A tw**t from Pinker

Well, when you’re quoted on a Chipotle bag, you know you’re not only a public intellectual, but a public superstar intellectual. The only way you can be more famous is to appear as a character on The Simpsons.

Screen shot 2014-07-14 at 7.56.14 AM

But I want to know why Pinker is eating at Chipotle*? (I hope the photo came from one of his fans.)

Notice, too, that they chose an idealistic and happy quote (like Chinese fortune cookies, none of which ever have fortunes that say, “You suck!”).  I suppose that’s what makes people associate good feelings with the restaurant. It will be a cold day in the Yucatán when they put an atheist slogan on a burrito bag.

I’d love to see this one, for instance:

Pretending to be certain when one isn’t—indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable—is both an intellectual and a moral failing.
—Sam Harris


*For non-Americans, Chipotle is a chain that purveys bland and Americanized Mexican food


  1. Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I once got a cookie fortune that read, “You can count your friends on one hand.” I’m still not sure how to take that.

    • grasshopper
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      … but on the other hand you can’t count your enemies?

    • Paul S
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Personal favorite fortune cookie; Someone would love you if you weren’t so ugly. Kept in my wallet for 20 years before it completely disintegrated

  2. D'oh
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Many years ago, the day before I started graduate school, I got a fortune from a fortune cookie that read: “A goal far beyond your reach.”

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      “A goal far beyond your reach.”

      So, you got a starring role in “PhD – The Comic” instead?

  3. Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I love Chipotle!

    • Parker
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Qdoba all the way!

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        Qdoba chicken burrito, with bbq sauce and everything.

      • aspidoscelis
        Posted July 14, 2014 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

        Y’all must live back east or something. 🙂

    • Kevin
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      I do too…but they measure only average to above average on comparison to nation wide burrito vendors:

      See here for in depth burrito comparisons:


      You can peruse a plethora of burrito alternatives. I live in the SW, so I have some masterful choices near me (non-chain, unfortunately for those elsewhere)

    • Posted July 14, 2014 at 6:07 pm | Permalink


      I just ate there tonight. As far as bland food that is served fast, it beats the hell out of McDonald’s and its ilk.

  4. Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    while not really disagreeing with your characterization, it is also true that in many cities Chipotle is the best approximation to a burrito available, just as in many places Starbucks (or morebucks as it is known around here) is the closest one will get to coffee. (A fellow postdoc from the mid-West told me that years ago when we were at UCSF, I didn’t believe him at the time – turned out he was right)

    • Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I’m not disagreeing with you that Chipotle is at least edible. I just wouldn’t live in the cities where it’s the best Mexican food you could get! Fortunately, I live in Chicago.

      • Charles Jones
        Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        Chipotle, with its fresh and straight-forward ingredients, is a welcome relief on the interstates (compared to, e.g., Cracker Barrel).

        But, on our upcoming trip to Chicago we are planning a stop at Sol de Mexico (highlighted on WEIT) and ‘Nuevo Leon’ in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Pittsburgh has little in the way of authentic Mexican food!

        I also hope to hit Lao Sze Chuan (from WEIT) and Spring World (from, you guessed it, WEIT).

        Always nice to hear of great neighborhood restaurants in Chicago!

      • DireLobo
        Posted July 14, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

        And you ave Rick Bayless of Tapolobampo and Fronterra! If you haven’t been Jerry, you ought to.

      • mordacious1
        Posted July 14, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

        Chipotle is great if you smother their food in cilantro!!

        • Kevin
          Posted July 14, 2014 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

          I think cilantro is off-menu for JAC, but you probably knew that🌿

          • mordacious1
            Posted July 14, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

            Yup! Just teasing…

    • Filippo
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      One is encouraged to return the sleeve – with an Oprah quote on it – on ones Starbuck’s coffee cup, to be used again by others, eh?

      Why not take a moment, as I have at least once, to write in flowing cursive a quote from one of our kindred spirits underneath the Oprah quote:

      “Assertions made without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.”

      (You know who.)

      Also, if memory serves me, another good one I heard Richard Dawkins say in a radio interview on the East Tennessee State University program, “Ideas and Issues,” in the late 90’s:

      “The palatability of a proposition has no bearing on its truth.”

