Rationality Quotes February 2012

by [anonymous]1 min read1st Feb 2012410 comments

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Rationality Quotes
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Here's the new thread for posting quotes, with the usual rules:

 

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be voted up/down separately.  (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments.  If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.) 
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
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And here, according to Trout, was the reason human beings could not reject ideas because they were bad: Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity. The ideas Earthlings held didn’t matter for hundreds of thousands of years, since they couldn’t do much about them anyway. Ideas might as well be badges as anything.

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

7Stabilizer10yThe most beautiful explanation of Hansonian signalling I've seen.
4IlyaShpitser10yWith all due respect to Robin, this very thread supplies prior art for this idea :).
3Stabilizer10yHaving an inkling about the existence of gravity is different from figuring out the motions of all the planets. Hanson actually built the idea into useful models. He gets the name. :D

Doctor Slithingly watched the readout on the computer screen and rubbed his hands together. ‘Excellent,’ he muttered, his voice a thin, rasping hiss. ‘Excellent!’ He laughed to himself in a chilling falsetto. ‘Soon my plan will come to fruition. Soon I will destroy them all!’ The room resounded with the sound of his insane giggling. This was the culmination of years of research – years of testing tissue samples and creating unnatural biological hybrids – but now it was over. Now, finally, he would destroy them all – every single type and variation of leukaemia. In doing so, he would render useless the work of thousands of charitable organisations as well as denying medical professionals the world over a source of income. He would prevent the publication of hundreds of inspiring stories of survival and sacrifice which might otherwise have sold millions of copies worldwide. ‘Bwahaha!’ he laughed. ‘So long, you meddling haematological neoplasm, you!’

Joel Stickley, How To Write Badly Well

You are not the king of your brain. You are the creepy guy standing next to the king going "a most judicious choice, sire".

-- Steven Kaas

-4AspiringKnitter10yI'm surprised that this got 32 upvotes in a community whose members in general believe that you are your brain. Do all 32 of you believe in some sort of dualism?

Steven and most of the people here (including me) do indeed believe that "you are your brain" in the sense that the mind is something that the brain does. But Steven's epigram is using "you" in a narrower sense, referring to just the conscious, internal-monologue part of the mind.

In the fable of the fox and the grapes, it's the fox's brain that is the proximate cause of him giving up the attempt to get the grapes, but it's the "creepy vizier" part of his mind that makes up the "I didn't want them anyway" story.

(Edit: I should have said "most of the other people here" in my first sentence. In case you didn't know it, Steven Kaas is an LWer. He is kind enough to let me and others earn tons of karma by quoting his Twitter bons mots.)

5gwern10yI don't see how this implies dualism, nor why materialism implies some sort of ultra-strong unified mind with no divisible components such that it makes no sense to analogize to a king and vizier.
0Bugmaster10yFWIW I find the quote kind of weird, as well. I don't think it's referring to dualism, but I can't figure out what it does mean.

It's illustrating the thing from psychology where your conscious self (the "you" in "you are" here) often seems to be more about making up narratives about why you do things you somewhat unconsciously decide to do, rather than fully consciously deciding to do what you do.

It's not terribly obvious normally, but scary stuff happens when you get a suitable type of brain damage. Instead of necessarily going "hm, my introspective faculties seem to be damaged and I'm doing weird stuff for no reason I can ascertain", people often start happily explaining why it is an excellent idea for the king of the brain who has been replaced with a zombie robot during the brain damage to start lumbering around moaning loudly and smashing things at random.

Yvain's post The Apologist and the Revolutionary from a couple of years ago had some fascinating and mind-boggling discussion of other bizarre things that result from particular brain damage.

0[anonymous]10yWhere's the dualism?
[-][anonymous]10y 77

.

"Our moods are so unstable because we are only chemicals in a saline solution - not entries in a ledger or words in a book."

