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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson.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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"The story of Japanese railways during the earthquake and tsunami is the story of an unceasing drumbeat of everything going right [...] The overwhelming response of Japanese engineering to the challenge posed by an earthquake larger than any in the last century was to function exactly as designed. Millions of people are alive right now because the system worked and the system worked and the system worked.

That this happened was, I say with no hint of exaggeration, one of the triumphs of human civilization. Every engineer in this country should be walking a little taller this week. We can’t say that too loudly, because it would be inappropriate with folks still missing and many families in mourning, but it doesn’t make it any less true."

--Patrick McKenzie, "Some Perspective on the Japan Earthquake"

(Disaster is not inevitable.)

"To convince someone of the truth, it is not enough to state it, but rather one must find the path from error to truth." Wittgenstein. "Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough," p. 119

Shit, if I took time out to have an opinion about everything, I wouldn't get any work done...

-- L. Bob Rife, Snow Crash

While I enjoy a good Snow Crash quote as much as the next guy (Hell, probably more), this doesn't seem particularly relevant to rationality at all.

I disagree. Many people, in my experience, seem to think that everyone ought to have an opinion on every subject presented them, as if developing reasonable opinions were something that did not take significant amounts of information or effort.

I am happy to acknowledge that there is no end to the subjects that I have no right to an opinion on, because I haven't put in the time or effort to justify holding forth any position whatsoever.

Such people typically do not require an opinion to be reasonable :-D

In my government class in high school, we had to do an exercise that involved saying which side we were on for several standard political issues.

I remember thinking: "Fuck, I don't have an opinion on gun control!" But there was no scale 1-5 strongly agree to strongly disagree. It was just, "which side are you on?" I even complained to the teacher and she said "Just pick one. You have to have some opinion." Then we had to argue for our positions with the other students at our table.

Basically, "come up with an opinion. Any opinion is fine, just make sure it suits your personality. Then act like you believe it strongly enough to argue for it. Huzzah commitment bias. Make it part of your identity by comparing yourself to your neighbors. No time/internet access will be given during this assignment to do any research."

I ended up arguing for gun control, my (explicit) reasoning internally was "this is the liberal position. When I think about liberals, I think of my parents who are relatively reasonable, when I think of conservatives I think of [the conservatives my parents point out and make fun of] who are crazy. So more likely, the liberals are right."

This is like an exercise in anti-rationality, but I bet most people would think it is a good thing.
Politics appears to be all about choosing a fixed position and coming up with whatever aguments may support them, which is the exact inverse of what rational debate should be.
I would be even less charitable. Politics is mainly about memorizing arguments for your position someone else came up with, presenting them well, and making them sound like responses to your opponents' memorized arguments, and strategically emphasizing the more moderate aspects of your position (if not plainly lying about the less moderate aspects) to appeal to the median voter.
When I studied business management, I always felt revulsion toward my marketing courses. Now my cousin has just finished a post-graduate degree in "political marketing," which drives my revulsion to critical mass.
I agree, but the first VNM axiom doesn't: totality of the preference ordering. Neither does Eliezer.
VNM agents are still allowed to be indifferent. I like Robin Hanson's post about this. Or there's this quote in from Russell and Norvig:

The quote actually was about betting. From Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, by Russell & Norvig, on Dutch books:

One might think that this betting game is rather contrived. For example, what if one refuses to bet? Does that end the argument? The answer is that the betting game is an abstract model for decision-making situation in which every agent is unavoidably involved at every moment. Every action (including inaction) is a kind of bet, and every outcome can be seen as a payoff of the bet. Refusing to bet is like refusing to allow time to pass.

Thanks for the correction! EDIT: My copy has "One can no more refuse to bet than one can refuse to allow time to pass." Different editions, I guess.
They still have to know they're indifferent.
1Yaakov T
Why isn't saying "I don't know" a reasonable approach to the issue when ones knowledge is vague enough to be useless for knowledge (and can only be made useful if the case was a bizarre thought experiment), Just because one couldtheoretically bet on something doesn't mean one is in a position to bet. (For example to say that I don't know how to cure a disease so I will go to the doctor, or I don't know what that person's name is (even though I know it isn't "Xpchtl Vaaaaaarax") so I should ask someone, Or I don't know how life began. Or I don't know how many apples are on the tree outside (even though I know it isn't 100 million))
The kind of people Desrtopa is talking about wouldn't be contented with answers such as “10 to 1000”.
It sort of does.. I haven't read snow crash, but the quote prima facie seems to support the virtue of narrowness
Not unless you interpret 'narrowness' in a very odd way.
Uhm.. yeah. I guess. Just saying that no one guy can do everything or know everything, therefore its not possible to develop knowledge in all fields like that.. dont know what context was used in Snow Crash though..
That interpretation doesn't make sense to me in or out of context. It's dismissive of thinking about things.
That wasn't my intention :D Just that you have to know when to admit you don't know enough about something.

"Nothing exists in contradiction to nature, only in contradiction to what we know of it." - Dana Scully, The X-Files

A serious prophet upon predicting a flood should be the first man to climb a tree.

--Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage.

Charlatans also tend to do this. Often, a charlatan would dedicate her life to selling boats. When questioned if she really believes in the floods, obviously she does! Why else would she be wasting her life as a boatwright?
Given that the most well known story of a prophet predicting a flood involved him building a boat, that doesn't sound like anything particularly insightful. What's the context?

I think it means that Prophets aren't worth taking seriously unless they are staking their own reputation, well-being, or money on what they predict. There are many people who claim to know a particular thing for certain but who curiously aren't putting all of their own money on it. A perfect example probably being people selling stocks and investment plans.

Madolyn: "Why is the last patient of the day always the hardest?"

Costigan: "Because you're tired and you don't give a shit. It's not supernatural."

The Departed

I’m better at tests than reality. Reality doesn’t tell you which of a million bits of information to look at.

A comment on slatestarcodex.

I had to see the context to parse that. He's saying that he's better at tests than he is at reality. Not that he's better at tests than reality is.

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

--Mike Tyson


Heaven and Earth are heartless
treating creatures like straw dogs.

- Tao Te Ching

Su Ch'e commentary on this verse explains: "Heaven and Earth are not partial. They do not kill living things out of cruelty or give them birth out of kindness. We do the same when we make straw dogs to use in sacrifices. We dress them up and put them on the altar, but not because we love them. And when the ceremony is over, we throw them into the street, but not because we hate them."

- Straw dog in Wikipedia


For Popper (if not for some of his later admirers), falsifiability was not a crude bludgeon. Rather, it was the centerpiece of a richly-articulated worldview holding that millennia of human philosophical reflection had gotten it backwards: the question isn’t how to arrive at the Truth, but rather how to eliminate error. Which sounds kind of obvious, until I meet yet another person who rails to me about how empirical positivism can’t provide its own ultimate justification, and should therefore be replaced by the person’s favorite brand of cringe-inducing ugh.

--Scott Aaaronson, Retiring falsifiability? A storm in Russell’s teacup

Philosophy Bro writing as Popper:

So how does science proceed, if induction is fucked (which it is) and we can't logically determine how to have new ideas (which we can't)? Easy - just take a fucking guess. No, I don't mea- dammit, you asshole, I don't mean "guess how science works", I mean guessing just is how science works. Just start guessing shit and go from there. Of course you're going to make a couple stupid guesses at first. Seriously, some of the shit you're going to try is going to be genuinely fucked in the head. Remember when we thought heavier objects would fall faster? Boy was that wrong. But we took a guess, tried it out, and it didn't work. Instead of being whiny babies about it, scientists just took another guess and then tested that out, too. That's the process: guess, and then you test that guess. And if the test works, you're like "Huh! That was an even better guess than I thought." And the more tests it survives, the more people are like, "Great guess! I'll bet that's probably it." And then you get to a test that your guess doesn't pass, and you're like, "Welp, close but no cigar. Back to the drawing board."

We'll elimin

... (read more)

Also, this from his summary of Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra":

Humanity isn't an end, it's a fork in the road, and you have two options: "Animal" and "Superman". For some reason, people keep going left, the easy way, the way back to where we came from. Fuck 'em. Other people just stand there, staring at the signposts, as if they're going to come alive and tell them what to do or something. Dude, the sign says fucking "SUPERMAN". How much more of a clue do these assholes want?

Better beware of notions like genius and inspiration; they are a sort of magic wand and should be used sparingly by anybody who wants to see things clearly.

-- José Ortega y Gasset

You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.

  • Napoleon Bonaparte
(Wholeheartedly endorse this quote.) It seems that there must be some corollary here. That guy who is being taught of the art of war seems to be benefiting from fighting often with one enemy. If you are either better at learning from experience or have more need to learn arts of war (ie. you are the newbie not the master) then fighting often with one enemy seems to help you (all non-epistemic issues such as "all your soldiers die" being equal).
Fighting someone a lot teaches him your art of war, but may not teach him the art of war in general. He may be better off fighting multiple people, learning less about each one.
Yes. Nevertheless, to whatever extent it is bad for Napoleon to fight one enemy often and thereby teach him it is beneficial to the person learning. If the benefit given to the enemy is enough that even Napoleon (the learner's enemy) cares about it then presumably it is a consideration for the person doing the learning as well. Presumably each side cares about the learning that has been done specifically because they care about the outcome of conflicts between the two of them. One is helped, the other hindered. Things that influence the outcome of direct battle between two sides tend to be like that. Yes, or he may better off learning about some economic matters (thereby supplementing his 'art' with superior firepower). Or he may be better off buying delicious cookies. I didn't oppose the notion of opportunity cost. In fact, for the sake of pedantry I even included a 'ceritus paribus' clause.

But, while nothing can be done about the past, much can be done in the present to prepare for the future.

--Thomas Sowell

Now life is the only art that we are required to practice without preparation, and without being allowed the preliminary trials, the failures and botches, that are essential for the training of a mere beginner. In life, we must begin to give a public performance before we have acquired even a novice's skill; and often our moments of seeming mastery are upset by new demands, for which we have acquired no preparatory facility. Life is a score that we play at sight, not merely before we have divined the intentions of the composer, but even before we have mastered our instruments; even worse, a large part of the score has been only roughly indicated, and we must improvise the music for our particular instrument, over long passages. On these terms, the whole operation seems one of endless difficulty and frustration; and indeed, were it not for the fact that some of the passages have been played so often by our predecessors that, when we come to them, we seem to recall some of the score and can anticipate the natural sequence of the notes, we might often give up in sheer despair. The wonder is not that so much cacophony appears in our actual individual lives, but that there is any appearance of harmony and progression.

-- Lewis Mumford, The Conduct of Life

I'm a big fan of the cognitive utility of the old phrase: "The exception that proves the rule." But then I'm kind of an exception in that regard, since anytime I mention I like that, I get deluged with logical and etymological objections.

I merely mean that an exception that is famous for being exceptional suggests a general tendency in the opposite direction. The canonical example is that Beethoven's titanic fame as a deaf composer suggests that most composers aren't deaf, while, say, the lack of obsessive publicity about painter David Hockney's late onset deafness suggests that deafness isn't all that big of a deal, one way or another, to painters. Judging from the immortal fame of Beethoven's battle with deafness, we can assume that there aren't many deaf composers, while the ho-hum response to Hockney's deafness suggests that we can't make strong quantitative assumptions about painters and deafness.

Steve Sailor

I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you're talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you're not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We'll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you're maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

Richard Feynman in Cargo Cult Science

The most important thing in life is to be free to do things. There are only two ways to insure that freedom - you can be rich or you can you reduce your needs to zero.

Colonel John Boyd

On the other hand:

The Stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires, is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.

Jonathan Swift

Or, of course, some combination thereof.

What a stupid fucking question. I could have answered it in a second, if Sarasti hadn't forced me to understand it first.

Peter Watts, Blindsight

I'm curious as to the context.
I actually had difficulty following that part of the book. I think the question was something like, what use is self-awareness? And I think the answer the narrator came to, after being forced to understand, was gung vg'f abg rfcrpvnyyl hfrshy naq va snpg bar bs gur bgure punenpgref jnf abg frys njner.
I've read Blindsight, and looked it up again for the context, but I still don't see why this is a rationality quote.

The most obvious rationalist message I see is that some questions have answers which are simple, obvious, and wrong. For us humans, some kind of shock, confusion, or other well-timed interruption, can help us get past that first answer.

What khafra said, and also pattern-matching. You ask me a question, I answer the question I thought you asked, which is not necessarily the same.

學而不思則罔,思而不學則殆。 To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.

-- Confucius

"Washington had always taught himself from experience. He learned the lessons of the American war all the more readily because he had no conventional lessons to unlearn. … Long before the end of the war, Washington had become much more effective than any of his military opponents. But this did not mean that what he had taught himself would have made him a great general on the battlefields of Europe. Evolved not from theory but from dealing with specific problems, his preeminence was achieved through a Darwinian adaptation to environment. It was the triumph of a man who knows how to learn, not in the narrow sense of studying other people's conceptions, but in the transcendent sense of making a synthesis from the totality of experience." -- James Thomas Flexner in Washington : The Indispensable Man (1984), Chapter 23 : Goodbye to War, p. 183

I once talked to a theorist (not RBC, micro) who said that his criterion for serious economics was stuff that you can’t explain to your mother. I would say that if you can’t explain it to your mother, or at least to your non-economist friends, there’s a good chance that you yourself don’t really know what you’re doing.

