Rationality Quotes November 2014

by elharo1 min read7th Nov 2014342 comments

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Rationality Quotes
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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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson.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 Do not quote with only a name.
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It’s easier to bear in mind that the map is not the territory when you have two different maps.

--Eric Raymond on the value of bilinguilism

My native language is Russian (and was also the only language I could speak before my teens). I can also speak English, and it is my primary language for thinking now (it is MUCH easier to think in English, than in Russian - Russian is horrible). The two languages do not feel like different maps. I do have some problems in conversing with Russian-speaking individuals, mostly with expressing myself (English offers so many useful features not present in Russian that I feel like an amputee when I can't use them), but I do not think that knowing the distinction helped me with rationality much. They are not different ways of seeing the world, but different ways of describing what you see. Not different maps, different map colorings, maybe.

Hmmm. I have a slightly different experience to you. I am bilingual - English/Afrikaans - though my Afrikaans was never a language I used a lot and I have a very poor grasp of it in comparison.

This has led to something interesting - if I try to think in Afrikaans, I notice a distinct difference in my thoughts. Normally, my thoughts take the form of an internal monologue (almost, but not quite, exclusively). If I try to think in Afrikaans, which has a different grammar (and importantly, a different word order) to English, then I get the distinct impression of parts of my thoughts queued up and waiting for their part of the sentence to happen. This tells me that there are more complicated things going on inside my head than I had previously thought.

...though interesting, I have not as yet found any practical use for this knowledge.

I don't know Afrikaans, but Russian is very much unlike English in a lot of things - most notably, the order of words in a sentence usually plays next to no role whatsoever in terms of actual meaning (you may sound somewhat posh or dramatic if you randomize it too much, but Yoda still sounds pretty normal in all Star Wars Rusian translations I know). Given all that, I don't feel anything like you describe when I think in Russian.

5CCC7yHmmm. Looking it up, I see that English and Russian are both broadly categorised as subject-verb-object [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subject%E2%80%93verb%E2%80%93object] languages, while Afrikaans is a subject-object-verb [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subject%E2%80%93object%E2%80%93verb] language. Hence, if I were to translate directly word-for-word from grammatically correct Afrikaans to English, without changing the word order, the result would be something along the lines of "He did to the shops go" or "He did a bit of milk at the shop buy". I've never come across an Afrikaans translation of Star Wars to listen to Yoda in (to be fair, I've never really looked, either). You can probably get a similar effect without needing to learn another language if you convolute your grammar to the point of putting the verb at the end of each and every sentence.
0timujin7yI think I wouldn't. It is the way that questions are asked in Russian in the most widespread version ("Did you take my gun?" -> "You my gun take?" (there is nothing like 'did' in this sentence)), and I sometimes speak affirmatives that way just as a habit (nobody makes a deal out of it). Say, is Afrikaans an easy language to learn the basics of? Just out of curiosity.
3CCC7yI think it depends where you start from. I grew up in a place where both English and Afrikaans are widely spoken (South Africa - to my knowledge, still the only country where Afrikaans is widely spoken) and so I had some idea of the basics of both from a very young age, which helped me immeasurably. Afrikaans is also very close to Dutch (to the point that a Dutch and an Afrikaans speaker can communicate using their respective languages with only minor difficulty, and I've managed to leverage my knowledge of Afrikaans to be able to understand most of an article written in Dutch) - so if you know Dutch, it'll probably be fairly trivial to learn Afrikaans. Starting with Russian and English... I have very little idea of what Russian is like, so I don't know what sort of starting point that gives you. But I think I can safely say that, all else being equal, English would be significantly more difficult to learn than Afrikaans.

Are there no instances in Russian which reveal a poorly categorized concept in English, or vice-versa?

I'm surprised ESR didn't bring up the difficulty of talking about "free software" in a language that doesn't distinguish "libre" from "gratuit", for example.

My own favorite example is how stunningly ambiguous the word "why" seems after learning about finer distinctions like the "por que" vs "para que" distinction in Spanish. How many creationists are subconsciously confused by the fact that "from what cause?" and "for what purpose?" are treated in English as identical questions?

You can always translate the ambiguity logically (into any sufficiently "complete" language?), but the increased awkwardness of the translation may have an effect. For an example from today's news commentary: even some ardent feminists are surprised to learn that "Banksy" might be a woman, possibly because even if you know intellectually that English uses "he" as a neutral pronoun for a person of unknown gender, that's not always enough to prevent prose references to an unknown person as "he" from affecting you subliminally.

For an example from today's news commentary: even some ardent feminists are surprised to learn that "Banksy" might be a woman, possibly because even if you know intellectually that English uses "he" as a neutral pronoun for a person of unknown gender, that's not always enough to prevent prose references to an unknown person as "he" from affecting you subliminally.

Or possibly because the prior for the gender of the kind of person who'd the kind of things Banksy does is heavily in favor of him being male.

Are there no instances in Russian which reveal a poorly categorized concept in English, or vice-versa?

Oh yes, there are. My personal pet peeve, there is no way to distinguish "difficulty" and "complexity" in Russian. There is even no simple way (or, at least, I don't know one) like "difficult as in how hard it is to do, not as in how hard it is to describe"). However, hard way (spending a minute explaining the difference and then using some shorthand) works perfectly with Russian-only speakers, even not very intelligent ones. They do seem to have that distinction in their maps, and sometimes even comment on how weird it is that it is impossible to spell it properly. I never saw anyone being confused by it.

My own favorite example is how stunningly ambiguous the word "why" seems after learning about finer distinctions like the "por que" vs "para que" distinction in Spanish.

BTW, Russian does have that distinction. Question words is one area in which Russian is superior, in my opinion.

For an example from today's news commentary: even some ardent feminists are surprised to learn that "Banksy" might be a woman

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4Azathoth1237yТрудный. Although a related word that is hard to translate into Russian is "challenge".
-1LizzardWizzard7yвызов
1IlyaShpitser7yIs there a russian word for "fun?"
0timujin7yВеселье. It's a bit closer to "joy" or "merry-ness", though. Why?
0IlyaShpitser7yLots of other words seem to be used in similar contexts, e.g. 'prikol,' 'klyevo', maybe even 'pizdyetz' (some may be archaic, it's been a while since I had been immersed in Russian), but none of them seem to be exactly right. I think it's weird that there is no exact isomorphism from such a basic English concept. Nobody uses the word Веселье in colloquial Russian in this sense, but people use "fun" in colloquial English all the time.
4timujin7yI came to realise, that I use the word 'fun' in its original English pronounciation (фан) quite a lot in Russian speech, as do my peers. It seems that we have just adopted it.
0IlyaShpitser7yThat's interesting, thank you. Russian has adapted a lot of English vocabulary in the internet age. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- There is actually a bit of sneaky cultural warfare in this. After all, it's not just language that is being adopted. Language is just the audible tip of a cultural iceberg.
0Bugmaster7yI think that "прикол" is closer to "amusing" than to "fun". "клёво" is more like "cool". And I always thought that "пиздец" was universally bad, something akin to "game over, man ! game over !" -- but words do change over time...
0IlyaShpitser7yI have seen the word пиздец used after surviving a near miss, or witnessing a particularly daring and successful stunt (?as an exclamation of relief?). As I said, none of them are exactly right.
-2RichardKennaway7yIn Russia, state has fun with you.
0ThisSpaceAvailable7yThere a lot of distinctions that English doesn't make, such as singular second person or gerund versus present participle, and some that it makes that aren't really necessary, such as clock versus watch. I'm a bit confused by the word "spell", and wonder whether you mean the fourth definition given here: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/spell?s=t [http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/spell?s=t]
-1timujin7yMore like the first definition. I meant, you can perform some linguistical acrobatics and say "complexity, but not difficulty" in a compact way, but that wouldn't be a proper way to say it from the perspective of strict Russian grammar, and you are not guaranteed to be universally understood.
1ThisSpaceAvailable6ySo, you are saying that it is impossible to say what letters are in the word?
-3timujin6yNo.
0ThisSpaceAvailable6yYou said "More like the first definition." The first definition is "to name, write, or otherwise give the letters, in order, of (a word, syllable, etc.)". Thus, I conclude that you are saying that it is impossible to name, write, or otherwise give the letters, in order, of the word "complexity". I have repeatedly seen people in this community talk of "verified debating", in which it is important to communicate with other people what your understanding of their statements is, and ask them whether that is accurate. And yet when I do that, with an interpretation that looks quite straightforward to me, I get downvoted, and your only response is "no", with no explanation.
7Nornagest7yInteresting. I was going to point to "how come?" and "what for?" as examples of this distinction being made in English, but after a bit of thought they don't actually work as such: "how come you gave me a dollar?" is a linguistically valid question and could be validly answered by something like "so you can buy a candy bar". Using "what for" to point to a cause rather than a purpose is more dialectical, but I have heard it.
6ThisSpaceAvailable7yI remember a quote along the lines "Different languages don't restrict what you can say, they restrict what you can not say". For instance, in a gendered language, you can't not say the gender, or at least draw a lot of attention to the fact that you aren't saying the gender.
4ChristianKl7yYou don't only add awkwardness. You nearly always also add additional meaning or lose meaning. If you for example want to translate the English "Dear students," into German you can either say: "Liebe Schüler,", "Liebe Schüler und Schülerinnen," or "Liebe Schülerinnen und Schüler,". In German the words have a gender and if you want to be gender neutral you need both the male and the female form. Then you have to decide which one of those you write first and which one last.
2jbay7yOh good point! And if you don't know the context when performing the translation (perhaps it's an announcement at an all-girls or an all-boys school?), then the translation will be incorrect. The ambiguity in the original sentence may be impossible to preserve in the translation process, which doesn't mean that translation is impossible, but it does mean that information must be added by the translator to the sentence that wasn't present in the original sentence. Sometimes I do small contract translation jobs as a side activity, but it's very frustrating when a client sends me snippets of text to be translated without the full context.
3Emily7yHere's a differently categorised concept that you might like: the colour blue. English has just one basic colour term than encompasses everything from dark blue to light blue (obviously, we can distinguish them by adding descriptors like dark and light, but still fall under blue). Russian has the separate basic colour terms sinii (dark blue) and goluboi (light blue). There's a neat paper in which the analogous distinction in Greek is shown to affect Greek speakers' perception of colours in comparison to English speakers on a pre-conscious level (measured using EEG), so your language-map really can affect your perception of the territory, even when language isn't directly involved.
0Azathoth1237yInterestingly, most of the arguments against language influencing thought that I've seen wind up showing the grammar doesn't influence thought. Basically the biggest effect language has on thought is via vocabulary, which must be really disappointing news to all the grammar nerds obsessing over the perfect grammar to give their conlang.
2Emily7yYes, this is true. Consensus is largely that language can certainly influence thought in language-specific domains, and that it can influence aspects of cognition in other domains, but only to the extent of shifting probabilities and defaults around --- not to the extent of controlling how speakers think or preventing some types of thought according to languages spoken. Most "grammar nerds" I know are linguists, who think this is neat because they're more interested in how language works on a more fundamental level than individual grammars (though of course those are interesting too). I guess it's possible that conlang types have the opposite view! I was just amused by the distinction between what we think of when thinking "grammar nerd".
0Azathoth1237yI was thinking of the people involved in things like lojban. Who were you thinking of?
0Emily7yAcademic linguists. (I am one - or, a psycholinguist, anyway.)
0[anonymous]7yIt's not exactly a poorly categorized concept, but in English you usually need one word to come from 'basic form of adgective' to 'comparative form of adjective', (wide - wider), but you need two words for adverbs ( to come from 'widely' to 'more widely'). In Russian you need one word to say 'more adverb'

I, too, sometimes find that it is easier for me to express certain ideas in English than in my native language. However, I guess, in my case the reason seems to be analogous to the reasons mentioned in Steven Pinker's article "Why Academics Stink at Writing". Although it mainly talks about why academics find it difficult to express their ideas in simple words, it seems to me that if one uses predominantly English in certain settings or talking about certain subjects, then the reasons (chunking and functional fixedness) why ideas about these subjects are difficult to express in one's native language are probably similar.

