Rationality Quotes December 2011

by Jayson_Virissimo1 min read2nd Dec 2011586 comments

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Rationality Quotes
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On the difficulties of correctly fine-tuning your signaling:

I once expressed mild surprise at the presence of a garden gnome in an upper-middle-class garden …. The owner of the garden explained that the gnome was “ironic”. I asked him, with apologies for my ignorance, how one could tell that his garden gnome was supposed to be an ironic statement, as opposed to, you know, just a gnome. He rather sniffily replied that I only had to look at the rest of the garden for it to be obvious that the gnome was a tounge-in-cheek joke.

But surely, I persisted, garden gnomes are always something of a joke, in any garden—I mean, no-one actually takes them seriously or regards them as works of art. His response was rather rambling and confused (not to mention somewhat huffy), but the gist seemed to be that while the lower classes saw gnomes as intrinsically amusing, his gnome was amusing only because of its incongruous appearance in a “smart” garden. In other words, council-house gnomes were a joke, but his gnome was a joke about council-house tastes, effectively a joke about class….

The man’s reaction to my questions clearly defined him as upper-middle, rather than upper class. In fact, his po

... (read more)

Perhaps he's ultra-high-class, and is only defending the object-level irony of his garden gnome ironically.

Ah yes, my gnome. I’m very fond of my gnome.

Oh I am so getting my own gnome, just so that I can use that phrase on people.

I upvoted this half because I laughed and half because I now want a gnome.

3Multiheaded8yhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_and_non-U_English [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_and_non-U_English] Amusing illustration through a 1950s sociolinguistic study. (Damn, I swear there was a far longer discussion on signaling and countersignaling around here, can't find it.)
1Alejandro18yYes, many of those words and their role as class shibboleths are discussed in Fox's book as well. IIRC, according to her in some cases there are three levels; either three different words for one thing used in lower, middle and upper classes, or (matching the counter-signaling in the gnome story) the same word being used in the lowermost and the uppermost classes.
3FiftyTwo9yOut of interest, how does this read from a non-uk perspective?
2arundelo9yI'm American and I thought it was quite funny.
1FiftyTwo9yFunny in abstract or funny as in hauntingly familiar? ;)
3arundelo9yFamiliar -- but a little bit of both. It's a commonplace that English/British society is classful in a way that American society is not. That may well be true (I'm not qualified to judge), but America definitely has its own class distinctions. I would have trouble, though, putting them on a "lower, middle, upper-middle, upper"-type scale. On the other hand, I guess the story struck me mainly as an example of someone using irony as a personality statement [http://www.theonion.com/articles/why-cant-anyone-tell-im-wearing-this-business-suit,11185/] , which can be done without reference to class. Just today when I was at the store I was idly playing with the idea of buying aHello Kitty [http://www.google.com/search?q=%22Hello+Kitty%22]iPhone cover. (I am a 38-year-old male.) Edit: I can't think of an American analog of the garden gnome (we have them over here, but if they're as fraught as they are over the pond it's gone over my head), but when I try to think of a home-and-garden decoration that I would only display for irony (or maybe if a dear friend gave it to me), I think of a Thomas Kinkade painting [http://www.google.com/search?q=%22Thomas+Kinkade%22].
1JoshuaZ9yThe degree of class issues isn't as conscious in the US (although by many metrics there's actually less class mobility in the US) but it still comes across as both funny and insightful.
2FiftyTwo9ySomeone, (whose identity I can't recall, some commentator or comedian) said that the British have class in the same way Americans have race. Not sure how true that is, but a middle class Indian person probably has more in common with a middle class white person in the UK.
2Prismattic9yFor a historical perspective, take a look at John C. Calhoun's statements on the need for racial hierarchy precisely to avoid the rise of class divisions among white Americans.
3Pfft9yMaybe the story should be captioned "on the ease of fine-tuned signaling"? After all, the gnome-owner very effectively did communicate his class. On the other hand, deceiving people about your class is hard. But it's hard partly because there are so many way for people to send credible signals, so an absence of signaling becomes evidence on its own.
7Alejandro19yHmm, what I had in mind when I wrote the caption was something like this: The man's social model had three classes: lower class (owns gnomes non-ironically), middle class (would never own a gnome), upper class (can own a gnome "ironically" as a joke on low-class tastes), and he aimed for signalling upper-class status. He failed at fine-tuned signalling because he did not realize that his "upper class" behavior is actually upper-middle; true upper classes are allowed to own gnomes and genuinely like them, and don't need to defensively plead irony because they have no lingering anxiety about being confused with lower classes.
5Pfft9yBut how do we know that he aimed at signalling upper-class membership? The alternative I'm proposing is that middle-class people will not try to deceive others about their social position (because that would never work in the long run), but they are adopting lots of signalling about their true position, in order to not get mistakenly perceived as being lower than their true position during short encounters. I think this is consistent with common folk-wisdom about classes. I have often heard claimed that the primary concern of the lower-middle class is to distinguish themselves from working class. I have never heard it claimed that their primary concern is to pass as middle-middle class.

Miss Tick sniffed. "You could say this advice is priceless," she said, "Are you listening?"
"Yes," said Tiffany.
"Good. Now...if you trust in yourself..."
"Yes?"
"...and believe in your dreams..."
"Yes?"
"...and follow your star..." Miss Tick went on.
"Yes?"
"...you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye."

-- Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

And they'll be beaten in turn by people who were in the right place at the right time, or won the genetic lottery. A little luck can make up for a lot of laziness, and working hard and learning things can just leave you digging ditches and able to quote every Simpsons episode verbatim.

working hard and learning things can just leave you digging ditches and able to quote every Simpsons episode verbatim.

http://www.engadget.com/2011/12/01/geeks-lose-minds-recreate-first-level-of-super-mario-land-with/

There's homage and there's homage. And then there's three guys spending over 500 hours to recreate the first two minutes and twenty seconds of Super Mario Land using more than 18 million Minecraft blocks. The movie, made by carpenter James Wright, Joe Ciappa and a gamer known as Tempusmori, had the guys running the classic monochrome platformer in an emulator and replicating it pixel-for-wool-block-pixel inside a giant Minecraft Game Boy. The team spent approximately four weeks, working six to seven hours a day with no days off...

[-][anonymous]9y 15

And the worst thing is they don't use a piston array! Making a scrolling wall of blocks is fairly easy within Minecraft and would've saved them the trouble of manually shifting all their blocks every single frame. That's easily an order of magnitude less work, and can be re-used for other stop-motion movies.

Their excuse? "We dont have the smarts"(sic). Sigh.

1kpreid9yPistons can only push rows of 12 blocks; the Game Boy screen is much wider than that. I can imagine building a system to push groups of 12 separately without any exposed mechanism when idle, but I think that is likely to be impossible.
5[anonymous]9yYou could divide the screen into rows 12 blocks wide, each powered by an array, with a 2 block gap. You put the arrays one level below the display level and push the blocks up (via sticky pistons) each turn. You'd still have to manually fill in the gaps, but that's only 22 out of 160 lines. You can combine the arrays like a big stair and only have a 1 block gap, but that requires some manual working of the pistons each turn (because you can't hide the wiring). Not sure if it's worth it. I'm 30% confident it can be automated without exposed wiring. I have been thinking about a gapless way on-and-off over the last 2 days. I don't have one yet, but I'm 70% confident I can figure one out without the help of the r/redstone hivemind in less than 50 hours of thinking. I've put building a working implementation on my Minecraft todo list. There's no way this is impossible.
5[anonymous]9y... and I've build a working prototype. Took about 3 hours to figure it out, 2 hours to get the wiring to work (first big redstone project), another 1-2 hours for the array and timing. It's trivial to scale and can be easily extended to push in both directions. The whole mechanism is hidden. I think there is a delay of ~8 seconds per 12 blocks, so scrolling the gameboy screen should take ~1.5 minutes. I'm sure you can get this below 1 minute if you try. Here's the video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnPQ93rR-eI]. Here's the save [http://www.mediafire.com/file/aslld530lrjr0zr/sidescroller.zip]. Here's a bunch of screenshots instead of a blueprint or explanation. [http://imgur.com/a/m975F]

...why we can get people to do this but not our open volunteer tasks...

[-][anonymous]9y 11

Volunteer tasks? I wasn't aware you (I'm assuming that means Less Wrong or SIAI) had any; perhaps you have a visibility problem?

Or maybe they're just not as engaging as an open-ended engineering environment with no arbitrary entry requirements and no visible resource constraints. . .

8gwern9yhttp://www.singularityvolunteers.org/opportunities [http://www.singularityvolunteers.org/opportunities] Less engaging and visible, yes. I was going to quote http://lesswrong.com/lw/h3/superstimuli_and_the_collapse_of_western/ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/h3/superstimuli_and_the_collapse_of_western/] back at Eliezer, but I don't think he's actually surprised, just lamenting the phenomenon.
2JulianMorrison9yWhat effort have you applied to making your volunteer tasks this catchy and rewarding?
0[anonymous]9yYou didn't get muflax to do this, he did it of his own accord.
1thomblake9ySome exposed mechanism seems okay; it works for LCD displays (and some older ones had a pronounced screen-door effect). You could scale it up, but it is an unfortunate fact about Minecraft that mechanisms far away have no effect.
6FiftyTwo9yIts almost a new type of super-stimulus, where rather than being extraordinarily entertaining its extraordinarily difficult.
2wedrifid9yWow. That's absolutely bonkers. And impressive. XKCD [http://xkcd.com/505/] almost seems realistic now!
1kurokikaze9yI suspect it can be done programmatically, by wiring MC server to emulator, in less than 50 hours.
9Apteris9yThankfully for Mr. Pratchett, you can't influence the genetic lottery or the luck fairy, so his is still valid advice. In fact, one could see "trust in yourself" et al. as invitations to "do or do not, there is no try", whereas "work hard, learn hard and don't be lazy" supports the virtue of scholarship as well as that of "know when to give up". Miss Tick is being eminently practical, and "do or do not", while also an important virtue, requires way more explanation before the student can understand it.
7Nisan9yYeah. "Do or do not" / "believe in yourself" should either be administered on a case-by-case basis by a discerning mentor, or packaged with the full instruction manual.

“Should we trust models or observations?” In reply we note that if we had observations of the future, we obviously would trust them more than models, but unfortunately observations of the future are not available at this time.

Knutson and Tuleya, Journal of Climate, 2005.

1matt9yIn the absence of observations of future events, observation of the past performance of your model is advisable (and rare). If your confidence in the current accuracy of your model is much higher than the past performance of your models... you may be optimizing for something other than accuracy.
0Thomas9yBut they are observable later. For example, we can observe now the predictions from 2005, when this quote originates.
1[anonymous]9yIt's like saying "should we trust our model or the actual results?" The point is that you can only rely on models when making predictions, if you have the results you don't need a model to come up with the results.
0Eugine_Nier9yNo, what Thomas is saying is that we should compare the model's predictions with the actual results and use that to calibrate how much we should trust the model.
0[anonymous]9yI expressed myself poorly, "should we trust our model or the actual results?" was a restating of “Should we trust models or observations?” to make it more clear what the original quote actually meant (did it?); that you will never have future observations only past observation, so when dealing with future events one can only depend on models. Of course when the future unfolds we will be able to do the observations, but then future observations has become past observation . One can only stear the course of the future, never the past. Thus trust in predictions.
3dlthomas9yI think people are somewhat talking past each other, and the following basically summarizes everyone's position: 1) When dealing with the future, we have to make use of the best models available - we can't base decisions now on data we don't have yet. 2) New data should be used both to evaluate and improve models. 2a) It is important to test models against data that were not used in formulating the model, to avoid over-fitting. This can be new data as it becomes available, but should also be existing data reserved for the purpose.

Most people don't know the basic scientific facts about happiness—about what brings it and what sustains it—and so they don't know how to use their money to acquire it. It is not surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about wine end up with cellars that aren't that much better stocked than their neighbors', and it should not be surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about happiness end up with lives that aren't that much happier than anyone else's. Money is an opportunity for happiness, but it is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don't.

From "If money doesn't make you happy, then you probably aren't spending it right" by Elizabeth W. Dunn, Daniel T. Gilbert, Timothy D. Wilson in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. (http://dunn.psych.ubc.ca/files/2011/04/Journal-of-consumer-psychology.pdf)

The title of the book is a good candidate for a December quote, in and of itself.

5XFrequentist9y(article)
4KenChen9yInteresting article, thanks. Reposting the abstract here:
1kpreid9yIs the article useful to someone having money and seeking to spend it right?
3peter_hurford9yIt's more general, but I still think it has practical guidelines for spending. Read it and see for yourself: http://dunn.psych.ubc.ca/files/2011/04/Journal-of-consumer-psychology.pdf [http://dunn.psych.ubc.ca/files/2011/04/Journal-of-consumer-psychology.pdf]
2kpreid9yThank you, reading. I suggest including that link in the original comment. I had assumed the article was paywalled, as most academic publications are.

(Tuco is in a bubble bath. The One Armed Man enters the room)

One Armed Man: I've been looking for you for 8 months. Whenever I should have had a gun in my right hand, I thought of you. Now I find you in exactly the position that suits me. I had lots of time to learn to shoot with my left.

(Tuco kills him with the gun he has hidden in the foam)

Tuco: When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.

--The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

2Jayson_Virissimo9yI never thought I'd see a reference to my favorite movie [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060196/] on Less Wrong. Although...the decision theory [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Decision_theory] involved in navigating a Mexican standoff [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_standoff] could be interesting.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky9yThis is my father's favorite quote from his favorite movie.

Every time that a man who is not an absolute fool presents you with a question he considers very problematic after giving it careful thought, distrust those quick answers that come to the mind of someone who has considered it only briefly or not at all. These answers are usually simplistic views lacking in consistency, which explain nothing, or which do not bear examination.

-- Joseph de Maistre (St. Petersburg Dialogues, No. 7)

[citation needed]

It doesn't seem at all uncommon for someone from domain A to present a problem and for someone from domain B to immediately reply "Oh, we have just the perfect tool for that in my field!".

5sixes_and_sevens9yA lot of things don't seem too uncommon [http://xkcd.com/793/]
5MixedNuts9yWhat's missing is indication that the physicist is wrong. Cows are spheres, right?
8Zvi9yI have on numerous occasions presented problems to others, after giving them careful thought, and had them reply instantly with the correct answer. Usually the next question is "why didn't I think of that?" which sometimes has an obvious answer and sometimes doesn't. My favorite remains Eliezer asking me the question "why don't you just use log likelihood?" I still don't have a good answer to why I needed the question!

I don't think that de Maistre's "quick answers" category is supposed to include answers based on sound expertise.

People are often confused about questions to which an expert in the relevant area will give a quick and reliably correct answer. However, an expert capable of answering a technical question competently is not someone who has "considered [the question] only briefly or not at all": he is in fact someone who has spent a great deal of time and effort (along with possessing the necessary talent) on understanding a broad class of questions that subsumes the one being asked.

7fubarobfusco9yThis gives, by implication, a detector for absolute folly: the condition of believing that something is a very problematic question, when in fact it has a quick, consistent, explanatory answer available to those who have considered it only briefly or not at all.
4Vladimir_M9yIt doesn't necessarily follow that it's a highly accurate detector, though. If only a small minority of reasonable people are in this condition, while complete fools are commonly in this condition but their number is still much smaller than this minority of reasonable people, then the above quote would be true and yet your proposed test would be very weak. A fascinating question would be how strong this test actually is, and how it varies with different subjects.
2Desrtopa9yIn my experience this is true given a definition of "complete fool" that encompasses a majority of the population, provided the person supplying quick answers isn't also a fool.
1Vladimir_M9ySome years ago I would have agreed with you, but nowadays I believe this attitude is mistaken. In most cases, quick answers will at least miss some important aspects of the problem. I think de Maistre is quite right to emphasize that it's safe to rely on quick answers only when the person raising the concern is otherwise known to be extremely foolish.

There's 2 varieties of subjectivism:

  • Hayekian subjectivism of limited knowledge, and limited reason, and error, resulting in Bayesian probabilities in the .8 range and below, with required updating, and impact on making +EV decisions...

  • Hippie subjectivism of you believe what you want to believe, and I believe what I want to believe.