--Paul Krugman, "The Trouble With Being Abstruse"

big inferential distances usually --> long chain of reasoning --> at least one step is more likely to be wrong
On the other hand some things really are complicated.
Right, but I think the spirit of the Krugman quote is that complication may be unavoidable, but shouldn't be made into a goal or a badge of honour the way the theorist did. Also that complicatedness is ceteris paribus weak evidence of incorrectness, because of the logic I stated earlier.
The implication seems anti-rationality. As Noah Smith points out Um. We can't forecast anything so let's construct some narratives..? :-/
I think the point is more "good forecasting requires keeping an eye on what your models are actually saying about the real world."
That's not what the quote expresses. The quote basically says that there must be a dumbed-down version of describing whatever you are doing and you must know it -- otherwise you're clueless. And that just ain't true. Specifically, it's not true in most hard sciences (an in math, too, of course). Krugman, however, used to do research in economics where there is not much hard stuff and even that spectacularly doesn't work. Accordingly, there is nothing which is really complicated but does produce real results (as in, again, hard sciences). Given this, he thinks that really complicated things are just pointless and one must construct narratives -- because that's how economics, basically, exerts its influence. It makes up stories (about growth rates and money and productivity and... ) and if a story is too complicated it's no good. That's fine for economics but a really bad path to take for disciplines which are actually grounded in reality.
OTOH it was Feynman who said something like ‘we don't know how to explain [something] to freshmen, therefore we don't really understand it yet’, and Einstein and Rutherford are alleged to have said similar things about explaining stuff to grandmothers and bartenders respectively. He probably was using the word “understand” in a relatively narrow sense (after all he was the same person who said that no-one understood QM), and I agree with your general point, but certain people do overestimate how impossible it is to explain certain things in a way that can be understood by intelligent laymen (as done e.g. in Feynman's QED).
I think according to Feynman the fact that nobody understands QM is the reason why we can't easily teach it to freshman. In some sense I think modern physics even dropped the goal of understanding. It got replaced by the mantra of "Shut up and calculate." I also often underrate it. I once tried to teach a first year student in informatics A the principle of recursion. The whole course uses Haskel to make a point of teaching recursion. I don't think why was stupid but the new phenomenological primitive of recursion was really hard to get into her brain. I think I spent 2-3 hours in one-on-one tutoring. There no way to explain a concept that requires 3 new phenomenological primitives that a layman doesn't have to that layman to make him really understand. You might find substitutions and explain the concept in a way that reduces to primitives he already has, but then you aren't really explaining the full concept.
You might enjoy the book How the Hippies Saved Physics by David Kaiser, if you haven't already read it.
Thanks, I will put it on my reading list.
Yes, I think Krugman was just repeating a well-known observation without meaning all that much by it. However I think my point still stands: people in hard sciences (where results are checked against reality) can afford to make such observations, people in soft sciences (where what matters is sounding convincing) can not.

Science offers the boldest metaphysics of the age. It is a thoroughly human construct, driven by the faith that if we dream, press to discover, explain, and dream again, thereby plunging repeatedly into new terrain, the world will somehow come clearer and we will grasp the true strangeness of the universe. And the strangeness will all probe to be connected, and make sense.

E.O. Wilson

It also tells us which "new terrain" to prioritise :) just goes to show you that if you write convoluted, dense academic prose nobody will understand it and your ideas will be misinterpreted and then the misinterpreted ideas will be ridiculed even when they weren't your ideas.

Joel Spolsky

Yeah, but that happens anyway.

Better read than excerpted in full.


Wait, hold on. You can't just flood Hell. There are people down there, apparently preserved well enough to torture for eternity without ageing (except if ageing is the torture, of course). Surely there's some way to exploit this!

Also, Hell would mean Lucifer is somewhere down there. Do you think we can dredge him up for a decent Faustian bargain? Any decent LW-er should be able to do a few things with Faust's traditional Omni-Knowledge that should render Christian-style immortal souls obsolete and unnecessary, and possibly irretrievable when Lucifer comes collecting as well.

Let's get Munchkining, people.

Ehh, The Salvation War has some interesting moments about facing down existential threats and not giving up and building a bright future for humanity across the corpses of eldritch horrors, but you have to be willing to slog through a lot of drek. I read the first book of The Salvation War and it can't seem to make up its mind just to what extent it's supposed to be following any particular cosmology, mythology, or theology. I get the impression that it wants to be a chronicle of the moment when humanity cast down the Hordes of Hell, but it's executed more like a chronicle of the moment when humanity engaged in massive amounts of gun porn against acid-blooded fire-spitting lightning-throwing ogres, that happened to be called demons. I say ogres because they're large, brutish, stupid, and generally fill much the same niche as ogres do in Dungeons&Dragons. Whereas many of the classical demonic attributes like temptation, seduction, offering forbidden knowledge, reading the hearts of men to know your dark secrets and embarassing desires, or confronting you with a litany of your sins, have been left more or less by the wayside.
I got the impression that The Salvation War might have happened when the author read a synopsis of the Old Testament and noticed that, with a few obvious exceptions like that creation narrative thing, we can now do just about everything that God's cited as doing. Which is a nifty observation and would make for a good short story, but I don't think it can quite carry something the length of a long novel. Particularly in the MilSF genre, which devolves rapidly if it ever becomes obvious that the central conflict's heavily weighted towards the protagonists.
Your impression is exactly correct. That is literally what happened, at least according to the TVTropes page.
They do have seduction. They just never managed to use it successfully. Mostly because people quickly started wearing tinfoil hats. That doesn't stop it completely, but if everyone can see that you're a demon, all the pheromones will do is make them stop being uncomfortable with you. They can read the hearts of men to know their dark secrets and embarrassing desires, but they've never used it for more than sorting souls into the nine circles of hell, for no adequately explained reason.
So the humans win because the demons are incompetent at using their abilities.
It's more because of counters. I don't think that was even the main reason tinfoil hats became popular. Although the demons could have made much better use of their portals. Emptying volcanoes onto cities isn't easy, but heaven later showed that a pile of rocks can do major damage, if you drop them from high enough. I got the impression that heaven would have won had Lemuel actually thought they could, instead of figuring out how he could come out on top when they lose.
Tinfoil hats and air vents to blow away the pheromones, as I recall. But there's certainly some incompetence involved when the demons use highly outdated military intelligence in their choice of targets, resulting in a devastating attack on the Arsenal of Democracy. As I recall, the justification for this in the story is that the demons are really long-lived, and human civilization has historically been very slow to change, so by demon standards decades-old intelligence on humans is recent and it's reasonable to expect that Detroit would still be a very important target. I have difficulty buying this - partly because it feels like a post hoc excuse for incompetence rather than the incompetence being logically extrapolated from the lifespan, partly because of the amount of secondary incompetence involved in not noticing that things have changed, and partly because rapid massive change in the power distribution of human societies isn't even all that new: e.g. Alexander the Great conquered his way from Greece to India in about fifteen years.
It's clever, but I don't think the workers would be irrational for sealing it up. If Hell is real, then it makes sense to conclude Christianity or Islam is mostly true too. Which means that a super-powerful agent wants those people tortured. If you try and save them, you will fail. (There's no thwarting an omnipotent or near-omnipotent being). And this agent will probably torture you too for trying. Edit: In other words, "Nobody fucks with the Jesus." When I try and imagine what the god who could exist and call himself Yahweh and not have been noticed until now would do in a situation, my brain spits out "do nothing and continue to hide oneself, because it was part of the plan all along" So maybe by flooding Hell you're acausally making Yahweh decide in advance when he made the plan "I'm gonna torture people up until this person floods Hell." instead of "I'm gonna torture them forever."

Cool response! Upvoted. But when I saw the comic, I read it as:

"Hey! Certain things are pretty scary and seem to be beyond our human abilities to deal with! But in the face of fear, we should size things up and take action, large-scale action if need be." In other words, a metaphor for death. (But I've been seeing many things as metaphors for death lately, so your mileage may vary.)

The "Yahweh wants it this way" conclusion is interesting, but then again: If God had to put Hell literally underground, he seems like more a Philip Pullman-ish "mortal god" than an all-powerful superbeing, since he works on the same material plane as us, more or less. (Imagine, for example, what the Devil would be in a literal underground hell. Invincible monster? Probably nothing a few nukes couldn't deal with.) Or perhaps they found the door to Hades and they'll get to face off against a (very beatable) Greek pantheon.

Either way: Better to wage war on Hell than let it sit there. I don't trust any superbeing not to send me there, however pure a life I lead (even if we're just thinking about Christianity vs. Islam, I seem to have only half a chance at Heaven).

You're right. We just have to think: "What would Squirrel Girl do?"
How is this a rationality quote? The main conceit amounts deciding who would win in a fight based on how awesome Monroe happens to find them.
"Let's just seal up Hell and leave it there" = "Let's just accept the good things about death and leave it there". But I see lots of things with LW glasses on at this point, so it could be a stretch. Also just a fun example of seeing problems from a new angle
If I hadn't read Three Worlds Collide, I would very likely not have gotten Black Hat Guy's point in that comic.
To me that seemed as more of a case of, "Let's flood hell with the ocean, Satan won't escape" = "Let's just put this AI in a box, it won't get out".

What I'm saying is that to argue that our ancestors were sexual omnivores is no more a criticism of monogamy than to argue that our ancestors were dietary omnivores is a criticism of vegetarianism.

-- Christopher Ryan

But to argue that our ancestors were dietary omnivores is a criticism of vegetarianism.

One man's modus ponens...