Scholars lose their moorings in the land of the concrete because of two effects of expertise that have been documented by cognitive psychology. One is called chunking. To work around the limitations of short-term memory, the mind can package ideas into bigger and bigger units, which the psychologist George Miller dubbed "chunks." As we read and learn, we master a vast number of abstractions, and each becomes a mental unit that we can bring to mind in an instant and share with others by uttering its name. An adult mind that is brimming with chun

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1timujin7yI empathize with this. But, still, it's not like those communicational biases actually affect beliefs about reality (aka maps).
1Luke_A_Somers7yWhich features of English do you miss?
8timujin7yArticles. Not only there are none in Russian, but there is nothing that serves their function. Happens all the time: -- I just put my towel to laundry. -- Okay. -- But I just realised that I need towel again. Could you go fetch towel for me? -- Here, I brought you towel. -- This is another towel. -- Oh, so you needed that very towel that you put into laundry? -- Oh. (switching to English) I wanted to say "I need the towel", not "I need a towel"! Next, Russian often requires you to specify a lot of extra info, compared to English. Example: -- Why is that thing a fish? -- It isn't. (because it's a dolphin) "It is a fish" = "Это рыба" (it fish). No 'is' in this sentence in Russian. So, instead of "it isn't" you must say "it isn't a fish". There is no easy way to say this sentence without using the word "fish" or some extra clumsy wording like "not the thing you are asking about". That makes it very hard to make stuff like chatbots in Russian, or write generic lines for RPG games where the same line can be used in different circumstances. Same thing with grammatical genders. When you say "X does Y", you must specify gender of X in Y's form. A lot of media was botched in translation, when one character thinks that another character is a girl when he's actually a guy (and is not trying to deliberately deceive). In Russian, it is hard to say more than a couple of sentences without revealing your gender in the process. Is that enough? There is more where that came from.
0Luke_A_Somers7yThanks! I didn't mean to have you produce a small essay - 'definite/indefinite articles' and 'gender ambiguity' would have covered me on the first and third. I remain curious, but not to the extent I'm asking you to put in significant effort.
8timujin7yNo, it's actually fun. Brief examples: * "It depends". I have never been able to get away with just saying "it depends" - Russian version prompts you to either specify what it depends on, or explicitly refuse to, begging the question of why I am being so sneaky. * There is no word that means "complexity", but can not be alternatively understood as "difficulty". When I tell someone I want a complex challenge, they ask why I am not carrying heavy things around, as that is quite difficult. * In same vein, no word for "challenge" that doesn't also mean "ordeal". The distinction seems to be also missing from Russian brains, a very peculiar phenomenon that Russian culturologists are always upset about. * No different words for 'accuracy' and 'precision'. * No word for 'awesome' that is both strong enough and can be shown on TV. But, on the other hand, the obscene word for 'awesome' is much more awesome that 'awesome'. * English tenses are more flexible and consistent. Russian only has three, plus the standalone "have been"-like form. They don't distinguish between "I do things" and "I am doing things", for instance. * In English, you can put an emphasis on 'am' or 'is'. In Russian, to do that, you need to throw in a few extra words. * Context-independency. Russian has a small basic vocabulary, and compensates it with insanely complex syntactic structures that makes it harder to pull a couple of words from a sentence and understand what it is about. To even things a bit, here are some advantages of Russian over Englsh: * Phonetics. If you know how to write a word, you automatically and unambiguously (with a single notable exception) know how to pronounce it. It works a little less perfect the other way around, but good enough that Russian spelling bees do not exist and don't even make sense. * English has a ridiculously huge amount of word
4Username7yI have: "Зависит." Everyone understands that very well. Kinda. "Запутанный", "навороченный", etc. Besides, just as any language, Russian depends on the context. In some context the word "сложный" will be understood as "complex", and in other context -- as "difficult" and that's fine. But to your complaints about expressing certain concepts in Russian I would add the observation that the Russian language has no word for "privacy" -- none at all.
4Bugmaster7yI think the more proper translation of "it depends" would be "как сказать". Also, while it is true that the Russian language has no word for "privacy", note that it also has no word for "gun" :-)
0IlyaShpitser7yСтрелковое оружие (firearm) (?)
0Bugmaster7yThat doesn't cover artillery, unlike the word "gun".
2shminux7yThis actually seems to be an argument in support of the original quote, to some degree.
0timujin7yYes, it is.
2Nornagest7yCome on, you can't just say something like that without giving details.
3Username7yI guess the grandparent means "охуительно". The fact the Russian has flexible word formation combined with a well-developed swearing vocabulary means that you can express quite complicated concepts using nothing but swear words and it works wonderfully well.
2gjm7yAs a non-Russian-speaker, I would need more details to make sense of that. I gather that "охуительно" (1) is obscene and (2) means something like "awesome", but what's its obscene meaning and what's the link between that and meaning something like "awesome"? A bit of googling suggests that the word is somehow derived from a word meaning "penis", but it's a lot longer than that word so presumably there's some other stuff going on.
3timujin7yOkay, instead of making myself feel better by professing myself of possessing knowledge mere mortals do not, I will at least try to describe what is going on in this word (it is going to be very simplified and with some omissions, because I am no linguist and am operating from instinct). Let's start with хуй, that means "dick". "Хуеть" is this word transformed into a verb, which can get a lot of different meanings as it goes, but we'll just focus on one - "becoming progressively more and more surprised/daunted". "Охуеть" transforms it from continuous form into "have become" form, with a touch of "all over" or "completely" meaning added in. Then goes "охуить", which is the same verb in a sort of passive involuntary form, from "become" to "having been made to become". Note that "охуить" is not usually used on its own. At this point we have "forcibly make one dauntingly surprised enough that 1) you usually can become that surprised only by progressively becoming more and more surprised for a very long time 2) it is totally all over you, as in, it is now a dominant feeling". From "охуить" we get "охуительный", which is a standard way to transform a verb into adjective, so the meaning specified above is now used as adjective. From "охуительный" we get "охуительно" which looks like adjective being transformed into adverb, but that's optical illusion (although you can potentially use it as an adverb "awesomely"). What actually happened, is that we just stripped the word from its referent. So, it's just very generalized version of "охуительный". So, you can use "охуительно" as an adverb "awesomely", or as a generalized "awesome" without a referent, like a cheer (Awesome!!!). The adverb version can alternatively just amplify the "all over" meaning, so you can use it as a strong "very", or "so much that it it daunting". You can use "охуительный" as an adjective "awesome", like in "awesome thing". Compared to "awesome", "охуительно" is much easier to use in a negative form,
0gjm7yI agree: that is all distinctly more awesome than the English "awesome". (A rough parallel might be the exclamation "Fuck me!" which, at least if said with slight stress on both words, means something like "well, that is very surprising and maybe impressive" for reasons a bit like the ones you give for "охуить". But it doesn't have an adjective or adverb form.)
0[anonymous]7yNot охуить (that would be a... transitive verb, to put it mildly). ОхуЕть. And it's a bit like 'I never!'
0gjm7yPerhaps I misunderstood what timujin meant about that being "a sort of passive involuntary form", then. (But I remark that "fuck" is also a transitive verb, to put it mildly, so I'm not sure I understand what the problem is.)
1[anonymous]7yОхуеть! would be Fuck me! Охуить would be Fuck [somebody] … though I don't recall hearing that form, there are synonims that are just much more natural. Sorry, this is bizarre...
1timujin7yAs I said, охуить is not usually used on its own, and its meaning is only relevant when you derive things from it. And it is a transitive verb. Also, this thread gives me giggles.
0Username7yYou can, of course, create a verb охуить, but I do not think that it exists in "normal" Russian speech. The adjective охуительный is formed from the verb охуе ть and the fact that a vowel has changed is completely normal for Russian (compare зреть и зримый).
0gjm7yI wasn't claiming it was anything like an exact translation! Only that there's a certain commonality between that English way of expressing awedness, and the Russian one we'd been discussing.
0[anonymous]7yYeah, well. Maybe there are suspiciously many differences in expressions of awesomeness in the two languages. I was concerned rather of an opposite mistake. I have read somewhere that in one of S. King's novels, a man was heard having sex in the next room and crying out, Der'mo! Der'mo! etc. Now, in Russian, der'mo doesn't have an 'awesome' connotation, the way shit seems to in English. It was as if he was crying, Poop! Poop!..
-1LizzardWizzard7yYou forgot that an adjective хуевый means bad, for example instead of saying "I am feeling sick" u say мне хуево, but as parent points it out, the adjective formed from the same root "охуительный" means exactly the contrary - мне охуительно is the russian equivalent of "I am super fine" As you can see it is quite complicated, but even people who never went to school are the great masters of the skill
0[anonymous]7yХуевый is not derived from (о)хуеть, but directly from хуй. It has nothing to do with the word in question.
1LizzardWizzard7yahahaahahahaha as a native russian speaker I can say for sure that u can define ANY concept just by slightly transforming words derived from "penis" or "cunt". There is almost infinite set of variations, each having particular meaning; u have no choice rather than to beleive me or dedicate lifetime into learning Russian filthy language
0timujin7yAs another native Russian speaker, I can say that Russian profanity is indeed powerful, but is not as precise as the parent post puts it.
0LizzardWizzard7yI would argue with you, if someday I ever happen to write fanfiction named something like HP and the Methods of Russian Profanity as you put it, there would be prophecy suggesting "and he has the power of which the other does not know"
0timujin7yI would be delighted to read it. Please, do happen to write it.
0gjm7yThat sounds like quite an enjoyable lifetime, actually.
0LizzardWizzard7yYep, doesn't it sound awesome (or охуительно?) Your masters will be all kinds of rednecks, prisoners and other honorable authorities of the craftsmanship
0LizzardWizzard7yReally fascinating! But my russian brains can't grasp this one thing, could you please at least try to explain what is this mysterious additional meaning of the word 'challenge' that can't be translated into Russian, and doesn't mean "summon to contest" or "high degree of difficulty"
1timujin7yI have some trouble understanding what you want. Try to rephrase, or expand.
0LizzardWizzard7yto paraphrase, what is the meaning of challenge except "вызов" or "испытание"
1timujin7yThere is no extra meaning in "challenge". "Вызов" and "испытание" cover the English word "challenge" more or less completely. The problem is that they also accidentally cover the English word "ordeal" as well. Challenge is not something bad or painful, but ordeal is. When you say you want "испытание", you can potentially be understood as "I want more pain in my life", which is not what English "I want a challenge" means.
1Kindly7yThat seems like a bug in English, not in Russian, that you can't say "испытание" without specifying whether you mean "challenge" or "ordeal". What if you're not interested in making that distinction?
-4Azathoth1237yIt seems like half your complaints are that Russian doesn't make some distinction that English does and the other half are that Russian forces you to make distinctions that English doesn't. It strikes me that you're simply more comfortable thinking in English.
3timujin7yWhich begs the question: why is it so that my native language that I spoke since I was two and everyone in my circle understands, is less comfortable for me than a foreign language I am not even confident in my skill with, possess a limited vocabulary (compared to Russian), and have much less practice in? Not being able to make a distinction and forcing you to make a distinction, are both bad. Look at the "It isn't a fish" example. In English you can distinguish between "It isn't a fish" and "It isn't a mammal", or you can leave it ambiguous ("It isn't"). If you can make a distinction, but don't have to, it gives you a lot more flexibility than both "not able to" and "can and must". Russian is inflexible exactly because of that. I think Russian is just worse at carving reality at its joints. Accuracy and precision and two very different things, down to the point that more precision = less accuracy and vice-versa. That's a good distinction. Forcing you to specify a noun's gender when you're talking about it, with said genders distributed mostly randomly/historically (dare you to say why "mechanism" is male, "machine" is female, and "device" is neuter?), makes no sense, because different-gendered items do not have different behaviour. That's a bad distinction.
2ChristianKl7yThe comfort a language brings comes with it's associations. If you are introverted you likely had a lot of negative social experiences in your native language. If you learned English in a more comfortable enviroment it likely brings other associations with it. I'm personally more light and make jokes when dealing in English than in German. I got my verbal English via Toastmasters and the rest via the internet.
2timujin7yOkay, a valid hypothesis, but I don't think it is actually the case. I learned English for 2 years with a teacher, and then via books, internet and video games. I certainly did have negative social experiences in Russian. But the comfortableness doesn't feel like being more light and effortless. More like more powerful, less unwieldy, more precise and compact. As a programmer, I often have the same set of feelings with programming languages, and I assure you, I wasn't bullied in school in C++.
2ChristianKl7yInternet, books and video games don't produce lightness. You might feel powerful while playing a video game but you don't joke around. The Toastmasters social enviroment on the other hand does produce that vibe. When I was socially inconfident, I did very often choose English over German. As I personally got more confident I started using German with people who don't speak it (I'm living in Berlin, it happens) to have them tell me to switch to English. C++ education is still very dry. A language like Python with it's Zen has values like "There should be one-- and preferably only one --obvious way to do it." A lot of the python tutorials are written more lively than c++ tutorials. I'm not saying that languages are the same when you ignore personal conditioning. I know a few people with strong NLP background where effects of language really matter who say the can't simply translate things one-to-one. Compactness however is relative. If you translate a single German sentence into English the English one is often shorter. On the other hand one author I know with an NLP background said she probalby would need halve the text write a book in German than in English you don't say things as directly in English than you do in German. There is less hinting around. I recently watched the Liar's game with subtitles and it contained a bunch of instances where forms of politeness were used to express meaning that simply don't exist the same way in English. Kinship terms [https://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/anthropology/tutor/kinterms/termsys.html] are also very intestesting. English doesn't distinguish between cousins on the mothers side and on the fathers side. Other languages do.
0Kindly7yI'm sure essay was already on timujin's mind. Articles in Russian are big problem for us all. (Though if I were asked that question, I would have gone on a rant about how unreasonable it is to have to write using a completely different alphabet from just about everybody else.)
0Azathoth1237yNitpick: I believe you meant "X did Y".
0timujin7yYeah.
9anandjeyahar7yThis is also the same reason I like Alan Perlis's quote on programming languages. Paraphrased it reads "There's no point in learning a new language that doesn't teach you a new way of thinking." I equate "the new way of thinking" with maps here.
0Thomas6yEvery map is also a part of the whole territory - don't forget this complication!

