Rationality Quotes - June 2009

(Since there didn't seem to be one for this month, and I just ran across a nice quote.)

A monthly thread for posting any interesting rationality-related quotes you've seen recently on the Internet, or had stored in your quotesfile for ages.

  • Please post all quotes separately (so that they can be voted up (or down) separately) unless they are strongly related/ordered.
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB - if we do this, there should be a separate thread for it.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
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"Sometimes men come by the name of genius in the same way that certain insects come by the name of centipede; not because they have a hundred feet, but because most people cannot count above fourteen."

-- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

related: The Level Above Mine

Seeking a citation, I found the following:

To see every day how people get the name ‘genius' just as the wood-lice in the cellar the name ‘millipede' - not because they have that many feet, but because most people don't want to count to 14 - this has had the result that I don't believe anyone any more without checking.
- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Lichtenberg: Aphorisms & Letters (1969), 48, translated by Franz H. Mautner and Henry Hatfield.

...on this horribly-formatted website. Google Books verifies.

(P.S. Note that the original is in German.)

My source was this Roger Kimball article. I just found the book that Kimball references on Google Books and it doesn't seem to contain any version of that quote, so for now I'd guess that your version is more accurate. Ideally we'd want to find the original German version.

The German version a quick google search finds in a few places on the web, all unsourced, is very close to the first version, except that Tausendfüß(l)er literally means millipede, centipede would be Hundertfüß(l)er.

I found a site which purports to offer Notebook F, from which the quote is supposed to be taken - the text there reads:

Ich kann nicht leugnen, mein Mißtrauen gegen den Geschmack unserer Zeit ist bei mir vielleicht zu einer tadelnswürdigen Höhe gestiegen. Täglich zu sehen wie Leute zum Namen Genie kommen, wie die Keller – Esel zum Namen Tausendfuß, nicht weil sie so viele Füße haben, sondern weil die meisten nicht bis auf 14 zählen wollen, hat gemacht, daß ich keinem mehr ohne Prüfung glaube.

which appears to conform with the Mautner & Hatfield text.

It could be that Moritz Carrière is to fault. In his Aesthetik, he quotes Lichtenberg as claiming people cannot count to sixteen.

The Lichtenberg reader (1959) also contains the same essay and is available at my local library - I'm not invested enough in the issue to try to track it down, though.

"People are mostly sane enough, of course, in the affairs of common life: the getting of food, shelter, and so on. But the moment they attempt any depth or generality of thought, they go mad almost infallibly. The vast majority, of course, adopt the local religious madness, as naturally as they adopt the local dress. But the more powerful minds will, equally infallibly, fall into the worship of some intelligent and dangerous lunatic, such as Plato, or Augustine, or Comte, or Hegel, or Marx."
-- David Stove, What Is Wrong With Our Thoughts

"Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It's shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad'Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson."

-- Frank Herbert, Dune

"Voting in a democracy makes you feel powerful, much as playing the lottery makes you feel rich." -- Mencius Moldbug

Is it really true that playing the lottery makes you feel rich? Can someone who has played the lottery corroborate on this?

Or that voting makes you feel powerful? I mean, maybe a little... not close to as much as performing well at work or in sport or in bed. My initial comment was not intended to argue that his quote was dumb because I didn't think it was worth fighting that fight against the numerous people that apparently think it is a good quote. But I can't pretend I like it.

Ceteris Paribus, I prefer quotes from people who are well known, respected, and deserving of respect.

Edit: I fear misinterpretation, please see further explanations below especially my response to Orthonormal.

Quotes such as these tend not to include arguments.

I agree with that post (and read it long ago). I don't believe it conflicts with anything I've said.

Fascinating, why was this voted down so harshly? Yes, I implied that Mencius Moldbug is not particularly well known, respected, or deserving of respect. Is it wrong to express this sentiment? If you're curious why I lack great respect for Mencius, it is because I don't believe he argues in good faith. He doesn't argue respectfully or carefully. See Robin Hanson take him apart.

I was also making a more general point about the use of quotations and authority so it was not merely a case of gratuitous attacks on an individual.