--Alain de Botton

-12[anonymous]10y

Is this true? Naive Googling yields this, which suggests (non-authoritatively) that blood sugar and moods are indeed linked (in diabetics, but it's presumably true in the general population). However, despair is not noted and the effects generally seem milder than that (true despair is a rather powerful emotion!)

Blood sugar is very closely linked to self-control, including suppression of emotion. While this may appear to be a different thing, it isn't: when you include feedback loops and association spirals, a transient, weak emotional distraction can become deep and overwhelming if normal modes of suppression fail.

See here, here and here.

8[anonymous]10y.
8orbenn10yAnecdotally: I'm not diabetic that I know of, but my mood is highly dependent on how well and how recently I've eaten. I get very irritable and can break down into tears easily if I'm more than four hours past due.

"He [H.G. Wells] has abandoned the sensational theory with the same honourable gravity and simplicity with which he adopted it. Then he thought it was true; now he thinks it is not true. He has come to the most dreadful conclusion a literary man can come to, the conclusion that the ordinary view is the right one. It is only the last and wildest kind of courage that can stand on a tower before ten thousand people and tell them that twice two is four."

--Heretics, G. K. Chesterton

I was interested in the context here. Chesterton was referencing Wells' original belief that the classes would differentiate until the upper class ate the lower class. Wells changed his mind to believe the classes would merge.

The entire book is free on Google Books.

At the point where those are the two hypothesises being considered there may be larger problems.

3Eliezer Yudkowsky10yI think you've got problems at the point where you're using that language to write your hypotheses.
8Anubhav10yIn the Time Machine, it's the other way round.

The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem, in a way that will allow a solution

– Bertrand Russell

It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.

George Bernard Shaw

5Will_Newsome10yIn my experience I've noticed the reverse, but I could be persuaded otherwise with statistics.
[-][anonymous]10y 51

.

Just because science doesn't know everything doesn't mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you.

Dara O'Briain

Science knows it doesn't know everything, otherwise it would stop.

Dara O'Briain

5Bill_McGrath10yHe also paraphrases what I've seen described as "the Minchin Principle" a few sentences later.

"The truth is whatever you can get away with."

"No, that’s journalism. The truth is whatever you can’t escape."

-Greg Egan, Distress

Robert Morris has a very unusual quality: he's never wrong. It might seem this would require you to be omniscient, but actually it's surprisingly easy. Don't say anything unless you're fairly sure of it. If you're not omniscient, you just don't end up saying much.

[....] He's not just generally correct, but also correct about how correct he is.

-- Paul Graham

9thomblake10yBeing well-calibrated is great, but it sounds like rtm isn't even wrong in retrospect. I much prefer to say wrong things very loudly so that I will discover when I am in error.
3khafra10yCalibration is awesome. However, note that without an audience like the NSA or Paul Graham, this is probably sub-optimal signaling.

I have to say, I haven't found calibration hugely useful. It's certainly nice, but for the most part people ignore you.

4David_Gerard10yDoes it give you better answers, though?

Sure, but I find that most of what I do is not dependent on small probability increments.

Il est dangereux d’avoir raison dans des choses où des hommes accrédités ont tort.
It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.

-Voltaire (usually presented as, "It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.")

“I was just doing my job” or “I don’t make the rules” is not a defense if you have a history of deciding what your job actually is, and selectively breaking or bending rules.

"Heads I Win, Tails You Lose" by Venkat Rao

3MixedNuts10yIt's also a good introduction to Nietzsche. (I find that most introductions to Nietzsche are good as long as they are humorous and informal enough that they wouldn't be used in philosophy class.)
[-][anonymous]10y 37

.

6CronoDAS10ySpace-time is like this set of equations, for which any analogy must be an approximation. [http://xkcd.com/895/]
2cousin_it10yThat's certainly a mistake that many people make, but we shouldn't consciously correct for it unless it's a bias with predictable direction. Does excessive belief in common-sense analogies really cause more problems than excessive belief in new shiny ideas? How do you tell?
8[anonymous]10y.

