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My friend's kid explained The Hulk to me. She said he's a big green monster and when he needs to get things done, he turns into a scientist.


My 5 year old came to the dinner table, and calmly announced, "There is no Santa." I was puzzled because just couple of days ago he had taken his Christmas gift from Santa (though now that I think about it, he was not totally thrilled). So I asked why he thought so. He said, "Well, for Christmas I only got the gifts I told you about; I had gone to bed and told Santa himself what I wanted without telling you to see if he is real, and none of those came through - and I was a good boy all year!"

To be sure, I asked him, "But you saw Santa at the mall?" He laughed as hard as could be, then pointed out to me, "They are people in costumes!"

-- Wen Gong

A 5-year-old independently devised hypothesis testing. There is hope for this species.

Now we just need to teach him about estimating the probability that Santa looked at the full range of requests and decided to fulfill a subset that had only been told to the parents.

I don't think it is correct to say that the child came up with hypothesis testing independently. From Wen Gong's profile, she's a software engineer. So clearly, the child has one parent who regularly would language such as: "well, if X was the case, then Y should have happened. But Y didn't. So X is very unlikely" (aka debugging) and so on. I'm also sure that the child had access to good books, education, TV, the Internet, other smart kids and adults. So there may be hope for humanity, if all of humanity had access to all of the above.

This morning my daughter told me that she did well on a spelling test, but she got the easiest words wrong. Of course that’s not exactly true. The words that are hardest for her to spell are the ones she in fact did not spell correctly. She probably meant that she missed the words she felt should have been easy. Maybe they were short words. Children can be intimidated by long words, even though long words tend to be more regular and thus easier to spell.

Our perceptions of what is easy are often upside-down. We feel that some things should be easy even though our experience tells us otherwise.

Sometimes the trickiest parts of a subject come first, but we think that because they come first they should be easy. For example, force-body diagrams come at the beginning of an introductory physics class, but they can be hard to get right. Newton didn’t always get them right. More advanced physics, say celestial mechanics, is in some ways easier, or at least less error-prone.

“Elementary” and “easy” are not the same. Sometimes they’re opposites. Getting off the ground, so to speak, may be a lot harder than flying.

-John D. Cook

I feel like this applies to programming as well. I'm rewriting a Rails project in Node. So, none of the higher-level aspects of re-writing it are difficult -- it's just learning all the idiosyncrasies of Node that takes time.

See also: Inverse Speed.
Very, very true in mathematics. I am taking a BA in CS and we have had introductory courses in Standard ML and Discrete Mathematical Structures, now we have Object Oriented Programming in Java and Linear Algebra. Linalg is arithmetic, only more of it, and almost everyone has done imperative programming before.

I spent my childhood believing I was destined to be a hero

in some far off magic kingdom.

It was too late when I realized that I was needed here.

--A Softer World

Train your tongue to say "I don't know", lest you be brought to falsehood -Babylonian Talmud

If you don't pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.

-- David Allen

A remarkable, glorious achievement is just what a long series of unremarkable, unglorious tasks looks like from far away.

— Tim Urban (I think) of Wait But Why on How To Beat Procrastination

But losing can be upsetting, and can cause emotions to take the place of logical thinking. Below are some common “losing attitudes.” If you find yourself saying these things, consider it a red flag.

“At least I have my Code of Honor,” a.k.a. “You are cheap!”

This is by far the most common call of the scrub, and I’ve already described it in detail. The loser usually takes the imagined moral high ground by sticking to his Code of Honor, a made-up set of personal rules that tells him which moves he can and cannot do. Of course, the rules of the game itself dictate which moves a player can and cannot make, so the Code of Honor is superfluous and counterproductive toward winning. This can also take the form of the loser complaining that you have broken his Code of Honor. He will almost always assume the entire world agrees on his Code and that only the most vile social outcasts would ever break his rules. It can be difficult to even reason with the kind of religious fervor some players have toward their Code. This type of player is trying desperately to remain a “winner” any way possible. If you catch him amidst a sea of losses, you’ll notice that his Code will undergo strange contortions so that he may still define himself, somehow, as a “winner.”

David Sirlin on self-handicapping in competitive games

I played a defender in high school school football. In football the defender can not touch or physically interfere the receiver of a pass from the time the pass is thrown until they catch the ball, to do so is a moderate penalty for the defenders team and considered bad sportsmanship at the amateur levels. As a adolescent that identified with Lawful Good, it came naturally to see Interference as against the rules, and not to be done.

It was an enlightening moment when a mentor explained that the penalties are not there to discourage and exclude types of behavior from the game. When they explained that penalties are part of the game with clearly defined rules, just another mechanical system to be gamed. That the penalty is not a punishment for bad behavior, but the price payed to implement certain tactics.

Yes and no. Sometimes certain things are against the rules because they risk injuring someone. I wish more sports would make explicit the difference between the rules you're allowed to break and pay the penalty and the rules you should never intentionally break, because disagreements over which category a particular rule falls into can be very vicious.

Do you have any case studies of the line being explicitly drawn in that sand, and working to deter harmful behavior, even at the playing to win level? I know the NHL (National Hockey League, North America) has been working on this problem with player fines, game suspensions, and occasion criminal charges. Now sports are just a easy to relate to example where the mechanics of system can fail to represent the intent of the system when it comes to discouraging harmful tactics. This problem is near universal. The Extra Credits Political Series deals with this root problem under the light of the American political system. A good watch if you are at all interested in how behavior is shaped by the reward mechanics in a system.
No case studies, I'd be interested to hear of any. At university I was part of a society for a competitive game with an evolving ruleset, and making that distinction explicit was one of the things we experimented with.
I don't think the only point of many games is winning. If you play Go and want it to be an enjoyable experience it makes sense to stick to the general of code of conduct for Go.

