Rationality Quotes February 2013

by arundelo1 min read5th Feb 2013571 comments


Rationality Quotes
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Another monthly installment of the rationality quotes thread. The usual rules apply:

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments or posts from Less Wrong itself or from Overcoming Bias.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
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"If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?"

"Oh jeez. Probably."

"What!? Why!?"

"Because all my friends did. Think about it -- which scenario is more likely: every single person I know, many of them levelheaded and afraid of heights, abruptly went crazy at exactly the same time... ...or the bridge is on fire?"

Randall Munroe, on updating on other people's beliefs.

Dilbert dunnit first!

(Seeing that strip again reminds me of an explanation for why teenagers in the US tend to take more risks than adults. It's not because the teenagers irrationally underestimate risks but because they see bigger benefits to taking risks.)

Let me just put the text string ‘xkcd’ in here, because I was going to add this if nobody else had, and it's lucky that I found it first.

Oh, and there's more text in the comic than what's quoted, and it's good too, so read the comic everybody!

1[anonymous]8ySee also this Will_Newsome comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/b5r/not_all_signallingstatus_behaviors_are_bad/652n?context=1#comments] . (I incorrectly remembered that it said something like “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?” “If all of them survived, I probably would.”)

It’s nice to elect the right people, but that’s not the way you solve things. The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.

-- Milton Friedman

No one can be good for long if goodness is not in demand.

-- Bertold Brecht

(I'm always amused when people of opposite political views express similar thoughts on society.)


The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom, but to set some limit on infinite error.

4AlexSchell8yThis solution only works if you are in the special position of being able to make institutional design changes that can't be undone by potential future enemies. Otherwise, whose "right things" will happen depends on who is currently in charge of institutional design (think gerrymandering).
1Sengachi8yThen try to make it politically profitable to help sustain those changes you make. Make it so painfully obvious that the only reason to remove those changes would be for one's unethical gain that no politician would ever do so. The problem then though, is that people end up just not caring enough.
5AlexSchell8yWhat you're describing is exactly the position of being able to make institutional design changes that can't be undone by potential future enemies. This position is "special" not only because the task is very difficult, but also because you have to be the first to think of it.
1Estarlio8yCouldn't I also set up the system to try to exclude the wrong people from ever getting power? It seems to me that computers get better at detecting liars, and we have an ease of fact checking on things now we never used to have, and conflicts of interest are generally relatively easily seen, and we've got all this research about how influence functions... In short that we've made a lot more progress on the judging people front, than we have on the side of designing procedures and regulations that suit us and also serve as one-way functions.
8fubarobfusco8yNot if having power over others turns the right people into the wrong people.
5RichardKennaway8yNo. No-one can set up the system. The most that anyone can do is introduce a new piece into the game, pieces like Google, or Wikipedia, or Wikileaks.

In Munich in the days of the great theoretical physicist Arnold Sommerfeld (1868–1954), trolley cars were cooled in summer by two small fans set into their ceilings. When the trolley was in motion, air flowing over its top would spin the fans, pulling warm air out of the cars. One student noticed that although the motion of any given fan was fairly random—fans could turn either clockwise or counterclockwise—the two fans in a single car nearly always rotated in opposite directions. Why was this? Finally he brought the problem to Sommerfeld.

“That is easy to explain,” said Sommerfeld. “Air hits the fan at the front of the car first, giving it a random motion in one direction. But once the trolley begins to move, a vortex created by the first fan travels down the top of the car and sets the second fan moving in precisely the same direction.”

“But, Professor Sommerfeld,” the student protested, “what happens is in fact the opposite! The two fans nearly always rotate in different directions.”

“Ahhhh!” said Sommerfeld. “But of course that is even easier to explain.”

Devine and Cohen, Absolute Zero Gravity, p. 96.

6Luke_A_Somers8ySo, uh, what's the explanation?

The story appears to be apocryphal. I've heard many versions of it associated with various famous scientists. The source quoted is a collection of jokes, with very low veracity. Additionally, there are no independent versions of the story anywhere on Google. By the way, the quoted date of Sommerfeld's death is also incorrect. I wonder if there even were (unpowered) ceiling fans in Munich's trolleys during that time.

7Luke_A_Somers8yGood point. Effects that don't exist don't need to be explained.
5Desrtopa8yI'm not much of an engineer, but based on my understanding of their design from the description given, I can't see how they would even contribute to their alleged purpose.
0TrE8yPerhaps because pressure is (approximately) constant, for every molecule going into the car, one must leave it (on average)?
0Luke_A_Somers8yTrolleys have open windows in summer.
5John_Maxwell8yIt's an interesting story, but it might not be as silly as it sounds if one considers "ease of explanation" as a metric for how much credence one's model assigns to a given scenario. (Yes, I agree this is a hackneyed way of modeling stuff.)
6Eugine_Nier8yUnfortunately, this seems to be the default way humans do things.
1John_Maxwell8yWell, the world is a complicated place and we have limited working memory, so our models can only be so good without the use of external tools. In practice, I think looking for reasons why something is true, then looking for reasons why it isn't true, has been a useful rationality technique for me. Maybe because I'm more motivated to think of creative, sometimes-valid arguments when I'm rationalizing one way or the other.

Men in Black on guessing the teacher's password:

Zed: You're all here because you are the best of the best. Marines, air force, navy SEALs, army rangers, NYPD. And we're looking for one of you. Just one.
Edwards: Maybe you already answered this, but, why exactly are we here?
Zed: [noticing a recruit raising his hand] Son?
Jenson: Second Lieutenant, Jake Jenson. West Point. Graduate with honors. We're here because you are looking for the best of the best of the best, sir! [throws Edwards a contemptible glance]
[Edwards laughs]
Zed: What's so funny, Edwards?
Edwards: Boy, Captain America over here! "The best of the best of the best, sir!" "With honors." Yeah, he's just really excited and he has no clue why we're here. That's just, that's very funny to me.

8juped8yThe scene in question. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dijVbM9DpxU]
3DSimon8yThat whole testing sequence is one of the best examples in film of how to distinguish what's expected of you from what's actually a good idea. (Or in that specific case, what seems to be expected of you.)

It is because a mirror has no commitment to any image that it can clearly and accurately reflect any image before it. The mind of a warrior is like a mirror in that it has no commitment to any outcome and is free to let form and purpose result on the spot, according to the situation.

—Yagyū Munenori, The Life-Giving Sword

Shipping is a feature. A really important feature. Your product must have it.

-Joel Spolsky

Real artists ship.

-- Steve Jobs

(The Organization Formerly Known as SIAI had this problem until relatively recently. Eliezer worked, but he never published anything.)

8cody-bryce8yAnd they ship the characters the fans want.
6fubarobfusco8yIf your service is down, it has no features.
6DanArmak8yAnd no bugs.
6ygert8yWell, there is one pretty major bug: That your service is not doing anything at all!
8fubarobfusco8yIt has all the bugs. All of them. (Well, not really. For instance, it doesn't have any security holes.)
2Strange78yIf it bears any resemblance to a product at all, your own admin-level access constitutes a potential security hole.
8shminux8yIt's a feature.
3[anonymous]8yI would have quoted more, because on reading that out of context I was like “YOU DON'T SAY?”

Most people, when giving advice, don't optimize for maximal usefulness. They optimize for something like maximal apparent-insight or maximal signaling-wisdom or maximal mind-blowing, which are a priori all very different goals. So you shouldn't expect that incredibly useful advice sounds like incredibly insightful, wise, or mind-blowing advice in general. There's probably a lot of incredibly useful advice that no one gives because it sounds too obvious and you don't get to look cool by giving it. One such piece of advice I received recently was "plan things."

6Nornagest8yThere's probably also a lot of useful advice that our minds filter out because it scans as obvious or trivial. Even when I'm trying to give maximally effective advice, I usually spend a lot of effort optimizing it for style; the better something sounds, the more people dwell on its implications and the likelier it is to stick. Fortunately, most messages leave plenty of latitude for presentation. Alternately, you could try dressing simple advice up in enough cultural tinsel that it looks profound, as suggested here [http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2645].
7Stabilizer8yWell, a lot basic rationality literally seems to be about doing what is almost obvious but is hard to do because of bugs in your cognitive architecture. This reminds me of the following quote by Elon Musk in an interview where he was asked what he would say to new start-up founders:
0RichardKennaway8yAnd by the same author [http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/07/yes-but-what-have-you-done.html]: and [http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/01/shipping-isnt-enough.html] (because what counts after getting it out the door is how many people actually use it.)
2pjeby8yThat's Jeff Atwood. The quote is from Joel Spolsky. While the two both work together on Stack Exchange, they're different individuals.

I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend

Faramir, from Lord of the Rings on lost purposes and the thing that he protects

2Dorikka8yExcept that a non-overwhelming love of a useful art may help you become better in the art, even though you would switch to another if it helped you optimize more.

You want accurate beliefs and useful emotions.

From a participant at the January CFAR workshop. I don't remember who. This struck me as an excellent description of what rationalists seek.

People often seem to get these mixed up, resulting in "You want useful beliefs and accurate emotions."

Not sure what an "accurate emotion" would mean, feel like some sort of domain error. (e.g. a blue sound.)

An accurate emotion = "I'm angry because I should be angry because she is being really, really mean to me."

A useful emotion = "Showing empathy towards someone being mean to me will minimize the cost to me of others' hostility."

6AdeleneDawner8yWhere's that 'should' coming from? (Or are you just explaining the concept rather than endorsing it?)
4James_Miller8yI mean in the way most (non-LW) people would interpret it, so explaining not endorsing.
5James_Miller8yContrasting "accurate beliefs and useful emotions" with "useful beliefs and accurate emotions" would probably make a good exercise for a novice rationalist.

Why not both useful beliefs and useful emotions?

Why privilege beliefs?

This is addressed by several Sequence posts, e.g. Why truth? And..., Dark Side Epistemology, and Focus Your Uncertainty.

Beliefs shoulder the burden of having to reflect the territory, while emotions don't. (Although many people seem to have beliefs that could be secretly encoding heuristics that, if they thought about it, they could just be executing anyway, e.g. believing that people are nice could be secretly encoding a heuristic to be nice to people, which you could just do anyway. This is one kind of not-really-anticipation-controlling belief that doesn't seem to be addressed by the Sequences.)

6sark8y"Beliefs shoulder the burden of having to reflect the territory, while emotions don't." This is how I have come to think of beliefs. It's like refactoring code. You should do it when you spot regularities you can eke efficiency out of. But you should do this only if it does not make the code unwieldy or unnatural, and only if it does not make the code fragile. Beliefs should be the same thing. When your rules of thumb seem to respect some regularity in reality, I'm perfectly happy to call that "truth". So long as that does not break my tools.
3James_Miller8yIf useful doesn't equal accurate then you have biased your map. The most useful beliefs to have are almost always accurate ones so in almost all situations useful=accurate. But most people have an innate desire to bias their map in a way that harms them over the long-run. Restated, most people have harmful emotional urges that do their damage by causing them to have inaccurate maps that "feel" useful but really are not. Drilling into yourself the value of having an accurate map in part by changing your emotions to make accuracy a short-term emotional urge will cause you to ultimately have more useful beliefs than if you have the short-term emotional urge of having useful beliefs. A Bayesian super-intelligence could go for both useful beliefs and emotions. But given the limitations of the human brain I'm better off programming the emotional part of mine to look for accuracy in beliefs rather than usefulness.
2NevilleSandiego8yuseful may not be accurate, depending on one's motives. A 'useful' belief may be one that allows you to do what you really want to unburdened by ethical/logistic/moral considerations. e.g., belief that non-europeans aren't really human permits one to colonise their land without qualms. I suppose that's why, as a rationalist, one would prefer accurate beliefs- they don't give you the liberty of lying to yourself like that. And as a rationalist, accurate beliefs will be far more useful than inaccurate ones.
2sark8yGood point about beliefs possibly only "feeling" useful. But that applies to accuracy as well. Privileging accuracy can also lead you to overstate its usefulness. In fact, I find it's often better to not even have beliefs at all. Rather than trying to contort my beliefs to be useful, a bunch of non map-based heuristics gets the job done handily. Remember, the map-territory distinction is itself but a useful meta-heuristic.
0Sengachi8yA useful belief is an accurate one. It is, however, easy to believe a belief is useful without testing its veracity. Therefore it is optimal to test for accuracy in beliefs, as opposed to querying one's belief in its usefulness.
0Luke_A_Somers8yConversely, why not both accurate beliefs and emotions? Let useful come into play when choosing your actions. This can include framing your emotions - but if you just go around changing your emotions to whatever's useful, you're not being yourself.
2Eugine_Nier8yTaboo "being yourself".
4epigeios8y"being yourself": A metaphor for a feeling which is so far removed from modern language's ability to describe, that it's a local impossibility for all but a tiny portion of the people in the world to taboo it. It's purpose is to illicit the associated feeling in the listener, and not to be used as a descriptive reference. It is a feeling that is so deeply ingrained in 50% of people, that those people don't realize the other 50% of people don't know what it is; and so had never thought to even begin to try to explain it, much less taboo it. tabooing the word as if it describes an action is an inadequate representation of the true meaning of the word. The same is true of tabooing the word as if it describes an emotion, a thought, a belief, or an identity. "being yourself" is a conglomeration of two concepts. The first, "being", requires the assumption that there is such a thing as a "state of being", as an all-encompassing description of something that describes it's non-physical properties as a snapshot of a single moment; and that said description is unlikely to change over time. The second, "oneself", requires the assumption that there is such a thing as a spark of consciousness at the source of any mental processes, or related, of any living creature. This concept is reminiscent of the concept of a "soul". I personally find the concept of "being oneself" to be of the fallacious origin of the assumption that the spark of consciousness is separate from the current state of being, and that said state and spark do not flux and change continuously. However, the context of the phrase "being yourself", in this instance, requires not that this phrase be tabooed, but instead that "changing your emotions" be tabooed, along with "useful". The question in regards to "changing your emotions" is if the author meant that truly changing one's emotions would be "not being oneself"; or if the author meant something else, such as putting on a facade of an emotion that one is not
1Luke_A_Somers8yAttempting to override your utility function. Effectively, a stab at wetware wireheading.
5Sniffnoy8yIt's perhaps worth noting that EY seems to have taken instead the "accurate beliefs and accurate emotions" tack in e.g. The Twelve Virtues of Rationality [http://yudkowsky.net/rational/virtues]. Or at least that seems to be what's implied. I mean, I suspect "accurate beliefs and useful emotions" really is the way to go; but this is something that -- if it really is a sort of consensus here -- we need to be much more explicit about, IMO. At the moment there seems to be little about that in the sequences / core articles, or at least little about it that's explicity (I'm going from memory in making that statement).
4Qiaochu_Yuan8yAgreed. The idea that I should be paying attention to and then hacking my emotions is not something I learned from the Sequences but from the CFAR workshop. In general, though, the Sequences are more concerned with epistemic than instrumental rationality, and emotion-hacking is mostly an instrumental technique (although it is also epistemically valuable to notice and then stop your brain from flinching away from certain thoughts).

Things that are your fault are good because they can be fixed. If they're someone else's fault, you have to fix them, and that's much harder.

-- Geoff Anders (paraphrased)

3Giles8yDid he mean if they're someone else's fault then you have to fix the person?
[-][anonymous]8y 48


"I design a cell to not fail and then assume it will and then ask the next 'what-if' questions," Sinnett said. "And then I design the batteries that if there is a failure of one cell it won't propagate to another. And then I assume that I am wrong and that it will propagate to another and then I design the enclosure and the redundancy of the equipment to assume that all the cells are involved and the airplane needs to be able to play through that."

Mike Sinnett, Boeing's 787 chief project engineer

5Nic_Smith8yIsn't the point of the article that Boeing may not have actually done at least the first two steps (design cell not to fail, prevent failure of a cell from causing battery problems)? I am confused.
4Baughn8yIt's the point of the problem, anyway. SInnett is probably a very good designer, but the battery design was outsourced.

I wept because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet, then I continued weeping because his foot problem did not actually solve my shoe problem.

-- Noah Brand

I'd prefer if this quote ended with " ... and then I got done weeping and started working on my shoe budget," but oh wells.

"...And then I remembered status is positional, felt superior to the footless man, and stopped weeping."

[-][anonymous]8y 10

Shoes aren't just about positional social status, are they? (I mean, the difference between a $20 pair of shoes and a $300 pair of shoes mostly is, but the difference between a $20 pair of shoes and no shoes at all isn't, is it?)

