Rationality Quotes: December 2010

by Tiiba1 min read3rd Dec 2010342 comments


Rationality Quotes
Personal Blog

Every month on the month, Less Wrong has a thread where we post Deep Wisdom from the Masters. I saw that nobody did this yet for December for some reason, so I figured I could do it myself.

* 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* "Do not quote yourself." --Tiiba

* Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB. That's like shooting fish in a barrel. :)

* No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.

342 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:17 AM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

He uses statistics as a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not for illumination.

G.K. Chesterton

2Tesseract10yCorrection: This quote is usually attributed to Andrew Lang. Not sure how I got that wrong.

'One day when I was a junior medical student, a very important Boston surgeon visited the school and delivered a great treatise on a large number of patients who had undergone successful operations for vascular reconstruction.

At the end of the lecture, a young student at the back of the room timidly asked, “Do you have any controls?” Well, the great surgeon drew himself up to his full height, hit the desk, and said, “Do you mean did I not operate on half the patients?” The hall grew very quiet then. The voice at the back of the room very hesitantly replied, “Yes, that’s what I had in mind.” Then the visitor’s fist really came down as he thundered, “Of course not. That would have doomed half of them to their death.”

God, it was quiet then, and one could scarcely hear the small voice ask, “Which half?”'

Dr. E. E. Peacock, Jr., quoted in Medical World News (September 1, 1972), p. 45, as quoted in Tufte's 1974 book Data Analysis for Politics and Policy; http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/12/the-ethics-of-random-clinical-trials.html

3kpreid10yI have empirically determined that this quote is excellent for reading aloud. 2/3 of the audience was moved to applause.
1gwern10yCool! What audience was that?
3kpreid10y3 coworkers at lunch. I used it for comparison with the (arguable) equivalent problem with deliberate experiments on law/government/society, which was the topic of discussion. But my conclusion above is probably mostly due to that the quote is written as a story; it even has text explicitly indicating tone of voice.
0FiftyTwo9yI like the message behind the quote, but surely in the case given a massive natural control exists in all patients prior to the introduction of the new surgery?
0gwern9yPatient groups and techniques change over time, assuming the data was even recorded in the first place. (eg. a lot of data from the past would not be useful today as a direct comparison or control group, simply because diets have changed so much.)

The Noah principle: predicting rain doesn’t count, building arks does.

-Warren E. Buffett

6gwern10ySource: 2002 annual letter to Berkshire shareholders, according to http://research.lifeboat.com/buffett_warns.htm [http://research.lifeboat.com/buffett_warns.htm] and http://www.insurancejournal.com/magazines/southcentral/2002/03/25/editorsnote/19139.htm [http://www.insurancejournal.com/magazines/southcentral/2002/03/25/editorsnote/19139.htm]
3MichaelGR10yThe 2002 letter can be found here: http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/2002pdf.pdf [http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/2002pdf.pdf]

if you're the smartest person in the room, go look for a room with smarter people in it.

kevinpet at Hacker News

Truth is much too complicated to allow anything but approximations.

— John Von Neumann

6sketerpot10yIncidentally, he was one of the main people behind the invention of Monte Carlo methods [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Carlo_method] for approximating things that were too complicated to calculate exactly.
0gwern10y--"Inferno I, 32", Dreamtigers, Jorge Luis Borges (I'm a little curious what LWers will make of this one. Seeing all the variant interpretations is half the fun of these quote threads.)

A little learning is not a dangerous thing to one who does not mistake it for a great deal.

-- William A White

A young boy walks into a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you.” The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?” The boy takes the quarters and leaves. “What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns!” Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?” The boy licked his cone and replied, “Because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!”

Found on /r/funny

A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it, is committing another mistake.


5Tesseract10yA concurring opinion: Sophocles, Antigone
1David_Gerard10yThis is why sincere stupidity is actually worse than insincere stupidity: the sincere tend to insist on their folly. e.g. in this dialogue form (which I see way too much of on LessWrong): B's statement is in the place in a discussion where a refutation would go, but doesn't actually address the folly; and seems to claim that sincerity makes stupidity less bad. Whereas in practice, sincere stupidity promises more stupidity in the future. (A's statement is an assertion about the processes leading X to commit Y, rather than merely the folly of Y; however, A is asserting that bad results that could have been reasonably predicted should have been. The discussion can then go into a long thread about the meaning of "reasonable", possibly with one of A or B subtly dissing the other's Bayesian-fu.)
1apophenia10yI think this is a useful way to think of things, so you don't worry about changing and committing another mistake--it's a good way to make yourself cost-sensitive to mistake duration.
0gwern10yFrom the Analects, although I can't seem to narrow it down any further. (There are a lot of ways to translate things.)
0topynate10yChapter 15, verse 30.
0gwern10yI think you may need to specify translation or edition; eg. I don't see anything similar in http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Analects/Section_3#Part_15 [http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Analects/Section_3#Part_15]
2topynate10yThat would be: The verse number may differ slightly between versions: on this site it's verse 29 [http://www.chinese-wiki.com/Verse_29-Analects_of_Confucius_Chapter_15].
0FAWS10yIt's translated as there. The wikisource/Legge translation is more literal, but I'm not sure it's better.

Mitch Hedberg on the distinction between labels and the things to which they are applied:

I just bought a 2-bedroom house, but it's up to me, isn't it, how many bedrooms there are? Fuck you, real estate lady! This bedroom has a oven in it! This bedroom’s got a lot of people sitting around watching TV. This bedroom is A.K.A. a hallway.

This bedroom's over in that guy's house! Sir, you have one of my bedrooms, are you aware? Do not decorate it!

And more Mitch Hedburg, illustrating how redrawing the map won't alter the territory.

0[anonymous]10y"What happens if you say that and someone gets offended?" "Well they can be offended. [..] Now you have adults going 'I was offended! I was offended and I have rights!'. Well so what? Be offended. Nothing happens". Steve Hughes. (link: confusion is in the mind, not the territory - so is offensiveness).

"Claude Shannon once told me that as a kid, he remembered being stuck on a jigsaw puzzle. His brother, who was passing by, said to him: "You know: I could tell you something."

That's all his brother said.

Yet that was enough hint to help Claude solve the puzzle. The great thing about this hint... is that you can always give it to yourself."

--Manuel Blum, "Advice to a Beginning Graduate Student"

1ShardPhoenix8yGood quote, but the last sentence seems misleading - what the brother was saying was something like "there's something obvious you aren't noticing" (thus prompting Shannon to look again with fresh eyes), which isn't always true.
[-][anonymous]10y 27

The question I ask myself like almost everyday is 'Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?'

Mark Zuckerberg

And the answer is, "Yes! I run the world's biggest honeypot for teenage idiots who want to post pics of themselves racing on a freeway with a suspended license and a beer in the cupholder."

I suspect the answer is "making as much money as I possibly can", and he's doing much better than all of us. He can convert that to other forms of value later.

6[anonymous]10yActually, this book [http://www.amazon.com/Facebook-Effect-Inside-Company-Connecting/dp/1439102112/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1291436573&sr=8-1] , which is where I found the quote, demonstrates how much of a social and political impact Facebook really has. It's definitely an interesting read.
0MartinB10yOr no, because someone has to take care of minor stuff too, and some of it has to be done personally. No one manages to do important stuff all the time.
3ShardPhoenix10yThe key is to neglect the minor stuff until it becomes important to do it!
2MartinB10yThat only works if the effort stays the same and the cost of neglect are acceptable. I usually shower before it becomes necessary, and brush my teeth from time to time.
2Snowyowl10yI've found that mindset is really bad for meeting deadlines.
3billswift10yPretty close to Lakein's Question: "What is the best use of my time right now?" (from Alan Lakein's How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, 1973).
0patrissimo10yI found this quote brilliant solely because of the incongruous "like" in there. It makes the whole thing turn into a Deep Mystery instead of a Deep Saying. After all, wouldn't someone who does the important things also stick to the most important words, ie those with content, unlike "like"? If so, how delightful is the erroneous arrogance of this quote! If not, what a fascinating challenge to my assumptions about the implications of language pattern!

