Rationality Quotes August 2013

by Vaniver1 min read2nd Aug 2013736 comments

7

Rationality Quotes
Personal Blog

Another month has passed and here is a new rationality quotes thread. The usual rules are:

  • 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
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when trying to characterize human beings as computational systems, the difference between “person” and “person with pencil and paper” is vast.

Procrastination and The Extended Will 2009

2bentarm7yAm I missing something? Why is this quote so popular? Is there something more to it than "you can do harder sums with a pencil and paper than you can in your head"? Or, I guess "writing stuff down is sometimes useful".
3Nornagest7yPencil and paper is far more reliable than your native memory, and also gives you a way to work on more than seven or so objects at once. Either one would expand your capabilities significantly. Taken together they're huge, at least when you're working with things that natural selection hasn't optimized you for (i.e. yes for abstract math; not so much for facial recognition).
1Ishaan7yYes. The paper is about the importance of environmental scaffolding on behavior. One of the topics it touches on is akrasia in college students, and it hypothesizes that this is because they lost their usual scaffolding - the routine of their homes, their parents, etc. The main point is that models of the human mind need to take into account the extent to which humans rely on external objects for computation. Paper and pencil are an extreme example of this. The quote itself has further implications. In my opinion, this is the single most important technological development. As far as I'm concerned, the "Singularity" began when humans began using things other than their brains to store and process information. That was the beginning of the intelligence explosion, that was the first time we started doing something qualitatively different. Everyone realizes that writing stuff down is useful, but since we do it all the time not everyone realizes what a big deal it is.. The important insight is that to write is to make the piece of paper a component of your memory and processing power.

The fear people have about the idea of adherence to protocol is rigidity. They imagine mindless automatons, heads down in a checklist, incapable of looking out their windshield and coping with the real world in front of them. But what you find, when a checklist is well made, is exactly the opposite. The checklist gets the dumb stuff out of the way, the routines your brain shouldn’t have to occupy itself with (Are the elevator controls set? Did the patient get her antibiotics on time? Did the managers sell all their shares? Is everyone on the same page here?), and lets it rise above to focus on the hard stuff (Where should we land?).

Here are the details of one of the sharpest checklists I’ve seen, a checklist for engine failure during flight in a single-engine Cessna airplane—the US Airways situation, only with a solo pilot. It is slimmed down to six key steps not to miss for restarting the engine, steps like making sure the fuel shutoff valve is in the OPEN position and putting the backup fuel pump switch ON. But step one on the list is the most fascinating. It is simply: FLY THE AIRPLANE. Because pilots sometimes become so desperate trying to restart their engine, so crushed by the cognitive overload of thinking through what could have gone wrong, they forget this most basic task. FLY THE AIRPLANE. This isn’t rigidity. This is making sure everyone has their best shot at survival.

-- Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto

I concur in the general case. But I would suggest the people complaining work in computers. I'm a Unix sysadmin; my job description is to automate myself out of existence. Checklist=shell script=JOB DONE, NEXT TASK TO ELIMINATE.

It turns out, thankfully, that work expands to fill the sysadmins available. Because even in the future, nothing works. I fully expect to be able to work to 100 if I want to.

I've got to start listening to those quiet, nagging doubts.

Calvin

This phrase was explicitly in my mind back when I was generalizing the "notice confusion" skill.

4snafoo7yWhen you were what?
8Ben Pace7yRationality 101 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/if/your_strength_as_a_rationalist/] ;^)

In 2002, Wizards of the Coast put out Star Wars: The Trading Card Game designed by Richard Garfield.

As Richard modeled the game after a miniatures game, it made use of many six-sided dice. In combat, cards' damage was designated by how many six-sided dice they rolled. Wizards chose to stop producing the game due to poor sales. One of the contributing factors given through market research was that gamers seem to dislike six-sided dice in their trading card game.

Here's the kicker. When you dug deeper into the comments they equated dice with "lack of skill." But the game rolled huge amounts of dice. That greatly increased the consistency. (What I mean by this is that if you rolled a million dice, your chance of averaging 3.5 is much higher than if you rolled ten.) Players, though, equated lots of dice rolling with the game being "more random" even though that contradicts the actual math.

[-][anonymous]7y 15

What I mean by this is that if you rolled a million dice, your chance of averaging 3.5 is much higher than if you rolled ten.

The chance of averaging exactly 3.5 would be a hell of a lot smaller. The chance of averaging between 3.45 and 3.55 would be larger, though.

6Randy_M7yYour chance of averaging 3.5 to two significant figures seems quite high indeed, though.

This analogy, this passage from the finite to infinite, is beset with pitfalls. How did Euler avoid them? He was a genius, some people will answer, and of course that is no explanation at all. Euler has shrewd reasons for trusting his discovery. We can understand his reasons with a little common sense, without any miraculous insight specific to genius.

  • G. Polya, Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning Vol. 1
2[anonymous]7ySee also the appendix “Mathematical Formalities And Style” in Probability Theory by E.T. Jaynes.

When the axe came into the woods, many of the trees said, "At least the handle is one of us.

Turkish proverb

It's a horrible feeling when you don't understand why you did something.

-- Dennis Monokroussos

It's probably a much more accurate feeling than the opposite one, though...

2[anonymous]7yIf I understand why I did something, I want to believe ...
7wedrifid7yThat is an interesting observation. For my part I do not experience horror in those circumstances, merely curiosity and uncertainty.

I think it may depend a lot on how well the action fits into your schema for reasonable behavior.

I have mild OCD. Its manifestations are usually unnoticeable to other people, and generally don't interfere with the ordinary function of my life, but occasionally lead to my engaging in behaviors that no ordinary person would consider worthwhile. The single most extreme manifestation, which still stands out in my memory, was a time when I was playing a video game, and saved my game file, then, doubting my own memory that I had saved it, did it again... and again... and again... until I had saved at least seven times, each time convinced that I couldn't yet be sure I had saved it "enough."

Afterwards, I was horrified at my own actions, because what I had just done was too obviously crazy to just handwave away.

3felzix7yI used to do that a lot. I still have to fight the urge to save repeatedly when nothing has changed. My obsessive compulsions are mostly mental though so it has had so little an impact on my interactions with others that I don't think it counts as a disorder.
2Alejandro17yIt depends on the context, in particular, whether the situation is one where you "must" have a good reason for your actions. Your reaction is appropriate for most ordinary situations; his is appropriate for the context he's talking about (doing a different movement than than the one you intended in a chess game) and other high stakes situations (blurting an answer you know is wrong in an examination, saying/doing something awkward on a date, making a risky movement driving your car…)
8wedrifid7yI experience horrible feelings when I humiliate myself or put myself at risk. This phenomenon seems to occur independently of whether I have a good causal model for why I did those things.

Now, now, perfectly symmetrical violence never solved anything.

--Professor Farnsworth, Futurama.

The threat of massive perfectly symmetrical violence, on the other hand...

8sketerpot7ySuch a threat can also be effective for asymmetrical violence -- no matter which way the asymmetry goes.

Once there was a miser, who to save money would eat nothing but oatmeal. And what's more, he would make a great big batch of it at the start of every week, and put it in a drawer, and when he wanted a meal he would slice off a piece and eat it cold; thus he saved on firewood. Now, by the end of the week, the oatmeal would be somewhat moldy and not very appetising; and so to make himself eat it, the miser would take out a bottle of good whiskey, and pour himself a glass, and say "All right, Olai, eat your oatmeal and when you're done, you can have a dram." Then he would eat his moldy oatmeal, and when he was done he'd laugh and pour the whiskey back in the bottle, and say "Hah! And you believed that? There's one born every minute, to be sure!" And thus he had a great savings in whiskey as well.

-- Norwegian folktale.

8DanArmak7yI don't understand this rationality quote. Is it about fighting akrasia? Self-hacking to effectively saving money? It clearly describes a method that wouldn't actually work, and it could work as humour, but what does it mean as a rationality tale?

It's a cautionary tale about Norwegian food.

8D_Alex7yIt explains lutefisk. * the above is from Wikipedia entry on lutefisk. Believe it or not.
2RolfAndreassen7yObviously, that's why they were all above average! No, seriously, lutefisk is peasant food. Rich urban types eat smalahovve [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smalahove].

Betcha it'd work. I'm going to set a piece of candy in front of me, work for half an hour, and then put it back, at least once a day for a week.

I sometimes find that telling my Inner Lazy that it can decide—after I've done the first one—between whether to continue a series of tasks or to stop and be Lazy gets me to do the whole series of tasks. Despite having noticed explicitly that in practice this 'decision delay strategy' leads to the whole series getting done, it still works, and rather seems like tricking my Inner Lazy to transition into/hand the reins over to into my Inner Agent.

6MalcolmOcean7yAccountability check! Did you do it? How'd it go?

Did it once, binge-ate the candy a few hours later, bought more candy, binge-ate it again. Trying again in two weeks (or going to the doctor if still prone to binging).

It's either a cautionary tale about the dangers of deceiving yourself, or a humorous look at the impossibility of actually doing so.

In the context of LW, I took it as an amusing critique of the whole idea of rewarding yourself for behaviours you want to do more .

5[anonymous]7yI took it to be about the hidden complexity of wishes: people often say they want to have more money left at the end of the month when what they actually mean is that they want to have more money left at the end of the month without making themselves miserable in the process, and the easiest solution to the former needn't be at all a solution to the latter.
5wedrifid7yIt could be used as an effective "How to create an Ugh Field and undermine all future self-discipline attempts" instruction manual. It isn't a rationality tale. It is confusing that 40 people evidently consider it to be one. (But only a little bit confusing. I usually expect non-rationalist quotes that would be accepted as jokes or inspirational quotes elsewhere to get around 10 upvotes in this thread regardless of merit. That means I'm surprised about the degree of positive reception.)
5AlexanderD7yI don't think you are correct. The miser knows each time he will not get the reward, and that he will save on food and drink. That is the real reward, and the rest is a kabuki play he puts on for less-important impulses, to temporarily allow him to restrain them in service of his larger goal. The end pleasure of savings will provide strong positive reinforcement. This could probably be empirically tested, to see if it is true and would work as a technique. I can imagine a test where someone is promised candy, and anticipates it while acting to fulfill a task, and then is rewarded instead with a dollar. Do they learn disappointment, or does the greater pleasure of money outweigh the candy? This is predicated on the idea that they would prefer the money, of course - you would need to tinker with amounts before the experiment might give useful results.
6pjeby7yAlso, don't forget his pleasure at successfully tricking himself. ;-)
2[anonymous]7yMyself, I'd just spend the dollar on candy.
3KnaveOfAllTrades7yThat's one way it could play out. It feels like this thinking also allows for it to work, because one might feel good about what got done by means of the trick, which would positively reinforce being tricked. I think the matter isn't clear cut.
3BT_Uytya7yIt's interesting to view this story from source-code-swap Prisoner's Dilemma / Timeless Decision Theory perspective. This can be a perfect epigraph in an article dedicated to it.
3Ben Pace7yI thought the way he deceived his conscious mind, and never learned, was interesting.

He took literally five seconds for something I'd spent two weeks on, which I guess is what being an expert means

-- Graduate student of our group, recognising a level above his own in a weekly progress report

8linkhyrule57yNow I'm curious about the context...
6RolfAndreassen7yIt wasn't very interesting - some issue of how to make one piece of software talk to the code you'd just written and then store the output somewhere else. Not physics, just infrastructure. But the recognition of the levels was interesting, I thought. Although I do believe "literally five seconds" is likely an exaggeration.

Some say imprisoning three women in my home for a decade makes me a monster, I say it doesn’t, and of course the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Ariel Castro (according to The Onion)

6Randy_M7y"So let's split the difference and say I should have stopped at two."
1RomanDavis7yIs this just supposed to be a demonstration of irrationality? Can some one unpack this?
4metastable7yA demonstration of the gray fallacy. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_to_moderation] The opinions of Ariel Castro are not equidistant from the truth with those of the rest of society, and we don't find the truth by finding a middle ground between his claims and those of everybody else.
4RomanDavis7yI don't know how this happened. My comment was supposed to be a reply to:
9metastable7yAh. I read that one as a reference to the tendency to let tribal affiliation trump realistic evaluation of outcomes.

He wasn't certain what he expected to find, which, in his experience, was generally a good enough reason to investigate something.

Harry Potter and the Confirmed Critical, Chapter 6

2Paulovsk7yCan you give a link to this story? It is surprisingly difficult to find.
7AndHisHorse7yIt is the second book in the series Harry Potter and the Natural 20, which can be found here [http://www.fanfiction.net/s/8096183/1/Harry-Potter-and-the-Natural-20].
2gwern7yIf you put the quote into quotation marks and search Google, it's the fifth hit.
1Paulovsk7ythank you. This was a 'duh!' moment; I haven't realized it was the 2nd book of the Natural 20.

If Tetris has taught me anything it's that errors pile up and accomplishments disappear.

-Unknown

It's ridiculous to think that video games influence children. After all, if Pac-Man had affected children born in the eighties, we'd all be running around in dark rooms, eating strange pills, and listening to repetitive electronic music.

-- Paraphrase of joke by Marcus Brigstocke

6DanielLC7yIt's funny, but you really shouldn't be learning life lessons from Tetris. If Tetris has taught me anything, it's the history of the Soviet Union [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWTFG3J1CP8].
6DanArmak7yWe can reformulate Tetris as follows: challenges keep appearing (at a fixed rate), and must be solved at the same rate; we cannot let too many unsolved challenges pile up, or we will be overwhelmed and lose the game.

So Tetris is really an anti-procrastination learning tool? Hmmm, wonder why that doesn't sound right….

6RolfAndreassen7yBut the challenge rate is not fixed. It increases at higher levels. So the lesson seems rather hollow: At some point, if you are successful at solving challenges, the rate at which new ones appear becomes too high for you.
4RichardKennaway7yJust like life. The reward for succeeding at a challenge is always a new, bigger challenge.
3linkhyrule57yAt which point you die, for lack of intelligence. Actually a fairly good metaphor for x-risk, surprisingly. Of course, it's a lot easier to make a Tetris-optimizer than a Friendly AI...
1Document7yI thought Tetris had been proven to always eventually produce an unclearable block sequence.
6arundelo7yOnly if there is a possibility of a sufficiently large run of S and Z pieces. In many implementations there is not. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetris#Possibility_of_indefinite_gameplay]

A man who says he is willing to meet you halfway is usually a poor judge of distance.

Unknown

9peter_hurford7yThis could be studied empirically.
3dspeyer7yDifficult. The "distance" is metaphorical, and this probably doesn't apply when there's an easy, unambiguous, generally accepted metric. Without that, how do we do the study? Still, if you have a way, it could be interesting.
9Document7y-Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow On the other hand, the book doesn't give a citation, and searching for the exact text of the question turns up only that passage. Not sure what to make of that.

Ross & Sicoly (1979). Egocentric Biases in Availability and Attribution.

In the study, the spouses actually estimated their contributions by making a slash mark on a line segment which had endpoints labelled "primarily wife" and "primarily husband". The experimenters set it up this way, rather than asking for numerical percentages, for ethical reasons. In pilot testing using percentages, they "found that subjects were able to remember the percentages they recorded and that postquestionnaire comparisons of percentages provided a strong source of conflict between the spouses." (p. 325)

3AndHisHorse7yIf there is no easy, unambiguous generally accepted metric, that would seem to imply that everyone is a poor judge of distance - making the quote trivially true.
3Estarlio7yOr thinks he's got better leverage than you.

Far too many people are looking for the right person, instead of trying to be the right person.