      Some quotes one has to hear only once and they stick with him.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted July 14, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        So true. Here’s one I read the other day, and it’s already in the long-term memory (courtesy of Isaac Asimov): “Well, I supposed he’s entitled to his opinion, but I don’t suppose it very hard.”

        And, just to show that I’m not *all* snarky, here’s one of my favorites, from Somerset Maugham: “The right thing is the kind thing.”

      • Posted July 15, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        My favorite quote similar to these is from Bertrand Russell: “It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.” I have it in the signature line of my email.

    • Posted July 14, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      I remember when You’ve Got Mail having a similar view about Barnes and Noble bookstores. They may be a big corporate chain with not a lot of people in them who love books, but there are many towns where having a Barnes and Noble driving the local store out of business meant you finally got something approximating a bookstore.

  5. Bruce Gregory
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Certainty is a feeling. Probability is an intellectual assessment.

  6. Scote
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    “*For non-Americans, Chipotle is a chain that purveys bland and Americanized Mexican food”

    I’d add “overly salty” to that. However, at it is fresh, so it can be an appealing fast food option if their isn’t a real Mexican place nearby.

    • Scote
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      Darn homophones…”there”. And “at least it is fresh”. My copy editor is sooo fired.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      Which reminds me, why should any salt be put in, e.g., canned tuna? Don’t insult my intelligence by telling me it is for preservative purposes. That’s what the bloody canning process is for. They put salt in it for the same reason restaurant food is saltier.

      • Posted July 14, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        The same reason deer hunters put out salt licks.

  7. Rhetoric
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    “When you die, nothing happens. Still want to spend $7 on this burrito?”

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      The quotation marks make it seem like a quote, but the Google only brings up your post. Might I ask whence these words of wisdom?

      • Posted July 14, 2014 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

        Probably pretend-quoting a Chipotle bag?

        (Although to get the bag, you’d have to have already purchased the burrito.)

  8. krader1961
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    To be sure that’s an inoffensive, almost trite, remark. It’s also sadly true that too many people seem to believe its opposite. Perhaps some of those people will see that message and consider how they might be a little less afraid of change and do something that makes tomorrow better than today.

    Regarding Chipotle… I lived and worked for 19 months in the Asia-Pacific region including multiple trips to mainland China and Hong Kong (and Korea, Singapore, etc.). So I can attest that most “Chinese” food served in America bears only a superficial resemblance to its namesake. The same seems true for Chipotle vis-a-vis Mexican food. In Chipotle’s defense it’s far better than its competitors if you consider only nationwide and regional chains. Nonetheless, if you’re fortunate enough to have easy access to a good taquería (e.g., me since I live in Santa Clara, CA) you’ll likely find Chipotle disappointing.

    • Posted July 14, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      The stuff I call red chicken ball Chinese is the worst and is available in every small town in North America. I always got a chuckle out of those Chinese restaurants cum slot machine joints across Nevada. I think that Toronto has some pretty authentic Chinese greasy spoons.

    • Posted July 15, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      That’s certainly true of most Chinese restaurants. But even the authentic ones available in many cities now (even here in sleepy Ottawa!) often serve American cookies. San Francisco was where the fortune cookie was invented, after all.

      (Thanks, Reading Rainbow!)

  9. Another Tom
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had a fortune cookie that told me that I would be more successful in life if I dressed better.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

      My wife tells me this daily…that’s not a fortune, it is a curse.

      Don’t care what others think of you, assuming you are as smart as Feynman.

      • Posted July 15, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        There is always that assumption to consider….and I’d wager that none of us are as smart as Feynman:-)

      • Alex
        Posted July 15, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        There’s that apocryphal story that Einstein was asked about is sloppy appearance, and he supposedly replied (paraphrasing) – well you see, people who know me, they won’t judge me by my appearance, and for strangers, I don’t care…

  10. Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think “Americanized” versions of food should be considered inferior on principle alone. Let the food stand or fall on its actual merits. To wit: pizza. Just about none of the pizzerias you’ll encounter here in the US will offer anything like what pizza originally was over in Italia. But I’ll be damned if I don’t enjoy a slice or three (very occasionally) of über-cheesy deep-dish!