Aretae

4jdgalt9yThere's also the subjectivism of taste, sometimes known as consumer sovereignty (the idea, from David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom, that a person's own good is defined as whatever he says it is). Not believing in that leads to outbreaks of senseless and counterproductive nannyism, whether carried out alone or with the help of authorities.
2TheOtherDave9yI assume that what you mean by "whatever he says it is" is whatever preferences his choices reveal, not literally what he says it is. Believing that a person's good is literally what they say it is can just as easily lead to "nannyism", if we decided to prevent people from acting against their own good.
0dlthomas9yIt's a balance, what with akrasia and all - but yes, flat out accepting that people want precisely and only what they verbally and publicly indicate would be problematic.
5TheOtherDave9yPersonally, I have yet to be convinced that "I really want to do X, but due to akrasia I don't behave in ways that reflect my actual desire to do X" is a more accurate description of the world than "I don't really want to do X, but due to signalling I express a desire to do X I don't really have."
1RichardKennaway9yI don't think either of those is accurate. How about "I have reasons to do X and reasons not to do X, and I have not resolved the conflict. In fact, I may not be aware of what all the reasons on both sides are."
0TheOtherDave9y(nods) That's fair.
0Eugine_Nier9yYou've just signaled that you wouldn't make a very reliable ally. I'll keep that in mind. ;)
1TheOtherDave9yWhat do you look for in an ally?
0wedrifid9yNo he hasn't. He has signaled a lack of hypocrisy - a desirable trait in an ally.
0Eugine_Nier9yHe has signaled that he identifies with [http://lesswrong.com/lw/v4/which_parts_are_me/] his "baser urges" (a.k.a., system 1), rather then his "higher faculties" (a.k.a., system 2, a.k.a., the part that makes promises to allies). As such when I really need him, he's more likely to give in to akrasia on the grounds that any promises he made were merely signaling.
1wedrifid9yHe has signaled that he is more likely to have baser urges that are in accord with higher faculties. So he is less likely to make promises that he can't keep, betray me because he doesn't really want to behave according to unrealistic ideals but then either express sincere remorse about his betrayal or outright self delusion and denial that he didn't live up to the verbal symbols expressed. He has also signaled that regardless of whether or not he would make a good ally he is probably not your ally. That is, your philosophy tends to be particularly idealistic and so you have a fair indication that he is going to be opposed to your social political moves when it comes to meme expression and belief enforcement.
0tut9yLet's hope that you never have to find out otherwise.
0TheOtherDave9yI infer from your rather cryptic comment that you mean something like: if I ever actually experienced the thing we're labeling akrasia, I'd understand that it's not just signaling, but since I never have, I don't. Is that right?
0tut9yPretty much yes. Although I think that you have experienced it to some extent. But when it is not so bad you can work around it and maintain your image, so then your signaling explanation is a good model. Whereas other times it makes you fail at important things. Or just forces you to do so much apologizing and compensating that it is very bad from a status/signaling perspective and costs you more than it would to just do the thing that you supposedly don't really want to do.
0TheOtherDave9yOK. Thanks for clarifying.
0ahartell9yAlso "I believe it's good to want to do X". Like belief in belief [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i4/belief_in_belief/] where believing it's good to believe something makes people think they believe it, I suspect that people confuse their really wanting to do something and their belief that it is good to really want to do said thing. You may have meant this too, but I think it's different from just signaling. Is there a term for internal signaling?
0TheOtherDave9yI did mean that too, but you're right that using the term without qualification the way I did is unnecessarily ambiguous. I don't know of any concise unambiguous term for it; perhaps we should coin one.
0dlthomas9yI don't see why it has to be one or the other.
3TheOtherDave9yIt doesn't, and indeed there are better alternatives than both. But "akrasia" often functions as a narrative attractor around here, so it seemed useful to provide an alternative.

What is more important in determining an (individual) organism's phenotype, its genes or its environment? Any developmental biologist knows that this is a meaningless question. Every aspect of an organism's phenotype is the joint product of its genes and its environment. To ask which is more important is like asking, Which is more important in determining the area of a rectangle, the length or the width? Which is more important in causing a car to run, the engine or the gasoline? Genes allow the environment to influence the development of phenotypes.

-Tooby and Cosmides, emphasis theirs. It occurred to someone on the Less Wrong IRC channel how good this is an isomorphism of, "You have asked a wrong question."

That sounds like less of a wrong question and more of a "right question with surprising (low prior) answer". As far as the asker knew, the answer could have turned out to be, "Genes produce the same organism phenotype across virtually all environments, so genes are more important because changing them is much more likely to change the expressed phenotype than changing the environment." (and indeed, life would not be life if genes could not force some level of environment-invariance, thereby acting as a control system for a low-entropy island)

I don't see what's wrong with answering this question with "neither [i.e., they're equal], because they jointly determine phenotype, as independent changes in either have the same chance of affecting phenotype".

An example of a wrong question, by contrast, would be something like, "Which path did the electron really take?" because it posits an invalid ontology of the world as a pre-requisite. The question about phenotypes doesn't do that.

chelz: shminux: are you more your dna or are you more your personality?

Grognor: chelz: is the area of a rectangle more the length, or the width?

shokwave: grognor: wow. mind if I borrow that?

shokwave: because that is just about the best 'you have asked a wrong question' statement i've ever seen

The conversation in question.

Grognor: chelz: is the area of a rectangle more the length, or the width?

The width. Changing the width makes a bigger change in the area than changing the length does. (By convention, the width is defined as the smaller of the two dimensions of the rectangle.)

You have resolved the question to the nearest available sane question but that isn't the answer to the question itself and does not make the question valid.

Come to think of it I am somewhat dubious with answering "is the area of this 1km by 1m rectangle more the 1km or the 1m?" with "the 1m". That just doesn't seem right.

3CronoDAS9yHmmm... "No. [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MathematiciansAnswer?from=Main.ptitle3zaap0y7ym6o] " Is that better?
5Benquo9yOnly if you're augmenting/cutting by a fixed length. If you're using a proportion (e.g. cut either the length or the width in half) then they're equivalent.
4Kytael9yI could also meaninglessly answer that the length is more important, as it will always be equal or bigger. the key to finding a wrong question is finding that the answer doesn't help the person who asked it.
5SilasBarta9ySince my sibling reply got voted up a lot, I want to follow up: it seems that not only is the question not wrong, the "dissolving" answer is itself wrong, or at least very misleading. (Naturally, I have to tread cautiously, since I'm not an Expert in this area.) As I said in my other reply [http://lesswrong.com/lw/8n9/rationality_quotes_december_2011/5cxy], the defining characteristic of life is its ability to maintain a low-entropy island against the entropizing forces of nature. So there must be some range of environments in which an organism (via genes) is able to produce the same phenotype regardless of where its environment falls within that range. In effect, the genes allow the phenotype to be "screened off" (d-separated, whatever) from its environment (again, within limits). A thing that truly allows the environment equal influence in its final form as the thing itself (as suggested by the T&C answer) is not what we mean by "life". It's the hot water that eventually cools to a temperature somewhere between its current temperature and that of its initial environment. It's the compressed gas molecules in the corner of a chamber that eventually spread out evenly throughout the chamber. It is, in short, not the kind of self-replicating, low entropy island we associate with life, and so has no basic units thereof, be they genes or memes.
3Eugine_Nier9yThe organism needs to successfully thrive and reproduce within that range. Sometimes this means tailoring its phenotype to the environment it finds itself in.

Of course.

But imagine a world in which environment truly was more determining than genes. Every animal born in a swamp would be a frog (no matter what its parents were) and every animal born in a tree would be a bird. Perhaps coloration or some other trait might be heritable — blue birds who move to swamps give rise to little blue tadpoles — but the majority of phenotypic features would be governed by the environment in which the organism is born and develops.

In our world, all we know about X is that it is a phenotypic feature, then we should expect it is more likely to be stable under different environments than to be stable under different genotypes. Features must owe more (on the aggregate) to genes than to environment. If it were otherwise, then we would not talk about species! We know we are not in the swamp-birds-have-tadpoles world.

When people talk about genes vs. environment, they usually aren't really talking about all features. They're usually talking about some particular, politically interesting set of features of humans ...

1PhilGoetz9yI disagree. Say that many members of the royal family have hemophilia. Is this due to genes, or environment? If it is genes, you can try to track down who has the gene, and not marry any of those people to your current monarch. If it is something in the royal water supply, you can track that down. If you say "It's both!", you are unlikely to solve the problem. This applies to pretty much every case where people argue whether something is genes or environment. The claim that you can't call some things mainly genetic and some things mainly environmental is, we know with a very high degree of certainty, false. In most cases, the motivation for this claim is, I think, to avoid the unpleasant possibility that the answer is "genetic".
2Grognor9yI never actually considered this viewpoint. But you know, the Tooby and Cosmides quote attacks the false dichotomy of "Everything is genetics! It's all programmed from before you're born!" and "Blank slate! Absolutely nothing is determined by anything other than experience!" both of which are nonsense. But it also doesn't support the false third option, "You found a genetic basis for autism? Racist!"
1Prismattic9yFor certain traits, you cannot break things down as a ratio of genetics:environment. For example, myopia appears to be a genetically-based trait, but it also appears to be expressed much more frequently when children learn to read (which is why such a disasterous trait for a hunter-gatherer wasn't eliminated in the tens of thousands of years before literacy). In other words, the phenotype (nearsighted) is both entirely genetic and entirely environmental.
2PhilGoetz9ySome things are mostly genetic. Some things are mostly environmental. Some things are a mix of both. But currently, you are supposed to say that everything is both genetic and environmental (or be labelled a racist). And that is false.
4wedrifid9yEverything is genetic and environmental. If you look low enough down.
1[anonymous]9yThe fact is, humans share lots of genes with each other. Example: Suppose I tell you, “What about language acquisition? I'm sure that if I speak better Italian than Nick Bostrom and he speaks better Swedish than me, our genes have f* all to do with that.” You could answer that it's our genes which shaped our brain in such a way that we could have picked up a native language in the first place, and a chimpanzee (or a human with major neurological problems) wouldn't have learned Italian or Swedish even if raised in the very same environment. But when more than 99% (I guess) of the world human population would have been able to learn whichever natural (or sufficiently natural-like) language they had been raised in, such an objection wouldn't be very useful. On the other hand, while genes require environments in a given range to be expressed (you couldn't raise a person to be the same as me on Mars, even if he were my identical twin brother), certain features are expressed pretty much the same way throughout the range of environments where one could survive. The probability that John's blood type is AB+ given that he's alive and that his identical twin brother's blood type is AB+ is pretty close to 1, wherever John was raised. Hence, I'd just say that language is environmental and blood type is genetic. Anything else is useless nitpicking, akin to saying that I shouldn't say that the C and C# keys on a piano are white and black respectively because even the former does absorb some light and even the latter does scatter some.
1thomblake9yThe notion of heritability clears up this issue a bit, as it screens off genetic similarities in the population.
0[anonymous]9yIndeed. (On the other hand, people often grow up in the same region as their parents...)
0thomblake9ySo perhaps heritability should have a counterpart that screens off common environmental factors...
1[anonymous]9yAnd everything scatters some of the incident light and absorbs some. But this doesn't mean we should never call anything “black” or “white”.
0wedrifid9yIf it is both then you are more likely to solve the problem by saying "It's both" than by saying "it's one!"

Nobody panics when things go "according to plan"… even if the plan is horrifying.

  • The Joker

Well, that makes sense. They've panicked earlier, when the plan was announced.

Not necessarily. The human race wasn't around when "Everyone dies" was announced, so we never had the opportunity to panic properly.

6DanielLC9yEach individual was around when it was announced to them.

And each individual panics! Witness the common existential crisis: execute a head-first dive into mild depression and loudly proclaim your conversion to pure hedonism. But since nobody else is currently panicking, the individual comes to mimic the standard mental state. Which may not be the correct mental state...

0Ezekiel9yDo you really think that panic is in response to the (perceived) inevitability of death? The arguments (and sensibilities) for and against hedonism don't change if people stop dying. I think.

Economists essentially have a sophisticated lack of understanding of economics, especially macroeconomics. I know it sounds ridiculous. But the reason why I tell people they should study economics is not so they’ll know something at the end—because I don’t think we know much—but because we’re good at thinking. Economics teaches you to think things through. What you see a lot of times in economics is disdain for other's lack of thinking. You have to think about the ramifications of policies in the short run, the medium run, and the long run. Economists think they’re good at doing that, but they’re good at doing that in the sense that they can write down a model that will help them think about it—not in terms of empirically knowing what the answers are. And we have gotten so enamored of thinking things through that the fact that we don’t know anything needs to bother us more. So, yes, it’s true that the average guy on the street doesn’t understand economics, and it’s also true that we don’t understand economics. We just have a more sophisticated lack of understanding than the guy on the street.

---"Culture in Economics and the Culture of Economics: Raquel Fernández in Conversation with The Straddler"

Whoops, didn't mean to retract that. The quote is "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now." - African proverb

3pedanterrific9yFor blockquotes, put a > at the beginning of the paragraph.

In the autumn of 1939, Ludwig Wittgenstein and his young Cambridge student and friend Norman Malcolm were walking along the river when they saw a newspaper vendor's sign announcing that the Germans had accused the British government of instigating a recent attempt to assassinate Hitler. When Wittgenstein remarked that it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true, Malcolm retorted that it was impossible because "the British were too civilized and decent to attempt anything so underhand, and . . . such an act was incompatible with the British 'national character'." Wittgenstein was furious. Some five years later, he wrote to Malcolm:

"Whenever I thought of you I couldn't help thinking of a particular incident which seemed to me very important. . . . you made a remark about 'national character' that shocked me by its primitiveness. I then thought: what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., & if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life, if it does not make you more conscientious than any . . . journalist in

... (read more)
7Vladimir_M9yI don't understand what exactly is supposed to be so shockingly "primitive" or illogical about Malcolm's statements. The remarks about the national character of the British and their level of civilization and decency can be interpreted as a reasonable belief that conspiring to assassinate a foreign head of state would be a violation of certain norms that the British government is known to follow consistently in practice, and expected to follow by a broad consensus of the British people -- such consensus being strong enough that it can be considered part of their national character. Now, one may argue that Malcolm had mistaken beliefs about some of the relevant facts here, but Wittgenstein's reaction looks in any case like a silly tantrum. He also seems to be using the Dark Arts tactic of throwing exalted and self-important rhetoric about general intellectual principles to draw attention away from his petty and unreasonable behavior.
9gwern9yMalcolm was one of Wittgenstein's most promising students; yet even he fell - unquestioningly - into the vapid jingoistic idea that there are intrinsic 'national characters' (aggregates over millions of people of multiple regions!) which carry moral qualities despite the obvious conflict of interest (who is telling him the English are too noble to assassinate), that they exist and carry enough information to overrule public claims like that, and all his philosophical training which ought to have given him some modicum of critical thought, some immunity against nationalism, did nothing. And in point of fact, he was blatantly wrong, which is why I linked the British-connected plots and assassins. Uh huh. And if a Tea Partier tells you that Abu Ghraib was just youthful spirits and black sites don't exist, well, obviously that's a reasonable interpretation of the facts based on that non-chimerical 'national character' or a broad consensus of the American people... Whatever. In retrospect maybe I should've rewritten the anecdote as a German saying it (about Churchill claiming a German attempt on his life) and an English rebuking him later, just to see whether there would be anyone trying to justify it. (It's not that famous a Wittgenstein quote, I don't think anyone would notice.)

With all due respect, you are getting seriously mind-killed here.

Do you agree that the probability of a person accepting and following certain norms (and more generally, acting and thinking in certain ways) can be higher or lower conditional on them belonging to a specific nationality? Similarly, would you agree that the probability of a government acting in a certain way may strongly depend on the government in question? Or are these "vapid jingoistic idea[s]"?

For example, suppose I'm an American and someone warns me that the U.S. government would have me tortured to death in the public square if I called the U.S. president a rascal. I reply that while such fears would be justified in many other places and times, they are unfounded in this case, since Americans are too civilized and decent to tolerate such things, and it is in their national character to consider criticizing (and even insulting) the president as a fundamental right. What exactly would be fallacious about this reply?

Note that I accept it as perfectly reasonable if one argues that Malcolm was factually mistaken about the character of the British government. What I object to is grandstanding rhetoric and moral posturing that tries to justify what is in fact nothing more than a display of the usual human frailty in a petty politicking quarrel.

7Emile9yI agree, but I don't think that you're describing Malcolm's position - Wittgenstein was the one expressing uncertainty on the issue ("When Wittgenstein remarked that it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true, Malcolm retorted that it was impossible"), so for Malcolm to disagree with him he must be quite confident, not merely think that the British are less likely to assassinate than others. And when someone has undue confidence in how good his group is, beyond what evidence mandates - than yes, it seems correct to say that he was mind-killed by his "primitive" jingoism, and Wittgenstein is correct to rebuke him. If I read about an assassination attempt on Hitler and about how some said it was mandated by the British, then my position would be Wittgenstein's - that it wouldn't surprise me if that was true (even before reading Gwern's post). It may be that hindsight is 20/20, but I think Malcolm, who had much more information about the times than I do, should have been able to see more clearly.
2Vladimir_M9yI think you're underestimating just how horrible the idea of assassinating foreign leaders sounded back then, especially leaders of other nations recognized as major powers. Such a thing was definitely much higher on the relative scale of outrages back then than nowadays. (Though of course things had already changed a lot in practice by 1939, by which political gangsterism had already been running rampant through the Western world for over two decades.) Indeed, I find it quite plausible that Malcolm was motivated not so much by nationalistic bias, as by a naive and antiquated view of politics, despite his youth. Reading about his reaction, many people nowadays will likely overestimate how unrealistically favorable his opinion of Britain must have been for him to consider this accusation absurd.
6ArisKatsaris9yMalcolm spoke about the British national character (not the character of the British government) and from this he arbitrarily leaped to thinking that it binds the actions of the British government; as if the British government is somehow a random or representative sample of the British population. The assumptions and leaps of logic necessary for this flawed logic are obvious to those who've managed to avoid thinking of whole nations as if they're homogeneous groups. Wittgenstein was correct to call it primitive. Malcolm was not saying anything more intelligent or subtle or deep than "Our monkey tribe good! Therefore nobody from our monkey tribe ever do bad thing!" If the representation of the conversation is a fair one, Malcolm wasn't wise enough to be able to even distinguish between government and governed, and consider the differences that might accumulated to each.
5Vladimir_M9ySuch an absurd assumption is not necessary. It is sufficient that the way government officials are selected from the British population doesn't specifically select for traits contrary to the "national character," or that their behavior is constrained by what the general public would be outraged at, even when they act in secret. (Note also that this isn't necessarily due to rational fear of being caught -- people are normally afraid and reluctant to do outrageous things even when rational calculations tell them the probability of getting caught is negligible. With the exception of certain things where hypocrisy is the unspoken de facto norm, of course, but that's not the case here.) Malcolm may well have been guilty of such thinking, but at the same time, Wittgenstein clearly had a fit of irrational anger at the suggestion that probabilities of monkey behaviors are not independent of their tribe. (I won't speculate on what part his own residues of tribal feelings might have played here.) And nobody here is claiming that Malcolm was correct -- merely that Wittgenstein's reaction was hardly the paragon of rationality it's presented to be.
0ChristianKl8yI don't think the phrase "national character" does refer to the belief of the general public in this context. It refers more to the character of the British elite.
1[anonymous]9yDon't forget Wittgenstein may have reacted as he did out his own emotional attachment as well. "Who you to say your monkey tribe so much better than mine!" Which is not to imply that he was identifying with Nazis, which he obviously wasn't, but you would be surprised how many historic accounts of those of say Jewish descent that fled the National Socialist regime still overall held German and Austrian culture and "national character" in higher esteem than that of say the British, Russians or Americans, we have. "If my monkey tribe can do horrible things, well yours isn't that different!"
2ArisKatsaris9yAgreed. Or from e.g. feeling betrayed that Malcolm didn't consider him and Wittgenstein to belong in the same monkey tribe for all intends and purposes. I've not read any of Wittgenstein, but if he was of internationalist ideology, he might have been disappointed to see nationalist sentiment in Malcolm (which would put Malcolm and Wittgenstein in different tribes) rather than whatever ideological/political/racial/religious/class distinctions would have put them in the same tribe. I don't make the same tribal distinctions that a Greek nationalist would make, or a white nationalist would make. For someone to put much weight on such distinctions would mark him as a different tribe according to my distinctions, even though I'm Greek and white too.

