Another month, another rationality quotes thread. The 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson.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.
  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the place where you read the quote, or its original source if available. Do not quote with only a name.
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Kissinger was not rushing to end our conversation that morning, and I had one more message to give him. “Henry, there’s something I would like to tell you, for what it’s worth, something I wish I had been told years ago. You’ve been a consultant for a long time, and you’ve dealt a great deal with top secret information. But you’re about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe fifteen or twenty of them, that are higher than top secret.

“I’ve had a number of these myself, and I’ve known other people who have just acquired them, and I have a pretty good sense of what the effects of receiving these clearances are on a person who didn’t previously know they even existed. And the effects of reading the information that they will make available to you.

“First, you’ll be exhilarated by some of this new information, and by having it all―so much! incredible!―suddenly available to you. But second, almost as fast, you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions made by presidents for years without having known of the existence of all this information, which presidents and others had and you didn’t, and which must

... (read more)
1Stingray7y
Dammit. This quote makes me feel even more of a pawn in the grand scheme of things.
3kleer0017y
Literally nobody else can see through your eyes. That's a pretty privileged point of view. Does that help at all?

Efficient Outrage Hypothesis: if you're hearing about it, it's probably already a dogpile. The return on marginal outrage will be low or negative.

-- Egregore Peck (source)

4Stingray7y
Sounds similar to paradox of voting.

Sansa: "It can’t be worse."

Theon: "It can. It can always be worse."

Game of Thrones TV series

Part of the reason I supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was because I thought he was so bad that the alternative had to be better. I didn't take enough time to consider worse alternatives to him.

4Stingray7y
But can it always be better?
2James_Miller7y
Yes, unless you die.
2Pancho_Iba7y
"In King's Landing, there are two sorts of people. The players and the pieces." "And I was a piece?" She dreaded the answer. "Yes, but don't let that trouble you. You're still half a child. Every man's a piece to strart with, and every maid as well. Even some who think they are players." Talk between Sansa and Petyr - A Song of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords
0Silver_Swift7y
Why is this a rationality quote? I mean sure it is technically true (for any situation you'll find yourself in), but that really shouldn't stop us from trying to improve the situation. Theon has basically given up all hope and is advocating compliance to a psychopath for fear of what he may do to you otherwise, doesn't sound particularly rational to me.
3James_Miller7y
It corrects an error people sometimes make when in a bad situation of assuming things can't get worse so any change can't be for the worst. Sansa had not been tortured by the psychopath in question while Theon had, so Theon better understood the price of defiance.
2Silver_Swift7y
Ok, fair enough. I still hold that Sansa was more rational than Theon at this point, but that error is one that is definitely worth correcting.
2CCC7y
"When you make plans to stop something bad, make sure that you also make plans to ensure that it is not replaced by something worse - since there is always something worse that exists". That's what I get from it, anyhow.

I don't want to involve myself in an endless topic of debate by discussing the treatment of slaves, towards whom we Romans are exceptionally arrogant, harsh, and insulting. But the essence of the advice I'd like to give is this: treat your inferiors in the way in which you would like to be treated by your own superiors. And whenever it strikes you how much power you have over your slave, let it also strike you that your own master has just as much power over you. "I haven't got a master," you say. You're young yet; there's always the chance that you'll have one.

--Seneca, Letter XLVII

  • Just because a man has died for it, does not make it true.

Oscar Wilde

4Username7y
But isn't it evidence that this man strongly believed it? And isn't someone's strong belief at least a weak evidence for it?
5Lumifer7y
And so we come to "A thing is not necessarily true because there is weak evidence for it" which seems like a fair statement :-)
4Sarunas7y
A nitpick. This is a paraphrase of the original quote which can be found in The Portrait of Mr. W. H. [https://archive.org/details/portraitofmrwh01wild], page 29. The original quote is:

When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.

Thomas Sowell

127chaos7y
Somewhat true, but if you want very badly to help people then you'll tell them the truth in a way that makes them feel good.

