Rationality Quotes March 2013

by Jayson_Virissimo1 min read2nd Mar 2013343 comments


Rationality Quotes
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Another monthly installment of the rationality quotes thread. The usual rules apply:
  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, Overcoming Bias, or HPMoR.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
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Remember the exercises in critical reading you did in school, where you had to look at a piece of writing and step back and ask whether the author was telling the whole truth? If you really want to be a critical reader, it turns out you have to step back one step further, and ask not just whether the author is telling the truth, but why he's writing about this subject at all.

-- Paul Graham

There’s an old saying in the public opinion business: we can’t tell people what to think, but we can tell them what to think about.

— Doug Henwood

6wedrifid8yThis one is excellent! Thankyou satt! (Almost disappointing that it was 'wasted' as a mere reply.)
8Qiaochu_Yuan8yThis is one lesson I think The Last Psychiatrist [http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/] is good at teaching.

It seems to me that The Last Psychiatrist makes up theories about what people really mean according to his mental habits. Is there any way of checking his claims?

7Qiaochu_Yuan8yWhat I've gotten out of reading TLP is not detailed psychological theories so much as suggestions for where to look for hypotheses about why people do what they do, e.g. hypotheses focused on preserving a particular self-image. If I find that looking for such hypotheses helps me predict what people do in the future better than looking for other types of hypotheses, that might be considered evidence that TLP's point of view is a fruitful one.

You know something is important when you're willing to let someone else take the credit if that's what it takes to get it done.

-Seth Godin

A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him. Fail to honor people, They fail to honor you. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aims fulfilled, they will all say, "We did this ourselves."

Tao Te Ching

7lew20488yHarry S. Truman “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” ― Harry S. Truman tags: accomplishment, achievement, inspirational, misattributed, modesty, recognition 235 people liked it like Ronald Reagan “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit.” ― Ronald Reagan

Cute. :) And someone on Wikiquotes traces it back to

"The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit." --Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893)

Somehow it seems appropriate that it's hard to track down the originator of this idea.

4Neotenic8yCould we use "threshold for letting someone else take credit" as a signal for altruism?
6ModusPonies8ySeems difficult. The people sending this signal are necessarily sending it really quietly. I guess it could be a good way to evaluate someone you know well. It wouldn't work to pick an altruist out of a crowd if you're, say, looking at job applicants.
0foolishcriminalirony8y...or something to that effect from someone in Rise and Fall of the Third Reich on the scope and possibilities of national politics. Can't find the quote atm.

On the presentation of science in the news:

It's not that clean energy will never happen -- it totally will. It's just that it won't come from a wild-haired scientist running out of his basement screaming, "Eureka! I've discovered how to get limitless clean energy from common seawater!" Instead, it will come from thousands of scientists publishing unreadable studies with titles like "Assessing Effectiveness and Costs of Asymmetrical Methods of Beryllium Containment in Gen 4 Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors When Factoring for Cromulence Decay." The world will be saved by a series of boring, incremental advances that chip away at those technical challenges one tedious step at a time.

But nobody wants to read about that in their morning Web browsing. We want to read that while we were sleeping, some unlikely hero saved the world. Or at least cured cancer.

David Wong — 5 Easy Ways to Spot a BS News Story on the Internet

I don't understand why we can't simply build an LFTR. I can't find anything online about why we can't just build an LFTR. I get the serious impression that what we need here is like 0.1 wild-haired scientists, 3 wild-haired nuclear engineers, 40 normal nuclear engineers, and sane politicians. And that China has sane politicians but for some reason can't produce, find, or hire the sort of wild-haired engineers who just went ahead and built a molten-salt thorium reactor at Oak Ridge in the 1960s.

9Elithrion8yI think looking at politicians as insane is entirely the wrong approach. Most of them are sane enough, they just operate under some perverse incentives (and I wouldn't bet on China's being too reasonable either). That said, allegedly China does [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium-based_nuclear_power#Current_thorium_projects] have plans for thorium, although I'm not too familiar with the details. (Also, recent article [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/9784044/China-blazes-trail-for-clean-nuclear-power-from-thorium.html] suggesting plans are still going.)
5somervta8yWell, that very same Cracked article has this to say: "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LFTR#Disadvantages [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LFTR#Disadvantages]" Interestingly, that same wiki page possible solutions to most of the disadvantages Personally, I think the biggest reason is that Carter stopped the research decades ago, so there are no actual examples of the technology to evaluate. People thereby assume that because no-one is doing it, it must not be worthwhile.
9Eliezer Yudkowsky8yThose are not very impressive disadvantages.
8Sengachi8ySo far as I can tell, the only insurmountable disadvantage is that you can't use a Thorium reactor to make nuclear bombs. Wait, did I say disadvantage? I meant advantage. Or, well ... are you a politician or an average person? That'll make the difference between advantage and disadvantage.

Considering that politicians get ahead by gaining the approval of their constituents, I'd think that now that America is no longer in an arms race, a politician could probably get ahead by proclaiming support for sustainable nuclear energy which does not have a chance of producing weapons.

Except for where that would mean announcing support for nuclear energy.

"Or, well..."

Was that subtle framing intentional?

3adam_strandberg8yAccording to Wikipedia, there are at least 4 groups currently working on LFTRs, one of which is China: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LFTR#Recent_developments [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LFTR#Recent_developments]
0Eliezer Yudkowsky8yRight. They're hiring 150 PhD students and it's still supposed to take 20 years. This seems like a prime instance of the We Can't Do Anything Effect.
2IlyaShpitser8yA working LFTR is worth a lot of money. If this is so easy, everyone is missing out on an easy way to get rich.
8Eugine_Nier8yIn nearly all countries you need a permit to build a nuclear reactor, and said permits are frequently denied for political reasons. Not to mention that the biggest risk of building a nuclear power plant is probably having it shutdown by anti-nuclear activists before you can recoup the cost of building it.
8James_K8yThat second point is particularly important. Since present governments cannot reliably bind future governments, credibility is a big issue with any politically-sensitive project with a long time horizon.
7Eliezer Yudkowsky8yNo, the economy is missing out on an easy way to get rich. No one person is missing out on an easy way to get rich. China wants to build LFTRs but can't solve some sort of hiring problem (I have friends who've been offered positions in China, and the Chinese definitely think their academic culture is inferior to Western academic culture, and they appear to be correct). Also I am generally quite willing to believe people are crazy.
3IlyaShpitser8y"Coordination problems are hard." Yes, I agree. I don't understand the surprise, though.
0wedrifid8yIf you are familiar with and agree with the obvious answer then I don't understand why you asked the question [http://lesswrong.com/lw/guv/rationality_quotes_march_2013/8jvg].
4IlyaShpitser8yI don't understand why you don't understand. Here's the conversation: EY: "I don't understand why we don't do X." me: "If it was so easy, people could make $$$." EY: "Well, it's not easy for individuals." me: "Well, I agree, so why are you wondering why we don't do X?"
1wedrifid8yThat does make more sense to me, reading the context with a slightly different emphasis here and there. Retracted.
6Izeinwinter8yNo patents on nuclear physics - If someone proves that LFTR is commercially viable, every reactor vendor will have a model out the year after. Heck players that are currently not in the reactor game at all would likely pile in. This would be a very good thing for the economy and the environment, but it means the incentives are ass-backwards for actually doing this for any actors other than national governments. .. No, lets be honest here: "France, China, India". With a dark horse bet on the Czechs. Those are the only four players likely to cast steel and pour concrete. If you want it done quickly, sell François Hollande on the idea as a way out of the economic mess.
2ChristianKl8yWhy shouldn't there be anything patentable? If Apple can patent the edges of the iPad why shouldn't there be anything patentable in a LFTR?
2Izeinwinter8yThe technology is 50 + years old, and all the materials engineering and chemistry work since is in the public literature, because almost all of it has been done on the dime of various publics. If someone implements a MSR and it proves cheap to build and a reliable machine in practice, that is going to involve good engineering and design practice, but absolutely nothing any patent board that is not utterly corrupt would class as a breakthrough. Not to mention that putting up legal barriers to implementation would violate both common practice, and at a minimum the spirit of the NPT.
0ChristianKl8yIf that's true, what's the core of the uncertainity about whether it's cheap to build and a reliable machine? If all the leg work is done, why do the Chinese think they need 20 years of work to build one?
3Izeinwinter8yNoone has built one since the initial prototype - or at least, no one outside black initiatives. That's it. It really should /not/ take 20 years. 20 months, is more like it, if you set sensible design goals. IE: I want an electricity making machine. Anyone who utters the words "High temperature" "Hydrogen Production" or "enhanced proliferation resistance" will be summarily fired. "Reliability" "Safety" and "Simplicity" are our watchwords. . Most research on advanced reactor types turn into exercises in extremely advanced materials science due to goals creep - Trying to make a reactor that can safely operate at a temperature of over 900 degrees celcius genuinely is a 20 year project. It is also fracking pointless - the supply of fuel for a thorium breeder is effectively infinite, maximizing thermodynamic efficiency at the cost of engineering difficulty and complexity is the kind of very special stupid that only ever infests smart people.
0Eugine_Nier8yNow that would make a great quote.
2[anonymous]8yhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:RaptorHunter/FunFacts#Thorium_reactor [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:RaptorHunter/FunFacts#Thorium_reactor]

It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.