How so?
It implies that vegeterian diets are harmful and/or suboptimal in all kinds of unforeseen ways, because we haven't evolved to tolerate them, let along optimize for them.
I take your point, though I don't think I'd go so far as to say that the fact that our ancestors were dietary omnivores implies that vegetarianism is sub-optimal. Our evolutionary history is not by any means sure to provide us with optimal dietary behaviors or digestive processes.
Only if you make a few extra assumptions which may or may not be correct, and may or may not also apply to monogamy. (Or commit the naturalistic fallacy.)
The paleo diet movement urges that people should eat as our distant ancestors ate, so where does that leave his analogy?
To the conclusion that we should totally have more sex with everyone. Somehow I don't have an objection to that.
Well, to be pedantic Christopher Ryan just said “no more”, not “no more and no less”, though the latter was clearly implicated.
Except that the actual diets they propose don't particularly resemble what our distant ancestors likely ate.
I don't know -- the core of paleo diets is "Don't eat grains, don't eat seed oils, avoid processed foods. Eat mostly meat, fish, eggs, fruits, and vegetables (with some specifics about particular starchy and non-starchy veggies)". Of course some paleo people go off the deep end and rail about the dangers of nightshades and how every plant from the New World is a horror to human biochemistry. But I always thought about them as the lunatic fringe. Why do you think that doesn't resemble what our distant ancestors likely ate?
Our distant ancestors couldn't go to the supermarket and buy meat, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables. It's actually unclear what their diet looked like, in particular what proportion of calories they derived from meat. I suppose that their diets varied greatly depending on geographical location, season, etc. In any case, the meat of wild game animals is nutritionally different than the meat of domesticated sedentary animals, typically feed on soy and corn, and wild berries and tubers are nutritionally different than cultivated fruits and vegetables.
Then we actually don't know whether paleo diets resemble what our distant ancestors likely ate, do we? That's a pretty certain conclusion. And yes, I agree that game meat and wild tubers are quite different from pork chops and supermarket sweet potatoes. I am not sure why this is relevant, though. Ignoring agriculture is pretty much impossible for most people and, in any case, we are mostly talking about the right direction to shift your diet in, not about exact matches.
I suppose they may be similar by coincidence. The point is that the shifts suggested by the paleo dieters aren't necessarily in the direction of truly ancestral diets. For instance, paleo dieters often suggest to reduce the intake of calories from starches and increase calories from meat, because paleolithic people supposedly ate that way. Setting aside the obvious naturalistic fallacy, it's not actually clear (and it can be quite well false) that paleolithic people normally consumed less starches and more meat than the typical Western pattern diet (or the Mediterranean diet, or other "healthy" variations of the Western pattern diet). EDIT: To expand they previous point, it seems that mainstream nutritionists and paleo dieters both agree that the Western pattern diet is not very healthy. Both suggest to reduce sugars, salt, alcohol, caffeine and processed foods. The difference is that mainstream nutritionists suggest to reduce meat and dairy, while paleo dieters suggest to reduce starchy foods. Paleo dieters can't really support their non-mainstream suggestions with evidence of ancestral dietary patterns.
First, as we agreed, there were many different "truly ancestral" diets. Second, it depends on the starting point. I will assert that if you start with a typical American diet, eating most any kind of paleo will shift you in the right direction. We can argue about starches and such, but it's pretty clear that no one ate large quantities of grains or seed oils 100kya, not to mention all the processed food-like substances :-/
Because our ancestors were only omnivores on those relatively rare occasions they could pull it off, and had to be able to function without it, because it was often impossible or very hard? Oh. Huh. Yeah, I can see how that might be roughly analogous. It didn't sound like it, just based on the quote ...
Apart from the fact that, as has been pointed out, there is something wrong with this quote's obvious premise that the omnivorosity of our ancestors is not an argument against vegetarianism, I find the connotations of the phrase "sexual omnivores" somewhat questionable. It suggests that sexuality is somehow of predatory nature.
Our ancestors were dietary omnivores. As a result, we are optimized for that diet, and while that doesn't mean that it's the best possible diet, it is a good reason to believe that you're better off eating some meat. If you're just concerned about you, that's a pretty good criticism of vegetarianism. If you're concerned about animals, or you believe that a god you trust told you not to eat meat, or something like that, it's still a valid criticism, but it's a lot less important and it doesn't address the main reason you chose to be a vegetarian.
I am not a vegetarian, but the usual rebuttal to this is that the standard Western diet bears little more resemblance to the ancestral version than the vegetarian alternative: the nutritional profile of largely sedentary farm animals, lots of grains, and cultivated fruits and vegetables doesn't look much like that of (say) wild tubers, berries, fish, and occasionally an antelope that you pursued into exhaustion and clubbed with a rock. This as far as I can tell is true (albeit complicated by the fact that we have little good data on what our ancestral diets actually looked like, evocative pictures aside, and also by the fact that the best modern analogues we have are fantastically varied), but it isn't a positive argument in favor of vegetarianism. The analogy to sexual behavior is left as an exercise.
I am a vegetarian, but I still feel like vegetables and meat are really different. If our ancestors ate meat, and we don't, that's a significant difference, even if the precise meat and vegetables aren't the same.
Vegan diets generally lack necessary micro-nutrients unless integrated with supplements or fortified foods. Vegetarian diets that include diary and/or eggs are usually considered healthy.
It could be, if you subscribe to a weaker version of Kant's "ought implies can" that says (roughly) "ought implies psychologically feasible". The basic thought here is that moral principles are suspect if they are SO difficult to follow that practically everybody is just always drowning in akrasia & hypocrisy. Think of a moral code that forbids talking, sex, and non-bland food for everyone - it's not physically impossible for humans to follow such a code, so it doesn't violate Kant's original dictum, but it's just not reasonable to expect it to happen in practice. So I could see an argument that says that asking all humans to be monogamous is like asking them to take a lifelong vow of silence. I don't buy that argument & I actually think monogamy is important, but the logical structure makes sense to me.
Since most people have probably stolen some nonessential thing at least once in their lifetime, the same reasoning means that a moral principle of never stealing nonessential things is also suspect. You'd have to have a principle "don't steal too often" or something like that, not "don't steal"/
If most people have stolen something (have they?) it seems more likely to be out of carelessness than out of irresistible temptation. If you asked me to go 5 years without stealing anything, no problem. I promise I'll never try a raisin from the bulk bin, or use vidtomp3, again. No sex, talking, or spicy food for 5 years? Even if I could form the intention to do that, I'll fail miserably. It's not a reasonable thing to expect oneself to do.
I don't think so, especially if you also count the ‘theft’ of non-rivalrous goods such as soft copies of copyrighted material. (I dunno about how we could set about to find out who is right about “most people”, though.)
Except Christopher Ryan is talking of people who choose to be monogamous or vegetarians.
Still, somebody on Less Wrong once told me that they thought I wouldn't be “free” to be monogamous in the US because if I stopped being so in the future the police wouldn't punish me. Of course the exact same thing applies to vegetarianism, but that person said I am free to be on a diet (and tapped out).
I think I understand the idea Eugene is getting at in the sibling thread. Let me see if I can explain it a little differently. As Sister Y explained in this excellent article, people no longer have a way of committing themselves to marriage. This is a problem for two reasons, neither of which applies to vegetarianism. 1. In a sense, marriage IS commitment, and talking about a "marriage" without commitment is like talking about a "prisoner" who can leave his cell any time he wants, or a "warranty" which can be ignored at the company's discretion. Now, you could argue that this is a matter of semantics, and to some extent you would be right, but there is a deeper issue here; that marriage with commitment and "marriage" without commitment are so far apart in relationship-space that we should treat them as completely different things, and that we might be justified in not wanting to call these clusters of relationships by the same name at all (some people like to call the modern relationship cluster Marriage 2.0 for just this reason). 2. If you can't credibly commit to doing something, you are going to have trouble finding people who are willing to expose themselves to risk should you fail to do so. Thus, by removing your freedom to pre-commit yourself to fulfilling a marriage contract, your freedom to enter into these contracts has been reduced (indeed, the collapse of the marriage rate appears to be an empirical confirmation of this model). Thomas Schelling covered this in his The Strategy of Conflict. Now, the term under discussion is "monogamy", not "marriage", but back to problem 1; the modern serial "monogamy" is a completely different cluster of relationships from the old monogamy, which implied marriage. Dalrock, for example, argues that serial "monogamy" is a promiscuous and immoral relationship model, which are things he doesn't believe about the traditional religious monogamy model. Whether you agree with him or not, the point is, again, that modern ser
For my own part, I would say that two people who are continuing to live together despite both of them preferring to stop doing so, solely because they committed to doing so at some time in the past, is at least as far away from what the word "marriage" properly refers to as two people who are living together today because they feel like it but would happily walk away from each other tomorrow if they found themselves feeling differently. But I accept that this position is not universally accepted, and in particular that other people might use "marriage" to refer to the first kind of relationship, even among people who can't stand the sight of each other, aren't speaking to each other, don't share goals or values, etc., as long as they are barred from (for example) marrying anyone else and as long as the legal, financial and organizational obligations that go along with marriage can be imposed on them successfully. And I can see how, for someone whose concept of marriage works this way, the analysis you perform here makes sense: I can't meaningfully precommit to not hating the very sight of you in twenty years, but if marriage is unrelated to whether I hate the sight of you, then I can meaningfully precommit to remaining married to you... and the way I do that is by subjecting myself to a legal system that continues imposing those obligations on me for the rest of my life, no matter what happens. And, sure, I can see how such a person would similarly want words like "monogamy" to refer to such a lifetime commitment, and words like "divorce" to refer to an empty set, etc.
Well, in the comment I was talking about in the grandparent (which I'd link to if this thing was faster) I said “relationship with my girlfriend” rather than “marriage with my wife”, which I'd think makes clear the former is what I was talking about. Maybe “monogamy” it's a bad label for it, but ‘$word is a bad label for $thing’ hardly implies ‘I'm not free to do $thing’. (And while it's unlike traditional lifelong monogamy, it's also unlike Bay-Area-technophile-style polyamory, and given that around here more people practice the latter than the former it seems more useful to me to have a word to distinguish it from the latter than from the former.) (I'm not sure what exactly Christopher Ryan meant by “monogamy”, but he was opposing it to EEA-style sexual omnivory, which from his description sounds more like Bay-Area-technophile-style polyamory than First-World-small-town-mainstream-style serial monogamy to me.)
In the comment I was talking about in the grandparent (which I'd link to if this thing wasn't being so slow today on my netbook), I was talking about the former (it said “relationship with my girlfriend”, not “marriage with my wife”). If you want to say “monogamy” is a bad label for that, fine, but “you are not free to do $thing” is a different claim altogether from “$word is not a good label for $thing”. (And while modern monogamy is different from traditional monogamy, it's also different from Bay-area-technophile-style polyamory, and given that the latter is probably much more common around here, I think it's still useful to have a word to distinguish one from another.)
Frankly, I don't understand this mindset at all. You commit to the marriage when you say "I do". The idea that you cannot commit unless you have the right to sue your ex-spouse in a court of law for money seem preposterous to me on its face.
Not the right to sue; the right to be sued, which makes you less likely to become an ex-spouse, and more likely to become spouse to begin with.
Just to confirm, this is in fact a decent summary of my position.
The difference between monogamy and vegetarianism here is that monogamy requires a binding commitment from another person. Thus, the inability to make a binding contract is a problem for monogamy but not vegetarianism.
How does that distinguish being free to be monogamous and being free to be vegetarian? The number of vegetarians who make binding contracts to be vegetarian is essentially nonexistent.
Because monogamy relies on your spouse also being monogamous.
And playing chess relies on your opponent also following the rules of chess, so aren't we free to play chess either? (Or will the police arrest me if I castle while my king is in check?)
Chess can rely on reputation since games are short and someone who refuses to play by the rules will find no one to play against (also the stakes are small). (And in high states games, e.g., tournaments you will at least be escorted out for refusing to play by the rules.) Note, that since monogamy assumes someone will only have one spouse ever, reputation is less useful. A better example is, are we free to engage in commerce if the police refuse to enforce either non-payment or non-delivery? (Especially if they do enforce anti-violence and anti-theft laws against people attempting to take matters into their own hands in cases of non-payment or non-delivery). Another example, would you say companies are free to provide employee pensions if the law says that companies can cancel pensions anytime (even after retirement) and employees (or former employees) have no recourse if a company does cancel it?
There are many cases where the law doesn't require specific performance. If you hire someone to work for you, they can refuse to come to work. You can fire them, but you can't force them to work for you. If you offer to fix someone's sink in exchange for them fixing your car, one of you could fail to do the work. The other could sue and get paid some money, but the law won't enforce specific performance and you can't actually force another person to fix a sink or a car. By your reasoning we are not "free to hire someone to do work" or "free to exchange sink fixing for car fixing". And even in the chess example, you can't force someone to play chess, and if you exclude them from playing because of their reputation, they still are not playing chess with you. Soi by your reasoning, we are not free to "play chess with person X", even if you argue that we are free to play chess provided we aren't picky about partners. It's true that someone cannot gain a reputation for being honest in monogamy, but they can get a reputation for cheating. It only requires the "can have a reputation for cheating" half in order for reputation to be useful. It still lets them cheat the first time, but they can always cheat the first time in a chess game as well.
Could whoever modded me down please explain why they modded me down? I must have lost around 20 karma in the past few days because I am getting constantly modded down for almost anything I post.
Abuse of the karma system is a well-known problem on LessWrong, which the admins appear to have decided not to do anything about. Update: actually, it appears Eliezer has looked into this and not been able to find any evidence of mass-downvoting.
It's happened to me again. At one point I lost about 20 karma in a few hours. Now it seems everything I post gets voted down. At an estimated loss of 30 karma per week, I'll end up being forced off the site by August.
Hmmm. Your past 30 days karma is positive. Either you're saying it was formerly a lot more positive, or any downvoting isn't having nearly the effect you suggest.
I tried actually counting them. My past 80 comments (not counting recent ones just now) have all been modded down at least once. There are some that are at 0, but only because another person modded them up as well. (I tried counting before and found the 54th comment was not modded down but I can't seem to find that comment again, for some reason.) This covers well over the whole month. I'm still at positive for the month because I have enough upvotes on my comments that voting each one down by 1 still leaves me at positive.
My karma was over 600 and it's now down to 571. And this only seems to have happened recently, so the first weeks of the month were enough to make the total positive anyway.
If a post older than thirty days is downvoted, it doesn't appear in the past 30 days karma.
I occasionally downvote a few (3-5) of your comments in a row, based on merits, not anything else, but I haven't done it recently, so someone else might be expecting you to post low-quality comments and, after stumbling over one, goes through a bunch. I wouldn't sweat it, though. I think I dropped 10-12 karma in the last couple hours, probably for similar reasons. Just do your best to make useful and measured comments and the forum readers will appreciate it.
As Salemicus mentioned in the other thread, the in the analogous case with marriage, the law won't even do that.
That's not what I meant by monogamy -- I wouldn't call my relationship non-monogamous just because my girlfriend had sex with someone else years before I even met her, any more than I would call someone who used to eat meat but no longer does a non-vegetarian. I agree that monogamy in your sense of the word would depend on something guaranteeing that enough people stay virgin until old enough to find a lifetime partner. (I'm assuming you're not talking about contraband, since police will not only refuse to enforce non-payment or non-delivery but also bust your balls if they catch you in a complete transaction.) Reputation can work for commerce too -- ever looked at the feedback on eBay sellers or at TripAdvisor reviews of restaurants? I don't know whether I'd call it a pension, but I'd say you're certainly free to give me a given amount of money every month as long as you feel like it and then stop. (Of course it'd be foolish for me to rely on that money alone for their maintenance, but that's another issue.)
That's my point. This, however, makes it harder for me to promise you a pension as part of employment negotiations.
We are indeed. One will just have to handle counterparty risk by other means, such as only dealing with people you know well, private enforcement, meeting for simultaneous performance, etc. This is readily observable in the real world everywhere that the legal system is weak, corrupt, or absent. BTW, and this is just a nitpick, in Western countries where the legal system is reliable, the police do indeed refuse to enforce contracts, because it isn't part of their job. Instead, it is up to a wronged party to bring a civil action to the courts. The police have no role in the matter. Contract rights are not property rights. As another has already pointed out, the enforcement carried out by the courts almost invariably consists of awarding monetary compensation, not specific performance, which happens only in certain exceptional cases. In the UK, these exceptional cases do not include personal services. You are trying to put your conclusion into the premise of an absurd hypothetical of Cloud Cuckoo Land. A pension contract that was terminable at will by the pension provider is a pension contract no-one would sign up to. A law saying that all pension arrangements are terminable at will is not going to be passed; if passed, people would find ways to structure their retirement plans that avoid whatever legal definition of "pension contract" was present in such an absurd law. Hey, suppose there was a law that when you buy something online, the supplier has no obligation to supply what you ordered? Well, go ahead and suppose it. You are presumably trying to draw an analogy with the current state of marriage law. It would be more productive to talk about marriage law directly. Adultery is usually grounds for divorce. That looks like contract enforcement to me -- the sort of enforcement that contracts are subject to in the real world, rather than the fantasy S&M version in which the police drag the disobedient partner back in handcuffs. Time was when the guilty party would
If I make a contract with Amazon, you're right that I can't make them deliver the goods. But I can get damages for their failure to do so, that would put me in the same position as if they had in fact delivered the TV (of course I have to mitigate my loss, etc). I am glad to hear that you think that general contractual concepts should apply to marriage contracts, but you are surely aware that they do not, and this is exactly what is being complained of. You do not (at least in the UK) get damages for breach of a marriage contract. This strikes me as extremely unfair. Adultery is a fundamental breach of the marriage contract, so yes this is grounds for termination of the contract, but the innocent party doesn't get any proper remedy. No-one is saying that people have to be dragged back in handcuffs. But it is not just or equitable that, to continue your analogy to contract law, a breach of the contract by one party leads to a kind of rescission, rather than damages payable.
What would you or Eugine Nier consider a proper remedy? For better or worse, adultery is generally looked on more lightly nowadays than it was in times past. The courts practice accordingly when ruling on a contested divorce. The guilty party is no longer cut off without a penny, still less forced to wear a scarlet letter, horsewhipped or stoned. If that is a problem, it is not a problem with the law, but of those general attitudes. O tempora! O mores! Those who prefer a different standard are as free as they always have been to find like-minded partners, arrange things between themselves, keep their own agreements, and find their own social support for them, just as those who would engage in trade in the absence of reliable contract law must create their own arrangements.