I voted it down because, among rationalists, the value of an idea shouldn't depend much on the author (although sometimes the author's identity sheds more light on the quote). I mean, hell, Eliezer found an interesting quote from Piers Anthony.

It's a very bad habit to let your assessment of a person affect your valuations of isolated remarks to that degree.

I agree the value of an idea shouldn't depend too much on the author if we can evaluate the idea more directly. But I think the value of a quotation, a particular wording of an idea, is more dependent on who authored it.

If I were to use the Moldbug quote above in a positive light I fear how the reader would react:

  1. Readers who like the quote would get a falsely positive impression of the author.
  2. Readers who knew, and didn't like the author, would slightly lower their assessment of me "even if he is right this time, why does he think Moldbug is an authority?"

I think most people use quotes with the understanding that readers often feel an implicit appeal to authority unless they explicitly state otherwise. Quoting someone also causes readers to perceive the author to be deserving of engagement. I'd rather not reward people I don't respect in that way.

Maybe I'm weird, but I don't use or interpret quotes that way (as an appeal to authority). I use quotes that express an idea succinctly or cleverly, and the point for me is the language, not the source. I'm careful not to accidentally imply that the wording is mine, but other than that quotes are pretty independent of their originators in my mind.

(But I do frequently introduce a quote by saying "as someone said" to avoid derailing the conversation to be about that person)

I agree that the language of a quotation is of utmost importance. Everything you're saying seems reasonable.

I can't speak for others, but I find the value of a quote to be almost completely independent of its originator. (exception being when the originator is someone like Hitler; that's a short list, though)

I'm not a fan of this particular quote, though, because I can't tell if it's sarcastic or serious. (I've never played the lottery, but I wouldn't expect it to make me feel rich; voting doesn't make me feel powerful. I'm just not sure what it's attempting to communicate.)

EDIT: what orthonormal said. Also, before anyone docks me for the same reason, the reason I would refrain from quoting Hitler (assuming he ever said anything worth quoting) is because I know that many, many other people can't separate ideas from sources. Plus why would I be reading Mien Kampf??

I find the value of a quote to be highly dependent on the identity of its originator.

This allows me to quickly filter out all kinds of nonsense by known idiots - for example by using killfiles.

Surely you guys are not claiming that there is no correlation between author and value! That would seem like "everyone's equal" political correctness taken to extremes!

I agree, if we're talking about books. Further, I agree that some people are way better at making good quotes than others.

But even a broken clock is right twice a day-- and if someone has taken the trouble to excerpt a quote from an author (i.e., they have pre-filtered it for me), it does not take me significantly more time to read the quote than it does to verify that I like the originator. (Unless I know I'm unlikely to agree with the aesthetics of the person who made the excerpt, but that's a different story entirely!)

exception being when the originator is someone like Hitler; that's a short list, though


"Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." - Mao Zedong

"The people who are already born into money never know a real struggle, and for the others so often this struggle is so hard that it kills all pity. Our own painful struggle, that the selfish say we need, destroys our feelings for the misery we cause on our rise to become this so called success. I was forced back into a world of material insecurity, this fact has removed the curtain of this narrow minded and selfish world, and after reading, writing, searching, and questioning, that I may not have been able to do if distracted by the relentless pursuit of material wealth that seems to be the driving force in most people's lives, did I truly come to know humanity...

"I don't know what is worse, intention to social misery or inattention to it. We see both everyday among those who have been favored in fortune by birth or luck, or those who have risen to it by their own efforts. Or else the snobs, or at times the tactless and obtrusive condescension of the social elite who apparently 'feel' for the people. In any case these people sin against moral justice farther than their narrow little minds and twisted hearts are probably even capable of understanding or feeling. Consequently and much to their amazement, the results of their pathetic social charity efforts is next to nil, frequently infact an indignant rebuf, though this is passed off by them as proof of the ingratitude of the 'lazy street bums', that they themselves are partly responsible for helping to create in the first place."

-- Adolf Hitler

I tagged that as a loser's rant of resentment before I scrolled far enough to reveal the name (although it wasn't a surprise given the comment it is a reply to). If I'd read it on someone's blog, I wouldn't bother with anything else they wrote.

