Happy New Year! Here's the latest and greatest installment of rationality quotes. Remember:
- Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be voted up/down 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- Do not quote yourself
- Do not quote comments/posts on LessWrong or Overcoming Bias
- No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please
-- Greg Egan, "Border Guards".
Dear LWers: do you have these moods (let us gloss them as "extreme temporary loss of confidence in foundational beliefs"):
I have had "extreme temporary loss of foundational beliefs," where I briefly lost confidence in beliefs such as the nonexistence of fundamentally mental entities (I would describe this experience as "innate but long dormant animist intutions suddenly start shouting,") but I've never had a mood where Christianity or any other religion looked probable, because even when I had such an experience, I was never enticed to privilege the hypothesis of any particular religion or superstition.
I answered "sometimes" thinking of this as just Christianity, but I would have answered "very often" if I had read your gloss more carefully.
I'm not quite sure how to explicate this, as it's something I've never really though much about and had generalized from one example to be universal. But my intuitions about what is probably true are extremely mood and even fancy-dependent, although my evaluation of particular arguments and such seems to be comparatively stable. I can see positive and negative aspects to this.
Erm...when I was a lot younger, when I considered doing something wrong or told a lie I had the vague feeling that someone was keeping tabs. Basically, when weighing utilities I greatly upped the probability that someone would somehow come to know of my wrongdoings, even when it was totally implausible. That "someone" was certainly not God or a dead ancestor or anything supernatural...it wasn't even necessarily an authority figure.
Basically, the superstition was that someone who knew me well would eventually come to find out about my wrongdoing, and one day they would confront me about it. And they'd be greatly disappointed or angry.
I'm ashamed to say that in the past I might have actually done actions which I myself felt were immoral, if it were not for that superstitious feeling that my actions would be discovered by another individual. It's hard to say in retrospect whether the superstitious feeling was the factor that pushed me back over that edge.
Note that I never believed the superstition...it was more of a gut feeling.
I'm older now and am proud to say that I haven't given serious consideration to doing anything which I personally feel is immoral for a very, very l... (read more)
Occasionally the fundamental fact that all our inferences are provisional creeps me out. The realization that there's no way to actually ground my base belief that, say, I'm not a Boltzmann brain, combined with the fact that it's really quite absurd that anything exists rather than nothing at all given that any cause we find just moves the problem outwards is the closest thing I have to "doubting existence".
To be fair, the philosopher Tamar Gendler only coined the term in 2008.
-- Tim Kreider, The Quiet Ones
"This is how it sometimes works", I would have said. Anything more starts to sound uncomfortably close to "the lurkers support me in email."
...but why wait until they'd almost gotten to Boston?
Perhaps because at that point, one is not faced with the prospect of spending several hours in close proximity to people with whom one has had an unpleasant social interaction.
No one wants to appear rude, of course. As this was almost the end of the ride, the person who rebuked them minimized the time he'd have to endure in the company of people who might consider him rude because of his admonishment, whether or not they agree with him. I wonder if this is partly a cultural thing.
The passage states that he'd already spoken to them twice.
Every actual criticism of an idea/behaviour is likely to imply a much larger quantity of silent doubt/disapproval.
Sometimes, but you need to take into account what P(voices criticism | has criticism) is. Otherwise you'll constantly cave to vocal minorities (situations where the above probability is relatively large).
Edit (1/7): I have no particular reason to believe that this is literally true, but either way I think it holds an interesting rationality lesson. Feel free to substitute 'Zorblaxia' for 'Japan' above.
Interesting; is this true?
Yes, my Japanese teacher was very insistent about it, and IIRC would even take points off for talking about someones mental state with out the proper qualifiers.
It's not necessarily an advantageous habit. If a person tells you they like ice cream, and you've seen them eating ice cream regularly with every sign of enjoyment, you have as much evidence that they like ice cream as you have about countless other things that nobody bothers hanging qualifiers on even in Japanese. The sciences are full of things we can't experience directly but can still establish with high confidence.
Rather than teaching people to privilege other people's mental states as an unknowable quality, I think it makes more sense to encourage people to be aware of their degrees of certainty.
(a few verbal tics were removed by me; the censorship was already present in the version I heard)
Sympathetic, but ultimately, we die OF diseases. And the years we do have are more or less valuable depending on their quality.
Physicians should maximize QALYs, and extending lifespan is only one way to do it.
I'd vote this up, but I can't shake the feeling that the author is setting up a false dichotomy. Living forever would be great, but living forever without arthritis would be even better. There's no reason why we shouldn't solve the easier problem first.
Sure there is. If you have two problems, one of which is substantially easier than the other, then you still might solve the harder problem first if 1) solving the easier problem won't help you solve the harder problem and 2) the harder problem is substantially more pressing. In other words, you need to take into account the opportunity cost of diverting some of your resources to solving the easier problem.
— Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language
Éowyn explaining to Aragorn why she was skilled with a blade. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the 2002 movie.
If you are an American perhaps it stood out this time because of all the recent discussion of gun control.
"I've never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive."
-- Randall Munroe, in http://what-if.xkcd.com/30/ (What-if xkcd, Interplanetary Cessna)
I'd have thought from observation that quite a lot of human club is just about discussing the rules of human club, excess meta and all. Philosophy in daily practice being best considered a cultural activity, something humans do to impress other humans.
Imagine the average high school clique. They would be very uncomfortable explicitly discussing the rules of the group - even as they enforced them ruthlessly. Further, the teachers, parents, and other adults who knew the students would be just as uncomfortable describing the rules of the clique.
In short, we are socially weird for being willing to discuss the social rules - that our discussion is an improvement doesn't mean it is statistically ordinary.
Ah, I see.
Human club has many rules. Some can be bent. Others can be broken.
I think the author is needlessly overcomplicating things.
1) People instinctively form tight nit groups of friends with people they like. People they like usually means help them survive and raise offspring. This usually means socially adept, athletic, and attractive.
2) Having friends brings diminishing returns. The more friends a person have, the less they feel the need to make new friends. That's why the first day of school is vital.
3) Ill feelings develop between sally and bob. Sally talks to Susanne, and now they both bear ill feelings towards Bob. Thus, Bob has descended a rung in the dominance hierarchy.
4) Bob's vulnerability is a function of how many people Sally can find who will agree with her about him. As a extension of this principle, those with the fewest friends will get the most picked on. The bullies can be both from the popular and unpopular crowd.
5) Factors leading to few friends - lack of social or athletic ability, conspicuous non-conformity via eccentric behavior, dress, or speech, low attractiveness, or misguided use of physical or verbal aggression.
By the power law, approximately 20% of the kids will be friends with 80% of the network. These are the popular ... (read more)
Keith E. Stanovich, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought
Possibly, but Stanovich thinks that most heuristics were basically given to us by evolution and rather than choose among heuristics what we do is decide whether to (use them and spend little energy on thinking) or (not use them and spend a lot of energy on thinking).
The Last Psychiatrist (http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/10/how_not_to_prevent_military_su.html)
-Buttercup Dew (@NationalistPony)
--Wendy Cope, He Tells Her from the series ‘Differences of Opinion’
David Wong, 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person. Published in Cracked.com
This article greatly annoyed me because of how it tells people to do the correct practical things (Develop skills! Be persistent and grind! Help people!) yet gives atrocious and shallow reasons for it - and then Wong says how if people criticize him they haven't heard the message. No, David, you can give people correct directions and still be a huge jerk promoting an awful worldview!
He basically shows NO understanding of what makes one attractive to people (especially romantically) and what gives you a feeling of self-worth and self-respect. What you "are" does in fact matter - both to yourself and to others! - outside of your actions; they just reveal and signal your qualities. If you don't do anything good, it's a sign of something being broken about you, but just mechanically bartering some product of your labour for friendship, affection and status cannot work - if your life is in a rut, it's because of some deeper issues and you've got to resolve those first and foremost.
This masochistic imperative to "Work harder and quit whining" might sound all serious and mature, but does not in fact has the power to make you a "better person"; rather, you'll... (read more)
I've taken a crack at what's wrong with that article.
The problem is, there's so much wrong with it from so many different angles that it's rather a large topic.
My complaint about the article is that it has the same problem as most self-help advice. When you read it, it sounds intelligent, you nod your head, it makes sense. You might even think to yourself "Yeah, I'm going to really change now!"
But as everyone whose tried to improve himself knows, it's difficult to change your behavior (and thoughts) on a basis consistent enough to really make a long-lasting difference.
I try to get around this by assuming that self-interest and malice, outside of a few exceptional cases, are evenly distributed across tribes, organizations, and political entities, and that when I find a particularly self-interested or malicious person that's evidence about their own personality rather than about tribal characteristics. This is almost certainly false and indeed requires not only bad priors but bad Bayesian inference, but I haven't yet found a way to use all but the narrowest and most obvious negative-valence concepts to predict group behavior without inviting more bias than I'd be preventing.
"Just because you no longer believe a lie, does not mean you now know the truth."
Orson Scott Card, The Lost Gate
-Bas van Fraassen, The Scientific Image
Believing large lies is worse than small lies; basically, it's arguing against the What-The-Hell Effect as applied to rationality. Or so I presume, did not read original.
I had noticed it and mistakenly attributed it to the sunk cost fallacy but on reflection it's quite different from sunk costs. However, it was discovering and (as it turns out, incorrectly) generalising the sunk cost fallacy that alerted me to the effect and that genuinely helped me improve myself, so it's a happy mistake.
