Rationality Quotes: June 2011

by Oscar_Cunningham1 min read1st Jun 2011475 comments

6

Rationality Quotes
Personal Blog

Y'all know the rules:

  • 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
470 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:22 AM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

Just because you two are arguing, doesn't mean one of you is right.

Maurog: http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=14222

7chatquitevoit10y...or that both of you are wrong. Most times people argue, neither party actually has a fundamental grasp of their own position. If both did, it would either change the argument to an ENTIRELY different and more essential one, or dissolve it. And either of those options is of absolute gain for the participants. Not that I can do anything about this aside from in my own actions, but it's annoying as hell sometimes.

The megalomania of the genes does not mean that benevolence and cooperation cannot evolve, any more than the law of gravity proves that flight cannot evolve. It means only that benevolence, like flight, is a special state of affairs in need of an explanation, not something that just happens.

  • Pinker, The Blank Slate
1Antisuji10yThe great thing about this quote for me is that when I read it I can hear Pinker's voice saying it in my mind.

A little long, but I don't see the possibility of a good cut:

“Other men were stronger, faster, younger, why was Syrio Forel the best? I will tell you now.” He touched the tip of his little finger lightly to his eyelid. “The seeing, the true seeing, that is the heart of it.

“Hear me. The ships of Braavos sail as far as the winds blow, to lands strange and wonderful, and when they return their captains fetch queer animals to the Sealord’s menagerie. Such animals as you have never seen, striped horses, great spotted things with necks as long as stilts, hairy mouse-pigs as big as cows, stinging manticores, tigers that carry their cubs in a pouch, terrible walking lizards with scythes for claws. Syrio Forel has seen these things.

“On the day I am speaking of, the first sword was newly dead, and the Sealord sent for me. Many bravos had come to him, and as many had been sent away, none could say why. When I came into his presence, he was seated, and in his lap was a fat yellow cat. He told me that one of his captains had brought the beast to him, from an island beyond the sunrise. ‘Have you ever seen her like?’ he asked of me.

“And to him I said, ‘Each night in the alleys of Braavos I see

... (read more)

This is beautiful, and inspiring. In fact, I predict LW will do better if we have an introductory post consisting of this quote and "That's our goal. Come on in and let's work on that." (would probably cause copyrighty troucle).

It's not a pure illustration, though. Maybe the others thought "Huh, that's just a regular cat. But if I say that the king might ordered me killed in the kind of way people die in Martin books. Better kiss some ass.".

6Dorikka10yI agree that the existence of this factor makes whether someone announces that it's a normal cat a poor indication of whether they actually realized such. However, I think it's reasonable to hypothesize that Syrio was looking for someone who both recognized that he was holding a normal cat and was willing to tell him such.
8MixedNuts10yWhat are the tigers with a pouch for their young? There seem to be no large carnivorous marsupials. A candidate is the marsupial lion (which is also striped), but it's been extinct for a while. Edit: Ah, the thylacine [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thylacine] ("Tasmanian wolf") was also known as the Tasmanian tiger. Yay for learning!

Thylacines, maybe.

8brazzy10yThe quote is from a fantasy book. There are dragons in it...
8Alicorn10yYes, but "striped horses" have an obvious Earthly referent, and so it was not unreasonable to suppose that marsupial tigers might too (as indeed they have).
2MixedNuts10yYup. I don't know if that's what the terrible walking lizards are, or if they are that other kind of dragon [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Komodo_dragon] of something in the same family.
0[anonymous]10yDragons aren't all that less physically possible than FTL travel, and no one complains about quoting sources that use that as a plot device. Of course, I imagine this is really about the romanticism vs. enlightenment divide in literature, but dismissing a relevant and well-written quote on genre grounds nonetheless seems a little biased.
2gwern10yHrm. How would one tell it was not female? Was it sitting on the king's lap in a rather unlikely fashion?
6[anonymous]10yTomcats are usually stouter and more muscular, and have a more robust head shape? Also, they have pretty large and conspicuous balls.
4gwern10yIt's a large cat by stipulation. What, even when sitting nicely on someone's lap?
8taryneast10yA large indolent cat is unlikely to actually sit on somebody's lap. In my experience they sprawl.
3NihilCredo10yI think the "plainly" meant that his jewels were in plain sight.

If the fossil record shows more dinosaur footprints in one period than another, it does not necessarily mean that there were more dinosaurs -- it may be that there was more mud.

Elise E. Morse-Gagné

If a process is potentially good, but 90+% of the time smart and well-intentioned people screw it up, then it's a bad process. So they can only say it's the team's fault so many times before it's not really the team's fault.

[-][anonymous]10y 53

The bulk of political discourse today is purposefully playing telephone with facts in ways that couldn't be done in the Information Age if people just had the know-how to check for themselves. Comprehending complex sentences is something that can be done by first grade, and comprehending complex concepts and issues is without a doubt something better learned in math than in English, where one learns to obfuscate concepts and issues, and to play to baser emotions. Granted, one also learns to recognize and to defend against these tactics, but it still can't hold a candle to the "mental gymnastics" referenced above. Do you realize what the world looks like if you've got a background in math? Imagine signs reading DANGER: KEEP OUT are planted everywhere, but people purposefully and proudly ignore them, treating it as laughably eccentric to have learned more than half the alphabet, approaching en masse and dragging you with them.

~From the Math It Just Bugs Me page, TV Tropes

"At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: “You don’t understand. This is a jobs program.” To which Milton replied: “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.”

-Milton Friedman story

A few points come to mind:

  • Presumably they also wanted a canal and there may well be an optimum point where you maximize some sort of combined utility
  • Jobs programs, even those that create nothing particularly useful, are about giving people a sense of worth and accomplishment, otherwise you could just hand out money. Obviously futile make-work activities like the one suggested achieve the opposite of that and are, indeed, often deliberately used to punish and humiliate people.

"They" is the tricky bit there. Presumably some people wanted a canal, and some people other people wanted jobs, and for that matter presumably some people wanted money to go to the construction company who've got an opening for a government liaison consultant coming up in five years time. There's little reason to think the equilibrium is welfare maximising.

9MarkusRamikin10yProbably, but Brazzy's explanation without adding all those other variables fits well enough to show why Milton's statement might have been missing something important. The point of a jobs program is that society pays some cost (of not using the most optimal method, i.e. more machines and fewer workers) in order to keep its members out of the unemployment trap. To propose, even as a deliberate reductio ad absurdum, that this would go just as well with spoons rather than shovels is not rationality, it's Spock-logic. Now I'm quite willing to suppose that he understood the usefulness of such programs as an economist and overall had good reasons to see them as not worth it, or that some other measure would do better, but that particular quote fails to show it.
9James_K10yFor the record, I'm pretty sure this story is apocryphal, though that doesn't take away from it's value as a rationality quote.
7Document10ySeems like more of a libertarianism quote to me.
7MichaelGR10yIt can be that, but I think it also illustrate the importance of understanding people's real goals and intentions and not assuming that they are what they appear to be at first glance.
2grendelkhan9yThe earliest known citation of the anecdote is from 1935, quoting Canadian William Aberhart [http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/10/10/spoons-shovels/]. Milton Friedman certainly told the story, and may have invented the somewhat snappier form quoted here. (Interestingly, William Aberhart was speaking for the Social Credit Party, which was hardly libertarian.)

I wish there was no illness, I don't care if an old doctor starves.

Loā Hô, a Taiwanese physician and poet.

I care. If illness is abolished and a doctor of any age is starving, they can stay at my place and I'll feed them. Alternately, we could raise taxes slightly to finance government-mandated programs for training and reconversion of young doctors and early retirement for old doctors.

In other words: beware of though-mindedly accepting bad consequences of overall good policies. Look for a superior alternative first.

I agree. Unfortunately, the way it actually works is, "No, we can't allow your universal cure -- the AMA/[your country's MD association] is upset."

"No, we can't accept your free widgets -- that would cost our widgetmakers major sales."

"No, I don't want you to work for me for free -- that would put domestic servants out of jobs."

"No, I don't want to marry you -- that would hurt the income of local prostitutes."

"No, I don't want your solar radiation -- that would put our light and heat industries out of business."

Edit: Even better: "No, I don't want you to be my friend -- what about my therapist's loss of revenue?"

"No, I don't want to marry you -- that would hurt the income of local prostitutes."

That is a brilliant line. Now I'm trying to work out how to create a circumstance in which to use it.

5NihilCredo10yThe worst thing about how frequenting prostitutes is no longer socially acceptable, even for males, is that there are so many quips and jokes that just don't work any more.
0TeMPOraL8yWas it ever socially acceptable?
2MixedNuts10yIRL it's the pharmaceutic labs that block it, not the docs. That's one of the reasons why you try to mitigate bad side effects: so that people who'll suffer on net from the efffects will STFU.
2SilasBarta10yIn theory, yes. And I'd much prefer a one-time ("extortion") payment to a domestic industry to allow cheaper imports, than allow the global economy to remain in a perpetual rut just so a few people don't have to change jobs. But the fact that this alternative is Pareto-efficient doesn't mean the potential sufferers will STFU -- rather, it costs the alternative its public support, probably because the average person, sympathetic to the domestic industry, still sees it as extortion. And the people in the domestic industry don't want to see themselves as extortioners either! (Relevant [http://www.thebigquestions.com/2011/05/18/6038/] Landsburg post.)
8Normal_Anomaly10yIAWYC. One quibble: If illness is abolished, what's the point of retirement?
9NihilCredo10yTo keep dusky sports pubs in business, of course.
3endoself10yThat can be a danger, but I think starvation is an obvious enough problem that people won't take this literally.

What I really like about this quote is that I'm fairly sure the 'old doctor' is himself.

5Document10yStarvation is an illness [http://lesswrong.com/lw/19m/privileging_the_hypothesis/154t]. (Or food dependency if you prefer.)
1Document10ySMBC #2305 [http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2305#comic] is another, more cynical instance of the false dichotomy.

If you want to know the way nature works, we looked at it, carefully... that's the way it looks! You don't like it... go somewhere else! To another universe! Where the rules are simpler, philosophically more pleasing, more psychologically easy. I can't help it! OK! If I'm going to tell you honestly what the world looks like to the human beings who have struggled as hard as they can to understand it, I can only tell you what it looks like. And I cannot make it any simpler, I'm not going to do this, I'm not going to simplify it, and I'm not going to fake it. I'm not going to tell you it's something like a ball bearing inside a spring, it isn't. So I'm going to tell you what it really is like, and if you don't like it, that's too bad.

