A Parable of Four Riders

by matejsuchy1 min read30th Oct 20204 comments

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Rationality
Personal Blog

Four cavalrymen assemble on the banks of the Rhone. 

Two are fools. I have beneath me behemoth, a mountain of flesh and

Tusk. I ought not simply break it like a horse. I will bring it to the tide of

Battle and the beast will find fury and both I and my adversary will be helpless to

Stay it, they say.

The fools charge into battle. The first’s mount balks at the Gaulish pikes and casts him 

To the dirt, and it is his end. The second’s mount glimpses a wolf’s pelt on a pike man 

Before him and mistakes it for a lion and falls 

Into a blood rush. This fool survives two dozen adversaries, and is greatly rewarded 

By his superiors. Here is a man who truly knows how to ride, they say.

Two are wise. The first wise man had broken his mount from its earliest days, and it 

Obeys his very command. It is good for him to know that I am his master, for his every 

Muscle to ripple only at my command, for I think clearly, and he does not, and my 

Foresight will bring us the victory that base passion never could, he says. 

His charge bears him dutifully to the tide of battle, and gives no hesitation as its rider 

Drives it into the roil of pikes and lances. 

And so is the first wise man’s end.

The second wise man had also broken his elephant. It is good for him to act under my 

Direction, for I can see the ranks and formations and make sense of it. But he mustn’t 

Act under it alone, for what use is an elephant which is as meek as a mouse? And as dull.

For the genius of the beast is not contained in its tusks alone, but in its cunning. It is he 

Who will splinter the spears, who will cast the adversary underfoot. This he knows 

Better than I ever could.  His cunning will be our victory, and with it I will not interfere. 

He says.

The second wise man drives his charge to the site of his adversary’s disadvantage, and 

The Beast splinters the enemy, man and pike alike. Soon the Gauls disappear

Into the woods, and the fighting is done. 

Here is another man who truly knows how to ride, his superiors say.

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Is the claim that the superiors are making the same mistake in judging the wise men that they're making in judging the fools?

They seems to have a model where "good riding skill" is the only thing that determines the outcome. Specifically, their model has no place for luck.

That's their mistake in the case of the fools, but is the claim that they're also making it in the case of the wise men?

I think yes - strong beliefs from a single event that contains a fair bit of randomess is generally a mistake.  The author's labeling of "fool" and "wise men" is likewise a red herring, to show us that our initial evaluation is also a mistake.  

The only successful strategy in the parable is the one taken by "the superiors" - send other people into your fights, perhaps some will succeed.