A monthly thread for posting rationality-related quotes you've seen recently (or had stored in your quotesfile for ages).

  • 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 fine, post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
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However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.

-- Winston Churchill

You want to learn from experience, but you want to learn from other people’s experience when you can.

Warren Buffett

On a similar note, but from a different author: —Socrates
(From irc://freenode.net#wikipedia & immortalized on m:bash [http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Bash].)

I have met people who exaggerate the differences [between the morality of different cultures], because they have not distinguished between differences of morality and differences of belief about facts. For example, one man said to me, "Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?" But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did-if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did. There is no difference of moral principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there. You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house.

-C.S. Lewis

The kind of epistemology that allows you to be that certain about something so false is immoral.

To wit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5cFKpjRnXE&feature=player_embedded

Incidentally, the Spanish inquisition did not believe in witches either, dismissing the whole thing as "female humours"
Wait, C. S. Lewis didn't believe in witches, i.e. that there could be people who "sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers" to hurt others? Color me surprised. In any case, he certainly didn't do much to repudiate the part of his intellectual pedigree that was responsible for belief in witches in an attempt to avoid such errors in the future.
For bad weather? As in... 3^^^3 days of sleet is worse than 50 years of torture?

Well, bad enough weather in an agricultural society is murder.

Bad weather, as in 'rain that rots your crops and causes famine', 'wind that takes the roof off your house', 'blizzards that kill your livestock', etc...

I suspect that 300 days of sleet might have an effect, even now.

My Cthulhu, yes. 3^^^3 days of sleet is so far beyond my normal conceptions of badness that I'm not sure a dozen lifetimes of torture would be enough. 3^^^3 is a very large number.
* 3^^^3 is a very large number * Trivial things can be horrendous if there are 3^^^3 of them. * Things that require a large number like 3^^^3 of them in order to be horrendous are trivial things. * It is implied that bringing bad weather is a relatively trivial thing. * There are other things that are worse than bad weather, per victim and instance, like torture. * Saying "if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did" is a little bit funny if the crime is bad weather.
Agreed. My previous post probably reads more seriously than intended.

The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.

-- George Bernard Shaw, writer, Nobel laureate (1856-1950)

Edit: The full citation is to his 1903 play Man and superman: a comedy and a philosophy, where the character John Tanner ("M.I.R.C., Member of the Idle Rich Class") says:

Yes, because to be treated as a boy was to be taken on the old footing. I had become a new person ; and those who knew the old person laughed at me. The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor : he took my measure anew every time he saw me, whilst all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit me.

[I]n my opinion nothing occurs contrary to nature except the impossible, and that never occurs.

-- Sagredo, "Two New Sciences" (1914 translation), Galileo Galilei

Okay, I'm over my quota, but I really have to reproduce this from an ensuing discussion between myself and Michael Vassar, in which Michael Vassar commented that Galileo seemed to have accomplished his feats through character traits other than ultra-high-g:

"Wait, I just called myself 'not that smart, like Galileo'. What does that do to my Crackpot Index?!" -- Michael Vassar

What's the point of a quota if you're getting mostly upvotes?
Perhaps that is the point of the quota?
That would be diversity and restraint.
Perhaps (he clarifies) one of the points of the quota is to prevent people from scoring lots of easy karma points via rationality quotes, which are the easiest way to get karma.
...I am such a clod [http://lesswrong.com/lw/11r/rationality_quotes_july_2009/wrg]. Please adjust your votes accordingly.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
...I had no idea the art of rationality got that advanced that early!
Hey, Darwin predicted and explained punctuated equilibrium all the way back in The Origin of the Species. It's remarkable how often the old masters hit a target generations ahead of their time. Or rather, it would be if I didn't already know that human beings don't as a rule draw the full benefit from the evidence at hand - which implies a small variation in the accuracy of the extrapolation leads to startling insight. (Not having read the Latin - chiefly thanks to not being fluent in the Latin - I can't swear it's a perfect translation, but I saw it in the book and had to quote it.)
Theres a sampling issue there, no-one talks about all the things Darwin thought of that were wrong.
Indeed. You'll note that I did not quote Galileo's 1623 article declaring that comets were a sublunary (within the sphere of the Moon's orbit around the Earth) phenomenon, for example. Still, I would be willing to wager that if you had modern biologists compare, say, Darwin's writings from the voyage of the Beagle to his death even to those of contemporaries such as Alfred Russell Wallace - an independent inventor of the theory of natural selection - he would fare extremely well.
Do you attribute that to his greater experience and access to data, or some innately better understanding of biology?
I think he was actually less biased. I was actually just reading John McPhee's Looking For a Ship, and McPhee quotes Darwin discussing the geology of the Valparaíso region, and notes that Darwin divines the processes that created the formations of that terrain essentially correctly ... before plate tectonics was even a theory with a name in the scientific literature. It is of course impossible to separate out to what extent his results are improved by his hesitance in publishing data without overwhelming evidence, but I would guess that his rationality was significantly above par for his era.
There is a quote, though I cannot find it now, to the effect that 'It is an old parlor game among American philosophers to show that Peirce thought of something first.'
But he did!
It's funny because it's partly true - he did an impressive amount, and stuff which has yet to be dug out of his scores of volumes - but some Peirce fans take it too far (I had one professor who the quote applied well to).

A great many years ago, a couple of Jehovah Witnesses bit off more than they could chew with my grandmother. During the unsolicited conversation one of them remarked, "Only God can make a rainbow". To which my grandmother-who was watering her plants at the time-said, "Nonsense!", and created her own rainbow with a spray of water from the hose. Family lore has it that was the end of the conversation.

-- seen on Livejournal

When things are hard to understand, people who suspect they're nonsense generally keep quiet.

-- Paul Graham

Upvoted because it echoes my attitude towards your and Eliezer's ideas on decision theory, except I don't keep quiet.

"There is a superstition in avoiding superstition, when men think to do best if they go furthest from the superstition formerly received."

-- Francis Bacon

Indeed. Reversed stupidity is not intelligence.

People often lack the discipline to adhere to a superior strategy that doesn't "feel" right. Reasoning in a way that sometimes "feels" wrong takes discipline.

-- Michael Bishop, Epistemology and the psychology of human judgement

For the record, I'm not the Michael Bishop that so expressed this insightful point.
Moral language persuades best when opinions are not yet formed, which is why writers of children’s literature can get away with saying things like, “Mr. Billings was an awful, horrible man with a heart of stone.”  This sounds like a line from a children’s book because it employs persuasive methods that, though appropriate for children, would insult the intelligence of most adult readers.

Most moral discourse is the conversational equivalent of children’s literature. Disputants speak to one another—or, rather, at one another—as if their interlocutors failed to pay adequate attention on the day elementary morality was explained. Unaware of the projective nature of value, they marvel at their opponents’ blindness, their utter failure to see what is so perfectly obvious. Not knowing what else to do, they scold their opponents as if they were children, and scold them as if they were belligerent children when they fail to respond the first time.