-- Thomas Sowell

Interesting to contrast the connotation with:

It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who gain nothing from being right.


It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who have no strong reason to prefer the world in which their decisions are right, over the world in which they are wrong.

7Alejandro18yI think the "pay no price for being wrong" formulation is stronger than the "gain nothing from being right" one because of loss aversion (which makes penalties a stronger incentive), and either is stronger than your second suggestion because of pithiness.

Good points.

My take on it: I'd noticed that "people who pay no price for being wrong" primed ideas of punishment in my mind, not just loss. "People who gain nothing from being right" primed ideas of commerce or professionalism — an engineer gains by being right, as does a military commander, a bettor, a venture capitalist, or the better sort of journalist.

And the third formulation doesn't prime anything but "this sounds like Less Wrong".

1Tuna-Fish8yThe biggest problem with your first alternative is that in it, not having an opinion is equivalent to being wrong. A lot of the problems with the financial collapse was that various entities and people got to play with the money of other people, with good payouts if they get it right, but no commensurate hit if they got it wrong. While the best outcome is still being right, this kind of situation is bad because it incentivizes taking risk over not taking it. So, a lot of people making those decisions loaded up on as much risk as they could take, ignoring the downsides.

It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way...

I can imagine one easily. Where they have an active incentive to be wrong.

5[anonymous]8yI dunno -- Yvain here [http://squid314.livejournal.com/329561.html] seems to have a good point: [emphasis as in the original]

"Luck" is useless as a strategy and "Hard work" is mostly useless. Prefer "Discover rules then systematically exploit them."

- patio11

-1itaibn08yI don't think the last one is that useful either. Really, anything that can fit in a twitter is unlikely to be useful. And if someone wants to make useful advice that does, they shouldn't be giving generalised messages that can be applied anywhere, but rather highly specific advice with a narrow target audience.

Really, anything that can fit in a twitter is unlikely to be useful.

I'm afraid this isn't the thread for you!

1itaibn08yJust to be clear, twitter-length messages do have uses in ballast, flammable material, English grammar exercises, signalling wit, quining the message's originator, paper mache, etc. However, patio11 referring to using them as strategies, and here my point stands.
6wedrifid8yAs does my observation. This is not the thread for you. That would stand even if you were correct that such an enormous amount of data [http://what-if.xkcd.com/34/] somehow couldn't communicate useful strategic insight.
0soreff8yMaxwell's equations fit in roughly 40 characters.
9Qiaochu_Yuan8yBut the context necessary to interpret what all of the symbols mean and match them to real-world phenomena doesn't. That takes up something like a textbook in electrical engineering.
2faul_sname8yIf Maxwell's equations were sent back to 1850, they would give useful information absent being sent with a textbook in electrical engineering (because there were people who had that knowledge already). Likewise, you don't have to send a description of modern culture with every tweet, because it's common information to the sender and recipient, and only the contents of the tweet provide new information.
3[anonymous]8yActually, I think it'd take more than 140 characters to write out Maxell's equations in 1850 notation. Vector notation was developed by Heaviside towards the end of that century, when Maxell's equations were already known.
0[anonymous]8yIf you use the right notation [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_descriptions_of_the_electromagnetic_field#Current_3-form.2C_dual_current_1-form] , even fewer than that.
6b1shop8y72 characters.
0itaibn08yThe idea that there is no simple solution life's problems is already a widespread meme. Most people won't learn anything from seeing a new formulation of it. As for people interested in giving advice, they rarely use twitter as their exclusive or even as their primary means of communication, but rather as an adjunct to some more thorough explanation. Indeed, without my caveat this message could be harmful to both givers and receivers of advice.
2JoachimSchipper8ypatio11 is something of a "marketing engineer", and his target audience is young software enthusiasts (Hacker News). What makes you think that this isn't pretty specific advice for a fairly narrow audience?

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

-- George Bernard Shaw

6RobinZ8yRelated: Wiio's laws [http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/wiio.html].
4gwern8yAnd http://lesswrong.com/lw/ki/double_illusion_of_transparency/ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ki/double_illusion_of_transparency/]
3Qiaochu_Yuan8yHmm. I think I know what you meant to convey by linking to that, but... do I really?
5gwern8y--Frank Herbert, "The Tactful Saboteur"
[-][anonymous]8y 37

It should be said about things that appear to work because of confirmation bias.

"I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others. Coming from a logician and a solipsist, her surprise surprised me.”

Bertrand Russell

I was the only student in my high school graduating class that wasn't unique.

3Kawoomba8yWorks for a class size of 1, in a way.
8blacktrance8ySolipsism is my problem and mine alone.

“Anything left on your bucket list?”

“Not dying...”

-Bill Gates in his AMA on reddit.

[-][anonymous]8y 17

I wrote an email to Bill Gates after reading his answer. I suggested that he should invest in anti-ageing research and/or cryonics. Ageing is a disease that afflicts everybody, and I think it would be a far better use of his money if he pledges financial support for anti-ageing research than if he continues pouring funding into curing malaria.

In addition, he has enough clout to motivate more people to take anti-ageing seriously instead of dismissing it as wishful thinking.

0John_Maxwell8yWell, Larry Ellison is also pretty rich [http://www.ellisonfoundation.org/].
-1DanielLC8yYour bucket list is the things you do before you die. Literally everything you do before you die is not dying.

Yes, but only literally.

0Neotenic8yIsn't a Bucket List, literally, the list of things you want to do before dying but were unlikely to do prior to establishing your bucket list? (regardless of whether you became likely to now)
1magfrump8yI don't think of it as having the connotation of things on it being unlikely. For example, you could put "go to Hawaii" on your bucket list and then expect to go for your next vacation. A to-do list isn't for things you're unlikely to do, it's for things you don't want to forget.
0Qiaochu_Yuan8yThe phrase was "unlikely to do prior to establishing your bucket list," e.g. you might have always wanted to go to Hawaii but constantly procrastinated on it and/or constantly told yourself you don't have the money.
0magfrump8ySay I want to go to Hawaii, I plan to go to Hawaii over the summer, but if I don't write it down there's a 10% chance I'll forget to get tickets at the right time and it will be too expensive. I'm 90% likely to go to Hawaii, but I would still think it appropriate to put it on a to do list, and raise the probability to 99%. My phrasing above was unclear, though. What I meant was, one could put "go to Hawaii" on one's bucket list even if one already planned to go to Hawaii for one's next vacation.
1Jotto9998yI find this to be like saying to someone with cancer "Don't bother with treatment, you aren't dead yet". A bucket list is for plans and actions, not attributes inherent to existing in the first place. Other commenters have said that it is more about things you may not have done without having it on the bucket list for a reminder or incentive. In this case, we can reasonably expect Gates meant putting effort into avoiding death, not "I was immortal, but now feel like trying to win the Hardcore Mode Bucket List challenge.

The world of the manager is one of problems and opportunities. Problems are to be managed; one must understand the nature of the problem, amass resources adequate to deal with it, and "work the problem" on an ongoing basis.[...] But what if the problem can be fixed? This is not the domain of the manager.

An engineer believes most problems have solutions. The engineer isn't interested in building an organisation to cope with the problem. [...] And yet the engineer's faith in fixes often blinds him to the fact that many problems, especially those involving people, don't have the kind of complete permanent solutions he seeks.

-- John Walker, The Hacker's Diet (~loc 250 on an e-reader)

I remember asking a wise man, once,

'Why do men fear the dark?'

'Because darkness' he told me, 'is ignorance made visible.'

'And do men despise ignorance?', I asked.

'No!', he said, 'they prize it above all things - all things! - but only so long as it remains invisible.'

– R. Scott Bakker: The Judging Eye

0Neotenic8yWhen Lennon remarked that "Ignorance is bliss", should he have said "Unknown unknowns, except for knightian uncertainty, are bliss"?

...these things are possible. And because they're possible we have to think of them so they don't surprise us later. We have to think of them so that if the worst does come, we'll already know how to live in that universe.

-- Miro, in Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

8Viliam_Bur8yI assume "possible" in this context means "with probability higher than epsilon". Otherwise, there are too many possible things not worth thinking about.
1Neotenic8ySocially a higher threshold should play a role than the above epsilon. There are things that are so low in probability (though much higher than epsilon) that establishing a contract/agreement on what should both of you do if they happen is deleterious for the relationship. Such as when a couple who thinks they disagree about abortion asks: What should we do if the condom and pill don't work? The probability is not so low. But the fight is too costly.
2Eugine_Nier8yIt'll be even more costly to have the fight after the wife gets pregnant.
[-][anonymous]8y 23

"If you don't know what you want," the doorman said, "you end up with a lot you don't."

― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Any positive social quality -- looks, smarts, cash, power, whatever -- makes people want to compete for your attention. Some of these people are going to be assholes operating under the mistaken impression that you are a vending machine, and that if they feed you enough suck-up coins, you will dispense whatever it is they want. If you have no idea that you have Quality X that they want from you, then you have no chance of figuring out that the reason they're getting so overbearing is that you're not giving them all the X they think they deserve. People can get remarkably angry when you don't give them the thing you have no idea they're asking for. And then they get angrier if you try to tell them you're confused.

Arabella Flynn

On consciousness:

"Forget about minds," he told her. "Say you've got a device designed to monitor—oh, cosmic rays, say. What happens when you turn its sensor around so it's not pointing at the sky anymore, but at its own guts?"

He answered himself before she could: "It does what it's built to. It measures cosmic rays, even though it's not looking at them any more. It parses its own circuitry in terms of cosmic-ray metaphors, because those feel right, because they feel natural, because it can't look at things any other way. But it's the wrong metaphor. So the system misunderstands everything about itself. Maybe that's not a grand and glorious evolutionary leap after all. Maybe it's just a design flaw."

-- Blindsight, by Peter Watts

9MugaSofer8yIf it treats everything it sees as a cosmic-ray, it's a pretty terrible cosmic-ray sensor.
4Endovior8yNot necessarily. Cosmic rays are just electromagnetic energy on particular (high) frequencies. So if it interprets everything along those lines, it's just seeing everything purely in terms of the EM spectrum... in other words 'normal, uninteresting background case, free of cosmic rays'. So things that don't trigger high enough to be cosmic rays, like itself, parse as meaningless random fluctuations... presumably, if it was 'intelligent', it would think that it existed for no reason, as a matter of random chance, like any other case of background radiation below the threshold of cosmic rays, without losing any ability to perceive or understand cosmic rays.
-2MugaSofer8yScanning itself and saying "nope, nothing to see here", that's one thing. Scanning itself and saying "well, this is basically cosmic rays, only at a lower frequency ..." is closer to what the quote describes.

Popular evopsych, summed up: "Men and women are different. Humans and chimps are the same."

Cliff Pervocracy

This seems to me a form of equivocation: "different" as used in the first sentence and "the same" as used in the second sentence are not opposites. The context is different; the intended meaning (insofar as any evo-psychologists actually make such claims) is something like this:

"Men and women are more different, on average, than men and other men, and certainly more different than (some? most?) people think. The difference is sufficiently large that we cannot indiscriminately apply psychological principles and results across genders."

"Humans and chimps are closer than (some? most?) people think; in fact, sufficiently close that we can apply unexpectedly many psychological principles and results across these two species."

I don't know of anyone (even in "popular" evo-psych) who endorses the view implied in the quote, which I suppose would be something like:

"Humans are chimps are less different from each other than men and women."

In short, I think the quote mocks a strawman.

2MugaSofer8yHere's how I parsed it: "You can better extrapolate from a chimp to a human, of the same gender, than from a human to another human of a different gender." To be fair, most pop evopsych is extrapolating from imaginary details of caveman behavior rather than actual chimp behavior.
9wedrifid8yFlamboyant straw men do not belong in the Rationality Quotes thread. Cliff is clearly not accurately describing reality. Popular evopsych doesn't say that. It doesn't matter how irrational the opponents who are being criticised are, bullshit is still bullshit.
5MugaSofer8yIt's worth noting that LWers may have more exposure to real evopsych relative to popular evopsych. I for one had despared of ever finding rational evopsych before discovering this site. Pop evopsych is incredibly bad.
3Nornagest8yPop evopsych may very well be incredibly bad (I wouldn't know myself, as I've been exposed to very little of it). But if a quote doesn't have any instructive value beyond making fun of bad ideas -- as opposed to more general biases, and even there I'm leery of the "making fun" bit -- I'm not sure it belongs here. Particularly if they're also politically sensitive ideas. I wouldn't, for example, consider clever attacks on religion to be shiningly rational.
-2MugaSofer8yAs a theist, I would have to agree with you there ;) People like wit, though, so witty defense of rational positions garners upvotes regardless of intrinsic rationality.
1Nornagest8yI think there's a distinction that could be made between defense of rational positions and attacks on particular irrational ones. Reversed stupidity, etc.
-4MugaSofer8yArguments are soldiers, remember?
0mwengler8yThe quote is instructive to those of us trying to develop an integrated and rational view of evo psych. In my case, I DO see a lot of compelling material on how women are different from men, and I DO see a lot of compelling material on how humans are like other primates and even mammals. The quote brings me up short: do I have the sex differences within species properly "weighted" in my thinking compared to across-species similarities? Or do I switch between my microscope and my telescope paying attention only to what I am seeing, forgetting which instrument I am using to look?
4TraderJoe8yCan you add a NSFW disclaimer?
4TimS8yMuch more [http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/search/label/evopsych] from the same author.
0MugaSofer8yWhy on earth was this downvoted? Upvoted back to neutral. It's relevant and useful, to the extent the quote is useful.
4wedrifid8yI haven't downvoted the grandparent, but I'm reading this as an argument that perhaps I ought to!
2TimS8yHa! That's my interpretation as well.
-2MugaSofer8yI must admit, I was rather banking on that quote being representative ;)
3[anonymous]8yIIRC, a few years ago I was watching the news on TV and they mentioned that a study had found that “females are more [something] than males”. But it turned out that the females in the study were a different species of great apes than the males (neither of which human). (I hope I just dreamt of it, or am misremembering it, or something.)

Wenn der Hahn kräht auf dem Mist, dann ändert sich das Wetter, oder es bleibt wie es ist.

(When the rooster crows on the dungheap, then the weather will change, or stay as it is)

-- German weather lore / farmers' rule

9Alejandro18yRepeat [http://lesswrong.com/lw/43w/rationality_quotes_february_2011/3gl9].

I... believe the experimentalists when they say the world works in a completely different way than I thought it did... All I want to know is: What went wrong with my intuition? How should I fix it, to put it more in line with what the experiments found? How could I have reasoned, such that the actual behavior of the world wouldn't have surprised me so much?

Scott Aaronson

0[anonymous]8ySometimes, though, the intuition is right and the experiments are wrong [http://www.ted.com/talks/murray_gell_mann_on_beauty_and_truth_in_physics.html] (watch from 01:20).

The roulette table pays nobody except him that keeps it. Nevertheless a passion for gaming is common, though a passion for keeping roulette tables is unknown.

--George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists

2Qiaochu_Yuan8yI think people would keep roulette tables more, so to speak, in the US if gambling weren't so heavily regulated here.

To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.

--Ursula K. Le Guin {Lord Estraven}, The Left Hand of Darkness

If someone does not believe in fairies, he does not need to teach his children 'There are no fairies'; he can omit to teach them the word 'fairy'.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel § 413; via "Fable of The Born-Blind-People"

(Gb rkcerff guvf va zber YJl wnetba: vs lbh qvq abg nyernql xabj gur jbeq be pbaprcg snvel, jung bofreingvbaf jbhyq cevivyrtr gur fcrpvsvp ulcbgurfvf bs 'snvevrf' gb gur cbvag jurer vg jbhyq orpbzr n frevbhf cbffvovyvgl? Ubj znal ovgf jbhyq gung gnxr naq jurer jbhyq lbh trg gurz, nfvqr sebz gur zrqvn naq bgure crbcyr'f cebqhpgf?)

As long as others know and believe in such concepts, it is important that your child learns about them from a trustworthy source, before being introduced to such concepts by fairy-believers.

As long as others know and believe in such concepts, it is important that your child learns about them from a trustworthy source, before being introduced to such concepts by fairy-believers.

This is especially the case if the message is generalized. That is, if the well meaning but naive parent tries to keep their children ignorant of all things bullshit. They are deprived key critical thinking skills and the ability to comfortably interact (and reject) nonsense beliefs that will be thrust on them.