Competitive games like Go are most enjoyable when people all agree on the same rules, when losing grants you no excuses to salvage pride at the cost of the victor. For this to work, the rules must be unambigious. You either broke them and are a cheater and the match is invalid, or you exploited them and won fairly. Subjective codes of honor are extremely ambigious. My competitive game of choice (though I rarely play it these days) is Warcraft III, and the online community associated with it is rife with these kind of "codes of honor" (mostly in the mid levels of the skill hierarchy, or "ladder"; the low skill people are trying to learn, the high skill people got that way because they don't self-handicap, but the mid skill people want to imagine themselves as high skill people but with honor). I have seen several of these codes of honor. I once followed one. Examples are: "No mortar/sorceress, no mass chimera, no hero worker harass, no air worker harass no tower rushes, no tower/tank, no mass batriders, no mass raiders". There is never a clear line between honorable and dishonorable behavior. How many mortars and sorceresses do you have to have before i... (read more)

Go works quite well with rules that aren't unambiguous. Especially the Japanese Go rules have their quirks. As far as Warcraft III goes, I played the game ages ago, in a clan the year before Frozen Throne came out. Back in the day you could hide building in the woods to drag on a game an additional 10 minutes against a lot of opponents with the hope that the opponent leaves the game out of boredom. On the other hand I have no problem with the idea of tower rushes. I you are a good player in Warcraft you can win with any strategy against bad players. I don't think that you become good at Warcraft by practicing tower/tank to perfection.
Can you give an example of the type of code you're thinking about?

An example in chess could be the enforcement of the touch-move rule in a "friendly" game not played under tournament conditions. Personally, I would tend to see someone who insisted on applying this rule in a friendly game when the opponent makes a mistaken touch as a bit of a jerk who cares too much about winning. I am sure this varies across different people and different chess circles though.

I agree. As usual, the key question is what are you trying to accomplish. To win? To socialize? To have an interesting game? If you are playing a friendly game, and an interesting position develops, and then your opponent makes a huge and immediately obvious blunder, there's something to be said for letting him retract his move. There's something unaesthetic about an interesting game -- hard fought and well played on both sides -- which is won because of a stupid move. I suppose Sirlin's response would be to suggest you have a clear idea in your head at the beginning of what you are trying to accomplish; and to try to avoid from changing that objective after the fact in order to save face. One could observe that in most competitions, there are a lot of objectives besides just winning the competition. For example a runner up on America's Top Model who nevertheless lands a modeling contract due to her exposure on the show.
No Sirlin, is very much advocating that games should be about winning. It's one of his key ideas on the philosophy of game design.
Lol, he must be a real joy at family events.
His games might bring more joy at family events. I like games which are designed to be fun when everyone is trying to win, not just when the winners are also having to subtlely contort their decisions to avoid ruining anyone's fun. I'm not familiar with Sirlin's games, but I do recall reading a similar point in reviews of the "German-style" games which have revitalized board gaming: since these games' mechanics try to make them enjoyable to lose, not just to win, it's easier for people to both try to have fun with other players and try to win without one goal compromising the other.
Ironically enough Sirlin's games are virtually impossible to play to win (or to lose). He's a big believer in having all your options being of equal value, so the "game" is in figuring out what your opponent will do and playing the appropriate counter to that. But the result is that playing randomly is just as good as playing strategically.
No. There are good and bad players at, say, Kongai. Whether I would win or lose depended very strongly on how focused I was and how well my team was organized. It's the difference between Rock-Paper-Scissors as usually played and RPS if you get 4 points for winning with scissors, 2 for winning with rock, and 1 for winning with paper. Those are totally different games.
Doesn't that make the game uninteresting?
Does to me. But I was never a fan of the two-player fighting games that Sirlin seems to hold in such high regard; I can imagine that people who like those (and there are many such people) might like Sirlin's games.
Could you describe such a game to me? I'm intrigued.

Grossly overgeneralizing here, the difference between a "German-style game" or "Eurogame" and what is affectionately known as "Ameritrash" among boardgame enthusiasts (though there are games in both categories designed in both the US and Europe) is that Eurogames tend to be games involving strategic optimization to earn points, whereas Ameritrash tends to emphasis direct conflict between players. Though it's more of a spectrum than a dichotomy.

The big three light (as in easy-to-learn) Eurogames that really went mainstream are Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride. Of those three, only SoC really offers the possibility to be a dick to another player, and even there not to the degree you would see in direct-conflict games.

Note, among other things, that it is rare to have a runaway leader in these games, and in the cases of Carcassone and TTR, it's almost impossible to tell for sure who is winning until the game is over. That tends to keep everyone engaged and enjoying themselves.

If you want examples of heavier, pure Eurogames, take a look at something like Puerto Rico, Argricola, or Power Grid.

Watch Settters of Catan being played

Watch Car... (read more)

Pfft. The only interesting way to play Ticket to Ride is to strategically block the other players' routes.
Some TTR maps are more cutthroat, but the basic TTR and TTR: Europe are sufficiently forgiving in terms of alternate routes that you can't really say someone is being a dick by cutting you off. Whereas, say, "trade X for Y, followed by play Monopoly X" in SoC is genuinely obnoxious though perfectly legal.
I am reminded of the game "Yahtzee" which has no direct conflict between players; you just try to maximize your score and whoever scores highest wins. I agree that a game like this has less potential for cutthroat play than other games. But still, one can imagine Sirlin playing Yahtzee with a child at a family event and the child (who is way behind in points) makes a poor decision about which dice to re-roll. Would Sirlin let the child take back his choice?
What is the point of this rule? I never understood it.
I think it's to avoid a situation where a player does a move, sees how his opponent reacts, realizes his mistake and retracts his move - leading to argument, or players having to control their reactions until they're really really sure their opponent finished his move, etc. Chess is supposed to be about strategy, not about bickering about whether a move was really confirmed and trying to guess which move is good by watching your opponent's face. Also, it's to force new players to think quietly, which is good for them anyway in the long run.
I don't know about its history, but I imagine that the point is to discourage grabbing a piece and hovering it over where you are thinking of moving it to visualize better the new situation that would arise. Doing this seems to violate the spirit of the game if you think an important part of it is to be able to look ahead and calculate in your mind's eye. Plus it could be annoying/distracting for the opponent.
That makes sense. Even so, it seems a little excessive.
Playing mirror Go is often considered dishonorable. In practice it's not a major problem because it's a suboptimal strategy.
In general plays where you know thaty they that only work when the opponent makes a mistake are considered dishonorable in go.
This guy ( was a chess generalist (able to play most position types comfortably), and chess world champion for 27 years. He succeeded by playing moves his opponents found most uncomfortable (murky tactics vs positional players, 'boring positional plays' vs flashy tactical players). There is some disagreement today on whether Lasker was really about psychology or merely ahead of his time. My opinion is he did use psychology, but he also had very good positional sense which most of his contemporaries did not share (lots of Lasker's supposedly dubious plays are established modern lines). So he did play in questionable ways but not as questionable as might have seemed back in the day. ---------------------------------------- My favorite players are Capablanca, and Karpov (I don't like Lasker's style much, but the dude was amazing. His style most resembles machine play out of all players I know).