This makes me think of one of those intellectual hipster Hegelian dialectic thingies.

Idiot: My monkeys are better than your monkeys. (Blood for the blood god, etc; Malcolm.)

Contrarian: My monkeys are better than your monkeys, because they don't say things like "My monkeys are better than your monkeys." (Secular Western cosmopolitanism, faith in progress, etc; Wittgenstein.)

Hipster: My monkeys are better than your monkeys, because they don't say things like "My monkeys are better than your monkeys, because they don't say things like 'My monkeys are better than your monkeys.'" (Postmodernism, cultural relativism, etc; Vladimir.)

It amuses me that I can think of a few trendy Continentals right now who base their appeal on working at level four.

3[anonymous]9yPeople can get very upset when those they like, "suddenly" turn out not to be "part" of the same tribe.
2Morendil9yYou are correct that such fears are unfounded in this case, but not owing to the "national character" of Americans. Rather, they are unfounded owing to the very public nature of the action your fears concern; carrying out such an action publicly would predictably raise an outcry, with hard-to-predict consequences on things like behaviour of the electorate and of the media; from an utilitarian standpoint the US government is better off finding subtler ways of coercing you, and has very little to gain from silencing this particular type of dissent. But covert action, and covert action taken against leaders of foreign countries, might be a different calculation entirely. So the fallacious nature of the reply would arise from not comparing like with like.
4Vladimir_M9yIn this case, the "national character" would manifest itself in the public outcry (it's certainly easy to imagine a population that would insted cheer while the seditious traitor is being executed). However, even regardless of that, would you agree that the U.S. government officials themselves are more likely to feel honest revulsion towards this idea compared to their equivalents from various other historical governments, and that they would be less likely to retaliate this way even if they could somehow get away with it? It is clearly true that "national character," for obvious reasons, provides much more solid evidence when considering public opinion and mass behaviors. However, the amount of evidence it provides about the possible behaviors of small groups of government officials behind closed doors is also not negligible. This especially since secrets are hard to keep. In Malcolm's case, the argument would be that British government officials are unlikely to conspire to assassinate the German head of state because, being British, they are likely to share intense revulsion towards such an idea, and also to fear the exceptional outrage among the British public should they be caught doing it. Once again, I have no problem if someone thinks that this argument rests on completely wrong factual beliefs and probability estimates. My problem is with attempts to delegitimize it based on lofty rhetoric that in fact tries to mask irrational anger at the fact that nationality indeed gives some non-zero evidence on people's beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.
1Morendil9yNot necessarily. I don't know to what extent government officials of all countries are more like the typical citizen of their own country than they are like other government officials of any other country. It's not clear to me which reference class would dominate in assigning priors.
1Vladimir_M9yJust to avoid misunderstanding, the question is whether the views of a typical U.S. government official about what criticisms of government are permissible are more similar to the average U.S. citizen, or to the views of government officials averaged across the whole world, or even across all governments that ever existed. Am I understanding correctly that you see this as a highly uncertain question?
3Morendil9yYup. The dynamic I have in mind is this: to become a government official, one must first pass a certain set of filters, which are likely to select for the kind of person who'll view anyone criticizing their government as scum who deserve no better than a public beating. This is definitely not the only dynamic in play; but if you want to deny that this dynamic exists, you will have to bring evidence to bear to overcome its strong plausibility.
1ArisKatsaris9yMalcolm doesn't make that claim if the description of the argument is a fair one. It's not the word "unlikely" but the word "impossible" that is used; and the fear of an outrage by the public isn't discussed. It may be a good thing to correct an opponent's argument before you defeat it, but we're not obliged to actually call it a good argument.
4Vladimir_M9yIn this situation, Malcolm's statements were only briefly paraphrased by his opponent, and the criticism of Malcolm is being presented as a great and commendable example of rational thinking. In such a context, I believe it's only fair and reasonable to give Malcolm's reported statements maximally charitable reading. In particular, I think it's reasonable to interpret "impossible" in its casual meaning (i.e. merely vastly improbable, not literally disallowed by the laws of logic and physics). Moreover, I also think it's reasonable to interpret "national character" in a way that makes his statements more sensible, i.e. as including all factors that determine what behaviors are a priori more or less likely from a given government and its officials and subjects.
1lessdazed9yDid you also have other examples you were thinking of?
1gwern9yParticular examples? No, not really; but http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_assassination [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_assassination] is good reading, if a bit short and lacking in less substantiated details.
4[anonymous]9y"a violation of certain norms that the British government is known to follow consistently in practice" What does "what is known" have to do with what is in fact? The suppressed premise is that citizens know what their governments do, even those parts of the government termed its "secret service." That governments don't operate by ordinary standards of "decency" has been known at least since Machiavelli.
1Vladimir_M9yEven if the deeds of the secret services are fully secret (a big if), your argument is still incorrect. Assassinations of heads of state are rare and unusual events, and are normally investigated thoroughly. It may be that in every such assassination prior to 1939, the evidence points towards culprits other than the British secret services. (Whether or not this is actually the case is another question; I am merely demonstrating that your argument doesn't work even if its assumptions are fully granted.)
3duckduckMOO9y"The remarks about the national character of the British and their level of civilization and decency can be interpreted as a reasonable belief that conspiring to assassinate a foreign head of state would be a violation of certain norms that the British government is known to follow consistently in practice, and expected to follow by a broad consensus of the British people -- such consensus being strong enough that it can be considered part of their national character" And when people say "I have free will" it is compatible with their being compatibilists rather than magic black-boxers. But usually they mean the black box sort. The fact that Wittgenstein, knowing this Malcolm personally, interpreted the remark as he did is evidence in favour of that interpretation. I was going to say your interpretation is compatible at best. But now that I've checked the quote rather than going from memory I don't think it's compatible at all: "When Wittgenstein remarked that it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true, Malcolm retorted that it was impossible because "the British were too civilized and decent to attempt anything so underhand, and . . . such an act was incompatible with the British 'national character'." the retort was in response to Wittgenstein saying "it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true" "such consensus being strong enough that it can be considered part of their national character." This is the kind of thing Wittgenstein doesn't want you to say. National character isn't just a bunch of syllables. It encodes the idea of character inherently tied to nationality, even if that is not the specific definition used. If the consensus were 100% you'd still be confusing things by calling it the national character. When you call something disgusting, when asked to define it you can append "causes squicky feelings" or similiar, and you can define national character as "strong enough consensus to pressure government" but people won't use those words tha
2Vaniver9yEmphasis mine. That's the part that's the result of bias (i.e. primitive and illogical).
3Vladimir_M9yHowever, Wittgenstein is not criticizing Malcolm just for supposedly having wrong factual beliefs, but for mere willingness to use probabilities about beliefs and behavior of people that are conditional on their natonality. He is objecting to the very idea that the probability of the British government commiting a certain act may be different from the probability of some other government committing it, or that certain broader norms that also prohibit such behavior might be a matter of exceptionally strong consensus among the British, which would by itself provide strong evidence that their government is unlikely to exhibit it.
5Vaniver9yI think we are interpreting Malcolm's position very differently. Malcolm isn't saying "I would be surprised; I put a low probability that the British government would do that." Malcolm appears offended- it is impossible because the British are too decent. You are right that one could, say, be less surprised by an American assassination attempt than a Canadian assassination attempt based on past actions of the governments, but that's not what Malcolm is doing here. He's exhibiting a nationalistic, self-serving bias, which Wittgenstein is right to object to.
3Vladimir_M9yI am not concerned with whether Malcolm was correct, and I'm not saying that Wittgenstein had nothing to object to. This is not a situation where we're judging them as symmetrical parties in a debate, but a situation where we discuss whether Wittgenstein's position deserves to be pointed out as an outstanding example of rationality. And it seems tome that even if one takes a much less favorable view of Malcolm, Wittgenstein is still displaying a fair amount of mind-killing biases.
1Vaniver9yWould you mind naming those biases for me? I'm having a hard time seeing what you're talking about, and suspect that our disagreement may depend mostly on differing interpretations of limited information.
4Vladimir_M9yBasically, I think Wittgenstein was too quick to pattern-match every mention of such things as "national character" with propagandistic nationalist ramblings. I suspect this is just an instance of a bias that's been widespread in the Western world for quite a while now, namely the tendency to write off the use of certain kinds of conditional probabilities about people, including most of those conditioned on national origin, as inherently incorrect or immoral. (With a lot of equivocation about which one of these two is actually meant, and how come that the former category just happens to subsume the latter so conveniently.) Moreover, from the "wouldn't surprise him at all" comment, it does appear that Wittgenstein had, for whatever reason, a biased unfavorable view of the British government. To the best of my knowledge about the state of the world in 1939, this would have definitely been, by all standards, an event far too surprising and shocking to characterize that way, under any reasonable interpretation of that phrase. Finally, Wittgenstein's reaction is reported as "furious," and he describes himself as "shocked." It seems clear that the very fact that someone got into a shocked and furious state of mind during a conversation about controversial and mind-killing topics makes it very highly probable that at least some sort of bias has kicked in, even if my above guess doesn't identify it correctly. (Come to think of it, I don't find it implausible that Wittgenstein could have been intentionally baiting Malcolm, hoping for an opportunity to show off some sanctimonious indignation. But lacking any detailed knowledge of his character, this is nothing more than idle speculation.)
3Vaniver9yYou suspect he's too quick to pattern-match every mention from a single example? I'm aware this is a common bias now, but I don't think it was that widespread in 1939. Perhaps this is because I have an unfavorable view of governments in general, but it seems that for an even slightly cynical student of history assassination attempts on rival heads of state by a government should not come as a surprise, especially as monarchies were replaced by democracies. It's not clear he was singling out the British, and even if he were singling out the British, it's not clear if that was the result of bias or cool calculation. (The British did have the best spy network in Europe, although whether or not Wittgenstein would have known that is not something I am able to guess.) I agree that being biased can lead to fury, but I think for someone as passionately logical as Wittgenstein seeing bias, especially in a friend, could also lead to fury. It's not clear to me that his immediate reaction is evidence between those hypotheses, and his persisting fury strikes me as slightly better evidence for the latter. (Background: Almost twenty years earlier, Wittgenstein was rebuked as a teacher because he would also beat the girls if they made mathematical mistakes.) That is, it is possible that Wittgenstein was biased in pronouncing Malcolm's bias, but it seems to me unlikely. The evidence seems to point the other way, especially the conclusion he draws- that philosophy should help one with the important questions of everyday life.
3Vladimir_M9yAdmittedly, this is speculative, but from his tone I did get the impression that he was prone to such matching. Actually, a very strong taboo against such assassinations follows from a very cynical theory. Namely, it provides for a convenient Schelling point for national leaders, where they can otherwise escalate war as much as they like without fear for their personal safety. (As long as they don't let themselves get totally conquered, of course.) But more importantly, who are all these heads of state supposedly assassinated under orders from rival governments prior to 1939? Can you name any attempts of such assassinations in the period of, say, one hundred years preceding 1939? Or even just cases where the culprit is unknown, but a plot directed by a rival government seems plausible? (The closest example I can think of is the killing of Engelbert Dollfuss that kicked off the coup attempt in 1934 by the Austrian Nazis, who were clearly acting in concert with Berlin. But even that was an all-out coup attempt accompanied by an armed Nazi uprising across the country, so not really an assassination plot, and also symptomatic of the new and unprecedented wave of political gangsterism of which the British government was not a part.) Given this history (or rather a lack thereof), do you think that it was possible for a non-biased observer in 1939 to view the accusation against British government plot to assassinate the German head of state as unsurprising if true?
3Vaniver9yThe Schelling Point is stronger for monarchs than for ministers, and so as monarchies disappear or become less relevant one could expect assassinations to increase. Does the first such assassination have to be a surprise? I think unprecedented events can be unsurprising if they were anticipated. We may be interpreting Wittgenstein's comment very differently: for me, "X would not surprise me" means something like P(X)>.01, not something like P(X)>.5. But, since you asked, consider the case of Tomas Mac Curtain [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom%C3%A1s_Mac_Curtain], assassinated by British forces in 1920. I don't think he qualifies as a head of state, but he was a fairly prominent government official. In 1939, it would have been plausible that Napoleon had been poisoned by the British (though that's a bit outside your hundred year window). I don't think this is the question you meant to ask, but I think that the accusation should have been entirely unsurprising, regardless of its veracity. I think that most observers would assign a higher probability to the accusation being false than true, but I don't think an unbiased, moderately informed observer could put the chance that the accusation was false at less than ~5% on the day the accusation was reported.
1Vladimir_M9yWhy? Even an elected ruler who breaks the convention against assassination makes himself fair game for immediate retaliation of the same kind. I don't see why the transitory nature of his office would make the incentives significantly different.
1Vaniver9yFirst, it seems to me that monarchs have more invested in the legitimacy of monarchy than ministers have in the legitimacy of democracy. Second, an elected official may be expected to sacrifice themselves for the good of the population, whereas the roles may be reversed for a monarch. Third, succession works differently in democracies than monarchies, which may make assassination more attractive against elected officials.
1ArisKatsaris9yThis is not evident in the quote you talk about. Malcolm didn't use probablities, he called it "impossible". He didn't merely condition his guess partly on the nationality, he seems to have based it entirely on said nationality and on nothing else. Do you know of any act, no matter of how great charity or barbarism that is so incompatible with "national character" that you can find not one person of that nation willing to commit it?
2Vladimir_M9yThat is not the relevant question here. The relevant question is whether we can think of acts that are so incompatible with the "national character" that it would be inconceivable (i.e. p~0 can be assumed for all practical purposes) that any institutions of a given country's government would commit them, although such acts have been committed by governments in other places and times. The answer is obviously yes.
4ArisKatsaris9yI can think of only such acts as wouldn't benefit such governments in question. E.g. it wouldn't benefit the US government to cook alive suspected terrorists and use their flesh to feed its troops. Cannibalism isn't part of the American national character -- and it doesn't benefit the US government either, so it doesn't do it. But I can't think of any acts that would be effectively impossible to be committed by an institution of any government though it would benefit it, merely because it's "not in the national character" to do so. If something is not in the national character, then said institution merely does it in secret.
2Vladimir_M9yFor example, given the American national character, it would be inconceivable for the U.S. government to kidnap its subjects' daughters to serve as concubines in the president's harem. (Something that many historical governments in fact did openly.) Do you therefore conclude that this is in fact being done in secret? Or maybe that the only reason why it's not being done is the difficulty of keeping it secret?
8ArisKatsaris9yPrimarily the latter. Consider this: North Korea abducts women for the president's harem. South Korea does not (neither openly nor secretly, with p~0). And yet it's people of the same nationality on both sides of the border. Therefore such things don't seem to me to be primarily dependent on "national character". They seem to be primarily about what each leader can get away with doing. South Korea and America are semi-democratic capitalist states. North Korea is a totalitarian regime.
6Vladimir_M9yTo get back to my comment where I explained what I consider to be a reasonable interpretation of "national character," I defined it thus: In this discussion, I am not at all interested in the exact connection that these norms have with ethnicity or any other factors. I merely claim that for whatever reason, there is variation in such norms across governments, which sometimes gives very strong information on what they may be capable of doing. (And anyway, several decades of life under radically different regimes imposed by foreign conquerors, one of which practices extreme isolation, will cause cultural divergences that run deeper than the immediate structure of clear incentives. Moreover, this one example is not conclusive proof that all such differences in governments' behaviors in all places and times are caused by the same factor.)
3ArisKatsaris9yBut I think that such a definition where "national character" are the norms followed by a a national government and which it's expected to be followed by a broad consensus, leads to bizarre ideas such as e.g. the "national character" of the whole of Eastern Europe must be described as having changed at the fall of communism, even though the fall came from within. So the national character suddenly modified itself, just because the norms of government changed themselves. Eh. I don't think that's really how these words are normally used. And if we return to the subject of actually secret, non-open operations -- if I believe (which I do) that FSB bombed some of Russia's own apartment buildings (for I am a conspiracy theorist in regards to several conspiracy theories), but that the MI5 wouldn't do that against British apartments, nor would CIA do it for American apartments, I don't think it makes much sense to say that the Russian national character enables Russia to blow its own people up, but that the British and American national characters does not. The character of their respective government structures, sure. But not the national characters. To the extent that there's a "national character" that affects policy, I feel it has primarily, perhaps even solely to do with concepts of self-identification similar in type to the concept of Clash of Civilizations by Huntington. e.g. Greece supported the Serbs in the Yugoslav wars for no more and no less reason than that its "national character" contained a self-identification with Eastern Orthodox significantly more than with Catholics or with Muslims. Now there's predictive power. In any dispute between orthodox and non-orthodox, I know that Greece will back the orthodox. I know that Arab nations will back the Palestinians against Israel. America in the Cold War self-identified as anti-communist, so in any dispute between people identifying as communists and people that didn't , I know America would back the people that
2[anonymous]9yWith some noteworthy exceptions, particularly in Africa. I do generally agree that rules of thumb like this generally have decent predictive power though.
1ArisKatsaris9yIf the exceptions are about opposition to white-racist regimes, I believe this is explained by modern-day United States identifying itself even more as multiracial and egalitarian (atleast in regards to race), than it does as anti-communist.
1Vladimir_M9yIn addition to my previous reply, and to separate the more controversial part from the rest: Frankly, if you believe that people running the MI5 or the CIA would be willing and capable of doing something like that, I think you have a very distorted view of reality in this regard. Unfortunately, the inferential distances are probably too large for us to have a productive discussion about it in this context. (In reality, I don't think CIA would be capable of killing my neighbor's cat without it leaking into the press tomorrow. In fact, they'd probably bungle the task so badly that the leak wouldn't even be necessary.) That would have been news to many anti-communists, but let's better not go there.
4Oligopsony9yThe CIA assassinated a US citizen not two months ago, and the government made no attempt to hide it out of an (accurate) expectation that the public would approve. Of course I doubt the FBI has killed a white person on US soil by blowing up their apartment recently, or will in the forseeable future, but if we allow probable facts about national character to be this specific it seems that trivially any fact about what a government is likely to do is a fact about its national character.
1Vladimir_M9yThis is just the confounding factor of foreign domination, just like in the North/South Korea example. Of course, like with all political categories, the distinctions aren't always clear, since prolonged foreign domination may gradually cause irreversible changes, or even gradually get to be seen as the normal state of affairs. Still, the different national characters of Eastern European countries have been amply demonstrated when comparing their state both before 1990 and since then. A better example of what you're aiming for would be periods of political instability in which some extremist faction like e.g. the Nazis grabs power and proceeds to implement extremist policies that would have seemed unbelievable coming from that same country shortly before that. Clearly, such black swan events limit the predictability of any model one uses for understanding history and politics. It doesn't mean they have no predictive power during normal times, though. These things can't be separated from each other. You are speaking as if the system of government is an independent variable. In reality, formally the same system of government imposed in different places will produce very different results, and these results are very much dependent on what is conventionally understood as "national character." It's hard to make any concrete predictions without offending various nationalities, so I'll limit myself to offending my own kind. For example, suppose I read a story about an affair where vast millions were pillaged in corrupt dealings some years ago and yet the culprits are happy, free, and untouchable despite all this being public knowledge. If it happens in Croatia, I'll shrug my shoulders. But if I heard about this happening in, say, Denmark, I would, like Malcolm, express disbelief because it would, indeed, sound incompatible with their national character. Even though the laws on the books and the theoretical legal consequences are probably similar in both places.
1TimS9yI understand that you are trying to defend a better form of Malcolm's statements, but is there any other reason you are defending the phrase "national character"? One could just as easily explain the differences you note by reference to national culture, national values, national commitment to rule of law, or suchlike. By contrast, "character" is often deployed as an applause light without any way of cashing out the reference more specifically.
1Vladimir_M9yAll these terms are also often deployed as applause lights. "National character" is just a term that is supposed to subsume them all. Nowadays this term is somewhat antiquated, and it's not a part of my regular vocabulary, but I definitely don't see any reason for why someone's casual use of it 72 years ago should raise any eyebrows (either back then or now).
1soreff9yHistorically, there have at least been some iodine-poor areas within nations that outsiders might have dismissed as being full of cretins without being wholly unjustified...
2MixedNuts9yThey have different citizenships, different cultural messages from birth, different access to such messages from the rest of the world (such as the US). They cannot accurately be described as having the same nationality.
1Desrtopa9yWell, to be fair the proposition that the assassination attempt had British backing implicitly means that it had systematic approval in at least some government division, so it's a rather stronger claim than saying that at least one British person was willing to commit resources to backing the attack. But it did seem to me that Wittgenstein was criticizing his student for naive and sloppy thinking (which he was indeed guilty of) not for having the belief that there can be prevailing trends in national character.
0[anonymous]9yundefined
2[anonymous]9yThe quote and comments raise two questions: 1) What was Wittgenstein chastising Malcolm for? and 2) Were their opinions rational? On the first, I don't think there's enough information to tell. Was Wittgenstein protesting that Malcolm drew too close a connection between national character and state conduct or that Malcolm was victim of an idealized view of British national character? I think Malcolm was "primitive" for both reasons, and it seems fairly plausible that Wittgenstein might have had both in mind. But there's a third form of primitiveness in Malcolm's remark, and Wittgenstein appears to have shared Malcolm's premise—although that's not completely clear. It is a cached-belief bias: that the assassination of any foreign head of state is immoral. Such formalism is irrational when considering a radically new development (the rise of a Nazi Germany and the degree of its dependence on its fuhrer). Only "primitive" people would assume that "decent" people necessarily eschew assassination, regardless of the despot's international role. As I think about it, I can't dismiss that this aspect might have been what offended Wittgenstein, who does not appear to have been completely honest; to my ear, he sounds personally offended. What offended him, we might guess, is that Malcolm was insinuating that Wittgenstein's approval of such an endeavor was indecent. (A point on which Wittgenstein was, I think, sensitive and which would offend most people when directed toward them.)
3gwern9yI think you are seriously over-thinking that third form, and that is not what is intended at all; you can be mortally wounded that your philosophy has completely failed to teach someone a little critical thinking about how licit it is to argue an assassination attempt did not occur because of 'national character' without any regard to whether you personally approve of assassination or not. (I doubt Wittgenstein was any fan of the Nazis, what with being a secular Jew dispossessed by them and living in England.)
2[anonymous]9yOr you know deontologists and some virtue ethicists. Seems plausible actually.
1wedrifid9yThey would still have to be 'primitive' deontologists and virtue ethicists.
0ChristianKl8yThere nothing radically new about getting heads of state in Europe that want to wage wars. European's in that time aren't like modern American's who have no concept of honor and no respect for international law. European's fought their wars according to a honor codex that allow certain form of violence but forbids other forms. Given the morality of the time it is indecent to violate the laws of war and go and assassinate a foreign head of state. Neither side of WWII fully followed international law and principles of honorable behavior at all times but when they didn't followed those principles they still were indecent. You shouldn't forget the fact that Germany started WWI because of an assassination of a head of state by a government that was allied with Germany. That assassination wasn't done by France of Great Britain. Even when the British still considered Germany to be responsible for WWI they didn't thought to highly of that assassination.

