromise. Compromise can be a very useful tool, but must be used sparingly and only in the most appropriate situations. Carefully and mindfully evaluate the costs of what is being conceded against the benefits that are being gained.
- Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Opportunity does not automatically and by itself justify action. Discretion is usually warranted, as is mindfulness.
- Just because you don’t know your direction doesn’t mean you don’t have one. Previous decisions and actions, coupled with biases driven by your values, may have given you a default direction even while you are not consciously aware of that direction. Whether that direction is desirable or undesirable is another matter — that direction may be fine and advantageous, or not so fine or disadvantageous, which can vary from situation to situation. Whether being on autopilot works for you or not overall will have to be evaluated on an individual basis.
- Just do it. Procrastination and overthinking should be avoided in favor of prompt action. Poop or get off the pot.
- Keep at it. An effort may have gotten tedious, dispiriting, and faced with obstacles, but the optimal path may simply be to persist and put in the necessary effort to finish it. Put your head down and ignore or push through obstacles.
- Kill two birds with one stone. Seek opportunities where a single effort can accomplish two or more tasks or achieve all or part of two or more objectives or goals.
- Know thyself. Reflect on your own abilities, skills, talents, experience, knowledge, interests, better qualities, potential, and failings and limitations. Be self-aware. But also be aware of the difficulty, uncertainty, and even futility of fully knowing yourself. Value of reflection and self-awareness, even if they are difficult or problematic. Also be aware of the danger of presuming qualities, lack of qualities, abilities, or limits of your own if you haven’t first engaged in reflection and self-awareness. Trust your own knowledge of yourself rather than trusting the opinions which others express of you.
- Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns, and unknown unknowns. Carefully characterize the degree to which one is aware of various matters and the extent of knowledge and understanding of each such matter.
- Leave well enough alone. Second-guessing and tweaking are rarely worth the effort and the distraction from other matters, and could in fact make things worse. Any optimization should be based on sound, calm, and dispassionate reasoning, not anxiety or irrational or emotional fear.
- A leopard cannot change its spots. Generally, you cannot change your essential nature. Generally, you cannot expect someone else to change their essential nature. But, what is absolutely essential and absolutely unchangeable is not always clear.
- Let it work its way out by itself. Sometimes problems will indeed resolve themselves. But frequently this is mere wishful thinking. Wisdom is in discerning the distinction for a given problem.
- Like a dog worrying a bone. Intensity of focus. Persistence. Patience. Determination.
- Live and let live. Tolerance of others with differing values is both a virtue and practical.
- Live by the sword and die by the sword. The sword may have significant advantages, but they can come with matching disadvantages.
- Look before you leap. Reconnoiter the landscape before venturing into a new area. Plan. Consider consequences.
- Look for opportunities in conflict. Conflict is typically a negative, but there can be a silver lining in a dark cloud.
- Look for the little door. Look for the smallest opportunities to make even a small amount of progress towards achieving a desired outcome even if there are no significant opportunities to pursue. Even a small success can be leveraged towards a larger outcome.
- Look for synergistic dualities, complementary opposites.
- Looks can be deceiving. Perception rarely provided a complete view on any matter.
- Lost opportunity cost. The benefit one might have gotten from choosing another alternative than the option actually chosen. More properly, opportunity cost.
- Maintain focus. Limited energy, limited resources, and limited attention span need to be exploited with intelligence.
- Majority rules, but respect rights of minorities. Reject tyranny of the majority, but still respect the will of the majority.
- Man errs as long as he strives. Progress has its costs. Mistakes will be made whenever we take risks. Don’t let the mere prospect of potential mistakes deter forward progress, whether minor advances or great leaps. Source: Goethe.
- Minority reports. The majority may be correct, but a close reading of minority reports may discover issues or perspectives that the majority may have missed.
- Moderation. Always. Binge — never.
- Moderation — even in moderation. Sometimes moderation is not the best course. But only sometimes.
- Moderation in all things. Moderation is generally the optimal path.
- Necessity is the mother of invention. The pressure and demands of a need or a hardship can incite or inspire or instigate creativity to create new things or find new solutions.
