Rationality quotes: August 2010

This is our monthly thread for collecting these little gems and pearls of wisdom, rationality-related quotes you've seen recently, or had stored in your quotesfile for ages, and which might be handy to link to in one of our discussions.

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be voted up/down separately.  (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments.  If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
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Personally, I've been hearing all my life about the Serious Philosophical Issues posed by life extension, and my attitude has always been that I'm willing to grapple with those issues for as many centuries as it takes.

-- Patrick Nielsen Hayden

This is a good example of how some areas are most concisely dealt with by ridicule.

What are the Serious Philosophical Issues posed by life extension?

I can see many serious practical issues, but in what way should philosophical opinions change due to the mere extension of human life span?

I conjecture that we're supposed to read it under the classical definition of "philosophy", which used to include pretty much every type of intellectual discussion, including such practical issues as how to properly raise children, how to organise a political society, etc.

There is a great ted lecture on this subject. I thought he did a good job at addressing the concerns. At least to the point of defending that research should continue to at least allow future generations to decide if they think it is acceptable.

http://www.ted.com/talks/aubrey_de_grey_says_we_can_avoid_aging.html

Is the source online? The first page of Google results seems to be just people quoting the line.

I tracked down the source as rec.arts.sf.fandom, 09 Aug 2000 (previous to any use as a quote), in a thread titled, "Do cats go to heaven?"

It's (sort of) available online in the Google Groups archive.

However, the provided link does not seem to work due to the huge length of the thread (it's trying to create a tree threaded discussion out of 4189 posts), but I was able to see several references to it inside, including the beginning as a snippet.

Due to the new release of Google Groups, I was able to go through this thread and found the original reference on page 41 of the thread, posted 08 Aug 2000.

Is Rain's quote the most upvoted entry of all time? Its currently at +62.

It's the most upvoted comment I've ever seen. I'm not sure about top-level posts, though.

The current first page of 'Recent Posts' shows 7 with a higher point total than 62; two posts are above 100 points, both by Yvain.

It would be interesting to see a compilation of the most upvoted entries from all the quote threads.

"Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from SCIENCE!"

~Girl Genius

Young Agatha Clay: But how can they protect me if they aren't here? That's illogical.

Uncle Barry: Um...It's science.

Young Agatha Clay: Ah. You mean you'll explain when I have a sufficiently advanced educational background.

Yes, but in context this doesn't quite mean what it sounds like. In Girl Genius, "Science" is almost a password for any weird things built by sparks, rather than what a rationalist would call science.

Well, presumably the sparks have a rational understanding of the things they build, even if the reader doesn't. Excepting things like the clanks Agatha built when she was asleep, but she's something of an odd one even among sparks...

Girl Genius has visited that border between magic and science. Note also the first two frames, in which the spark rational mind is put to use in pursuit of spark emotional needs. "Look. I'm a girl with needs. Okay?"

Two more:

ZEETHA: hmf. She sounds like an idiot.
GIL: Well, yes. But she was never a malicious one.
ZEETHA: Is that important?
GIL: Heavens, yes! If I let everyone I thought was an idiot die---there wouldn't be many people left.
---Girl Genius


TARVEK: (to clank:) Stop! I am prince Tarvek of the House of Sturmvoraus. I am the direct descendant of Andronicus Avlois and heir to the Lightning Throne. I am the Storm King---and you were created to serve me!
(Clank throws Tarvek backwards; sound effect: "POW!")
MOLOCH: Um---that never works, you know.
--- Girl Genius (relevance: No Universally Compelling Arguments)

Um---that never works, you know.

But it should have... and Tarvek correctly notices that he is confused. (The reason for his confusion doesn't become clear until later, though.)

My hotel doesn't have a 13th floor because of superstition, but people on the 14th floor, you should know what floor you're really on. If you jump out the window, you will die sooner than you expect.

-- Mitch Hedberg (Quoted from memory)

Superstition produces bad luck

-- Anonymous

Upon his death man must leave everything behind ... and depart forever from the world he has known. He must of necessity go to that foul land of death, a fact which makes death the most sorrowful of all events. ... Some foreign doctrines, however, teach that death should not be regarded as profoundly sorrowful. ... These are all gross deceptions contrary to human sentiment and fundamental truths. Not to be happy over happy events, not to be saddened by sorrowful events, not to show surprise at astonishing events, in a word, to consider it proper not to be moved by whatever happens, are all foreign types of deception and falsehood. They are contrary to human nature and extremely repugnant to me.

-- Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) - quoted from Blocker, Japanese Philosophy, p. 109

Motoori was as far as you can get from being a rationalist but this quote was so Yudkowskian that I felt it belonged here.

The fact that you are giving money to charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not.

-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

B... But, but he wants ... he ... says you, it's a good idea to ... argh!

His failing in one area, does not make his quotes untrue. Just a bit iffy. Thats why I try not to quote Gandhi or Churchill anymore.

Yes, my thought exactly.

This isn't the first time someone's posted a quote from Lewis that he didn't follow.

My reply was me expressing shock that someone like him would have grounds to lecture others about not giving money to questionable charities.

Lewis was a convert to Christianity. The usual self-analytical deficiencies of religious believers are often gigantified in converts, possibly because they adopted their beliefs out of need rather than simple habit and thus will hug them much tighter.

I think there are two slightly different situations at work here. Lewis did grow up in a very Christian environment, and as such possessed the "antibodies" described in the linked post.

His being a convert from atheism - by means of some kind of emotional breakdown - didn't, thus, make him into an advocate of following every passage of the Bible and every idea ever presented by the Magisterium; rather, it made him a zealous defender of every excuse for why you don't need to do so in order to be a good Christian.

That's fair--I didn't mean to say that it was the exact same case, simply that similar topics had been discussed before. That wasn't clear from the original comment so I'll change it to make it a little more so.

The fact that you don't want to give money to a charity does not mean you need to find out whether the charity is a fraud or not.

Just an observation of how those most motivated to figure out the effectiveness of a charity are those who don't want to donate. But of course, this only applies to seeking out evidence of non-effectiveness. Charities don't usually think of other charities as competition. Also, most of the time, most just rationalize a reason for non-effectiveness.

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

-- William James

... the history of mathematics is a history of horrendously difficult problems being solved by young people too ignorant to know that they were impossible.

-- Freeman Dyson, "Birds and Frogs"

If you do experiments and you're always right, then you aren't getting enough information out of those experiments. You want your experiment to be like the flip of a coin: You have no idea if it is going to come up heads or tails. You want to not know what the results are going to be.

-- Peter Norvig, in an interview about being wrong. When I saw this, I thought it sounded a lot like entropy pruning in decision trees, where you don't even bother asking questions that won't make you update your probability estimates significantly. Then I remembered that Norvig was the co-author of the AI textbook that I had learned about decision trees from. Interesting interview.

Wow, I'm glad this kind of analysis is showing up in mainstream publications.

Norvig is describing an important insight from information theory: the amount of information you get from learning something is equal to the log of the inverse of the probability you assigned to it (log 1/p). (This value is called the "surprisal" or "self-information".)

So, always getting results you expect (i.e. put a high p on), means you're getting little information out of the experiments, and you should be doing ones where you expect the result to be less probable.

Therefore, to have a good experiment, you want to maximize the "expected surprisal" (i.e. sum over p * log(1/p)), which is equivalent to the entropy, and probably the basis for the method you mention.

Is LW broken for everyone?

ETA: When I wrote this, the "Comments" page was one of the few I could access, hence it being posted in such a strange place.

No, only for the ones who can't reply to your comment.

It's broken for me, at least.

Instead of the old-fashioned way of breaking, with new comments around a certain time not being visible, I can't get to older comments or posts. I don't know what the extent of the loss of access is.

The report issues page (link at bottom of page) is read only. There was going to be a :"brief outage" for that page at 7AM PDT. That would be almost 7 hours ago.

I think the stock of humorous messages at the "you tried a link which isn't working" has been improved.

The last line should have been

I think the stock of humorous messages at the "you tried a link which isn't working" page has been improved.

Or to put it another way, the permalink which would normally make it possible for me to edit isn't working either.

And, though this is minor, if I hit the comment button, it seems as though nothing has happened. However, if I refresh the comments page, my comment shows up.

As a minor mercy, hitting the comment button more than once doesn't seem to produce duplicate comments.

When I was a young man about to go out into the world, my father says to me a very valuable thing. He says to me like this... "Son," the old guy says, "I am sorry that I am not able to bank roll you to a very large start, but not having any potatoes which to give you, I am now going to stake you to some very valuable advice. One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice, brand new deck of cards on which the seal has not yet been broken. This man is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. Now son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you stand there, you are going to wind up with an earful of cider."

-- Sky Masterson, a character in "Guys and Dolls"

My recollection of this involved "bet you five thousand dollars he can..." and "going to wind up five grand in the hole with an earful of cider," which makes the quote more entertaining. Nonetheless, an excellent quote.