— Richard Feynman, the QED Lectures at the University of Auckland

Reminds me of a Schneier quote that I like:

'Every time I write about the impossibility of effectively protecting digital files on a general-purpose computer, I get responses from people decrying the death of copyright.

"How will authors and artists get paid for their work?" they ask me.

Truth be told, I don't know. I feel rather like the physicist who just explained relativity to a group of would-be interstellar travelers, only to be asked: "How do you expect us to get to the stars, then?"

I'm sorry, but I don't know that, either.'

"Protecting Copyright in the Digital World", Bruce Schneier http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-0108.html#7

I didn't do the engineering, and I didn't do the math, because I thought I understood what was going on and I thought I made a good rig. But I was wrong. I should have done it.

Jamie Hyneman

Of course, that depends on how costly failure is, compared to the up-front analysis that would make failure less likely. I don't know who said "Fail fast, fail cheap," but it's a good counterpoint quote.

If you want to beat the market, you have to do something different from what everyone else is doing, and you have to be right.

David Bennett

[-][anonymous]10y 33

.

This quote is from a passage where Darwin is talking about religion:

At present the most usual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from deep inward conviction and feelings which are experienced by most persons. But it cannot be doubted that Hindoos, Mahomadans and others might argue in the same manner and with equal force in favour of the existence of one God, or of many Gods, or as with the Buddhists of no God....

Formerly I was led by feelings such as those just referred to, (although I do not think that the religious sentiment was ever strongly developed in me), to the firm conviction of the existence of God, and of the immortality of the soul... ...This argument would be a valid one, if all men of all races had the same inward conviction of the existence of one God; but we know this is very far from being the case. Therefore I cannot see that such inward convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists....

Source: http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/faith_vs_reason_debate.html

Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.

-hilzoy

If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.

Including such destinations as "Not being the unwilling sex toy of the big bald guy while in prison". Although if you also don't use 'fraud' you may find yourself not in jail in the first place - but it's not always so simple. It also leads you to the destination "still having your food, possessions, dignity and social status in your schoolyard despite having no control of whether you wish to be subject to that environment".

I didn't read the quote as a blanket opposition to violence. It's a warning about one thing to consider before you choose violence.

I also didn't read the quote as only being about violence. It also makes a more general point about means and ends. When you're considering an action in pursuit of a goal, you should consider the action in its own right and try to predict where it is likely to lead. Don't settle on an action just because it seems to fit with the goal. This is especially relevant when you consider using violence, coercion, manipulation, or dishonesty for a noble purpose, but it also applies more generally.

Of course, sometimes one is prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to. The quote seems to already acknowledge this possibility.

2wedrifid10yIt does, hence allowing for me to phrase the counterpoint within the quote's own framework.
4Dorikka10yThis is confusing. Does your use of violence change your intended destination, or does it just exert certain optimization pressures on future world-states, as do all of your other actions?
4brazzy10yRead the (long) linked-to article from which the quote stems. Basically the point is that using violence to achieve a goal teaches the people involved that violence is an effective, legitimate way to achieve goals - and at some later point they will invariably have conflicting goals.
6wedrifid10ySee also: Live by the sword, die by the sword.
3AdeleneDawner10yI'm not sure there's a useful distinction between those two options. Your future selves are part of the future world-states that it's exerting pressure on, and not exempt from that pressure.
1AdeleneDawner10y

That lesson is pretty frequently homeschooled, sad to say.

Rin: What are clouds? I always thought they were thoughts of the sky or something like that. Because you can't touch them.

[ . . . ]

Hisao: Clouds are water. Evaporated water. You know they say that almost all of the water in the world will at some point of its existence be a part of a cloud. Every drop of tears and blood and sweat that comes out of you, it'll be a cloud. All the water inside your body too, it goes up there some time after you die. It might take a while though.

Rin: Your explanation is better than any of mine.

Hisao: Because it's true.

Rin: That must be it.

Katawa Shoujo

9sketerpot10yFor those who are interested: Katawa Shoujo [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/KatawaShoujo] is a visual novel currently in beta, which you can freely download on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux [http://katawa-shoujo.com/download.php].
3gwern10yYou know, when I first heard about Katawa Shoujo, I was horrified. (Struck a little too close to home.) But if the rest of the writing is on par with that, I might have to play it.
4sketerpot10yThe writing isn't all shining gems of dialogue, but it's solidly entertaining, and not nearly as horrifying as the premise might make it sound. The various disabilities are treated more as inconvenient body quirks, rather than defining features; the characters are defined by their personalities and actions. If Katawa Shoujo has a message, that's it. Anyway, I got a few very enjoyable hours out of it.
0MarkusRamikin8yThat was surprisingly good. As to the quote, I wonder if Rin was mocking him.
0tut10yWhy does it matter what OS you use when downloading a text?
8Nic_Smith10yI.E. It's a video game.

The whole universe sat there, open to the man who could make the right decisions.

Frank Herbert, "Dune"

In the study of reliable processes for arriving at belief, philosophers will become technologically obsolescent. They will be replaced by cognitive and computer scientists, workers in artificial intelligence, and others.

Robert Nozick, The Nature of Rationality

If you haven't read this book yet, do so. It is basically LessWrongism circa 1993.

0FiftyTwo10yWhat do you mean by Philosophy in that quote? Contemporary philosophy already incorporates knowledge from other fields including computer science, and this is an ongoing process of adaption. If it refers to 'philosophy' as some static corpus of knowledge from before a certain point then yes it is trivially true.
5MixedNuts10yWhen they start making real, mathy progress, they'll stop calling themselves philosophers, like natural philosophers are now called physicists.
0FiftyTwo10yIf we are arguing from the common uses of the term 'philosophers' then that isn't the case. Logicians make progress in the same manner as mathematics, and are sill classed as philosophers. (They also have strong links with computer scientists professionally but thats a side point.) If your definition is that Philosopher = person who does not make "real, mathy progress" then its just a tautology. All members of this set, who don't make progress, will not make progress, become obsolescent and be replaced. Sorry if I sound confrontational. But I am unsure what the larger point that is being made about the methods/knowledge of philosophers. It seems to primarily be a tribal "computer scientists good, philosophers bad" statement, unless something precise and meaningful is meant by "philosophers."
3MixedNuts10yYeah, common usage. Things like "Are they on the payroll of the Philosophy Department?", and "Do students study it to avoid getting into hard sciences?". (I acknowledge that the philosophy I was taught covers long-dead white guys, not modern breakthroughs - the sorry state of philosophy classes is only a weak point against philosophy, like the sorry state of science journalism.) I got the impression that people who actually invent logic (like Boole or Gödel) were either classified as mathematicians in their time, or classified such nowadays even though they called themselves philosophers. (Like we call early physicists physicists, not philosophers.) Counterexample?
1Larks10y15 of the Senior Philosophers at Oxford [http://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/the_faculty/faculty_members] list Logic or Rationality as one of their areas of expertese, all philosophy student study at least first-order logic, and further courses are offered. Boolos, Putman, Quine and Kripke are notable philosopher-logicians
0Will_Sawin10yThat doesn't quite answer his question, I believe. You have to point not just to people called logicians, by themselves or others, but to useful logical progress made by such people.
1Larks10yBoolos did Frege's theorem, Quine did New Foundations, among other things, Kripke our standard modal-logic semantics... I don't how useful they are, but they're definitely logic.
1FiftyTwo10yI agree, the long dead white guys approach to Philosophy is far too prominent particularly in introductory courses, which of course attracts all the wrong sort of people into it. [The stereotype of the pretentious freshman relativist is sadly far too common.] At least my own experience includes studying Godel, Russell etc in the context of philosophy, and there are a great many logic postgrads (on the payroll as you said) whose papers are highly technical and mathematical, and have direct applications in computing and other practical sciences. On a wider note, the best 'principled' division between philosophy and hard science in my opinion is between the methodology of induction vs deduction. Not sure where that would put computer science. But in the context of the original quote, if thats the division then I'd disagree that philosophers are obsolete, as most of the techniques we use for considering the meaning, interactions and validity of beliefs originated and is developed on in philosophy.
1MixedNuts10yWhere can I read badass philosophy? (There's some incredulity here. It's sad that the opinion of a domain expert isn't enough to convince me philosophy isn't a rotten field.) Note that I don't doubt that philosophers have said stuff about Gödel, but I want the Gödel-equivalent work. That would mostly be probability theory, right? That left the philosophy-cradle long ago - or can you show me the modern developments?
6Emile10yNietzsche is pretty badass in his own way, though he doesn't write the same kind of stuff analytical philosophers write about (it seems to me that it's two different genres that just happen to share a name). It's more about social / intellectual / historical commentary than about science.
5orthonormal10yIt's sort of philosophy crack: intensely pleasurable and satisfying to read, but wrong about 90% of things. (The other 10% consists of brilliant original insights that no other philosopher within a century of him could have seen. On the other hand, it can be difficult to distinguish these from the rest of his corpus.)
2MixedNuts10yI agree, and bought one of these [http://www.philosophersguild.com/index.lasso?page_mode=Product_Detail&cat=little thinker&skip=19&item=0085]! But he's not doing any work, just saying "Transhumanism will rock, when it's invented sometime after my death!". Sort of a motivational poster.
0Will_Sawin10yNietzsche always struck me as non-transhumanist. Quick google tells me Bostrom agrees with me about this and people seem capable of making long arguments for and against. Nietzsche is a prime example of a philosopher that pretty much everything I've understood him saying, I've disagreed with. But he is quite badass.
3MixedNuts10yThe source is Bostrom's 2004 paper A history of transhumanist thought [http://www.nickbostrom.com/papers/history.pdf], page 4. I'll paraphrase the difference he lists: Yeah, that's his mistake. He points at the right goal, but can't say how to get there. As I said, no real work. I think that's unfair to Freddy. His Zarathustra puppet goes around telling everyone to do it, but they aren't interested. Obviously he was envisioning individual progress as opposed to inventing tech then distributing it to Muggles, so he thinks that if few people want to put in the effort then few people will get boosted. I don't understand what Bostrom means by that. AFAICT, Fred is huge on individual liberties. I fail to see the relevance. What I got from reading Nietzsche (before I got any exposure to transhumanism) was an extremely pretty way of saying "Striving to improve yourself a lot is awesome". No argument why, no proposed methods, some very sucky assumptions about what it'd be like. Just a cheer, and an invitation for people who share this goal to band together and work on it. Which is what transhumanists have done.
4Will_Sawin10yNietzsche seems to always see the project of self-improvement in opposition to the project of building a functional society out of multiple people who don't kill each other, and the second one always seemed more important to me. It's hard for me to understand what he's saying because he doesn't engage (much? at all?) with Actually True Morality, that is the utilitarian/"group is just a sum of individuals" paradigm. The question of whether it's OK for the strong to bully the weak almost doesn't seem to interest him. One man is not a whole lot better than one ape, but a group of men is infinitely superior to a group of apes. ETA: I often like to think of FAI as not the ultimate transhuman, but the ultimate institution/legal system/moral code.