[I]n any system that is less than 100% perfect, some effort ends up being spent on checking things that, retrospectively, turned out to be ok.

-- Andrew Gelman

That seems like an understatement. If most of the things you check are not okay, something is very wrong. Even if the system is 100% perfect, you can't possibly know that before hand. You'd be an idiot not to check anything, and since everything is okay, all the effort ends up being spent on checking things that, retrospectively, turned out to be ok.

[This] paper will be something of an exercise in saying the obvious, but on this topic it is worth saying the obvious first so that less obvious things can be said from there.

David Chalmers

Influenced by this forum, I repeatedly tried to read up on basic philosophy over the last couple of years, only to recoil in disgust every time, after realizing that the "experts" keep discussing big ideas, big questions and so on without ever properly defining what the hell they are talking about to begin with. No wonder they then disagree on premises and conclusions.

If so, Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy should be up your alley.
Rigorous definitions of particular notions are the output of good philosophy, not the input.
Please feel free to explain and give some examples.
I wonder whether it's because they don't realize the problem with not being specific, or whether they are aware of it, but they do it anyway as a part of some signalling game. And what specifically would be the rules of the signalling game? It is merely: "If you don't understand me, it means I am deeper thinker than you?" Or something more sophisticated, like: "You can understand me, but to do that you have to read a lot of my texts very carefully. People who admire me are more likely to do it than people who don't, which is how I increase the ratio of people who agree with me among those qualified to discuss me"? Yet another option would be that philosophers use multiple channels for communication. Maybe they speak clearly and define their terms when speaking in person, but have a taboo against doing so in writing.
I doubt any of those are good guesses. They think they are operating at the right level of abstraction, and they think that they meaningfully contribute to the body of human knowledge, and they don't have any secret communication channels anymore than mathematicians do. They definitely play the status games, but no more than any other group.
I'd expect that the local janitor considers status games and their personal status less than the philosophy students that he or she cleans up after. I'd argue that working in higher education is itself a sign that someone pays more attention to the status-game than most, and that philosophy in specific attracts higher-status-seekers than other fields. There are some selection pressures going on, here (tenure, costs, limited availability, the selection processes favoring status). I doubt it's the biggest cause, or even a big cause, but I'd not dismiss it entirely.
That's because finding the correct definitions of concepts is a big part of the problem.
Absolutely. and those learned scientists should understand as much.

People will call it immoral until they can afford it

-- blindcavefsh on

I like this quote because it can serve as a replacement for "power corrupts" and also applies to things like embryo selection, so it seems to be pointing to something more general.

It's a good quote, but it's not a replacement for "power corrupts" because a shift from calling an action immoral to not calling that action immoral doesn't in itself equal corruption. "Power" / "being able to afford something" can be concomitant with "is now commonly available" / "newly invented technology", and such a gradual shift of society to accept the new status quo wouldn't typically be perceived as corruption. Example: Someone who thinks of new anti-aging technologies (whose price points are gradually dropping) as immoral, then -- upon being able to afford them -- thinks of them as immoral no longer hasn't necessarily been corrupted, but may have simply been incentivized to dwell upon the matter more thoroughly.
That's false. People frequently call things they can afford immoral.

I don't think anyone is claiming that this describes all instances where someone calls something immoral.

It's merely calling attention to two interesting phenomena: (1) envy can make people regard something as immoral when their real problem with it is that others can have it and they can't, and (2) even when someone has actual principled reasons for disapproving of something, once they are in a position to take advantage of it themselves they are liable to forget those principles.

(Perhaps those are really the same phenomenon, deep down. But they feel different enough that, e.g., it took me a while to figure out how anyone could think the quotation had anything to do with the idea that "power corrupts" because I was initially thinking only of #1 while cousin_it was referring to #2.)

Let's say X is an action that's immoral in some sense and profitable in some sense. There are three variables: 1) Do I say it's immoral to do X? 2) Can I do X at a low cost to myself? 3) Is it "actually" immoral to do X? "Power corrupts" says that 1 and 2 are anticorrelated when 3 is true. The quote I posted says that 1 and 2 are anticorrelated regardless of the value of 3, because people just do a cost-benefit calculation. That seems to cover both of your scenarios as well. (You may or may not interpret that as saying that people don't care about 3, which sounds pretty cynical but seems to be true in some cases.)
The OP doesn't state that people don't call things they can afford immoral. Only that people do call things they can't afford immoral.
The OP says they will stop calling it immoral once they can afford it.
Only this particular thing.
It's a good quote, but it's not a replacement for "power corrupts" because the end result of "power corrupts" is generally piles of corpses.
That's not the common case; it's an extreme case. A much more common case is that some guy and his friends and lovers get a bunch richer, while thousands of other people get poorer. Possibly a few people end up dead or in jail.
It is, as I said, the end result. Thankfully things rarely get to that point.
Ah, I see. We're using words differently. "End result" to me means something like "expected outcome, if things go as they usually do," whereas you were using it to mean something more like "possible outcome if all the safeties fail."
Yep, that's a fair point. I think I use "the end result" to mean "the expected outcome if things are allowed to run to their logical conclusion" which may or may not involve failing safeties.
Sometimes the end result of power corrupting is that, there is a scandal, then an investigation, and then someone resigns in disgrace. Power corrupts everywhere, but social institutions play a big role in what the final 'end result' is.

