Rationality Quotes May 2014

by elharo1 min read1st May 2014299 comments


Rationality Quotes
Personal Blog

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

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
  • 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 Do not quote with only a name.
299 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:08 AM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny'd myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear'd or seem'd to me some difference, etc.

I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engag'd in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos'd my opinions procur'd them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail'd with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.

Benjamin Franklin

Unfortunately this self-debasing style of contradiction has become the norm, and the people I talk to can instantly notice when I am pouring sugar on top of a serving of their own ass. Perhaps they are simply noticing changes in my tone of voice or body language, but in sufficiently intellectual partners I've noticed that abruptly contradicting them startles them into thinking more often, though I avoid this in everyday conversation with non-intellectuals for fear of increasing resentment.

2Torello7yI would love to hear what Richard Dawkins would say in reply to this quote. Personally, I think it's great advice--challenging people immediately and directly is often not a good long-term strategy.

Dawkins, in arguments with theists, homeopaths, etc., is not trying to convince his interlocutors; nor are most of the other well-known atheist public figures. The aim to convince bystanders — the private atheist who is unsure whether to "come out", the theist who's all but lost his faith but isn't sure whether atheism is a position one may take publicly, the person who's lukewarm on religious arguments but has always had a rather benign and respectful view of religion, etc.

In private conversations with someone whose opinions are of concern to you, Franklin's advice make sense. The public arguments of Dawkins & Co. are more akin to performances than conversations. I think he achieves his aim admirably. I, for one, have little interest in watching people get on a public stage and have exchanges laden with "in certain cases or circumstances..." and other such mealy-mouthed nonsense.

-2Jiro7yI don't know of nontrivial cases and circumstances where homeopaths are right about homeopathy (and where their statements are taken as normally understood).
6Torello7yWe could imagine cases where people underwent homeopathic treatments and saw improvements in their symptoms for other reasons. For example, colds usually stick around for 3-4 days and dissipate without treatment, so you take a homeopathic medicine and two days your cold vanishes and you think "It worked." The correlation-causation error that might seem obvious to skeptics, but it isn't to the homeopath believers. As I interpret the Franklin quote, you provisionally accept (don't immediately and explicitly challenge) the claim that the homeopathic medicine made the cold go away, so you can establish a further dialogue with some chance (let's just say 10%) of causing doubt in the other person. If you immediately say "There is no way that the homeopathic medicine had any effect," the person will get angry at you. You'll probably have a smaller chance of changing their mind, and they won't like you, which generally doesn't help you accomplish goals. With Franklin's approach, I think it doesn't even matter that there are no merits to a homeopaths treatments (or insert whichever group); you need to cede some ground to keep negotiations open and to get people to like you because it's helpful later.
1roystgnr7yWe could even imagine cases where people underwent homeopathic treatments and saw improvements in their symptoms for that reason. The placebo effect is often a real thing, and is most effective when you don't believe what you're taking is a placebo. If it were possible to keep homeopathy from being inexplicably muddled up with non-evidence-based naturopathy (where your treatment may have negative side effects), unfortunately mixed up with anti-"allopathy" (where you forgo a more medically-effective treatment), or inescapably tied to anti-epistemology in general, it might even be a net good on its own.
1roystgnr7yIf anyone has found that the placebo effect isn't real, making scientific history by publishing your discovery might be of higher utilty than downvoting my outdated information.
2Lumifer7yThe placebo effect is complicated. See e.g. this [http://harvardmagazine.com/2013/01/the-placebo-phenomenon].
1roystgnr7yTrue. But am I just being biased when I interpret that as support for my claim? "Sham acupuncture" and even placebo pills given to people who are told they're taking placebos both show significant positive effects. I'd be very surprised if placebo pills given to people who are told they're taking real "homeopathic" medicine didn't show real effects too.
0Lumifer7yWhat is your claim, precisely? Sure, giving homeopathic pills to people is likely to make them feel better via placebo. But by the same reasoning, this will also work for voodoo rituals, holy water, and mind rays from outer space.
4Said Achmiz7yI'm not sure I know what point you meant to make by this. I read Franklin's advice as applying, and intending to be applied, quite readily in those cases where one's interlocutor is totally and clearly wrong. The idea is that you take a certain roundabout approach to telling them that they're wrong, without quite coming out and saying it straight out. The fact that they are wrong need not be in question; it's merely a matter of which tactics are effective in convincing them. (The assumption, of course, is that you're interested in convincing them.) In any case, I am unsure in what sense your comment is a response to what I said... could you clarify?
0Jiro7yThe way I read Franklin's quote is that if someone says "well, (factual statement X) is true, and from it I draw (unwarranted conclusion Y)", we should claim to agree with him (because we agree with X) and act as though drawing conclusion Y is a minor flaw in his theory that doesn't negate the fact that he's basically correct. But he's not basically correct. He did invoke X, and X is true, but to say that he's right, or even partially right, means he's right about a substantial part of his argument, not that he's based it on at least one statement that is true. A homeopath doesn't become partly right just because he says "well, vaccines work by using a tiny amount of something to protect against it, so perhaps homeopathy can also use a tiny amount of a substance to protect against it", even if the statement about vaccines is literally correct.
0dthunt7yWhat do you think of the following? 'If the data is good, but the argument is not, argue the argument (e.g. by showing that it doesn't hold water). Don't argue about the conclusion and point to the bad argument as evidence.' (not a rationality quote, just curious about your reaction)
1Jiro7yI think that is not what Franklin was saying.

One afternoon a student said "Roshi, I don't really understand what's going on. I mean, we sit in zazen and we gassho to each other and everything, and Felicia got enlightened when the bottom fell out of her water-bucket, and Todd got enlightened when you popped him one with your staff, and people work on koans and get enlightened, but I've been doing this for two years now, and the koans don't make any sense, and I don't feel enlightened at all! Can you just tell me what's going on?"

"Well you see," Roshi replied, "for most people, and especially for most educated people like you and I, what we perceive and experience is heavily mediated, through language and concepts that are deeply ingrained in our ways of thinking and feeling. Our objective here is to induce in ourselves and in each other a psychological state that involves the unmediated experience of the world, because we believe that that state has certain desirable properties. It's impossible in general to reach that state through any particular form or method, since forms and methods are themselves examples of the mediators that we are trying to avoid. So we employ a variety of ad hoc means, some l

... (read more)
1satt7yI don't think there's such a thing as "unmediated experience of the world". (I like the quotation a lot for giving a plausible, lucid reason why Zen might spurn the usual sort of analytical discourse. But it's so clear an explanation of an idea that I think it's revealed a basic problem with the idea, namely that it points towards a non-existent goal.)

There is such a thing as a less mediated experience of the world.

2RichardKennaway7yCan you give some examples of more and less mediated experiences?
4NancyLebovitz7yThat's an interesting question-- "mediated" should probably be modified by "of what?" and "by what?". It's definitely possible for perceptions to become less mediated by focusing on small details so that prototypes aren't dominant. It's possible to become a lot more perceptive about color [http://lesswrong.com/lw/290/blue_and_yellowtinted_choices/207j], and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is about seeing angles, lengths, shading, curves, etc. rather than objects and thus being able to draw accurately. If you get some distance on your emotions through meditation and/or CBT, is your experience of your emotions less mediated? More mediated? Wrong questions? I think meditators assume that the calm you achieve is already there-- you just weren't noticing it until you meditated enough, so your emotions are more mediated and your calm is less mediated, but now that I've put it into words, I'm not sure what you would use for evidence that the calm was always there rather than created by meditation. Thank you for the evidence that it's possible to get 12 karma points for something that doesn't exactly make sense.
-2Armok_GoB7yReasoning inductively rather than deductively, over uncompressed data rather than summaries. Mediated: "The numbers between 3 and 7" Unmediated: "||| |||| ||||| |||||| |||||||"
7David_Gerard7yIt's like neutrality on Wikipedia. You'll never attain neutrality, but there is such a thing as less and more, and you want to head in the "more" direction.
1satt7yI think I see what you mean; if I mentally substitute "is closer to an" for "involves the", and "that state would have" for "that state has", the practice the quotation describes makes more sense to me. (I'm leery of the idea that it's better to head in the direction of less mediation — taking off my glasses doesn't give me a clearer view of the world — but that's a different objection.)
0Aleksander7ySo while the original quotation talked about not thinking at all, your revised version urges that we think as little as possible. How does it qualify as a "rationality quote"?
3TheAncientGeek7yIt can be rationally beneficial to realise now much mediation is involved in perception, in the same way it is useful to replace naive ealism with scientific realism. Relatively unmediated perception is also aesthetically interesting, and therefore of terminal value to many.
2satt7yYou tell me; I have to squint pretty hard to make it read as telling me something useful about rationality.
3TheAncientGeek7yBecause? People who claim it are lying? You dont have it, and your mind is typical?
[-][anonymous]7y 12

Or maybe they and satt mean different things by “unmediated”.