"Look! Can your fortunetelling explain that?!"

"Ha! Can your science explain why it rains?"

"YES! Yes, it can!"

  • Avatar: the Last Airbender
4HonoreDB10yGreat, I'd been trying to think of a quote from that show for this thread. Loved it. Katara and Sokka's polar opposite reactions to the fortune teller both seem like good rationalist attitudes. Sokka's the sceptic in the quote. Katara corners her and asks her absolutely everything she can think of, just in case she's for real.
1FiftyTwo10ySokka gets extra points for living in a world where magic undeniably exists, but still looking for rational explanations. Though my other favourite quote from him when he fails to explain something is "Thats avatar stuff, that doesn't count" (The Swamp) Not sure if that counts as compartmentalising or him acknowledging a lack of necessary expertise in a given area.

The moral code of our society is so demanding that no one can think, feel and act in a completely moral way. [...] Some people are so highly socialized that the attempt to think, feel and act morally imposes a severe burden on them. In order to avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin.

-- Ted Kaczynski

3gwern10yFrom chapter 4, #25 of The Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society And Its Future.
4wedrifid10yI was actually curious how that quote would be received. The quote itself is insightful and relevant yet the author is a source of negative affect, approximately a terrorist. I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
0gwern10yI'm not surprised. I think a number of us read Kevin Kelly's essay [http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2009/02/the_unabomber_w.php]; he was a very smart guy and so avoids the most obvious errors; and even shares quite a few basic views with us - he just takes them in a different way ('one man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens'). And I think he's been quoted and upvoted [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2o3/rationality_quotes_september_2010/2ka5] in the past.

In the Information Age, the first step to sanity is FILTERING. Filter the information; extract the knowledge.

Filter first for substance. Filter second for significance. These filters protect against advertising.

Filter third for reliability. This filter protects against politicians.

Filter fourth for completeness. This filter protects from the media.

-- Marc Stielger, David's Sling

“On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.”


Isn't this true for any sort of mountains that are difficult to climb, not just the mountains of truth? For example, training makes you better at lying too!

With this in mind, I suppose the difficult part would be correctly identifying the range you're climbing.

1gwern10yBut is being able to lie better of intrinsic value?
5wedrifid10yPlausibly. There are worse goals to have than maxing your stats.
0GeorgieChaos10yYes. Your ability to communicate ideas and to understand ideas doesn't give two beans whether the ideas are true or not. The better you are at lying the better you are at clearly presenting any thought, including thoughts that are true, or neither true nor false.
1shokwave10yThis is false for the case of clearly presenting deductive arguments, which are a non-zero portion of "thoughts that are true". (They are also probably a lot more significant, on average, than the average thought that is true.) This is a thread full of evidence [http://lesswrong.com/lw/39p/a_sense_of_logic/] that the quoted phrase is either not specific enough, or incorrect for a subset of people.
0TheOtherDave10yIn my experience, this is true only up to a point. Yes, there are techniques that work just as well for communicating/understanding truths as for falsehoods. But there are also techniques that work much better for truths than falsehoods. It would not surprise me if specializing in the latter set of techniques resulted in more progress along those lines than pursuing a more general rhetorical skill.
0GeorgieChaos10yI'd be very interested to find out more about techniques like that. Would you point me toward a place to start?
1TheOtherDave10yWell, one technique that works pretty well along these lines is reporting detailed experimental results demonstrating (or failing to demonstrate) the principle one wants to communicate/understand, and encouraging one's peers to reproduce the experiments. Not quite as good, but sometimes more accessible, is selecting some theoretical examples of the principle one wants to demonstrate on the basis of a general guideline (rather than a guideline chosen case-by-case so as to return preselected examples) and working one's way rigorously through those examples to see where they lead. The How to Change Your Mind [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/How_To_Actually_Change_Your_Mind] sequence isn't a bad starting point.
0[anonymous]10yIf you intend on being any sort of performer, certainly.
2Jordan10yDisregarding cliffs and chasms!

It's amazing how much "mature wisdom" resembles being too tired.

— Lazarus Long (in Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein)

1tut10ySpider Robinsson usually says that in his podcast. And it was posted here a few days ago as a Robinsson quote. How sure are you of your attribution?
2ata10yI looked it up; it's from Lazarus Long in "Time Enough For Love".
-2Document10yIt still wasn't technically said by Heinlein, then.
0ata10yI haven't read the books and I don't know much about Heinlein, so I can't judge this myself, but I've heard Lazarus Long described as an Author Avatar several times, such that sayings attributed to him may as well be attributed to Heinlein.
5Document10yWhile you may trust your own judgment in this case, do we want to promote a general rule that any quote can be attributed to someone as long as they "may as well" have said it?
5ata10yFair enough, I'll edit the post.

"Imagine being told you were made for a purpose, and that longevity and happiness are not in the list of design objectives." -David Eubanks, Life Artificial

3Broggly10yFrankly it wasn't really that bad to be told that. After all, part of ensuring the design objectives were accomplished was making the thought "your purpose is to reproduce as much as possible" seem really really exciting.

Witching was turning out to be mostly hard work and really short on magic of the zap!-glingle-glingle-glingle variety. There was no school and nothing that was exactly like a lesson. But it wasn’t wise to try to learn witching all by yourself, especially if you had a natural talent. If you got it wrong, you could go from ignorant to cackling in a week ...

When you got right down to it, it was all about cackling. No one ever talked about this, though. Witches said things like “You can never be too old, too skinny, or too warty,” but they never mentioned the cackling. Not properly. They watched out for it, though, all the time.

It was all too easy to become a cackler. Most witches lived by themselves (cat optional) and might go for weeks without ever seeing another witch. In those times when people hated witches, they were often accused of talking to their cats. Of course they talked to their cats. After three weeks without an intelligent conversation that wasn’t about cows, you’d talk to the wall. And that was an early sign of cackling.

“Cackling,” to a witch, didn’t just mean nasty laughter. It meant your mind drifting away from its anchor. It meant you losing your grip. It meant lone... (read more)

1Eliezer Yudkowsky10yAs soon as I saw "Witching was turning out to be..." in the "Recent Comments" bar, I said, "Hey, I bet that's a Pratchett quote".

"When I start to wonder if black swans exist, I put down my copy of Mind and pick up my copy of Nature."

-- Ariadne (former columnist in New Scientist).

I pick up my spraypaint and find a swan. Soon I don't have to wonder anymore.

"When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my yogurt"

0gwern10yHuh? I understand the original quote in its Nazi play context, but not this parody.
2NancyLebovitz10yYogurt is milk with a culture of bacteria.
0gwern10yOK, that makes it make a little more sense, but is there anything to it than free association on the noun 'culture'? I dunno, something about consumerism or snacking or something?
3NancyLebovitz10yI think it's a silly joke rather than a witty one. For what it's worth, I thought it was pretty funny. I believe that silliness is actually more difficult to make work-- it's more delicately dependent on people's associations-- though that may simply mean that I'm better at witty. This reminds me of "WWJD? JWRTFM!" [1] which I tried to interpret as a complex theological reference to the relationship between Jesus and the Christian bible, but which apparently is just a routine tech support joke. [1] What Would Jesus Do? Jesus Would Read the F---ing Manual! [2] [2] There was a recent request to keep overt profanity off LW. I have no idea whether cursing or veiled cursing is more annoying on the average.
6ata10yAnother reason that silliness is more difficult to do well is that it's a large search space compared to the target you're trying to hit — there are vastly more ways to be silly than ways to be simultaneously silly and actually funny, so most people attempting it end up just doing the former and thinking that it passes for humour. Example: almost all (alleged) comedy music. (That applies even more so with absurdist humour. In that case, the search space is even larger — anything that doesn't make sense, pretty much — and, indeed, a lot of people first attempting absurd humour end up just being absurd but not humourous. I think this has something to do with positive bias [http://lesswrong.com/lw/iw/positive_bias_look_into_the_dark/] — a person finds they enjoy some variety of absurd humour, and they decide they want to make their own, so they try to reverse-engineer the rule; they hypothesize that the rule is "it makes no sense" (or, within a particular genre, something more specific but still insufficient), and they observe that it fits the positive examples they know of, but fail to search for things that fit the hypothesized rule but which they don't find funny.)
1JoshuaZ10yFWI, regarding profanity - if you are talking about my comment about profanity, Alicorn et al. convinced me that my concerns did not have sufficient basis.
0ata10yI thought it was just a silly joke referencing the original quote. I'm not sure if it's supposed to have any point deeper than that.
0Normal_Anomaly10yI dunno either. Maybe saying that the speaker is low-brow enough not to care about culture in the sense of art and only care about culture in the sense of food. But a low-brow person (stereotypically speaking) wouldn't know or care that yogurt is a culture of bacteria. So that doesn't really work.
0wedrifid10yI can imagine Dilbert speaking the quote credibly.
4[anonymous]10yI pick up my copy of the Sibley Guide to Birds.