Don’t waste time trying to make him think that [your philosophy] is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous — that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about. The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?

-- Archfiend Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis

0MJBantayan7y
Allow me to play captain obvious: This is screwtape's (the archdevil? tempter?) advice to one of the devils assigned to a human (patient). He basically states here that humans don't need to have certainty that a philosophical system is well founded, what he cares about is that it is controversial, scandalous, etc. And I have to agree to that, gone are the times that people change their lifestyle according to the latest scientific literature or piece of philosophy; how many among those who've read Nietzsche actually understood the profundity and the weakness of his writings? It appears that since he is wrongly associated with the Nazis it qualify him to be a philosopher of the edgy thirteen year olds. On the other hand I see this as Lewis's jab at the philosophy that he opposes, particularly atheistic and agnostic ones. He didn't disprove them, he just committed slander. TSL is a good read tho

There is the world that should be, and the world that is. We live in one.

And must create the other, if it is ever to be.

-- Jim Butcher, Turn Coat

If your moral reasoning doesn’t produce conclusions that seem absurd on the face of it… why are you bothering? I want to be the sort of person who would have come up with the absurd conclusion that slavery is wrong, or the absurd conclusion that women should have rights, or the absurd conclusion that sodomy shouldn’t be illegal.

-- Ozy Frantz (source)

1) This strikes me as careful cherrypicking of "absurd" results to pick only the non-absurd "absurd" ones. You're supposed to say "well, giving women rights isn't so absurd after all, people who thought it is absurd were mistaken", but not all absurd conclusions from the past turned out to be okay in hindsight. Some were pretty horrible.

2) People who say "it is okay if my moral reasoning produces absurd results" generally don't personally think "that sounds absurd, but I'll accept it anyway". Typically, the result is something they are strongly motivated to believe, but which is thought absurd by others. They welcome the moral reasoning because it provides a way to reject their critics.

(In the LW-sphere, there are people who actually do accept results that seem personally absurd, but the LW-sphere is a minority. Most people don't act that way. Go tell a vegetarian that he should support exterminating all wildlife to end wild animal suffering, and see what response you get.)

3) Rejecting reasoning that produces absurd results even if we can't find a flaw in the reasoning is an important way we avoid errors.

6michaelkeenan7y
I don't think Ozy is claiming that all absurd conclusions are correct. Rather, Ozy claims that some absurd conclusions are correct. When you just need an existence proof, there's no cherry-picking - you just pick your example/s and you're done. Maybe they should! My impression is that Ozy does. Ozy's a vegetarian, and their position [http://ozymandias271.tumblr.com/post/108242589853/now-that-you-mention-it-whats-your-take-on] on wild animal suffering is: Seems pretty open to absurdity to me. I'd prefer the framing of applying an absurdity penalty to one's estimated probability, rather than "rejecting" it in a binary way, but yes: absurdity could be a useful thing to weight in one's estimated probability of a conclusion being correct.
0Jiro7y
Ozy is in the LW-sphere. As I pointed out, people in the LW-sphere may actually say "it sounds absurd, but I'll still believe it despite that" and mean it. But people in the LW-sphere are exceptions. Most people, when they say that, don't really mean it, and instead mean that their opponents think the conclusion is absurd, but they personally think it's only slightly unusual.
2Jiro7y
And an addendum: 4) Sometimes people accept results that are absurd as a way of signalling commitment to an idea. If you're so dedicated to your religion that you're willing to stand up and publicly say it's wrong to lie even if telling the truth leads to someone's death, or so dedicated to your ethical system that you're willing to say that helping a stranger's child is as good as helping your own, you must be really committed.

There is another proverb, "As you have made your bed, so you must lie on it"; which again is simply a lie. If I have made my bed uncomfortable, please God I will make it again.

-- G. K. Chesterton

Lack of curiosity made people lose money to Madoff. This you already know - people did not due their due diligence.