What is the aim of philosophy? To be clear-headed rather than confused; lucid rather than obscure; rational rather than otherwise; and to be neither more, nor less, sure of things than is justifiable by argument or evidence. That is worth trying for.

Geoffrey Warnock

It is easy to be certain....One has only to be sufficiently vague.

Charles S. Peirce

1khafra10yThat this quote has almost the same number of upvotes as this comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/9pk/rationality_quotes_february_2012/5t7i] is a good sign, I guess. Curious that the other one collected all the replies that might've gone here, though.

Already I had learned from thee that because a thing is eloquently expressed it should not be taken to be as necessarily true; nor because it is uttered with stammering lips should it be supposed false. Nor, again, is it necessarily true because rudely uttered, nor untrue because the language is brilliant. Wisdom and folly both are like meats that are wholesome and unwholesome, and courtly or simple words are like town-made or rustic vessels — both kinds of food may be served in either kind of dish.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

Any time we find that “math” disagrees with reality, the problem is never with “math”—it’s with us, for using the wrong math!

Scott Aaronson

Luck is opportunity plus preparation plus luck.

--Jane Espenson

4wedrifid10yThat is brilliant, I'm taking that one. It's refreshing to see an alternative to the typical belligerently optimistic 'motivational' quotes that deny the rather significant influence of chance.
1TeMPOraL9yWell, but it can also be interpreted as a recursive definition expanding to:

“I choose not to believe in any gods as an act of charity,” Marcus said.
“Charity toward whom?”
“Toward the gods. Seems rude to think they couldn’t make a world better than this,”

Daniel Abraham, The Dragon's Path

I am a physical object sitting in a physical world. Some of the forces of this physical world impinge on my surfaces. Light rays strike my retinas; molecules bombard my eardrums and fingertips. I strike back, emanating concentic air waves. These waves take the form of torrents of discourses about tables, people, molecules, light rays, retinas, air waves, prime numbers, infinite classes, joy and sorrow, good and evil.

--W. V. O. Quine

We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.

--Madonna

... People usually don't know why they vote for the candidates they choose to vote for, and are not particularly good at assessing how something influenced that vote -- let alone how some hypothetical future event would influence them.

...if you ask voters, it turns out that some will tell you that they would be more likely, and a somewhat larger number will tell you that they'll be less likely, to vote for someone with a Trump endorsement. Hey, reporters: don't believe those polls! You can take it as a measure of what respondents think about Trump, if you care about such things, but there's no reason to believe that this kind of self-reporting about vote choice is meaningful at all, and it shouldn't be included in stories about a Trump endorsement as if it was meaningful.

...The bottom line here is that polling is a really good tool for reporters to use in many cases, but remember: what polling tells you for sure is only what people will say if they're asked a question by a pollster.

Jonathan Bernstein

7thomblake10yWorking in market research, I have to resist the impulse to point this out practically every day.

Anyone who can handle a needle convincingly can make us see a thread which isn't there

-E.H. Gombrich

2Will_Newsome10yIs that true or is Gombrich just handling a needle convincingly?
1wiresnips10yEither both are true, or neither.
1Will_Newsome10yYeah, I spent a few minutes as I was falling asleep trying to rationalize that but don't remember if I came up with anything sensible. ETA: Something to do with metaphors and level-crossing.
0pedanterrific10yHow's that then? Suppose Gombrich is Hing a NC, it doesn't follow that anyone who can HaNC can make us see nonexistent thread; perhaps it's necessary but not sufficient. On the other hand, maybe it is true that anyone who can HaNC can make us see things, but Gombrich is fumbling his needle- it's just not noticeable because the thread actually exists in that case.
0[anonymous]10yNot necessarily true. Could be that it only works in some subset of cases, of which Gombritch's happens to be one.

Any time you say something is "more likely" than something else, that an explanation is "improbable," or "almost certainly true," or "implausible," and so on, you are making mathematical statements. Any time something is "more" than something else, that's math.