In fiction, villains start with some great scheme to do something awesome, and that immediately makes them fascinating to the reader. The hero - if you're doing this poorly - sits at home and just waits for the villain to do something awesome so they can respond. This is a problem. The solution is for your heroes to have a great and awesome scheme also, that just isn't evil.

Brandon Sanderson

That's often true, but there are counter-examples, like my all time favorite : the Foundation cycle. In it, especially the beginning of it (the Foundation novel and the prequels), it's truly the heroes who are doing something awesome - the Foundation and all what's associated to it - and the villains who try to prevent them (and even that is more complicated/interesting as simple "vilain").

It's also often the case in Jules Verne fiction, or in the rest of "hard scifi", be it about trans-humanism (permutation city for example) or about planetary exploration.

7Eliezer Yudkowsky7yThe trope is Villains Act Heroes React, and the Foundation stories don't actually defy this AFAIC recall.

It does in various points of the saga, some examples I can give easily, other are spoilers so I'll ROT13 them.

In the first tome and the prequels, it's Harry Seldon who tries to develop pyschohistory and setup the Foundation, and different "villains" react to that. It's true that afterwards the Foundation is mostly reacting to Seldon Crisis, but those crisis are part of Seldon's Plan (so, of the hero planning ahead awesome things).

In the last tome, Foundation and Earth, it's clearly the heroes who start their own quest of finding back the Earth.

Now the spoiling parts (rot13) :

Va gur cerdhryf vg'f pyrneyl Qnarry jub gevrf gb chfu Fryqba gb qrirybc cflpubuvfgbel, naq Qnarry vf gur erny "ureb" bs gur rkgraqrq Sbhaqngvba-Ebobg plpyr.

Va Sbhaqngvba'f Rqtr, juvyr gur znva ureb vf vaqrrq ernpgvba gb orvat chfurq ol inevbhf punenpgre, vg'f abg ivyynvaf jub ner cynaavat gur jubyr riragf, ohg Tnvn, jub vf n cebqhpg bs Qnarry, fb ntnva, bs gur erny "nepu ureb" bs gur fntn.

There are other similar examples in other parts of the cycle, but less obvious ones.

5RolfAndreassen7yA counterexample to the initial claim, which is probably more true of epic fantasy than of fiction generally: In Ayn Rand's fiction, it is indeed the heroes who have great and awesome schemes; the villains just want to wet their beaks, or to stop people from doing great and awesome things, depending on how villainous they are.

It might be more accurate to say that Ayn Rand's heroes start with grand and awesome schemes. There's a lot of speechifying in between, but in terms of action they always seem to degenerate into some form of "screw you guys, I'm going home" by the end.

I haven't read it for a long time, but I remember thinking that the first third of Atlas Shrugged is a much better book than the whole thing -- because up to that point, it's a novel about building something great in the face of adversity, and after that the adversity wins and it becomes a novel about spite and destruction on all sides. Also because it's way too long for its plot, but never mind that.

4Vaniver7yIt's not clear to me that this is a counterexample. Ayn Rand's fiction strikes me as mediocre in general, but what strength it has seems to flow from following this principle. [edit]I seem to have misread the parent, and am agreeing with it.
4RolfAndreassen7yAt least one of us is misreading the other's comment: I was suggesting Rand's fiction as a counterexample to which seems to agree with, not be contradicted by, your "flow[s] from following this principle".
1Vaniver7yAh, yes. I missed the "initial claim" bit, and thought you meant this was a counterexample to Sanderson's whole claim.
0polymathwannabe7yThe dialogues in the film versions of Atlas Shrugged always felt bland and lame to me until I realized that the "good ones" were saying their lines as "good ones." When I read the book, I felt instinctively drawn to imagining the "good ones" saying their lines as "villains." When you read Dagny as the villain, her dialogues feel much more potent.
2NancyLebovitz7yReally? Perhaps I should reread at least some of Atlas Shrugged from that angle, but I don't see how wanting to run a railroad competently can be read as villianous.
0Strange77yPretend to be a radical environmentalist or something.
0Luke_A_Somers7yI see this for John Galt and to a lesser extent d'Anconia, and basically not at all from Dagny.
0polymathwannabe7y"If you think that I need your men more than they need me, choose accordingly. If you know that I can run an engine, but they can't build a railroad, choose according to that. Now are you going to forbid your men to run that train?" "I didn't say we'd forbid it. I haven't said anything about forbidding. But... but you can't force men to risk their lives on something nobody's ever tried before." "I'm not going to force anyone to take that run." That was the moment when I first sensed she was the villain. She knows the construction of the line involves uncertain and untested safety conditions, so she won't "force" anyone to work there, because she doesn't need to: she knows the workers need the job anyway, and they have actually very little choice. You can clearly feel the implied manipulation behind her statement.
2Vaniver7yI remember reading that section entirely differently, but it's been a few years and so my memory might be off. I got the feel that people were jockeying for the honor of being on the first run, because it was exciting, and so employing force to find workers is entirely unnecessary.
3ChristianKl7yThe outline of the Hero's journey calls for the story to begin with the hero in a mundane situation of normality.
0Baughn7ySounds to me like the cliche isn't always positive.
0aausch7yhas anyone been keeping a reading list selecting exclusively for heroes with awesome schemes?

I want to get the most amount of candy with the least amount of walking.

My 9-year-old son on Halloween.

I want to get the most amount of candy with the least amount of walking.

My 9-year-old son on Halloween.

The Valley of Bad Rationality at work again. Improved optimisation skills and strategic awareness applied to increase the amount of candy consumed while reducing physical exercise!

2Peter_McIntyre6yWell put!
8ike7yCan't optimize for two quantities at once. If he could get the maximum amount of candy but not the absolute minimum of walking, what does he choose?
max( Candy / e^Walking ) 

fudged with a constant of proportionality (pun intended).

5timujin7yYou are a good parent.

“There is no point in using the word 'impossible' to describe something that has clearly happened.”

-- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams

[Vizzini has just cut the rope The Dread Pirate Roberts is climbing up]
Vizzini: HE DIDN'T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE.
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I always feel a bit bad for Vizzini. His plan is very well thought-out and sensible; he's just in the entirely wrong genre for those qualities to be remotely relevant to its success.

It doesn't help that up to that point, the genre looks like one where it should work. Obviously the character's timeline could make it more obvious, but from ours it isn't.