5Eliezer Yudkowsky8yThat's what Santa Claus is for.
0wedrifid8yI'm almost certain you didn't intent to imply that Santa Claus does not belong in the category "all things bullshit" yet it seems to be the only meaning that makes the parent fit the context.
4Qiaochu_Yuan8yI think Eliezer means that telling children about Santa Claus is a good opportunity for them to practice critical thinking skills etc.
0wedrifid8yYes, obviously. And him doing so indicates that he did not read what he was responding to. Because the elimination that practice due to the enforced deprivation of Santa Claus (and all other bullshit in that class) is precisely the downside that the preceding comment laments. (If the problem is "All things starting with 'a' have disappeared" the solution is not "that is what apples are for". That makes no sense.)
9Qiaochu_Yuan8yI don't see how you're disagreeing with Eliezer about anything. As far as I can tell, you both think it's a good idea to teach children about nonsense as an exercise in critical thinking. Eliezer thinks Santa Claus is a good example of this. Have I misrepresented your position or your interpretation of Eliezer's position here?
4BlazeOrangeDeer8yDown voted for unnecessary rot13
6tgb8yMore importantly IMO than it being unnecessary is that there is no indication of what is going to be behind the rot31 so I don't know whether it's safe to rot13 or not. The first sentence would be best left in plain-text.
-4gwern8yFor rationality quotes where the meaning is opaque, I like to include an exegesis; but I don't want to make the exegesis trivial to read because then people won't think about it for themselves. I'm sorry if you don't like that.
-4Jayson_Virissimo8yAb lbh ner abg.
4wedrifid8yThere are downsides to keeping one's children sheltered. Eventually they are going to encounter the rest of the world.
2Eugine_Nier8yThe same place the belief in fairies originally came from. Humans' tendency to anthropomorphize.

Humans tend to anthropomorphize, but this is filtered through cultural beliefs and forms - you do not get a highly specific concept like 'fairies' out of a general anthropomorphization, any more than people got Dracula out of their fear of the dark pre-Bram Stoker. I've linked studies here on what children believe and anthropomorphize by default, and it tends to look like 'other people and animals continue to exist even after dying'; not 'the Unseelie and Seelie folk live in hills and if you visit them, be sure to not eat any of their food or you will be their prisoner for a century'.

Luck, when it's regular, it's called skill. (Il culo, quando è sistematico, si chiama classe)

Nereo Rocco

(I tried a rough tranlsation, but it sounds way better in Italian)

3wedrifid8yI like this translation better than the version where it was translated to 'class'. Good change. (Unless my memory is failing me...)
4Cthulhoo8yI modified the post after less than five minutes... are you spying on me? ;) Thank you, preserving the feeling, alongside the literal meaning, while translating in a foreign language can be surprisingly difficult (for me, at least).

You can't possibly get a good technology going without an enormous number of failures. It's a universal rule. If you look at bicycles, there were thousands of weird models built and tried before they found the one that really worked. You could never design a bicycle theoretically. Even now, after we've been building them for 100 years, it's very difficult to understand just why a bicycle works – it's even difficult to formulate it as a mathematical problem. But just by trial and error, we found out how to do it, and the error was essential.

-- Freeman Dyson

But just by trial and error, we found out how to do it, and the error was essential.

No, the trial was.

9Neotenic8yThe error was epiphenomenal.
4B_For_Bandana8yThe error was essential in the sense that it was an inevitable outcome of an essential process. Similarly you might say, "exhaling carbon dioxide is not essential for survival; what you really need is to turn food into energy." But if I was prevented from exhaling CO2, I would quickly run into problems.
9wedrifid8yBad analogy. If I don't get rid of waste products I will die. If I don't make a mistake I will... succeed more quickly and be unrealistically lucky. That's entirely different. To say the error is essential is a mistake. The error is inevitable, not essential.
6shminux8yIn terms of control systems, trial is the forward path and error is the feedback, so let's agree that both are needed for success...
0B_For_Bandana8yYup, agreed.
0gwern8ySource: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/6.02/dyson_pr.html [http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/6.02/dyson_pr.html]

"You are technically correct—the best kind of correct."


There’s a funny irony in “tell your story” and “speak your truth”, in that those two things are fundamentally at odds with each other. Stories and narratives aren’t, and can’t be, the truth of our actual lived experiences. Real lives don’t follow the structures of narrative, they don’t move in linear tidy sequences of causes and actions and effects and consequences. Real lives are big jumbled messes that are almost impossible to make real sense of, and the act of imposing a narrative on them, sorting out our “life story”, is always an act of editing.

-Natalie Reed

If something is true, no amount of wishful thinking can undo it.

-Dawkins Into to the 30th anniversary edition of the Selfish Gene.

Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak, and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all his laws.

John Adams, US President


Choice of attention - to pay attention to this and ignore that - is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be.

W. H. Auden

Hasn't common sense been wrong before? Of course. But how do people show that a common sense view is wrong? By demonstrating a conflict with other views even more firmly grounded in common sense. The strongest scientific evidence can always be rejected if you're willing to say, "Our senses deceive us" or "Memory is never reliable" or "All the scientists have conspired to trick us." The only problem with these foolproof intellectual defenses is... that... they're... absurd.

--Bryan Caplan

I once had a civil argument with [someone], in which I laid out my position in the usual way: “Premiss + premiss + premiss = conclusion.” She responded: “Well, that’s your opinion; you have yours, and I have mine.” I pointed out that no, I wasn’t asserting an opinion, I was making an argument based on facts and logic. Either my facts are wrong, or my logic is. She looked at me like I had lost my mind.

--Rod Dreher

(Post slightly edited in response to comments below)

This sort of argument was surprisingly common in the 18th and 19th century compared to today. The Federalist Papers, for example, lay out the problem as a set of premises leading inexorably to a conclusion. I find it hard to imagine a politician successfully using such a form of argument today.

At least that's my impression; perhaps appeals to authority and emotion were just as common in the past as today but selection effects prevent me from seeing them.

6Eugine_Nier8yAlso, in the past the people you were trying to convince were likely to be better educated.
1ChristianKl8yToday's politicians don't use writing as their primary means of convincing other people. Airplane travel is cheap. It doesn't cost much to get a bunch of people into a room behind closed doors and talk through an issue.

This is not a good way to argue about anything except mathematics. It takes the wrong attitude towards how words work and in practice doesn't even make arguments easier to debug because there are usually implicit premises that are not easy to tease out.

For example, suppose I say "A (a thing that affects X) hasn't changed. B (a thing that affects X) hasn't changed. C (a thing that affects X) hasn't changed. Therefore, X hasn't changed." There's an implicit premise here, namely "A, B, C are the only things that affect X," which is almost certainly false. It is annoyingly easy not to explicitly write down such implicit premises, and trying to argue in this pseudo-logical style encourages that mistake among others.

(In general, I think people who have not studied mathematical logic should stop using the word "logic" entirely, but I suppose that's a pipe dream.)

I agree that the formal "premiss + premiss + premiss = conclusion" style of arguing is not good outside formal contexts. But still, the appropriate response would be "Your argument is wrong because it doesn't take into account D", not "that's your opinion and I have mine".

Well, that depends on what the premises and conclusion were. "That's your opinion" can be used as a deflecting move if someone doesn't want to have a particular debate at that particular moment (e.g. if the premises and conclusions were about something highly charged and the woman was not interested in having a highly charged debate). Ignoring a deflecting move could be considered a social blunder, and maybe that's what the woman was responding to. There are a lot of ways to read this situation, and many of them are not "haha, look at how irrational this woman was."

3Eugine_Nier8yUnfortunately, a lot of people have taken to using these kinds of deflective moves to protect their irrational beliefs.
0Armok_GoB8yTo avoid this, try the more honest "You're dead wrong, possibly literally, but not important enough to be worth the time it'd take to save from your own stupidity by explaining why."?
6wedrifid8yPeople who have not studied mathematical logic reserved the word well before those who have studied mathematical logic. If a field wants to make a word that means something different to what it used to mean or is exclusive to those in the field then it should make up a new word.
9Qiaochu_Yuan8yI should clarify. I'm not exactly worried that people will mix up the colloquial meaning of logic with the mathematical meaning of mathematical logic. I just want people to taboo "logic" because I think it is frequently used to label a particular style of bad argument in order to mask certain kinds of weaknesses that such arguments have. Studying mathematical logic is one way to recognize that there's something off about how people colloquially use the word "logic," but I suppose it's not the only way.
6[anonymous]8yWould the quote sound as bad to you if “logic” was replaced with “reasoning”? As per Postel's law, if a word has both a colloquial meaning and a technical meaning, the latter is not what I want, and there's a decent synonym for the former, I personally use the synonym instead (e.g. “usefulness” instead of “utility”, “substantial” or “sizeable” instead of “significant”, etc.), but as per Postel's law I don't demand that other people do the same, especially if the colloquial meaning is way more widespread overall.
0ChristianKl8yThe word logic is much older than proper mathematical logic. There no real reason to assume that people mean mathematical logic when they say the term.
0Qiaochu_Yuan8yDid you read my clarifying comment here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/guv/rationality_quotes_march_2013/8jkd]?
5Emily8yThe below discussion is why "person" is such a useful feminist word.
-2shminux8yThe quote sounds stereotyping/sexist, though the article it's quoted from isn't.
3Alejandro18yI honestly don't think so, because I don't see any implication or subtext in the quote that the attitude that this particular woman took is representative of all/most women, or more prevalent in women than in men. It is just as easy to imagine a man taking this attitude, it just happened to be a woman in this particular conversation.