On rationalization, aka the giant sucking cognitive black hole.

Though [Ben Franklin] had been a vegetarian on principle, on one long sea crossing the men were grilling fish, and his mouth started watering:

I balanc'd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollectd that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, "if you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you." So I din'd upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet.

Franklin concluded: "So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do."

-Jonathan Haidt, "The Happiness Hypothesis"

I really like the quote about cod but I'm not particularly inspired by the moral given for the story. I'd prefer "I eliminated a non-terminal ethical principal when I realised my thinking was pretentious bullshit, moving towards a more coherent ethical framework. Yay me!"

I noticed that too; of course not eating fish is an ethical non-issue given how much other low-hanging consequentialist fruit there is.

However, note that his justification for his change of heart is pure rationalization. Whatever good reasons there might be for eating fish, or for abandoning vegetarianism, "they eat each other" is a bad one, a confabulation.

Fish and other animals are not capable of reflecting ethically on their actions, so they are ethically blameless for whatever they do. That does not mean their suffering doesn't count. Franklin knew that.

I know I'm bringing Drescher up a lot recently, but this exchange reminds me of some of his points, and how, after reading Good and Real, I see Haidt's work (among other people's) in a different light.

Drescher's theory of ethics and decision making is, "You should do what you [self-interestedly] wish all similarly situated beings would do" on the basis that "if you would regard it as the optimal thing to do, then-counterfactually they would too".

He claims it implies you should cast a wide net in terms of which beings you grant moral status, but not too wide: you draw the line at beings that don't make choices (in the sense of evaluating alternatives and picking one for the sake of a goal), as that breaks a critical symmetry between you and them.

Taking your premise that fish don't reflect on their actions, this account would claim that they likewise do not have the moral status of humans. But it would also agree with you that it's insufficient to point to how they eat each other, because "I would not want some superbeing to eat me simply on the basis that I eat less intelligent beings."

Also, Drescher accounts for our moral intuitions by saying that they are a case of us being choice machines which recognize acausal means-end links (i.e. relationships between our choices and the achievement of goals that do not require the choice to [futurewardly] cause the goal). This doesn't necessarily contradict Haidt's argument that we judge things as right because of e.g. ingroup/outgroup distinctions (he says that functional equivalence to acausal means-ends links is all that matters, even if the agent simply feels that they "care" about others), but it does tend to obviate that kind of supposition. [/show-off]

I've got Good and Real on hold at the library. :) Currently working through Cialdini's Influence, muahaha...

Drescher's theory of ethics and decision making is, "You should do what you [self-interestedly] wish all similarly situated beings would do" on the basis that "if you would regard it as the optimal thing to do, then-counterfactually they would too".

He claims it implies you should cast a wide net in terms of which beings you grant moral status, but not too wide: you draw the line at beings that don't make choices (in the sense of evaluating alternatives and picking one for the sake of a goal), as that breaks a critical symmetry between you and them.

This sounds to me like a modernized version of Kantian deontology... interesting.

Where I really trip up with this argument is in the 'granting moral status' step. What does it mean if I decide to say 'a fish has no moral status?'

Let's do a reductio. Say fish have no moral status. Does that mean it's permissible to torture them, say by superstimulating pain centres in their brains? I don't think so, even if the torture achieved some small useful end.

I don't think suffering should be taken out of the equation in favour of symmetries. The latter have no obvious moral weight.

I don't have a good answer for the rest of your comment, but I can answer this:

Where I really trip up with this argument is in the 'granting moral status' step. What does it mean if I decide to say 'a fish has no moral status?'

Drescher does a good job of making sure that nothing depends on choice of terminology. In this case, "a fish has no moral status" cashes out to "I should not count a fish's disutility/pain/etc. against the optimality of actions I am considering."

You can take "should" to mean anything under Drescher's account, and, as long as you're consistent with its usage, it has non-absurd implications. Under common parlance, you can take "should" to mean "the action that I will choose" or "the action I regard as optimal". Then, you can see how this sense of the term applies:

"If I would regard it as optimal to kill weaker beings, then-counterfactually beings who are stronger than me would regard it as optimal to kill me, to the extent that their relation to me mirrors my relation to the weaker beings under consideration."

I didn't give a full exposition of how exactly you apply such reasoning to fish, but under this account, you would need to look at what is counterfactually entailed by your reasoning to cause pain to fish.

Whatever good reasons there might be for eating fish, or for abandoning vegetarianism, "they eat each other" is a bad one, a confabulation.