No one ever said reality was going to be dignified.

-- Claire Dederer

I'd say that the process of childbirth is a clear, up-front warning that it definitely won't be.
I find nothing undignified about it, once you get over "poop is the epitome of indignity" and such (imo) nonsense.
Have you heard a baby being born? A baby is all like "AAAAA! AAAAA! AAAAAAA!", except less textual and more piercing in pitch. Show me a definition of "dignified" which encompasses such shrieking, and I'll show you a definition of "dignified" which lacks mainstream recognition.
Well, since you're asking, today actually (really? really!). I concede that you have the mainstream definition in your favor. I find the mainstream concept of "dignity" (the one in which perfectly understandable reactions to physical stimuli can somehow detract from one's dignity) to be a pretty confused notion which I cannot relate to. If anything, the way in which someone deals with a crisis point (comparatively speaking) such as giving birth can greatly enhance my estimation of that person's capabilities. (I did understand your original comment to refer to the mother more so than the baby. Babies and dignity? Given "mainstream"-dignity, I'd expect sGetDignity(Baby) to throw an exception more so than return "undignified".)
A year late on this but "up-front warning" seems to clearly refer to the baby, the idea being that being born is the first thing humans do in reality (or at any rate a major encounter with more of it than we'd experienced before). You do have a point that perhaps the problem is the common definition of dignity rather than the concept itself. I could certainly see a use for a word like "dignity" that refers only to things we can reasonably be expected to control.

Thus the typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes a primitive again.

Joseph Schumpeter

There are lots of mysteries in the world. But the truth is that maybe... those things aren't all that mysterious at all... Maybe they're just things I don't know about yet. And that's why they seem mysterious.

--Your partner in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity

It’s tempting to judge what you read: "I agree with these statements, and I disagree with those." However, a great thinker who has spent decades on an unusual line of thought cannot induce their context into your head in a few pages. It’s almost certainly the case that you don’t fully understand their statements. Instead, you can say: "I have now learned that there exists a worldview in which all of these statements are consistent." And if it feels worthwhile, you can make a genuine effort to understand that entire worldview. You don't have to adopt it. Just make it available to yourself, so you can make connections to it when it's needed.

Bret Victor, reflecting on Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing Things Together by Bruno Latour

Consistent does not mean true. When I was reading Yoga books, there were some real physiological and medical facts, and there were spiritual facts about chakra and prana mechanics, souls and reincarnation. I could agree with the former and disagree with the later. "There exists a worldview in which all of these statements are consistent" is a valid thing to say, but hardly useful. I am not reading books to learn validity, only truth. And if something is not true, you should disagree with it, not say "there exist statements that are consistent with this statement", especially if the cosistency of the statements is the reason why they are in the book to begin with.
For that matter, "being in the same worldview" does not mean consistent. Compartmentalisation is a wonderful thing.
I read that as recommending a technique to withhold judgement on something while you're reading it, which can be a useful rationality technique- provided of course you remember the reasons you're using it and don't turn it into subjective reality. It reminds me of my attitude when reading, for example, Yvain's writing on Neo-Reactionary thought. I pretty much read that sort of thing with the attitude of "this is a really interesting hypothetical alternate universe where my beliefs are wrong and I don't' know it"- my hope being that allows me to incorporate that sort of idea more easily, which means that if my beliefs actually are* wrong on something like that, I'd have an easier time realizing it. *
What if the Great Thinker is arguing for Dialetheism?

The most traditional way to begin a study of quantum mechanics is to follow the historical developments--Planck's radiation law, the Einstein-Debye theory of specific heats, the Bohr atom, de Broglie's matter waves, and so forth--together with careful analyses of some key experiments such as the Compton effect, the Frank-Hertz experiment, and the Davisson-Germer-Thompson experiment. In that way we may come to appreciate how the physicists in the first quarter of the twentieth century were forced to abandon, little by little, the cherished concepts of classical physics and how, despite earlier false starts and wrong turns, the masters--Heisenberg, Schrodinger, and Dirac, among others--finally succeeded in formulating quantum mechanics as we know it today.

However, we do not follow the historical approach in this book. Instead, we start with an example that illustrates, perhaps more than any other example, the inadequacy of classical concepts in a fundamental way. We hope that by exposing the reader to a "shock treatment" at the onset, he or she may be attuned to what we might call the "quantum-mechanical way of thinking" at a very early stage.

-- Modern Quantum ... (read more)

That was my first book on quantum mechanics and I remember reading this. Accordingly, the Stern-Gerlach experiment is usually the first thing I explain to someone who is interested in QM, not these things about cats. Apart from that, I found the book to be a bit too terse and I had to read other books to really master the notation and so on.
It's not an introductory text, so it probably goes way too fast if its your first book on QM. I agree about SG being a great experiment for explaining QM principles.

The bulk of available evidence suggests that people in all societies tend to be relatively rational when it comes to the beliefs and practices that directly involve their subsistence... The more remote these beliefs and practices are from subsistence activities, the more likely they are to involve nonrational characteristics.

Robert Edgerton

I would disagree with this. There are African villages where lots of kids die of diarrhea, and when researchers introduced solar water disinfection (essentially put water in a plastic jug and put it in the sun for a while), people wouldn't do it because it signaled that they were low class, despite that fact that lots of child deaths could be prevented. Similarly, economic returns vs mortality risks of running in a gang. Similarly, drug addicts and alcoholics. And don't forget fatties. Now, one can respond "revealed preferences" and kind of defeat the purpose of calling actions rational or irrational, but people's actions often are not too closely linked to survival.
Well, historically in case of basic subsistence activites, winning meant surviving, and loosing meant dying a horrible death. There are likely some strong adaptations in play here.