I saw exactly that subtext.

The quote opens "I once had a civil argument with a woman". The author spends one noun to describe this person, and spends it on gender. It could have been "with a friend" or "with a politician" or even just "I once had a civil argument" (that the author had it with somebody is implied in the nature of argument). The antiepistimologist has exactly one characteristic: gender, and that characteristic is called out as important.

It gets worse because being bad at logic is an existing negative stereotype of women.

1[anonymous]8yThe subtext is definitely there on some level for the reasons you mention, but probably it wasn't a conscious, deliberate choice by the speaker, and I don't think it's all that useful to hold probably subconscious attitudes against people. (I don't know whether I had noticed the subtext if I hadn't read shminux's comment before seeing the quote itself.)
5William_Quixote8yTo change subconscious attitudes it helps to make them salient and make people consciously aware of them.
1[anonymous]8yIn principle, I agree, but: 1) attempts to do that can backfire [http://lesswrong.com/lw/he/knowing_about_biases_can_hurt_people/] if done the wrong way, and 2) Ron Dreher is most likely not reading this thread anyway.
5William_Quixote8yI basically agree with 1 and 2. That said, although Ron Dreher is not going to read this, odds are good that the number of people on this thread that would benefit from a more conscious less automatic process for choosing words with regards to making / not making gener salient is greater than 0. Greater than zero is a weak claim, but I do think this kind of criticism adds value.

Single data point: when I read "I once had a a civil argument with a woman", it immediately felt sexist to me. I think I half-expected something about "how men think versus how women think". The whole thing doesn't feel sexist to me, just that opening.

(I do not necessarily endorse that feeling.)

Yep. It's a matter of what features are salient to mention.

If someone said "I once had a civil argument with a German" it would sound like they were saying that it was unusual or notable for an argument with a German to be civil; or possibly that the person's Germanness was somehow relevant to the civility of the argument — maybe they cited Goethe or something?

(On the other hand, it might be that they were trying to imply that they were well-traveled or cosmopolitan; that they've talked to people of a lot of nationalities.)

If the identity mentioned is a stereotyped group, a lot of people would tend to mentally activate the stereotype.

9Desrtopa8yI did not see a sexist subtext, where I think I would have seen a discriminatory subtext if he had used "I once had a civil argument with a German," because "woman" in this case explains his later pronoun use. If the person had been a man, I would have expected him to say "man", rather than "person", to better clarify his later use of "he." In retrospect though, I can see why other people would interpret it as having a sexist subtext.
7jooyous8yI think this thread is also experiencing this effect [http://imgfave.com/view/2017419]. Quick! Where did your brain put emphasis first?! Maybe we need a poll to see if the distribution is roughly uniform. (Or maybe it's not uniform as shown by existing research I don't know about.) Also, I really like the German example.

I once had a civil argument with a German. Germans' arguments are usually uncivil, but this one time ....
I once had a civil argument with a German. Most of my arguments with Germans are flamewars and cussin'.
I once had a civil argument with a German. Germans are so civil, even their arguments are civil!
I once had a civil argument with a German. I'm so good at civil arguments (or so well-traveled) I've even had one with a German!

1faul_sname8yI once had a civil argument with a German. I have such interesting and unusual experiences.
7Kindly8yI once had a civil argument with a German. The rest of you have merely heard about civil arguments with Germans. I once had a civil argument with a German. As opposed to a civil argument about a German. I once had a civil argument with a German. I'm not trying to generalize the pattern to all Germans.
1Creutzer8yTrouble is, the default stress pattern is identical to the last. And you don't usually interpret the first sentence of a text with a non-default stress pattern when the following text doesn't force you.
1[anonymous]8yI was primed by reading shminux's comment before seeing the quote itself, so I'll exclude myself from the sample.
4Creutzer8yAnother data point: I had the very same experience (including not endorsing the feeling - I actually was a bit embarrassed).
6Alejandro18yIn response to three data points, I update in the direction of the quote: a) pattern-matching to typical sexist beliefs, and b) possibly causing a reinforcement of sexist biases in some readers. I still don't think the quote was sexist in intent, just meaning to illustrate a relativist Zeitgeist with a personal anecdote that happened to feature a woman, but I recognize that its actual effect can be divorced from its intent. What should I do? Edit it to include some sort of disclaimer?
6jooyous8yI think you could change "a woman" to "[someone]" using those editorial bracket things and the pronouns won't be weird. Just draw attention away from the word and make the quote closer to what you wanted it to say? It makes perfect sense to me that something yanked out of its context would acquire weird connotations that you didn't intend and didn't notice because you read it in context. (I also feel like you get a similar effect if you change "woman" to "lady" and I have no idea why.)
5[anonymous]8yThat's probably what I've done, too. (I'm not a native speaker, so don't trust me about this.) Using “woman” suggests that the only salient feature about that person was her gender, which is indeed kind-of weird IMO; OTOH, using “lady” (or “girl”) would suggest that her adult (or young) age was also salient, and that would lower my estimate for how strongly the out-group homogeneity effect affects Rod Dreher when he thinks about women. (Also, I'm under the impression that many of the stereotypes about women are closer to the truth in the case of younger women than in the case of older ones (as an ageing effect, not a cohort effect), though this might be due to selection effects in the groups of people I interact with.)
0Alejandro18yGood idea, I did that. Thanks for the suggestion!
6shminux8yThe next few sentences, ending with "I think that’s how most of us roll these days. It’s laziness, mostly. I’m guilty of it too" show that this was, in fact, not a case of stereotyping.

That's something that I think laypeople never realize about computer science - it's all really simple things, but combined together at such a scale and pace that in a few decades we've done the equivalent of building a cat from scratch out of DNA. Big complex things really can be built out of extremely simple parts, and we're doing it all the time, but for a lot of people our technology is indistinguishable from magic.

-- wtallis

"I wish to defend this world. I wish to protect this world which God has abandoned, and defend it against everything that threatens it!"

-- To the Stars (Madoka fanfiction)

1Eliezer Yudkowsky8yDon't worry, it's not the person's wish you think it is.
2[anonymous]8yIt is, actually -- I read the fic months ago.
0Sengachi8yBut I don't think it likely that the quote would make others more likely to guess who made such a wish correctly.
2wedrifid8yIt makes me much more likely to guess who made a which correctly. It never would have occurred to me that anyone said it prior to reading it.
2Sengachi8yAnd now I feel stupid. Thank you very much. (No sarcasm)
2aausch8y/sidetrack Wow, awesome fanfic! /sidetrack Please promote it more prominently if you haven't so far, I think many HPMOR fans would appreciate the reference.
1MarkusRamikin8yWhat's the rationality-related moral?
0MugaSofer8ySomething To Protect [http://lesswrong.com/lw/nb/something_to_protect/] springs to mind, as does Tsuyoku Naritai! (I Want To Become Stronger) [http://lesswrong.com/lw/h8/tsuyoku_naritai_i_want_to_become_stronger/]. "This world which God has abandoned" seems to imply/assume Beyond The Reach Of God [http://lesswrong.com/lw/uk/beyond_the_reach_of_god/] although I'm not sure if that counts as "rational" in and of itself.
0wedrifid8yI asked myself the same question when my first impression was "Transhumanist/x-risk in-group applause light". The answer I gave myself was that that is is related to bullet-biting and shut-up-and-multiply. The assumption is that the person to be inspired by this quote already has preferences for people not dying and for a positive future for the human race. But few consider those implications personally and act on them. Few consider it their responsibility or, if they do act, act to save individuals that catch their attention rather than doing something that does the greatest good (according to their own preferences).
0linkhyrule58y... Pardon me, I just realized what the climax of the fic might be. Committing... [http://predictionbook.com/predictions/20775]
0[anonymous]8yMy guess is that Ubzhen jvyy ghea bhg gb or oruvaq gur nyvra vainfvba va gur svefg cynpr. Fvapr Gb Gur Fgnef oryvrirf gung n zntvpny tvey pna'g qvr hagvy ure jvfu vf shysvyyrq, Ubzhen pna'g qvr hagvy gur jbeyq fur'f fjbea gb cebgrpg vf qrfgeblrq. This isn't incompatible with your theory, though.
[-][anonymous]8y 7