What to do about this? Take a cue from good writers. Stick to the facts. Keep evaluative language to a minimum, and get rid of the most overtly judgmental, moralistic language.

-- Joshua Greene, The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Truth About Morality And What To Do About It

More to the point, stick to the right facts, ask the right questions [http://lesswrong.com/lw/19m/privileging_the_hypothesis/] and use subtly judgemental language in a way that avoids the rudimentary defences against manipulation that most adults have.
Too bad the same thesis also makes poor inferences [http://lesswrong.com/lw/14r/unspeakable_morality/] from poorly-designed studies of human moral reasoning.

"Thus Aristotle laid it down that a heavy object falls faster than a light one does. The important thing about this idea is not that he was wrong, but that it never occurred to Aristotle to check it." Albert Szent-Györgyi de Nagyrápolt, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

A good point - but also note that, when Galileo argued against Artistotelian physics in his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, he set forth instead the idea of the inertial reference frame - but Galileo also never felt the need to perform an experiment to verify that his shipboard "experiments" would work as he predicted. Both the wrong conclusion, and the right conclusion, were arrived at via thought-experiment. And when Einstein took the next step by proposing the special theory of relativity, that too was a thought-experiment with no validation.

In fact, one can go further, because Aristotle's conclusion was presumably arrived at in the first place through observation of everyday experience (indeed, it almost seems wrong to attribute it specifically to Aristotle since it is simply the "common sense" view of most of humanity, before and since). So here we arguably have an example of a thought experiment successfully refuting an empirically-derived hypothesis.
I checked Aristotle's 'On the Heavens' and 'Physics'. Nowhere could I find him saying that a heavy object falls faster than a light one. Aren't it the Aristotelian scholars who said that and who are to blame? Aristotle distinguished relative weight (our mass) and absolute weight (our mass density) and gives practical examples to check that denser objects move faster downwards in water than less dense objects, if the objects have the same shape.
It's also worth noting that when you do Galileo's Tower of Pisa experiment, the heavier object does land first. (You think you release them at the same time, but you don't - your muscles let the heavier object go first.) I find sometimes we here denigrate our distant predecessors too much; I have heard well-educated people call the Greeks fools for rejecting heliocentrism, despite the fact that the Greeks had powerful arguments against heliocentrism like the lack of stellar parallax [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellar_parallax#Early_theory_and_attempts], or we mock them for the 5 elements, despite the incredible feat of devising atomism just by considering basic logical paradoxes caused by alternative ontologies.
And even if you do, there is air to consider.
Aristotle really said it, in Heavens 4.2 [http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/heavens.4.iv.html]: Note that he take the extreme position that heavier objects fall faster, not just denser! This claim is robust against translation errors since he is keeping the material fixed. I have not been able to find the passage you mention, though I did find a discussion of objects falling slower in water than air.
Just out of curiosity: do you know the origin of that quote? I've tried to find the citation before, but been unable.

"Everything is open to questioning. That does not mean all answers are equally valid."

-- Kelvin Throop

Perfecting oneself is as much unlearning as it is learning.

-- Edsger Dijkstra

On a similar note, from the same author: —Edsger Dijkstra (EWD1036)

It does not matter how frequently something succeeds if failure is too costly to bear. —Nicholas Nassim Taleb

(i.e.: don't forget to put, in your utility functions, the damn appropriate weight of those highly-improbable-but-high-negative-impact tragedies!)

It is really the improbability of black swans that we underestimate, not their impact. The tails are fatter than we think.

Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned. —Avicenna (980–1037 AD)

There is an unfortunate optical illusion - a variant on the Doppler effect - that besets all frauds. It's unfortunate, because it has the effect of exacerbating the pecuniary losses that fraud victims endure, by unfairly leaving them, like many rape victims, irrationally ashamed of themselves.

The Doppler principle we posit holds that as a victim approaches a swindler, he sees nothing but green lights. But as soon as he realizes that his money is gone, he spins around and beholds, as if by magic, bright red flags as far as the eye can see.

-- Roger Parloff, senior editor, "More brazen than Madoff?", Fortune, 2009-03-31

A formula is worth a thousand pictures.

—Edsger Dijkstra

Since all things related to akrasia and self motivation are relevant here:

"As a final incentive before giving up a difficult task, try to imagine it successfully accomplished by someone you violently dislike." -K. Zenios

The master mathematician sat in his private room and pushed the papers from him. His calculations were already finished. In a small white phial there still remained a little of the drug that had kept him awake and active for four long nights. Each day, serene, explicit, patient as ever, he had given his lecture to his students, and then had come back at once to this momentous calculation. His face was grave, a little drawn and hectic from his drugged activity. For some time he seemed lost in thought. Then he went to the window, and the blind went up with a click. Half way up the sky, over the clustering roofs, chimneys and steeples of the city, hung the star.

He looked at it as one might look into the eyes of a brave enemy. "You may kill me," he said after a silence. "But I can hold you--and all the universe for that matter--in the grip of this little brain. I would not change. Even now."

-- H.G. Wells, "The Star", 1897

When I became convinced that the Universe is natural — that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world — not even in infinite space. I was free — free to think, to express my thoughts — free to live to my own ideal — free to live for myself and those I loved — free to use all my faculties, all my senses — free to spread imagination’s wings — free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope — free to judge and determine for myself — free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past — free from the popes and priests — free from all the “called” and “set apart” — free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies — free from the fear of eternal pain — free from the winged monsters of the night — free from devils, ghosts, and gods. For the first time I was free. There wer

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"Experience does not ever err, it is only your judgement that errs in promising itself results which are not caused by your experiments."

Leonardo Da Vinci

"Whoso wishes to grasp God with his intellect becomes an atheist."

--Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf

(M. Aug. Gottlieb Spangenbergs Apologetische Schluß-Schrift (Leipzig and Görlitz, 1752; http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/lists/quotations/quotations_by_ib.html )

Never underestimate the difficulty of changing false beliefs by facts. —Harvard economist Henry Rosovsky

A behavioral policy based on an inside strategy permits the alcoholic to sit at the bar and rehearse the reasons to abstain. An outside strategy identifies a principle or rule of conduct that produces the most accurate or desirable available outcome, and sticks to that rule despite the subjective pull to abandon the principle. A behavioral policy based on an outside strategy recommends that you avoid the bar in the first place.

-- Michael Bishop, 50 Years of Successful Predictive Modeling Should Be Enough: Lessons for Philosophy of Science

I've never seen a UFO. When I went to places that were rumored to be haunted, nothing showed up. Two hours of intense staring didn't make my pencil move a single millimeter, and glaring at my classmate's head didn't reveal his thoughts to me, either. I couldn't help but get depressed at how normal the laws of physics were.