7Dahlen8yThis. If only people realized that unpleasant facts do not cancel each other out, and pointing out one unpleasant fact in addition to another should never ever make us feel better, because it only leaves us in a worse world than we started out in. Compute the actual utilities. It's such a common and avoidable error.
9jooyous8yI think people just accidentally conflate keeping problems in perspective with the idea that the existence of bigger problems makes the small problems negligible and therefore equivalent to non-problems. I've seen this happen with positive things too; sometimes you won't mind repeatedly doing small favors for someone and they start acting like you not minding means the favor is equivalent to doing nothing from your perspective, which is frustrating when your small but non-zero effort goes unacknowledged. It's sort of like approximating sinθ as 0 for small angles. ^_^
0[anonymous]8yYep. Most people seem to behave as though the choice between spending $5 and spending $10 is a much bigger deal than the choice between spending $120 and spending $125, but if anything it's the other way round, because in the latter case you'll be left with less money. (That heuristic does have a point for acausal reasons analogous to these [http://lesswrong.com/lw/4sh/how_i_lost_100_pounds_using_tdt/] insofar as you'll have to make the first kind of choice much more often than the second, but people will still behave the same way in one-off situations.)
1satt8yAnother possible motivation for that heuristic: something that's a good buy for $5 might well be a bad buy for $10, but something that's a good buy for $120 is probably still a good buy for $125. If I find that a cheap item's twice the cost I thought it was, that's more likely to force me to re-do a utilitarian calculation than if I find an expensive item is 4% pricier than I thought it was.
2[anonymous]8yYes, but OTOH if I'm about to buy something for $125 it isn't that unlikely that if I looked more carefully I could found someone else selling the same thing for $120, whereas if I'm about to buy something for $10 it's somewhat unlikely that anyone else would sell the same thing for $5 (so looking around would most likely be a waste of time), and I'd guess these two effects would more-or-less cancel out.
2satt8yI can often get a $10 good/service for $5 or less if I'm willing to delay consumption or find another seller (e.g. buying used books, not seeing films as soon as they come out, getting food at a canteen or fast food place instead of a pub or restaurant, using buses instead of trains). I might be atypical.
7Eugine_Nier8yI think both your comment and the quote are forgetting the instrumental purpose of crying and/or feeling bad.
4Dahlen8yI can't say I see your point. Mind explaining?
9Viliam_Bur8yMy guess: The purpose of crying is to make people around you more likely to help you. So if you don't have shoes, there is a chance that crying in public will make someone give you money to buy the shoes. But if there is a person without feet nearby, your chances become smaller, because people will redirect their limited altruist budgets to that other person. Your crying becomes less profitable.
0Dahlen8y... Alright, but... that's a separate point to make altogether. It's not a quote about making yourself as likely as possible to get others to help you, and, I would say, it doesn't have to be; it's a quote about how other people's negative experiences influence the way you feel about yours.
0jooyous8yUnfortunately, I've met a lot of people who forget the instrumental purposes of crying and/or feeling bad. =[
1Kaj_Sotala8yBut if you look at it other way, then pointing out unpleasant facts about other people's condition (that don't apply to us) is equivalent to pointing out good facts about our condition, which should make us feel better, as it leaves us in a better world than we started out in.
1Dahlen8yThat's exactly the kind of thinking the world needs less of, and the kind that I was trying to warn readers against in the parent comment. Why? Just why would a worse world for someone else make for a better world for you, if that someone is not your mortal enemy? It just makes for a worse world, period.
1Kaj_Sotala8yThe point isn't that you're taking pleasure in their misfortune, it's that you're taking pleasure in your own fortune. "I'm so lucky for having X." If you don't do that, then any improvements in your standard of living or situation in general will end up having no impact on your happiness, since you just get used to them and take them for granted and don't even realize that you would have a million reasons to be happy. And then (in the most extreme case) you'll end up feeling miserable because of something completely trivial, because you're ignoring everything that could make you happy and the only things that can have any impact on your state of mind are negative ones.
2jooyous8ySomeone commented above about the instrumental value of crying and feeling bad, and you're actually pointing out the case where crying and feeling bad fail at being instrumental. Basically, I'm for whatever attitude that gets you to stop crying and start fixing some problem, and if resetting your baseline helps, it's fair game! It definitely works for me in some cases. I think this quote is trying to argue against the attitude that problems that are minor compared to other problems don't deserve any attention at all. That everyone without shoes should just wrench themselves into happiness and go around being grateful, rather than acknowledging that they keep stepping on snails and pointy things, which sucks, and making productive steps toward acquiring shoes. I remember reading something about plastic surgeons getting kind of looked down upon because they're not proper heroic doctors that handle real medical problems.
2Dahlen8y... I think I see where you're coming from -- by realizing we're not at the far end of the unhappiness scale (since we have a counterexample to that), we should calibrate our feelings about our situation accordingly, yes? It's still not the way I view things; I'd like to say I prefer judging these things according to an absolute standard, but it's likely that that would be less true for me than I want it to be. To the extent that it doesn't hold true for me, I think it's better to take into consideration better states as well as worse ones. Saying, "at least I don't have it as bad as X" just doesn't feel enough; everybody who doesn't have it as bad as X could say it, and people in this category can vary widely in their levels of satisfaction, the more so the worse X has it. It's more complete to say "Yes, but I don't have it as good as Y either" or, better yet, "I have it better/worse than my need requires".
2Kaj_Sotala8yYes, pretty much.
0ygert8yYes, yes, but now you are going into far more depth than the original quote. The idea behind the quote seems to have been (at least as I read it): "Be happy that you have feet, having feet is not something you should take for granted." The quote says nothing more than that. (Well, not quite. The point it makes is not only meant to be reserved for feet specifically, but rather seems to be meant as a comment on anything people take for granted.)
0Oligopsony8yWhat's an actual utility?
0Dahlen8yIn the example above: the fact that you have no shoes equates to negative utility for you. If you're a normal human being who is generally well-intended and wants people to have both feet and shoes for those feet, you would feel upset if you saw someone without feet, hence more negative utility. Your negative utility from you having no shoes + negative utility from seeing someone have no feet can only amount to a more negative total score than just the one obtained by considering your own lack of shoes. Even in the case where you're a complete egoist for whom others' misfortunes have absolutely no impact on your own personal happiness, if you sum them up again you still end up with the same negative utility from having no shoes. Only if you're the kind of monster that rejoices in other people's suffering is it possible for your utility score to raise after seeing someone with no feet. Yet it seems that even people who aren't complete monsters seem to take comfort in the fact that someone else has it worse than them, and this seems intuitive for most people, and counter-intuitive for others, i.e. me, and the person who made the quote. (Disclaimer: I haven't studied utilitarianism formally; probably I'm using more of an everyday definition of the word "utility", akin to "feel-good-ness" in a broad sense. The way I've thought about this problem stems purely from my intuitions.)
2[anonymous]8yGenerally speaking, bigger problems tend to be cheaper to solve (i.e. solving them will yield more utilons per dollar); so if there is a painting in a museum that risks being sold, and there are people that risk dying from malaria [http://lesswrong.com/lw/3gj/efficient_charity_do_unto_others/], the existence of latter is a good indication that worrying about the former isn't the most effective use of a given amount of resources. (“Concentrate on the high-order bits” -- Umesh Vazirani.) But in this particular case, that heuristic doesn't seem to work (unless I'm overestimating the cost of prosthetics).
0pjeby8yThat's really the entire point of the original quote that this quote is making fun of. The difference between the original and this one is that the author of the second has not updated his baseline expectation that he should have shoes, and that something is wrong if he doesn't. Our baseline expectations determine what we consider a "loss", in the prospect theory sense, so if seeing someone else's problem helps you reset your baseline, it actually is a way to help you stop weeping and start working on the budget, as it were. What we call "getting perspective" on a situation is basically a name for updating your baseline expectation for how reality "ought to be" at the present moment. (That isn't a perfect phrasing, because English doesn't really have distinct-enough words for different sorts of "oughts" or "shoulds". The kind I mean is the kind where reality feels awful or crushingly disappointing if it's not the way it "ought" to be, not the kind where you say that ideally, in a perfect world, things ought to be in thus and such a way, but you don't experience a bad feeling about it right now. It's a "near" sort of ought, not a "far" one. Believing the future should be a certain way doesn't cause this sort of problem, until the future actually arrives.)
2jooyous8yI agree that resetting your baseline is often important if you think that your lack of shoes is a soul-crushing awfulness. This quote is mainly arguing against the attitude that says "you have feet therefore your shoe problem is a non-problem, don't even bother feeling bad or working on it". It's comparatively very minor, but it should be fixed just like any other problem. This quote is arguing against resetting your baseline to the point where minor problems get no attention at all.

This quote is mainly arguing against the attitude that says "you have feet therefore your shoe problem is a non-problem, don't even bother feeling bad or working on it".

That may be, but the actual context of the quote it's arguing with is quite different, on a couple of fronts.

Harold Abbott, the author of the original 1934 couplet ("I had the blues because I had no shoes / Until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet"), wrote it to memorialize an encounter with a happy legless man, at a time when Abbott was dead broke and depressed. (Abbott was not actually lacking in shoes, nor the man only lacking in feet, but apparently in those days people took their couplet-writing seriously. ;-) )

Thing is, at the time he encountered the legless man (who smiled and said good morning), Abbott was actually walking to the bank in order to borrow money to go to Kansas City to look for a job. And not only did he not stop walking to the bank after the encounter, he decided to ask for twice as much money as he had originally intended to borrow. He had in fact raised his sights, rather than lowering them.

That is, the full story is not anything like, "other people ... (read more)

2JGWeissman8yI think the problem that people are having with the quote is that it doesn't actually contain the full story, and when it is repeated outside that context [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Detached_lever_fallacy], the meaning they get from parsing the words is "other people have worse problems so STFU", and it's not a good idea to go around repeating it [http://measureofdoubt.com/2012/06/11/be-a-communications-consequentialist/] if people are going to predictably lack the context and misinterpret it.
0jooyous8yI guess I didn't quote the original article, and he was saying "I am pointing out this problem that is probably not as big or painful as this other problem, but can we please acknowledge its existence also?" And, as often happens with social issues, he was trying to preempt the inevitable "why would we care? we have it worse!" response. I definitely agree that attitude is a choice! I wasn't quite aware of the original quote, but I would put it down as an instrumental rationality quote as well. 8) But it sounds like his shoelessness was a symptom of bigger/different problems? I consider Noah Brand's quote a rationality quote because it's a reminder that problems require real solutions. Changing your attitude to be positive is useful, but changing your attitude to accept that something that sucks will continue to suck indefinitely is not the answer.
0pjeby8yYes, his business (a grocery store) had just failed, taking his entire life savings with it. (And the story doesn't actually say he was shoeless, anyway, just that the rhyme was something he posted on his mirror as a reminder of the encounter.)
0pjeby8yNope, the thing I'm talking about is closer to what the Buddhists would call an "attachment", and some Buddhist-influenced writers call an "addiction". (Others would call it a "desire", but IMO this is inaccurate: one can desire something without being attached to actually getting it.)

On scientists trying to photograph an atom's shadow:

...the idea sounds stupid. But scientists don't care about sounding stupid, which is what makes them not stupid, and they did it anyway.

Luke McKinney - 6 Microscopic Images That Will Blow Your Mind

It seems that 32 Bostonians have simultaneously dropped dead in a ten-block radius for no apparent reason, and General Purcell wants to know if it was caused by a covert weapon. Of course, the military has been put in charge of the investigation and everything is hush-hush.

Without examining anything, Keyes takes about five seconds to surmise that the victims all died from malfunctioning pacemakers and the malfunction was definitely not due to a secret weapon. We're supposed to be impressed, but our experience with real scientists and engineers indicates that when they're on-the-record, top-notch scientists and engineers won't even speculate about the color of their socks without looking at their ankles. They have top-notch reputations because they're almost always right. They're almost always right because they keep their mouths shut until they've fully analyzed the data.

Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics' review of The Core

The remark included the following as a footnote:

Even top-notch engineers and scientists will speculate wildly when they're off-the-record. We define on-the-record as those times when their written or oral communications are likely to be taken seriously and directly attributed to the scientist or engineer making them. Surely answering a direct question posed by a general would fall into this category.

6Desrtopa8y32 people in the same ten block radius simultaneously dying of malfunctioning pacemakers seems so tremendously unlikely, I can't imagine how one could even locate that as an explanation in a matter of seconds.
3jsbennett868yAlso from the review:
0FiftyTwo8yIf I recall correctly, he also pointed out that the fact they had invited two experts on magnetic fields was also a strong clue.
4[anonymous]8ySee also the extra panel (hover onto the red button) in yesterday's SMBC comic [http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2877#comic].

... I had not known about red buttons on SMBC.

roll d20... success on 'resist re-binge' check.

0Daniel_Molloy8yUmm... how do I use the red button on a mobile device? (I also have this problem with xkcd.)
4TobyBartels8yI know that you crossed this out, but the answer to the parenthetical implied question is this: Use the xkcd viewer app. * Android [https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.bytten.xkcdviewer] (used by me regularly on my Android phone) * Apple [https://itunes.apple.com/hk/app/xkcd-viewer/id317328702] (never used by me because I don't have an Apple product)
2[anonymous]8yThank you!
1[anonymous]8yYou just press it. It also works with karma scores on LW to see the percentage of positive votes (at least on Android). I didn't know how to read title texts on xkcd until reading TobyBartels's comment, though.

Eventually you just have to admit that if it looks like the absence of a duck, walks like the absence of a duck, and quacks like the absence of a duck, the duck is probably absent.

--Tom Chivers

I agree subject to the specification that each such observation must look substantially more like the absence of a duck then a duck. There are many things we see which are not ducks in particular locations. My shoe doesn't look like a duck in my closet, but it also doesn't look like the absence of a duck in my closet. Or to put it another way, my sock looks exactly like it should look if there's no duck in my closet, but it also looks exactly like it should look if there is a duck in my closet.

6fubarobfusco8yIf your sock does not have feathers or duck-shit on it, then it is somewhat more likely that it has not been sat on by a duck.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky8yInsufficiently more likely. I've been around ducks many times without that happening to my socks. Log of the likelihood ratio would be close to zero.
2NancyLebovitz8yYou originally were talking about a duck in your closet, which isn't the same as thing as being around ducks. The discussion reminds me of this [http://highclearing.com/index.php/archives/2013/02/02/15865], which makes the point that, while corelation is not causation, if there's no corelation, there almost certainly isn't causation.

if there's no corelation, there almost certainly isn't causation.

This is completely wrong, though not many people seem to understand that yet.

For example, the voltage across a capacitor is uncorrelated with the current through it; and another poster has pointed out the example of the thermostat, a topic I've also written about on occasion.

It's a fundamental principle of causal inference that you cannot get causal conclusions from wholly acausal premises and data. (See Judea Pearl, passim.) This applies just as much to negative conclusions as positive. Absence of correlation cannot on its own be taken as evidence of absence of causation.

2shminux8yIt depends. While true when the signal is periodic, it is not so in general. A spike of current through the capacitor results in a voltage change. Trivially, if voltage is an exponent (V=V0exp(-at), then so is current (I=C dV/dt=-aCV0 exp(-at)), with 100% correlation between the two on a given interval. As for the Milton's thermostat, only the perfect one is uncorrelated (the better the control system, the less the correlation), and no control system without complete future knowledge of inputs is perfect. Of course, if the control system is good enough, in practice the correlation will drown in the noise. That's why there is so little good evidence that fiscal (or monetary) policy works [http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2009/01/why-theres-so-little-good-evidence-that-fiscal-or-monetary-policy-works.html] .

Yes, this is completely wrong. There is frequently no correlation but strong causation due to effect cancellation (homeostasis, etc.)

Here's a recent paper making this point in the context of mediation analysis in social science (I could post many more):


Nancy, I don't mean to jump on you specifically here, but this does seem to me to be a special instance of a general online forum disease, where people {prefer to use | view as authoritative} online sources of information (blogs, wikipedia, even tvtropes, etc.) vs mainstream sources (books, academic papers, professionals). Vinge calls it "the net of a million lies" for a reason!

