Here's the new quotes thread, for all those quotes you were going to post.


  • 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.)
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...the discovery of computers and the thinking about computers has turned out to be extremely useful in many branches of human reasoning. For instance, we never really understood how lousy our understanding of languages was, the theory of grammar and all that stuff, until we tried to make a computer which would be able to understand language. We tried to learn a great deal about psychology by trying to understand how computers work. There are interesting philosophical questions about reasoning, and relationship, observation, and measurement and so on, which computers have stimulated us to think about anew, with new types of thinking. And all I was doing was hoping that the computer-type of thinking would give us some new ideas, if any are really needed.

-- Richard P. Feynman, Simulating Physics with Computers, International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Vol 21, Nos. 6/7, 1982

"A Thinking Machine! Yes, we can now have our thinking done for us by machinery! The Editor of the Common School Advocate says—" On our way to Cincinnati, a few days since, we stopped over night where a gentleman from the city was introducing a machine which he said was designed to supercede the necessity and labor of thinking. It was highly and respectably recommended, by men too in high places, and is designed for a calculator, to save the trouble of all mathematical labor. By turning the machinery it produces correct results in addition, substraction, multiplication, and division, and the operator assured us that it was equally useful in fractions and the higher mathematics." The Editor thinks that such machines, by which the scholar may, by turning a crank, grind out the solution of a problem without the fatigue of mental application, would by its introduction into schools, do incalculable injury, But who knows that such machines when brought to greater perfection, may not think of a plan to remedy all their own defects and then grind out ideas beyond the ken of mortal mind!" --- The Primitive Expounder in 1847

That's a bit freaky. If someone predicted the Singularity 150 years ago, it suggests current "Singularity imminent!" predictions are far off. We snicker at "thinking machine" applied to a simple calculator, because we understand that even though arithmetic operations are sufficient to build thought, there's a long way to go from these base components to the genuine article. The analogy with current talk of intelligence is clear.

That's a bit freaky. If someone predicted the Singularity 150 years ago, it suggests current "Singularity imminent!" predictions are far off.

Could be. Just because it turned out not to be a ten year idea doesn't mean it will also turn out not to be a 170 year idea. People who thought their heavier-than-air flight ideas would bear fruit 400 years ago were wrong, but when the Wright brothers believed it, they were right.

A writer on structuralism in the Times Literary Supplement has suggested that thoughts which are confused and tortuous by reason of their profundity are most appropriately expressed in prose that is deliberately unclear. What a preposterously silly idea! I am reminded of an air-raid warden in wartime Oxford who, when bright moonlight seemed to be defeating the spirit of the blackout, exhorted us to wear dark glasses. He, however, was being funny on purpose.

Peter Medawar

Daniel Oppenheimer's Ig Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

My research shows that conciseness is interpreted as intelligence. So, thank you.

It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the "plan of creation" or "unity of design," etc., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact.

-- Charles Darwin

"Lottery tickets should not be free. In such purely random and independent events as the lottery, the probability of having a winning number depends directly on the number of tickets you have purchased. When one evaluates the outcome of a scientific work, attention must be given not only to the potential interest of the ‘significant’ outcomes but also to the number of ‘lottery tickets’ the authors have ‘bought’. Those having many have a much higher chance of ‘winning a lottery prize’ than of getting a meaningful scientific result. It would be unfair not to distinguish between significant results of well-planned, powerful, sharply focused studies, and those from ‘fishing expeditions’ with a much higher probability of catching an old truck tyre than of a really big fish."

Stan Young, 28-Jul-07; quoted in "Everything is Dangerous: A Controversy", a paper discussing epidemiology's failure to use things like the Bonferroni correction which has led to things like 80% of observed correlations failing to replicate (or only 1 out of 20 NIH randomized-trials replicating the original claim).

A student study at the University of Cambridge concluded that it takes 3,481 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.[7] Another study by Purdue University concluded that it takes an average of 364 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop using a "licking machine", while it takes an average of 252 licks when tried by 20 volunteers. Yet another study by the University of Michigan concluded that it takes 411 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. A 1996 study by undergraduate students at Swarthmore College concluded that it takes a median of 144 licks (range 70-222) to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.[8] Harvard Grad students created a rotating mechanical tongue and concluded 317 licks.

-- Wikipedia, on the reproducibility of scientific results

If we want to know where the truth lies in particular cases, we have to look.

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.

-Czeslaw Milosz, "The Captive Mind" (first sentence)

I cannot like this enough. Thank you for showing me this book. This is a big piece of western philosophy and history that I did not know I was missing.
could someone please explain this one?

Milosz is obviously talking about Communism and the philosophy it was based on. (If you haven't read The Captive Mind, it's pretty good albeit obviously dated).

The lesson is that philosophy can be Serious Business and you ignore bad philosophy at your own peril. To paraphrase the famous Trotsky paraphrase: You may not be interested in diseased Philosophy, but diseased Philosophy is interested in you.