As we saw, the E1A team [at Fermilab] found for some time that there were no neutral currents---they wrote letters saying so, even drafting a paper to that effect. By late 1973 they had a great deal riding on that claim. A consensus that neutral currents did not exist would have vindicated their earlier caution; they would have refuted CERN and denied the Europeans priority. For all these reasons it is stunning to reread Cline’s [a leading member of E1A] memorandum of 10 December 1973 that began with the simple statement, “At present, I do not see how to make this effect go away.” With those words Cline gave up his career-long commitment to the nonexistence of neutral currents. “Interest” had to bow to the linked assemblage of ideas and empirical results that rendered the old beliefs untenable, even if they were still “logically possible”.


Microphysical phenomena [...] are not simply observed; they are mediated by layers of experience, theory and causal stories that link background effects to their tests. But the mediated quality of effects and entities does not necessarily make them pliable; experimental conclusions have a stubbornness not easily canceled by theory change. And it is this solidity in the face of altering conditions that impresses the experimenters themselves---even when theorists dissent.

-Peter Galison, How Experiments End.

A major concept he introduces in this chapter is the stubbornness of empirical reality.

I'd like to offer a link to a blog post that looks very very rational to me. Though not in the usual-to-LW sense.

It starts like this:

One of the most consistent messages I offer here is about interactions with law enforcement, and can be expressed in two words — shut up — although "oh you dumb son of a bitch will you for the love of God shut up" might capture the flavor better.

I am so very good at what I do because I never really believe anything is going to work and I'm always looking for the ways the things I make will fail.


I liked this quote from that link:
That's good too. Really, the whole comment's great, but concise soundbites do better here so I just plucked one out.

For it seemed to me that I could find much more truth in the reasonings that each person makes concerning matters that are important to him, and whose outcome ought to cost him dearly later on if he judged badly, than in those reasonings engaged in by a man of letters in his study, which touch on speculations that produce no effect and are of no other consequence to him except perhaps that, the more they are removed from common sense, the more pride he will take in them.

Rene Descartes

That's interesting considering how abstract at least some of his philosophy was. Did he do much with observing how people think about issues where they have important stakes and personal experience? I'm adding the personal experience because, for example, the stakes can be very high in a war zone, but a lot of the people there are estimating based on little experience.

It's good to learn from your failures, but I prefer to learn from the failures of others.

-- Jace Beleren

"Indeed he knows not how to know who knows not also how to unknow." Sir Richard Francis Burton.

That was astonishingly difficult to parse. It's a good sentiment, though.
I also found it hard. For the benefit of the next person, here is a rewritten version: Or, passing to the contrapositive, Or,
My first attempt was Meaning Now my brain doesn't recognize "know" as a word ...
Ambiguity-resolving trick: if phrases can be interpreted as parallel, they probably are. Recognizing that "knows not how to know" parallels with "knows not also how to unknow," or more simply "how to know" || "how to unknow", makes the aphorism much easier to parse.

Atheism shows strength of mind, but only to a certain degree.

-- Blaise Pascal

I suspect this was written and is being upvoted in very different senses.

Very true. Is it still a rationality quote if it isn't rational at all in the original context, but can be useful out of context?
Asking the question this way invites us to do something stupid, which is to think that it has an answer waiting for us, that the term "rationality quote" either really includes this kind of quote or it doesn't and that epistemic debate can resolve it. Really, "rationality quote" is a policy that we have, about what kind of quotes we want to have in these threads. We aren't figuring out what the policy is, we're collectively deciding it. So do we want this kind of quote in the thread? Well, if it's useful, that's a plus. It might be interpreted as support for something the poster doesn't actually support, which is a minus. A quote with a double meaning like this is kind of interesting, and it's fun to imagine Pascal turning in his grave hearing us use it this way. So especially if the double meaning is pointed out, I approve of this category of quote being allowed.
Yes, it was written in the same text as:
What are the two opposing senses you have in mind?

Probably written in the sense: "If you were really strong of mind, you'd will yourself into believing because I just threw an infinity into your expected value calculations", and upvoted in the sense: "Atheism is evidence of strength of mind, but it's become too common to serve as a really good test." (I know I've heard this idea on LessWrong before, I can't remember where though).