No, that isn't implied. There are all sorts of coherent value systems which make ethical distinctions between killing things that kill other things and killing things that don't kill other things. Maybe Franklin was confabulating, but again, that moral does not inspire me. In most cases the reasoning is sound and does move the values a step towards coherency.

There is a difference between dastardly rationalisation and updating your ethical position by eliminating obviously poor thinking.

Fish and other animals are not capable of reflecting ethically on their actions, so they are ethically blameless for whatever they do.

A lot of people are good at not reflecting ethically too, and it does help them get away with stuff (via more effective signalling). This is not a feature of the universe over which I rejoice and nor is it one that I encourage via my ethical signalling.

Maybe Franklin was confabulating

His comment on the matter suggests he thought he was.

The context does not record whether he returned to vegetarianism once away from the temptation.

His comment on the matter suggests he thought he was.

Yes. Hence the lack of inspiration. It's the same old moral: "Thoughts and ethical intuitions are enemies. Ethical intuitions are good and you should follow them. Thinking your ethics through is bad. Submit to the will of the tribe!"

I say if subjecting your ethical intuitions to rational analysis doesn't lead you to change them in some way then you are probably doing it wrong.

How subject ethical intuitions should be to rational analysis (in the sense of being changed by them) depends on how much you endorse the fact-value distinction and how fundamental the intuition is.

Reason leads me (though perhaps my reasoning is flawed) to conclude that "others' abject suffering is bad" isn't any more justified a desire than "others' abject suffering is good;" they're as equivalent as a preference for chocolate or vanilla ice cream. But so what? I don't abandon my preference for vanilla just because it doesn't follow from reason. Morality works the same way, except that ideally, I care about it enough to force my preferences on others.

How subject ethical intuitions should be to rational analysis (in the sense of being changed by them) depends on how much you endorse the fact-value distinction and how fundamental the intuition is.

Yes. It is non-terminal ethical intuitions that I expect to be updated. "Should not do X because Y" should be discarded when it becomes obvious that Y is bullshit.

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.

-- Christopher Morley

Man cannot understand the perfection and imperfections of his chosen art if he cannot see the value in other arts. Following rules only permits development up to a point in technique and then the student and artist has to learn more and seek further. It makes sense to study other arts as well as those of strategy. Who has not learned something more about themselves by watching the activities of others? To learn the sword study the guitar. To learn the fist study commerce. To just study the sword will make you narrow-minded and will not permit you to grow outward.

-- Musashi, "A Book of Five Rings"

Pretty much the opposite of the foundation of modern education and social organization.

Farnsworth: My god, is it possible?
Fry: It must be possible. It's happening.

— Futurama: "The Late Philip J. Fry"

On the nature of ethics:

There is no justice in the laws of Nature, Headmaster, no term for fairness in the equations of motion. The universe is neither evil, nor good, it simply does not care. The stars don't care, or the Sun, or the sky. But they don't have to! We care! There is light in the world, and it is us.

~ Eliezer Yudkowsky c/o Harry Potter, Methods of Rationality chapter 39.

"A joke told by Warren Buffett comes to mind: a patient, after hearing from a doctor that he has cancer, tells the doctor, “Doc, I don’t have enough money for the surgery, but maybe could I pay you to touch up the x-ray?” Hope and self-deception are not a strategy."

~ Vitaliy Katsenelson

In short, whatever emotional impulse we may have toward altruism and empathy, and to whatever extent it may be genetically hardwired, it does not obviate the need for explicit judgments about right and wrong. If it did not seem correct to act with kindness and fairness, even at a net personal cost—if there were no sensible reason for so acting, beyond a raw impulse to do so—then we would have reason to regard the raw impulse as pointlessly self-destructive—like a disposition to alcoholism or a purely visceral (so to speak) aversion to surgery—and we would have a reason to attempt to overcome it.

  • Gary Drescher, Good and Real

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.

- Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You (1894), ch. III

You know, I'm going to remember that one and try to remind myself of it whenever I notice my status is interfering with my thoughts.