- Neither dawdle nor rush. Maintain a methodical pace.
- Neither fish nor fowl. A lack of clarity over the nature of a matter. A need to render a black and white distinction when presented with a shade of gray. A strong need to have a black and white distinction when that simply cannot be achieved in a particular situation.
- Never complain, never explain. Move forward with confidence and without distraction. Source: Henry Ford II and British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
- Never confuse public pronouncements with private intentions. People may say one thing in private but not follow through in public, or may say one thing in public and not follow through in private. Washington, DC wisdom.
- Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Accept a gift as it is, without looking for possible flaws. Take joy from the simple act of giving and receiving the gift — don’t diminish that joy by looking for something to criticize. Alternatively, don’t be surprised if a gift is flawed in some way — if you look hard enough, you can always find some flaw. Also phrased as: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
- Never say never. There will always be an exception, or circumstances or assumptions may change. There is always the prospect that unforeseen opportunities might pop up just around the next corner even if the prospects look terminally gloomy in the present moment.
- No harm, no foul. Although annoying or even offensive, an offense should not require a forceful response if no actual harm occurred or was intended.
- No person is above another, everyone is equal. Hierarchies and perceptions of dominance or subjugation are frequently not as robust and durable as they might seem.
- No PR is bad PR. Only lack of attention is bad. Even negative attention can be turned around into positive value.
- Nobody has a monopoly on truth. In any matter.
- Nonviolence should be the norm. Always seek peaceful and amicable resolutions as a first choice. Refrain from violence. Resort to violence only as a last resort or in self-defense.
- Not all good ideas are great ideas. Better to seek the best ideas rather than settle for mediocre ideas. But, see also: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
- Nothing is as it seems. There are always nuances and hidden or obscured details — beware of superficial appearances. Consider what you might be missing or overlooking. Also as: Nothing is what it seems.
- Occam’s razor. The simpler solution or explanation is usually, frequently, or commonly better. The fewer assumptions, the better.
- One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel. A single rotten or bad apple can cause other nearby apples to rot or go bad, and then in a cascading manner can cause all, most, or at least many of the apples in the barrel to rot or go bad. A similar effect can occur for many other phenomena, including individuals in a group or organization.
- Open source. Advantages of transparent and free access to the source materials for intellectual property. Advantages of intellectual property owned by the community.
- Opportunity cost. The benefit one might have gotten from choosing another alternative than the option actually chosen. Less properly, lost opportunity cost.
- Out of an abundance of caution. Preventative steps should be taken even if there is no overwhelming evidence or rationale for believing that something bad might happen. Even a very slight chance of an undesirable outcome is sufficient to take precautionary steps. More relevant when consequences of a negative outcome are especially or significantly severe, but not necessarily warranted if consequences are much more modest.
- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It can cost a lot more to fix a problem than to prevent it or at least fix it early, before it has gotten too bad.
- Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Yes, it is of course great to want to get out a hot spot or unpleasant or difficult situation, but one must exercise care not to have the result be that you’re in an even hotter spot or more unpleasant or more difficult situation than where you just came from. Bad can be bad, but worse is worse than bad.
- Pascal’s Wager: Since the consequences of losing a bet against the existence of God are so severe, it’s much safer to bet in favor of God’s existence since the consequence of losing that bet are essentially nil.
- Passion is the enemy of reason. Passion is a poor guide for reason. Passion is incompatible with reason.
- Perception can be enhanced to be more accurate. Multiple observations. Multiple viewpoints. Multiple instruments. Multiple types of instruments. Multiple observers. Multiple times of observation. Passage of time to consider possibilities for inaccuracy. But ultimately, despite the best intentions and best due diligence, all knowledge remains provisional.
- Perception runs the risk of being inaccurate, misleading, if not outright wrong. It is risky to put absolute faith in perceptions. Interpretation of perception runs the same risks.
- Playing with fire. Fire is both a tool and a danger. Lack of care can result in more harm than any intended benefit. Careless, cavalier, or joking misuse of a dangerous tool or situation is very risky.