This, but in a more general sense for the first: Pascal thought there were a bunch of sophisticated philosophical reasons that you should be a Catholic; the Wager was just the one he's famous for.
You might have heard it on Ex Urbe too. Back when he wrote about Machiavelli he was linked from LW a few times, among them his discussion of what it took for somebody to be an atheist back in the renaissance.
From reading what Pascal wrote it's that atheists take the easy road. The are to sure of themselves. Pascal writes a bit later: "Whereas in my present state, ignorant of what I am or of what I ought to do, I know neither my condition nor my duty." I might add that a lot of atheists shield themselves from the kind of experiences that make believers believers. It's one thing to have your spiritual experiences and then say, this is just my mind playing some tricks. It's quite another challenge to be actually go there and have the experiences and then come back and be stable in your atheism. I remember a recent discussion where just because someone innocently dropped the word "god", suddenly half of the room was absent minded and in their own thoughts and stopped following the discussion. Someone who has strange of mind of the kind you get through meditating a lot doesn't get absent minded just because someone drops a charged word.
Actually ISTM the experience that most often makes believers believers is being raised by believing parents.
It depends what you mean with real belief. The kind of people you are talking about profess to belief but they are usually quite unsure about their beliefs and cringe to them. As a result they get uptight when you suggest their belief might be wrong. If I tell you that Mars surrounds the earth you don't get uptight because you belief that I'm deeply wrong but you might laugh at me for saying something silly. It's similar for dealing with religious people are real believers who do have experiences that validate their world views. Escaping that state you are talking about is a sign of strength of mind. That remind me of the kind of people who get excited about the concept of near death experiences. My own perspective is just, been there done that, I have my own and don't need to read accounts of others to build my world view based on what I read in a book. Quite often those people are even to lazy to meditate. It's quite fun to have discussions with people who pretend to be believers coming for the place of mind mind that they are doing a poor job at having real faith. I mean if your family is Christian and judges you for not believing, they have ready-made talking points for why atheism is wrong, they don't have those talking points for someone catching them. But take care, some people can get quite emotional when you call their bluff.
Where did I use the word “real” in my comment? ;-)
Go where? Spiritual experiences are notoriously difficult to produce on demand. I don't think getting high on hallucinogens or screwing up your mind via, say, starvation or sleep deprivation counts.
There are various reasons why meditation is good even if you don't want spiritual experiences. When reading in venues like this there are a lot of people who try to learn meditation through books and reading stuff instead of actually going to someone with a new age background and learning meditation from a teacher. I can understand when someone was better things to do with his time then seeking spiritual experiences. I primarily want to advocate openness. But in my experience a lot of self labeled atheists go out of their way to avoid having those kind of experience when they are faced with relevant opportunities. For the record I self label these days as ignostic. I don't have any identity invested in the question of whether or not god is real and for what values of god and real that might be true. If the teacher is any good I would expect that most reddit atheists would experience bunch of things for which they have very low priors. On his blog LW member jimmy describes well how he's doing things like giving people the experience of their hand sticking to a table. I never did the sticking hands to object things myself. I think if one takes the average reddit atheist and gives them a simple experience such as their hand sticking to a table, it freakes them out. Yes, you can say that it's child play and no proper spiritual experience. The effect is small and works as party trick. Experiencing something like past life regression takes a bit more work but there are straightforward way to do it under hypnosis on demand if you have a willing participant. At the moment I'm not at a time where I'm into the party trick thing, but maybe I will be in 2 1/2 months for the European LW meetup. At least enough for produces low-prior experiences. Hopefully in an usable form that makes for more than just a weird experience.
There is another common party trick of using chemical substances such as LSD or psilocybin to alter perception and thought processes. For some people, this trick leads them to believe that the universe is full of messages from beyond; or that people who have used this trick are epistemically superior to those who haven't; or other spiritual beliefs. For other people, this trick leads them to believe that the mind — yes, the very mind you are, thinking these very thoughts — runs on chemistry, and so of course can be altered with chemistry. Some people freak out. Others grin a lot and say it's cool.
This is a little off-topic, but if you want to learn meditation, I'd strongly suggest not going to someone with a New Age background. New Age isn't an umbrella term for nondenominational mysticism, it describes a specific cluster of spiritual practices -- and, not to put too fine a point on it, but generally not a very coherent one. More generally, meditation in the West tends to come bundled with a lot of questionable spirituality, and that's bad, but avoiding traditional religious identification doesn't automatically solve the problem. In fact, it can make it worse.
Which people who are "vaguely mystical by Western standards" but don't self label as part of New Age would you recommend? I'm not opposed to going to a 'real' Buddhist temple and learning meditation at that place. I think giving good general advice for finding a good mediation teacher is hard. I don't think apparent coherence is a good standard to judge a meditation teacher. If everything the teacher says seems coherent to you, he probably doesn't have much to teach to you. It's not easy to see the difference between someone who gives you an answer that takes you halve a year to digest and someone who gives you an answer that's bullshit. I personally found a teacher through an impressive experience with one person who then made a recommendation which I followed. In the absence of someone who can give you a good recommendation I would look for experience. Did the teacher put in his 10,000 hours? Did the teacher expose themselves to multiple other teachers with reputation?
Well, I'm not sure it's really my place to be giving recommendations here; I know the basics, but there are people on this site far more advanced than I. That said, I think it'd probably be a good bet to learn from an established school of Buddhist meditation -- not necessarily a temple -- but this carries the additional caveat that there are many different kinds of meditation taught within Buddhism, and not all of them are aimed at things we'd be interested in. It must also be said that Buddhism as it's taught in the West varies greatly in texture; some strains are almost exclusively fluff. Several other religions also contain meditative practices, and there are some secular teachers of meditation outside the New Age scene, but I don't know as much about them. With regard to coherence, though, I think I'd distinguish between apparent coherence regarding specific practices, or esoteric points of doctrine, and in terms of an overall worldview. Meditation for example involves some pretty exotic mental states; attempts to explain it by analogy with everyday life are probably going to be vague or contradictory, and that's fine, bearing in mind the inferential gap. Likewise you're going to find a few clots of irreducible spirituality if you dig deep enough into almost any religion, and that sort of comes with the territory. But if there are contradictions at the press-release level, or you're seeing features of two or more spiritual systems kludged together without much care, or someone's trying to preach nothing but irreducible spirituality in a quivering aspic of feel-good memes... those are bad signs.
I think the basics are the hardest part. In some sense the fancy mental states are not the things that's hardest to learn. If you think you know the basics you won't be in "beginners mind". The hard thing is to see where you don't get the basics. When I lately asked for the basics of rationality of this website the first response I got was: "Could you please more clear, I don't know what exactly you mean with basics." Then I did get a bunch of interesting stuff but most of it wasn't atomic. Part of the reason why we don't have a good Anki deck for rationality made by someone on Lesswrong is that we don't know the basics of rationality well enough to break rationality down into atomic units that could be learned via Anki. The post I wrote asking about the basic of rationality was motivated by having an experience during something of a meditation session with discussion afterwards in which I learned something new about basics and I think the teacher as well. And I'm a person who has years of experience with meditation, spent significant effort last year in trying to learn grammar to get a better understanding of individual chunks of meaning and tried to atomize knowledge for Anki learning for years. You might be right, that you are probably not in a good position to give recommendations on finding a good teacher.
Seconded. I pretty strongly identify "New Age" with "inability to think coherently".
I don't see how this demonstrates anything. Give a drug-naive person a tab of LSD and s/he will experience a bunch of things for which s/he has very low priors. So?

