Reflections on Aphorisms #108

Well, I got enough stuff done today to avoid a crisis, but that’s not necessarily saying a lot.

It turns out that having my car in to have the oil leak examined actually exacerbated it, because it’s not a gasket like the shop thought but an actual crack in the part itself.

But it won’t be the end of the world.

Aphorism 148

The art of using moderate abilities to advantage wins praise, and often acquires more reputation than real brilliancy. (Maxim 162)

François de La Rochefoucauld


I’ve always prided myself on making use of what I have relatively well.

In truth, this is probably a fantasy, and there are quite a few things that disabuse me of the notion, but it is true that to such a degree as I am successful there is likely more to be said for making do than being particularly exceptional.

One of the things that I’ve never felt is that I’m some sort of chosen one with exceptional aptitudes.

Now, admittedly, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I view myself as unimportant. But it does mean that I approach the world humbly as far as my potential.

Of course, I also believe that people have quite a bit of power and strength in them, so that’s not necessarily pessimistic.

However, as someone who’s had certain experiences as a part of growing up in my family (if second-hand anxiety is a thing, I’ve definitely got it) and been in traumatic work environments, I often find myself doubting my own potential and abilities. I know for a fact that this is keeping me down on my work; I always worry about my ability to complete my tasks.

The result is that I really value the idea that someone who doesn’t have exceptional talent can go on to create something spectacular, and overcome their basic aptitudes.

And I think that this is something universal, something that everyone can appreciate. Yes, the masters have their place, but most of the masters also have a distance from us by merit of their peculiar talents.

I think of it like classical music. I love classical music, but I grew up in a family with a lot of musicians, including (if you go far enough) professors of music and professionals with advanced degrees in music (from back when degrees meant something).

One of the things that interests me here is that most of my family members aren’t what you’d consider prodigies. They’re good, perhaps even great, at what they do, but none of them just picked up music naturally (except perhaps my maternal grandmother and a few individuals on her side of the family who I’m not familiar with). My parents, in particular, though musical, are where they are as a result of practice and not just having skill from the very beginning.

And I think that there’s some merit to that which you don’t get if you’re just particularly sharp. At some point, your edge fades, and you have to find the strength to carry on. If you’ve been tapping into that strength forever, you’ve developed it, but if you’ve been getting by on raw talent there’s not that substance there to carry you on.


Work with what I have, not what I would like to have.

When I can’t be great, at least be good.

Never waste a talent because it is humble.

Reflections on Aphorisms #6

Another day, another set of reflections.

Aphorism 9

What I learned on my own I still remember.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes


There’s a stark difference between education and learning.

One of the foundations of learning is engagement. If someone doesn’t pay attention, they don’t learn.

A lot of our school system is based on things that aren’t engaging to students, which is why the focus is on rote repetition and memorization (though less so than in the past, and our level of engagement is perhaps no higher).

Another part of this is that there’s an element of activity in doing, rather than just passive reception, which fosters greater memory.

My Life

I read incessantly. More or less incessantly. Okay, I read a lot. Not infinitely, but certainly more than average. I’ve been aiming for a book a week, and I don’t necessarily keep up with that on a micr0-scale but I certainly keep it up on a yearly scale.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that I don’t remember a majority of what I learned in school. I’ve probably forgotten a lot of what I learned on my own as well.

However, it’s certainly a lot less painful to forget something I read than something I paid to learn.

Oh, and of course, the few things I remember from school were the most interesting to me. Anything I was forced to learn I only remembered if it turned out to be surprisingly pleasant.

Montaigne may have been right.


Be surprised by some new learning every day.

Strive to learn, and learn outside my bubble.

Do, don’t observe.

Aphorism 10

“For example” is not proof.

Yiddish proverb, from The Viking Book of Aphorisms


One of the things that I discussed with an acquaintance today is how modern history curriculum sucks because it tries to be causal.

They try to justify their existence by looking at patterns and then putting together links and a chain of events.

I’ve been reading through Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Incerto, and the current book I’m on, The Black Swan (Amazon affiliate link), covers this as one of the fallacies of reasoning that stem from human limitations.

I think it’s also a tendency to like to justify knowledge beyond just what it is good for. Knowing things is beneficial, but people have this tendency to be restless with information, to stretch and interpret it until they are left not with the original but rather an interpretation of it, having forgotten the objective fact in favor of the worldview’s supporting pillar.

This has self-evident risks, because if the process goes wrong it can go dreadfully wrong.

My Life

I am guilty of having “For example” in my top ten phrases.

Now, to be fair, I tend to use it literally in the sense of providing an example.

I don’t typically care to win arguments.

No, that’s untrue.

I don’t typically care to argue. When I do I like winning.

But I don’t argue, and most of the time I give an example it’s not to prove my point but simply to clarify what I mean.

With that said, I’m not making this an “agree with every aphorism” thing but rather a “reflect on every aphorism” thing, and I think I’ll partially disagree with this.

Evidence is good.

Bad evidence is bad.


When I give an example to try to prove something, I will make sure it actually proves my point.

Don’t mistake the tree for the forest.

Trust with hesitation.