Another month, another rationality quotes thread. The rules are:

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"I just don't have enough data to make a decision."

"Yes, you do. What you don't have is enough data for you not to have to make one"

These two merely disagree on the meaning of the word decision, not the nature of the situation []; one should pick a different scenario to make the possible point about how choosing not to choose doesn't quite work.
I think that they both agree that "decision" here means "choice to embark on a course of action other than the null action", where the null action may be simply waiting for more data. Where they disagree is the relative costs of the null action versus a member of a set of poorly known actions; it seems that the second speaker is trying to remind the first that the null action carries a cost, whether in opportunity or otherwise.
You post a link to "Disputing Definitions" as if there is no such thing as a wrong definition. In this case, the first speaker's definition of "decision" is wrong - it does not accurately distinguish between vanadium and palladium [] - and the second speaker is pointing this out.

"Do what you love" / "Follow your passion" is dangerous and destructive career advice. We tend to hear it from (a) Highly successful people who (b) Have become successful doing what they love. The problem is that we do NOT hear from people who have failed to become successful by doing what they love. Particularly pernicious problem in tournament-style fields with a few big winners & lots of losers: media, athletics, startups. Better career advice may be "Do what contributes" -- focus on the beneficial value created for other people vs just one's own ego. People who contribute the most are often the most satisfied with what they do -- and in fields with high renumeration, make the most $. Perhaps difficult advice since requires focus on others vs oneself -- perhaps bad fit with endemic narcissism in modern culture? Requires delayed gratification -- may toil for many years to get the payoff of contributing value to the world, vs short-term happiness.

Marc Andreessen

It looks like that ANY advice from highly successful people might be dangerous, since they are only a small minority of those, who also tried those same things. Most of them much less successfully.

On the other hand, honest advice from highly successful people at least gives some indication of what you need to do to be successful, even if it doesn't give a good idea of the odds.

In reply to both Nancy and Thomas:

"For Taleb, then, the question why someone was a success in the financial marketplace was vexing. Taleb could do the arithmetic in his head. Suppose that there were ten thousand investment managers out there, which is not an outlandish number, and that every year half of them, entirely by chance, made money and half of them, entirely by chance, lost money. And suppose that every year the losers were tossed out, and the game replayed with those who remained. At the end of five years, there would be three hundred and thirteen people who had made money in every one of those years, and after ten years there would be nine people who had made money every single year in a row, all out of pure luck. Niederhoffer, like Buffett and Soros, was a brilliant man. He had a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago. He had pioneered the idea that through close mathematical analysis of patterns in the market an investor could identify profitable anomalies. But who was to say that he wasn’t one of those lucky nine? And who was to say that in the eleventh year Niederhoffer would be one of the unlucky ones, who suddenly lost it all, who suddenly, as they say on Wall Street, “blew up”?

-Malcom Gladwell

A magician named Derren Brown made a whole program about horse racing to illustrate the point of the above story. It's kinda interesting, but wastes more time than reading the story above.

It's rather surprising then, that people who success many times in the row, tend to employ eigenvalues rather than use igon value. Why could that be? Of course, the role of luck in market is huge. But among the sequential winners, you will tend to find people who win a bit more than 50% of the time. There's many opportunities to do something very stupid (e.g. invest in hydrinos) and lose.
Igon value [] I think you're making a joke, but I'm not sure what the joke is.
Presumably that people who know what they're talking about are less likely to make obvious errors in jargon. And that Gladwell was the person who made that particular error in jargon, in the very book that's being quoted, and that this is an example of Gladwell's glibness and lack of deeper knowledge of things he's talking about in this case and in general.
It's sort of an odd example, though, since Gladwell himself consistently succeeds. ETA: Given the downvote, maybe I should clarify that I don't mean that Gladwell succeeds at being the kind of writer that I would want to read. I mean that he consistently succeeds at writing best-selling books. The "igon-value" thing was cringe-inducing, but it plausibly hasn't done any significant harm to his sales. Apparently, you can be careless in that way and still succeed fantastically, again and again, with his target audience. So, in that sense, he's not a good example for the claim that "people who success many times in the row, tend to employ eigenvalues rather than use igon value." (Though, of course, his existence doesn't disproves the claim, either.)
Nerds fear getting Malcolm Gladwell book for Christmas [] (The Daily Mash)
The point is that the consecutively successful investment managers tend to have more clue than unsuccessful ones. Of course, the luck plays a huge role, but over ten years, if we assume that super skilled have success rate of 0.6 and low skilled have success rate of 0.4, there's 57-fold difference in 'survival'.
Let me point out that you can make very straightforward Bayesian estimates of performance/skill/alpha by starting with, say, zero-alpha prior and then updating on monthly returns.
Of course, the record is full of people who make money for years, only to explode later on (look at John Meriwether's career up until Long Term Capital Management blew up so spectacularly). Were these people always just lucky? We can never know. I take Taleb's point (filtered through Gladwell) to be that the base of people actively trading is so large that we should expect people who are successful for years (possibly even whole careers) even if all that is operating is luck, so past performance is no guarantee of future gains. I don't entirely agree, but its decent advice to keep in mind. Especially bad for the home investor is constantly chasing the funds that most recently made money (for some definition of recent)- generally the fees went up on the backs of the improved performance, so as performance falls back to the market value the investors will make less (lost to the higher fees). Also an irony worth pointing out- Randy Mills of Blacklight Power/Hydrino fame has tried to create credibility for his company by pointing to the savvy investors who did get in board.
If the best win at a rate of 60% and worst at a rate of 40% , plenty of the best will explode later on. The point is that knowing some physics protects you from the likes of Randy Mills. So you do a bit better than mere luck. Also, if you're a so called savvy investor, and you invest into some crap like hydrinos, you may even get gains (if you sell after others jump onto the bandwagon just because you did).
Not necessarily. Honest advice from successful people gives some indication of what those successful people honestly believe to be the keys to their success. The assumption that people who are good at succeeding in a given sphere are also good at accurately identifying the factors that lead to their success may have some merit, but I'd argue it's far from a given. It's not just a problem of not knowing how many other people failed with the same algorithm; They may also have various biases which prevent them from identifying and characterizing their own algorithm accurately, even if they have succeeded at implementing it.

“The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses"

-- Francis Bacon

The quote is true to Bacon's thought, and its expression much improved in the repetition. Here is the nearest to it I can find in Bacon's works on Gutenberg:

For this purpose, let us consider the false appearances that are imposed upon us by the general nature of the mind, beholding them in an example or two; as first, in that instance which is the root of all superstition, namely, that to the nature of the mind of all men it is consonant for the affirmative or active to affect more than the negative or privative. So that a few times hitting or presence countervails ofttimes failing or absence, as was well answered by Diagoras to him that showed him in Neptune's temple the great number of pictures of such as had escaped shipwreck, and had paid their vows to Neptune, saying, "Advise now, you that think it folly to invocate Neptune in tempest." "Yea, but," saith Diagoras, "where are they painted that are drowned?"

Francis Bacon, "The Advancement of Learning"

But in some form or another, a lot of people believe that there are only easy truths and impossible truths left. They tend not to believe in hard truths that can be solved with technology.

Pretty much all fundamentalists think this way. Take religious fundamentalism, for example. There are lots of easy truths that even kids know. And then there are the mysteries of God, which can’t be explained. In between—the zone of hard truths—is heresy. Environmental fundamentalism works the same way. The easy truth is that we must protect the environment. Beyond that, Mother Nature knows best, and she cannot be questioned. There’s even a market version of this, too. The value of things is set by the market. Even a child can look up stock prices. Prices are easy truths. But those truths must be accepted, not questioned. The market knows far more than you could ever know. Even Einstein couldn’t outguess God, Nature, or Market.

Peter Thiel

As somewhat of a libertarian, I tend to fall into that last group. I have to keep reminding myself that if nobody could outguess the market, then there'd be no money in trying to outguess the market, so only fools would enter it, and it would be easy to outguess.

I have to keep reminding myself that if nobody could outguess the market, then there'd be no money in trying to outguess the market, so only fools would enter it, and it would be easy to outguess.

There is the old joke about a student and a professor of economics walking on campus. The student notices a $20 bill lying on the sidewalk and starts to pick it up when the professor stops him. "Don't bother," the professor says, "it's fake. If it were real someone already would have picked it up".

That joke got less funny the first time I picked up a Christian tract disguised as a $20 bill. It got a lot less funny the second.