If you hit this sign, you will hit that bridge.

-- Road sign in Griffin, Georgia, showing that sometimes it's good to have some distance between map and area.

"I did not think; I investigated."

Wilhelm Roentgen, when asked by an interviewer what he thought on noticing some kind of light (X-ray-induced fluorescence) apparently passing through a solid opaque object. Quoted in de Solla Price, Science Since Babylon, expanded edition, p. 146.

1[anonymous]9yUpvoted for reading de Solla Price :)
[-][anonymous]9y 23

Fujiwara no Yoshitake (954-974), a handsome nobleman, tragically died of smallpox at age 21. He left a love poem full of pathos:

Kige ga tame
oshikarazarishi
Inochi sae
Nagaku mo gana to
Omoikeru kana

For your precious sake, once I thought
I could die.
Now, I wish to live with you
a long, long time.

--Hokusai and Hiroshige

For your precious sake, once I thought I could die.

It took me a long time to figure out this poem isn't about a recovering alcoholic.

We are much beholden to Machiavel and others, that write what men do, and not what they ought to do.

-- Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning

'Tell me one last thing,' said Harry. 'Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?'

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry's ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

'Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

1kateblu9yI held off reading this series (my children being in their 30s and having no grandchildren) until several months ago when I realized that just because I didn't watch television or go to many movies, I should not be totally left out of modern culture. And so I started the first year. I could not put these books down and more or less inhaled all seven as fast as I could. What an excellent choice of quotations for this thread.
0PhilGoetz9yBecause... it's not real? Just sayin'.
6[anonymous]8yWhat Harry should've asked isn't where the experience was taking place but whether the Dumbledore he was talking to was the model of Dumbledore in his head, which only knows things that Harry knows, or enough of the actual Dumbledore to know things that Harry doesn't know. That is, what's relevant isn't the location of the experience but the source of the information feeding into that experience. That would also be the relevant criterion for distinguishing between, for example, a message from God and a hallucination.
3Eugine_Nier9yThat's like saying is depression real, or is it just happening inside the patient's head? The correct answer is yes and yes.
0wedrifid9yWithin the perspective of a fantasy world it certainly can be. It isn't just Harry imagining things. Magic is involved.

If you're tempted to respond, "But I love school, and so do all my friends. Ah, the life of the mind, what could be better?" let me gently remind you that readers of economics blogs are not a random sample of the population. Most people would hate reading this blog; you read it just for fun!

-- Bryan Caplan

One of the toughest things in any science... is to weed out the ideas that are really pleasing but unencumbered by truth.

Thomas Carew

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

-Probably not Henry Ford

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/08/henry_ford_never_said_the_fast.html

In the early 1970's it cost $7 to buy a share in [Warren Buffett's] company, and that same share is worth $4,900 today... That makes Buffett a wonderful investor. What makes him the greatest investor of all time is that during a certain period when he thought stocks were grossly overpriced, he sold everything and returned all the money to his partners at a sizable profit to them. The voluntary returning of money that others would gladly pay you to continue to manage is, in my experience, unique in the history of finance.

  • Peter Lynch, "One Up on Wall Street"

I had a dream that I met a girl in a dying world. [...] I knew we didn't have long together. She grabbed me and spoke a stream of numbers into my ear. Then it all went away.

I woke up. The memory of the apocalypse faded to mere fancy, but the numbers burned bright in my mind. I wrote them down immediately. They were coordinates. A place and a time, neither one too far away.

What else could I do? When the day came, I went to the spot and waited.

And?

It turns out wanting something doesn't make it real.

~ Randall Munroe, xkcd #240: Dream Girl

It turns out wanting something doesn't make it real.

Except that in this case it did.

What made it real was (among other things) Randall posting that comic. He wanted the meetup, and chose that method to publicise it.

Wanting something isn't sufficient: desire is a force that acts upon you, not on the universe.

2Ezekiel9yJust reading that maxed out my GDA for fuzzies.

-- You can look at the stars and say "they sure are pretty" without having to calculate how many light-years away each one is.
-- Not if you want to get to them someday.

-- Questionable Content #2072

"I just read a pop-science book by a respected author. One chapter, and much of the thesis, was based around wildly inaccurate data which traced back to ... Wikipedia. To encourage people to be on their toes, I'm not going to say what book or author."

-Randall Munroe, xkcd

Gradually I began to intellectually reject some of my delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation. This began, most recognizably, with the rejection of politically-oriented thinking as essentially a hopeless waste of intellectual effort.

-John Nash, A Beautiful Mind

In other words, recognizing that politics is the mind-killer helped Nash manage his paranoid-scizophrenia.

[-][anonymous]9y 14

Or, at least, he believes it did.

2Matt_Simpson9yAre you saying that it actually didn't help Nash manage his scizophrenia or are you just inserting the uncertainty back into that statement?
[-][anonymous]9y 14

The latter. I don't think Nash is a reliable narrator.

EDIT: And not merely because of his schizophrenia. Without hard data, I'd be hard-pressed to evaluate whether or not learning a mental habit increased or decreased my sanity, and that's assuming I'm sane to begin with.

Unlike programs, computers must obey the laws of physics.

-- Alan J. Perlis, in the foreword to Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

0thomblake9yThis works as long as you think information is outside the purview of physics.
1DSimon9yMathematical systems are outside the purview of physics. I can make true statements about infinite series and n-dimensional spaces all day long and never have to actually go point at any in the real world. Except... the decidedly non-trivial exception to this rule is that whatever is actually implementing the mathematical reasoning is constrained by physics, whether it's my brain or an i5 quad core. Which is how I interpret the quote: the internal rules of abstract systems are not subject to physics, but the systems themselves sooner-or-later are. This is particularly relevant to programming because you can use non-physical abstractions if and only if you (or the people who wrote your tools) can explicitly represent them with physical processes.
0thomblake9yMy point was merely that some would consider the laws of Information Theory to be contained within "the laws of physics", and programs cannot violate the laws of Information Theory.

God created the Earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.

-- Dutch proverb

3Ezekiel9yCan someone please explain this one to me? I'm just getting "living things shape their environment", which while inspirational doesn't have much to do with rationality.

Possibly it's making a subtle equivocation between "earth" and "land", that is, the Dutch obtained a lot of what is now the Netherlands by extracting underwater land from the sea (or used to, something like that). It's not just saying that the Dutch "created their nation" in the sense of laws and whatnot, but actually "made" the land for it.

My guess, anyway.

2MixedNuts9yThat's the interpretation given in this French children's book [http://www.amazon.fr/Bulle-Voix-loc%C3%A9an-R%C3%A9n%C3%A9-Fallet/dp/2070513491] , where I first encountered the proverb.

That's also how this Dutchwoman interprets it. But of course, while it literally refers to the creation of polders, the figurative meaning is 'faith might have its place, but science and hard work are what solve problems', like PhilosophyTutor said. (With a little bit of 'Gee, aren't we Dutch GREAT?' thrown in. ;p)

5PhilosophyTutor9yIt looks to me like a more pacifistic version of "God made man, but Samuel Colt made them equal". Which could be taken to mean "faith might have its place, but science and hard work are what solve problems". Both proverbs are open to other interpretations of course.

"The older we become, the more important it is to use what we know rather than learn more."

--I.J. Good (as quoted in "The Problem of Thinking Too Much" by Persi Diaconis)

Mind is a machine for jumping to conclusions - Daniel Kahneman

… every culture in history, in every time and every place ...

We should implement a filter that changes the above phrase to "The USA in the 1950s". Because then the statements that include the phrase would generally become true.

2Eugine_Nier9yI think you're being a little to harsh on the OC. You can at least use the phrase "Western Culture in the 20th century". (;
0wedrifid9yYou can delete the duplicate comments now that they are retracted.
0[anonymous]9yI think you're being a little to harsh on the OC. You can at least use the phrase "Western Culture in the 20th century". (;
0[anonymous]9yI think you're being a little to harsh on the OC. You can at least use the phrase "Western Culture in the 20th century". (;

"If a theory has a lot of parameters, you adjust their values to fit a lot of data, and your theory is not really predicting those things, just accommodating them. Scientists use words like “curve fitting” and “fudge factors” to describe that sort of activity. On the other hand, if a theory has just a few parameters but applies to a lot of data, it has real power. You can use a small subset of the measurements to fix the parameters; then all other measurements are uniquely predicted. " Frank Wilczek

"With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk."

John von Neumann

Factually false. The Openness personality trait, and creativity in general, is linked with mental issues like schizophrenia (see also Spent 2011), while the only investigation I currently am aware of for mathematicians does not find any noticeable increase for 48 prominent modern logicians (including Godel): http://blog.computationalcomplexity.org/2011/07/disproofing-myth-that-many-early.html

(I will note I am not surprised in the least that the quote comes from Chesterton.)

The man, who in a fit of melancholy, kills himself today, would have wished to live had he waited a week.

-Voltaire, Cato

I think this quote unfairly trivializes the subjectively (and often objectively) harsh lives suicidal people go through.

As a 911 Operator, I have spoken to hundreds of suicidal people at their very lowest moment (often with a weapon in hand). In my professional judgment, the quote is accurate for a large number of cases (obviously, there are exceptions).

5lemonfreshman9yThere are many people who want to die. There are few who are willing to commit suicide to do it.
1brazzy9yThe point is that whether and how much one wants to die tends to fluctuate a lot, and the willingness to commit suicide depends a lot on the availiability of means to easily and painlessly do so. A large percentage of suicide attempts are opportunistic rather than planned. The planned ones probably succeed more often, but that does not necessarily mean that those people really wanted to die more - just that their will to die was over a certain threshold for a certain time.
3NihilCredo9y* DFW, Infinite Jest
2Desrtopa9yI have read that a majority of people who survive suicide attempts end up glad that they did not succeed (although I can no longer remember and thus cannot vouch for the source.) A somewhat alarming proportion of my own acquaintances have attempted suicide though, and all except for one so far have attested that this is the case for them.

I think this quote is objectively accurate:

"of all would-be jumpers who were thwarted from leaping off the Golden Gate between 1937 and 1971 — an astonishing 515 individuals in all — he painstakingly culled death-certificate records to see how many had subsequently “completed.” His report, “Where Are They Now?” remains a landmark in the study of suicide, for what he found was that just 6 percent of those pulled off the bridge went on to kill themselves. Even allowing for suicides that might have been mislabeled as accidents only raised the total to 10 percent."

In other words, if you ever think you want to kill yourself, there's a 90% chance you're wrong. Behave accordingly.