I entered the Lager (Auschwitz) as a non-believer, and as a non-believer I was liberated and have lived to this day. Actually, the experience of the Lager with its frightful iniquity confirmed me in my nonbelief. It has prevented me, and still prevents me, from conceiving of any form of providence or transcendent justice. . . . I must nevertheless admit that I experienced (and again only once) the temptation to yield, to seek refuge in prayer. This happened in October 1944, in the one moment in which I lucidly perceived the imminence of death . . . naked and compressed among my naked companions with my personal index card in hand, I was waiting to file past the “commission” that with one glance would decide whether I should go immediately into the gas chamber or was instead strong enough to go on working. For one instance I felt the need to ask for help and asylum; then, despite my anguish, equanimity prevailed; one does not change the rules of the game at the end of the match, nor when you are losing. A prayer under these conditions would have been not only absurd (what rights could I claim? and from whom?) but blasphemous, obscene, laden with the greatest impiety of which a nonbeliever is capable. I rejected the temptation; I knew that otherwise were I to survive, I would have to be ashamed of it

-- Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved (quoted by Damon Linker at The New Republic ; h/t Andrew Sullivan)

Therefore, after intellectually evaluating your problems through common sense and drawing on what psychiatry has taught us, if you still cannot emotionally release yourself from unwarranted guilt, and put your theories into action, then you should learn to make your guilt work for you. You should act upon your natural instincts, and then, if you cannot perform without feeling guilty, revel in your guilt. This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but if you will think about it, guilt can often add a fillip to the senses. Adults would do well to take a lesson from children: children often take great delight in doing something they know they are not supposed to.

-- Howard Stanton Levey, The Satanic Bible

(hopefully unnecessary disclaimer: I am in no way a Satanist)

Completely out of curiosity, why do you cite him by his birth name rather than his pen name of Anton Szander LaVey?

As a token of obligatory disrespect towards the juvenile pomposity of adopting a spoooky name for oneself.

And "NihilCredo" isn't a spooky adopted name? :-)

Heh, good quip! :) (the difference is obvious, anyway.)

This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but if you will think about it, guilt can often add a fillip to the senses. Adults would do well to take a lesson from children: children often take great delight in doing something they know they are not supposed to.

I know this very well. Video games get so much more appealing when I have some work to avoid.

It could also be a selection effect -- if you're doing something even though you're not supposed to, it must be something you really like.

Similarly, unhealthy food tastes good because substances that are neither healthy nor tasty aren't classified as food.

It could also be a selection effect -- if you're doing something even though you're not supposed to, it must be something you really like.

Or an evolutionary nudge in the direction of hypocrisy.

More precisely, if the tribe has bothered to prohibit it, it must be something that advantages you at someone else's (possibly the group's) expense, and therefore you should be:

a) Encouraged to do it more, while...

b) Exhibiting plausible self-punishment when caught, to maintain group ties.

The former explains the increased reward, the latter the social behavior aspect.

It's specifically the "I have something unpleasant to do, and I'm not doing it!" that's exciting. I'll play even a bad game when I have work to avoid.

Your imaginings can have as much power over you as your reality, or even more.

-- Charles T. Tart

"There are worse things than seeming irresponsible. Losing, for example."

~ Paul Graham

You use a metaphor to describe some concept. The metaphor isn’t the thing you describe - it’s just a tool that you use. But someone takes the metaphor, and runs with it, making arguments that are built entirely on metaphor, but which bear no relation to the real underlying concept. And they believe that whatever conclusions they draw from the metaphor must, therefore, apply to the original concept.

— Mark Chu-Carroll, Metaphorical Crankery: a bad metaphor is like a steaming pile of …

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

-H.P. Lovecraft

Sounds like Caveman Science Fiction to me. "Why should we risk learning about new things, when there's a possibility they'll be scary?"

I never read Lovecraft as being any kind of metaphor for the real world, so I wouldn't vote this up as a rationalist quote for that reason.

But I like it as a device used Lovecraft to try to convey a sheer magnitude of horror. Can you imagine discovering something so horrific you wished you could delete the whole thing from your memory ? The more you pride yourself as a rationalist, the more horrific it would have to be.

I don't know; the more Less Wrong I read, the more I start to think Lovecraft was on to something.

Delving too far in our search for knowledge is likely to awaken vast godlike forces which are neither benevolent nor malevolent but horrifyingly indifferent to humanity. Some of these forces may be slightly better or worse than others, but all of them could and would swat our civilization away like a mosquito. Such forces may already control other star systems.

The only defense against such abominations is to study the arcane knowledge involved in summoning or banishing these entities; however, such knowledge is likely to cause its students permanent psychological damage or doom them to eternities of torture.

We've got Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality; maybe you should write Cthulhu Mythos and Rationality ?

Then again, it might be unwise to disseminate it openly.

I've always enjoyed Vernor Vinge's name for AI: "Applied Theology".

(In, I think, A Fire upon the Deep.)