7Lumifer7yWell, we can extract a life lesson from this: make sure that having well thought-out and sensible plans is actually relevant to success in the context you're operating in :-/ Go meta if needed :-)
1BloodyShrimp7yBut the map is the map...
4Nominull7yThat seems like a failure of noticing confusion; some clear things are actually false.
7CCC7yI saw it as more of a warning about the limits of maps - when something happens that you think is impossible, then it is time to update your map, and not rail against the territory for failing to match it. (Of course, it is possible that you have been fooled, somehow, into thinking that something has happened which has, in actual fact, not happened. This possibility should be considered and appropriately weighted (given whatever evidence you have of the thing actually happening) against the possibility that the map is simply wrong.)
2Strange77yIf you've been fooled, there's still no point to calling it impossible, given that you're trying to find out what actually happened.
2CCC7yHmmm. If you were to tell me, for example, that you had seen a man flying through the air like Superman, then I think I could reasonably call that "impossible" and conclude that you were lying. (If I happened to be in Metropolis at the time, then I might soon be proven wrong - nonetheless, the conclusion that you are lying is significantly more probable than the conclusion that someone has suddenly developed the power of flight). On the other hand... if you were to hold an object, and then let go, and that object were to fall up instead of down, then calling that "impossible" would be useless; I have seen the object fall up, I can see it there on the roof, I can walk under it. (And it is, indeed, not impossible; the object could be a helium balloon, or you might have concealed a powerful magnet in the roof and used a metal object). ...hmmm. I think the difference here is that in the first case, the thing has not clearly happened; I merely have an eyewitness report, which is easily forged, to say that it took place. In the second case, I have far more data to show that the object really did fall upwards, and I can even (perhaps with the aid of a ladder) retrieve the object and drop it myself, confirming that it continues to fall upwards; it has clearly happened, calling it "impossible" is indeed futile, and the only question is how.
1khafra7yNo observation is false. Any explanation for a given observation may, with finite probability, be false; no matter how obvious and inarguable it may seem.
3Wes_W7yThis is one of those things that seems like it ought to be true, if only humans weren't so human. I've seen enough attempted bug reports based on events which - upon going through the logs - never actually happened, to disabuse me of the notion. Certainly some class of "false observations" might be better thought of as "false explanations", but sometimes people are just plain wrong about what they saw.
-4Lumifer7yThat's trivially not true -- consider e.g. measurement error.
1TheOtherDave7yOK, let's consider measurement error. I have, let's say, a weight. It actually masses 50 g. I put it on a scale and observe that the reading on the scale is "51g." On your account, is my observation false? If so, does your judgment change if it's a standard weight that I'm using to calibrate the scale?
-2Lumifer7yYour observation of the reading on the scale is true, of course. Your observation that the weight is 51 grams is false. The distinction between accuracy and precision [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accuracy_and_precision] is relevant here. I am assuming your scale is sufficiently precise. No, it does not. I am using "false" in the sense of the map not matching the territory. A miscalibrated scale doesn't help you with that.
3khafra7y"This weight masses 51 grams" is not an observation, it's a theory attempting to explain an observation. It just seems so immediate, so obvious and inarguable, that it feels like an observation.
-2Lumifer7yI feel this leads into a rabbit hole where everything beyond photons striking the retina becomes a "theory".
7Unknowns7yI think this "rabbit hole" is basically reality. In other words "there is a physical world which we see and hear etc" is a theory which is extremely well supported by our observations. Berkeley's explanation that there is no physical world, but God exists and is directly causing all of our sensations is an alternate theory, although a rather unlikely one.
1hairyfigment7yYeah, this is basically why probability matters.
0Azathoth1237yWhat evidence lead you to this conclusion?
1Unknowns7yAfter I wrote that comment, I realized that the only way of distinguishing that from the physical world hypothesis is by the prior. Because "there is a physical chair which is responsible for some of my experiences when I am in my room and continues to exist even at the times when I'm not experiencing it" predicts entirely the same things as "God has an idea of a chair in my room, and He causes experiences according to that idea." So if one is more probable than the other, it would be according to the prior. On the other hand, someone might argue that "there is a physical world that is defined by a certain mathematical theory" and "God exists and has a mental model of a world defined by that same mathematical theory, and produces experiences according to that mental model" may not even be distinct hypotheses. In other words, what exactly does it mean to say that God exists and has a mental mathematical model? And what exactly does it mean to say that a physical world exists according to a mathematical model? Someone might assert that insofar as these predict entirely the same experiences, they are not even different theories, but just different ways of describing the same thing. According to this, Berkeley's theory would not imply that the chair in my room does not really exist, but rather that "there is a chair in my room" means exactly the same thing as "God's mental model includes a chair in my room". So it would still be true to say the chair exists and so on. Not sure how one would refute that. But assuming they are two different theories, it sure seems like the physical world theory should have a higher prior.
3Gondolinian7yIsn't that itself a theory to explain our qualia of vision? If, for example, some versions of the simulation hypothesis [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulation_hypothesis] were true, even photons and eyes would be a false map, though a useful one.
0Azathoth1237yHey hallucinations are totally a thing.
3TheOtherDave7yThe confusion here has nothing to do with the meaning of "false," or the distinction between accuracy and precision. If I'm using a known 50-g weight to calibrate a scale, and I look at the scale reading (which says "51g"), and thereby conclude that the scale is off by 1g, I don't think you're at all justified in concluding that I've observed that the weight is 51g. I mean, I agree that if I had made such an observation, it would be a mistaken observation. But I don't agree that I made any such observation in the first place. For example, if you asked me after weighing the weight "What is the mass of the weight?" I would most likely answer "50g," because being able to say that with confidence is the whole point of using standard-mass callibration weights in the first place.
0Lumifer7yI am confused. In your example what are you saying your observation is, and do you consider it true or false? Also, what do you consider "known" before the observation?
1TheOtherDave7yI observe that the reading on the scale is "51g," as I said in the first place. Yes. True. All kinds of things. In the case with a standard 50g callibration weight, that includes the mass of the weight.
0Lumifer7yThis is getting stuck in the morass of trying to distinguish between observations and interpretations. I don't particularly want to discuss the philosophy of qualia. My point is much simpler. It's quite common for data points which everyone calls "observations" to be false. Trying to fix that problem is called cleaning the data and can be a huge hassle. In practical terms, if you get a database of observations you cannot assume that all of them are true.
2TheOtherDave7yI certainly agree that such data points can be false. When you chose to disagree with khafra's claim [http://lesswrong.com/lw/l72/rationality_quotes_november_2014/bpcz] I thought you were making an actual counterassertion, rather than simply challenging their use of the label "observation" in an indirect way. My apologies, and I'm happy to drop it here.
1VAuroch7yThat may be, but if you label them 'impossible' and dismiss them, you won't gather more evidence to prove it. And if something you consider impossible has actually happened, you're missing an opportunity to improve your model significantly. This is in fact what happens in-context. With a preposterously-detailed description of observable events (via magic hypnosis; I didn't say the novel made sense), Gently concludes that something has happened which could not have happened as described, and that the only explanation which would explain the results involves time travel; the other person says that it's impossible, to which Gently replies this.
1Nominull7yYeah, I feel like in real world situations, hypothesizing time travel when things don't make sense is not likely to be epistemically successful. Wasn't there a proverb about generalizing from fictional evidence? Especially from fiction that intentionally doesn't make sense?
3dxu7yI don't think the quote is talking about "hypothesizing" anything; I read it more as "You have to update on evidence whether that evidence fits into your original model of the world or not". Instead of "hypothesizing time travel when things don't make sense", it'd be more like a stranger appears in front of you in a flash of light with futuristic-looking technology, proves that he is genetically human, and claims to be from the future. In that case it doesn't matter what your priors were for something like that happening; it already happened, and crying "Impossible!" is as illegal a move in Bayes as moving your king into check is in chess. Not that such a thing is likely to happen, of course, but if it did happen, would you sit back and claim it didn't because it "doesn't make sense"?
2faul_sname7yYes. And then I would go see a psychologist. Because I find it more likely that I'm losing my grip on my own sanity than that I've just witnessed time travel.
5Strange77yAlright, so you bring this alleged time traveler with you to visit two or three different psychologists, all of whom are appropriately surprised by the whole 'time travel' thing but agree that you seem to be perceiving and processing the facts of the situation accurately. Furthermore you have a lot of expensive tests run on the health and functionality of your brain, and all of the results turn out within normal limits. Camera-phone videos of the initial arrival are posted to the internet and after millions of views nobody can credibly figure out how it could have been faked. To the extent that introspection provides any meaningful data, you feel fine. In short, by every available test, your sanity is either far beyond retrieval down an indistinguishably perfect fantasy hole, or completely unmarred apart from perhaps a circumstantially-normal level of existential anxiety. Now what?
1faul_sname7yThen I accept that there's a time traveler. The evidence in this second situation is quite a bit stronger than a personal observation, and would probably be enough to convince me.
3dxu7yWell, the insanity defense is always a possibility, but then again, you have no proof that you're not insane right now, either, so it seems to be a fully general counterargument [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Fully_general_counterargument] that can apply at any time to any situation. Ignoring the possibility of insanity, would you see any point in refusing to update, i.e. claiming that what you just saw didn't happen?
2faul_sname7yIt's always a possibility that I'm insane, but normally a fairly unlikely one. The baseline hypothesis is (say) p = 0.999 that I'm sane, p = 0.0001 that I'm hallucinating. Let's further assume that if I'm hallucinating, there's a 2% chance that hallucination is about time travel. My prior is something like p = 0.000001 that time travel exists. If I assume those are the only two explanations of seeing a time traveler, (i.e. we're ignoring pranks and similar), my estimate of the probability that time travel exists would shift up to about 2% instead of 0.0001% -- a huge increase. The smart money (98%) is still on me hallucinating though. If you screen out the insanity possibility, and any other possibility that gives better than 1 in a million chances of me seeing what appears to be a time traveler with what appears to be futuristic technology, yes, the time traveler hypothesis would dominate. However, the prior for that is quite low. There's a difference between "refusing to update" and "not updating far enough that one explanation is favored". If I was abducted by aliens, my first inclination would likewise be to assume that I'm going insane -- this is despite the fact that nothing in the laws of physics precludes the existence of aliens. Are you saying that the average person who thinks they are abducted by aliens should trust their senses on that matter?
7dxu7yAh. In that case, I think we're basically in agreement. To clarify: I only used the time travel as an example because that was the example that VAuroch used in his/her comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/l72/rationality_quotes_november_2014/bn8f]. I agree that even taking into account your observation of time travel, the posterior probability for your insanity is still much larger than the posterior probability for genuine time travel. You do agree, however, that even if you conclude that you are likely insane, the probability of time travel was still updated in a positive direction, right? It seems to me that Nominull (the person to whom I was originally replying [http://lesswrong.com/lw/l72/rationality_quotes_november_2014/bngy]) was implying that your probability estimate shouldn't change at all, because that's "clearly impossible"/"fictional evidence" or something along those lines. It is that implication which I disagree with; as long as you're not endorsing that implication, we're in agreement. (If Nominull is reading this and feels that I am mistaken in my reading of his/her comment, then he/she should feel free to clarify his/her meaning.)
2ike7yFactually speaking, I think if you saw that happen, you would believe, regardless of your protestations now.
0Lumifer7yI don't think it's literally factually :-D
4wedrifid7yI think you're right. It's closer to, say... "serious counterfactually speaking".
1ike7yRealistically speaking?
3wedrifid7yUnfortunately this still suffers from the whole "Time Traveller visits you" part of the claim - our language doesn't handle it well. It's a realistic claim about counterfactual response of a real brain to unrealistic stimulus.
0ike7yI'll be sure to ask you the next time I need to write an imaginary comment. It's not like anyone didn't know what I meant. What do you think of the actual content? How much do you trust faul_sname's claim that they wouldn't trust their own senses on a time-travel-like improbability?
6Unknowns7yAnecdotal evidence of the reaction of normal people to seeing something impossible: http://www.bcgreen.com/comments/not_kansas.html [http://www.bcgreen.com/comments/not_kansas.html]
1wedrifid7yI wasn't the pedant. I was the tangential-pedantry analyzer. Ask Lumifer. Your comment was fine. It would be true of most people, I'm not sure if Faul is one of the exceptions.
1Gunnar_Zarncke7yGeneralization from fictional evidence [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Generalization_from_fictional_evidence]

Base Commander: Anything I do at this point will only make things worse. Anything!
Chief of Police: Many people would charge in anyway.
Base Commander: Oh, the urge to do something during an emergency is very strong. It takes training and discipline to do nothing.

Freefall by Mark Stanley.

