This is our monthly thread for collecting these little gems and pearls of wisdom, rationality-related quotes you've seen recently, or had stored in your quotesfile for ages, and which might be handy to link to in one of our discussions.

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"You know what they say the modern version of Pascal's Wager is? Sucking up to as many Transhumanists as possible, just in case one of them turns into God." - Julie from Crystal Nights by Greg Egan

Okay, that one's funny! :)
Also Crystal nights is a good story about [CENSORED] from [CENSORED].
In fact it's almost exactly the mirror image of Eliezer's Gung Nyvra Zrffntr [], which is pretty awesome.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
I hope that's not a spoiler, because I haven't read that story. If it is, please delete it or ROT13 it right now and don't do it again.
It isn't, at least, not in the sense of being a story whose punchline is "...naq vg jnf nyy n fvzhyngvba". You would already be foreseeing what Roko has mentioned by the end of the second screenful (and crying out, "Ab! Ab! Lbh znq sbbyf, unir V gnhtug lbh abguvat?").
Reading through it now. There are two relevant words in Roko's description, only one of which is obvious from the outset. Still I'm not sure I fully agree with LW's spoiler policy. I wouldn't be reading this piece at all if not for Roko's description of it. When the spoiler is that the text is relevant to an issue that's actually discussed on Less Wrong (rather than mere story details, e.g. C3PO is R2D2's father) then telling people about the spoiler is necessary...
2Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
So rot13?
I suppose. The comment could be: "Also Crystal nights is a good story about a topic of some interest to the futurist/transhumanist element on LW, namely rfpncr sebz n fvzhyngvba."
This story sports an interesting variation on the mind projection fallacy [] anti-pattern. Instead of confusing intrinsic properties with those whose observation depends both on one's mind and one's object of study, this variation confuses intrinsically correct conclusions with those whose validity depends both on the configuration of the world and on the correct interpretation of the evidence. In particular, one of the characters would like the inhabitants of the simulation to reconstruct our modern, "correct" scientific theories, even though said theories are in fact not a correct description of the simulated world. Here is a relevant (and spoiler-free) passage. The mistake, of course, is that if the simulation's sun is merely projected on a rotating dome, then heliocentricity isn't right at all. edit: it turns out that Eliezer has already [] generalized this anti-pattern from minds to worlds a while ago.

The Patrician took a sip of his beer. "I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect I never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to its day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that's when I first learned about evil. It is built in to the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior."

-- Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals

John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.

-Isaac Asimov, The Relativity of Wrong

For anyone else who went rushing to the search bar: it's been quoted in posts, but not in quote posts. Upvoted.
Thanks. I recently read this because it was linked on Hacker News, but I see that it's also linked from a LW post.

My genes done gone and tricked my brain
By making fucking feel so great
That's how the little creeps attain
Their plan to fuckin' replicate
But brain's got tricks itself, you see
To get the bang but not the bite
I got this here vasectomy
My genes can fuck themselves tonight.

—The r-selectors, Trunclade, quoted in Blindsight by Peter Watts

I highly recommend anyone interested in hard sci-fi to read Blindsight.
Ditto. On the Mohs scale of sci-fi hardness, Blindsight is aggregated diamond nanorod.
The Mohs scale is used to rank hardness of solids. It does not measure faithfulness of books to the science fiction ideal.

You're thinking of Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness. AngryParsley was referring to Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness, neither of which should be confused with Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness.

According to V. S. Ramachandran, schizophrenics lack the ability to understand or create metaphors. I didn't want to link to the massive time vacuum that is TV tropes, but I figured people would understand the metaphor even if they hadn't run in to it before.
I understand metaphors. I just don't understand why there would be a need for scale for science fiction writing. It's much more important to be able to look up material properties.
What about a scale that tells us how much a work of fiction deals with paperclip manufacturing and resource harvesting? Surely you need some way of communicating the traditions and norms of paperclip creating to your youth. Edit: and come to think of it wouldn't you be interested in in fictional explorations of possible future ways of manufacturing paperclips? And wouldn't you want to know which of those explorations was the least fantasy and most based on reasonable extrapolations from current knowledge?
In theory, yes. In practice, humans have very little to offer in terms of the ultra-efficient methods of paperclip production I normally use. I don't expect any book to be rated higher than 1, if you compare to what I already have. What are you talking about? I don't have to do biological self-replication (or sexual semi-replication at the genetic level) like humans do. I just make a perfect copy of myself. It already has all my knowledge and values.
People yes. Paperclip maximizers/office assistants no.
actually it's not that easy to see the tvtropes connection, I mean I spend quite a while on tvtropes when I go there-who doesn't?- but in never crossed my mind that that was what you meant.
I've read it, and while I liked it and it gave me some things to thing about... V'ir ernq vg. V guvax fbzr bs gur gevpxf gung gur bgure fcrpvrf chyyrq jrer n ovg dhrfgvbanoyr gb znantr jvgubhg frys njnerarff. (yvxr gur jubyr "zbir orgjrra oenva plpyrf gb or vaivfvoyr" guvat. Jbhyqa'g gung ng yrnfg erdhver fbzrguvat yvxr "vs V qba'g qb guvf, V jvyy or frra"? Bs pbhefr, vs frys njnerarff (va fbzr frafr) naq pbafpvbhfarff pna or frcnengrq, gura lrf, V pna rnfvyl frr pbafpvbhfarff orvat fhcresyhbhf (va gur frafr bs n pyrire ercyvpngbe orvat noyr gb qb jryy jvgubhg vg). Ohg gur nhgube frrzrq gb zhfu gur gjb gbtrgure. (Naq jura gur guvatvr qvqa'g abgvpr vgfrys va gur pntr/obk/rgp... gung vg qvqa'g pbhag vgfrys nzbat gur ragvgvrf gurer, gung'f whfg fghcvq.)
How do I decode this?
It's ROT13 - a Caesar cipher with a period of 13, so that encipherment and decipherment are the same operation. [] has a decoder.
Pyvpx urer []
this is awesome and I laughed at the end, I was planning on reading it actually, thanks for posting that link :)

"He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense."

-John McCarthy, on mainstream environmentalism.

As someone who regularly gets into arguments about this, I can say that he's definitely right; you wouldn't believe the amount of nonsense that can be disposed of simply by looking up the relevant numbers and doing a minute's worth of easy arithmetic.

For example, I've heard some people recently claiming that a combination of solar photovoltaics, electrolysis to produce hydrogen, and these new Bloom box fuel cells are cheaper than nuclear fission. Look up the costs of solar farms; about $3 per peak watt. Their average power output is less; we can very optimistically assume that they run at 20% of capacity on average. Efficiency losses from electrolysis and fuel cells are about 50%. Putting it all together, this would cost about $30 per watt of average power delivered. Not including the cost of the fuel cells.

A little googling will show that the total cost of building two new AP1000 reactors in Georgia is about $14 billion, and they average at least 93% of their peak power, and transmission line losses bring their average power delivered to about 1000 MW each. So thei... (read more)

up-voted, but I don't think it's simple arithmetic that they're missing, there's a lot of ideological baggage preventing the masses from seeing nuclear as the better alternative. I'd caution against such under estimation of people's mental capacities, if only they knew how to add and subtract almost entirely misses the point-and is too condescending, not good PR. politics is the mind killer [] seems to be relevant here.
I never said that they're incapable of doing the math, just that they don't. For whatever reason. No further condescension is intended; just a really helpful suggestion.
ok, I see your point.
You can make the calculation return any result you want, for example by including cost of millennia of nuclear waste storage in price of nuclear power; another thing - nuclear power gets massive federal insurance subsidies (but then coal gets free license to kill people by pollution etc., so it's not exclusively nuclear problem). If you know what result you want, you will be able to come up with it.
You can calculate arbitrarily high costs for anything if you try hard enough. What of it? We're not going to deal with nuclear waste by sticking it in Yucca Mountain and guarding it for thousands of years; that would be silly. Here's a summary of how to realistically deal with nuclear waste. [] We have more than enough money for this budgeted as part of every nuclear plant's operating and maintenance fees. Not true (PDF warning). [] The nuclear industry runs its own insurance pool, paid for out of their own pocket. The regulations requiring this do say that the federal government may help out in extreme circumstances (i.e. something on the scale of Chernobyl) but to date the feds haven't spent a dime on this. And I see no reason to believe that they ever will. If you're motivated to play games with the figures, consciously or not, then sure you can. But I try to avoid that sort of thing, and it tends to be pretty obvious. Note that I'm not accusing you of dishonesty -- but I'm guessing that you ultimately got those arguments from someone who was trying to make the numbers fit his position, rather than the other way around.
Another thing to calculate on the cost of nuclear power: photovoltaics don't have evacuation plans, labled evacuation routes, large government monitoring safety boards, or National Guard/Air Force aerial defense concerns. It's hard to look up data on so-called "externalities" like that.