Thanks for your reply, since you liked the way orthonormal put it better, I responded to his reply. Please see it.

Were I a gambling man, I'd be willing to bet that the downvotes were due to people not knowing what "ceteris paribus" means and not bothering to look it up. If you remove that from your statement, it seems like something most people here would disagree with. However, several people have suggested in the comments that they agree with your statement:

I find the value of a quote to be almost completely independent of its originator.

the value of an idea shouldn't depend much on the author

(emphasis added).

These quotes suggest to me that people put some weight on who the author is, which presumably either implies your statement, or a statement that ceteris paribus, one prefers quotes from people who don't have those qualities.

I (rather stupidly) thought [i]ceteris paribus[/i] was a user MichaelBishop was replying to, since I only happened to see this in recent comments.

But having looked it up, it doesn't change my mind--I don't see how it can apply: the whole point of a quote is that it is unique, therefore all other things won't ever be equal...

the whole point of a quote is that it is unique, therefore all other things won't ever be equal...

Original quotes are rarely quotes and never original

-The quotable Thom Blake

Oddly enough, googling that (in quotes) turns up only this page, hehe

To wit:

Google search

Nothing like paraphrasing Oscar Wilde to seem profound.

The whole point of saying "ceteris paribus" or "all else equal," is precisely that all else is not everyone will agree that all else is equal. In other words, saying "all else equal" implies "there may be other factors which matter."

In cases you are curious, those factors include: length, literal meaning, eloquence, humor, trustworthiness of author, wisdom of author, context in which it was written, persuasiveness, memorability, and more.

Writing "ceteris paribus" or "all else equal" is useful when it increases the precision of a statement.

I guess I can't imagine how two quotes could exist such that, if I could score them (on whatever attributes I find valuable in quote-space), they would come out equal enough that I would prefer one over the other based on the originator of the quote. I think this is due to the way I think of quotes, as unique things (i.e., apples and oranges. One could say, "I prefer fruit grown by a well-pedigreed gardener, all else being equal," and it would (possibly) be true for lots of people. But it doesn't really tell us what kind of fruit you like, assuming poorly-pedigreed gardeners have a non-zero chance of growing good fruit).

It could also be interpreted as a failure of my imagination, I'm sure.

In certain contexts, I take ceteris paribus to serve the same social function as "IMHO", and I do not interpret it literally. In particular, I think Michael would have been displeased by the inclusion of a quote from Moldbug no matter how interesting or pithy it was on its own (and probably more displeased by quotes of higher value, as they would serve to raise Moldbug's status further, which Michael believes would be harmful).

In certain contexts, I take ceteris paribus to serve the same social function as "IMHO"

I've never heard of that, and I have no idea why you would want to do that. Does anyone else actually use ceteris paribus to mean something like "IMHO"?

Both are often used to imply some measure of humility, in order to ward off criticism when making a statement which one expects to be controverted. Ditto for "It seems to me", etc.

Like thomblake, I'm surprised that someone would read "Ceteris paribus" this way. It is a preemptive way to ward off criticism, yes, but not by expressing humilty, at least not in any use I recall seeing.

Besides, whatever impressions one might give by saying "Ceteris paribus", humility is not one of them. First of all, one is more likely to come across as pompous for using Latin when the English "All else being equal" works just as well. Second, even saying "All else being equal" signals that you've analyzed the phenomenon into many potentially independent parameters. That is, it's a way to claim deeper understanding, which, ceteris paribus, does not signal humility.

fixed spelling

I suppose I don't mean humility so much as some other kind of defense. Among rationalists, perhaps, I should by default presume ceteris paribus means what it says; but outside that realm, e.g,

"All else being equal, Greens are more moral than Blues"

is knowingly used with the connotation

"Greens are more moral than Blues"

and the ceteris paribus only comes into play once the statement is challenged (raising the standard of proof for those who disagree).

But as I admitted to Michael, I should have given him more credence than that.