7[anonymous]7yHuh. My default reaction during an emergency is to freeze out like a deer in the headlights.
6Endovior7yIt seems to me that this is related to the idea of roles [http://lesswrong.com/lw/kov/roles_are_martial_arts_for_agency/]. If you don't see yourself as being responsible for handling emergencies, you probably won't do anything about them, hoping someone else will. But if you do see yourself as being the person responsible for handling a crisis situation, then you're a lot more likely to do something about it, because you've taken that responsibility upon yourself. It's a particularly nuanced response to both take that kind of responsibility for a situation, and then, after carefully evaluating the options, decide that the best course is to do nothing, since it conflicts with that cultivated need to respond. That said, it could easily be a better choice than the alternative of making a probably-bad decision in the spur of the moment with incomplete information. Used properly, it's a level above the position of decisive but unplanned action... though on the surface, it can be hard to distinguish from the default bystander position of passing off responsibility.
3DanielLC7yI don't entirely agree with them. Dr. Bowmen knows that the they won't do anything, which is why he started messing with Florence in the first place. If they made a habit of doing something during an emergency, Dr. Bowmen would stop causing them.
5dspeyer7yDr. Bowmen is consistently two steps ahead of the base commander. Instead of not causing emergencies, he might just leave better traps. Or nastier ones.
0CCC7yOr he might just arrange to have the Base Commander fired and replaced.
0Luke_A_Somers7yOr he would take advantage of what they would predictably do.
0DanielLC7yThey need to make a habit of doing things that are difficult to take advantage of. If doing nothing and charging in are both equally easy to take advantage of, they could try flipping a coin to decide whether or not to charge in.

The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible.

Mark Twain

Actually I found this in The topology of Seemingly impossible functional programs which is using topological methods to 'check' infinitely many cases in finite time. Which might even be applicable to FAI research.

... wait, what? You can equate predicates of predicates but not predicates?!

(Two hours later)

Well, I'll be damned...

3IlyaShpitser7yThe key here is the halting requirement. The other stuff is red herrings.
2Gunnar_Zarncke7yInconceivable, isn't it? Extra points for actually implementing it.
4gjm7y(This is basically just restating what Ilya stated but with more details filled in.) I'd like to see if I can make the seemingly impossible at least plausibly possible. Let's consider a specific startling-looking case, the theorem on slide 17. It's about functions from infinite bit-strings to nonnegative integers, and it says: * If you have a function such that * for any a, there's a limited number of bits the function looks at to decide f(a) * then actually * there's a fixed number of bits (independent of a) the function can ever look at to decide f(a) for any a and at first that seems ridiculous, because obviously you can make what bits it looks at depend on a, and make the number able to be arbitrarily large for suitably chosen a, right? Let's consider a specific "counterexample" that turns out not to be one. You might think: OK, let's make f count the number of consecutive 1s at the start of our bit-string. Then the antecedent is true -- if a begins with exactly m 1s then the function doesn't care about anything past the (m+1)th bit -- but the consequent isn't -- for any m, you can find two things that agree in their first m places. "Of course" this is wrong, and the reason why it's wrong is that I failed to actually define a function, because what if a consists entirely of 1s? Stepping back a little: Suppose we consider values of a that require f to look at more and more bits. Then in a certain sense, they "converge" to a value that requires f to look at every bit -- in other words, one for which the function doesn't halt. (If you tried to implement f from the description I gave above, then you'd make a function that never terminates when passed a bit-string that's all 1s.) Can we turn this into a proof of the theorem on slide 17? Yes. Suppose you have a function that can look at unboundedly many bits in order to decide its output. Now: * Can it look at unboundedly many bits when the first bit is 0? If so, set a0 = 0. *

"I remember reading of a competition for a paper on resolution of singularities of surface; Castelnuovo and Enriques were in the committee. Beppo Levi presented his famous paper on the resolution of singularities for surfaces.

Enriques asked him for a couple of examples and was convinced; Castelnuovo was not. The discussion got heated. Enriques exclaimed 'I am ready to cut off my head if this does not work', and Castelnuovo replied 'I don't think that would prove it either.'"

-- Angelo Vistoli, mathoverflow

6ChristianKl7yI think adding the author name in addition to "mathoverflow" would make sense.
1gwern7yOf course, if bad proofs lead to heads being cut off, then there would probably be fewer bad proofs. (I take it the point here is not that Castelnuovo had any doubts about whether Enriques was being honest about believing the result or had come to his belief on flimsy grounds (which is usually not something one can take for granted...), but that he understood this and was interested in finding an explicit formal proof of the result.)

Personality problems and pattern ordered by difficulty to change according to Seligman:

  • Panic - Curable

  • Specific Phobias - Almost Curable

  • Sexual Dysfunctions - Marked Relief

  • Social Phobia - Moderate Relief

  • Agoraphobia - Moderate Relief

  • Depression - Moderate Relief

  • Sex Role - Moderate Change

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder - Moderate/Mild Relief

  • Sexual Preferences - Moderate/Mild Cange [*]

  • Anger - Mild/Moderate Relief

  • Everyday Anxiety - Mild/Moderate Relief

  • Alcohol Dependency - Mild Relief

  • Overweight - Temporary Change

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - Marginal Relief [except for rape which shows Moderate Relief]

  • Sexual Orientation - Probably Unchangeable [*]

  • Sexual Identity - Unchangeable [*]

From 'What You Can Change and What You Can't*' by Seligman pg. 244 of the reviewed ('vintage') edition of 2006, explicitly confirmed to be still state of the art.

Just read the book and thought this table to be quite quote-worthy even though it isn't prosaic.

* These terms have specific and possibly somewhat non-standard definitions in the book. Seligman gives a convincing theory for formation of aspects of sexuality of different 'depth' (a core concept of Seligman) based on biological facts around expression of genes and hormones. See chapter 11.

Someone should write a post called "Open Problems in Self-Improvement".

3Gunnar_Zarncke7yMaybe you? Apparently you have some specific Open Problems in mind - I don't. Could you spell them out?

Alas, no. I just saw the bottom half of that list and my physicist instincts said "ah, some nice person has provided a list of interesting and difficult unsolved problems".

3Luke_A_Somers7yMeanwhile (in the sense of meanwhile which means a month later), my physicist instincts said, 'Aha, conserved quantities!' and then, 'can we apply Noether's theorem?'
8gwillen7yI wonder whether the classification of PTSD takes account of the apparently miraculous effects of MDMA shown in some studies.
4chaosmage7yThose studies show improvement with MDMA, but they have small sample sizes and their control groups (which get similarly unusually intense/long therapy sessions without MDMA) show some improvement too. The "apparently miraculous" effect size is at least a good part hype. Also, lots of people take MDMA in non-therapeutic contexts and lie about it, so it isn't like you're going to find a control group of people you can be definitely sure haven't taken MDMA since they got PTSD - especially if they've heard of said hype. I'm not saying MDMA doesn't help with PTSD (I even grant that it could help in the treatment of Antisocial Personality, Postpartum Depression and especially Couples Therapy), I'm just saying I wouldn't be surprised if more than half of the measured effect was due to the length/intensity of the therapeutic sessions these studies use, rather than due to the drug.
2[anonymous]5yThis is an excellent concept and I am interested in reviewing the evidence further but Seligman's conclusions in positive psychology are notoriously...ah....unfounded by evidence so I am skeptical of this scale.
2Gunnar_Zarncke5yI have difficulties confirming your point. I can't say anything about his positive psychology though that sees to be OK [https://books.google.de/books?id=-YT4CgAAQBAJ&pg=PT27&lpg=PT27&dq=what+you+can+change+seligman+%22critical+review%22&source=bl&ots=lHBVjHWboS&sig=_oLkEXJ7pmWSjeuyQ8f2qLmLSbw&hl=de&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjFkNDpxqzKAhVMcRQKHRf3D2IQ6AEISzAI#v=onepage&q=what%20you%20can%20change%20seligman%20%22critical%20review%22&f=false] but Seligman's evaluation of 'what you can/can't change' seems to be very well established. Could you point me to your contrary evidence?
0[anonymous]5yFair enough: if there is evidence for that scale itself, then the author's credibility is far less relevant. Thank you for prompting me to look for the actual instances of evidence-lacing for the author. Turns out, I'm wrong. I was too quick to challenge his credibility. It is actually Martin Seligman, one of his contemporaries that allegedly churned out an empirically un-validated theories: Please see this Wiki page [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Seligman#PERMA]. The last line in that paragraph is a disappointing 'These theories have not been empirically validated.'
2[anonymous]7yBe careful about interpreting these estimates. Addiction is a good example: Although beset by selection problems, it looks like many (possibly most) substance-dependent people will eventually recover, despite poor evidence for any specific intervention (relative to just encouraging someone to quit), and the low odds of recovery for a single attempt. But you wouldn't say that these recoveries were somehow accidental or not self-directed! Slatestarcodex had an interesting review of this for alcoholism here [http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/10/26/alcoholics-anonymous-much-more-than-you-wanted-to-know/] . Also note that several of the other areas will tend to change regardless of a specific intervention: * Many (major) depressive episodes will resolve themselves over time. So a positive effect due to treatment could mean several different things: Faster recovery; increased odds of recovery; greater magnitude of recovery; less chance of relapse; or even something like less functional impairment despite no subjective relief. I've read less about other conditions. * Weight tends to flatten out and later decrease in mid-life. * Absolute personality trait measures drift with aggregate predictability over time. (Relatives measures are more stable, but it's not shocking to see large a large percentile change in an individual.) Finally: When people talk about weight-loss, they're usually talking about dieting. But bariatric surgery has good evidence for large, long-term weight loss, and is not a rare procedure, (~100,000 a year: link [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20409518])
1Gunnar_Zarncke7yI agree with your points but I'm don't think they address the same time horizon. Whats common among your points is that they show that personality traits change (slowly) over time. They do. There are thorough longitudinal studies that analyse and support this (e.g. the Grant Study [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grant_Study]). An inspirational read about this is Aging Well [http://bookpage.com/reviews/2262-george-e-vaillant-m-d-aging-well-surprising-guideposts-to-happier-life-from-landmark-harvard-study-adult-development#.VHpGbvmG-So] . But are these 'Intended' treatments or planned change? I don't think so.
0[anonymous]7yI agree that the time frame for personality change is probably quite long, outside of pathological causes. And at least sometimes, social problems, depression, and anxiety can occur in more stable, quasi-personality forms. That said, sometimes a specific issue will present itself as a more personality trait (e.g. social phobia or shame presenting as introversion), with the possibility of more rapid adjustment. The time frame for resolving addiction without third party intervention seems more mixed. I suspect selection effects cause us to greatly overestimate the odds that an addiction will usually "burn itself out" to whatever ends, but I'm not too confident. Weight loss in older age is probably not the sole result of psychological change. Older people are more conscientious and have lower time preference, so that might play a role. But for elderly people, it's almost certainly mostly a non-physiological effect of aging. Are long-term personality changes that occur in the absence of a discrete intervention unplanned or accidental? Unclear. People normally recognize their own problems and seek their own solutions, albeit somewhat imprecisely, and these could be the cause of the long-term, (often positive), changes we see in personality. I used addiction as an example, because some of the corrective actions are easy to identity. To take anger as an example: Anger management probably improves over time as a combination of biological changes (lower hormones), social changes (taking on a social role less compatible with displays of anger), as well as self-directed psychosocial changes (learning how to relax, how to stay calm, how to maintain perspective, learning more skilled and effective ways to bring about some desired effect). If you can resolve a change into these types of parts, there's no longer much use in asking about general intentionality.

The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.