2NancyLebovitz8yI didn't feel jumped on, though I still don't have a feeling for how common causation without corelation is.
2RichardKennaway8yThe common example I go on about is any situation where a system generally succeeds at achieving a goal. This is a very large class. In such situations there will tend to be an absence of correlation between the effort made and the success at achieving it. The effort will correlate instead with the difficulties in the way. Effort and difficulty together cause the result; result and goal together cause effort. A few concrete examples. If my central heating system works properly and I am willing to spend what it takes to keep warm, the indoor temperature of my house will be independent of both fuel consumption and external temperature, although it is caused by them. If a government's actions in support of some policy target are actually effective, there may appear to be little correlation between actions and outcome, creating the appearance that their actions are irrelevant. An automatic pilot will keep an aircraft at a constant heading, speed, and altitude. Movements of the flight controls will closely respond to external air currents, even if those currents are not being sensed. Neither need correlate with such variations as remain in the trajectory of the plane, although these are caused by the flight controls and the external conditions. "The carpets are so clean, we don't need janitors!" [http://machinesplusminds.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-carpets-are-so-clean-we-dont-need.html] "When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all." [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godfellas]
9simplicio8yNot disagreeing, but just wanted to mention the useful lesson that there are some cases of causation without correlation. For example, the fuel burned by a furnace is uncorrelated with the temperature inside a home. (See: Milton Friedman's thermostat.)
0pinyaka8yI'm not sure I understand this. Do you mean that the way your shoe looks is not evidence for the presence or absence of a duck somewhere in your closet? I think the original quote was meant to imply that as long as your shoe doesn't have the properties that differentiate ducks from non-ducks then your shoe possesses the absence of duck properties and should be assumed to be a non-duck. In other words, for a given object each property must have a binary value for duckness and when all properties have non-duckness values, you should conclude that the object as a whole has a non-duckness property. I get confused by too many negatives and ducks.

I've just come across a fascinatingly compact observation by I. J. Good:

Public and private utilities do not always coincide. This leads to ethical problems. Example - an invention is submitted to a scientific adviser of a firm...

The probability that the invention will work is p. The value to the firm if the invention is adopted and works is V, and the loss if the invention is adopted and fails is L. The value to the adviser personally if he advises the adoption of the invention and it works is v, and the loss if it fails to work is l. The losses to the firm and the adviser if he recommends the rejection of the invention are both negligible...

Then the firm's expected gain if the invention is adopted is pV - (1-p)L and the adviser's expected gain in the same circumstances is pv - (1-p)l. The firm has positive expected gain if p/(1-p) > L/V, and the adviser has positive expected gain if p/(1-p) > l/v.

If l/v > p/(1-p) > L/V, the adviser will be faced with an ethical problem, i.e. he will be tempted to act against the interests of the firm.

This is a beautifully simple recipe for a conflict of interest:

Considering absolute losses assuming failure and absolute gains ... (read more)

the Fearful Committee Formula.

Which is not nearly as common as the reverse, the Reckless Adviser Formula, when the personal loss to the adviser is so low and the potential personal gain is so high, they recommend adoption even when the expected gain for the company is negative.

8Vaniver8yIn general, this is referred to as the principal-agent problem [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principal%E2%80%93agent_problem]. Note that the adviser's ethical problem also exists if L/V > p/(1-p) > l/v. Is the order also inverted in the original?
2Eliezer Yudkowsky8yFixed. I. J. Good's original, which I've somewhat abridged, explicitly specifies that there are no competitors who cause visible losses/gains after the invention is rejected.
1Vaniver8yTo clarify, this is a summary of what you've excluded in your quote, not a response to the other case where the ethical problem exists, correct?
3Eliezer Yudkowsky8yIt's a summary of what I excluded - I had actually misinterpreted, hence my quote indeed was not a valid reply! The other case is indeed real, sorry.
6Qiaochu_Yuan8yName three?
9Vaniver8yThe success of Market-Based Management [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market-Based_Management_Institute] / Koch Industries appears to be due at least in part to their focus on NPV [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_present_value] at the managerial level. You get stories like (from memory, and thus subject to fuzz) the manager of a refining plant selling the land the plant was on to a casino which was moving to the area, which he was rewarded for doing because the land the plant was on was more valuable to the casino than the company, even after factoring in the time lost because the plant was shut down and relocated. The corporate culture (and pay incentive structure) rewarded that sort of lateral use of resources, whereas a culture which compartmentalized people and departments would have balked at the lost time and disruption.

[S]econd thoughts tend to be tentative, and people tend not to believe that they are being lied to. Their own fairmindedness makes them gullible. Upon hearing two versions of any story, the natural reaction of any casual listener is to assume both versions are slanted to favor their side, and that the truth is perhaps somewhere in the middle. So if I falsely accuse an innocent group of ten people of wrongdoing, the average bystander, if he later hears my false accusation disputed, will assume that five or six of the people are guilty, rather than assume I lied and admit that he was deceived.

-- John C Wright

[-][anonymous]8y 23

That reminds me of http://xkcd.com/690/.


If one group of editors were to say the Earth is flat and another group were to say it is round, it would not benefit Wikipedia for the groups to compromise and say the Earth is shaped like a calzone.

-- Raymond Arritt

(Quoting this before dinner is making me hungry.)

3HalMorris8yWikipedia may ultimately have to do one of two things, or both: 1) Provide better structure for alternate versions of contested ideas 2) Construct a practically effective demarcation between strictly factual domains, and anything more interpretive. Such a demarcation will always be challenged; I don't see any way around that, but I'd also insist that it's necessary for our sanity. Supposed it was possible, maybe using a browser with links to a database, to try to "brand" (or give the underwriters seal of approval to) those pages that provided straightforward factual assertions, and unretouched photographs, and scans of original source texts, such as all newspapers of which a copy still exists), and to promote the idea that the respectability of any interpretive or ethical claim consists very largely in its groundedness in showing links to the "smells like a fact" zone.
3RomeoStevens8ySeveral versions with explicit labeling of which viewpoint it represents would be a huge step in improving general information retrieval. Hypertext in general was obviously a huge leap, but the problem of presenting the evolution of a school of thought on a particular subject has not been solved satisfactorily IMO. Path dependence of various things is still among the information we regularly do not record/throw away. We should not be reliant upon brilliant synthesists taking interest in each subject and writing a well organized history.

"In any man who dies, there dies with him his first snow and kiss and fight. Not people die, but worlds die in them."

-Yevgeny Yevtushenko

6Mitchell_Porter4yIronically, the man Yevtushenko is now dead too; but the world Yevtushenko, asteroid number 4234, lives on.
0jooyous8yI wonder if we'll ever learn to reconstruct people-shadows from other people's memories of them. Also, whether this is a worthwhile thing to be doing. It's a little creepy the way Facebook keeps dead people's accounts around now.
5TheOtherDave8yI imagine that depends on what we're willing to consider a "person-shadow". Any thoughts on what your minimum standard for such a thing would be? For example, I suspect that if we're ever able to construct artificial minds in a parameterized way at all (as opposed to merely replicating an existing mind as a black box), it won't prove too difficult thereafter, given access to all my writings and history and whatnot, to create a mind that identifies itself as "Dave" and acts in many of the same ways I would have acted in similar situations. I don't know if that would be a worthwhile thing to do. If so, it would presumably only be worthwhile for what amount to entertainment purposes... people who enjoy interacting with me might enjoy interacting with such a mind in my absence.
1jooyous8yI occasionally have dreams about people who have died in which they seem really real, where they're not saying stuff they've said when they were alive but stuff that sounds like something they would say. But it's not profound original thoughts or anything? So I think what I'm thinking is pretty close to what you're describing. I guess if we can make one of these, then we could see how different people's mental models of that person were? Probably there is stuff in my mental model that I can't articulate! Stuff that's still useful information! But maybe people will start using these instead of faking their deaths if they wanted to run away.
4Nornagest8yI've suspected -- though we're talking maybe p = 0.2 here -- for a while that our internal representations of people we know well might have some of the characteristics of sapience. Not enough to be fully realized persons, but enough that there's a sense in which they can be said to have their own thoughts or preferences, not fully dependent either on our default personae or on their prototypes. Accounts like your dreams seem like they might be weak evidence for that line of thought.
5Kaj_Sotala8yAuthors commonly feel like the characters they write about are real, to various extents. On the mildest end of the spectrum, the characters will just surprise their creators, doing something completely contrary to the author's expectations when they're put in a specific scene and forcing a complete rewrite of the plot. ("These two characters were supposed to have a huge fight and hate each other for the rest of their lives, but then they actually ended up confessing their love for each other and now it looks like they'll be happily married. This book was supposed to be about their mutual feud, so what the heck do I do now?") Or they might just "refuse" to do something that the author wants them to do, and she'll feel miserable afterwards if she forces the characters to act in the wrong way nevertheless. On the other end of the spectrum, the author can actually have real conversations with them going on in her head.
2Baughn8yI'm not much of an author, but I've had this happen. My mental character-models generally have no fourth wall, which has on several occasions lead to them fighting each other for my attention so as to not fade away. I'm reasonably sure I'm not insane.
2Kawoomba8yThat sounds mystical.

Nah, this doesn't require any magic; just code reuse or the equivalent. If the cognitive mechanisms that we use to simulate other people are similar enough to those we use to run our own minds, it seems logical that those simulations, once rich and coherent enough, could acquire some characteristics of our minds that we normally think of as privileged. It follows that they could then diverge from their prototypes if there's not some fairly sophisticated error correction built in.

This seems plausible to me because evolution's usually a pretty parsimonious process; I wouldn't expect it to develop an independent mechanism for representing other minds when it's got a perfectly good mechanism for representing the self. Or vice versa; with the mirror test in mind it's plausible that self-image is a consequence of sufficiently good other-modeling, not the other way around.

Of course, I don't have anything I'd consider strong evidence for this -- hence the lowish p-value.

2Kawoomba8yRelevant smbc [http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2850#comic]. So, in a way Batman exists when you imagine yourself to be Batman? Do you still coexist then (since it is your cognitive architecture after all)? I'd say that of course any high level process running on your mind has characteristics of your mind, after all, it is running on your mind. Those, however, would still be characteristics inherent to you, not to Batman. If you were thinking of a nuclear detonation, running through the equations, would that bomb exist inside your mind? Having a good mental model of someone and "consulting" it (apart from that model not matching the original anyways) seems to me more like your brain playing "what if", and the accompanying consciousness and assorted properties still belonging to you pretending what-if, not to the what-if itself.
5shminux8yMy cached reply: "taboo exist".
2Kawoomba8yThis whole train of discussion started with I'd argue that those characteristics of sapience still belong to the system that's playing "what-if", not to the what-if itself. There, no exist :-)
5DaFranker8yI was wondering whether things might be slightly different if you simulated batman-sapience by running the internal representation through simulations of self-awareness and decision-making, using one's own blackboxes as substitutes, attempting to mentally simulate in as much detail as possible every conscious mental process while sharing braintime on the subconscious ones. Then I got really interested in this crazy idea and decided to do science and try it. Shouldn't have done that.
0Nornagest8yIt might not be entirely off base to say that a Batman or at least part of a Batman exists under those circumstances, if your representation of Batman is sophisticated enough and if this line of thought about modeling is accurate. It might be quite different from someone else's Batman, though; fictional characters kind of muddy the waters here. Especially ones who've been interpreted that many different ways. The line between playing what-if and harboring a divergent cognitive object -- I'm not sure I want to call it a mind -- seems pretty blurry to me; I wouldn't think there'd be a specific point at which your representation of a friend stops being a mere what-if scenario, just a gradually increasing independence and fidelity as your model gets better and thinking in that mode becomes more natural.
0jooyous8yHas there been any work on how our internal representations of other people get built? I've only heard about the thin-slicing phenomenon but not much beyond that. I feel like sometimes people extrapolate pretty accurately -- like, "[person] would never do that" or "[person] will probably just say this" but I don't know how we know. I just kinda feel that a certain thing is something a certain person would do but I can't tell always what they did that makes me think so or that I'm simulating a state machine or anything.
4tgb8yExercise: pick a sentence to tell someone you know well, perhaps asking a question. Write down ahead of time exactly what you think they might say. Make a few different variations if you feel like it. Then ask them and record exactly what they do say. Repeat. Let us know if you see anything interesting.
2Nornagest8yThere's been some, yeah. I haven't been able to find anything that looks terribly deep or low-level yet, and very little taking a cognitive science rather than traditional psychology approach, but Google and Wikipedia have turned up a [http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092656611000043] few [http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092656610001662] papers [http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/jbp/is/2005/00000006/00000001/art00004?token=005b1f6801ded88a3a9a8127e442f2067217a763b256a235b2f7c7a38687627504541676249266d656c63f4912c] . This isn't my field, though; perhaps some passing psychologist or cognitive scientist would have a better idea of the current state of theory.
4grendelkhan7yRelevant: Greg Egan, "Steve Fever" [http://www.technologyreview.com/article/408858/steve-fever/].

If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide that proves they should value evidence? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument would you invoke to prove they should value logic?

--Sam Harris

You put them into a social enviroment where the high status people value logic and evidence. You give them the plausible promise that they can increase their status in that enviroment by increasing the amount that they value logic and evidence.

This reminds me of

You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into.

which I believe is a paraphrasing of something Jonathan Swift said, but I'm not sure. Anyone have the original?

You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into.

I don't think this is empirically true, though. Suppose I believe strongly that violent crime rates are soaring in my country (Canada), largely because I hear people talking about "crime being on the rise" all the time, and because I hear about murders on the news. I did not reason myself into this position, in other words.

Then you show me some statistics, and I change my mind.

In general, I think a supermajority of our starting opinions (priors, essentially) are held for reasons that would not pass muster as 'rational,' even if we were being generous with that word. This is partly because we have to internalize a lot of things in our youth and we can't afford to vet everything our parents/friends/culture say to us. But the epistemic justification for the starting opinions may be terrible, and yet that doesn't mean we're incapable of having our minds changed.

7Nornagest8yThe chance of this working depends greatly on how significant the contested fact is to your identity. You may be willing to believe abstractly that crime rates are down and public safety is up after being shown statistics to that effect -- but I predict that (for example) a parent who'd previously been worried about child abductions after hearing several highly publicized news stories, and who'd already adopted and vigorously defended childrearing policies consistent with this fear, would be much less likely to update their policies after seeing an analogous set of statistics.
3jooyous8yI agree, but I think part of the process of having your mind changed is the understanding that you came to believe those internalized things in a haphazard way. And you might be resisting that understanding because of the reasons @Nornagest mentions -- you've invested into them or incorporated them into your identity, for example. I think I'm more inclined to change the quote to to make it slightly more useful in practice, because often changing the person's mind will require not only knowing the more accurate facts or proper reasoning, but also knowing why the person is attached to his old position -- and people generally don't reveal that until they're ready to change their mind on their own. Oops, I guess I wasn't sure where to put this comment.
0Martin-28yIt looks to me like you arrived at this position via weighing the available evidence. In other words, you reasoned yourself into it. Upon second reading I see you don't have a base rate for the amount of violent crime on the news in peaceful countries, and you derived a high absolute level from a high[er than you'd like] rate of change. But you've shown a willingness to reason, even if you reasoned poorly (as poorly as me when I'm not careful. Scary!) So I think jooyus' quote survives.

If you can't appeal to reason to make reason appealing, you appeal to emotion and authority to make reason appealing.

5Andreas_Giger8yPut them in a situation where they need to use logic and evidence to understand their environment and where understanding their environment is crucial for their survival, and they'll figure it out by themselves. No one really believes God will protect them from harm...

No one really believes God will protect them from harm...

I have some friends who do... At least insofar as things like "I don't have to worry about finances because God is watching over me, so I won't bother trying to keep a balanced budget." Then again, being financially irresponsible (a behaviour I find extremely hard to understand and sympathize with) seems to be common-ish, and not just among people who think God will take care of their problems.

3MixedNuts8yWhy not? Thinking about money is work. It involves numbers.
2Kindly8yMoreover, it often involves a great deal of stress. Small wonder that many people try to avoid that stress by just not thinking about how they spend money.
2[anonymous]8yWell... as something completely and obviously deterministic (the amount of money you have at the end of the month is the amount you had at the beginning of the month, plus the amount you've earned, minus the amount you've spent, for a sufficiently broad definition of “earn” and “spend”), that's about the last situation in which I'd expect people to rely on God. With stuff which is largely affected by factors you cannot control directly (e.g. your health) I would be much less surprised.
8CCC8yOnce you have those figures, it is deterministic; however, at the start of the month, those figures are not yet determined. One might win a small prize in a lottery; the price of some staple might unexpectedly increase or decrease; an aunt may or may not send an expensive gift; a minor traffic accident may or may not happen, requiring immediate expensive repairs. So there are factors that you cannot control that affect your finances.
3bentarm8yDoes this cause you to doubt the veracity of the claim in the parent, or to update towards your model of what people rely on God for being wrong? I guess it should probably be both, to some extent. It's just not really clear from your post which you're doing.
1[anonymous]8yMostly the latter, as per Hanlon's razor.
2Andreas_Giger8yI think that's mostly because money is too abstract, and as long as you get by you don't even realize what you've lost. Survival is much more real.
6DanArmak8ySadly, that only works on a natural-selection basis, so the ethics boards forbid us from doing this. If they never see anyone actually failing to survive, they won't change their behavior.
4Andreas_Giger8yCan't make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Videotape the whole thing so the next one has even more evidence.
5ChristianKl8yIf you threaten someone in their survival they are likely to get emotional. That's not the best mental state to apply logic. Suicide bombers don't suddenly start believing in reason just before they are send out to kill themselves. Soldiers in trenches who fear for their lives on the other hand do often start to pray. Maybe there are a few atheists in foxholes, but that state seems to promote religiousness.
5Qiaochu_Yuan8yTake all their stuff. Tell them that they have no evidence that it's theirs and no logical arguments that they should be allowed to keep it.