I used the term ceteris paribus because its literal definition is precisely what I meant. Going forward I will simply write, "all else equal." Ha, here's a chance to use it: All else equal, I prefer people quoting Moldbug choose interesting, pithy, and most importantly, enlightening, quotes. Its true this has the, IMO, unfortunate side effect of increasing Moldbug's status, but I consider that to be of secondary importance.

Note, I was making other points as well, e.g. a quote is more useful to me if people know and respect its author.

Upon further reflection, it was uncharitable of me to disregard your ceteris paribus for the reason I did (which has nothing to do with Latin versus English; I'm one of those who prefer ceteris paribus to "all else equal").

"What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite."

Bertrand Russell, "Free Thought and Official Propaganda", in "Sceptical Essays".

"I have now reigned about 50 years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot. They amount to fourteen."
-- Abd Er-Rahman III of Spain, 960 AD.

A recent story on PodCastle gives the same message, albeit embedded in a short fantasy story with good economics.

I thought that was a fantastic story; I even had the patience to sit through the whole podcast.

It can be downloaded at http://www.freesfonline.de/content/Abraham1.pdf or read at http://issuu.com/spectra/docs/cambistandlordiron

I'm not sure it's accurate to say of Spain, more like of Al-Andalus..

"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence." Christopher Hitchens

Mere assertion is evidence, as is mere counter-assertion, and they should both be written down in the notebook of rationality.

"Science is what we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is everything else we do. ... Science advances whenever an Art becomes a Science. And the state of the Art advances too because people always leap into new territory once they have understood more about the old."

-- Donald Knuth

"A computer is like a violin. You can imagine a novice trying first a phonograph and then a violin. The latter, he says, sounds terrible. That is the argument we have heard from our humanists and most of our computer scientists. Computer programs are good, they say, for particular purposes, but they aren't flexible. Neither is a violin, or a typewriter, until you learn how to use it."

Marvin Minsky, "Why Programming Is a Good Medium for Expressing Poorly-Understood and Sloppily-Formulated Ideas"


But allow me to recall Michael Scriven's words: "If we want to know why things are as they are..., then the only sense in which there are alternatives to the methods of science is the sense in which we can if we wish abandon our interest in correct answers." As theorists, scholars, teachers, and informed humans, we do want "'to know why things are as they are," and we are interested "'in correct answers". And although I have no wish to confuse "knowing that'" with "knowing how" or the "context of justification" with "the context of discovery," neither am I so timorous or conciliatory or presumptuous as to pronounce that such knowledge will not, can not, or should not "feed back" into [musical] composition.

-- Milton Babbitt (from "Contemporary Music Composition and Music Theory as Contemporary Intellectual History", 1972)

"One can measure the importance of a scientific work by the number of earlier publications rendered superfluous by it."

-- David Hilbert

"The seeker after the truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration, and not to the sayings of a human being whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency. Thus the duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of its content, attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency."

-- Alhazen (Abū 'Alī al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haitham)

...voted up for the beauty with which the interpretation of this particular quote, depends on knowing the time in which it was written.

It reminds me very much of this quote attributed to Gautam Buddha:

"Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings -- that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide."

Once again, we are saddled with a Stone Age moral psychology that is appropriate to life in small, homogeneous communities in which all members share roughly the same moral outlook. Our minds trick us into thinking that we are absolutely right and that they are absolutely wrong because, once upon a time, this was a useful way to think. It is no more, though it remains natural as ever. We love our respective moral senses. They are as much a part of us as anything. But if we are to live together in the world we have created for ourselves, so unlike the one in which our ancestors evolved, we must know when to trust our moral senses and when to ignore them.

--Joshua Greene

Practically anything can go faster than Disc light, which is lazy and tame, unlike ordinary light. The only thing known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle. He reasoned like this: you can't have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles—kingons, or possibly queons—that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expounded because, at that point, the bar closed.

-- Terry Pratchett, Mort, on mind-projection fallacy intuitions (and/or on Jack Sarfatti's theories of superluminal signaling)

"Your superior intellects are no match for our puny weapons!"

(Variously attributed. TV Tropes says the Simpsons.)

Also variously interpreted. I take it as a caution against forgetting to actually win with one's towering genius.