-- Kyon, The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi

Well of course not, you read far too many books for that to still work!
So, in Haruhi, does Egan's law apply? Does it all add up to normality? :)
Are you aware of the anthropic principle?
Yes; don't see how it applies.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
It's another quote. No, Haruhi's world does not add up to normality.
Speaking of Haruhi, should I consume it in animated or text form? (If animated, what order?)
I'd second Eliezer. You must start with animated, and watch it in Haruhi order. There is a very good reason [http://www.gwern.net/The%20Melancholy%20of%20Kyon.html#sequence] that Kyoani broadcast it that way, and it improves on the novels in other respects. (I withhold any assessment of season 2, however, because of Endless Eight [http://www.reddit.com/r/anime/comments/dmqvn/endless_eight_was_in_fact_a_scathing_criticism_of/] ; you may choose as you will whether to watch the anime or just read the Baka Tsuki fan translations.)
Because of Endless Eight? What about them? My original intention was to wait for the pirates to finish plundering the 2009 version [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Melancholy_of_Haruhi_Suzumiya_episodes#2009_version] and watch that.
Some people are insulted enough by them they prefer to not watch season 2 at all.
Adaptation decay [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AdaptationDecay]? Discontinuity [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DisContinuity]? Ah, yes, there it is [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Discontinuity/Anime] (scroll to bottom)! Thanks for the heads up.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
This may be the only Japanese work of which I honestly couldn't say, but on the whole, I'd guess animated first.
First? Are you implying that I should go through both ultimately? If yes, why?
Wow! He's been able to identify [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unidentified_flying_object] every flying object he's ever seen? Must be a boring fellow when stargazing! I think he means he's never seen an alien spaceship...
I'm not sure stars can be called "flying objects".
Well, you can't quite know if a skyward light is something flying near earth until you've identified it, can you? :-)
Mmm. You can usually tell that something's a celestial object, and thus not a flying object, without being able to classify it further...
You've identified it in the relevant sense for the purposes for which the UFO classification was created. Yikes, too much nesting! The Air Force (or whatever) invented the classification UFO for an object they don't yet know how to respond to because of the current inability to identify it. Knowing that something is a far-off celestial object is sufficient identification in this context, making it no longer a UFO. [/pedant] Bumper sticker: "UFOs are real; the Air Force doesn't exist!" ETA: wait, that contradicts my original point. You know, just forget this last comment. Stars count as flying. They travel without touching a planet's ground. Deal with it. ;-)
Thank you.

"A theory which cannot be mortally endangered cannot be alive."

W. A. H. Rushton, quoted in J.R. Platt, "Strong Inference", Science vol.146, n.3642, 1964.

Ph.D. comics no.1173

The script:

A grad student in humanities has been called before a hearing to justify his existence.

Student: "It's hard to explain monetarily, but how can you put a price tag on the human soul?"

Student: "The humanities help us appreciate beauty and grow as individuals."

Student: "What good are science and technology if we don't ask ourselves the question, what does it mean to be a human being?"

Chair: "So how's the answer coming along?"

Student: "Oh no, we just ask the question, not actually answer it."

... and those that do happen to answer the question are excommunicated for heresy.

Besides porking (really) hot babes, flipping out, wailing on guitars, and cutting off heads, a ninja has to train. They have to meditate ALL THE TIME. But most importantly, each morning a ninja should think about going a little crazier than the day before. Beyond thinking about going berserk, a ninja must, by definition, actually go berserk.

Robert Hamburger, REAL Ultimate Power, The Official Ninja Book


The unwillingness to tolerate or respect any social forces which are not recognizable as the product of intelligent design, which is so important a cause of the present desire for comprehensive economic planning, is indeed only one aspect of a more general movement. We meet the same tendency in the field of morals and conventions, in the desire to substitute an artificial for the existing languages, and in the whole modern attitude toward processes which govern the growth of knowledge. The belief that only a synthetic system of morals, an artificial langu

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I lean libertarian, and have long worn the "yay Hayek!" mantle, but, looking back... It seems like he's unfairly using a) poorly-grounded attempts at large-scale social planning, to justify b) a philosophical, universal belief in the superiority of self-organizing systems over designed ones (i.e. even in building a robot). Eliezer Yudkowsky has previous criticized b) in the context of Rodney Brooks's [http://lesswrong.com/lw/vs/selling_nonapples/] preferred robotic architecture. In some contexts, a centrally-planned mechanism which is the product of conscious individual reason is a better way to go. The inferiority of planned economies is not due to the very general superiority of self-organization that Hayek is claiming here.
I've run across that argument a couple times, and my reply has been that all economies are planned. Some are planned by a small number of dumb humans with inadequate data, and others are planned by a very large number of dumb humans with more data, and the latter are called market economies.
Also a planned economy can choose to use markets when it predicts they will achieve the desired result cost effectively.
The problem is in the size of the system, relative to human cognition. Using specialization and management can increase the size of the system we can manage, but not without limit. That is why a self-improving AI is a potential threat, it can increase the size of the system it can manage well beyond what we can understand. It is also why I don't think provably Friendly AI is possible (though I hope I am wrong about that) and that GAI will be developed incrementally from specialized AIs or from general but less than intelligent systems. Also it is what gives me some hope for intelligence amplification to keep up with GAIs, at least for a while; we don't need to start from scratch, just keep improving the size of systems we can manage.
Control and knowledge don't care about scale. One can learn stuff about whole galaxies by observing them. When you want to "manage" an AI, the complexity of your concern is restricted to the complexity of your wish.
Size in describing a system isn't about scale, it's the number of interacting components and the complexity of their interactions. And I don't understand what you mean in your second sentence, it doesn't make sense to me.
A galaxy also isn't "just" about scale: it does contain more stuff, more components (but how do you know that and what does it mean?). Second sentence: using a telescope to make precise observations.
Really wish Friedrich used more paragraphs and less commas.

Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

-- Unknown

That's a terrible quote. Being wrong is the best possible outcome of an argument, as it's the one with the highest expected knowledge gain (unless you're a hardcore altruist who doesn't value their own knowledge differently from anyone else's).