"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."

-- Charles Darwin

Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

-George Bernard Shaw

The splitting of the atom has changed everything save the way men think, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.

-- Albert Einstein

"Empty arguments with words cannot (in any way) compare with a test which will show practical results."

Ma Jun, inventor or reinventor of the South Pointing Chariot and the differential gear.

The word empty spoils the quotation. The point is that

Powerful arguments with words cannot compete with a test which will show practical results


Good arguments with words that lose to a test which shows practical results are reduced thereby to empty arguments.

4Tesseract10yI read it as

"When in total ignorance, try anything and you will be less ignorant."

-- G.Harry Stine, A Matter of Metalaw

3anonym10yYou can never knowingly follow that advice, because if you knew you were in total ignorance, your ignorance would be less than total ;).

Yes, but you can at least knowingly commit to following the advice. Build a robot that detects whether you are in total ignorance, and takes a random action if so. Then forget about the robot.

-1anonym10yBut a robot that one has forgotten about taking a random action for some forgotten reason isn't likely to reduce one's state of ignorance.

That's the thing about power, I think. To some people --those of us who have none-- anyone who has it and uses it is a villain. To those who have it, anyone who tries to stop them from using it is a villain. Because we're all the heroes of our own story, no matter what horrible things we might be doing.

Sometimes people do terrible things with the best of intentions. I don't think that makes them any less guilty. But if you understand their reasons, you might find it more difficult to condemn them out of hand. You might find it more difficult to call them villains.

On the other hand, sometimes people do terrible things with the absolute worst of intentions. But even there, I don't think they're supervillains. I think they're just people.

(emphasis added)

  • David J. Schwartz, "Superpowers"

"If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you." -Oscar Wilde

Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.

-- Laurens Van der Post

The scared fighter may be the best fighter, but the scared learner is always a poor learner.

--John Holt

3Normal_Anomaly10yAmusingly, the first time I read this I misread "scared" as "sacred." And it works either way.
2wedrifid10yAnd for an added twist I read it as "scarred"...
0Tiiba10ySo what IS the best fighter?
6Paul Crowley10yThe scared sacred scarred fighter, it would seem.

"Any fool can have an opinion; to know what one needs to know to have an opinion is wisdom; which is another way of saying that wisdom means knowing what questions to ask about knowledge."

--Neil Postman, "Building a Bridge to the 18th Century"

... unfortunately, there is a flaw in the reasoning. ... [T]o say that each of two numbers cannot be bigger than the other is to repeat the statement that is to be proved. It is not correct in logic to prove something by saying it over again; that only works in politics, and even there it is usually considered desirable to repeat the proposition hundreds of times before considering it as definitely established.

— Carl E. Linderholm, "Mathematics Made Difficult"

(There are many more good quotes to be found in this book.)

[-][anonymous]10y 11

God is nowhere treated worse than by the natural scientists who believe in him. Materialists simply explain the facts, without making use of such phrases, they do this first when importunate pious believers try to force God upon them, and then they answer curtly, either like Laplace: Sire, je n’avais pas, etc., or more rudely in the manner of the Dutch merchants who, when German commercial travellers press their shoddy goods on them, are accustomed to turn them away with the words: Ik kan die zaken niet gebruiken [I have no use for the things] and that is the end of the matter: But what God has had to suffer at the hands of his defenders! In the history of modern natural science, God is treated by his defenders as Frederick William III was treated by his generals and officials in the Jena campaign. One division of the army after another lays down its arms, one fortress after another capitulates before the march of science, until at last the whole infinite realm of nature is conquered by science, and there is no place left in it for the Creator. Newton still allowed Him the “first impulse” but forbade Him any further interference ‘in his solar system. Father Secchi bows Him out of t... (read more)

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.

Winston Churchhill

"To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune... to lose both seems like carelessness." - Oscar Wilde (though he didn't mean it to refer to cryonics).

[Edit: correction, thanks ciphergoth]

1Paul Crowley10yCryonics. Cryogenics is the science of making things cold.
-1Divide10yThanks for the explanation, wouldn't have thought about it from this angle without it. It's pretty good when read in this way. Upvoted.

You have to realize that a great number of things are discussed in these proceedings that the mind just can't deal with, people are simply too tired and distracted, and by way of compensation they resort to superstition.

-- Kafka, The Trial

I don't know if this quote has already shown up, but it's one of my favorites.

"Consider this: You are the architect of your own imprisonment."

-- Macros the Black (from Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Saga)

There is no governor anywhere; you are all absolutely free.

Robert Anton Wilson, The Trick Top Hat

1gwern10y--Albert Camus, The Stranger

Coping with radical novelty requires an orthogonal method. One must consider one's own past, the experiences collected, and the habits formed in it as an unfortunate accident of history, and one has to approach the radical novelty with a blank mind, consciously refusing to try to link it with what is already familiar, because the familiar is hopelessly inadequate. One has, with initially a kind of split personality, to come to grips with a radical novelty as a dissociated topic in its own right. Coming to grips with a radical novelty amounts to creating an... (read more)

Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain.

--J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I can't help but ask whether you've ever found this advice personally useful, and if so, how.

Actually my first thought upon reading that was "follow the improbability" -- be suspicious of elements of your world-model that seem particularly well optimized in some direction if you can't see the source of the optimization pressure.

7Nentuaby10yA much more concrete example is cloud computing. Granted, computers don't "think," but it's a close enough analogy. You must always keep in mind that there is no magic "cloud"- only concrete machines that other people own and keep hidden from you. People who might have very different ideas than you on such matters, as for example, privacy rights.
4xamdam10yNever trust another computational agent unless you can see its source code?
3bcoburn10yThe reasonable way to interpret this seems to be "don't trust something you don't understand/cannot predict." Not sure how seeing where it keeps its brain helps with that, though.
1[anonymous]10yNever trust other thinking beings if you don't know the location of their intelligence center so that you can destroy it if necessary?
1waitingforgodel10yNever trust anyone unless you're talking in person? :p
0HonoreDB10yThis [http://lesswrong.com/lw/37k/rationality_quotes_december_2010/35ov?c=1] is the allusion I had in mind, but actually I've had occasion to quote this when talking about corporations and similar institutions. If an organization doesn't keep its brain inside a human skull (and I'm sure some do), it seems guaranteed to make bizarre decisions. Anthropomorphizing corporations can be a dangerous mistake (certainly has been for me more than once).
0topynate10yTalking to Clippy? As in, I don't.
0Clippy10yWhy not?
-1ata10yThat is racist against entities that think with things other than what we'd call brains.
4wedrifid10yDon't you mean sexist? ;)
7nshepperd10yCome now, that was below the belt.
4[anonymous]10yIt isn't racist, it's realistic. If an entity thinks with something that we don't even call a brain, we shouldn't trust it because we have no way of knowing its motivations. Clippy is a perfect example. How can I trust it to be a paperclip maximizer rather than an entity that claims to be a paperclip maximizer? (Over 50% of the LessWrong members, I estimate, do not) If Clippy were human, I would be able to easily assess whether or not it is telling the truth (in this particular instance, the answer would probably be "no", because most humans I know do not make very good paperclip maximizers). If Clippy is not human, then I have no way to judge which points in mindspace make its actions most likely.