-- Friedrich Nietzsche

2Capla7yAs a Nietzsche-lover, why is this one here?
8Roxolan7yI took it as a reminder of what was discussed in How to Actually Change Your Mind [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/How_To_Actually_Change_Your_Mind]: confirmation bias, affective death spirals etc.
0Luke_A_Somers7yHate seems a mite strong, but strongly disagree with? Certainly.

It is a sound maxim, and one which all close thinkers have felt, but which no one before Bentham ever so consistently applied, that error lurks in generalities: that the human mind is not capable of embracing a complex whole, until it has surveyed and catalogued the parts of which that whole is made up; that abstractions are not realities per se, but an abridged mode of expressing facts, and that the only practical mode of dealing with them is to trace them back to the facts (whether of experience or of consciousness) of which they are the expression.

Proceeding on this principle, Bentham makes short work with the ordinary modes of moral and political reasoning. These, it appeared to him, when hunted to their source, for the most part terminated in phrases. In politics, liberty, social order, constitution, law of nature, social compact, &c., were the catch-words: ethics had its analogous ones. Such were the arguments on which the gravest questions of morality and policy were made to turn; not reasons, but allusions to reasons; sacramental expressions, by which a summary appeal was made to some general sentiment of mankind, or to some maxim in familiar use, which might be true

... (read more)

Lampshading mysterious answers:

The door was the way to... to... The Door was The Way. Good. Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn't have a good answer to.

-- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams

The moment I realized that if I fall, that would probably be my end, I became really, really calm and detached. I picked up a good spot in the parking, with the back to the wall,, between 2 cars, and I moved there to meet them, all the time I was very focused to not get taken down and to take as many of them with me as possible. That was all I was thinking. In retrospect, I still think there were a decent amount of adrenalin circulating through my body, but in the moment I really felt zen and in complete control of myself.

Now, I don't think that's the average reaction you can expect in a combat situation, nor do I think that so much control is needed. But I've been in other critical and stressful situations (like in the middle of a forest fire, or going up the ring to fight other guys in front of a few hundred people), and I think that it's not the prospect of death or getting hurt that are most stressing, is not knowing what to do

--Bogdan M (emphasis mine)

3simplicio7ySource/context?
2jimmy7yhttp://www.cliffstamp.com/knives/forum/read.php?5,28239,page=2 [http://www.cliffstamp.com/knives/forum/read.php?5,28239,page=2]

With the truth, all given facts harmonize; but with what is false, the truth soon hits a wrong note.

-- Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, pointing out entangled truths and contagious lies

6soreff7y"soon" can vary quite a bit, depending on what is false. Following the link, I'm skeptical of "From the study of that single pebble you could see the laws of physics and all they imply." Specifically, I'm skeptical that one can deduce the parts of the laws of physics that matter under extreme conditions (general relativity, physics at Plank-scale energies) by examining the behavior of matter under benchtop conditions, at achievable levels of accuracy. The motivation for building instruments like the LHC in the first place is that they allow probing parts of physical laws which would otherwise produce exceeding small effects or exceedingly rare phenomena.
1Weedlayer7yThe tricky part is the "achievable levels of accuracy". It would be possible for, say Galileo to invent general relativity using the orbit of mercury, probably. But from a pebble, you would need VERY precise measurements, to an absurd level.

Teacher: So if you could live to be any age you like, what would it be?

Boy 2: Infinity.

Teacher: Infinity, you would live for ever? Why would you like to live for ever?

Boy 2: Because you just know a lot of people and make lots of new friends because you could travel to lots of countries and everything and meet loads of new animals and everything.

--Until (documentary)

http://mosaicscience.com/extra/until-transcript

8BloodyShrimp7yWhile this is on My Side, I still have to protest trying to sneak any side (or particular (group of) utility function(s)) into the idea of "rationality".
6wedrifid7yTo be fair, while it is possible to have a coherent preference for death far more often people have a cached heuristic to refrain from exactly the kind of (bloody obvious) reasoning that Boy 2 is explaining. Coherent preferences are a 'rationality' issue. Since nothing in the quote prescribes the preference and instead merely illustrates reasoning that happens to follow from having preferences like those of Boy 2. If Boy 2 was saying (or implying) that Boy 1 should want to live to infinity then there would be a problem.
-5hairyfigment7y
0Luke_A_Somers7yFrom the same source: :| hate to break it to you, kid...

Colin Howson, talking about how Cox's theorem bears the mark of Cox's training as a physicist (source):

An alternative approach is to start immediately with a quantitative notion and think of general principles that any acceptable numerical measure of uncertainty should obey. R.T. Cox and I.J. Good, working independently in the mid nineteen-forties, showed how strikingly little in the way of constraints on a numerical measure yield the finitely additive probability functions as canonical representations. It is not just the generality of the assumptions that makes the Cox–Good result so significant: unlike some of those which have to be imposed on a qualitative probability ordering, the assumptions used by Cox and to a somewhat lesser extent Good seem to have the property of being uniformly self-evidently analytic principles of numerical epistemic probability whatever particular scale it might be measured in. Cox was a working physicist and his point of departure was a typical one: to look for invariant principles:

To consider first ... what principles of probable inference will hold however probability is measured. Such principles, if there are any, will play in the theory of pro

... (read more)

I was at this entrepreneur dinner and I met Melissa, and she’s this brilliant, amazing entrepreneur. She was like, “Everyone I know wants me to write a book but I don’t have time and I’m not a good writer and publishing is this awful process … can you help me?” So, of course — I’d like to think that I’m not an elitist snob but of course I am — and I start lecturing her about hard work and writing and the writer’s life and all this shit and she rolls her fuckin’ eyes. And I’m like, “what?” and she’s like, “Are you an entrepreneur? I’m an entrepreneur, too, and in my job I have to solve problems. Can you solve my problem or are you just going to lecture me about hard work?”

Tucker Max

This conclusory invocation to "science" w/o reference to any study is an IQ test for the American intelligentsia.

Joel S. Gehrke, Sr. on Twitter referencing American Ebola policy and fears.

[-][anonymous]7y 12

More US citizens have married Kim Kardashian than have died of Ebola.

-- a member of the scientific collaboration I'm in.

Marriage to Kim Kardashian is not contagious. The danger of Ebola is not to be measured by how many it has killed, but how many it may kill.

Marriage to Kim Kardashian is not contagious.

As far as we know! Perhaps it simply has a long incubation period, and transitive polyamory will be legally recognized some time in the 2020s.

0Luke_A_Somers7yHmm. Will I become a Mormon before or after I am married to Kim Kardashian?
2Lumifer7yIf you prefer another comparison, here is one [http://cloudfront-media.reason.com/mc/2014_10/ebolavswar.png?h=342&w=600].
5RichardKennaway7yDrone strikes aren't contagious either. (Come to think of it, is the original quote actually true? One U.S. citizen notably died of Ebola in the U.S. How have those working with Ebola victims in Africa fared?) The point being, that the original quote and this one are nonsensical comparisons. The only way for people in the U.S. (whether they are citizens or not) to be safe from Ebola is for people with Ebola to be prevented from entering; if found to have entered, to be isolated; if found to have been contagious before isolation, for their contacts to be found. I gather from the news that this is, more or less, being done, in spite of people protesting, in effect, "we are safe, therefore precautions are unnecessary". But when the people are safe, they do not see the use of the things that keep them safe.

Drone strikes aren't contagious

They kinda are :-D First by physical proximity at the moment of the strike (you get to be called "collateral damage"), and second, via the "association with suspicious persons" method.

The only way for people in the U.S. (whether they are citizens or not) to be safe from Ebola is for people with Ebola to be prevented from entering

Are you, by any chance, looking for absolute safety? It tends to be very expensive to achieve and even then fails often enough.

If we are talking about "driving the risks from Ebola to the general background risk level", well, at the moment it's well below that level.

3RichardKennaway7yAre you saying that because precautions are in place, the risk is being kept below that level, or that because the risk is below that level, precautions need not be taken? The first is fine, the second is not.
6Lumifer7yIt's a feedback loop: observe the current state and the dynamics, adjust as needed.
2[anonymous]7yIAWYC, but in general the right thing to do is to reduce the risk until the marginal cost of reducing it more exceeds the disutility of what one is risking: for example, if I can spend one cent to reduce the probability I'll die tomorrow by 1e-7 (e.g. by not being as much of a jackass while driving) I should do so, even though the general background risk level (according to actuarial tables for my gender, age and province) is more than an order of magnitude larger.
3Lumifer7yTheoretically. In practice you're unlikely to be able to evaluate the risks with the necessary accuracy.
1Desrtopa7yNot necessarily. The reduction may have positive value in absolute terms, but carry the opportunity cost of preventing you from devoting those resources to more valuable risk reductions.
0roystgnr7yI don't think you've just disagreed. When I say something has a marginal cost of $2.50, that doesn't mean I'm considering the sadness inherent in having fewer shiny metal discs and green pieces of paper, it means there's some opportunity cost which that money could have afforded which I would instead have to forgo.
0wedrifid7yI hope not. Because Richard's proposal doesn't provide that. Especially when 'drone strikes' have already been brought up in conversation. Sure, most of the remaining risks would sound about as realistic as a plot from a season of 24 but as you say this is a threat well below general background risk level so implausibility is expected.
0gjm7y(Sorry, coming to this thread rather late.) Is, or was, anyone actually saying anything that amounted to "we are safe, therefore precautions are unnecessary"? What I've heard people saying is more like "we are safe enough with our current level of precautions, therefore such-and-such an extra precaution is unnecessary". Or "... therefore there is no need for us to panic about the danger we face from Ebola".
0RichardKennaway7yNot that I can point to. I may just be pattern-matching. Which pattern-matches to raise the question, do people saying that know what the current precautions are?
0gjm7yIf there's good enough evidence that we're safe enough as we are, I think it's possible to say it without knowing what the current precautions are. (Just as someone can say "my computer is fast enough for what I use it for" even if they have no idea of its clock speed, memory latency, instruction set architecture, etc.)
2TheOtherDave7yI know what I would expect to observe if my computer weren't fast enough (even in the absence of looking at technical specs), but I don't know what I would expect to notice if I were safe in the absence of actually looking at the precautions that are being taken. The closest thing I can come to that is observing that nothing disastrous has happened yet, but that's not especially well-correlated with actual safety. So... what kind of evidence are you envisioning here?
0gjm7yI'm envisioning observing that nothing even very bad has happened yet, which I think is in fact pretty well correlated with actual safety. It's not the same thing, for sure. But it's probably all we have, on any side of the debate, and it seems to me to support the "no need for panic" side better than the "lock down all the borders and quarantine everyone arriving from Africa" side.
0TheOtherDave7yOK. Thanks for clarifying.
0Lumifer7yThe classic counter-example involves a turkey in the middle of November. Nothing very bad has happened to it ever -- must be very safe, then...
0gjm7ySure. As with everything else in the universe, we have to make do with partial information and sometimes it'll lead us astray.
0Lumifer7yThere is a bit more wisdom here :-) There usual context for this example is a conversation about relying on historical data and not paying too much attention to "external" (or "meta" or "structural" or... etc.) factors.
0Azathoth1237yThis has the Chesterton's post [http://lesswrong.com/r/lesswrong/lw/lc3/rationality_quotes_december_2014/bp2g] problem. What do you mean by "our current level of precautions"? Do they include the existing provisions for quarantine in case of emergencies?
2gjm7yThey include whatever is being done now. Which appears to be something like: don't try to block or delay entry from affected countries wholesale; get people arriving from places affected by Ebola to monitor themselves for a while after travelling and take appropriate action if they suspect infection; etc. This all seems to be working OK. Of course the situation could change in ways that justified large-scale quarantining, but I'm not aware of any reason to expect that it will.
0philh7yPatrick Sawyer [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Sawyer] was a US citizen. Skimming http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebola_virus_epidemic_in_West_Africa [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebola_virus_epidemic_in_West_Africa] doesn't reveal any others, but we only need one more to tie with Kim. Edit: actually, it looks like Duncan [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Eric_Duncan] wasn't a US citizen.