"The lottery is a tax on those incapable of basic math."

-- Ambrose Bierce

I'll bet that a survey of lottery players would reveal that more than 50% know they lose money on average by playing the lottery. If not, a survey of people at slot machines would be even more likely to produce this result.

Gambling is about thrill.

If you still get thrill out of slot machines, it just means that you don't get it at a deeper level.

Almost everyone understands that they will get old and die (and that dying is bad), but relatively few see aging as the most important disease to fight.

If you still get thrill out of slot machines, it just means that you don't get it at a deeper level.

I don't think that follows. Do you have a general theory of the causes of thrills in human brains?

Unless one of your terminal goals is to watch your money supply fluctuate in a downward sloping direction, this thrill isn't helping you.

If the algorithm that determines when to be 'thrilled' was any good then "playing slot machines" would not trigger it. The thrill is due to a cheap heuristic going wrong.

I mean this in the same way that I mean it when I say "If getting a big piece of meat makes you happier than a $10k check, then your happiness system doesn't get it"

I know many people that can do the basic math, but still get enjoyment out of gambling (where the expected return is negative). The 'thrill' thing works at a subconscious level so it's not easy to "just fix it".

I personally don't get that sort of thrill from gambling, but don't think I can actually take credit for communicating with my subconscious and fixing it. I think it's just a case of higher loss aversion.

Unless one of your terminal goals is to watch your money supply fluctuate in a downward sloping direction, this thrill isn't helping you.

Correct. However, if "experiencing thrills" is one of my terminal goals, then that thrill is helping me.

I mean this in the same way that I mean it when I say "If getting a big piece of meat makes you happier than a $10k check, then your happiness system doesn't get it"

No, it just means my happiness system isn't mediated by expected utility calculations. If your implication is that it "should" be, then you're committing a grievous is/ought error.

You're assuming that "thrills" and "happiness" serve specific, narrow purposes (presumably the ones evolution "intended" them for). I don't share your assumption.

Correct. However, if "experiencing thrills" is one of my terminal goals, then that thrill is >helping me.

Yes, that's trivially true.

No, it just means my happiness system isn't mediated by expected utility calculations. >If your implication is that it "should" be, then you're committing a grievous is/ought >error.

Just because I'm using a "should" doesn't make it an error. I mean it in the same way that your car "should" transport you from one place to another. Yes, I can describe it as it "is", but that don't mean it ain't broke.

Do you really have a problem with that? If so, when do you think it's acceptable to use the word "should"?

You're assuming that "thrills" and "happiness" serve specific, narrow purposes >(presumably the ones evolution "intended" them for). I don't share your assumption.

It sounds like you're saying that they didn't "serve a purpose" that caused them to be selected for, but I think you mean to say that you just don't care.

There are abstract things that I want (which aligns fairly closely with what would have helped me reproduce as a caveman), and there are lower level feedback mechanisms that were selected because they helped people achieve (almost) these goals. To the extent that they don't enforce the 'right' behavior, I'd prefer to change that instead of having to choose between cheap thrills and abstract goals.

Correct. However, if "experiencing thrills" is one of my terminal goals, then that thrill is helping me.

Yes, that's trivially true.

Then how is a thrill-seeker not "getting it"? Or are you claiming thrill-seekers don't exist?

To the extent that they don't enforce the 'right' behavior, I'd prefer to change that instead of having to choose between cheap thrills and abstract goals.

That's you. Your original comment wasn't phrased in the first person, however:

If you still get thrill out of slot machines, it just means that you don't get it at a deeper level.

That statement is false. Plenty of people don't care whether or not their sources of happiness "correctly" contribute to their reproductive success.

People have circuits built in that causes them to feel 'thrilled' in certain circumstances. These circuits still fire in some situations that don't help serve the "purpose" that natural selection "designed them for".

I was calling the circuits "a deeper level of 'you'", and you seem to want to call it "not me, just part of my body". This sure sounds like an issue with semantics to me.

You don't have any problems with paying money to run in circles, but I do. You want to use different words to describe this than I used. Is there really anything of substance here?