You might say that Nietzsche takes opposition to the Repugnant Conclusion to an extreme: his philosophy values humanity by the $L^\infty$ norm rather than the $L^1$ norm.

0Will_Sawin10y(Assuming that individual value is nonnegative.)
-2orthonormal10yThat's an emendation, not the original; in most of his mid-to-late works, he really does mean that the absolute magnitude of a character, without reference to its direction, is of value.
0Will_Sawin10yBut certainly the people who believe in the $L^1$ norm don't take the absolute value...
3[anonymous]10yWhat? The L^1 norm [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lp_space#Lp_spaces_2] is the integral of the absolute value of the function. In this thread: people using mathematics where it doesn't belong.
2Will_Sawin10yI should say: No one believes in the $L^1$ norm. There is only Nietzsche, who believes in $L_\infty$, and utilitarians, who believe in the integral. I suppose. It's a more efficient and fun form of communication then writing it out in English, but it loses big on the number of people who can understand it.
1orthonormal10yYes, that's what I should have written.
0orthonormal10yI know how it looked when you jumped in (presumably from the Recent Comments page), but both of us did know the proper math- it's the analogy that we were ironing out.
0[anonymous]10yI read from the start of the L^p talk to now, and I can't think why both of you bothered to speak in that language. The major point of contention occurs in a lacuna in the L^p semantic space, so continuing in that vein is... hmmm. It's like arguing whether the moon is pale-green or pale-blue, and deciding that since plain English just doesn't cut it, why not discuss the issue in Japanese?
0Vladimir_Nesov10yWhy not, if you know Japanese, and it has more suitable means of expressing the topic? (I see your point, but don't think the analogy stands as stated.)
0[anonymous]10yIf we extend the analogy to the above conversation, it's an argument between non-Japanese otaku.
1MixedNuts10yNo offense to Fred, but he's a bitter loner. Idealistic nerd wants to make the world awesome, runs out and tells everyone, everyone laughs at him, idealistic nerd gives up in disgust and walks away muttering "I'll show them! I'll show them all!". Also, he thinks this project is really really important, worth declaring war against the rest of the world and killing whoever stands in the way of becoming cooler. (As you say, whether he thinks we can also kill people who don't actively oppose it is unclear.) This is a dangerous idea (see the zillion glorious revolutions that executed critics and plunged happily into dictatorship) - though it is less dangerous when your movement is made of complete individualists. As it happens, becoming superhumans will not require offing any Luddites (though it does require offending them and coercing them by legal means), but I can't confidently say it wouldn't be worth it if it were the only way - even after correcting for historical failures. By the same token, group rationality is in fact the way to go, but individual rationality does require telling society to take a hike every now and then. It certaintly shouldn't be a transhuman [http://lesswrong.com/lw/x7/cant_unbirth_a_child/]. Eliezer's preferred metaphor is more like "the ultimate laws of physics", which says quite a bit about how individualistic you and he are.
1Marius10yNietzsche can't know what the Superman will look like - nobody can. But he provides a great deal of assistance: he is extremely insightful about what people are doing today (well, late 1800s, but still applicable), how that tricks us into behaving and believing in certain ways, and what that means. But he wrote these insights as poetry. If you wanted an argument spelled out logically or a methodology of scientific inquiry, you picked the wrong philosopher.
0Emile10yI didn't see much transhumanism in Nietzsche, I just like reading him because he has a lot of interesting ideas while living in a quite distant intellectual context.
1FiftyTwo10yLook at Philpapers.org, and search for recent papers in whatever you're interested in I guess. Theres a lot of stuff about the recent (last decade) experimental philosophy (X-Phi) movement available online which may allay some of your concerns about Philosophical Methodology. For a more informal look at how professional philosophers behave http://philosiology.blogspot.com/ [http://philosiology.blogspot.com/] is quite amusing. Lukeprog did a set of articles not long ago about the relationship between philosophy and less wrong rationality which can probably give you more than I can off the top of my head.
1MixedNuts10yWill read, thanks! I read lukeprog's ads for philosophy. Doesn't show the money. The most badass stuff he's shown is just basics ("reductionism is true" as opposed to actual reductions, etc.).
0diegocaleiro10yHere there is a post about this: http://lesswrong.com/lw/58d/how_not_to_be_a_na%C3%AFve_computationalist/ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/58d/how_not_to_be_a_na%C3%AFve_computationalist/]
-2Peterdjones10yA fun critique of Dennett http://www-personal.umich.edu/~lormand/phil/cons/qualia.htm [http://www-personal.umich.edu/~lormand/phil/cons/qualia.htm] A fun critique of zombies (and Dennett, and Searle and Chalmers) http://www.davidchess.com/words/poc/lanier_zombie.html [http://www.davidchess.com/words/poc/lanier_zombie.html] The single most famous paper in analytical philosophy is an attach on the sacred cows of...analytical philosophyhttp://www.ditext.com/quine/quine.html [http://www.ditext.com/quine/quine.html]
3MixedNuts10yLormand: Read the first half, skimmed the other. Lowered my opinion of Dennett, didn't change my mind otherwise. The goal is pretty non-badass in the first place: to disprove Dennett's argument about qualia, not to actually answer the question, let alone look into the black box labeled "quale". It's mostly right. It makes the common mistake of forgetting the author is a brain, though. This leads to generalizing from one example (the same old "Only analytic reflection in the form of a stream of words counts as thought" canard), and to forget about physical law (there is brain circuitry that gives rise to a quale, you can mess with it, that's where inferences are hidden). Lanier: Consciousness is is the computer, not in the meteor shower, you pickleplumbing niddlewick! And of course specifying a conscious mind doesn't instantiate it, you have to run it... and did you just conflate "computers are not fundamental" and "computers don't exist"? Yeah, every physical system is a computer (a basket of apples plus gravity that drops more in performs addition), you want a specific-algorithm-detector. We don't know the consciousness algorithm, so obviously it's hard to detect, but at least you could look for optimization processes, which are well-defined in terms of thermodynamics. And worse than all the particular mistakes - you're falling for mysterious answers to mysterious questions again. Don't those people ever learn from history? Quine:I don't get it. (This is a good sign - I'm an outsider, if there's advanced work then I shouldn't get it.) Why are you talking about language in the first place? Why not just define logic (as a set of axioms for manipulating strings), then say "'Analytic truth' is a fancy word for 'tautology'", and then worry about how natural language maps onto logic? And why are you looking for meanings and definitions in words rather than in cognitive processes? (The reason "bachelor" and "unmarried man" are synonymous, but not "creature with a kidney
-1Will_Sawin10yThis strikes me as wrong. The proper work of philosophers and computer scientists seem like they have very little overlap. Yes, philosophers often mistakenly do computer science work, but that is irrelevant. is there a reason I should want to read an earlier, less developed version of LessWrong, by someone who is not a consequentialist, when I could just read LessWrong?
4Jayson_Virissimo10yThe quote isn't talking about philosophy in general, but epistemology specifically. If you take naturalized epistemology [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology-naturalized/] seriously (which LessWrongers do), then it seems to follow quite easily that neuroscientists and AI researchers are relatively more important to the future of epistemology than philosophers (remember that most branches of modern science were once a part of philosophy, but later broke off and developed their own class of domain specialists). One reason to read it would be to provide ourselves with some perspective on how LessWrongism fits into the larger Western intellectual tradition. Nozick is much better about showing how his ideas are related to those of other thinkers than the contributors to Less Wrong are (we share much more in common with Wittgenstein [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/wittgenstein/], Quine [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/quine/], Hempel [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hempel/], and Bridgeman [https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Percy_Williams_Bridgman] than the impression you would get from reading the Sequences [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Sequences]). Having this perspective should increase our ability to communicate effectively with other intellectual communities. His being or not being a consequentialist doesn't seem to have very much to do with the validity of his work in epistemology, decision theory, philosophy of science, or metaphysics. Also, his ethical theory doesn't really fit neatly into the deontological/consequentialism dichotomy anyway. Arguably his ethics/political theory amounts to consequentialism with "side-constraints" (that can even be violated in extreme circumstances). It doesn't seem to be any less consequentislist than, say, rule-utilitarianism [https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Rule_utilitarianism].
0Will_Sawin10yI don't particularly feel driven to communicate to members of other intellectual communities. Am I exempt from having to read that book?
2Jayson_Virissimo10yI will exempt you this one time, but I do not want to see you in my office again! Is that understood?
0Will_Sawin10yIt should be noted that currently my brain interprets all requests for me to do stuff as requests for me to stay up when I should be sleeping.
0Jayson_Virissimo10yIt that case, you are hereby commanded to initiate your sleep cycle immediately.
1Will_Sawin10yThe interesting issue is that, since this requires getting up, going upstairs, brushing teeth, etc., I fear the twinge of starting [http://lesswrong.com/lw/3kv/working_hurts_less_than_procrastinating_we_fear/], and end up with an aversion to going to sleep as well.
0Alicorn10yIf you really need to be sleeping, just relocate yourself to bed and crash. You can brush your teeth in the morning. (Alternately, decide how many more hours of sleep you're willing to skip in exchange for the chance that you will eventually decide to brush your teeth.)
0Will_Sawin10yInterruptions will prevent me from sleeping for about another half-hour. I have a planned schedule to reflect this. The chance that I will follow this schedule is high. ETA: 90% of the work of this process is getting up, not the brushing the teeth bit.
-1asr10yAn idea I've been kicking around -- and am tempted to pull into a coherent form -- is that actually there is a close connection between philosophy and computer science. Much of philosophy is arguments about various abstractions. Computer science is about using abstractions to engineer software and about proofs about software-related abstractions. To give one example: I think of the philosophical debate about the semantics of proper nouns as coupled to the notions of reference vs value equality in programming language design.
-2Peterdjones10yWhat are you comparing Less Wrong to? Who proved consequentialism?
-1Jayson_Virissimo10yHe was comparing Less Wrong to a book I was quoting from. No one did, but proof is much too high a requirement anyway. Although, I don't think I am alone in recognizing the theories put forward in the The Metaethics Sequence [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Metaethics_sequence] as the least defensible part of Less Wrong doctrine.
-9Peterdjones10y

Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.