-Gloria Steinem

9DanArmak7yI read that as "looking for the right person to fall in love with". Then the sense is "be the right person for someone else". But that achieves a different goal entirely, since it doesn't make the other person right for you. There are many cases where you want a different person right for the task. Romantic partners (inherently), trading and working partners (allowing you to specialize in your comparative advantage), deputies and office-holders (allowing you to deputize), soldiers (allowing you to send someone else to their death to win the war).
2cody-bryce7yI assume the original intent of the quote was about romantic partners, where it means, "Instead of searching so hard, make sure to prioritize being awesome for its own sake." I was trying to repurpose it to express that action is better than preparing for something to fall into place more generally, and I think it's appealed to people.
4dspeyer7yI originally read it as being about politics. We keep thinking that somewhere there's a candidate worth voting for, and then things will be ok, but instead we should be trying to become the worthy candidates, even if only for local office. Or perhaps toward improving the world generally. Instead of deciding whether to pay Yudkowsky or Bostrom to work on existential risk, we should try applying our own talents. Similar to "[T]he phrase 'Someone ought to do something' was not, by itself, a helpful one. People who used it never added the rider 'and that someone is me'." Skimming Gloria Steinem's biography, I am more confident in this reading.
2Document7yHow isn't "looking for" or "searching hard" action?
2Document7y

Rin: "Even I make mistakes once in a while."

Shirou (thinking): ...This is hard. Would it be good for her if I correct her and point out that she makes mistakes often, not just once in a while?

Fate/stay night

4FiftyTwo7ySlightly off-topic, but I keep seeing Fate/Stay night referenced on here, is it particularly 'rationalist' or do people just like it as entertainment?
6Nornagest7yIt's not an especially rational piece of work as such, although it has its moments, but it is one of the more detailed examinations of heroic responsibility and the associated cultural expectations in fiction (if you can get past the sometimes shaky translation). Your mileage might vary, but I see echoes of it whenever Eliezer writes about saving the world.
3Desrtopa7yIt has some elements that stand out in terms of rationalist virtue, and many others which don't. I found it to be very much a mixed bag, but the things it did well, I thought it did exceptionally well.
2ShardPhoenix7yIt's not so much rationalist as... Eliezer-ish. See my review in the media thread: http://lesswrong.com/lw/i8c/august_2013_media_thread/9ilm [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i8c/august_2013_media_thread/9ilm]
3sketerpot7yHe just needs to get Saber to say it. Saber often tells people, in a bluntly matter-of-fact way, that they're making a mistake. Rin knows this. If Shiro said it, though, she'd think it was some kind of dominance thing and get mad. (Maybe I'm over-analyzing this.)

Subsidizing the markers of status doesn’t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.

Reynolds' law

4NancyLebovitz7yStatus markers frequently indicate unusual access to resources as well as or even instead of character traits. Subsidizing status markers dilutes them by making them less common. How would you tell which factor is more important in the dilution of a status marker?
1Document7yI can't parse your post, but that may be partly because I don't understand how subsidizing status markers would produce character traits to begin with.
8fubarobfusco7yEugine_Nier's comment has the suppressed premise that status usually results from character traits (alone, or primarily). NancyLebovitz's response contradicts this suppressed premise. If you get rich by being exceptionally virtuous, then redistributing the wealth will make it less obvious who is virtuous. But if you get rich by having a rich dad, then redistributing the wealth will merely make it less obvious who had a rich dad.
3Swimmer9637yI think the point is that it wouldn't. You can have character traits, i.e. conscientiousness, that result in status markers, i.e. having saved a lot of money. If you make it easier for people to get the specific status marker, i.e. welfare, the causal arrow doesn't go in reverse and increase conscientiousness. You could expect it to have no effect, i.e. if conscientiousness and other traits are innate and entirely determined by age 4. (That's kind of my default). Or, in a slightly more complicated world where conscientiousness can vary depending on environment , i.e. there are a bunch of causal arrows bouncing around in confusing ways, "diluting" the status marker by making it easier to acquire might reduce the incentive to have the underlying trait, and make people less conscientious over time. I've heard the argument that this happens to people on welfare, although I'm tempted to say "correlation not causation"–>who ends up on welfare in the first place already depends on conscientiousness.

At least in the US, saving money can disqualify you from welfare.

2Swimmer9637yWhen my best friend was on welfare, they would take what she had earned at her part-time job the last month and subtract half that amount from her welfare. So there was still an incentive to work, albeit less. I don't know to what degree she had to submit her budget or expenses to them (i.e. that they would actually know if she was saving money), but in general they seemed to make it as hard as possible to actually stay on Welfare.
3CronoDAS7ySee also: Credential Inflation [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credential_inflation]

I'm downvoting this quote. Read at a basic level, it supports a particular economic theory rather than a larger point of rationality.

For the record, the Austrian Business Cycle Theory is not generally accepted by mainstream economists. This isn't the place to discuss why, and it isn't the place to give ABCT the illusion of a "rational" stamp of approval.

5Vaniver7yI read it as an extension of Gendlin [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Litany_of_Gendlin]; the damage comes from living in the untrue world, not from the realization that the untruth is untrue, even if the second is much more visible.
2Grant7yAll true, but there are many booms which seem to produce crazy investments; the dot-com boom is the most obvious recent example. You don't need to accept ABCT to accept this, and I'd guess most people who do notice this don't accept ABCT.
1linkhyrule57yWould you mind explaining? You could PM me or toss it in the Open thread if you don't think it belongs here.
1b1shop7ySorry, haven't logged in in a while. I'm only an econ undergrad, so I'm not a drop-dead expert in economics. However, I work as a business valuator by day, so I like to think I know a thing or two about evaluating the profitability of projects. There's a lot of Rothbardian baggage about money I associate with the theory. That may or may not be a separate conversation. Don't even bother trying to argue against my points here if you believe fractional reserve banking is bad, because we don't agree on enough to have a productive conversation about this issue. We should instead focus on money and FRB first. The ABCT story is about excessively low interest rates causing firms to be too farsighted in their planning. If rates increase, then projects that were profitable are no longer profitable, and the economy contracts. Here's a few reasons why I don't like this story: * It requires a massive level of incompetence from entrepreneurs. Arguably the most popular business valuation resource for estimating costs of capital, Duff and Phelps, has a report on adjusting risk free rates for the expected future path. If businesses are unstable because they are not robust to 5% swings in interest rates, then they will likely be unstable due to other shocks as well. ABCT requires them to fall for the same trap over and over again. * It's drastically asymmetric. ABCT only focuses on distortions caused by too much money being printed. What about the distortions caused by too little money being printed? Modern cases show this is far more damaging. The transmission mechanism isn't based on interest rates, but it still matters a lot. * The case for expansionary policy causing bubbles is not as strong as many think. NGDP growth during the worst of the housing bubble was only 5%. That's below average growth over the past few decades, which were a remarkably stable time. Yes, interest rates were low, but that had more to do with an influx of

But, Senjougahara, can I set a condition too? A condition, or, well, something like a promise. Don't ever pretend you can see something that you can't, or that you can't see something that you can. If our viewpoints are inconsistent, let's talk it over. Promise me.

Bakemonogatari

4Grif7yIn Bakemonogatari, the main characters often encounter spirits that only interact with specific people under specific conditions, although the effects they have are real (and would manifest to another's eyes as inexplicable paranormal phenomena). As such it's more a request about shoring up inconsistencies in sense perception, than it is about inconsistencies in belief.

From Jacques Vallee, Messengers of Deception...

'Then he posed a question that, obvious as it seems, had not really occurred to me: “What makes you think that UFOs are a scientific problem?”

I replied with something to the effect that a problem was only scientific in the way it was approached, but he would have none of that, and he began lecturing me. First, he said, science had certain rules. For example, it has to assume that the phenomena it is observing is natural in origin rather than artificial and possibly biased. Now the UFO phenomenon could be controlled by alien beings. “If it is,” added the Major, “then the study of it doesn’t belong to science. It belongs to Intelligence.” Meaning counterespionage. And that, he pointed out, was his domain. *

“Now, in the field of counterespionage, the rules are completely different.” He drew a simple diagram in my notebook. “You are a scientist. In science there is no concept of the ‘price’ of information. Suppose I gave you 95 per cent of the data concerning a phenomenon. You’re happy because you know 95 per cent of the phenomenon. Not so in intelligence. If I get 95 per cent of the data, I know that this is the ‘cheap’ part of the inf... (read more)

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

  • “Silver Blaze” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
2MixedNuts7yIf UFOs are controlled by a non-human intelligence, assuming they'll behave like human schemes is as pointless as assuming they'll behave like natural phenomena. But of course the premise is false and the Major's approach is correct.
3FiftyTwo7yA creature that can build a spaceship is probably closer to oe that can build a plane than it is to a rock at least, you have to start somewhere.

Old man: Gotcha! So you do collect answers after all!

Eye: But of course! Everybody does! You need answers to base decisions on. Decisions that lead to actions. We wouldn't do much of anything, if we were always indecisive!

All I am saying is that I see no point in treasuring them! That's all!

Once you see that an answer is not serving its question properly anymore, it should be tossed away. It's just their natural life cycle. They usually kick and scream, raising one hell of a ruckus when we ask them to leave. Especially when they have been with us for a long time.

You see, too many actions have been based on those answers. Too much work and energy invested in them. They feel so important, so full of themselves. They will answer to no one. Not even to their initial question!

What's the point if a wrong answer will stop you from returning to the right question. Although sometimes people have no questions to return to... which is usually why they defend them, with such strong conviction.

That's exactly why I am extra cautious with all these big ol' answers that have been lying around, long before we came along. They bully their way into our collection without being invited by any questio

... (read more)
3RowanE7yThis is good, although when I read the comic I find myself interpreting Eye as valuing curiosity for curiosity's sake alone,in direct opposition to valuing truth, which I can't really get behind and leads to me siding with the old man.

Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

George Bernard Shaw

I agree with the thought, but I find the attribution implausible. "Finding yourself" sounds like modern pop-psych, not a phrase that GBS would ever have written. Google doesn't turn up a source.

3ChristianKl7yGoogle nGram [http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=%22finding+yourself%22&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=] suggests that "Finding yourself" wasn't a phrase that was really in use before the 1960 albeit there a short uptick in 1940. Given that you need some time for criticism and Shaw died in 1950, I think it's quite clear that this quote is to modern for him. Although maybe post-modern is a more fitting word? The timeframe seems to correspond with the rise of post-modern thought. If you suddenly start deconstructing everything you need to find yourself again ;)
2Polina7yI think you are right that it is difficult to find the exact source. I came upon this quotation in the book Up where the author quoted Bernard Shaw. Google gave me http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/5217.George_Bernard_Shaw [http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/5217.George_Bernard_Shaw], but no article or play was indicated as a source of this quote.
3NancyLebovitz7y"Life is about creating yourself" still might be problematic because the emphasis is still on what sort of person you are.

The best solution to a problem is usually the easiest one.

-- GLaDOS from Portal 2

If you cast out all the easy strategies that don't actually work as non-'solutions', then sure, in what remains among the set of solutions, the best is often the easiest, though not easy. I can think of much harder ways to save the world and I'm not trying any of them.

Karl Popper used to begin his lecture course on the philosophy of science by asking the students simply to 'observe'. Then he would wait in silence for one of them to ask what they were supposed to observe. [...] So he would explain to them that scientific observation is impossible without pre-existing knowledge about what to look at, what to look for, how to look, and how to interpret what one sees. And he would explain that, therefore, theory has to come first. It has to be conjectured, not derived.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

6Bugmaster7yDid Karl Popper populate his class with particularly unimaginative students ? If someone asked me to "observe", I'd fill an entire notebook with observations in less than an hour -- and that's even without getting up from my chair.
7Estarlio7yAnd, while you were writing, someone would provide the wanted answer ;)
3fubarobfusco7yI'm pretty sure I had this very exercise in a creative-writing class somewhere in school.
3rule_and_line7yThat's an interesting prediction. Have you tried it? Can you predict what you'd do after filling the notebook? In my imagination, I'd probably wind up in one of two states: * Feeling tricked and asking myself "What was the point of that?" * Feeling accomplished and waiting for the next instruction.
1Bugmaster7yI have never tried it myself in a structured setting, such as a classroom; but I do sometimes notice things, and then ask myself, "What is going on here ? Why does this thing behave in the way that it does ?". Sometimes I think about it for a while, figure out what sounds like a good answer, then go on with my day. Sometimes I shrug and forget about it. Sometimes -- very rarely -- I'm interested enough to launch a more thorough investigation. I imagine that if I set myself an actual goal to "observe" stuff, I'd notice a lot more stuff, and spend much more time on investigating it. You say that, in such a situation, you could end up "feeling tricked", but this assumes that the teacher who told you to "observe" is being dishonest: he's not interested in your observations, he's just interested in pushing his favorite philosophy onto you. This may or may not be the case with Karl Popper, but observations are valuable (and, IMO, fun) regardless.

"But think how small he is," said the Black Panther, who would have spoiled Mowgli if he had had his own way. "How can his little head carry all thy long talk?"

"Is there anything in the jungle too little to be killed? No. That is why I teach him these things, and that is why I hit him, very softly, when he forgets."

Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book

I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

Stephen Jay Gould

6gwern7yThere was only one Ramanujan; and we are all well-aware of Gould's views on intelligence here, I presume.
8William_Quixote7ythey are not well known to me
9gwern7y* http://lesswrong.com/lw/65b/scientific_misconduct_misdiagnosed_because_of/ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/65b/scientific_misconduct_misdiagnosed_because_of/] * http://lesswrong.com/lw/kv/beware_of_stephen_j_gould/ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/kv/beware_of_stephen_j_gould/] * http://www.debunker.com/texts/jensen.html [http://www.debunker.com/texts/jensen.html]
3William_Quixote7yThanks
4[anonymous]7yIn what reference class?

I chose Ramanujan as my example because mathematics is extremely meritocratic, as proven by how he went from poor/middle-class Indian on the verge of starving to England on the strength of his correspondence & papers. If there really were countless such people, we would see many many examples of starving farmers banging out some impressive proofs and achieving levels of fame somewhat comparable to Einstein; hence the reference class of peasant-Einsteins must be very small since we see so few people using sheer brainpower to become famous like Ramanujan.

(Or we could simply point out that with average IQs in the 70s and 80s, average mathematician IQs closer to 140s - or 4 standard deviations away, even in a population of billions we still would only expect a small handful of Ramanujans - consistent with the evidence. Gould, of course, being a Marxist who denies any intelligence, would not agree.)

from poor/middle-class Indian

It is worth pointing out that Ramanujan, while poor, was still a Brahmin.

And not just that, but he had more education than the poorest Indians, and probably more than the second poorest. And got his hands on a math textbook, which was probably pretty low probability.

My bet is that there aren't a lot of geniuses doing stoop labor, especially in traditional peasant situations, but there are some who would have been geniuses if they'd had enough food when young and some education.