They beat you up. People who haven't specialized in logic and evidence have not therefore been idle.

5Qiaochu_Yuan8yShoot them?

I think you just independently invented the holy war.

2BerryPick68yThis is from the Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig debate [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqaHXKLRKzg&t=43m53s], starting around the 44 minute mark. IIRC, Luke's old website has a review of this particular debate.
1Nisan8yYou can find out what persuades them and give them that.

I think the spirit of the quote is that instead of counting on anyone to be a both benevolent and effective ruler, or counting on voters to recognize such things, design the political environment so that that will happen naturally, even when an office is occupied by a corrupt or ineffective person.

Q: I was wondering what the dumbest or funniest argument you've heard against the defeat of aging?

Aubrey de Grey: Um, It's been a very very long time since I've heard a question or concern I haven't heard before, so nothing's dumb or funny anymore, it's just... tedium.

From this recent talk

I cannot express how true this is, at least not without a lot of swear words.

[-][anonymous]8y 17

Aubrey de Grey being an immortalist himself, I'm assuming the irony to be unintentional?

9ESRogs8yHaha, didn't occur to me until I read your comment, so there's one data point for you.
3EphemeralNight8y/clicks link, watches ... I can barely understand a single word this guy is saying. Is it just me or is the audio in that video really bad? I don't suppose it was transcribed anywhere?
0NancyLebovitz8yIt's not just you. It was comprehensible but annoying for approximately the first 10 minutes, and then it became completely muddy. I hope there's a transcript somewhere.
2Qiaochu_Yuan8yI'm confused. I thought that deathpigeon's quote was downvoted because it was anti-deathism and not rationality, but this quote is similar in that way and it has lots of upvotes. Was deathpigeon's quote actually downvoted because it incorrectly attributed a line to ASoIaF instead of Game of Thrones? Seriously?
4Nornagest8yI wouldn't think so, but I wasn't expecting five upvotes on my comment saying so, either. Maybe we really are that pedantic. This is only incidentally anti-deathist, though; its substance has more to do with popular reactions to controversial ideas. Which doesn't seem all that shiningly rational to me either, but perhaps I'm missing something.
2Mestroyer8yOr we all secretly love anti-deathist quotes, and only downvote them when they have no rationality content because we feel it's our duty, but when we see one that can be interpreted as slightly rationalist, we seize the excuse to upvote it. Or our liking for a quote based on its anti-deathism enhances our appreciation for its insight into rationality, via the affect heuristic.
2ArisKatsaris8yOr perhaps there are more criteria (aesthetic, informational, other) by which these quotes may be judged than whether they are anti-death or not. And that other quote is neither ASoIaF nor TV series, it's a misquotation.

There are political enviroments in which the actors try to do what is right instead of just maximizing their personal interests.

The only one I've heard of is "fiction." Did you have an example in mind?

[-][anonymous]8y 28


The first response that comes to my mind is "because if the butterfly were trying that hard to escape the kid, it would fly above the kid's reach, and the kid would give up." When I look at the scene, I see a kid chasing a butterfly, and a butterfly too stupid to realize it should flee instead of simply dodging.

Animals on the intelligence levels of butterflies (which, keep in mind, have specific mating flight patterns they use to tell other members of their species apart from things like ribbons and stray flower petals,) don't seem to even have retreat instincts, just avoidance instincts. They can't recognize persistent pursuit. A fly won't hesitate to land on a person who has been trying to swat it for minutes on end.

9woodside8yBecause you're a human, not a butterfly. It seems like an animal that used a cognitive filter that defaulted to the latter case would take a pretty severe fitness hit.
[-][anonymous]8y 16

Three things, in no particular order:

  • I seem to recall that, in some obscure language, each noun has an agency level and in a sentence the most agenty noun is the subject by default, unless the verb is specially inflected to show otherwise: for example, “[dog] [bite] [man]” would mean ‘a man bit a dog’, regardless of word order, because the noun “[man]” has higher agency than “[dog]”.

  • Would you sooner see a tiger chasing a man, or a man running away from a tiger? If the former, it's not just the fact that butterflies are not human, it's the fact that the butterflies are small.

  • I think that, at least in the case of the lion, it would also depend on whether the two of them are moving towards the left side or the right side of my visual field. I heard that in _The Great Wave off Kanagawa_ the boats are intended to look more agenty than the wave, but for Western people it will typically look like the other way round (due to Western languages being written from left to right), and for a Westerner to get the right effect they'd have to look at the picture in a mirror. (It works for me, at least.)

Is this visual field orientation issue really Western vs Eastern? If so, has it evaporated lately?

One of the media that most lends itself to testing this notion is video games, since there is almost always an agent, and often a preferred direction to gameplay. In some cases, there is a lot of free movement but when you enter a new zone/approach a boss, it generally goes one way rather than the other.

Eastern games favoring left-to-right over right-to-left: Super Mario Brothers, Ninja Gaiden, Megaman, Ghosts and Goblins, Double Dragon, TMNT, River City Ransom, Sonic the Hedgehog, Gradius/Lifeforce, UN Squadron, Rygar, Contra, Codename: Viper, Faxanadu (at least, the beginning, which is all I saw), Excitebike, Zelda 2, Act Raiser, Wizards and Warriors, and Cave Story.

On the other side, Final Fantasy combat generally puts the party on to right side, facing left. That's pretty leftward-oriented for sure. And very slightly - more slightly than any of the above - Metroid. Whenever you find a major powerup, you approach it from the right. You enter Tourian (the last area) from the right, and approach all 3 full bosses from the right. Those two are all I can think of with any sort of leftwa... (read more)

5bbleeker8yHuh, I just tried that, and it works for me too. When you mirror it, it looks like they're going into the wave instead of fleeing from it. The effect is really strong; I wondered if it would still work when I knew about it, but it does.
2[anonymous]8yBTW, does anyone get different effects from the emoticons :-/ and :-\ or it's just me? V erpragyl qvfpbirerq gung, juvyr gurl fhccbfrq gb or flabalzbhf (ba Snprobbx gurl eraqre gb gur fnzr cvp), gb zr gur sbezre srryf zber yvxr “crecyrkvgl, pbashfvba” (naq gung'f ubj V trarenyyl hfr vg), jurernf gur ynggre srryf zber yvxr “qvfnccebiny” (naq V bayl fnj gung orpnhfr zl cubar unf :-\ ohg abg :-/ nzbat gur cer-pbzcbfrq rzbgvpbaf, fb V cvpxrq gur sbezre ohg vg qvqa'g ybbx evtug gb zr). [Edited to move the question to the front and rot-13 the rest as per Nesov's suggestion [http://lesswrong.com/lw/gjk/rationality_quotes_february_2013/8fnz].]
5Vladimir_Nesov8yYou shouldn't prime the audience before asking a question like that.
0[anonymous]8yGood point. Fixed.
0NancyLebovitz8yInteresting. In the normal version, it looks to me like the waves are lifting the boats, and mirror-reversed it looks like the boats are driving against it. Actually, my normal way to look at it is to focus on the wave, then the mountain, and scarcely notice the boats. On my first look at the mirror version, the wave looked like a giant claw attacking the mountain.
0Swimmer9638yYeah, I spent a while looking for the boats in the image... I thought one of them was a beach. I think the question of which is more "agenty" was contaminated for me, though, since I read the comments before following the link to look at the image. I can make myself see either the wave as 'chasing' the boats, or the boats as fleeing the wave, or the boats sailing into the wave...
0[anonymous]8yFor me, the default orientation of the picture makes it seem like the boats are moving into it, while the flipped version makes it seem like the wave is agent-ly 'attacking' the boats. The difference in agentiness is more pronounced in the flipped version, though. (I'm Asian-American.)
6alex_zag_al8yDon't good hunters have good mental models of their prey? I mean I get that you're thinking that it wouldn't help to feel sympathy for animals of other species. But it would help in many cases to have empathy, and to see things from the other animal's perspective.
1Strange78yButterflies are not, and to my knowledge have never been, a major prey item for H. Sapiens.

Every time you read something that mentions brain chemicals or brain scans, rewrite the sentence without the sciencey portions. “Hate makes people happy.” “Women feel closer to people after sex.” “Music makes people happy.” If the argument suddenly seems way less persuasive, or the news story way less ground-breaking… well. Someone’s doing something shady.

Ozy Frantz - Brain Chemicals are not Fucking Magic

A sharp knife is nothing without a sharp eye.

Klingon proverb.

If you're not making quantitative predictions, you're probably doing it wrong.

--Gabe Newell during a talk. The whole talk is worthwhile if you're interested in institutional design or Valve.

What's the percent chance that I'm doing it wrong?

The whole quote:

If you're not making quantitative predictions, you're probably doing it wrong, or you're probably not doing it as well as you can. That's sort of become kind of critical to how we operate. You have to predict in advance. Anybody can explain anything after the fact, and it has to be quantitative or you're not being serious about how you're approaching the problem.

The problems you face might not require a serious approach; without more information, I can't say.


Closeness in the experiment was reasonably literal but may also be interpreted in terms of identification with the torturer. If the church is doing the torturing then the especially religious may be more likely to think the tortured are guilty. If the state is doing the torturing then the especially patriotic (close to their country) may be more likely to think that the tortured/killed/jailed/abused are guilty. That part is fairly obvious but note the second less obvious implication–the worse the victim is treated the more the religious/patriotic will believe the victim is guilty. ... Research in moral reasoning is important because understanding why good people do evil things is more important than understanding why evil people do evil things.

-Alex Tabarrok

8Eugine_Nier8yOne amusing aspect is that assuming the person is justified in their belief that their church/country is ethical, the above is a valid inference.
3ChristianKl8yNot necessarily. You don't punish people based on their likelihood of being guilty but based on severity of their crime. If torture is used as tool to gain information instead of being used to punish it's even more questionable whether the likelihood of being guilty correlates with the severity of the torture. The fact that someone decides to torture to get more information suggests that they have an insuffienct amount of information. If there a 50% chance that a person has information that can prevent a nuclear explosion, you can argue that it's ethical to torture to get that information. After the bomb has exploded and you know for certain who did the crime, there not much need to torture anyone. An interrigator that tortures is more likely to get false confession that implicate innocents. If he then goes and tortures those innocents, you see that people who torture are more likely to punish innocents than people who don't.
0NancyLebovitz8yEven the first person who was tortured might be innocent or ignorant.
4ChristianKl8yYes, but that's besides the point I tried to make. Torturing in general produces a dynamic that makes you punish more innocent people.
0CCC8yIt seems to me that the same would apply to any in-group. The reasoning runs more-or-less as follows: It is us (not me personally, but a group with which I strongly identify) that is treating this person badly; since we are doing it, then he must deserve it. Since he deserves it, he must be guilty. This is because if he did not deserve it, then I would be horrified at the actions of people I have always tried to emulate; and that, in turn, would mean that I had already given some support to an evil group, and had indeed put some significant effort into being a part of that group, taking up the group norms. If the group is evil, or does evil actions, then I am evil by association. And a good person does not want to reach that conclusion; therefore, the person being punished must be guilty. And thus, good people do evil things by not acknowledging evil being done in their name as what it is.

So it's true what they say! The opposite of a Klingon proverb is also a Klingon proverb...

Good things come to those who steal them.

-- Magnificent Sasquatch

An example is in Federalist No. 10. Madison is trying to design a political environment resilient to the corrupt effects of factions:

No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time; yet what are many of the most important acts of legislation, but so many judicial determinations, not indeed concerning the rights of single persons, but concerning the rights of large bodies of citizens? and what are the different classes of Legislators, but advocates and parties to the causes which they determine? Is a law proposed concerning private debts? It is a question to which the creditors are parties on one side and the debtors on the other. Justice ought to hold the balance between them. Yet the parties are, and must be, themselves the judges; and the most numerous party, or, in other words, the most powerful faction, must be expected to prevail. Shall domestic manufactures be encouraged, and in what degree, by restrictions on foreign manufactures? are questions which would be differe

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2Eugine_Nier8yWhy is this comment at -1 yet 100% positive? It then goes to 0 and 0% positive when I up-vote it.
1Dahlen8yWhy? How does this fix things? Without quite knowing what problem this solution is meant to address, the first consequence of this policy (representative democracy + large republic) that comes to my mind by judging it independently is that it looks optimized for the smallest number of rulers and the greatest amount of people limited in their political power by comparison -- in other words, it seems to concentrate power. (If there are other implications, they're not as obvious to me as this one.) How or why does that help overall impartiality?

Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking "Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?" they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make.

-- Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

4NevilleSandiego8yI kind of wish people did use the future more, sometimes. For example, in Australia at the moment, neither major political party supports gay marriage. And beyond all the direct arguments for/against the concept, I can't help but wonder if they really expect, in 50 years time, that we will live in a world of strictly hetrosexual marriages. What are they possibly hoping to achieve? Maybe that reasoning isn't the best way to decide to actively do a thing, but it surely counts towards the cessation of resistance to a thing.
9Eugine_Nier8yHere are a few things that have at one time or another been considered "obviously inevitable": * The spread of enlightened dictatorship on the Prussian model. * The spread of eugenics. * The control of the world economy by "rational" central planners. My point is that you appear to be overestimating how well you can predict the future. I don't think you really believe this argument. In particular if the success of something you opposed seemed inevitable, you'd still oppose it. What I think is happening is that you support the "inevitable" outcome but are getting frustrated that the opposition just won't go away like they're "supposed" to.
0soreff8yOppose in the sense of "actively work to stop it" or oppose in the sense of, "if asked about it, note that one dislikes it"? I dislike the increase of surveillance over the decades but look: Sensors get cheaper year by year. Computation gets cheaper year by year. I'm not happy to see more surveillance, but I see it as so close to inevitable, due to the dropping costs of the enabling technologies, that actively opposing it is a waste of time and effort. To put it another way: In the original C.S.Lewis quote, Lewis includes in his own list of questions that he wants asked: "Is it possible?" I view most of the questions that Lewis disapproves of as just being ways of asking whether recent historical evidence make something look possible or impossible in the near future. In my view, usually, claims of historical inevitability are overstated, but, occasionally (as in the cheaper sensors example), I think there are situations where a fairly solid case for at least likely trends can be made.
8wedrifid8yBeing elected at some point in the next 3 years. They aren't trying to achieve anything related to homosexual marriages. They don't care.
0simplicio8yUm, I know this is classic Hansonian "X is not about X" cynicism, but I doubt it's actually true of most politicians. Sure, the need to get elected skews their priorities, but they do have policy preferences, which they are willing to pursue at cost if necessary.
5TheOtherDave8yFWIW, 20 years ago (when my now-husband and I first got together) I expected that I would live in a world of strictly heterosexual marriages all my life. That didn't incline me to cease my opposition to that world. So I can empathize with someone who expects to live in a world of increasing marriage equality but doesn't allow that expectation to alter their opposition to that world.
[-][anonymous]8y 20

Been making a game of looking for rationality quotes in the super bowl

"It's only weird if it doesn't work" --Bud Light Commercial

Only a rationality quote out of context, though, since the ad is about superstitious rituals among sports fans. My automatic mental reply is "well that doesn't work"

9Jay_Schweikert8yWell, but in the universe of the commercials, it clearly did, so long as you went to the appropriate expert.
3[anonymous]8yGood observation. I will accept your correction: It's only weird if it doesn't work, and it doesn't work unless you're in Stevie Wonder's presence [http://i.qkme.me/35pe0s.jpg]

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total darkness sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

W. H. Auden, "The More Loving One"

2NevilleSandiego8yI had a thought recently, what if the existence of a benevolent, omnipotent creator was proven? and my first thought was that I would learn to love the world as the creation of a higher power. And that disturbed me. It's too new a thought for me to have plumbed it properly. But this reminded me. In the absence of the stars, what becomes of their beauty? When the world is bereft of tigers, glaciers, the Amamzon, will we feel it to be sublime? imma go read the poem now
2Toddling8yThe only interpretation I've been able to read into this is that the speaker wants to become more emotionally accepting of death. Am I missing something?
5Kindly8yThat interpretation didn't even occur to me, possibly because I read the whole poem instead of the bit I quoted (and maybe I quoted the wrong bit). Here [http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15550] is the whole thing (it's short). I always feel a bit awkward arguing about how I interpreted a poem, so maybe this will resolve the issue? (Incidentally, am I the only one mildly annoyed by how people seem to think of "rationality quotes" as "anti-deathism quotes"? The position may be rational, but it is not remotely related to rationality.)