Money is the unit of caring; there's a similar quote about "some dead economist" or the like I can't quite recall.
In Soviet Russia...

Our headlines are splashed with crime, yet for every criminal there are 10,000 honest decent kindly men. If it were not so, no child would live to grow up, business could not go on from day to day. Decency is not news; it is buried in the obituaries -- but it is a force stronger than crime.

-- Robert Heinlein, on selection bias. From this big list of quotes.


Advancing a career in science is not the same as advancing science.

-- John D. Cook, in a tweet.

From Wintersmith, on the ability to notice confusion rather than rationalizing:

"And now I shall tell you something vitally important. It is the secret of my long life.”

Ah, thought Tiffany, and she leaned forward.

“The important thing,” said Miss Treason, “is to stay the passage of the wind. You should avoid rumbustious fruits and vegetables. Beans are the worst, take it from me.”

“I don’t think I understand—” Tiffany began.

“Try not to fart, in a nutshell.”

“In a nutshell I imagine it would be pretty unpleasant!” said Tiffany nervously. She couldn’t believe she was being told this.

“This is no joking matter,” said Miss Treason. “The human body only has so much air in it. You have to make it last. One plate of beans can take a year off your life. I have avoided rumbustiousness all my days. I am an old person and that means what I say is wisdom!” She gave the bewildered Tiffany a stern look. “Do you understand, child?”

Tiffany’s mind raced. Everything is a test! “No,” she said. “I’m not a child and that’s nonsense, not wisdom!”

The stern look cracked into a smile. “Yes,” said Miss Treason. “Total gibberish. But you’ve got to admit it’s a corker, all the same, right? You definitely believed it, just for a moment? The villagers did last year. You should have seen the way they walked about for a few weeks! The strained looks on their faces quite cheered me up!"

About the intersection of math and politics through the mind of a child, Bob Murphy relates this story about his six-year-old son Clark:

Clark: Daddy why can’t there be a biggest number?

Bob: Because no matter how big a number is, there is always a bigger number.

Clark (puzzled): Why?

Bob: OK, let’s say a guy comes up to me and says, “Hey, I know the biggest number!” Then I would say, “Oh yeah, what is it?” And the guy would tell me, “It’s a billion billion.” But then I would just add 1 to it, and say, “A ha, a billion billion and 1 is a bigger number. So you made a mistake when you said you thought of the biggest number.”

Clark (after a pause): What guy are you talking about?

Bob: Just any guy. I’m saying, if anybody tries to think of the biggest number, I’ll always be able to do that trick–where I add 1 to it–so they can’t do it. They’ll always lose.

Clark: What if a girl asks you?

[I ran through the same thing with a girl asking me...]

Clark: OK I want to tell the story!

Bob: Sure go ahead.

Clark: So what if a guy came up to me and said, “Hey Clark, I know the biggest number! It’s 100 billion!” Then I would say, “No, 100 billion and 1 is bigger! You’re wrong!”

Bob: Right, good job. So he

... (read more)

Anything that can be done to a rat can be done to a human being. And we can do most anything to rats. This is a hard thing to think about, but it's the truth. It won't go away because we cover our eyes.

-Bruce Sterling, cyberpunk author

Cut off three legs.

Just sew an extra one on first.

Fully general version: just sew a rat onto the human first
The first three times I read this I thought you said "just sew a rat onto the human fist". And I thought: that would be a pretty terrible superpower. But, because of that, it could make for a really interesting superhero. What use is a rat sewn to your fist? At first, it seems like the answer is "none, if not negative", but that's just what they want the criminal underworld to think...
Possible on a man, if we perturb slightly the definition of leg.
How many legs does a man have if you call a penis a leg? ;)
^Wrong. Actually what we can do to rats is very limited compared to what we can do to humans. As for what we can do with humans... Together, even the sky is not the limit anymore: we pierce through it with our XXX. Also, wrong: in an absolute sense, we "can" do to humans the stuff we do on rats, but there are reasons, beyond ethics, why we don't. It's just. Not. Convenient.
My reading was "neurological manipulations that reveal the frailty of the rat mind would work on humans, thus our minds are also frail".
My first thought was of the robot controlled by rat neurons, though I know the quote predates this technology. It seems like your read is close to what he had in mind. Here's the preceeding paragraph, it's from an essay on what makes cyberpunk: "Human thought itself, in its unprecedented guise as computer software, is becoming something to be crystallized, replicated, made a commodity. Even the insides of our brains aren't sacred; on the contrary, the human brain is a primary target of increasingly successful research, ontological and spiritual questions be damned. The idea that, under these circumstances, Human Nature is somehow destined to prevail against the Great Machine, is simply silly; it seems weirdly beside the point. It's as if a rodent philosopher in a lab-cage, about to have his brain bored and wired for the edification of Big Science, were to piously declare that in the end Rodent Nature must triumph."
I would have phrased this comment differently, perhaps by saying "This quote is unimpressive because it glosses over the fact that we can do numerous bad things to humans that we can't do to rats." Most, almost all, things we can do to rats, we can do to humans. We can do very many things to rats. Therefore, we can do most, almost all, of very many things to humans, i.e. we can do many things to humans. P1. RATdo-->HUMANdo P2. RATdomostanything C. HUMANdomostanything As the statement is correct according to a common and natural (the most common and natural?) way of corresponding language with logic, I don't approve of beginning a comment on it with "^Wrong". I don't think the original statement at all strongly implies that what we can do to humans is limited to things we can do to rats. If I did, I'd feel some obligation to interpret it charitably.
Your phrasing is much better. But I still think the comparison is very weak, it's like saying "natural numbers are infinite, real numbers contain natural numbers, therefore they are infinite": it fails to convey the sheer MAGNITUDE of the situation.