  • Laurence J. Peter

From Space Viking, by H. Beam Piper:

"Young man," Harkaman reproved, "the conversation was between Lord Trask and myself. And when somebody makes a statement you don't understand, don't tell him he's crazy. Ask him what he means. What do you mean, Lord Trask?"

Source:

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20728/20728-h/20728-h.htm

3Eliezer Yudkowsky9ySpace Viking has got to be one of the leading "way more rational than its title sounds like" books out there. I wonder if Piper actually named it that or if it was some bright-eyed publisher.
0MatthewBaker9yAwesome book, made my night.
0[anonymous]10yThis, plus the earlier positive mention of Space Viking on LW, has me reading it. Halfway though, I've just realized that it's basically a novelization of a .*craft style RTS game.

"The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war."

--WSJ article about Navy SEALs

5khafra10yI wonder how many other people on LW heard this quote first while in the process of sweating in training; and how many other military aphorisms could be repurposed this way.
-2simplyeric10yIt's an interesting point but exceedingly simplistic, more so these days than ever before. What about "the more you think in training", or "the more you learn in training"? Don't get me wrong, I'm not denying the value of sweat (excerise, fitness, etc), I'm just saying it's not even close to the whole equation.

Actually I think the full formula is "sweat saves blood, but brains save both". That's as rlevant today as when it was first used, which was in the British Army, around the time of the Crimean War. I think. I wasn't there.

7bcoburn10y"Sweat" here is a standin for generic effort, whether it's actual physical sweat or not depends on what exactly you're training for.

‎"We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself." --Chris Mooney

2RobinZ10yI just got that one. It's a remark on bias, isn't it?

The science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke remarked that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Clarke was referring to the fantastic inventions we might discover in the future or in our travels to advanced civilizations. However, the insight also applies to self-perception. When we turn our attention to our own minds, we are faced with trying to understand an unimaginably advanced technology. We can't possibly know (let alone keep track of) the tremendous number of mechanical influences on our behavior because we inhabit an extraordinarily complicated machine. So we develop a shorthand, a belief in the causal efficacy of our conscious thoughts. We believe in the magic of our own causal agency.

  • Daniel M. Wegner, The Illusion of Conscious Will
2adamisom10yOf course. But I wonder what the word "we" is referring to in this sentence: "So WE develop a shorthand...". Didn't that strike anybody else?
3Manfred10yNobody here but us brains.

No man has wit enough to reason with a fool.

Proyas (fictional character - author: R. Scott Bakker)

This strikes me as a nerdism. If you don't find less intelligent people easier to manipulate, you must be working on sympathetic models of them instead of causal ones. I expect that experience would cure this, and after a few months of empirical practice and updating on the task of reasoning with fools, you would find it was actually easier to get them to do whatever you wanted - if you could manage to actually try a lot of different things and notice what worked, instead of being incredulous and indignant at their apparent reasoning errors.

Upvoted the original for reference to Prince of Nothing series. And upvoted this comment for the terms "sympathetic model" and "causal model", which is one of those times that having the right word for a concept you've been trying to understand is worth a month of trying to untangle things in your head.

...although now I'm not sure whether I should upvote Eliezer or Michael Vassar. It seems kind of unfair to deny Michael an upvote just because the specific instantiation of his algorithm that said this happened to be running on Eliezer's brain at the time.

2thomblake9yOn a related note, it's a programming cliche that 90% of development time is trying to think up the right names for things.
0[anonymous]9y"There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things" - Phil Karlton
0Douglas_Knight9yI read this out of context and interpreted "naming things" so that it generalized cache invalidation. So I wanted to complain that it's only one thing.
0Armok_GoB9yI'd say both, although I'm actually to lazy to go find a random post by Michael and upvote it.

I agree with the Vassar-homonculus, but I took as the point that "reasoning with" may be the wrong tool - not that reasonable practice will fail to suggest the most effective hooks for manipulating the unreasonable fool.

I agree. The quote wasn't "No man has wit enough to manipulate a fool."

6lessdazed9yNot for the reasons wanted.
2Jonathan_Graehl9yAlso a great addition to a psychological-thriller villain: he not only insists on compliance, but for the "right" reasons.
2lessdazed9yWhich will be explained to the hero in due course while he is caught in the villain's trap, with escape impossible. Impossible I say!
4Vladimir_Nesov9yBut there is no independent existence of hero's personality apart from their mind, so the hero doesn't just have the memes designed by the villain, the hero is villain's memes.
-1Solvent9yMy new goal in life is having Eliezer Yudkowsky respect me enough that he makes comments like this for me.

If you have ten minutes unscheduled and the phone isn't ringing, what do you do? What do you start?

Seth Godin

"Three-fourths of philosophy and literature is the talk of people trying to convince themselves that they really like the cage they were tricked into entering."

-- Gary Snyder (bOING bOING #9, 1992)

I don't have a strong feeling about the accuracy of the percentage, but the general point sounds plausible.

The essence of wisdom is to remain suspicious of what you want to be true.

-Jon K. Hart

8Document10yWithout wanting to start a debate: that belief kept me in Mormonism for about two unnecessary years.

Okay, so the essence of wisdom is to be exactly as suspicious of everything as you should be, the first-pass approximation of wisdom is to remain suspicious of what you want to be true, and the second-pass approximation of wisdom is to be also suspicious of current beliefs you want to be untrue.

5servumtuum10yMixedNuts, I take the quote as a mental "post-it note" reminder to be cognizant of the potential presence of confirmation bias-in both directions as you stated.

If you can't think intuitively, you may be able to verify specific factual claims, but you certainly can't think about history.

Well, maybe we can't think about history. Intuition is unreliable. Just because you want to think intelligently about something doesn't mean it's possible to do so.

Jewish Atheist, in reply to Mencius Moldbug

6CuSithBell10yI would think this an irrationality quote? "Fuzzy" thinking skills are ridiculously important. "Intuition" may be somewhat unreliable, but in certain domains and under certain conditions, it can be - verifiably - a very powerful method.
2shokwave10yI took as being rationality in the sense that it follows the form: "just because you want to action x does not mean that action x is possible", which is always a good reminder.
2CuSithBell10yThat's so, but it's also true that just because you're personally not good at X, that does not mean that X is impossible or worthless.
0Will_Sawin10yMaybe it would be best to shorten it?
0fburnaby10yYes. It depends whether we are in the context of discovery (or of "getting things done") or the context of justification.
0ChristianKl10yYou can't reasonable talk about darkness without talking about light. It's the same topic.
1CuSithBell10yDo you mean to match up intuition and logic, or rationality quotes and irrationality quotes, or something else?
0loqi10yIntuition is extremely powerful when correctly trained. Just because you want to have powerful intuitions about something doesn't mean it's possible to correctly train them.

"Attack and absorb the data that attack produces!"

-Tylwyth Waff in Heretics of Dune

(Hi. I'm new.)

0gwern10yI don't understand this one. Anyone want to explain it?
4Barry_Cotter10yAttack. Then based upon the results of the attack modify your behaviour. Or attacck then update your model of the enemy.
2simplyeric10yIt seems (to me) to be analogous to a lot of fairly technical pursuits: Seismic analysis from purcussion events for finding oil. Tracking the impact of an object on the moon to detect water. Looking for the decay of particles produced and collided by accelerators. Pitching to a batter, over time, will reveal the best way to pitch to that batter (what are his/her strenghts and weaknesses). Haggling. Approaching its most distilled form: If a system is not giving you information, affect the system in some way [doesn't have to be an "attack" per se]. How the system changes based on your input is instructive, so absorb all of that data.
4MarkusRamikin10yExactly. Poke the confusing-thing, make it give up evidence about how it works. And pay attention to that evidence. I like your last two examples because they involve situations where you don't have all the time in the world to approach a phenomenon, like we do (or at least feel like we do) when studying the fundamental and unchanging laws of Nature. You have to learn and adapt in real time. Of course in a sports game you're already going to "attack" because it's part of the game. So the virtue lies in noticing the evidence it produces. It might seem like an obvious thing to say, but then you see people/teams repeating the same failed strategy over and over. Haggling, negotiation, is pretty much the original context of the quote, and I think the immediate point was to avoid playing defensively and giving up initiative. Waff was trying to tell himself something like, "don't just sit there intimidated by this powerful and mysterious woman, letting her frame the conversation to her advantage. Look for a way to learn more. Probe. Evoke a response." I'm also thinking of strategy games like, say, Starcraft. You want to commit some resources (units, time, your own attention) to scouting, in order to find out what types of units the enemy is relying on (so as to best counter them), which patches of valueable resource he has covered and how vulnerable they are to attack, how well he responds to raiding/harassment etc.
-1[anonymous]10yAnother way of looking at it that (I think!) makes it obvious: it's advice for AI, in the AI-in-the-box experiment. I imagine it's what Eliezer means when he says he won the experiment "the hard way". He just kept poking for a psychological mechanism to exploit until he found one that happened to work with the given person. And the intermediate, failed attempts, probably helped him model the person and narrow down on whatever actually might work.

If things are nice there is probably a good reason why they are nice: and if you do not know at least one reason for this good fortune, then you still have work to do.

Richard Askey

If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin. - Ivan Turgenev

When shall we cross ourselves?

Whenever we are about to perform a good deed, or when we see or feel that we might commit a sin.

  • Carlos Gimenez, Barrio (Context: children in a religious institution are answering catechism questions)

This sounds like a great way to prime yourself. Crossing yourself has all the wrong connotations, but a gesture meaning "I choose good." should help in general. (I like the fist-over-heart Battlestar Galactica salute.)

Having a whole set of gestures, along with pithy quotes, should prove even more effective.

Their insignia was a hand poised with fingers ready to snap.

ETA: Or is that reserved for "I choose whatever they aren't expecting"?

Tom smiled. "Yes, Don't you like that idea?" "Liking it and having it be true aren't the same thing, Tom."

-Clive Barker, Abarat

"Try to learn something about everything and everything about something." ~Thomas H. Huxley

One of my favorite quotes; from the father of the word "agnostic."

A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.