- Poop or get off the pot. Procrastination and overthinking should be avoided in favor of prompt action. Just do it.
- Position of luxury. Others may be accepting the burden of taking actions which are contrary to your own positions, granting you the luxury of holding a position without having to shoulder the burden of the consequences of your own position.
- Possession is nine tenths of the law.
- The pot calling the kettle black. Both the pot and kettle are likely equally black (or flawed in some way), so a criticism by one of the other is likely equally true of the critic. Refrain from criticizing others lest you have the same fault.
- Premature optimization is the root of all evil. Better to focus more attention on getting a solution right and keeping it as clean and simple as possible. Premature optimization commonly can add excessive complexity and can add excessive opportunities for additional errors. And it can take up excessive time which could have been used to test the simpler solution to find real errors and real performance bottlenecks. And it can make maintenance and enhancement more difficult. Source: Computer scientist Donald Knuth.
- Proof is in the pudding. Proof of the pudding is in the eating. You have to wait until an event is happening before you can know what will happen during the event, or for confirmation that forecasts of the event are true.
- Proportionality. The magnitude of a solution should be approximately the same as the magnitude of the problem being solved. The magnitude of the punishment for a crime should be approximately the same as the magnitude of the crime committed. The magnitude of the compensation for a loss or harm should be approximately the same as the magnitude of the loss or harm incurred.
- Provisional nature of knowledge. All knowledge is provisional — subject to change. Everything can change.
- Put up or shut up. Address a pressing matter or accept it and move on.
- Quality triangle — you can have any two of quality, time, and cost, but not all three. You can have higher quality in less time, but it will cost you more, or you can have a cheaper result at a lower cost, but it will be lower quality, or you can have higher quality at a lower cost, but it will take a lot more time. You just can’t have all three of higher quality, delivered faster, and at a lower cost. Blame the laws of physics.
- Quantify, roughly. Precise counts can be time-consuming, of low utility, and difficult to interpret without significant context. Better to quantify in some rough sense, such as the summary vocabulary for quantity of: none, virtually none, extremely few, very few, a couple, several, some, a few, less than half, a lot less than half, a little less than half, 50–50, half, roughly half, a little more than half, more than half, a lot more than half, more, many, most, a lot, very many, nearly all, virtually all, and all.
- Question everything. Don’t take anything for granted.
- Rarity of absolute certainty. Rare if not unlikely or even impossible in many situations.
- Reasonable doubt. Exercise caution before leaping to accept a proposition.
- Recognize when you are facing a minefield. A minefield, figuratively, meaning that missteps could cause significant negative consequences, even if not literally fatal. Accept that your path and even individual steps must be considered very carefully, otherwise the consequences could be severe or maybe simply unpleasant.
- Red herring. Fact that’s true but whose relevance is dubious. Avoid resorting to it. Be alert to others resorting to it.
- Reflection and self-awareness. Need to be aware of your own interests, strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and opportunities for improvement and development.
- Refrain from answering hypothetical questions. There is no benefit. Focus on practical matters.
- Refrain from violence. Resort to violence only as a last resort or in self-defense. Always seek peaceful and amicable resolutions as a first choice.
- Reject dogma. Dogmatic beliefs can be overly-constraining and excessively limit opportunities for greater success.
- Reputation. Engenders trust, loyalty, and cooperation.
- Risk. In general. All paths and actions incur some risk, even the risk of doing nothing.
- Risk of the boy who cried wolf. Risk for both nonexistent and premature claims. False alarms as well.
- Risk of lack of common understanding of terms in an exchange. Communication is always problematic, especially for individuals of different backgrounds and values. Technical vocabulary and even interpretation of common words can vary between groups and even individuals.
- Risk of overinterpretation, underinterpretation, and misinterpretation. Interpretation can always be problematic. One may miss details and nuances, read more into the matter than is really there or intended, or flat out misunderstand what was intended. It never hurts to ask questions, known as active listening, to ensure that a matter is properly interpreted.
- Riskiness of induction and generalization. Dangerous. Be careful. Resort to it sparingly and with careful consideration of all assumptions, implications, and consequences. Works well in carefully defined and constrained mathematical systems, but the real world and social world are not usually so well-defined and constrained.