I confess, for my part, that I have been taken in, over and over again. I have been taken in by acquaintances, and I have been taken in (of course) by friends; far oftener by friends than by any other class of persons. How came I to be so deceived? Had I quite misread their faces? No. Believe me, my first impression of those people, founded on face and manner alone, was invariably true. My mistake was in suffering them to come nearer to me and explain themselves away.

--Hunted Down: the detective stories of Charles Dickens (Charles Dickens)

Suppose we know someone's objective and also know that half the time that person correctly figures out how to achieve it and half the time he acts at random. Since there is generally only one right way of doing things (or perhaps a few) but very many wrong ways, the "rational" behavior can be predicted but the "irrational" behavior cannot. If we predict the person's behavior on the assumption that he is rational, we will be right half the time. If we assume he is irrational, we will almost never be right, since we still have to guess which irrational thing he will do. We are better off assuming he is rational and recognizing that we will sometimes be wrong. To put the argument more generally, the tendency to be rational is the consistent (and hence predictable) element in human behavior. The only alternative to assuming rationality (other than giving up and assuming that human behavior cannot be understood and predicted) would be a theory of irrational behavior - a theory that told us not only that someone would not always do the rational thing but also which particular irrational thing he would do. So far as I know, no satisfactory theory of that sort exists.

David Friedman, Price Theory, An Intermediate Text

This sounds wrong. Biases have predictable direction, that's why they're called biases and not variance (ahem).

Particularly, what we know about cognitive biases precisely is “theory of irrational behavior” — we just don't have a, complete, theory of irrational behavior.
Friedman continues, but I shortened the quote to make it punchier. Essentially he says that, (1) given a large number of individuals irrationality will average out in the aggregate, (2) In most cases that an economist would be interested in (eg. investors, CEOs) the individuals have been selected to be good at the task they are performing, i.e. not irrational in that domain.

In some contexts it makes sense to talk about errors in opposite directions canceling out but in others it does not as errors only accumulate. Suppose one person overestimates how much they'll enjoy having an iPad and buys one when they'd be better off without one, and another person underestimates how much they'll enjoy having an iPad and doesn't buy one when they'd be better off with one. Looking at the total number of iPads sold, these errors cancel out. But looking at total human welfare, the errors just add up - two people are each less happy than they could be, which is doubly bad. Similarly, if one person gets too much medical care and another gets too little, then they both lose, one from being overtreated and the other from being undertreated.

If you look at the market as a means of aggregating information (as in prediction markets) then errors can cancel out, but when you evaluate the market as a means of distributing products to people then errors just accumulate.

Friedman continues, but I shortened the quote to make it punchier. Essentially he says that, (1) given a large number of individuals irrationality will average out in the aggregate,

This is the part that sounds (and is) wrong. It would perhaps be correct if it was "given a large number of individuals selected from mind space via a carefully crafted distribution of deviations about some mind the irrationality will average out in the aggregate". The irrationality of a large number of human individuals will not average out.

This seems to be an argument about definitions. To me, Friedman's "average out" means a measurable change in a consistent direction, e.g. significant numbers of random individuals investing in gold. So, given some agents acting in random directions mixed with other agents acting in the same (rational) direction, you can safely ignore the random ones. (He argued.) I don't think he meant to imply that in the aggregate people are rational. But even in the simplified problem-space in which it appears to make sense, Friedman's basic conclusion, that markets are rational (or 'efficient'), has been largely abandoned since the mid 1980s. Reality is more complex.
Both claims are implausible. Is there some kind of substantiation?

Upvoted because it provoked interesting thoughts, even though I disagree with it.

I can actually say in advance which irrational things I am likely to do on a given day. (For example, be up at 1 AM posting on Less Wrong instead of sleeping). If I know enough about a person to know their goals and approximate level of education as relates to those goals, I usually also know enough to have a sense of what types of irrational things they tend to do.

Even when errors are only random noise, modeling people as rational is different from modeling people as rational on average with random errors. If people are rational, that implies that someone with a dangerous job has properly taken the risks into account when choosing the job. But if people are rational on average with random errors, then the person who ends up with a dangerous job is probably someone who underestimated/underweighted the risks (which is a case of the winner's curse).

