Rationality Quotes November 2009

by Eliezer Yudkowsky1 min read29th Nov 2009281 comments

9

Rationality Quotes
Personal Blog

A monthly thread for posting rationality-related quotes you've seen recently (or had stored in your quotesfile for ages).

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be voted up/down 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
281 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 10:47 PM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

It has always appalled me that really bright scientists almost all work in the most competitive fields, the ones in which they are making the least difference. In other words, if they were hit by a truck, the same discovery would be made by somebody else about 10 minutes later.

--Aubrey de Grey

It's not really surprising, though, is it? Brilliant people want to have other brilliant people as their colleagues.

(In fact, one mathematician of my acquaintance said that he once dabbled in circuit design, but when his first paper in the field was received as a major achievement, he left it immediately, concluding that if he could make such a large contribution so easily, the field must be unworthy of him.)

How utterly selfish of him.

2aausch11yMy intuition marked this comment's intent as more humorous than serious- is my calibration off?
5wedrifid11yI read ironic sincerity.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky11yYup.
1RichardKennaway11y"Ironic sincerity" [http://twitter.com/turian/status/5787632586]? Edited to amplify: I have never seen the term previous to this thread. Google doesn't turn up much beyond the quoted quip. Is ironic sincerity when you pretend to pretend not to believe what you're saying and then everyone pretends to pretend you didn't believe it so that no-one need be put to the trouble of thinking about it and deciding whether it actually made sense or not? Or not?
9gwern9yHow about ha ha only serious [http://catb.org/jargon/html/H/ha-ha-only-serious.html]?
3someonewrongonthenet8yIt means that it was a true statement, but that reading the statement still tickles the "irony" feeling in your brain. I think part of the reason that this is so is that some people sympathize with this mathematician's motives. An analogy: "He donated $1,000 to charity, instead of donating his entire discretionary income." "How utterly selfish of him." It's true that it's selfish, but it's a lot less selfish than what most people do, so it feels ironic and sarcastic that we are calling him selfish.
3wedrifid11yIt is two terms. Just 'sincerity' that happens to also be ironic. Or perhaps irony that just so happens to be expressed through sincere. It's like saying something 'tongue in cheek' but when the point you are making is something you clearly really mean it even though you know it may be surprising to the audience at first glance.
2righteousreason11yI don't see how this reveals his motive at all. He could easily be a person motivated to make the best contributions to science as he can, for entirely altruistic reasons. His reasoning was that he could make better contributions elsewhere, and it's entirely plausible for him to have left the field for ultimately altruistic, purely non-selfish reasons. And what is it about selfishness exactly that is so bad?

If making a major contribution seemed so easy, and would be harder in some other field, it sure would suggest that his comparative advantage in the easy field is much greater; would not that suggest that he ought to devote his efforts there, since other people have proven relatively capable in the harder fields?

"And what is it about selfishness exactly that is so bad?"

It's fine and dandy in me, but I tend to discourage it in other people. I find that I get what I want faster that way.

Now give me some cash.

0righteousreason11yhttp://lesswrong.com/lw/1hh/rationality_quotes_november_2009/1ai9 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1hh/rationality_quotes_november_2009/1ai9]
3Yorick_Newsome11y"the quality of being selfish, the condition of habitually putting one's own interests before those of others" - wiktionary I can imagine a super giant mega list of situations where that would be bad, even if selfishness is often a good thing. There's a reason 'selfishness' has negative connotations.
4DanArmak11yI can imagine a super giant mega list of situations where love is a bad thing, too. Like when people kill themselves or others. That doesn't mean its default connotations should be negative. The reason "selfishness" has negative connotations are at least partly due to Western culture (with Christian antecedents in "man is fundamentally evil" and "seek not pleasure in this life"). They're not objectively valid.
3Yorick_Newsome11yPoint taken, I just think that it's normally not good. I also think that maybe, for instance, libertarians and liberals have different conceptions of selfishness that lead the former to go 'yay, selfishness!' and the latter to go 'boo, selfishness!'. Are they talking about the same thing? Are we talking about the same thing? In my personal experience, selfishness has always been demanding half of the pie when fairness is one-third, leading to conflict and bad experiences that could have been avoided. We might just have different conceptions of selfishness.
1akshatrathi11yHe may have, for his own reasons, not been happy with the ease with which he achieved something great. His selfishness at this point is not for the fact that he may still be able to contribute to the field and yet he chooses not to but for the fact that he will be happier if he had to work harder on something before achieving greatness. That is his value system. I think his choice is justifiable.
4righteousreason11ySure, but it's also reasonable for him to think that contributing something that was much harder would be that much more of a contribution to his goal (whatever those selfish or non-selfish goals are), after all, something hard for him would be much harder or impossible for someone less capable.

It's not really surprising, though, is it?

No, just appalling.

7CronoDAS11yMaybe was just a one-hit wonder who ran out of ideas. :P
6SilasBarta11yThis is interesting. Which mathematician? Which paper? Could you at least say what field or what advance?
5phaedrus11y"I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER." Groucho Marx
3aausch11yI don't think his measure of difference is comprehensive: * The higher chance of finding smart collaborators increases chances of increased productivity * A larger chance of making very significant improvement (a highly competitive field is probably much closer to a field-wide, world changing epiphany - while in a less competitive field, much time must be wasted laying down the groundwork) * A longer productive life-span (much likelier to find smart assistants/students to teach at maximum ability all life long) * A higher utility to society - the field is likely competitive because of large public attention, which in turns signals large groups of people funding research, in turn showing that smaller improvements are considered much more valuable than in other fields * A wider selection of interesting work. It's much more likely that relatively minor or mundante results/problems in the competitive field are going to be immediately useful/used
0gwern9yWhere is this from, http://vimeo.com/7396024 [http://vimeo.com/7396024] ?
0MichaelGR9yI don't remember exactly, but I think it was from a conference where he was speaking with Eliezer on a panel or Q&A, so that might be it.

"When will we realize that the fact that we can become accustomed to anything, however disgusting at first, makes it necessary to examine carefully everything we have become accustomed to?"

--George Bernard Shaw, A Treatise on Parents and Children (1910)

Today, safe flight inside clouds is possible using gyroscopic instruments that report the airplane’s orientation without being misled by centrifugal effects. But the pilot’s spatial intuition is still active, and often contradicts the instruments. Pilots are explicitly, emphatically trained to trust the instruments and ignore intuition—precisely the opposite of the Star Wars advice—and those who fail to do so often perish.

-- Gary Drescher "Good and Real"

(I really like this quote as a counterweight to the ubiquitous cliche-advise to follow you intuition. Often, your intuition may be fooled. And, it cannot be repeated often enough, Good and Real is a must-read for LW-minded folks)

6Kaj_Sotala11yBy the way, what's so special about it? I got it off Amazon a while ago and read it up to around page 100, but none of the content up to that seemed too special. This might be because I'd already internalized many of those points off OB/LW, of course, but still. Large chunks of the remaining book seem to mostly be about physics and ethics. I'm hesitant to spend time reading any popular physics, as I don't know the actual math behind it and am likely to just get a distorted image. Formal ethical systems are mainly just rationalizations for existing intuitions [http://lesswrong.com/lw/18l/ethics_as_a_black_box_function/], so that doesn't seem too interesting, either. Where are the good bits?
8AngryParsley11yThe book is similar to Eliezer's posts in content, but with different examples and a focus more towards refuting non-materialism. If there's something you don't understand from reading LW, it's probably explained differently in Good and Real. The different arguments and examples may or may not be more enlightening. You should probably buy Good and Real if any of the following are true: * You dislike Eliezer's attitude or writing style. * You are often distracted by other things while reading on your computer. * You prefer the structured organization of a book to the Wiki-link effect of blog posts. * You like to show how smart you are by having shelves of books with important-sounding titles. OK, that last one might have been a joke.
3gwern11yI read it twice, and I'd summarize it as: for a longtime OB/LW reader, the only interesting parts are the treatment of Quantum Mechanics and the Newcomb's Dilemma chapters*. Those, incidentally, are past page 100. * I assume that the person taking the advice is like me and has not understood very much of the 'timeless decision theory' stuff that's been flying around for months, which Drescher takes seriously (he's a user [http://lesswrong.com/user/Gary_Drescher/] here after all), and which seem to be similar to or better to what he advocates.
0djcb11yFair comment. The books is not perfect - I think it gets a bit tedious in the examples. Maybe my recommendation was a bit too strong. Nevertheless, I do think it's special in the way it promotes the naturalistic worldview, and how it applies this all across the board - from consciousness to the sense of time to quantum physics to ethics. There's indeed quite some overlap with topics discussed here, but it's nice to read it in a book with all the themes connected. Those are the 'good bits' for me. Talking about books, it'd be great if there were some LW Books Top-10 for 2009.