-- Richard Carrier

I’ve very often made mistakes in my physics by thinking the theory isn’t as good as it really is, thinking that there are lots of complications that are going to spoil it — an attitude that anything can happen, in spite of what you’re pretty sure should happen.

Richard Feynman, in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, chapter entitled "Mixing Paints".

I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.

— from *The South Pole* by Roald Amundsen

Yeah, but that's not very useful to tell when you're taking sensible precautions and when you're just packing cans of shark repellent.

3Endovior10yNot necessarily. Note that you take precautions because you foresee difficulties. If you intend to go diving in shark-infested waters... or, indeed, any body of water that might conceivably host sharks... then considering that fact in advance, purchasing shark repellent, and having it on-hand during the dive is totally sensible. If you're going to the South Pole instead, then shark repellent is worse then useless; it's presence will serve merely as additional weight to hinder your progress. The difference is, as the quote suggests, a question of whether you're preparing because you've carefully considered the situation in advance, and determined that the preparation in question is necessary to your task... or whether you don't really have a solid idea of why you'd need to do a given thing, but it seems like something that might be useful for a reason you haven't considered carefully enough to describe in words.

This is why science and mathematics are so much fun; You discover things that seem impossible to be true, and then get to figure out why it's impossible for them NOT to be.

-Vi Hart, Doodling in Math: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant- Part 3 of 3

Paradoxes, like optical illusions, are often used by psychologists to reveal the inner workings of the mind, for paradoxes stem from (and amplify) dormant clashes among implicit sets of assumptions.

Judea Pearl (Causality)

A paradox arises when two seemingly airtight arguments lead to contradictory conclusions—conclusions that cannot possibly both be true. It’s similar to adding a set of numbers in a two-dimensional array and getting different answers depending on whether you sum up the rows first or the columns. Since the correct total must be the same either way, the difference shows that an error must have been made in at least one of the two sets of calculations. But it remains to discover at which step (or steps) an erroneous calculation occurred in either or both of the running sums. There are two ways to rebut an argument. We might call them countering and invalidating.

+To counter an argument is to provide another argument that establishes the opposite conclusion.

+To invalidate an argument, we show that there is some step in that argument that simply does not follow from what precedes it (or we show that the argument’s premises—the initial steps—are themselves false).

If an argument starts with true premises, and if every step in the argument does follow, then the argument’s conclusion must be true. However, invalidating an argument—identifying an incorrect step somewhere—does not show that the

... (read more)
0gwern9yOn countering, see also one man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/01/knowing-your-ar.html].
4[anonymous]10y.
[-][anonymous]10y 23

The tendency toward generalization doesn’t bother me in an of itself, rather, I’m focused on whether the proposition is true. But the hypocrisy gets tiresome sometimes, as people will fluidly switch from a cognitive style which accepts generalization to one which rejects it. A stereotype is often a generalization whose robustness you don’t want to accept. Negative generalities need context when they’re unpalatable, but no qualification is necessary when their truth is congenial.

--Razib Khan, here

[-][anonymous]10y 22

Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.

H. Jackson Brown

(The second-last paragraph of The Power of Agency by Lukeprog reminded me of it.)

0NancyLebovitz10yI wonder to what extent people who become famous have a way fairly early in their careers to have other people do the routine work for them.

"Stay, 'tis just a figure!" Root laughed rather winningly, reaching out to touch Locke's shoulder.

"A faulty one," Daniel said, "for you are an alchemist."

"I am called an Alchemist. Within living memory, Daniel, everyone who studied what I—and you—study was called by that name. And most persons even today observe no distinction between Alchemy and the younger and more vigorous order of knowledge that is associated with your club."

"I am too exhausted to harry you through all of your evasions. Out of respect for your friends Mr. Locke, and for Leibniz, I shall give you the benefit of the doubt, and wish you well," Daniel said.