(Incidentally, am I the only one mildly annoyed by how people seem to think of "rationality quotes" as "anti-deathism quotes"? The position may be rational, but it is not remotely related to rationality.)

You're not the only one. We should be doing more firewalling the optimal from the rational in general.

3Toddling8yThank you, that was helpful. I don't see the deathist tones anymore. Now it reads a bit more like 'If I happened to find myself in a world without stars I think I'd adapt,' which reminds me a bit of the Litany of Gendlin and the importance of facing reality. It makes more sense to have it here now. This is true, and now I have to go back and look at all the anti-deathist quotes I upvoted and examine them more closely for content directly related to rationality. Damn.

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.

William Deseriewicz

The whole speech is worth reading as one giant rationality quote

4Eugine_Nier8yNot bad, although it seems to equate originality with goodness a little too much.

I think it just promotes grasping at straws.

FTL being impossible is undesirable if you want to go to the stars.

The conclusion that "FTL is impossible" is undesirable if and only iff FTL is possible.

The two conditions are very different.

5shminux8yThey are indeed. You seem to have added a level of indirection not present in the original statement. One statement is about this world, the other is about possible worlds.
[-][anonymous]8y 16


It is important, therefore, to always maintain a balanced view of markets. There is something extremely elegant about the way they allocate goods and resources, and the way the price system automatically adjusts the system of production in response to changes in demand. There is a clear sense in which markets achieve a level of coordination and efficiency that no other form of social organization is able to provide. However, markets are not magical, and they will not solve all our problems. They work properly only under very specific institutional conditions.

(Joseph Heath, The Efficient Society)

Heath is an excellent writer on economics/philosophy.

If you are reading this book and flipping out at every third sentence because you feel I'm insulting your intelligence, then I have three points of advice for you:

  • Stop reading my book. I didn't write it for you. I wrote it for people who don't already know everything.

  • Empty before you fill. You will have a hard time learning from someone with more knowledge if you already know everything.

  • Go learn Lisp. I hear people who know everything really like Lisp.

For everyone else who's here to learn, just read everything as if I'm smiling and I have a mischievous little twinkle in my eye.

Introduction to Learn Python The Hard Way, by Zed A. Shaw

If anyone feels even remotely inspired to click through and actually learn python, do it. Its been the most productive thing I've done on the internet.

This makes me wonder how much my writing skills would improve if I retyped excellently written essays for a while.

Benjamin Franklin's method of learning to write well is summarized here. His version:

A question was once, somehow or other, started between Collins and me, of the propriety of educating the female sex in learning, and their abilities for study. He was of opinion that it was improper, and that they were naturally unequal to it. I took the contrary side, perhaps a little for dispute's sake. He was naturally more eloquent, had a ready plenty of words; and sometimes, as I thought, bore me down more by his fluency than by the strength of his reasons. As we parted without settling the point, and were not to see one another again for some time, I sat down to put my arguments in writing, which I copied fair and sent to him. He answered, and I replied. Three or four letters of a side had passed, when my father happened to find my papers and read them. Without entering into the discussion, he took occasion to talk to me about the manner of my writing; observed that, though I had the advantage of my antagonist in correct spelling and pointing (which I ow'd to the printing-house), I fell far short in elegance of expression, in method and in perspicuity, of which he convinced me by several i

... (read more)

I would expect the answer to be "not much, compared to writing and publishing horrible, horrible fanfiction".

5BlueSun8yI'd like to see a study result on that. In Art History class I learned that a common way for great artists to learn to paint was by copying the work of the masters. I then asked the art teacher why it was a rule that we couldn't copy other famous historical paintings. I can't remember her exact answer but the times I haven't followed her advice and went and copied a great painting, I seem to have learned more. But again, I'd like to see a study result.
1DaFranker8yI'd like that too. It makes sense intuitively, but if I can't find any evidence either way this'll probably seep into my subconscious now and at some point in the future I'll just assume it as true and adopt strategies based on that assumption, which might be suboptimal.
2Qiaochu_Yuan8yYour grammar and spelling might improve. I think you've matched the wrong things in your analogy.
5Estarlio8yI'm not sure what this has to do with rationality quotes, but the extract basically convinces me to avoid the guy like the plague. The underlying premises seem to be something like: * The remaining choice when someone knows enough to feel a book is too simple for them is that they know everything. * They should discard all that they know - empty before you fill - so they can learn from someone with more knowledge than them. * Go learn lisp... -shrug- It seems incredibly bad advice to give to someone who thinks a lot of what's in a book's too simple for them to essentially yell at them to shut up and knuckle down. As compared to say, pointing them to a few things that are generally not covered that well in self-learning and direct them to a more advanced book.
5Kindly8yAgreed. I'm actually not sure if what I should take away from that introduction is "This material seems easy but isn't, so go through everything carefully even if you think you understand it" or the opposite: "If this book seems easy, it's not advanced enough for you and you already know everything; so read something else instead."
1CCC8yI took it as meaning the second. There's even a recommendation as to what else to read; a book on Lisp.
1Nebu8yOf course, if your goal is to learn Python but you find Zed's book too easy, "Read a book on Lisp" is probably not suitable advice.
0Estarlio8yI strongly suspect that's just him being an ass. If you're finding the concepts in his book too simple, there are plenty of other concepts you could be learning about in computer science that would expand your ability as a programmer more quickly than just picking up another language. If you want to become a better programmer after learning the basics of a language, I recommend you go and pick up some books on the puzzles / problems in computer science and look at how to solve them using a computer. Go and read up on different search functions and path finding routines, go and read up on relational databases, and types as an expressive system rather than just as something that someone's making you do, go and read up on using a computer to solve tic-tac toe... Things like that - you'll get better a lot faster and become a much better programmer than you will just from picking up another language, which let's face it you're still not going to have a deep understanding of the uses of. Which isn't to say that there's no learning in picking up another language. There is, I don't know any good programmers who only know one language. But it's not the fastest way to get the most gain in the beginning. Once you have that extra knowledge about how to actually use the language you just learned. Then by all means go and learn another language. If you just know Python, then you know what we'd call a high-level imperative language. Imperative just means you're giving the computer a list of commands, high-level means that you're not really telling the computer how to execute them (i.e. the further away you get from telling it to do things with specific memory locations and what commands to use from the command set on the processor the higher level the language is.) C will give you, the rest of the procedural/imperative side of things that you didn't really get in Python, you'll learn about memory allocation and talking to the operating system - it's a lower level language bu
2Estarlio8yWould you care to share your reason for the downvote? I promise not to dispute criticism so you don't have to worry about it escalating into a time-sink.
0CCC8yI can't, because I wasn't the one who downvoted it. (I can see why one might think so, since the comment was in response to my comment). Your comment thoroughly explores possible routes for improvement in ability in a novice programmer who has knowledge of Python; probably to a far more detailed level than the author of the original "go read a book on Lisp" comment. I saw nothing it it that requires a downvote, but no particular benefit in continuing the original debate (debating a comment more thoroughly than the person who originally made it, in the absence of the person who originally made it, is only of particular benefit if at least one person firmly agrees with the original statement; while I think I can see where it came from, it's a matter of indifference to me).
4fubarobfusco8yTo me, it seems like a horribly hostile approach to teaching people, which comes across as saying, "In order to learn anything from me, you must abase yourself before me." Which is to say, "I am incapable of conveying useful information to anyone who does not present abject submission to me." But then, it's possible that I'm just hearing Severus Snape (or the class of lousy teachers he is an imitation of) in the "so you think you know everything?" bullshit.
1Kingoftheinternet8yI think the quote's main function is to warn those who don't know anything about programming of a kind of person they're likely to encounter on their journey (people who know everything and think their preferences are very right), and to give them some confidence to resist these people. It also drives home the point that people who know how to program already won't get much out of the book. I quoted it because it addresses a common failure mode of very intelligent and skilled people.
0wedrifid8yThis quote was enough for me to take Learn Python The Hard Way off my reading list. I had previously heard good reports about it but this gives me the impression that the book is likely to be far too opinionated and dogmatic for my taste. Mind you I have reason to suspect the same of Python itself.
3Nornagest8yIn case you'd be interested in a second opinion: I made it through twenty-one exercises of Learn Ruby the Hard Way a couple months ago, got bored, and have retained almost none of it. I'm probably not the target audience, but that doesn't bother me so much; on the other hand, if I'm not retaining stuff after faithfully going through Hard Way's copybook approach to language acquisition, that doesn't speak well for its efficacy among people who are. Unless for some reason programming experience makes me less likely to retain new languages? But that's (a) counterintuitive, and (b) contrary to data I've seen for natural languages, at least. In any case, I don't think I'll be returning to the series.
2sketerpot8yPython is just a programming language. Insofar as it can be said to have a personality, that personality is an accommodating and inoffensive one. The community is pretty good, too; the concentration of assholes is unremarkable, and places like /r/learnpython [http://www.reddit.com/r/learnpython] are quick to help out beginners with questions.
2shokwave8yMy understanding having completed parts of it is that it's aimed at someone who doesn't know what a programming language is. If you do know, you're probably better off with another book (and you're also probably better off with something other than Python, but that's my personal opinion clashing with Python's opinions).

But I've never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.

-- Randall Munroe

2BerryPick68yDefinitely a double, but I can't link the others right now.
1scav8yI thought that unlikely, because it's from last week's XKCD What If? Maybe Randall has said it before (or borrowed it from someone else).
0scav8yOK thanks. I don't know why I didn't see it - I tried searching the page for Icarus before posting :(
2JGWeissman8yI searched on the entire quote. That's probably easier and more reliable than trying to pick out a keyword.
0gryffinp8yWell, that post was from the January thread. If you only Control-F'd this page, then it wouldn't have come up.
0tgb8yThat seems unlikely; the quote above was only posted about three weeks ago and nothing about Icarus turns up in a search. Can anyone find a duplicate?
6BerryPick68yTwo, [http://lesswrong.com/lw/g68/rationality_quotes_january_2013/8d55] in fact [http://lesswrong.com/lw/g68/rationality_quotes_january_2013/8d5d].
3Qiaochu_Yuan8yIt was three, but I deleted mine.

I do have experience with moderating a large forum and I still believe in not trying to corrupt people.

I'd say that setting up incentives so that people within a system do culturally useful things out of their own self-interest is about as close to an opposite of corrupting people as we're likely to find.

The subject's capacity for deception is finite, and will be needed elsewhere. Sooner or later it becomes more cost-effective for the sincere belief to change.

2scav8yThat is breathtakingly both the most cynical and beautiful thing I have read all day :)
3[anonymous]8yPostcynicism [http://squid314.livejournal.com/353621.html] FTW!
1Eugine_Nier8yI generally agree with your point. The problem with the specific application is that the subject's capacity for thinking logically (especially if you want the logic to be correct) is even more limited.
1Strange78yIf the subject is marginally capable of logical thought, the straightforward response is to try stupid random things until it becomes obvious that going along with what you want is the least exhausting option. Even fruit flies are capable of learning from personal experience. In the event of total incapacity at logical thought... why are you going to all this trouble? What do you actually want?
0Eugine_Nier8yThat depends on how much effort you're willing to spend on each subject verifying that they're not faking.

The policies that Milton advocated got a huge boost because companies put lobbyists who distribute campaign money in the "right places" to switch political incentives.

You seem to be confusing support for a free market with rent seeking. Milton Friedman supported free markets, in this and your follow up comment you seem to equate this with rent seeking.

[-][anonymous]8y 13


Authors are deliberately excluded from all this, on the grounds that they're so in love with what's inside the book that they don't understand what the cover stuff is for. Which is advertising.

The purpose of cover art is not to show the reader what's inside the book.

It's to get his attention from across the bookstore and get him to pick the book up in the first place.

Half-naked women and muscular barbarians are very good for getting teenaged readers to at least take a look. Black and red are good, too. And spiffy hardware, like spaceships. Cut-out covers, foil, blood, all that stuff--it gets attention, and the art and marketing people really don't give a damn whether it agrees with what's inside the book.

The cover gets you to pick up the book and read the blurbs; the blurbs are supposed to convince you to actually buy it. The blurb writer doesn't care any more about accuracy than the art director did; his job is to sell the book, period. One way to do that is to skim through the book and pick out all the most lurid details.

So all this is done without the author's interference. The author might put up a fuss about the half-naked women, since everyone in the story is ninety years ol

... (read more)

You don't "judge" a book by its cover; you use the cover as additional evidence to more accurately predict what's in the book. Knowing what the publisher wants you to assume about the book is preferable to not knowing.

9[anonymous]8y(Except when it's a novel and the text on the back cover spoilers events from the middle of the book or later which I would have preferred to not read until the right time.)
6aleksiL8ySpoilers matter less than you think [http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/08/spoilers-dont-spoil-anything/].

According to a single counter-intuitive (and therefore more likely to make headlines), unreplicated study.

Gah! Spoiler!

5[anonymous]8yThose error bars look large enough that I could still be right about myself even without being a total freak.
2satt8yReally? 11 of the 12 stories got rated higher when spoiled, which is decent evidence against the nil hypothesis (spoilers have zero effect on hedonic ratings) regardless of the error bars' size. Under the nil hypothesis, each story has a 50/50 chance of being rated higher when spoiled, giving a probability of (¹²C₁₁ × 0.5¹¹ × 0.5¹) + (¹²C₁₂ × 0.5¹² × 0.5⁰) = 0.0032 that ≥11 stories get a higher rating when spoiled. So the nil hypothesis gets rejected with a p-value of 0.0063 (the probability's doubled to make the test two-tailed), and presumably the results are still stronger evidence against a spoilers-are-bad hypothesis. This, of course, doesn't account for unseen confounders, inter-individual variation in hedonic spoiler effects, publication bias, or the sample (79% female and taken from "the psychology subject pool at the University of California, San Diego") being unrepresentative of people in general. So you're still not necessarily a total freak!
5[anonymous]8yYeah, it doesn't seem likely given that study that works are liked in average less when spoiled; but what I meant is that probably there are certain individuals who like works less when spoiled. (Imagine Alice said something to the effect that she prefers chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream, and Bob said that it's not actually the case that vanilla tastes worse than chocolate, citing a study in which for 11 out of 12 ice cream brands their vanilla ice cream is liked more in average than their chocolate ice cream -- though in most cases the difference between the averages is not much bigger than each standard deviation; even if the study was conducted among a demographic that does include Alice, that still wouldn't necessarily mean Alice is mistaken, lying, or particularly unusual, would it?)
2satt8yJust so. These are the sort of "inter-individual variation in hedonic spoiler effects" I had in mind earlier. Edit: to elaborate a bit, it was the "error bars look large enough" bit of your earlier comment that triggered my sceptical "Really?" reaction. Apart from that bit I agree(d) with you! Edit 2: aha, I probably did misunderstand you earlier. I originally interpreted your error bars comment as a comment on the statistical significance of the pairwise differences in bar length, but I guess you were actually ballparking the population standard deviation of spoiler effect from the sample size and the standard errors of the means.
2[anonymous]8yHuh. For some reason I had read that as "intra-individual". Whatever happened to the "assume people are saying something reasonable" module in my brain? Yep.
4roystgnr8yI don't like the study setup there. One readthrough of spoiled vs one readthrough of unspoiled material lets you compare the participants' hedonic ratings of dramatic irony vs mystery, and it's quite reasonable that the former would be equally or more enjoyable... but unlike in the study, in real life unspoiled material can be read twice: the first time for the mystery, then the second time for the dramatic irony; with spoiled material you only get the latter.

No, they selected them to sell more copies by highjacking the easier-to-press buttons of your nervous system.

5Nic_Smith8yThere's something to that, but it's not as if Varian's Microeconomic Analysis is going to have the cover of Spice and Wolf 1 [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ContemptibleCover].

On the other hand, the method of judging a book's contents by its cover clearly has holes in it considering Spice and Wolf 1 has the cover of Spice and Wolf 1.

1HalMorris8yDeliberate non sequitur alert: I'm often attracted to a cover that has holes in it. E.g. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
2HalMorris8yProbably purely true for some books, but as someone who buys thousands of books a year, my impression is they are very likely to reveal who they think their readers will be (hence a lot of covers say "stay away" to me), and just occasionally they can show a startling streak of originality. E.g. the board designs (there may be no dustjacket) on Dave Eggers' books are uniquely artistic in my opinion, and in this case since he has been seriously into graphics, I don't think it's any accident. You might think "Maybe this book is written by a bold and original person" and IMHO you'd be right. Also, the cover design of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon kind of sent a message on my wavelength and it was not misleading (for me).