- Risky to presume certainty, no matter how confident we are.
- The road to hell is paved with good intentions. It is positive results that matter, not intentions or flawed plans.
- Role of chance. There but for the grace of God go I. Our good fortune is not wholly of our own doing.
- Rule of 72 for investment return. To calculate how many years it will take for an investment to double, divide the annual rate of return into 72. For example, a 6% return will double in 12 years, a 12% return will double in 6 years, a 2% return will double in 36 years, an 8% return will double in 9 years, a 9% return will double in 8 years, and a 4% return will double in 18 years. It is debatable whether this rule should be classified as general knowledge rather than general wisdom since it is more of a mere formula rather than a truly general principle, but this is a gray area, so it’s a fielder’s choice.
- Run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. Test an idea to see how much support it has before committing fully to it. Also, … see who salutes.
- Self-fulfilling prophecy. A predicted outcome which comes to pass as a fairly direct result of making the prediction, as a result of feedback between belief and behavior, and with a reasonable likelihood that the outcome would not have come to pass absent the original prediction.
- Shot in the dark. Maybe a purely random choice, but maybe not strictly random — a choice could be informed by intuition and experience as well, although without any careful conscious thought or explicit reasoning.
- Silence equals assent. Silence is assent. Silence implies consent. Silence means consent. Maybe, but frequently people are careless and let anxiety or other concerns cause them to keep quiet when they really know they should speak up. They must accept that by remaining silent they effectively give assent. Others must accept that the silence of others only means effective assent has been give, but it isn’t necessarily heartfelt assent.
- Scientific method. Statistically controlled experiments. Peer review.
- Shades of gray. A spectrum or range of alternatives rather than a sharp distinction between two extremes. An acceptance of nuance and ambiguity, without requiring absolute clarity. See also: black and white.
- Share. Just do it, as often as possible. May involve some physical resource, your attention, some effort on your part, or information or expertise. Granted, sometimes it needs to be done selectively, with some attention to potential collateral consequences, positive or negative. Accrue karma points for doing it. Could be altruistic, or could accrue benefits to the sharer, or benefits to a group or society as a whole.
- The simplest explanation is probably the best. Not absolutely true, but a decent first-order approximation.
- The simplest solution is probably the best. Not absolutely true, but a decent first-order approximation.
- Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. Anticipate actions and effects which might occur between the time you observe a situation, decide to take action, take action, and when your actions will have had time to have their consequences occur — the situation may have changed by the time your own actions have had their intended effect. Attributed to ice hockey star Wayne Gretzky.
- Sleep on it. Make a tentative decision and give your unconscious mind at least a few hours, or preferably a full night, to contemplate issues and potential consequences.
- Smell test. Deep analysis may not be needed to come to at least a tentative decision. Very basic, minimal evaluation. Intuition. Judgment. But can be misleading. Be wary of an over-simplistic knee jerk reaction.
- Smoke and mirrors. An illusion. A deception. An exaggeration. The superficial appearance as if something of substance but the reality is less substantial than it seems if not outright nonexistent. Something to be wary of, to avoid.
- Speculation. Creation and evaluation of novel approaches to some problem or explanations for some mystery. May be completely random or guided by intuition and experience.
- The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Yes, the most obvious, the most visible, and the most noisy and even obnoxious issues and complainers get the lion’s share of attention, but that is not necessarily a reliable indicator of their true significance.
- Stages and phases. Break a larger goal into a sequence or parallel collection of stages or phases. This facilitates management of a large project, permitting progress to be monitored and judged. Parallel stages or phases can be assigned to separate resources so that they can be completed in parallel.
- Stand your ground. Persevere in the face of opposition. Resist intimidation by pushing forward.
- Start over. When the current approach to a matter is failing to bear fruit, it may be best to discard the current thinking and start over with a blank slate and take a new approach from a fresh perspective.
- Stay true to your values. Presumes that you have clearly identified your values.
- Stepping-stones. Intermediary steps on the path towards a goal. Incremental progress. Give feedback on progress. Give a sense of accomplishment along the way, especially for a long path. Guides for the path.