But it's an equilibrium, right? Lumifer's joke may be funny, but as an empirical matter, you don't see a lot of $20 bills lying on the ground. There's no easy pickings to be had in that manner. So the only people who can "outguess" the market (and I think that framing is seriously misleading, but let's put that aside for now) are individuals and organizations with hard-to-reproduce advantages in doing so - in the same way that Microsoft is profitable, but it doesn't follow that just anyone can make a profit through an arbitrage of buying developer time and selling software.
No, why would it be? Equilibrium is a convenient mapping tool that lets you assume away a lot of difficult issues. Reality is not in equilibrium.
Because when it's easy to outguess the market, the people who are good at it get richer and invest more money in it until it gets hard again. It's not in perfect equilibrium constantly. I've heard of someone working out some new method that made it easy which took off over the course of a few years until enough people used it that outguessing the market was hard again.
This is an extremely impoverished framework for thinking about financial markets. Let's introduce uncertainty. Can Alice outguess the market? Um, I don't know. And you don't know. And Alice doesn't know. All people involved can have opinions and guesses, but no one knows. Okay then, so let's move into the realm of random variables and probability distributions. Say, Alice has come up with strategy Z. What's the expected return of implementing strategy Z? Well, it's a probability distribution conditional on great many things. We have to make estimates, likely not very precise estimates. Alice, of course, can empirically test her strategy Z. But there is a catch -- testing strategies can be costly. It can be costly in terms of real money, opportunity costs, time, etc. Moreover, the world is not stationary so even if strategy Z made money this year whether it will make money next year is still a random variable, the distribution parameters of which you can estimate only so well.
It's good enough. Knowing about things like risk will tell you about the costs and benefits with higher precision. It will explain somewhat why there's lots of people involved in a market, and not just a couple of people that control the entire thing and work out the prices using other methods. All that uncertainty makes the market difficult to predict. But all you really need to know is that regardless of how easy or hard it is to guess how a business will do, the market will ensure that you're competing with other people who are really good at that sort of thing, and outguessing them is hard.
No, I don't think so. This can be applied to anything from looking for a job to dating. So, no, that's not all you really need to know.
You wouldn't expect to be able to do job X better than a professional if you don't have any training, would you? Also, economists say the same about the job market. If you don't have any particular advantage for any given job, you can't easily beat the market and make more money by picking a high-paying job. If a job made more money without some kind of cost attached, people would keep going into it until it stops working. I guess there is more to the market. It's something that scales well, so doing it on a small scale is especially bad. It takes exactly as much work to by $100 in stocks as $10,000. If you're dealing with tiny companies where someone trying to make trades on that scale would mess around with the price of the stock, that won't apply, but in general trying to make money on small investments would be like playing poker against someone who normally plays high stakes. They're the ones good enough to make huge amounts of money. The market won't support many of them, so they must be good.
I have a weird feeling that a bunch of people on LW have decided that there's nothing to be done in financial markets (except invest in index funds), fully committed to this belief, and actively resist any attempts to think about it... :-/
Isn't this optimal? The case for index funds by ordinary investors is extremely strong, and if there exists good evidence to the contrary it will be of the form that is almost certainly beyond the ability of most LW people to properly evaluate.
Is it? Which specific index funds are you talking about and how do you define optimality here? So, it's completely fine for most LW people to evaluate the chances of a Singularity, details of AI design, or the MWI of quantum mechanics, but real-life financial markets, noooo, they are way too complicated? X-D
Low cost, broad based index funds. Good reply, but there are different types of complexity and looking at financial market data isn't a type of complexity LW tends to deal with.
That's still very VERY non-specific. Let's take our friends Alice and Bob. They come to you and ask you where should they invest their pennies. You tell them "low cost broad based index funds". They blink at you and say "Could you please give us the names of the funds?" And I still have no idea what do you mean by "optimal". That is true as a matter of empirical observation. But the real question is about capability: can LW types deal with the financial-markets type of complexity? Why or why not?
Most Americans invest in mutual funds via their firm's pension plan and have limited choices. I have index funds with Vanguard and Fidelity on the S&P 500. Even for those who could, it wouldn't be worth the time cost for those of us who don't work in finance since you would likely conclude after lengthy study that yes, one should just buy index funds.
I tend to think that the current markets are efficient enough that putting my money in index funds is about the best I can do from a time/opportunity cost perspective. The professionals I know working for hedge funds do routinely find small inefficiencies, but in order to make them profitable enough to be worth the time investment, they generally have to exploit quantities of leverage I don't have access to as an individual. If you enjoy pouring over the market looking for details to exploit, then it can be a use of leisure time I guess. I pour over enough data at work that spending free time pouring over more in order to achieve fairly small gain just doesn't seem worth it.
Whether it's worth picking up a $20 bill depends on 1. The chance that you are the first person to notice it and pick it up, if it's an actual $20 bill 2. The ratio of real $20 bills to fake ones 3. The gain in finding a real $20 bill, compared to the loss in picking up a fake one. The odds for #2 and #3 are pretty high compared to the odds of similar activities when playing the market. The odds of #1 vary depending on how well travelled the place is but are generally a lot higher than for whether you're the first person to notice an opportunity in the market. Of course, #1 is also affected by how many people use this entire chain of reasoning and conclude it;'s not worth picking up the bill, but the other factors are so important that this hardly matters.
The way I see it, in practical terms, it's always worth picking up. I've picked up a number of fake bills. I keep them. It's better than leaving them to torment each successive person who picks it up until someone else does it instead.
On the contrary, there are very many profitable software companies of all sizes. Writing software is a huge market that has grown very quickly and still provides large profit margins to many companies. You might make an argument that Microsoft's real advantage is the customer lock-in they achieve through control of a huge installed base of software and files. Even there there are many software companies in the same position. It's hard to reproduce the advantage of having a large share of a large market. But that doesn't necessarily make it unprofitable to acquire even a small share of the market.
I think you misunderstand my point. Of course there are many profitable software companies (I work for one of them!), in the same way that there are also many banks, hedge funds, etc. But all of these have hard-to-reproduce advantages ("moats" in the lingo). The reason Microsoft (or any other software company) is able to buy developer time and sell software at a profit is because they have social and organisational capital, because they have synergy between that capital and their intellectual property rights, because they have customer relationships, etc etc. It is not an arbitrage and it's not true that just anyone can do it. Microsoft themselves are in fact a fine example of this; throwing resources in the fight against Google has not proven successful.
Yeah, but it's an equilibrium that it's really hard to outguess the market, not impossible.
A lot of the thread descending from here is covered by the whole of the quoted essay. I'd quote more, but I don't want to make it easy for people to just read another quote.
There is a great deal of money to be made by entering the market and not trying to outguess it. This is what index funds are about. Thus many non-fools enter the market.
By "enter", I meant try to outguess. If everyone bought stocks randomly, it would be easy to outguess.

Three Bayesians walk into a bar: a) what's the probability that this is a joke? b) what's the probability that one of the three is a Rabbi? c) given that one of the three is a Rabbi, what's the probability that this is a joke?

--Sorry, no cite. I got this from someone who said they'd been seeing it on twitter.

And what is the probability that one of them is a Prior?

Maximally uninformative.

Let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent. So you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.

Arthur Martine, quoted by Daniel Dennett

It tells a lot about the way our brains are built that you have to consciously remind yourself of this in the course of the argument and it doesn't really come naturally.

[-][anonymous]9y 28



Arguing with idiots has the game-theoretic structure of a dollar-auction. Whoever gets in the last argument wins. Add to this the asymmetry that someone with low epistemic standarts can make up some nonsense argument in five minutes, while it takes you an hour to prove that it is nonsense. At which point the other guy will make up some new nonsense.


edit: If you decide to reply, please read the original comment on SSC for context.

[-][anonymous]9y 39

Though I am glad not everyone followed this advice with regards to me, when I was (more of) an idiot. I owe those patient, sympathetic, tolerant people a great deal.

I would also like to note that I have learned a number of interesting things by (a) spending an hour researching idiotic claims and (b) reading carefully thought out refutations of idiocy - like how they're called "federal forts" because the statutes of the states in which they were built include explicitly ceding the land upon which they were built to the federal government [].

Having been on both sides... how do you know when you are the idiot?

I assume I'm the idiot based on probability.
By means of prolonged reflection on my writings.

Maybe so, but this also assumes that you're good at determining who's an idiot. Many people are not, but think they are. So you need to consider that if you make a policy of "don't argue with idiots" widespread, it will be adopted by people with imperfect idiot-detectors. (And I'm pretty sure that many common LW positions would be considered idiocy in the larger world.)

Consider also that "don't argue with idiots" has much of the same superficial appeal as "allow the government to censor idiots". The ACLU defends Nazis for a reason, even though they're pretty obviously idiots: any measures taken against idiots will be taken against everyone else, too.