I agree with you, but I don't think that makes it a terrible quote. I personally don't seem to be psychologically able to avoid that awful sinking feeling when I realise I'm wrong, and it does suck. But recognising that it sucks is an important part of allowing the sinking feeling to wash over you, not be personally offended by it, and realise that if you update on this piece of wrongness, you're slightly less likely to be wrong again next time. For me at least, if I just try to pretend the sinking feeling isn't happening, because "rationally" it shouldn't, it just means I'm pretending the wrongness itself isn't happening. And that's a bad idea.
Emotions help anchor new knowledge. That horrible sinking feeling helps you to remember your screw up, so you don't do it again. I suspect people that keep making the same mistakes are those who try to hide their mistakes from themselves and avoid that feeling.
OTOH, you could just compare the feeling of being proven wrong to the feeling of being constipated with hemorrhoids and not being able to urinate, and reckon that you're getting off pretty easy.
No, that's backwards. Learning that you are wrong is good if and only if you are wrong. But it's only good because you were already wrong, which was bad - you were making bad decisions before. It's like saying that it is better to win the lottery than to be born rich. Roughly speaking, it doesn't matter when or where the money or knowledge comes from, only that you can use it.
So if you are surprised to find a $20 bill in your couch, your disappointment at having lost $20 some time in the past is equal to your pleasure at now having $20 more than you did a moment ago? My current level of ignorance is a fact of life, I already know that there must be things that I'm wrong about. How is finding out something in particular that I am wrong about anything but a positive outcome?
That depends rather a lot on my dopamine levels and thought patterns. I gain much more pleasure from finding cash than I am disappointed at losing it. Hang on... Excuse me. Going for a walk around my house with my wallet open.
Careful... diminishing returns still apply ;)
roughly, yes. If your mistakes are independent, then correcting one of them doesn't (much) correct your estimate of how many more mistakes you have to correct. Say you have 21 beliefs with 95% confidence and an argument clarifies a random one of them. You still have 1 expected wrong belief. By independence, we might as well say it's belief #1 that gets clarified. People who were wrong about it end up the same as people who were right about it. Yes, they gained more information, but they were really just unlucky to start with less information. This is exactly the lottery/inheritance model. Yes, your ignorance is a fact, but it's not a fact accessible to you. The argument decreases your estimate of your ignorance by the same amount, regardless of whether you win or lose. If you happen to know how ignorant you are, how many items you're wrong about, then the situation is different, but that's a lot less realistic than independence.
So if I understand the point you're making: Losing an argument provides enough evidence of your prior ignorance to prevent any net gain in your expectation of your own overall knowledgeability, at least relative to winning the argument. I don't disagree, but I don't know why I'd care to base an emotional response on this kind of evaluation. I'm not fretting over my absolute position on the axis of knowledge, I'm just hill climbing. It's the first derivative that my decisions affect, not the initial constant.
It isn't that winning the lottery is better than being born rich, it's that winning the lottery is better than not winning the lottery. Even if you're already rich, winning the lottery is good. Presumably you weren't born right about everything, which means it's more useful to lose arguments than win them. After all, if you never lose an argument, what's more likely: that you are right about everything, that you're the best arguer ever, or that you simply don't argue things you're wrong about?
My first thought was b). What was the intended response?
Or that you are right about everything that you believe in strongly enough to argue about. In other words, avoid believing strongly in the absence of evidence. And don't argue where you don't have the facts on your side.
Presumably, not (a). In both other cases you've managed to not notice you're wrong.
It's more so a terrible quote because it is unwise to have a significant emotional attitude towards finding out you're wrong, because this will tend to reinforce irrational defense mechanisms ("Let's agree to disagree!"). The purpose of argument is, I hope, to improve your understanding of the world, so even if you shouldn't be thrilled to find yourself wrong, you shouldn't be afraid of doing so.
Yes, it is unwise to have such emotional attitudes, but you don't get rid of them by saying that they are bad. Honestly acknowledging their existence, as in the original quote, is probably a better route to their elimination than an emotionless assertion that losing arguments is good. The quote, on its own, probably doesn't do much good, and perhaps does some harm, but I think it is probably a better step to accomplishing loqi's goal than his phrasing.
Possibly, but I certainly wasn't advocating an emotionless response. Fight fire with fire! If you realize you're feeling stupid for having been wrong instead of feeling excited to have learned something, go ahead and feel stupid for feeling stupid. I think I understand the rationale behind the original quote: Being wrong feels awful, so you should try to be right as often as possible. But this emotional response also disincentivizes attempts to stick your neck out [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ig/i_defy_the_data/] on behalf of your existing beliefs. One might counter that a positive emotional response to being wrong provides an incentive for being wrong in the first place just so you can feel good about discarding your flawed beliefs in the future. This strikes me as a far less plausible mechanism than the above.
I agree that this is a dangerous use of the original quote, which I admitted can be put to both good and bad uses. I probably shouldn't have invoked you and definitely shouldn't have used "emotionless."
Does anyone know the origin of this notion (that being wrong is the best outcome of an argument?). It strikes me as basically a founding principle of rationality and I'd like to know the earliest public reference to/ discussion of it. Alternately, is this sentiment summarized in any good quotes? It is hugely important for Hegel but he isn't, you know, pithy.
This kind of sentiment pops up in Plato a lot, esp. in discussions of rhetoric, like here in Gorgias: "For I count being refuted a greater good, insofar as it is a greater good to be rid of the greatest evil from oneself than to rid someone else of it. I don't suppose that any evil for a man is as great as false belief about the things we're discussing right now." (458a, Zeyl Translation)
Excellent point. This concept goes squarely with much of Socrates' philosophy: the wise men knew nothing, and he knew nothing, but he knew it and they didn't, thus, he was the wisest man alive, as the oracle had said.
In information theory, there's the concept of the surprisal [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surprisal], which is the logarithm of the inverse of the expected probability of an event. The lower the probability, the higher the surprise(al). The higher the surprisal, the greater the information content. (Intuitively, the less likely something is, the more you change your beliefs upon learning it.) So, yeah, it's pretty enshrined in information theory. Entropy is equivalent to the (oxymoronic) "expected surprisal". That is, given a discrete probability distribution over events, the probability-weighted average surprisal is the entropy. Incidentally, as part of a project to convert all of the laws of physics into information-theoretic form, I realized that the elastic energy of a deformable body tells you its probability of being in that state, and (by the above argument), it's information content. That means you can explain failure modes in terms of the component being forced to store more information than it's capable of. Well, it's interesting to me.
You seem like as good a person to ask this as any: Is there a good introduction to information theory out there? How would one start digging into the field?
To be quite honest, I only really started to study it after reading Eliezer Yudkowsky's Engines of Cognition [http://lesswrong.com/lw/o5/the_second_law_of_thermodynamics_and_engines_of/], which connected it to what I know about thermodynamics. ( Two [http://silasx.blogspot.com/2008/11/my-plan-to-destroy-universe-wont-work.html] blog [http://silasx.blogspot.com/2009/03/another-interesting-thermodynamics.html] posts inspired by it.) So, like you, I'm an autodidact on the topic. Most people would recommend David MacKay's downloadable [http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/mackay/itila/] book, which is written in a friendly, accessible tone. That helped a lot, but I also found it hard to follow at times. That may be due to not having a physical copy though. And it can't be beat as a technical reference or in terms of depth. Personally, my path to learning about it was to basically read the Wikipedia articles on Information Theory and Kullback-Leibler divergence, and every relevant, interesting link that branches off from those (on or off wikipedia). ETA: Oh, and learning about statistical mechanics, especially the canonical ensemble [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonical_ensemble] was a big help for me too, esp. given the relation to the E. T. Jaynes articles on the maximum entropy formalism. But YMMV.
Hm, what about being constipated with hemorrhoids? ETA: No wait, how about this: same as above, but, assuming you're a male, with the intestines so full that they press against the prostate (basically the "core" of your pleasure/pain generator) and keep you from being able to urinate. Then, top it off with a severe hangover headache. Who would prefer being proven wrong to all of that? Me.
Yup, that's way worse. ... TMI?
Hey, just suggesting a hypothetical... There really are worse things in life than realizing you're wrong mid-argument.
What about the moment when you realize you've made a significant practical mistake?
2Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
Why is this being voted down? I'm pretty sure Nominull didn't post the quote in order to endorse it as a normative sentiment. There's an ick reaction so you hit "Vote down"? But that's not what decides whether a quote is a good thing to have read!
Also, in general, the quote is accurate. While it is intellectually useful to be proven wrong, it is not really a pleasant feeling, because it's much nicer to have already been right. This is especially true if you are heavily invested in what you are wrong about, eg. a scientist who realizes his research was based on an erroneous premise will be happy to stop wasting time but will also feel pretty crappy about the time he's already wasted. It's not in our nature to be purely cerebral about such a devastating thing as being wrong can be.
No, the quote isn't accurate. There are lots more worse feelings than being wrong in an argument. If you can't think of one, start from here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1co/rationality_quotes_october_2009/173j].
Well, if you want to pick nits, a vacuum cleaner sucks more than realizing you're wrong in an argument.
That's not picking nits; that's switching out a metaphorical definition mid-discussion for a more literal one, a species of "moving the goalposts". This is picking nits.
Well, I don't feel bad at all, so obviously you haven't won this argument yet. Unless I'm wrong, of course.
This does much to explain the mechanism by which humans avoid realizing when they are wrong!
I have a pound of Sweet-n-Sour pork for you to eat, and some scratchy toilet paper that can correct that ...
It's hyperbole, then.
Hyperbole that only seems clever to people who haven't experienced real pain. (Note: didn't mod down, because the follow-up discussion is interesting.)
It's excessive hyperbole, then. You would have preferred the quote went more like the following.
That works :-)
I'm curious as to how you define real pain then. I had shingles 9 years ago and an infection that went systemic a year ago that was even more painful, though thankfully only for a day.
I think the only ick reaction here is from my examples [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1co/rationality_quotes_october_2009/173j] of experiences that are much more painful than any epistemic event.
(Agree, and add that) It is often more frustrating when I realise I am not wrong, can reliably reverse engineer the other's thought process, know that they will jump back to this error whenever an even tangentially related topic is discussed and I must now choose between rapport and reason. The death cry of mutual respect.
I didn't downvote, but I didn't upvote either. The trouble is that a moment's thought reveals a host of objections. If I understand correctly, rationality quotes ought to be good, useful cached thoughts; this is merely a useful observation. (Edit: On further reflection, I've upvoted it. Points to eirenicon.)
Taken from Ruminations [http://ruminations.com/site/index.php?sort=mostgourmet&range=0]?