One thing that helped me was learning to fear the words 'might as well,' as in, 'I've already wasted most of the day so I might as well waste the rest of it,' or 'she'll never go out with me so I might as well not bother asking her,' and countless other examples. My way of dealing it is to mock my own thought processes ('Yeah, things are really bad so let's make them even worse. Nice plan, genius') and switch to a more utilitarian way of thinking ('A small chance of success is better than none,' 'Let's try and squeeze as much utility out of this as possible' etc.).
I hadn't fully grasped the extent to which I was sabotaging my own life with that one, pernicious little error.
Lambs are young sheep; they have less meat & less wool.
The punishment for livestock rustling being identical no matter what animal is stolen, you should prefer to steal a sheep rather than a lamb.
-- Penn Jilette
I would argue that the lesson is that when something valuable is at stake, we should focus on the simplest available solutions to the puzzles we face, rather than on ways to demonstrate our intelligence to ourselves or others.
-Jobe Wilkins (Whateley Academy)
I was rereading HP Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu lately, and the quote from the Necronomicon jumped out at me as a very good explanation of exactly why cryonics is such a good idea.
(Full disclosure: I myself have not signed up for cryonics. But I intend to sign up as soon as I can arrange to move to a place where it is available.)
The quote is simply this:
Er... logical fallacy of fictional evidence, maybe? I wince every time somebody cites Terminator in a discussion of AI. It doesn't matter if the conclusion is right or wrong, I still wince because it's not a valid argument.
The original quote has nothing to do with life extension/immortality for humans. It just happens to be an argument for cryonics, and it seems to be a valid one: death as failure to preserve rather than cessation of activity, mortality as a problem rather than a fixed rule.
-- Steven Brust, spoken by Vlad, in Iorich
— Gregory Wheeler, "Formal Epistemology"
Is there a concrete example of a problem approached thus?
(If you wonder where "two hundred and forty-two miles" shortening of the river came from, it was the straightening of its original meandering path to improve navigation)
-- John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement.
-- Kyubey (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
"Two roads diverged in a wood. I took the one less traveled by, and had to eat bugs until the park rangers rescued me."
Wasn't that poem sarcastic anyway? Until the last stanza, the poem says how the roads were really identical in all particulars -- and in the last stanza the narrator admits that he will be describing this choice falsely in the future.
--"Sid" a commenter from HalfSigma's blog
--Sir Francis Galton
-- Groucho Marx
Person 1: "I don't understand how my brain works. But my brain is what I rely on to understand how things work." Person 2: "Is that a problem?" Person 1: "I'm not sure how to tell."
-Woody Allen EDIT: Fixed formatting.
-G. K. Chesterton
--Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell (discussing the differences between the "intentional object" of a belief and the thing-in-the-world inspiring that belief)
-- Larry Wall
-- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
-- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
Beatrice the Biologist
-- Sterren with a literal realization that the territory did not match his mental map in The Unwilling Warlord by Lawrence Watt-Evans
-- someone on Usenet replying to someone deriding Kurzweil
In general, though, that argument is the Galileo gambit and not a very good argument.
There's a more charitable reading of this comment, which is just "the absurdity heuristic is not all that reliable in some domains."
What makes this the Galileo Gambit is that the absurdity factor is being turned into alleged support (by affective association with the positive benefits of air travel and frequent flier miles) rather than just being neutralized. Contrast to http://lesswrong.com/lw/j1/stranger_than_history/ where absurdity is being pointed out as a fallible heuristic but not being associated with positives.
In reference to Occam's razor:
--from Machine Learning by Tom M. Mitchell
Interesting how a concept seems more believable if it has a name...
"De notre naissance à notre mort, nous sommes un cortège d’autres qui sont reliés par un fil ténu."
("From our birth to our death, we are a procession of others whom a fine thread connects.")
It's not easy to find rap lyrics that are appropriate to be posted here. Here's an attempt.
-Pirkei Avot (5:15)
Deep wisdom indeed. Some people believe the wrong things, and some believe the right things, some people believe both, some people believe neither.
-- P. W. Bridgman, ‘‘The Struggle for Intellectual Integrity’’
While affirming the fallacy-of-composition concerns, I think we can take this charitably to mean "The universe is not totally saturated with only indifference throughout, for behold, this part of the universe called Scott Derrickson does indeed care about things."
“There is light in the world, and it is us!”
Love that moment.
Scott Derrickson is indifferent. How do I know this? I know because Scott Derrickson's skin cells are part of Scott Derrickson, and Scott Derrickson's skin cells are indifferent.
-- Steve Smith, American Dad!, season 1, episode 7 "Deacon Stan, Jesus Man", on the applicability of this axiom.