4quinsie9yAll this data says is that between 90% and 94% of people who are convinced not to jump did not go on to successfully commit suicide at a later date. It would be a big mistake to assume that whether or not you would come to regret your choice is 100% independent of whether or not you can be convinced not to jump and that therefore the fraction of people who came to regret commiting suicide is the same as the fraction who would have come to regret commiting suicide if they had failed their attempt.
5roystgnr9y"Apprehended" isn't synonymous with "convinced not to jump", but there does seem to be a sampling bias here, yes. (And can I say how refreshing it is to hear someone point that out and not be ignorantly insulted for it by dozens of people? Hyperlink to a "More Wrong" website omitted in the name of internet civility, but take my word for it that I'm describing an actual event.) I think even "convinced not to jump" wouldn't necessarily change the decision calculus here, though. To the extent there is a selection bias it's because some subset of suicidal people behaved in ways which caused them to avoid opportunities to have their minds changed. That's so irrational you could practically write a book about it [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/How_To_Actually_Change_Your_Mind]. One old study about one bridge is not the whole body of evidence regarding suicide, either. Read a few more bits from just that one news article. Suicide rates reduced by a third in Britain merely because one easy method became unavailable? In other words, a large minority of would-be suicides didn't even need to be convinced by someone else, they just needed less time to convince themselves than it would have taken them to find a slightly less convenient way of killing themselves. Even "very slightly less convenient" can provide enough time: 4 bridge jumpers per year were all deterred by one new barrier at the Ellington bridge, the local suicide rate went down by 4 jumpers per year, and the suicide rate at the unprotected, easily visible neighboring bridge only went up by 0.3 per year? I personally wouldn't have predicted any of this, but I don't think there's any major flaws in the data now that I've seen it. The biggest selection bias here may be one for those of us who naturally try to predict how people will rationally respond to changing incentives: applying such predictions to a tiny fraction of the population which has already self-selected for irrationality is not going to work well.
4Desrtopa9yNot that I don't think that most people who plan to kill themselves will tend to think better of it as time passes, but it's a mistake to assume that trivial inconveniences only prevent people from doing things they don't really want or believe are good for them [http://lesswrong.com/lw/f1/beware_trivial_inconveniences/].
4wedrifid9yThat isn't what the quote tells you. It is evidence that you could be wrong but certainly doesn't make you 90% likely to be wrong.
5roystgnr9yWell, yes, it just establishes a prior. But a remarkably hard prior to update, don't you think? "I'm probably in worse shape than all those people who tried to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge" would demand some exceptional new information.
2DanielLC9yIf you ever think you want to kill yourself, there's a 90% percent chance that, either you're wrong, or you will be after surviving the attempt.
2DanielLC9yFrom what I understand, it's accurate. Whether waiting a week would result in a more or less responsible decision is an open question.
2RichardKennaway9yWhen it is subjectively and not objectively harsh, what needs to happen is that their malfunctioning brain be fixed.
2dlthomas9yAnd what needs to happen, for the others, is that their objective reality be fixed.
5anonymous2599yRelevant discussion [http://lesswrong.com/lw/5id/ethics_and_rationality_of_suicide/].
4Nominull9yBut which of these more accurately represents his "actual preferences", to the extent that such a thing even exists?
7TheOtherDave9yNot only is "actual preferences" ill-defined, but so is "accurately represent." So let me try and operationalize this a bit. We have someone with a set of preferences that turn out to be mutually exclusive in the world they live in. We can in principle create a procedure for sorting their preferences into categories such that each preference falls into at least one category and all the preferences in a category can (at least in principle) be realized in that world at the same time. So suppose we've done this, and it turns out they have two categories A and B, where A includes those preferences Cato describes as "a fit of melancholy." I would say that their "actual" preferences = (A + B). It's not realizable in the world, but it's nevertheless their preference. So your question can be restated: does A or B more accurately represent (A + B)? There doesn't seem to be any nonarbitrary way to measure the extent of A, B, and (A+B) to determine this directly. I mean, what would you measure? The amount of brain matter devoted to representing all three? The number of lines of code required to represent them in some suitably powerful language? One common approach is to look at their revealed preferences as demonstrated by the choices they make. Given an A-satisfying and a B-satisfying choice that are otherwise equivalent (and constructing such an exercise is left as an exercise to the class), which do they choose? This is tricky in this case, since the whole premise here is that their revealed preferences are inconsistent over time, but you could in principle measure their revealed preferences at multiple different times and weight the results accordingly (assuming for simplicity that all preference-moments are identical in weight). When you were done doing all of that, you'd know whether A > B, B>A, or A=B. It's not in the least clear to me what good knowing that would do you. I suspect that this sort of analysis is not actually what you had in mind. A more common
1PhilosophyTutor9yI would instead ask "What preferences would this agent have, in a counterfactual universe in which they were fully-informed and rational but otherwise identical?".
8Nominull9yQuoting a forum post from a couple years ago... "The problem with trying to extrapolate what a person would want with perfect information is, perfect information is a lot of fucking information. The human brain can't handle that much information, so if you want your extrapolatory homunculus to do anything but scream and die like someone put into the Total Perspective Vortex, you need to enhance its information processing capabilities. And once you've reached that point, why not improve its general intelligence too, so it can make better decisions? Maybe teach it a little bit about heuristics and biases, to help it make more rational choices. And you know it wouldn't really hate blacks except for those pesky emotions that get in the way, so lets throw those out the window. You know what, let's just replace it with a copy of me, I want all the cool things anyway. Truly, the path of a utilitarian is a thorny one. That's why I prefer a whimsicalist moral philosophy. Whimsicalism is a humanism!"

The sophisticated reader presented with a slippery slope argument like that one first checks whether there really is a force driving us in a particular direction, that makes the metaphorical terrain a slippery slope rather than just a slippery field, and secondly they check whether there are any defensible points of cleavage in the metaphorical terrain that could be used to build a fence and stop the slide at some point.

The slippery slope argument you are quoting, when uprooted and placed in this context, seems to me to fail both tests. There's no reason at all to descend progressively into the problems described, and even if there was you could draw a line and say "we're just going to inform our mental model of any relevant facts we know that it doesn't, and fix any mental processes our construct has that are clearly highly irrational".

You haven't given us a link but going by the principle of charity I imagine that what you've done here is take a genuine problem with building a weakly God-like friendly AI and tried to transplant the argument into the context of intervening in a suicide attempt, where it doesn't belong.

2peter_hurford9yThanks to all the pushback against my initial complaint, I've retracted my downvote. I announce this here so that I can signal what a wonderful rationalist I am.

“To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.” ― Paul Valéry

1Username9yI occasionally do this as a routine for meditation/reflection/expanding perspective/entertainment/not sure what label to use, and I recommend it because I think members of the community will be able to do it. I basically go outside and walk around looking around at trees the sidewalk and grass and trying to disassociate what I'm seeing from any notions of 'tree' or 'grass' object classes. Once I can get those I can usually extend it to everything in my perception. A sort of de-object-ification, trying to hold in my mind the notion that there are no boundaries between one thing and the next, and that 'thing' itself is a fundamentally false concept. If you read HPMOR, it's Harry's thought processes when he attempts partial transfiguration. The effect is somewhat of an exhilarating experience of stepping out of the system and seeing it for what it is, and a peaceful intimate connection with the air around you, realizing that there really is no boundary between self and the world. If I can point to anything similar, it would be Jill Bolte Taylor's description of her stroke [http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html], and drug experiences I've had recounted to me, though I don't have personal experience in either area.
0Grognor9yCould someone offer an explanation for this quote?
4TheOtherDave9yMy interpretation: humans have a tendency, upon creating a node in their minds that represents a given object (or event, or class of object, or class of events, or other representable thing), to thereafter stop paying much attention to the object (or whatever) itself. For example, I've seen a U.S.quarter thousands of times, but I would have a very hard time drawing one from memory, or even selecting the correct face from a set of plausible alternatives, because I really don't pay attention to what a quarter looks like... I merely examine the object for long enough to identify it as a quarter, and then I pay attention to other things instead. One way of describing this behavior on my part is to say that, upon "remembering the name" of the thing I'm seeing (that is, on identifying it as a quarter) I give up actually "seeing" it (that is, actually attending to the particulars of the thing). And so Paul observes that, by contrast, if I am to actually "see," I must in so doing suppress the act of "remembering the name."
1David_Gerard9yVerbal overshadowing [http://lesswrong.com/lw/dl/verbal_overshadowing_and_the_art_of_rationality/].
[-][anonymous]9y 13

Rejecting all organs of information therefore but my senses, I rid myself of the Pyrrhonisms with which an indulgence in speculations hyperphysical and antiphysical so uselessly occupy and disquiet the mind. A single sense may indeed be sometimes decieved, but rarely: and never all our senses together, with their faculty of reasoning. They evidence realities; and there are enough of these for all the purposes of life, without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence.

I am sure that I really know many, many, things, and none more surely than that I love you with all my heart, and pray for the continuance of your life until you shall be tired of it yourself.

Thomas Jefferson, to John Adams, August 15, 1820.

5[anonymous]9yI had thought that Jefferson and Adams were bitter political rivals and so was very surprised to read this. With a quick check from Wikipedia, I learned that, "[after being] defeated for re-election by Thomas Jefferson and retir[ing] to Massachusetts, he later resumed his friendship with Jefferson." Anyway, I like the quote for rationality purposes as well as for the fact that I now have a start on quote-mining if I ever need to write terrifying Jefferson/Adams shipping fanfiction. Why I would need to do so is nonobvious to me right now, but it is one of many contingencies for which I am now prepared.

When you choose

How much postage to use,

When you know

What's the chance it will snow,

When you bet

And you end up in debt,

Oh try as you may,

You just can't get away

From mathematics!

Tom Lehrer, "That's Mathematics"

(If one were so inclined, one could give a quasi-rationalist commentary on practically every lyric in that song.)

Il est dans la nature humaine de penser sagement et d'agir d'une façon absurde.

English translation: It is human nature to think wisely and to act in an absurd fashion.

Anatole France, Le livre de mon ami (1885)

Anatole France is probably better known for saying, "La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain" - or, in English, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

3SilasBarta9yI love how English/French translations have so many cognates! (You could even up that one a little more by using "sagely" instead of "wisely".)

I actually have a mild distrust of cognates - I don't think the connotations are necessarily preserved.

2Prismattic9yAlso true of translated terms in general...
1SilasBarta9yI agree, especially with French. (I've seen people translate "dialogue" from French using the cognate, and it sounds like middle-manager-speak.) Didn't mean to criticize your choice, just something I've found neat.

"Suffering by nature or chance never seems so painful as suffering inflicted on us by the arbitrary will of another."

--Arthur Schopenhauer

5Jayson_Virissimo9yThis seems obviously true, but why is it true?

There's not point being annoyed at nature, but a precommitment to revenge is useful.

7gwern9yIncidentally, I would point out that I'm pretty sure I've read of psychology experiments where self-inflicted pain is rated as less painful than the same electrical shocks inflicted by another person.

Gray, K., & Wegner, D. M. (2008). The sting of intentional pain. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1260-1262. pdf

3soreff9yMany thanks for the reference! I wonder what would happen where the pain is something like a needle-stick in a blood donation: Inflicted by someone else, but with the consent of the person experiencing it. Presumably the element of malice wouldn't be present...

Remember — there is a correlation between correlation and causation.

  • ChaosRobie on Reddit

More like a causation, I'd say: causation causes correlation.

2FAWS9yBut correlation only correlates with causation.

The way I like to put it is this: "correlation correlates with causation because causation causes correlation." :)

2Bugmaster9yI believe that both of them also sell sea shells by the sea shore :-)

Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung.

-Pierre de Beaumarchais (and usually incorrectly attributed to Voltaire)

5fortyeridania9yIs this about the seductive power of music to fool people into believing implausible things? If not, what is its rationality?

I would take it to be about art in general rather than music specifically. It's socially acceptable for works of art to support a particular viewpoint - and try to convert their consumers to it - without supplying much evidence to show that it's actually true.

One example that will probably ring true with LWers is the strong lesson in lots of fiction that following one's "heart" is a better (more moral, or more likely to lead to success) course of action than following one's "head".

4lessdazed9yA similar principle might be: any popular game with poor plot, balance, gameplay, etc. has good graphics.
2roystgnr9yImagine you find yourself in a conversation with a room full of other high school kids, most of whom are as full of confusion and self-doubt as high school kids typically are, and many of whom have found solace, self-identification, and reassurance in popular music. In that context, this quote is far too stupid to be spoken or sung. I think they mostly forgave me eventually.

I don't really disagree with the point he's trying to make there, and if we restrict ourselves to talking about post-Enlightenment Western cultures the argument might be largely accurate; but over all cultures in all times and places he's simply wrong.

It's actually fairly unusual for a culture to be consistently forward-looking at all, let alone to assume that the solutions to all its problems and the answers to all its open questions will arrive in a few years or decades. Most seem to have assumed that the present world's unusually debased and that things will only get worse, usually culminating in some sort of cataclysm; compare Hesiod's Ages of Man, the Kali Yuga, et cetera. This sort of thing might seem like a reactionary fantasy to us here and now, but that or a cyclical viewpoint or some combination are part of the bedrock of myth in essentially all the traditional cultures I know anything about.

The Meander (aka Menderes) is a river in Turkey. As you might expect, it winds all over the place. But it doesn't do this out of frivolity. The path it has discovered is the most economical route to the sea

-- Paul Graham, "The Age of the Essay" (http://www.paulgraham.com/essay.html)

3jimmy9yBut its not true. (well, under the most reasonable interpretations that come to mind) Rivers do meander "frivolously" due to instabilities [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meandering_river]. Even if it didn't carve into the earth, it wouldn't be true, since it's a simple gradient descent [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill_climbing#Local_maxima].

Every properly trained wizard has heard of Abraham, the idiot apprentice who recklessly enchanted a massive diamond instead of selling it to pay someone more skilled to fix his cursed noble friend. Haven't you destroyed the bloody thing by now?

  • Raven, from Dan Shive's webcomic El Goonish Shive.

A system for generating ungrounded but mostly true beliefs would be an oracle, as impossible as a perpetual motion machine.

(McKay & Dennett 2009)

Be careful to leave your sons well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant.

~Epictetus

8JoachimSchipper9yThis is rather self-serving: the Stoics in general were renowned (and well-paid) teachers. (More practically, I've seen some articles suggesting that, in the US, the cost of some majors now outweighs the monetary benefits. The cost of education should at least be considered.)
5shokwave9yBetter to leave them well-instructed and rich, surely?
2Nominull9yyou can trade money for goodness of instruction by e.g. hiring tutors

Perhaps you are beginning to see how essential a part of reading it is to be perplexed and know it. Wonder is the beginning of wisdom in learning from books as well as from nature.

~ Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book

The story of computers and artificial intelligence (known as AI) resembles that of flight in air and space. Until recently people dismissed both ideas as impossible - commonly meaning that they couldn't see how to do them, or would be upset if they could.

-Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation

8[anonymous]9yThis is just reinforcing what people (on LessWrong) already think about non-narrow AI; you could just as easily have someone say that: I remember reading on LessWrong (though I can't find the link now) about how if folk wisdom/sayings can be reversed and applied to the situation, it means that neither is capable of giving real insight to the problem.
1MinibearRex9yI thought seriously about whether or not to post it, for that reason. And I myself have commented a few times in the past on quotes that espoused libertarianism, or transhumanism, or singularitarianism, but didn't have some sort of rationality message. While I do in fact think that AI is possible in the way Drexler wrote, the part I was actually thinking about was the definition of impossible [http://lesswrong.com/lw/up/shut_up_and_do_the_impossible/]. I actually tried to come up with a way of "censoring" the quote, while still leaving the passage readable, but I didn't see a way to do it. Which of course doesn't mean that it's impossible ;) PS. Upvoted

Every Sauron considers himself a Boromir.

~ Mencius Moldbug

2Tyrrell_McAllister9yThat doesn't seem like the right pair of characters for making the intended point. Here is the context: Boromir himself was an example of a character who was doing bad but thought (until just before the end) that he was doing good. So, to consider oneself to be a Boromir is to consider oneself to be fooling oneself in just the way that Moldbug describes. Boromir already is just the kind of self-deluded person that Moldbug is saying that powerful people are. It would have made his point better to say that "Every Boromir considers himself a Faramir". Or, "Every Sauron considers himself a Gandalf".
6DanArmak9yYou let an evil magic artifact of unimaginable power sway you for literally two minutes and that's the only thing people remember you for, for the rest of eternity.
0Tyrrell_McAllister9yHeh. But, didn't Boromir advocate using the ring as a weapon in the war with Sauron since the Council of Elrond? And wasn't it implied that, even as he acquiesced, he was still hoping to sway the others to this course down the line?
4DanArmak9yWhat's wrong with advocating a minority view, as long as you're not acting against the consensus? He first heard of the Ring at the Council. So did many of the others there. And yet he was the only one who asked the eminently rational question: why seek to destroy it and not use it? And was answered, essentially, "because that's the way the plot goes, kthxbye". Offhand, I'm sure I could think of ways to use the Ring safely. The main problem is we're never told what the Ring's powers are; so the problem of using it safely is underspecified. The Council believed that by using the Ring one could win the war by main force. Making one invisible and possibly able to understand different tongues isn't that interesting. It's said to give more power to those who are already more powerful, and to tailor the specific powers to the specific individual, so more experimentation is in order.
0FiftyTwo8yAccording to a discussion on reddit I can't currently find the idea was that the ring inncreased the power of 'will' in Tolkeins semi-mystical sense of exerting your will upon the world. So in lesswrong terms you have the ability to more effectively fulfill your utility function, but it will be corrupted and drift towards that of the ring.
3Eugine_Nier9yThe problem is that Gandalf explicitly refuses the ring for fear he would find it useful and thus be corrupted by it. Whereas Moldbug's point is about how Sauron would rationalize taking the ring. Perhaps a better phrasing would be, "Every Sauron starts out as a Boromir."
2Tyrrell_McAllister9yLike Gandalf, then, except smart enough not to pass up such an awesome opportunity to do so much good :D. Incidentally, there's an essay by Tolkien where he explores the differences between the motivations of Morgoth and Sauron: Notes on motives in the Silmarillion [http://fair-use.org/j-r-r-tolkien/notes-on-motives-in-the-silmarillion/]. Some excerpts:
0wedrifid9yNot really. For an ultimate ring of power the ring in question seems rather pissweak. The expected alteration of his own utility function (ie. corruption) more than offsets the lame ass powers that ring gives. Mind you Gandalf has plenty of his own power that he doesn't seem to make efficient use of. That seems a far bigger deal!
0Tyrrell_McAllister9yI was describing how Sauron views himself. He wouldn't think of the ring as corrupting or "pissweak".
0wedrifid9yThere were two characters to the comparison; I was talking about the other one - Gandalf.
0Tyrrell_McAllister9yFrom your replies and the downvote, it's clear that I failed to make myself clear. Here was the flow of the conversation: I said "Every Sauron considers himself a Gandalf". Eugine_Nier pointed out that "Gandalf explicitly refuses the ring for fear he would find it useful and thus be corrupted by it." Sauron knew that Gandalf did this (IIRC), so I grant that Sauron wouldn't think that he's like Gandalf in this respect. So, I said, maybe Sauron thinks of himself like Gandalf (ie, working for the greater good), except that he (Sauron) is smart enough not to pass up such a powerful tool (for so he himself thinks it) for doing such good. So, as you say, Gandalf considers the ring to be corrupting. But that isn't an objection to my point. That is just one of the ways in which I was saying that Sauron considers himself to be smarter.
1wedrifid9yEven from Sauron's point of view Sauron should not be making that evaluation - at least not about the ring in particular. While for Sauron the ring is particularly powerful and not-values-changing he knows that for Gandalf it is, in fact, corrupting and also that Gandalf doesn't get anywhere near the same power from the ring.
0Tyrrell_McAllister9yI think that part of Sauron's character is that he can't understand why Gandalf views the ring as corrupting. Maybe he should be able to figure this out, but I was describing how Sauron might think, not how he should think. As for whether Gandalf would get power from the ring — It's true that the ring wouldn't give Gandalf as much power as it would give Sauron. But it would still give Gandalf a lot of power. In some other essay, Tolkien speculates about who would win in a one-on-one fight between Gandalf-with-the-ring and Sauron-without. Unfortunately, I can't remember what Tolkien said the outcome would be, and I can't find a copy online at this moment[*]. However, I do remember that he said that it would be close, a lot closer than if neither had the ring. Tolkien also says somewhere (in LOTR or in an essay) that the ring would make someone like Gandalf an effectively unstoppable military leader in some unspecified way (IIRC). -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- * ETA: Here's at least some excerpts from that "essay" (actually a letter): http://www.americanidea.org/handouts/06240110.htm [http://www.americanidea.org/handouts/06240110.htm]Tolkien doesn't give a final verdict on who would win. The key passage:
1TheOtherDave9ySauron knows that Gandalf has different values than Sauron, and knows that the nature of the ring is to alter its user's values to be more like Sauron's than Gandalf's. If, knowing those two things, he can't understand why Gandalf doesn't endorse using the ring, then he's simply not thinking clearly.
1Tyrrell_McAllister9ySauron is probably a cynic. He probably thinks that "Every Gandalf is really a Sauron." That is, every do-gooder who seems to be guided only by virtuous principles is really a self-aggrandizing power-grabber trying to mask their power-grabbing behind a veil of pious slave-morality (as Nietzsche might put it). So (Sauron must figure), claiming the ring would actually be the best way for Gandalf to realize his own actual ends. But (Sauron must conclude) Gandalf must just be too stupid, or blinded by convention, or self-deluded, or something, to realize this.
0DanArmak9yI fail to see how this description is 'far worse' than Sauron. It seems to me far better than Sauron, who certainly wasn't ruling according to any conception of the good of his subjects.
0latanius9yI guess it would have been a much more powerful device in Sauron's hands... but that's the classic "we find some amazing new tech, then declare that it's wrong and the best thing we can do is to stay where we are" story, found in lots of sci-fi stories. (There surely is some tv tropes concept for this...) By the way, the Ring is even cooler than that... see HPMOR chapter 64 [http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5782108/64/Harry_Potter_and_the_Methods_of_Rationality] (or is this Reasoning from Non-Canonical Evidence? :P) (edit: ch. 64 is Omake files 3 with non-HP fanfics, so I really really hope it's free of HPMOR spoilers...)
2hairyfigment9ySaruman, in this image at A Tiny Revolution [http://www.tinyrevolution.com/mt/archives/002302.html].