CAESAR [recovering his self-possession]: "Pardon him. Theodotus, he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature."

--George Bernard Shaw, Caesar and Cleopatra (1898)

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying." --Woody Allen

4Kaj_Sotala11yThis quote always reminds me of another choice one: "I want to live forever, or die trying".
1Yorick_Newsome11y^ Yossarian, a character in the novel Catch 22, by Joseph Heller.

It helps to stop worrying about what you are and concentrate on what you do. If you think of a poet as a person with some special qualifications that come by nature (or divine favor), you are likely to make one of two mistakes about yourself. If you think you've got what it takes, you may fail to learn what you need to know in order to use whatever qualities you may have. On the other hand, if you think you do not have what it takes, you may give up too easily, thinking it is useless to try. A poet is someone - you, me, anyone - who writes poems. That question out of the way, now we can learn to write poems better.

Judson Jerome, The Poet's Handbook, Chap. 1 ("From Sighs and Groans to Art")

0sark10yThe lesson I draw from this is that doing stuff is a better means of figuring out if I've got what it takes. Because surely, ultimately you want to focus your efforts on what you in fact can do?

Your calendar never lies. All we have is our time. The way we spend our time is our priorities, is our "strategy." Your calendar knows what you really care about. Do you?

-- Tom Peters, HT Ben Casnocha

6Drawbacks11y"We are what we repeatedly do." -- Russ Roberts, quoting some sports guy on the radio
5gwern11y--Randall Jarrell, "A Girl in a Library," line 92; The Seven-League Crutches (1951)
3roland11yI think you meant this link:http://ben.casnocha.com/2008/01/your-calendar-n.html [http://ben.casnocha.com/2008/01/your-calendar-n.html]

Just a few centuries ago, the smartest humans alive were dead wrong about damn near everything. They were wrong about gods. Wrong about astronomy. Wrong about disease. Wrong about heredity. Wrong about physics. Wrong about racism, sexism, nationalism, governance, and many other moral issues. Wrong about geology. Wrong about cosmology. Wrong about chemistry. Wrong about evolution. Wrong about nearly every subject imaginable.

-- Luke Muehlhauser

I don't buy a lot of that, at least if we're referring to the 18th century.

  • The founders of America knew damn well that there were no such things as gods, at least not ones that actively intervened in any way we could detect.

  • They were wrong about some details of astronomy, but they had most of the basic outlines right (Lagrange's works describe the celestial mechanics of the solar system in quite some detail).

  • The theories of classical mechanics were known and well understood. Quantum mechanics and relativity weren't, of course, but I am hesitant to refer to this as people being wrong, as there were very few observations available to them which required these to be explained (the perihelion advance of Mercury, for instance, wasn't discovered until 1859).

  • The 18th century view of cosmology was essentially ours, except that it lacked knowledge about how it was organized on a larger scale (galaxies within clusters within superclusters and all that) due to the lack of sufficiently powerful telescopes, and many supposed the universe to be infinite instead of beginning with the Big Bang.

  • The structure of democratic government invented during this period works pretty darn well, by c