It isn't racist, it's realistic. If an entity thinks with something that we don't even call a brain, we shouldn't trust it because we have no way of knowing its motivations.

Yes, but it says "never trust", not "don't trust by default". It should be possible for non-brain-based beings to demonstrate their trustworthiness.

Edit: Also, you can't spell "REALISTIC" without "RACIST LIE". Proof by anagram. So there.

-1wedrifid10yIf we were going to be technical we'd have to start by considering whether or not race is involved at all. It is potentially prejudiced, but not racist.
7TheOtherDave10yTalk about underconfidence [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Underconfidence]! I estimate a 99.9+% likelihood that nobody on this site trusts Clippy to be a paperclip maximizer. In fact, I'm pretty much incorrigible on this point... that is, I estimate the likelihood that people will mis-state their beliefs about Clippy to be significantly higher than the likelihood that they actually trust Clippy to be a paperclip maximizer. I do understand that this is epistemicly problematic, and I sort of wish it weren't so... I don't like to enter incorrigible states... but there it is.
0[anonymous]10yWhat is your estimation of the likelihood that I was understating my beliefs about Clippy?
0TheOtherDave10yYou haven't actually stated any beliefs about Clippy; you stated a belief about the readership of Less Wrong. Regarding your beliefs about Clippy: as I said, I am incorrigibly certain that you believe Clippy to be human. As for the likelihood that you were understating your beliefs about LW readers... hm. I don't have much of a model of you, but treating LW-members as a reference class, I'd give that ~85% confidence. The remaining ~15% is mostly that you weren't understating them so much as not bothering to think explicitly about them at all, and used "over 50%" as a generic cached formula for "more confident than not." Arguably that's a distinction that makes no difference. I estimate the likelihood that you actually disagree with me about LW readers, upon thinking about it, as ~0%.
4wedrifid10yThat category of things that we call racist does not exclude things simply because they are realistic. Political correctness isn't about being fair.
1[anonymous]10yI would actually call a statement racist if it's primarily justified by racism (in which case it will be realistic only if it happens to be so accidentally). Since "racist" has a lot of negative connotations, it isn't useful to call something racist if you plan to agree with it, and therefore if I had to make a racially-based realistic statement, I'd call it something dumb like a racially-based realistic statement.
1Clippy10yOr a suggestion to generalize the concept of a "brain" for non-biological intelligences, such as paperclip maximizers.

Theories have four stages of acceptance. i) this is worthless nonsense; ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view, iii) this is true, but quite unimportant; iv) I always said so.

-- J.B.S. Haldane

"The second suggestion is to think as well as to read. I know people who read and read, and for all the good it does them they might just as well cut bread-and-butter. They take to reading as better men take to drink. They fly through the shires of literature on a motor-car, their sole object being motion. They will tell you how many books they have read in a year.

Unless you give at least forty-five minutes to careful, fatiguing reflection (it is an awful bore at first) upon what you are reading, your ninety minutes of a night are chiefly wasted. This means that your pace will be slow.

Never mind. " - Arnold Bennett, How to Live on 24 hours per day.

[EDIT: Found to be erroneous! Sorry!]

I don't feel frightened, not knowing things; I think it's much more interesting.

-Richard P. Feynman

2marxus10yNice. Do you have a source for that? Google didn't come up with much.
0AstroCJ10yMy source was http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Cd36WJ79z4 [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Cd36WJ79z4] is an autotuned piece which includes footage of Feynman speaking those words, but it looks like it's from interviews with BBC's Horizon. See under "Doubt and uncertainty": http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/broadband/archive/feynman/index_textonly.shtml [http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/broadband/archive/feynman/index_textonly.shtml]
6AstroCJ10yTch! And the transcript makes it plain that I have been fooled by video editing. I suggest then the following replacement: "...I don't have to know an answer, I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious Universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is so far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten me." - RPF

| "Why did I do that?" I asked.

-- The Poet Who Is Odd, Knapsack Poems by Elanor Arnason

3Snowyowl10yThe mind boggles as to what he has actually done that is so strange on reflection. -- Dr. Weird, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force*
5DSimon10yIf you're curious, please read the story; it's short, and interesting! Actually, let me just spoil the premise now because I think it's neat and suspect other people will as well. Knapsack Poems is about an alien race called the goxhat, in which each "person" consists of around 10 individuals, of varying gender. There's no telepathy or anything cheap like that, it's just a cornerstone cultural meme for the goxhat. So when The Poet Who Is Odd asks themself "Why did I do that?", it's not rhetorical. Arguing with oneself is not uncommon.
7TheOtherDave10yIt's not necessarily rhetorical even for actual people in the real world. At least, I often find that when I ask myself questions and answer them out loud (or in writing), I get surprising answers. (Arguing with myself is not uncommon.) Also, you might enjoy Vinge's Fire Upon the Deep.
3gwern10y--E. M. Forster (Strongly second the Vinge recommendation.)
0TheOtherDave10yYeah, I quote that quote a lot.
3Snowyowl10yInteresting... After reading Three Worlds Collide, I've developed a taste for stories involving aliens that are... well, alien. I skimmed that section of the story, but I apparently didn't pick up on enough. Thanks for the recommendation!

| Theory and practice sometimes clash. And when that happens, theory loses. Every single time.

-- Linus Torvalds

9Peter_de_Blanc10yI felt a desire to argue against this quote, but of course a better idea would be to ask what it means. I'm guessing that "practice" means "the way people are solving this problem now," while "theory" means "the study of what makes a problem-solving method good." If theorists invent some method that they think is good, but which has already been rejected by practitioners, then I would guess that the theorists have a wrong notion of "good," and they should update their theory on the evidence. If the theorists invent a new method, then there is a chance that it is an improvement, and it may catch on.
6David_Gerard10yTorvalds is an engineer applying engineer's thinking, and here "practice" means engineering. The context [http://lkml.org/lkml/2009/3/25/632] was problems with a particularly awful API that just wasn't fit for purpose, but which had twenty years' encrusted usage to work around. He was responding to an ext4 filesystem programmer who was complaining that KDE4 users suffering dataloss on ext4 just weren't using the bad API the way he thought they should, even though other filesystems did not exhibit the dataloss. I must confess that, reading the email, I don't see how he derives the last line from what he's saying above ... it doesn't seem to follow from taking about a 20-years-encrusted SNAFU. Perhaps it does follow from a programmer demanding people use an API the way he thinks they should, rather than the way everyone conventionally had for two decades. Real-world use winning over abstractions of how things should be: It is, however, a widely-quoted statement - it resonates with people somehow. This is not, of course, the same as constituting or being about rationality.
2DSimon10yIt's about rationality on the grounds that the filesystem programmer had lost sight of the necessity of winning; in this case, putting out code that actually works, rather than code that makes the programmer feel good. It's painful to write clunky APIs, and pleasant to write elegant APIs... but that doesn't mean much if your elegant code would just be thrown away on release because everyone's already using the existing API.
5gerg10yMy first reading of this quote was essentially "the map loses to the terrain" [http://lesswrong.com/lw/hs/think_like_reality/]. I interpreted "theory" as "our beliefs" and "practice" as "reality".
1Peter_de_Blanc10yIf your beliefs are defeated whenever they clash with reality, then you have attained a mastery of rationality that very few humans achieve. Torvalds' quote looks to me like an "is" statement rather than an "ought" statement, so I can't agree with your interpretation.
2David_Gerard10yHe's talking about the status of the code in question in his Linux tree, the one everyone in the world pulls from, so in that context he does in fact have the power to make his opinions reality ...
1Peter_de_Blanc10yAccording to gerg's interpretation, you're saying that Torvalds' theory wins against practice, which contradicts Torvalds' statement.
3DSimon10yI don't think that quite jives. The situation seems to be the opposite: Torvalds' practice (the Linux code base, and its quite healthy community of contributors and users, who would be annoyed if ext4 programs stopped working suddenly) is winning against theory (the notion that the API policy of the Linux kernel should be revised more in favor of elegance over compatibility).
1Peter_de_Blanc10yI've been assuming that this subthread is about gerg's interpretation. Are you claiming that interpretation is correct, and offering some clarification, or are you just offering a different interpretation?
0DSimon10yThe former. Gerg's interpretation is about the map and the terrain, and it seems to me that "the actual codebase in its practical usage" associates closely with "the terrain", while "ideas/predictions about what would make the API more elegant" associates closely with "the map". Tovalds doesn't have direct access to the reality of his users, but he does have direct access to the code they use.
0gerg10yInteresting nuance. You have taken "loses" to mean "defeated", presumably leading to "and therefore updated"; I agree that this is by no means an automatic process. But I took "loses" to mean "is less accurate" (which of course makes my interpretation more tautological).
3[anonymous]10yPractitioners can reject an idea for wrong reasons -- for example, because it seems weird and runs contrary to how things were always done.
6D_Alex10yI don't think so. Many, many common practices would be improved by some properly applied theory.
4wiresnips10y"properly applied" qualifies it as practice
5Paul Crowley10yIn my experience, most people who say something like this mean "To hell with your longer-term thinking, look at the short-term success my short-term thinking has got me!"
2DSimon10yThat's a good point. However, Torvalds specifically has got some solid long-term success as well to his credit. And in programming in particular, I think there's a lot to be said for avoiding elegance creep.
0Paul Crowley10ySure, but I think the same category contains his disdain for the "license purists" who criticized his choice of BitKeeper [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BitKeeper].
2DSimon10yThanks for the reference, I hadn't heard about that controversy before. Reading this article [http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/04/14/torvalds_attacks_tridgell/] linked from that WP page reduces my respect for Torvalds a fair bit. Luckily for everybody, though, the end result of the kerfluffle was the excellent git software.