3Neotenic8yIf the only way to get a clearer picture of the world - to enhance it epistemically, as it were - were to make it much better to start with, would the Utilitarians finally have found an argument that convinces any epistemic rationalist?
4B_For_Bandana8yIs the idea that, because people naturally shy away from bad info, making the world better also makes it easier (on the emotions) to understand? ...Very interesting. That is a thought that's going to fester, in a good way.
1Neotenic8yThat is a very important subset of what I had in mind. So I`m glad you made that subset salient, as it seems independently important. You could think more generally that if the world is more altruistic, morally enhanced, etc... there will be less externalities of bad kinds operating, and the instruments we use to understand the world would become more effective at so doing. A very simplified version is that because this would be a richer world, more institutions would have spare resources to grasp it.
4simplicio8yOnly if there were no uncertainty about what "better" meant.
0CronoDAS8yI wish I had access to that LJ.
4Qiaochu_Yuan8yI don't think that's the point CronoDAS was trying to make. Generally speaking, if you link to something on the internet, it means you want people to read it. The content of the link above is hidden both from people who don't have LJ accounts and people who aren't friends with celandine13 or whatever, so it's de facto unreadable. It's like linking to a paper that's behind a paywall.
3wedrifid8yTo be fair this is merely a quote thread. The author and link are there by way of attribution (often just a name is given, without a link). The quote should stand on its own merit.
0Qiaochu_Yuan8yThis doesn't have anything to do with the quote. I just think it's kind of silly to give a link that people by default can't read, and I think CronoDAS agrees with me.
0wedrifid8y"This" is about the analogy quoted in the grandparent, which is unfair for the reason specified. The "it's like" target is not-like.
-3Qiaochu_Yuan8yI seem to have primed you in completely the wrong direction with the first half of that sentence. Would it be better if I edited it to "it's like linking to a paper that's behind a paywall"?
0wedrifid8yThat would make the analogy apt. I would agree with such a comment. (This should by no means be taken as an implicit endorsement of interpretations involving 'priming'.)
2CronoDAS8yI have a LiveJournal account already, so I guess I should try asking...

Don't solve the solved problems.

Arman Suleimenov

4Qiaochu_Yuan8ySounds good! Now if only I knew which problems were solved [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/h2m/solved_problems_repository/]...

Rule number one of life: Don't get mad at video games. Corollary to rule number one: Life is a video game.

-Matt Vana

Can I get mad at the programmers of video games when the game is poorly balanced or designed, or simply broken?

Can I get mad at a video game that implements an agent?

And what the hell is all this pay-to-win microtransaction crap? Life's devs should change their business model.

Yeah, but have you seen the graphics? And the NPC AI? I think the physics engine might be buggy though.

8faul_sname8yThe graphics and sound are great when they work, but they seem to be out a solid third of the time.
3BillyOblivion8yIt just makes the game more realistic. After all, IRL you can almost always pay your way out of a situation if you have the coin and the connections.
9Qiaochu_Yuan8yI think you've misread the comment. DaFranker is already talking about RL.
0BillyOblivion8yIt is entirely possible that I might be confused. I read "Life" to be a reference to a game played while immersed in, and as an escape from Real Life(tm), and this confusion comes from the term "microtransation", which is rather hard-linked in my skull to "micropayments", aka "the millicent ghetto" In the version of Real Life I am playing microtransations don't get you out of much of anything worth getting into in the first place.
7BillyOblivion8yWhat good does getting mad do? What does it accomplish? Asks the guy who routinely gets mad at a video game that was made for WIndows 95.
4Luke_A_Somers8yActivates the fight or flight response, which increases your power output and generally has effects that in some cases would be useful. We do not frequently encounter these cases these days. And in particular, it's very unlikely that either of the cases described above would be useful times to get mad, unless I'm skilled at sublimating anger into effective writing (first case) or more effective gameplay (second case). Also, it could get you to stop playing.
0Matt_Simpson8yWhat Luke said. Also, signalling "don't mess with me" though perhaps that use isn't relevant here.
7shminux8ySeems like a face-lift of "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and it's all small stuff".
4Cthulhoo8yAlso Elbert Hubbard
[-][anonymous]8y 5

The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients called "spannungsbogen"--which is the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing.

--Frank Herbert, Dune

7gwern8yI have a funny story [http://www.gwern.net/Notes#true-dreams] about that quote...
0khafra8yHm. I wonder why we find low discount rates so admirable.

Something a friend said that made sense in context that really cracked me up:

"I'm decidedly aware of unknown unknowns."

"Where'd they go?" said Wensley.


He grinned at Adam.

There was a tearing sound. Death's robe split and his wings unfolded. Angel's wings. But not of feathers. They were wings of night, wings that were shapes cut through the matter of creation into the darkness underneath, in which a few distant lights glimmered, lights that may have been stars or may have been something entirely else.


... (read more)

Let us, then, avoid the philosophical minefields of belief and truth, and pay attention to what we really need, which is predictive ability.

From a great book

4simplicio8yHm... I'm sure the author means well by that statement, but I don't know if you can really talk about predictions for long without using the vocabulary of belief and truth.
0scav8yWell, you can calculate expected values without asserting that the probabilities used in your calculations correspond to either subjective belief or some objective truth. You can just do the maths and note that when you do it a certain way, your predictions are more useful. I think it's fair to say that humans doing this will form beliefs about the correspondence between their model and "real life".
0simplicio8yRight, try tabooing "prediction." The only way I can think of to completely divest the practice of predicting from any talk of truth and belief, is to consider it as a wholly mechanical procedure for producing betting odds. (On the understanding that the agent placing bets just does so unthinkingly & doesn't worry themselves with questions like "what if this event does not come to pass?" which end up requiring truth/belief vocabulary.) Otherwise, the whole point of predictions is to form beliefs about what will be true in the future... avoiding that vocabulary is a huge pain, in contrast with the advantage (avoiding a few, mostly sophomoric, philosophical objections to truth).

I'm sorry, I want to be with someone more interesting, someone who just does something wild and lets the chips fall where they may!

I plan to never take any action toward fulfilling any of my hopes and dreams. What could possibly be riskier than that?

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

8CronoDAS8yNot having hopes and dreams?
9scav8yThen what are you risking?
4CronoDAS8yAs I once quoted [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1co/rationality_quotes_october_2009/173n]: -- "Happy Talk", South Pacific [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Pacific_%28musical%29]
1Desrtopa8yBy that criterion? Suicide.

In every transaction with an airline there are two customers. The first is the one who buys the ticket. He wants the best deal and is willing to go to another web site to save ten bucks. The second is the customer who shows up and acts as if he bought first class.

-- David Henderson quoting a flight attendant

3wedrifid8yAs far as cynical but practical very-mildly-Machiavellian life advice goes that has potential. (I'm not sure if that was the intended message...)
1simplicio8yIs the author objecting to that? It's basically just a form of haggling in both cases. "I'll take the tomatoes for $1.00, final offer" and "Okay, now give me the nice red ones!"

In an article proclaiming the transcendent use of complicated, modern statistics in baseball, and in particular, one called "WAR" (wins above replacement):

I'm not a mathematician and I'm not a scientist. I'm a guy who tries to understand baseball with common sense. In this era, that means embracing advanced metrics that I don't really understand. That should make me a little uncomfortable, and it does. WAR is a crisscrossed mess of routes leading toward something that, basically, I have to take on faith.

And faith is irrational and anti-intellec

... (read more)

I downvoted for equivocating between faith and probability.

A doctor walking in with a syringe full of something that he says will prevent measles I would assign a much higher probability to being true than Bob from the car mechanic walking in with a syringe full of strange liquid that Bob says will prevent measles.

Essentially this seems like the fallacy of gray.

2MinibearRex8yI'm not really sure that counts as faith. Faith usually implies something like "believing something without concern for evidence". And in fact, the evidence I have fairly strongly indicates is that when I step into an airplane, I'm not going to die.
5MugaSofer8yAs I recall, CS Lewis once defined it as "believing something based on the evidence/logic in the face of irrational doubt" (paraphrased.) I've always preferred that meaning myself, as it retains the positive connotations. Presumably what you describe would be "blind faith".

Faith is holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.

-- C.S. Lewis

0[anonymous]8yWhich of the seven models [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/faith/] of faith do you think "believing something without concern for evidence" would fall under?