Kind of follow-up to the old does blind review slow down science post:

With all its merits, the traditional model of anonymous peer review clearly has flaws; reviewers under the convenient cloak of anonymity can use the system to settle scores, old boys’ clubs can conspire to prevent research from seeing the light of day, and established orthodox reviewers and editors can potentially squelch speculative, groundbreaking work. In the world of open science and science blogging, all these flaws can be – and have been – potentially addressed.

-- the-curious-wavefunction

Actually found cited on the dark matter crisis by Pavel Kroupa where he gvies concrete examples:

In addition to these 'formal' scientific interactions via academic publishers, there is also communication amongst scientists. For instance, early PhD students, who are still in the process of learning about the business of doing science, may be looking for advice from mentors and other more experienced scientists. Unfortunately, when the talk comes to controversial areas of science, students are often discouraged from getting involved in non-mainstream research (note, however, Avi Loeb's opposite advice). This begins with

... (read more)
If this is happening in physics, I shudder to think what's happening the the softer sciences. Are they even producing results correlated with truth anymore?

I feel that music theory has gotten stuck by trying too long to find universals. Of course, we would like to study Mozart's music the way scientists analyze the spectrum of a distant star. Indeed, we find some almost universal practices in every musical era. But we must view these with suspicion, for they might show no more than what composers then felt should be universal. If so, the search for truth in art becomes a travesty in which each era's practice only parodies its predecessor's prejudice. Imagine formulating "laws" for television screenplays, taking them for natural phenomenon uninfluenced by custom or constraint of commerce.

-- Marvin Minsky

I haven't read the whole text at the link (for which I'm grateful) yet, but I'll comment on the quoted paragraph.

I feel that music theory has gotten stuck by trying too long to find universals

More specifically, however, the problem is a confusion of universals with fundamentals. Music theory has succeeded in finding universals, but such universals by themselves aren't explanatory. If you don't know how to compose, it won't help you very much to learn that ancient flutes play the diatonic scale. And if you start doing statistical frequency analyses of local musical behavior patterns in some specific repertory, you've utterly gone off a cliff as far as explanation is concerned (at least, the kind of "explanation" that is of relevance to a prospective composer).

Music theory, as a discipline, suffers from a failure of query-hugging. My belief is that if theorists were to engage in honest introspection, they would, at the end of a (possibly quite long) chain of inference, reach the conclusion that their real goal is to devise a "programming language" for music: a set of concepts that facilitate the mental storage and manipulation of musical data. And that, if... (read more)

I'd be surprised if most composers were aiming at universal music. I would expect them to be trying to create music which would move their audiences and themselves, and sometimes just the former.
More likely just the latter than just the former.

What he did love about this war was seeing theory put into practice. The life of the mind is a wonderful thing, but you don’t really know if a plan is any good when it’s still in your head, do you? You only have to read all of those vain treatises by long-ago rulers to know that self deception is one of the most common vices of Men. The only way to tell if your ideas are any good is to take them out and field test them.


Thanks (not because I needed the link, but on general principle). We should make more of a standard of linking to thing quoted and the context here.

Forgive him, for he believes that the customs of his tribe are the laws of nature.

-George Bernard Shaw

I definitely think this one has been in a quotes thread before.

I definitely think this one has been in a quotes thread before.


In the fall of 1939, Martin Heidegger and his young Freiburg student and friend Günther Anders were walking along the river when they saw a newspaper vendor's sign announcing that the English had accused the German government of instigating a recent attempt to assassinate Churchill. When Heidegger remarked that it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true, Anders retorted that it was impossible because "the Germans were too civilized and decent to attempt anything so underhand, and such an act was incompatible with the German 'national character'.

... (read more)

Hmmm. This looks almost identical to an anecdote involving Wittgenstein and Malcolm (among other places, repeated here), with the names and nationalities changed. Any idea which is the original?

I think gwern is teasing us: there is no such quotation in Sluga's Heidegger's Crisis, or at least I cannot find it in the Google Books version. Perhaps gwern has taken the Wittgenstein/Malcolm story and swapped Britain for Germany to make a point about the universal applicability of the philosopher's rebuke.

But for what it's worth:

  • The date in the Heidegger version of the story is very suspicious: in 1939 Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty; he did not become Prime Minister until May 1940 and it is only with hindsight that we see his significance (even in 1940 most political actors seem to have thought that Lord Halifax would be a better choice for Prime Minister than Churchill).

  • The version of the anecdote featuring Wittgenstein and Malcolm is backed up by a citation to Malcolm's Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir where Malcolm quotes the letter from Wittgenstein at length. Also, the 1939 date for the original quarrel about "national character" is a better fit to this story, because in 1939 no-one could doubt the significance of Hitler, and assassination attempts on Hitler were by that point a fairly regular occurrence.

Yeah, this seems like one of the occasional tests/experiments Gwern does.

Yes; I was curious what would happen when I reversed the nationalities. I really thought waiting 2 years would be enough for people to forget the original discussion, since it wasn't a popular quote, but Vaniver and another proved me wrong and destroyed the value of the test, so now I'll never know. I am a little embarrassed by the Churchill mistake, though.
The whole story is also much more fitting to the "character" that Wittgenstein is supposed to have as opposed to the one of Heidegger.
There was a whole comment thread to this effect, which was subsequently deleted for some reason. Just a heads up.
What a coincidence that the same event should happen to Wittgenstein! In fact, it's a good job that one refered to the Germans, and the other the British, or this would be a duplicate posting, and I know you wouldn't want to steal the origional poster's glory.

To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.

Winston Churchill

(not sure what the opposite of perfection is)

A standard mistake is to do something to avoid criticism (as opposed to doing something because it is right), and, what's worse, show it. This seems trivial but smart people make the mistake all the time, not realizing the hormetic effect: critics will now have the stimulating challenge to find something else. If you are ever told "your critics will attack you for this", you should 1) answer: fuck them, 2) do more of it.

Nassim Taleb

Surely you should do "0) consider why someone thinks it's wrong and whether there is merit to their view" before either 1) or 2)? Or is there some more context to this quote that makes this objection less relevant?

Taleb position of the topic is complicated.