It's standard econometric practice to assume (at the very least) an error term independent of the predictor variables. That error term can be a function of any number of unobserved factors. If unbiased human error were a major component in the variance of our actions, it would be picked up in this error term. Are you thinking of something more specific?

I think that people use a rule of thumb when deciding what things in life are worth learning. Most people seek knowledge in one of the following three categories:

  • What many other people learn (calculus, C++, and so on)
  • What is easy to learn (hula-hooping, Ruby, and so on)
  • What has value that is easy to appreciate (thermonuclear physics, for example, or that ridiculously loud whistle where you stick your fingers in your mouth) -- Land of Lisp. Conrad Barski.

My sample is biased (geeks), but it seems to be mising "What makes them go 'Ooh, shiny!'"

Is that not "What has value that is easy to appreciate"?
Not really. I have a reaction like that to non-Euclidean geometry, but I don't know many things it can be used for.
Despite the fact that "non-Euclidean geometry" may sound like something that only concerns people in ivory towers, we all know of lots of things that aren't straight and flat, but instead are curved, bent, or distorted.
Non-Euclidean geometry is essential to the theory of general relativity, which is of immense use in astronomy and also allows the GPS system to function accurately.
What is astronomy used for? General relativity does. Non-Euclidean geometry does not. I'm pretty certain you can approximate it well enough with Euclidean geometry. Gravitational time dilation is just a function of hight. Also, GPSs already work. There's no need for me to use non-Euclidean geometry. Finally, that was just an example. If someone is interested in pure mathematics, and there's an application for it, it's just a coincidence. I've heard some mathematicians actually go as far as disliking it when people find applications for there work.
Studying the territory improves the map. No, that is not the case. The spacetime geometry near the Earth is non-Euclidean, and using a Euclidean approximation does not produce the required accuracy. You are conflating "value" with "applications." Different people see value in different things for different reasons.
I meant to say, is that feeling of "ooh, shiny!" not easily appreciable value in itself?
Polar coordinates Admittedly this comes up in my life about as often as Euclidean geometry does, which is to say basically never.
I think another category would be "What few other people can or do learn" (rare foreign languages, chess, obscure trivia about a favorite subject). Knowing something that others don't is good for getting status, at least in the subcultures with which I have experience.

Mr. Kiku had not made up his mind about the current Secretary, but was not now thinking about him. Instead he was looking over the top-sheet synopsis for Project Cerberus, a power proposal for the research station on Pluto. A reminder light on his desk flashed and he looked up to see the door between his office and that of the Secretary dilate. The Secretary walked in, whistling Take Me Out to the Ball Game; Mr. Kiku did not recognize the tune.

He broke off. "Greetings, Henry. No, don't get up."

Mr. Kiku had not started to get up. "How do you do, Mr. Secretary? What can I do for you?"

"Nothing much, nothing much." He paused by Mr. Kiku's desk and picked up the project folder. "What are you swotting now? Cerberus, eh? Henry, that's an engineering matter. Why should we worry about it?"

"There are aspects," Mr. Kiku answered carefully, "that concern us."

"I suppose so. Budget and so forth." His eye sought the bold-faced line reading: ESTIMATED COST: 3.5 megabucks and 7.4 lives. "What's this? I can't go before the Council and ask them to approve this. It's fantastic."

"The first estimate," Mr. Kiku s

... (read more)
0RobinZ13y I want to read that book.

"You cannot do only one thing."

--Garrett Hardin's 'First Law of Ecology'

(Apropos of Darwin's latest article on the difficulty of reaching useful medical results, with Vitamin E as a case-study into this maxim.)

"You could trifle with your mind, using activators and redactors from your own thought-shop, and put yourself back into the state of mind you were in before the Curia forced you to experience your victims' lives."

"Is this some sort of test or quiz? You know I shall not do that."

"Why not?"

Ironjoy started to turn away, but then stopped, turned, and answered the question. “If I were now as I was then, I would gladly change my self to remain as I was then; but I am now as I am now. The me that I am now has no desire to be any other me. Isn’t that the fundamental nature of the self?”

-- The Phoenix Exultant by John C. Wright


I'd very much like to be more patient, humble, energetic, experienced, diversely skilled, productive, motivated, dedicated, disciplined, courageous, self reliant, systematic, efficient, cautious, pragmatic, sociable, polite, forgiving, courteous, cooperative, uninhibited, consistent, generous, expressive, coherent, observant, imaginative, adaptable, witty, inquisitive, gracious, tranquil, impartial, and sincere. Am I missing the intent of the quote?

In the Golden Oecumene, modifying minds is commonplace, so people are usually as patient, humble, energetic, etc as they can be. The quote is about changing more basic values. Ironjoy was a sociopath until the Curia punished him.

The HamletHenna(now) wants to be more patient, humble, energetic, experienced, diversely skilled, productive, motivated, dedicated, disciplined, courageous, self reliant, systematic, efficient, cautious, pragmatic, sociable, polite, forgiving, courteous, cooperative, uninhibited, consistent, generous, expressive, coherent, observant, imaginative, adaptable, witty, inquisitive, gracious, tranquil, impartial, and sincere.