[-][anonymous]9y 12

(And I'm pretty sure that many common LW positions would be considered idiocy in the larger world.)

Having come from there, the general perception is that LW-ers and our positions are not idiots, but instead the kind of deluded crackpot nonsense smart people make up to believe in. Of course, that's largely for the more abstruse stuff, as people in the outside world will either grudgingly admit the uses of Bayesian reasoning and debiasing or just fail to understand what they are.

A large part of the problem is that all the lessons of Traditional Rationality teach to guard against actually arriving to conclusions before amassing what I think one Sequence post called "mountains of evidence". The strength and stridency with which LW believes and believes in certain things fail a "smell test" for overconfidence, even though the really smelly things (like, for example, cryonics) are usually actively debated on LW itself (I recall reading in this year's survey that the mean LW-er believes cryonics has a 14% chance of working, which is lower than people with less rationality training estimate).

So in contradistinction to Traditional Rationality (as practiced by almost... (read more)

Except for scientific research, which will happily accept p < 0.05 to publish the most improbable claims.
No, "real science" requires more evidence than that - 5 sigma in HEP. p < 0.05 is the preserve of "soft science".
And even with more than 5 sigma people will be like ‘we probably screwed up somewhere’ when the claim is sufficiently improbable, see e.g. the last paragraph before the acknowledgements in arXiv:1109.4897v1.
There's also a tendency to be doctrinaire among LW-ers that people may be reacting to - an obvious manifestation of this is our use of local jargon and reverential capitalization of "the Sequences" as if these words and posts have significance beyond the way they illuminate some good ideas. Those are social markers of deluded crackpots, I think.
Yes, very definitely so. The other thing that makes LW seem... a little bit silly sometimes is the degree of bullet swallowing [] in the LW canon. For instance, just today I spent a short while on the internet reading some good old-fashioned "mind porn" in the form of Yves Couder's experiments with hydrodynamics that replicate many aspects of quantum mechanics. This is really developing into quite a nice little subfield, direct physical experiments can be and are done, and it has everything you could want as a reductive explanation of quantum mechanics. Plus, it's actually classical: it yields a full explanation of the real, physical, deterministic phenomena underlying apparently quantum ones. But if you swallowed your bullet, you'll never discover it yourself. In fact, if you swallow bullets in general, I find it kind of difficult to imagine how you could function as a researcher, given that a large component of research consists of inventing new models to absorb probability mass that currently has nowhere better to go than a known-wrong model.
Yves Couder's experiments are neat, but the underlying 'quantum' interpretation is basically just Bohm's interpretation. The water acts as a pilot wave, and the silicon oil drops act as Bohmian particles. Its very cool that we can find a classical pilot-wave system, but its not pointing in a new interpretational direction. Personally, I would love Bohm, but for the problem that it generalizes so poorly to quantum field theories. Its a beautiful, real-feeling interpretation. Edit: Also neat- the best physical analogue to a blackhole that I know of is water emptying down a bathtub drain faster than the speed-of-sound in the fluid. Many years ago, Unruh was doing some neat experiments with some poor grad student, but I don't know if they ever published anything.
Note that because of Bell's theorem, any classical system is going to have real trouble emulating all of quantum mechanics; entanglement is going to trip it up. I know you said "replicate many aspects of quantum mechanics," but it's probably important to emphasize that this sort of thing is not going to lead to a classical model underlying all of QM.
How could you function? Well, a quote from last year [] put it nicely:
I think that a 'reductive' explanation of quantum mechanics might not be as appealing as it seems to you. Those fluid mechanics experiments are brilliant, and I'm deeply impressed by them for coming up with them, let alone putting it into practice! However, I don't find it especially convincing as a model of subatomic reality. Just like the case with early 20th-century analog computers, with a little ingenuity it's almost always possible to build a (classical) mechanism that will obey the same math as almost any desired system. Definitely, to the point that it can replicate all observed features of quantum mechanics, the fluid dynamics model can't be discarded as a hypothesis. But it has a very very large Occam's Razor penalty to pay. In order to explain the same evidence as current QM, it has to postulate a pseudo-classical physics layer underneath, which is actually substantially more complicated than QM itself, which postulates basically just a couple equations and some fields. Remember that classical mechanics, and most especially fluid dynamics, are themselves derived from the laws of QM acting over billions of particles. The fact that those 'emergent' laws can, in turn, emulate QM does imply that QM could, at heart, resemble the behaviour of a fluid mechanic system... but that requires postulating a new set of fundamental fields and particles, which in turn form the basis of QM, and give exactly the same predictions as the current simple model that assumes QM is fundamental. Being classical is neither a point in its favour nor against it, unless you think that there is a causal reason why the reductive layer below QM should resemble the approximate emergent behaviour of many particles acting together within QM. If we're going to assume that QM is not fundamental, then there is actually an infinite spectrum of reductive systems that could make up the lower layer. The fluid mechanics model is one that you are highlighting here, but there is no reason to priv
I don't think I understand the relevance of your example, but I agree on the bullet-swallowing point, especially as I am an inveterate bullet-dodger. (That said, the experiments sound awesome! Any particular place you'd recommend to start reading?)
There don't seem to be many popularizations. This looks fun and as far as I can tell is neither lying nor bullshitting us. [] This [] is an actual published paper, for those with the maths to really check. I think I should phrase this properly by dropping into the language of the Lord High Prophet of Bayes, E.T. Jaynes: it is often optimal to believe in some model with some probability based on the fixed, finite quantity of evidence we have available on which to condition, but this is suboptimal compared to something like Solomonoff Induction that can dovetail over all possible theories. We are allocating probability based on fixed evidence to a fixed set of hypotheses (those we understand well enough to evaluate them). For instance, given all available evidence, if you haven't heard of sub-quantum physics even at the mind-porn level, believing quantum physics to be the real physics is completely rational, except in one respect. I don't understand algorithmic information theory well enough to quantify how much probability should be allocated to "sub-Solomonoff Loss", to the possibility that we have failed to consider some explanation superior to the one we have, despite our current best explanations adequately soaking up the available evidence as narrowed, built-up probability mass, but plainly some probability should be allocated there. Why, particularly in the case of quantum physics? Because we've known damn well for decades that it's an incomplete theory! If it cannot be unified with the other best-supported theory in the same domain (General Relativity), then it is incomplete. Period. Reality does not contradict itself: the river of evidence flowing into General Relativity and the river of evidence flowing into quantum mechanics cannot collide and run against each-other unless we idiot humans have approximated two different perspectives (cosmic scale and mic
Coincidentally, I was actually heading out to meet my dad (a physics Ph.D.), and I mentioned the paper and blog post to him to get his reaction. He asked me to send him a link, but he also pointed me at Feynman's lecture on electrostatic analogs [], which is based on one of those simple ideas that invites bullet-swallowing: The same equations have the same solutions. This is one of those ideas that I get irrationally excited about, honestly. The first thing I thought of when you described these hydrodynamic experiments was the use of similitude in experimental modeling, which is a special case of the same idea: after you work out the equations that you would need to solve to calculate (for example) the flow of air around a wing, instead of doing a lot of intractable mathematics, you rewrite the equations in terms of dimensionless parameters like the Reynolds number and put a scale model of the wing in a wind tunnel. If you adjust the velocity, pressure, &c. correctly in your scale model, you can make the equations that you would need to solve for the scale model exactly the same as the equations for the full-sized wing ... and so, when you measure a number on the scale model, you can use that number the same way that you would use the solution to your equations, and get the number for the real wing. You can do this because the same equations have the same solutions. For that matter, one of the stories my dad wrote on his blog about his Ph.D. research [] mentions a conversation in which another physicist pointed out a possible source of interesting complexity in gravitational waves by metaphor to electromagnetic waves - a metaphor whose validity came from the same equations having the same solutions. I have to say, though, that my dad does not get excited about this kind of thing, and he explained to me why in a way which parallels Feynman's remark at the end of the le
Why draw strong conclusions? Let papers be published and conferences held. It's a neat toy to look at, though.
It is a neat toy, and I'm glad you posted the link to it. The reason I got so mad is that Warren Huelsnitz's attempt to draw inferences from these - even weak, probabilistic, Bayesian inferences - were appallingly ignorant for someone who claims to be a high-energy physicist. What he was doing would be like my dad, in the story from his blog post, trying to prove that gravity was created by electromagnetic forces because Roger Blandford alluded to an electromagnetic case in a conversation about gravity waves. My dad knew that wasn't a true lesson to learn from the metaphor, and Richard Feynman agrees with him: Feynman goes on to explain that many of the analogues are approximations of some kind, and so the similarity of equations is probably better understood as being a side effect of this. (I would add: much in the same way that everything is linear when plotted log-log with a fat magic marker [].) Huelsnitz, on the other hand, seems to behave as if he expects to learn something about the evolutionary history of the Corvidae family by examining crowbars ... which is simply asinine.
We don't actually know that. Weinberg has suggested that GR might be asymptotically safe. Most people seem to think this isn't the case, but no one has been able to show that he is wrong. We can rephrase your argument, and instead of putting weight on theories for which we have no evidence, dump the "built up" probability mass on the idea that the two theories don't actually disagree. Certainly the amount of "contradiction" between GR and quantum field theories are often overblown. You can, for instance, treat GR as an effective field theory and compute quantum corrections to various things. They are just too small to matter/measure.
...huh. I have to go, but downvote this comment if I don't reply again in the next five hours. I'll be back. Edit: Function completed []; withdrawing comment.