It doesn't matter that much, but I'm pretty sure that line is original to the HBO series, not to the books.

(Not my downvotes, incidentally, but I'd speculate they come from a desire to separate rationality from anti-deathism.)

2ArisKatsaris8yIt's not from the TV series either. The TV series quote would be this: "There is only one God. And his name is Death. And there is only thing we say to Death: 'Not today'." Basically the grandparent post seems to be just a quote from memory, combining bits and pieces from both places, accurate to neither.
0deathpigeon8yI could've sworn it was from both of them, and, thus, from the books originally...
5Sniffnoy8yIt's not from the books; more generally, there isn't anything in the books directly suggesting a connection between Syrio and the Faceless Men.
0deathpigeon8yThanks. Fixed it.
0Nornagest8yCouldn't find it in the Arya chapters of my copy. Wasn't looking terribly hard, though.
0deathpigeon8yI remembered it vaguely, and found the more exact quote on the ASOIAF Quotes page on TvTropes since I didn't want to search through the Arya chapters to find the exact quote, though I was prepared to.

Whenever you feel that society is forcing you to conform or treating you like a number, not a person, just ask yourself the following question: "Does my individuality create more work for other people?" If the answer is yes, then you should be prepared to pay more.

(Joseph Heath & Andrew Potter, The Rebel Sell)

Evolutionary psychology, economics, and behavior studies in general often fail to account for what may be an innate, or strongly socialized, motivating variable. "Rational people will seek to maximize their gain." Sure. Now define gain. In many discussions about behavior and economics, we do not account for obedience and social pressure. This is a mistake, as it is evident that it is a highly significant, though invisible, determinant.

The Last Psychiatrist (http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2009/06/delaying_gratification.html)

Instead of assuming that people are dumb, ignorant, and making mistakes, assume they are smart, doing their best, and that you lack context.


8Vladimir_Nesov8yIf we are in the business of making assumptions, there is no dichotomy, you can as well consider both hypotheticals. (Actually believing that either of these holds in general, or in any given case where you don't have sufficient information, would probably be dumb, ignorant, a mistake.)
1Creutzer8yThis misses the point a bit due to an equivocation on "assume". In ordinary discourse, it usually means "assume for the purpose of action until you encounter contrary evidence". That's very different from the scientist's hypothetical assumptions that are made in order to figure out what follows from a hypothesis.
4Vladimir_Nesov8yIt's epistemically incorrect to adopt a belief "for the purpose of action", and permitting "contrary evidence" to correct the error doesn't make it a non-error.
1shaih8yI think what Creutzer is trying to mean is in ordinary discourse meaning everyday problems in which you are not always able to give the thought time it deserves, when you don't even have 5 minutes by the clock hand to think about the problem rationally, it is better to rely on the heuristic assume people are smart and some unknown context is causing problems then to rely on the heuristic people who make mistakes are dumb. this said heuristics are only good most of the time and may lead you to errors such as in this case it is still technically an error but you are merely attempting to be "less wrong" about a case where you don't have time to be correct then assuming the heuristic until you encounter contrary evidence (or you have the time to think of better answers) follows closely the point of this website
5Vladimir_Nesov8yUsing a heuristic doesn't require believing that it's flawless. You are in fact performing some action, but that is also possible in the absence of careful understanding of the its effect. There is no point in doing the additional damage of accepting a belief for reasons other than evidence of its correctness.
0Creutzer8yExactly, thanks for the clarification.
0shminux8yI believe that this statement, while correct, misses the point of preemptive debiasing. Yvain said it better [http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/02/13/youre-probably-wondering-why-ive-called-you-here-today/] .
1Vladimir_Nesov8yThe original quote draws attention to the mistake of not giving enough attention to the hypothetical where something appears to be wrong/stupid, but upon further investigation turns out to be correct/interesting. However, it confuses the importance of the hypothetical with its probability, and endorses increasing its level of certainty. I pointed out this error in the formulation, but didn't restate the lesson of the quote (i.e. my point didn't include the lesson, only the flaw in its presentation, so naturally it "misses" the point of the lesson by not containing it).
4Eugine_Nier8yAlso, consider the possibility that it is you who is dumb, ignorant, and making mistakes.
1BillyOblivion8yI don't consider it, I assume it. But "dumb" and "ignorant" are not points on a line, they are relative positions. To quote this bloke at a climbing gym I used to frequent "We all suck at our own level".
3Document8yWith apologies for double-commenting: "Don't assume others are ignorant" is likely to be read by a lot of people (including myself at first) as "Aim high [http://lesswrong.com/lw/kh/explainers_shoot_high_aim_low/] and don't be easily be convinced of an inferential gap [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Inferential_distance]". Posts on underconfidence [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Underconfidence] may also be relevant.
2Jakeness8yI would somewhat agree with this if the phrase "making mistakes" was removed. People generally have poor reasoning skills and make non-optimal choices >99% of the time. (Yes, I am including myself and you, the reader, in this generalization.)
1ygert8yOr better yet, assume nothing, and reserve judgement until you have more information.
0Document8yIn most situations there are multiple people other than yourself who each think the others are dumb, ignorant and making mistakes. Don't assume that the one you happen to be interacting with at the moment is right by default.

Heaven? They tried to recruit me, but I turned them down. My place is here in shadows, with the blood and the fear and the screams of the dying, standing back to back with my loves against the world.

-- Time Braid

Responsibility without power breeds cynicism.

-- Scott Sumner (talking about Italian politicians when the EU controls their monetary policy, but it generalizes)

I am, in most of my endeavors, a solidly successful person. I decide I want things to be a certain way, and I make it happen. I've done it with my career, my learning of music, understanding of foreign languages, and basically everything I've tried to do. For a long time, I've known that the key to getting started down the path of being remarkable in anything is to simply act with the intention of being remarkable.

If I want a better-than-average career, I can't simply 'go with the flow' and get it. Most people do just that: they wish for an outcome but ma

... (read more)

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.

Linus Pauling

The example in the comic is not a good one. Of the choices on the board, E being proportional to mc^2 is the only option where the units match. You only need to have that one idea to save yourself the trouble of having lots of other ideas.

0[anonymous]8yIt's a joke, which I assume is intended for a mostly non-physicist audience.

We demand complete rigour from all forms of levity! The unexamined joke is not worth joking!

9[anonymous]8yYes, but also being able to tell which of those ideas are good is even better.
7jsbennett868yFrom the alt-text in the above-linked comic:
0DanArmak8yIt's necessary, but not sufficient.

Clarity is the counterbalance of profound thoughts.

-Luc de Clapiers

The nice thing about working with incentives is that they're pretty stable relative to political leanings. I'd expect a given person's perceptions of politicians' level of corruption or incompetence or any other negative adjective you can think of to depend almost entirely on party affiliation, but you can actually leverage that to get changes in incentive structures passed: just frame it as necessary to curb the excesses of those guys over there, you know, the ones you hate.

And in any case the quote works just as well for the governed. As anyone who's e... (read more)

2HalMorris8yThat sounds very intriguing. Can you give some example of how you've used "playing with incentives" successfully to (I assume - correct me if I'm wrong) maintain a productive forum? That might be very enlightening - seriously, no irony here.

Simplest positive example I can think of offhand: if there's lots of content-free posting going on and you want it to go away, changing the board parameters so that user titles are no longer based on postcount goes a surprisingly long way.

Simplest negative example I can think of: if you think there's too much complaining going on (I didn't, but the board owner at the time did), allocating a subforum for complaints will only make things worse. Even if you call it something like "Constructive Criticism".

1HalMorris8ySorry, I've never run a forum. Is there any easy place to learn enough to make "user titles are no longer based on postcount" make sense to me (unless you want to take the time to explain it). I really am very interested.
5Nornagest8ySure. One feature in phpBB and several other popular bulletin board packages (but not in reddit or Slashdot or any of their descendants) is the ability to set user titles: little snippets of descriptive text that get displayed after a user's handle and which are usually intended to give some information about their status in the forum. The most common arrangement is to have a couple of special titles for administrative positions (say, "mod" and "admin"), then several others for normal users that're tiered based on the number of posts the user's written, i.e. postcount: a user might start with the title "newbie" or "lurker", then progress through five or six cutely themed titles as they post more stuff. It's common for admins to change the exact titles and the progression pattern to suit the needs of the forum (a roleplaying forum for example might name them after monsters of increasing power), but uncommon to change the basic scheme. You may notice that this doesn't differentiate on post quality.
4Baruta078yLook up some of the karma discussions on this very site.

"We're even wrong about which mistakes we're making."

-Carl Winfeld

I'm not certain what lesson on rationality I'm expected to glean from this, unless it's "model your opponents as agents, not as executors of cached scripts" -- and that seems both strongly dependent on the opponents you're facing and a little on the trivial side.

Only if they can trust the promise; once their term is up, the parties have little real incentive to stick to their promise, after all.

In iterated games, defection has its price.

9CCC8yI see your point and, on further thought, acknowledge it as correct.

What happens if you apply the same epistomological standards to claims that someone is racist that you apply to claims from science?

0John_Maxwell8yOn the other hand, Kanazawa seems really good at saying controversial things that get attention... which suggests evidence for his views will overspread relative to those of his detractors. So it may make sense to hold people who say controversial stuff to high epistemological standards, or perhaps to scrutinize memes that seem unusually virulent especially carefully.

In the Wikipedia article that desribes him he's quoted as suggesting that the US should have retaliated 9/11 with nuclear bombs. That a non-scientific racist position.

Huh, what definition of "racist" are you using here? Would you describe von Neumann's proposal for a pre-emtive nuclear strike on the USSR as "racist"?

He published some material that's widely considered as racist in Psychology Today. I don't see why "racist" is no valid word to describe his conclusions.

I'm not sure what you mean by "racist", ho... (read more)

5ChristianKl8yIt's basically about putting a low value on the life on non-white civilians. In addition "I would do to foreigners, what Ann Coulter would do to them", is also a pretty straight way to signal racism. I haven't argued that fact. I'm advocating for having a broad number of words which multidimensional meaning. I see no reason to treat someone who makes wrong claims about race and who's personal beliefs cluster with racist beliefs in his nonscientific statements the same way as someone who just makes wrong statements about the boiling point of some new synthetic chemical.
9fubarobfusco8yRather than using the ambiguous word "racist", one could say specifically that Kanazawa is an advocate of genocide.
4Eugine_Nier8ySo would you call the bombings of civilians during WWII "racist"? So you would agree that there are some statements that are both "racist" and true. What do you mean by "wrong"? If you mean "wrong" in the sense of "false", you've yet to present any evidence that any of Satoshi Kanazawa's claims are wrong.

No scientific conclusions can ever be good or bad, desirable or undesirable, sexist, racist, offensive, reactionary or dangerous; they can only be true or false. No other adjectives apply.

Satoshi Kanazawa

This seems to imply that science is somehow free from motivated cognition — people looking for evidence to support their biases. Since other fields of human reason are not, it would be astonishing if science were.

(Bear in mind, I use "science" mostly as the name of a social institution — the scientific community, replete with journals, grants and funding sources, tenure, and all — and not as a name for an idealized form of pure knowledge-seeking.)

8[anonymous]8yI take the quote to be normative rather than descriptive. Science is not free from motivated cognition, but that's a bug, not a feature.
2fubarobfusco8ySure, but I often see this sort of argument used against concerns about bias in (claimed) scientific conclusions. I'd rather people didn't treat science as privileged against bias, and the quote above seems to encourage that.

While I pretty much agree with the quote, it doesn't provide anyone that isn't already convinced with many good reasons to believe it. Less of an unusually rational statement and more of an empiricist applause light, in other words.

In any case, a scientific conclusion needn't be inherently offensive for closer examination to be recommended: if most researchers' backgrounds are likely to introduce implicit biases toward certain conclusions on certain topics, then taking a close look at the experimental structure to rule out such bias isn't merely a good political sop but is actually good science in its own right. Of course, dealing with this properly would involve hard work and numbers and wouldn't involve decrying all but the worst studies as bad science when you've read no more than the abstract.

4Eugine_Nier8yUnfortunately, since the people deciding which papers to take a closer look at tend to have the same biases as most scientists, the papers that actually get examined closely are the ones going against common biases.
7Nornagest8yI hate to find myself in the position of playing apologist for this mentality, but I believe the party line is that most of the relevant biases are instilled by mass culture and present at some level even in most people trying to combat them, never mind scientists who oppose them in a kind of vague way but mostly have better things to do with their lives. In light of the Implicit Association Test [https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/] this doesn't even seem all that far-fetched to me. The question is to what extent it warrants being paranoid about experimental design, and that's where I find myself begging to differ.

I'd take an issue with "undesirable", the way I understand it. For example, the conclusion that traveling FTL is impossible without major scientific breakthroughs was quite undesirable to those who want to reach for the stars. Similarly with "dangerous": the discovery of nuclear energy was quite dangerous.

4[anonymous]8yIf travelling faster than light is possible, I desire to believe that travelling faster than light is possible; If travelling faster than light is impossible, I desire to believe that travelling faster than light is impossible; Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want. [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Litany_of_Tarski]
8Qiaochu_Yuan8yI think it's pretty clear that scientific conclusions can be dangerous in the sense that telling everybody about them is dangerous. For example, the possibility of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, there should probably be an ethical injunction [http://lesswrong.com/lw/v1/ethical_injunctions/] against deciding what kind of science other people get to do. (But in return maybe scientists themselves should think more carefully about whether what they're doing is going to kill the human race or not.)
2Sengachi8yThat's the thing, the science wasn't good or bad, it was the to decision to give the results to certain people that held that quality of good/bad. And it was very, very bad. But the process of looking at the world, wondering how it works, then figuring out how it works, and then making it work the way you desire, that process carries with it no intrinsic moral qualities.
7Qiaochu_Yuan8yI don't know what you mean by "intrinsic" moral qualities (is this to be contrasted with "extrinsic" moral qualities, and should I care less about the latter or what?). What I'm saying is just that the decision to pursue some scientific research has bad consequences (whether or not you intend to publicize it: doing it increases the probability that it will get publicized one way or another).
1NancyLebovitz8yI think nuclear weapons have a chance of killing a large number of people but are very unlikely to kill the human race.
0Baughn8yAt one point, physicists thought detonating even one nuclear bomb might set fire to the atmosphere. This was taken seriously, and disproven before one in fact was detonated, but it's not clear that the tests wouldn't have gone ahead even if the verdict had come back with merely "unlikely". In the current day biologists, computer scientists and physicists are all working on devices which could be far more dangerous than nuclear weapons. In this case the danger is well known, but no-one high-status enough to succeed is seriously proposing a moratorium on research. To be fair, we've still got some time to go.
3alex_zag_al8yA scientist can have an inclination towards--for example--racist ideas. You can't just call this a kind of being wrong, because depending on the truth of what they're studying, this can make them right more often or less often. So racist scientists are possible, and racist scientific practice is possible. I think 'racist' is an appropriate label for the conclusions drawn with that practice, correct or incorrect. Though, I think being racist is a property of a whole group of conclusions drawn by scientists with a particular bias. It's not an inherent property of any of the conclusions; another researcher with completely different biases wouldn't be racist for independently rediscovering one of them. It's a useful descriptor because a body of conclusions drawn by racist scientists, right or wrong, is going to be different in important ways from one drawn by non-racist scientists. It doesn't reduce to "larger fraction correct" or "larger fraction incorrect" because it depends on if they're working on a problem where racists are more or less likely to be correct.

Not at all. It means you don't know about the real mistakes you make (so you can't fix them), and you spend resources trying to fix something that's not really broken.

"It does not matter what we have believed," Caleb said. "What matters is the truth."

--Jovah's Angel by Sharon Shinn

0NevilleSandiego8ymaybe it's just my most recent physchem lecture talking, but my instant response to that was 'truth is a state function'. Or perhaps 'perceived truth', and 'should be'. (i.e., shouldn't depend on the history preceding current perceived truth)

Coincidences … are the worst enemies of the truth. (Les coïncidences … sont les pires ennemies de la vérité.)

Gaston Leroux

3Eliezer Yudkowsky8yOnly with very low probability.
4Yahooey8yand the human mind loves to find patterns even when the probabilities of the pattern being a rule are low. Coincidences are correlation.

People tend to conform to it's peers values.

Joke: a tourist was driving around lost in the countryside in Ireland among the 1 lane roads and hill farms divided by ancient stone fences, and he asks a sheep farmer how to get to Dublin, to which he replies:

"Well ... if I was going to Dublin, I wouldn't start from here."