... (read more)
5PhilGoetz11y"A few" means at least 3. You would never say "a few" when you meant "two". So the quote refers to the 17th century at the latest.
6ChrisHibbert11yI routinely use "a couple" and "a few" to indicate vague quantities. A few is bigger than a couple, but they overlap. I know that not everyone does this (my S.O., in particular, thinks I'm wrong) but I also know that I'm not nearly alone in this habit. Yes, certainly, there are circumstances in which "a couple" means exactly two. If I'm talking about some friends, and refer to them as "a couple" rather than "a couple of people", you'd be justified to think I meant exactly two people with some relationship. But if I say "I'm going to read a couple more pages", I think you'd be making a mistake to be upset as long as it was between 1.5 and 4 pages. When I say "a few" it might range from 1.7 to 5 or 6 depending on whether we're talking about potatoes or french fries. So, to my ears, it could be the 16th century or the mid-18th century, and giving the benefit of the doubt, it's a reasonable statement.
0Blueberry11yUpvoted because I do the same thing (tell your SO!). You're not alone.
-1[anonymous]11yA couple is two. There are other quite specific names for when you add a third.
5DanArmak11yThat has almost nothing to do with democracy, and everything to do with the new world order after WW2. Half of Europe was inside the Soviet Union. The other half was mostly being used as an American front against the Soviets and didn't dare to have internal wars. Later, EU precursor organizations cemented the Western European alliances among the more important countries. Of course all this hasn't stopped the Western European countries from having wars outside Europe, and there have been plenty of those in the last 60 years. Today, European politics are such that multinational business & industry organizations, and private international alliances, are vastly more powerful than any hypothetical nationalistic power. So we can't have an internal European war. This is unrelated to democracy, and would work just as well in any other well integrated pan-European system.
1alyssavance11y"The other half was mostly being used as an American front against the Soviets and didn't dare to have internal wars." Really? Suppose the German invasion of 1941 was more successful, the Soviet Union was heavily weakened, and the demarcation line between the two was on the Vistula instead of the Elbe. Which European countries would have fought each other? "Of course all this hasn't stopped the Western European countries from having wars outside Europe, and there have been plenty of those in the last 60 years." Between two Western European powers? Which ones? "Today, European politics are such that multinational business & industry organizations, and private international alliances, are vastly more powerful than any hypothetical nationalistic power." Evidence? Spain, Italy, France, the UK, and Germany have gross revenues of more than $1T each, more than three times those of the largest corporations.
0DanArmak11yIn such a scenario I don't think they'd have fought much because US hegemony would be even stronger than in real history. The US would push the USSR much harder in proxy wars if it thought they could lead up to an economic/military collapse of the USSR or its satellites, and all the European countries would participate more in these proxy wars. Also, decolonization of Asia and Africa might have proceeded more slowly in such a scenario, or not at all in places. Sorry, I realize now my phrasing was misleading here. I meant that European countries have fought outside Europe against non-European ones. Yes, but the combined resources of the biggest (say) 1000 companies are far far greater than those of governments, simply because there are so many more corporations. This is true both inside a country and summed across Europe. And most corporations by far would lobby very strongly against war inside Europe.
0alyssavance11y"The US would push the USSR much harder in proxy wars if it thought they could lead up to an economic/military collapse of the USSR or its satellites, and all the European countries would participate more in these proxy wars." Agreed, but there's still peace in Europe in this scenario. "Yes, but the combined resources of the biggest (say) 1000 companies are far far greater than those of governments, simply because there are so many more corporations." "Corporations" do not act coherently like a national government does. There is no "United Corporate Alliance" or any such thing. "This is true both inside a country and summed across Europe. And most corporations by far would lobby very strongly against war inside Europe." Some would, but some would probably push for it (military contracting can be enormously profitable). There were certainly plenty of companies that pushed for a US war in Iraq. From Schindler's List: SCHINDLER: There's no way I could have known this before, but there was always something missing. In every business I tried, I see now it wasn't me that was failing, it was this thing, this missing thing. Even if I'd known what it was, there's nothing I could have done about it, because you can't create this sort of thing. And it makes all the difference in the world between success and failure. [He waits for her to guess what the thing is. His looks says, It's so simple, how can you not know?] EMILIE: Luck? SCHINDLER: War.
2DanArmak11yIncidentally, why do you use quotes instead of quote-markup with '>'? It's a bit harder to read. Yes, because of US hegemony. There would be if 90% of all corporations had a common cause that was a life or death matter for them! At the very least all the corporations would be pushing in the same direction, and even without a formal alliance the result would be much the same. Companies benefit from war - if they expect to be on the (economically) winning side, and if war isn't going to occur on their home turf. If US companies really honestly believed there was a 50-50 chance of Iraq winning the war and conquering New York, none of them would have supported a war. In Europe, too many big companies are multinational. All of them stand a lot to lose from an internal war. Also, in a war they would have to bet on winner(s) right at the start - because if they want a military contract with Germany, then Germany's going to demand they stop selling weapons to France. In WW1 the big economical winners were US companies because they sold everything but actual weapons to the Alliance countries for many years without being directly involved in the war.
1Douglas_Knight11yYes, in WWI, the european multinationals did badly. But people saw that coming and said that they would never allow a war! How do you know you've quantified it right this time? What would you have predicted in 1914? How do you quantify it? Governments controlled a much smaller percentage of GDP back then. Also, I occasionally hear claims like: globalization only recovered to prewar levels in 1990 (or was it later?)
0DanArmak11yI'm not saying there'll never be war. I'm saying this is one of the biggest factors that maintain today's stable state of internal European peace. Of course it's possible for affairs to leave this state, but there will need to be a (visible) change pushing in that direction. In 1914 there were very visible and long-standing forces pushing for war. It was at best an open question which opposing political force would win, and I would certainly predicted war, as did most other observers. The nearly-autocratic ruler of the biggest Continental European country (Germany) had been saying for years he was going to go to war. He had full political and military support for this at home, and based all his foreign policy and diplomacy on this. He constantly made or tried to make alliances with pretty much every single country in the world other than France with the explicitly stated goal of going to war together; not just in Europe, but including e.g. offering alliance to Mexico against the US to keep the US out of a European war. And remember Germany had recently (1870-1) fought France and won. Even without analyzing the pro-war sentiment in many other countries, it was reasonable to conclude there would be a big war. Wars were pretty much constant - a war in continental Europe once every 20-30 years for centuries. The only difficulty was predicting such a big and long war as WW1 turned out to be, and that only happened because no side managed to win quickly - and the Germans came extremely close to defeating France completely in the first assault of 1914, within a single tactical decision's worth. (Ref: Guns of August, also The Proud Tower, both by Barbara Tuchman.) The idea that multinationals would prevent war was mostly Woodrow Wilson's vision at the time, and I think even he saw it as an ideal for the future; he recognized that it wasn't achieved yet. Most pro-peace people placed their hopes on the International Socialist movement preventing a war by general strikes i
0rhollerith_dot_com11yWhy include the quote from Schindler's List? Are we supposed to take it as evidence for what causes wars?
0Douglas_Knight11yThat's a funny thing to say on the quotes thread. Tom McCabe is deploying rhetoric, but this whole thread is about sharing rhetoric (or maybe directly using it).
3rhollerith_dot_com11yIn my humble opinion, quoting Hollywood movies detracts from any conversation about historical facts or about causal relationships even if the conversation starts with a rationality quote. Moreover, none of the opinions I have seen as to the purpose of Rationality Quotes entails a rhetorical free-for-all. An example of an opinion that I recall is that a quote is an attempt to communicate some aspect of the art of human rationality in much fewer words than would be required by the standard expository rationalist style. The quote from the Hollywood movie does not have that property because the quoter could have written instead, "it is well documented that many German industrialists profited greatly from the war," which of course is fewer words than the quote from the movie and which of course is standard expository style (no rhetoric). I have nothing personal against the quoter (Tom) and I believe and I hope that I would have voiced the same objection if anyone here had used that particular rhetorical tactic.
0Douglas_Knight11yYeah, they say that, but I don't believe them. At least, I don't believe any version of that that doesn't also cover Tom's quote.
0alyssavance11yIt's supposed to be an example of how war can be profitable for industry (as indeed it was for many in Germany during WWII).
1rhollerith_dot_com11yOK, then, do you consider Schindler's List or any other Hollywood film evidence that the war was profitable for industrialists in Germany? I always thought that Hollywood films were held to high standards for mass appeal and sometime for aesthetics, but not for historical veracity.
2alyssavance11yI quoted the film merely for rhetorical purposes. The fact that many German industrialists got rich off WWII is very thoroughly documented.
1rhollerith_dot_com11yWell, I for one wish you would refrain from such a heavy-handed rhetorical tactic. Everyone has a natural human tendency to consider what they see in movies as "documentary evidence". I wish you'd try to help us overcome that cognitive bias, not encourage us to persist in it.
0DanArmak11yEspecially in "based on a real story" pseudo documentary films.
0gwern11yThe British and the French fought multiple times in the 1800s, and also in the early 1900s. One would expect further fights... What stopped de Gaulle from thinking about being a second Napoleon, if not US hegemony? Said revenues are controlled by political processes, which are staffed by people that can be influenced or outright bought for trivial sums - a few thousands or millions. The returns to investing in lobbying are well known and can be astronomical.
2alyssavance11y"The British and the French fought multiple times in the 1800s, and also in the early 1900s. One would expect further fights..." Citation? Britain and France haven't fought since Napoleon's defeat in 1815. "What stopped de Gaulle from thinking about being a second Napoleon, if not US hegemony?" The fact that the French population would never stomach it, given that they had just gotten out from under four years of brutal German occupation with American and British support? "Said revenues are controlled by political processes, which are staffed by people that can be influenced or outright bought for trivial sums - a few thousands or millions." Ross Perot lost, and Bloomberg never even tried. "The returns to investing in lobbying are well known and can be astronomical." Citation?
0gwern11yThe Napoleonic wars were at least 4 wars; then there was the Merina Conquest of Madagascar and the Hundred Days. 6 wars in 15 years is pretty impressive. And it's not like France was peaceful after that [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_1800%E2%80%931899], there was all sorts of wars all over the place, yes, even in Europe. And then Germany and Russia have kept the 2 busy all through the 1900s. We don't know that their enmity and warring are truly over, any more than we know whether great power conflicts are truly over. And no country occupied has ever wished for revenge? Italy and Germany were right there, and American and Britain wouldn't've seriously objected to France invading (in this hypothetical nuke-less Communist-less world) - they weren't in any position to stomach stopping France. The American & British support didn't mean a whole lot to de Gaulle and his force de frappe. Waggish answer: What, the past couple years of American politics haven't made it painfully obvious how valuable lobbying can be? Serious answer: if the returns weren't high, then why do some companies invest so much in lobbying instead of putting the money into Treasuries? More serious answer: The Mickey Mouse Protection Act [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_Term_Extension_Act] Most serious answer: http://www.google.com/search?q=return+on+lobbying+investment [http://www.google.com/search?q=return+on+lobbying+investment] and specifically http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/11/AR2009041102035.html [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/11/AR2009041102035.html] :
0alyssavance11y"The Napoleonic wars were at least 4 wars; then there was the Merina Conquest of Madagascar and the Hundred Days. 6 wars in 15 years is pretty impressive. And it's not like France was peaceful after that, there was all sorts of wars all over the place, yes, even in Europe. And then Germany and Russia have kept the 2 busy all through the 1900s." This is a blatant dodge of my original claim, which was specifically about Britain and France. No one who had ever cracked a history book would ever claim that there were no wars in Europe during the 20th century. "And no country occupied has ever wished for revenge?" Germany was destroyed, the government was completely dissolved (and largely imprisoned), all the cities were bombed into rubble, and more than ten percent of the population was killed (including, I believe, a majority of the men of military age). You couldn't get a more thorough revenge if you obliterated Berlin with a 50 megaton H-bomb. "The American & British support didn't mean a whole lot to de Gaulle and his third way." Historically, after the war, we know that the French didn't want another war against Germany. Why would it be different this time? "Serious answer: if the returns weren't high, then why do some companies invest so much in lobbying instead of putting the money into Treasuries?" Because there are points on the real line between "3%" and "22,000%". "In a remarkable illustration of the power of lobbying in Washington, a study released last week found that a single tax break in 2004 earned companies $220 for every dollar they spent on the issue -- a 22,000 percent rate of return on their investment. " OK, that's a legitimate citation, but it ignores the non-monetary costs of lobbying, which far exceed the monetary ones. A company may hire a lobbyist and pay him $100,000, but if both the company and the lobbyist don't have connections with people high up in Washington, they won't get anywhere. And it's much more difficult to acquire those
3Yorick_Newsome11yI liked this comment, but as anonym points out far below, the original blog post is really talking about "pre-scientific and scientific ways of investigating and understanding the world." - anonym. So 'just a few centuries ago' might not be very accurate in the context of the post. The author's fault, not yours; but just sayin'.
0[anonymous]9yWell... I find it quite a stretch to call the pre-Shapley–Curtis-debate views of cosmology “essentially ours”. (But http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_cosmology [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_cosmology] did surprise me. Olber's paradox was first solved by Edgar Allan Poe? I knew he was quite a smart guy, but...)
0Douglas_Knight11yLinnaeus had a tree of taxonomy, but this [http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2009/06/what-darwin-said-and-was-he-right.php] claims that the tree of descent was one of the key innovations of Darwin (and of Wallace, who thought it was innovative before he thought of natural selection).
1alyssavance11yA complete tree of descent (all life from a common ancestor) was Charles Darwin's thinking, but the idea of a tree of descent was not. See, eg. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges-Louis_Leclerc,_Comte_de_Buffon [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges-Louis_Leclerc,_Comte_de_Buffon] for 18th-century thinking on the subject.
0Douglas_Knight11yMaybe I shouldn't have called it an innovation: the main point was to dispute that the tree of life was "widely known and accepted."
0[anonymous]11yIt doesn't matter so much for this quote considered in isolation, but as I noted elsewhere in this thread, it seems clear to me after reading the rest of the essay the quote was taken from that the author is trying to distinguish between pre- and post-scientific ways of understanding and investigating the world. He probably should have said "a few millennia" rather than "a few centuries", because the rest of the essay makes much more sense under that assumption.
7taw11yThat's an interesting thing to claim - and one I'm pretty sure they wouldn't agree about back then.
1RobinZ11yBut ... "they thought they were right" isn't an argument. Compare how they derived their bottom lines to how we have. Compare their evidence and reasoning to ours, and compare both to the kinds of evidence and reasoning that works ( literally does good work) elsewhere, and the answer will probably be straightaway obvious which is the more reliable.