"God save you, Mr. Waterhouse."

"And you, Mr. Root. But I say this to you—and you as well, Mr. Locke. As I came in here I saw a map, lately taken from this house, burning in the fire. The map was empty, for it depicted the ocean—most likely, a part of it where no man has ever been. A few lines of latitude were ruled across that vellum void, and some legendary isles drawn in, with great authority, and where the map-maker could not restrain himself he drew phantastickal monsters. That map, to me, is A

... (read more)

I was pondering whether to cut the quote at this point, or to include the rest of the dialogue between natural philosopher Daniel Waterhouse and alchemist Enoch Root. I decided to cut the quote here firstly because otherwise it would be too long, and secondly because the rest of the dialogue does not have the same stirring, "yay science!", "yay modernity!" feeling of Daniel's tirade. But it is thought-provoking, so I include it below, with some reflections after it:

" 'Tis a noble pursuit and I wish you Godspeed," Root said, "but remember the poles."

"The poles?"

"The north and south poles, where your meridians will come together—no longer parallel and separate, but converging, and all one."

"That is nothing but a figment of geometry."

"But when you build all your science upon geometry, Mr. Water-house, figments become real."

Daniel sighed. "Very well, perhaps we'll get back to Alchemy in the end—but for now, no one can get near the poles—unless you can fly there on a broom, Mr. Root—and I'll put my trust in geometry and not in the books of fables that Mr. Boyle and Sir Elias are sorting through belo

... (read more)
4[anonymous]10yHunh? It's just an allusion to non-Euclidean geometry and the Gauss-Bonnet theorem [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gauss%E2%80%93Bonnet_theorem], which prevents any Cartesian grid system from working on the sphere.
3Alejandro110yYes, that is the surface meaning, but it seems to me there must be a secondary one. Daniel's tirade in the previous comment is not just saying "we will be able to draw accurate maps using a Cartesian grid" (otherwise, why say "that will be the end of Alchemy"? what does that literal meaning have to do with alchemy?). Notice that he is responding there to Root's assertion that there is little contrast between alchemy and "the younger and more vigorous order of knowledge that is associated with your club", i.e. modern science (the club is the Royal Society). So I take him to mean that the new scientific method, which relies on precise, mathematical thinking as opposed to the qualitative, semi-mystical thinking in alchemy (this is what "Cartesian grid vs dragons" stands for), will carry the day and eliminate alchemy. So I think that Root's reply that "you will leave out the poles" must have a hidden interpretation that fits in this broader argument, besides the surface one you point out. That there must be a second meaning is also supported by Daniel saying with a sigh "Very well, perhaps we'll get back to Alchemy in the end" -- you wouldn't need alchemy to draw a map with a different projection that includes the pole!
5gwern10yWell, it's been pointed out on occasion that modern physics did get back to alchemy - in the sense of transmuting elements (radioactivity). Personally, I took Root as referring to what the alchemists did achieve: apparent immortality, given his presence in Cryptonomicon. The younger order achieved a great deal, but just as map projections always have difficulties caused by mapping 3D to 2D, the younger order has difficulties with a few singular parts of the territory, if you will.
6Eugine_Nier10yAh, nothing like a good old-fashioned book-burning.

On the Outside View:

"Of course, if you want to, you can always come up with reasons why the lessons from the Neo-Sumerian Empire don't apply to you."

--Steven Kaas

2Jonathan_Graehl10yWhat lessons? The WP link was interesting, but I didn't catch anything other than "defunct empire".

To explain: the Outside View is a powerful tool, but one sometime should reject it based on even more powerful factors from the Inside View, where one can be sure that one is in a new (or at least, different) reference class from the one being used in the Outside View. Of course, one may want to reject it based just on one like one's views...