If there were a HamletHenna(past) that did not want to be more patient, humble, energetic, ..., would HamletHenna(now) want to edit themselves into HamletHenna(past) to save the trouble of becoming more patient, humble, energetic, ...?



Are you implying those are not beautiful?
That was the intention, yes, and I expect that significantly less than 0.1% of humans would classify all of those examples as neutral or better in appearance if asked in a context with no significant priming on the matter.
It seems surprising that this is true. Why are functional things beautiful, even when they serve only their own purposes?

Because beauty in design isn't some arbitrary metric different than the good design metric. It's what it feels like when you pattern match to 'good design'.

You might notice your aesthetic tastes in something change once you understand more about their design (I certainly have), and I doubt you'd see so much interest in 'carbon fiber' stickers if carbon fiber weren't associated with strong light high tech stuff.

This 'Art' thing seems to be an obvious counterpoint, but I suspect its just beauty wireheading as a result of goodhearts law.

My theory is that art is what happens when the design is to be artistic. For example, there might be books made to entertain people. You can find beauty in how well a book is written to be entertaining. Then you can start writing books specifically for that beauty. Then you find beauty in how well a book is written to be beautiful. Pretty soon, you end up with didactic books that are useless for entertainment, unless you're specifically into the beauty of didactic literature.
Perhaps a better word would have been 'elegant'.
At this point the spirit of Kant compels me to say purposiveness (Deut. Zweckmässigkeit). Sorry, this isn't a real answer to your question.
Because we're preprogrammed to find functionality aesthetically pleasing? Why are mathematical proofs beautiful?
I once asked a similar question (here). jimrandomh's reply was that having to satisfy constraints simply forces you to think harder about the problem, which increases the beauty of your solution. The analogy to wild animals doesn't hold up, which is lucky.

The only way to get rich from a get-rich book is to write one.

Brother Ty's seventh law

The inferior man's reasons for hating knowledge are not hard to discern. He hates it because it is complex - because it puts an unbearable burden upon his meagre capacity to take in ideas. Thus his search is always for short cuts. All superstitions are short cuts. Their aim is to make the unintelligible simple, and even obvious. So on what seem to be higher levels. No man who has not had a long and arduous education can understand even the most elementary concepts of modern pathology. But even a hind at the plough can grasp the theory of chiropractic in two lessons. Hence the vast popularity of chiropractic among the submerged - and of osteopathy, Christian Science and other such quackeries with it. They are idiotic, but they are simple - and every man prefers what he can understand to what puzzles and dismays him. The popularity of fundamentalism among the inferior orders of men is explicable in exactly the same way. The cosmogenies that educated men toy with are all inordinately complex. To comprehend their veriest outlines requires an immense stock of knowledge, and a habit of thought. It would be be as vain to try to teach the peasants or to the city proletariat as it would b

... (read more)

Alternate hypothesis: the inferior man hates knowledge because "Yay knowledge!" is associated with people like Mencken, who go around calling people things like "inferior man" because they're poor and uneducated.

I understood the quote as speaking of those that are incapable of understanding rather than those who could be educated or walked through to understanding so I'm not sure why this would apply. He is definitely elitist but I've never heard of him scoff at the idea of talent coming from poverty. Also overall even people who are capable of such tought often carry culture and values that inhibit it and don't wish to change them no more than you want to change yours. When he speaks of the peasants or the city proletariat, he is speaking of a great mass of people many of which are on the left of the bell curve, not about individuals. You do have a point that overall upper class and even upper middle class people underestimate how many poor smart people there are. Mencken overall was very critical of the upper class as well, he was basically pessimistic about the potential of everyone, except the rare individual exception.
"He is definitely elitist but I've never heard of him scoff at the idea of talent coming from poverty. " Elitists often make a point of not scoffing at the idea of talent coming from poverty. When poor people attain great success, it helps to justify the elitist's belief that their own success had nothing to do with the privileges they had access to (i.e. comfortable living, proper nutrition, and good educational material).
Do you mean "hand"?
I think Mencken was using it in the sense of, "A peasant; a rustic; a farm servant.", (see also). It's an unusual usage.

There is nothing rationally desirable that cannot be achieved sooner if rationality itself increases. . . corollary: work to achieve Intelligence Intensification is work to achieve all our other sane and worthwhile goals.

--Robert Anton Wilson, Prometheus Rising

"Researchers were not always attuned to Dr. Meier’s advocacy. “When I said ‘randomize’ in breast cancer trials,” he recalled in a 2004 interview for Clinical Trials, the publication of the Society for Clinical Trials, “I was looked at with amazement by my medical colleagues: ‘Randomize? We know that this treatment is better than that one.’ I said, ‘Not really!’ ”"

--"Paul Meier, Statistician Who Revolutionized Medical Trials, Dies at 87", NYT

Not sure if this excerpt has been posted here before, th guy's blog is a treasure trove.