6satt7yBecause causal mechanisms to relay information from the world to one's brain are a necessary prerequisite for "experience of the world", so one's "experience of the world" is always mediated by those causal mechanisms.
1TheAncientGeek7yAnd it's not possible for just the cognitive mechanisms to shut down, and leave the perceptual ones?
2Viliam_Bur7yIf you shut down the cognitive mechanisms completely, would you even remember what you have perceived? Or even that you have perceived something?
2TheAncientGeek7yMaybe not. That matches some reports of nonordinary experience.
0satt7yI doubt it's possible. I'm sceptical that one can cleanly sort every experience-related bodily mechanism into a "cognitive" category xor a "perceptual" category. Intuitively, for example, I might think of my eyes as perceptual, and the parts of my brain that process visual signals as cognitive, but if all of those bits of my brain were cut out, I'd expect to see nothing at all, not an "unmediated" view of the world — which implies my brain is perceptual as well as cognitive. So I expect the idea of just shutting down the cognitive mechanisms and leaving the perceptual mechanisms intact is incoherent. (Often there're also external physical mechanisms which are further mediators. You can't see an object without light going from the object to your eye, and you can't hear something without a medium between the source and your ear.)
-1TheAncientGeek7ySo are people who claim unmediated experience lying?
3Viliam_Bur7yOr using a different definition of "unmediated", or confused about their experience, or...
0satt7yMy best guess is that the vast majority of them are sincere. Being correct vs. being a liar is a false dichotomy.
0TheAncientGeek7ySo are they sincerely ,mistaken about that they think unmediated experience is, or about what you think it is?
1satt7y(Presumably your first "that" is meant to be a "what"?) That question implies a false dichotomy too. The mistaken people might not be mistaken about what anyone thinks unmediated experience is; perhaps everyone pretty much agrees on what it is, and the mistaken people are simply misremembering or misinterpreting their own experiences. This conversation might be more productive if you switch from Socratic questioning to simply presenting a reasonable definition of "unmediated experience" according to which unmediated experience exists. After all, your true objection seems to be [http://lesswrong.com/lw/k5y/rationality_quotes_may_2014/aw46] that I'm using a bad definition.
-1TheAncientGeek7yAnybody can be wrong about anything, That isn't an interesting observation, because it is general. Earlier you gave a specific reason, which you think is empirical, and I think is partly conceptual.
1Aleksander7yThere are also people who claim that they feel God's presence in their heart, you know.

I believe them. I don't believe in God, but I do believe that it's possible to have the subjective experience of a divine presence -- there's too much agreement on the broad strokes of how one feels, across cultures and religions, for it to be otherwise. Though on the other hand, some of the more specific takes on it might be bullshit, and basic cynicism suggests that some of the people talking about feeling God's presence are lying.

Seems reasonable to extend the same level of credulity to claims about enlightenment experiences. That's not to say that Buddhism is necessarily right about how they hash out in terms of mental/spiritual benefits, or in terms of what they actually mean cognitively, of course.

4Aleksander7yI don't disagree with any of that. Who knows, could be even one and the same experience which people raised in one culture interpret as God's presence, and in another as enlightenment.
0Desrtopa7yThe research summarized in this book [http://www.amazon.com/Why-God-Wont-Go-Away/dp/034544034X] seems to suggest that this is indeed the case.
4TheAncientGeek7yAnd people who claim to see cold fusion and canals on mars. There is a happy medium between treating empirical evidence as infallible, and dismissing it as not conforming to your favourite theory.
1ChristianKl7yWords are used to point to places. The thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words "unmediated experience of the world" might not exist. That doesn't mean that there aren't using people who use that phrase to point to something real.
2[anonymous]7yCouldn't you say exactly that to anyone who doubts the existence of anything?

Couldn't you say exactly that to anyone who doubts the existence of anything?

You could. And the way to resolve a dispute over the existence of, say, unicorns, would be to determine what is being meant by the word, in terms of what observations their existence implies that you will be more likely to see. Then you can go and make those observations.

The problem with talk of mental phenomena like "unmediated perception" is that it is difficult to do this, because the words are pointing into the mind of the person using them, which no-one else can see. Or worse, the person isn't pointing anywhere, but repeating something someone else has said, without having had personal experience. How can you tell whether a disagreement is due to the words being used differently, the minds being actually different, or the words and the minds being much the same but the people having differing awareness of their respective minds?

This is a problem I have with pretty much everything I have read about meditation. I can follow the external instructions about sitting, but if I cannot match up the description of the results to be supposedly obtained with my experience, there isn't anywhere to go with that.

1ChristianKl7yThe assumptions in that sentence are interesting. It presupposes that a debate is an interaction where you compete against other person by proving them wrong. I rather want to offer friendly way to improve understanding. Whether or not the other person accept it is their choice. In cases like this it's very useful to think about what people mean with words and not go with your first impression of what they might mean.
0[anonymous]7yI don't think so. I just meant to point out that what you said was a triviality. If you intended it as a protreptic triviality, that's fine, I have no objection and that's justification enough for me.
0ChristianKl7yCould you define what you mean with "triviality"?
0[anonymous]7yI mean something which follows from anything. I don't intend it as a term of disapprobation: trivialities are often good ways of expressing a thought, if not literally what was said. If you intended this: "In cases like this it's very useful to think about what people mean with words and not go with your first impression of what they might mean" then I agree with you, and with the need to say it. I just missed your point the first time around (and if you were to ask me, you put the point much better when you explained it to me).
2ChristianKl7yYes, that roughly what I mean. However there might be no way for you to know what they mean if you lack certain experiences. If a New Agey person speaks about how the observer effect in Quantum physics means X, his problem is that he doesn't have any idea what "observer" means for a physicist. Actually getting the person to understand what "observer" means to a physicist isn't something that you accomplish in an hour if the person has a total lack of physics background. . The same is true in reverse. It's not straightforward for the physicist to understand what the New Agey person means. Understanding people with a very different mindset then you is hard.
0[anonymous]7yYou seem to be saying two things here: This entails that it is possible to simply explain what you mean, even across very large inferential gaps. Yet here you seem to entertain the idea that it's sometimes impossible to explain what you mean, because a certain special experience is necessary. I endorse the first of these two points, and I'm extremely skeptical about the second. It also seems to me that physicists tend to hold to the first, and new agers tend to hold to the second, and that this constitutes much of the difference in their epistemic virtue.
0ChristianKl7yI said impossible in an hour not impossible in general. It simple might take a few years. There a scene in Neuromancer where at the end one protagonist asks the AI why another acted the way they did. The first answer is: It's unexplainable. Then the answer is, it's not really unexplainable but would take 37 years to explain. (my memory on the exact number might not be accurate) On the other hand the idea that teaching new phenomenological primitives is extremely hard. It takes more than an hour to teach a child that objects don't fall because they are heavy but because of gravity. Yes, you might get some token agreement but when you ask questions the person still thinks that a heavy object ought to fall faster than a light one because they haven't really understand the concept on a deep level. In physics education it's called teaching phenomenological primitives. You can't explain a blind man what red looks like. There are discussions that are about qualia.
1Lumifer7yNo, they think that a heavy object ought to fall faster than a light one because that's how it actually works for most familiar objects falling through air. If you've just been telling without demonstrating, this is pure reliance on authority.
3Vladimir_Nesov7y(Or taking a hypothetical seriously.) An important factor is just understanding the details of how everything supposedly fits together [http://lesswrong.com/lw/uw/entangled_truths_contagious_lies/]. Even if you don't know from observation that it's the way things work in our world, there is evidence in seeing a coherent theory, as opposed to contradictory lies and confusion. Inventing a robust description of a different world is hard, more likely it's just truth about ours.
0ChristianKl7yEmpty water bottles don't exactly fall faster than full water bottles. But my point isn't about whether you rely or authority or don't but on how people actually make decisions. There literature on phenomenological primitives in physics. The one time we tested the theory of gravity experimentally in school I did not get numbers that the Newtonian formula predicted. At the same time I don't think those formula are wrong. I believe them because smart people tell me that they are true and I don't care enough about physics to investigate the matter further.
2Lumifer7yThrough air full water bottles do fall faster than empty ones. LOL. "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"
0ChristianKl7yA bit maybe but I think they should have roughly the same speed. How much faster do you think they would fall? Sometimes you have to make hard choices... There was a time were I thought it was about picking sides and being for empiricism or against it. I'm well past that point. There are times when believing the authority is simply the right choice.
2V_V7yIf the fall is sufficiently long, they reach different terminal velocities, which are proportional to the square root of their masses. According to the Teh Interwebz, an average 0.5 litre empty plastic bottle weights about 13 g. A full bottle weights 513 g. Therefore, at terminal velocity it falls about 6.3 times faster.
2ChristianKl7yWhat does sufficiently long mean in practice?
4V_V7yIt depends on the drag coefficient and forward projected surface area of the bottle. My mildly informed guess is that it would take between 20 and 30 seconds. EDIT: Actually, I've just tried dropping 1.5 litre bottles from an height of about 1.8 m. Even if the fall lasts perhaps one second, the empty bottle starts to tumble much more than the full one, and hits the ground a noticeably later.
0Lumifer7yIn epistemic matters? I don't think so.
-2ChristianKl7yInformation isn't free and there are many cases where gathering more information is too expensive and who have to go with the best authority that's available. On the other hand it's worthwhile to be conscious of the decision that one makes in that regard. Most people follow authorities for all the wrong reasons.
1RichardKennaway7y"Because of gravity" isn't any better an explanation than "because they are heavy". Why does "gravity" accelerate all masses the same? Really thinking about that leads to general relativity, so it actually takes many years to explain why things fall, and it can't be done without going through calculus, topology, and differential geometry. Cf. Feynman on explanations [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bgaw9qe7DEE] (07:10–09:05).
0ChristianKl7yJust being able to recite "because of gravity" is not enough for many purposes. I myself did well in physics at school and finished best in class in it but I haven't studied any physics since then and I'm well aware that I don't understand advanced physics. It's not perfect but it is better. Airplanes fly well based on Newtonian physics.
1TheAncientGeek7yYou can construe the goal as non existent, but that is an uncharitable reading.
2satt7yWhether the goal exists is an empirical question, no...? I don't understand where (a lack of) charity enters into it.
0TheAncientGeek7yThe principle of charity relates to what people mean by what they say. Unmitigated experience might be empirically nonexistent under one interpretation of unmediated but not under another. If someone claims to have had unmediated experience , that is evidence relating to what they mean by their words.
0satt7yI see. What more charitable interpretation of "unmediated experience" would you prefer?
0TheAncientGeek7yMaybe the PoC would be an easier sell if it were phrased in terms of the "typical semantics fallacy".