Also more than have died from UFAI. Clearly that's not worth worrying over either.

I'm not terrified of Ebola because it's been demonstrated to be controllable in fairly developed counties, but as a general rule this quote seems incredibly out of place on less wrong. People here discuss the dangers of things which have literally never happened before almost every day.

1gwern7yAnd for all the scaremongering over so-called 'dinosaur killer' asteroids, total casualties are very low [http://www.oberlin.edu/faculty/bsimonso/group9.htm] (even including Chelyabinsk)!
-6Strange77y

On almost any given policy question, even if all the relevant facts were beyond dispute, choices would still involve complex value judgments.

Clive Crook on Bloomberg View

We should be wary of political vapourware. If somebody’s alternative to the status quo is nothing, or at least nothing very specific, then what are they even talking about? They are hawking political vapourware, giving a “sales pitch” for something that doesn’t even exist.

Everything Is Problematic, an account of getting out of radical left wing politics.

4ChristianKl7yGiven that no revolution ever produced the system that the people who threw the revolution planned to introduce I don't think that it's an easy case to argue that you need to have a specific plan. Waterfall is no good design paradigma.
2Jiro7yThis is trivially true if you mean that no revolution produced the desired result up to the end of time. But then, the same is true of anything any human being does. If you interpret it in a narrow, nontrivial way such as "no revolution produced a result that was close to the desired result and took at least as long enough to become unrecognizeable as the existing order would have taken to become unrecognizeable", then there are several candidates, including the American Revolution and several post-Soviet states (if you count leaving the USSR as a revolution).
2ChristianKl7yI'm not saying "result" but system. The US constitution got written after the US got independent and not before. Some countries of the USSR did copy the Western style of democracy and free markets. They could do that by letting other countries send people to tell them how to run their country. They didn't do that because they themselves knew how to create a democratic state with free markets. If my project is to lock my apartment with my key, then I can be quite certain that the result with look roughly like I plan beforehand. The bigger the project the harder it is to plan everything beforehand. As a result big software projects get these days not fully planned in advance via waterfall but get created in an agile way. Creating a substantial new political system as opposed to just copy some existing one, is much more complex than a software project and therefore even less doable via waterfall.
2hawkice7yPerhaps a more precise point is that the first American government failed. John Hanson and the other 9 Presidents of the United States under the articles of confederation were operating the true government they threw the revolution for. It failed almost immediately -- you would be astonished at how hard it was to convince someone to run the country, hence the extremely high turnover on Presidents. I, and many other people here on Less Wrong, live in a massive, surprisingly enduring Plan B of a government. [It's worth pointing out I like this one better, because we can find appropriately qualified staff, which is, ya know, pretty good. But alas, I was not a father of the American Revolution.]
2Jiro7yThey wanted to create a government which was democratic, at least to a certain extent. They had a revolution. And they got one. It's true that some of the exact details weren't written down until after the Revolution, but they didn't have a revolution and then get a dictatorship, or something unsustainable, or find that all private property was abolished two years later--they got something which was clearly within the parameters they were trying to achieve. That's taking a very narrow interpretation of "planned to introduce". If you had asked them "when you overthrow the Communists, do you plan to have a free market system", they would have said yes. I count that as "planning to introduce a free market system, and getting what they planned for". The point of that sentence was to rule out saying "But if you look at the government over 200 years later, they clearly wouldn't have anticipated high tax rates and gay marriage, so they didn't get the system they wanted". If the system produced by the revolution is at least as stable as a non-revolutionary system, even if it has enough instability to show up after 200 years, it should count.
0ChristianKl7yI think quite a few people on the left can tell you a few catch phrases about how their alternative system should look like that are as vague as demoractic.
1Salemicus7yNo plan survives contact with the enemy [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Helmuth_von_Moltke_the_Elder] (or reality), but that doesn't mean you can just wing it. Of course you need a specific plan, but you also need the ability to change that plan as needed, in a controlled and sensible way. Realising the problems of advanced planning means you need to spend more time, not less, on working out what you are trying to do.
5elharo7yI'm reminded of Eisenhower: -- From a speech to the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference in Washington, D.C. (November 14, 1957) ; in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957, National Archives and Records Service, Government Printing Office, p. 818 : ISBN 0160588510, 9780160588518
2ChristianKl7yThen why does every modern startup do agile development instead of spending more time on planning?
4Salemicus7yWe do agile development where I work. That doesn't mean we don't plan. On the contrary. Agile development doesn't mean throwing a bunch of developers in a room and telling them "do whatever comes to mind" without any thought to what might come out of the process. It means constantly updating your plans, in an adaptive and iterative way.
0TheOtherDave7yWell, probably mostly because it's trendy. But as for why people who choose to do agile development for sensible reasons do so, I suspect it's because doing planning and data collection in such a way that they inform one another has better results than planning in the absence of data or data collection in the absence of a plan. Why do you ask?
0ChristianKl7yIf you ask people to give you a clear alternative of a poltiical system then the only way to give you what you are asking is to give you something that migth work in theory but that's not based on empiric reality. One of the big problem with Soviet style communism was that a central planner made a plan with wasn't well based on empiric reality. As a result there are valid reasons for part of todays left to dislike the idea of central planning.
3elharo7yThis strikes me as a common failing of rationality. Personally I've never really noticed it in politics though. People arguing politics from all corners of the spectrum usually know exactly what they want to happen instead, and will advocate for it in great detail. However, in science it is extremely common for known broken theories to be espoused and taught because there's nothing (yet) better. There are many examples from the late 19th/early 20th centuries before quantum mechanics was figured out. For example, the prevailing theory of how the sun worked used a model of gravitational contraction that simply could not have powered the sun for anything like the known age of the earth. That model wasn't really discarded until the 1920s and 30s when Gamow and Teller figured out the nuclear reactions that really did power the sun. There are many examples today, in many fields, where the existing model simply cannot be accurate. Yet until a better model comes along scientists are loath to discard it. This irrationality, this unwillingness to listen to someone who says "This idea is wrong" unless they can also say "and this alternative idea is right" is a major theme of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0226458083/ref=nosim/cafeaulaitA].
1NancyLebovitz7yI've asked SJs whether there was ever a time in their lives when they thought they were in a group that was satisfyingly inclusive, whether there was some experience they were trying to make more common. Admittedly, I only asked a few people (and with tact set on maximum). The only answer I got was no. It's possible I was overgeneralizing in several ways, but I was asking because it seemed to me that what I'd read of anti-racism had a tone of "something hurts, it's urgent to stop the pain", but there was no positive vision. This might have something to do with political (and maybe even choices inside businesses) which actually make life better vs. those that don't. There's always some sort of vision, but maybe there are issues related not just to whether pieces of the vision are accurate, but whether it's clear enough in appropriate ways. For example, was part of the problem with centralized economies that no one had a clear idea of how information would get transmitted? (This is a real question.)
2elharo7yThat someone has never experienced some state X does not imply that they do not have a vision for the state X they wish to achieve in the future. If you want to know what someone's positive vision for the future is, ask them, "What is your vision for a better future?"; not "Have you experienced something better than this in the past?" These are two very different questions. Most people grow up in some status quo.* That doesn't mean they can conceive of no alternative to that status quo. * What qualifies as "status quo" is of course very local to some time, place, and subculture. The status quo described in the article quoted isn't remotely close to anything I've ever seen, but that doesn't mean it isn't an accurate reflection of the status quo at one particular English-speaking university in Montreal in the early teens.
0elharo7ySJs? Can you elaborate? I'm not sure what you're referring to.
1TheOtherDave7yI think in this context it refers to people who advocate for social justice.
1NancyLebovitz7yYes, that's it-- I think SJs is more polite than SJWs (Social Justice Warriors), but I'm guessing about that. It's a rather confused area of terminology-- there's an older use of "social justice" (note lack of capitalization) which, so far as I know, consisted of advocating for various groups, but didn't include the ideas of privilege and calling out.
2RichardKennaway7yWhat do the people that people call SJWs call themselves?
2polymathwannabe7yGenerally, progressives.
-2Lumifer7ySJWs to progressives are like crusaders to Christians.
0tut7yFeminists, antiracists etc. Often something like intersectional something or other. They don't have a name that most of them are happy with, which is why a name that was just a joke about them 'fighting for social justice' stuck.
0ChristianKl7yThere is a lot of terms involved. A person might say: I'm a third wave feminist. The also might say: I'm an ally.
0gjm7yThe trouble with "SJs" is that it looks like an abbreviation but there doesn't seem to be anything it stands for. "Social Justices"? (That would mean judges who like to party, I guess.) "Social Justicers"? Maybe something longer is needed. "SJ people"? "SJ folks"? "The online Social Justice movement"?
2Lumifer7yI don't particularly agree with this quote, but the link it comes out of is excellent.
5Viliam_Bur7yIt's amazing!
-1jdgalt7yI don't buy it. We have many existing laws and spending programs that make us worse off than not having them (or, equivalently, leaving it up to the market rather than the taxpayers to provide them). The free market is known to work well enough, and broadly enough, that demanding "What would you replace it with?" when someone proposes ending one of those laws or programs is un-called-for. (If anyone really does doubt that the market will do better, the thing to do is to try it and see, not to demand proof that can't exist because the change in question hasn't been tried recently.) After a few repetitions, I simply lump the asker in with the kind of troll whose reply to every comment is "Cite?" and add him to my spam filter.
3Strange77yAn explicit argument that lack of regulation would produce better results than the current regulatory system is not the same thing as disliking and actively opposing the current system yet having no idea what to replace it with.

If you kick a ball, about the most interesting way you can analyze the result is in terms of the mechanical laws of force and motion. The coefficients of inertia, gravity, and friction are sufficient to determine its reaction to your kick and the ball's final resting place, even if you can 'bend it like Beckham'. But if you kick a large dog, such a mechanical analysis of vectors and resultant forces may not prove as salient as the reaction of the dog as a whole. Analyzing individual muscles biomechanically likewise yields an incomplete picture of human movement experience.

Thomas W. Myers in Anatomy Trains - Page 3

[in the context of creatively solving a programming problem]

"You will be wrong. You're going to think of better ideas. ... The facts change. ... When the facts change, do not dig in. Do it over again. See if your answer is still valid in light of the new requirements, the new facts. And if it isn't, change your mind, and don't apologize."

-- Rich Hickey

(note that, in context, he tries to differentiate between reasoning with incomplete information, which you don't need to apologize for - just change your mind and move on - and genuine mistakes or errors)

In general, the limits imposed by working memory can be overcome by the use of more time-consuming strategies. Therefore, although performance might improve if working memory were larger, it might also improve if subjects simply thought more.

Baron, Thinking and Deciding

One of the major symptoms of my stroke was seriously truncated working memory, and I spent months both training it back and learning to work around the limitations of it.