3gwern7yEven the poorest Indians (or Chinese, for that matter) will sacrifice to put their children through school. Ramanujan's initial education does not seem to have been too extraordinary, before his gifts became manifest (he scored first in exams, and that was how he was able to go to a well-regarded high school; pg25). Actually, we know how he got his initial textbooks, which was in a way which emphasizes his poverty; pg26-27: So just as well he was being lent and awarded all his books, because certainly at age 11 as a poor Indian it's hard to see how he could afford expensive rare math or English books... A rather tautological comment: yes, if we removed all the factors preventing people from being X, then presumably more people would be X...
5gwern7yBeing a Brahmin does not put rice on the table. Again, he was on the brink of starving, he says; this screens off any group considerations - we know he was very poor.
2Vaniver7yIt screens off any wealth considerations, with the exception of his education (which is midlly relevant). It has a big impact on the question of average IQ and ancestry, though. Brahmin average IQ is probably north of 100,* and so a first-rank mathematician coming from a Brahmin family of any wealth level is not as surprising as a first-rank mathematician coming from a Dalit family. So we still need to explain the absence (as far as I know) of first rate Dalit mathematicians. Gould argues that they're there, and we're missing them; the hereditarian argues that they're not there. One way to distinguish between the two is to evaluate the counterfactual statement "if they were there, they wouldn't be missed," and while Ramanujan is evidence for that statement it's weakened because of the potential impact of caste prejudice / barriers. (It seems like the example of China might be better; it seems that young clever people have had the opportunity to escape sweatshops and cotton fields and enter the imperial service / university system for quite some time. Again, though, this is confounded by Han IQ being probably slightly north of 100, and so may not generalize beyond Northeast Asia and Europe.) *Unfortunately, there is very little solid research on Indian IQ by caste.
1gwern7yYou'd need to examine the IQ of the poorer Brahmins, though, before you could say it's not surprising; otherwise if the poor Brahmins have the same IQs as equally poor Dalits, then it ought to be equally surprising. But Ramanujan is evidence against the Great Filters of nationality and poverty, which ought to be much bigger filters against possible Einsteins than caste. Yes, but I'm not very familiar with the background of major Chinese figures (eg. I just looked him up now and while I had assumed Confucius was a minor aristocrat, apparently he was actually the son of an army officer and "is said to have worked as a shepherd, cowherd, clerk, and a book-keeper." [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucius#Personal_life]); plus, you'd want to look at the post-Tang major Chinese figures, but that will exclude most major Chinese figures period like all the major philosophers - looking up the Chinese philosophy table in Murray's Human Accomplishment, like the first 10 are all pre-examination (and Murray comments of one of them, " it was Zhu Xi who was responsible for making Mencius as well known as he is today, by including Mencius’s work as part of “The Four Books” that became the central texts for both primary education and the civil service examinations").
9HonoreDB7yI think it can be illustrative, as a counter to the spotlight effect, to look at the personalities of math/science outliers who come from privileged backgrounds, and imagine them being born into poverty. Oppenheimer's conjugate was jailed or executed for attempted murder, instead of being threatened with academic probation. Gödel's conjugate added a postscript to his proof warning that the British Royal Family were possible Nazi collaborators, which got it binned, which convinced him that all British mathematicians were in on the conspiracy. Newton and Turing's conjugates were murdered as teenagers on suspicion of homosexuality. I have to make these stories up because if you're poor and at all weird, flawed, or unlucky your story is rarely recorded.

Oppenheimer's conjugate was jailed or executed for attempted murder, instead of being threatened with academic probation.

A gross exaggeration; execution was never in the cards for a poisoned apple which was never eaten.

Gödel's conjugate added a postscript to his proof warning that the British Royal Family were possible Nazi collaborators, which got it binned, which convinced him that all British mathematicians were in on the conspiracy.

Likewise. Goedel didn't go crazy until long after he was famous, and so your conjugate is in no way showing 'privilege'.

Newton and Turing's conjugates were murdered as teenagers on suspicion of homosexuality.

Likewise. You have some strange Whiggish conception of history where all periods were ones where gays would be lynched; Turing would not have been lynched anymore than President Buchanan would have, because so many upper-class Englishmen were notorious practicing gays and their boarding schools Sodoms and Gomorrahs. To remember the context of Turing's homosexuality conviction, this was in the same period where highly-placed gay Englishman after gay Englishman was turning out to be Soviet moles (see the Cambridge Five and how the bisex... (read more)

8HonoreDB7yDo you really think the existence of oppression is a figment of Marxist ideology? If being poor didn't make it harder to become a famous mathematician given innate ability, I'm not sure "poverty" would be a coherent concept. If you're poor, you don't just have to be far out on multiple distributions, you also have to be at the mean or above in several more (health, willpower, various kinds of luck). Ramanujan barely made it over the finish line before dying of malnutrition. Even if the mean mathematical ability in Indians were innately low (I'm quite skeptical there), that would itself imply a context containing more censoring factors for any potential Einsteins...to become a mathematician, you have to, at minimum, be aware that higher math exists, that you're unusually good at it by world standards, and being a mathematician at that level is a viable way to support your family. On your specific objections to my conjugates...I'm fairly confident that confessing to poisoning someone else's food usually gets you incarcerated, and occasionally gets you killed (think feudal society or mob-ridden areas), and is at least a career-limiting move if you don't start from a privileged position. Hardly a gross exaggeration. Goedel didn't become clinically paranoid until later, but he was always the sort of person who would thoughtlessly insult an important gatekeeper's government, which is part of what I was getting at; Ramanujan was more politic than your average mathematician. I actually was thinking of making Newton's conjugate be into Hindu mysticism instead of Christian but that seemed too elaborate.
3gwern7yI'm perfectly happy to accept the existence of oppression, but I see no need to make up ways in which the oppression might be even more awful than one had previously thought. Isn't it enough that peasants live shorter lives, are deprived of stuff, can be abused by the wealthy, etc? Why do we need to make up additional ways in which they might be opppressed? Gould comes off here as engaging in a horns effect: not only is oppression bad in the obvious concrete well-verified ways, it's the Worst Thing In The World and so it's also oppressing Einsteins! Not what Gould hyperbolically claimed. He didn't say that 'at the margin, there may be someone who was slightly better than your average mathematician but who failed to get tenure thanks to some lingering disadvantages from his childhood'. He claimed that there were outright historic geniuses laboring in the fields. I regard this as completely ludicrous due both to the effects of poverty & oppression on means & tails and due to the pretty effective meritocratic mechanisms in even a backwater like India. It absolutely is. Don't confuse the fact that there are quite a few brilliant Indians in absolute numbers with a statement about the mean - with a population of ~1.3 billion people, that's just proving the point. The talent can manifest as early as arithmetic, which is taught to a great many poor people, I am given to understand. Really? Then I'm sure you could name three examples. Sorry, I can only read what you wrote. If you meant he lacked tact, you shouldn't have brought up insanity. Really? Because his mathematician peers were completely exasperated at him. What, exactly, was he politic about?
4HonoreDB7yWait, what are you saying here? That there aren't any Einsteins in sweatshops in part because their innate mathematical ability got stunted by malnutrition and lack of education? That seems like basically conceding the point, unless we're arguing about whether there should be a program to give a battery of genius tests to every poor adult in India. Not all of them, I don't think. And then you have to have a talent that manifests early, have someone in your community who knows that a kid with a talent for arithmetic might have a talent for higher math, knows that a talent for higher math can lead to a way to support your family, expects that you'll be given a chance to prove yourself, gives a shit, has a way of getting you tested... Just going off Google, here: People being incarcerated for unsuccessful attempts to poison someone: http://digitaljournal.com/article/346684 [http://digitaljournal.com/article/346684] http://charlotte.news14.com/content/headlines/628564/teen-arrested-for-trying-to-poison-mother-s-coffee/ [http://charlotte.news14.com/content/headlines/628564/teen-arrested-for-trying-to-poison-mother-s-coffee/] http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=85968 [http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=85968] Person being killed for suspected unsuccessful attempt to poison someone: http://zeenews.india.com/news/bihar/man-lynched-for-trying-to-poison-hand-pump_869197.html [http://zeenews.india.com/news/bihar/man-lynched-for-trying-to-poison-hand-pump_869197.html] I was trying to elegantly combine the Incident with the Debilitating Paranoia and the Incident with the Telling The Citizenship Judge That Nazis Could Easily Take Over The United States. Clearly didn't completely come across. He was politic enough to overcome Vast Cultural Differences enough to get somewhat integrated into an insular community. I hang out with mathematicians a lot; my stereotype of them is that they tend not to be good at that.
2hairyfigment7yAnd this part seems entirely plausible. American slaves had no opportunity to become famous mathematicians unless they escaped, or chanced to have an implausibly benevolent Dumbledore of an owner. Gould makes a much stronger claim, and I attach little probability to the part about the present day. But even there, you're ignoring one or two good points about the actions of famous mathematicians. Demanding citations for 'trying to kill people can ruin your life' seems frankly bizarre.
5Jayson_Virissimo7yI don't think Epicurus was a slave. He did admit slaves to his school though, which is not something that was typical for his time. Perhaps you are referring to the Stoic, Epictetus [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epictetus/], who definitely was a slave (although, white-collar).
4gwern7yWhups, you're right. Some of the Greek philosophers' names are so easy to confuse (I still confuse Xenophanes and Xenophon). Well, Epictetus was still important, if not as important as Epicurus.
5Grant7yI think a better term might be 'meritocratic', and not 'democratic'. Unless mathematicians vote on mathematics?
2gwern7yWell, it is also democratic in the sense that what convinces the mathematical community is what matters, and there's no 'President of Mathematics' or 'Academie de la Mathematique' laying down the rules, but yes, 'meritocratic' is closer to what I meant.
4gwern7ypg169-171, Kanigel's 1991 The Man Who Knew Infinity: Personally, having finished reading the book, I think Kanigel is wrong to think there is so much contingency here. He paints a vivid picture of why Ramanujan had failed out of school, lost his scholarships, and had difficulties publishing, and why two Cambridge mathematicians might mostly ignore his letter: Ramanujan's stubborn refusal to study non-mathematical topics and refusal to provide reasonably rigorous proofs. His life could have been much easier if he had been less eccentric and prideful. That despite all his self-inflicted problems he was brought to Cambridge anyway is a testimony to how talent will out.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky7yWas extremely democratic. Do we know this is still true?

"The Collapse of the Soviet Union and the Productivity of American Mathematicians" comes to mind as an interesting recent natural experiment where the floodgate of Russian mathematical talent was unleashed after the collapse of the USSR and many of them successfully rose in America despite academic math being a zero-sum game; consistent with meritocracy.

5Lumifer7yAt the outlier level, I think so -- see e.g. Perelman [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grigori_Perelman]. At the normal professor-of-mathematics level, probably not.
3[anonymous]7yOkay, maybe there aren't other examples quite as good as him, but a few of these people [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_notable_autodidacts#Scientists.2C_historians.2C_and_educators] surely come close. Yes, but I'm not sure all of the populations working in cotton fields and sweatshops had such a low average IQ. (And Gould just said “people”, not “innumerable people” or something like that.)
4gwern7yMost of those people either seem to come from middle-class or better backgrounds, fall well below Einstein, or both (I mean, Eliezer Yudkowsky?)
4jasonsaied7yDoesn't your observation that most successful autodidacts come from financially stable backgrounds SUPPORT the hypothesis that intelligent individuals from low-income backgrounds are prevented from becoming successful? With the facts you've highlighted, two conclusions may be drawn: either most poor people are stupid, or the aforementioned "starving farmers" don't have the time or the resources to educate themselves or "[bang] out some impressive proofs," on account of the whole "I'm starving and need to grow some food" thing. I don't see how such people would be able to afford books to learn from or time to spend reading them.
3gwern7yNo, it doesn't; see my other comment. I was criticizing the list as a bizarre selection which did not include anyone remotely like Einstein. How did Ramanujan afford books? The answer to the autodidact point is to point out that once one has proven one's Einstein-level talent, one is integrated into the meritocratic system and no longer considered an autodidact.
3Oscar_Cunningham7yI haven't heard that before. Do you have a source?

From his letter to G.H. Hardy:

I am already a half starving man. To preserve my brains I want food and this is my first consideration. Any sympathetic letter from you will be helpful to me here to get a scholarship either from the university or from the government.

Googling the text finds it quoted a bunch of places.

3Oscar_Cunningham7yWow, thanks!
9gwern7yBesides his letter to Hardy, Wikipedia cites The Man Who Knew Infinity (on Libgen; it also quotes the 'half starving' passage), where the cited section reads:
2Swimmer9637yIsn't the average IQ 100 by definition?
4gwern7yYes - but whose average?
3Swimmer9637yPresumably the people who write the IQ test, based on whatever population sample they use to calibrate it. Is the point that the average IQ in India is 70-80, as opposed to the average in the US? (This could be technically true on an IQ test written in the US, without being meaningful, or it could be actually true because of nutrition or whatever). What data does the number 70-80 actually come from?
4ESRogs7yPresumably from this list [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IQ\_and\_the\_Wealth\_of\_Nations#National_IQ_estimates] .
1mwengler7yYou presume too much, the only thing I remember about Gould's views is that they are controversial.
6wedrifid7yA proactive interest in the latter would seem to lead to extensive instrumental interest in the former. Finding things (such as convolutions in brains or genes) that are indicative of potentially valuable talent is the kind of thing that helps make efficient use of it.

There are surprisingly few MRI machines or DNA sequencers in cotton fields and sweatshops. Paraphrasing the original quote from Stephen Jay Gould: The problem is not how good we are at detecting talent; it's where we even bother to look for it.

6ChristianKl7yYou need neither MRI machines nor DNA sequencers to detect intelligence. IQ test perform much better at detecting intelligence.
9gwern7yYes; at this point with only 3 SNPs linked to intelligence [http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2013/05/first-gwas-hits-for-cognitive-ability.html] , it's a joke to say that 'poor people aren't being sequenced and this is why we aren't detecting hidden gems'.
4ialdabaoth7yYes, but that wasn't the point of my post; I was replying to: An MRI machine was an example of a device that could detect convolutions ins brains; a DNA sequencer was an example of a device that could detect genes. My point generalized to "it doesn't matter how good you are at testing for , if you don't apply the test." If we look at IQ tests instead, then (again) it doesn't matter how accurately a properly-administered IQ test detects intelligence, if you don't bother properly administering IQ tests to people in cotton fields, sweatshops, or other places where you don't feel like looking because they aren't "under the lamppost", as it were.
1ChristianKl7yIn a country like China there's quite a bit of testing in school. I think it's quite plausible that there are people who went through the Chinese school system working in Chinese sweatshops and cotton fields.
2ialdabaoth7yIs there IQ test properly designed and administered, or does the test-as-given have hidden correlations with things other than IQ?
8RolfAndreassen7yI suspect, actually, that Gould would not view "find the geniuses and get them out of the fields" as a reasonable solution to the problem he poses. What he wants is for there to be no stoop labour in the first place, whether for geniuses or the terminally mediocre. The geniuses are just a way to illustrate the problem.
2Estarlio7yThat's a hard problem, with no reasonable way to measure it in in a large population in sight, or even direction of the relationship taken into account. Ideally you'd take a bunch of kids and look at their brains and then see how they grew up and see whether you could find anything that altered the distribution in similar cases - but .... Well, you see the problem? It's a sort of twiddling your thumbs style studying, rather than addressing more immediate problems that might do something at a reasonable price/timeline.

And anyone that’s been involved in philanthropy eventually comes to that point. When you try to help, you try to give things, you start to have the consequences. There’s an author Bob Lupton, who really nails it when he says that when he gave something the first time, there was gratitude; and when he gave something a second time to that same community, there was anticipation; the third time, there was expectation; the fourth time, there was entitlement; and the fifth time, there was dependency. That is what we’ve all experienced when we’ve wanted to do good. Something changes the more we just give hand-out after hand-out. Something that is designed to be a help actually causes harm.

Peter Greer

1FiftyTwo7yThe other way to look at that is the other agent doing basic induction.
1Eugine_Nier7yIt is. That doesn't mean the results are good.

If you want money, do with money what rich people do with money.

Ok, I purchased my mansion and a sportscar. What's step 2?

9Vaniver7yYou might be interested in borrowing a copy of The Millionaire Next Door [http://www.amazon.com/Millionaire-Next-Door-Thomas-Stanley/dp/0671015206] from a library. It's a bit more accurate about rich people than television.