-- Kahlil Gibran

Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons.

-- Michael Shermer

Sometimes smart people believe weird things because they're actually, y'know, true.

The same Shermer who publicly recognizes that his widely-repeated "this is your brain on cryonics" is crap but won't even post a half-hearted correction? Yes. Yes they do.

The intellect, as a means for the preservation of the individual, unfolds its chief powers in simulation; for this is the means by which the weaker, less robust individuals preserve themselves, since they are denied the chance of waging the struggle for existence with horns or the fangs of beasts of prey. In man this art of simulation reaches its peak: here deception, flattering, lying and cheating, talking behind the back, posing, living in borrowed splendor, being masked, the disguise of convention, acting a role before others and before oneself—in short, the constant fluttering around the single flame of vanity is so much the rule and the law that almost nothing is more incomprehensible than how an honest and pure urge for truth could make its appearance among men. They are deeply immersed in illusions and dream images; their eye glides only over the surface of things and sees "forms"; their feeling nowhere lead into truth, but contents itself with the reception of stimuli, playing, as it were, a game of blindman's buff on the backs of things.

Nietzsche, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense

"There always comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two plus two equals four is punished with death … And the issue is not a matter of what reward or what punishment will be the outcome of that reasoning. The issue is simply whether or not two plus two equals four." – Albert Camus, The Plague

"People argue against the existence of spirits and immaterial souls because they can't be explained by science. But if by definition these things are outside the scope of science, then you can't use science to prove or disprove them."

"Do these spirits and souls actually affect anything in the real world?"

"Sure."

"Then they're within the scope of science."

"Okay, let's say they don't interact at all with the world."

"Then why do we care?!?!"

--Calamities of Nature

I see that I've quoted the following twice before within other comment threads, so I think it deserves a place here:

He who would be Pope must think of nothing else.

Usually cited as a Spanish proverb.

quoted text The art of concluding from experience and observation consists in evaluating probabilities, in estimating if they are high or numerous enough to constitute proof. This type of calculation is more complicated and more difficult than one might think. It demands a great sagacity generally above the power of common people. The success of charlatans, sorcerors, and alchemists — and all those who abuse public credulity — is founded on errors in this type of calculation.

Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier, Rapport des commissaires chargés par le roi de l'examen du magnétisme animal (1784), as translated in "The Chain of Reason versus the Chain of Thumbs", Bully for Brontosaurus (1991) by Stephen Jay Gould, p. 195, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin

"If in other sciences we should arrive at certainty without doubt and truth without error, it behooves us to place the foundations of knowledge in mathematics." – Roger Bacon

8James_K10yIt's even better when said by Leonard Nimoy.
3RobertLumley10yAh, so someone knows where I found this quote. :-)

"Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind." Bertrand Russell

"When he is confronted by the necessity for a decision, even one which may be trivial from a normal standpoint, the obsessive-compulsive person will typically attempt to reach a solution by invoking some rule, principle, or external requirement which might, with some degree of plausibility, provide a "right" answer....If he can find some principle or external requirement which plausibly applies to the situation at hand, the necessity for a decision disappears as such; that is, it becomes transformed into the purely technical problem of applying the correct principle. Thus, if he can remember that it is always sensible to go to the cheapest movie, or "logical" to go to the closest, or good to go to the most educational, the problem resolves to a technical one, simply finding which is the most educational, the closest, or such. In an effort to find such requirements and principles, he will invoke morality, "logic," social custom, and propriety, the rules of "normal" behavior (especially if he is a psychiatric patient), and so on. In short he will try to figure out what he "should" do.