Here's what Bienes, a partner of Madoff's who passed clients to him, said to the PBS interviewer for The Madoff Affair (before the 10 minute mark) when asked how he thought Madoff could promise 20%:

Bienes: ‘How do I know? How do you split an atom, I know that you can split them, I don’t know how you do it. How does an airplane fly? I don’t ask.’ ‘Did you ask him?’ ’Never! Why would I ask him? I wouldn’t understand it if he explained it!’

And... (read more)

2[anonymous]7y
Interesting. Modern religious people tend to not believe in the devil much, probably because that is not a very reassuring thing to believe and it is a pretty much a feelings based cafeteria today. This sounds like an example where believing in the devil would have been useful. "Maybe god wants us to be lucky, or maybe the devil tempts us into financial doom."
0hairyfigment7y
What do you expect to find if we look only at Christians who express belief [http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2012/07/22/evangelical-church-in-14-million-financial-scandal/] in the Devil [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanic_ritual_abuse]?
0Sarunas7y
In addition to that, perhaps it is because they are much more likely to perform a ritual of praying to the god, whereas rituals of fending of the devil seem to be rare. Thus the latter becomes a vague and remote figure, easy to forget and disbelieve.

There’s no sense in writing down to the level of the readers you think are out there. Half the time they aren’t really there, and the rest of the time, they’re not interested in a watered-down version of the real product. Even if you succeed, all that you achieve is that now a bunch of morons don’t understand the subject and think that you agree with them.

It’s much better to write the piece that you want to read yourself, which usually means pitching the technical content at a level slightly higher than you were comfortable with when you started thinking

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0Username7y
Inapplicable when you're writing about natural sciences for layman audience.
0johnswentworth7y
Apparently, Davies thinks that half the time the layman audience isn't really there, and the rest of the time, they're not interested in a watered-down version of the real natural sciences. Even if you succeed, all that you achieve is that now a bunch of morons don't understand the natural sciences and think that you agree with them.

Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.

― J.R.R. Tolkien explains how we get problems with the availability heuristic in The Hobbit

God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. — And we — we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.

Sec. 107. in Friedrich Nietzsche's The Gay Science

Only in mathematics is it possible to demonstrate something beyond all doubt. When held to that standard, we find ourselves quickly overwhelmed.

Max Shron, Thinking with Data, p. 32

Most people are neurologically programmed so they cannot truly internalize the scope and import of deeply significant, long run, very good news. That means we spend too much time on small tasks and the short run. Clearing away a paper clip makes us, in relative terms, too happy in the short run, relative to the successful conclusion of World War II.

-- Tyler Cowen

2Jiro7y
I am skeptical of this. 1. We're not happy about the successful conclusion of World War II because it is distant in time, and that seems reasonable unless he's arguing that we should be happier about, say, the death of Genghis Khan. 2. He seems to imply that we should be happy at the end of World War II because the total benefits from winning the war are large. But people were also happy at the intermediate steps of winning the war and that happiness needs to be subtracted. In other words, if you're happy at the liberation of France, you can't be happy at the end of the war based on the entire benefit of winning the war, including the portion of that benefit that consists of France being liberated. That's double counting. 3. This argument would apply to bad news too. Among people who think Obama's Iran deal is likely to lead to Iran getting nuclear weapons, should they be a lot unhappier than they are?

And when your surpassing creations find the answers you asked for, you can't understand their analysis and you can't verify their answers. You have to take their word on faith —-

—- Or you use information theory to flatten it for you, to squash the tesseract into two dimensions and the Klein bottle into three, to simplify reality and pray to whatever Gods survived the millennium that your honorable twisting of the truth hasn't ruptured any of its load-bearing pylons. ...