Bruno de Finetti heard of [the author's empirical Bayes method for grading tests] and he wrote to me suggesting that the student should be encouraged to state their probability for each of the possible choices. The appropriate score should be a simple function of the probability distribution and the correct answer. An appropriate function would encourage students to reply with their actual distribution rather than attempt to bluff. I responded that it would be difficult to get third graders to list probabilities. He answered that we should give the students five gold stars and let them distribute the stars among the possible answers.

- Herman Chernoff (pg 34 of Past, Present, and Future of Statistical Science, available here)

Actually, if you do this with something besides a test, this sounds like a really good way to teach a third-grader probabilities.

PLAYBOY: So the experiment didn’t work?

[Craig] FERGUSON: No, the experiment always works. There’s no such thing as an experiment that doesn’t work. There are only results, but results may vary. Here’s what I learned:

Experiments can fail if they are executed or planned improperly. If both the control and the experimental group are given sugar pills, for example, or the equipment fails in a shower of sparks, the experiment has provided no evidence by which one can update. It is a small quibble, and probably not what the quote meant to illustrate (I'm guessing that the experiment provided evidence which downgraded the probability of the hypothesis), but something to note nonetheless: experiments are not magic knowledge-providers.

8Vaniver7yI think Ferguson would call those "results," and from those you would have learned about performing experiments, not about the original hypothesis you were interested in.
6Desrtopa7yIf anything, I think a really failed experiment is one that makes you think you've learned something that is in fact wrong, which is the result of flaws in the experiment that you never become aware of.
0wedrifid7yFerguson's proposed new language is a downgrade. Being unable to identify something as a failure when the outcome sucks is fatalism and not particularly useful.

Systems built without requirements cannot fail; they merely offer surprises — usually unpleasant!

— Robert Morris, quoted in Brian Snow's "We Need Assurance!"

I tend to disagree.. I have done some things which I thought was experimenting with but did not come up with any clear conclusion after the experiment and analysis. On rewriting the thesis it turned out there were a lot more implicit assumptions inside the hypothesis that I was not aware of. I think it was a badly designed experiment and it was rather unproductive in retrospective analysis. I suppose one could argue that it brought to light the implicit assumptions and that was a useful result. Somehow(not sure how or why) I find that a low standard to consider something an experiment.

3DanielLC7yAn experiment is supposed to teach you the truth. If you run the experiment badly and, say, get a false positive, then the experiment failed.

"Man is not going to wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain."

--Corneliu E. Giurgea, the chemist who synthesized Piracetam and coined the term 'Nootropic'

Things like linear algebra, group theory, and probability have so many uses throughout science that learning them is like installing a firmware upgrade to your brain -- and even the math you don't use will stretch you in helpful ways.

-- Scott Aaronson

The same is true for a lot of intellectual concepts outside of math.

6David_Gerard7yIf only we could put together, say, a four-year college degree course intended to have this effect ...
3johnlawrenceaspden7yI think that's a super idea. I'd like to design it and I'd like to take it. The ideas that underlie everything else. Like a whole university course devoted to A-level maths, but covering every simple underlying idea. We should start by trying to work out what the syllabus should be. (one 16 lecture course on each topic, and we'll have three courses per term so that's 36 courses in total) Off the top of my head we should have: groups, calculus, dimensional analysis, estimation, probability (inc bayes), relativity, quantum mechanics, electronics, programming, chemistry, evolution, evolutionary psychology, heuristics and biases, law, public speaking, creative writing, economics, logic, game theory, game-of-life, how-to-win-friends-and-influence people, history, cosmology, geography, atomic theory, molecular biology ... All taught with immediate direct applications to actual things in the immediate environment and if you can't come up with simple examples that a child would find interesting and could understand then it doesn't make the cut. Any more suggestions? If we get loads let's make a post on 'The ideal 4-year university course'.

The joke was that this is precisely what a liberal arts degree was meant to be; the main problem is that liberal arts degrees haven't kept up with the times.

2Kaj_Sotala7yHere's a related post, though it doesn't have that many suggestions: http://lesswrong.com/lw/l7/the_simple_math_of_everything/ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/l7/the_simple_math_of_everything/]
3bramflakes7yWhat like?

For my part, I've found the economic notions of opportunity cost and marginal utility to be like this.

-4johnlawrenceaspden7yThat's maths too.
7Viliam_Bur7yThe specific application of the math does add value. Most obviously for the opportunity costs, on the math side you only have to understand the "minus" symbol, which pretty much everyone already does. With marginal utility you have to understand the "derivative", but you still have to apply it in a situation ouside of math class.
4TobyBartels7yIt's applied math, not the pure math that the OP was talking about. Furthermore, these can be useful ideas even when used purely qualitatively; then it's not even applied math (except in a sense that everything is math, if we make the math sufficiently imprecise).
6Torello7y"Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" — Theodosius Dobzhansky The fact that a theory that can be stated in ten words frames an entire discipline is quite incredible. Compared to group theory and probability, it sure seems like an easier uploading process as well.
5Said Achmiz7yWhat are the ten words or less in which evolution can be stated?

"Multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die."

-Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

3Desrtopa7yI think that Darwin would himself acknowledge that "fittest" is a more accurate rendition than "strongest," but whether the quote can be rendered in this way without breaking the ten words constraint comes down to a question of whether "unfittest" counts as a legit word.
3NancyLebovitz7yI think "fit" has become a free-floating standard rather than meaning "fitting into a particular environment".
0Nornagest7yMaladapted, as an adjective? Though I suppose that's cheating a bit since it's a sense of adaptation that draws on an evolutionary metaphor.
6Kawoomba7ywarped by random change what replicates stays around always evolving (More constraints! More constraints!) change without motion the lament of the red queen coevolution
4infinityGroupoid7yNatural Selection: the differential survival of replicators with heritable variation.
3BloodyShrimp7y"We have what replicated better; noise permanently affects replicative ability"?
3ChristianKl7y"Mathematics is about proving theorems based on axioms and other theorems" also frames a whole discipline. A frame tells you something about a disciple but it doesn't tell you everything.
5SolveIt7yA good deal of the sequences seem to fall in this category. Conservation of expected evidence, for instance.
-1ChristianKl7yWhen it comes to general concepts cybernetics is something to which a lot of people on LW don't have much exposure and cybernetics as central as knowing probability theory for understanding how the world works. Basically any subject in which I invested a decent amount of thought produces lessons that are applicable to other topics. I even learned a lot in an activity like Salsa dancing that's useful in other contexts.
0[anonymous]7yWhat introductory material about it would you recommend?
5ChristianKl7yUnfortunately I don't have a good recommendation. Formally I learned about it in a physiology lecture at university and the professor said that there isn't a good textbook that he could use to teach us. While searching around I found An Introduction of Cybernetics by Ross Ashby [http://dspace.utalca.cl/bitstream/1950/6344/2/IntroCyb.pdf]. It's might not be perfect but I think it's probably a good enough introduction.

The brutal truth is that reality is indifferent to your difficulty in finding enough subjects. It’s like astronomy: To study things that are small and distant in the sky you need a huge telescope. If you only have access to a few subjects, you need to study bigger effects, and maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

-- Joseph P. Simmons, The Reformation: Can Social Scientists Save Themselves

0NancyLebovitz7yVoted up for the linked article more than for the quote.

we're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill Today.

Captain James Tiberius Kirk dodging an appeal to nature and the "what the hell" effect, to optimize for consequences instead of virtue.

1Cyan7yThat clip is a brilliant example of Shatner's much-mocked characteristic acting -speak.

Even with measurements in hand, old habits are hard to shake. It’s easy to fall in love with numbers that seem to agree with you. It’s just as easy to grope for reasons to write off numbers that violate your expectations. Those are both bad, common biases. Don’t just look for evidence to confirm your theory. Test for things your theory predicts should never happen. If the theory is correct, it should easily survive the evidential crossfire of positive and negative tests. If it’s not you’ll find out that much quicker. Being wrong efficiently is what science is all about.

-- Carlos Bueno, Mature Optimization, pg. 14. Emphasis mine.

“I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer.”

― Douglas Adams

-3brazil847yI like this quote, but it occurs to me that "I don't know" is often a reasonable answer to a question. How about this: "I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I can't think of an answer which I am confident will not put me in a negative light."
6AndHisHorse7yThat just seems like overly honest politicking to me.

Nothing is so obvious that it’s obvious.

Errol Morris

[N]ature is constantly given human qualities. Wordsworth wrote that “nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Mother Nature has comforted us in every culture on earth. In the 20th and 21st centuries, some environmentalists claimed that the entire earth is a single ecosystem, a “superorganism” in the language of Gaia.

I would argue that we have been fooling ourselves. Nature, in fact, is mindless. Nature is neither friend nor foe, neither malevolent nor benevolent.

Nature is purposeless. Nature simply is. We may find nature beautiful or terrible, but those feelings are human constructions. Such utter and complete mindlessness is hard for us to accept. We feel such a strong connection to nature. But the relationship between nature and us is one-sided. There is no reciprocity. There is no mind on the other side of the wall. That absence of mind, coupled with so much power, is what so frightened me...

-- Alan Lightman

Every 100 million years or so, an asteroid or comet the size of a mountain smashes into the earth, killing nearly everything that lives. If ever we needed proof of Nature’s indifference to the welfare of complex organisms such as ourselves, there it is. The history of life on this planet has been one of merciless destruction and blind, lurching renewal.

Sam Harris, Mother Nature is Not Our Friend, in response to the Edge Annual Question 2008


Accident, n. An inevitable occurrence due to the action of immutable natural laws.

  • Ambrose Bierce, The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary, complied and edited by Ernest J. Hopkins

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." -George Bernard Shaw

8philh7yOr naivety, depending on how cynical the critic is. And of course, inaccurate observations are commonly called cynical and/or naive as well...

Real probabilities about the structure and properties of the cosmos, and its relation to living organisms on this planet, can be reach’d only by correlating the findings of all who have competently investigated both the subject itself, and our mental equipment for approaching and interpreting it — astronomers, physicists, mathematicians, biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and so on. The only sensible method is that of assembling all the objective scientifick data of 1931, and forming a fresh chain of partial indications bas’d exclusively on that data and on no conceptions derived from earlier and less ample arrays of data; meanwhile testing, by the psychological knowledge of 1931, the workings and inclinations of our minds in accepting, connecting, and making deductions from data, and most particularly weeding out all tendencies to give more than equal consideration to conceptions which would never have occurred to us had we not formerly harboured provisional and capricious ideas of the universe now conclusively known to be false. It goes without saying that this realistic principle fully allows for the examination of those irrational feelings and wishes about the universe, upon which idealists so amusingly base their various dogmatick speculations.

-- H.P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters, 1932-1934.

0johnlawrenceaspden7yWhat's with bas'd and dogmatick? Is Lovecraft aiming at some antique effect, or did he write in a non-standard dialect?
8Nornagest7yYes and yes. Lovecraft was writing in early 20th century New England, but he typically affected the forms of late 1700s British English, or at least tried to. Partly this was for stylistic effect, but I get the sense that he also thought of his native idiom as intellectually debased. The aesthetics of tradition were kind of a thing with Lovecraft, although in other ways he was thoroughly modern. Not that these affectations were exclusive to Lovecraft by any means; William Hope Hodgson for example wrote The Night Land (a seminal 1912 horror/SF story and notable Lovecraft influence) in an excruciating pseudo-17th-century dialect.
0[anonymous]7yGood god, he did write everything like that!
0James_Ernest7yConsider my priors for knowledge of Bayes-fu by wise predecessors to be significantly raised.

Don't just tell me what you'd like to be true.

This is from Greg Egan's 1999 novel Teranesia; since there are no hits for ‘Teranesia’ in the Google custom search, I'm inferring that it hasn't been posted before.

Here's a little background. This is a spoiler for some events early in the novel, but it is early; it's not a spoiler for the really big stuff (not even in this chapter). So Prabir lives alone with his father (‘Baba’) and mother (and baby sister Madhusree who is not in this scene), and their garden has been sown with mines for some very interesting reasons that needn't concern us, and Baba has discovered this by being blown up by one. But he's still alive, so mother and Prabir have laid a ladder atop some boxes across the garden, and she's crawled along the ladder to rescue Baba without setting off more mines. But this is harder than anticipated.

She turned to Prabir. “I'm going to try sitting down, so I can get Baba on to the ladder. But then I might not be able to stand up with him, to carry him. If I leave him on the ladder and walk back to my end, do you think the two of us could carry the ladder to the side of the garden with Baba on it—like a stretcher?”

Prabir r

... (read more)
2shminux7yIt is a good quote, and it works in context, but often it pays to (temporarily) believe that "what you'd like to be true" actually is and do your hardest (or even impossible [http://lesswrong.com/lw/up/shut_up_and_do_the_impossible/]) to figure out how you got there. “Yes, we can do it.” could be the first step toward figuring out the "how" part.

"There's a blind spot in the center of your visual field," Sarasti pointed out. "You can't see it. You can't see the saccades in your visual timestream. Just two of the tricks you know about. Many others."

Cunningham was nodding. "That's my whole point. Rorschach could be—"

"Not talking about case studies. Brains are survival engines, not truth detectors. If self-deception promotes fitness, the brain lies. Stops noticing— irrelevant things. Truth never matters. Only fitness. By now you don't experience the world as it exists at all. You experience a simulation built from assumptions. Shortcuts. Lies. Whole species is agnosiac by default. Rorschach does nothing to you that you don't already do to yourselves."