The brighter you are, the more you have to learn. -- Don Herold

I don't know the context of this, I came across it as a quote, but I can see two totally different interpretations, both true.

ADDED: Make that five interpretations.

The two I had in mind were:

Epistemic responsibility - you have an ethical obligation to learn because you can.

The more you have to learn - I don't know about you, but I am about as likely to stop learning as to stop breathing - I'm not likely to do either voluntarily.

3James_Miller10yWhy? I can see why there is a greater marginal value to putting more time into learning if you are bright, but why is there a higher marginal value of learning more if you are bright especially if, like almost everything else, there is eventually diminishing marginal returns to learning and bright people know more than not bright people.
4Snowyowl10yBright people have more unanswered questions, maybe? You can't be pondering the Gibbs paradox without knowing much more about thermodynamics than I currently do.
2gjm10yThree interpretations. 1. The brighter you are, the more there is for you to learn. 2. The brighter you are, the more there is that you need to learn. 3. The brighter you are, the more need there is for you to learn. (I hadn't noticed #3 until I read James Miller's comment.)

I swear, if I write a column saying it was a beautiful day yesterday, I'll get at least two letters informing me that it wasn't a nice day for the people starving in Bangladesh, and if I wasn't such a heartless son of a bitch who only thinks about himself, I'd realize that and stop talking about the weather, so I should do everyone a favor and kill myself. -- Tom Naughton

"Even though it is a path of 1,000 miles, you walk one step at a time. Consider this well." - Miyamoto Musashi

A small leak can sink a great ship.

-Benjamin Franklin

That reminds me: when I was little, there was a puzzle in a happy meal that said, "Rearrange these letters to spell something that can make a canoe sink: ELAK." The correct answer, of course, was "leak". I was upset, because my answer was "a elk". (And now that I think about it, if you draw this as a causal diagram, "lake" should be a valid answer too.)

Well, strictly speaking, if you pile KALE high enough on your canoe, it will also cause it to sink due to excess weight. But that doesn't make KALE the best or most likely answer.

I do like your answer, though.

8Larks10yClearly causality is secondary to grammar; had it been 'ELANK' you would have been right.
2Tiiba10yFor some reason, I really like "a elk".
2TheOtherDave10yI'm not sure what to make of the fact that "lake" was the answer that jumped out at me.
4MC_Escherichia10yThat you are given three of the four letters for "lake" in correct, consecutive order.
1SilasBarta10yI don't remember the original order of the letters in the puzzle, but it must have been constructed to make the intended answer not stand out.
0wedrifid10yThat was my answer too.
0[anonymous]10yBut "a elk" has no meaning as a phrase! It's just an error. There's no 'n' so elks are out. (My answer was lake btw.)
[-][anonymous]10y 5

"Knowledge is a continuous fabric, in which ideas are connected to other ideas. Reason-free zones, in which people can assert arbitrary beliefs safe from ordinary standards of evaluation, can only corrupt this fabric, just as a contradiction can corrupt a system of logic, allowing falsehoods to proliferate through it." -- Steven Pinker

“Complexity is a symptom of confusion, not a cause.” - Jeff Hawkins

3wedrifid10yLies! I use complexity to cause confusion in my opponents all the time!

I prefer the company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly.


5shokwave10yStrikes a blow against education as the source of reason, but also strikes a blow against reason requiring training. Ambivalent.
0FiftyTwo10yOr it means that people who acquire knowledge and reasoning skills practically are better than those who have been taught it by authority without needing to test it. (If we assume peasant to include intelligent and competent people in their fields like blacksmiths, officers etc; and education to be primarily rote learning of classics.)

"The proper, wise balancing of one's whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour."

--Arnold Bennett, How to Live on 24 Hours Per Day

0David_Gerard10yHeh. I got to that line in the book and promptly tweeted [http://twitter.com/#!/davidgerard/status/11022254682939393] it.

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." Henry David Thoreau

6shokwave10yBut be careful of writing your conclusion [http://lesswrong.com/lw/js/the_bottom_line/] first!
1wedrifid10yWait... I can read that two ways and they are both worth a quote - for entirely different reasons.

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Max Planck

1wedrifid10yp(double post | a quote is awesome and relevant) = 0.87 Which way do I need to update?
6MartinB10yThe quotes idea is pretty much wrong. And sadly sometimes used as an argument against life extension.
2wedrifid10yIt took me a few minutes to see what you meant there. I read 'quotes' as a simple plural. Which leads to a parsing of your first sentence as a position of some merit purely by accident. Really? Well, I suppose that would actually make sense according to a certain not-outright-insane value system.
5MartinB10yIt would be bad even if the premise were true. Then the pure idea of 'yeah, we have to let you all die because otherwise all the shiny new ideas would not prosper' is so much out of proportion. Most people do not even work in idea maintaining, but do pretty mundane jobs, or moonlight as grandparents. Over time I notice the occasional instance of ageism in young people. It is very easy to ignore collected experiences of others, and in some cases bad. It would be awesome to have people still around that lived through history [http://lesswrong.com/lw/j0/making_history_available/]. Instead each generation to some degree forgets what was before. It hurts me each time someone (my age or younger) claims how he does not care about history at all, because -
5wedrifid10yAnd in middle aged people and old people too. :)
2shokwave10yThe premise is true and generally accepted as such; a slightly more formal treatment [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Structure_of_Scientific_Revolutions] was given by Kuhn, but it amounts roughly to "new scientists produce advancements, old scientists stick to dogma, the status of oldies is so powerful they have to die or retire for advancements to prosper."
8Paul Crowley10yShortly after "Structure of Scientific Revolutions", there was a paradigm shift in geology: plate tectonics. Which went from fringe to scientific consensus in, as I understand it, well under a decade thanks to overwhelming evidence. Did unusually many geologists die that decade?
5MartinB10yI hope there have been some changes in the way scientists work since the 1960s. Also I hope that it depends on the specific field. As a conclusion of the initial argument one could add time limits to tenure, but please lets not argue for killing off scientists justs for being to old.

time limits to tenure

Nice way to put it! To phrase it another way:

To argue in favor of mortality because of fears of entrenched conservatives is to demand capital punishment where term limits would suffice.

