Another month, another rationality quotes thread. The rules are:

  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the place where you read the quote, or its original source if available. Do not quote with only a name.
  • Post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.  

EDIT: I haven't posted a monthly thread for October and November, since people haven't been posting many quotes and some people have said a monthly frequency might be too high. I'll make them quarterly instead. I should actually have made a new thread for October-December, but I'll leave it like this since people have been posting in it this month.

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"When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter; if I am right, he will learn; if I am wrong, I will; one of us will win, but both will profit."

-- Ayn Rand

Truth is not what you want it to be;

it is what it is,

and you must bend to its power or live a lie.

- Miyamoto Musashi

Don't let them tell us stories. Don't let them say of the man sentenced to death "He is going to pay his debt to society," but: "They are going to cut off his head." It looks like nothing. But it does make a little difference.

-- Camus

Why is this rational? A great deal of the deterrent value of a criminal justice system consists in telling stories. If you simply state the facts, they might be much less deterring. Thus "they are going to lock him away and feed and house him for free for the next ten years," might look more like an additional benefit than a deterrent.

I believe you're missing the point. Saying "He is going to pay his debt to society," does not tell you much of anything unless you know all the context. Because the person who says it often does not want to inform you so much as they want to influence you or someone else.

I think I understand. The facts should be told because no one would really take the facts at face value, and not draw any conclusions from them. Using the original example, if they say 'they are going to cut off his head' then whoever hears the message will be allowed to work out for themselves whether or not the 'debt to society' was paid. But if they tell us from the start how to think about the events, then we are prejudiced, or at least an attempt has been made to prejudice us.

In this specific example of prison/execution, we already think that the justice system is fair, and that it would be good and proper to only tell people that a debt has been paid, but in other scenarios, including executions in certain other countries, it would be in the best interests of democracy for only the facts to be told. If the general populace decides that a debt has been paid, then the system works, and if people decide that the punishment was unfair, then the system would be adjusted by public opinion (in a perfect world of course).

The idea 'they are going to lock him away and feed and house him for free for the next ten years' could perhaps be seen as a positive, but only within a vacuum. I think that the kind of person who would see a ten year jail sentence as a positive would not be likely to be swayed by platitudes such as the repayment of a debt to society. If anything, stating the facts may remove some air of romanticism or abstraction from the core concept at hand, and serve as a better deterrent than an allusion to a balance within society. ("If you do this, we will kill you" seems to be a rather powerful motivator to me, at least.)

"From the fireside house, President Reagan suddenly said to me, 'What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?'

"I said, 'No doubt about it.'"

"He said, 'We too.'"

Meta: is it time to switch these to bimonthly or less frequent? The past few months have seen very few quotes submitted, and none of particularly great quality.


Eh, it's not like there is a penalty for having a quotes thread with few submissions. Interested people will click them when they show up, others won't.

I think an overall decrease in activity on Less Wrong is to blame - "the death of Less Wrong" has been proclaimed for a while now. In which case, decreasing the frequency of the quotes thread seems like it would add to the downward spiral if it did anything at all.

[-][anonymous]6y 2

“I would have it a piece of education in all schools!” cried the Doctor angrily. “Where is the use of eyesight and articulate speech if a man cannot observe and recollect the features of his enemy? I, who know all the gangs of Europe, might have identified him, and gained new weapons for your defence. Cultivate this art in future, my poor boy; you may find it of momentous service.”

  • R. L. Stevenson

There was a correlation if she plotted the high-traffic times to the incidents … No. This was wrong. She was looking at it the wrong way. They didn’t just need to look at when things had happened. They needed to look at all the times Medina had seen similar conditions—high traffic, large-mass ships, mistuned reactors—and nothing had gone wrong.

– Naomi Nagata in "Babylon's Ashes" by James S. A. Corey