Finding a good formulation for a problem is often most of the work of solving it... Problem formulation and problem solution are mutually-recursive processes.

David Chapman

3Eliezer Yudkowsky7ySee also: "Figuring out what should be your top priority" vs. "Actually working on your current best guess".

If your parents made you practice the flute for 10,000 hours, and it wasn't your thing, you aren't an expert. You're a victim.

The most important skill involved in success is knowing how and when to switch to a game with better odds for you.

Scott Adams

Aka http://demotivators.despair.com/demotivational/stupiditydemotivator.jpg

"Quitters never win, winners never quit, but those who never win AND never quit are idiots"

4Viliam_Bur7yFrom the same website [http://www.despair.com/adaptation.html], another LessWrongian wisdom:
3[anonymous]7yThis is an incredibly important life skill.

I believe you are posting this in the wrong thread.

The opposite intellectual sin to wanting to derive everything from fundamental physics is holism which makes too much of the fact that everything is ultimately connected to everything else. Sure, but scientific progress is made by finding where the connections are weak enough to allow separate theories.

-- John McCarthy

The mark of a great man is one who knows when to set aside the important things in order to accomplish the vital ones.

-- Tillaume, The Alloy of Law

So, in a business setting, you’ve got to provide value to your customers so that they pay for the goods and services that you’re providing. Philanthropy is unfortunate in that the people that your customer base is made of oftentimes are the people that are writing the checks to support you. The people that are writing the donation checks are what keep organizations in business oftentimes. The people that are receiving the services, then, are oftentimes not paying for the services, and therefore their voice is not heard. And so within the nonprofit space, we’ve created a system where he/she who tells the best story is the one that’s rewarded. There’s an incentive to push down the stories that are not of positive impact. There’s the incentive to pretend that there are no negative things that happen, there’s the incentive to make sure that our failures are never made public, and there’s the disconnected between who’s paying for the service and who’s receiving the services. When you disconnect those two aspects, you do not have accountability that acts in the best interest of the people who are receiving what we are all trying to do, which is just to help in places of great need.

Peter Greer

3mwengler7yRewarding those who tell great stories is hardly limited to non-profits. Hollywood of course does this as well it should. Fund raising for new ventures does this a lot, raising money for many sorts of investment at the retail level is largely an effort of telling good stories not particularly supported by statistical fact. Which isn't to say that this is not a problem for non-profits, but rather that non-profits might do well to see how other industries deal with this phenomenon.
1Document7yThe problem is doubtless exacerbated when those paying for the service and those receiving it live in different time periods.

I just think it's good to be confident. If I'm not on my team why should anybody else be?

-Robert Downey Jr.

I think it's good to be well-calibrated.

I think it's good to be well-calibrated.

It is usually best to be socially confident while making well-calibrated predictions of success. The two are only slightly related and Downey is definitely talking about the social kind of confidence.

2Document7yGood point. I'm still not sure I like his framing of social interactions as getting people on "your" team (which I may be partly biased in by the source of the quote), but the objection in my initial post isn't a good one.
2dspeyer7yMaybe I'm misunderstanding the quote, but this seems to wither if you have something to protect. If I'm having surgery, I don't really want the team of expert surgeons listening to my suggestions. I shouldn't be on my team because I'm not qualified. Highly qualified people should be so that my team will win (and I get to live).

Well, I think the thrust of the quote had more to do with being confident in your own projects. But I'll try to do an answer to your point because I think it's important to recognise the limitations of domain specialists - some of whom just aren't very good at their jobs.

If you're not on your team of expert surgeons, you're gonna be screwed if they're not actually as expert as you might think they were. There's a bit in What Do You Care What Other People Think? Where Feynman is talking about his first wife's hospitalisation - and how he had done some reading around the area and come up with the idea that it might be TB - and didn't push for the idea because he thought that the doctors knew what they were doing.

Then, sometime later, the bump began to change. It got bigger—or maybe it was smaller—and she got a fever. The fever got worse, so the family doctor decided Arlene should go to the hospital. She was told she had typhoid fever. Right away, as I still do today, I looked up the disease in medical books and read all about it. When I went to see Arlene in the hospital, she was in quarantine—we had to put on special gowns when we entered her room, and so on. The doctor was there,

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3ChristianKl7yExpert surgeons tend to think that more problems should be solved via surgery than doctors who aren't surgeons. Before getting surgery you should always talk with a doctor who knows something about the kind of illness you are having who isn't a surgeon. After the operation is done doctors will ask you if everything is alright with you. If you try to understand what the operation involved you will give your doctor answers that are likely to be more informative than if you just try to place all responsibility onto another person. Especially if you feel something that's not normal for the type of operation that you get, it important to be confident that you perceive something that's worth bringing to the attention of your doctor. Having had big operations (one with 8 weeks of hospitalisation and one with 3 weeks) myself I think not taking enough for myself in those context was one of the worst decisions I made in my life. But then I was young and stupid about how the world works at the time.
2RichardKennaway7yOnly if you're not the one with the responsibility to do something to protect it. I don't know the context of the quote, other than apparently being from an interview (with the actor, not any character he has played), but I read it as being about your own efforts to accomplish something. In such matters, you are the first person on your team, and you won't get any others on board by telling them you're not sure this is a good idea. Once you've made the decision that you are going to go for it, you have to then go for it, not sit around wondering if it's the right decision. If you're not acting on a decision, you didn't make it.
1Vladimir_Nesov7yThis works as a rationalization growing from the conclusion that others should be "on your team". If on well-calibrated assessment you yourself are not "on your team", others probably shouldn't be either, in which case projecting confidence amounts to deceit.

When you kill yourself, you forfeit the right to control your own story.

People don't have that right, in general. Except in the technical 'might makes right' sense employed by some tyrants.

The implied claim seems to be that it is more morally acceptable to disrespect individuals who kill themselves (beyond the specific criticism of the particular decision). I have nothing but contempt for that claim and so obviously don't consider it to belong in this thread.

Well, in that case: that's dumb.

I do not see why any of Chapman's examples cannot be given appropriate distributions and modeled in a Bayesian analysis just like anything else:

Dynamical chaos? Very statistically modelable, in fact, you can't really deal with it at all without statistics, in areas like weather forecasting.

Inaccessibility? Very modelable; just a case of missing data & imputation. (I'm told that handling issues like censoring, truncation, rounding, or intervaling are considered one of the strengths of fully Bayesian methods and a good reason for using stuff like JAGS; in contrast, whenever I've tried to deal with one of those issues using regular maximum-likelihood approaches it has been... painful.)

Time-varying? Well, there's only a huge section of statistics devoted to the topic of time-series and forecasts...

Sensing/measurement error? Trivial, in fact, one of the best cases for statistical adjustment (see psychometrics) and arguably dealing with measurement error is the origin of modern statistics (the first instances of least-squared coming from Gauss and other astronomers dealing with errors in astronomical measurement, and of course Laplace applied Bayesian methods to astronomy as well).

Mo... (read more)

6RichardKennaway7yAgreed about chaos, missing data, time series, and noise, but I think the next is off the mark: He might be surprised to be described as applying Bayesian methods at all in that area. Model checking, in his view, is an essential part of "Bayesian data analysis", but it is not itself carried out by Bayesian methods. The strictly Bayesian part -- that is, the application of Bayes' theorem -- ends with the computation of the posterior distribution of the model parameters given the priors and the data. Model-checking must (he says) be undertaken by other means because the truth may not be in the support of the prior, a situation in which the strict Bayesian is lost. From "Philosophy and the practice of Bayesian statistics" [http://arxiv.org/pdf/1006.3868v1], by Gelman and Shalizi (my emphasis): ... If anyone's itching to say "what about universal priors?", Gelman and Shalizi say that in practice there is no such thing. The idealised picture of Bayesian practice, in which the prior density is non-zero everywhere, and successive models come into favour or pass out of favour by nothing more than updating from data by Bayes theorem, is, they say, unworkable. They liken the process to Kuhnian paradigm-shifting: but find Popperian hypothetico-deductivism a closer fit: For Gelman and Shalizi, model checking is an essential part of Bayesian practice, not because it is a Bayesian process but because it is a necessarily non-Bayesian supplement to the strictly Bayesian part: Bayesian data analysis cannot proceed by Bayes alone. Bayes proposes; model-checking disposes. I'm not a statistician and do not wish to take a view on this. But I believe I have accurately stated their view. The paper contains some references to other statisticians who, they says are more in favour of universal Bayesianism, but I have not read them.
3gwern6yLoath as I am to disagree with Gelman & Shalizi, I'm not convinced that the sort of model-checking they advocate such as posterior p-values are fundamentally and in principle non-Bayesian, rather than practical problems. I mostly agree with "Posterior predictive checks can and should be Bayesian: Comment on Gelman and Shalizi,'Philosophy and the practice of Bayesian statistics'" [http://www.indiana.edu/~kruschke/articles/Kruschke2013BJMSP.pdf], Kruschke 2013 - I don't see why that sort of procedure cannot be subsumed with more flexible and general models in an ensemble approach, and poor fits of particular parametric models found automatically and posterior shifted to more complex but better fitting models. If we fit one model and find that it is a bad model, then the root problem was that we were only looking at one model when we knew that there were many other models but out of laziness or limited computations we discarded them all. You might say that when we do an informal posterior predictive check, what we are doing is a Bayesian model comparison of one or two explicit models with the models generated by a large multi-layer network of sigmoids (specifically <80 billion of them)... If you're running into problems because your model-space is too narrow - expand it! Models should be able to grow (this is a common feature of Bayesian nonparametrics). This may be hard in practice, but then it's just another example of how we must compromise our ideals because of our limits, not a fundamental limitation on a theory or paradigm.
6IlyaShpitser7ygwern, I am curious. You do a lot of practical data analysis. How often do you use non-Bayesian methods?
9gwern7yPretty frequently (if you'll pardon the pun). Almost all papers are written using non-Bayesian methods, people expect results in non-Bayesian terms, etc. Besides that: I decided years ago (~2009) that as appealing as Bayesian approaches were to me, I should study 'normal' statistics & data analysis first - so I understood them and why I didn't want to use them before I began studying Bayesian statistics. I didn't want to wind up in a situation where I was some sort of Bayesian fanatic who could tell you how to do a Bayesian analysis but couldn't explain what was wrong with the regular approach or why Bayesian approaches were better! (I think I'm going to be switching gears relatively soon, though: I'm working with a track coach on modeling triple-jumping performance, and the smallness of the data suggests it'll be a natural fit for a multilevel model using informative priors, which I'll want to read Gelman's textbook on, and that should be a good jumping off point.)
1linkhyrule57yRandom question - if you were to recommend a textbook or two, from frequentist and Bayesian analysis both, to a random interested undergraduate... (As you might guess, not a hypothetical, unfortunately.)
3RichardKennaway7yExpanding further on my previous [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i7t/rationality_quotes_august_2013/9k5w] reply, I believe that the claimed (by Gelman and Shalizi) non-Bayesian nature of model-checking is wrong: the truth is that everything that goes under the name of model-checking works, to the extent that it does, so far as it approximates the underlying Bayesian structure. It is not called Bayesian, because it is not an actual, numerical use of Bayes theorem, and the reason we are not doing that is because we do not know how: in practice we cannot work with universal priors. So Bayesian ideas are applicable to the problem of model/abstraction error, but we cannot apply them numerically. In fact, that is pretty much what model/abstraction error means -- if we did have numbers, they would be part of the model. Model checking is what we do when we cannot calculate any further with numerical probabilities. Cf. my analogy here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/iat/what_bayesianism_taught_me/9kk5] with understanding thermodynamics. I believe that would be Eliezer's response to Gelman and Shalizi. I would not expect them to be convinced though. Shalizi would probably dismiss the idea as moonshine and absurdity. ETA: Eliezer on the subject: [http://lesswrong.com/lw/o7/searching_for_bayesstructure/] ETA: Why is the grandparent [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i7t/rationality_quotes_august_2013/9k0t] at -4? David Chapman and simplicio may be wrong about this, but neither are saying anything stupid, or so much thrashed out in the past as to not merit further words.

Does this strike you as cargo cult language?

That's not cargo cult language, it's just ordinary cargo cult behavior.

But, unlike other species, we also know how not to know. We employ this unique ability to suppress our knowledge not just of mortality, but of everything we find uncomfortable, until our survival strategy becomes a threat to our survival.

[...] There is no virtue in sustaining a set of beliefs, regardless of the evidence. There is no virtue in either following other people unquestioningly or in cultivating a loyal and unquestioning band of followers.

While you can be definitively wrong, you cannot be definitely right. The best anyone can do is constantly to review the evidence and to keep improving and updating their knowledge. Journalism which attempts this is worth reading. Journalism which does not is a waste of time."

7DSherron7yNot true. Trivially, if A is definitively wrong, then ~A is definitively right. Popperian falsification is trumped by Bayes' Theorem. Note: This means that you cannot be definitively wrong, not that you can be definitively right.
7Document7yTrue, but possibly dangerously close to "There is no virtue in following other people or in cultivating followers [http://lesswrong.com/lw/3h/why_our_kind_cant_cooperate/]".

To the layman, the philosopher, or the classical physicist, a statement of the form "this particle doesn't have a well-defined position" (or momentum, or x-component of spin angular momentum, or whatever) sounds vague, incompetent, or (worst of all) profound. It is none of these. But its precise meaning is, I think, almost impossible to convey to anyone who has not studied quantum mechanics in some depth.

2DanArmak7yI haven't studied quantum mechanics in any depth at all. The meaning I, as a layman, derive from this statement is: in the formal QM system a particle has no property labelled "position". There is perhaps an emergent property called position, but it is not fundamental and is not always well defined, just like there are no ice-cream atoms. Is this wrong?

Yes, it's wrong. In the QM formalism position is a fundamental property. However, the way physical properties work is very different from classical mechanics (CM). In CM, a property is basically a function that maps physical states to real numbers. So the x-component of momentum, for instance, is a function that takes a state as input and spits out a number as output, and that number is the value of the property for that state. Same state, same number, always. This is what it means for a property to have a well-defined value for every state.

In QM, physical properties are more complicated -- they're linear operators, if you want a mathematically exact treatment. But here's an attempt at an intuitive explanation: There are some special quantum states (called eigenstates) for which physical properties behave pretty much like they do in CM. If the particle is in one of those states, then the property takes the state as input and basically just spits out a number. Whenever the particle is in that state, you get the same number. For those states, the property does have a well-defined value.

But the problem in QM is that those are not the only states there are. There are other states as w... (read more)

4DanArmak7yThanks for the detailed explanation! Now I have more fun words to remember without actually understanding :-) Seriously, thanks for taking the time to explain that.

That's the joke.

And if you break something, then you don't get an opinion on how it should be fixed.

Why not ? If I broke it, there's a chance that I know exactly what I did. The next version of whatever it is I broke should eliminate that failure mode.

7Document7y-Unknown

I like it when I hear philosophy in rap songs (or any kind of music, really) that I can actually fully agree with:

I never had belief in Christ, cus in the pictures he was white

Same color as the judge that gave my hood repeated life

Sentences for little shit, church I wasn't feeling it

Why the preacher tell us everything gon be alright?