I can't speak for Eugine, but I already told you the remedy I think appropriate - ordinary contractual damages. And this would be true not only for adultery, but for any fundamental breach. Of course, parties should be able to specify their own terms as needed in these cases (e.g. liquidated damages). And this needn't even be the default; but the key thing is that at present, if parties want their marriage contract to be meaningful, they are unable to make it so, as the courts will simply disregard any such terms as contrary to public policy. Fortunately the wind is blowing in the right direction (prenuptial agreements) but much too slowly. You are right that people are able to trade in the absence of government. But government sometimes helps! Despite this, people like yourself have reduced marriage to a kind of Somalia, where people are unable to form enforceable contracts. People who prefer a different standard as you so strangely put it, should be free to form their own contracts. However, I am disinclined to continue a conversation with someone as lacking in basic manners as you.
Prenups as currently practiced are mostly concerned with how to arrange matters if and when the marriage breaks down, not how the marriage itself shall be conducted. This is hardly a support for the institution of marriage. I don't know what you mean by that. I didn't draw up any of these laws, neither have I agitated for them. But nor have I agitated against them -- are you counting all who do not actively evangelise for your views as your enemy?
Huh? It's up to you (and your future spouse) to define a marriage contract -- they are commonly called pre-nups. If you want to enter a marriage under conditions that adultery leads to remedies like money paid, sure, just write up such a contract and get it signed. However I see no reasons to impose such a contract on everyone. Traditionally, of course, a marriage is not a contract at all.
As solipsist notes, pre-nuptial agreements are not binding in the UK, although the courts can take them into account. I referred to this in my post above. However, their scope is much less than what you suggest. A pre-nuptial agreement that specified damages to be paid in the event of fundamental breach would be void as contrary to public policy, at least in the UK. I believe the same is true in most US states, but obviously, marriage laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. To be clear: * I do not want to impose a uniform contract on everyone. * I want people who wish to bind themselves in a marriage contract to be able to do so. * This is generally not currently possible. * This is extremely unfair, and leads to widespread suffering.
Not exactly. You want people to be able to irrevocably bind their future selves. That is rarely a good idea. I am also curious whether your fundamental view of marriage is one of a contract between two parties. If so, well, that leads to interesting consequences. If not so, why do you want to treat marriage as a contract? This is generally currently possible subject to the normal limits on contracts that the society imposes. There are a lot of those (e.g. you can't contract to be a slave) and I don't see what makes marriage special. I would like to see some supporting evidence for that claim.
Not so, and this is an outrageous reading of what I have said. People will still be able to get divorces, just they will have to pay compensation if they are the party at fault. I didn't irrevocably bind my future self when I rented my house, but if I break the lease I'll have to pay compensation to the landlord. Your comments above suggest that perhaps you don't understand the state of law, at least in the UK. No it isn't, at least in the UK. All I want is for marriage to be subject to normal limits on contracts, not the special limits on contracts that apply only in the case of marriage. I say "damages in the case of breach" and I am confronted with people suggesting I mean specific performance, dragging people off in chains, or slavery. It's so strange. Look at the following graph of divorce over time. Note the sharp discontinuity after 1969. What happened then? Oh yes, the Divorce Reform Act of 1969, meaning you no longer had to prove fault to get a divorce (and divorce settlements were also not based on fault). Now look at the marriage rate: Again, note the collapsing marriage rate from the early 1970s. Once people realised that marriage wasn't enforceable, the marriage rate collapsed.
There is no sharp discontinuity around 1969. If you smooth out the weird peak around ww2 (which we expect was caused by ww2), the plot of divorces follows a fairly smooth exponential trend (which we expect due to population growth), until the late 70s (the tapering in the 80s is due to both declining marriage rates and a stabilizing divorce rate). Marriage rates really don't start collapsing until the early 80s (they don't drop below 1930s levels until 1981). I would think for the story you want to tell, you'd want to compare divorce rates to the marriage rate, but it doesn't hold up. Divorce rates were stable all through the 90s, but the marriage rate continued to plummet.
Except population growth has been trivial over this period compared to the rise in divorces. No. In my grandparents time, people were inculcated with the morality that divorce was awful and shameful. Hence when they started to liberalise divorce, few took advantage of it; social pressure was enough. But over time that social pressure weakened because informal mechanisms are weak compared to formal ones. Hence that social pressure gets harder and harder to maintain, and divorce looks more and more acceptable to the new generations. I think we have now bottomed out of that vicious cycle, but unfortunately it has meant a two-tier society, with the virtuous Vickies behaving themselves and keeping each other in check, and the other types reverting to the Somalia that Kennaway etc so fervently desire.
The post WW2 baby boom lead to a boom in marriage-aged people in the 60s and 70s. You can see it on the second of the plots on the post you linked to- look how the total number of marriages is increasing between 60 and 72. And my point isn't that the rate of divorce wasn't increasing, it was (though not as much as a plot of total divorces would have you believe, much better to plot the rates). My point is that 1969 wasn't a special year in the data. There is no discontinuity on the plots you linked to, and no discontinuity in the data. This whole paragraph feels largely unresponsive to what I said. My point was that divorce rates stabilized in the late 80s, but marriage rates continued to fall. You can tell whatever story you want, but we have to agree on what the data is doing.
If whoever voted me down for this post, and the post previous in the thread would explain why I'd appreciate it. In objective discussions about graphs, I feel like we 'aspiring rationalists' ought to be able to come to an agreement about the data in the graph (if perhaps not the causal story behind it), and downvotes for discussing the actual graphs linked to seem to me to be counterproductive. If I've broken some social norm, I'd appreciate being explicitly told.
That is because the Church of England (or RCC, or pretty much any other major Christian denomination) told them so. And you don't think that the King's example was enough? So, do tell. What's wrong with divorce?
More precisely, what the RCC says is that there's no such thing as divorce, and even if a judge purports to have cancelled your marriage, as far as God is concerned you're still married.
David Brooks Says I personally call this phenomenon "the Regressive Cost of Virtue" (virtue in the descriptive, not the normative sense). Too lazy to write a good comment on it, I'll just quote myself from IRC.
Everyone? Or do you just want enforcement of pre-nups? I am still interested in your view on the basic nature of marriage. Is it, in its essence, a contract between two parties? To point to an obvious divergent view, Catholics view marriage rather differently. You voluntarily signed a contract to that effect. If there is no such contract (or no such clause in the contract), would you still owe compensation to the landlord? Well then, let's avoid fuzzy generalities and get down to brass tacks. Alice and Bob are thinking of getting married. However Alice believes that men are philandering bastards who tend to screw everything that moves so she would like to protect herself against the possibility of Bob turning out to be precisely such a bastard. In the world which you would consider just and fair, what would Alice and Bob do and what would the legal system have to accept? It seems that you have in mind an enforceable contract whereby Alice and Bob agree that if any of them gets caught in the wrong bed, he or she will pay the other party ONE! MILLION! DOLLARS! or some other sufficiently painful sum. I don't see anything horrible about such a contract, but I'm curious what you think the contract-less default should be (Eve and Dick just got married without any specific contracts, Eve got drunk at a party and slept with her boss, what's next?). I am also interested in the motivations of Alice in insisting upon such a contract -- is it incentive or punishment? Sure, but I don't see why that is "extremely unfair" and "leads to widespread suffering". I see nothing wrong with low marriage rates.
If you like, call it a pre-nup. In your terms, I want: * enforcement of pre-nups * Pre-nups to be valid over a much wider variety of terms. And I still don't find this level of analysis helpful. Marriage means different things to different people, and has developed over millenia. I don't think it makes sense to talk about its basic nature. I would propose that, for now, the contract-less default should be the status quo, because I feel like otherwise you would be upsetting fixed expectations by the back door. But of course existing married couples should be free to alter their marriage terms. After a while I think almost everyone will want a contract that makes the party at fault pay compensation; once that happens, it would make sense to switch the default, but not until then. It is very hard for the rest of us to speculate as to the motivations of a fictional character you have created. But even if you disapprove of Alice's motivations, it seems to me that you should respect her right to form a contract. The marriage rate collapsing isn't "unfair." Denying people the ability to form voluntary contracts is the unfair part. The marriage rate collapsing leads to widespread suffering because people want to get married, but feel they can't because the institution is too unstable due to lack of precommitment. And hence you get soaring illegitimacy. The whole thing is a disaster. What gives the game away is that I am talking about giving people more freedom, and I get this vitriolic pushback, and find myself constantly being strawmanned. I note that certain people viscerally hate the idea of discipline, stability, order, hard work and bourgeois values generally, and view long-lasting marriages as awful patriarchy. This is what's lurking beneath it all.
Uhm, are you sure you are not succumbing to the false-consensus effect? Adultery was harshly punished in the past. Even in the recent past, before the 70s, adultery was one of the few admissible reasons to obtain divorce, and lead to unfavourable settlement for the adulterous party. In the 70s, no-fault divorce laws were passed in most Western countries, and adultery was demoted to having little or no role in divorce settlements. Keep in mind that no-fault divorce laws weren't imposed by dictators trying to destroy the fabric of society or something (*), they were passed with popular support by democratically elected governments, and there is no noticeable political pressure today to revise them, or even to make the type of pre-nup agreements you are referring to enforceable. Your position largely used to be the default one in the past, and public opinion has been moving consistently away from it for the last decades. Holding an unpopular political position is legitimate, but what makes you think that public opinion would move back to it? (* Well, the Soviet divorce law of 1918 arguably was.)
Quite sure. To quote from another post I made in this thread: Basically, I think people radically and consistently underestimate the effects of institutional constraints and incentives, and assume that aggregate societal results are somehow "chosen." So people tend to think that: 1. Our high rate of divorce is very bad 2. Changing the incentives to get a divorce has little or no effect on this. 3. Something just "magically" happened in the 1960s/1970s ("Kids today..."/"liberation!"). If you enabled people to make binding commitments in marriage, I don't think most people would leap out and take advantage immediately. Most people would just keep on with whatever they're doing. But a small number of people would, and their marriages would be more successful and happier and long-lasting, and over time (decades) their behaviour would be imitated, and so on. Disagree about the popular support thing. In Britain, certainly, the Divorce Reform Act was passed with neither popular support nor opposition, just a public who didn't particularly care. The people pushing for it were a small number of activists, who were also in favour of these social "liberalisations" like abolition of the death penalty, etc. Many of these "lilberalisations" were in fact quite unpopular. I think you greatly underestimate the institutional leeway available to politicians/regulators. I don't think my position is so much unpopular as it is low-demand. I think the UK government, at least, could easily pass the kind of law I favour, and no-one much would care. In fact I don't think my position is ever likely to be in high demand, because most people don't think incentives are particularly important.
It seems to me that you are arguing that some small groups of activists somehow managed to manipulate the democratic governments of multiple countries in a short span of time, without the general public taking notice, despite the fact that this alleged manipulation affected in substantial (and significantly negative, in your opinion) ways the family life of many people. Sorry, but I don't think this is a rationally tenable position.
Yes. This is indeed the whole point of activism. I never said anything of the sort. Perhaps I should take it as a compliment that people are determined to put words into my mouth, as it indicates they feel unable to argue with my actual position. In fact, of course, the public did take notice, but didn't much care. Yes, because the effect was attenuated, and was not seen as causally linked to the activity. I'm afraid your model of political activity in democratic governments is rather faulty.
Or maybe it indicates that you are not being clear in arguing your position. In another comment you claimed that divorce rates skyrocketed the very same year that no-fault divorce legislation was passed, now you are arguing that there was no immediate large effect. I'm starting to think that you actually don't have a coherent position, and you just want to argue that "good old" conservative values are obviously desirable and therefore you have to handwave away the fact that public opinion is largely against them by pushing a quasi-conspiracist narrative.
Unless you want to argue for some extreme form of anarcho-libertarianism, you would concede that there are some types of voluntary contracts that it is in the public interest for the state to consider unenforceable. Selling yourself into slavery is the textbook example, but there are clearly many others. I'm not saying that the type of pre-nup agreements that impose monetary compensation on adultery are necessarily in the same class of slavery or other forms of undesirable contracts, in fact, I have no strong intuitions either way.
What do you infer from the silence of people who hear what you're saying, find it uncompelling but not particularly viscerally hateful, shrug, and go on about our business?
I infer that you don't particularly care one way or the other about the discussion. Should I infer something different?
"care about" is a broad term. I certainly have opinions about it, but if you mean that I don't have strong emotional responses to it, your inference is correct as far as it goes.
I don't mean purely division-of-property contracts. Pre-nups are general agreements, they can be about anything the parties want to agree to. Ah. I find your consistent refusal... illuminating :-) Do you, now? I don't want such a contract, quite explicitly, too. Why do you believe that most people think like you and not like me? I don't approve or disapprove. I am interested in them. Well, that's the basic libertarian position. Given that you proclaim it, should I understand that you are in favor of gay marriage, a large variety of poly marriages, marriages between close relatives, etc? And that's even before we get to a variety of more interesting contracts that don't deal with marriage... How do you feel, for example, about temporary marriages: Alice and Bob form a voluntary contract that they will be married for one year after which the marriage automatically dissolves and they are free to go their own ways..? Really? That looks like, um, let's be polite and say "motivated cognition". Can you provide evidence that supports this claim? That's the thing, you see, it certainly doesn't look like that to me.
What's the basic nature of drinking alcohol? Is it really about changing your mental state? Or is it really about lowering your inhibitions? Or is it really about drowning your sorrows? Or something else? It's a ridiculous question. It doesn't have a single purpose, it has lots, and some people drink for one reason but strongly disapprove of another reason, or vice-versa. I think that, right now, most people have no strong view on the subject. But I think that people are good at learning, and so, over time, they will imitate those marriages which prove the most successful, and which best signal future commitment. I could be wrong. She's your fictional character. You tell me. Except for marriages between close relatives, I "favour" all of these things in the sense that I think they should be legal. And I am much too polite to tell you what your position looks like to me.
Why, yes, it is, given that lowering your inhibitions and drowning your sorrows are exactly that. I don't think it is a ridiculous question. I am guessing that you define a "successful marriage" as a "long-lasting marriage". I would not agree with such a definition. Let me also point out that people will imitate the lives which look the most successful to them. Such lives may or may not involve long-lasting marriages. Interesting. So you think both that temporary marriages should be legal and that marriages should be made to be longer and more painful to get out of. /me waves a magic wand... Poof! I invoke the magical name of Crocker and release you from the politeness spell! :-)
So someone who drinks alchohol just because they like the taste is "wrong"? To me that's just absurd. Marriage can mean a holy sacrament to a Catholic, a lifelong commitment to me, an excuse for a good party for my cousin, and many more things besides. There's no true "nature" beside the meanings we give it. This is true! Different people have different wishes and desires. That's why people should have the choice. I think most people want a long-lasting marriage, and would take steps to achieve that. I could be wrong though, and if people want to stay with the status quo they would be free to do so. You on the other hand, refuse to discover whether you are right, and refuse to give people the choice. No, I do not think that marriages should be made more painful to get out of. If people want to, they should be allowed to make their marriages shorter and even easier to get out of. But of course you already know that, and are deliberately misreading me. You appear to be labouring under the misapprehension that I show politeness out of respect for you. I assure you that is not the case. I am polite out of respect for me.
I don't know of a single person who drinks alcohol because they like the taste. I know people who drink Bordeaux wines, or particular beers, or specific ports because they like the taste. Oh, I did not ask about the eternal true Platonic nature. I asked what do you believe the true nature of marriage to be. Do I, really? You seem to lapsing into the agitprop vocabulary. Allow me to have my doubts. People like that don't drop hints how they would really destroy the opponent's positions if only the limits of politeness did not hold them back...
Once again you miss the point. I don't think my arguments would gain any extra force if I was personally rude about you, or resorted to the type of deliberate misreadings you engage in. Everyone can see what your position is like, and we can all draw our own conclusions. The way we all conduct ourselves leads others to conclude things, not merely about the weight of our arguments, but the content of our characters. That's all.
Well, the discussion seems to have drifted into the more heat and less light direction. I don't find your position convincing and no doubt you feel the same way about mine. Perhaps we should just accept that we disagree.
I don't think that's the whole story. Marriage rates were declining in the 1970s and 1980s even in countries where divorce wasn't introduced until later, such as Ireland or Malta. (And intuitively, I'd be less reluctant to do something if it was easier to undo it, though YMMV.)
Would social conservatives and social liberals please both attempt to explain and steelman/criticize this assertion? Because it has always been among my biggest gripes with the conservative account of why divorce is so bad. It just doesn't seem plausible, especially given how over-optimistic most people are about the prospects of their marriage! And frankly, I'd be creeped out by people who start a marriage for affection or companionship and already think about enforcing loyalty. It might be rational in the abstract, but signals many troubling things about the individual, such as low trust and an instinctively transactional view of relationships. (Marriages for economic reasons probably need a whole different set of norms, such as a historically seen unspoken tolerance for adultery.) I always understood falling marriage as being primarily linked to the rise in women's education and economic independence. Now, reasonable people who think those are great things can disagree whether the decline of traditional marriage is a cost or a neutral consequence, but I've never had time for people who seek to pin the blame on deliberate and direct political subversion. Sure, I don't like how some liberals attempt to be contrarian and claim that all the changes in this sphere have actually been unreservedly wonderful and a worthwhile goal from the start.... but that's a general problem of people wanting policies to have no downsides, and the other side's logical leap from calling out the downside to denying the problem is always baffling. Liberals cheering for something as a triumph for the Wonderful Nice Liberal Agenda might be less evidence that it's a triumph for the Degenerate Corrupt Liberal Agenda and more evidence that liberals like cheering. This should not inform one's analysis of the material/economic factors.