I've never convinced myself that we made the right choice. I can cite the usual justifi

... (read more)
1Zubon7y
This being Less Wrong, this might be the point where you bring up whether P=NP and that solutions are often much easier to verify than compute. Easier does not necessarily mean easy or even within human cognitive capabilities. And if it does in whatever example comes to mind, just keep pushing to harder problems until we need not only tools to solve the problem but also meta-tools to tell us what our tools are telling us. And you can keep pushing that meta. (Did I mention that Blindsight is a very Less Wrong book?) We trust our tools because we trust the process we used to develop our tools, and we trust the previous generation of tools used to develop those tools and processes, and we trust... At some point, you look at the edifice of knowledge and realize your life depends on a lot of interdependencies, and that can be scary. And then I trust Google Maps to get me most places, because I know it has a much better direction sense than me and it knows things like construction and traffic conditions.
1Zubon7y
In Blindsight, a "vampire" is a predatory, sociopathic genius built through genetic engineering. They have human brain mass but use it differently; take all the brain power we spend on self-awareness and channel it towards more processing power. The mission leader in Blindsight is a vampire, because he is more intelligent and able to make dispassionate decisions, but how do you check whether your vampire is right or even still on your side? Like Quirrelmort, they are always playing at least one level higher than you. The synthesist quote is the first time Blindsight brings up the problem of what to do when you build smarter-than-human AI. The vampire quote approaches it from a different angle, with a smarter-than-human biological AI. Vampires present a trade-off: they cannot rewrite their source code, so they cannot have a hard takeoff, but you know they are less than friendly AI. (If you know what is wrong with the above, please ROT13 your spoilers.)
[-][anonymous]7y 5

I don't know if this was featured here, but I hope it generates some discussion. Edsger Dijkstra, https://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/transcriptions/EWD06xx/EWD611.html

"Traditionally there are two ways in which science can be justified, the Platonic and the pragmatic one. In the Platonic way —"l'art pour l'art"— science justifies itself by its beauty and internal consistency, in the pragmatic way science is justified by the usefulness of its products. My overall impression is that along this scale —which is not entirely independent of the B... (read more)

Vagueness in legal threats is the hallmark of meritless thuggery.

-- Ken White from Popehat

Ken wants you to be specific because a vague claim is usually a meritless claim. Not citing a good example implies that there are no good examples.

6Zubon7y
To match action to word, here are some of Ken's specific examples of vague legal claims, presumed meritless until actual examples can be cited (in reverse chronological order): * Donald Trump [http://popehat.com/2015/07/01/donald-trumps-lawyers-dont-know-or-dont-care-what-defamation-is/] * Randy Queen [http://popehat.com/2014/08/05/randy-queen-offers-comical-response-to-online-criticism-of-his-work-darkchylde/] * Todd Kincannon [http://popehat.com/2014/07/15/gleeful-troll-todd-kincannon-files-first-amendment-suit-against-south-carolina-state-bar/] * WorldVentures [http://popehat.com/2014/07/09/popehat-signal-help-a-blogger-threatened-by-a-multi-level-marketer-worldventures/] * Peak Internet [http://popehat.com/2014/07/30/colorado-isp-peak-internet-sues-customer-for-bad-online-reviews/] * Steve Stockman [http://popehat.com/2014/02/23/rep-steve-stockman-r-tx-files-highly-questionable-defamation-suit/] * Bharat Aggarwal [http://popehat.com/2013/04/11/dr-bharat-aggarwals-attorneys-make-bumptious-legal-threats-against-retraction-watch-blog/] * Casey Movers [http://popehat.com/2012/11/15/stupid-legal-threats-an-excellent-way-to-destroy-your-brand/]

A demonstration of dark arts. Ellipses are mine, to remove unnecessary amplification.

The laundry list, for us, had been a crossword puzzle with the squares empty and no definitions. The squares had to be filled in such a way that everything would fit. But perhaps that metaphor isn’t precise. In a crossword puzzle the words, intersecting, have to have letters in common. In our game we crossed not words but concepts, events, so the rules were different. Basically there were three rules.

Rule One: Concepts are connected by analogy. ...

Rule Two says that if t

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127chaos7y
Is all of Foucault's Pendulum like this? I've read a summary before, but this is much better than the writing I would have expected from it.
3g_pepper7y
The quoted section is fairly representative. Foucault's Pendulum is quite a good novel, IMO, and worth reading.
1RichardKennaway7y
Seconded.
1lmm7y
No. That's one of the few parts with content. It's not worth the hundreds of pages of tedium that come before.
[-][anonymous]7y 2

“There are some people who would never have fallen in love if they had not heard there was such a thing.”