“If you follow the ways in which you were trained, which you may have inherited, for no other reason than this, you are illogical.”

--Jalaluddin Rumi

0ChristianKl8yMaybe you are irrational. There's nothing illogical about the process.
0fortyeridania9yBut changing one's behavior often involves switching costs. Going with the flow avoids these costs. Since the benefits from switching are sometimes lower than the costs of switching (including the effort spent estimating the costs and benefits!), going with the flow is sometimes net-beneficial. Example: Aren't heuristics often adaptive, even in the modern world?
0TimS9yIs being satisfied in a local optima rational? A rationalist should recognize that there are costs to change and they might outweigh benefits, but being better at achieving goals is the point.
0fortyeridania9yThat is true, people should recognize that. In fact, I don't think I disagree with anything you've said. But I think the wording of the quotation made it sound as though following pre-established behavioral patterns were always suboptimal. Surely that claim is false?
2TimS9yIt's an interesting empirical question how much of what we do is sub-optimal. I'm sure it is larger than what most people would guess. For example, I expect that most LWers would agree that unwritten social norms, especially politeness norms, are optimized for status showing, not achievement of material goals. That part of the quote seems to limit the applicable scope. I read it as rejection of "tradition [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3698270143862427665]" as a stand-alone justification. That is, we don't drive on the right side of the street in the US by "tradition," but based on Schelling point [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Focal_point_%28game_theory%29] type analysis.
0Eugine_Nier9ySub-optimal relative to what? To what a hypothetical God/AI with unlimited computing power would recommend? Well, we don't have access to that kind of computing power. As Nick Szabo points out in this [http://szabo.best.vwh.net/tradition.html] essay, tradition often contains wisdom that would be computationally infeasible recover from first principals. So yes, all other things being equal, you should accept "tradition" as a stand-alone justification. If all other things aren't equal, then you should treat the existence of the tradition as evidence to be incorporated like other.
1TimS9yThanks for the link to that interesting essay. It seems to rely on the possibility of inter-subjective truths (i.e. truths that should persuade) that are not objective (i.e. based on empirical results). Basically, I don't believe in inter-subjective truths of that kind because they are capable of proving too much. For example, "God exists" is a plausible candidate for inter-subjective truth, but there are empirical things I would expect in a world where God exists that do not appear to be present. In short, there seems to be no limit to what can be labeled inter-subjective, non-objective truth. This asserted fragility of society is inconsistent with historical evidence. You can pick just about any moral taboo (E.g. human sacrifice [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sacrifice_in_Aztec_culture] or incest [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ptolemaic_dynasty#Simplified_Ptolemaic_family_tree] ) and find a society that violated it but continued on, and fell for reasons independent of the violation of the moral taboo. For example, Nazi Germany didn't lose WWII because they were immoral jerkwads. Germany lost WWII because it picked a fight with a more powerful opponent (who happened to also be an immoral jerkwad [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_famine_of_1932%E2%80%931933]).
1Eugine_Nier9yOnly if you think of them as incontrovertible evidence, rather than merely another type of evidence to be incorporated.
0TimS9yOk, it's clear that I don't understand what is meant by the concept of "inter-subjective truth." Why use the word truth? Especially when there is the perfectly appropriate word "evidence" for the concept of believing based on the fact that others believe. Evidence and truth are not pointing to similar concepts at all. Something can be true even if I have no evidence to believe it to be so. Contrarily, I can have evidence in support of a belief that is, in fact, false.
0Emile9yI don't think "truths that should persuade" is a good definition of what Szabo (or others) mean by "inter-subjective truths". Wikipedia is not very helpful [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersubjectivity], but I understand it more as "things whose truth-value depends of how many people believe in them", i.e. "children are expected to obey their parents", "you should drive on the left side of the road", etc.
0Dar_Veter9yWould be more interesting had author defined what he means by "highly evolved tradition" and added some real world examples. Genocide is usually (and traditionally) fate of traditional society that meets more modern one. And as for mass poverty, starvation and plagues, these were traditional part of life for all recorded history and were abolished by modernity. I'm afraid the author disproves his own thesis...
0Dar_Veter9yThe problem is that there is no such thing as "tradition". In every society bigger than village there are numerous, mostly incompatible traditions. Even in one family often happens that, if you follow grandmother's way, you anger the other one.

I have a lot of beliefs, and I live by none of them. That's just the way I am. They're just my beliefs, I just like believing them. I like that part.

They're my little "believees," they make me feel good about who I am. But if they get in the way of a thing I want or I want to jack off or something, I fuckin' do that.

Louis C.K., Live at the Beacon Theater

0arundelo9yYou beat me to it! -- I thought when I watched it that this bit would make a good rationality quote.
0[anonymous]9y.
0lukeprog9yI like Louis C.K. Many comedians tend to be genuine, but he is consistently so.

"Well, if it were true, how would the world look different from what we see around us?"

--Gregory Cochran

"Numbers---you know? The kind with decimals in them?"

--Max Tegmark, asking for some quantitative information in a vague lecture.

Winning is getting what we want, which often includes assisting others in getting what they want. Winning may forward a just cause. It may help strangers. It may discover the truth. Winning may help a loved one to succeed, a child to bloom, an enemy to see us in a new light.

Gerry Spence (emphasis his)

The Doctor: The security protocols are still online and there's no way to override them. It's impossible.

River: How impossible?

The Doctor: A few minutes.

-Doctor Who, Season 5, Episode 5

4wedrifid9yI love the quote. The Doctor is badass. But ultimately this seems to be a quote about misusing the word 'impossible' - totally out of place in this thread!
3bungula9yI see it as taking the Outside View on impossibility. Of course, in real life it usually takes more than a few minutes, but in the Whoniverse it is not unreasonable. Also, asking "How impossible?" seems to me like a good question in some cases.
7wedrifid9ySo long as it is kept in mind that "How impossible?" is merely a more polite and less coherent way of replying "Bullshit. How difficult is it really?".
1brilee9yI believe it's a bit of metahumor/sarcasm aimed at this plot device: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MillionToOneChance [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MillionToOneChance]

If wanting to be right is wrong, I don't want to be right.

-- Steven Kaas

2RobinZ9yOld joke [http://www.unshelved.com/2008-10-11], but a good one.

There are also countless examples of "top-down social planning" that leaded to huge success - from sending men to the moon to eradicating smallpox to building the TGV (French high-speed train) network to eradicating illiteracy in some countries. We can argue for long if those results could have been achieved otherwise, or if they had more drawbacks than they are worth, ... that would mean entering in a full-scale political discussion, which is not the purpose of Less Wrong. But calling it a "delusion" with a sleight of the hand like you... (read more)

2TimS9yThere appears to be a definitional disconnect here. Although the Apollo program was top-down in many ways, it wasn't what I would call social planning.
[-][anonymous]9y 7

Once man is in a rut he seems to have the urge to dig even deeper

Fritz Zwicky, Morphological Astronomy

"'...You are now nearly at childhood's end; you are ready for the truth's weight, to bear it. The truth is that the heroism of your childhood entertainments was not true valor. It was theater. The grand gesture, the moment of choice, the mortal danger, the external foe, the climactic battle whose outcomes resolve all-- all designed to appear heroic, to excite and gratify an audience. An audience.' He made a gesture I can't describe: 'Gentlemen, welcome to the world of reality-- there is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do ... (read more)

Ok, I understand that SIAI wants more visibility, and that it needs volunteers, but "Perform Search Engine Optimization" (as per http://www.singularityvolunteers.org/opportunities ) is not the way to get there. What next, Nigerian scams ?

SEO is rudimentary marketing. The analogy is absurd.

6gwern9yEspecially in our case - we do so little SEO that all the low-hanging fruit for us is white-hat SEO, SEO which genuinely helps people like adding references to Wikipedia and whatnot.

With ten-thousand-time-told truths, you've still got to ask for proof. Ask for proof, because if you're dying to be led they'll lead you up the hill in chains to their popular refrains until your slaughter's been arranged, my little lamb, and it's much too late to talk the knife out of their hands.

"The Latest Toughs" by Okkervil River http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tziQcj4XIYw

I read the quote as remarking on the problem of implementation - people often can enunciate the optimal course of action for themselves in their present situation (e.g. I should be working on my paper right now) without this enunciation having the slightest effect on their behavior. Therefore, since the benefits of rationality only accrue to those whose behavior is rational, no art of rationality is complete that does not deal with implementation.

Just as a matter of precise use of language (i.e. pedantry): no it doesn't. It merely says that it is impossible to be disappointed without first having hope.

1TimS9yGiven that Warhammer 40K is a dystopia [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CrapsackWorld] of the first degree, the natural reading of the quote is that disappointment is an inevitable consequence of hope.
4pedanterrific9yIt does sound like the sort of thing a Nurglite evangelist would proclaim, but the problem is that "disappointment is an inevitable consequence of hope" is simply not what the words mean.
3rwallace9yWarhammer 40K is one of those settings that is highly is open to interpretation. My interpretation is that it's in a situation where things could be better and could be worse, victory and defeat are both very much on the cards, and hope guided by cold realism is one of the main factors that might tip the balance towards the first outcome. I consider it similar in that regard to the Cthulhu mythos, and for that matter to real life.

There is a thing called knowledge of the world, which people do not have until they are middle-aged. It is something which cannot be taught to younger people, because it is not logical and does not obey laws which are constant. It has no rules. Only, in the long years which bring women to the middle of life, a sense of balance develops. You can't teach a baby to walk by explaining the matter to her logically -- she has to learn the strange poise of walking by experience. In some way like that, you cannot teach a young woman to have knowledge of the world.

... (read more)
5Manfred9yWe have never yet found a single illogical thing. Things, by and large, are pretty ordinary. If something is hard to teach and hard to learn, it's more likely that humans just suck at teaching and learning it. Alternately, some of this stuff sounds like it would really suck to learn, so active avoidance could be part of it too. Really well written though :D
6thelittledoctor9yOf course. What he's describing isn't rationality, it's dysrationalia - and especially the ability to compartmentalize. The rational ones in this passage are the young, who are "intimately and passionately concerned" with the existence of God, Free Love versus Catholic Morality, and so on. More than anything I see this quote as a caution against losing the fire in your belly.
4Oscar_Cunningham9yThat's the point. The passage is being sarcastic.
1Nisan9yRelated: This comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/4qf/how_best_to_show_dying_is_bad/3nqj] by Mitchell Porter.
0thomblake9ylong quote is long.

Hm. Thanks for the link; I'd somehow missed that post. It's a very clear analysis of what it means for a market to be 'efficient.'

Even given that markets are anti-inductive, though, I disagree with you that economics shouldn't be able to make many good predictions. Perhaps finance shouldn't be able to make many good predictions. But, in principle, it should be possible to delve past people's financial expectations and reason about how changes in the supply of fundamental economic inputs -- land, labor, capital, technology, the rule of law, risk-tolerance, ... (read more)

1kateblu9yResponding to the idea of economic predictions: Regardless of how challenging, we are required to engage constantly in making economic predictions. My boss asks me to do a what I view as a stupid task because (a) I do not perceive the utility or (b) I predict, based upon previous experience, that my boss will, in fact, make no use of my output; and performing this task will occupy time that I believe could be spent more productively. How I respond, whether and how conscientiously I perform this task, requires several economic decisions that are as important to me personally as whether the Federal Reserve decides to increase the fed fund rate. My action will be based upon predictions such as the downside if I don't do it or do a shoddy job; my future with the company; how others perceive my future in the company, how others perceive my boss, my prospects for employment with a different company, .... Many challenging assessments and predictions to make in a short period of time. If I understand you correctly, Mass-Driver, I agree with you. I believe that competent, risk-based decision analysis is possible and when we employ such analysis, we make less disastrous economic decisions for ourselves and others.

The downvotes this comment has received probably indicate that the downvoters either don't understand the quote or perhaps think I was quoting myself.

No. I downvoted (now) because it is a terribly inelegant and inaccurate way to express the slight grain of truth in the concept space.

The quote is speaking to emotional truths that, in all likelihood, can't be understood without life experience.

It isn't complicated at all. Someone raised in a bubble could understand given either a rudimentary education about animal behavior or a couple of sentences explanation.

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” - Zen saying

A warning that not all hyperrationality is beneficial.

Or a warning that the Zen notion of enlightenment won't let you automate menial tasks you dislike.

...or another way of saying "it all adds up to normal."

8Eliezer Yudkowsky9yHow strange; I live in an Enlightened civilization and I haven't chopped wood or carried water in a good long while. It would seem that someone has, once again, underestimated the potential of the mind because their own method did not suffice to achieve it.
5Nick_Tarleton9yThis is obviously a different sense of the word "enlightenment", and a different intended connotation of "chop wood, carry water". Downvoted. (I always thought that, like TheOtherDave said below, this quote means "it all adds up to normality".)
3Paul Crowley9yI disagree; I think that the saying is straightforwardly mistaken in exactly the way Eliezer states.
4Risto_Saarelma9yI read it as something like "enlightened or not, you're still made of atoms".
0marchdown9y... and you still have the same evolutionary history and basic urges, all of which significantly constrain your preferences and capabilities.
5jdgalt9yOr at least, that at some point, if you want to improve your lot, you need to leave off thinking long enough to build, buy, or improve some gadget or agreement that will actually help. Labor-saving tech really does equal progress.

On YouTube.

Formatting note: You can do
a line break
without
a paragraph break
by putting two spaces at the end of a line.

1Cthulhoo9yThank you, edited. Is this the reason for the downvoting, or is there something else?
8Eugine_Nier9yI have a policy of down-voting quotes that are simply anti-religious cheering.
2Cthulhoo9yThank you for sharing your reasons. I was seeing more than militant atheism in this song. I thought that a more general message could be taken from it: use the strength of your reason, don't believe what other people tell you by faith, life isn't fair and we have to actively make it better. I'm still seeing all of this, to be honest, but at this point I have to admit the possibility that I'm biased, and my positive feelings about the music are conditioning me to see more in the text than what's really in it.
1MixedNuts9yBut that's a bad message! When told "think for yourself", people just ignore the experts and make stuff up and end up worse off. ...plus, No voices in the sky is way better.
0Cthulhoo9yYes, probably, I just happened to be listening to Kiss of Death at the time :) Well, if you really think for yourself, then it's not a bad advice*. This of course doesn't mean "disregard all the experts' opinions, ignore all evidence and come up with whatever conclusion you like more", which probably is how most people interpret the sentence, I have to admit. *Assuming that losing the time to do that doesn't return negative utility. Ok, I have to concede that the issue requires a more delicate treatment.
3hairyfigment9yI'm a little torn - it still seems too long, and the line "all they do is steal" guarantees that our theists (all eight of them) will take it the wrong way, but parts seem quite good. Eh, upvoted to -1.
3arundelo9yMaybe people just don't like it. FWIW, I upvoted it.
1Barry_Cotter9yI didn't (up/down)vote (the grandparent) but I imagine it's a combination of signalling concerns and a distaste for anything resembling theism.
1Cthulhoo9yThank you for sharing your considerations. I re-analyzed my motivations and honestly I don't think I was trying to signal. There's a small possibility that part of the motivation for the post was a sort of counter-signaling ("Hey, look at me, I listen to Motorhead!"), but for what I can reconstruct I honestly thought it was a good rationality quote. I may overvalue the quote because I like the song, of course, but I still think it has some good content. While the focus here is on God, the message that can be taken from it is, in my opinion, broader.
1Barry_Cotter9yI was analysing the motivations of the downvoters, not yours. Also, why would Motorhead be counter-signalling?
1Cthulhoo9yYou mentioned signalling concerns, and I stopped for a moment to think if they were motivated (i.e. if there was a hidden will to signal). I'm here to be less wrong after all ;) In my experience it's not common for high IQ people to listen to hard rock / heavy metal. Indirectly mentioning that instead I do, could have looked like counter-signalling.