Solar power requires heavy industry to build, and that has loads of externalities. It takes up a lot of space and affects local climate and ecology. And then there's the unreliability of the sun, which can have economic consequences.

As for the nuclear externalities you mentioned, the evacuation planning and government safety things are paid for by power plant fees, and budgeted into the cost of building and operating the plants. Defending the plants is something you have to do with all forms of power generation, and I actually think you're miscalculating the risks by looking at the power plants themselves, which (in the case of nuclear) tend to be pretty beefy and well-guarded. Attacking the transmission lines would be much easier, and much harder to defend against. This goes double for wind and solar farms that are located far away from everything and have to use longer power lines.

(And really, what are the odds you'll ever have to use those evacuation plans? I'd worry more about crossing the street. No water-moderated reactor has ever had an accident that made evacuating people nearby a good idea, even after all these decades of operating them, and there are good theoretical and ... (read more)

As a point withiin the greater whole, I don't think that the security requirements of photovoltaics are the same as those for a nuclear reactor. Also, security difference between "spent" photovoltaic cells v. spent nuclear fuels? In any case, the overarching point: "you wouldn't believe the amount of nonsense that can be disposed of simply by looking up the relevant numbers and doing a minute's worth of easy arithmetic." turns out to not be so simple, because there are a lot of issues involved. There's the issue of disposal, which you show a link to, but you don't seem to have incorporated those numbers. There's the issue of how much taxpayer money goes into scrambling jets near Indian Point each time alerts are raised, etc. The calculation clearly isn't easy in the present, and also does not incorporate the cost/benefits analysis of focusing on photvoltaics because ultimately they will almost certainly be more efficient (your efficiency/production rates for existing infrastructure doesn't reflect changes and advances in technology, of which there are many). In short, "easy arithmetic" isn't always so easy.
I won't bother looking up figures as I'm not terribly interested in long term nuclear waste, but you're wrong about insurance (at least your argument is wrong, not necessarily the conclusion). Implicit or explicit guarantee for extreme cases are worth trillions. There were some papers measuring how much even implicit guarantee was worth for Fannie Mae/Freddie Mae, and this was enormous amounts by letting them raise money far cheaper than would be otherwise possible (and taxpayers eventually paid, but it was beneficial to Fannie/Freddie long before that).

Do you consider the law regarding car liability insurance to be a subsidy? It requires you to carry liability insurance up to a finite amount, despite the fact that you can do much more damage than that with your car, and then bankruptcy law will shield you from paying the full amount.

This is the same kind of insurance nuclear plants have: they're require to have an insurance on up to $X of damages, and then "someone else" bears any cost beyond this.

Nuclear plants can't be insured for the damages in a meltdown. Not because the risk is so huge that it should never be done, but because any jury award would be effectively infinite, irrespective of the actual damage. There's no point to buying insurance when the uncovered liability increases in lockstep with your insurance coverage. However, the actual meltdown risk is extremely small and even the required insurance is effectively overinsuring the plants.

This nuclear plant "insurance" can't be compared to what FM/FM had because they are able to continue operation and making profits after a "meltdown", while a nuclear plant would be over and done with.

If you don't like the kind of uncovered liability nu... (read more)

Making drivers not responsible for damages they cause is a massive subsidy, and without it we'd have far more investment in car safety (and I mean genuine kind like replacing human drivers with robots, black boxes, and compulsory alcohol testers before it lets you drive, not current air bag waste of time), and far fewer deaths and injuries.
Pardon, but I don't see how this is responsive to my comment. 1) Drivers are made responsible for the damages they cause, up to the limits imposed by bankruptcy law; the law also attempts to ensure [sic] that each driver on the road is capable of paying up to $X in damages. What they are not made responsible for is arbitrarily large damage they could potentially do, but this is unavoidable -- no one is capable of setting aside that much money, even solar power operators (or rich people). 2) In absence of "making drivers not responsible for damages they cause", we most certainly would not have more investment in car safety; we wouldn't have cars, period. (BrE: Full stop.) Or, without the multiple negatives: If everyone driving had to be capable paying all damages they could ever potentially do with their vehicle, no one would be allowed to drive, or use most technologies. I don't think you're understanding the implications of this requirement. Yes, drivers -- and nuke plants -- should carry insurance. Maybe the required amount (in either case) is too high. Or too low. Or derived from the wrong process. But no one can insure unlimited liability, so the safety improvements you describe just wouldn't happen if that were a requirement; the technology just wouldn't be used. But once you accept that people should only have to insure up to a finite amount, and given the low, self-borne risk of nuclear plants, you must accept that they already meet this. 3) Arguably, the reason we don't already have self-driven cars is precisely the phenomenon I warned about: uncovered liability increasing in lockstep with coverage. The average person who kills someone with their vehicle is typically required to pay a lot less than when it is done by a wealthy corporation. Given jury reactions to new technologies and wealthy corporations, if someone actually did offer self-driving cars, they could very well have to pay out more in damages, even if they were safer than 99% of human driver
4Paul Crowley12y
The motto of this book on sustainable energy is Every BIG helps []
You can't run cars with power that comes directly through the power line. You ignore the running cost of the nuclear reactors. You don't price risk from blowups and you don't price long term storage costs. Risk from peak uranium [] is also unpriced. If the word "average" would be meaningful in this context than you would simply compare solar cell productivity + transmission line losses to nuclear plant costs + transmission line losses. Of course you can do simply arithmetic but that doesn't mean that you are right when it's not clear that you are using the right numbers.
No, but you can power people's homes, businesses, and industry. Currently we're burning ungodly huge amounts of coal to do that. Just because a green energy source isn't the final solution to all energy needs is not a point against it. I was addressing the argument, often put forward, that the up-front costs of nukes are much higher per-kilowatt than other green energy sources. The operations and maintenance costs of nuclear energy are so low that they are seldom attacked. Here are some approximate numbers [] Those are both included in the O&M costs, actually. And by the way, name me a single light water reactor that has blown up. Or any modern reactor, for that matter. There are good reasons to believe that such an event is very unlikely or (in some cases) actually impossible. As for long-term waste management, I've addressed that in more detail here []. It's surprisingly straightforward. Construction costs? O&M costs? O&M plus loan payments until the up-front investment has been amortized off? There's more than one type of cost to consider, so I decided to focus on the particular argument that construction costs were too high. As for "average" being meaningless, it's true that I've ignored transmission line losses. Those are not high enough to significantly affect the calculation, and both nuclear and solar tend to have longer-than-average distances between the plants and the consumers, so I doubt there would be too much difference between them (unless you went with something like the idea of putting solar farms in the Sahara desert and sending the electricity to Europe).
You aren't comparing the price of nuclear vs. the price of solar but the price of nuclear vs. solar + hydrogen. By your own numbers the price of solar is 3$ per watt while the price of nuclear is 7$ per watt. Your solar power plant that's backuped with hydrogen produces the energy at different prices at different times. While a nuclear plant can produce the same amount of power at night than at day it's not possible to change the amount that gets produced as fast as you can change how much hydrogen you burn in fuel cells.
Oh crap, you're right. I got this confused with another discussion. Sorry about that. Anyway, the latter is a more meaningful thing to compare. That's cost per peak watt; a more relevant number is cost per average watt (assuming perfect energy storage at no cost). To get that, you have to multiply by the capacity factor. For new nuke plants, that's about 93%. For solar, it about maxes out at 20%. So construction cost per average watt would be about $7.50 for nuclear and $6 for solar. Of course there's more to it. There's the cost of storage and backup, and maintenance, and of course the plant lifetimes differ by a factor of 3-4, and both types of power will get significantly cheaper to build over the next decade or so. But as a first approximation, you could do worse than multiplying peak cost by capacity factor. Correct (for large light water reactors). Power grids do need the ability to adjust production to meet rapid changes in demand. What of it?
Not to dispute your point, but solar photovoltaics should hopefully soon become much cheaper: []
Very cool, although it needs to become a lot cheaper if it's going to be competitive. I see a viable niche for solar in places like California, where the air conditioning needs in the summer cause the peak power to come at a time when the sun is shining brightest. This is rough on the power grid. Solar panels could be very useful for smoothing out the peaks there, if it can be made cheap enough. Meanwhile, nuclear has a new wave of modular reactors [] coming. It's going to get quite a bit cheaper, too, and it's still nowhere near its full potential, as the LFTR [] folks can attest. Anyway, nerding out aside, my point remains that simple arithmetic is necessary and often sufficient to discuss this sort of thing like grown-ups.