"The 'law of causality' is obsolete and misleading. The principle 'same cause, same effect' is utterly otiose. As soon as the antecedents have been given sufficiently fully to enable the consequent to be calculated with some exactitude, the antecedents have become so complicated that it is very unlikely they will ever recur." - Bertrand Russell "On the Notion of Cause", 1913

4B_For_Bandana8yWhat's the context here? Many kinds of experiments are repeatable after all.
-1AnthonyC8y"Many kinds of experiments are repeatable after all." Only very simple ones, and even then "same" must be interpreted loosely. Pick up a ball. Drop it from a given height onto a specified surface. How high will it bounce? There is no error term in the laws of motion, but the actual result will vary considerably because of all the variables - spin axes, wind, the temperature of the ball and surface - that you aren't controlling for. Most "interesting" results scientists (from physicists to sociologists) get turn out to be unrepeatable - sometimes they are artifacts of a measuring apparatus, but sometimes they're caused by something as simple and impossible to remember o determine as "that time I stirred counterclockwise." This is especially true in biology and medicine (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1182327/ [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1182327/] and http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/308269/ [http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/308269/] ).
0B_For_Bandana8yYes, experiments at the frontier of science are often unrepeatable, but that's just a selection effect, no? Those problems are interesting precisely because we have not nailed down all the cause-and-effect relationships yet. An enormous number of cause-and-effect rules are so well understood that they are not considered scientifically interesting anymore, and it is those rules that allow us to navigate the world, get to places on time, stay out of mortal danger, and so on. Of course there is random error as you say, but the error is not infinitely large. Anyway, I keep picking this nit because the Russel quote says that our causal models of the world are not just imperfect but actually "obsolete and misleading," which sounds like an exaggeration.
3incogn8yMaybe he means something along the lines of same cause, same effect is just a placeholder for as long as all the things which matter stay the same, you get the same effect. After all, some things, such as time since the man invented fire and position relative to Neptune and so on and so forth cannot possibly be the same for two different events. And this in turn sort of means things which matter -> same effect is a circular definition. Maybe he means to say that the law of causality is not the actually useful principle for making predictions, while there are indeed repeatable experiments and useful predictions to be made.
0B_For_Bandana8yHmm. Yeah, that makes sense. (And very nicely put!)

Within five minutes of the Singularity appearing, someone will suggest defragging it.

6gwern8yI could think of several possible interpretations of this, but I'm not sure which one you or Munroe have in mind. Can you justify it?

To me it sounds like a complaint about what are variably called "cargo-cult", "voodoo", or "superstitious" practices in IT: repeating curative procedures that are available to mind, without understanding why (or if) they ever worked, in situations where they may not have any application. There are a lot of procedures that users can learn by rote without having to know why they ever work, and that are cheap and safe enough that using them when they don't do any good isn't likely to do any harm either.

3RolfAndreassen8yI think it is a comment on the tendency of human minds to model complex systems as simple ones and therefore stick strongly to a few remedies whether they are sensible or not - ancestrally "whack it with a club" but in the case of computers, "reboot it", "run the virus scanner" and "defrag it". Admittedly, for old computers that relied on vacuum tubes whose connections would sometimes work loose, "whack it with a club" did, in fact, occasionally work.
6Eugine_Nier8yAdmittedly, rebooting works surprisingly often (especially on Windows).
0ikrase8yAnd don't we all know it... For those unable to risk whacking, 'disassemble and reseat all cables' also works. Did it yesterday.
2satt8yOccasionally for more modern computers, too! This can happen when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air get adsorbed by circuit board contacts, where the VOCs react to form frictional polymers. Then... (From a 1997 New Scientist article [http://www.randomcollection.info/mcf/news/chemical-warfare-atwork.htm] (PDF [http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/documentStore/z/x/x/zxx22d00/Szxx22d00.pdf]).)
2Baruta078yAlthough the majority of problems encountered at my school's IT desk can be solved by rebooting the ones that can't are a pain to fix.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky8yIt sounds like Michael Wilson's "We must program the AI in LISP, because if we don't, LISP purists will spend the next several subjective millennia arguing that it should have been done in LISP." EDIT: Read the XKCD. It sounds like typical Strossian cynicism about how the 'Singularity' will look like a malfunctioning computer or something. Obviously not talking about the intelligence explosion.

Not sure I see that - this is about how non-computer people think about computers, not about the real behaviour of a real singularity.

The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people.

Randy Pausch in The Last Lecture.

5Estarlio8yThis seems to be a fully general argument for the virtue of anything being difficult. The difficulty of getting a liver transplant isn't to make you die, it's to give you a chance to show how badly you want to live! The system is there to stop people who don't want to live badly enough. They are there to stop people who deserve to die! And you could make that argument while you had a magical liver producing machine as a justification for not using it.
0[anonymous]8yThat's not as bad as you seem to be implying -- see the last three paragraphs of Beware Trivial Inconveniences [http://lesswrong.com/lw/f1/beware_trivial_inconveniences/].
0AlexMennen8yWhere did you get that the other people deserve to die from? You make a good counterargument to "make sure the brick walls stay up, because they keep out the other people," but he didn't say that.
1Estarlio8yThey don't want it badly enough, in the context of a prescriptive passage, ergo they deserve not to have it. Which is to say, they deserve to die. As a motivational piece it doesn't work unless you view a chance to prove yourself and stopping people who don't want something badly enough from having it as desirable traits. The expected response isn't to make you feel worse about brick walls, and he probably didn't say it for no reason.
-1AlexMennen8yNo, they don't want it badly enough, so they won't get it. Not that they don't deserve to get it. Why do you believe this?
1Estarlio8yI find this line of reasoning unconvincing since I take the passage as a whole to be intended to make people okay with brick walls. 1) I heard the whole speech last year sometime and concluded it was largely prescriptive at the time. Ah here we go: http://youtu.be/ji5_MqicxSo?t=17m47s [http://youtu.be/ji5_MqicxSo?t=17m47s] 2) I suppose you might view it as an attempt to make people rail against the injustice of everything. However I believe that learned helplessness is a huge thing in our society and that strategy doesn't plausibly fit into how I imagine most people as being likely to behave if you tell them something's terribly unjust.
3AlexMennen8yAh, I'd forgotten that part. And now that you remind me of it, I remember that I intentionally started the quote after that line because I didn't like it, for reasons similar to the ones you brought up. I now concede that he did seem to imply that keeping unmotivated people away from what they want is desirable (although I expect he would object if someone put it that way explicitly). He still mostly focused on getting around brick walls rather than leaving brick walls up, though.
5Qiaochu_Yuan8yWhat are the brick walls? Who put them there? I don't get it.
7AlexMennen8yThe brick walls are any barriers that get in the way of getting what you want. He gives the example of that he was a faculty adviser for a team that won a trip on the vomit comet, and he wanted to go, but faculty advisers were not allowed to come. But the team was allowed to bring a journalist, so he resigned as faculty adviser and got a press pass.
4zslastman8yThis seems pretty irrational to me. Ask a lucky stock trader whether you should try to beat the market or not and he'd reply that you should, and damn the statistics, because the efficient market hypothesis applies only to other people.
6AlexMennen8yHe was saying that you should keep trying after most people would give up, not that you should expect everything to magically go your way.
3Jakeness8yThose two concepts have some overlap. Why should we use our energy trying to accomplish something that many have failed? Do we have good reason to discard the validity of their efforts? Are there good reasons to think our particular abilities are better suited to the task? Are we going to make some incremental progress that others can build on?
1wedrifid8yThe obstacle is a brick wall. Not an insurmountable barrier or the resource already having been nearly completely exploited by others (as would be analogous to the efficient market). Brick walls are comparatively simple to climb or destroy. Overall the advice is sound.
6zslastman8yThis just begs the question of how to distinguish brick walls from insurmountable obstacles. Persistance is certainly a virtue, but there's a very large problem with asking successful people how to succeed. Many successful academics will tell you that you will succeed, provided you sacrifice enough of your time and happiness. Asking them creates a bias though. You'd better also ask the many, many post-docs who quit, burnt out and miserable, after being denied a faculty position for the umpteenth time. If you can't find some systematic difference you can use to succeed, then you're faced with a gamble. And human psychology pretty much guarantees the market will overvalue that gamble.
0[anonymous]8yThe reverse Tinkerbell effect! [http://lesswrong.com/lw/yv/markets_are_antiinductive/]

Many hands make light work.

-- John Heywood

Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Many hands make light work.

Too many cooks spoil the broth.

The optimal solution seems to be one cook with many hands.

6PaulS8yYou're not the first to have that insight [http://media.skateboard.com.au/forum/images/elzar.jpg] :)
2Armok_GoB8y[insert octopus joke here] It actually does seem true if you follow up the metaphor thou; multi-threaded attentions.
1therufs8ysings Someone's in the kitchen with Durga, someone's in the kitchen I know-oh-oh-oh ...

It is the hallmark of any deep truth that its negation is also a deep truth.

7Armok_GoB8yConsider the following statements: "It is the hallmark of any shallow truth that its negation is also a shallow truth." "It is the hallmark of any deep lie that its negation is also a deep lie." "It is the hallmark of any shallow lie that its negation is also a shallow lie." "It is the hallmark of any deep truth that its negation is not a deep truth."
0wedrifid8yI don't believe you. I can't see any plausible useful definition of 'shallow ' that makes these claims true.
0Armok_GoB8yDammit, forgot again that most people assume that if you say a statement without context you endorse it/think it's true, not just that it's something interesting to think about and consider for yourself.
2wedrifid8yTrue, I would have interpreted your words much differently if you included a quote. I suspect I very much agree with the point you were trying to make!
7shminux8yTry it on your deep meta-truth as a self-consistency test

Yes, that's what I was suggesting. I presumed simplicio was pointing out that proverbs are not a good source of rationality advice because they are contradictory and I was trying to use a similar style of quote to continue making that point, but I suppose there is also a less charitable reading.