Would social conservatives and social liberals please both attempt to explain and steelman/criticize this assertion?

So, it seems to me that there is a terrible disconnect between property-splitting during a divorce and the existence of no-fault divorce, making marriage a tremendously costly move for the wealthier of the two parties (especially if they're male). If in order for Bob to marry Alice, he has to give her the unilateral option to take half of his things and leave, then marriage seems unwise.

In the era of fault divorce, Bob is safer- he needs to either break the contract, or can end the contract if Alice breaks it without having to transfer to her the same share of his possessions.

(I think that the collapse in marriage rates is seen at too coarse a level. If you look at marriage rates by class, you notice that the upper class is still living in the 50s and the lower class has collapsed. An explanation, that I buy, is that we no longer try to promote good citizenship and good living, and so unsurprisingly people answer the call of the short term, to their long term detriment.)

And frankly, I'd be creeped out by people who start a marriage for affection or companionship

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This makes sense if we assume marriage is causal for class. i.e. the people who don't heed the call of the short term and do marry have better outcomes and end up higher class. Choosing marriages naturally sorts people into class, by this model. Liberals would tell a story where things are reversed and class is causal of the pathology- they would say the economic changes that have occurred for the last few decades have increased 'economic uncertainty' for the lower class (for some measure of uncertainty.) which has lead to marital stress and divorce. Its also worth pointing out that in the lower classes divorce is usually less costly for the man (the wife is more likely to be working at a similar paying job, the man has less stuff to lose) Personally, I found the book Red Families/Blue Families pushed me away from the first explanation and toward the second (full disclosure, this is part of a larger trend of me growing increasing liberal over the last decade and a half or so.)
I've edited the grandparent to say "an explanation," because I don't want to make the claim that this is a complete explanation. I very much agree that the prospects for marriage are significantly worse for the lower classes, for reasons both having to do with the shifting economic value of skills and the shifting costs of sex.
There were many historical periods with much much greater economic uncertainty, they also had higher marriage rates.
Well, perhaps I should start by saying that I don't like distinction you draw between "affection and companionship" and "economic reasons." The two are implicitly entwined. I will attempt to flesh out my position. You don't need marriage for "affection and companionship," at least in the short term. You can just hang out. But most people want more than that. They want to build a life together. That involves making costly investments that will only bear fruit over time (e.g. buying a house, raising children, pension plans, etc). That involves making irreversible compromises - e.g. a shared circle of friends means you will have to be friends with people you wouldn't otherwise be friends with, and not friends with people you would otherwise like to be; same goes with shared hobbies, etc. That involves specialization - perhaps one spouse will give up paid employment, or only work part-time. And so on. But the problem with all these decisions is that they can lead to time-incompatible incentives. If Alice gives up work for a while to raise children while Bob focuses on his career, then ten years later Alice will be less pretty, less employable, and more dependent on Bob. Bob, meanwhile, can much more easily walk out on the marriage and start again. What's to stop Bob reaping the benefits of Alice's sacrifices, then checking out of the marriage? And realistic people know that they won't necessarily be thrilled with each other for every moment of their marriage. They will have rows, they will have disagreements, there will be times when the grass seems greener elsewhere. So you may find my attitude creepy, but I find your attitude evil - I think it's quite wrong to go into a marriage without thinking about how to make sure it lasts. It's partly about Alice making sure that Bob stays loyal to her, otherwise she's wasting her time building a life with him. But it's also about Bob(wedding) making sure that Bob(10 years later) stays loyal to Alice, otherwise he's wasting hi
Except that in pre-1970s cultures, er..., ‘affection and companionship’ outside marriage were, er..., frowned upon, to the point that when people were caught doing ‘affection and companionship’ they were sometimes made to get married at gunpoint by each other's parents. (Hell, there even are anecdotes about 20freakin'14 I could tell for that matter, though not as bad as that.) I'd be much less against unbreakable marriage if it was something the bride and groom spontaneously chose to do, clearly demonstrating tht they know what they're doing, without any social stigma for not doing so. That's also an argument against at-will employment: it is much harder to make plans for the future if my employer could fire me at any time for any reason or no reason. And yet people who oppose at-will employment tend to support divorce and vice versa. This suggests that their opposition is more due to Green vs Blue politics than on anything directly rational. (My own view is that employment contracts which cannot be unilaterally terminated without just cause should be allowed but not required, and ditto with marriages; of course employees who want such a contract would probably end up paid less than those who are OK with at-will employment, for obvious demand-and-supply reasons.) That sounds like a very bad idea to me: for example, what if Bob dies? or turns out to be a violent psychopath, even if he managed to hide it until the wedding? My inner libertarian says that so long as Alice freely chose to marry Bob that's her own problem and she shouldn't be protected from herself, but my inner paternalist isn't that sure. So, in terms of David Friedman's classification of “love”, “trade” and “force” in The Machinery of Freedom, you say that “love” can't be reliable in the long term, and I agree, but why is force better than trade? I think it may be better if Alice gave something to Bob so that he won't want to check out of the marriage. Yes. And yet some couple stay together for y
I don't know who you're arguing against, but it certainly isn't me. As I've stated Oh, at least a dozen times in this thread, I don't want all marriages to be unbreakable. I just want people to be able to set the terms of their marriages as they see fit. No-one should be forced to remain in a marriage they don't want to, but people who break marriage contracts should have to pay damages according to the terms of that contract, just as I can't be made to live somewhere I don't want to, but I will have to pay damages if I break the lease. It isn't force over trade. Contracts are trade. People must be held to the terms of their contract(or damages) or there is no trade.
So, you choose not to address the grandparent's point about social stigma, and you want to add other 'optional' binding agreements which may themselves have social pressure pushing people to adopt them. If you want people to find the process of divorce unpleasant, you can rest assured that most of them probably do.
I didn't think the grandparent made any point about 'social stigma' worth addressing. But, to be clear: * You don't have any right to your neighbours' good opinion. * If doing X would upset (or please) your neighbours, your choice (not) to do X is still voluntary. It just means you're facing a trade-off. Welcome to adulthood. More generally, I don't think that social approval/stigma are bad things. They are the glue that binds civil society together. I can't help notice that people when people speak negatively of social pressure, they never apply that critique generally. Should there be less social stigma against racism? Less social stigma against harassment? Suddenly, they're not so sure. Actually, my focus is on making marriage more pleasant.
I'm a lot happier with social stigma when it attaches to acts and fades in proportion to time distance from the act, at some rate inversely proportional to severity, rather than attaching to immutable properties (whether or not they derive from some act). If I hypothetically get plastered and vomit strawberry Jello shots and half-digested guacamole all over my friend's expensive Persian rug, chances are my friends are going to give me a lot of shit about it, and to be a little more cautious about inviting me to parties for a while... but I do not thereby become Gest the Puker, then and forevermore. Divorce has traditionally not had this property. I might make an exception for crimes on the level of murder or rape, on the grounds that those are so severe that the stigma shouldn't vanish in a normal lifetime. (Though on reflection, I doubt I'd think much less of him if my grandfather revealed that he'd killed a man in his youth.) But if we're going to be treating marriage as a civil contract like any other, then breaking it is a civil matter, not something on that level.
For some value of “voluntary”, sure. Likewise, for some value of “voluntary” if I point a gun at you and ask you to do something, your choice whether to do what I ask or be shot is voluntary.
For better or worse, marriages as presently constituted in the West are not commercial contracts, but legal, social, and (optionally) religious arrangements conferring certain statuses on the partners in the eyes of the law, society, the relevant religious bodies, and each other. If you want a marriage contract such as you describe, there's no point in complaining that marriage contracts as they exist are not that. It would take a legal historian to say authoritatively, but I am not sure they ever have been. There are various similarities and differences, but they are different entities. What you would have to do instead, is design a contract such as you would wish a marriage contract to be, and consult with lawyers to see if it can be done in a manner that would be recognised by current law and practice as a valid contract incurring damages for its breach. If you find that it cannot be done, then you would have to agitate for such changes to the law as would be necessary to recognise it. If that's too big a job for one person, you could combine with others, register a domain -- is available -- and begin a movement.
Isn't that what pre-nups are? I don't know to which extent the courts will be willing to enforce the "damages" portions, but pre-nups are valid contracts and fulfill much of the needs you're pointing to.
Possibly, but pre-nups aren't valid in some jurisdictions (the UK, for example). Some other issues have occurred to me regarding the redesign of marriage contracts. If a marriage contract is to be simply an ordinary contract in the framework of contract law, then several issues arise, which Salemicus and others of like mind might not want. What, if anything is to distinguish a "marriage" contract from any other, if it can be drawn up between any two (or more) people of legal age to enter into contracts? If the contract says whatever the parties wish it to say, is there any longer such a thing as "marriage"? How shall "marriage" be defined for such purposes as widows' pensions, the line of succession in intestacy, etc.? Any contract can be varied or voided instantly by common agreement of the parties, because no third party has any legal standing to object. Thus marriage "contracts" of this sort would make divorce by mutual agreement instant. (If there is no other ground than decision to separate, it takes 2 years in the UK.) The only alternative is to reform the law of marriage itself. This is not to say that it cannot be done, but it would be a long row to hoe.
The entire concept of marriage is that the relationship between the individuals is a contract, even if not all conceptions of marriage have this contract as a literal legal contract enforced by the state. There's good reason to believe that marriages throughout history have more often been about economics and/or politics than not, and that the norm that marriage is primarily about the sexual/emotional relationship but nonetheless falls under this contractual paradigm is a rather new one. I agree with your impression that this transactional model of relationships is a little creepy, and see this as an argument against maintaining this social norm.
BTW, the total marriage rate by year is a metric that can be easily confounded by tempo effects: if in a country all people born until 1950 married at 20 and all people born since 1951 married at 30, the marriage rate between 1971 to 1980 would be exactly 0 but (neglecting the mortality of twentysomething) no cohort would be any less likely to ever get married than another.
I see that as evidence that marriage, as currently implemented, is not a particularly appealing contract to as many people as it once was. Whether this is because of no-fault divorce is irrelevant to whether this constitutes "widespread suffering." I reject the a priori assumptions that are often made in these discussions and that you seem to be making, namely, that more marriage is good, more divorce is bad, and therefore that policy should strive to upregulate marriage and downregulate divorce. If this is simply a disparity of utility functions (if yours includes a specific term for number of marriages and mine doesn't, or similar) then this is perhaps an impasse, but if you're arguing that there's some correlation, presumably negative, between number of marriages and some other, less marriage-specific form of disutility (i.e. "widespread suffering"), I'd like to know what your evidence or reasoning for that is.
I'm not sure what point are you trying to make with these graphs. If people were allowed to make binding pre-nup agreements that penalized adultery would there be more marriages? Less divorces? More happiness? None of these things seem obvious to me.
Pattern-matching is often rational in politics just because it's so cheap, as long as the pattern makes sense in the first place. I'm sorry, but the pattern of reactionary rhetoric about marriage has these very deliberate connotations. People who discuss this tend to discuss punishing sinners (vicariously so), not holding rational economic actors accountable for damages on underrecognized-but-valid contracts.
So what are you supposed to say if you want to hold rational economic actors accountable for damages on underrecognized-but-valid contracts?
Credibly dissociate yourself from people you don't want to be pattern-matched to, and show that you understand the reasoning by which your audience opposes them (in this case, for example, Salemicus should at least acknowledge that at-fault divorce can - to put it mildly! - increase underlying gender inequality without any explicitly gendered provisions), and that you're not going to defend them in that particular battle. Leftists do it all the time, to the extent that they have the opposite problem of not being able to unite while agreeing with each other on 95% of everything.
But there's no-one who advocates dragging people off in chains, slavery, etc. This isn't pattern-matching me to some well-known group (in which case I agree, I should distinguish myself). Instead, this is just deliberately straw-manning. I don't know exactly what you mean by "punishing sinners" - but I assume you mean treating adultery as not just a breach of contract, but a tort. Well, damages for a tort are also financial. As for "underlying gender inequality" - you'll notice that no-one else has brought that up in this thread. Perhaps that is the "reasoning by which [my] audience opposes" me", but if so I'd prefer that people actually advanced that reasoning, rather than that being their double super-secret baseline position, and their public one being a lot of straw-manning and nonsense. Alternatively, it may be that the "underlying gender inequality" argument is yours and yours alone, and you are projecting.
Again, this reasoning would equally suggest that I am not free to hire you to work for me, since you can stop working (stop being monogamous) and I have no recourse other than to fire you (terminate the marriage). You aren't permitted to bind yourself to work for someone in the future either.
At least under English law, you are allowed to bind yourself to work for someone in the future. The employer will not get specific performance awarded, but you can be forced to pay damages, observe a restrictive covenant, etc.
Most employment in the US is at will, and you can fire someone any time and they can walk out any time. So even if binding yourself is legal (I have no idea) and you count that, that reasoning has the same problem as the one about vegetarianism: It really doesn't matter whether you can make a contract for such things because pretty much nobody ever does so. In practice there's no difference--you're not going to be making a contract for either one, and the penalty for breaking an actual job agreement will just be reputation, like breaking an actual marriage agreement.. Furthermore, this argument requires that you believe that in states where such an agreement is illegal (and I suspect, considering the restrictions on non-compete clauses, that there are such states) you're not free to hire someone for a job.
As I understand it, in states where employment is "at will", you can form a written agreement with your employer, but most arrangements are at will by the mutual choice of the parties. It might work out like that in marriage too, if you gave people the choice - maybe people would stick with the current system because that's what they like! Of course, the fact that you're unwilling to give people the choice suggests that you're not too confident of that result. It is certainly true that there are a large number of unconscionable restrictions in the labour market, from rent-seeking credentialism to bogus cartelization and onwards. It is perhaps hyperbole to say that you're not free to hire someone for a job, because at least some terms will be enforceable, but I would certainly understand where someone was coming from if they said that.
Wikipedia article on prenups:
On the other hand, pre-nups are enforceable in the US and most of continental Europe. And if you're afraid the court won't enforce your pre-nup you can put assets in escrow, for example :-) In any case, I'm not sure what the underlying argument is. I tend to see it as expressing the wish that the society enforce a very particular notion of marriage on everyone regardless of what they think about it.
The underlying argument is exactly the opposite of what you see it as. Society is currently enforcing a very particular notion of marriage on everyone regardless of what they think about it. Specifically, removing any notion of fault from the termination. I would like people to be able to credibly commit as to their future behaviour if they so wish. I would like to give people that choice, which the likes of Kennaway would deny them. If you want to stick with the current arrangements, you should be able to. I do wonder about so wilful a misreading of the discussion here.
I feel there is a bunch of anchoring going on here. Why do you think the termination of the relationship naturally has an actionable fault of one party that is being removed? By the way, do you feel that this fault has to be sexual? Can this actionable fault be ill temper, or snoring, or flatulence, or lack of humor, or insufficient performance in bed, or earning not enough money? I don't think so. Putting on a wedding ring looks like a credible commitment to me. What you want is to punish people for breaking their commitments and so far I haven't seen a good reason to do so in the context of marriages.
Informally, a marriage contract can be seen as a type of contract (hence the name), but legally it generally has a rather different nature, with some similarities and some differences to ordinary contracts. For example, the state decrees what does and what does not constitute a marriage in the eyes of the law. In contrast, Amazon declares its own terms and conditions. When a marriage is recognised, that has various implications for taxation of the partners, rights in a deceased partner's estate, etc. that would not be present in ordinary contracts. It is called a marriage contract, but that does not imply that all of ordinary contract law does, can, or should apply. Considered as a contract, what are its terms? It is not drawn up by the parties to it, but lies scattered across the books of the law. As those laws change, so the contract changes. Is the complaint that the courts are no longer enforcing its terms, or is the reality that the terms themselves have changed? Time was when conjugal rights were a thing, a legal thing. The time has changed, and now, rape within marriage is a thing, a criminal thing, however objectionable the likes of James A. Donald may find that, and however much he may pontificate that when rape within marriage is a thing, marriage is no longer a thing. If you were drawing up an actual contract of marriage, a uniform contract to define what marriage shall be throughout a state, what would it say?
So what?
Monogamy just means that you do not seek more than one sexual or romantic partner. You can be monogamous while your party isn't. Whether this would suit you is a matter of personal preferences. Or, two partners can be monogamous even if they have no legal mean to bind themselves to.
I also mean that by “monogamy”, but other people in this conversation have made clearer they mean something narrower by that word, so this discussion sounds like “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” when Alice has already made clear she means an auditory sensation and Bob has already made clear he means an acoustic wave. Tapping out.