Knew what it was for, still I felt that it was wrong

Till I heard Chef call himself God in the song

And it all made sense, cus you can't do shit

But look inside the mirror once it all goes wrong

You fix your own problems, tame yo

... (read more)
5David_Gerard7yIt's quite sad that Tupac Shakur is the focus of so many conspiracy theories [http://rationalblogs.org/rationalwiki/2013/03/29/the-death-and-resurrection-of-tupac-shakur/] , because he was quite the sceptic about wasting your time on this stuff when there was real work to do making the world better [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAKfS5lMm68].
6gothgirl4206667yI always thought it was interesting that Tupac got all the conspiracy theories while Biggie got none, despite the fact that Biggie released an album called Ready to Die, died, then two weeks later released an album called Life After Death. It's probably because Tupac's music appeals more to hippie types who are into this kind of stuff.

"[W]hen you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." -- Sherlock Holmes

Technically true. Some notable 'improbable' things that remain are the chance that you screwed up your thinking or measuring somewhere or that you are hallucinating. (I agree denotatively but are wary about the connotations.)

Whatever alleged "truth" is proven by results to be but an empty fiction, let it be unceremoniously flung into the outer darkness, among the dead gods, dead empires, dead philosophies, and other useless lumber and wreckage!

Anton Lavey, The Satanic Bible, The Book of Satan II

2FiftyTwo7yIsn't it better to examine a falsehood to discover why it was so popular and appealing before throwing it away?
7AndHisHorse7yThen, to continue the metaphor, we should study it by telescope from afar, not as a present and influential entity in our own sphere of existence, but rather a distant body, informative but impotent, the object of curiosity rather than devotion.
2satt7y— Jon Elster, Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences, p. 16

While I respect your right to do so, I find such a concept aesthetically horrifying.

5gothgirl4206667yI never understood that... I remember when I was in elementary school there was a sign in the library that said something like "Don't dog-ear your books... you wouldn't like it if someone folded your ear over, so don't do it to your book." What?
1MixedNuts7yThat's not particularly uncomfortable.

You're suffering from the typical ear fallacy. Some people have much stiffer cartilage, or something; I don't find it uncomfortable, but I've met people who're caused actual pain by it.

1Wes_W7yWith library books, I think the concern is more about wear-and-tear on shared property. Some of us leakily generalize this to "folding page corners is bad", even for non-shared books. When it's your own book, you can do whatever you want. Personally I find folded page corners less effective than bookmarks for quickly finding my place, especially if I've folded many other page corners, which makes the currently-folded one less visually obvious. But perhaps I'd learn to be better at that if I used it regularly.

Linux kernel seems to me a quite well-managed operation (of herding cats, too!) that doesn't waste lots of time on flame wars.

I don't follow kernel development much. Recently, a colleague pointed me to the rdrand instruction. I was curious about Linux kernel support for it, and I found this thread: http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.linux.kernel/1173350

Notice that Linus spends a bunch of time (a) flaming people and (b) being wrong about how crypto works (even though the issue was not relevant to the patch).

Is this typical of the linux-kernel mailing list... (read more)

3Lumifer7yActually, that depends. Mostly that depends on what the intent (and context) of calling me an idiot in public is. If the intent is, basically, power play -- the goal is to belittle me and elevate himself, reassert his alpha-ness, shift blame, provide an outlet for his desire to inflict pain on somebody -- then no, I'm not going to put up with it. On the other hand, if this is all a part of a culturally normal back-and-forth, if all the boss wants is for me to sit up and take notice, if I can without repercussions reply to him in public pointing out that it's his fat head that gets into his way of understanding basic things like X, Y, and Z and that he's wrong -- I'm fine with that. The microcultures of joking-around-with-insults exist for good reasons. Nobody forces you to like them, but you want to shut them down and that seems rather excessive to me.
2novalis7yI think it's pretty clear that Linus is more on the power-play end of the spectrum. Notice his comment above about the Android developer; that's not someone who is part of his microculture (the person in question was a developer on the Android email client, not a kernel hacker). And again, the shouting-as-punishment thing shows that Linus understands the effect that he has, but doesn't care. Also, Linus, as the person in the position of power, isn't in a position to judge whether his culture is fun. Of course it's fun for him, because he's at the top. "I was just joking around" is always what bullies say when they get called out. The real question is whether it's fun for others. The recent discussion (that presumably sparked the quotes in this thread) was started by someone who didn't find it fun. So even if there are some "good reasons" (none of which you have named), they don't necessarily outweigh the reasons not to have such a culture.
1Lumifer7yThat's not clear to me at all. Note that management of any kind involves creating incentives for your employees/subordinates/those-who-listen-to-you. The incentives include both carrots and sticks and sticks are punishments and are meant to be so. If you want to talk about carrots-only management styles, well, that's a different discussion. I disagree. You treat fun and enjoyment of working at some place as the ultimate, terminal value. It is not. The goal of working is to produce, to create, to make. Whether it's "fun" is subordinate to that. Sure, there are feedback loops, but organizations which exist for the benefit of their employees (to make their life comfortable and "fun") are not a good thing.
4novalis7yFor what it's worth, I've never worked at a place that successfully used aversive stimulus. And, since the job market for programmers is so hot, I can't imagine that anyone would willingly do so (outside the games industry, which is a weird case). This is especially true of kernel hackers, who are all highly qualified developers who could find work easily. I would point out that Linus Torvalds's autobiography is called "Just for Fun". Also, Linus doesn't have employees. Yes, he does manage Linux, but he doesn't employ anyone. I also pointed out a number of ways in which Linus's style was harmful to productivity.
1Lumifer7yAhem. I think you mean to say that you never touched the electric fence. Doesn't mean the fence is not there. Imagine that someone at your workplace decided not to come to work for a week or so, 'cause he didn't feel like it. What would be the consequences? Are there any, err... "aversive stimuli" in play here? No need for imagination. The empirical reality is that a lot of kernel hackers successfully work with Linus and have been doing this for years and years. Which means that anyone who doesn't like his style is free to leave at any time without any consequences in the sense of salary, health insurance, etc. The fact that kernel development goes on and goes on pretty successfully is evidence that your concerns are overblown.
3Grant7yAs of 2012-04-16, 75% of kernel development is paid [http://royal.pingdom.com/2012/04/16/linux-kernel-development-numbers/]. I would assume those developers would find their jobs in jeopardy if Linus removed them from development.
1Lumifer7yUm, Linux kernel doesn't work like that. Linus doesn't "add" anyone to development or "remove" anyone. And I don't know if companies who pay the developers would be likely to fire them if the developers' patches start to get rejected on a regular basis. Oh, and you misquoted your source. It's not 75% of developers, it's 75% of the share of kernel development and, of course, some developers are much more prolific than others.
3Grant7yCertainly he and his team are less likely to accept patches from people who they've had trouble with in the past? And people who have trouble getting patches accepted (for whatever reason) are probably not going to be paid to continue doing kernel development? It would surprise me if he's never outright banned anyone. Thanks for the correction, edited my comment above.
2wedrifid7yYou are describing a (dubious) difference in word use, not a difference in how the world works.
3Lumifer7yI don' t think so -- it is a difference in how the world works. Anyone in the world can submit kernel patches. The filtering does not occur at the people level, it occurs at the piece-of-code level. Linus does not say "I pronounce you a kernel developer" or "You're no longer a kernel developer" -- he says "I accept this patch" or "I do not accept this patch".
1novalis7yNo, I mean that touching the electric fence did not make me a more productive worker. I'm not saying that Linus's style will inevitably lead to instant doom. That would be silly. I'm saying that it's not optimal. Linux hasn't exactly taken over the world yet, so there's definitely room for improvement.
14hodmt7yIt's important to distinguish between Linux the operating system kernel, and the complete system of GNU+Linux+various graphical interfaces sometimes called "Linux". The Linux kernel can also be used with other userspaces, eg. Busybox or Android, and it's very popular in these combinations on embedded systems and phones/tablets respectively. GNU+Linux is popular on servers. The only area where Linux is unsuccessful is desktops, so it's unfortunate that desktop use is so salient when people talk about "Linux". Linus only works on the kernel itself, and that's making great progress towards taking over the world.
3novalis7yYes, I used to work for RMS; I am well aware of the difference. I should also note that most of the systems you mention use proprietary kernel modules; it would be better if they didn't, and perhaps if Linus's attitude were different, there would be more interest in fixing the problem. Also, desktops are where I spend most of my time, so I think they still matter a lot.
2Estarlio7yPunishments seem to have rapidly decreasing returns, especially given the availability of alternatives that are less abusive. Otherwise we'd threaten to people when we wanted to make them more productive, rather than rewarding them - which most of the time we don't above a low level of performance.
1NancyLebovitz7yThis is a shift of topic-- heaping scorn is one particular sort of punishment. Firing someone who isn't working after having given them several warnings is a punishment, but it isn't the same as a high-flame environment.
1Lumifer7yI don't understand the point that you are arguing. Basically all human groups -- workplaces, societies, countries, knitting circles -- have punishments for members who do unacceptable things. The punishments range from a stern talking to, ostracism, or ejection from the group to imprisonment, torture, and killing. In which real-life work setting you will not be punished for arbitrarily not coming to work, for consistently turning in shoddy/unacceptable results, for maliciously disrupting the workplace?
2Estarlio7yOf course all societies have punishments, but that doesn't address the point you were responding to which was that Linus was more on the power-play end of the spectrum. The ratio of reward to punishment, your leverage as determined by the availability of viable alternatives, matters in determining which end of that spectrum you're on. And that has implications for the quality of work you can get from people - while you may be punished for blatantly shoddy work, you're not going to be punished for not doing your best if people don't know what that is. The threat of being fired can only make people work so hard.

The tired and thirsty prospector threw himself down at the edge of the watering hole and started to drink. But then he looked around and saw skulls and bones everywhere. "Uh-oh," he thought. "This watering hole is reserved for skeletons."

Jack Handey

6Manfred7ySo good even dead people want to drink it.
2Document7y(Reference. [http://oglaf.com/fountain-of-death/])

Nobody can believe nothing. When a man says he believes nothing, two things are true: first, that there is something in which he desperately, perhaps dearly, wishes not to believe; and second that there is some unspoken thing in which he secretly believes, perhaps even unknown to himself.

John C Wright

6NancyLebovitz7yIs there a name for the fallacy of claiming to be an expert on the specific contents of other people's subconsciouses?
2MalcolmOcean7yThis sounds like it implies that both things must be true. It seems to me that either would be sufficient to justify someone saying they believe nothing.

Uh... what does this mean, and how is it a rationality quote?

I mean, when you kill yourself, you become dead, and thus unable to do anything, including, but not limited to, "control your own story". But that's a trivial fact.

Is the quote meant to say something less trivial?

He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.

-Thomas Jefferson

One who possesses a maximum-entropy prior is further from the truth than one who possesses an inductive prior riddled with many specific falsehoods and errors. Or more to the point, someone who endorses knowing nothing as a desirable state for fear of accepting falsehoods is further from the truth than somebody who believes many things, some of them false, but tries to pay attention and go on learning.

7NancyLebovitz7yHow about "If you know nothing and are willing to learn, you're closer to the truth than someone who's attached to falsehoods"? Even then, I suppose you'd need to throw in something about the speed of learning.
5AndHisHorse7yIt would seem that the difference of opinion here originates in the definition of further. Someone who knows nothing is further (in the information-theoretic sense) from the truth than someone who believes a falsehood, assuming that the falsehood has at least some basis in reality (even if only an accidental relation), because they must flip more bits of their belief (or lack thereof) to arrive at something resembling truth. On the other hand, in the limited, human, psychological sense, they are closer, because they have no attachments to relinquish, and they will not object to having their state of ignorance lifted from them, as one who believes in falsehoods might object to having their state of delusion destroyed.
4Grant7yTo me "filled with falsehoods and errors" translates into more falsehoods than "some". Though I agree its not a very good quote within the context of LW.
3Ambition7y-LessWrong Community
2BlueSun7yMaybe it's just where my mind was when I read it but I interpreted the quote as meaning something more like: "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."
1Decius7yIn what units does one measure distance from the truth, and in what manner?
3linkhyrule57yBits of Shannon entropy [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entropy_%28information_theory%29].

Facts which seem obvious in retrospect are often less salient than they appear, outside of their native contexts. If I'd been asked to describe humans as computational systems before reading the ancestor, pen and paper probably wouldn't be one of the things I'd have taken into account.

A luxury, once sampled, becomes a necessity. Pace yourself.

Andrew Tobias, My Vast Fortune

I'm afraid I don't know what that stands for.

5Eliezer Yudkowsky7yLogical Fallacy: Generalization from Fictional Evidence
3Kaj_Sotala7yActually, it strikes me that this particular example shouldn't be classified as GFE. "Errors pile up and accomplishments disappear" is a consequence of the way that the game logic works: in a sense, you could say that it's a theorem implied by the axioms of the game. While it's valid to say that Tetris is a flawed piece of procedural [http://mediawiki.middlebury.edu/wiki/MIDDMedia/Procedural_rhetoric] rhetoric [http://www.arts.rpi.edu/~ruiz/EGDFall10/readings/RhetoricVideoGames_Bogost.pdf] in that its axioms do not correctly describe the real world, if you called it fictional evidence you would also be forced to call math fictional evidence, which probably isn't what you'd want.

There are no happy endings. Endings are the saddest part, So just give me a happy middle And a very happy start.

-Shel Silverstein

9MixedNuts7yBut but peak/end rule!

Why spend a dollar on a bookmark? ... Why not use the dollar as a bookmark?

-Steven Spielberg

Dollars are floppy. It's nice to have a relatively rigid bookmark. I've used tissues and such as bookmarks in the past but they're unsatisfactory. Of course, that was back when I still read books in dead tree format.

[-][anonymous]7y 12

I'm reminded of a picture I saw on Facebook of a doorstop still in its original packaging used as a doorstop.

My bookmark is prettier than the dollar.

1RolfAndreassen7yBut when it's being used, you don't see it!
8James_K7yMy bookmark is made of two prices of fridge-magnet material. It can be closed around a few pages and the magnetism holds it in place, preventing it from falling out. Plus dollars in my country are exclusively coins, the smallest note is $5.
7Document7y-Abstract, Material priming: The influence of mundane physical objects on situational construal and competitive behavioral choice [http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749597804000585] (via Yvain [http://lesswrong.com/lw/3b/never_leave_your_room/])
3Bugmaster7yThe answer may very well be, "because I find this bookmark that I bought at a dollar store a lot more aesthetically pleasing than the raw dollar bill". You may as well ask, "Why spend $20 on a book ? Why not just save the $20 ?"
3cody-bryce7yIt would seem that most of the responders are hopelessly literal....
6Jiro7yI find it hard to come up with a deeper meaning for the original statement, so yeah. Besides, it's not hard to come up with a deeper meaning behind what the responders are saying; in pointing out that an object specifically designed as a bookmark makes a better bookmark than a dollar bill, they're making a statement about more than just dollar bills and bookmarks, but about specialization in general.
4Document7y"We don't automatically reflect on most things we do, even when spending money. Even lifelong practices can be shown as absurd with a moment's consideration from the right angle. In fact, we're so irrational that we'll pay a dollar for a bookmark!"
8Said Achmiz7yA decision with an aesthetic benefit is not irrational. You are misusing "irrational". (Or was this sarcasm?)
3gothgirl4206667yI don't see why everyone is disagreeing with you. I definitely notice that people have a tendency to buy things labeled for some sort of purpose, where if they thought for a few minutes they could find a way to fulfill that same purpose without spending money. Unfortunately, I can't think of any examples off the top of my head.
1earthian7yWhile I agree that people often make decisions without thinking them out, I think you are underestimating aesthetics. Aesthetics have phychological effects, and often people find better design structure estetically pleasing.
1Document7yReworded so people don't get caught up in that particular phrasing. (Also, please read the comment tree and note that I'm just trying to answer Jiro's implied question.)
2wedrifid7yYour quote is both literally and connotatively poor. If Spielberg had asked "Why spend two dollars on a bookmark? ... Why not use a dollar as a bookmark?" then there would at least have been some moral along the lines of efficient practicality. Even then it would be borderline.
5Desrtopa7yA dollar is much more fungible than a bookmark. After you're done reading your book, you can not only use the dollar to hold your place in other books, you can spend it on other things.
3wedrifid7yIt will fall out [http://www.macrobusiness.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/url5.jpeg]. Apart from that, money isn't particularly clean [http://www.squidoo.com/Dirty-Money] and (especially if considering US currency) not particularly pretty either. I expect people to find a bookmark far more aesthetically pleasing than a note. How is this a rationality quote? It is rationality-neutral at best.
8cody-bryce7y"Because the dollar is dirty" is one of those pained, stretched explanations people come up with to explain why they do what they do, not the actual reason (even in some small part) the bookmark was invented and became popular.