― François de La Rochefoucauld

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

the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.

Jeremy Bentham (standing on the shoulders of Joseph Priestley and Cesare Beccaria)

-2Jiro7y
That assertion isn't actually true, in the strong form in which he intends it. Even if you rely on the vagueness of "morals", it's certainly not true for legislation.
2RolfAndreassen7y
Bentham is using Enlightenment shorthand; he means "good, just, natural-law-following legislation". He's not talking about the actual sausages that we get from real legislatures.

The health of the people should be the supreme law,

Cicero from latin "Salus populi suprema lex esto"

Gargantua's admonishment of Pantagruel to employ his youth to profit both in studies and in virtue:

I intend, and will have it so, that thou learn the languages perfectly; first of all the Greek, as Quintilian will have it; secondly, the Latin; and then the Hebrew, for the Holy Scripture sake; and then the Chaldee and Arabic likewise, and that thou frame thy style in Greek in imitation of Plato, and for the Latin after Cicero. Let there be no history which thou shalt not have ready in thy memory; unto the prosecuting of which design, books of cosmography

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327chaos7y
I'm sympathetic towards the idea that pursuing all the knowledge we can get our hands on is a good thing. It is a tempting idea for me to believe in, because it offers a justification that is satisfying to values I hold like curiosity and respect for information. However, this means I might be biased. And I don't want to believe this idea if it isn't true. When I think critically about this, I'm inclined to think that seeking so much knowledge across so many subjects is a suboptimal use of time, even for the prodigiously talented. My view is that details are important insofar as learning them helps us to learn broad patterns, and some types of details predictably are unlikely to lead to such insights and so can be safely ignored. For non-biologists, I don't think there is much value in knowing all the names and types of the plants. For non-astronomers, I don't think that the stars and planets are worth studying. I acknowledge that there sometimes are cross-applicable ideas or universal patterns which can be discovered by studying obscure fields. For example, Newton's laws of motion or his law of gravity are useful to almost all of science, not just to astronomers. However, even acknowledging this, it's unclear to me whether the probability of discovering such patterns is high enough that it's worth the opportunity cost. Maybe if people before Newton had been more inclined towards specialized knowledge, some astronomer would have discovered the equation for gravitational attraction even sooner. Perhaps we'd also have some additional knowledge besides. Is there any actual evidence for the idea that unfiltered pursuit of knowledge is superior to the filtered pursuit of knowledge? The only other argument for it that I can advance is that a lot of famous intelligent people have believed so, but I find this argument pretty unpersuasive. Thoughts? Partly, I may simply be taking reliable access to high quality detailed information for granted, since I'm used to living w
4btrettel7y
In my view, it's about the right level of filtering. For most people, I think looking at much more sources than they currently do is justified, as is developing the ability to quickly extract important pieces of information from sources for efficiency. The latter includes developing the ability to prioritize, skim, summarize, and assimilate information as well as abilities related to acquiring new sources, like knowing how to reach people with knowledge of other fields who can expand your horizons. I think it's also helpful to interact with others who can fill in gaps in your knowledge, e.g., you might have decided that learning about X was unimportant, but your friend in the same field read a lot about X and understands its importance. That example is basically applying parallel processing to knowledge acquisition. I can also think of a number of instances where I was looking for information about something, concluded it didn't exist, but later found what I was looking for (or something close) in a different related field, often with different terminology. For some basic evidence, consider the foxes and hedgehogs dichotomy [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2006/11/foxes_vs_hedgho.html]. Foxes, who take a more global view, tend to perform better in predictions. Geoff Colvin also thinks that more knowledge is better and he discusses this in his book Talent is Overrated [http://www.amazon.com/Talent-Overrated-Separates-World-Class-Performers/dp/1591842948] on pp. 150-151. (Edit: Actually, the latter author says nothing about the unfiltered vs. filtered distinction as I recall now, but he does believe that more knowledge is better in a general sense.) There's another common related view, which I see as misguided. Sometimes people claim that your thinking is often less constrained (i.e., you are more creative) if you are not familiar with a subject. I recently read a book, Gossamer Odyssey [http://www.amazon.com/Gossamer-Odyssey-Triumph-Human-Powered-Flight/dp/039530531
127chaos7y
Excellent comment, thanks for all the links!
2RichardKennaway7y
Here are the ellipses restored: What might rationalist!Rabelais write in place of those passages? Replacing "God" by "Reality" goes quite a long way.
2Lumifer7y
Two words: "opportunity costs".
0RichardKennaway7y
Two more words: "training montage".