Consider also that "don't argue with idiots" has much of the same superficial appeal as "allow the government to censor idiots".

The former has a fair amount of appeal for me and the latter I would find appalling and consider to be descent into totalitarianism. I don't think this comparison works.

Jiro didn't say appeal to you. Besides, substitute "blog host" for "government" and I think it becomes a bit clearer: both are much easier ways to deal with the problem of someone who persistently disagrees with you than talking to them. Obviously that doesn't make "don't argue with idiots" wrong, but given how much power trivial inconveniences have to shape your behavior [], I think an admonition to hold the proposed heuristic to a higher standard of evidence is appropriate.
Speaking for myself, I've got a fair bit of sympathy for the concept with that substitution and a fair bit of antipathy without it. It's a lot easier to find a blog you like and that likes you than to find a government with the same qualities.
Hence the substitution. :)
You are atypical in this respect.

Really? I feel the same way as Lumifer and asusmed that this was the obvious, default reaction. Damned typical-mind fallacy.

I also feel the same way, but in my experience most people don't. Also as RobinZ pointed out here [] things get fuzzy in the limit where one has to taboo "government".
No, I don't think they do. The basic distinction is between making the choices for yourself and forcing choices on others.
That's typical for me :-D
Being an idiot is less about positions and more about how one argues. The easiest way to identify an idiot is when debating gets someone angry to the point of violence. Beyond that, idiots can be identified by the use of fallacies, ad hominems, non-sequiturs, etc.
This rule fails for RationalWiki in particular, so I don't think it's sufficiently expressive. RationalWiki will never get violent, they'll never use basic rhetorical fallacies, but are they not idiots? I think a better rule for idiocy is the inability to update. An idiot will never change their mind, and will never learn. More intelligent idiots can change their mind about minor things related to things they already deeply believe, but never try to understand anything that's a level or two of inference away from their existing core. Nonidiocy requires the intelligence to think correctly, the wisdom to know when you're wrong, and the charisma to tolerate the social failing of being wrong. It takes all three to avoid being an idiot.
They won't threaten physical violence, but when discussing certain political topics (libertarianism, social justice and feminism) they do use basic rhetorical fallacies in addition to generally abusive behaviour even from the admins (trolling, name calling and swinging the banhammer). Surprisingly, when discussing other topics, such as science, pseudosciences and paranormal beliefs, they look like perfectly sane and rational folks. (I've never engaged them, my experience comes form browsing the wiki and lurking a little bit on the 4ch-...Facebook group) I think they aren't idiots but just political fanatics.
Well, if Rossi's free energy generators worked and were replacing power stations or gasoline in cars or the like, we all would change our mind about Rossi. I guess that means we're probably idiots, because that's highly unlikely. Cranks constantly demand that we change our minds in response to Andrea Rossi plain as day rigging up another experiment, Randel L Mills releasing some incoherent formula salad, Chris Langan taking an IQ test, or the like.
I posted this quote on site with average IQ above 99th percentile for a reason. Also, please read the original comment [] for context, I think you'll interpret it a bit differently.
Having a high IQ does not equate to having a good idiot detector. Also, policies which treat people differently based on a self-serving distinction need more justification than normal, because of the increased prior that the person making the policy is affected by an ulterior motive.
I'm of opinion that the process of detecting idiots is heavily g-loaded.

I do like the old "Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience" maxim :-)

Not all idiots are like that, and otherwise-non-idiotic people can also get caught in dollar-auction-like discussions if they're sufficiently mind-killed (I mean, I've seen it happen on a website where supposedly 75% of people have IQs over 130 []), but that's a good heuristic.

To know what questions may reasonably be asked is already a great and necessary proof of sagacity and insight. For if a question is absurd in itself and calls for an answer where none is required, it not only brings shame on the propounder of the question, but may betray an incautious listener into absurd answers, thus presenting, as the ancients said, the ludicrous spectacle of one man milking a he-goat and the other holding a sieve underneath.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (trans. Norman Kemp Smith), p. A58/B82.

Kant seems to have one of the first systematic question dissolvers:

Philosophers have never lacked zest for criticizing their predecessors. Aristotle was not always kind to Plato. Scholastics wrangled with unexcelled vigor. The new philosophy of the 17th century was frankly rude about the selfsame schoolmen. But all that is criticism of someone else. Kant began something new. He turned criticism into self-reflection. He didn’t just create the critical philosophy. He made philosophy critical of philosophy itself.

There are two ways in which to criticize a proposal, doctrine, or dogma. One is to argue that it is false. Another is to argue that it is not even a candidate for truth or falsehood. Call the former denial, the latter undoing. Most older philosophical criticism is in the denial mode. When Leibniz took issue with Locke in the Nouveaux Essais, he was denying some of the things that Locke had said. He took for granted that they were true-or-false. In fact, false. Kant’s transcendental dialectic, in contrast, argues that a whole series of antinomies arise because we think that there are true-or-false answers to a gamut of questions. There are none. The theses, antitheses, and q

... (read more)

It is perplexing, but amusing to observe people getting extremely excited about things you don't care about; it is sinister to watch them ignore things you believe are fundamental.

Taleb, Aphorisms.

Every time a mosquito dies, the world becomes a better place.

Glenn Reynolds

From Wikipedia "Various species of mosquitoes are estimated to transmit various types of disease to more than 700 million people annually in Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico, Russia, and much of Asia, with millions of resultant deaths. At least two million people annually die of these diseases, and the morbidity rates are many times higher still."

Related: let's eliminate species of mosquitoes that bite humans.

The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating — in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around like rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

-- Anne Morris

Three Bayesians walk into a bar: a) what's the probability that this is a joke? b) what's the probability that one of the three is a Rabbi? c) given that one of the three is a Rabbi, what's the probability that this is a joke? (c)

According to the base rate there is an evidence that this is a joke about Russia national team or Suarez bite

And now this must become a canonical example used in logical probability papers.
This seems to be the original source, as far as I can tell: []
Three Bayesians walk into a bar. The third one ducks
Now I'm trying to figure out if your missing period is part of the joke.
Wait this is actually brilliant in a couple of ways, because to get the right (estimated) answer, the listener has to distinguish between probability that one of the three is a rabbi and this is a joke, and probability that this is a joke if we put the probability of the third being a rabbi at 100%. It follows the setup of a rationality calibration question while subverting it and rendering "guessing the teacher's password" useless, since c) is (maybe) higher than a) or b)

Prisca iuvent alios: ego me nunc denique natum gratulor

Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these.

-- Ovid

What about future times?

"My ambition is to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book - what everyone else does not say in a book."


Relevant to bounded cognition and consequentialism:

"It is better to be just than to be kind, but only good judges can be just; let those who cannot be just be kind."

-- Loyal to the Group of Seventeen, The Citadel of the Autarch, Gene Wolfe

To give some context here: 'Loyal to the Group of Seventeen' is a captured POW who is telling a story to the main characters in the hospital he's recuperating in, as part of a storytelling competition. He is from the enemy country "Ascia", which is a parody/version of Maoist China (the name comes from a typically Wolfean etymological joke: New Sun is set in South America, the reader eventually realizes, and the Ascians or 'shadowless' live near the equator where the sun casts less of a shadow); in particular, Ascians speak only in quotations from official propaganda (Maoists were notorious for quotation). Sort of Wolfe's reply to Newspeak. So when Loyal tells his story, "Loyal to the Group of Seventeen's Story—The Just Man" [], he speaks only in quotations and someone interprets for him. The story simply recounts a commune whose inequitable distribution of work & food prompts the Just Man to travel to the capital and petition the mandarins there for justice, in the time-honored Chinese fashion, but he is rejected and while trying to make his case, survives by begging: The story itself is simple but it's still one of the most interesting of the stories told within Book of the New Sun and comes up occasionally on []. It's also often compared to a Star Trek episode: "Shaka, When the Walls Fell: In one fascinating episode, Star Trek traced the limits of human communication as we know it - and suggested a new, truer way of talking about the universe" [].
While some parts of me agree with it, there are other parts that set off alarms like: but judges will try to use this as a rationalization for what looks like a kind behaviour(by habit, social proof) instead of trying to evaluate the justness, especially when it looks like it's complex or is likely to threaten one of their biased beliefs.