First off, it seems like wealth is a zero-sum game.

Wealth is very clearly NOT a zero-sum game.

If I make money then someone somewhere else is losing money

Wealth isn't about money, it's about value. Ask yourself: if you create value, is someone somewhere else destroying value?

Money (in this context) is just a unit of account. Any central bank can produce an unlimited amount of these.

If you want smart kids like the rich folk, you should raise your kids like the rich folk raise their kids.

Is there any reason to believe this is true? I would guess Judith Harris would say no, and she's spent a lot more time thinking about this than I have.

Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people. And many people, neither wicked nor innocent, but watchful, dissembling, and calculating of their chances, ponder our reaction to wickedness as a clue to what they might profitably do.

James Wilson

4Said Achmiz7yCounter-quote [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ece/rationality_quotes_september_2012/7cza].
3wedrifid7yOnly loosely. The insightful part of the grandparent quote is the third sentence, which complements the moral-greyness issue quite well.
3Said Achmiz7yI think it is only slightly insightful, at best. It's a gross simplification of how most people experience, and actually (under-the-hood) perform, moral calculations, and it simplifies away most of the interesting stuff.

The world is a lot simpler than the human mind can comprehend. The mind endlessly manufactures meanings and reflects with other minds, ignoring reality. Or maybe it enhances it. Not very clear on that part, I'm human as well.

1Rukifellth7yI found this to be slightly unsettling when I realized it, though we may be talking about different things.

How do you know that it will bring out his genius, Graff? It's never given you what you needed before. You've only had near-misses and flameouts. Is this how Mazer Rackham was trained? Actually, why isn't Mazer Rackham in charge of this training? What qualifications do you have that make you so sure your technique is the perfect recipe to make the ultimate military genius?

-- Will Wildman, analysis of Ender's Game

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.

misattributed often to Plato

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

St. Francis of Assisi (allegedly)

But Naaman was wroth, and went away...And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?

2 Kings 5: 11-13

No, not all sound is communication. No, you aren't communicating just by listening and understanding. To communicate is to send a message and have it received.

What's the context of this paragraph?

...Each minute bursts in the burning room,
The great globe reels in the solar fire,
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.

--Delmore Schwartz, "Calmly We Walk Through This April's Day"; quoted by Mike Darwin on the GRG ML

Given that the symbol " is the symbol for inches, and ' is the symbol for feet, I would suspect that there has been a mistyping in the quote.

I think that what was meant to be there was 72" or 72.1" (inches), which is exactly/one-tenth of an inch over two yards (one yard = three feet). That would produce the desired result of a nearly one-foot increase in the radius of the belt; adding 72 inches to the circumference of the belt would produce an increase of 11.46 inches (72 inches / (2 * pi)) in the radius of the belt, which in this case is the height above the ground.

It is fashionable in the US to talk about people who are on welfare and don’t work. That is not precisely true. Yes, there are people on welfare who neither have a regular job nor look for one. But what might not be understood is that these people are working: they are navigating the labyrinthine bureaucracy and making sure they meet all the guidelines to keep the money flowing. That is work. It is just not productive work. It is a work that is the result of perverse incentives.

Sarah Hoyt

[-][anonymous]7y 5

I think you're not being charitable again. Consider the difference between physics as practiced by quantum woo mystics, and physics as practiced by physicists or even engineers. I think that simplicio is referring to a similar (though less striking) tendency for the representative LWer to quasi-religiously misapply and oversell probability theory (which may or may not be the case, but should be argued with something other than uncharitable ridicule).

[Linus]: And I do it partly (mostly) because it's who I am, and partly because I honestly despise being subtle or "nice".

Steelman this. I am pretty sure that in the North European culture being "subtle or nice" is dangerously close to being dishonest. You do not do anyone a favour by pretending he's doing OK while in reality he's clearly not doing OK. There is a difference between being direct and blunt - and being mean and nasty.

I don't understand what you're saying here. Are you saying that anyone is proposing that Linus to act in... (read more)

1Lumifer7yWe keep hitting the Typical Mind Fallacy over and over again :-) Let me offer you my interpretation: the first one is blunt and might or might not be rude, depending on what the social norms and context are (and on whether thinking about frobnicating the beezlebib does provide incontrovertible evidence of severe brain trauma). The second one is not blunt at all, it's entirely neutral. The third one is a slighly more polite version of neutral. Your fourth example is still neutral, by the way -- there's nothing particularly blunt about explaining why something should not be done (or about using four-letter words, for that matter). To contrast I'll offer my examples: * (rude) You are a moron and can't code your way out of a wet paper bag! Stuff your code where the sun don't shine and never show it to me again! * (blunt) This is not working and will never work. You need to scrap this entirely and start from scratch. * (subtle) While this is a valuable contribution, we would really appreciate it if you went and twiddled the bogon emitter for us while we try to deal with the beezlebib frobnication on our own. It's only the most successful open software ever. Otherwise, not much :-P

I'm not downvoting Eugine, because Vaniver's interpretation is interesting. But I am upvoting b1shop, because the quotation does sound like Austrianism on a bumper sticker. So it applause-lights a false fringe theory associated with an anti-empirical intellectual community, in addition to plausibly generating specific false beliefs about economics and/or ethics if taken on its face. (Busts, or more generally human misery, are the reason 'distortions' and 'not making sense' are a bad thing in the first place; economies aren't primarily maps.) It's interesting and revealing in subtle ways, but misleading in banal and obvious ways.

if you get something wrong, for any reason, learn to shut up and listen to those who got it right from the start. And if you break something, then you don't get an opinion on how it should be fixed.

"No", and "false", respectively.

If something is mine or otherwise under my influence then my opinion on how it should be fixed shall determine my action. If, all things considered, I believe it will achieve my ends to have someone else fix it according to their abilities or expertise then I'll go ahead and do that. I'll also choose who to ... (read more)

That's the joke.

1linkhyrule57yAh. I thought it was something like "I won't drink from this because it's reserved for skeletons (and will therefore die and perpetuate the cycle)," which was just bizarre enough to be a joke.

"When you have updated on the evidence, whatever is the most probable, however socially unnacceptable, must be believed."

"When you have updated on the evidence, whatever is the most probable, must be believed, even if it is uncontroversial, mundane, and doesn't make startling conversation at parties."

I think the point is not that endings are generally and extrinsically sad, but rather that by definition, an ending is a thing which is sad, if we take the existence of such a thing to be good. (The ending of a bad thing, for example, is an exception, though generally because it allows for the existence of good things). The response, then, would not to be to try to improve endings, but rather to try to do away with them (and, barring that, improve the extrinsic qualities of the non-ending parts).

Is that true (for trees or people)?

Edit: For one example, this person currently linked in the sidebar isn't sure.

If best is defined as easiest, then the "usually" within the quote is entirely superfluous. "If" statements are logically exception-less, and the Law of Conserved Conversation (That i've just made up) means that "usually" implies exceptions. Otherwise it would be excluded from the quote. So I say, pedantically, "duh. but you're missing the point a bit, aren't you mate?"

I like to think of the principle as a kind of Occam's for action. Don't take elaborate actions to produce some solution that is otherwise trivially easy to produce.

2[anonymous]7yYou may want to read something about pragmatics, starting with e.g. the section on conversational implicatures in Chapter 1 [http://www.cambridge.org/assets/linguistics/cgel/chap1.pdf] of CGEL [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cambridge_Grammar_of_the_English_Language]. (Your made-up law sounds related to these [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gricean_maxims#Grice.27s_Maxims].)
2Joshua_Blaine7yHuh. The Maxim of Relation does sound very much like what I was trying to go for.

The word "forfeit" implies that we should feel no obligation to respect the memory of people who kill themselves.

It says more than that. It implies that there is an obligation to respect the memory of people and that said obligation no longer applies if they kill themselves.

[-][anonymous]7y 4

Except when physically constrained, a person is least free or dignified when under the threat of punishment. We should expect that the literatures of freedom and dignity would oppose punitive techniques, but in fact they have acted to preserve them. A person who has been punished is not thereby simply less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment. Some ways of doing so are maladaptive or neurotic, as in the so­ called 'Freudian dynamisms'. Other ways include avoid­ing situations in which punished behaviour is likely t

... (read more)
5wedrifid7yVery close. I'd perhaps suggest that a person is less dignified when desperately seeking a reward that certainly isn't going to come.

Pure hypothesis: Linux being unsuccessful on desktops is not a coincidence, because Linux is written in a low-empathy environment

Um. The claim by novalis is that the Linux kernel is written in a "low-empathy" environment. The kernel has nothing to do with UI which, along with most applications, is quite separate. Linus has no influence over UI design or user-friendliness in general.

There are two main GUI environments on Linux -- Gnome and KDE. I don't know what the atmosphere is for developers inside these organizations. I think there is a fai... (read more)

1[anonymous]7yYou know what Ubuntu is named after [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubuntu_%28philosophy%29], BTW?

Agree with sibling qualifications, though note that I find this extremely useful as a Finding Lost Stuff heuristic, and by using it as a motto, have significantly decreased my instantiation of the literal streetlight effect.

[-][anonymous]7y 4

As opposed to feeding trolls, which is widely known to be extremely effective in making them shut up?

5wedrifid7yIn the context the group you position here as 'trolls' are described as frivolous complainers. You advocate [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i7t/rationality_quotes_august_2013/9ihb] apologising and complying. Eugine is correct in pointing out that this can represent a perverse incentive (both in theory and in often observed practice).

Not quite seeing the applicability as a rationality quote; but in "it's bed" you should drop the apostrophe.

1jasonsaied7yI'd say it's highlighting the human fallacy to try to ignore and escape from bad news. Instead of facing this prophecy, they just destroyed the ship that delivered it to them and told themselves they were safe.
1linkhyrule57yI imagine there's an implied "and then the Reapers came" or something.
2[anonymous]7yAh, thank you.

Everything can be reduced to an abstraction, a puzzle, and then solved

-Ledaal Kes (Exalted Aspect Book: Air)

I see it as more of a "rather than sorting projects by revenue, make sure to sort them by profit," combined with "in cases where revenue is concave and cost linear, which happen frequently, the lowest cost project is probably going to be the highest profit."

3dspeyer7yThat plus "beware inflated revenue estimates, especially for have-it-all type plans". Cost estimates are often much more accurate.

It is not July. It is August.

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

Saw this under "latest rationality quotes" and was like "man, I'm really missing the context as to how this is a rationality quote."

"If it July, I desire to believe it is July. If it is August, I desire to believe it is August..."

9linkhyrule57yIf the Romans had been more willing to rename months they were unwilling to keep in their original places, we might have a much saner calendar.

If people in the 1500 years since the Romans had been more willing to rename months...

3Vaniver7yFixed! The perils of copy/paste.

How is that a subversion? It is exactly in accord with the original.

5[anonymous]7yThe key phrase is "our liberal friends." Everyone suffers from illusion of transparency, Dunning-Kruger, and etc., but Reagan is applying the bias selectively.

It ain’t ignorance [that] causes so much trouble; it’s folks knowing so much that ain’t so.

Josh Billings

(h/t Robin Hanson)

All experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move...

To follow knowledge like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Ulysses

Maybe a misunderstanding about the word is relevant, but it clearly isn't entirely responsible for the effect.

In the study you quoted, a bit less than half of the answers were wrong, in sharp contrast to the Linda example, where 90% of the answers were wrong. It implies that at least 40% of the failures were a result of misunderstanding. This only leaves 60% for fallacies. Of that 60%, some people have other misunderstandings and other errors of reasoning, and some people are plain stupid (10% are the dumbest people out of 10, i.e. have an IQ of 80 or ... (read more)

The complexity of software is an essential property, not an accidental one. Hence, descriptions of a software entity that abstract away its complexity often abstract away its essence.

Fred P. Brooks, No Silver Bullet

7shminux7yI've always had misgivings about this quote. In my experience about 90% of the code on a large project is an artifact of a poor requirement analysis/architecture/design/implementation. (Sendmail comes to mind.) I have seen 10,000-line packages melting away when a feature is redesigned with more functionality and improved reliability and maintainability.
5wedrifid7yThis is true, but the connotations need to be applied cautiously. Complexity is necessary, but it is still something to be minimised wherever practical. Things should be as simple as possible but not simpler.
1DanArmak7yMore concretely, sometimes software can be simplified and improved at the same time.
1AndHisHorse7yThis isn't necessarily true if the complexity is very intuitive. If it takes ten thousand lines of code to accurately describe the action "jump three feet in the air", then those ten thousand lines of code are describing what a jump is, what to do while in mid-air, what it means to land, and other things that humans may grasp intuitively (assuming that the actor is constructed in a manner similar to a human). Additionally, there are some complex features which are not specific to the software. We don't need to describe how a particular program receives feedback from the motor and sensors, how it translates the input of its devices, if these features are common to most similar programs - the description of those processes is part of the default, part of the background that we assume along with everything else we don't need to derive from fundamental physics. In other words, the complexity of software may correspond to a feature which humans may be able to understand as simple - because we have the prior knowledge necessary, courtesy of common nature and nurture. A full description of complexity is necessary if and only if it is surprising to our intuition.
4linkhyrule57yThat is, in some sense, his point - a phrase like "jump three feet in the air" does abstract most of the computational essence, making it seem like a trivial problem what it really, really isn't.

When a concept is inherently approximate, it is a waste of time to try to give it a precise definition.

-- John McCarthy

5Eliezer Yudkowsky7yThus, whenever you look in a computer science textbook for an algorithm which only gives approximate results, you will find that the algorithm itself is very vaguely specified, since the result is just an approximation anyway. (I would have said: "When a concept is inherently fuzzy, it is a waste of time to give it a definition with a sharp membership boundary.")
3Kindly7yThus we merely require citizens to "be responsible adults" before they can vote rather than give a sharp boundary such as 18 years old, college applications tell you "don't write a long, rambling essay" rather than enforce a 500-word limit, and food packaging specifies "sometime in September" for the expiration date. Sharp membership boundaries are useful to make it easy to test for the concept. Even if the concept is fuzzy and the test is imperfect, this doesn't need to be a waste of time.
8AndHisHorse7ySharp membership boundaries, however, often result in people forgetting the fuzziness of the concept - there are some people who vote without being responsible adults, because they can; an essay can be boring and rambling at 450 words or impressive and concise at 600; and food can be good a bit past its expiration date (it doesn't usually go in the other direction in my experience, presumably because the risk of eating spoiled food vastly outweighs the risk of mistakenly tossing out good food, so expiration dates are the very early estimates).
2TheOtherDave7yThough sometimes it's even more useful to acknowledge that the sharp-boundaried concept we're testing for is different from, though perhaps expected to be correlated with in some way, the fuzzy concept we were initially interested in. That helps us avoid the trap of believing that 17-year-olds aren't responsible adults but 18-year-olds are, or that 550-word essays are long and rambling but 450-word essays aren't, or that food is safe to eat on September 25 but not on September 29. None of that is true, but that's OK; we aren't actually testing for whether voters are responsible adults, essays are long and rambling, or food is expired.
1linkhyrule57yJust because humans do it doesn't mean it's a good idea.
[-][anonymous]7y 3

I meant ‘lots of people’, not ‘people who cannot do arithmetic’. looks word up EDIT: Huh, looks like that was the right word after all.