Moral, as I see it anyway: While the heuristic "to get to Y, start from X instead of where you are" has some value (often cutting a hard problem into two simpler ones), ultimately we all must start from where we are.

That's a... remarkably loose definition of corruption you've got going on there.

I'm not sure it's practical to make a political system completely free of incentives, as long as you're working with humans governing humans: the closest approximations I can think of would have to involve a leadership caste socially and economically isolated from the people they govern and without any means of improving their own welfare, and that's so far removed from anything historical I know about that I don't even want to try working out all its long-term implications. I... (read more)

A large part of the Federalist Papers is about designing structures and incentives to make government robust against overwhelming ambition and corruption - to make ambition in one branch check ambition in another branch, similarly between state and federal and between state and state.

That said, I think Friedman (I was never on a first name basis with him) is overly dismissive of electing the right people. But again we need to set up structures and incentives differently, so elections are less of an entertaining spectacle and more like a hiring search or j... (read more)

It has been said that the historian is the avenger, and that standing as a judge between the parties and rivalries and causes of bygone generations he can lift up the fallen and beat down the proud, and by his exposures and his verdicts, his satire and his moral indignation, can punish unrighteousness, avenge the injured or reward the innocent. One may be forgiven for not being too happy about any division of mankind into good and evil, progressive and reactionary, black and white; and it is not clear that moral indignation is not a dispersion of one’s en

... (read more)

I don't get it.

True, reason was a difficult tool. You laboured with it to see a little more, and at best you got glimpses, partial truths; but the glimpses were always worth having.

Francis Spufford, Red Plenty

0simplicio8yIs it a good book? I was thinking of buying it, but I am very risk-averse when it comes to buying fiction.
2gwern8yI thought it was pretty good in its own way, although I expected (coming at it from Shalizi) much more math & science than it actually had.
2Roze_Function8yI am only about one-third of the way through, but it is definitely a good book thus far. I would not personally buy it, since I only purchase fiction that I am certain I will read more than once, but it is definitely worth reading.

Man who run in front of car get tired.
Man who run in back of car get exhausted.

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Studies show that people who try to run behind a car frequently fail to keep up, while nobody who runs in front of a car fails more than once.


He gazed about him, and the very intensity of his desire to take in the new world at a glance defeated itself. He saw nothing but colours - colours that refused to form themselves into things. Moreover, he knew nothing yet well enough to see it: you cannot see things till you know roughly what they are.

-- C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet

0Nisan8yReminds me of this [http://lesswrong.com/lw/gt/a_fable_of_science_and_politics/] :

No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.

Karl Popper

There's a failure mode associated to this attitude worth watching out for, which is assuming that people who disagree with you are being irrational and so not bothering to check if you have arguments against what they say.

You can change your organization, or change your organization.

-- Martin Fowler

It is interesting to note that Bohr was an outspoken critic of Einstein's light quantum (prior to 1924), that he mercilessly denounced Schrodinger's equation, discouraged Dirac's work on the relativist electron theory (telling him, incorrectly, that Klein and Gordon had already succeeded), opposed Pauli's introduction of the neutrino, ridiculed Yukawa's theory of the meson, and disparaged Feynman's approach to quantum electrodynamics.

[Footnote to: "This was a most disturbing result. Niels Bohr (not for the first time) was ready to abandon the law o... (read more)

It's not a question of encouragement. Humans tends to want to be like the high status folk that they look up to.

Concretely, Milton Friedman probably didn't have a workable plan for bringing about such an environment, though he may have thought he did; I'm not familiar enough with his thinking. One next-best option would be to try to convince other people that that's what part of a solution to bad government would look like, which under a charitable interpretation of his motives, is what he was doing with that statement he made.

If you have corrupt politicians, blame the voters. The politicians did not vote themselves into the office. (Unless they own the vote-counting machines factory.) I guess the quote suggests that "making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things", whatever precisely that means, could still be easier than replacing the whole population of voters; or at least the majority of them.

7CronoDAS8yThere are worse things that a politician can be than corrupt. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_gubernatorial_election,_1991]

You usually can't get someone with a spider phobia to drop his phobia by trying to convince them with logic or evidence. On the other hand there are psychological strategies to help them to get rid of the phobia.

2Emily8yI think cognitive behavioural therapy for phobias, which seems to work pretty well in a large number of cases, actually relies on helping people see that their fear is irrational.
5jooyous8yAs someone with a phobia, I can tell you from experience that realizing your fear is irrational doesn't actually make the fear go away. Sometimes it even makes you feel more guilty for having it in the first place. Realizing it's irrational just helps you develop coping strategies for acting normal when you're freaking out in public.
1NancyLebovitz8yIt's alief vs. belief. It's one thing to see that, in theory, almost all spiders are harmless. It's another to remain calm in the presence of a spider if you've had a history of being terrified of them. Desensitization is a process of teaching a person how to calm themselves, and then exposing them to things which are just a little like spiders (a picture of a cartoon spider, perhaps, or the word spider). When they can calm themselves around that, they're exposed to something a little more like a spider, and learn to be calm around that. The alief system can learn, but it's not necessarily a verbal process. Even when it is verbal, as when someone learns to identify various sorts of irrational thoughts, it's much slower than understanding an argument.

Okay, but P(doesn't want you to change | loves you just the way you are) is higher than P(doesn't want you to change | doesn't love you just the way you are), and in addition P(you won't change | you surround yourself with people who love you just the way you are) is higher than P(you won't change | you don't surround yourself with people who love you just the way you are).

[-][anonymous]8y 3

To prevent lines from being merged together, add two spaces at the end of each one.

3BillyOblivion8yThat's so...typewriter. Thanks.

Those who stand against the dark mirror of evil are trapped in an eternal conflict. Because, for the cultists; they only have to succeed once. But for the defenders of humanity, we have to prevail every single time.

-- From the final screen of Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land

2Document8y...Hooray for the phygists [http://intelligence.org/]?
5Apprentice8yWell, there are lots of cultists running around trying to summon an Elder God. This will almost certainly end in disaster. The options we have to fight this are: a) We can try to stop all Elder-God-summoning related program activities or b) We can try to get there first and summon a Friendly Elder God. Both a) and b) are almost impossibly difficult and I find it hard to decide which is less impossible.

Does this mean something different than "Truth doesn't have a moral valence"?

Cause it seems like it is trying harder to sound deep than to sound insightful. Sigh - maybe I'm just jaded by various other trying-to-sound-deep-for-its-own-sake sayings. Aka seem deep vs. is deep issues.

2Vaniver8yMy primary interpretation was "attaching yourself to arguments obstructs your ability to seek the truth." If you are interested in the truth, it does not matter if you or your interlocutor is wrong or right; it matters what the truth is. Another interpretation is "is-thinking leads to accuracy, should-thinking leads to delusion." A third interpretation is "moralistic thinking degrades morals." I don't consider that interpretation interesting enough to agree or disagree with it.
4nshepperd8yIt doesn't seem to be clear whether Seng-Ts'an is talking about moral right and wrong, or the kind of "wrong" that is involved in "proving your opponent wrong" in debates. The first interpretation is just silly according to any philosophy that cares about ethics, but the second one does make a lot of sense.
0TimS8yThis is probably a more plausible reading of the quote, but I think it is false. If I don't believe I am right, or at least making an important point (such as playing devil's advocate), I'm doubtful that my comments are relevant or helpful in figuring out what is true. By contrast, your interpretation of the quote suggests that Professor Armstrong should be indifferent to whether particular x-risks that he has highlighted as "most dangerous" are actually the most dangerous x-risks. Anyway, your second suggested reading is essentially my suggested reading, and I agree that your third suggested reading is not a very interesting assertion.
0Vaniver8yIt may be worthwhile to consider the role of curiosity and questions. The first interpretation sees 'right' and 'wrong' as the property of people, not ideas. Doing so is less helpful than seeing rightness as a property of ideas- the plain truth. Thus, it suggests that the Professor should be indifferent to which x-risks he highlights as most dangerous, except for the criterion of danger. It would risk sorting his list incorrectly to confine himself by his opinion, his past statements on the issue, or those which avoid giving support to an enemy. I was introduced to the poem by someone who was arguing against moralistic thinking, who knows much more about this sort of poetry than I do; I mention it for completeness, as it may have been the author's preferred interpretation.
0Estarlio8yMaybe it's a reference to the idea that you need something more important than The Truth, so that you keep testing/refining your answer when you think you've got to the truth.

I don't see how to extract that meaning from the words I see. In particular, I don't understand what the last sentence is trying to say. The dash is also confusing. I thought initially that this was a dialogue but now I'm less sure.

Doc Scratch isn't exactly the best source for rationality quotes- a guy who already knows the truth has little need to overcome flawed cognitive processes for arriving at it. Which isn't to say the guy doesn't say some relevant stuff:

Lies of omission do not exist. The concept is a very human one. It is the product of your story writing again. You have written a story about the truth, making emotional demands of it, and in particular, of those in possession of it. Your demands are based on a feeling of entitlement to the facts, which is very childish.

... (read more)
2Desrtopa8yOne can do these two things, but not to the exclusion of alternatives. One can make statements which are confused or nonsensical, that are not even false [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong]. In any case, a statement doesn't have inherent truth value outside the way it's interpreted by the people who hear it. The statement that "If a tree falls in the forest, it does not make a sound" is true or false depending on the meanings understood by the audience and the person uttering it. It's entirely possible to convey false understandings by making statements which omit relevant information. To refuse to call a statement which is deliberately tailored to make its audience believe falsehoods a lie is using a distinction in an unhelpful way.
4Baughn8yThis. It borders on arguing about the meaning of words, so I find it useful to describe what I mean by "lying", i.e. "conveying information that adjusts someone else's worldview away from reality". Funnily enough, that excludes most lies-to-children.. At that point whoever I'm talking to will either point out that his definition differs, or even decide to go with mine henceforth, and either way we can start getting some real work done.
0fubarobfusco8yOf course, he was lying (arguably by omission); Doc Scratch was not merely reticent or uncooperative, but intentionally deceptive. (Must resist urge to watch Cascade again ...)

I suppose I should distinguish between two kinds of emotion-hacking: hacking your emotional responses to thoughts, and hacking your emotional responses to behaviors. The former is an epistemic technique and the latter is an instrumental technique. Both are quite useful.

1non-expert8ywhose thoughts and whose behaviors? not disagreeing, just asking.
1Qiaochu_Yuan8yMy thoughts and my behaviors. I suppose there is a third kind of emotion-hacking, namely hacking your emotional responses to external stimuli. But it's not as if I can respond to other people's thoughts, even in principle: all I have access to are sounds or images which purport to be correlated to those thoughts in some mysterious way.

Still sounds extremely unlikely. If a model of car has a particular design flaw, you'll expect to hear a lot of reports of that model suffering the same malfunction, but you wouldn't expect to hear that dozens of units within a certain radius suffered the same malfunction simultaneously. You'd need to subject them all to some sort of outside interference at the same time for that sort of occurrence to be plausible, and an event of that scale ought to leave evidence beyond its effect on all the pacemakers in the vicinity.

Want to be like or appear to be like?

Or do they want to be like those folks appear to be like?

I didn't downvote you, but I'm not continuing the argument because it seems really political in a partisan way. I suspect that's what's motivating the downvotes.

In The Tamuli, by David Eddings, one country's political system is described as an attempt to limit corruption. (The usual caveats regarding fictional evidence apply here, of course). In short, when a person is elected onto the ruling council of the Isle of Tega, all that he owns is sold, and the money is deposited into the country's treasury. He is then simply not permitted to own anything until his term is up, some four years later (presumably food and housing is provided at the expense of the state); when that time comes, the money in the treasury is di... (read more)

Wouldn't they still have incentives to aid parties who promise to repay them once their term is up? Similar to how some legislators conveniently acquire lucrative positions requiring little-to-no effort on their part from companies who they have helped out through the years once they've retired from politics?

8Nornagest8yOr to aid their families and friends, or to adopt policies that benefit their industry or hometown or social class -- I considered similar systems when I was writing the ancestor (probably unconsciously influenced by Eddings; I haven't read him in years, though), but decided that they were transparently unworkable.

There hasn't been a lot of money spent researching it, but meta-analysis of the studies that have been conducted show that on average there is no placebo effect.

3Swimmer9638yThat's really interesting...I had not heard that. Thanks for the info!

You want people that are open for rational discouse and who changes their position when you bring them arguments to change their opinions even in the absence of giving them incentives to switch their position.

Be sure to let us know when you find such people. One of the main conceits of this site is that rationalists should win. If it's possible to get ahead by not being a rationalist (even temporarily), people are going to do that. Ultimately, I think what the original quote from Friedman boils down to is the old adage that you should try to fix the system rather than blame the people in it.

Selection is the key to social harmony. Surround yourself with true friends who love you just as you are. If you don't see any around, quest for them.

Bryan Caplan

4gwern8yThis sounds almost horrifically dystopian, in a sort of Friendship is Optimal way.
0insufferablejake8yI suppose it does, in as objective a measure something like 'harmony' is.
0Qiaochu_Yuan8yThis sounds like a recipe for stagnation. A true friend is willing to encourage you to grow.
0insufferablejake8yI think I parsed that quote less along the lines of 'dude, you hardly know any math and so I won't love you' and more along the lines of 'dude, you seem to have the same taste for movies and music and we can have a conversation -- I love (hanging out with) you'. The former has an objective measure and thus one can speak of definite growth while the latter is subjective.
3Qiaochu_Yuan8yThat's not what I mean. Suppose you have various negative personality traits that are negatively influencing your life (e.g. perhaps you are selfish or short-tempered). If you don't carefully cull the people around you, you might start noticing that many people react negatively to you, and you might start wondering why. If you determine that the problem is with you and not them, that's an opportunity for growth. If you only surround yourself with people who are willing, for whatever reason, to ignore your negative personality traits, then you've lost an opportunity to notice them. Similarly, and this should be scary to anyone who cares about epistemic rationality, suppose you have various false beliefs and you decide that those beliefs are so important to your identity that people who don't also believe them can't possibly love you the way you are, so you only surround yourself with people who agree with them...
0insufferablejake8ySure, in such a case, I've optimized for my own 'social harmony'. We all do this to varying degrees anyway. Signalling, sub-cultures and all that blah. Note that the quote simply speaks of a process (selection) to maximize an end (social harmony, however that is defined). It doesn't say anything about whether such selection should be for false or true values (however these are defined).

I think the most common human tactic for appearing to care is to lie to themselves about caring until they actually believe they care; once this is in place they keep up appearances by actually caring if anyone is looking, and if people look often enough this just becomes actually caring.

[-][anonymous]8y 2

Born and raised in the US, so English is my primary language. I had some long-term exposure to Chinese growing up as a kid (generally written up-to-down then right-to-left in our workbooks). Speaking and understanding (rudimentary) Chinese has stuck with me; the writing and reading of, has not.

Sorry, confused. A function is not always uncorrelated with its derivative. Correlation is a measure of co-linearity, not co-dependence. Do you have any examples where statistical dependence does not imply causality without a faithfulness violation? Would you mind maybe sending me a preprint?

edit to express what I meant better: "Do you have any examples where lack of statistical dependence coexists with causality, and this happens without path cancellations?"