C is quirky, flawed, and an enormous success

-- Dennis Ritchie, The Development of the C language

This is true, but what makes it a rationality quote?

He's saying that one does not need to do a perfect job to win. A common failure mode is to spend ages worrying about the details while someone else's good-enough quick hack takes over the world. It's quite a resonant quote for programmers.

C and Unix obliterated their technically superior rivals. There's a whole tradition of worrying about why this happened in the still extant LISP community which was one of the principal losers. Look up 'Worse is Better' if you're interested in the details.

I'm aware of all that. But the idea that perfection is not needed, and that successful things are almost always flawed in some way, seemed too obvious to merit a quote. But that is just typical mind fallacy on my part: if others feel this is an insight people should be reminded of, I shouldn't argue.
My understanding -- and I wasn't there for that particular holy war, so I might have some of the details wrong -- is that while LISP is in many ways the better language, it didn't at the time have the practical implementation support that C did. Efficient LISP code at the time required specialized hardware; C was and is basically a set of macros to constructs common in assembly languages for most commodity architectures. It worked, in other words, without having to build an entire infrastructure and set of development practices around it. Later implementations of LISP pretty much solved that problem, but by that time C and its derivatives had already taken over the world.

C was a major improvement on the languages of the day: COBOL, Fortran, and plain assembly. Unlike any of those, it was at the same time fully portable, supported structured programming, and allowed freeform text.

But I don't think programmers would have embraced LISP even if its performance was as good as the other languages. For the same reasons programmers don't embrace LISP-derived languages today. It is an empirical fact that the great majority of programmers, particularly the less-than-brilliant ones, dislike pure functional programming.

Note, though, that (a) "Lisp doesn't look like C" isn't as much of a problem in a world where C and C-like languages are not dominant, and (b) something like Common Lisp doesn't have to be particularly functional - that's a favored paradigm of the community, but it's a pretty acceptable imperative/OO language too. "Doesn't run well on my computer" was probably a bigger problem. (Modern computers are much faster; modern Lisp implementations are much better.) Edit: still, C is clearly superior to any other language. ;-)
I suspect the main reason lisp failed is the syntax, because the first thing early computer users would try to do is get the computer to do arithmetic. In C/Fortran/etc. you can write arithmetic expressions that look more-or-less like arithmetic expressions, e.g. (a + b/2) ** 2 / c. In Lisp you can't.
I dislike pure functional programming. I can't think of a pure functional LISP that isn't a toy. I'm sure there is one. I wouldn't use it. And before we hijack this thread and turn it into a holy war, C is my other favourite language.

On Confidence levels inside and outside an argument:

Thorstein Frode relates of this meeting, that there was an inhabited district in Hising which had sometimes belonged to Norway, and sometimes to Gautland. The kings came to the agreement between themselves that they would cast lots by the dice to determine who should have this property, and that he who threw the highest should have the district. The Swedish king threw two sixes, and said King Olaf need scarcely throw. He replied, while shaking the dice in his hand, "Although there be two sixes on the dice, it would be easy, sire, for God Almighty to let them turn up in my favour." Then he threw, and had sixes also. Now the Swedish king threw again, and had again two sixes. Olaf king of Norway then threw, and had six upon one dice, and the other split in two, so as to make seven eyes in all upon it; and the district was adjudged to the king of Norway.

Heimskringla - The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway

-- Hávamál (not really)
I love the Hávamál. Not so great for rationality as such, but it's probably the single best source of concentrated bitter-old-man wisdom that I know about.
I don't get how the quote is related to the article.

I think the idea is something like: the probability of rolling 12 on fair 2d6 is 1/36, but the probability of fair dice being used when kings gamble for territory is far lower.

If the model of dice are perfectly fair and unbreakable is correct, then the Swedish king is justified in assigning very low probability to losing after rolling two sixes; but this model turns out to be incorrect in this case, and his confidence in winning should have been lower. Of course it would be silly to apply this reasoning to dice in real life, but there are cases (like those discussed in the linked article) where the lesson applies.
If they were fair dice, there would still be a one in 72 chance of King Olaf getting the district. That's definitely worth rolling dice for. Admittedly, the Swedish king knew his own dice were weighted, so if he thought Olaf's weren't he'd definitely win, but since he's not going to admit to cheating he's not going to tell Olaf that.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky9y
Yeah, that never happened.
2Yaakov T9y
probably not, but why are you certain
More importantly, whether or not it happened is irrelevant to its use as a rationality quote...
3Eliezer Yudkowsky9y
Update not upon fictional evidence.

What about fanfictional evidence?

More seriously, shouldn't it be "don't update on fictional evidence as if it were true"?

Certainly it's reasonable for a story to make us reconsider our beliefs.

It's reasonable to update as a result of the analysis of fiction (including fanfiction) for two reasons, neither of which are directly related to the events of the story in the same way that events in real life are related to updating. The first is: does this prompt me to think in a way I did not before? If so, it is not evidence, but it allows you to better way the evidence by providing you with more possibilities. The second is: why was this written? Even a truthless piece of propaganda can be interesting evidence in that it is entangled with human actions and motivations.
If considering a new hypothesis fundamentally changes the way you think about priors, and the arguments you used to justify ratios between hypotheses no longer hold, then, yes, you will have to look at the evidence again. I feel a little odd about calling that process 'updating', since I think it's a little more involved than taking into account a single new piece of evidence.
I think that this would only be true if it prompts you to think in a new and random way. Fiction which prompts you to think in a new but non-random way (that is, all fiction) could very well make it worse. It could very well be that the author selectively prompts you to think only in cases where you got it right without doing the thinking. If so, then this will reduce your chance of getting it right. For a concrete example, consider a piece of homeopathic fiction which "prompts you to think" about how homeopathy could work. It provides a plausible-sounding explanation, which some people haven't heard of before. That plausible-sounding explanation either is rejected, in which case it has no effect on updating, or accepted, making the reader update in the direction of homeopathy. Since the fiction is written by a homeopath, it wouldn't contain an equally plausible sounding (and perhaps closer to reality) explanation of what's wrong with homeopathy, so it only leads people to update in the wrong direction. Furthermore, homeopathy is probably more important to homeopaths than it is to non-homeopaths. So not only does reading homeopathic fiction lead you to update in the wrong direction, reading a random selection of fiction does too--the homeopath fiction writers put in stuff that selectively makes you think in the wrong direction, and the non-homeopaths, who don't think homeopathy is important, don't write about it at all and don't make you update in the right direction.
does anyone else find it ironic that we're using fictional evidence (a story about homeopathic writers that don't exist) to debate fictional evidence?
The scenario is not evidence at all, fictional or not. The reasoning involved might count as evidence depending on your definition, but giving a concrete example is not additional evidence, it only makes things easier to understand. Calling this fictional evidence is like saying that an example mentioning parties A, B, and C is "fictional evidence" on the grounds that A, B, and C don't really exist.
The scenario is not evidence at all, fictional or not. The reasoning involved might count as evidence depending on your definition, but giving a concrete example is not additional evidence, it only makes things easier to understand. Calling this fictional evidence is like saying that an example mentioning parties A, B, and C is "fictional evidence" on the grounds that A, B, and C don't really exist.
Interesting point. The sort of new ways of thinking I had imagined were more along the lines of "consider more possible scenarios" - for example, if you had never before considered the idea of a false flag operation (whether in war or in "civil" social interaction), reading a story involving a false flag operation might prompt you to reinterpret certain evidence in light of the fact that it is possible (a fact not derived directly from the story, but from your own thought process inspired by the story). While it is certainly possible to update in the wrong direction, the thought process I had in mind was thus: * I have possible explanations A, B, and C for this observed phenomenon Alpha. * I read a story in which event D occurs, possibly entangled with Alpha, a similar phenomenon to Alpha. * I consider the plausibility of an event of the type D occurring, taking in not only fictional evidence but also real-world experience and knowledge, and come to the conclusion that while D takes certain liberties with the laws of (psychology/physics/logic), the event D is entirely plausible, and may be entangled with a phenomenon such as Alpha*. * I now have possible explanations A, B, C, and D for the observed phenomenon Alpha. It is important to note that fiction has no such use for a hypothetical perfect reasoner, who begins with priors assigned to each and every physically possible event. Further, it would be of no use to anyone incapable of making that second-to-last step correctly; if they simply import D* as a possible explanation for Alpha, or arrive at some hypothetical event D which is not, in fact, reasonable to assume possible or plausible, then they have in fact been hindered by fictional "evidence".
One man's fictional evidence is another man's thought experiment, and another's illustrative story. To me, the lesson is "square dice are physical objects which imperfectly embody the process 'choose a random whole number between one and six'". If you make the map-territory error and assume that "whatever the dice roll, is what we accept" while simultaneously assuming that "the dice can only each roll whole numbers between one and six; other outcomes such as 'die breaks in half' or 'die rolls into crack in floor' or 'die bursts into flame' or 'die ends up in Eliezer Yudkowsky's pants and travels unexpectedly to Washington DC' are out-of-scope", you're gonna have a bad time when one of those out-of-scope outcomes occurs and someone else capitalizes on it to turn a pure game-of-chance into a game-of-rhetoric-and-symbolcrafting.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky9y
I shall cheerfully bet at very high odds against this happening the next time I roll a standard die.
If you are actually offered this bet, you probably should not take it. * Sky Masterson(Marlon Brando)Guys and Dolls []
I almost said "so shall I, but... " - but then caught myself, because I may very well NOT bet at very high odds against this happening the next time I roll what I perceive to be a standard die. If I believe my opponent is motivated to cheat, and capable of cheating in a manner that turns "roll a standard die" into "listen to my narrative interpretation of why whatever-just-happened means I won", then I'm apparently willing to take some of the resources I would have otherwise put on that bet, and instead put them on "watch out for signs of cheating and/or malfunctioning dice".
Most of these quotes are just something people said, not something that happened that we could gain a moral from. Even if they were, they're not a random sample. We're cherry picking. Whatever it is you can learn from quotes and a selection of things someone has picked out you can learn from fiction.
Because certainty is higher status than uncertainty.
Obligatory xkcd []
... Huh. On a miscellaneous note, now I know one of Pratchett's inspirations...