    That writ, I don’t like Chipotle very much, either, but it’s because I have yet to be served a burrito with chicken that didn’t contain primarily gristle (a problem with most fast-ish food places).

  11. Kevin Alexander
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    ‘Bland and Americanized’ is a redundancy.
    It’s not that Americans don’t know how to make good food, they are among the best in the world at this, it’s just that, if you want to maximize profits by selling the greatest volume of food*, you have to be sure there’s nothing interesting there.
    *I couldn’t think of another euphemism.

    • Bernie
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      It happens here in Canada too–customers complain the food is too spicy/hot and suddenly the great Thai Beef Salad is replaced by something not worth eating.

      • Merilee
        Posted July 14, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        But you can still find really spicy Thai and Indian, at least in the Toronto area. Mexican not so easily…but I can make my own now that there are enough Latino stores to get good ingredients, and Whole Paycheck even carries fresh tomatillos!

        I don’t find Chipotle thst bad, not like Toxic Hell as my son used to call it when he had a short-lived job there in high school.

        • Posted July 14, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          Tomatillos are pretty easy to grow if you are interested/able to try; in fact, if you let them seed themselves, good luck *not* growing them.

          Chipotle has been in the news lately for standing up to the “open carry” nuts.

          • Merilee
            Posted July 14, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

            Yes, let’s hope the open carry nuts don’t come up north! Maybe I will try to grow tomatillos some day. A teacher friend’s hubby has a farm up north of Burlington where their Mexican workers often grow great tomatillos, which I have also frozen fairly successfully.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 14, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

          I went to a place near work with two East Indian friends. My dish ended up the hottest so I joked that the restaurant owners wanted to see if the white girl could take it.

          • Merilee
            Posted July 14, 2014 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

            I used to tease my good Indian-Malaysian friend ( who now lives in Norway) that she always ordered the Malaysian food extra hot so that I couldn’t eat as much of it. I like it pretty hot for a white girl but if if’s too hot I get embarassing hiccups.

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      “‘Bland and Americanized’ is a redundancy.”

      Well, yes, if “Americanized” is interpreted in a right-wing sense (i.e., “made for and by ‘real’–white–Americans”). 🙂 In New Mexico we have plenty of excellent, flavorful food made by Americans. They just aren’t the kind of Americans that blend into our gypsum sands…

  12. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    My all-time favorite fortune cookie message said “You will have great success in love, and a better position.” Unfortunately it was a family restaurant, so there was no diagram.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink


    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      I will have what you were having.

  13. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    When we have eaten at a Chinese restaurant and are reading our fortune cookies to each other, I will sometimes make up my fortune. My favorite is to say ‘that was not chicken…??’

  14. Jim Thomerson
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    My wife is not into spicy foods, so we eat at Chipotle from time to time. it is what it is.

    One time at a Chinese resturant, my wife was giving me a hard time about how I was dressed. I got a fortune cookie, “Wistom often appears in rough apparal”. I showed it to her, and she was taken aback.

  15. Jim Thomerson
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    That’s “wisdom”.

  16. Posted July 14, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Chipotle is at least edible. I wouldn’t refuse to eat there, as I would with Taco Hell.

    Pinker’s point is the same one I try to make: If you want to live in Heaven, you’re going to have to build it here on Earth.


    • Posted July 14, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      I can’t decide of Taco Hell has gotten worse since I ate it regularly in school or if my sense of what “good” is has just gotten better.

      • Posted July 14, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        I’d bet the latter.

        I’ve noticed that many items I thought of as treats when I was a child are now on my “no way in hell” list.

        • Posted July 14, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

          (For example: most frozen pizza.)

          • Doug
            Posted July 14, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

            A few years ago I ate a twinkie for the first time in decades. I ate them all the time when I was a kid. Bleah. I asked “Why did I ever like this??”

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted July 14, 2014 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

              I suspect processed foods like twinkies have gotten worse. How could they not have with the advance in preservatives, etc. Plus they are way smaller!

              I remember a cookie I used to like as a kid – all covered in hard chocolate and a marshmellow in the middle. Those have a chemical after-taste now & make my stomach feel barfy. Back then they were good and my stomach was more sensitive when I was a kid.

