LW/OB Rationality Quotes - August 2009

I always see that the monthly Rationality Quotes thread has this line: "Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB - if we do this, there should be a separate thread for it." This is the thread for those quotes.

This is a (possibly) monthly thread for posting any interesting rationality-related quotes you've seen on LW/OB.

  • Please post all quotes separately (so that they can be voted up/down separately) unless they are strongly related/ordered.
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not post quotes that are NOT comments/posts on LW/OB - there is a separate thread for this.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
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The best time to plant a tree is thirty years ago; the second best time is now.

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky

"There is a courage that goes beyond even an atheist sacrificing their life and their hope of immortality. It is the courage of a theist who goes against what they believe to be the Will of God, choosing eternal damnation and defying even morality in order to rescue a slave, or speak out against hell, or kill a murderer... You don't get a chance to reveal that virtue without making fundamental mistakes about how the universe works, so it is not something to which a rationalist should aspire. But it warms my heart that humans are capable of it."

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky

From Huckleberry Finn:

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn't know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I'll go and write the letter - and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking - thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind.

...

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll go to hell" - and tore it up.

Does anyone claim offense at this aspect of Huck Finn? It's not so far from a Protestant anti-authority view of religion, but it's not quite there, either.

That's not defying (presumably their) morality, it's defying the local social code.

And while I agree with the quote, it's not rationalist (as it admits), but a great humanist statement.

That's true, isn't it? It's irrational in the extreme to defy a God who's real, will get His way anyway, and will punish you. Shame on you, Huck Finn, you irrational person.

"I don't think making narratives is a bug. The bug is discarding the rest of the probability distribution."

-ArthurB on the post "Why You're Stuck in a Narrative"

I think the bug occurs not just at the narrative level but a few levels below as well.

"The strength of a theory is not what it allows, but what it prohibits; if you can invent an equally persuasive explanation for any outcome, you have zero knowledge."

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky

It is a more inspiring battle cry to scream, "Die, vicious scum!" instead of "Die, people who could have been just like me but grew up in a different environment!"

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky

"To worship a phenomenon because it seems so wonderfully mysterious, is to worship your own ignorance."

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky

Most healthy intellectual blogs/forums participate in conversations among larger communities of blogs and forums. Rather than just "preaching to a choir" of readers, such blogs often quote and respond to posts on other blogs. Such responses sometimes support, and sometimes criticize, but either way can contribute to a healthy conversation. [...] In contrast, an insular group defined by something other than its rationality would be internally focused, rarely participating in such larger conversations.

--- Robin Hanson

(hint hint this thread is insanely incestuous)

One possible way out [of the Taiwan issue] would be to put a time limit on our defense of Taiwan. Say, 75 years. Then we could say that everyone born in Taiwan today could expect to live out their lives under US protection - but after that, they would have to look out for themselves. This might suit both nations' time horizons. To the Chinese, 75 years might seem like a long wait. To Americans, 50 years is actually longer than "never". You can verify this experimentally: Ask Americans whether something (fusion power, artificial intelligence, a cure for aging, a Best Picture for an animated movie) will ever happen, or whether it will happen in 50 years. More will say that it will happen in 50 years than that it will ever happen.

-- Phil Goetz

"Ignorance exists in the map, not in the territory. If I am ignorant about a phenomenon, that is a fact about my own state of mind, not a fact about the phenomenon itself."

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky

WARNING: Beware of things that are fun to argue

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky

Two quotes, but posted together as they're so closely related.

"In the Way of Bayes, the prior probability equals the expected posterior probability: If you know your destination, you are already there."

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky

"If you know your desired moral destination, you are already there."

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky

I know of no law limiting economic value per atom.

—Robin Hanson

"If you don't see where this is going, then you haven't read Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which makes you incomplete as a human being."

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky

I always disapprove of this sort of literary chauvinism as a matter of principle - GEB is a good book, but hardly necessary to the development of the human organism.

Eh, it's pretty clear that it was only intended to be a hyperbolically strong recommendation of a book. No need to interpret it literally. (Still, despite that, and despite its status as one of my favourite books, I agree that it doesn't really fit as a "rationality quote".)