The eleventh thesis on Feuerbach is engraved on Marx’s tombstone in Highgate Cemetery. It reads: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is, to change it’ (T 158). This is generally read as a statement to the effect that philosophy is unimportant; revolutionary activity is what matters. It means nothing of the sort. What Marx is saying is that the problems of philosophy cannot be solved by passive interpretation of the world as it is, but only by remoulding the world to resolve the philosophical contradictions inherent in it. It is to solve philosophical problems that we must change the world.

-- Peter Singer, Marx: A Very Short Introduction

Funny how the same meaning expressed by different people led to so much outrage []... source []
These quotes don't seem similar to me at all. The first quote talks of "changing" reality, the second talks of "creating" it , making the first seem like an encouragement to try and change reality, and the second like sollipsism (specifically, "creating our own reality"). The second also seems very dismissive of the need to think before you act, the first much less so (if at all).
The second quote is clearly not solipsism; note that what is "created" will be solid enough to be judiciously studied by other actors, empiricism, etc. Note also that the second quote does not talk about creating "reality," it talks about creating "our own reality." In other words, remoulding the world to suit your own purposes. Any sensible reading of the quote leads to that interpretation. Like Lumifer, the Singer/Feuerbach quote, made me think immediately of the famous "reality-based community" quote.
[-][anonymous]9y 10

No, the second clearly implies that the speaker simply doesn't hold with Enlightenment principles, empiricism, and all that "judicious study of discernible reality" crap. That speaker clearly prefers to just act, not out of rational calculation towards a goal, but because acting is manly and awesome. This is why people have such vicious contempt for that speaker: not only is he not acting rationally on behalf of others, he doesn't even care about acting rationally on his own behalf, and he had the big guns.

Actually, no, I think that some people have such vicious contempt for that speaker because he is a prominent member of the enemy political tribe and so needs to have shit thrown at him given the slightest opportunity.
I cannot read this anywhere in the text,not even between the lines.
What other option is there? Preferring to act out of rational calculation towards a goal would put the speaker among those who "believe that solutions emerge from judicious study of discernible reality", i.e. the very people he's arguing against. We are left to guess what alternative decision procedure the speaker is proposing. eli_sennesh's interpretation is one possibility, do you have another?
I read him as saying his empire was so powerful he didn't need to care about existing reality or to plan ahead; he could make it up as he went and still expected to succeed no matter what, so he didn't need to judiciously study the existing reality before overwriting it.
I read him as saying that the people he is talking to and about are out of the loop. They write about what the politicians are doing, but only after the fact. The politicians have their own sources of information and people to analyse them, and the public-facing writers have no role in that process.
Denotationally, that seems like a reasonable interpretation. It sets off solipsism warnings in my head, possibly because I know some self-described sollipsists who really are fond of using that kind of phrasing. However, the speaker could have chosen to say this in a more straightforward way, as you do. Something like "We are an empire now, we have the power to remould parts of the world to better suit our purposes". And yet, he did not. Why not? This is not a rhetorical question, I'm open to other possible answers, but here's what I think: I don't think it is very controversial that this quote is arguing against "the reality-based community". It is trying to give the impression that "acting ... to create our own reality" is somehow contradictory to "solutions emerging from your judicious study of discernible reality". In reality of course, most or all effective attempts at steering reality towards a desired goal are based on "judicious study of discernible reality". He is trying to give the impression that he ("we, an empire") can effectively act without consulting, or at least using the methods of, the "reality-based community". He doesn't say that denotationally, because it's false.
Seems to me you're overthinking the simple difference between being a passive observer and being an agenty mover and shaker.
Or in an old Arab saying, the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.
I think you are underestimating the importance of being well-informed for being an "agenty mover and shaker". Look at this guy [] and these guys [] for example. Were they "agenty movers and shakers" ? They certainly tried! Even the famous Sun Tzu, hardly a passive observer himself, devotes an entire chapter to the importance of being well-informed. []
I think this is exactly the same thing. When you change existing reality you create new reality. I read it more as pointing out that what many accept as immutable is actually mutable and changeable. This also plays into the agent vs NPC distinction (see e.g. here []).
The parent comment and the replies to it are a case study in how different people intuitively draw strongly opposed conclusions from a piece of ambiguous, politically charged evidence.
Because no one ever got outraged at fluffy old Karl Marx, dear me no. I agree with Plasmon that there are important differences between the two quotations other than what political tribe they come from, and that the words attributed to the Bush aide suggest a contempt for "judicious study" and looking before one leaps, which Marx's aphorism doesn't. But even if we set that aside and stipulate that the two quotations convey the exact same meaning and connotations, the point you seem to be making -- that the Bush guy got pilloried for being from the wrong tribe, whereas everyone loves Karl Marx when he says the same thing because he's from the right tribe -- seems to me badly wrong. First of all, if you think Marx is of the same political tribe as most people who take exception to the Bush aide's remarks, you might want to think again. That's a mistake of the same magnitude (and perhaps the same type?) as failing to distinguish Chinese people from Japanese because they all look "Oriental". Secondly, while Marx's aphorism gets quoted a lot, I don't think that's because everyone (or everyone on the "left", or whatever group you might have in mind) agrees with it. It expresses an interesting idea pithily, and that suffices.
I wouldn't suggest that Marx is in the same tribe as people who don't like Bush. I would, however, suggest that Marx is within the Overton Window for such people and that Bush is not, and that has similar effects to actually being in the same tribe.
I don't think going around and making a violent revolution to get rid of capitalism is within the overton window of most people on the left in the US.
One could be sympathetic to many of Marx's ideas while nevertheless holding that the violent revolution idea has been shown not to work.
Most people don't reject violent revolution for the practical reason that it's a unworkable strategy but because they find the idea of going and lynching the capitalists is morally wrong. Marx idea of putting philosophy into action brought along the politics of revolution.Bush's relationship with the "reality-based community" leads to misleading voters and ignoring scientific findings. In both cases the ideas get judged by their practical political consequences.
No need to lynch anyone: after all, Marx didn't feel that capitalists were evil, he felt that they were just doing what the prevailing economic system forced them to do: to squeeze profit out of workers to avoid being outcompeted and driven to bankruptcy by the other capitalists. But (most of them) are not actively evil and don't need to be punished. So you could just let them live but take their stuff, and there does exist wide support for the notion of forcibly taking at least some of people's stuff (via taxation).
Marx didn't think that you can simply get a democratic majority and tax rich peoples wealth away via taxation. He considered that no viable political strategy but advocated revolution. You ignore the political actions that Marx advocated. In dialectics a thesis needs a contrasting antithesis to allow for synthesis. Stalin also didn't kill people because they were evil. That's besides the point. The action that resulted in dead people were justified because they move history along.
The earlier question was about whether Marx would be in people's Overton window. I think that if someone thinks "well, Marx had a pretty good analysis of the problems of capitalism, though he was mistaken about the best solutions", then that counts as Marx being within the window.
I don't think anyone would say that Bush was wrong about everything to the extend that he's outside of people's Overton window.
What evidence moves you to say that the primary reason for rejection of violent revolution is morality rather than practicality? (And why do you/the majority of people think that violent revolution has to end in lynchings? Is there another widely-held opinion that simply stripping the capitalists of their defining trait - wealth - would be insufficient?)
That's not true. The violent revolution idea worked very well. It's just that what happened after that revolution didn't quite match Marx's expectations.
Well if you ignore all the predictions for what should happen afterwards, the mere idea that it's possible to have a violent revolution that would topple an old authoritarian regime wasn't exactly original to Marx.
The thing that was original to Marx was that a revolution is the only way to create real political change and that it's impossible to create that change inside the system.
I find it hard to believe this was an original idea. In a classic autocracy with a small rich legally empowered class, how could you possibly expect to radically change things except through violence? What alternatives are there that were ignored by all the previous violent revolutions in history?
The idea is that even representative democracies creating radical change within the system is impossible. Great Britain is still a Monarchy in 2014, but I would say they changed a great deal without a violent revolution.
I always thought that this quote was probably fabricated. When a Tribe B reporter encounters a "man on the street" , "black friend", "highly placed source" or in this case "an aide" who is ostensibly a member of Tribe A, yet goes on to issue a quote that is more or less a call to arms for B I'm immensely suspicious. I could still buy it though, if the aide talked like the protagonist of his own story. But he's just an orc, snarling his hatred of applause lights to the innocent reporter. I don't buy it.
It's not too uncommon for reporters to massage quotes, or at the very least to quote selectively, in order to push an editorial agenda or tell a better story.