2MartinB10yThank you! Try to get someone to put it in these words. Usually no one demands the killing of professors, or even mentions how he likes to have old people die from neglect. If someone boldly states that he wants all these old people to die to free up space, or what ever, than you probably found a person you do not actually want to have a discussion with.
6MartinB10yI completely forgot about a very important point. When rejuvenation actually works, then it might also make the brain work better, younger and so on. If it is true, that great scientists do their most important work before reaching age X, then after a rejuvenation they might be able to do even more with their good as new brain + more experience. Then it would not be a matter of getting rid of holders of old ideas, but find a way to deal with people that have an unreachable time advantage, that cannot be made up. It would be good for society to keep experienced mind in work.
3Perplexed10yNo real need to kill them off, as long as new ones are being born. Unanimity is nice, but simple majorities can usually get the job done. As for your time limits idea, I might go further, and send everybody back to school to get a new PhD every 100 years: in a new field, at a different school, in a different language.
6[anonymous]10yYou're only going to give me 100 years to study mathematics, uninterrupted? B-b-but! That's nowhere near enough time!
1MartinB10yI am happy to see how it will turn out
2shokwave10yThis [http://lesswrong.com/r/lesswrong/lw/2jj/rationality_quotes_august_2010/2cx0?c=1] might be the answer you are looking for.
1JoshuaZ10yKuhn did not say that. His notion of paradigm advancement had a lot to do with a lot of other things. His canonical example of paradigm change (the Copernican revolution) had people actively changing their minds even in his narrative. And there are a lot of problems with his story of how things went, see for example this essay [http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/galileo%E2%80%99s-great-bluff-and-part-of-the-reason-why-kuhn-is-wrong/] . Furthermore, in many other shifts where new theories came into play, the overall trend happened with many old people accepting the new theory. Thus for example, Einstein's special relativity was accepted by many older physicists.
-3zombiefeynman10y...While Einstein himself rejected quantum mechanics! (And, yes, I'm aware of the philosophical glitches in the Copenhagen Interpretation. But Einstein refused to accept QM on principle, and I'm not sure any evidence could have convinced him, which is rather poor form for one of the greatest thinkers of all time.)
4Manfred10yThis is probably wrong. If Einstein were transported to today we could almost certainly convince him of the correctness of quantum mechanics. Not only that, the guy did a lot of important quantum mechanics research, which should suggest that it's not as simple as "he rejected it." Wikipedia says that he initially thought matrix mechanics was wrong, but became convinced of it when it was shown to be equivalent to the Schroedinger forumulation.
1Normal_Anomaly10yYou are probably right on with this comment, but I think I may have misunderstood you on one point. Did you mean "it's not as simple as 'he rejected it.' "? The way it is now looks like it contradicts the rest of the post. Also, I recall that Einstein did change his mind at least one important point, the existence of the "cosmological constant." So that implies he wasn't especially close-minded.
1Manfred10yHah, yes. Typos strike again. Fixed.
0wedrifid10ybecause - there are not enough elves and wizardesses in that genre of story?
0MartinB10yNo. It is more a case of 'history is old stuff, that happened a long time ago, is done & over with, and does not matter any more'. Why care about the past when so much is happening right now. I do not think the way history is dealt with is that much better, to some degree visiting historic museums or sites is just signaling.
3shokwave10yThat is basically the concept behind 'costly signalling' [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalling_theory#Costly_signaling_and_Fisherian_diploid_dynamics] , that people will pay time and money to visit a museum in order to signal, and in doing so accidentally learn something about history.
0MartinB10ythx for the reminder
3RichardKennaway10yYes. [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/37o/aieee_the_stupid_it_burns/]
3Daniel_Burfoot10yOoops. To redeem my tarnished honor, I propose an algorithmic solution to the duplicate quote problem: a full list of quotes indexed by author (of the quote). Checking to see if a quote has already been posted would then be a fast operation.
1wedrifid10yYour honour remains intact! I predicted that the quote had been used, based primarily on how much I like it. Google didn't find it in a quotes thread. I suppose that would mean my honour is tarnished. How much honour does one lose by assigning greater than 0.5 probability to something that turns out to be incorrect. Is there some kind of algorithm for that? ;)
3DanielLC10yYou add the log of the probability you gave for what happened, so add ln(1-0.87) = -2.04 honor. Unfortunately, there's no way to make it go up, and it's pretty much guaranteed to go down a lot. Just don't assign anything a probability of 0. If you're wrong, you lose infinite honor.
1wedrifid10yI like it, but that 'no way to make it go up' is a problem. It feels like we should have some sort of logarithmic representation of honour too, allowing for increasing honour if you get something right, mostly when your honour is currently low. To what extent do we want 'honour' to be a measure of calibration and to what extent a measure of predictive power?
3nshepperd10yA naive suggestion could be to take log(x) - log(p), where p is the probability given by MAXENT. That is, honor is how much better you do than the "completely uninformed" maximal entropy predictor. This would enable better-than-average predictors to make their honor go up. This of course has the shortcoming that maximal entropy may not be practical to actually calculate in many situations. It also may or may not produce incentives to strategically make certain predictions and not others. I haven't analysed that very much.
0DanielLC10yI can't remember the Post I got that from. It wasn't talking about honor. This is the only possible system in which you're rewarded most for giving the answers accurately, and your honor remains the same regardless of how you count it. For example, predicting A and B loses the same honor as predicting A and predicting B given A. Technically, you can use a different log base, but that just amounts to a scaling factor.
0Mass_Driver10yI agree; the typical human brain balks and runs away when faced with a scale of merit whose max-point is 0. Yes. In other words, my honor as an epistemic rationalist should be a mix of calibration and predictive power. An amusing but arbitrary formula might be just to give yourself 2x honor when your binary prediction with probability x comes true and to dock yourself ln (1-x) honor when it doesn't. If you make 20 predictions each at p = 0.5, 0.55, 0.6, 0.65, 0.7, 0.75, 0.8, 0.85, 0.9, and 0.95 for a total of 200 predictions a day and you are perfectly calibrated, you would expect to lose about 3.4 honor each day. There's gotta be a way to fix this so that a perfectly calibrated person would gain a tiny amount of honor each day rather than lose it. It might not be elegant, though. Got any ideas?
1wedrifid10yZero does seem more appropriate either as a minimum or a midpoint. If everything is going to be negative then flip it around and say 'less is good'! But the main problem I have with only losing honor based on making predictions is that it essentially rewards never saying anything of importance that could be contradicted. That sounds a bit too much like real life for some reason. ;) The tricky part is not so much making up the equations but in determining what criteria to rate the scale against. We would inevitably be injecting something arbitrary.
0DanielLC10yYou're supposed to have a probability for everything. The closest you can do to not guessing is give every possibility equal probabilities, in which case you'd lose honor even faster than normal. You could give yourself honor equal to the square of the probability you gave, but that means you'd have incentive to phrase it in as many questions possible. After all, if you gave a single probability for what happens for your entire life, you couldn't get more than one point of honor. With the system I mentioned first, you'd lose exactly the same honor.
2shokwave10yHonour I don't know about; I feel like any honour lost you could gain back by giving us a costly signal that you are recalibrating [http://lesswrong.com/lw/37k/rationality_quotes_december_2010/322v?c=1]. But it does let us determine how badly calibrated you are, and then we can make judgements like pr(wedrifid is wrong | wedrifid is badly calibrated). :P
1wedrifid10yParticularly when the 'prediction' was largely my way of complimenting the quote in a non-boring way. :P I was actually relieved when I didn't found it wasn't in the quotes thread. I wasn't sure what I would update to if it was a double post. Slightly upward, only a little - there were too many complications. I can even imagine lowering p(double post | a quote is awesome and relevant) based finding that the instance is, in fact, a double post. (If the probability is particularly high and the underlying reasoning was such that I expected comments of that level of awesome to have been reposted half a dozen times.) The tricky part now is not to prevent my intuitive expectation from updating too much. I've paid particular attention to this instance so by default I would expect my intuitions to base to much on the single case.
0sketerpot10yThe hard part would then be making that list algorithmically. An easier algorithmic method would be to do approximate string matches with previous quote threads, using something like the Smith-Waterman algorithm [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith-Waterman_algorithm] for pairwise local sequence alignment. This is what biologists do when they have a gene sequence and want to know if something like it is already in the databases, and there's no reason why the method shouldn't also apply just as well to English text. The way this would look to users is just a text box where you paste in the quote, and it'll tell you if the quote has been posted before. Even easier to use than a full list of quotes.
0wedrifid10yActually, I'm not sure. "Max Plank" isn't mention in a quotes thread. It does have an sequence post essentially dedicated to it [http://lesswrong.com/lw/qi/faster_than_science/] and references elsewhere in posts. Let's see. About: p(double post | a quote is awesome and relevant) = 0.82 I have updated p(quote is in the quotes section | quote is discussed on the site) and p(quote is attributed) somewhat too. (And, pre-emptively, I do feel comfortable providing two digits of precision. Not because I have excessive confidence in my ability to quantise my subjective judgements but rather because using significant figures as a method of communicating confidence or accuracy is a terrible idea.)
2Jack10yThis seems right but I'm not sure why. Can you articulate your reasons?
0wedrifid10yLet's see. I need to purge my conclusion cache. (What's the name for Eliezer's post on not asking 'why' but asking 'if'? I definitely needed to apply that.) Yes, approximately what FAWS said. If I know I'm only accurate plus or minus 0.1 and the value I calculate is 0.75 then it would be silly to round off to 0.8. Compressing the two pieces of information (number and precision) into one number is just lossy. It can become a problem when writing say, 100 too. Although that can technically be avoided by always using scientific notation.
0FAWS10yNot wedrifid, but you needlessly lose some small amount of information. The digits after the last significant one still are your best bet for the actual value, so you systematically do worse than you could.