-David Shapiro, Neurotic Styles

3MixedNuts10yPlease post anything there might be on how to deal with that. I'm exactly like that, and my rules often break down and then I'm unable to decide. I've known someone else like that. She made rules about food because it made it easier to decide what to eat. Could you also post the cites on why "obsessive-compulsive"? Neither I nor the other person have an OCD diagnosis or seem to match the criteria. Any OCD LWers want to chip in?
3MattFisher10yI try to avoid over-optimising on considered principles. I am willing to accept less-than-optimal outcomes based on the criteria I actually consider because those deficits are more often than not compensated by reduced thinking time, reduced anxiety, and unexpected results (eg the movie turning out to be much better or worse than expected). 'Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart' indicates most decisions are actually made by considering a single course of action, and taking it unless there is some unacceptable problem with it. What really surprised the researchers was that this often does better than linear recursion and stacks up respectably against Bayesian reasoning. So my answer is, "make random selections from the menu until you hit something you're willing to eat." :)
0MixedNuts10yOnce again, the problem isn't "How do I ignore rules and go with my gut?", it's "What do I do when my gut says 'Search me'?". So your answer isn't so much "random until satisficing by intuitive standards", and more like "random". Which is dominated by rules if rules exist, and the current best candidate if they don't.
1MattFisher10yAh. So if I understand correctly, your intuition on what will satisfice sometimes returns zero information, which certainly happens to me sometimes and I would guess most people. In that situation, I switch from optimising on the decision as presented, and optimise on + . In most cases, the variance in utility over the spread of outcomes of the decision is outweighed by the reduced cognitive effort and anxiety in the simplified decision procedure. Plus there's the chance of exposure to an unexpected benefit. In other words, there may be a choice that is better than the current best candidate (however that was derived), and rules may exist that dominate "random", but it's not worth your time and effort to figure them out.
2Will_Euler10yThis quote was written in 1965 by a psychoanalyst, so I don't even know if they had the same diagnostic criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that they do today. He's talking about "styles" of behavior. Based on a little searching, it seems to me that a preoccupation with rules is characteristic of what is called Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. As is so often the case, there's a broad spectrum from quirky behavior to personality disorder. What makes it a disorder is if it is interferring with your enjoyment of life. It is irrational to choose according to arbitrary rules when doing so makes you miss out on outcomes that are preferable but require you going outside of your rules. A little searching on the Internet says the treatment for the disorder is talk therapy. It's possible that could work. I would say first of all you have to recognize when living according to rules is making your life better and when living based on rules is boxing you in. Having rules can make decisions easier, but it can make you miss out on a lot of life. Seek feedback from friends and family members about areas in which you might be too rigid. Make sure you tell them you really want honest feedback. Then take baby steps to break out of routines. Doing so will also build your courage. Accept that it's OK to make mistakes. Failure is a great source of learning. If you have an attitude that says, "I am going to make mistakes," then you might not feel so much anxiety about making a less-than-optimal choice. (I recommend the book The Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben-Shahar. I learned a lot about avoiding perfectionism from that book.) You might find that something like an improv comedy class makes you more spontaneous and able to see how rules for behavior aren't as fixed as you might think they are. People get by and thrive by doing things totally differently from how you do, and you might like a different way better, if you gave yourself the chance. Try something that you
1MixedNuts10yThe problem is not to muster the courage to break rules, it's to decide what to do when you don't have relevant rules.
2MarkusRamikin10y"She made rules about food because it made it easier to decide what to eat" - This actually works for such a person? Interesting, I think a lot of people have the opposite problem. I wish I found it easy to follow my own rules.
2MixedNuts10yThe rules were supposed to approximate her actual tastes, but more rigid and outright made up when she was unsure if she liked something. I don't think it would work if she suddenly decided she disliked peanut butter.
0MarkusRamikin10yI see, that makes sense. Nancy: probably not enough care. But hm, "want to" follow or "feel like" following? Because I may "want to" be conscientious and work hard towards my goals, but I "feel like" slacking off.
2NancyLebovitz10yTentative hypothesis: some people start with the intention of making rules they'd want to follow, and others don't. The first set might find themselves with a rule they don't follow, but the second assuredly will. This goes beyond the temperamental difference between people who find rules a reassuring way of limiting choices and those who find rules an irritant at best. How much care do you put into crafting your rules?
1chatquitevoit10yThis is a valid attempt to deal with conflicting stimuli from the world - to create standards to which you adhere consciously because you don't trust your intuitions to motivate you rationally in the environment with which you must interact. And really, such attention is partially what it means to be conscious/human - to audit your actions 'from the outside' instead of merely reacting. And with today's bizarre and skewed 'food environment', as it were, this becomes VERY necessary, especially for people with a predilection for analyzing their own behavior even in such supposedly mundane (but really fundamental) things as food consumption.
-1roland10yThere seems to be an irrational underlying assumption here "I need rules to decide." edit: see also my other reply above.
6MixedNuts10yI seem to have run into a strange inferential distance. The word "obsessive-compulsive" seems to have suggested the wrong picture. I do not mean rules as impulses to perform stereotyped ritual behaviors. What I'm trying to describe is a way to handle explicit choices. "Are you coming home this weekend?", "Do I want some chocolate?", "Am I enjoying this movie?". Much (most?) of the time, a simple "yes, good" or "no, bad" gut feeling somehow gets generated with no conscious input. That's a decision. But some of the time, there's no such gut feeling. Introspection returns "I have no freaking clue what I want.". This is quite distressing, especially when there's pressure to decide immediately. A known set of rules can thus be useful. "Which movie should I watch?" "ERROR: decision-making system unavailable." "Okay, then let's go with the most educational." Problems with this approach are absence of relevant rules, bad rules, and inability to access the rule-based decision-making system as well as the emotional reaction-based one. Someone coming up to me as I agonize and telling me "You don't need rules" is not helping. What do I use instead?
4Unnamed10yI wonder if it would help for you to try to satisfice. You're not trying to choose the best option, you just have some minimum acceptable standard, and you're trying to pick one of the options (any of the options) that meets that standard. You could pick more-or-less randomly, or you could look for any inclination in favor of one of the options and then go with that one. For instance, if there are 4 movies that you're trying to choose between, and all 4 seem like movies that you're likely to enjoy, then it doesn't really matter which one you pick. You just need to pick one of them. There are a few ways to do this, some more random, some using more general rules or heuristics which can be used for many different kinds of decisions since they apply to the decision-making process, not the particular content. * Just pick one of the movies. Don't think or try to come up with reasons, just select one. Maybe your selection will be influenced by preferences of yours that you're not aware of, or maybe it'll just be random. Doesn't matter, you picked one. * Decide you're going to pick one, and then wait until something good about one of the options comes to mind and pick that one. It doesn't matter what it is - it could be some good feature that it has, or just a vague feeling. * Pick randomly. Label the options 1-4, look at a clock, and take the minutes mod 4. * Let someone else decide. If you're going to watch the movie with a friend, tell them "any of these 4, you pick." Even if the decision is only for you (e.g., you're going to watch the movie alone), you could still ask someone else to pick (or give a recommendation) if they're around when you're trying to decide. Just ask "what do you think?" * Try to guess what the other person would prefer. If you're going to watch the movie with a friend, ask yourself which of the 4 he would like. Try to do this quickly, with pattern-matching and associations
1MixedNuts10yOoo! Good advice is good! Thanks! I do that for decisions that don't matter much (e.g. picking a movie). It's more problematic when I know I will regret picking the wrong one badly. Good idea, thanks. Does this work in reverse, with a bad feeling about all other options? I do that as much as possible, but it fails more often that not. Polite bastards. All good ideas, thanks a lot! (Though variety-seeking contradicts the others, and conflicting rules are Bad.)
2Unnamed10yI don't know. If you're feeling stuck, and not particularly motivated to do anything, I generally think that it's good to try to find and feed positive motivations to do something. Avoidance motivations (for rejecting bad options) could just keep you stuck. And we want to keep things simple - one of the keys to all of these procedures is that you just need one option to stand out (positively) for whatever reason - you don't need to go through every option to rule all but one of them out. But if there are only 2 options and you do get a clear feeling against one of them, then maybe it is okay to base your decision on that - it's equally simple (with only two options) and it does get you through this decision. So I wouldn't aim to find a bad feeling, but if that was the first feeling that came up then you could go with it. You could try alternative ways of getting other people involved. e.g., Have them list the pros and cons of each option, and you listen and see if one thing jumps out at you. Or you could describe the options to them, with instructions for them to try to guess which one you'd. Or maybe just talking about the decision can help you clarify which option you prefer. True. You may want to forget about that one if it could interfere with the others. There are ways to integrate it with the others, if you determine ahead of time when it applies. For instance, there may be certain domains where you want variety/balance. Or you may sometimes feel like you're in a rut and want to mix things up, and then you can decide that starting now I'm going to make variety-seeking decisions (until I no longer feel this way). The important thing is that when you're faced with a particular decision, you don't need to decide whether or not to seek variety because you have already determined that. But variety-seeking is more of an advanced technique which you may want to skip for now. It's probably best to pick one or two of the heuristics which seem like they could work fo
0Strange710yMight be helpful to set up meta-rules. In any given situation, a hierarchy of which rules apply, or which to fall back on if the main ones are inconclusive. For example, variety-seeking could be one of the low-ranked options, seldom used but still significant for it's tendency to shake up the results of other rules.
2roland10yDo you know the book "How we decide" by Jonah Lehrer? In the first chapter, section 3 there is a case of a patient who lost his orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) due to a cancer and suddenly he couldn't make decisions anymore because all emotions where cut off and all choices suddenly became equal in value. So sometimes there are underlying neurological problems that can cause this. Quote:
3MixedNuts10yYeah, that's what happens. For me it's intermittent, but it does remove all choice-related emotions, so all choices become hard at the same time. As Lehrer says, an explicit cost-benefit analysis is way too long - that's what simple rules are for. Oh yeah, cry me a fucking river. This guy has to do that for every single decision, but no, go ahead, whine about having to listen to him make just one. I'll check the book out, thanks.
2Unnamed10yThis sounds like a symptom of something. Have you noticed whether any other symptoms tend to co-occur with it (especially other things related to mood or emotions)? Have you noticed any other patterns in these episodes (how often it happens, how long it lasts, whether it has any particular triggers, and whether anything in particular tends to trigger its end)? Have you mentioned it to a medical/psychological professional?
1MixedNuts10yAgreed. Choice numbness is a special case of emotional numbness is a special case of disconnecting from the world. It comes with akrasia and not-akrasia (a thingy that prevents me from doing stuff I explicitly want to, but doesn't react when I throw willpower at it - like running into an invisible wall in a video game). My field of attention gets restricted (I can only focus on one thing and not very much, objects in the center of my visual field become more interesting, I bump into walls), and my thoughts slow and confused. I crumble completely under any kind of pressure, even more than usually. I have to monitor motor control more finely (like moving a leg with my hand to remind the motor system how to move it, or focusing on a particular point and willing myself there). If there's emotional numbness, my emotions will feel sort of like detached objects. It happens when I'm dehydrated, tired, lacking balanced amounts of sunshine, at the wrong level of socialization, or at apparently random. The general state tends to last , curing it usually involves a complete reboot (change of context, rest, then sleep), but it can go in and out of choice numbness. Pressure to answer cements it. Nope. I've had horrible luck with psychiatrists and therapists so far, and I expect anything doctor-findable would have been found by now. Thanks!
3Unnamed10yThat suggests a couple more strategies that you could use for deciding-while-numb. One is to choose the option that is most likely to improve your mental state (or at least avoid making it worse), e.g. the option that seems most likely to increase your energy rather than draining you. The other is to try to make your decisions while non-numb, as much as possible (especially for more important decisions). You can do this in different ways, depending on the context. When you're numb you could put off making a decision until later (when you're non-numb), or you could guess what you would choose if you were non-numb, or you could try to remember which option you were leaning towards when you had been non-numb and choose that one. When you're non-numb, if you know of any upcoming decisions you could make the decisions right then (rather than waiting and potentially becoming numb), or you could at least note which option you're leaning towards (so that you can use that information if you happen to become numb). I don't know the details of your experiences with doctors & therapists, but this really does sound like the sort of thing that they should be able to help with. Especially if you're in this state often, figuring out if you can prevent it should be a higher priority than figuring out how to cope with it. Maybe you just haven't taken the right test yet, or you haven't found the right doctor or therapist. If you've had horrible luck so far, does that mean that regression to the mean will be working in your favor as long as you keep trying?
0Normal_Anomaly10yI agree with nearly everything you said there and think it's good advice, so I upvoted your comment. However, I care about statistics and you made a common error here: Regression to the mean doesn't work that way. The fact that a random event came out one way several times in a row doesn't make it more likely that it will come out the other way the next time. For instance, if you flip a fair coin and it comes up heads ten times in a row, the probability that it will come up tails on the next flip is still no greater than 50%. The only way that having found multiple bad psychiatrists will improve mixednuts' chances of finding a good one next time appreciably is if he starts crossing off an appreciably large proportion of the bad psychiatrists in his area, leaving the good ones dominating the remaining population. This effect isn't regression to the mean. The error you made is known as the Gambler's Fallacy [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambler%27s_fallacy].
2Unnamed10yI'm familiar with the gambler's fallacy. I wasn't being very clear about what I had in mind when I referenced regression to the mean, so here's my model. If someone has been to a few good therapists (better than the typical therapist) and they haven't been able to help, then "find a better therapist" would be tough advice to follow. But if they've been to a few lousy therapists (worse than the typical therapist) then finding a better therapist should be doable, since they'll have a good shot at doing that even if they just pick a new one at random. Alternatively, if they've been to a few good therapists but haven't found the right one, that's evidence that "the right therapist for me" is a small category, but if they've been to a few bad therapists and haven't found the right one, "the right therapist for me" could still include a fairly large subset of therapists. Edit: The more general point is that being unlucky is a reason for optimism, since it means that things are likely to get better just from your luck returning to normal.
0Normal_Anomaly10yThat makes sense. Thanks for clearing it up.
0roland10yOr maybe if you don't feel like going to any movie why not do something else? Is there something that you would like to do? I don't watch movies either, but I love reading good books. I suppose when you read LW and write comments here you don't apply a decision procedure in order to do it, but instead you simply enjoy it somehow. Is that correct? Sorry, I think the internet is not the right medium, personal conversation with a knowledgeable individual would probably help more.
0MixedNuts10yIt's intermittent, but covers all choices when it happens. Yeah, go to sleep and never have to make a decision again. Oddly enough, this is rarely available. You seem to be confusing a lack of emotional reaction with a neutral reaction. If I can't choose a movie, it doesn't mean I'm reluctant to see one, or that I won't enjoy it. "Do something else, then" is rarely applicable. You aren't going to cancel an appointment because you can't decide on a date, or answer "Do you want to go to the park?" with "I don't know. Let's talk about the history of cheesemaking."
1AdeleneDawner10yFor a definition of 'rules' that includes heuristics, and with the further qualification of either 'quickly' or 'without putting a lot of effort into every single decision', that assumption seems pretty accurate to me - it's more that most people are more comfortable making rules of thumb for themselves, or doing semi-arbitrary things in instances where their rules don't provide the answer (and then usually making a new rule of thumb out of the arbitrary decision, if it turns out well). Am I missing something?
0roland10ySorry, I meant "verbalizable/conscious rules". When I type this words on the keyboard I don't use any conscious rules to decide how fast to move each finger. The problem is when you have to apply rules/perform conscious rituals all the time even for decisions that shouldn't matter that much.
-2roland10ytalk therapy doesn't work see "House of Cards" by Robyn Dawes. Instead use CBT cognitive behavioral therapy. The cognitive part is understanding that your rituals/behavior are irrational and the behavioral part is actually acting on that understanding against the subjective pull to do otherwise. Good advice on the latter can be found in the link below, with video: http://www.ocduk.org/2/foursteps.htm [http://www.ocduk.org/2/foursteps.htm]

We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.

  • George Orwell / saw on Discovery Channel

From wikiquote

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

Alternative: "We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us."

In his 1945 "Notes on Nationalism", Orwell claimed that the statement, "Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf" was a "grossly obvious" fact.

Notes: allegedly said by George Orwell although there is no evidence that Orwell ever wrote or uttered either of these versions of this idea. They do bear some similarity to comments made in an essay that Orwell wrote on Rudyard Kipling, when quoting from one of his poems. Orwell did write, in his essay on Kipling, that the latter's "grasp of function, of who protects whom, is very sound. He sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them." (1942)

The way to maximize outcome is to concentrate on the process.

-Seth Klarman, letter to shareholders

"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance — that principle is contempt prior to investigation."

attribution unknown

I may have posted a little too fast-- I picked up the quote from a site which says it's a misquotation, and apt to be used to support dubious ideas.

On the other hand, contempt can come into play too quickly and reflexively, so I'm not deleting the quote.

2MixedNuts10yIs this the absurdity heuristic, or a superset? If the later, what else is in the set? Maybe moral absurdity, and affiliation with outgroups (in particular, first encountering the idea during a heated debate or from someone lower-status than you).

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

Bruce Lee

8MixedNuts10yMyth busted [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2006/11/foxes_vs_hedgho.html].

Noooot the same thing.