"Focus on the future productivity of the asset you are considering. [...] If you instead focus on the prospective price change of a contemplated purchase, you are speculating. There is nothing improper about that. I know, however, that I am unable to speculate successfully, and I am skeptical of those who claim sustained success at doing so. Half of all coin-flippers will win their first toss; none of those winners has an expectation of profit if he continues to play the game. And the fact that a given asset has appreciated in the recent past is neve

... (read more)

The Patrician took a sip of his beer. "I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the swee

... (read more)
In other words, the Patrician thinks you should be a better person than Terry Pratchett.

I will follow the good side right to the fire, but not into it if I can help it.

Michel de Montaigne, Essais, Book III.

Thinking that all individuals pursue "selfish" interest is equivalent to assuming that all random variables have zero covariance.

Taleb, Aphorisms

I don't get it. (I know what random variables and covariance are)
I read it as saying that people have many interests in common, so pursuing "selfish" interests can also be altruistic to some extent.
If that is the intended reading, then it's an example of sounding wise while saying nothing.
Yeah, that's Taleb for you. Sounding Wise/cynical while adding very little of any novel content.
That some people do in fact work towards the common good, or conversely, are outright malevolent rather than focused on personal gain? It's a standard warning against the typical mind fallacy and the spherical cow.
That is supposedly true, but what does it have to do with covariance?

Chance is always powerful. Let your hook always be cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be fish

-- Ovid

Don't know the original. Anyone? Quidquid in latine dictum sit, altum videtur, and all that.

If my research is correct: "Casus ubique valet; semper tibi pendeat hamus: Quo minime credas gurgite, piscis erit." Ovid's Ars Amatoria, Book III, Lines 425-426. I copied the text from Tuft's "Perseus" archive [].

The trick to following someone without getting caught is to follow somebody who doesn’t think they’re being followed. This is how I learned to follow people, and over the course of an entire school year, I learned fascinating secrets about complete strangers I followed for hours on end. It made me wonder who knew my secrets, on the days I thought I was walking with no one behind me.

-- Lemony Snicket, All The Wrong Questions, Book 2, When Did You See Her Last?, Chapter Seven

Does that actually work?
Ask yourself whether you'd notice someone following you when you weren't looking out for it. The part that impressed me and led me to post it was the whole "X applies to everyone else, hmm maybe it applies to me too" idea.
But how would I distinguish 'no one has been following me and so I did not notice no one has been following me' from 'someone has followed me at some point and I did not notice that they were following me'?

Universities have been progressing from providing scholarship for a small fee into selling degrees at a large cost.

This is the natural evolution of every enterprise under the curse of success: from making a good into selling the good, into progressively selling what looks like the good, then going bust after they run out of suckers and the story repeats itself ... (The cheapest to deliver effect: "successful" cheese artisans end up hiring managers and progress into making rubber that looks like cheese, replaced by artisans who in turn become "successful"…).

Nassim Taleb

[-][anonymous]9y 28

I'd love to see Taleb actually prove his assertion here, rather than expecting his readers' cynicism and bitterness to do the work of evidence.

Do you really doubt that universities used to take smaller fees and now sell degrees for a large cost?
I certainly doubt the latter portion. From my observations, whether the professoriat at any given university cares about teaching well or not has little to do with their funding sources.
The professoriat is not the university. That, actually, is one of the changes in academia that entangles with the quote above: universities are becoming money-making machines and the professoriat becomes the proletariat -- nothing more than salaried employees (notice what's happening to tenure).
Though it would be weird if that were what Taleb was talking about: he has nothing but contempt for the institution of tenure (I think another of Eugine's quotes makes that clear). For Taleb, the proletarianization of professors is a good thing, and presumably he doesn't think that this is the cause of the degeneration (if there is in fact any) of higher education.
True, it's more likely to be a consequence. If you see yourself primarily as a business with the task of exchanging cheapest-to-deliver services for money, an ossified and unyielding labor force is something you very much do not want. I suspect that the root of the problem goes to the fact that the universities are supposed to be both centers of research and teaching institutions. It worked well on small scale when the few students were, basically, professors' apprentices. But it doesn't work well for the delivery of education to the masses.

I suspect that the root of the problem goes to the fact that the universities are supposed to be both centers of research and teaching institutions.

In my estimation (having worked at several universities of various size and prestige, and more recently having consulted at all sorts of businesses) the problem is a common problem in a lot of American business/government since the 1970s/80s- the rise of professional management.

At large flagship U down the street from my house, professor labor costs have dropped markedly (the trend has been to replace tenure track lines with adjuncts and grad students as well as to increase grant overhead. In the science departments, many professors turn a net profit because grant overhead is larger than their salary costs). Enrollment is way up, tuition is way, way up. A drive to leverage university held patents has created massive profits for the university (with some absurdity along the way- a professor tried to start a company only to get a cease and desist order from a semi-conductor company. The university had sold the rights to his research to the semi-conductor company.)

And yet- the university finds itself on the verge of bankruptcy... (read more)

I would call it "being taken over by bureaucracy", but I basically agree. At private companies the bureaucracy is constrained by market pressures (unless the company finds a particularly juicy spot at the government trough), but for colleges and universities these pressures have been largely absent. Until now. I expect the next decade to be pretty painful for, um, institutions of higher learning.

At private companies the bureaucracy is constrained by market pressures

I disagree- you'd be amazed how inefficient you can be and still be profitable. Lots of very large companies are being strangled by their bureaucracy even while remaining at least somewhat profitable (generally the existence of a huge company is all-in-itself a barrier to entry for competitors). I've worked for a surprising number of companies that have the basic problem of "I used to be very profitable, but now I find I'm slightly less profitable despite selling more products at higher margins." Even worse, I've seen attempts to solve the problem derailed by the same management apparatus.

A former boss was fond of blaming MBAs. He had a saying something along the lines of- the core problem with MBAs is the idea that you can good at "business" without being good at any particular business. MBAs march in, say "we need to quantify these decisions" and add a ton of process (which invites the managers in). A decade later, they notice that despite generally better conditions they aren't as profitable, they higher some big data consultants to come in and we say things like "you are spending $x+100 dollars to better quantify decisions that are only worth $x, and thats not even counting all the time you waste for all the paperwork that the process requires."