So i agree that there are strategies that can overcome the limits of working memory,though I wouldn't describe them as "thinking more"... it was more like saving state externally on a regular basis, and developing useful habits of interacting with that saved state. More generally, it's not a question of doing the same thing for longer, it's a question of doing different things that end up taking longer. It's "thinking differently, for longer."

That being said, though, I cannot begin to describe how much smarter I felt (and seemed) when the damage began to heal and I could start doing stuff in my head again.

6dvolk7yIt's a bit unclear without the context, but what he means is that subjects should think more about the task and realize that they need to, e.g. use a pen and paper.

Economy is idealism in its most practical form.

Calvin Coolidge, Inaugural Address, 1924.

I sing the praises of common sense. Like Quine, I see science as continuous with common sense. It goes beyond common sense, but does not discard it. Rather than overthrow common sense, science explains it. Common sense provides us with a grounding in the world. It is the foundation upon which scientific realism rests. As we will see, it even provides protection against the anti-realist scepticism...

-- Science, Common Sense and Reality by Howard Sankey

For those curious the paper uses Arthur Eddington's two tables metapher which is also nice to illustrate... (read more)

3NancyLebovitz7yI find it entertaining that no matter how weird the deep scientific explanation is, that explanation can only be developed by scientists who have a naive sensory relationship with their instruments. They have to handle the instruments (or the computer controls) as though their hands and tools are made of solid stuff moving at easy-to-perceive speeds.
2DanielLC7yThat did cause some problems with quantum physics, when they assumed that their measuring equipment along with the scientists themselves weren't getting stuck in quantum superposition.

[S]kepticism should be directed at things that are actually untrue rather than things that are difficult to measure.

-- Bill James, American baseball writer and statistician.

Scepticism is directed not at things, but at claims. And claims about things difficult to measure should face increased scepticism.

4rule_and_line7yInteresting position! I can't speak for James, but I want to engage with this. Let's pretend, for the scope of this thread, that I made the statement about the proper role of skepticism. I'm happy to endorse your wording. I agree it's more precise to talk about "claims" than "things" in this context. Quick communication check. When you say "increased" you're implying at least two distinct levels of skepticism. From your assertion, I gather that difficult-to-measure claims like "there exist good leaders, people who can improve the performance of the rest of their team" will face your higher level of skepticism. Could you give me an example of a claim that faces your lower level of skepticism?
4Lumifer7yWell, I'm actually treating scepticism as a continuous variable, let's say defined on non-negative real numbers for simplicity, where 0 means "I Believe!" and some sufficiently high number means "You're lying". "It's raining outside" "This thing weights five pounds" "Free-falling objects start to accelerate by about 9.8 m/s/s"
5DuncanF7yThat strikes me as really ... odd. To whom is the advice addressed? If something is actually untrue, and one has determined it to be untrue, then the task of being skeptical about it is finished. I could probably find a loophole in the preceding statement, but it couldn't possibly be what Bill James was referring to. As for directing skepticism at [claims depending upon] things that are difficult to measure, well that seems like one step away from directing skepticism at claims depending on little evidence. Which is surely what we want to do. Again, there's a loophole, but clearly not something Bill James was trying to point out.

People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

--Stephen Covey (in response to, paraphrased, 'how do I get other people to use these self-help techniques?')

This is from a novel (Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone). The situation is a man and a woman who have to work together but have trouble trusting each other because of propaganda from an old war:

[Abelard] hesitated, suddenly aware that he was alone with a woman he barely trusted, a woman who, had they met only a few decades before, would have tried to kill him and destroy the gods he served. Tara hated propaganda for this reason. Stories always outlasted their usefulness.

3AlanCrowe7yThat is an interesting thought. When I try to ground it in contemporary reality my thoughts turn to politics. Modern democratic politics is partly about telling stories to motivate voters, but which stories have outlasted their usefulness? Any answer is likely to be contentious. Turning to the past, I wrote a little essay [http://www.cawtech.freeserve.co.uk/back-to-nature.2.html] suggesting that stories of going back to nature to live in a recent golden age when life was simpler may serve as examples of stories that have outlasted their usefulness by a century.
4grendelkhan7yWe're doing politics? Cool. In a very short-term sense, "death panels [http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterubel/2013/01/09/why-it-is-so-difficult-to-kill-the-death-panel-myth/] ". We provide a terrible end-of-life experience [http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/07/17/who-by-very-slow-decay/] for people; we keep people barely at great expense in states of pain and confusion as long as possible even when this is not something that they would want; finite healthcare dollars are thus spent torturing the dying rather than fixing treatable problems in otherwise healthy people. An attempt to make a dent in this (by at least getting people to talk about advance-care directives, for example) was derailed in a failed attempt to score some political points. As a result, this will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future, because it's no longer a technical problem, it's a Red Team/Blue Team thing. Well done, politics.

My little brother who's 7 was saying girls can’t be scientists, and my little sister who's 5 looked at him offended and said, “Princess Bubblegum is a girl and she's a scientist, Jonny!” and he said, “oh yeah…ok nvm,” and they continued eating breakfast like nothing.

Cleffairie on Tumblr (punctuation cleaned up)

The latest in a continuing series on immediate Bayesian updating in response to information. (Also viable as an example of an "unknown known," since he knew the counter-example but had not thought to apply it.)

2[anonymous]7yBut but fictional evidence!

Excellent point, but his prior was even weaker.

It is the courage to make a clean breast of it in the face of every question that makes the philosopher. He must be like Sophocles' Oedipus, who, seeking enlightenment concerning his terrible fate, pursues his indefatigable inquiry even though he divines that appalling horror awaits him in the answer. But most of us carry with us the Jocasta in our hearts, who begs Oedipus, for God's sake, not to inquire further.

Arthur Schopenhauer, letter to Johann Goethe, 1819.

4[anonymous]7yIf I may attempt to summarize:

But the surprising thing, even to Hamilton, was that network availability went up, not down. And that is because AWS switches and routers only had features that AWS needed in its network. Commercial network operating systems have to cover all of the possible usage scenarios and protocols with tens of millions of lines of code that is difficult to maintain. “The reason our gear is more reliable is that we didn’t take on this harder problem. Any way that wins is a good way to win.”

James Hamilton on how Amazon speeds up AWS networking by only implementing ... (read more)

327chaos7yIs there anything like a general theory of satisficing that tells you when it's a good idea? It's reasonably easy to decide in individual cases provided you've got a lot of specific quantitative information, but suppose you don't have a lot of specific information and you only know qualitative facts about how something works within a system. If not, should people just default to satisficing unless there are obvious reasons it will fall short of optimality, or should they do the opposite? I'm inclined to favor the former, but am interested to hear other people's perspectives.

The wise man looks to the purpose of all actions, not their consequences; beginnings are in our power, but Fortune judges the outcome, and I do not grant her a verdict upon me.

--Seneca, on judging actions by expected value.

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Richard Feynman on the Challenger incident

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
6Vaniver7yDupe [http://lesswrong.com/lw/bs/rationality_quotes_april_2009/88v] (twice [http://lesswrong.com/lw/6y2/rationality_quotes_august_2011/4vfd]).
6dxu7yAh, crap. So, how does this work, exactly? Should I remove my comment?
6Vaniver7yIf you hit the 'retract' button (it's the circle with the diagonal line through it), then the post will have a strikethrough and the karma will be locked where it is now, and that's what people typically do. In the future, do a search for quotes before you post them (but keep posting quotes!).
5dxu7yAll right, cool, thanks. (I did actually search through the site to see if there were any repeats, but I guess I wasn't thorough enough in my search!)

Ambition means tying your well being to what other people say or do.

Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you.

Sanity means tying it to your own actions.

--Marcus Aurelius

0Manfred7yFunny, I upvoted your other quote and downvoted this one. Anyhow, if the object of your affections surprises you with a cuddle and your well being is unimpacted, I wouldn't call that sane.
0Vaniver7yI think "tying it to" should be read in the sense of an anchor, not in the sense of "is impacted by."

When confronting something which may be either a windmill or an evil giant, what question should you be asking? There are some who ask, "If we do nothing, and that is an evil giant, can we afford to be wrong?" These people consider themselves to be brave and vigilant. Some ask, "If we attack it wrongly, can we afford to pay to replace a windmill?" These people consider themselves cautious and pragmatic. Still others ask, "With the cost of being wrong so high in either case, shouldn't we always definitively answer the 'windmill vs.

... (read more)

There is no such thing as an absolute despotism; it is only relative. A man cannot wholly free himself from obligation to his fellows. A sultan who cut off heads from caprice, would quickly lose his own in the same way. Excesses tend to check themselves by reason of their own violence. What the ocean gains in one place it loses in another.

Napoleon Bonaparte, from Napoleon: In His Own Words (1916).

-1Azathoth1237yTechnically true, although Mao managed to get remarkably close.

A person can never be broken. Our built environment, our technologies, are broken and disabled. We the people need not accept our limitations, but can transcend disability through technological innovation.

-- Hugh Herr (in his talk about bionics)

2RowanE7yThis looks closer to a cheer for local memes (transhumanism) than a rationality quote. Can you give me a reason I'm wrong in thinking this?
-227chaos7yDo you think that quotes about rejecting artificial limitations should be accepted here? I think that such quotes should be allowed, and that this quote falls into that category, so this quote is sufficiently rational to belong here. OTOH, maybe my view assumes without sufficient justification that these limitations are artificial. Or maybe quotes about rejecting artificial limitations shouldn't be allowed here in general? (I agree the quote gives a cheerleader vibe. But I don't think that's sufficient to disallow it from this thread.)
5RowanE7yI think the quote reads as simply the assertion that the limitations of disability can be rejected, with language implying this applies to all disability, which for some reasonable definitions is probably false.

"When reason fails, boobs have a chance"

Katherine Mangu-Ward in Reason

A bit of humor.

2shminux7yA bit of context would have helped... Another quote from he linked post: or, in more nerdy terms, "Both System 1 and System 2... Engage!". On a more controversial note, I wonder if it can be quantified how much it helps (or hurts?) the CFAR cause that its president and public face Julia Galef is not just smart and articulate, but also conventionally good looking.

Presenter: [Snipping 75 minutes of reading without eye contact.] "...so as you can see, I have reconceptualized and reconsidered and -icized and -atized until this problem I talk about is clearly both like and unlike what Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Plato, and Arendt implied by choosing one word instead of a universe of other words in these few sentences no one else has really talked much about."

Theory Search Committee Member: "Well, certainly, but since we have clear answers about this philosophical problem deriving from Augustine's flirtation... (read more)

5Weedlayer7yI'm not really getting anything from this other than "Mainstream philosophy, boo! Empiricism, yeah!" Is there anything more to this post?
0[anonymous]7yIf you read the comment thread on the source, you see that it isn't actually philosophy boo, empiricism yeah, but rather an internecine conflict within academic political science.
3Weedlayer7yHonestly, I did read the source, and it's very difficult to get anything useful out of it. The closest I could interpret it is "Theory (In what? Political Science?) had become removed from "Other fields" (In political science? Science?)". In general, if context is needed to interpret the quote (I.E. It doesn't stand on it's own), it's good to mention that context in the post, rather than just linking to a source and expecting people to follow a comment thread to understand it. Sorry if this is overly critical, that was not my intention. I just don't get what the "internecine conflict" you are referring to is.
[+][anonymous]7y -11