- A stitch in time saves nine. Procrastination can have significant downsides. Minor problems can grow into major problems. Best to address issues before they begin to spiral out of control.
- Substance over the superficial. Superficial appearances can be quite alluring, but it is underlying substance where value really lies.
- SWAG — Scientific Wild-Assed Guess. Informed by intuition and experience, without the need for careful conscious thought, reasoning, or explanation.
- Table thumping. Someone is engaging in noisy, passionate, emotional rhetoric, suggesting that they don’t have a sound, rational argument to offer instead. Table thumping indicates a dubious argument. See also: If you have a case, thump the case, otherwise thump the table.
- Take things one day at a time. Predicting the future, even just one day in the future, can be very problematic. And, a lot can change in just one day, or overnight.
- Take your time. Don’t rush — it can result in avoidable mistakes.
- Test the waters. Find a subset of an activity that can be engaged in in a provisional manner to evaluate a subset of consequences and whether it might be successful before diving in and being exposed to the full consequences. Save costs, save time, and avoid significant negative consequences. See also: Dip your toe into the water.
- The stock market (and economists) has predicted nine of the last five recessions. Too many false positives or false negative render a rule less than useful.
- There are always exceptions to every rule. Except this rule? Generally true.
- There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Source: Mark Twain and British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
- There are two kinds of people in this world, those who insist that for every issue there are two kinds of people and those who don’t insist that.
- There’s a method to his madness. Even when activity seems chaotic, there may be a sensible even if obscure reason for it that is more beneficial than wasteful or counterproductive. Also: there’s a method to my madness or there’s a method to one’s madness.
- There’s more than meets the eye. Superficial impressions can be misleading or fail to convey all that matters.
- There’s more than one way to skin a cat. There are almost always alternative approaches to any matter.
- There’s no I in team. Subjugate the will of the individual to the interests of the team as a whole.
- Things are never as bad as they seem.
- Things are never as good as they seem.
- Things aren’t always what they seem. Looks can be deceiving. Nuances may be hidden. Our perception is far from perfect. Or, Things aren’t always as they seem.
- Think, plan, and make carefully thought decisions before acting. Acting on impulse can be counterproductive or have severe negative consequences.
- Third time’s the charm. Initial efforts may fail for a basically good idea, revised efforts may do somewhat better but still not be sufficient, but for whatever reason, a second round of revisions (third attempt) frequently seems to do the trick, or at least be close enough to claim success. Doesn’t always work out, but somewhat frequently if the basic original idea is sound — and the revisions are thoughtful and based on realistic feedback from the real world.
- This sentence is a lie. Don’t get confused or distracted by trivial and nonsensical semantic parlor tricks and games. Focus on practical statements which have practical implications.
- This too shall pass. Many challenges are transitory, much as weather storms pass or a speed bump or pothole. The depth of despair at a given moment should not be used as an indicator of the level of challenges even a relatively short time in the future.
- Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. We’re supposed to learn lessons from history so that we don’t make the same mistakes again, but we commonly fail to learn or apply those lessons. Source: George Santayana.
- Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history are condemned to repeat them. Paraphrase of George Santayana.
- Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. Paraphrase of George Santayana.
- Thought experiments can minimize costs and negative consequences. Thought experiments can be easily rerun with variations to test out a wide variety of parameters and assumptions, with minimal cost and none of the negative consequences of actual action in the real world.
- Three strikes and you’re out. Everybody deserves a second chance, but if after a third chance you still can’t make it, you’re done.
- Time heals all wounds. Many even if not all.
- The truth is in the middle, between the extremes. Not necessarily in the exact middle, but more likely not near the extremes.
- To each his own. Yes, we each have a lot in common, but our differences can have great or at least personal value as well. Give everyone their space to pursue their own needs, desires, and interests. No one size fits all. Beware of generalities.
- Transparency. Free and open access to as much information and process as possible, while respecting privacy and executive privilege, for government, business, civil society, and within organizations and systems.
- Treat underlying causes rather than surface symptoms.