I found it in a book about rethinking aid to sub-Saharan Africa (Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo). If you google the quote it's either identified as a proverb or African proverb, so that's about as specific as I, or anyone else for that matter, can be. But I do appreciate the concern.

Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.

Euripides, Helen

7Ezekiel9yWe practice rationality because we don't have a "sense" of what not to believe, or at least not a reliable one. The closest thing is the absurdity heuristic, which is very hit-and-miss [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2d/talking_snakes_a_cautionary_tale/].

(I can't give the exact quote, as it's hearsay, and I'm translating it back into English from Russian)

During WW2, British aircraft engineers had to reach a compromise between an airplane's structural durability and other uses of weight such as armor, defensive armament, etc. The odds of losing a bomber due to its structure falling apart were much less than those of it simply being shot down; 1:10000 and 1:20 respectively. Yet when the designers proposed sacrificing some structural integrity to improve the bomber's armor plating or machineguns, the pilots w... (read more)

“The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more."

--Christopher Hitchens (Dec. 15 December 2011) The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-believer

[-][anonymous]9y 4

While I kind-of agree, quoting that out of context without an explanation is mere gratuitous name-calling IMO, rather than a “Rationality Quote”.

2CharlieSheen9yConsider some of the other rationality quotes in previous threads. I am simply following established precedences.

At some point, our society decided with great certainty that the Earth is a sphere and, consequently, that further consideration is unnecessary and anyone holding an opposing viewpoint is unworthy of debate.

-- Daniel Shelton, re-founder of the Flat Earth Society

(We're looking for good illustrations of motivated uncertainty, insistence that no conclusion can be drawn from overwhelming data. Shelton may not be a good example because he is probably a deliberate troll who does not really believe the Earth is flat. Also, religious examples are excluded, bu... (read more)

0thomblake9yIs this different from the colloquial "But there's still a chance" or "But you can't be sure"?

"One should forgive one's enemies, but not before they are hanged."

--Heinrich Heine; an early, little-known German contribution to the Evil Overlord List.

I should not choose long, hard words just to make other persons think that I know a lot. I should try to make my thoughts clear; if they are clear and right, then other persons can judge my work as it ought to be judged.

-- Guy Steele, Growing a Language (pdf)

every culture in history, in every time and every place, has operated from the assumption that it had it 95% correct and that the other 5% would arrive in five years’ time!

Don't believe it.

Cultures, to the best of my knowledge, differ somewhat significantly with respect to their attitude to moral and ideological progress or decline. It doesn't even seem particularly likely that every culture in history has even had an attitude such that it can be said to be operation with an assumption one way or the other.

Note that equal predictive power on this set of examples can be gained by say US opposition to any system except somewhat free market universal suffrage democracy.

No. I probably don't have enough fingers and toes to count all the dictatorships the US has supported just because they happened to be anti-leftist dictatorships. I think white-rule regimes are the only type of regimes that counts lower in status than "communist" to Americans.

why didn't you then put that as the example for Americans in line with Greeks supporting the Orthodox side?

... (read more)
2[anonymous]9yHeh. Sorry I know its an awful stereotype and I don't want to offend anyone but that's just such an American thing to do or say. Like: "If it wasn't for us you'd all be speaking German!"
8Karmakaiser9yEvery time I hear such discussion a dialogue runs in my head USA: If it wasn't for us that nail would have never been hammered. WORLD: It was a bolt. USA: Doesn't count. Still Hammered It.
2wedrifid9yThat's brilliant. I'll remember that one.
1[anonymous]9yI think we misunderstood each other. I basically dismissed the hypothesis I was considering in the second paragraph with the last sentence of that same paragraph. The question was with regard to
[-][anonymous]9y 4

I can only think of some that politely asked families to send them their daughters.

Reread that phrase with a cynic's mind in the context of a power struggle.

I'm pretty sure that if you had asked me what "national character" means before this thread, I would definitely have included "personality cult around a wacky dictator"!

2TimS9yFor the reasons laid out in the quote that started this discussion, I'm not sure "national character" refers to anything at all. It's either all applause lights or what behaviorists might call explanatory fiction [http://www.associationofanimalbehaviorprofessionals.com/glossary.html] (i.e. it describes certain behavior, but does not actually explain anything).
3dlthomas9yThat's not so much of a problem, provided 1) it can help you make predictions, and 2) it's not screened off by better models (which would necessarily include those that actually do explain, provided they are simple enough to be practically applied).
1TimS9yAn explanatory fiction in the wild: A: Why is Charlie doing badly in school? B: He's lazy. A: What makes you say that? B: He's always daydreaming. A: So let's B: Nah, it wouldn't work. Charlie is lazy. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- So, saying that the British don't use assassination as a foreign policy tool based on their "national character" is really just saying the British don't assassinate because they don't assassinate. Notice how saying "The British won't assassinate in the future because they haven't in the past" doesn't really invoke "national character" at all.
3dlthomas9yIf "[h]e's always daydreaming" is in fact the only evidence that Charlie is lazy, then the Lazy Charlie model is poor at making predictions new situations. If it was only the most salient, and B has much experience with Charlie in other situations that leads to the same conclusion, "Charlie is lazy" may be a better model, and a daydreaming specific intervention would be of less value. "The British won't assassinate because they haven't in the past" does not invoke "national character" but it is also discarding portions of the theory that might be put to predictive use. "The British won't assassinate because they haven't in the past, they have spoken publicly against doing so, and they seem to value the appearance of consistency", for instance - if you have evidence for each of those, you should be adjusting your belief that the British were behind the plot downward somewhat; "that they haven't in the past" is not the only kind of evidence that applies. Models of that type might, in a handwavy casual conversation (although I'm not sure Wittgenstein ever had casual conversations) be pointed at with the phrase "national character" without a specific model necessarily being described in detail.
1TimS9yIt could easily be that national character was used as a shorthand, which would make Wittgenstein's response look bad because holding conversation to a higher standard of precision without warning is quite rude. But if it's a shorthand, then it doesn't actually explain anything. And the risk is that Malcolm thought his statement was an explanation, not a shorthand. Your experience may be different, but most of the encounters I've had with the phrase "national character" are intended as explanations. Or in-group identification signals intended to avoid further questions. [http://lesswrong.com/lw/it/semantic_stopsigns/]. But maybe the idiom meant something different in 1940s England.

Your question doesn't make sense. Can you represent an actual elephant in your head?

The downvotes this comment has received probably indicate that the downvoters either don't understand the quote or perhaps think I was quoting myself.

I didn't downvote it, but other possibilities are that it wasn't attributed, and that people just don't consider it a very good rationality quote.

Let's go for two-in-one this time:

It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.

  • Bertrand Russell

The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.

  • Benjamin Franklin

I actually expected to see this one.

1RobinZ9yThey are all variations on the same theme, aren't they?

Phenotype is the genotype transformed and refracted through the lens of developmment and the environment; all genes are pleiotropic, all traits are polygenic.

--PZ Myers

[-][anonymous]9y 3

Eh. SEO has a bad reputation among the general population, but from a business perspective it's generally recognized as a necessity, if a somewhat distasteful one. SEO doesn't just include throwing together garbage pages to fool Google. (I haven't actually read the guides linked on that page, so can't comment on them specifically.)

0[anonymous]9yGiven that they're searching for volunteers, it makes more sense to appeal to the general population than to business people, doesn't it? (As a non-business-person, certain practices in SEO sound to me much like Dark Arts, though they exploit misfeatures of search engines' (rather than human minds') algorithms.)
1[anonymous]9yI wouldn't say so. For one thing, there's a substantial overlap between "business people" and "the general population," especially the portion of the general population that's likely to take volunteering for SIAI seriously in the first place. A lot of "white hat" SEO is just a matter of making the connection between search engine algorithms and what's actually being looked for. Appropriately tagging pages to associated them with relevant subjects, asking people who are genuinely fans of your site to link to it on their site, making yourself visible on the social web, etc. . .

transparently unthinking nationalism

Assume there wasn't anything Vladimir_M said that a believer in unthinking nationalism wouldn't have said. Such a person would rationalize the belief that according to some objective moral metric, one's own English nation is superior, other nations are different from England and each other but overall even the best of them are not as good, and vassal races such as the Irish are most inferior of all.

If enough Englishmen believe that, it becomes true that one can deduce from the English assassinating foreign politicians... (read more)

Also, your Wikipedia link above fails to mention even a single assassination that would have been within living memory in 1939, and which would have matched the pattern of a government conspiring to assassinate a foreign leader. So if anything, it goes against your claims.

'a government'? Yeah, it doesn't because it's not a comprehensive list. If you want lists, look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assassinations_and_assassination_attempts or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assassinated_people#Assassinations_in_Europe or heck, for anything t... (read more)

3Vladimir_M9yI am disputing your very central claim, so even if I am wrong, I don't see how this can possibly constitute "nitpicking." If it was in fact reasonable in 1939 to consider the possibility of a British plot to assassinate Hitler as wildly implausible, your original points don't stand at all. And indeed, I do believe that government-orchestrated assassination plots against a head of a foreign state were indeed considered a wholly separate category of wrongdoing back then, and one that was a particular taboo. You just can't put other sorts of assassinations in the same reference class. If you insist that things like the assassinations during the sectarian struggles in Ireland fall into the same reference class, then the inferential distances may really be too large for us to have a productive discussion here. But still note that you won't find any examples of the particular sort I asked for. (Except arguably for the killing of Dollfuss, something that it actually took the Nazis to do.)

“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” - Sir Francis Bacon

Poets do not go mad; but chess players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers: but creative artists very seldom

It seems like I have many more examples of mad poets than mad mathematicians and chess players available in my head.

2[anonymous]9yGive yourself to availability bias. It is the only way you can save this argument. Yes, let your context betray you. Your experiences with it are strong. Especially with... mad poets. So, you know some mad poets.

The fake explanation. What does the claim of 'civilization' and 'decency' add to the assertion?

I added these word specifically to parallel the paraphrase of Malcolm's claim. The rationale for their use is that there exists a specific (if somewhat vague and, on some dimensions, disputed) cluster in the space of all possible systems of social norms that is commonly associated with these words in modern English. Among other things, this includes a negative attitude towards public judicial torture and open repression of (some kinds of) anti-government speec... (read more)

scroll to 4:40 I like his one argument: if we have finite neurons and thus cannot construct an infinite set in our "map" what makes you think that you can make it correspond to a (hypothetical) infinity in the territory?

I don't really see what this argument comes to. The map-territory metaphor is a metaphor; neural structures do not have to literally resemble the structures they have beliefs about. In fact, if they did, then the objection would work for any finite structure that had more members than there are synapses (or whatever) in the brain.

The crucial point to be considered in a study of language behavior is the relationship of language and reality, between words and not-words. Except as we understand this relationship, we run the grave risk of straining the delicate connection between words and facts, of permitting our words to go wild, and so of creating for ourselves fabrications of fantasy and delusion.

-- Wendell Johnson, as quoted in Language Thought and Action

Imagine there's no heaven

It's easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

-John Lennon on leaving a line of retreat

6spriteless9yYou know, in Middle School choir I had hymns alongside this song. It was actually the first time I thought about being an atheist on purpose, not just through neglecting to go to church.
3gwern9yNot actually a dupe, to my surprise. (Personally, I would've linked to 'Joy in the Merely Real' or something; lines of retreat doesn't seem that relevant.)
2Grognor9yWell, the leaving a line of retreat article actually gives the example of a religious person imagining the world (even if they don't think it's really possible) where there's no god. Joy in the merely real makes sense too, I guess. I actually gave it 50% odds that I'd lose karma for this quote, but I like it anyway.

I understand it fine; I object to it on literary grounds (healed/heal breaks the rhythmic symmetry) and a general suspicion that this is the kind of New Agey sentiment that seems correct initially but breaks down catastrophically when one finally finds some empirical evidence relating to it and is revealed to be nothing but a platitude.

I am not sure what "Progress" or "Improvement" mean in this context, but I interpret the quote to mean, "Instead of unfounded hope, try and get some reasonable expectations, or else you're going to end up being disappointed". I could be wrong, though. In any case, thanks for replying !

I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you stock it with such furnature as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large as

... (read more)

Is there some research corroborating this quote? I have a lot of useless knowledge but it doesn't seem to stop me from accumulating useful knowledge. It does make sense to avoid spending time and energy on acquiring useless knowledge, though.

3thomblake9yIf this is a question about causality, I would assume not. Sherlock Holmes was eccentric to the point of insanity and made up all sorts of funny wrong things. In reality, it seems like in general exercising the brain improves its function on several dimensions. Also, relevant silly article about brain memory capacity [http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-is-the-memory-capacity]
3MarkusRamikin9yIt's less about making things up and more about then-current ideas that are now outdated. There are more of them in Holmes stories, like like the idea that you can tell a man's intelligence from his skull shape/size (phrenology). As I understand it (not that I can quote any research), knowledge helps gain more knowledge due to how memory works; it's easier to remember something if you have previous ideas to which to "link" or associate the new ones (and those links don't have to be within the same domain of knowledge). Also, wouldn't it be true that the more things you understand, the more likely you are to have a shorter inferential distance to whatever new ideas you come across?
2Jayson_Virissimo9yI had a different interpretation. To me, this sounded more like a warning against bad personal epistemic hygiene [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Epistemic_hygiene] and about the tradeoff between epistemic and instrumental rationality [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Rationality], not what happens when you reach the upper bound of your memory capacity. Now that I think about it, your interpretation is probably closer to what Doyle [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Conan_Doyle] had in mind (what with his 19th century pop-psychology and all).
3Normal_Anomaly9yIn the book this quote is in, Holmes uses it to justify refusing to remember that the Earth goes around the Sun.
1Karmakaiser9yHowever, he does demonstrate this knowledge later in the series and in fact turns out the be a well of useless facts later on though I don't have the source for the inconsistency handy at the moment.
4Apprentice9yReminds me of some Warhammer 40,000 quotes:
6Bugmaster9y
3MarkusRamikin9yAlways liked that last one. There are memes out there I'd rather not get infected with. Though don't listen to me; I find it impossible not to like anything said by Isador Akios [http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=rf_3ZTp4eG4#t=24s].
2TimS9yReally? The last quote seems expressly anti-rationality. Especially considering the source.
3Bugmaster9yOne could make an argument that, in the world of Warhammer 40K, keeping your mind barred and guarded is actually the most rational thing to do. Because if you do not, then instead of saying things like "only in death does duty end", you'll find yourself saying things like, "maim kill burn MAIM KILL BURN" and "Arrghbllgghhayargh NURGLE". Only it wouldn't be you saying those things, precisely, but a daemon that slipped into your unguarded mind and took up residence in your body.
4TimS9yIt may be that xenophobia is a local optimum for humanity in 40K. But technology is explicitly mystical in that universe. Imagine how many fewer problems they would have with their enemies if their stuff all worked, and they had more of it. It's like bringing a 1000 pt army to a 500 pt skirmish. Every time.
2Bugmaster9yIIRC that actually did happen a couple of times in that universe. The answers were usually "A Machine God eats the factory planet" and "Necrons". So, the outcome was... not good. On the other hand, the T'au have a pretty good handle on their tech, and they're improving it all the time, so maybe the humans could take some lessons from them. On the third hand (*), the T'au as a whole seem to be immune to Chaos corruption, which is a luxury that the humans do not enjoy. (*) Or tail or tentacle or what have you.
1MarkusRamikin9yMechadendrite, thank you very much.
3Apprentice9ySome of us enjoy the challenge of finding rationalist ideas in unlikely places - or fitting ideas from non-rational sources into a rationalist framework. In this case, it seems fairly easy to do so. As Markus already points out, it is important to keep your mind from becoming infected with bad stuff [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T69TOuqaqXI#t=471].
4Apteris9yIndeed it is. But the way you fight "memetic infection" in the real world is to take a look at the bad stuff and see where it goes wrong, not to isolate yourself from harmful ideas.
2Apprentice9yYes. In this metaphor, the guard at the gates takes a look at the bad stuff and decides against letting it into the fortress.
2jdgalt9yI'll bite: how am I supposed to judge (or predict) the usefulness of facts when I first see them, in time to avoid storing the useless ones? I think the closest we get to this is that every time we remember something, we also edit that memory, thus (if we are rational enough) tossing out the useless or unreliable parts or at least flagging them as such. If this faculty worked better I might find it a convincing argument for "intelligent design," but the real thing, like so much else in human beings, is so haphazard that it reinforces my lack of belief in that idea.
1gwern9yI don't think one necessarily edits the memory. Memories intrinsically decay [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forgetting_curve] over time; each recall is associated with a greater chance of being able to recall it in the future (memorization), with bonuses to spaced out recollections (spaced repetition [http://www.gwern.net/Spaced%20repetition]) and optional userland hinting to the OS (going to sleep while expecting to be tested on something leads to greater retention for the same number of reviews). In other words, the brain is a cache that implements Least Recently Used [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cache_algorithms#Least_Recently_Used] eviction.

Quantum phenomena do not occur in a Hilbert space. They occur in a laboratory.

--Asher Peres

0spriteless9ySo is this to differentiate the n-dimensional calculus used to model quantum phenomena from the reality of a laboratory?
1Stabilizer9yIn some sense, yes. Peres has long been of the view that instead of looking to some kind of 'philosophical interpretation' of what quantum mechanics is, we need to see what quantum mechanics tells us about the experiments we perform. And that questions such 'what quantum mechanics means' makes sense only if they tell us something about the outcome of an experiment. More broadly, I put that quote here to illustrate the difference between map and territory.