2DanArmak7ySorry, then. Your phrasing sounded wrong to me, but I was wrong.
1Document7yWill you update your post after looking the word up confirms that it means what you thought it did?
2[anonymous]7yI was going to but I forgot to. Thank you.

So if you went in to work and nobody was there, and your computer says it's Saturday, and your watch says Saturday, and the next thirty people you ask say it's Saturday... you would still believe it's Friday?

If you think it's Saturday after any amount of evidence, after assigning probability 1 to the statement "Today is Friday," then you can't be doing anything vaguely rational - no amount of Bayesian updating will allow you to update away from probability 1.

If you ever assign something probability 1, you can never be rationally convinced of its falsehood.

An educated mind is, as it were, composed of all the minds of preceding ages.

Le Bovier de Fontenelle

8wedrifid7yThis explains all those urges I get to burn witches, my talent at farming, all my knowledge at hunting and tracking and my outstanding knack for feudal political intrigue. (Composition is not the relationship to previous minds that education entails. Can someone think of a better one?)
8Kawoomba7yDerivation.
7DanArmak7yWe rest upon the frontal lobes of giants.

What the Great Learning teaches is: to illustrate illustrious virtue; to renovate the people; and to rest in the highest excellence.
The point where to rest being known, the object of pursuit is then determined; and, that being determined, a calm unperturbedness may be attained to.
To that calmness there will succeed a tranquil repose. In that repose there may be careful deliberation, and that deliberation will be followed by the attainment of the desired end.
The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the world, first ordered well t

... (read more)

I oppose your influence in this context for the aforementioned reasons.

However, when a claim is plausibly intended to be a hyperbolic version of a reasonable claim,

The point that you think is reasonable is still a straw man.

Failure to steel man.

Abuse of the 'steel man' concept and attempt to introduce a toxic social norm. I am strongly opposed to this influence.

MixedNuts attempts to refute a quote using a non-sequitur. Supporting a false refutation is not being generous, it is being biased. It is being unfair to the initial speaker.

Replacing "everyone" with "people" leaves the basic point unchanged.

So much so that it leaves the basic point a straw man.

Also: "Fuck every cause supported by compulsory taxation, and compulsory use of fiat currency." says the same exact thing, more precisely.

Huh? No it doesn't. It says an entirely different thing.

touching the electric fence did not make me a more productive worker.

How do you know?

Well, I can tell you that afterwards, I felt like shit and didn't get much done for a while. Or I started looking for a new job (whether or not I ended up taking one, this takes time and mental energy away from my current job). And getting yelled at has never seemed to me to correlate with me actually being wrong, so I'm not clear on how it would have changed my behavior.

I'm saying that it's not optimal.

How do you know? (other than in a trivial sense that any

... (read more)

Ditto, and downvoting b1shop's response since the quote did not mention any particular economic theory.

I wouldn't recommend downvoting b1shop's response (I didn't), because they are correct that the basic reading of the quote relies on particular economic assumptions. There are economic theories that put the fault in the bust- if things were intelligently managed, you could keep the bubble inflated at just the right amount to prevent it from popping or inflating further, and never have to deal with the bust.

For example, look at this graph that Krugman p... (read more)

2Lumifer7yTwo things. First, a bubble that never deflates or pops is not a bubble, it's sustainable growth. Second, there is a LOT of empirical evidence that "intelligent management" of economy -- which has been practiced since the first half of the XX century to various degrees in many countries -- vastly underperforms its promises.
1Vaniver7yAgreed on both points. I'm not endorsing that theory, or related steelmanned versions.
1Grant7yIt does assume that asset bubbles are made up of bad investments which are costly to undo. While this insight may have been originally Austrian, I didn't think it was at all contentious. The dot-com bubble is a clearer example, as the housing bubble was both an asset bubble and banking failure (and many of the dot-com investments were just off-the-wall crazy). As Vernon Smith showed, asset bubbles happen even with derivatives who's value is objective (and without central banks). Its hard for me to see the bust as the problem in those cases. Would a Keynesian say that any economic downturn can be averted in the face of any and all bad investments?
1Vaniver7yDoubtful. (I should make clear that I'm not a professional economist, and I couldn't talk math with a Keynesian without doing serious reading first.) To go off the same graph, it does identify the tech bubble in ~2000 as being above the projected line. My impression of the difference is that in the terms of a crude analogy, the Austrian prefers to rip the band-aid off, and the Keynesian prefers to slowly peel it back.

You are telling me I am wrong, but it is not helpful to me unless you explain why I am wrong.

I thought it made sense. As far as I could tell, the original parable has a miser with two desires: the desire for delicious booze and the desire to save money. The latter desire is by far the more important one to him, so he "fools" his desire for booze by promising himself a booze reward, and then reneging on himself each time. In my interpretation, this still results in an overall positive effect for self-discipline, because the happiness of saving ... (read more)

The boom produces a lot of stuff which is theoretically not the optimum stuff to produce using the resources used in the boom. However, to the extent the boom brings resources out of the woodwork that may not have been used to produce anything at all in the absence of the boom, it may not actually be a net loss compared to a realistic counterfactual.

The bust accompanied by significant unemployment is of a virtual certainly producing less than any of the counterfactuals in which more people are employed. Of course it IS possible to employ some people d... (read more)

LW uses a karma system. I assume that CFAR and MIRI include a lot of in person and private conversation which isn't subject to a karma system.

How do you think the effectiveness of cultures which have karma + courtesy compares to cultures which permit flaming?

Wealth isn't a zero-sum game unless there is no economic growth; people getting richer in non-zero-sum ways is ( as i understand it) what economic growth is.

Historically, most hackers have been not only men, but men of a sort of Mannie O’Kelly-Davis “git ‘er done” variety, and that’s beginning to change now, so new norms of behavior must be adopted in order to create a welcoming and inclusive community.

  • Jeff Read

I have a better idea. Let’s drive away people unwilling to adopt that “git’r'done” attitude with withering scorn, rather than waste our time pacifying tender-minded ninnies and grievance collectors. That way we might continue to actually, you know, get stuff done.

Eric Raymond

Empirically, heaping scorn on everyone and seeing who sticks around leads to lots of time wasted on flame wars.

Empirically, heaping scorn on everyone and seeing who sticks around leads to lots of time wasted on flame wars.

Straw man. The grandparent explicitly made the scorn conditional, not 'on everyone'.

8RichardKennaway7yEric Raymond isn't suggesting that. Why are you?
9[anonymous]7yHere's my thought process upon reading this. (Initially, I assumed “git 'er done” meant something like ‘women are unimportant except as sex objects, and I misread “unwilling” as “willing”.) * ‘How comes that guy, who when talking about sex on his blog gets mind-killed to the point of forgetting how to do high-school maths [http://lesswrong.com/lw/hj6/changing_systems_is_different_than_running/96c0] , makes so much sense everywhere else [http://catb.org/~esr/writings/sextips/]? Maybe he was saner when younger, then got worse with age, or something.’ I follow the link, expecting it to go to somewhere other than Armed and Dangerous, e.g. somewhere on catb.org. * I notice the link does go to his blog, and to a recent post at that. ‘So he is still capable of talking sense about such topics after all?’ I notice I am confused. * I realize he said “unwilling” not “willing”. ‘Er... Nope. He's crazy as usual.’ * Appalled at the idea that anyone, even ESR, would say anything like that in public with an almost straight face, I decide to look “git 'er done” up. ‘Oh, that makes perfect sense, and I agree with him. But that's not about sex (except insofar as the cut-through-the-bullshit communication style [http://www.catb.org/esr/faqs/smart-questions.html#keepcool] is less rare among men than among women), so that doesn't actually show he's not mind-killed beyond all repair.’ (Anyway, if an adult woman complains because you called her a girl, the course of action that leaves you the most time to get stuff done is apologizing, not doing that again, and getting back to work, not endlessly whining about how ridiculous the PC crowd are.)
4NancyLebovitz7yThe courtesy rules at LW are pretty strict. I don't know whether things are different at CFAR and MIRI, but does insufficient scorn interfere with things getting done?
3NancyLebovitz7yIn the thread, there were at least a couple of examples of high-verbal-abuse programming cultures (Apple and Linux) which get significant amounts of useful work done, and I think there were more. I don't believe that scorn just gets dumped on people who don't have a git'r'done attitude-- there have certainly been flame wars about the best programming language and operating systems, and no doubt about other legitimate differences of opinion. Still, I'm wondering about successful programming environments which enforce courtesy rules. The only one I can think of is dreamwidth from its self-description. Running a livejournal clone isn't nothing, but it also isn't as much as inventing new products. Any others?
"Oppenheimer wasn't privileged, he was only treated slightly better than the average Cambridge student."

I'm sorry, I never really rigorously defined the counter-factuals we were playing with, but the fact that Oppenheimer was in a context where attempted murder didn't sink his career is surely relevant to the overall question of whether there are Einsteins in sweatshops.

2Vaniver7yI don't see the relevance, because to me "Einsteins in sweatshops" means "Einsteins that don't make it to ", for some Cambridge equivalent. If Ramanujan had died three years earlier, and thus not completed his PhD, he would still be in the history books. I mean, take Galois as an example: repeatedly imprisoned for political radicalism under a monarchy, and dies in a duel at age 20. Certainly someone ruined by circumstances--and yet we still know about him and his mathematical work. In general, these counterfactuals are useful for exhibiting your theory but not proving your theory. Either we have the same background assumptions- and so the counterfactuals look reasonable to both of us- or we disagree on background assumptions, and the counterfactual is only weakly useful at identifying where the disagreement is.

"Not to commit evils,
But to practice all good,
And to keep the heart pure -
This is the teaching of the Buddhas."

--multiple sutras

Believing that 2 + 2 = 5 will most likely cause one to fail to build a successful airplane, but that does not prohibit one from believing that one's own arithmetic is perfect, and that the incompetence of others, the impossibility of flight, or the condemnation of an airplane-hating god is responsible for the failure.

This... theory of female promiscuity has been championed by the anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. Hrdy has described herself as a feminist sociobiologist, and she may take a more than scientific interest in arguing that female primates tend to be "highly competitive... sexually assertive individuals." Then again, male Darwinian may get a certain thrill from saying males are built for lifelong sex-a-thons. Scientific theories spring from many sources. The only question in the end is whether they work.

Robert Wright, The Moral Animal

The more precise statement of "math says rolling more dice makes things less random" is that if you roll ten six-sided dice and add up the answer, the result will be less random (on its scale) than if you merely roll one six-sided die.

Even more precisely: the outcome of 10d6 is 68.7% likely to lie in the range [30,40], while the outcome of 1d6 is only 33.3% likely to lie in the corresponding range [3,4].

I think the quoted portion of the article addresses exactly this point: people were scared of rolling many dice because this meant lots of rando... (read more)

I've just read the example beyond it's abstract. Typical psychology: the actual finding was that there were fewer errors with the bet (even though the expected winning was very tiny, and the sample sizes were small so the difference was only marginally significant), and also approximately half of the questions were answered correctly, and the high prevalence of "conjunction fallacy" was attained by considering at least one error over many questions.

How is it a "robust phenomenon" if it is negated by using strings of larger length difference in the head-tail example or by asking people to answer in the N out of 100 format?

I am thinking that people have to learn reasoning to answer questions correctly, including questions about probability, for which the feedback they receive from the world is fairly noisy. And consequently they learn that fairly badly, or mislearn it all-together due to how more detailed accounts are more frequently the correct ones in their "training dataset" (wh... (read more)

I cannot imagine circumstances under which I would come to believe that the Christian God exists. All of the evidence I can imagine encountering which could push me in that direction if I found it seems even better explained by various deceptive possibilities, e.g. that I'm a simulation or I've gone insane or what have you. But I suspect that there is some sequence of experience such that if I had it I would be convinced; it's just too complicated for me to work out in advance what it would be. Which perhaps means I can imagine it in an abstract, meta s... (read more)

3RichardKennaway7yIf imagination fails, consult reality for inspiration. You could look into the conversion experiences of materialist, rationalist atheists. John C Wright, for example.

I think the claim is that, whatever method you use, it should approximate the answer the Bayesian method would use (which is optimal, but computationally infeasible)

It's ridiculous if taken literally as a universal prior or bound, because it's very easy to contrive situations in which refusing to give probabilities below 1/10^12 lets you be dutch-booked or otherwise screw up - for example, log2(10^12) is 40, so if I flip a fair coin 50 times, say, and ask you to bet on every possible sequence.... (Or simply consider how many operations your CPU does every minute, and consider being asked "what are the odds your CPU will screw up an operation this minute?" You would be in the strange situation of believing th... (read more)

1[anonymous]7yYes, that's how I read it. Obviously it doesn't literally mean you can't be very sure about anything; the message is that science is wrong very often and you shouldn't bet too much on the latest theory. So even if it's a complete misquote, it's a nice thought.

This is not the place to start dissecting theism, but would you be willing to concede the possible existence of people who would simply not be responsive to such arguments? Perhaps they might accuse you of lying and refuse to listen further, or refute you with some biblical verse, or even question your premises.

Is someone absolutely certain if they say that they cannot imagine any circumstances under which they might change their beliefs (or, alternately, can imagine only circumstances which they are absolutely certain will not happen)?

Disagree. This would be a statement about their imagination, not about reality.

Also, people are not well calibrated on this sort of thing. People are especially poorly calibrated on this sort of thing in a social context, where others are considering their beliefs.

ETA: An example: While I haven't actually done this, I would exp... (read more)

That sounds like a ridiculous thing to say and I can't really steelman it.

Do you have a reliable source for this quote? The Wikipedia talk page for the Rutherford article contains this exchange:

Now that we have dealt with the statistics quote, let's move on to the next quote, which is purportedly: You should never bet against anything in science at odds of more than about 1012 to 1. The number 1012 seems oddly precise, although the cited collection of quotes supports it, and yesterday editor 134.225.100.110 changed it to 10-12, which was reverted a few

... (read more)

I read it as expressing the same view as The Neglected Virtue of Scholarship.

[-][anonymous]7y 2

If you make a numerical statement of your confidence -- P(A) = X, 0 < X < 1 -- measuring the shannon entropy of that belief is a simple matter of observing the outcome and taking the binary logarithm of your prediction or the converse of it, depending on what came true. S is shannon entropy: If A then S = log2(X), If ¬A then S = log2(1 - X).

The lower the magnitude of the resulting negative real, the better you faired.

I see small examples everywhere I look; they're just too specific to point the way to a general solution.

James Portnow/Daniel Floyd

I don't know what the policy was on savings-i.e. to what degree, if at all, they would reduce her monthly amount if she submitted her budget each month and was spending less. I get the impression that it's kind of a basic fixed rate for, i.e., adult not in school with one child...and that it's realistically not enough to save, even if you spend nothing on discretionary purchases or fun. She got around $900 a month, of which $550 alone went towards her part of our rent.