6RichardKennaway8yI omitted some details, crucially that the function be bounded. If it is, then the long-term correlation with its derivative tends to zero, providing only that it's well-behaved enough for the correlation to be defined. Alternatively, for a finite interval, the correlation is zero if it has the same value at the beginning and the end. This is pretty much immediate from the fact that the integral of x(dx/dt) is (x^2)/2. A similar result holds for time series, the proof proceeding from the discrete analogue of that formula, (x+y)(x-y) = x^2-y^2. To put that more concretely, if in the long term you're getting neither richer nor poorer, then there will be no correlation between monthly average bank balance and net monthly income. Don't you mean causality not implying statistical dependence, which is what these examples have been showing? That pretty much is the faithfulness assumption, so of course faithfulness is violated by the systems I've mentioned, where causal links are associated with zero correlation. In some cases, if the system is sampled on a timescale longer than its settling time, causal links are associated not only with zero product-moment correlation, but zero mutual information of any sort. Statistical dependence does imply that somewhere there is causality (considering identity a degenerate case of causality -- when X, Y, and Z are independent, X+Y correlates with X+Z). The causality, however, need not be in the same place as the dependence. Certainly. Is this web page [http://harvardschoolofpublichealth.com/research/ilya-shpitser/index.html] current for your email address?
3IlyaShpitser8yThat's right, sorry. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I had gotten the impression that you thought causal systems where things are related to derivatives/integrals introduce a case where this happens and it's not due to "cancellations" but something else. From my point of view, correlation is not a very interesting measure -- it's a holdover from simple parametric statistical models that gets applied far beyond its actual capability. People misuse simple regression models in the same way. For example, if you use linear causal regressions, direct effects are just regression coefficients. But as soon as you start using interaction terms, this stops being true (but people still try to use coefficients in these cases...) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes, the Harvard address still works.
0RichardKennaway8yI just noticed your edit: The capacitor example is one: there is one causal arrow, so no multiple paths that could cancel, and no loops. The arrow could run in either direction, depending on whether the power supply is set up to generate a voltage or a current. Of course, I is by definition proportional to dV/dt, and this is discoverable by looking at the short-term transient behaviour. But sampled on a long timescale you just get a sequence of i.i.d. independent pairs. For cyclic graphs, I'm not sure how "path cancellation" is defined, if it is at all. The generic causal graph of the archetypal control system has arrows D --> P --> O and R --> O --> P, there being a cycle between P and O. The four variables are the Disturbance, the Perception, the Output, and the Reference. If P = O+D, O is proportional to the integral of R-P, R = zero, and D is a signal varying generally on a time scale slower than the settling time of the loop, then O has a correlation with D close to -1, and O and D have correlations with P close to zero. There are only two parameters, the settling time of the loop and the timescale of variations in D. So long as the former is substantially less than the latter, these correlations are unchanged. Would you consider this an example of path cancellation? If so, what are the paths, and what excludes this system from the scope of theorems about faithfulness violations having measure zero? Not being a DAG is one reason, of course, but have any such theorems been extended to at least some class of cyclic graphs? Addendum: When D is a source with a long-term Gaussian distribution, the statistics of the system are multivariate Gaussian, so correlation coefficients capture the entire statistical dependence. Following your suggestion about non-parametric dependence tests I've run simulations in which D instead makes random transitions between +/- 1, and calculated statistics such as Kendall's tau, but the general pattern is much the same. The contr
0IlyaShpitser8yDear Richard, I have not forgotten about your paper, I am just extremely busy until early March. Three quick comments though: (a) People have viewed cyclic models as defining a stable distribution in an appropriate Markov chain. There are some complications, and it seems with cyclic models (unlike the DAG case) the graph which predicts what happens after an intervention, and the graph which represents the independence structure of the equilibrium distribution are not the same graph (this is another reason to treat the statistical and causal graphical models separately). See Richardson and Lauritzen's chain graph paper for a simple 4 node example of this. So when we say there is a faithfulness violation, we have to make sure we are talking about the right graph representing the right distribution. (b) In general I view a derivative not as a node, but as an effect. So e.g. in a linear model: y = f(x) = ax + e dy/dx = a = E[y|do(x=1)] - E[y|do(x=0)], which is just the causal effect of x on y on the mean difference scale. In general, the partial derivative of the outcome wrt some treatment holding the other treatments constant is a kind of direct causal effect. So viewed through that lens it is not perhaps so surprising that x and dy/dx are independent. After all, the direct effect/derivative is a function of p(y|do(x),do(other parents of y)), and we know do(.) cuts incoming arcs to y, so the distribution p(y|do(x),do(other parents of y)) is independent of p(x) by construction. But this is more an explanation of why derivatives sensibly represent interventional effects, not whether there is something more to this observation (I think there might be). I do feel that Newton's intuition for doing derivatives was trying to formalize a limit of "wiggle the independent variable and see what happens to the dependent variable", which is precisely the causal effect. He was worried about physical systems, also, where causality is fairly clear. In general, p(y) and any
[-][anonymous]8y 2

I think that also works with acyclic graphs: suppose you have an arrow from “eXercising” to “Eating a lot”, one from “Eating a lot” to “gaining Weight”, and one from “eXercising” to “gaining Weight”, and P(X) = 0.5, P(E|X) = 0.99, P(E|~X) = 0.01, P(W|X E) = 0.5, P(W|X ~E) = 0.01, P(W|~X E) = 0.99, P(W|~X ~E) = 0.5. Then W would be nearly uncorrelated with X (P(W|X) = 0.4996, P(W|~X) = 0.5004) and nearly uncorrelated with E (P(W|E) = 0.5004, P(W|~E) = 0.4996, if I did the maths right), but it doesn't mean it isn't caused by either.

6RichardKennaway8yYes, this is the mechanism of cancellation of multiple causal paths. In theory one can prove, with assumptions akin to the ideal point masses and inextensible strings of physics exercises, that the probability of exact cancellation is zero; in practice, finite sample sizes mean that cancellation cannot necessarily be excluded. And then to complicate that example, consider a professional boxer who is trying to maintain his weight just below the top of a given competition band. You then have additional causal arrows back from Weight to both eXercise and Eating. As long as he succeeds in controlling his weight, it won't correlate with exercise or eating.

You can't just ignore the error bars like that.

Ignoring the error bars does throw away potentially useful information, and this does break the rules of Bayes Club. But this makes the test a conservative one (Wikipedia: "it has very general applicability but may lack the statistical power of other tests"), which just makes the rejection of the nil hypothesis all the more convincing.

In 8 of the 12 cases, the error bars overlap, which means there's a decent chance that those comparisons could have gone either way, even assuming the sample mean

... (read more)
3Kindly8yOkay, if all you're testing is that "there exist stories for which spoilers make reading more fun" then yes, you're done at that point. As far as I'm concerned, it's obvious that such stories exist for either direction; the conclusion "spoilers are good" or "spoilers are bad" follows if one type of story dominates.

and we'd be at risk of risk devolving to a state where having to filter through webs of malicious falsehood in any hiring situation where the candidates are known to each other was the norm rather than the exception.

which sounds to me like the state we are in w.r.t. election to political offices.

My point is nobody hires people for ordinary jobs the way we collectively hire a president. We are extremely passive, and don't manage the process. There is a field I am very interested in called Social Epistemology (it's a divided field with one part being ex... (read more)

Maybe the idea could gain popularity from a survival-island type reality program in which contestants have to measure the height of trees without climbing them, calculate the diameter of the earth, or demonstrate the existence of electrons (in order of increasing difficulty).

Doing X for specially crafted incentive Y for the intrinsic value of X is a form of corruption. It's not always possible that all decisions are made for the intrinsic value but if you have a political enviroment where there a lot pressure to do Y's.

Especially if you can't get any political power without Y, you won't have many people who persue political goals for their intrinsic value in your political system.

This seems like possibly quite a useful bit of abstraction and offer the potential of arguing the merits of a single principle that appears in man... (read more)

[-][anonymous]8y 2

In most cases 'executive dysfunction' covers the same territory as 'adult ADHD', but it can also be the outcome of some kinds of brain damage.

[-][anonymous]8y 2

Anything that's ever said is really just a signpost leading towards a certain state of being.

Eckhart Tolle, as quoted by Owen Cook in The Blueprint Decoded

Ultimately, if some AI scientist is very concerned that an AI is going to kill us all, their opinion is more informative of the approaches to AI which they find viable, than of AIs in general. If someone is convinced that any nuclear power plant can explode like a multi megaton nuclear bomb, well, its probably better to let someone else design a nuclear power plant.

I think you have the lesson entirely backward.

0private_messaging8yHow so? A person convinced that any nuclear power plant is a risk of multi megaton explosion would have some very weird ideas of how nuclear power plants should be built; they would deem moderated reactors impractical, negative thermal coefficient of reactivity infeasible, etc (or be simply unaware of the mechanisms that allow to achieve stability), and would build some fast neutron reactor that relies on very rapid control rod movement for it's stability. Meanwhile normal engineering produced nuclear power plants that, imperfect they might be, do not make a crater when they blow up.
5wedrifid8yTo the extent that you already know that nuclear power plants are basically safe they clearly do not apply as an analogy here. Reasoning from them like this is an error.
5Creutzer8yYes, but you can say that because you have the independent evidence that nuclear power plants are workable, beyond the mere say-so of a couple of scientists. You don't have that kind of evidence for AI safety. Also, this: ... is not a given. What makes you think that the worst it would do is kill you, when killing is not the worst thing humans do to each other?

Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation. Knowledge of the enemy's dispositions can only be obtained from other men. Hence the use of spies...

Sun Tzu on establishing a causal chain from reality to your beliefs.

6Vaniver8yDupe [http://lesswrong.com/lw/9pk/rationality_quotes_february_2012/5vhu].

I agree that this is a hard question.

General complaint: sometimes when I say that people should be doing a certain thing, someone responds that doing that thing requires answering hard questions. I don't know what bringing this point up is supposed to accomplish. Yes, many things worth doing require answering hard questions. That is not a compelling reason not to do them.

0shaih8yI do not ask it because I wanted to stop the discussion by asking a hard question. I ask it because I aspire to do research into physics and will someday need an answer to it. As such I have been very curious about different arguments to this question. By no means did I mean by asking this question that there are things that should not be research simply how to go about finding them?
2Qiaochu_Yuan8yRemove any confusions you might have about metaethics [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Metaethics_sequence], figure out what it is you value, estimate what kind of impact the research you want to do will have with respect to what you value, estimate what kind of impact the other things you could do will have with respect to what you value, pick the thing that is more valuable. Trying to retroactively judge previous research this way is difficult because the relevant quantity you want to estimate is not the observed net value of a given piece of research (which is hard enough to estimate) but the expected net value at the time the decision was being made to do the research. I think the expected value of research into nuclear physics in the past was highly negative because of how much it increased the probability of nuclear war [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jq/926_is_petrov_day/], but I'm not a domain expert and can't give hard numbers to back up this assertion.
1shaih8yI'm reading through all of the sequences (slowly, it takes a while to truly understand and I started in 2012) and by coincidence I happen to be at the beginning of metaethics currently. Until I finish I won't argue any further on this subject due to being confused. Thanks for help

Exponential decay is a very very ordinary process to find a capacitor in. Most capacitors are not in feedback control systems.

0RichardKennaway8yThe capacitor is just a didactic example. Connect it across a laboratory power supply and twiddle the voltage up and down, and you get uncorrelated voltage and current signals. Somewhere at home I have a gadget for using a computer as a signal generator and oscilloscope. I must try this.
0Luke_A_Somers8yOn the other hand, I'd guess that 99% of actual capacitors are the gates of digital FETs (simply due to the mindbogglingly large number of FETs). Given just a moment's glimpse of the current through such a capacitor, you can deduce quite a bit about its voltage.

Actually, it should be "FTL is impossible" is undesirable if and only if FTL is possible."

2Baruta078yFacepalms okay this is why I need to proofread everything I write Thanks
0Baughn8yShouldn't it really be "Believing that FTL is impossible is undesirable iff FTL is possible"? You seemed to be doing something clever with quotes, but mostly that made it hard to read. :P
0Baruta078yThe author originally added an extra f to the last if in the original post rendering it as "if and only if and only if" instead of "if and only if"

For every control system that works well enough to be considered a control system at all, the correlation will totally drown in the noise.

False. Here (second graph) is an example of a real-life thermostat. The correlation between inside and outside temperatures is evident when the outside temperature varies.

0RichardKennaway8yThe thermostat isn't actually doing anything in those graphs from about 7am to 4pm. There's just a brief burst of heat to pump the temperature up in the early morning and a brief burst of cooling in the late afternoon. Of course the indoor temperature will be heavily influenced by the outdoor temperature. It's being allowed to vary by more than 4 degrees C.
3shminux8yOK, maybe I misunderstood your original point.

I don't understand what point you're trying to make.

1non-expert8yisn't this the ONLY kind of emotion-hacking out there? what emotions are expressed irrespective of external stimuli? seems like a small or insignificant subset. the second two paragraphs above are responding to this. sorry to throw it back at you, but perhaps i'm misunderstanding the point you were trying to make here? I thought you were questioning the value of considering/responding to others' thoughts, because you are arguing that even if you could, you would need to rely on their words and expressions, which may not be correlated with their "true" state of mind.
2Qiaochu_Yuan8yLet me make some more precise definitions: by "emotional responses to my thoughts" I mean "what I feel when I think a given thought," e.g. I feel a mild negative emotion when I think about calling people. By "emotional responses to my behavior" I mean "what I feel when I perform a given action," e.g. I feel a mild negative emotion when I call people. By "emotional responses to external stimuli" I mean "what I feel when a given thing happens in the world around me," e.g. I feel a mild negative emotion when people call me. The distinction I'm trying to make between my behavior and external stimuli is analogous to the distinction between operant and classical conditioning. No, I'm just making the point that for the purposes of classifying different kinds of emotion-hacking I don't find it useful to have a category for other people's thoughts separate from other people's behaviors (in contrast to how I find it useful to have a category for my thoughts separate from my behaviors), and the reason is that I don't have direct access to other people's thoughts. What problem?

Even the most rational among us believe we have something called a "mind" that is capable of something called "free will" which all feels a bit like magic. We have a sense that our minds can cook up thoughts and ideas on its own, without the benefit of external stimulation. The belief is that we can think ourselves into whatever frame of mind we need. We think we can use our "willpower" to overcome sadness, or focus on what is important, whatever. My view is the opposite. I believe our internal sensation of "mind" i

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[-][anonymous]8y 0

Coincidences … are the worst enemies of the truth. (Les coïncidences … sont les pires ennemies de la vérité. —Gaston Leroux, Le mystère de la chambre jaune

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"For belief did not end with a public renunciation, a moment when one's brethren called one a heretic, and damned. Belief ended in solitude, and silence, the same way it began." -Robert V. S. Redick, The Night Of The Swarm

(I'm mid-way through the book, but perhaps I should instead say that I am mid-way through gur sryybjfuvc bs gur evat, juvpu unf sbe fbzr ernfba orra vafregrq vagb gur zvqqyr bs vg, pbzcyrgr jvgu eviraqryy, zvfgl zbhagnvaf, naq gur jvmneq qvfnccrnevat gb svtug n zbafgre).

Romance is for the evening, when the day's work of contributing to civilization is done. When all the drudgery of adult endeavors -- cooperation and competition and accountability and all of that -- can be put aside. The stars come out, a chill breeze blows, and the snapping of a twig out there can suddenly send chills up your spine!

Romance renounces accountability and so-called "objective reality!" It sees no need for them. And when that mind-set ruled our daylight hours, warping politics and business and the way we perceived our real-life nei

... (read more)

A sharp knife can kill even in the hands of a blind.

Where is this from? I looked it up to see if the weird grammar was intended and couldn't find anything.

0Kawoomba8yIt's ... ahem ... non-canon. A different faction. I thought it interesting that the near-inverse of a useful rationality quote [http://lesswrong.com/lw/gjk/rationality_quotes_february_2013/8evk] can still be a useful rationality quote.
2jooyous8yI don't think it's an inverse! The first one is saying you might not succeed in killing the person you're trying to kill and the second one is saying you might instead kill someone else that you don't want to kill! They're two properties of the same worst-case scenario. =]
1CCC8yI understood the second one as saying that that blind idiot with the knife might end up killing you, not necessarily intentionally, so be careful.
3jooyous8yBut also, if you're being a blind idiot waving your knife around, you could kill someone! So stop that. =]

Agreed. It's too easy to pander to a base that doesn't expect you to be good, just deliver a few things... things that matter a great deal less than the cumulative effect of having the right people in charge.

I worry that rationality, to the extent it must value subjective considerations, tends to minimize the importance of those considerations to yield a more clear inquiry.

Can you clarify what you mean by this?

0non-expert8ysure. note that i don't offer this as conclusive or correct, but just something i'm thinking about. also, lets assume rational choice theory is universally applicable for decision making. rational choice theory gives you an equation to use and all we have to do is fill that equation with the proper inputs, value them correctly, and you get an answer. Obviously this is more difficult in practice, particularly where inputs (as to be expected) are not easily convertible to probabilities/numbers -- I'm worried this is actually more problematic than we think. Once we have an objective equation as a tool, we may be biased to assume objectivity and truth regarding our answers, even though that belief often is based on the strength of the starting equation and not on our ability to accurately value and include the appropriate subjective factors. To the extent answering a question becomes difficult, we manufacture "certainty" by ignoring subjectivity or assuming it is not as relevant as it is. Simply put, the belief we have a good and objective starting point biases us to believe we also can/will/actually derive an objectively correct answer, affecting the accuracy with which we fill in the equation.
0Qiaochu_Yuan8yI agree that this is problematic but don't see what it has to do with what I've been saying.
1non-expert8yyou suggested that emotion hacking is more of an issue for instrumental rationality and not so much for epistemic rationality. to the extent that is wrong, you're ignoring emotion hacking (subjective factor) from your application of epistemic rationality.
1Qiaochu_Yuan8yI'm happy to agree that emotion hacking is important to epistemic rationality.
1non-expert8yok, wasn't trying to play "gotcha," just answering your question. good chat, thanks for engaging with me.