Constrained, not eliminated :-) If you have certain advantages -- e.g. you are a too-big-to-fail bank -- you can be horribly bureaucratic and nothing bad will happen to you for a long time. Generally speaking, I think of the standard trajectory of successful companies as looking something like that: * Start as a lean mean hungry machine. Expand, grow fast. * Become successful, lazy and complacent. Life is easy. * Become fat, ossified, and arthritic. Sudden movements are not possible any more. * Become a dinosaur and either crater from being unable to adapt or be torn to pieces by new lean mean hungry machines.
I guess I have less faith in the constraint. Maybe its because I constantly work with companies who have been between stages 3 and 4 for a very long time. As an anecdote, many years ago I worked with a fortune 1000 retail company whose inventory system was so bad that I was legitimately surprised they were able to operate and make money. ("According to this you have more shirts in inventory in one store in San Francisco than the entire population of California..."). Much of their IT resources were being eaten by building weird one-off work arounds to the problems (i.e. making sure the shipping system didn't stop sending items to the store in California just because the inventory system claimed it had infinity shirts). The business side of management was clueless enough about all that they dropped a lot of money hiring people to try to model with the inventory data. The IT side of management told us, point blank, that hiring us wasn't their idea and they wouldn't be offering any support. Near as I can tell, the company operated entirely because a bunch of mid-level employers were fighting to get their work done in spite of the ridiculous systems in Maybe they eventually got their house in order, but I doubt it. Still a highly profitable business that has actually grown since I worked with them. I don't think I've ever worked with a company that didn't have at least some production code that had been developed and was currently running in excel spreadsheets, entirely because nearly everytime they tried to do a project through IT it crashed and burned. So business users develop and then run important business processes in excel. A lot of consulting projects start with "all right, let me collect the 5 dozen excel spreadsheets you use for your crucial business processes. Oh, you each have your own version that does things slightly different? Wonderful..."
That's because companies between these stages lose the capability to do anything effective themselves, but still have the money to hire lots of consultants :-) And yes, I am quite familiar with the spectacle of a dozen and a half of mysterious linked Excel spreadsheets which work ("work" is defined as not crashing, it's not like anyone can check what they output) only if the stars are aligned correctly and no one touches them, ever X-D But that's usually less a consequence of the metastasing bureaucracy and more a case of not very competent people in over their heads.
Maybe not, though I would like to see some statistics on that. My prior on this is that education has probably followed the pattern of pretty much every other good thing in 1st world society: it is decade by decade both better and more widely available than it ever has been before.
To clarify, I am not making claims here about how well the higher education works. I am saying that the structure of the US universities where faculty are hired on the basis of their ability to do original research (well, kinda sorta, it's really the ability to publish) but are expected to teach, often pretty basic stuff to pretty stupid undergrads, that structure is suboptimal. And the changes are easy to see: tenure is becoming harder and harder to get, while adjuncts (who are generally expected to have a Ph.D. but are not expected to do research) are multiplying on all campuses.
Some problems with your perception of American academia: 1. Ability to publish gets you to the interview stage, the rest is good old-fashioned politics. 2. Adjuncts are still expected to publish, unless they have no interest at all in upward mobility. Of course the structure is suboptimal, but no one's really come up with a better alternative.
I think you have confused adjuncts for "lecture" positions or other "visiting" faculty. Generally, adjuncts are (very) low paid contract workers- maybe $2k-3k for a 4 credit course who are not expected to publish (they generally have little to no access to university research resources, not even an office on campus!, so publishing is largely impossible) and have no real upward mobility. Most adjuncts work some other full time job (they have to- a full adjunct load generally pays less than 20k a year). These positions aren't supposed to lead to upward mobility within academia. In some disciplines, there are other non-tenure track positions (lecturers, research associates,etc) which are early career positions (in particular, they tend to come with some access to university resources, so that publishing is at least somewhat possible.) These on top of postdocs, which are early career positions.
I do actually know what an adjunct is. Assumption wrong. This doesn't imply that people hired as adjuncts have no desire for upward mobility.
I apologize then, but the post I was replying to seemed to imply (to me at least) that most adjuncts can continue a research effort and move into higher positions. I wanted to be clear- that 1. adjuncts generally have no more access to research resources than janitors do. This makes maintaining an active research effort impossible in most disciplines. 2. Unlike postdocs, lecture positions,etc adjuncts are explicitly not career positions- on top of no opportunity to research, the university expects the position is not your primary job. For most adjuncts (myself sometimes included), adjuncting is not their primary job- this does imply they don't have much desire for upward mobility within academia.
True, but the point is, at the faculty hiring stage no one at all cares about teaching ability. Upward mobility to where? If you want a better position -- a tenure track, a job at a lab or a think tank -- sure, publishing will increase your chances. But the university is interested in adjuncts as warm bodies to teach students without all that tenure commitment. Publishing may be a prerequisite for advancement, but it is not a prerequisite for the job they are holding.
Have you been on hiring committees? I've been involved with five at three universities. All of them discussed the teaching statements of the primary candidates. I don't think you have a good grasp on the adjunct situation, either, but rereading the thread it doesn't look like it matters much.
To date I've been involved with five hiring committees and three institutions -- one Big Ten, one private, and one state school. All five discussed teaching ability; it's standard practice for candidates to write teaching statements. A search of for "teachin
I don't think that's the evidence-needing assertion in that quote.

I would be interested to know how well documented this "curse of success" is? Is it studied in the economic literature? When do corporations, nations, firms, individuals suffer from this curse, when do they not? When do entire industries--like universities-- suffer from the curse? When do they survive and recover? When do they go completely bust? It seems possible to find examples going both ways, so I'm guessing there's something more subtle going on.

That's less true in certain countries than in others.

Darwin apparently originated the concept of lumpers and splitters. Both lumping and splitting are enormously useful for thinking about reality — and it’s even more useful to understand that you can do either depending upon the circumstances and your needs — but as the Troublesome Inheritance brouhaha shows a lot of people who think they are really smart can’t handle F. Scott Fitzgerald’s challenge of holding two ideas at once (e.g., lumping and splitting) and still function.

In general, Wade’s critics have a hard time dealing with complexity (in other word

... (read more)

It ain't what we don't know that causes trouble, it's what we know that just ain't so.

David Deutsch, claiming the authority of an "unknown sage"

Usually attributed to Mark Twain [].
David Deutsch is right - it doesn't appear in Twain, and it's difficult to find any good citation for the true originator [].
[-][anonymous]9y -1

So, what does intuitionism suggest instead of the definition of a proposition as a truth value ? Put differently, what does the form of assertion A : prop mean ?

Definition 1. A proposition is defined by laying down what counts as a cause of the proposition.

With this definition in place, it is natural to define truth of a proposition in the following way.

Definition 2. A proposition is true if it has a cause.

-- Johan George Granstrom, Treatise on Intuitionistic Type Theory

The value of these definitions is completely opaque to me. Could you elaborate on why you believe this is a good rationality quote?
Because it emphasizes that logic is a machine with strict laws and moving parts, not a pool of water to be sloshed in any direction. When you lay down what counts as a (hypothetical) cause of a proposition, you define it clearly and subject it to proof or disproof. When you demonstrate that one proposition causes another, you send truth from effects into causes according to the laws of proof. Implication, deductibility, and computation are thus the exact same thing.
But what does it mean for one proposition to cause another? For instance, here's a true proposition: "Either Hilary Clinton is the President of the United States or there exists a planet in the solar system that is smaller than Earth." What is the cause of this proposition? Also, when Granstrom says a proposition is true if it has a cause, what does that mean? What is "having" a cause? Does it mean that in order for a proposition to be true, its hypothetical cause must also be true? That would be a circular definition, so I'm presuming that's not it. But what then?
In the sense of implication? A well-formed OR proposition comes with the two alternatives and a cause for one of the alternatives. So in this case, a cause (or evidence, we could say) for "there exists a planet in the solar system smaller than Earth" is the cause for the larger OR proposition. In this case, cause is identified with computation. When we have an effective procedure (ie: a computation) taking any cause of A into a cause of B, we say that A implies B. This is true, but the recursion hits bottom when you start talking about propositions about mere data. Constructive type theory doesn't get you out of needing your recursive justifications to bottom-out in a base case somewhere.
2 is somewhere between wrong and not even wrong. Propositions are regarded, by those who believe in them as abstracta , and as such, non causal. Setting that aside, it's obvious that, say, a belief can have cause but be wrong. Fori instance, someone can acquire a false believe as the causal consequence of being lied to.
I agree that this is how propositions are usually regarded. The impression I got from the quote, though, is that Granstrom is proposing a re-definition of "proposition", so saying it's wrong seems like a category error. It does seem like a fairly pointless re-definition, though, which is why I asked the question.

Every person who has skin in the game knows sort of what is bullshit and what is not, since our capacities to rationalize —and those of bureaucrats and economists —are way too narrow for the complexity of the world we face, with its complex interactions. And survival is a stamp of statistical validity, while rationalization and narratives are the road to the cemetery.

Nassim Taleb

Financial inequalities are ephemeral, one crash away from reallocation; inequalities of status & academobureaucrat "elite" are there to stay

Nassim Taleb