[-][anonymous]7y 13

The little boy's mother was off to market. She worried about her boy, who was always up to some mischief. She sternly admonished him, "Be good. Don't get into trouble. Don't eat all the cabbage. Don't spill all the milk. Don't throw stones at the cow. Don't fall down the well." The boy had done all of these things on other market days. Hoping to head off new trouble, she added, "And don't stuff beans up your nose!" This was a new idea for the boy, who promptly tried it out.

Wikipedia:Don't stuff beans up your nose

4Lumifer7yThere is a shorter version :-) "Kids, while we're away, don't lock the cat in the fridge", said the parents. "Ooooh, that's a great idea", said the kids...
-2TobyBartels7yThat's not necessarily a bad result. If he's busy stuffing beans up his nose, then this might keep him out of greater trouble; everything else that's listed before (and which apparently he did before) seems worse. That might be just what his mother planned.
0alex_zag_al7yi once had to go to the doctor so he could fish a lego out of my nose. So, that was worse than eating all the cabbage or spilling all the milk I think. More scary, and probably more expensive, depending on how the insurance worked out.
4TobyBartels7yI think that shape, hardness, and solubility would all make a Lego brick worse than a bean. Really, the only way to tell is probably to try it out. Who wants to volunteer for an experiment?

The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd [than that of Sisyphus]. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.

Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

5RichardKennaway7yThe worker is paid for his work, and with this money he obtains a roof over his head, food on the table, and the wherewithal to raise a family and to pursue other activities when he is not working. Sisyphus works for nothing and does nothing but work. That Camus sees, or affects to see, no difference between their situations says something about Camus, but nothing about work.
2MugaSofer7yIs it truly different to work because the Gods have forced you, compared to working because the threat of starvation and homelessness has forced you? I thought the quote was suggesting both tasks are equally arbitrary and pointless, though, rather than discussing compensation. It seems more interesting.
1RichardKennaway7yYes, it is. Some people have it harder than others, but we all work because the threat of starvation and homelessness forces us; except for those relying on the charity of friends and family (including deceased ones), or of institutions. The meat machines we live in require sustenance and shelter, without which we die, and these resources are provided either by our own work or by that of others. Death is free. Life has to be worked for. Some are fortunate enough to have the abilities, health, energy, and social environment to be confident of always finding people to pay for whatever it is we want to direct our efforts towards. The wolves are so very far from our door that we can forget, or never realise, that they are out there, inching closer when we rest and retreating when we work. So you can apply the story of Sisyphus to all of us, but only in the larger sense that we are forced to run all the while just to stay alive, and that only for 70 years or so. It applies just as much to Camus (whose Wiki page is rather uninformative about how he actually earned a living) as to the lowest factory worker. We may, of course, daydream of a future in which we need care no more to clothe and eat. We may work to bring such a future about. But that is not the world we live in today, nor has it ever been, nor will it be for a very long time. It is suggesting that, and, I say, it is wrong.
4MugaSofer7y(One might argue that "the workman of today" is less likely to accomplish something meaningful, in the course of earning their living.) Even if everything was meaningless - which it isn't, in my opinion, but Camus does seem to have thought so - and everyone must work or starve - which, as you note, is not true because people are compassionate - surely that merely makes the comparison to Sisyphus that much more relevant? How does it undermine the quote? Indeed, if it's that hard to escape, surely comparing starvation to the inescapable will of the gods is that much more accurate?
1RichardKennaway7yThat depends on the strength of one's transhumanist faith. :) One can repurpose Camus as much as Camus repurposes Sisyphus, but the original passage does go on to say, "Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious..." So Camus is not talking about us all, certainly not intellectuals like himself, but about the proles.
0roystgnr7yI think there's a non-negligible difference between "I push the same rock around every day, and there it is back in the exact place it started again" and e.g. "I push the same kinds of rock around every day, but last year's are now embedded in the building we just finished."
1Kawoomba7yCamus may answer along the lines of "since [any ascribing of meaning] is absurd in the first place, if you think there's objectively more meaning in the building you built than in the rock you pushed up, you're not taking the premise seriously". In a way we're whistling in a dark forest.

People are surely better off with the truth. Oddly enough, everyone agrees with this when it comes to the arts. Sophisticated people sneer at feel-good comedies and saccharine romances in which everyone lives happily ever after. But when it comes to science, these same people say, "Give us schmaltz!" They expect the science of human beings to be a source of emotional uplift and inspirational sermonizing.

Steven Pinker

This lacks a ring of truth for me.

A lot of folks seem to expect the science of human beings to reinforce their bitterness and condemnation of human nature (roughly, "people are mostly crap"). I kinda suspect that if you asked "sophisticated people" (whoever those are) to name some important psychology experiments, those who named any would come up with Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment and Milgram's obedience experiments pretty early on. Not a lot of emotional uplift there.

As for the arts — horror films where everyone dies screaming seem to be regarded as every bit as lowbrow as feel-good comedies.

81237yIt's not obvious that one is better off with the truth. Assume that for some desirable thing X: P(X|I believe X will happen) = 49% P(X|I believe X won't happen) = 1% It seems I can't rationally believe that X will happen. Perhaps I would be better off being deluded about it.
0Remlin7ySorry, I don't understand - why does sum of probabilities not equal 100% in your example? Assume that you missed "5" in "P(X|I believe X won't happen) = 1%" But for what reason?
2timujin7yThese probabilities are not required to sum to 1, because they are not incompatible and exhaustive possible outcomes of an experiment. More obvious example to illustrate: P(6-sided die coming up as 6 | today is Monday) = 1/6 P(6-sided die coming up as 6 | today is not Monday) = 1/6 1/6 + 1/6 != 1
0Remlin7yI think your example is not suitable for situation above - there I can see only two possible outcomes: X happen or X not happen. We don't know anything more about X. And P(X|A) + P(X|~A) = 1, isn't so?
5timujin7yNo. You may have confused it with P(X|A) + P(~X|A) = 1 (note the tilda). In my case, either 6-sided die comes up as 6, or it doesn't.
0JQuinton7yYes, either X happens or X doesn't happen. P(X) + P(~X) = 1, so therefore P(X | A) + P(~X | A) = 1. Both formulations are stating the probability of X. But one is adjusting for the probability of X given A; so either X given A happens or X given A doesn't happen (which is P(~X | A) not P(X | ~A)).
01237yWhen Pinker said "better off", I assumed he included goal achievement. It's plausible that people are more motivated to do something if they're more certain than they should be based on the evidence. They might not try as hard otherwise, which will influence the probability that the goal is attained. I don't really know if that's true, though. The thing may be worth doing even if the probability isn't high that it will succeed, because the expected value could be high. But if one isn't delusionally certain that one will be successful, it may no longer be worth doing because the probability that the attempt succeeds is lower. (That was the point of my first comment.) There could be other psychological effects of knowing certain things. For example, maybe it would be difficult to handle being completely objective about one's own flaws and so on. Being objective about people you know may (conceivably) harm your relationships. Having to lie is uncomfortable. Knowing a completely useless but embarrassing fact about someone but pretending you don't is uncomfortable, not simply a harmless, unimportant update of your map of the territory. Etc. I'm not saying I know of any general way to avoid harmful knowledge, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

“All witches are selfish, the Queen had said. But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine! I have a duty!”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30)