-- Closing lines of Crimes and Misdemeanors, script by Woody Allen.
Jimmy the rational hypnotist on priming and implicit memory:
-Alfie Kohn, "Punished By Rewards"
Lots of people in Weimar Germany got angry at the emerging fascists - and went out and joined the Communist Party. It was tough to be merely a liberal democrat.
If the memories of my youth serve me anger 'leads to the dark side of the force' via the intermediary 'hate'. That is, it leads you to go around frying things with lightening and choking people with a force grip. This is only 'evil' when you do the killing in cases where killing is not an entirely appropriate response. Unfortunately humans (and furry green muppet 'Lannik') are notoriously bad at judging when drastic violation of inhibitions is appropriate. Power---likely including the power to kill people with your brain---will almost always corrupt.
Not nearly as much as David Brin perverts the message that Lucas's message. I in fact do reject the instructions of Yoda but I reject what he actually says. I don't need to reject a straw caricature thereof.
Automatically. Immediately. Where did this come from? Yoda is 900 years old, wizened and gives clear indications that he think... (read more)
SMBC comics: a metaphor for deathism.
While I am a fan of SMBC, in this case he's not doing existentialism justice (or not understanding existentialism). Existentialism is not the same thing as deathism. Existentialism is about finding meaning and responsibility in an absurd existence. While mortality is certainly absurd, biological immortality will not make existential issues go away. In fact, I suspect it will make them stronger..
edit: on the other hand, "existentialist hokey-pokey" is both funny and right on the mark!
I think this is a mistake, and a missed chance to practice the virtue of scholarship. Lesswrong could use much more scholarship, not less, in my opinion. The history of the field often gives more to think about than the modern state of the field.
Progress does not obey the Markov property.
-- Scenes From A Multiverse
I aspire to be VNM rational, but not a utilitarian.
It's all very confusing because they both use the word "utility" but they seem to be different concepts. "Utilitarianism" is a particular moral theory that (depending on the speaker) assumes consequentialism, linearish aggregation of "utility" between people, independence and linearity of utility function components, utility is proportional to "happyness" or "well-being" or preference fulfillment, etc. I'm sure any given utilitarian will disagree with something in that list, but I've seen all of them claimed.
VNM utility only assumes that you assign utilities to possibilities consistently, and that your utilities aggregate by expectation. It also assumes consequentialism in some sense, but it's not hard to make utility assignments that aren't really usefully described as consequentialist.
I reject "utilitarianism" because it is very vague, and because I disagree with many of its interpretations.
John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding
"We are living on borrowed time and abiding by the law of probability, which is the only law we carefully observe. Had we done otherwise, we would now be dead heroes instead of surviving experts." –Devil's Guard
The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance. Robert R. Coveyou, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
-- Ricardo, publicly saying "oops" in his restrained Victorian fashion, in his essay "On Machinery".
-- Jonathan Haidt
-- Yvain, on why brinkmanship is not stupid
Wile this is all very inspiring, is it true? Yes, truth in and of itself is something that many people value, but what this quote is claiming is that there are a class of people (that he calls "dissidents") that specifically value this above and beyond anything else. It seems a lot more likely to me that truth is something that all or most people value to one extent or another, and as such, sometimes if the conditions are right people will sacrifice stuff to achieve it, just like for any other thing they value.
South Park, Se 16 ep 4, "Jewpacabra"
note: edited for concision. script
I don't think change can be planned. It can only be recognized.
jad abumrad, a video about the development of Radio Lab and the amount of fear involved in doing original work
The Third Doctor
-The mayor, in "do the right thing"
--Mencius Moldbug, here
I can't overemphasise how much I agree with this quote as a heuristic.
Second statement assumes that the base rate of underdogs and overdogs is the same. In practice I would expect there to be far more underdogs than overdogs.
I agree. For example:
This statement is obviously true. But it sure would be useful to have a theory that predicted (or even explained) when a putative civil disobedience would and wouldn't work that way.
Obviously, willing to use overwhelming violence usually defeats civil disobedience. But not every protest wins, and it is worth trying to figure out why - if for no other reason than figuring out if we could win if we protested something.
Cheney Bros v. Doris Silk Corporation, New York Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit
-Dwight K. Schrute
"Study everything, join nothing"
--Randall Munroe, "Death Rates"
He shook his head. "No, for the purposes of this discussion, Asuka... only I have the power to decide humanity's fate. And I refuse that power to give it back to them. Humanity is made of neither heaven or hell; that with freedom of choice and honor, as though the maker and molder of itself... that they may fashion themselves in whatever form they shall prefer. People, individuals, are not single things but always tip from order to chaos and back again. Those with order are needed for stability. Those who espouse chaos bring change. Only humanity may ... (read more)
-Bryant Walker Smith
But we've had self-driving cars for multiple years now...