In an universe full of inanimate material, sentient beings are gods.

-- spire3661, in a Slashdot post

If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.

-- Isaac Asimov

Science is the only news. When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn’t change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly.

--Stewart Brand, Whole Earth Discipline (2009), p 216

Add to that Eliezer's admonishment to not worry about scientific controversies [].
Except technology isn't really that predictable, even with the science. That's what engineering's for.

"As one shocked 42-year-old manager exclaimed in the middle of a self-reflective career planning exercise, 'Oh, no! I just realized I let a 20-year-old choose my wife and my career!'"

-- Douglas T. Hall, Protean Careers of the 21st Century an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

-- Herbert Simon 1971

…it is fatally easy to read a pattern into stochastically generated data.

-- John Maynard Smith (The Causes of Extinction, 1989)

There can be patterns in stochastically generated data.

"Death is the most terrible of all things; for it is the end, and nothing is thought to be any longer either good or bad for the dead."

-- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

The halt can manage a horse,
the handless a flock,
The deaf be a doughty fighter,
To be blind is better than to burn on a pyre:
There is nothing the dead can do.

-- Havamal

--Sayings of the High One
Venerating a corpse does it no good, and vilifying it does it no harm. (I suppose I should add a qualifier - I mean either a non-cryonically suspended legal corpse, or an information-theoretically-dead corpse. That covers the case if one were to extend "venerate" to include include maintaining-in-cryonic-suspension)

(posted in the right thread this time)

People constantly ignore my good advice by contributing to the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, CARE, and public radio all in the same year--as if they were thinking, "OK, I think I've pretty much wrapped up the problem of heart disease; now let's see what I can do about cancer."

--- Steven Landsburg (original link by dclayh)

"It is said that those who appreciate legislation and sausages should not see them being made. The same is true for human emotions." -- Steven Pinker

The man who lies to others has merely hidden away the truth, but the man who lies to himself has forgotten where he put it.

old Arab proverb, according to this page, which is itself interesting

I haven't taken this position just to be difficult. To look around, the world does appear to be flat, so I think it is incumbent on others to prove decisively that it isn't. And I don't think that burden of proof has been met yet.

-- Daniel Shenton, President of the Flat Earth Society as of 2010

7Paul Crowley12y
Even this isn't true!
I haven't yet tracked down a good quote on this type of "asymmetric intellectual warfare", where one advances some outlandish claim that lays waste to large portions of a consistent belief network, and then insists it's the victim's obligation to repair the damage. I'm pretty sure the idea has been around for a while, perhaps not in terms of that military metaphor. Is that topic covered somewhere in the Sequences?
It's not presented in terms of information warfare, and it doesn't explicitly cover "insist[ing] it's the victim's obligation to repair the damage", but the original article on Dark Side Epistemology [] (now known as "anti-epistemology", I hear) sounds similar to what you're getting at. Specifically, the point that to deny one scientific fact, you need to deny a massive network of principles and implications, to the point that your entire epistemology ends up either contradictory or useless.
It's clearly an abuse of the concept of the Burden of Proof. Along with some motivated skepticism.
In a similar spirit: -- PatternChaser0, commenting on the story about Daniel Shenton.
I just read their website. Its embarrassing but I have to say that honestly the centripetal force argument never occurred to me before. Rough calculations seem to indicate that a large man 100Kg should be almost half a pound heavier in the day time as he is at night. Kinda cool. Now I am dying to get something big and stable enough to see if my home scale can pick it up.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
Quick look didn't find it, but I don't see why this follows (and at a wild guess, I'm guessing it doesn't). Can you link?
It doesn't. My though process was too silly to even bother explaining.
As you stand on the equator, with the Sun directly overhead, its gravity is pulling you away from the Earth's center. On the other side of the Earth, the Sun's gravity pulls you in towards its center. Consequently you weigh slightly less at noon than at midnight. However, since the force of the Sun's gravity on a 100-kg mass 1 AU distant is about 0.006 Newton, an average bathroom scale is not going to notice.

And the Earth is slowly curving in its orbit, generating an apparent centrifugal force that decreases your weight at midnight, and increases your weight at noon. Except for a very tiny tidal correction, these two forces exactly cancel which is why the Earth stays in orbit in the first place. This argument would only be valid if the Earth were suspended motionless on two giant poles running through the axis or something.

The Earth is a (fairly) rigid body held together by its internal structure, and is not required to be moving at orbital velocity at every point on its surface. That is, the effect you mention exists, but it is not clear that it exactly cancels the gravitational effect. (Or equivalently, it's not obvious that the tidal effect is small.) Don't forget that the Earth's rotation is reducing your effective orbital velocity on the day-side, and increasing it on the night-side. Now, if you have some numbers showing that the cancellation is close to exact for the specific case of the Earth, that's fine. An argument showing that it's always going to be close to exact for planet-sized bodies in orbit around stars would also be convincing.
According to Wikipedia, solar tides are about 0.52*10^-7 g, as opposed to lunar tides of about 1.1*10^-7 g. One part in twenty million and one part in ten million, respectively.
This was my original thought until I realized that of course it cancels or else the earth would crack into pieces.
The non-cracking of the Earth demonstrates only that the tidal force is small relative to that required to crack the Earth apart, which may not be a particularly strong upper bound on human scales. :) However, RobinZ's numbers show that it's also small relative to human weights, so there we go.
No, because it pulls you, your scale and the Earth all (very close to) equally.
I feel like an idiot for not seeing this earlier: you're right; this is the tidal force [] problem. In other words, the measured weight of 100-kg human changes from Solar gravity by 5.2 [edit: milli]grams between equitorial solar noon or midnight and equitorial dawn or dusk.
This would only be relevant if you were accelerating relative to the Earth. The scale measures the normal force keeping you at rest relative to the Earth's center; the force being exerted on the Earth does not change that. (Modulo the orbital-velocity argument, which I'll respond to separately.)
I got 0.6N (=6.7e-11 2e30 100/(1.5e11)^2). Still small, but potentially measurable. (Er, except for the whole frame-of-reference thing mentioned above.)
Oops, added a zero typing the numbers into my calculator. :oo
Don't forget to adjust your calculations for not being on the equator, and to take into account that 'nighttime' is not equivalent to 'the Sun pulls you directly towards the center of the Earth'. Both tend to make the effect smaller.

"There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you."

-- J.K. Rowling, Harvard commencement address.

Alas after a certain age, every man is responsible for his own face. -Camus
If they raped you, starved you/fed you paint chips, beat you to the point of brain injury, tortured you? How about being born in a place where the pollution is so bad that you're likely to get sick/die from with a very high probability? Places that are completely ravaged with drought or famine? Places where genocide is fairly regular? Where your parents are so destitute that they are forced to feed you the absolute worst food (or even non-"food") so that your brain/body never develops properly? Of course, for people/places where rape/forced childbirth is prevalent or the knowledge of how pregnancy occurs is still non-existent, it's understandable. For places where the former isn't and the latter is, there really should be no statute of limitations on blame. The quote is good, but should be understood to apply only in certain contexts (i.e., to people who weren't born into horrific conditions and who live(d) in a place with something resemble equality of opportunity.) Not understanding this perpetuates the idea that "everything that happens to you is your own fault" that appears in some popular strains of political thought today, when it clearly cannot be universally applied.

She was talking to students at Harvard.