              • Posted July 14, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

                I never liked Twinkies but do confess to having liked Hostess Cupcakes as a kid. I’m sure I’d hate them now.

              • Alex
                Posted July 15, 2014 at 3:23 am | Permalink

                It certainly seems to be true for some American chocolate brands like Hersheys, which has converged to a brown chalk-like substance optimized for cheap production, and seems to have nothing to do any more with the original idea of chocolate.

              • Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

                I agree completely on Hershey’s, but was it always as bad? I don’t like Cadbury’s either- way too sweet.

      • Posted July 14, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        I never cared for it in school. Never did like any of the other fast food joints then, either, but Taco Hell seemed to be the worst of the worst.

        That brings back a memory…at the time, there was a Chick-Fil-A in the Student Union, and they took student meal cards, and they were open later than any of the other places in the food court. And they were relatively non-toxic compared to, for example, the fake Chinese place on the other side of the wall. But, if I knew then what I know now about their politics and policies, I’d have starved rather than eat there….


    • Posted July 14, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      What do you call your first trip to the bathroom after eating at TB?

      Taco Bell’s canon.

      • Posted July 14, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Permalink


        …and what really blows my mind is that they’re not only still in business, but hugely popular and wildly profitable….


  17. Posted July 14, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Pinker would be a great Simpsons character.

  18. StrawberryJam
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Ben that Chipotle is edible. If they used my aged and seasoned Molcajete, that would be a great start to improving their salsa and guac. It’s mainly preparation shortcuts (blenders should not be used for either) and lack of boldness (use that garlic- yes even the disliked by some cilantro) that is their downfall. Their produce is generally at least fairly fresh.

  19. Walt Jones
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    When reading fortune cookies with a new group (once is enough), I usually say, “Help, I’m being held prisoner in a Chinese bakery.”

    I like Chipotle, not as Mexican food, but as a nutritionally complete meal that I can hold in my hand.

  20. Alex
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    The Pinker bag made me wonder about the use of “toward” and “towards” (I would have used the latter). Seems like its interchangeable, with toward being more common in AE and towards in BE. Can anyone confyrme?

    • eclectic squire
      Posted July 14, 2014 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      I had to get mildly tipsy to figure this one out, my BE having been polluted by 40 years in N. America. You are correct Alex.

      • Alex
        Posted July 15, 2014 at 12:25 am | Permalink

        Thanks 🙂

        I also tend to take on a fake british accent when I’m tipsy, and I’m not even a native speaker!

        • eclectic squire
          Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

          Now that’s weird! Usually when tipsy, people’s native accent and expressions come out. Are you perhaps a closet wannabe Brit? 🙂

      • Posted July 15, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

        I think that they are interchangeable but I’m more apt to use towards, despite being American. Maybe Canucks use towards??

  21. Posted July 14, 2014 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Penn & Teller put out a book a decade back called “How to play with your food”. Included with the book were a few props, including fake fortune cookie fortunes to slip in/replace real ones. One of those was “That lump is cancer.”

  22. Alex
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    By the way, how does that one work?

    Prof. Coyne, bein an (increasingly 🙂 prolific author, should know:
    Is a company like chipotle free to use quotes by authors (properly attributed of course) without paying royalties even if the quote is from a book, or does one have to get permission from the agent, or even pay money?

    • eclectic squire
      Posted July 15, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Usually if the quote is being used for commercial purposes permission should be obtained and possibly money paid. Countries have different copyright laws and their governments choose whether to enforce them. Sadly large corporations abuse many laws, removal of their person status would greatly prevent much abuse. Copyright has been a huge problem with China who willfully ignore it. I was in the Richmond BC Community Arts Council Gallery chatting with the gallery sitting artist about his work. A Chinese woman came in, obviously wanted one of his paintings, tried to dicker on price, he refused, she whipped out a camera and photographed the painting, left the gallery. He told me she would get some cheap Chinese guy to copy it. Not only did she not appreciate the essence of original paintings, she knew perfectly well that her action was against the law as she was a Canadian resident.

  23. Michael McShan
    Posted July 17, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    My most memorable fortune cookie said “Evolution is Mother Nature’s way fixing her mistakes.” It has occupied a place in my lab’s bulletin board ever since. Remarkably, the Chinese restaurant was in Hays, Kansas.

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