We have no evidence and reasoning about morality that doesn't depend on morality in the first place, is-ought problem which I won't repeat here.

Empirically, everyone derives their morality from society's norm developed in messy historical processes. Why one messy historical process is better than other by any objective standard is not clear.

By some standards we have less suffering than past times, but we're also vastly wealthier. It's not clear at all to me that wealth-adjusted suffering now is lower than historically - modern moral standards say it's fine to let 1.5 million children a year die of diarrhea because they happen to be born in a wrong country. I can imagine some of the past moral systems would be less happy about it than we are.

4RobinZ11yOne: See above [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1hh/rationality_quotes_november_2009/1afg]. Two: The very fact that you can say: ...and expect me to draw your implied conclusion refutes the very claim itself. What do you think makes me appalled that children are dying of diarrhea, aesthetics? That we haven't yet fixed a problem doesn't prove that it meets our approval - after all, people still die everywhere.
1Zack_M_Davis11yIn questions of morality, there's nothing but the (really complicated [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Complexity_of_value]) bottom line.
2RobinZ11yThat's not even empirically true. At best, morality is the (really complicated) function relating "is" and "ought" - which means errors in the "is" can make vast differences to the consequent "ought". (For example, in the Americas a couple centuries ago, it was widely believed that black people were not capable of being successful and happy without supervision of white people, and it was consequently meet to own such people in the same way as livestock is owned.)
7Eliezer Yudkowsky11yAs much as I keep citing this as an example myself, I don't think we're literally talking about sole prior cause and posterior effect here.
0RobinZ11yA fair point, to be sure. Edit: To be precise, to a major extent, the causality is probably in the opposite direction - because treating people the way slaves were treated is wrong, those with a stake in the matter had it widely argued that the chattel slaves were not people in the proper sense of the word.
0Zack_M_Davis11yYou're right; forgive my imprecision. But I doubt that people from the past could be said to be using the exactly the same function as us, nor even that I'm using the exact same function as you. It would just be too much coincidence.
2RobinZ11yI think I see the difficulty - my language is phrased in terms of an absolute morality to which all historical systems are approximations of varying accuracy. Do I correctly infer that you reject that concept? If so, I believe it reasonable to assume that the remaining confusion is a matter of phrasing [http://lesswrong.com/lw/np/disputing_definitions/].
2Zack_M_Davis11yYes.
5cousin_it11yAnd even today, many smart people outside the USA are still wrong about these pressing moral issues!
3anonym11yAs are many smart people within the USA, obviously, or were you being sarcastic and trying to suggest that the original quote somehow implies a belief that the USA is immune from those problems?
5Yorick_Newsome11yI think he was being sarcastic and trying to suggest that the original quote failed to take note that everyone thinks they are immune from those problems, including the person who decided the past was 'wrong' about them. I'm also pretty sure cousin_it is Russian, if that's relevant. The USA thing was just a tasteful addition, the way I see it. I laughed. (His use of an exclamation point and a look at the top contributors list on the right also indicate sarcasm.) Edit: I agree with Nick below. It was just a joke. Which I enjoyed.
0anonym11yWhen I read the original quote, I noted the conspicuous absence of any kind of positive assertion that the speaker is immune from those problems, and I read it as cautioning us against thinking that we are not similarly wrong about some of those very problems and other important problems that we are blind to.
0Yorick_Newsome11yDid you read it in the context of the atheist blog post Eliezer linked to? I agree that the quote was possibly meant to be cautionary, but I think it was primarily meant to show that believing in things 200 years old is generally not a good idea. Maybe I misunderstood the point of the post, though; the cautionary value is a more useful interpretation for us aspiring rationalists, and 'don't put faith in ancient wisdom' is rather simple advice by comparison. Because of that, context be damned (even if I did interpret it as was meant), I'm going to switch to your interpretation. :)
2anonym11yI hadn't clicked through to read the original, but having just done so, I note that the very next paragraph after the given quote is: Which doesn't exactly smack of over-confidence and American arrogance to my ear. ETA: also, from things he said elsewhere in the essay, it seems likely to me that he had in mind more than "a few centuries" in the essay, despite the words in the quote, since he distinguishes again and again between pre-scientific and scientific ways of investigating and understanding the world.
1Yorick_Newsome11yOh jeeze, how did I miss that? Thanks for taking the time to enlighten me. About the ETA, I noticed that too, which may be relevant to another discussion I saw nested under the original quotation...
2cousin_it11yWhoops, instant controversy =) I didn't mean to accuse the original quote of American nationalism; that would be like accusing early Christians of Jewish or Roman nationalism. Every new moral system sees itself as universal. But also every moral system has some geographical origin from where it spreads, by force if necessary. For the moral system that uses the terms "racism" and "sexism", the place of origin is the USA.
1anonym11ySo anybody who uses the terms "racism" and "sexism" (and presumably the related words "race" and "sex" when used in the same sense) -- for instance, in arguing against distinguishing on the basis of race or sex [http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Universal_Declaration_of_Human_Rights#Article_2] or for guaranteeing the equality of rights and liberties regardless of sex, race, nationality ... [http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/russian/const/ch2.html] -- necessarily has one particular moral system, a moral system that originates in the USA, and despite women's suffrage originating in countries other than the USA, somebody who uses the word 'sexism' in the same sentence as 'racism' is almost certainly either from the USA and subject to stereotypical US nationalism or subscribes to the One Unique True Moral System of the USA?
3Jack11yNot sure why this was downvoted. The word 'racism' was coined in pre-WWII Europe, the word 'sexism' was coined in the US during the 1960s. The movements/ moral systems against such things have been widespread, and I'm not sure it makes sense to say they started anywhere besides "Western civilization". Moral systems don't have founding moments anyway, they evolve out of other moral systems and historical conditions. I would say that the term racism probably plays a bigger role in American discourse than elsewhere, if only because the US is more racially diverse than most of the rest of the world. The extent to which the usage of these terms is indicative of a particular moral system is just a question of high def versus low def. If you look closely you see differences, if you don't, it all looks the same. If your views are in the general vicinity of where cousin-it was aiming you probably see issues involving racism and sexism. If you are far from cousin-it's target you may well not see the differences between moral systems that use the terms racism and sexism. Though don't "reverse racism" and "reverse sexism" count as uses of these terms? The moral system that uses those terms pretty obviously distinct from the moral system that I think cousin_it is referring to.
0wedrifid11yNot by me. But the readability is abysmal enough that I at least had second thoughts before voting it up to 0..
0cousin_it11yAmusingly, your holy indignance at hearing such stereotypes isn't a human universal either - it's part of the same particular moral system I was talking about. PS: I didn't downvote you.
2anonym11yI was trying to point out why part of your post was nonsense, despite making some valid points, and sending your troll back back at you. Words -- with a few exceptions like 'objectivism' -- are not as strongly associated with a single moral system as you suggest. There is no single moral system that originates in the USA, and no single moral system that everybody who uses the terms "racism" and "sexism" in a sentence holds. And unless you think that Russia has adopted the moral system "whose place of origin is the USA", 2.19.2 in the Russian constitution poses a problem for you, unless you assert that using the tokens "racism" and "sexism" is sufficient for your thesis to hold but spelling out that racism and sexism are bad without using those tokens somehow makes your hypothesis not apply. P.S. Maybe your idea of stereotypical Americans causes you to mistake my response for "holy indignance". For what it's worth, I'm not indignant or angry, just amused. Perhaps I should have added some smileys? And for your information, since I know you're Russian, I wasn't born or raised in America, though I live there now and am a naturalized citizen.
0cousin_it11yKind of. The current Russian constitution was written at the extreme high point of Russian popular affection for the American way of life, and the people who wrote it were big fans of the US constitution. Such attitudes have gone way down since then. Now I'm curious: why does this particular assertion look absurd to you? From where I stand, using marker words like "racism" and "sexism" looks like a pretty clear case of signaling. That's like the difference between saying cheating on your spouse is bad, and saying cheating is "a sin".
0anonym11yI could agree with you that "racism" and "sexism" are often used only for signaling, and even that they are (probably) used more for that purpose in the USA than elsewhere, on average, but I don't agree that they're only used for that purpose, and I don't agree that they're a product of one moral system or that they're only used by people who hold that moral system. Some people use the words because it's easier to say one word than ten words, easier to say "racism" than to speak a whole sentence when you know the listener will understand that you are referring to the systematic differential treatment of people on the basis of skin color.
0Vladimir_Nesov11yMany crazy moral systems see themselves as (complete and) universal. It's a trivial enough failure, so one should be able to do better.
0wedrifid11yJust keep a lid on the nationalism. Sterling moral leadership isn't always something associated with the USA. We don't want to get into a discussion on the topic but I wouldn't leave such implications unchallenged. I might have to make comparisons to Canada and things would go downhill from there! :)
0wedrifid11yI certainly hope he was being sarcastic. Even the fact that we suspect he may not be is rather telling.
2anonym11yYes, "about these pressing moral issues!" screams sarcasm, but I don't see how the original quote assumes that people in the USA somehow believe they have a unique claim to being less wrong, which would make the most sense as a target of the sarcasm. The quote isn't saying that unlike our smartest ancestors, we do have all the answers, only that we're less wrong (and should suspect that there's probably much that we're still over-confidently wrong about), and isn't saying that we is any particular nationality (nor is any strongly implied).
0Nick_Tarleton11yPretty sure he was sarcastically attacking something other than the original comment.
2gwern9yBut even those supposed 'conservatives' and 'traditionals' still hold views different from their ancestors - or are there heaps of divine rights of kings theorists floating around South America I am not familiar with?
0[anonymous]11yMany people inside the USA are wrong about these things too.
1righteousreason11yAnd this is a great follow up: -- Eliezer Yudkowsky [http://lesswrong.com/lw/gn/the_martial_art_of_rationality/]
0[anonymous]9yThere are likely things about physics we're still wrong about, things about disease we're still wrong about, things about physics we're still wrong about, and so on, and so forth.
0Oscar_Cunningham9y!
1orthonormal9y? In November 2009, Luke wasn't affiliated with SIAI. (I don't know if he was even reading LW then; later on, he started re-blogging the Sequences, and started posting on LW in late 2010 or early 2011.)
-1Oscar_Cunningham9yWhich is why it's remarkable that Eliezer had noticed him as a source of rationality.
-2Bugmaster9yThis quote is mostly true, though the Islamic world was doing ok on the astronomy front before they decided to dive head-first into religious fundamentalism. But... what's the punchline ? Yes, all those people were wrong about all those things, but why is that fact important for us to know ? I could come up with some pretty compelling answers, but the quote itself doesn't say.