You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. —Daniel Moyniham

That's what my government told me when I discovered the phone tap.

I won’t teach a man who is not eager to learn, nor will I explain to one incapable of forming his own ideas. Nor have I anything more to say to those who, after I have made clear one corner of the subject, cannot deduce the other three.


i.e. if you don't agree with me, you're stupid.
On the contrary: an intelligent student can deduce the consequences of a thesis without believing it -- one must, to form a reliable judgement of its accuracy.

Our minds are like inmates, captive to our biology, unless we manage a cunning escape.

-- Nassim Taleb

How does one escape from biology? This seems more closely related to transhumanism than rationality.
By applying software patches that detect hardware faults and compensate or work around them.
For example [http://library.wolfram.com/infocenter/TechNotes/176/]
How does one escape from his biases?
With the biologically-instantiated [http://lesswrong.com/lw/s5/rebelling_within_nature/] powers of one's reason [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jm/the_lens_that_sees_its_flaws/], I expect.
I think that's what Taleb wanted to say.

Dear Meg,

Please don't try to trisect the angle. . . It's not a matter of being clever.

Ian Stewart, Letters to a Young Mathematician

I don't know if I like this one. One ought to try some things, if for no other reason to learn which sources of information are reliable.
What's even worse is trying to get that message to happen. I confess, in my early internet days, I thought I figured out how to trisect an angle, and sent a sketch of it to a random math prof in Canada, asking for a prompt reply. And you know what? I didn't get one! Probably the most polite reply one could reasonably expect.
There are ways to trisect the angle; did your method break the rules and use one of them, or was it just wrong?
It was just wrong.
I think he meant that he tried to trisect an angle in general, by construction; this has been proven impossible [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angle_trisection].
Yes, but there are some constructions like Archimedes's use of a marked ruler (which is covered, actually, in the 'Means to trisect angles by going outside the Greek framework' section) which work correctly & are not immediately obviously breaking the rules. So I had to ask before I could know whether he had broken the rules or broken his proof (if you follow me).
Which is perhaps what you meant by "break the rules" (of construction), by using a marked ruler, for instance.
Right. There are some constructions like Archimedes's use of a marked ruler (which is covered, actually, in the 'Means to trisect angles by going outside the Greek framework' section) which work correctly & are not immediately obviously breaking the rules. So I had to ask before I could know whether he had broken the rules or broken his proof (if you follow me).
Couldn't you trisect a right angle by making an equilateral triangle with one of the right angle's lines for a side, then bisecting that angle of the triangle? It wouldn't generalize to other angles, but you wouldn't need a ruler.
Of course you can trisect some angles, just not all of them. For example, you can't trisect the angle of an equilateral triangle (60 degrees).
Just like you can solve the Halting Problem - for particular Turing Machines. The interesting impossibility results are always general.
The analogy isn't perfect because the halting problem can in principle be solved for each particular machine, but trisection can't be solved for each particular angle.
It can only be solved in that a correct answer can be given; there are some Turing machines that do not halt for which there is no proof that they do not halt.
Yes, this is correct, but the halting problem can still be solved with a simple algorithm for each such machine, and even for all of them at once :-) But okay, we understand each other.
Prove it.
Suppose that for every Turing machine that does not halt, there is a proof that it does not halt. It is pretty obvious that if a Turing machine does halt, there is a proof that it does. Therefore, for every Turing machine, either it halts or it doesn't, and there is a proof of this. Therefore, the following method constitutes a halting oracle: Go through every possible proof. For each proof P, if P is a proof that the machine in question halts, finish and return YES; if P is a proof that the machine in question does not halt, finish and return NO; otherwise, go on to the next proof. This is contradicts the fact that there are no halting oracles, so the supposition is false.
What is it about this algorithm that makes calling it an oracle prove it doesn't halt? Oracles [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oracle_machine] (as I understand them, at least) can be created (or assumed) to solve all sorts of problems, from trivial to unsolvable.
Uh, let me try that again. * (1) Suppose that for every Turing machine that does not halt, there is a proof that it does not halt. * (2) We know that for every Turing machine that halts, there is a proof that it halts. * (3) For every Turing machine, there is either a proof that it halts or a proof that it does not halt. (by (1) and (2)) * (4) We know that the set of all proofs is recursively enumerable, i.e. there is a program that outputs all proofs. * (5) We know that, given a proof, it is possible to determine whether it proves that a Turing machine halts, and whether it proves that a Turing machine does not halt. * (6) The set of all proofs that a Turing machine halts, and the set of all proofs that a Turing machine does not halt, are both recursively enumerable. (by (4) and (5)) * (7) The set of all Turing machines that halt, and the set of all Turing machines that do not halt, are both recursively enumerable. (by (3) and (6)) * (8) There is a program that determines, given a Turing machine, whether it halts or not. (by (7)) (8) contradicts what we already know, so our supposition, (1), must be false.
I follow (1) and grant (2). (3) Follows from (1) and (2). Are you asserting that the set of proofs is finite? This would surprise me but seems to be required for (8) to contradict what I know.
No, the set of proofs is infinite. There is a program that outputs all proofs; it's just that it takes forever to do so.
...but a finite amount of time to output any specific proof off the list.
Couldn't you trisect a right angle? IIRC, you can make 30º angles, so...
It's easy to trisect an angle. Just use a protractor. ;)