I am quite prepared to be told, with regard to the cases I have here proposed, as I have already been told with regard to others, "Oh, that is an extreme case, it would never really happen!" Now I have observed that the answer is always given instantly, with perfect confidence, and without examination of the details of the proposed case. It must therefore rest on some general principle: the mental process being probably something like this — 'I have formed a theory. This case contradicts my theory. Therefore this is an extreme case, and would never occur in practice'.

-Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), relating to the possibility of strategically-induced Condorcet cycles in elections.

"Everyone thinks himself the master pattern of human nature; and by this, as on a touchstone, he tests all others. Behavior that does not square with his is false and artificial. What brutish stupidity!” -- Montaigne

5Document10y"Man, what a pretentious quote. I'm filing it under typical mind fallac-- oh, yeah."

"Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."

  • 1984, George Orwell (although I really shouldn't have to attribute this one)

Probably my favorite statement on rationality, it's so practical for launching off into every other sphere of thought - politics, ethics, theology, maths/physics, and, well, all else that follows.

0MichaelHoward9y+1. Pyongyang just admitted to their own people that their rocket launch failed. Could this be a sign of the start of something significant?

Future possibilities will often resemble today's fiction, just as robots, spaceships, and computers resemble yesterday's fiction. How could it be otherwise? Dramatic new technologies sound like science fiction because science fiction authors, despite their frequent fantasies, aren't blind and have a professional interest in the area.

...

This may seem too good to be true, but nature (as usual) has not set her limits based on human feelings.

K. Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation Chapter 6

7gjm10yWhen I read the first sentence quoted above, I assumed it was intended ironically. Robots, spaceships and computers resemble yesterday's fiction? Hardly, except in so far as their fictional counterparts resemble the robots, spaceships and computers already in existence when the fiction was written. (And, to a lesser extent, in so far as people making new robots, spaceships and computers are inspired by the science fiction they've read.)

Heinlein's spaceships relied on human beings doing orbital calculations on slide-rules and calling out orders to one another to direct the ship — "Brennschluss!" — to avoid disaster. Today, there are serious projects to move ground automobiles out of direct human control as a safety measure.

Asimov's robots, and the renegade computers on Star Trek, dealt with conflicting evidence so poorly that they could be permanently broken by receiving malicious data. Today's software engineers would call that a denial-of-service attack or "query of death", and fix it.

The real world has much higher standards for safety and reliability than fiction does!

Or, to look at it less derisively, fiction needs its computer bugs and exploits to have simple narrative explanations.

6advancedatheist10yMurray Leinster, who had a few patents to his name, anticipated the web and increasingly capable search engines in his visionary story, published in 1946, titled " A Logic Named Joe [http://www.baen.com/chapters/W200506/0743499107___2.htm]."

You have to cherry-pick examples to make seeming correlations like that work. If, say, a particular author had several such coincidences, then that might be different, but as far as I can tell, for the most part science fiction predicts science in about the same way that fortune cookies predict lottery numbers.

4taryneast10yJules Verne
4Pavitra10yVerne is a fairly strong example. He was reasonably popular in his time, so he didn't become famous only because of correlation-in-hindsight. We might ask whether he's an outlier or just the tail of the bell curve, but I strongly suspect that what actually happened was that later engineers were consciously influenced by his fictional designs, much like with William Gibson and the modern Internet. This suggests that fiction-future correlation is largely determined by technical plausibility, which in turn suggests that we may be able to predict in advance which science-fiction predictions are most likely to come true. However, it occurs to me that we do a lot of this last already on this website (cryonics, uploading, nanotech, AI, computronium, ...) so I'm not sure if this quite counts as an "advance" strength of the theory. (Other predicted technologies I don't remember seeing so much around here: Dyson spheres, space elevators, ... hm. Not that many, actually. Augmented reality and bionic implants are likely only transitional, but will probably have at least a few years of massive popularity at some point.)
3taryneast10yDyson spheres are unlikely. They use too much physical matter to create. Ringworlds are slightly more likely. Space elevators are awesome though. We should do that :) Still waiting on the ability to grow nanotubes long enough, though... we're getting there. We can build them long enough to turn into thread - but proper long-filament nanotubes are the only thing (that we know of so far) that will be strong enough for the elevator ribbon.
4dvasya10y'Dyson sphere' is a very broad term encompassing several distinct types of design, including very light ones. Space elevator is awesome, but there exist much more clever alternative designs that have substantially lower requirements for material strength, as well as geographical positioning - this is also a huge issue with the original space elevator design. It is a beautiful idea, but that doesn't mean we should cling to it and ignore all other proposals :)
0taryneast10yAny links to the research? I'd be interested in having a look :)
4dvasya10yI started assembling links but then realized that Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-rocket_spacelaunch] is a good starting point, it has provides a nice summary of all the most notable designs: tethers, bolas, orbital rings, pneumatic towers, the Lofstrom Loop... Each has its own drawbacks, but the important thing is that they do not require nonexistent (even if theoretically possible) materials. Clever ways to get to space are often covered at Next Big Future [http://nextbigfuture.com/?cx=partner-pub-2647001505857353%3A7695799466&cof=FORID%3A10&ie=UTF-8&q=launch&sa=Search&siteurl=nextbigfuture.com%2F%3Fcx%3Dpartner-pub-2647001505857353%253A7695799466%26cof%3DFORID%253A10%26ie%3DUTF-8%26q%3Dlofstrom%26sa%3DSearch] , including the author's own nuclear cannon [http://nextbigfuture.com/2009/02/nuclear-orion-home-run-shot-all-fallout.html] proposal - this one actually literally follows Jules Verne :-)
0taryneast10yCool, thanks :)
1chatquitevoit10yThe most feasible iteration of a Dyson sphere would probably be the least dense, which would have great influence on the ways they could be used, and that makes them less likely because they are less commercially useful. Still, it could happen.
1taryneast10yOk - I hadn't seen any info on that kind. Yes I agree, it could happen - though I suspect that by the time we get to the stage where we could - we'll probably have invented something even cooler/useful :)
-1dvasya10yActually, +1 for William Gibson!
1taryneast10yOk... and just to head off the replies... I know there's always likely to be one in such a large field, and he also got tons of stuff wrong (centre of the earth et al) but still... as an example of one author that consistently got a lot of stuff right (mainly through thoroughly understanding science and extrapolating from there) - he's brilliant.
3dvasya10yArthur C. Clarke?

"Does it work?" is actually a much more important question than "Should it work?"

  • Druin Burch, "Blood Sports: Does a popular performance-enhancing subterfuge actually work" in Natural History 6/11/2011

Teach a man to reason, and he'll think for a lifetime.

-- Phil Plait

0lessdazed9yProbably not.

Sorry for length, but this a nice sketch on the role of rationality in science :)

A glossary for research reports

Scientific term (Actual meaning)

It has long been known that. . . . (I haven’t bothered to look up the original reference)

. . . of great theoretical and practical importance (. . . interesting to me)

While it has not been possible to provide definite answers to these questions . . . (The experiments didn’t work out, but I figured I could at least get a publication out of it)

The W-Pb system was chosen as especially suitable to show the predi

... (read more)
9MixedNuts10yFunny, but I don't think it is the criticism of science it seems to be. Some items just point out that papers are formal, like Yeah, that's what it means. What's your point? (Well, it is useful at face value for people who don't understand formal language, but it's not trying to be.) Others look like criticism but aren't, like Yes, it's an amusing way of phrasing it, but there's noting wrong with the fact or with the phrasing - the meaning gets across! Some do show scientists obfuscating problems, like but none of them are new. It has long been known that scientists tend to ignore negative results and the like. The most reliable values are those of Ben Goldacre. Also, Is just plain correct within an order of magnitude. If I compute the mass of the sun from a weight of a rock in my hands and the shadows of two sticks, being correct within an order of magnitude is incredibly precise.
2dvasya10yI don't think this was intended as a criticism of science... ;)
1MixedNuts10ySmall-s science the process that's in fact implemented, not big-S Science the ideal. Though admittedly formality and obfuscation in journal papers isn't a necessary part of current science (as opposed to publish-or-perish in general).
1Will_Sawin10yOr perhaps to make fun of scientists as, for instance, people who drop things on the floor.
2Apprentice10yMy favorite - I do this all the time. Yeah, this one's familiar too. There's a long-ass section in my thesis that basically ends with this. So much data - so little sense.
[-][anonymous]10y 6

Math is cumulative. Even Wiles and Perelman had to stand on the lemma-encrusted shoulders of giants.

Scott Aaronson, "Ten Signs a Claimed Mathematical Breakthrough is Wrong", which is worth reading in its own right.

I'm new to LW (Well, I've been reading Eliezer's posts in order, and am somewhere in 2008 right now, but I haven't read many of the recent posts) so these may have been posted before. But quote collecting is a hobby of mine and I couldn't pass it up.

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." – Albert Einstein

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

I very much dislike Einstein quotes that have nothing to do with physics or mathematics. You don't have to be an Einstein to know a false dichotomy when you see one. What about living your life as if some things are miracles and some things aren't like most people who have ever lived? Surely, if most people have done it, then it is possible.

Also, welcome to Less Wrong.

Well for what it's worth, I don't think he means it literally. Or at least so exactly. My interpretation is that he is saying that you must accept a rational basis and explanation for everything, or believe that nothing can be explained - you must accept that the laws of physics apply to every one and everything, and that there are no mysterious phenomena, or you must deny the laws of physics and believe everything is mystical.

And thanks, it's a great blog. I've learned so much reading Eliezer's work. Well, perhaps learned isn't the best word. Realized may be more appropriate.

4Normal_Anomaly10yThank you for laying out that interpretation. I thought for years (perhaps because of the first context I saw it in) that it presented a choice between seeing the beauty in everything or not seeing it anywhere. Your interpretation makes much more sense.
2Desrtopa10yMany, perhaps most people, appear to believe in separate magisteria of ordinary, explainable things, and unassailable supernatural mysteries.
2RobertLumley10yBut that doesn't make it rational to live that way...
3Desrtopa10yTrue, but he didn't say there were only two rational ways of looking at the world. I don't think the interpretation you gave is what he meant, anyway. Based on his writings about his own religious beliefs, Einstein would almost certainly have categorized himself as being one who saw everything as miraculous. Just because we accept that something is real and follows the same rules as all other known real things doesn't mean we can't have a sense of wonder over it. [http://lesswrong.com/lw/or/joy_in_the_merely_real/]
1summerstay10yI think he's saying that there are only two ways to live consistent with the world as it is, and they are identical except that the second includes the sense of awe or wonder. It's a miracle (a wonder, unexplained) that anything exists at all. Religion that believes only some things are miracles is not either of the ways he supports.
2NancyLebovitz10yYou can check on whether quotes have been posted already by using search for the site.