The thing that fascinates me is that irrationality is something you're generally not equipped to recognize in yourself while it's happening. In a perfect world, we'd have an objective way to measure irrationality, the same way a breathalyzer measures drunkenness.

-- Scott Adams Brain-Hat

He goes on to say:

I hope I'm dead before technology reaches a point where we can know for sure that people aren't rational about anything that matters.

Hope he does not read this site, then, to avoid disappointment.

One of the really nice things about studying human rationality is that, with practice, you can learn to recognize when you're being irrational a lot more often than you otherwise would. Irrationality isn't something that just happens to us, and we're not powerless.

"A curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it." Jacques Monod, in On the Molecular Theory of Evolution (1974) Repost, but i just found it :)

The same can be said of most biology, particularly stark when contrasted with attitudes to 'hard' sciences.
This may be fatally sophomoric, but I really don't understand what is so particularly hard to understand about the theory of evolution. Differentiation, Inheritance, Mutation, and Fitness produce a feedback loop of increasing Fitness. The particulars of it's implementation on Earth are far more complicated, but the underlying theory is beautiful in it's elegance and simplicity.

See, there you're just confirming the original quote.

^Which, BTW, also applies to Rational!Harry. How is your book going? Because we over at are kinda starving. Your work is dearly missed. People are speculating on you pulling a Wheel Of Time on us :P As for the quote, ever since I read "A Blind God", I've really noticed how inhuman evolution is. Not intuitive, at all. ^^I suspect you might want to "Taboo Your Words" a little. What does "fitness" mean exactly?

(Recommend not asking Eliezer that question if your intent is to maximize output. It seems to provoke an aversive reaction even if encouragement is intended.)

Upvoted, but you accidentally duplicated a block of text there.
Ick. Hadn't noticed.
I understand that I am incorrect, my own self-doubt was not made sufficiently clear. I do not however agree with the fatalism that I perceive in the initial quote. To me it seems to suggest that understanding evolution is impossible. I guess this is not necessarily the appropriate place to look for information on evolutionary theory, but nonetheless I do not agree with the suggestion of unassailability of understanding, if that is what's going on.

I think that often people believe other things that crowd out the true explanation, so in practice it isn't applied correctly to real-world phenomena. Then, perhaps they try to reintegrate everything under a unifying theory of "evolution".

Anthropomorphism, promiscuous teleology, not understanding the level of selection, absolutist ideas about fitness, belief in a certain philosophical type of progress, etc. are culprits.

After all the misconceptions are added, the only work left for evolution is to provide a label for the jumble!

If i asked the question "why did humans form a hibernative monophasic sleep cycle? most people would say because at night we slept in caves and shelter to escape the dark and we evolved to sleep that way" even though that's not the case with out genes at all. People often attribute things that are entirely behavioral to evolutionary reasons and that's what i think the quotes trying to illustrate. Baby's start out sleeping Polyphasically but soon adapt a natural night/day cycle due to the humans around them (mirror neurons, reinforcement, lighting). Now i dont know if this proposed experiment would-be very feasible or ethical but most people discount it because they "understand" evolution.
I would discount polyphasic sleep as being natural on grounds of my current knowledge of anthropology. As far as I know there are no known human cultures that engage in polyphasic sleep (not counting biphasic sleep). That seems like pretty strong evidence that it isn't behavioral, it's physiological, which in turn suggests (but doesn't guarantee) an evolutionary basis for human sleep patterns. Of course, some amount of human sleep patterns is behavioral, e.g. the siesta.
Look, our sun forces us into a monophasic pattern because of the day/night cycle that occurs everywhere around the earth but our body's don't naturally fall into it. We sleep at night because our brain is wired to sleep when its dark and that's an evolved mechanism but the behavioral pattern that polyphasic sleep requires isn't evolved into our system its just a natural response to the natural light patterns of our world . In parts of the world where light comes less often sleeping patterns are different than near the equator as evidenced by biphasic sleepers around the world who follow the Siesta pattern naturally. All i'm saying is that people attribute evolutionary reasons to things that have many separate causes and are unproven because they think they understand it. That's what both these quotes illustrate as far as i know :)
I agree, however, reverse stupidity is not intelligence. You say but this seems like an unsubstantiated claim, just as much as people claiming sleep must be an evolved behavior. I agree that sleep is at least partially behavioral, but it's unclear to me that there isn't an evolved component. See this blurb from Wikipedia, which suggests that human sleep patterns are not completely dependent on external stimuli.
Your right, I was being too rhetorical when i said that. The final point of my piece was simply a way of explaining the quote, i can agree that
Fully agree, especially because I suffer from chronic insomnia =D
Have you tried vaporizing medical sleepy weed? That helped a lot with my insomnia :)
Definitely works better than any supplement or herbal remedy I've tried, but I usually don't feel rested the next day.
Can anyone confirm that chimps and bonobos are diurnal as well?
Discounting other theories unjustifiably, or overusing a particular theory past it's explanation is one sin. Not understanding a theory is another however. I think that many people who draw such false conclusions still base them on a pretty clear understanding of the core of evolutionary theory, i.e. mutation, gene exchange, selection, reproduction.
I agree with your sentiment, but I find myself constantly reminded by this site that the majority of the world is stupider than we give them credit for.