The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything. Except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands. -Oscar Wilde

MY mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,—
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

... (read more)
MY mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun Coral is far more red than her lips’ red: If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damask’d, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound: I grant I never saw a goddess go,— My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground: And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare. -Shakespeare, Sonnet 130 (4 spaces at the start of a line indicates a code block.)
Or, if fixed width poetry isn't to your taste: MY mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun Coral is far more red than her lips’ red: If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damask’d, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound: I grant I never saw a goddess go,— My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground: And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare. -Shakespeare, Sonnet 130 (To end a line without ending a paragraph type in two spaces at the end of the line before the enter.)
(Or any other creative work around you happen to dream up. I think the two spaces at the end thing was the answer you were looking for.)
asdf asdf

What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so. —Mark Twain

You must engage in these internal dialogues all the time, and you must let yourself lose the arguments gracefully. Writing may be a game of solitaire, but it isn’t a game at which you can cheat.

-Theodore Cheney, Getting the Words Right

There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…not going all the way, and not starting.


Well, at least Buddha started. If he'd gone a bit further along that particular road he may have added: * Going the wrong way. * Making sacrifices to further a journey along the road to truth that do not give commensurate reward. * Trying to go further or faster than you are able and damaging your existing progress in the process. * Building (and continuing to build) your model of truth on inefficient foundations. * Spending resources (time, money, attention) on truth seeking now when such resources could have been used to generate far more resources for truth production later on. * Learning low value truth before higher relevance truth. * Assuming that it is possible to go all the way on the road to truth. Apart from the potential for ever more precision, every moment that passes allows matter to slip out of the reach of your future light cone. So if you manage to grab all the truth in one direction you're probably never going to get the chance to build an accurate model of the other extreme.

"Now I'll never know if I was right."

-- final words of Adric, in Dr. Who, "Earthshock", on realizing that he's about to crash into the Earth

I think that might need some context - was his prediction that he would die on crashing or something?
The specifics of what he was doing aren't important. (He had been trying to break an encrypted password-equivalent to the flight control computer, and had just entered in what he believed to be the solution, when the computer was destroyed, leaving him facing certain death.) I just like the idea that what upset him most about dying was that he wouldn't be able to finish the problem he was working on.

Mathematics is rational, not reasonable.

-- Terry Padden, in "Ultimately, in Physics the Rational shall become Reasonable!"

You got to have a dream,

If you don't have a dream,

How you gonna have a dream come true?

"I can't see it, so you must be wrong."

my four-year-old

"My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there."

Charles F. Kettering

"Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives." The Amazing Criswell

"Why then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 239–251

Awesome! I didn't know you could think away chronic pain!
You can. Just think about the details of the pain rather than the pain itself. Rest your attention on what the pain draws your attention towards and the pain goes away.
I am interested enough in this suggestion to start tentatively practicing it. How many years have you been practicing it, Mike? Has anyone else with whom you have a personal relationship been practicing it for more than a year? Have you ever tried it on unwanted feeling states other than pain?
Does this free up your attention for other things, or does the pain keep coming back?
It stops coming back if its minor pain. You have to try a few times and it isn't totally effective when you aren't concentrating for more serious pain.
Well, if you could show us some chronic pain in the absence of any thinking...
the quote refers to thinking it good or bad, not thinking simpliciter
Then it is saying nothing about 'thinking away' the chronic pain. Pick which interpretation: either it's that thinking in general precedes pain, or that it precedes any assessment of goodness; neither supports your dismissal. (It may help your attempted criticism to switch from Shakespeare's ambiguous old English to a similar statement from the Stoics or Epicureans.)
I don't have much choice in whether to consider pain good. *Sigh*, do we have another candidate for experiencing real physical pain before these blithe dismissals?
I assume you do this every time you exercise. Again, good doesn't mean not-painful; a change in beliefs will flip some given from 'good' to 'bad'. A searing pain is bad if you have no reason to endure; it's good if you think the alternative is the gom jabbar [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gom_jabbar]. (Is this really so difficult or controversial a point?)
No, it's just that to shore up your position, you have to diminish the point of the quote into triviality. You can consider the long term effects of the pain to be good. You can be trained to get a dopamine release during a certain kind of pain. You cannot deem the pain itself good. A belief that the pain is good does not change the pain, and only exists through self-deception. And please burn every copy of Dune you have. ;-)
Pain is just pain; it's neither good nor bad. Good and bad are only judgments, which are thoughts, and as such are determined by one's mind & beliefs. I think this is a profound truth unappreciated by many, and by no means trivial. Over my dry dessicated remains!
Pain is the raw "quale" of badness. You can deem some future goal to be good, and worth the pain, but you can't judge pain good, except in an abstract, meaningless sense, disconnected from any implications for your actions.
I think the quote originator, and Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics, might say that you can instead think pain neither good nor bad, but simply there. Certainly, it is hard to act as if pain is good, but the idea is that the rational person can subordinate that reflexive reaction, after a moment's thought (perhaps less with training) and move beyond it.
Says the non-masochist.
The non-masochist also said: I don't know if you were joking, but masochists only enjoy a very narrow kind of pain. It's a misconception that masochists enjoy all, or even many kinds of pain.
You need to study your Mary Baker Eddy.
What's this supposed to mean, in context?
Fuller quote (lines 243-251): It doesn't seem especially deep to me...