Well, Jayson's quote mostly applies to menial labor, whereas yours applies to creative work.

The trick with contradictory proverbs is knowing the domain of applicability of each.

3Jayson_Virissimo8yThese are not inconsistent. The former is about the amount of effort required per person, while the later is about the absolute quality of the final product.
4fubarobfusco8yHow many hecatonchires [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hecatonchires] does it take ...?

"You can accept, reject, or examine and test any new idea that comes to you. The wise man chooses the third way." - Tom Willhite

The wise man must have an awful lot of time on his hands, or else not come across many new ideas...

If you're here, you've got time.

4Randy_M8yYes, but probably also a lot more ideas. ETA: (Wow that sounds very intentionally 'yay us!' applause light-y. Let here be defined as any of a number of internet sites. )

So ask yourself before you get in [...] is there room in your life for one more breakdown?

-- Marilyn Manson

2simplicio8yMay I ask, what're you getting out of this qua rationality quote?
3jooyous8yI believe the original context is about being careful about getting involved/obsessed with dangerous people, but I really like the overall idea of taking stock of your resources before you make decisions that could result in emotional breakdowns. I think people sometimes have the idea that emotions are this unpredictable thing that you can't control or manage, so they don't really hold themselves accountable in predictable situations? Like, if you're already involved in some sort of stressful situation, then you don't have room in your life for another breakdown. Don't call your ex during finals week! Stuff like that.
1simplicio8yThanks for the explanation, that makes sense.
0Desrtopa8yConsidering the identity of the source, and given that he has highly divergent performing and offstage personas, I wasn't even sure if the implied answer was supposed to be "yes," or "no."
0jooyous8yOh hum. It's supposed to be read in the imperative, like "ask yourself this question before you do something." Is there punctuation I'm missing?
0Desrtopa8yNot as far as I know. But from Marilyn Manson the performer, it could have meant "Do you have room to fit in another breakdown? If so, go for it!" Whereas from Marilyn Manson the citizen, I would expect something more like "Stop and ask yourself 'do I really want to risk another breakdown?'"
0jooyous8yI pulled this out of song lyrics, which is why it's very open to interpretation and also why the punctuation is might be confusing. I think I get what you're saying now! You're right, it isn't entirely clear from the original context what he tells you to conclude after you've reflected. But he definitely wants you to stop and consider the question! I also think pulling from lyrics is like pulling from a weird average of his performer and citizen persona, because words are so easy to cite. But anyway, I personally find it useful to have Marilyn Manson's scary voice in my head telling me to stop and think before I do something. =] I think both and are better than "Blindly do things! Even if you don't have the resources to deal with consequences!" So I guess it's not that profound as a rationality quote; but again, I've met some really smart people that tried to convince me that they "can't help their feelings."
[-][anonymous]8y 2


Surely a man who possesses even a little erectioris ingenii [of the higher way of thinking] has not become entirely a cold and clammy mollusk, and when he approaches what is great it can never escape his mind that from the creation of the world it has been customary for the result to come last, and that, if one would truly learn anything from great actions, one must pay attention precisely to the beginning. In case he who should act were to judge himself according to the result, he would never get to the point of beginning. Even though the result may give ... (read more)

"...even she can't make her own actions fit with what she thinks she is. She's confused about her own motivations."

"So? Welcome to the human fucking race."

--Richard K. Morgan, Woken Furies

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

-- Linji Yixuan

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

I suggest the alternative strategy of not killing the Buddha on the road if you meet him. Likewise I recommend ignoring the related advice to kill patriarchs, arhats, parents and kinsman. Contrary to Linji's words, Homicide is not the optimal path to emancipation, enlightenment or disentanglement. The quote in the one sentence form presented here and in its broader context is rubbish.

If there is any wisdom associated with this quote (and even that I doubt) it comes from the reader pattern matching the bullshit to the nearest available sane message that they already have cached. That kind of quote can gain popularity, in contexts where obfuscation is confused with insight. It does not belong in "Rationality Quotes".

7Jayson_Virissimo8yI could give some kind of "level above mine" [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ua/the_level_above_mine/] interpretation to this, but it would merely provide additional support for your claim about pattern matching. Consider me persuaded by your reasoning.
6MarkusRamikin8yI honestly don't know why doing something like that to words that obviously weren't meant to be taken literally strikes anyone as clever. The quote is commonly understood to be about not getting hung up on the concept of the Buddha, or letting symbols and figures of authority get in the way of actual practice. As in, keep your eye on the ball, and don't start worshipping the Buddha instead of actually practicing buddhism. And if, when meditating, you "meet" (get some sort of a vision of) a Buddha or other amazing stuff, well, it's just images in your mind; don't attach unwarranted importance to them. I like this quote because I find it analogous to how the point of rationality isn't one's self-image as a rational person, or some specific rituals of cognition, or listening to what an admired teacher says, but actually getting the right answers [http://lesswrong.com/lw/nb/something_to_protect/]. That said, I agree it's a risky choice for a rationality quote, but mainly because, well, it takes for granted the reader practices Buddhism. But that doesn't mean it's garbage.
6[anonymous]8yIt was obvious to me that the intended meaning was not the literal one, but it wasn't obvious to me what the intended meaning was, if there was any.
3bbleeker8yI like this variant I've read in a newsgroup, way back in the dark ages: "If you meet the Buddha on the Net, put him in your killfile". :-)
0wedrifid8yYes, it is a garbage rationality quote. The only wisdom associated with the quote is wisdom that you must bring with you before hand and listen to despite the words. Actually getting the right answers in this case means ignoring the quote and doing sane stuff anyway. In this case because you happen to have heard what the teacher (and the other students) have said are the words you are supposed to think in response to that stimulus. I'm going to continue to oppose "rationality quotes" where the strategic message is obfuscated by or represented by bullshit. This isn't supposed to "strike anyone as clever". It's supposed to be a practical, obvious, and entirely appropriate preference.
6MarkusRamikin8yI agree with you in principle. Whenever I see a quote that needs to be read very charitably before it can be interpreted as a rationality quote, I feel we're scraping the bottom of the barrel. But, sometimes, a statement can be a poor choice as words of wisdom for a modern audience, and yet have value in its original context or domain. And by value I don't mean popularity, I mean successfully conveying an intended message. I'm all for promoting a preference for clarity, directness, and penalising obscurantism. I've said it before, but reading Less Wrong in particular had a strong impact on my own standards of deciding that the author even has anything to say. But not every useful message in history, at all times and in all cultures, was conveyed with those kinds of standards in mind. It's one thing to say "this is unclear and seems out of place here". It's quite another to state with great confidence that a statement must be bullshit just because I happened not to have the background knowledge to understand it. A bit of an aside: while we have this "cached thoughts bad" meme here, relying on pattern matching and cache lookups isn't automatically bad. It's a necessary part of saying something non-literal, without which human communication would be very flat and boring. To my understanding, what this statement brought to the table, above the thoughts already cached by the students, was the iconoclastic shock. Especially in a culture where there's an expectation of deference and not questioning of teachers and authority, it would be all too easy for students to be told "don't get stuck on worshipping the Buddha and the patriarhs, that's not the point", and nod sagely and continue with the same idolatrous attitude as before. But when one teacher says "you must kill the Buddha!", or another, as traditions have it, spits on a statue, it's not as easy to convince yourself nothing happened. (One wonders if anyone ever responded by asking why they had all those statues ar
5TheOtherDave8yTozan may admit you, but you should not be admitted under Tokusan. Agreed.
2wedrifid8yIf I meet Tokusan on the road and he tries to stop me that's a whole different question! ;)
0mwengler8yThe buddha which can be downvoted is not the true buddha.

"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." -L. Wittgenstein

(Apologies if this quote has been in a previous month -- I'm a new user to LW -- but I had to include it since a) pretty brevity and b) so perfect for the Internets!)

7gwern8yAlready included in http://lesswrong.com/lw/dei/rationality_quotes_july_2012/6ydf [http://lesswrong.com/lw/dei/rationality_quotes_july_2012/6ydf] - it's also so famous a line that I would hesitate to include it even if it weren't embedded in an existing quote.
1NancyLebovitz8yHow do you determine which things you can't speak of?
1simplicio8yIn context, by "whereof one cannot speak" Witty means "whereof one is ignorant."
2NancyLebovitz8yPeople aren't reliably good at knowing what they're ignorant about, so having some heuristics for identifying ignorance would be a good idea. Did Wittgenstein mean ordinary ignorance or comprehensive Taoist ignorance?
1simplicio8yThe former, I think. Not sure I know the concepts behind the latter. I think the advice is basically saying "Don't make grand proclamations about things you have no way of knowing about." A nice (if cliched) example might be life after death.