- Trust but verify. Verification is almost always a good thing, especially when emotion, passion, or bias is compelling us to accept a proposition without careful reasoning.
- Trust no one. Trust can be a risky and problematic proposition in some environments.
- Trust your gut. Trust your instincts. Trust your intuition. Given sufficient life experiences, our unconscious and subconscious mind is able to intuitively reach sound judgments with little need for tedious, step by step conscious reasoning. Call it intuitive reasoning.
- Turning molehills into mountains. Refrain from doing it. Be alert to others doing it.
- Two heads are better than one. Collaboration can lead to better results.
- Waste not, want not. Use only what you need of a resource. This will increase the odds that you will have that resource when you need it.
- We have far more in common than that which divides us.
- What comes out of the goose rarely resembles what went into the goose. Best intentions can be led astray when reality intervenes and forces unexpected changes, especially for a complex process with many actors with varying agendas. Original intentions may have been quite admirable, but the final result may fall well short of expectations. Source: my wise accountant when I asked what would happen with a particular tax reform proposal before Congress.
- What goes around comes around. If you attempt to unfairly take advantage of someone else, shirk a duty, or fail to alert someone to a problem, there is a fair chance that someone else will attempt to do they same to you.
- What goes up must come down. Be mindful of the effect of gravity, even in social and financial situations.
- What you see depends on your vantage point. Different vantage points can provide different perspectives.
- When angry count to 10, when very angry count to 100. The passage of time can reduce tension in matters involving significant conflict. Even small amounts of time can have significant benefit.
- When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. When neither is on your side, pound the table. See: If you have a case, thump the case, otherwise thump the table.
- When the law is against you, argue the facts. When the facts are against you, argue the law. And when the facts AND the law are against you, thump the table. See: If you have a case, thump the case, otherwise thump the table.
- When it rains, it pours. Be prepared for more than one thing to go wrong at the same time. Be sure to keep plenty of resources in reserve for potential downpours.
- When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Try to find the silver lining in dark clouds — look past the negatives in a situation and exploit the positives. Set emotional reactions aside and focus on using reason to find a path forward, reusing and repurposing the negatives for a positive outcome.
- When the tiger is away, the monkeys rule the jungle. Value of adult supervision. Reduced expectations with diminished adult supervision.
- When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras. Stick with the simpler explanation until compelled by evidence or sound reason.
- Where there’s smoke there’s fire. Not absolutely always true, but works as a general rule. More technically accurate formulation: Where there’s smoke, there’s a fair chance that there’s fire.
- Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin. Source: Mother Teresa.
- You can fool all of the people some of the time and fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
- You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Reason alone is not always sufficient to compel action. There may be other factors at work, or maybe emotional resistance. Or, maybe the “water” is not as pristine and palatable as you imagine it to be.
- You must learn to crawl before you can walk. It is frequently better or easier to master a simpler, precursor activity before attempting to advance to a more complex activity. Progress in stages of refinement.
Level 0 values
It is beyond the scope of this paper, but any intelligent entity must have values, principles, ideals, and the like.
For background, see my project on American Values: In Search of American Values. Not that an intelligent entity should necessarily have an American flavor, but it provides a starting point for discussion.
A future project would need to identify a minimal set of values for all intelligent entities. Call them level 0 values.
Future work could include:
- Expand list of level 0 principles. What’s missing?
- Develop a proposal for level 0 values.
- Operationalize principles. Detail and refine criteria for when and where a principle applies.
- Detail sequencing and stage of intellectual development for each principle.
- Detail level 1.
- Split level 0 to true core wisdom and move rest to level 1 or higher.
- Contemplate levels 2 and higher.
- Consider how to represent principles in a machine-readable form that could be operationalized by an AI system.
- Contemplate how to test the wisdom of an AI system. Or a human, for that matter.
- Contemplate a training course or learning pathway for general wisdom, for real people, kids or adults.
As with all of my work, there is no clarity as to when or even if I will get around to any of this future work, although continuing to expand the list of level 0 principles is likely.
For more of my writings on artificial intelligence, see List of My Artificial Intelligence (AI) Papers.