What is real?

We all think we know. But do we? This isn’t an argument in favor of nothing being real. On the contrary. It’s simply that knowing what is real and what is not can be difficult to suss out. Knowing that this barrier exists is perhaps the beginning of true wisdom.

There’s the small matter of cognitive biases, those well-established and attested brain blocks that make us think we know the score when we really don’t. Cognitive biases often have us seeing what we have trained ourselves to see rather than what is actually there.

When all you have is a hammer, all you see is nails.

Related, but not entirely distinct from this, are our emotions and our ego, which often have us seeing what makes us feel good rather than what is actually there. These can be just as vicious on rationality as the more objective cognitive biases, if not more. It is difficult to confront reality when reality is hurtful to us. And yet we must.

Rationality is a powerful tool that all those seeking self-actualization must employ if they wish to rise above. There are few things more damaging to our own success than being unwilling or unable to see reality for what it is and to deploy reason to extrapolate meaning from that.

These quotes all underscore the importance of both knowing what is real and understanding it rationally.

Quotes About Perceived Reality and Subjectivity


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Upton Sinclair


“It is remarkably difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Upton Sinclair

George Carlin quote on cognitive

“It turned out I was pretty good in science. But again, because of the small budget, in science class we couldn’t afford to do experiments in order to prove theories. We just believed everything. Actually, I think that class was called Religion. Religion class was always an easy class. All you had to do was suspend the logic and reasoning you were being taught in all the other classes.”

George Carlin, Brain Droppings

E.B. White quote on cognitive

“I have yet to see a piece of writing, political or non-political, that doesn’t have a slant. All writing slants the way a writer leans, and no man is born perpendicular, although many men are born upright.”

E.B. White


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Dale Carnegie


“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.”

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Machiavelli


“Men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, for everyone can see and few can feel. Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.”

Niccolò Machiavelli


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Nietzsche


“How pleasant is the sound of even bad music and bad motives when we are setting out to march against an enemy!”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on The Prejudices of Morality

Mark Twain quote on cognitive

“In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.”

Mark Twain


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Orwell


“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

George Orwell

George Orwell quote on cognitive

“For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?”

George Orwell, 1984

George Orwell quote on cognitive

“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.”

George Orwell, 1984


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Johnathan Swift


“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”

Jonathan Swift


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Karl Lagerfeld


“If you stick to something doggedly, you are off to a bad start.”

Karl Lagerfeld


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Phillip K. Dick


“Reality is that which doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it.”

Phillip K. Dick

JFK quote on cognitive

“For the great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie-deliberate, contrived and dishonest- but the myth- persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

John F. Kennedy


Cognitive Bias Quotes - James Wolcott


“The lies the government and media tell are amplifications of the lies we tell ourselves. To stop being conned, stop conning yourself.”

James Wolcott

Sam Harris quote on cognitive

“If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?”

Sam Harris


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Blaise Pascal


“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”

Blaise Pascal, De l’art de Persuader


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Jim Barksdale


“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”

Jim Barksdale


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Moynihan


“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Daniel Patrick Moynihan 

Quotes About Being Rational and Accepting Facts

Alexis de Tocqueville quote on cognitive

“The practice which obtains amongst the Americans of fixing the standard of their judgment in themselves alone, leads them to other habits of mind. As they perceive that they succeed in resolving without assistance all the little difficulties which their practical life presents, they readily conclude that everything in the world may be explained, and that nothing in it transcends the limits of the understanding. Thus they fall to denying what they cannot comprehend; which leaves them but little faith for whatever is extraordinary, and an almost insurmountable distaste for whatever is supernatural.”

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America Volume 2


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Marcus Aurelius


“The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.”

Marcus Aurelius

Benjamin Franklin quote on cognitive

“Friends and neighbors complain that taxes are indeed very heavy, and if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly; and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an abatement. However, let us hearken to good advice, and something may be done for us: ‘God helps them that help themselves’ as Poor Richard says.”

Benjamin Franklin, The Way to Wealth

Rene Descartes quote on cognitive

“And thus, the actions of life often not allowing any delay, it is a truth very certain that, when it is not in our power to determine the most true opinions we ought to follow the most probable.”

Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Albert Einstein


“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


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Andrew Carnegie


“He that cannot reason is a fool. He that will not is a bigot. He that dares not is a slave.”

Andrew Carnegie

Ayn Rand quote on cognitive

“Since knowledge, thinking, and rational action are properties of the individual, since the choice to exercise his rational faculty or not depends on the individual, man’s survival requires that those who think be free of the interference of those who don’t. Since men are neither omniscient nor infallible, they must be free to agree or disagree, to cooperate or to pursue their own independent course, each according to his own rational judgment. Freedom is the fundamental requirement of man’s mind.”

–  Ayn RandCapitalism: The Unknown Ideal

Ayn Rand quote on cognitive

“A rational mind does not work under compulsion; it does not subordinate its grasp of reality to anyone’s orders, directives, or controls; it does not sacrifice its knowledge, its view of the truth, to anyone’s opinions, threats, wishes, plans, or “welfare.” Such a mind may be hampered by others, it may be silenced, proscribed, imprisoned, or destroyed; it cannot be forced; a gun is not an argument.”

Ayn RandCapitalism: The Unknown Ideal

Ayn Rand quote on cognitive

“It is from the work and the inviolate integrity of such minds—from the intransigent innovators—that all of mankind’s knowledge and achievements have come. It is to such minds that mankind owes its survival. ”

Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

Karen Joy Fowler quote on cognitive

“Emotion and instinct were the basis of all our decisions, our actions, everything we valued, the way we saw the world. Reason and rationality were a thin coat of paint on a ragged surface.”

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Plato quote on cognitive

“It’s not at all uncommon to find a person’s desires compelling him to go against his reason, and to see him cursing himself and venting his passion on the source of the compulsion within him. It’s as if there were two warring factions, with passion fighting on the side of reason. But I’m sure you won’t claim that you had ever, in yourself or in anyone else, met a case of passion siding with his desires against the rational mind, when the rational mind prohibits resistance.”

Plato, The Republic


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Agatha Christie


“Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory – let the theory go.”

Agatha Christie, The Mysterious Affair at Styles


Cognitive Bias Quotes - Ben Shapiro


“Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

Ben Shapiro