-2DanielLC7yIf you want to use your selfishness to help others, then you're not selfish.
0[anonymous]7yDo we really need to go into the question what “selfishness” actually means [http://lesswrong.com/lw/np/disputing_definitions/]? In ordinary situations I'd say that “the actual altruist [is] whichever one actually holds open doors for little old ladies [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ky/fake_morality/]”; maybe in certain situations we need different words to specify whether they do so because it's in their own utility function or because of religious/game-theoretical/superrational/acausal/whatever-they-call-it-these-days reasons, but...
-1DanielLC7yI don't think this is just a problem with definitions. This is fake morality [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ky/fake_morality/]. She's giving a fake justification [http://lesswrong.com/lw/kq/fake_justification/] for helping others as her own self interest. Someone who finds a way to justify buying a million dollar laptop is clearly just being selfish and doesn't really care about their claimed morality of altruism. Similarly, someone who tries to justify helping others is clearly just being altruistic and doesn't really care about their claimed morality of selfishness.
0timujin7yOf course you're not. But human nature is supposedly selfish, and if your true goals are altruistic, you will have to find a way to turn it around.
3[anonymous]7yEmphasis on "supposedly", since the popular hypotheses about "selfish human nature" are far too simplistic to reflect any actual results of psychological research.
2timujin7yOf course they are. Unlike those about Pratchett's witches, though. They reflect the 'locally-selfish-globally-altruistic' concept surprisingly well.
0Neo7ySelfishness seems to be referred to as primarily a a mindset or attitude. Helping others as an outcome. I think they can co-exist at the same time, for example Adam Smith's invisible hand in capitalism.
-1DanielLC7yI'm not saying that your selfishness can't result in others being helped. I'm saying that if you're trying to figure out how to use your selfishness to help others, then helping others is clearly your goal, which proves you're not selfish. If you're willing to game the system to help others, then you'd be willing to help others without gaming the system.
1VAuroch7yIf you are selfish (this usually will cash out as "you alieve that selfishness is good") but believe it is virtuous or beneficial to act unselfishly, then you would rightly seek ways to act in ways that feel locally selfish but have unselfish consequences.
1DanielLC7yYou have a left parenthesis but no matching right parenthesis.
1VAuroch7yI have now fixed this serious issue. (Is this sarcasm? You Decide!)
0Cyan7yShouldn't that be ?
6VAuroch7yI considered that but decided it was needlessly cruel. And now you did it for me, so I get the best of both worlds.
-1DanielLC7yNow that I can understand your sentence: If you are selfish, but believe it is virtuous to act unselfishly, then you'll seek ways to act in ways that look unselfish, but have selfish consequences. Tiffany seems to be an altruist who thinks she's supposed to be selfish, and is trying to justify acting altruistically as somehow being selfish.
1VAuroch7yYou're describing someone who believes it is beneficial to look unselfish but not be unselfish. If you are selfish, but have reasoned out that helping others is the correct goal to have, you would believe not that it is beneficial to look unselfish, but that it is beneficial to act unselfishly. And if you believe that but do not alieve it, System 2 would look for ways to do unselfish things that System 1 would perceive as selfish, so as to better motivate yourself toward those goals.

the fact that I don’t know exactly what consciousness is, doesn’t mean that I can’t be crystal-clear about what it isn’t!

Scott Aaronson in reply to the statements like "A stone is conscious to the “inputs” of gravity and electrostatic repulsion"

2roystgnr7yI'm not sure Scott isn't just falling victim to the sorites paradox here. There are lots of macroscale definitions which seem to break down at their smallest application, and it's not immediately obvious that consciousness couldn't be one of them.
2Kawoomba7yThe question is whether to interpret such a falling apart of a definition (which I take to mean that related decision problems cannot be clearly answered anymore) as an inherent or even necessary attribute of concepts which 'live' at a macroscale, or as a weakness of said definition, as a sign that we're mistaking a fuzzy word cloud for a precisely defined set.
0MugaSofer7yHmm. I see his point, I thinks, but I ... think it does mean that, actually. Without fully understanding the definition, you should be less sure that a better understanding wouldn't classify them differently. Picture a slave-owner saying something similar about a slave, for instance. Slave-owners were even more confused than we are about personhood, and I think it's clear that they weren't "crystal clear on what [isn't a person", in retrospect.
0shminux7ySure, there are debatable cases. But there are also clear-cut ones, like a bacteria, while alive, has no personhood", and if your model predicts that it has more personhood than a human (as IIT does for consciousness for a certain 2D configuration), then you should not call whatever your model describes a bacteria has more of as "personhood".
-1JosephY7yIt reminds me of Justice Potter Stewart: "I know it when I see it!"
6shminux7yWell, it's the converse, which seems a lot more useful a criterion to me.

Predictors have an incentive to predict likely-events-of-low-consequence when they are not harmed by their errors. But in the real world, what matters is warning about events of high consequence. In the real world, the latter can only be revealed through skin-in-the-game as the supposedly "good predictors" go bankrupt.

Nassim Taleb

I look at books as investments in a future of learning rather than a fleeting moment of insight, soon to be forgotten.

--Kevan Lee

People are extraordinarily sensitive to framing. "Art" is valuable. "Content" is not.

Patrick McKenzie on why having a publication date on your blog entry devalues it.

7RichardKennaway7y(Link to the, er, "content" [https://training.kalzumeus.com/newsletters/archive/content-marketing-strategy] .) And yet books always have a publication date. ETA: as do scientific articles, of course, and the date really matters, not because of being "up to date" but because the date gives some context to whatever it is.
7gwern7yAs far as books go: I'm curious if showing a date is as bad as he thinks; he doesn't mention ever A/B testing the claim himself. (I'd test it on my site, except the date is already buried in the sidebar to the point where many people miss it, so I wouldn't expect much of a difference.)
0Vaniver7yI predict yes, but if I'm reading his position right showing the date is just a symptom of not having a Long Content focus, which is what he's really arguing for in that article (and which your site already has in spades).
2gwern7yIf the problem is focusing on short-term writing which becomes worthless quickly, then simply hiding or showing dates shouldn't much affect how long readers stay on the page: most short-term stuff shows its colors very quickly. (How many sentences does it take to figure out you're not interested in a rant about John Kerry from 2004?)
2Vaniver7yI think McKenzie's argument is that using a date can turn long content into short content, which many people do on accident, and while he doesn't quantify it (which would be the value of A/B testing) I think he has enough evidence to establish the direction of the effect. Not using a date is obviously not sufficient to turn short content into long content, but I do think it may be helpful at getting one into the right state of mind, as it focuses the attention on sorting things by content rather than time. (Imagine trying to find all of Robin Hanson's writing on construal level theory- yes, you can use the nearfar [http://www.overcomingbias.com/tag/nearfar] tag on Overcoming Bias, but that's sorted by date, and there's no solid introduction.)
1gwern7yThat's a good example of how weak date markers are: if the dates were deleted completely from every OB post, people would still find them incomprehensible because there's only one post which could be considered an overview of the concept, and is a needle in the haystack until and unless Hanson in some way synthesizes all his scattershot posts and allusions into a single Near-Far page. The posts need some sort of organization imposed; the lack of that organization is what kills them, not some date markers. If my essays were broken up into 500-word chunks, and sorted either randomly or by date, they wouldn't look much better.
2shminux7yTo expand on this a bit: he gives the following supporting example:
-2Nornagest7yI wanted to give this a fair shake, but it reads like McKenzie has never heard of journalism.
4Vaniver7yHe's writing for an audience that sells software as a service (SaaS). Why would he give journalism more than a disclaimer (which he does include)?
-1Nornagest7yHe might be writing for an SaaS audience, but he's writing about the blog format, which is built to facilitate crowdsourced magazine journalism or editorial-style content. Now, he's quite right that the format's poorly suited to long-form or reference-style content, but starting a post with "let's talk about blogging" and proceeding to talk about all the ways it sucks for those content types, without much more than a word for its intended purpose, strikes me as a pretty serious omission. If instead he'd framed it as "blogs are often misused", then we wouldn't be having this conversation. But that's not where we're standing.
2Vaniver7yWhat makes it serious? What purpose does including journalism in the article serve?

Because positive illusions typically provide a short-term benefit with larger long-term costs, they can become a form of emotional procrastination.

-- Max H. Bazerman

5RichardKennaway7yContext? I can randomly replace elements of this by their opposites and get something that sounds just as truthy. Try it! "[Because/although] [positive/negative] [illusions/perceptions] provide a [short/long]-term [benefit/cost] with [larger/smaller] [long/short]-term [costs/benefits], they can [become/avoid] a form of [emotional/intellectual] [procrastination/spur to action]."
1Vaniver7yIt's from a book on decision-making [http://www.amazon.com/Judgment-Managerial-Decision-Making-5th/dp/047139887X/ref=nosim?tag=vglnk-c319-20] , in a section on motivational biases. Bazerman discusses the evidence that positive illusions help ('[research] suggest[s] that positive illusions enhance and protect self-esteem, increase personal contentment, help individuals to persist at difficult tasks, and facilitate coping with aversive and uncontrollable events" is a short sample), talks about clusters (unrealistically positive views of the self, unrealistic optimism, illusion of control, self-serving attributions, and positive illusions in groups and society), and then the quote is from a section labeled "Are Positive Illusions Good for You?". Here's the full paragraph it is from: -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- It looks to me like doing an odd number of flips is often silly. ("Because positive illusions typically provide a long-term cost with larger long-term costs, they can avoid a form of emotional procrastination." What?)
0faul_sname7y"Because positive illusions provide a short-term benefit with smaller short-term benefits, they can become a form of intellectual procrastination."