The value of a problem is not so much coming up with the answer as in the ideas and attempted ideas it forces on the would be solver.

— Yitz Herstein

I reckon that for all the use it has been to science about four-fifths of my time has been wasted, and I believe this to be the common lot of people who are not merely playing follow-my-leader in research.

— Peter Medawar

Up voted, although I think 'wasted' is a bit harsh. I would call lost time to unsuccessful research a necessary cost. If we all knew exactly which problems to study and which approaches to use it wouldn't be research, it would be divination.

3anonym10yI read the quote not as saying that four-fifths of his time had no value at all but that so-called 'wasted' time is a necessary part of the research process and actually does have value.
2[anonymous]10yAs seen elsewhere in this thread, Nietzsche disagrees. [http://lesswrong.com/lw/37k/rationality_quotes_december_2010/#31wv]

"Today I will question my own confusion."

From Today I Will Nourish My Inner Martyr - Affirmations for Cynics by Ann Thornhill & Sarah Wells

[-][anonymous]10y 4

"A man has free choice to the extent that he is rational." -- St. Thomas Aquinas

[-][anonymous]10y 4

"Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear." -- Bertrand Russell

[-][anonymous]10y 4

"Reality contains not only evidence, but also the means (such as our minds, and our artefacts) of understanding it. There are mathematical symbols in physical reality. The fact that it is we who put them there does not make them any less physical." -- David Deutsch

[-][anonymous]10y 4

"If one devalues rationality, the world tends to fall apart" -- Lars von Trier

To learn to write well is to pursue a connection between your facility with language and the content, intellectual and otherwise, of your character. I do not mean by this that people who cannot write well have no character or that writing is the only way in which people can show their character. I mean, simply, that you cannot write well if you do not make this connection, because not to make it is to fail, as a writer, in holding yourself accountable for the quality of your own thinking. Or, to put it another way, it is to fail to take your own intellect

... (read more)

So it is with minds. Unless you keep them busy with some definite subject that will bridle and control them, they throw themselves in disorder hither and yon in the vague field of imagination... And there is no mad or idle fancy that they do not bring forth in the agitation.


"they have attained [happiness] by realising that happiness does not spring from the procuring of physical or mental pleasure, but from the development of reason and the adjustment of conduct to principles.

Now, shall I blush, or will you?

Do not fear that I mean to thrust certain principles upon your attention. I care not (in this place) what your principles are. Your principles may induce you to believe in the righteousness of burglary. I don't mind. All I urge is that a life in which conduct does not fairly well accord with principles is a silly life... (read more)

9wedrifid10yThat sounds all deep and wise... until you observe that it seems to be an arbitrary redefinition of 'happy', redefinition of 'genuinely believe in the moral excellence' or blatantly wrong as a matter of fact. The accuracy of the claim doesn't seem to be an important part of the intent, that is, it is bullshit. Other parts of the excerpt are not bad - that part is just a point that people often try to take too far. The benefits of internal coherence and happiness are not tautological. Not even close.

"I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member." -- Groucho Marx

2simplicio10yIt's funny, but NO NO NO! This is exactly why rationalists suck at forming socially cohesive groups! :)
3wedrifid10yThat doesn't seem all that likely to me. It would seem somewhat more likely if the quote was 'will not'...
2Miller10yI rather immediately decided to see if this had been posted before. Google indexed this comment within 2 minutes.
2gwern10yImagine my surprise when I once added a reference to a Wikipedia and 20 seconds later googled it to see whether I missed anything - and that WP article was prominent in the hits.
2Tuna-Fish10yThis site uses the google custom search (see sidebar), and it provides a feature for on-demand indexing. I suppose it shares the index it makes with google proper. alongandunlikelystringtotesthypothesis
0Tuna-Fish10ySo far, this has been a failure -- the test string still isn't found by google, and the previous post doesn't even show up in the custom search yet. Had to stop polling because google now thinks I'm a bot.
2Perplexed10yI found the posting easily enough by searching "google custom search lesswrong". Try your experiment again using a shorter string.
0wedrifid10yGoogle does seem to love this site! (I wonder if Google has specialised technology in place for handling reddit based sites.)
1JoshuaZ10yThis may be funny but the actual context makes it a) less rationalist and b) a bit sad. There's some argument that he was actually talking about the standard at the time that Jews couldn't have any access to the trendier clubs.
2Miller10yInteresting -- below I give the wikipedia take on it. Groucho sent the quote to a club which he was a member of, that was founded by a Jew. I can see how one could infer an ironic reference to antisemitism from that. Interesting that the quote as often paraphrased drops the 'people like me' part.

History of science is good stuff -- economists should try it some time. Once you start looking it's usually pretty easy to appreciate the wry maxim that scientific advances are usually named for the last person to "discover" them, not the first.


I apologize if this is a duplicate, for I cannot find it with the search bar:

What are the facts? Again and again and again — what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what "the stars foretell," avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable "verdict of history" — what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!

Time Enough for Love (1973) or The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (1978), Robert... (read more)

“No choice. At. All. When you feel instead of think, there is little room for choice.”

-- Ravel Puzzlewell in Planescape: Torment

0wedrifid10yEven when I feel ambivalent?

Dueling Cryonics Relevant Quotes:

When it comes time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.


Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into tha

... (read more)
1[anonymous]10yUntil I reread the quotes, I thought your dueling should be dualing. I learned both that I was wrong, and that dualing isn't actually a word, even if duel and dual are. However, I came up with the great idea that you could be dual-wielding cryonics quotes :)
3shokwave10yPiercing quote in one hand, bludgeoning logic in the other. Surely nobody has resistance to both?
2[anonymous]10yThey may have resistance to both, but as long as it's not 100%, we can manage!
1sketerpot10yLoads of people have resistance to both. Have you never talked with a religious nut? That's when you pull out the implied threat of being made to look stupid in public and triple-wield them [http://imgur.com/1nOSq.jpg]. It can be tricky to pull off, but the results are very gratifying.

‎"Fine phrases are the last resource of those who have run out of arguments." -- Peter Singer

Be proactively skeptical not defensively skeptical.

Tim Ferriss | The 4 hour body

It's important to look for hypotheses worth disproving

Tim Ferriss | The 4 hour body

the combination of compliant human + distress call is something of a universal tool, all the cat needs to do is identify there is a problem, then meow until the human makes it go away.


"I thought a little [while in the isolation tank], and then I stopped thinking altogether. … incredible how idleness of body leads to idleness of mind. After two days, I’d turned into an idiot. That’s the reason why, during a flight, astronauts are always kept busy."