Failure: when your best just isn't enough.

Original source unknown (at least to me).

ETA: Now that I think about it, I should explain this a little. It's funny and all, but it's a rationality quote because it conveys to me the idea that Eliezer calls nihil supernum. If your best isn't enough then God won't save you, your parents won't save you, Superman won't save you. You just...don't get whatever it is you wanted.

Here you go Not necessarily. There's Lady Luck :-)
Thanks for the link, but that's not the original source ;-)
How are you distinguishing the true original source from the it-is-actually-secondary "original" source?
By age. Despair, Inc, which invented the demotivator, was incorporated in 1998. I first ran across the quote on Usenet in 1994 or 1995.
Ah, a good point. It's interesting that Google in unable to locate this quote before it became a demotivator.

Submitted for a fun discussion:

Think about the strangeness of today's situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on. So the paradox is, that it's much easier to imagine the end of all life o

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I disagree with everything that Zizek says in this passage. What is strange about recognizing that global capitalism is here to stay, given the track record of the other two ideologies he mentions? The "cosmic" catastrophes (which are merely earthbound) aren't something that I see getting much interest from the general public, let alone obsession. Global warming does get interest but he doesn't use that example. The examples he does give, asteroids and viruses, are real things, that anyone who knows about agrees are real problems. They are in fact easier to imagine than any "radical change in capitalism", because they are vastly simpler. Newtonian physics applied to rocks in near vacuum. Replicators whose only perception of the world is as atoms they can use to make more of themselves. There is nothing paradoxical about this. Absent from the passage is any hint of an idea for the radical change in capitalism that he presumably wants to see. Perhaps he describes one elsewhere?
What is strange? The complete failure to imagine anything other than capitalism, communism, or fascism, to think outside "things we have already tried" despite the observation that the things we've already tried all suck. Personally speaking, I could give you a long, detailed proposal for a significantly different economic system, which, notably, does not require human beings to begin behaving in radically different ways, nor requires throwing anyone in camps of any kind. What I cannot do is give you a neat, one-word name for my proposed system (which is, of course, open to revisions and improvements, blah blah blah), because anything with a one-word name is already so fixed and set-in-stone as to be either the status quo or non-novel. A rational individual, and especially a trans-whatever individual, should no more believe there are only three economic systems than he believes there are only three flavors of ice-cream.
I think you're projecting; it's by no means a mutually agreed observation that these things all suck. Plenty of people think that capitalism is great. Some, despite the evidence of the past century, still think communism is great - the author of that quote, Slavoj Zizek, prominent among them. And while few openly call themselves Fascists, there's actually no shortage of people holding views that fit broadly in that spectrum. To change your analogy: Alice: Chocolate ice-cream is the best. Bob: No, vanilla is the most delicious. Eli: Look, we're all agreed that chocolate and vanilla ice-cream both suck. So let's all try pistachio! A&B together: No!!!
That's a very good point. However, I would still call it a failure of rationality if it went like this: Alice: Chocolate is best. Bob: No, vanilla is delicious. Me: I don't really like either of those, so let's get pistachio. A&B together: There's no such thing as ice-cream flavors other than chocolate and vanilla. Now hurry up and cast the tie-breaking vote!

There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you'll see the reading scores keep going down--or hardly going up--in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods. There's a witch doctor remedy that doesn't work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their method should work? Another example is how to treat criminals. We obviously have made no progress--lots of theory, but no progress--in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to handle c

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I wonder how Feynman knew this. The usual source of US reading score data is the NAEP, but AFAIK the earliest nationally representative NAEP results are from 1971 & 1975, and Feynman gave that speech in 1974. (Wouldn't it be painfully ironic if...?)
1974 is well after the publication of Why Johnny Can't Read. (You may not be familiar with it, but it was a big influence at the time.)
He had probably seen data on a state or local level and then extrapolated to the rest of the country, reasoning that teaching methods were similar nationally.

'East of the Sun, West of the Moon,' rather than being an unreachable fairy tale place, actually refers to where I am like 25% of the time.

-- @superlativeish

Having just looked this up, it reads like a walk-through to a point-and-click adventure.
Yes, the early point-and-click adventures were based on these types of fairy tales.
This seemed clever for a minute. Then I remembered that East and West don't even generalize to a global scale, let alone an extraplanetary one, and it stopped seeming clever.
8Scott Alexander
One can talk about points on Earth corresponding to the position of a celestial body - for example, the high tide being "directly under" the moon, or noon being "directly under" the sun. If it is noon in California and high tide in New York, and you're in Missouri, I think it makes sense to say you are east of the sun, west of the moon.

In other words, the plane that contains both you and the axis of the Earth divides the Universe into East and West. (Ignoring relativity)


Your legs are too short, so use your head!

Samwise Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings

Something poorly understood about skeptical philosophers (Hume, Sextus Empiricus, Huet, Montaigne, Pyrrho & the Pyrrhonian skeptics) is that their skepticism tends to be directed at contemporary experts, rather than traditions, which they tend to follow as a default strategy. And the crowds against which they stand up are the crowds of "experts", or the masses infatuated with "expert" driven ideas.

[ Note 1- This is in response to a question by Adam Gurri who was wondering whether there was an inconsistency between being independe

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He who has begun has half done.

Dare to be wise; begin!

-- Horace

From McKee's textbook of psychoanalysis:

"Story begins when an event, either by human decision or accident in the universe, radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist's life, arousing in that character the need to restore the balance of life. To do so, that character will conceive of an "Object of Desire," that which they [believe] they need to put life back into balance. They will then go off into their world, into themselves, in the various dimensions of their existence, seeking that Object of Desire, trying to restore the b