In general, we are least aware of what our minds do best.

— Marvin Minsky

As a rule, people judged themselves according to their intentions and others according to results. In study after study, individuals ranked themselves as more charitable, more compassionate, more conscientious than others, not because they in fact were - but because they wanted to be these things and were almost entirely blind to the fact that others wanted the same. Intentions were all important when it came to self-judgement, and pretty much irrelevant when it came to judging others. The only exceptions, it turned out, were loved ones.

That was what it meant to be a 'significant' other: to be included in the circle of delusions that everyone used to exempt themselves.

-- Scott Bakker, Neuropath

Politicians compete to bribe voters with their own money.

--Adapted from something in The Economist (sorry, they don't have bylines)

Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.

-H. L. Mencken

6SilasBarta11yCan't find the link to this Dilbert strip, but I saved it a while ago to my computer. Dogbert is running for office: Dogbert: Vote for me or the terrorists will use your skulls for salad bowls. Dogbert: I promise to take money from the people who don't vote for me and give it to the people that do. Dogbert: Pollution has vitamins! Person in audience: I like how he makes me feel. ETA: Uploaded it here [http://i35.photobucket.com/albums/d187/SilasX/dilbert2007081527611.gif]. Now accepting pledges for my copyright infringement legal defense fund.
1wnoise11yAll of the strips can be found online at http://www.dilbert.com/strips/ [http://www.dilbert.com/strips/]
2RobinZ11yAnd, tracing back from the filename, the strip in question [http://www.dilbert.com/strips/comic/2007-08-11/].
6Nominull11yWhat's interesting from a rationalist point of view is the surprising extent to which this is not actually the case.
0Technologos11yAnymore, at least, relative to the power of the state.

I will repeat this point again until I get hoarse: a mistake is not something to be determined after the fact, but in the light of the information until that point. —Nicholas Nassim Taleb

5wedrifid11yThis is something I actively remind myself whenever my intuition starts feeling vindication over lucky reprieves or mourning low probability misfortunes. "It's ok, a six wasn't rolled anyway. I made a mistake. It would have been better to trade the wood and build a settlement. I want to become stronger [http://lesswrong.com/lw/h8/tsuyoku_naritai_i_want_to_become_stronger/]." (The hyperlink is included instead of the phrase. The inner dialog doesn't like wordiness!)
5CronoDAS11yI've played some Settlers of Catan myself, and it took me a while to realize what you were talking about. (If I understand correctly, you chose not to build a settlement next to a tile that produces resources when a 6 is rolled, and by chance, the settlement wouldn't have produced any resources this turn because a 6 wasn't rolled. Therefore, waiting a turn to build the settlement didn't actually hurt you, but it could have.) I see similar situations all the time when playing Magic. Similarly, even if you do win the lottery, buying a negative expected value ticket was still a mistake.
1Blueberry11yThis also happens all the time in poker, especially when you see the flop and instinctively feel good (or bad) that you folded.
0wedrifid11yWell spotted! Yes, By forgetting I had a wood port I could have lost possible resources from a 6 or even more if a 7 came while the cards were still in my hand. I see them rather less. I've played sufficiently few games that I mostly notice the mistakes when the cards drop and my Feral Hydra gets fried. RIP.
4CronoDAS11yI was mostly thinking about mulligans. If you kept a one land hand and go on to win because you drew three lands in a row, that doesn't mean keeping it was the right decision. Conversely, if you do mulligan your 7 card hand and then end up with completely unplayable 6 card and 5 card hands, that doesn't mean that you should have kept your original hand.
1wedrifid11yPerfect example.
2CronoDAS11yAnd now we've managed to completely confuse all the non-gamers here. ;)
0Matt_Simpson11yI think the same things in both mtg and catan. Up until recently, the online version of catan ("xplorers") ensured a balanced distribution, so you could make decisions based on what was "due." Good for developing sloppy habits.
1Blueberry11yThat's actually a variation. It's marketed as the "deck of dice" or something like that. Essentially, you're making random draws from the set of all 36 outcomes when rolling two dice without replacement, instead of with replacement. I'm not sure that leads to sloppy habits as much as it encourages card-counting, which isn't that strategically interesting. But since Settlers is a game of exponential growth, it does avoid the problem where 11 comes up five times in a row near the beginning of the game, giving one player a huge advantage.