All advice is relative to a certain context.
The parent comment originally read, "pain chips", which was apparently more thought-provoking than intended.
For most of the cases you describe, the antecedent isn't satisfied, so the local implication (old enough to take the wheel -> responsible) is trivially satisfied.
This is potentially misleading. If you want to improve your life, discovering who you should really blame does not amount to accomplishing an instrumental goal.
I don't see how this relates to the quote, unless you're interpreting "responsibility lies with you" as meaning "you've only yourself to blame". To which I would say, well, don't do that.

Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Successful zealots don't argue to win. They argue to move the goalposts and to make it appear sane to do so."

-- Seth Godin

"One thousand five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat... and fifteen minutes ago, you knew people were alone on this planet. Think about what you'll know tomorrow." -- Agent K, "Men in Black"

Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat...

Not true! The ancient Greeks measured the circumference of the Earth to within 1%.

But five hundred years ago ancient Greeks hadn't lived for centuries already.

They (Italians and other Europeans) still knew the Earth was round. Indeed, if you live near a sea port this is a very easy thing to figure out. The resistance Columbus faced was that everyone thought the world was much too big to get to the Indies in a reasonable period of time by sailing west. And of course everyone was right and Columbus had no idea what he was talking about.

Edit: And actually I'm pretty sure the authorities cerca 1492 were basing their beliefs about the size of the Earth on work done by the ancient Greeks.

note that it wasn't Europeans alone who 'knew' this by that time.
Right, I just didn't want to start listing cultures since I'm not sure who had this down and who didn't. Actually, I'd be surprised to learn of any seafaring cultures that hadn't figured this out. There is also the question of how much this information and trickled down to the non-educated person. In seems plausible some landlocked and illiterate European peasants might have believed the Earth to be flat.

The terrible truth is that postmodernism is what happens when somebody who believes what he reads, reads the Philosophy canon.

-- Quee Nelson, The Slightest Philosophy

I really think my version is less wrong.
Reading through, I see [edit: she - I apologize] later writes: ...a sentiment reminiscent of Orwell's thoughts [].
0Alex Flint12y
I agree-- I've only skimmed the first few chapters but so far I find it quite clear-minded amongst very murky subject matter. There are some hilarious quotes in the first chapter. I don't know enough about postmodernism to know whether she's really addressing their core arguments.
I wouldn't defend postmodernism but the treatment of modern philosophy, particularly Humean phenomenalism, is pretty bogus. Just putting the two in the same camp is a mistake as far as I'm concerned. I've only skimmed the book (and of course I can't see parts of it) but it looks like she is systematically misunderstanding skeptical arguments (to the point where I really do doubt she has read Descartes closely) and then falling back on G.E. Moore type Here is a hand! [] idiocy. I do wish I could see her treatment of the burden of proof issue, though, since so much of her discussion relies on it. Part of the problem is that she is conflating around two dozen distinct positions. No real person would ever defend every single one of the positions this "Professor" defends! And every time the Professor just gives in after the Student refuses to accept one or more obvious premises. It's actually pretty frustrating to read. I probably don't accept more than a handful of the positions attributed to the professor though, so it's hard for me to tell if this is the case with all the arguments.
2Alex Flint12y
Jack, this is actually part of an ongoing debate with a friend and I would quite like to be better informed about what the various postmodern positions actually are. Can you recommend a good overview/starting point given that I don't have a very great amount of time to invest? Or is it simply too broad a subject to ever get a reasonable birds-eye view?
Everyone feels this way, including postmodernists. Maybe. Can you give me a better idea of A) what the debate is about exactly and B) what your background is with philosophy?
2Alex Flint12y
Fair point :) I've little formal philosophical training other than a little logic and what I've picked up out of my own personal interest. The debate is about whether the general public's surprise when scientific consensus turns out to be wrong is explained by a misconception of realism. My counter-claim is that science attempts to approximate, and hopefully gets closer over time to, truth, and that no one should be overly surprised when a scientific theory is overturned in light of new evidence.
Readings for the topic. You can probably get by reading Wikipedia Entries and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Entries, for the purposes of your debate. Start with the Hacking, then the SEP articles then Kuhn, then Feyerbend and any other interesting names that come up. Thomas Kuhn- The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Summary []) Paul Feyerabend- Against Method (SEP Entry []) Ian Hacking- The Social Construction of What? [] Some highly relevant SEP articles: Social constuction [] The Social Dimensions of Scientific Knowledge [] Social epistemology [] I wouldn't call any of the above postmodernist. Hacking just discusses "The Science Wars" from sort of a pox on both their houses perspective. Postmodernists are on the extreme social constructionist end of the debate but the best arguments don't come from there. Kuhn is classic and must read. For general philosophy: Descarte's Meditations on First Philosophy. Read, Meditations 1, 2 and 6. Read the middle ones only if you enjoy exercises in futility (you'll have to give Descartes the existence of God for #6 to make sense though). David Hume Enquiry Concernign Human Understanding/Treatise of Human Nature Book One. Also, his critique of the Watchmaker argument if you haven't already heard it from Dawkins. Kant and Hegel say some smart important things but basically not enough to justify their length and obscurity. If you can find good second hand summaries and descript
If you don't have much experience with philosophy, I would not recommend starting with anything postmodernist, or anything along those lines. Before bothering to try to understand what those folks are up to (not much, in my opinion) you might as well look at more worthwhile stuff, like: 1. Logic. Learn sentential (propositional), predicate, and modal logic. Learn how the recursion theorem guarantees a function to exist which maps freely-generated syntax to semantics. 2. Ancient. Read some (Socrates) Plato / Aristotle. "The trial and death of Socrates" plus the Republic is a good package of Plato, and Nicomachean Ethics is enough Aristotle. 3. American. Read everything by Emerson, and some Peirce and James. Also Wittgenstein - he counts. 4. Contemporary. Dennett is always a good read. Also probably some other stuff. 5. Existentialists. I'm not quite sure what they're doing, but it's weirdly thought-provoking. Read whatever Nietzsche you'd like (other than Will to Power), some Sartre, and whatever else falls off the shelf. Now you're getting dangerously close to postmodernism, so expect a lot of it to not make any sense. 6. Utter nonsense. If you're serious about taking postmodernism seriously, you need to read a lot of their forerunners. Hegel, Marx, and Heidegger are particularly bad examples. You can skip Marx, since practically everything he said about economics was wrong, and everything he said about anything else was already said better by Hegel. 7. Postmodernism. Feel free to complete the descent into madness by reading actual postmodernism, or just read whatever shows up here []. Also consider looking in the dark places of the world, invoking the True Name of one of the elder gods, and ripping the skin off your flesh with your fingernails while blood eyeballs leak from the ceiling ichor Nyogth
Why do you single out the Will to Power among Nietzsche's works?
The Will to Power is a posthumous publication of some of Nietzsche's notes ordered, selected and occasionally revised by his nationalistic and anti-semitic sister. It's widely thought to be not at all representative of anything he believed.
Yes, what Jack said exactly.
It's funny. I think this list is probably both overkill and underkill. No Hume?!?!?! Nothing ever said by someone other than Hegel was better said by Hegel. Also, Heidegger was an existentialist and Sartre just took his stuff and watered it down.
I'm pretty sure Heidegger asserted that he was not an existentialist (and that he was an existentialist), and he specifically said that Sartre got him entirely wrong. Though when I actually go back to find such claims, I find very few places where Heidegger actually seems to be expressing a proposition. But then, I read English translations - we all know German philosophers make more sense in the original French. And Sartre said some things that had nothing to do with Heidegger. I agree with the sentiment, but a study of some Hegelians should demonstrate otherwise. What in Hume is valuable? If you want to read interesting stuff about causality, read Judea Pearl. I didn't think a section on political philosophy led down the right road (for humor), and I'd recommend Locke and Mill before Hume. For empiricism, the Pragmatists really should do well enough. And surely you wouldn't want people reading Hume directly in order to understand economics? What else is there?
The phenomenalism, the argument against induction, and frankly giving Judea Pearl's book to someone who has barely even thought about causality is a little ridiculous. Hume is a far more manageable, math-free introduction. Then there is the classic response to the Watchmaker argument, written before Darwin. People here should be familiar with Hume, if only as an intellectual forbearer.
0Alex Flint12y
Thank you very much for this Tom.
The question of how and why the general public reacts seem to be a question of psychology or sociology, not philosophy. So why are you asking about postmodern philosophical positions? worse, why are you discussing how people should react?
0Alex Flint12y
Completely agree. Well my friend seems to think that it all comes down to a misplaced belief in objective reality. I disagree, but it's hard to counter-argue when I don't know what the philosophical positions she refers to actually are.
I have to concede - 87% of my knowledge of postmodernism consists of reading Edward Slingerland's What Science Offers the Humanities, which is yet another refutation.
— Lynn Park

Responsibility is a unique concept... You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished. You may delegate it, but it is still with you... If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.