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A lot of stories are about characters trying to fix problems in their lives, but to claim that this is "story" as a whole isn't really accurate. You could gather a bunch of kids around a campfire and tell them how the Earth turns and the Sun rises in the morning when we rotate into its light, then it becomes dark as we spin away from it. If the kids didn't know this, they would probably be fascinated by it. This would have nothing to do with a character putting their life in order. In order to innovate, it helps to find the most reductionist definitions of things that you can, so you can find new ways to do that thing. In the case of "story," it's more accurate to say that it's communicating a series of events that give people enjoyable emotions. You get a lot of potential emotions out of talking about people trying to overcome problems, but you also get some enjoyable emotions out of other things, like my example of the Sun lighting the Earth, which gives the feeling of satisfying curiosity.
Did you actually do this experiment in reality? I also think that the kids would treat the Earth and the Sun as protagonists.
Some of the kids might do that out of habit, but the value of the story is independent of whether or not they do that, thus protagonists, while very common and very useful in storytelling, are not required.
Also, it's not a story. It's a fact. It might be a fascinating fact. But it's not narration.
Hi Cruetzer, Stories can be factual. Those aren't mutually-exclusive categories.
I didn't mean to say that factual events cannot constitute a story in principle, although I see how you arrived at that implicature. When I said "It's a fact", what I had in mind was that that is the reason why you would tell it to children. Because you're not supposed to tell people things that are not stories and also not facts.
Hi, You definitely can tell factual things to children (or people in general) in order to teach them about the world. But, you can also tell them factual things in order to let them hear something interesting or stimulating while they're bored. Sort-of like how someone might tell you how their car broke down when they come in late to work. And if you go to a comedy club later, he might tell you about the same thing, but for a different reason: Because it's funny. So when I bring up the sun-moon example at a campfire, I intend to mean it as being something that will draw the kid's interest (basically an emotional effect), and yeah, I imagine it as being told in a way where it is more like narration and describes thing in a more dramatic way. But since it's intended to create an emotional effect, and the factual nature of it is really much less important, I say that's a story, since the emotion effect is what I've found the core purpose of storytelling to be. Hopefully I put that clearly.
That would be an example of a story without a protagonist. Your life has, by definition, a protagonist; you. it cannot therefore be a story without a protagonist. It might not be 'story' as a whole, but as long as you desire something, it seems to me that the story of your life will fit into that definition.
Hi CCC, The story of your life would definitely include a protagonist. But I think there are other things we could agree would fit the category of a story (like perhaps "How the Universe was born" with an actual scientifically supportable account of the big bang), but which wouldn't have any type of human or living protagonist. Hopefully this makes some sense.
Yes, that makes perfect sense. I can list several ideas for stories without a protagonist, as well; any physical process (e.g. the hydrological cycle) would do, amongst others. My point was that, though these are stories, they are not and cannot be the story of a person's life (due to the lack of a protagonist). Looking back over my comment, I see it was a good deal less clear than I thought it was at the time, and for that I apologise.
Hi CCC, I think we're on similar ground. But let me be clear, stories exist (according to my best estimates) to create positive emotions. So a physical process would be a story IF it was something you could or would tell to other people to interest them. Or, similarly, to thrill or excite them (I think some people would view stories about comets impacting planets etc as exciting). You're right though that these definitely are NOT the story of someone's life. I was just trying to point out originally that the quote used the term "story" without any additional qualifiers when talking about a person and so on...and I wanted to make it clear that while it is VERY common and useful to use people or main characters when telling's not actually a requirement. And of course, knowing the core requirements and meanings for terms or ideas help us to think about those ideas clearly and use them properly. Similar to what you said at the end, I know that my examples may not have been perfectly chosen, and I hope this helps. Like I said, this is my personal pet-topic and I'm looking into starting a series of posts on it, since I don't see much related to it here, and there are amazing things to be learned when you approach books, movies and other modern stories with rational tools to understand how they really work.
I think I agree. Hmmm... some stories are written with the intention of creating negative emotions (sadness, anger, fear). While these are not the stories I enjoy, they do exist. And some stories are written with the intention of passing along information, not emotion (for example, to give a true account of some historical event(s)). "Story" is a very broad term. I'm perfectly in agreement with your second paragraph, and I do believe I would find such a series of posts interesting. One can learn things from books, yes, but one must be careful what lessons one takes away; not all things that fiction teaches are true.
Hi CCC, Yes, there are stories that seem to have the sole effect of pissing people off. And there are also some rare people who write what they think are stories with the intent of making people angry or sad (fear in a lot of cases creates excitement or adrenaline, which is why a lot of people like horror movies so I can't list fear among the negatives). But I think in the majority of those cases, if you speak to most of those people and look at their work, you'll find that their intent was, in their minds, to "educate" or "inform" other people. (though often these people don't have anything very insightful to really say), so their intent was to do something positive via negative means. At the end of the day though, and here's an example of how my thoughts aren't coming out in a clear order, there's an important distinction here and I'm glad you found it to help me clarify myself. Stories exist, according to our modern usage, to create emotions, positive OR negative, but we WATCH stories to get positive emotions. When we get overall good feelings (whichever they may be, excitement, satisfaction etc), we will say things like "that was a damned good movie." And when we don't get those feelings, we'll say and think that it was bad. A lot of people who write stories do so to create the negative emotions, and I think those people are confused and, if their goal is to be professional writers and build an audience, they're dooming themselves to fail. As I'm sure you can know from other fields, writing has many people who don't really understand what they're doing and don't think clearly about it and get bad results because of it.
As far as sad stories go, I do believe that one particularly famous example can be found in Romeo And Juliet (Shakespeare). Some people actually do enjoy a well-written sad story; there's even a whole page on tvtropes called "Downer Ending" which lists a lot of sad stories, some of which are actually quite well-written and thought-provoking. I don't think they were all written with the explicit intention of being sad stories, though. I imagine that quite a few were written with the intention of, instead of provoking an emotional response, rather provoking some other response. For example, Flowers for Algernon (I don't know if you're familiar with it) is most certainly a sad story, especially near the end; but the intention seems to be to inspire thought and raise questions rather than to inspire emotion. (It also won a few awards; sad stories don't necessarily fail). So, yes, while inspiring emotion is one reason to write stories, even a common reason, it is far from the only reason.
(I don't know the formatting yet, so when I use capitalized words here, I'm just doing it for emphasis, not to yell at you, of course) Hi CCC, That is a great thing to bring up, and very important. There are indeed stories, like Flowers for Algernon (or my favorite example, almost every episode of the original Twilight Zone), that quite clearly exist to give IDEAS instead of what appears to be basic emotions. And this leads us to one of the most eye-opening conclusions I ever had about storytelling. You see...YES, some stories ARE primarily intended to inspire thought and raise questions, BUT...and here's one of the things that was a "eureka moment" for me...getting those new ideas...those inspiring ideas or things to think about...ALSO give us a positive emotion...and THAT positive emotion...a feeling I refer to as "enlightenment"...IS why those stories exist. This is exactly why I say (and I'm sure others say) that a good scientist has to BE right, regardless of how he sounds, but a good storyteller has to SOUND right, regardless of whether or not he actually is right. Quick example...THIS is why creation-myths are so popular as stories. They aren't actually RIGHT, but they are plausible enough to satisfy the curiosity of the ancient people who heard them. They wanted to know where the Sun came from. The idea that Horus created it (or a chariot pulled it across the sky), did the job for them nicely, so that story was successful and spread through the culture. If you had tried to tell them about gravity as a physical force, it wouldn't have involved things they understood, so it wouldn't have worked. It would've been fine for science, but would've failed to spread, interest and capture the imagination of the audience, which is basically what a great story does. There are plenty of ways this applies, and lots of ways we get these feelings of new, useful or satisfying ideas from stories...but it is indeed one major thing that stories can do. But I hope I did a
Huh. I never thought of it that way. Hmmm... some stories might be designed as warnings (this is what happens if you throw too many nuclear bombs about!), or to try to get more people to work on a difficult problem (this is what happens if we don't solve world hunger!) or to try to promote a worldview (this is why my proposed political system is the best!). In the latter two cases, they would work best if they also inspire a positive emotional response, encouraging more people to share the story; in these cases, as with the thought-inspiring stories, inspiring a positive emotion is not the major aim of the story, but it is an important part of the story nonetheless. This still leaves the warning story; the story of the person who went down a dark path, and comes out the worse for it. Hmmm... now that I think about it, I guess such a story could be written to appeal to a sort of feeling of moral superiority, a sort of smugness, a "I-wouldn't-be-so-evil" sort of feeling. (I'm not sure that that's necessarily a positive emotion, but it is a pleasant one). Hmmm. You raise a surprisingly good point. I'm sure there are still counterexamples out there (how would you class Macbeth, for example?) but they're clearly a lot rarer then I'd thought.
Hi CCC, This is very exciting. I was hoping to be able to share some of my ideas here about this field with rational-minded people and see if they found them interesting (I find this site's content and its members extremely interesting), and even this little chat here is quite encouraging. Anyway, there are certainly stories that are designed with an agenda (like you said, as warnings) or to get people to care about something. BUT, if the story doesn't actually work and doesn't feel correct to people, it won't be effective. For example (and I hope this is a good example), imagine if we took a story that illustrated the Big Bang back to some of our ancient ancestors. They would laugh us out of the village (if they didn't kill us) and tell us that Vishnu created the Universe in a flower from his belly. In this case, our story has failed, even though we had the intent to tell them something extremely important and much more true than what they already believed. Now, the second point you brought up is great, and it is indeed separate from giving "enlightenment". Which is the story of a person who goes down the dark path and fails. This is a fine story obviously and many successful stories (like tragedies) take this form. But while these are not giving us a NEW idea, instead, they're UNDERLINING what we already believe or know is true, which ALSO feels very good, though not QUITE as good as enlightenment. I label this, underlining what we know, as "Confirmation." And in short, THIS is why we want to see the right guy get the girl, and people who have tragic flaws suffer from them, and why Batman can't lose in the end (and you'd better not try it if you write the new Batman movie). We expect (though we may not know it consciously) movies to give us that feeling in the end...that what we believe is true, in this case that the person who shows the good traits eventually wins. I actually haven't been able to read Shakespeare yet, (the Old English is a tough barrier for m
When typing a reply notice that to the right of the "comment" button is a "help" button. You now know how to do emphasis without yelling.
There are all manner of ways that message boards do their formatting and give information about their formatting. "Help" buttons, absent any additional labeling, aren't necessarily quick formatting lists, they might talk about dozens of things that people may require help with, such as forum standards of conduct, how the rules for thread starting, karma, your personal page and so on function before they get to such smaller issues, if they do so at all. Likewise, formatting itself may simply rely on users being already familiar with HTML tags or bracket-style functions. So absent your pre-existing knowledge of where it is, it is not so automatically clear to those who are new. Please keep this in mind when you speak to others in the future, as your incorrect hindsight bias appears to have effected your tone.
I know. This is why my instructions consisted of new information. You expressed ignorance (by way of excuse). That's fine, once. And by social convention in exchange for not getting downvoted to oblivion for yelling, that expression of ignorance obligates you to listen when you get an explanation you prompted with some modicum of grace. It isn't condescension if you literally ask for it. It so happens that it took me several years before it occurred to me that the 'help' button showed formatting help. Prior to that I referred people to the markdown boards after deducing what formatting system was being used by googling what how reddit-clones work. When I say "you now have" I meant that literally, with the direct implication "you did not previously have". Your mind reading is flawed. (Come to think of it, it is verifiably flawed. If we really cared we could look at the public record of conversations held in past "welcome, formatting guide" discussions.) Now, let me revise my earlier instruction to something more appropriate to someone with your tone, so that we are abundantly clear. It'll also give you some much needed contrast so you will be better able to identify actual abrasive tone. I do use it (and endorse it) sometimes, just not in response to implied format guide queries. Typically it is in response to people combining aggression or condescension with being wrong. Please do not YELL at people on this forum. Ignorance was once an excuse but only barely... it was still lazy, unnecessary and mildly disrespectful. People write entire novels without without once relying on formatting for emphasis and their books tend to be better for it. Now you have been given simple instructions that take only several seconds to follow continuing to do so would be obnoxious and treated as a defection against the community.
No, I'm sorry, but this nonsense is not worth the digression. Earlier in this topic I noticed already that you used the term "ceretus paribus," which is flat-out wrong. The term is "ceteris paribus." I could just as easily have replied to you in a snide manner telling you to go to google and put in that word you found and "now you know not to say that again." But I choose not to because it's not necessary or constructive to address people that way, and when viewed in the proper light, you understand that a simple overlap of one's knowledge where someone else lacks knowledge is not evidence nor justification for me to try to speak down to them. Please learn this and figure out how to conduct yourself better in the future in your interactions with people.
That depends on what level of causation you're talking about. Even then it helps if the story gives good advice since it's more likely to be passed on if the person doing the passing was successful.
Hi Eugine, One thing I noticed earlier about my post that you quoted is that I should've added that the positive emotion we get from new ideas is quite verifiable as a pleasure chemical in the brain (I think dopamine), so it didn't look like I was simply throwing new ideas in as positive emotion after the fact. Anyway, it seems like you're saying good advice will help a story spread because it's more likely to be felt as right. And in one way that makes sense, but it's not always true and I wouldn't rely on that. Audiences very much enjoy things that have no chance of being true (like The Incredible Hulk or pretty much anything in the Avengers), as long as you make it believable enough that they can feel that it's true while they're watching...and the other positive emotions that you create with that thing can far outweigh something more mundane but accurate. (which is one way of explaining why the Hulk and other superheroes are so popular) So I wouldn't agree that it helps to give good advice in a story. If we can find a way to make the good information believable to our audience, then great. But if we can't, then building a story around it will cause us to fail. We might succeed as scientists, since we have the best intentions and the best theory, but we will fail as storytellers. I hope this makes sense.
How is this relevant to anything? No, I'm saying that good advice will help a story spread because it makes the person listening to the story more successful and thus better able to spread it to others. In the sense of superpowers not existing, I agree. In the sense that superheroes represent how heroes should act in some sense, the story is indeed true on that level.
I didn't want my earlier post to appear to anyone as though I was "band-aiding" my statement by adding the category of new ideas to my initial statement of things being for positive emotion after new ideas were brought up. But since you both had already replied, I thought it might be confusing to go back and edit it. As I'm sure you understand, we can't always express ourselves perfectly and since you quoted that exact part, I figured I'd mention it. Ah, but the person will only listen to the story and tell it to others if it feels true to them in the first place. If we want to spread an actual true idea amongst that group, it better be coupled with things that feel good or feel right to them. Thus, since feeling right will make the story spread regardless of its truth, and truth will only spread if its coupled with feeling right, I maintain that feeling right is the primary factor. Yes, and we responded to that as audience members. But we also responded to the excitement that's created by the action scenes, which we would never have put in the story if our primary goal was to be accurate instead of to find what makes the most feeling. Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that truth in general is not a good thing. It's probably even the best thing when it comes to what we discuss. But in terms of what makes stories successful, I've found that truth simply isn't primary, though I've seen it often stated as though it is. All the best to you.
Which positive emotion is the story that you did tell in your post supposed to create?
Hi Christian, The sun-and-moon story is intended to create the release of the pleasure-chemicals (I think dopamine) that we feel when we get a new idea or are exposed to new or interesting thoughts. This feeling (I just refer to it as "enlightenment") is actually one of the strongest positive emotional experiences we can have. And that feeling, of an interesting or correct new idea, is what actually is important for the story to work. Whether or not the idea is true in reality is basically irrelevant. Hopefully this makes sense.
Your post was not about selling the sun-and-moon story but about telling a story about how stories create positive emotions. If you want to understand stories you don't learn much when you only focus on the kind of stories that you see on TV, read in fiction books or tell at campfires. Start investigating the stories that you tell other people. Start investigating the stories that you tell yourself. As far as strength of stories I don't think the sun-and-the-moon story in the form you told it is very strong. I do have the experience at being at NLP seminars (Bandler line, the line after Grinder is less narrated). There you have people who tell stories that take away someone's phobia of spiders without the person noticing. Other stories did affect me on a physical level in a way where I switched from having my body weight from being in the inside of my feet to being at the outside of my feet. Apart from the experience of NLP I did QS press work that about telling a story. After doing it for half a year I found myself giving a talk in front of 300 hackers at the Chaos Computer Congress. In addition I had brought along 3 journalist to cover it for their documentary about measurement in general. Two of them do the core documentary and the third was the camera man. Dealing with the energy that flows when you throws yourself into a bigger story isn't easy. I did things like giving an interview for two hours knowing that the journalist picks less than one minute of what I say. Doing that and not saying details that I don't want in the story is mentally challenging. Most of my Lesswrong posts aren't heavily narrated. On LW I focus on trying to communicate intellectual ideas instead of focusing on telling stories. I do sometimes add narration into a post but not at the expense of intellectual depth. If you want to understand stories take a look at my latest LW post about stories: . When you have got the firs
Hi Christian, I'm focused on any type of story that causes a positive reaction from people or spreads among people. I personally have found it to be wonderfully complex and have learned an incredible amount studying this. Let's not misunderstand each other. I didn't say that it was a strong story, that goes into a list of multiple things that stories can do for us, that would be enough for a number of discussions...and strong stories do many things from that list. I only provided a single example to try to isolate one thing, which is that stories don't require protagonists. Well firstly, neuro-linguistic programming is speech. It might overlap with stories, but it is not the same category. We'd have to discuss the actual nature of what was said to see if it fits the commonly accepted idea of a story (and of course we'll have to come to some reasonable definition). Also, we would investigate whether you enjoyed this experience, and if so we can see if you spread or shared what happened to you because of that enjoyment, which would bring us back to what I said about what makes stories spread or be successful. I'm sure you're a very intelligent person with relevant experiences. Naturally though, I'm most interested in the ideas we're discussing, and the examples, logic and so on we can bring to it, as we can always be wrong regardless of what qualifications we have. I understand totally. We always have to strike the balance between covering what we need and not saying too much. I certainly at times have this issue too. Let me clarify my point here. Stories CAN do more than give you positive emotions (like give you actual true and useful information), but I hold that positive emotions are the primary thing they do, and play the major role in causing people to like stories and spread them to others, which are key to stories (and books, movies, storytelling speeches, myths etc etc) being profitable or just well-known and "successful."
I don't think the prime reason that journalists want to interview me about QS is the fact that the story about QS provides positive emotions for the audience of the news article. Memes can profit from bringing people positive emotions but plenty of memes spread throughout society because it's beneficial to spread them for other reasons. Is the core reason that I recommended HPMOR to another person that it's fun? No, it's not. I find the story fun but I recommend it for reasons that are deeper. That's not what I meant with payload. The post makes quite controversial claims and if you look at my posts in general you will find that posts with negative claims often do receive a few downvotes. This post is voted 100% positive as of the time of this writing. There's a reason for that. It's not that the post provides mainly actual true and useful information. Or to be more accurate there are two reasons one is more obvious than the other. Writing the post in a NLP way to have it 100% positive was an act of walking my talk. Highly manipulative but anyone who sees the manipulation and that it effects them has to accept the point I'm making.
Well journalism might be a slightly different category, but I still think we can use it. I'll try to demonstrate this in as clear and concise a manner as possible. Which newspaper are you more likely to buy, one that tells you things you feel are true and interesting, or one that tells you things you DON'T feel are true and interesting? We need examples of these reasons in order to discuss them. I can't agree immediately that positive votes accurately represent a story being spread or giving people these types of emotions. They might, but there might be other factors there, like personal issues, flames etc. But that's a tangent and let's not go off on too many of those. But why? Why do they accept the point? Because it strikes them as true. This is separate from whether it's actually true. Remember my example of ancient creation myths. They are most definitely not true, but they spread and effected people because the ancient villagers felt that they were true, or felt that it satisfied their curiosity. Perhaps you can see why I thus state that feeling true or feeling useful or correct is what's important here, rather than actually being so. (actually being true is what's important for science)
True, but that is not the defining aspect of 'story'; nor is your scenario of a campfire. There's nothing stopping anyone from reading the phone book while sitting around a campfire, but that does not make it a story.
Hi Rolf, You're free to read the phone book around a campfire, but no one would care. That's a key thing. Remember, I added that the kids (if they had curious minds and didn't know it) would probably be fascinated by it. If you ask google to "define story," the second definition you get is... "An account of past events in someone's life or in the evolution of something." Not that I necessarily think dictionary definitions are the be-all end-all authority in the meaning of our conversational terms, but it gives at least some indication that we don't NECESSARILY need a protagonist (though they are VERY VERY common and very useful). Instead, I think there's a second real purpose and definition of "stories" (and as I'm sure you gathered, I think it also dictates that some segment of the population tends to care about the story or want to hear it). Obviously this conversation would require more space and I've been considered writing a bunch of posts (or a sequence? Not totally familiar with the terms yet) to go into it. (lastly, I didn't vote your comment down)
My argument is precisely that it's not a key thing; you can have a story that nobody cares about or a non-story that people find deeply interesting. If you don't like the phonebook, make it a journal article describing a measurement of nonzero CP violation in charm mixing; I know any number of people who would find that extremely fascinating, but you just cannot call it a story. Your account of why night and day exist would not meet this definition.
Hi Rolf, You definitely can have a story that is uninteresting or fails. But they take the form of things that people WOULD care about. Likewise, you can have a computer that doesn't turn on, but it takes the form of something that WOULD if it functioned properly. Offering that value to people IS in fact the key purpose of a story, even if sometimes it fails to do so. I apologize if this isn't clear. A scientific journal article, which I assume is your example, exists to communicate true information (though just like the bad story, they may sometimes be falsified). So a journal article that someone finds interesting would NOT be a story. But if that article was outside of that purpose, and existed to CREATE positive emotion though (not yelling at you just trying to emphasize and don't know the formatting yet), then it would be classifiable as a story. That's the point I was trying to put across with the campfire-sun-and-moon example. You're telling it to interest the kids or entertain them (or scare them, make them laugh etc.). That's why we "sit around the campfire." Lastly, the night and day example is quite clearly an account of how our cycles of night and day come to exist. It seems clear that this fits the second half of the definition. I hope this helps to put things across.
Am I missing something, or is this almost a tautology? "Sometimes you will desire things. I don't know if you'll obtain them." Is there anything else that that quote says?
You are missing something. The quote says that we seek the object of desire as a means to bring our lifes into balance. As a spoke lately about Eliezer in relation to story telling it means Eliezer is trying to safe the world from UFAI in order to fulfill his psychological need to bring his own life in order. The way I imagine Eliezer he would tell you that you misunderstand him if you would treat him like he just wants to safe the world because he has a strong need to bring his own life in order. He might tell you that psychoanalysts are full of crap if they identify an imbalance in his life as a course for his quest to safe the world. Most people are not seriously out in a quest to safe the world. If you believe in what the psychoanalysis textbook said you might ask: "What event happened that brought so much imbalance into Eliezer life that he went into the quest to safe the world?"