"My style" sure makes a great crutch for putting off learning how to draw better, doesn't it?

Egypt "peganthyrus" Urnash, comment thread, "a quick drawing lesson", July 17, 2008

0CannibalSmith11yI can't wait for her to finish her tarot deck.
0RobinZ11yI thought it was complete already - I haven't been paying attention, I suppose.
-1CannibalSmith11ySome cards are still "coming soon". [http://egypt.urnash.com/tarot/]
3RobinZ9yIt's completed now [http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0738731056/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=egypurna-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=0738731056] .

... by natural selection our mind has adapted itself to the conditions of the external world. It has adopted the geometry most advantageous to the species or, in other words, the most convenient. Geometry is not true, it is advantageous.

— Henri Poincaré

0RobinZ9y(necroreply:) In many ways this is true of mathematics in general, except where those mathematics are adopted for their beauty or elegance.

"Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of "world history," but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened."

-- Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense

4wedrifid11yA quote that means something completely different [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1hh/rationality_quotes_november_2009/1abs] coming from you than from Nietzsche!
0[anonymous]11y--- Turgenev, "Fathers and Sons"

"Stressing output is the key to improving productivity, while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite."

--Andrew S. Grove

„The hard part is actually being rational, which requires that you postpone the fun but currently irrelevant arguments until the pressing problem is solved, even perhaps with the full knowledge that you are actually probably giving them up entirely. Delaying gratification in this manner is not a unique difficulty faced by transhumanists. Anyone pursuing a long-term goal, such as a medical student or PhD candidate, does the same. The special difficulty that you will have to overcome is the difficulty of staying on track in the absence of social support or of appreciation of the problem, and the difficulty of overcoming your mind’s anti-religion defenses, which will be screaming at you to cut out the fantasy and go live a normal life, with the normal empty set of beliefs about the future and its potential.”

– Michael Vassar

2Nick_Tarleton11ysource [http://lifeboat.com/papers/rationality.doc]

The whole of science consists of data that, at one time or another, were inexplicable.

— Brendan O’Regan

"But goodness alone is never enough. A hard, cold wisdom is required for goodness to accomplish good. Goodness without wisdom always accomplishes evil." - Robert Heinlein (SISL)

4Eliezer Yudkowsky11yNever? Always? Hogwash. Aside from that, yes.

Quotation - yes, but how differently persons quote! I am as much informed of your genius by what you select, as by what you originate. I read the quotation with your eyes, & find a new & fervent sense... For good quoting, then, there must be originality in the quoter - bent, bias, delight in the truth, & only valuing the author in the measure of his agreement with the truth which we see, & which he had the luck to see first. And originality, what is that? It is being; being somebody, being yourself, & reporting accurately what you see & are. If another's words describe your fact, use them as freely as you use the language & the alphabet, whose use does not impair your originality. Neither will another's sentiment or distinction impugn your sufficiency. Yet in proportion to your reality of life & perception, will be your difficulty of finding yourself expressed in others' words or deeds.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, Oct.-Nov. 1867

"I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this." - Emo Phillips

"Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and their freedoms." - Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

6taa2111ySubstituting "has perpetuated" for "has settled" in that quote results in a statement of essentially the same veracity.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" - Upton Sinclair

There are two different types of people in the world,those who want to know,and those who want to believe.--Attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche

"You can tell the truth but you better have a fast horse." - Rita Mae Brown

1Larks11y"If you speak the truth, have a foot in the stirrup" Turkish Proverb

A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.

-- Dorothy L. Sayers

3gwern11y--W. Somerset Maughan, "The Creative Impulse" (1926)

Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience, it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.

— Leonardo da Vinci

Memory belongs to the imagination. Human memory is not like a computer which records things; it is part of the imaginative process, on the same terms as invention.

— Alain Robbe-Grillet

A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.

From the Yes, Minister TV show.

5gwern11y--Lillian Hellman, The Little Foxes (1939)
3Psychohistorian11y-Ambrose Bierce
2wedrifid11yIt's a good quote. But I say combining the latter two gives the first.

Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has come, stop thinking and go in.

-- Napoleon Bonaparte

9gwern11y--Ringworld, Larry Niven

Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.

-- G. K. Chesterton

2PhilGoetz11yThe quote is good; but I have a knee-jerk reaction against all rationality quotes by Chesterton, who cleverly confused social conservatism with rationality in the minds of so many people.

No man knows the state of another; it is always to some more or less imaginary man that the wisest and most honest adviser is speaking.

-- Thomas Carlyle, Advice to Young Men

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

-- Alan Kay

0sketerpot11yThat's great when you can pull it off, but one can only invent a small part of the future.

"We confess our little faults to persuade people that we have no large ones." - Francois de La Rochefoucauld

A pair of the same species:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. —Yeats

The trouble with this world is that the ignorant are certain, and the intelligent are full of doubt. —George Bernard Shaw

Phfft! Facts. You can use them to prove anything.

-- Homer Simpson

There's no difference between a pessimist who says, "Oh it's hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything." and an optimist who says, "Don't bother doing anything, it's going to turn out fine anyways. Either way, nothing happens.

--Yvon Chouinard

1Eliezer Yudkowsky11yDupe. [http://lesswrong.com/lw/tr/rationality_quotes_16/]
1MichaelGR11yI'm sorry. In fact, it might actually be where I got it from. Yet one more reason why we need to upgrade our brains (or at least, why I need to write down where I find interesting quotes)..
2Jack11yThe occasional duplication is probably not worth everyone writing down where they find interesting quotes. Though maybe you have other reasons. If it becomes more common we can request that everyone search for their quote on less wrong before they post it.

Never give in - never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

Winston Churchill, 29 October 1941

2wedrifid11yI don't tend to yield to force or overwhelming might of what counts as my enemy. I do not consider this trait to be 'good sense'. Damn propaganda.
4RobinZ11y...yeah, it's not a brilliant rationality quote, but there's a bit of a good point in it nonetheless: this is a case in which precommitment is necessary, because despite the fact that you would prefer not to be subject to the assault of an enemy, you don't want to establish that every threat will be profitable, however imaginary. Naive calculations neglect the effect of your decision method on the actions of others. (It's like in cryptography - your strategy has to work even if other people know the function.)
0wedrifid11yAnother quote that means something far different (better) coming from you than from a politician.
1RobinZ11y...I do believe this is why I have a section in my quotefile marked "uncontexted". I really couldn't say whether you're right or wrong - all I know is what I've read.
1Sebastian_Hagen11yI'd like to add to that:

"Isn't it pretty to think so."

-- Ernest Hemingway, The Sun also Rises

"In Life's name, and for Life's sake, I say that I will use the Art for nothing but the service of Life. I will guard growth and ease pain. I will fight to preserve what grows and lives well in its own way; and I will change no object or creature unless its growth and life, or that of the system of which it is part, are threatened. To these ends, in the practice of my Art, I will put aside fear for courage, and death for life, when it is right to do so---till Universe's end."

-- The Wizard's Oath (from So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane)

3DanArmak11yHow does that work? Life grows almost exclusively at the expense of other life.

Sounds like I'd better change that.

2DanArmak11yWell said :-)
0NancyLebovitz11yAs I recall, Duane had to do some retconning because utter opposition to entropy doesn't work if you also want life.

I don’t want to be human. I want to see gamma rays, I want to hear X-rays, and I want to smell dark matter. Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly, because I have to — I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid, limiting spoken language, but I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws, and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me. I’m a machine, and I can know much more, I could experience so much more, but I’m trapped in this absurd body.

-- John Cavil (Battlestar Galactica character)

Isn't it interesting how many of us will spend a lot of money on clothes (or for that matter, other valued possessions) we rarely use-- that beautiful cocktail dress or sharp looking shirt. But in our every day, we much prefer to wear clothes that are years old, beat up, and probably cost little when we bought them. Yes, the comfort factor plays heavily into this, but recently when I came home wearing a very nice suit and tie and couldn't WAIT to tear them off and change into some old jeans and a ten year old sweatshirt, I suddenly thought something's odd

... (read more)

Objectivity must be operationally defined as fair treatment of data, not absence of preference. —Stephen Jay Gould

Our actions generally satisfy us: we recognize that they are in the main coherent, and that they make appropriate, well-timed contributions to our projects as we understand them. So we safely assume them to be the product of processes that are reliably sensitive to ends and means. That is, they are rational, in one sense of that word. But that does not mean they are rational in a narrower sense: the product of serial reasoning.

-- Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained

0DanArmak11yIncidentally, it seems to me that this invokes the anthropic principle. To wit, if our actions generally seemed irrational and unsatisfactory to ourselves, we would probably go insane.
0wedrifid11yThat seems to stretch the anthropic principle rather further than I would be included to do.

The history of the world is the history of the triumph of the heartless over the mindless.

From the Yes, Minister TV show.

Logical positivism was the most valiant concerted effort ever mounted by modern philosophers. Its failure, or put more generously, its shortcoming, was caused by ignorance of how the brain works. That in my opinion is the whole story. No one, philosopher or scientist, could explain the physical acts of observation and reasoning in other than highly subjective terms. [...] The canonical definition of objective scientific knowledge avidly sought by the logical positivists is not a philosophical problem nor can it be attained, as they hopes, by logical and

... (read more)

"The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments." - Friedrich Nietzsche

"Construing a rock as conscious via a joke interpretation is paradoxical only insofar as it seems to suggest that we should therefore respect and care about rocks. Resolving the paradox requires a theory of what we are obligated to respect or care about, and why." - Gary Drescher

1Nick_Tarleton11yDisagreed; it also affects anthropic reasoning.
3DanielVarga11yHow is anthropic reasoning affected by the existence of a conscious stone that nobody and nothing can ever communicate with, even in principle? If it is indeed affected, then this says bad things about anthropic reasoning. But I don't think it is: Some smart LW poster once noted (I can't find the link now) that for anthropics all is needed is an agent that can do a Bayesian update conditioned on its own existence. An agent that can do this does not necessarily have consciousness under any reasonable definition of consciousness.
1Psy-Kosh11yI think the point Nick Tarleton was getting at was that you might BE one of those "joke interpretations" of a rock. So, combine that with any sort of decision theory that can handle Newcomblike problems...
[-][anonymous]11y 4

Isn't it interesting how many of us will spend a lot of money on clothes (or for that matter, other valued possessions) we rarely use-- that beautiful cocktail dress or sharp looking shirt. But in our every day, we much prefer to wear clothes that are years old, beat up, and probably cost little when we bought them. Yes, the comfort factor plays heavily into this, but recently when I came home wearing a very nice suit and tie and couldn't WAIT to tear them off and change into some old jeans and a ten year old sweatshirt, I suddenly thought something's odd

... (read more)

Love consists of overestimating the differences between one woman and another. —George Bernard Shaw

(OK, it's sexist. I admit it.)

4Alicorn11yLampshading it doesn't make it go away. But the quote would work just exactly as well in the other direction, and so it's not so bad IMO.
1wedrifid11ySeems to make it worse .
1Alicorn11yIt eliminates plausible deniability for ignorance. It doesn't actually make it more sexist, and it's arguable whether "saying something sexist on purpose for what one can presume is a halfway decent reason like sharing a neat quote" is worse than "saying something sexist accidentally through carelessness or ignorance or both".
1wedrifid11yI do not agree. Without the lampshading the sexist implication (that is, "women are more worthy recipients of love than men are") is negligible. Claiming that the quote is sexist while saying it increases the extent that this implication is present and so gives men more cause to feel slighted. I don't take offence at the possible slight but do find the lamp-shading distasteful.
5Alicorn11yYou say "the sexist implication" like that's the only one there. Anyway, drawing attention to a sexist implication doesn't increase the extent to which it's present - only the extent to which it's consciously noticed. The quote would carry on being exactly as sexist as it is without the lampshade. With more conscious noticing, there is both more offense taken and less chance for the statement to have insidious subconscious influence (on which level most -isms operate). Without the lampshade, it could feasibly pass without notice, and join a host of similar statements in the back of the brain that combine to form dispositions that yield more sexist statement. With the lampshade, conscious effort can go into de-sexismifying the statement, or rejecting it whole-cloth, and reduce its long-term effect, even if it makes it more unpleasant to hear in the short term.
4ABranco11yI love this last analysis. After all, this whole discussion on how the lampshading would be perceived turned out to be much more amusing and instructive than the quote itself, which makes me glad that I risked adding it. Actually, it was more like an act of superego-driven risk-aversion, so I'm twice as glad. More precisely, the lampshading was fruit of spotlight effect [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotlight_effect#Bias_and_errors_in_attributions] of my part, as I quickly fantasized that a great deal of politically correct readers would be outraged by the sexism. But it was more like when you say "Hello, get in, make yourself at home; please don't notice the mess.".
0wedrifid11yI say it because it is not the first sexist implication that is consciously noticed, even by me. This is despite being the clearest literal meaning in this instance. I say it because although becoming more aware of the discordance between the politically correct application of 'sexist' and 'sexist' itself can be frustrating it leads in some small way to eliminating sexist assumptions. Not so. I assert that that claiming something is sexist then saying it gives an actual different meaning to the words. Context is important. For example if the lampshade was replaced with "yeah, this is sexist against da bitches. lolz." then I would say a different interpretation of sexist implication would be most appropriate.
1Alicorn11yObviously if you say "yeah, this is sexist against da bitches. lolz" then you have added sexism to your complete utterance. I don't think you've added sexism to whatever you said before "yeah".
0wedrifid11yI disagree fundamentally. I also would not be able to reconcile ascribing sexist (or any other) implications that are not part of the literal meaning while also asserting that the surrounding context can not change meaning. Either the meaning communicated includes subconscious nuances and dispositions or it doesn't. Those nuances are affected by the context.
1Alicorn11yContext can affect sexist content. Sure. I just don't think lampshades are a kind of context that tends to increase sexist content, for reasons described above. If one wants to make what one says more sexist, one can accompany it with action (particular or over time), or elaborate on any potentially sexism-free components of one's utterance in such a way that they can now be interpreted as sexist where before they were innocuous. Acknowledging that there already existed a particular sexist interpretation of a statement makes that sexism consciously accessible when it might not have been, but doesn't make it greater in magnitude.
0zero_call11yThe implication you've mentioned isn't present, with or without the "lampshading".
1RobinZ11yI'm not sure enough to state it categorically, as you have, but his choice of sexist implication to withdraw seemed strange to me as well. The obvious problem to my eyes is that it assumes that the entire possible audience is attracted solely to women.
1Alicorn11yThat one, and not the indication that women are all pretty much alike if you aren't deluded by an emotional illusion, is the one that jumps out at you?
3RobinZ11yI read the remark as a cynical retort against the idea of the One True Love, which would make the implication you point out hyperbole, not misogyny. Barring that interpretation, though, I'll grant that's the worse one.
4Alicorn11yOne can reject the "One True Love" idea without thinking that the members of the relevant sex(es) are pretty much all alike. cf. the excellent Tim Minchin [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeZMIgheZro].
0RobinZ11yThat I'll grant you. Minchin > Shaw, here.

I believe that scientists can change fields easily and sometimes make bigger impact in the new fields they enter. I think it’s because people who move do not look at the same problem from the traditional point-of-view. This enables us to come up with unique solutions. We are not trapped by dogma and if we are bold we can rise quickly.

-- Aubrey de Grey

Perhaps he thinks that philosophy is the creation of a man, a book like the Iliad or Orlando Furioso, in which the least important thing is whether what is written in them is true.

-- Galileo Galilei, The Assayer

We read frequently if unknowingly, in quest of a mind more original than our own.