--Admiral Hyman G. Rickover

A touchstone to determine the actual worth of an "intellectual" — find out how he feels about astrology. —Robert Heinlein

While I understand, judging people's intelligence by comparing their beliefs to yours should be done with care.
It would be more interesting to hear how someone justifies believing in astrology. Typically it's a long string of horrifying nonsense that tells you quite a bit more about a person than just asking "Do you believe in astrology? [Y/N]"
Actually, this is a great job interview question.
I'm atheistically agnostic about astrology..."I doubt it, but who am I to say?". As in intellectual exercise once I tried to come up with a plausible mechanism for how astrology might happen. Who's to say that planetary alignment could not in fact subtly effect protein expression or the development of neuroligcal systems during very critical stages of cell division and development in the embryo? To be clear, I don't really buy it, but with a little imagination.....

By the way: Welcome to LessWrong! Feel free to post an introduction of yourself! If you want to get a good head-start on the kind of thing we do here, "What Do We Mean By Rationality?" is a good start, and if you're ever looking for other material, you can browse the sequences and the top-rated posts to find a lot of good essays.

On this specific issue, ata has the most relevant link, but I would add a couple other points:

  1. Just because you could, in theory, be convinced of astrology at some point doesn't mean you have to be agnostic now - you can be quite strongly convinced of its incorrectness and still accept correction should some ever come to your attention.

  2. If you are actually quite skeptical of astrology - if you believe it to be strongly contradicted by the evidence - this is one of the places where we would hope you would say so. Humility is a virtue when it makes you careful, not when it is attire you wear to affirm your open-mindedness.

Please keep posting, by the way - your remark on the externalities of nuclear power was a good one, and I would like to hear your thoughts on other occasions.

Being that there is a total absence of evidence that astrology can consistently predict anything better than chance, why is it even worth talking about possible mechanisms? Until there's any positive evidence for it, the right answer to "How does astrology work?" is "It doesn't."

"I doubt it, but who am I to say?" is still being too generous to it. It is an arbitrarily privileged hypothesis.

Edit: Be careful with those "intellectual exercises", by the way. You're not going to become a stronger rationalist by practicing rationalization: "Your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality. If you are equally good at explaining any outcome, you have zero knowledge."

Point taken about evidence of predictive value v. random chance. Just to clarify, the intellectual exercise was more in the lines of, rather than taking an astrology book and seeing if what it says is predictive v. chance, let's rephrase the question: The question not as "is Astrology real or correct", it becomes "could time of birth affect development, apart from seasonal effects?". (why day or hour of birth, from year to year, might matter). Then the exercise leads to "could planetary alignment (gravitational changes, electrical fields, etc.) have subtle and predictive effects on personality or development?" And that is where I hit "who am I to say" seeing as that's not my area of knowledge, and I have not come across any studies that might have analyzed that either way. Maybe it's because some proto-analysis suggests that it's not "worth" studying because there's nothing to study (fields from high-tension power lines affecting development, possibly), but maybe the "worth" is more monetary: who's going to bother funding it? a. it seems ridiculous, b. it would be really really hard = expensive, c. the effect might be there but too subtle for us to measure at this time. Anyway, I'm in no way a proponent of astrology, just relaying a process that seemed a rational exploration at the time.
"The question not as "is Astrology real or correct", it becomes "could time of birth affect development, apart from seasonal effects?" I have wondered that too. Trouble is: signal-to-noise ratio. Maybe you were born in December and it was cold, so you have a slight tendency to think of the world as hostile (say). But that will be drowned out by a zillion other far-more-important influences. Same a fortiori with gravitational/electromagnetic fields. Start with gravity. I calculate on the back of the envelope the pull of Proxima Centauri (the nearest star that's not the sun) as being on the order of 7 piconewton, or 7 trillionths of a newton. (A newton is enough force to lift a hamburger.) So what if you are pulled in the direction of P. Centauri by an amount as feeble as that? That's about as much gravitational pull as an orange has on you 50 metres away. :) Not to mention all the other stars are acting in opposite directions. Result: nil. Electrical force argument left as an exercise for the reader.
Apropos of nothing: Welcome to LessWrong []! (Do I detect a Galileo reference in that handle? Classic!) Feel free to introduce yourself there! If you want some reading, What Do We Mean By Rationality? [] is a good kicking-off point; that said, we try to link back to related ideas in most of our posts, so you'll find a lot of cool info just by following and links in comments and posts. If you want to be systematic - or just look for random lists to pick attractive titles off of - you can try the sequences [] and the top-rated posts [].
What ho, thanks for the welcome! Yes, I like the role of Simplicio as the guy who asks the dumb questions. Thanks for the links; I've already been gobbling this website down for a week or so, having been put on the scent by Massimo Pigliucci's. Haven't seen overcomingbias yet, mind. Again, many thanks for the bread-salt. :)
Worth as an intellectual is completely different to 'intelligence' but your point stands even then.

"The formal study of complex systems is really, really hard." -David Colander

A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions — as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all. —Nietzsche

From memory of recently seeing excerpts from The Polymath: The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman:

Delany spent a while living in a hotel which mostly catered to transsexuals, and he found it unnerving to not know what gender the person he was taking to was. He speculated that wanting to be sure about gender was hard-wired.

After about five weeks, he realized he'd taken elevator rides with people of non-obvious gender, and it didn't bother him at all.

That is awesome. Back when I used to advocate gender-neutral pronouns for everybody (i.e. eliminating gendered pronouns from the language altogether; I'd still support that in principle, but I have to pick my fights), that resembled the usual objection I got — "Then how will people know the gender of whoever you're talking about?" I'd dismissively say "If you're talking about someone whose gender is specifically relevant, then just explicitly say their gender", but intuitively, I could sympathize. (How can you even conceptualize someone without knowing their gender? Why, gender is the most important thing about a person! — or so our actions tend to imply. So much that the first thing the doctor says is "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" and not "It's alive and well!") I noticed that this emotion started feeling more distant to me as I stopped caring about being straight. It used to be that I'd see someone and think "Hmm, she's pretty cute... oh shit, that's a guy! Gotta stop feeling attracted to him!" I'm finally getting to the point where I can just think "Hmm, she's pretty cute... wait, no, he's pretty cute. My mistake." And if I could think in gender-neutral pronouns, it would probably go more like "Hmm, ey's pretty cute!" with no need for a feeling of mistakenness in the first place. So, a hypothesis generalizing from one example (well, from a few (anecdotal) examples, from a few people I've discussed this with): an intuitive feeling of needing to know people's genders will be most common among exclusive heterosexuals, second most common among exclusive homosexuals, and least common among bisexuals, because the feeling has to do with wondering whether you're "allowed" to be attracted to somebody. This isn't to imply that you actually look at everyone you see as a potential partner until you know their gender, just that this thought process is a habit generalized from the pervasive, intuitive process of looking for potential partners.
[-][anonymous]12y 9

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science

—Charles Darwin

Good quote, but it looks like it got posted multiple times.
Yep, sorry about that. Technical problem on my end. I think I have them all deleted now.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

-- William Ernest Henley (1875)

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today -- but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.

-- Isaac Asimov

The reason you feel most comfortable with a job (unless, like me, you're in the minority - a job would destroy my psyche) is that you've been brainwashed by many years of school, socialization and practice. I pick the word brainwashed carefully, because it's more than training or acclimation. It's something that's been taught to you by people who needed you to believe it was the way things are supposed to be.

-- Seth Godin

What brazil84 said. Godin sounds like he's overextrapolating from personal experience. For his claim about "it's because you've been brainwashed" to work, he would need to show that people are taking circuitous routes to standard employment in preference to viable alternate means of making a living.

Yes, there are ways to make the same money with less time or "taking orders" ... but they're hard and risky to work out. If people are wrong in these assessments, it takes a heck of a lot more than just realizing, "hey, there are other ways!" You have to know one of those other ways well enough to get it to work! To borrow from Eliezer Yudkowsky, "non-wage-slave is not an income plan".