This seems to be the premise of Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall".

I'll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it.

-- Isaac Asimov

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. It can convince you that an argument this idiotic and this sloppy is actually profound. It can convince you to publicly make a raging jackass out of yourself, by rambling on and on, based on a stupid misunderstanding of a simplified, informal, intuitive description of something complex.

— Mark Chu-Carroll, The Danger When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know : Good Math, Bad Math

I had just recently seen the two Christopher Nolan Batman movies (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). Here are my favorite quotes; please add any that you like. (Character attribution left off to prevent pre-judgment.) Wikiquote lists.

"It's not who you are on the inside; it’s what you do that defines you." (Compare: Functionalism, substrate independence, timeless identity – I know, that’s probably not what was intended, but note how it’s used in other contexts.)

"Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society's understanding." (Compare to counterfactual reasoning: if we would sympathize with every defection, and felt that “the past is the past”, those wishing to defect would have no reason not to.)

“And what about escalation? […] We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor-piercing rounds. […] And you’re wearing a mask, and jumping off rooftops!”

(Also, I watched the earlier Batman movies after seeing this, and frankly, by comparison, they look like campy garbage.)

Nolan's Memento is also interesting from a rationalist perspective - it gives "running on untrusted hardware" a quite concrete meaning.

"Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society's understanding." (Compare to counterfactual reasoning: if we would sympathize with every defection, and felt that “the past is the past”, those wishing to defect would have no reason not to.)

It's a complicated issue-- as nearly as I can tell, the people who argue for no understanding assume that they can just use their intuitions about punishment, and not update about whether they're getting the effects they want.

I agree. I wasn't trying to argue in favor of some kind of unlimited punishment, or against all understanding whatsoever -- just that this kind of understanding can be misused, especially when you discount the offense for being in the past. (I had recently read Drescher's account in Good and Real of why the pastward, inalterable aspect of a transgression, and the fact that the punishment only causes things in the future, are no reason not to punish.)

Edit3: And, of course [rot13] vg jnf n onq thl jub fnvq gung va gur zbivr, naq gur guvatf lbh jnea nobhg ner unaqyrq va gur zbivr, nf gung punenpgre'f ernfbavat yrnqf uvz gb qb ubeevoyr guvatf ba gung onfvf, yvxr gel gb qrfgebl na ragver pvgl. Ng gur fnzr gvzr, V guvax ur qbrf unir n cbvag.

Sometimes, I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear
And I can't help but ask myself how much I let the fear
Take the wheel and steer
It's driven me before
And it seems to have a vague, haunting mass appeal
But lately I'm beginning to find that I
Should be the one behind the wheel

- Incubus, Drive

I'd quote the whole song, but I think that might violate a copyright or something.

I doubt it, but there are several sites with the full lyrics if anyone wants to see them.

Edit 24 July 2013: Removed link to lyricsbay at their request. – admin

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration

"Someday I want to be so powerful that I can defeat myself in a single blow." -- Silence, commenting on a character in Prism Ark that says they want to be stronger.

I don't understand. Anybody who lives near a cliff or owns a gun has that much power. Explain? What is the connection to rationality?

That's the best summary of rationality I've ever seen.

Wouldn't a good summary of rationality be a little more comprehensible? I'm sure there is a deep insight that Nic sees behind the quote and from what you say it must be related to rationality but at face value, without context that most people, myself included, don't have it makes no sense.

Wow, I had no idea that this quote would be so controversial. I will attempt to explain.

To begin, I think there is something that can be learned from the quote, but I wouldn't call it a "deep insight." Or, at least, I wouldn't have before uninverted's reply. Silence, a friend of mine, was making fun of the focus of many anime on literal, physical strength, often detached from anything to protect or, indeed, any real overall goal at all (I don't remember if this is the case with Prism Ark or not). It's thus a light warning against focusing too much on method over end results.

Also, if there were two of you, it'd be impossible for you[a] to be decisively stronger and more skilled than you[b].

Uninverted, I'm guessing, was thinking of akrasia and overcoming cognitive biases, which can be considered "part of self" and, at the same time, something to "defeat" as easily as possible. Hence, the quote can also be read as a summary of rationality.

With a big enough hammer, that goal is within the reach of anybody strong enough to swing it at their own head.

A drawing instead of a quote.

(This one is also interesting. I didn't spot much else worth sharing in the rest of the "comic", however.)

“The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.” -- Daniel Boorstin

  • If I understand it, I can build it.

Richard Feynman's inverted (not A implies not B == B implies A) quote.