Dr. Bunnigus: Are there 'bots (nano-machines creating new neural pathways) in my brain?

Petey: Nope. I don't need them. Your brain is working correctly. All I need to do is explain things to you, and you'll be able to make the right choice.

-Exchange between Dr. Bunnigus and the Benevolent Overlord AI (Petey) that turned the galactic core into a power generator. Schlock Mercenary 2015-07-25 by Howard Taylor

2wadavis7y
This little arc starts here [http://www.schlockmercenary.com/2015-07-12] and has a few gems.

“When all hope was gone, they heeded the counsels of despair. Had they continued to strive, defying their doom, some unforseen wonder might have occurred."

-Stephen R. Donaldson

[-][anonymous]7y 0

I’m posting several quotes enbloc since they are all from the same video: All from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryFB6mvy4uE

-2[anonymous]7y
We're always too prone to thinking what's valuable is what the other company is doing Investors overvalue things they do use, and undervalue things they don't use (Start-ups that are about brining existing products and services together] are capital intensive (On difficulty of first experience with start-ups’ relationship to subsequent work ethic) easy and impossible converge to not working hard (see ~18.50 for verbatim, explained better) (You can’t just assume it will be built – deterministic technological futures egg. Ai WILL happen) you have to ask yourself what is the future you want to build, then work on that People always ask me about the future and about trends, I'm not a prophet, I don't think the future is fixed in that way Things that are underrated, are the ones that there are no buzzwords, it doesn't fit into any pre-existing categories, and you got to walkways be listening for those (about investing in weed) maybe a lot of the money (in the drug industry) came from the illegality so people are able to charge a lot for it…the details are what matters, not necessarily the big trends If (inaudible) is perfectly competitive, you’d never be able to make any profit…. (Gives example of restaurant industry in some location) These monopolies are the reward for innovation Monopolies are the reward for innovation (~COMPETITION can be bad for business, and monopolies drive progress) The goal of every successful business is to have a monopoly Compares regulation of bits to regulation to atoms - points out that it might cost 100k to get a drug through the fad, but nobody does rats on video games to determine if they're addictive addItional quote that I'll post for verbatim review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_yJTCDU4uE&feature=youtu.be&t=15m01s [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_yJTCDU4uE&feature=youtu.be&t=15m01s] quote [http://startupquote.com/post/4415767423] shown in a slide, not spoken, from someone else: If you're not working on your best i
3CCC7y
I am going to disagree vehemently with the notion that monopolies drive progress. Telkom [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telkom_%28South_Africa%29#Monopoly_and_state_ownership] spent a long time as a fixed-line telecommunications monopoly, and South Africa still has terrible fixed-line internet costs as a result. Monopolies, as far as I can see, will almost always relax once their monopoly is secure and just keep doing things the same way all the time, holding onto their monopoly. (Sometimes they will even attempt to squash competitors before they grow large enough to threaten said monopoly). Companies in competition, on the other hand, will improve their offerings and/or lower their prices in order to attract more customers. Therefore - and this is borne out by the Telkom example - I conclude that monopolies lead to stagnation, while healthy competition is more likely to lead to progress.
4Lumifer7y
You seem to interpret "progress" as "lower prices" :-) While I think that Clarity is misunderstanding Peter Thiel (Thiel says that a potential monopoly is the carrot that drives a lot of innovation; Clarity wrongly interprets this as "monopolies drive progress"), the question of monopolies and progress is complicated. The two major examples that come to mind are Bell Labs (run by AT&T) and IBM (in the 1950s - 80s era).
4g_pepper7y