Furthermore, his claim is heavily penalized by it's assertion of conspiracy: he's saying all your teachers "needed" you to beleive this is the natural order of things, that every professor you had believed that, that all employers (not just the businesses but the hiring managers) believed that, etc. Yes, I'm aware of the history of public education (incl. Gatto's claims about it), but Godin is going further, and saying that these people need you to bel... (read more)

Agreed. Shorter version of Godin's point: how many different income plans have you typically become familiar with by the time you exit the education system?
I've gone one better and outlined a process whereby you can generate multiple viable options. (See my reply to brazil.) Following this process, I picked a career for myself that doesn't involve a "job". I've done it once a few years back and am now doing it again.
That's not "one better". That's hardly different from telling me, "Find out what you want, and pursue that." Duh? I'm perfectly capable of doing the excercise you outlined, I've done it regularly, and I'm still not living off interest. I'm sure you made the leap one time yourself; but you did it with a lot more insight and resources than you provided in your answer to brazil84. How about this: 1) Earn $1 million as quickly as you can. 2) Live off the interest. Anyone feel like they learned something there?
The way I would put it is that it is difficult and unnatural to be an entrepreneur, or to work under someone's direction in a management hierarchy. An efficient economy requires both kinds of people, and it's arguable that our current educational system overemphasizes the latter at the expense of the former. But rather than conspiracy, I think a more reasonable explanation for this is inertia: rapid technological change means we need more entrepreneurs than we used to, but the educational system hasn't kept up. For those wondering about viable alternatives to being a wage slave, here's something that worked for me. About ten years ago, I took a one-year break from my regular job, and used the time to write a piece of software that I saw a market niche for. While I went back to work, I found a partner to continue its development and to sell it over the Internet. It hasn't made me rich, but eventually I got enough income from it to to quit my job and spend most of my time working on whatever interests me.
What other kinds besides these two could we think of?
I suppose you could start a non-profit organization, but that's just another form of entrepreneurship. You could leech off society or friends and relatives, but presumably we don't want to encourage that. So, I don't know... You seem to be implying here and in other comments that you have more ideas. Why not share them?
Well, if it turns out to be so hard to extend the list of "ways people make a living" beyond the two items {entrepreneur, worker under management hierarchy} that would constitute support for the "brainwashing" hypothesis (overstated as the term may seem). When I was younger I wanted to become a novelist and make a living that way. That seems different enough from entrepreneurship; it's one of the passive income categories. (My parents discouraged that - "you need a real job".) Another classic one is to be a landlord. Silas mentioned investment income earlier, that could be considered a separate category. You could also consider as a different category someone whose intellectual or artistic output doesn't generate royalties but who is supported by patronage. To maintain that "the educational system hasn't kept up" we would have to believe in the first place that it was at one point designed to turn out a then-optimal balance of people trained in one or another way of supporting themselves. I'm not sure we have good reason to think that.
It may not be LW material exactly, but I would be interested to read about this in an Open Thread (or see a link to a recountal).
This sounds very Foucauldian, almost straight out of Discipline and Punish. I'm not Seth Godin, by the way.
Um. This quote from Seth Godin (from Brainwashed) just caused me to lower my regard for his ideas a notch. (Consider this a mini-oops.) On balance, I still think he's on to something. But the lesson here is, stick to what you truly know, and if you ever start talking with authority about something you clearly don't understand, shut up, fast.
What do you envision as the alternative to having a job? Running your own business? Being unemployed? Being a hunter-gatherer? Living off of a trust fund? Sustenance farming? Living in your mother's basement?
That list makes a decent starting point. My recommendation would be more along the lines of "deconstruct the notion of a job into its component options, list several alternatives to each of these options, figure out what you want, then build up from the list of preferred alternatives the kind of life you'd like to live". One of the most important distinctions is active vs passive income. Another is taking orders, vs giving orders, vs neither. And so on. Something in the way you're asking suggests you might not really want answers. I'd be delighted to find out I'm wrong...
"Let them eat cake", thy name is Morendil! Again, the issue not whether the functions accomplished by a job can be broken down into their consitutent components. Of course they can. But Godin's claim goes further, into saying that people are fundamentally ignorant of alternate ways to accomplish these functions. Does he really not think that people are aware that if you have enough money, you don't need to work to earn an income? Also, this is another tenuous division of conceptspace: Why is one taking orders, while another isn't? One way or another, you usually have to do something other people want to get their money. Grocery stores are taking my orders to bring them food. Employers are only giving me orders in the sense that, "if you want this money, you will perform this act. If you don't like that tradeoff, we can go our separate ways." The identification of employment as "taking orders" is hardly a natural category for it, and certainly not one people are ignorant for not making.
Upvoted with gusto. Most work boils down to solving some problem or another. An employee solves problems within the constraints imposed by their company. An entrepreneur solves problems within the constraints imposed by their customers. The former are really just an indirect representation of the latter.
From a different angle, an employer solves a set of problems for employees-- smoothing out the income stream, and doing a bunch of logistical details associated with finding work, having what's needed to do the work, and getting paid. This is apparently so valuable that free-lancers get paid between 2 and 3 times as much per hour as employees.
This is a seductive explanation, but competing hypotheses exist, for instance Coase's [], which states that firms, as a phenomenon, arise due to the transaction costs incurred when hiring on an open market a freelancer to perform a job you need. If there is an economic advantage to reducing these transaction costs by having the job performed "internally", and this advantage overcomes the intrinsic costs of keeping the job internal, firms will tend to form, and grow larger as the discrepancy between these costs. So here, rather than "employees choose to work in firms" we have an explanation of the form "firms have an interest in acquiring employees", and no particular reason to expect that the formation of firms benefits employees. What evidence (as opposed to just-so stories) can we find for or against each of these hypotheses?
I was offering a different angle, not saying that employment can be fully explained either by employer or employee motivations. There are circumstances where a government forces matters in one direction or the other. In Slavery by Another Name [] , it's explained that after the Civil War, there were laws requiring black people to get permission from their employers to get a job with someone else, and also vagrancy laws against being unemployed. On the employee's side, there can be laws (France, the Soviet Union) or customary contracts (tenure) which make it impossible or almost impossible to fire them. In general, I'd frame it as employees and employers are hoping that the other will solve problems for them, and the hope is frequently more or less realized.
I am very surprised that you see Ronald's explanation in contrast to Nancy's. Income-smoothing is the only example she gives that does not look to me like a transaction cost. I think the economics party line is that the transaction costs will be split between the employee and the firm, with agnosticism about who will get the bulk of the benefit.
The following is only a sketch of the complete argument since that would take pages to write and time I don't have. The most basic law of economics is that prices are determined by supply and demand. An entrepreneur naturally chooses to provide goods or services to a market niche where a high potential demand faces a low supply so that he can sell his goods/services at high prices. An employee on the other hand imposes on himself a limit of one customer. He artificially limits his market and thereby reduces the price he can get for his skills. Although he can potentially quit his job and work for someone else this is associated with additional transaction costs in comparison to self employment. That the company indirectly markets the employee's skills to a larger market does not alleviate this price reduction since it's not the companies interest to maximize employee's salaries. So why would anybody choose employment over self employment? It is because most people lack the fundamental skill to market their own skills and a market of one customer is still better than zero. The important question now is why people lack this skill. That is a complex thing, but one factor is that our culture does not encourage risk taking, sales talk and other important entrepreneurial skills. There is still a strong bias of preferring a "honest worker" over a "capitalist pig" which simply prevents most people from developing their marketing skills. And that is what is meant by the original quote. Imagination is based on culture and our culture cripples people's potential to imagine what it would be like if they were entrepreneurs instead of workers.
Another basic law of economics is that wealth can be created by specialization. A firm dealing exclusively in government contracts, on the other hand, imposes on itself a limit of one customer. It artificially limits its market and thereby... ? So why would anyone hire a programmer instead of just writing the code themselves? It is because most lack the fundamental skill of crystallizing their requirements into machine-readable form. The important question now is why people lack this skill.
I fail to see your point.
I think I get it now. There seems to be a confusion about what specialization means. It means specializing in the service you provide, not in the customers you provide it to. Market segmentation is only a tool to identify how to specialize your service. But no sane company would refuse to deliver to a paying customer simply because he doesn't fit into their target audience. And there is a difference between computer programming and basic marketing. The former is a specific skill with a smaller area of application while the latter is a very general skill, and what is more one that stems from a basic human trait, namely the formation of relationships. Of course, not everybody needs specific marketing knowledge as taught in business administration. Finally, I'm not arguing against working for a single employer in general. Quite the contrary. When you're relatively new to your field of work you almost certainly lack the experience to be a successful entrepreneur and should first learn the trade under the relative security of employment. What I am arguing is, that if a huge number of people do not gain the confidence from experience to form their own idea of the service they want to provide and market it to a relevant audience something seems to be wrong, because taking responsibility for your life and forming relationships is an essential part of growing up.
Well I'm mainly trying to figure out what Seth Godin's point is. For example, his point might be that people have been brainwashed into feeling that they need to make money to buy various things. On the other hand, his point might be that people have been brainwashed into thinking that they should have a traditional 9 to 5 job. In other words, is he Ted Kozsynski? Or Carleton Sheets? Anyway, having done a couple web searches, I gather that he is advocating entrepreneurship. In any event, brainwashed or not, I think a lot of people -- perhaps most -- are actually better off working as somebody's employee.
The obvious place to look is the context of the quote, Seth Godin's blog. For example: and [] and in a video interview I saw, he distinguished "the job" from "the work". He hadn't (he said) "done his job" for at least ten years, he did "the work", which is the stuff you do because it fires you with passion, because you can't not do it. He isn't giving detailed recipes. That's what schools and training courses [] do. If you need one, that just means you aren't who he's addressing.
I agree. As noted earlier, I did a couple web searches and concluded that he is advocating entrepreneurship.
Seth appears to be contrasting a "job" with things like "being an entrepreneur in business for oneself," so perhaps the first of your options.
Yes I agree.
Is that a fair translation of the point?
Probably not. For one thing, what is a "right" or a "wrong" utility function? More to the point of your translation, Godin says nothing about liking your job, the particular job you have. His point is about being happy with the idea of having a job, with its various entailments: reporting to someone, taking orders, being expected to show up 5 days a week at certain hours, and so on. His point is that we take these entailments for granted, not because they are somehow the natural order of things, or because we pondered in what social structure we would create the greater amount of value and then picked one with these characteristics; no, we take them for granted because we've been brought up to think that way. I'd think of it as epistemic misfortune []. Or, perhaps, if we do end up computing that this type of social contract is such that we produce the greater value, epistemic luck. But Godin's hunch is the opposite. He thinks people create greater value in different circumstances. I happen to agree, but I also chose the quote as an illustration of epistemic ill-luck, and for the way he uses the word "brainwashed" - he says he picked that term with consideration, and distinguishes it from training or acclimation; that's an interesting point, if controversial. The potentially useful idea is something like "epistemic ill-luck arising from vested interests in preserving certain social structures".
For a similar point of view read Timothy Ferriss: "The 4-hour work week".
Ferriss's book, however, isn't just "Hey, there are alternatives to 9-5, and you ignore them because you're brainwashed" It's "hey, there are alternatives to 9-5, and here's why they're better, and here's a step-by-step for how to do it."
He never used the word 'brainwashed' but the sentence would fit in Tim's book. The main reason that 'brainwashed' seems remotely controversial is that we usually use that term to refer to indoctroniation by those who are not of our culture. The other divergent connotation is that the brain must be cleaned of what is already there. The first set of beliefs about how the world should be doesn't require cleaning the brain of pre-existing dogma before instilling itself.
It's rather: When your utility function doesn't include that the activity that you spent most of your time with has meaning but your utility function rather puts it's weights on the values of on conformity, safety or money than you must have the wrong utility function.