"It is a mistake, too, to say that the face is the mirror of the soul. The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions—but for the present only."

--Napoleon Bonaparte; Napoleon: In His Own Words (1916); edited by Jules Bertaut, as translated by Herbert Edward Law and Charles Lincoln Rhodes

The truth is something that mankind, for some mysterious reason, instinctively dislikes. Every man who tries to tell it is unpopular, and even when, by the sheer strength of his case, he prevails, he is put down as a scoundrel.

-H.L. Mencken

Counterexamples: Exhibit A: The battle of Marathon. Exhibit B: Teachers. Mencken probably meant "inconvenient" truths. If you insert this qualifier, the rest of the phrase becomes trivial.
I question this example. Teachers are subject to the same restrictions regarding truthtelling.
Uncomfortable-truth telling yes, but they still impart massive amounts of truth, as in truth-as-empirically-valid-information.
Teachers are often unpopular with their students in my experience.
Yeah, but that has much more to do with their social and communication skills than with the fact that they are imparting knowledge. And, regardless of popularity as in likeableness, any teacher who demonstrates mastery of their chosen field, that is, the reliability of their word as rational evidence, will get respect from their students, whether willingly or grudgingly. I think that also counts as a form of "popularity": your company is not sought after, but your judgement and knowledge are, and isn't that more importaant and valuable in the end?
This would be nice, but in my experience is not always true. Maybe your school experience was different to mine, but I found that within a certain age range the teacher is often most disliked person in student's whole world. Such a life might not be very pleasant, if people only ever spend time with you when they need you for something, rather than because they like you. I would also imagine it is quite stressful, respect is very easy to lose with a single mistake.
Maybe it's because I come from an Islamic culture where Teachers and Scholars are respected and esteemed as a matter of principle, and where children have been taught to be thankful for the teachers to be harsh and authoritarian, instead of allowing you to do whatever the hell you wanted at an age at which such freedom is utterly wasted due to stupidity, ignorance, AND temerity (well, actually there isn't that much emphasis on that last part, but I can't possily imagine why you'd hate a teacher except for the same reason you'd hate your parents: getting in the way of your fun and not leaving you the option of laziness). Anyway, in my school teachers were loved or at least respected. The people students hated the most were their classmates, but they were also those whose acceptance they craved the most, so it was more like a permanent, relatively friendly, multipolar Cold War.
Well, for example, the teacher might not understand logarithms .
That's no reason to bite them, Harry, my dear. Or to strongly react in any way. You may look down on them, especially if they are a math teacher, but then again, if they aren't supposed to teach logarythms at the level they work in, that is entirely forgivable. A much more legitimate reason for hatred would be deliberate abusive behavior. If they are abusive AND incompetent... then, at that point, desprate times require desperate measures. It seldom happens: incompetent teachers are usually the most lenient, and they deliberately are as lenient and low-profile as possible.
In my high school, teachers who understood their material and were good at explaining it and willing to help if you didn't understand the first time got respect, and were well liked at the same time. Teachers the students deemed incompetent got respect to their faces only.

Time affluence is like a wonder drug. It eliminates stress. It increases happiness. It helps you engage the world and increases the chance that you'll stumble into something interesting.

~ Cal Newport


An action is not virtuous merely because it is unpleasant to do.

  • Somerset Maugham

"The biggest problem we have as human beings is that we confuse our beliefs with reality."

-- Alan Kay, Programming and Scaling

There is not a piece of constructive legislation in the world, not a solitary attempt to meet a complicated problem, that we do not now regard the more charitably for our efforts to get a right result from this apparently easy and puerile business of fighting with tin soldiers on the floor.

-- Little Wars (H. G. Wells)

That's a little opaque... I think he means: 'These war games seem like very easy problems but are actually very hard; so legislation or proposals which tackle hard problems are probably tackling really hard problems, and failure is to be expected.'

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

Richard Feynman

None are so fallible as those who are sure they’re right.

Strunk & White, The Elements of Style

I thought you were going to link to something completely different.
And I thought at least one of you had linked to something completely different again and equally obligatory (pdf).
Your completely different obligatory link has its own obligatory link.
Much more obligatory.

The best way to learn is to do; the worst way to teach is to talk. --P.R.Halmos


KENNEDY SCHOOL (2003): The story Pawlak now envisioned was not about {politician}’s propensity to exaggerate, but the fact that the nation’s two leading newspapers had quoted him incorrectly and, consequently, misrepresented his meaning. “And maybe it could go even further,” Pawlak remembers thinking. “Maybe we could explore how easy it was for things to get out of control...One word difference by these two newspapers gets this whole thing blown out of control.” Her editor, however, thought otherwise, and told her, as Pawlak recalls it, “the AP is not in

... (read more)

"If I had a yaller dog that didn’t know no more than a person’s conscience does I would pison him."

--Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn


Because we try to achieve always a better, every day no matter what, no matter how old I get, I always try every day I try to-- I dream in the night, things about tailoring. And I wake up, I make a sketch or write it down on the side, so I will remember when I get up in the morning. Instead to dream beautiful blondes or brunettes, I dream my work.

Joe Centofanti, master tailor. From the trailer for Men of the Cloth.



Practical answer: when my daughter does this, "Why do you think?" is proving a useful reply that gets thoughtful answers.


Computers are able to multiply useless images without taking into account that, by definition, every graphic corresponds to a table. This table allows you to think about three basic questions that go from the particular to the general level. When this last one receives an answer, you have answers for all of them. Understanding means accessing the general level and discovering significant grouping (patterns). Consequently, the function of a graphic is answering the three following questions:

Which are the X,Y, Z components of the data table? (What it’s a

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I can't make head or tail of this quote.

Following the link might help, but I believe the general idea is that if you're trying to present information in a graphic, to sort out what is important about it and what presentation will make it clear.
If you're trying to present any kind of information at all, you should figure out what is important about it and what presentation will make it clear. Unfortunately, the quote above isn't at all clear, even in context. I suspect this is because Jacques Bertin isn't as good at expressing himself in English as in French, but even so I'm unable to understand the sample data he presents or how it relates to the point he was trying to make.
It's Continental Philosophy at its worst. I can assure you it's exactly as messy in French.
Unfortunately, I posted because it looked reasonable more than because I had a solid understanding. Here's where I picked it up (page down to del_c)-- the chart is definitely clearer when the person influenced by Bertin has re-arranged it.

“What is man? A miserable little pile of secrets^W heuristics.” --Apologies to Andre Malraux

But enough talk, have at you!
You mean ^ as "group intersection", but what about the W?
^W means Control-W, which is the ASCII code for "delete previous word".
Oh, "heuristics", otherwise known as "prejudice"! The main difference in connotation being that heuristics are changed in the face of enough contrary evidence, while prejudices... aren't.
Of course prejudices can be changed, at which point they become postjudices.
No, they become "judgements". I too wish the lnguage obeyed the rules of etymology, but life is not so easy.

If you can't be with the one you love... love the one you're with!

-- Billy Preston (Made famous in the song by Stephen Stills)

Woot, Stockholm syndrome.

I think anyone in the position of Robert Baratheon would have had trouble following this advice...

When faced with a dilemma, let logic guide you through...

-- The Axis of Awesome, in this song.

Why might not whole communities and public bodies be seized with fits of insanity, as well as individuals? Nothing but this principle, that they are liable to insanity, equally at least with private persons, can account for the major part of those transactions of which we read in history.

Bishop Joseph Butler

Because the mechanisms for encoding goals, planning, and updating on new information are completely different. They may malfuction in both cases, but you'll be better off looking at how it's supposed to work and how it fails than making a surface anaology with humans. Otherwise either you've just said "Both of these things break sometimes" or you're going to run off and predict economic fluctuations by analogy to mood swings or something.

“Like experts in many fields who give policy advice, the authors show a preference for first-best, textbook approaches to the problems in their field, while leaving other messy objectives acknowledged but assigned to others.

In this way, they are much like those public finance economists who oppose tax expenditures on principle, because they prefer direct expenditure programs, but do not really analyze the various difficulties with such programs; or like trade economists who know that the losers from trade surges need to be protected but regard this as not

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an excerpt From Neal Asher's "The Gabble: And Other Stories":

"‘Same arguments apply,’ he replies, and of course they do. ‘God?’ I ask. He laughs in my face then says, ‘I try to understand it. I don’t try to cram it in to fit my understanding.’ He definitely has the essence of it there."

"...its purpose emanated solely from the brain of this man, who, every barleycorn a king, knew no tradition to which he owed more allegiance than pleased his fancy, and who ingrafted on every adopted form of human thought and action the rich growth of his barbaric idealism."

-- Frank Stockton, The Lady or The Tiger

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I am fairly sure it does not.
Can you say anything more substantive than that? It's plausible given the studies mentioned in Cialdini, an example of which follows: -- Robert Caildini, Influence: Science and Practice

I wasn't agreeing or disagreeing with the substance of the linked abstract -- I only meant to say that it probably didn't belong in this thread because it looked more like a link to research than what usually goes in the 'Rationality Quotes' thread.

I am fairly sure that's a terrible counter-argument.
We have 'open threads' in the discussion section from time to time. This would fit there. (Start a new one according to the template if there isn't a recent one open.)

"[Y]ou should be able to kick your own ass in ten minutes or less." - Diana Hsieh, "Modern Paleo Principles"

In addition to the general interest around here in Paleo-style diets, compare to my similar August 2010 quote.