He's a influential public intellectual. He advocates a style of engaging the 21st century intellectual discourse that useful if you want to become an influential public intellectual.

You become a public intellectual these days by making polarized points that allow people to engage with those points. If you add a lot of qualifications to what you are saying, people don't listen to you.

If you have critics that means that people are listen to you. Having critics is not a bad thing is you want to be a public intellectual. Nassim would say that the business of being a public intellectual is anti-fragile.

If you have found something for which critics will attack you, you have PR. Ryan Holiday worked as a PR person for Tucker Max and did thinks like defacing Tucker Max posters and in general making sure to increase the amount of feminists who criticize Tucker Max.

To be a public intellectual you have to make some points better than other people. It's an effective strategy to focus all of your energy on being able to make some points as strongly as possible.

Instead of "your critics will attack you for this" it's more important to focus o... (read more)

The point is that if someone says: rather than "what you are about to do this wrong", i.e., is unwilling to make the complaint in his own name, that's evidence you should disregard the complaint.
Eh, alternatively it's evidence you should ditch the adviser. A yes man might be willing to make the oblique criticism because they're unwilling to make the accurate-but-offensive-to-higher-status-boss criticism.

If you can discover in human life anything better than justice, truth, temperance, and courage... if, I say, you can see anything better than this, then turn to it with all your heart and profit from this supreme good which you have discovered.

But if nothing better is revealed... if you find all else to be trivial and cheap when compared to this, then grant no place to anything else which, if once you turn to it and turn aside from your path, you would no longer be able without distraction to pay the highest honor to the good that is proper to you and truly your own.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Book III)

What silliness! Sounds like a stuck-up man who never had any actual fun. Yes, I'm well aware of who he was. But it seems to me that aside from truth and perhaps temperance, justice and courage are of very little applicability and in fact are mainly concerned with getting one through wartime successfully. It often amazes me how many "greats" of history seem to have been so very concerned with winning the war that, right up until World War II, almost no effort was devoted to winning the peace.

You insist that there is something a machine cannot do. If you will tell me precisely what it is that a machine cannot do, then I can always make a machine which will do just that!

-- John von Neumann

Solve the halting problem.

The context of the quote is "If you will tell me precisely what it is that a machine cannot do" [that a human can], which addresses this objection.
Obviously, but this is a clever enough response that sidestepping the point is permissible.
Actually, it's pretty standard, if you google the quote.
Write a bestselling novel.
Now tell me exactly what constitutes the process of writing a best-selling novel. Preferably, express it in mathematical fomulas.
Writing a string of symbols, publishing it, and selling it more times than has been managed with all but 100 strings of symbols.
Give machine A one nickel and have it produce a random sequence of 499 characters. Have machine B write a random sequence of 500 characters. Code machine A to pay machine B one nickel for its "book" whenever it has a nickel. Code machine B to give a nickel to machine A for its book whenever it has a nickel. Wait perhaps a few days, and you will have two bestselling authors reminiscent of Zach Weiner's Macroeconomica
Selling to humans then. Also, only count the number of humans that bought the book, rather than the number of books sold, so you can't just sell a billion copies to one person. A more simple version: write a set of strings such that a given panel of judges considers it to be a good book.
The quote said nothing about saying "exactly what constitutes the process", only specifying it precisely.
Best selling novel is rather broad. If we are generous, let's say selling 10000 copies. If we are conservatinve, it is making the NYT bestselling list (isn't there such a thing?) Best selling novels exist in many genres, but some genres are more popular than others. Should we account for that? What language should the novel be written in? Must it be translated? You have a lot of free conditions when you say "Bestselling novel." Lots of things from A Humans Guide to Words spring to mind.

Precautionary and Anti-Precautionary Heuristics. When harm is unbounded, never use a new technology if a more ancient one does the same function. When harm is bounded, never use a known technology if a newer one can do the same function. (Background: I just had a run-in on twitter with C Venter who was trying to invoke GMOs (Vitamin rice) as the only alternative to children's blindness (or moral grounds) when one can give these kids, carrots or pills, instead. But then Monsanto and other labs would never benefit from these standard solutions...)

Nassim Taleb

Carrots have no measurable positive effect on eyesight. Otherwise, good quote.

Carrots have no measurable positive effect on eyesight.

Even for someone who is suffering from a clinical-grade Vitamin A deficiency?

What if the opposite of good wasn't bad? What if the opposite of good is real?

-- Claire Dederer

What do you mean, Lord Trask?

Those who answer directly to their blood often end up having a lot of blood to answer for.

Roderick Long


I spent my childhood believing I was destined to be a hero / in some far off magic kingdom / It was too late when I realized that I was needed here

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To give you an interesting quote from Hayden possible following up on the words of mine and others: We need to recruit from Snowdens generation, we need to recruit from this group because they have the skills that we require. So the challenge is how to recruit this talent but also protecting ourselves from the small fraction of that population that has this romantic attachment to absolute transperency at all costs."

And that's us. What we need to do is spread that message and go into all those organisations in fact deal with them. I'm not saying don'

... (read more)

You should act in a way that, if everyone acted that way, things would work out.

— Louis C.K.

More robust solution would be to act in a way that, if p% of people acted that way, things would work out; for as low values of p as possible. Because it is very unlikely that everyone will act in some way.
It's a rephrasing of Kant's categorical imperative.
It is a helpful heuristic, but on some level, if you know how people are going to act, you should act assuming that they'd act that way. It's easier to notice large effects than small effects. It's obvious that if everyone voted for a specific presidential candidate, that candidate would win. It's less obvious that the marginal voter would do anything. Nonetheless, in order for the first case to be true, the average marginal voter has to be making a difference, so it might be better to look at it that way. But the votes aren't uniformly distributed, and if you know the distribution, you can make a better case of whether or not to vote. That being said, if you accept EDT or UDT, then you should assume p% of people will act like you, since p% of people do act like you, and will make whatever choice you make, for the same reasons.
Seems like a really good way of being taken advantage of by a DefectBot.