I wander through
the dark wilderness
by the light
of my burning map

-- Lucien Zell (can't find an authoritative attribution)

6Desrtopa7yI'm really not clear on what this is actually supposed to be a metaphor for. It's clearly not something you would literally want to do, since the night is temporary and the light provided by the map is dim and brief. But maybe this is a metaphorical long-lasting night and bright burning map?
0Cube7yDestroying something that would be useful ir even necessary in the future so that you can better get through or perhaps survive the present. Going to the same college as your high school sweetheart for example. Perhaps it will work out and you won't need the map.

I'm sure this has been discussed before, but my attempts at searches for those discussions failed, so...

Why is this thread in Main and not Discussion?

7Viliam_Bur7yTradition, I guess. In the Age of Sequences, Eliezer sometimes posted rationality quotes, in the article text (1 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/mv/rationality_quotes_1/], 2 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/mw/rationality_quotes_2/], 3 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/mx/rationality_quotes_3/], etc [http://lesswrong.com/tag/ey_quotes/].). Things written by Eliezer in that era are probably automatically considered Main-level. And the new Rationality Quotes threads don't seem worse than the traditional ones -- if we look at the highly voted quotes.

Things written by Eliezer in that era are probably automatically considered Main-level.

Well, discussion didn't exist back than.

5elharo7yLast month I posted the rationality quotes in discussion. Someone complained and said it belonged in main [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jzn/rationality_quotes_april_2014/arhj] so I moved it there. This month I just started it in Main.

In the midst of it all you must take your stand, good-temperedly and without disdain, yet always aware that a man's worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions.

-- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, pg. 76

[-][anonymous]7y 0

It's always a good idea to let reality be your only obstacle. Your imagination shouldn't be the limit on your success.

-- Scott Adams

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
[-][anonymous]7y 0

Context: In a short video, a woman throws out an old desk lamp. The music and cinematography are contrived such that the viewer feels tempted to feel sorrow on behalf on the lamp. Then a man walks up and addresses the camera with:

Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That is because you crazy. It has no feelings. And the new one is much better.

A good example of the difference between fuzzies and utilons.

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

'Whatever our calling, whether we are scientists, engineers, poets, public servants, or parents, we all live in a complex, and ever-changing world, and all of us deserve what's in this toolbox [meaning the humanities]: critical thinking skills; knowledge of the past and other cultures; an ability to work with and interpret numbers and statistics; access to the insights of great writers and artists; a willingness to experiment, to open up to change; and the ability to navigate ambiguity.'

In an opinion piece in the Boston Globe called "At MIT, the h... (read more)

critical thinking skills; knowledge of the past and other cultures; an ability to work with and interpret numbers and statistics; access to the insights of great writers and artists; a willingness to experiment, to open up to change; and the ability to navigate ambiguity.'

Some of these things are not like the others...

1johnlawrenceaspden7yWhich are the odd ones out?
5Said Achmiz7yTo a first approximation: { critical thinking skills; an ability to work with and interpret numbers and statistics; a willingness to experiment, to open up to change } vs. { knowledge of the past and other cultures; access to the insights of great writers and artists } Then you've got this one by itself because what the heck does it even mean: { the ability to navigate ambiguity }
5johnlawrenceaspden7y{ the ability to navigate ambiguity } I think this is one of the most important skills you get from the humanities. I have a friend who's a history professor. He's very used to hearing 20 different accounts of the same event told by different people, most of whom are self-serving if not outright lying, and working out what must actually have gone on, which looks like a strength to me. He has a skill I'd like to have, but don't, and he got it from studying history, (and playing academic politics).

working out what must actually have gone on

How did he know that his judgment of what actually had gone on was correct? How did he verify his conclusion?

{ the ability to navigate ambiguity } I think this is one of the most important skills you get from the humanities.

Statistics is precisely that, but with numbers.

3VAuroch7yThat only works if you have numbers.
5Lumifer7yLuckily, you can make numbers.
0VAuroch7y"Making numbers" is unlikely to produce useful numbers.
[-][anonymous]7y 10

Not necessarily.

Relevant Slate Star Codex post: “If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing With Made-Up Statistics