Also, your Wikipedia link above fails to mention even a single assassination that would have been within living memory in 1939, and which would have matched the pattern of a government conspiring to assassinate a foreign leader.

Successful assassination? Does that seem like the most relevant standard when it comes to the original question?

(On a side-note, the CIA seems to endorse the claim that Britain's SIS killed Rasputin. Surely we can trust the CIA...)

Why?

Sure, discounting the value of understanding is bad, but so is the Straw-Vulcan excessive attention to detail irrelevant to the current situation.

1Desrtopa9yWell, flippantly trivializing other people's passions in conversation with them is generally assholish behavior. Besides which, glass houses, unless she's dying to be asked why keeping up with her guild raids in World of Warcraft is so important.

Frankly, because two examples (Rhodesia and South Africa) don't make for a well-substantiated pattern... [...] American opposition to communism does make for a much more obvious, simple, and clear-cut example...

A well-substantiated more general pattern is that in U.S. foreign relations, anti-colonialism trumped anti-communism solidly. Besides Rhodesia and South Africa, some other major examples are the Katanga Crisis and the Suez Crisis. In the latter, the U.S. effectively joined forces with the Soviet Union to support Nasser against the British and th... (read more)

2ArisKatsaris9yAre Nasser and Mobutu supposed to be communists in your model of history? They are not in mine. Nasser opposed communism. Sure, both American and the Soviet Union preferred a non-Europe-controlled Egypt, because they respectively preferred an America-controllled and a Soviet-controlled Egypt. What does that have to do with anti-colonialism trumping anti-communism? It wasn't a communist regime that America supported then, it was Nasser's anti-communist regime. Look, I'm not interested in having a discussion where "communism" has been redefined to mean pretty much the entire modern world. I'm well aware that there exist some people (e.g Moldbug-type reactionaries) that believe that even modern-day America is "communist" according to their own definition, but I'm talking about ordinary definitions of "communism".
2Vladimir_M9yMobutu consolidated power only in late 1965, and there were many other relevant people involved about whose degree of affiliation with communism we could debate. (And frankly, I'm not very knowledgeable about, or particularly interested in, the details of this particular war.) The point however is that a reflexively and consistently anti-communist U.S. policy would have simply backed Tshombe and his Katangan government. As for the Suez crisis, the point is not about Nasser's ideology. The point is that the U.S. took the same side as the Soviet Union and a Soviet-aided regime (though, as you correctly point out, not a Soviet-run one), and against European colonial powers that opposed the latter. Again, a model that postulates consistent anti-communism on part of the U.S. cannot predict this; it will require at the very least a few epicycles. Moreover, note that you were the one who claimed that the U.S. anti-communism was simple and clear-cut. To dispute that claim, it is enough to demonstrate that the situation was in fact much more complicated and murky. It is not necessary to provide examples where the U.S. clearly and indisputably aided communists. (Though Castro and arguably Mao provide such examples.) I don't know at whom, or what, this is supposed to be directed. While I readily acknowledge that you may have reasonable disagreements with my opinions, I don't think this is a reasonable response to anything I have written in this thread or elsewhere.
2ArisKatsaris9yOr that the Soviet Union took the same side as a US-aided regime. Since said regime was anti-communist, that's a bit more surprising perhaps than the USA supporting it. I'm getting tired of this contrarian view of history. America was selling guns, bombers and napalm to Batista for the majority of the duration of his government, and even for the majority of his combatting Castro. That America stopped backing Batista a couple months before the end, that's not "supporting Castro"... that's America cutting its losses. How many communist/anti-communist nations did USA invite into NATO during the cold war? How many communist/anti-communist nations did USA sell weapons to? The torturers of how many communist/anti-communist regimes did CIA help train? Zero and lots. For the sake of my argument imagine that when I said "America consistently supports the anti-communist side", that by 'supports' I meant "sells weapons to, invites to military alliances, or helps train its torturers" Contrarian views of history work by focussing on minor details and enlarging them until they swamp out the plain-to-see elephant in the room.
3Vladimir_M9yIt is unrealistic to paint Nasser's relationship with the U.S. and the Soviet Union as symmetrical. In any case, simple and clear-cut anti-communism would have implied joining the colonial forces against a Soviet-leaning and Soviet-armed local ruler, not joining the Soviets in an effort to restrain them. However you turn it, the U.S. at some point did go out of its way to support Castro and destroy Batista. (This is a simple matter of public record, not a conspiracy theory. It involved, among other things, placing an arms embargo on Batista in a critical moment.) The fact that this was a reversal still makes it a problem for your "simple and clear-cut" theory. This is just plain false -- if anything, the communist Yugoslavia received plenty of U.S. aid and weapons after its break with the U.S.S.R. in 1948. Thus demonstrating another problem with your theory: the U.S. apparently did't mind getting friendly with at least some communists who were willing to show some degree of cooperation. Again, not what I'd call simple and clear-cut anti-communism. The existence of even minor contrary details (and I wouldn't call these minor) is a valid argument against a theory that presents things as simple and clear-cut. You are writing as if I were arguing for some bizarre mirror image of your position, whereas I'm merely pointing out that reality is much more complex.

Why would you expect intelligent design to explain that very much better than evolution?

I think the reasoning is more along the lines that intelligent design is worse at explaining haphazard mush than it is at explaining well ordered things. As such an observation of well ordered things will result in a high weighting for intelligent design than an observation of haphazard mush in the same place simply because it must be discounted far less in the former case.

[-][anonymous]9y 2

Frankly, because two examples (Rhodesia and South Africa) don't make for a well-substantiated pattern -- especially when United States was less severe than most of the rest of the world in its condemnation of these states.

Really depends on which period. In the 1950s you didn't hear much condemnation from anyone except maybe Communist countries. Makes sense since much of the US was segregated in the 1960s, also South Africa did get some non-military support from the US in the name of fighting communism, because the US needed the country for operations in... (read more)

Seeing how individual decisions are rational within the bounds of the information available does not provide an excuse for narrow-minded behavior. It provides an understanding of why that behavior arises. Within the bounds of what a person in that part of the system can see and know, the behavior is reasonable. Taking out one individual from a position of bounded rationality and putting in another person is not likely to make much difference. Blaming the individual rarely helps create a more desirable outcome. – Donella H Meadows

Statistically significant? Well, I've seen psychology studies published with smaller Ns... The point is that that is way more solid evidence than the usual litany of anecdotage which is adduced as evidence for that thesis, which is rarely meant metaphorically. Usually when one sees someone remark about mathematicians and madness, they mean it quite literally. I have no reason to think Chesterton, that old contrarian Catholic, meant it any differently.

What? They didn't implement the gameboy in minecraft? The bums!

That would have been far more efficient after all. Do that and then copy out a game cartridge and you have a video of the entire game!

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. I can imagine a lot of things that don't exist in our universe, from magic flying ponies to Cthulhu. Some of those things are physically impossible; and yet, this imagination still takes place in my physical brain... Doesn't it ?

IMHO mathematics is more or less a formalization of practical intuitions

The mathematics used for describing the universe most certainly are, by construction; but any particular mathematical structure is not linked to or unique to this universe. That is, the properties of the universe force us to use one specific mathematical structure to describe it, but that doesn't mean that this is the only possible mathematical structure. This paper explains something similar, in a better way.

For example the concept of natural numbers [...] [and] Set theory

The e... (read more)

I would point out that it is perfectly possible to be a worse predictor than a random or max-ent predictor; if all economics does is - per the quote - remove our (Marxist/Communist/socialist/Keynesian/mercantilist/Maoist/Catholic/...) delusions that we can improve on the normal workings of the economy, it will have done us a useful service indeed. Aside from the very simplest predictions relating to supply-and-demand, obviously.

3kilobug9yI don't get your jump there - we don't need to be able to forecast weather to be able to build a roof to shield ourself from rain. The same way, even if economists have no ability to forecast the market, we may still be able to devise social rules to soften the negative consequences of a market crash. Or we may not, but it's a different issue. I also don't get what you call "normal workings" of the economy. Even most of the libertarian I know about still want to enforce and protect private property, using external force to do so. So they are already distorting the "normal working". If you want to use public force to ban stealing, then you're already thinking you can improve on the "normal workings" of the economy.
1Mass_Driver9yPoint taken, but my question stands: how far are we from improving on max-ent predictions? Would you taboo "normal," please? I'm curious as to exactly what you mean.

"Clear language engenders clear thought, and clear thought is the most important benefit of education." - Richard Mitchell, The Graves of Academe

[-][anonymous]9y 2
  • Make Hyper Bubble
  • Cause Black Hole
  • Become Insane
  • PB Takes Off My Glasses
  • Save The Day
  • Win Heart Of The Princess

-- Finn's Note, from "The Real You"

An example of working precommitment (to a plan that may involve forgetting the plan).

Thanks for the upvote; I interpret the quote in a similar way.

In what way is mathematics not real?

After describing an odd subjective experience:

If the rationalist reader has had the quite super-Stylite patience to read to this point, he will surely now at last throw down the book with an ethically justifiable curse.

Yet I beg him to believe that there is a shade of difference between me and a paradox-monger. I am not playing with words -- Lord knows how I wish I could! I find that they play with me! -- I am honestly and soberly trying to set down that which I know, that which I know better than I know anything else in the world, that which so transcen

... (read more)

So your complaint is that Vladimir is arguing a point that doesn't necessarily advance his main argument. Why is this bad? That's what rationalist discussions are supposed to look like.

Usually, yes. So long as it is not used as a logically rude tactic, verbal sleight of hand to make it look like a position is being supported while doing something completely different.

(I have no idea whether that is the case here. From what I understand the conversation is a mix of 'philosophizing' about a trivial conversation by that Wittgenstein fellow and bickering about American politics. I try to avoid both.)

contrary to the commenter's claim, there are issues outside of the proposed category (religious, ideological, etc. identification with parties in foreign disputes) where heuristics based on national character make accurate predictions.

Can you give examples? Because my paradigmatic example of the use of national character to make predictions is Napoleon's (failed) prediction that a "nation of shopkeepers" would not be able to successfully resist his domination of Europe based on their supposed lack of will.

1Vladimir_M9yThat was indeed a prediction driven by obvious biases. But there are many examples where it's easy to make predictions so clearly true that they seem trivially obvious based on certain norms that are a matter of wide consensus in particular nations. For example, the same plan for a public project implemented in a country known for notoriously corrupt practices in business in government will result in vastly more graft and embezzlement than if it's implemented in a country known for a low level (and generally zero tolerance) for such corruption. What's more, even if tomorrow both these countries were occupied by some third country and had the same system of government imposed on them, in practice the former one would likely still end up with a more corrupt system, since this sort of thing tends to be influenced by deeper cultural factors that can't be readily changed by dictate from above. Whether or not you think "national character" is an appropriate term for these factors (and it is indeed a somewhat antiquated term), it's this sort of thing I have in mind, and it's easy to think of many such examples. Surely you have often thought yourself that something is much more or less likely to happen in one place than another based on the deeply ingrained local culture, customs, attitudes, etc.

Frankly, because two examples (Rhodesia and South Africa) don't make for a well-substantiated pattern -- especially when United States was less severe than most of the rest of the world in its condemnation of these states.

What about the Portuguese colonial wars, with Holden Roberto and the CIA backed FNLA and UPA?

Greece supported the Serbs in the Yugoslav wars for no more and no less reason than that its "national character" contained a self-identification with Eastern Orthodox significantly more than with Catholics or with Muslims. Now ther

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The problem with this discussion is that "support" is an ambiguous term. The U.S. government is not a monolithic entity whose parts all act in unison so that it would be meaningful to speak of its support or opposition as a clear-cut matter. What's more, its ostensible "support" is in many cases qualified, indecisive, badly executed, and attached with monstrous strings (often due to internal conflict within USG itself) so much that it ends up being ruinous for the "supported" party.

To take only the most notable example, the U.S. "support" for the Chinese nationalists against Mao's communists was, for all practical purposes, equivalent to a prolonged backstab.

2lessdazed9ySoviet support for the Second Spanish Republic is a good example of this phenomenon.

"Is there NOTHING political parties can work on together? Can't each side shift at least some of their focus towards goals they have more or less in COMMON with the other side rather than zeroing in on what they think their opponents are wrong about?"

"But they're wrong about EVERYTHING!"

"Well, fixate on whatever it is they're least wrong about, then."

2TheOtherDave9yThis strikes me as dreadful advice on pretty much all fronts that matter. To the extent that I want to improve my status, I want to focus on the stuff my opposition is least compelling about. (It would be nice if this were also the stuff they were most wrong about, but that ain't necessarily so. That said, it's unlikely to be what they are least wrong about.) To the extent that I want to solve important problems, I want to focus on problems I consider important, regardless of whether the opposition agrees with me or not. Focusing on what they are least wrong about only makes sense if what I want is to maximize cooperation. This can be a good idea if cooperation is a viable intermediate goal to something else, which is often true, but in the situation implied by this example doesn't seem likely.
1Raemon9yFirst of, 90% of the reason I posted this was become it ended with "whatever they're least wrong about." I do not think it necessarily stands up to intense scrutiny. That said, cooperation is only valuable as an intermediate goal, yes, but I think it's a pretty damn important intermediate goal. If both sides are defecting, nothing gets done. Don't forget your most important goals, but go for them strategically in a way that doesn't burn all your good will.
0hairyfigment9yExcellent points. On the other hand, cooperation seems like a good way to help your opponents learn about you and see you as an ally in at least one community. Depending on what you want [http://lesswrong.com/lw/8r2/value_evolution/5f0p], this may be at least 34% [http://andrewgelman.com/movabletype/mlm/marriagebyage.png] of the battle.

But it is relevant to this discussion:

If it is invented, then any particular piece of mathematics doesn't exist until someone thinks it up (i.e. requires a physical brain).

If it is discovered, then all mathematics exists (in some sense), but humanity can only see a small portion of the whole (and it being in a physical brain or not is irrelevant).

I'm not entirely clear on the categorical difference between the concept of an infinite set, and an actual infinite set. Aren't sets concepts to begin with, even finite ones ?

No. You have a rule that hypothetically would produce an infinite set if applied ad infinitum.

Yep, exactly; no problem with that, that's how mathematics works. There is only a problem if someone wants to write down every element of an infinite set.

there is a difference between the concept of an infinite set and an actual infinite set

This is mathematics. The concept of a mathematical object is the object, because the "concept" version satisfies all the same rules (axioms) as any "actual" version, and these rules completely describ... (read more)

4Ezekiel9yRetracted. Thanks and sorry.

Of course there’s sophisticated theology – it’s the one which uses Bayes theorem to estimate how many angels can dance on a pinhead.

-- Kiwi Dave

Each theorem is grounded in axioms (although, one is often working many, many levels above the most basic axioms). And each axiom is independent of physical reality, so it doesn't have a definite truth value (as long as it is not inconsistent with itself).

Education helps close the gap between what man believes to be the truth and truth itself.

Richard Scholz

Hope is the first step on the road to disappointment.

-- Warhammer 40,000

2hankx77879yerm, this isn't rationality... this is poisonous cynicism.
1billswift9yI downvoted it because it is meaningless noise - "hope" is the first step to anything, without hope a person would just sit there in an apathetic puddle. Without hope, a person won't even try to find the "reasonable expectations" you mentioned in a latter response. Everything is founded on "hope".
4Vladimir_Nesov9yI'd rather focus on anticipation. For me, "hope" has connotations of unjustified optimism, like "faith". As such, unjustified belief is (hopefully) a step on a road that would end with learning what's actually true and probably against unjustified belief, a "disappointment".
1Bugmaster9yNormally I consider asking "omg why the downvotes boo hoo" to be crass, but in this case I'm genuinely curious: why do you guys think that this quote is inapplicable ?

If you would ask members of the present US culture whether the legal way gays are treated is optimal I doubt you will get that answer.

One the one hand you have people who disagree with state laws that allow homosexual marriage. Some of them disagree with laws that forbid discrimination. On the other hand you do have people who would want equal marriage rights for homosexuals.

Neither side believes that their position will get cultural consensus in five years.

Why I liked it as a rationality quote: it concisely states the importance of instrumental rationality. Simply wanting something is insufficient to achieve it, you need a way to get there that survives contact with reality.

The example he gives is of an exercise system: rather than just wanting to exercise, he goes to the gym every day, and then decides to exercise when he's at the gym. He doesn't beat himself up when he decides not to exercise; he's just executing the system. The system delivers results; he exercises more than he would if he didn't follow the system.

Whenever I am confronted with a major decision like this, I think "what would the protagonist in a sci-book do?"

-- Salman Khan

(Edit: Pretty sure he means "sci-fi book".)

This lacks context. What is this "theory of thinking about the real world", and why should I believe other mathematicians are unaware of it?

[-][anonymous]9y 0

I'll repeat myself: There is a middle ground between those two extremes. Posting links at random is not an acceptable practice anywhere credible!

What is acceptable is setting up linking networks between associates and cooperating organizations, among other things. If you think SIAI is worth paying attention to, you can get a lot more done by mentioning it on your blog than by just bringing it up in conversations with your close friends occasionally.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

I thought that "want" was dissolved somewhat a while back.

That isn't dissolved. Reduced and described in detail perhaps but 'dissolved' ideas are the kind that aren't even used at all once you are done thinking them through.

0magfrump9yI agree that I'm using dissolved a bit wrong; I wrote the comment fairly late. What I meant was that the concept of "wanting" has been specified to the extent that the difference between akrasia and signaling was a practical question with actual predictive differences. I'll go back and edit the parent to specify better when I have the chance.
1wedrifid9yYes, I think I agree with your main point.

As I understand Vladimir, his point is that "national character" is more than a semantic stop sign. But political realism - i.e. Great Power politics (as opposed to other theories of international relations) does not really include "national character" as a variable for predicting the acts of nations.
So, I saw the invocation of political realism as contradicting Vladimir's overarching point that "national character" is a meaningful thing.