If she'd, for example, made $500 per paycheck (25 hours a week at Canadian mininum wage)... (read more)

4NancyLebovitz7yhttp://cfed.org/assets/scorecard/2013/rg_AssetLimits_2013.pdf [http://cfed.org/assets/scorecard/2013/rg_AssetLimits_2013.pdf] Short version: it varies quite a bit by state, but some major benefits in a fair number of states have a personal asset limit of two or three thousand dollars.
3Swimmer9637yThanks! So it looks like there's a limit but at least someone thinks it's a bad idea and some states are changing it... According to this [http://metcalffoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/why-dont-we-want-to-poor-to-own-anything.pdf] , the asset limit to qualify for Ontario Works (welfare) is $572 for a single adult and $1,550 for a lone parent. So, worse than is the US... (But it was $2500 for a single adult in 1981...) The 50% earning exemption is new from 2003 though. Wow I have learned things today!

It would help me to understand why my version is a straw man if you would steel-man it.

There isn't a convenient steel man available. Not all wrong (or, to be agnostic with respect to the correctness of our positions, disagreed with) positions have another position nearby in concept space that is agreed with (or, sometimes, disagreed with only with significant respect and more complicated reasoning).

As it stands, I am puzzled by your accusation because Eric Raymond said, "Let’s drive away people unwilling to adopt that 'git’r'done' attitude with

... (read more)

I hope you didn't take my position to be that yelling at people is always the right thing to do. There certainly is lots of yelling which is stupid, unjustified, and not useful in any sense.

The issue is whether yelling can ever be useful. You are saying that no, it can never be. I disagree.

No, the issue is whether Linus's yelling is useful, or, whether yelling is generally useful enough in free/open source projects that it outweighs the costs. Specifically, whether "Let’s drive away people unwilling to adopt that “git’r'done” attitude with witheri... (read more)

Well, no. It's against the promise of how many utilons you can pile up on the other arm of the scale, which may well not pay off at all. I'm reminded of a post here at some point whose gist was "if your model tells you that your chances of being wrong are 3^^^3:1 against, it is more likely that your model is wrong than that you are right."

I made one when I was bored, long ago when my grandmother still ran her store and my uncle still ran his immigration law firm on the third floor, and when I was obsessed with knot theory, out of computer paper, tape, and a lot of hard pencil. I still use it, and it cost me next to nothing.

EDIT: If requested (however unlikely) I will happily deliver a picture, and either a push or a bouillon cube (your choice). EDIT THE SECOND: it was requested! http://imgur.com/a/kxanI

...thus becoming useful object lessons to the rest of the species, and reducing our average susceptibility to reward systems with low variability. Not quite seeing the problem here.

Duplicate (although correctly attributed this time).

Maybe, since arguments have component parts that can be individually right or wrong; or maybe not, since chains of reasoning rely on every single link; or maybe, since my argument improves (along with my beliefs) as I toss out and replace the old one.

Come to think of it, if "trees grow roots most strongly when wind blows through them" because the trees with weak roots can't survive in those conditions then this would make a very bad metaphor for people.

8Nornagest7yNo, it's probably accurate as stated. I don't know about trees as such, but if you try to start vegetable seedlings indoors and then transfer them outside, they'll often die in the first major wind; the solution is to get the air around them moving while they're still indoors (as with a fan), which causes them to devote resources to growing stronger root systems and stems.

But you don't have to be perfect to be the right person in a team, and you don't have to be "the" right person to be an asset to a team. People with low self-confidence plus low social confidence (plus possibly moralistic ideas about self-reliance) will try to self-improve through their own efforts rather than seeking help, regardless of how much less effective it is, believing they're not worth someone else's attention yet, or being afraid of owing someone, or whatever; quotes like Steinem's reinforce that.

...Maybe. I don't have any actual sources, so I could be totally wrong. Still, I'm not sure I like the focus on "being" rather than doing things.

... You can remove people as problems without doing so euphemistically, i.e. killing them.

If you befriend them, for example.

And, well, yes. That does count as a puzzle.

Rolling 10 dice instead of one makes the game less random. Rolling dice often instead of rarely makes the game more random. This game rolls dice for every attack and not that many. The dude said people complained about lots of dice rolling, not rolling lots of dice. Yeah, obviously if you roll 10 dice its less random than rolling one but what are the chances card game enthusiasts: people "geeky" enough to play star wars TCG don't understand that basic part of probability? It's far more likely that people were annoyed at lots of dice rolling, not ... (read more)

Behaving in a socially confident manner is different in nature to lying.

I was using "confidence" in a more specific sense, as in "overconfidence", that is implying that you know what you are doing, in the case where you actually don't. "Socially confident manner" might in contrast (for example, among many other things) involve willingness to state your state of uncertainty, as opposed to hiding it (including behind overconfidence).

1wedrifid7yThis seems reasonable. Misleading about probabilities is deceptive. To be fair on Robert Downey, it doesn't seem likely that that is the the usage he was making in the quote.

More of an anti-death quote, but:

"“Must I accept the barren Gift?
-learn death, and lose my Mastery?
Then let them know whose blood and breath
will take the Gift and set them free:
whose is the voice and whose the mind
to set at naught the well-sung Game-
when finned Finality arrives
and calls me by my secret Name.

Not old enough to love as yet,
but old enough to die, indeed-
-the death-fear bites my throat and heart,
fanged cousin to the Pale One's breed.
But past the fear lies life for all-
perhaps for me: and, past my dread,
past loss of Mastery and life,
the S... (read more)

Why shouldn't they be? The idea that if you don't rate yourself highly no one should is just an excuse for shitty instincts.

Obviously it's a useful piece of nonsense to tell yourself. People are more likely to come to your side if you are confident. But the explicit reasoning is reprehensible. (not that any explicit reasoning probably went in, it's such a common idea that it is repeated without thought. It's almost a universal applause light.)

This is more of an irrationality quote. A bit of of paper thin justification for a shitty but common sentiment which it's useful to adopt rather than notice.

I can't get a very general definition while still being useful, but reality is what determines if a belief is true or false.

I thought you were saying that reality has a pattern of convincing people of true beliefs, not that reality is indifferent to belief.

Faced with the task of extracting useful future out of our personal pasts, we organisms try to get something for free (or at least at bargain price): to find the laws of the world -- and if there aren't any, to find approximate laws of the world -- anything at all that will give us an edge. From some perspectives it appears utterly remarkable that we organisms get any purchase on nature at all. Is there any deep reason why nature should tip its hand, or reveal its regularities to casual inspection? Any useful future-producer is apt to be something of a

... (read more)

Unfortunately, the fact that lots of people do something may merely be an indication of a very successful meme: consider major religions.

I will certainly grant that having a sharp restriction is better than a 15-factor balancing test, but I'm not arguing for 15-factor balancing tests.

I'd go further, but I've just noticed that I don't really have much evidence for this belief, and I should probably go see how accomplished Chinese universities (which judge purely off the gaokao) are versus American universities first.

Well, sure. But that doesn't mean it's very strong evidence: I'd expect to see an average human (or nation) do something stupid almost as often as they do something intelligent.

The brain is simply not the optimal processing engine given the resources of the human body

How do you define optimality?

So I see no reason to pander to its biases when I can use mathematics

LOL.

Sorry :-/

So, since you seem to be completely convinced of the advantage of the mathematical "optimal processing" over the usual biased and messy thinking that humans normally do -- could you, um, demonstrate this advantage? For example financial markets provide rapid feedback and excellent incentives. It shouldn't be hard to exploit some cognitive bi... (read more)

the human mind is a horrific repurposed adaptation not at all intended to do what we're doing with it when we try to be rational.

Given that here rationality is often defined as winning, it seems to me you think natural selection works in opposite direction.

In addition to gwern's reply, if you read it as 10-to-1 to 12-to-1 odds, or even 1012-to-1 odds, and not 10^12-to-1 odds, then obviously there are lots of physical theories that deal with events that are less likely than 1/1012. And lots of experiments whose outcome people are more than 1012-to-1 sure about, and they are right to be so sure.

You quoted the most ridiculous figure, that of 10-to-1 or 12-to-1. I'm quite legitimately more than 12-to-1 sure about some things in physics, and I'm not even a physicist! The Wikipedia talk quote makes the point that all three possible quotes are to be found on the internet.

Sure. But by definition they are irrational kludges made by human brains.

Bayesian updating is a theorem of probability: it is literally the formal definition of "rationally changing your mind." If you're changing your mind through something that isn't Bayesian, you will get the right answer iff your method gives the same result as the Bayesian one; otherwise you're just wrong.

At which point you can point out to them that God can do WTF He wants

This is not an accurate representation of mainstream theology. Most theologists believe, for example, that it is impossible for God to do evil. See William Lane Craig's commentary.

(I suspect that we don't actually disagree about anything in reality. I further suspect that the phrase I used regarding imagination and reality was misleading; sorry, it's my standard response to thought experiments based on people's ability to imagine things.)

I'm not claiming that there is a difference between their stated probabilities and the actual, objective probabilities. I'm claiming that there is a difference between their stated probabilities and the probabilities that they actually hold. The relevant mental states are the implicit probabilities ... (read more)

1AndHisHorse7yI would still say that while belief-altering experiences are certainly possible, even for people with stated absolute certainty, I am not convinced that they can imagine them occurring with nonzero probability. In fact, if I had absolute certainty about something, I would as a logical consequence be absolutely certain that any disproof of that belief could not occur. However, it is also not unreasonable that someone does not believe what they profess to believe in some practically testable manner. For example, someone who states that they have absolute certainty that their deity will protect them from harm, but still declines to walk through a fire, would fall into such a category - even if they are not intentionally lying, on some level they are not absolutely certain. I think that some of our disagreement arises from the fact that I, being relatively uneducated (for this particular community) about Bayesian networks, am not convinced that all human belief systems are isomorphic to one. This is, however, a fault in my own knowledge, and not a strong critique of the assertion.

First, fundamentalism is a matter of theology, not of intensity of faith.

Fixed, thanks.

Second, what would these people do if their God appeared before them and flat out told them they're wrong? :-D

Their verbal response would be that this would be impossible.

(I agree that such a situation would likely lead to them actually changing their beliefs.)

You are correct, I have contradicted myself. I failed to mention the possibility of people who are not reasoning perfectly, and in fact are not close, to the point where they can mistakenly arrive at absolute certainty. I am not arguing that their certainty is fake - it is a mental state, after all - but rather that it cannot be reached using proper rational thought.

What you have pointed out to me is that absolute certainty is not, in fact, a useful thing. It is the result of a mistake in the reasoning process. An inept mathematician can add together a... (read more)

On the third tentacle I think you are mistaken because, among other things, my mind does not assign probabilities like 0.999999999 -- it's not capable of such granularity.

While I'm not certain, I'm fairly confident that most people's minds don't assign probabilities at all. At least when this thread began, it was about trying to infer implicit probabilities based on how people update their beliefs; if there is any situation that would lead you to conclude that it's not Friday, then that would suffice to prove that your mind's internal probability is not... (read more)

I am not arguing that it is not an empty set. Consider it akin to the intersection of the set of natural numbers, and the set of infinities; the fact that it is the empty set is meaningful. It means that by following the rules of simple, additive arithmetic, one cannot reach infinity, and if one does reach infinity, that is a good sign of an error somewhere in the calculation.

Similarly, one should not be absolutely certain if they are updating from finite evidence. Barring omniscience (infinite evidence), one cannot become absolutely/infinitely certain.

What definition of absolute certainty would you propose?

So you're not absolutely certain. The probability you assign to "Today is Friday" is, oh, nine nines, not 1.

In fact, unless you're insane, you probably already believe that tomorrow will not be Friday!

(That belief is underspecified- "today" is a notion that varies independently, it doesn't point to a specific date. Today you believe that August 16th, 2013 is a Friday; tomorrow, you will presumably continue to believe that August 16th, 2013 was a Friday.)

It's not unheard of people to bet their life on some belief of theirs.

That doesn't show that they're absolutely certain; it just shows that the expected value of the payoff outweighs the chance of them dying.

The real issue with this claim is that people don't actually model everything using probabilities, nor do they actually use Bayesian belief updating. However, the closest analogue would be people who will not change their beliefs in literally any circumstances, which is clearly false. (Definitely false if you're considering, e.g. surgery or cosmic rays; almost certainly false if you only include hypotheticals like cult leaders disbanding the cult or personally attacking the individual.)

From the description of him on Wikipedia, I am certain it is the former, although the bone wedrifid picks with "composed" is symptomatic of where he falls short of his contemporary, Voltaire. He was a most refined, civilised, intelligent, and educated writer, very popular among the intellectual class, and achieved memberships of distinguished academic societies, but his strength, a great one indeed, was in writing well on what was already known, and he created little that was new. Voltaire's name lives to this day, but Fontenelle's, while importa... (read more)

How do you measure someone whose internal world model is not isomorphic to one formal Bayesian network (for example, someone who is completely certain of something)? Should it be the case that someone whose world model contains fewer possible observations has a major advantage in being closer to the truth?

Note also that a perfect Bayesian will score lower than some gamblers using this scheme. Betting everything on black does better than a fair distribution almost half the time.

2[anonymous]7yI am not very certain that humans actually can have an internal belief model that isn't isomorphic to some bayesian network. Anyone who proclaims to be absolutely certain; I suspect that they are in fact not.
1pragmatist7yHow do you account for people falling prey to things like the conjunction fallacy?
3private_messaging7yI don't think people just miscalculate conjunctions. Everyone will tell you that HFFHF is less probable than H, HF, or HFF even. It's when it gets long and difference is small and the strings are quite specially crafted, errors appear. And with the scenarios, a more detailed scenario looks more plausibly a product of some deliberate reasoning, plus, existence of one detailed scenario is information about existence of other detailed scenarios leading to the same outcome (and it must be made clear in the question that we are not asking about the outcome but about everything happening precisely as scenario specifies it). On top of that, the meaning of the word "probable" in everyday context is somewhat different - a proper study should ask people to actually make bets. All around it's not clear why people make this mistake, but it is clear that it is not some fully general failure to account for conjunctions. edit: actually, just read the wikipedia article on the conjunction fallacy. When asking about "how many people out of 100", nobody gave a wrong answer. Which immediately implies that the understanding of "probable" has been an issue, or some other cause, but not some general failure to apply conjunctions.
2[anonymous]7yPoor brain design. Honestly, I could do way better if you gave me a millenium.
3linkhyrule57yYou know, at some point, whoever's still alive when that becomes not-a-joke needs to actually test this. Because I'm just curious what a human-designed human would look like.

Otherwise, one way or the other, I'm not sure one person shifts the prob any appreciable distance.

It really depends on what 'prob' you're talking about. For example, the mean of some variable can be shifted an arbitrary amount by a single person if they are arbitrarily large, which is why "robust statistics" shuns the mean in favor of things like the median, and of course a single counter-example disproves a universal claim. When you are talking about lists of geniuses where the relevant group of geniuses might be 10 or 20 people, 1 person may be fairly meaningful because the group is so small.

Science becomes an extra-neural extension of the human nervous system. We might expect the structure of the nervous system to throw some light on the structure of science; and, vice versa, the structure of science might elucidate the working of the human nervous system.

--Alfred Korzybski Science and Sanity Page 376 (1933)

Sounds about right to me.

When the plan ends in murder and children crying, every failure of the plan results in a worse outcome.

This does not seem to follow. Failure of the plan could easily involve failure to cause the murder or crying to happen for a start. Then there is the consideration that an unspecified failure has completely undefined behaviour. Anything could happen, from extinction or species-wide endless torture to the outright creation of a utopia.

2glomerulus7yFor most people, murder and children crying are a bad outcome for a plan, but if they're what the planner has selected as the intended outcome, the other probable outcomes are presumably worse. Theoretically, the plan could "fail" and end in an outcome with more utilons than murder and children crying, but those failures are obviously improbable: because if they weren't, then the planner would presumably have selected them as the desired plan outcome.