Oriana Fallaci as quoted in Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon, by Craig Nelson, which cites 'Fallici, Oriana If the Sun Dies. New York. Atheneum, 1967', seen on http://www.johndcook.com/blog/2010/12/11/after-two-days-id-turned-into-an-idiot/

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Arthur Schopenhauer

I hate that quote; it's completely backwards and depends entirely on selection effect.

Many ideas accepted as self-evident, both true and false, are first violently opposed. Many ideas violently opposed are first ridiculed. However, most ridiculed ideas stay ridiculed, and most violently opposed ideas stay violently opposed.

Similarly: If you win, before that they probably fought you. If they fight you, before that they probably laughed at you. And if they laugh at you, before that they probably ignored you.

1ata10yTrue, but the quote itself doesn't contradict that. (Though, certainly, a lot of people do misuse quotes like that in the wrong direction to claim that (e.g.) they are right because they are being ridiculed, or that they will win because they are being ignored or laughed at.)
5Paul Crowley10yThe only reason I have ever heard anyone say such a thing is when their ideas are not accepted as being self-evident (they haven't won) and they want to suggest that the opposition they are currently facing is simply one step in a natural progression towards success.
2ata10yI completely agree. (Good counterquote from Carl Sagan: "The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.") I was only pointing out that the quote itself isn't completely backwards, while agreeing that people mainly invoke it to make backwards claims like that. ...but even so, even if it's not taken to also be suggesting the obviously-fallacious converse, it may still not be correct. Not all truth is "violently opposed" before becoming accepted; not all truth is ridiculed before being taken seriously; and some truths never are accepted as self-evident (not that all truths should be; hindsight bias, etc.). So yeah, any way you look at it it's a pretty dumb quote. (It's a good thing Schopenhauer probably never said it anyway [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Arthur_Schopenhauer#Disputed]!)
5khafra10yWith the caveat that P(Truth|observation of one or more stages) < P(observation of one or more stages|Truth)

The key to getting a reputation for being brilliant is actually being brilliant, not just acting like you are.

Seth Godin

6shokwave10yWhatever happened to 'fake it till you make it'?
9RichardKennaway10yDuelling quotes! Aristotle [http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.2.ii.html] Another translation [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0054%3Abook%3D2%3Achapter%3Dpos%3D17%3Asection%3D4]
0GeorgieChaos10yMy experience in the circus bears this out. To learn to juggle you have someone tell you what your mind and hands need to do when juggling, and you throw the balls in the direction you know they need to go, and you keep doing it (being corrected as often as you can find a better juggler) until you stop dropping them and can keep your pattern solid indefinitely. To learn to handstand you get upside down do whatever you can to find out what balancing feels like. You can't feel it unless you're doing it.
6wedrifid10yHow cute. Also, on a related note: He sees you when you're sleeping He knows when you're awake He knows if you've been bad or good So be good for goodness sake Oh, you better watch out You better not cry Better not pout I'm telling you why Santa Clause is coming to town ie. I think the quote is unhealthily idealistic. An exhortation for good behaviour by means of conveying a false model of reality.

HPMOR demonstrates:

1) People usually don't recognize faked genius as faked when they see it; they don't realize what's missing from "genius" characters in their fiction.

2) However, if you then show them real genius, they can recognize it as new, different, better, and important (though they may not realize what the added ingredient was).

3wedrifid10yThis applies to stereotypical fiction 'genius' when compared to an actually clever fictional character. Yet I'm not so sure it applies to gaining real world reputation. In many fields it can be demonstrated that being recognized as a brilliant expert is not actually strongly correlated with domain performance but instead determined by social factors. If you want to get a reputation for being brilliant gain a solid baseline proficiency in an area and then actually become brilliant at politics. Or, of course, choose one of the few fields where objective performance is hard to hide from.
0RichardKennaway10yI knew you'd react to it that way. I disagree.
6gwern10ySure, but unless you registered it beforehand at somewhere like http://predictionbook.com/ [http://predictionbook.com/], I'm afraid it doesn't count. Sorry! Maybe next time.
0wedrifid10yYou were thinking of me as you wrote that? I'm flattered. :)
0RichardKennaway10yDepends on what I was thinking. :-)

Surprisingly enough it doesn't.

"I don't think anyone should have to do anything educational in school if they don't want to." -- Cordelia's character, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

[-][anonymous]10y 1

"When a man finds a conclusion agreeable, he accepts it without argument, but when he finds it disagreeable, he will bring against it all the forces of logic and reason."


Thank you for a wonderful and rich forum of ideas. Looking fwd. to offering something soon.

0Nisan9yWelcome to Less Wrong! [http://lesswrong.com/lw/90l/welcome_to_less_wrong_2012/]

"It's not having what you want, it's wanting what you've got" -- Sheryl Crow

1shokwave10yNo, it's definitely having what you want. Also, here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/3lc/rationality_quotes_january_2011/].
0rabidchicken10yI would much rather have what I want as well . Wanting what I’ve got would make me consistently accept suboptimal conditions instead of making an effort to achieve maximum utility.
0Document10yAlthough I don't like dogpiles: the utility function is up for grabs [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/The_utility_function_is_not_up_for_grabs]?
0Unnamed10yIt's both [http://webpages.acs.ttu.edu/jelarsen/PDFs/Larsen%26McKibban2008.pdf].

Is it hard to make decisions as president? Not really. If you know what you believe, decisions come pretty easy. If you’re one of these types of people that are always trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing, decision making can be difficult.

George W. Bush (source)

And if you're one of those types of people that are always trying to figure out what region of the multiverse they're in, or how many identical copies of them have been created by an intergalactic superintelligent trickster, or what anthropic reference class they're in, or whether they're living in a computer simulation, or how their choices will impact maybe-logically-impossible counterfactual worlds — you know, one of those people — decision making can be really difficult. ;)

5TheOtherDave10yThe notion of being one of those people who tries to figure out what reference class they are in is causing me to giggle uncontrollably right now.
2ata10yI am so proud to be part of a community where that can happen.
[-][anonymous]10y 0

"Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when called upon to act according with the dictates of reason." - Oscar Wilde

[-][anonymous]10y 0


[-][anonymous]10y -1

"Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. " - Oscar Wilde.

Asked by Galileo to look through his telescope at the newly discovered four moons of Jupiter, a representative of the pope answered: "I refuse to look at something which my religion tells me cannot exist." -- newscientist

I think this quotation actually comes not from a real papal representative but from Brecht's play "Galileo".

(Isn't it obvious that this isn't the sort of thing a real person would be likely to say? Especially not the sort of person who would be sent to Galileo by the Pope.)

(Isn't it obvious that this isn't the sort of thing a real person would be likely to say? Especially not the sort of person who would be sent to Galileo by the Pope.)

Shhh! That quote is a soldier for Our Side, don't break it! ;)

2MartinB10yNow should I upvote for the great use of irony, or down for abuses of logic? My joke detector is broken.

The smiley is there as the equivalent of Braille for the joke-blind.

7wedrifid10yNo. I've heard similar. (Although it actually felt uncomfortable to give that answer given that it could be seen as not-not supporting a co-aligned solider that we had decided to burn!)
0MartinB10yThere is some doubt over the treatment Galileo actually got, and what for.
2Normal_Anomaly10yI think wedrifid meant that e would being seen as supporting a false but favorable quote that everyone else was decrying for being false. [Edited for spelling]
0wedrifid10yYes, complete with television show spy talk lingo to extend the analogy.

The quote isn't accurate. There was argument over what was being seen through the telescope, not about whether to look through it. Details from a guy who wrote a book on Galileo here.

6Jayson_Virissimo10ySome of Galileo's critics argued that at least some of his observations were artifacts of the instrument he was using (the telescope) and even cited experimental evidence in their critiques (such as looking at objects that could be seen with the naked eye as well as through the telescope and observing anomalies like duplication or "halos" through the latter). This is simply standard scientific criticism, not religious nay saying. So, even if the quote is accurate it wasn't necessarily representative of his critics. The Jesuits [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesuits] of the Collegio Romano [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collegio_Romano] that were sent to meet with Galileo verified his observations by using his telescope, but disagreed with his interpretation of them. Therefore, it seems very unlikely that the quote is accurate. Probably, the quote is a kind of bullshit [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Bullshit].