"If it works for you, it works because of you." -- Mark Greenway on marriage

Develop the habit of asking yourself, "Will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important?"

-- Timothy Ferriss - The 4 Hour Workweek

For me, the answer is invariably "no". I never do anything important. Therefore this procedure doesn't help me very much.
Does pure recreational enjoyment count?
After I answered your comment I still had to think about it and I had to add the following. Often it's hard to separate serious reading from enjoyment: for example you could be reading reddit or hackernews [] either knowing that you are just doing it for entertainment or rationalizing it by thinking you are doing serious reading not realizing that the real reason is the dopamine rush you get. How much time are you willing to spend on random internet reading and other time wasters? You have to judge it yourself. But if you are investing a large amount of your time into that maybe it's good to start reevaluating your information diet.
I agree with you (and Tim). I could benefit from reducing my information diet and giving my brain it's dopamine in a different manner.
Timothy Ferriss himself reads one hour of fiction every day prior to sleeping so I guess he was only referring to information you consume for non recreational purposes.

“Still seems it strange, that thou shouldst live forever? Is it less strange, that thou shouldst live at all? This is a miracle; and that no more.” Edward Young would be a mistake to suppose that the difficulty of the case [for gender equality] must lie in the insufficiency or obscurity of the grounds of reason on which my convictions rests. The difficulty is that which exists in all cases in which there is a mass of feeling to be contended against. So long as opinion is strongly rooted in the feelings, it gains rather than loses in stability by having a preponderating weight of argument against it. For if it were accepted as a result of argument, the refutation of the argument might shake the solidity of th... (read more)

A typo, but one which matters for the sense: "instability" should be "in stability".

Learn to criticize ideas, especially your own. Most new ideas are wrong or inadequate. If you don't reject most of your ideas promptly, then you're almost surely fooling yourself, and if you also spread them, you're almost surely polluting the intellectual world. But if an idea really seems to stand up under testing, try filling in more details, and criticizing it again.

— K. Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation 2.0: Advice To Aspiring Nanotechnologists

You do ill if you praise, but worse if you censure, what you do not understand. Leonardo da Vinci

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

Devotees of grammatical studies have not been distinguished for any very remarkable felicities of expression.

-- Amos Bronson Alcott

Reasoning is generally seen as a mean to improve knowledge and make better decisions. Much evidence, however, shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests rethinking the function of reasoning. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade.

-- Hugo Mercier & Dan Sperber, Why do humans reason? (PDF)

(Further comment on the paper turned into a full post)

Three ways to increase your intelligence

Continually expand the scope, source, intensity of the information you receive. Constantly revise your reality maps, and seek new metaphors about the future to understand what's happening now. Develop external networks for increasing intelligence. In particular, spend all your time with people as smart or smarter than you.

I'll give an upvote to whoever knows the source of that.

Timothy Leary's Intelligence Agents, quoting Aleister Crowley, supposedly.

•The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants – Albert Camus

But it is not only the alibi of tyrants.

Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.

--Hunter S. Thompson

A good one. It has me thinking just where he is going with the insight. There seems to be more than one level there.
Full context here ['d+written+all+the+truth+I+knew+for+the+past+ten+years,+about+600+people+--+including+me+--+would+be+rotting+in+prison+cells+from+Rio+to+Seattle+today.+Absolute+truth+is+a+very+rare+and+dangerous+commodity+in+the+context+of+professional+journalism.&source=bl&ots=Sa1QIuvk5J&sig=FkXE9wLwbjv4RzzyC_M7Onq2qks&hl=en&ei=47qMS5qFIpTQM8Gz3W0&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CC4Q6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=If%20I'd%20written%20all%20the%20truth%20I%20knew%20for%20the%20past%20ten%20years%2C%20about%20600%20people%20--%20including%20me%20--%20would%20be%20rotting%20in%20prison%20cells%20from%20Rio%20to%20Seattle%20today.%20Absolute%20truth%20is%20a%20very%20rare%20and%20dangerous%20commodity%20in%20the%20context%20of%20professional%20journalism.&f=false] : there are different levels, but I think it was meant in the most literal sense -- really bad things can happen to people when you publish the absolute truth.
Full context here:'d+written+all+the+truth+I+knew+for+the+past+ten+years,+about+600+people+--+including+me+--+would+be+rotting+in+prison+cells+from+Rio+to+Seattle+today.+Absolute+truth+is+a+very+rare+and+dangerous+commodity+in+the+context+of+professional+journalism.&source=bl&ots=Sa1QIuvk5J&sig=FkXE9wLwbjv4RzzyC_M7Onq2qks&hl=en&ei=47qMS5qFIpTQM8Gz3W0&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CC4Q6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=If%20I'd%20written%20all%20the%20truth%20I%20knew%20for%20the%20past%20ten%20years%2C%20about%20600%20people%20--%20including%20me%20--%20would%20be%20rotting%20in%20prison%20cells%20from%20Rio%20to%20Seattle%20today.%20Absolute%20truth%20is%20a%20very%20rare%20and%20dangerous%20commodity%20in%20the%20context%20of%20professional%20journalism.&f=false ['d+written+all+the+truth+I+knew+for+the+past+ten+years,+about+600+people+--+including+me+--+would+be+rotting+in+prison+cells+from+Rio+to+Seattle+today.+Absolute+truth+is+a+very+rare+and+dangerous+commodity+in+the+context+of+professional+journalism.&source=bl&ots=Sa1QIuvk5J&sig=FkXE9wLwbjv4RzzyC_M7Onq2qks&hl=en&ei=47qMS5qFIpTQM8Gz3W0&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CC4Q6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=If%20I'd%20written%20all%20the%20truth%20I%20knew%20for%20the%20past%20ten%20years%2C%20about%20600%20people%20--%20including%20me%20--%20would%20be%20rotting%20in%20prison%20cells%20from%20Rio%20to%20Seattle%20today.%20Absolute%20truth%20is%20a%20very%20rare%20and%20dangerous%20commodity%20in%20the%20context%20of%20professional%20journalism.&f=false]