It’s not exactly a 'he said she said' argument. It’s a 'top experts on the subject predict significant methane emissions from melting permafrost, but some guy on my blog says they must be wrong' argument.

-- John Baez on Melting Permafrost

[-][anonymous]10y 5

“It seems that those who legislate and administer and write about social policy can tolerate any increase in actual suffering so long as the system does not explicitly permit it.”

-Charles Murray

4Nornagest10yThis reads as a little applause-lighty for my taste, to be honest. It's really easy to claim that the arbiters of social policy are blind to actual suffering, and not much harder to spin that into an appeal for your particular ideology, which by virtue of its construction or unusual purity or definition of "actual suffering" of course doesn't have these problems. If a quote on policy would be equally at home heading a libertarian or a socialist or an anarcho-primitivist blog, does it really constrain our anticipations about policy to any meaningful extent?
4[anonymous]10yI read it as cautioning us to resist the temptation to unquestioningly accept nice sounding policy as good policy. Also any quotes that couldn't be read as potentially applicable by a large swath of the political spectrum might trigger blue-green tribalism feelings and kind of defeat the spirit of the no mind killer rule.
3gjm9yThe point isn't to constrain our anticipations about policy; it's to constrain our anticipations about policy-makers. To get actual policy anticipation-control, you need to apply it in a specific context where you know more about the sort of policy the people in question would favour if they (openly) didn't care about actual suffering.
"...I thank my fortune for it,
My ventures are not in one bottom trusted,
Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate
Upon the fortune of this present year:
Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad."

--Antonio, The Merchant of Venice, Act 1 Scene 1. I have found this quote coming to mind recently apropos the recent Bitcoin price swings.

"Ahh, there's no such thing as mysterious."

~Strong Bad, from sbemail 140 (Probably not originally intended in a rationalist sense.)

“Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think.” – Jean de la Bruyère

4chatquitevoit10yAnd what does this make it for those of us who do both?
0hamnox10yIt's a tragicomedy, of course.
0MixedNuts10yAnd tragicomedies normally have happy endings. Should this raise our probability estimate of a positive Singularity? (No.)

One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one's greatest efforts.

Unsourced; attributed to Albert Einstein.

Or, I could work out what I want and achieve that? There is even a time to focus on a goal over another purely because it is easier.

8cousin_it10yWhen I try to learn stuff, I sometimes get good results from the opposite approach: instead of doing the hardest thing, do the easiest thing that counts as progress. In other words, instead of grabbing the highest rung I can reach, I grab the rung I can reach comfortably. Then I take my time to absolutely conquer that rung with perfect technique and control, doing many many repetitions. Then move on to the next. Advantages of this approach: it's easier, less jerky and more methodical, I can spare attention for ironing out any mistakes in the basics... And most importantly, it feels like I have more "momentum". When my workouts or training sessions look like this, random events are much less likely to derail my schedule of leveling up.
5simplyeric10yThis doesn't seem rational. One must develop an instinct for what one really needs to/wants to/should achieve, and judge whether maximium effort (which I assume would be required to achieve the barely-achievable) is worth the return on that investment.
1RichardKennaway10yIf you're not putting in maximum effort, you're leaving utility on the table.
4simplyeric10yBut if you put out maximum effort, you can leave longevity and/or quality on the table. Silverbacks, pitchers, office workers, day-to-day-life, running, eating... Short term maximum effort might detract from long-term maximum utility. The cost/benefits analysis is at times subjective. "Utility" can mean different things to different people. "Utility", as I interpret in a Rationalist context has a very specific almost "economic" meaning. But you can choose to reduce effort and not push the envelop, and go home, have dinner, relax, and enjoy your life. Some people might refer to that as utility, others as low hanging fruit, still others as a healthy balance.

Politics are, as it were, the market place and the price mechanism of all social demands - though there is no guarantee that a just price will be struck; and there is nothing spontaneous about politics- it depends on deliberate and continuous activity.

--Bernard Crick

1Jayson_Virissimo10yWhat is a "social demand"? By what method could we determine how much of a good is "socially demanded"?
2fubarobfusco10yJustice, for instance. Can one person be reliably counted upon to measure how much justice he or she has received? Probably not. But political processes do work out various means for delivering more or less justice. These means appear to have something to do with the demands of various people. The market analogy is of course not perfect.
7Aryn10yJustice, at least the way I've heard it used, is very much revenge without the stigma.
6brazzy10yCriminal justice only if you tune out the rehabilitation aspect. Civil justice only if you tune out everything except punitive damages (which don't exist in many jurisdictions).
5Theist10yThere is a lot to be gained by delegating to a central authority the responsibility of maintaining a credible threat of retaliation.

Verberationes continuabunt dum animus melior fit. ("The beatings will continue until morale improves")

(My presentation of the quote constitutes an assertion that there is an insight here useful for navigating the world of tribal politics, hence the relevance.)

O shame to men! Devil with devil damned / Firm concord holds; men only disagree / Of creatures rational

-- Milton, Paradise Lost: not on Aumann agreement, alas

9MixedNuts10yYeah, but humans only exist of creatures rational.
6sgeek10yWe're working on that.
0Document10yAre you posting it for the Aumann-agreement meaning or the intended one?

Now that's the general solution to a problem that all the programmers in the world are out there inventing for you, the general solution, and nobody has the general problem.

children are scum

can't we figure out a way to get rid of kids but keep the human race alive

we need to get on that shit

-- QDB, on immortalism

Man, that site is a funny time sink. Not the best source of rationality quotes, but there are a few that sort of count.

Greatgreen: I'm going to fail :(

NumberGuy: think positively

Greatgreen: I'm going to fail :)

Faith is not enough, for faith is blind by nature. Life needs insight. It is the dead, and the dying, that allow themselves to be led.

--Eve Online: Chronicles

"Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness."

--George Santayana, Quoted by Carl Sagan in Contact, Chapter 14 "Harmonic Oscillator", page 231

Ick.

What, in this metaphor, corresponds to fidelity and happiness in the way that skepticism corresponds to chastity? Is Santayana's idea that we should search long for The Answer, but having found it, we should turn off our skepticism, stop thinking, and sink into the warm fuzzies of faith? It reminds me of the sea squirt that eats its own brain when it has found a comfortable spot to live and no longer needs it.

-7CuSithBell10y
9Eneasz10yInterestingly, I really like this quote about skepticism, even though I strongly dislike its fetishization of sexual inexperience.
7knb10yHow is it a fetish and not a legitimate personal value? And the part relevant to skepticism seems totally off to me. We should never sacrifice skepticism for "fidelity" to an idea.
-1Eneasz10yTo reply in reverse order - I see how it's relevant to skepticism because people are quick to believe any old thing that feels truthy to them. But there are some things you actually can put your trust in. Things that have been born out over centuries to get us closer and closer to true knowledge, things that produce real results. Things such as empiricism. You can eventually come to trust empiricism, rationality, the experimental method. You don't have to remain forever entirely skeptical of everything. In that sense it's a decent metaphor to compare it to a (good) long-term relationship - that building of trust by experience until it is simply natural and implicit. I would consider it a fetish because it will make anyone out of their teens seek age-inappropriate partners. If you're in your thirties or later and you are seeking sexual congress with a virgin then you are looking for someone with the sexual maturity of someone a lot younger than you, regardless of that person's chronological age. Fetishes aren't inherently bad of course, there's lots of great ones out there. :) But this one often serves to either A) degrade non-teen women who aren't emotionally stunted, or B) cause people to severely stunt their own emotional growth to fulfill some future partner's fetish. Both of those seem to be bad things to me, and thus my disapproving words.
1knb10yBut he isn't recommending preferring chastity in others, but rather being chaste ourselves until we have a "ripeness of instinct and discretion" (i.e. have attained maturity). This definition of chastity includes not just virgins but everyone who shows discretion in choosing sex partners, and doesn't accept the "first comer".
4Eneasz10yI wouldn't have any problem with the quote if that's the case, discretion is good. However I've never seen chastity used in a way that didn't mean virgin. Actually, come to think of it, the English language could really use a word for "discerning but liberated person".

"For the thinker, as for the artist, what counts in life is not the number of rare and exciting adventures he encounters, but the inner depth in that life, by which something great may be made out of even the paltriest and most banal of occurrences." -- William Barrett

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
[-][anonymous]10y 0

If a process is potentially good, but 90+% of the time smart and well-intentioned people screw it up, then it's a bad process. So they can only say it's the team's fault so many times before it's not really the team's fault.

I argued earlier that the only circumstances under which it should be morally acceptable to impose a particular way of thinking on children, is when the result will be that later in life they come to hold beliefs that they would have chosen anyway, no matter what alternative beliefs they were exposed to. And what I am now saying is that science is the one way of thinking — maybe the only one — that passes this test. There is a fundamental asymmetry between science and everything else.

"I smile and start to count on my fingers: One, people are good. Two, every conflict can be removed. Three, every situation, no matter how complex it initially looks, is exceedingly simple. Four, every situation can be substantially improved; even the sky is not the limit. Five, every person can reach a full life. Six, there is always a win-win solution. Shall I continue to count?" Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt 1947- 2011

5gjm9yIt might be easier to tell whether this is really a rationality quote or an anti-rationality quote if we had a bit more context. For instance, is Goldratt (or whatever character he's put those words into the mouth of) endorsing those propositions, or listing them as false assumptions someone else is making, or what?
4lessdazed9yThat's not how it goes. I'm pretty sure he finishes by saying "Six! Six fingers. AH AH AH AH AH!"

From Countdown to Immortality, by FM-2030:

TIME REENTRY AND ADAPTATION

How will an individual suspended today adjust to life upon reentry in the future?

Time-reentry adjustment will not be a serious problem for the following reasons:

Anyone suspended in these years will probably not have to wait long for reanimation. In act the time will come when long-term suspension will make no sense. Deathcorrection will be quick and therefore catch-up will not be a problem.

People are living longer and longer. Therefore many of the reanimate’s friends and acquaintances w

... (read more)
2wedrifid10y(Perhaps a little large for a quote? If it's an inspiring excerpt consider a discussion post including a bit on why you like it!)