Assuming you are referring to IBM's mainframe business, they did not really have a monopoly; they were just a dominant player. Competitors at that time included Amdahl, Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data, Honeywell, General Electric and RCA. Amdahl even offered products that were compatible with IBM's mainframe offerings and could run software developed on/for IBM.
4Lumifer7y
Given the context, I'm interpreting "monopoly" loosely and include being the dominant player in the definition. Thiel talks about how you would want to parlay your technological (or first-mover) advantage into a monopoly and he clearly means companies like Microsoft or Google which are not legal monopolies like AT&T was.
1Vaniver7y
I read Thiel to be making the second argument as well, because monopolies have capacity to make the profits necessary for major R&D spending, as well as the capacity to benefit directly from major R&D spending. No individual commodity producer making zero economic profit has an incentive to invest in better methods of producing their commodity, as they correctly believe that the innovation will rapidly spread and benefit the consumers, rather than them. The short way to visualize it is that the market for innovations has producer and consumer surplus, and only monopolists can capture both at once, which would suggest a monopolistic industry would spend more on innovation than a competitive industry. (This is true for some innovations and not others; monopolies should be expected to be better at developing basic science related to an industry, and competitions should be expected to be better at determining customer preferences.)
2[anonymous]7y
Your explanation is compelling and unexpected. Can you reference a Wikipedia article (preferable) or another internet source so I can read more broadly on this thesis? The closest approximation I can find is theses on why patents and other forms of IP are awarded.
2Vaniver7y
Consider this article by Thiel [http://www.wsj.com/articles/peter-thiel-competition-is-for-losers-1410535536].
0CCC7y
I see how it can look like that. But no, they are two related but seperate effects of a healthily competitive market. That is a statement that I can agree with. (And I wouldn't count a severely dominant player as a monopoly; a dominant player can drive a lot of progress as the smaller fish frantically try to find a way to one-up it and pull in customers)
1welp7y
You're right, monopolies certainly don't drive progress. But the possibility of a monopoly can. Progress requires R&D, and R&D is expensive and unpredictable. No one would want to do the type of long-term research that invigorates the economy or even creates brand new industries if they won't take in the lion's share of the profits. So it would be a bad idea to implement a policy of breaking up any and all monopolies, despite the fact that it is better in the moment (similar to Newcomb's problem). In fact, we actually institute monopolies using government power, via intellectual property.
0CCC7y
Agreed. The attempt to reach a monopoly is a great driver of progress; it's only once a company reaches that state that it starts to hinder progress.

The key lesson for politicians: beware of vision. The future will probably mess up your vision. Instead of taking giant irreversible leaps, be backward-looking and evidence-based: what boring complex policy worked somewhere before?

[-][anonymous]7y 0

The key lesson for politicians: beware of vision. The future will probably mess up your vision. Instead of taking giant irreversible leaps, be backward-looking and evidence-based: what boring complex policy worked somewhere before?

This quote describes a common failure mode. At the same time, if no one experimented with new visionary ideas, there wouldn't be examples for others to draw lessons from.

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I wonder why. I wonder why.

I wonder why I wonder.

I wonder why I wonder why

I wonder why I wonder!

-- Feynman Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman

The book is readable in general.

1gjm7y
I think you're missing one full stop; it parses like this: * I wonder why. * I wonder why. * I wonder why I wonder. * I wonder why (I wonder why (I wonder why I wonder)).
1Good_Burning_Plastic7y
Am I the only one who can't read this without singing "Lemon Tree" in my head?
0LizzardWizzard7y
Still makes me smile as I remember the context and nerdy philosophy professor. Hyperbolic but it doesn't make it any worse
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