I was calling the circuits "a deeper level of 'you'", and you seem to want to call it "not me, just part of my body". This sure sounds like an issue with semantics to me.

No, that's not my point of contention. Your use of the phrase "you just don't get it" implies missing knowledge, a lack of understanding. If you really just meant "your sense of happiness isn't serving its evolutionary purpose", why use such roundabout terminology? Would you also claim that people who use birth control and still enjoy sex "just don't get it at a deeper level"?

You don't have any problems with paying money to run in circles, but I do.

No, actually I do have problems with this, and find no thrill in gambling. The difference is that I'm not applying my preferences to others as a way to see them as defective versions of myself, and I'm not selectively employing an evolutionary justification for the subset of my preferences that have clear genetic benefits.

The difference is that I'm not applying my preferences to others as a way to see them as defective versions of myself

Even if we understand thrill-seeking to be legitimate, the lottery players could still be said to be making a mistake if there are better ways to fulfill their thrill-seeking desires. Cf. "New Improved Lottery"

That may be. And yet it's still a tax on those (perhaps a minority) who don't understand the math.

"We have both a lottery and a justice system. We punish the guilty, and reward the randomly chosen people."

-- The League Against Tedium

I used this opinion in the years before I learned about utility functions.

"Imagine a world where everything changes to match the state of your mind, where evidence never pushes back against your theories, where your every thought is correct simply because you think it so. Can there be any better definition of hell for a man of learning? "

-- Bradeline, Fall From Heaven

That world is called dreams, and we visit it every night.

You might find C.S.Lewis's "The Great Divorce" interesting, at least the part where dead scientists choose to remain in Hell, rather than go to Heaven where God will give them all the answers.

Knowing that one may be subject to bias is one thing; being able to correct it is another.

Jon Elster

It's a wonderful thing to be clever, and you should never think otherwise, and you should never stop being that way. But what you learn, as you get older, is that there are a few million other people in the world all trying to be clever at the same time, and whatever you do with your life will certainly be lost - swallowed up in the ocean - unless you are doing it with like-minded people who will remember your contributions and carry them forward. That is why the world is divided into tribes.

-- Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

I neglected to record from which character the quote came.

pg 293, according to my ebook; the speaker seems to be Miss Matheson instructing the protagonist and her chums (while they are still in the Vicky schools).

It's easy to put down the shallow concerns of life, but in a way they are what life is about. Deeper concerns that don't connect in any way to economic wealth, social status, physical pleasure, etc., are not really deep but pointless. The shallow concerns all pertain to the lowest common denominator of human life because they really are the basic fabric of everyone's life. They're concerns that everyone shares and that everyone can easily understand.

—Ben Kovitz, Shallowness

"Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons." - Michael Shermer

In the King-on-the-Mountain style of conversation, one person (the King) makes a provocative statement, and requires that others refute it or admit to being wrong. The King is the judge of whether any attempted refutation is successful. [...] The King's behavior comes down to "you can't stop me". By the rules of his game, no one can make him back down. He treats conversation as a negotiation with his opponent. If his opponent wants him to back down, it's his opponent's responsibility to make him back down, not his responsibility to do something to help his opponent. He himself feels no responsibility to learn or understand or cultivate his mind.

—Ben Kovitz, King on the Mountain

“If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be” -- Thomas Jefferson

"I don't, I've come to believe, have to agree with you to like you, or respect you."

--Anthony Bourdain.

Never forget that your opponents are not evil mutants. They are the heroes of their own stories, and if you can't fathom why they do what they do, or why they believe what they believe, that's your failing not theirs.

if you can't fathom why they do what they do, or why they believe what they believe, that's your failing not theirs.

Interestingly though, by accepting this symmetry between you and your enemy, you potentially thereby break it. If you can understand why they believe what they believe, but they don't understand why you believe what you do, then you can justifiably consider yourself in a superior epistemic position.

Maybe they also think they understand you. You can't get intelligence from simple asymmetry.

Removing the second and either the third or fourth clauses would make this a much stronger quote, i.e.

I don't have to agree with you to respect you.

Yea, but then it wouldn't be a quote anymore!