Why is it believed that what pictures you can make in your head, and what is true or necessarily true, are terribly well connected? If there is not a substantial connection between the (necessarily) true and your conception of the (necessarily) true, then Hume's argument goes up in smoke.

-- Aretae

I wasn't especially impressed by Aretae's reasoning. For example, You will not be able to perform this updating unless you have already assigned prior probabilities to propositions connecting the past to the future. That's why Bayesian updating will never get it right if you start out with the anti-induction [http://lesswrong.com/lw/t9/no_license_to_be_human/] prior. Hence, to address Hume's problem, you have to come up with a justification for preferring certain prior distributions. We may have good reasons for preferring those distributions that posit that the past is like the future, but, contra Aretae, those reasons are outside the scope of mere Bayesian updating. ETA: Better link on anti-induction [http://lesswrong.com/lw/s0/where_recursive_justification_hits_bottom/].
0Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
Well that's why I quoted one part and not the other.
I had trouble understanding the quote out of context. The first sentence is fine. But, despite a prior understanding of Hume's argument, I couldn't see how Aretae got from the first sentence to the conclusion that "Hume's argument goes up in smoke". On the contrary, Hume's point was that the connections we make in our minds might have little similarity to the actual connections, if any, that exist among things in the external world. I had to go to the context to see that Aretae is making Hume out to be some kind of a-priorist. Aretae concludes that general arguments against a-priorists are therefore arguments against Hume. This is a bizarre misreading of Hume. Hume's problem of induction is itself an attack on a-priorism. He refers to a-priori arguments only to show that they do not suffice to justify induction. This was big news in a day when practically all intellectuals were a-priorists.
Yes, a good point. There's the famous argument that naturalism is self-defeating because e.g., "why should I trust a monkey brain?" But in order to get to where you are today, each organism in your ancestry must have had enough harmony with nature's laws so as to harness them for its sustenance and reproduction. So there has to be some connection between the two.
What else are you going to trust more? (Remember whatever you trust, and your trusting itself, depends on a "monkey brain".)

[This is not a quote, but a meta discussion.]

I find it curious that the quotes posted here have higher votes on average than the usual discussion comments, and it makes me think that I have a below-average appreciation for quotations. Why do people value them, I wonder?

The quotes are, by and large, selected for their ability to be appreciated out of context, and so there's a low threshold of understanding: you don't have to read a lengthy top post or six layers of ancestor comments to understand a quote.
beceause... “Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.” ~Oscar Wilde
Wilde: I wish I'd said that Whistler: You will, Oscar, you will!
(For the record, Wikiquote suggests W. Somerset Maugham [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/William_Somerset_Maugham], in the 1926 short story The Creative Impulse - the exact quote listed being "She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit".)
I suspect it is because the main post refers to quotes being "voted up/down separately," i.e. it puts it in people's minds that they are supposed to vote on the quotes. I do find it funny that I got 12 karma points for cutting/pasting a quote; C.S. Lewis deserves the karma points, not me (as evidenced by the fact that I have gotten a grand total of 1 point from my own original posts). If one wanted to game the karma system, posting pithy quotes is the way to go.
No, creating multiple accounts with whatever level of investment of effort is sufficient to avoid detection is the way to go. And also too easy to be worth bothering with for a reward of no external value. There are systems to game that pay off in dollars.
How do multiple accounts help? (I don't remember accounts being gifted with any starting capital.) Do you allude to using multiple accounts to vote each other's comments up?
While the number of downvotes one can give is capped by one's karma score, upvotes aren't limited in that way. So if you're Username1 (under which alias you've made 50 comments), and you create account Username2, you can (under guise Username2) upvote all fifty comments by Username1. Instant fifty point boost for Username1. Username2 need never post a word.
Who actually gets off on earning loads of karma across multiple accounts with no-one knowing?
I would be surprised if anyone did. As I said, there are systems to game give more tangible rewards. The only foray I've had to multiple accounts consists of deleting my original account when I realised that using my real name means either constraining my posting to signalling or risking biting my future self in the arse through a residual trail of honesty.
"A proverb is much matter distilled into few words." —R. Buckminster Fuller
"A proverb is ... few words."
It is the distillation part -- the extraordinary degree of compression of experience -- that is most important, not the "few words" part.
I do not conclude that they value them. I think people vote for top-level posts and other stand-alone situations, such as quotations, based on whether they like them, while they vote for comments in on-going discussions based on trying to push them to a particular score, which is usually positive but low. I'm not entirely sure what puts people in different voting modes. Alicorn's comment is surely true, but I'm not sure whether it's an independent effect or a cause of the different voting mode.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
Short is good.
"A proverb is much matter distilled into few words." —R. Buckminster Fuller
Quotes are selected for their penetrating insight and importance. Comments, not necessarily.
Me, I like that I can carry them around as an easily-accessed procedure for focusing on a rationalist task. Some of Eliezer's most effective posts, I'd say, had as a key feature a single phrase ("shut up and multiply [http://lesswrong.com/lw/n3/circular_altruism/]," for instance) that stuck with the community much like quotes stick with me.
Apparently, to summarize several responses, brevity is key. Well, I like brevity as much as the next person, but I also like explanations and arguments, and it seems that most quotes achieve conciseness at the cost of leaving out the "why". So after reading a quote, I can have one of three responses: 1. nod my head in agreement if it's something I already knew 2. track down the original book/article to find the explanation or argument 3. just move on with some amount of frustration 1 and 3 don't provide me with much benefit, and I usually don't bother to do 2, because of the hassle involved, and because I don't know whether the source material even contains an attempt to argue or explain.
Appreciation and repetition of sound bites is an awesome way of gaining status. When it comes to 'new' thoughts we can often get more status by engaging with them to prove our intellectual prowess.
"A proverb is much matter distilled into few words." —R. Buckminster Fuller

This is the moment that matters, and I refuse to look back on this day and say "maybe if I hadn't..."

-- Hybrid Theory

"Do you really mean to tell me that back in Berlin you've got a plan for war against France and one for war against France and England and one for war against France and England and Russia and one for-"

"Aber naturlich," [But naturally] Schlieffen broke in. "And we think of also Austria-Hungary and Italy, though they are now our friend. And we remember Holland and Belgium and Denmark and Sweden and Turkey and-"

The general-in-chief of the United States stared at him. "Jesus Christ, you do mean it," Rosecrans said slowl... (read more)

"People are not base animals, but people, about 90% animal and 10% something new and different. Religion can be looked on as an act of rebellion by the 90% animal against the 10% new and different (most often within the same person)."

