That's not even true, though. If you are kidnapped and then tortured, you are not remotely in control of your own happiness, just to take the most obvious extreme answer. Even for more mundane situations, people can be trapped in terrible situations, where cruel people have power over them. If you are working at a minimum wage job with bills coming seemingly every day and which you only overcome by working 18 hour days before collapsing exhausted and doing it all again in the morning, there is very little you can do about it. Now if one of the supervisors at one of your jobs is a petty tyrant who makes you miserable, what choice do you have that would increase your happiness?

I see what the quote is trying to say, as a call to action to change your own life, but it simply isn't true. It also fails the false wisdom reversal test, in that a quote saying "You have no true control over your own happiness; therefore, you must accept your lot in life with all the grace you can muster" sounds just as deep and helpful.


That's not even true, though.

It's not true, epistemically, but is true instrumentally.

I explicitly wrote it was an instrumental rationality quote, not epistemically rational because of the kind of literalism you've so gratuitously supplied :)

327chaos4yI am somewhat uncertain about whether people who are kidnapped and tortured are in control of their happiness. I know there are at least a few people who've been in those situations or similar ones, like the Holocaust, who report that they retained some control over their own thoughts and perspective and this was a source of comfort and strength to them. I think it is possible that people who are tortured are in control of their own happiness, but they generally tend to make the choice to break. One example that comes up in discussions on this is medical depression, which I have. From introspection, it feels like it is both true that I have control over my happiness and that it is not true that I have control over my happiness. I can recall occasions on which I have consciously chosen to lie in bed and be unhappy, and I can also recall occasions on which I have consciously chosen to uproot myself from misery. However, there are also occasions where I've attempted to do this but failed. I think the answer to our dilemma lies in compatibilism: we are in control in the sense that what happens inside our heads matters, but not in the sense that we can transcend our physical limitations and become omnipotent. Also, it was listed as an instrumental rationality quote. All of that said, I downvoted the original comment. While I think it is a defensible point of view, I want rationality quotes that are insightful and compelling, not ones that regurgitate conventional wisdom which some people will automatically believe while others will not.

Rationality Quotes Thread February 2016

by elharo 1 min read2nd Feb 201697 comments


Another month, another rationality quotes thread. The rules are:

  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the place where you read the quote, or its original source if available. Do not quote with only a name.
  • 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 from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.