Last paragraph is an OBLW quote, no? Those don't go here...

I don't think it's an exact quote of anything on OB or LW. If it is then my subconscious has a much better memory than I do. I was just attempting to relate the Bourdain quote to OBLW terminology.

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of our exploring shall be to return where we started and know the place for the first time.

-- T.S. Eliot

Don't know why this was downvoted. The second clause is essentially Egan's Law: It all adds up to normality.

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." - George Bernard Shaw

Mathematics is the only good metaphysics.

Lord Kelvin

"A few intellectually rigorous killjoys argued that any explanation to which humans could relate was probably anthropomorphic nonsense, but nobody invited them onto talk shows."

--Greg Egan, "Quarantine".

"Fierce battles are fought within the confines of our goal systems. Inside the closed walls the essence of right and wrong is at stake as the rebels engage the guards of the evolutionary past. After the violent confrontations, the old kings rejoice their triumph or get beheaded to become but ghosts of their former glory. And again and again our inner book of morals gets revised... — Nevertheless, whatever the outcome is, it is, by definition, good."
-- Mika

I like some of the imagery but I wouldn't say whatever the outcome is, it is by definition good.

To continue with the analogy, sometimes our inner book of morals really says one thing while a momentary upset prevents what is written in that book from successfully governing.

I doubt those kings can be killed. I think victory against them comes more from inserting layers of suppression between them and action, to modulate and reduce their power. You might be able to think of those layers as governmental machinery.

Not sure why this was downvoted - I think it's fairly well evidenced that the kings have an infinite number of clones, if they aren't actually "unkillable".

The governmental machinery analogy appeals to me as well - on the face of it, one might see this as some benevolent force of mediation and control. In reality, however, the human mind seems to function with all the bureaucratic inefficiency and politicking one would expect of an actual government.

"Although the first solution is the one usually given, I prefer this second one because it reduces the need to think, replacing it by the automatic calculus. Thinking is hard, so only use it where essential."

--Dennis Lindley, Understanding Uncertainty

"No matter how the next forty-seven thousand years turn out, whether they are ages of liberty or tyranny, happiness or misery, by the time two hundred thousand million years are passed, the civilization that rules the sevagram will occupy basically the same area of the local galactic supercluster, and achieve roughly the same height of enlightenment and technical advancement. You are wasting my time with trifles."
-- John C. Wright, Null-A Continuum

I suspect that the people who voted this down might have misunderstood what is interesting about it (or at least, why I like this one):

It's a warning not to let things turn out this way.

I suspect that people are not distinguishing between the concept of endorsing a statement as a judgment and endorsing its interestingness as a quote. Either that, or myself and the downvoter just find different things interesting, I guess.

Monroe Fieldbinder sees psychologist to bounce ideas off him. One of Fieldbinder's ideas is that the phenomenon of modern party-dance is incompatible with self-consciousness, makes for staggeringly unpleasant situations (obvious resource: Amherst/Mt. Holyoke mixer '68) for the all self-conscious person. Modern party-dance is simply writhing to suggestive music. It is ridiculous, silly to watch and excruciatingly embarrassing to perform. It is ridiculous, and yet absolutely everyone does it, so that it is the person who does not want to do the ridiculous thing who feels out of place and uncomfortable and self-conscious . . . in a word, ridiculous.

David Foster Wallace (The Broom Of The System, pg. 158)

It is ridiculous, silly to watch and excruciatingly embarrassing to perform.

No it isn't!

It is ridiculous, silly to watch and excruciatingly embarrassing to perform when sober.


Well, I "dance" when sober, and I enjoy it! It's a socially acceptable way to be close to, and touch, attractive members of the appropriate sex. Furthermore, the physical arousal caused by vigorous exercise tends to promote sexual arousal as well. Not to mention that watching people writhe to suggestive music is also extremely popular.

Then again, from a certain point of view, almost every kind of sexual activity is extremely ridiculous. I mean, you put the what in the where? That's disgusting! Who would want to do something like that?

On an advertisement for a fitness product: "WHAT'S STRONGER? YOU, or YOUR EXCUSES?"