That way of looking at it is attractive but I don't think it is accurate. Most of religion is the outcome of that extra 10% and definitely part of what we identify as 'person'. Rejecting religion, and other equivalent institutions is an act of rebellion of 2% against the other 8%.

The carting of manure had to begin earlier, so that everything would be finished before the early mowing. The far field had to be ploughed continually, so as to keep it fallow. The hay was to be got in, not on half shares with the peasants, but by hired workers.

The steward listened attentively and obviously made an effort to approve of the master's suggestions; but all the same he had that hopeless and glum look, so familiar to Levin and always so irritating to him. This look said: "That's all very well, but it's as God grants."

Nothing so upset

... (read more)
I think fatalism may be a key moral failing from which many others, such as carelessness and an indifference to the suffering of others, spring. Fatalism is more common, I think, than many others seem to believe. It does not need to be gloomy as the Slavic versions, think of the words to Que Sera, Sera; "whatever will be, will be".

In volunteer organizations, when someone was allowed to fail to teach them a lesson about their responsibilities, I do not ever remember them learning that lesson.

-- Matt Arnold

I would have been able to read that sentence correctly without context if it had a comma: "allowed to fail, to teach them a lesson."

Nullius in verba ~The Royal Society

Ah, yes, Latin for "On nobody's say-so." (Slang translation)

(approximate, my translation)

Blessed are those who believe without seeing. Who wants to be blessed when they could see.

-- Esa Lappi, my high school math teacher when showing us the proof of some theorem.

Er, if you believe in being blessed to begin with, it's clearly better than seeing.


Blessed just gives you a +1 to attack while sight gives you 2 AC, half speed, -4 search, automatically failed spot checks and the 50% miss chance on every attack from total concealment!

The statement that all of us are purportedly able to coherently conceive or imagine a certain situation - for instance, an imitation man or a zombie - is rather trivial from a philosophical point of view because ultimately it is just an empirical claim about the history of the brain and its functional architecture. It is a statement about a world that is phenomenally possible for human beings. It is not a statement about the modal strength of the relationship between physical and phenomenal properties; logical possibility (or necessity) is not implied by

... (read more)

In fewer words: we can imagine things that cannot exist.

2Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
In even fewer words: we can imagine the illogical.
What a fun game: Impossibilities are imaginable.
I think he's saying something more limiting - we cannot tell if we imagine things that cannot exist. or even as far as - we cannot tell if things cannot exist. :)

The intensity of a conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or false. The importance of the strength of our conviction is only to provide a proportionately strong incentive to find out if the hypothesis will stand up to critical evaluation.

— Peter Medawar

Science attempts to find logic and simplicity in nature. Mathematics attempts to establish order and simplicity in human thought.

— Edward Teller

And when one goeth through fire for his teaching--what doth that prove? Verily, it is more when one's teaching cometh out of one's own burning!

-Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist

[-][anonymous]13y 1

the human mind is trained by the knowledge imparted to it and the direction given to its ideas. Only what is great can make it great; the little can only make it little.

-Carl von Clausewitz

All that glitters is not gold

Unknown Origin

That is, indeed, the idiomatic form. But it should properly be "Not all that glitters is gold", because gold does, in fact, glitter, and therefore some things which glitter are indeed gold. And, of course, some are diamond.
Usually, sentences of the form "all that glitters is not gold" mean "not (all that glitters is gold)". "All is not lost" does not mean that nothing got any worse. While it may seem weird for "not" to semantically modify the entire sentence while it syntactically modifies only "gold", we do this all the time using other words: "we ate nothing" does not mean "we ate X" for X equal to "nothing"; it means "for all X, not (we ate X)". For fun, see Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Continuation&oldid=319288332#Linguistics] . To imitate a friend of mine, how dare you try to make English make more sense.
But surely "we ate X" can mean "X = {Y: We ate Y}", as in "we ate a set of fried chicken legs" -- and this would allow one to analyze "we ate nothing" to mean "we ate X" for X = emptyset.
Let "nothing" be the empty set, and say that "we ate X" means that X is the set of all things that we ate? How would that handle the sentence "No robot took off its hat"? My semantics say that that's equivalent to "for no robot X, (X took off X's hat)"; yours would say something like "(the set of no robots) took off (some value that isn't a set of hats)".
[-][anonymous]11y 0

The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.

William Lawrence Bragg

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"The demand for immortality is nowadays essentially teleological. We believe ourselves immortal because we believe ourselves fit for immortality. A 'substance' ought to perish we think, if not worthy to survive, and an insubstantial 'stream' to prolong itself where worthy, if the nature of Things is organized in the rational way we trust it is."

--William James, "The Consciousness of Self", The Principles of Psychology

Whereas nowadays, at least in communities like this one, the demand is moral and technological. We think that not dying is desirable and achievable [http://www.sens.org/], but not yet achieved.
Do we all truly feel that we only want immortality out of simple self-interest, greed or selfishness if you will - and not because we feel that creatures such as ourselves should not have to die, that death is an injustice, that we deserve to live? If so, then maybe we are not like the men of the 19th century James is describing, and that is a very interesting change in its own right. EDIT: This may be an interesting link about the emotional content of the fight against death: http://yudkowsky.net/other/yehuda [http://yudkowsky.net/other/yehuda] ...
"Life itself is a quotation." Jorge Luis Borges
-- "Kafka and his Precursors"

It seems thus impossible that any question about the nature or character of particular sensory qualities should ever arise which is not a question about the differences from (or relations to) other sensory qualities; and the extent to which the effects of its occurrence differ from the effects of the occurrence of any other qualities determines the whole of its character.

To ask beyond this for the explanation of some absolute attribute of sensory qualities seems to be to ask for something which by definition cannot manifest itself in any differences in th

... (read more)
I guess Hayek is to opaque here to be quotable?
It is opaque. If I'm reading it right, it's a functionalist argument against the concept of qualia, much as Dennett makes here [http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/quinqual.htm].
More or less. It's about a half-step away from invoking occam's razor to finish the job.
[-][anonymous]13y 0

Mathematics is rational, not reasonable.
-- Terry Padden, Ultimately, in Physics the Rational shall become Reasonable !

"Although blinding with science can be used in any argument, many will recognize the special domain of this fallacy as the subjects which like to consider themselves as sciences, but are not.

Science deals with things from atoms to stars at a level where individual differences do not matter. The scientist talks of 'all' rolling bodies or whatever, and formulates general laws to test by experiment.

The trouble with human beings is that, unlike rolling bodies, the individual differences do matter. Often, again unlike rolling bodies, they want to do differ... (read more)