4Lumifer7y"Making" is not "making up". When you flip a coin a bunch of times and decide that it's fair, you've made numbers. There are no numbers in the coin itself, but you reasonably can state the probability of the coin coming up heads and even state your certainty in this estimate. These are numbers you made. As a more general observation, in the Bayesian approach the prior represents information available to you before data arrives. The prior rarely starts as a number, but you must make it a number before you can proceed further.
0VAuroch7yNo, those are numbers you found. The inherent tendency to produce numbers when tested in that way ("fairness/unfairness") was already a property of the coin; you found what numbers it produced, and used that information to derive useful information. Making numbers, on the other hand, is almost always making numbers up. Sometimes processes where you make numbers up have useful side-effects but that doesn't mean that making numbers is at all useful. Basically, I think it's important to distinguish between finding numbers which encode information about the world, and making numbers from information you already have. Making numbers may be a necessary prerequisite for other useful processes, but it is not in itself useful, since it requires you to already have the information.
-2Lumifer7yI don't think this is a useful distinction, but if you insist... You said: "That only works if you have numbers." Then the answer is: "Luckily, you can find numbers."
0VAuroch7yFinding relevant numbers is significantly difficult in most circumstances.
2Lumifer7yThat phrase is so general as to be pretty meaningless. I do not subscribe to the notion that anything not expressible in math is worthless, but "in most circumstances" the inability to find any numbers is a strong indication that you don't understand the issue well.
0VAuroch7yYes, that's the whole point. There aren't always numbers you can find, even when there are, finding them is nontrivial, and you often have to deal with the ambiguous situation or problem regardless. What you said here is a vast oversimplification; if you have gotten to the point where you can find relevant numbers, you have already successfully navigated most of the ambiguity. Is there still an inferential gap here? I thought I made my point clear about three comments ago, but this is clearly not as obvious a distinction as I expected it to be.
1Lumifer7yAnd that's where you are being misled by your insistence on "finding" numbers instead of "making" them. It's pretty easy to construct estimates. The problem is that without good data these estimates will be too wide to the point of uselessness. But you can think, and find some data, and clean some existing data, and maybe narrow these estimates down a bit. Go back to 1. and repeat until you run out of data or the estimate is narrow enough to fit its purpose. Ambiguity isn't some magical concept limited to the humanities. The whole of statistics is dedicated to dealing with ambiguity. In fact, my standard definition of statistics is "a toolbox of methods to deal with uncertainty". I understand your point, I just think it's mistaken.
0VAuroch7yI consider all the things you've said to be my best arguments why you're wrong, so there's clearly something wrong here. But I've run out of novel arguments and can't figure out where the disconnect is.
-2Lumifer7yWhat is that statement of mine to which you are assigning the not-true value?
5VAuroch7yYou seem to think that it is generally easy to turn arbitrary ambiguities into numbers in a way amenable to using statistics to resolve them. I find that to be obviously, blatantly false. Where you see things like this: I see something more like Where the difficult part is gather data. If you can gather data that is relevant, then statistics are useful. But often, you can't, and so they aren't. I outlined the exact same process as you, I'm just significantly more pessimistic about how often and how well it works.
2Lumifer7yYes, I do. No, I do not. I said nothing about "resolving" things. When I say "numbers" in the context of statistics, I really mean probability distributions, often uncertain probability distributions. For example, the probability of anything lies somewhere between zero and one -- see, we don't have any information, but we already have numbers. You're likely thinking that when I am turning ambiguities into numbers, I turn them into nice hard scalars, like "the probability of X is 0.7". No, I don't. I turn them into wide probability distributions, often without any claims about the shape of these distributions. That is still firmly within the purview of statistics. If you have no data, nothing is useful. Remember, the original context was how humanities teach us to deal with ambiguity. But if you have no data, humanities won't help and if you do, you can use numbers. I'm not saying that everything should be converted to numbers. My point is that there are disciplines -- specifically statistics -- that are designed to deal with uncertainty and, arguably, do it better than handwaving common in the humanities.
0VAuroch7yYour confidence in your ability to do statistics to everything is clearly unassailable, and I have no desire to be strawmanned further.
1EHeller7yThis is part of critical thinking. Taking a vaguely defined or ambiguous problem, parsing out what it means and figuring out an approach.
-1dthunt7yI'm rather curious; If you take people across a big swath of humanities, and ask them about subjects where there is a substantial amount of debate and not a lot of decisive evidence - say, theories of a historical Jesus - how many of those people are going to describe one of those theories as more likely than not? Like, if you have dozens of theories that you've studied and examined closely, are we going to see people assigning >50% to their favored theory? Or will people be a lot more conservative with their confidence?
3[anonymous]7yBTW, the probability that the Jesus character in the four Gospels was based on a real person would be a great question to ask in the next LW census/survey.
2Plasmon7yWas Bram Stoker's Dracula [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula] "based on" a real person [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vlad_III_the_Impaler] ? Possibly, given an extremely weak interpretation of "based on". What does it take for a fictional character to be based on a real person? Does it suffice to have a similar name, live in a similar place at a similar time? Do they have to perform similar actions as well? This has to be made clear before the question can be meaningfully answered.
2Nornagest7yThat's an extraordinarily weak "based on". The Dracula/Tepes connection in Bram Stoker's work doesn't go much beyond Stoker borrowing what he thought was a cool name with exotic, ominous associations (and that "exotic" is important; Eastern Europe in Stoker's time was seen as capital-F Foreign to Brits, which comes through quite clearly in the book). Later authors played on it a bit more. The equivalent here would be saying that there was probably someone named Yeshua in the Galilee area around 30 AD.
1Vulture7yWas Yeshua that uncommon of a name? You're setting the bar pretty low here. (That being said, my understanding is that there's a strong scholarly consensus that there was a Jew named Yeshua who lived in Galilee, founded a cult which later became Christianity, and was crucified by the Romans controlling the area. So these picky ambiguities about "based on" aren't really relevant anyway)
1Nornagest7yNot that uncommon, no. I'm exaggerating for effect, but the point should still have carried if I'd used "Yeshua ben Yosef" or something even more specific: if you can't predict anything about the character from the name, the character isn't meaningfully based on the name's original bearer.
0[anonymous]7yThere also is a strongly scholar consensus that anthropogenic global warning is occurring, and yet plenty of LW census respondents put in there numbers not very close to 100%.
0Plasmon7yThat is true, and intentional. It is far from obvious that the connection between the fictional Jesus and the (hypothetical?) historical one is any less tenuous than that (1) . The comparison also underscores the pointlessness of the debate : just as evidence for Vlad Dracul's existence is at best extemely weak evidence for the existence of vampires, so too is evidence for a historical Jesus at best extremely weak evidence for the truth of Christianity. (1) Keep in mind that there are no contemporary sources that refer to him, let alone to anthing he did. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sources_for_the_historicity_of_Jesus]
1Nornagest7yI predict you'd get a minority of people using it as a proxy for atheism, another minority favoring it simply because it's an intensely contrarian position, and the majority choosing whatever the closest match to "I don't know" on the survey is.
1[anonymous]7yI seem to remember reading that virtually all serious scholars agree that there was a historical Jesus, and that the opposite claim is considered a fringe idea along the lines of homeopathy, so soundly has it been debunked. My memory might be exaggerating, but I think the gist is correct.
-3Eugine_Nier7yCould you have picked an example where one side isn't composed entirely of crackpots?
8RichardKennaway7yWhich side are you claiming to be crackpots?
3Eugine_Nier7ySeriously, I can't see how anyone could claim that Jesus was ahistorical who isn't some combination of doing reverse-stupidity on Christianity or taking an absurd contrarian position for the sake of taking an absurd contrarian position. Edit: fixed typo.
3[anonymous]7yAm I correct in reading "a historical" as "ahistorical" and not as "a historical figure"?
1JQuinton7yI would think that believing Jesus didn't exist would be just as absurd as thinking that all or almost all of the events in the Gospels literally happened. Yet the latter make up a significant number of practicing Biblical scholars. And for the majority of Biblical scholars who don't think the Gospels are almost literally true, still have a form of Jesus-worship going on [http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/ava358013.shtml] as they are practicing Christians. It would be hard to think that Jesus both came back from the dead and also didn't exist; meaning that it would be very hard to remain a Christian while also claiming that Jesus didn't exist, and most Biblical scholars were Christians before they were scholars [http://www.michaelshermer.com/2002/09/smart-people-believe-weird-things/]. The field both is biased in a non-academic way against one extreme position while giving cover and legitimacy to the opposite extreme position.
-3elharo7yModern day people who believe there was no real historical preacher, probably named Yeshua or something like that, wandering around Palestine in the first century, and on whom the Gospels are based, are crackpots. Their position is strongly refuted by the available evidence. You don't have to be a theist or a Christian to accept this. See, for example, pretty much any of the works of Bart Ehrman, particularly "Did Jesus Exist?" There are legitimate disputes about this historical figure. How educated was he? Was he more Jewish or Greek in terms of philosophy and theology? (That he was racially Jewish is undenied.) Was he a Zealot? etc. However that he existed has been very well established.
6dthunt7yDepends on your definition of crackpots. I don't think most Jesus scholars are crackpots, just most likely overly credulous of their favored theories. What I'm curious about is if people in these fields that are starved for really decisive evidence still feel compelled to name a >50% confidence theory, or if they are comfortable with the notion that their most-favored hypothesis indicated by the evidence is still probably wrong, and just comparatively much better than the other hypotheses that they have considered.
0Fronken7yI think he meant "jesus myth" proponents, who IIRC are ... dubious [http://www.quora.com/Jesus/Do-credible-historians-agree-that-the-man-named-Jesus-who-the-Christian-Bible-speaks-of-walked-the-earth-and-was-put-to-death-on-a-cross-by-Pilate-Roman-governor-of-Judea/answer/Tim-ONeill-1] .
-1dthunt7yWell, hence "historical Jesus". If I were talking about Jesus mythicists, I would have said that. I ignorantly assume there aren't that many Jesus mythicist camps fighting each other out over specific theories of mythicism... I'm actually looking forward to Richard Carrier's book on that, but I do not expect it to decide mythicism.
0dspeyer7yPerhaps the ability to work with poorly-defined objectives? Including how to get some idea of what someone wants and use that to ask useful questions to refine it?

I don't know what I mean. I remain convinced that whatever I meant is 100% right, but what I meant is subject to change with passing whimsy.

"[I'm] Still thinking, remember? Means I look at things one by one."

--- The Black Opera by Mary Gentle

"The best way to sort out confusion is to expose it" - Richard Dawkins. (In the greatest show on earth, p.157. )

.There is no such thing as absolute truth.... People are less deceived by failing to see the truth than by failing to see its limits.

  • Senac de Meilhan

a way to quickly evaluate any proposed new form of government or legal system: ask the proposer how arrest is distinguished from kidnapping, and search and seizure from trespassing and theft -- if they can't give a good answer, the proposal is based on ignorance and you need not waste any more of your time on it

Nick Szabo

3AndHisHorse7yThe very narrow choice of values and their seemingly libertarian phrasing implies some hidden criteria for what constitutes "a good answer" - which enables whoever follows this advice to immediately dismiss a proposal based on some unspecified "good"-ness of the answer without further thought or discussion, and dramatically downgrade their opinion of the proposer in the bargain. This seems detrimental to the rational acquisition of ideas and options. EDIT: Criticism has since been withdrawn in response to context provided below.

The quote doesn't give that impression in context, including the comments - it's actually a statement about the importance of the rule of law. From the comments, Nick notes:

Indeed, the moral principle of non-initiation of force, far from being a possible basis of society as Murray Rothbard and David Friedman would have it, is a sophisticated outcome of long legal evolution and a highly involved legal procedure that itself cannot stick to that principle: it coerces people to a certain extent so that they will not coerce each other to a much greater extent.

1AndHisHorse7yAcknowledged, and criticism withdrawn.
0timujin7yTrivially true, as one who cannot point out the difference is ignorant in the field of legal systems. I guess it is not what is meant?
[+][anonymous]7y -5
[+][anonymous]7y -7