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.

-- Henry David Thoreau

If you get it, it will be in spite of any method you use.

You must have a method.

-- K. Bradford Brown

You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right.


Can we have a norm of using the Custom Search bar to check if a quote has already been posted?

by "have a norm of" you mean "mention explicitly in the monthly threads that this is a norm", right? As, as far as I can see, this norm pretty much seems to exist already.
Yes, I think this should be mentioned explicitly in the monthly threads. My intentions were to decrease future occurences of duplicate posts, establish a standard of effort that should go into avoiding duplicate posts, and not hit Johannes' comment too hard because it was made before the standard was expressed and agreed upon.
Oops. I do feel a bit embarrassed for just assuming that the strip in question was recent enough not to have been posted to last month's thread. Voted in favor of the proposed norm.
I vote in favor - do you want to make a poll of it? Edit: My vote is now registered in the poll.

Poll: vote this up if you are in favor of the proposed norm. (And vote down the Karma Balance comment.)

Poll: vote this up if you are against the proposed norm. (And vote down the Karma Balance [] comment.)
Why is this voted down? Poll procedure would have this comment voted up or the other up and the karma balance down.
I find it troubling that we have to kludge a poll out of comments and upvotes.
I find it awesome that we routinely kludge whatever we need out of whatever's on hand.
No less impressive is that we occasionally notice the need.
If we begin to have a lot of polls (I admit, it's looking that way at the moment), we should request programming a new polling feature.
[-][anonymous]12y 3

Rational thought is an interpretation according to a scheme we cannot escape. -Frederich Nietzsche

"There's only so many ways to be smart, but idiocy is Legion." - The TV Tropes Wiki

This painting — which we call human life and experience — evolved gradually, and is indeed still in process of evolving — and should not therefore be regarded as a fixed quantity…. We have, through millennia, gazed into the world with blind inclinations, passions, and fears; with moral, religious, or aesthetic demands; and have so wallowed in the bad manners of illogical thought that the world has become amazingly variegated, fearsome, rich in spirit and meaning. It has acquired color, but we were the colorists. The human intellect has allowed the world of appearance to appear, and exported its erroneous presuppositions into reality.

— Nietzsche

Emotions are the lubricants of reason. —Nicholas Nassim Taleb

When the means are autonomous, they are deadly

--Charles Williams


One of the points Lesley makes is that the idea of ‘nature’ is actually a cultural construct. What do we mean when we say something is ‘natural’? I think that, in general, we mean that it hasn’t been altered or intervened with in anyway. Which is completely impossible. Everything we do changes our body in some way. Not doing something changes our body in some other way. Everything you eat becomes a part of you. And if you don’t eat, well, that has other implications. Breathing air, drinking water, wearing clothes, walking, driving, sitting,

... (read more)

"You don't need to be an ichthyologist to know when a fish stinks." (Unattributed)

"Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk." ~HD Thoreau

Scrapheap Transhumanism:

"I’m sort of inured to pain by this point. Anesthetic is illegal for people like me, so we learn to live without it; I’ve made scalpel incisions in my hands, pushed five-millimeter diameter needles through my skin, and once used a vegetable knife to carve a cavity into the tip of my index finger. I’m an idiot, but I’m an idiot working in the name of progress: I’m Lepht Anonym, scrapheap transhumanist. I work with what I can get."

Here is more:

HT:Tyler Cowen

Interesting article, but that guy could have avoided some suffering if he knew about ways to lessen pain without anesthetic. A common technique used by body piercers is to numb the area with ice beforehand. Really though, most of the benefits of those things don't require any cutting. Why not wear the RFID tag in a bracelet? Why not temporarily glue rare earth magnets to his fingertips? If that guy ever needs an MRI, he'll have to get the magnets removed from his body. If he's in an accident and the doctors don't know about his magnets, the MRI could injure him or damage the scanner. Edit: Oh, he has a blog []. It's umm... interesting.
Just a note: Lepht is genderless. It identifies as gender neutral.
Fringe people are associated with defects both mental and physical; like many stereotypes, there's some truth to it.
Why is anesthetic illegal for "people like him"?
Due to not being an appropriately-credentialed expert, I expect. The article does mention that he got a very negative reaction from a doctor.
I think he meant people doing self-surgery on their own. Ie. you can't go to a pharmacy and buy lidocaine just because you want to implant an RFID chip in your hand. As for why, well, that's perhaps another point.
[-][anonymous]11y 0

While discussing the reliability of pundits:

Pundits are more like cheerleaders. Ugly ones.

--Gregory Cochran

[-][anonymous]11y 0

scientia potentia est

Knowledge is power.

--This quote is attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, but we don't really know.

[-][anonymous]12y 0

And I still can't see how [Matthew 21:18-21] is metaphorical unless you just take it that way. But I may as well open a history book and read "Napoleon crossed the Alps" and read that as a metaphor that even the best of us have to travel. --Hariant

"Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior. Today is your victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men."

--Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

As soon as you speak about a thing, you miss the mark.


"The probability of bumping into Thomas Bayes is rather low. " - Koert Debyser, "What is Bayesian Average", Board Game Geek Forums

[-][anonymous]12y 0

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science

Charles Darwin

[-][anonymous]12y 0

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science

—Charles Darwin

[-][anonymous]12y 0

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science

—Charles Darwin

[-][anonymous]12y 0

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science

—Charles Darwin

[-][anonymous]12y 0

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science

—Charles Darwin

[-][anonymous]12y 0

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

-- William Ernest Henley (1875)

[-][anonymous]12y 0

Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

-- William Ernest Henley (1875)

[-][anonymous]12y 0

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

Alan Kay

[-][anonymous]12y 0

I enjoyed this proposal for a 24-issue Superman run:

There are several Less Wrongish themes in this arc: Many Worlds, ending suffering via technology, rationality:

"...a highlight of the first half of this first year will be the redemption of Lex Luthor – in a forty-page story, set in one room, with just the two of them talking, and Superman using logic to convince Luthor to turn his talents towards good..."

The effect Andrew's text had on me reminded me of how excited I was when I first had r... (read more)

Batmanuel: In my experience, there's only one guaranteed way to ever really know the truth - you must create it yourself.
Captain Liberty: And how do you do that?
Batmanuel: Lie.

-- The Tick, live-action series

I might be missing something, but how is this rational?
Dunno. I just thought it was funny and memorable..

The three laws of sanity:

  1. The world is mad.

  2. Your own theories and grand ideas about the world are also mad, except where this contradicts the first law. (In which case you are merely slightly more sane than average).

  3. The world is sufficiently mad that your being sane is actually a disadvantage, except where this contradicts the first two laws.

Or as I would put it, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is institutionalized."
H.G. Wells actually wrote a story based on that premise. Read it here! []
Looks original; wrong thread?

The limits of my language are the limits of my world. —Ludwig Wittgenstein