The problem isn't just that there are so many things we do for reasons too deep for us to understand; it is that our attempts to explain them spoil the party and cause us to stop doing them.

Nassim Taleb

The only valid political system is one that can handle an imbecile in power without suffering from it.

Nassim Taleb

Alternatively, one that prevents an imbecile from being in power in the first place?
"Without suffering" seems like a really high bar. Additionally, do we really want a system that can, presumably, put an utter genius with leet rationality skillz in the top position, and not gain from it? If the correlation between doing well and having a smart leader is literally zero, that's what you get.
This response seems to rely on wilfully misunderstanding of the grandparent. Preventing damage from an imbecile does not require or imply inability to benefit from a genius. The difference in outcome between having an average leader and an imbecile must be minimal. The difference between an average leader and a genius can be arbitrarily large. It would be uncharitable (as well as just plain wrong) to assume that Taleb is claiming that the correlation between leader intelligence and performance is zero. (Whether such a system is remotely possible is a whole other issue.)
I wouldn't call the "without suffering from it" clause a high bar to clear. You'd just need a system where any leader's intentions will be carried out so ineffectually that it makes no practical difference who's in charge. A system which can actually achieve desirable outcomes with an idiot in charge, though, is probably at least as difficult to implement as a system which ensures that only competent people will end up in charge.
The point of the quote is to not have a single center of power. Traditionally democracy is supposed to have checks and balances. If you have three powers and the legislative makes a bad law the supreme court can just throw out the law and no damage is done. If you however have a legislative led by a utter genius with leet rationality skillz that makes great laws the supreme court won't throw out the laws.
Not quiet, it set a precedent that increases the supreme court's power and makes the system more vulnerable to idiots on the supreme court.
I dunno. I'd be pretty happy with a system that produced reasonable output when staffed with idiots, because that seems like a certainty. I actually think that's probably why democracy seems to be better than monarchies-- it has a much lower requirement for smarts/benevolence. "Without suffering" may be a high bar, but the universe is allowed to give us problems like that! (And I don't think that democracy is even close to a complete solution.) EDIT: Also, perhaps the entirety of the system should be to make sure that an "utter genius with leet rationality skillz" is in the top position? I'd be very happy with a system that caused that even when staffed by morons.
Seems to me that a system that incentivized putting smart people in high places would do better in the long run than one that was designed to be robust against idiocy and didn't concern itself with those incentives. The trick is making sure those incentives don't end up Goodharting themselves. Don't think I've ever heard of a system that's completely solved that problem yet.
(By way partial of support for quote I perceive to be downvoted too far.) While the quote has the typical problems of hyperbole found in this kind of soundbite, the principle conveyed seems sound. Minimising the damage that can be done by stupid people with power is one of the more important desideratum when designing a system of power allocation.

In our days of unlimited science and technology, people's unfulfilled aspirations have become so important to them that a special word, popular in the press, has been coined to denote such dreams. That word is breakthrough. More rarely, it may also be used to describe something, usually trivial, which has actually been accomplished.

John R. Pierce, An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals and Noise, during a discussion about translating the idea of a vocoder to transmit human facial movements.

You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.

G.K. Chesterton

I feel there is an important insight here, but somewhat hidden. Let me try to capture it in one domain: mathematics. Any mathematician will tell you that the way to prove good theorems is NOT to start with the axioms and move down the tree of implications until you hit upon something that looks interesting. Instead, the way is to start with examples, or with an intuition, and try to formalize it into a conjecture. And then try to build further intuition as to why it might be true; possibly by trying more examples or building some heuristic arguments. Once you get a sense of why it might be true, then use that intuition to look for techniques that people have used to capture that intuition. As an example, if you feel that the objects you're studying have some notion of closeness, then you can introduce a topology on your objects and then use the techniques of topology to make further progress. And only at the end, when you're almost sure about how it's going to go down, do you build rigorous proofs starting from some simple statements. So I guess Chesterton is trying to emphasize that building an intuitive, heuristic understanding of why something might be true is much more important than trying to build a deductive argument using logic. The latter always follows the former. I would be very interested in examples outside of math.

Men use the past to prop up their prejudices.

A.J.P. Taylor


You don't believe in ghosts, right? Well, neither do I. But how would you like to spend a night alone in a graveyard? I am subject to night fears, and I can tell you that I shouldn't like it at all. And yet I am perfectly well aware that fear of ghosts is contrary to science, reason, and religion. If I were sentenced to spend a night alone in a graveyard, I should know beforehand that no piece of evidence was going to transpire during the night that would do anything to raise the infinitesimal prior probability of the hypothesis that there are ghosts. I s

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6Said Achmiz
If the Church is wrong, and the materialists are wrong, then it seems that we really know very little about how the world works; and if this is so, then on what, exactly, can you base this dismissal? In many fictional settings, ghosts can be very harmful indeed. What if the ghost has telekinetic powers? What if it can cast magic spells? What if it can possess you and devour your soul? No, if I were inclined to go ahead and believe in ghosts, I would not then proceed to dismiss their threat so easily.
I agree, that seems to be the weakest step. What I guess he means is that if there are ghosts they seem to be quite wispy and unobtrusive. If they went around and did a lot of stuff we would presumably have good evidence for their existence.
Possession. I think is psychology the effect is named "Alien Hand Syndrome". There was a time when my arm was moving around in ways that I didn't control (but could override if I wanted) that happened directly after a little girl doing "spirit healing". While certainly not believing in ghosts at that moment in time, I was seriously thinking about reading up on defenses against ghosts. But then today I would have no problem spending a night meditating at a graveyard. I think people aren't really afraid of ghosts but they are afraid of the unknown. If you are a materialist and have to deal with a goal, the biggest fear isn't that the ghost hurts you but that you have to rearrange your whole way of looking at the world. Spending a night at a graveyard might be a good training exercise for a rationalist. If you don't want to admit that you believe in ghosts but fear being in a graveyard at night, go and face your fears.
Why? I have better things to do than train my system 1, which alieves in various things, on such matters which are unlikely to ever come up in my life and be relevant to my goals.
There are more reasons to do it than training your system 1. It sounds like it would be an interesting experience and make a good story. Interesting experiences are worth their weight in insights, and good stories are useful to any goals that involve social interaction.
Also, graveyards at night are a lot less crowded then parks, i.e. awesome for outdoors sex.
And going in with that intention would provide a very powerful motivation to lose one's alief in ghosts!
Isn't that rather disrespectful to the dead? Yes, I realize the dead are not physically alive to be appalled, but I still think a graveyard is a place of life-taking, not life-making. We ought respect that.
Why should we respect that? As you said, the dead don't care.
"Respect for the dead" is a shorthand for "Respect for the living who care about the dead".
So, when I commemorate my friend J.'s death every year, I'm really honoring myself?
You may be making yourself a better person; but J. is — alas — not around to receive benefit.
Well it would be a bit of a dick move to let eli_sennesh or others who would feel similarly find out about your actions. Of course, this restriction tends to cripple the "charming anecdote" advantage.
Do you prefer them to be dead? Also, what of their living relatives who come to the graveyard to mourn?
I don't prefer them to be dead, but I'm not making them any more dead by being in a graveyard. As for the living relatives - some may not like it, but that alone doesn't necessarily mean that it's wrong to do so, as they're not actually being harmed, only their sensibilities are being offended.
It's not rude if it's not a social setting. If no one sees you do it, no one's sensibilities are offended.
So we can at least agree that it's extremely rude, but you place less moral value on the rudeness than I do?
I'm not sure that it's "extremely rude". Is it extremely rude for a gay couple to hold hands in a conservative Southern small town, even though that would offend people?
For my own part, I would agree that holding hands with my husband in such an environment is rude. (I don't know what "extremely" means here, but I would probably agree with that as well.) I would also agree that it's worth doing.
And arguably has greater social value than having sex in a graveyard.
I would be greatly interested in the methodology to measure the social value of having sex in a graveyard :-D
I want to be in the control group.
If you allow your system 1 to alieve in various things than it will quite often determine your actions without you being aware that it's your system 1 that driving you to do something irrational. You will make up plausible sounding explanations for why your decisions are rational. Being able to face silly fears builds strength of mind that also useful when you push against your other ugh-fields.
We are talking about training system 1 not to be afraid on graveyards at night, which I'm very much inclined to think is a complete waste of time, not about training system 1 in general. I'm not sure to what extent the "strenght of mind" that you build by engaging in such curious exercises as spending a night on a graveyard carries over to something actually useful... In any case, this has nothing to do with not wanting to admit that one believes in ghosts. Most of us genuinely do not believe in ghosts, but do alieve in them.
If spending a night at a graveyard is basically a boring prospect for you that's just a waste of time you might not learn much. If it's of the other hand an experience that triggers significant emotions than you do learn something by being confronted with your emotions. At a graveyard even a smart rationalist can't easily reason himself into an excuse that it's valid to be afraid of ghost. Yet you get a significant emotional response. That pattern makes it a good general training exercise. In also speaking about a single night and not a regular activity.
Do we? [pollid:616]

You are never going to catch up, and neither is anyone else.

-- Gian-Carlo Rota

Missing context, I think.
The quote appeals to me in at least three ways. It describes a stable set of affairs where investment of cognitive effort (through typical human forms like studying and debating that do not greatly compound) can make you smarter but don't change the status quo. This is a fairly pleasant outcome as game-theoretic escalation goes and is also comforting in a compatibilist fatalist sort of way. Second, the quote is observer symmetric, and thus helps me to empathize and sympathize both with people who are much more and much less intelligent than me. Third, it brings to mind an image very like the Hubble flow, where each mind sees its neighbors falling off to irrelevance or speeding ever faster toward greater thoughts and skills and discoveries, proportional to their separation. And cosmological analogies are pretty. So it may be not quite a rationalist quote, but it's a pretty, comforting thought that gives an unusual and sympathetic perspective on scholarship and intelligence and other things that our subculture also finds interesting. Also it seems roughly valid for present biological minds that don't self modify, and truth counts for something.