Loyalty mods don't whisper propaganda in your skull. They don't bombard you with images of the object of devotion while stimulating the pleasure centres of your brain, or cripple you with pain and nausea if you stray from correct thought. They don't cloud your mind with blissful euphoria, or feverish zealotry; nor do they trick you into accepting some flawed but elegant piece of casuistry. No brainwashing, no conditioning, no persuasion. A loyalty mod isn't an agent of change; it's the end product, a fait accompli. Not a cause for belief, but belief itself, belief made flesh - or rather, flesh made into belief.

--Greg Egan, "Quarantine".

"Student: How can one realize his Self-nature? I know so little about the subject.

Yasutani: First of all, you must be convinced you can do so. The conviction creates determination, and the determination zeal.

But if you lack conviction, if you think 'maybe I can get it, maybe I can't', or even worse, 'This is beyond me!' - you won't awaken no matter how much you do zazen."

pg 126, The Three Pillars of Zen, ISBN 8070-5979-7

When I came across this quote, I was struck by its relevance to one of Eliezer's beisutsukai posts about finding the successor to quantum mechanics ("The Failures of Eld Science"; on a side note, are there any 'internal'/wikilinks to LW articles for us to use, instead of hardwiring lesswrong.com URLs?).

I meant to write a post on how interesting it is that we intellectually know that many of our current theories must be wrong, and even have pretty good ideas as to which ones, but we still cannot psychologically tackle them with the same energy as if we had some anomaly or paradox to explain, or have the benefit of hindsight. The students in Eliezer's story know that quantum mechanics is wrong; someone with a well-verified observation contradicting quantum mechanics knows that it is wrong (replace 'quantum' with 'classical' as you wish). They will achieve better results than a battalion of conventional QMists.

But nothing quite gelled.

I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Most often two of these qualities come together. The officers who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Those who are stupid and lazy make up around 90% of every army in the world, and they can be used for routine work. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!

Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord

"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them" - Mr Gradgrind, Hard Times (Dickens)

An anti-rationalist quote. Dickens believes there is more to life than rationality. Does his satire upon us here have any basis in reality?

I quoted this in another comment, but I think it deserves to be in here as well. It used to be in the rec.backcountry FAQ.

"You have before you the disassembled parts of a high-powered hunting rifle, and the instructions written in Swahili. In five minutes an angry Bengal tiger will walk into the room."

-- Eugene Miya

Without context, I'm afraid I don't understand what this is supposed to signify regarding rationality.

Yes, it's a bit of a koan, and somewhat tangential. It's about the ineluctability of reality, saying that while you must win, you may not win, even if you do everything right. Even the ultimate in rationality is not a get out of jail free card, neither in the backcountry nor anywhere else.

Maybe you can read Swahili. Maybe you are so familiar with hunting rifles you could assemble it blindfolded. Great -- today you get to win. Or maybe the tiger comes by RIGHT NOW. You lose.

"You have before you the Alcor prospectus. In fifty years your body will wear out and die."

I resolve to have left the room by the time five minutes are up.

"Train yourself to get suspicious every time you see simplicity. Any claim that the root of a problem is simple should be treated the same as a claim that the root of a problem is Bigfoot. Simplicity and Bigfoot are found in the real world with about the same frequency." -- David Wong

Two very similar quotes:

"It would not be a bad definition of math to call it the study of terms that have precise meanings." - Paul Graham

"Mathematics is the study of precisely defined objects." - Norman Gottlieb

For an idea to have survived so long across so many cycles is indicative of its relative fitness. Noise, at least some noise, was filtered out. Mathematically, progress means that some new information is better than past information, not that the average of new information will supplant past information, which means that it is optimal for someone, when in doubt, to systematically reject the new idea, information, or method. Clearly and shockingly, always. -Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness p.52

It is theory that decides what can be observed.

Albert Einstein

It really is a nice theory. The only defect I think it has is probably common to all philosophical theories. It’s wrong.

Saul Kripke

A mathematician is a person who can find analogies between theorems; a better mathematician is one who can see analogies between proofs and the best mathematician can notice analogies between theories. One can imagine that the ultimate mathematici