--Harold Bloom

2Will_Euler11yI recommend the "Prologue: Why Read?" from Bloom's book How to Read and Why. http://www.amazon.com/How-Read-Why-Harold-Bloom/dp/product-description/0684859076 [http://www.amazon.com/How-Read-Why-Harold-Bloom/dp/product-description/0684859076]

"Admiration is the state furthest from understanding." - Sosuke Aizen, Bleach

4wedrifid11yIt really isn't. Hatred and infatuation are both further away from understanding than admiration is. So, I expect, is indifference. Then there's the state of 'incomprehension'... Apart from being technically absurd the quote also gives a message that I don't particularly like. I'll cynical it up with the best of them but I reserve the right to admire things that I understand. In fact, I've discovered that my taste in music largely consists of admiring songs that convey insight that I understand and empathise with. This holds even when confessing to liking Hillary Duff [http://www.lyrics007.com/Hilary%20Duff%20Lyrics/Why%20Not%20Lyrics.html] and Pink sends all the wrong signals of affiliation.
2CronoDAS11yI like Pink...
0wedrifid11yLeave me the fuck alone. (eg.)
1Zack_M_Davis11y?
1wedrifid11ySharing CronDAS's appreciation of Pink without, well, inviting him to come home. Good song that. Perhaps her best.
1Alicorn11y"Who Knew?" would have been less of an apparent vulgar non-sequitur.
0wedrifid11yYou're right and I love that song too!
0CronoDAS11yHaven't actually heard that one. The ones I can remember having heard on the radio are "Who Knew?", "U + Ur Hand", "So What", "Sober", and "Please Don't Leave Me". I liked them all.
0DanArmak11yTo put it In context, the quote should read: "admiration for another person is the state furthest from understanding."
0Nic_Smith11yInfatuation would probably be a better word to describe the attitude of the character Aizen's referring to in that quote, although the subtitle says "admiration."
1i7711y... perfect existence, huh? Perfection does not exist in this world. It may seem like a cliche, but it's true. Obviously, mediocre fools will forever lust for perfection and seek it out. However, what meaning is there in "perfection"? None. Not a bit. "Perfection" disgusts me. After "perfection" there exists nothing higher. Not even room for "creation", which means there is no room for wisdom or talent either. Understand? To scientists like ourselves, "perfection" is "despair". Even if something is created that is more magnificient than anything before it, it still however, will be far from perfect. Scientists are constantly struggling with that antinomy. And furthermore, must become beings capable of drawing pleasure from such. In short, the instant that absurd word, "perfection", came from your lips, you had already been defeated by me. -- Kurotsuchi Mayuri
9[anonymous]11yIt's possible, and not undesirable, to achieve perfection. For example, the majority of words I type are spelled perfectly, and the perfect answer to "what is two plus two?" is "four". It's just not possible or desirable to achieve it everywhere.

Who stops you from inventing waterproof gunpowder?

-- Kozma Prutkov

"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence." - Robert Frost

What do I care for your suffering? Pain, even agony, is no more than information before the senses, data fed to the computer of the mind. The lesson is simple: you have received the information, now act on it. Take control of the input and you shall become master of the output.

-- Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

1wedrifid11yHow about I take control of my output and so master my input? Seems to work better for me.
0RichardKennaway11yWhat distinction are both of you making between "take control of" and "master"?
0Vladimir_Nesov11yBut beware, lest the input becomes master over you.
2sixes_and_sevens11yI think the implication is that, by default, the input is already your master, and this is an undesirable state of affairs.

„Someone willing to embrace unreasonable arguments for his group shows a willingness to continue supporting them no matter which way the argument winds blow."

– Robin Hanson

Infinite is an undirect way to speak of the finite; more precisely infinity is about finite dynamical processes.

-- Jean-Yves Girard

2RichardKennaway11yI second RobinZ's request for an elaboration. I know a little (a very little) about the technical topics of that paper, but I find Girard's philosophising here and elsewhere (for example [http://locuspocus.hyperkind.org/wiki/Locus_Solum]) impenetrable.
5Vladimir_Nesov11yThis particular idea seems straightforward, at least in non-technical sense: "infinity" should only appear from "traces" of finite dynamical processes, as a way of talking about their dynamics. Infinite objects are artifacts of objectifying time, and any infinite object can as well be regarded as a statement about a finite dynamical system. I liked this remark as a self-contained way of thinking about infinity (on informal level, apart from the specific axiomatizations). (For example: think of the process of normalization as the dynamic on a term not in a normal form; whether it'll terminate is undecidable, and a priori the normal form can't be considered as another term (finitely encoded), yet we may reason about this output as another term, considering how it'll reduce in interactions with other terms, etc.)
0RobinZ11yIs there a way of describing it that doesn't require a computer science background? What are "traces" in this context? And what is a "finite dynamical process" that introduces infinities, and what is the "objectifying"? I can tell this is grammatical English, but the terminology is opaque.
1Vladimir_Nesov11yTrace is something like a list of execution steps of a program, a list of what happens at each step, for all steps. When a program runs indefinitely, it'll be a potentially infinite list (or actually infinite if we know the program won't terminate). Finite dynamical system is something like a program (together with its current state) that is itself finite, and allows to compute data of the same kind (e.g. program + state) for the next step: this transition from the current step to the next step is the dynamic. Infinity appears in this process when we consider all the (future) steps, not just one, even though one step is enough to determine them all. Objectification as I used it is a concept from mathematics, when you are trying to capture some phenomenon as a certain kind of single mathematical object (as opposed to a thing with whistles, processes and hand-waving).
0RobinZ11yThanks - that's much clearer.
1RobinZ11yElaboration, please?

Science involves confronting our ‘absolute stupidity’. That kind of stupidity is an existential fact, inherent in our efforts to push our way into the unknown.

Martin A. Schwartz

“I was forced into a measure that no one ever adopts voluntarily: I was impelled to think. God, was it difficult! The moving about of great secret trunks. In the first exhausted halt, I wondered whether I had ever thought.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up, found here.

Wondrous yes, but not miraculous

Star Trek, Richard Manning & Hans Beimler, Who Watches the Watchers? (reworded)

„Most people become uninsurable at some point in their lives. It therefore makes sense to find out how affordable it can be to fund your (cryonic) suspension with the incredible financial leverage that only life insurance provides. It the case of cryonicists, the policy can truly become LIFE insurance-- not DEATH insurance.”

– Rudi Hoffman

So few of us really think. What we do is rearrange our prejudices.

-- George Vincent

5gwern11y--Napoleon Bonaparte; quoted by his secretary in Memoirs of Napoleon (1829-1831)

I must stress here the point that I appreciate clarity, order, meaning, structure, rationality: they are necessary to whatever provisional stability we have, and they can be the agents of gradual and successful change.

-- A. R. Ammons

This is my last one for the month, it seems.

"If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things." - Rene Descartes

"It is one thing to show a man that he is in error,| and another to put him in possession of the truth." (John Locke)

Never attribute to conspiracy what can be explained by stupidity.

-- unknown

1loqi11yHanlon's Razor [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor]

The second advantage claimed for naturalism is that it is equivalent to rationality, because it assumes a model of reality in which all events are in principle accessible to scientific investigation.

-- Phillip E. Johnson

1Torben11yI feel dirty now.
2wedrifid11yI just feel confused.

You need someone who can convert philosophical verbiages into rigorous models. Physicists are best trained to model things. Mathematicians/Logicians best trained to deeply analyze such models. Computer scientists are best trained to finding efficient algorithms for (relatively) well-defined problems. It is likely that all make valuable and essential contributions to the grand goal of AI.

-- Marcus Hutter

[-][anonymous]11y 0

The absence of alternatives clarifies your mind marvelously. —Kissinger

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

-- Albert Einstein

7Paul Crowley11yMany quotes are widely attributed to Einstein. Please provide chapter and verse on when and where he said this.
7PhilGoetz11y"It is always disconcerting to disagree with Einstein." Nevertheless, I think I disagree with this; or at least believe it is vague enough to be abused.
0Blueberry11yDo you disagree with the first sentence or the second? I actually agree with the first sentence, at least if you interpret it to mean that consciousness is a software tool which serves the parallel-processing unconscious brain hardware.

Disillusionment is what little heroes are made of.

E.K. Hornbeck in Inherit the wind

0PhilGoetz11yAre little heroes supposed to be good, or bad?
2luff11yGood. I thought about just writing "Disillusionment is what heroes are made of", to avoid the possibility of confusion, but decided to go with the original quote. It is said by a cynic as an encouragement to a person disillusioned by the behavior of people in groups. It's a call to embrace it. For even if it might be better that the world lives up to your expectations, it would be worse if you didn't have the judgment to realize something is wrong. And it is only the ones who realize something is wrong who will do something about a problem.

... If the machine seemed a functional object to the artist, an instrument whose significance was that it was there to be used - as a typewriter was used for typing a manuscript - so to the engineer it was the communication that was functional. The machine was the art.

  • N. Mailer, Of a fire on the moon, 1969

An enemy is a remedy to a malady in your melody, if you're strong not brittle.

The Cat Empire - Protons, Neutrons, Electrons