This sometimes leads to a back-and-forth series of arguments over burdens of proof dubbed 'reference class tennis' where the two sides argue over what is the correct reference class which will either support or undermine a particular claim (is AGI in the reference class of "additional incremental innovation", which would undermine claims of significant danger/reward, or entire "regime changes", which would support the same claims? This is the game of reference class tennis which Eliezer and Hanson are arguing their way through in the link and related links).

Kaas is humorously parodying a side using an Outside View involving the Neo-Sumerian Empire, replying to the other side making the commonsense position - yours too ('what lessons?') - that the quasi-literate agricultural Neo-Sumerian Empire from 3000 years ago is not in a... (read more)

Thanks. The statement you quoted was meant as a continuation of this, in case that makes it less confusing. I should probably have made that explicit.

2[anonymous]10yIt was meant as a continuation of this [https://twitter.com/#!/stevenkaas/status/157293501078441986], and I should have explicitly labeled it that way.
1Jonathan_Graehl10yAt least that explanation was fun to read :) Thanks.
[-][anonymous]10y 20

It may be expecting too much to expect most intellectuals to have common sense, when their whole life is based on their being uncommon -- that is, saying things that are different from what everyone else is saying. There is only so much genuine originality in anyone. After that, being uncommon means indulging in pointless eccentricities or clever attempts to mock or shock.

--Thomas Sowell

4Will_Newsome10y(On a related theme:) Intelligent folk may be better at processing evidence and drawing correct conclusions, but this is to some extent counteracted by the massive selection effects on what evidence they actually encounter.
8JoachimSchipper10yOther than various social effects ("everyone knows about the Pythagorean Theorem"), in what areas do you think intelligent people generally have worse information than their "normal" peers?

"Today we will be dragoons, until we are told otherwise"

"Where are our horses, then?"

"We must imagine them."

"Imaginary horses are much slower than the other kind."

Neal Stephenson, The Confusion

0RobertLumley10yFunny, I guess, but how is it rationality related?

"Imaginary horses are much slower than the other kind." Pretending to have horses doesn't allow you any of the benefits of having a horse, such as going faster.

2RobertLumley10yAh, I guess I was reading it with the wrong inflection. Thanks.
0dchow4510yThat is quite rational. However, some studies have shown that imagining (pretending) one is doing physical exercise can help heal the body as well as doing physical exercise. I find children imagining themselves as animals while playing often develop some amazing skills of both mind and body. Long way of saying the power of our minds can sometimes stretch the known limits of rationality.
0[anonymous]10yThat's not because the horses are slower, it's because you can't sit on them.

When people talk about the importance of democracy, it is never democracy as it has ever actually functioned, with the politicians that have actually been elected, and the policies that have actually been implemented. It is always democracy as people imagine it will operate once they succeed in electing "the right people" — by which they mean, people who agree almost completely with their own views, and who are consistent and incorruptible in their implementation of the resulting policies.

--Ben O'Neill, here

Considering the above quote can be used to criticize nearly any popular political position I don't think it is inherently mind-killing. Also since we all agree democracy is a good thing this isn't even very political. The original article and context obviously does make it somewhat political.

I don't think everyone here would agree that democracy is a good thing.

9CaveJohnson10yObviously you are right on that. I should have said: What I really meant by this is that Democracy is something very well entrenched and accepted in Western society and even LessWrong. Dissent from democracy isn't threatening heresy it is the mark of an eccentric.

Paul Graham has written quite extensively of why some things are considered "threatening heresy", and other things mere eccentricity. Ultimately, he concludes that in order for something to be tabooed, it must be threatening to some group that is powerful enough to enforce the taboo, but not powerful enough that the can safely ignore what their critics say about them. Democracy is currently so entrenched in western civilization that it doesn't have to give a fuck if a few people here and there criticize it occasionally.

The same is true of people who call for a dictatorship or any non-democratic form of government. They also always imagine it will be governed by "the right people", and imagine all the things "the right people" could accomplish if freed from the need to listen to the "ignorant mob".

4CaveJohnson10yYes I fully agree. But it shouldn't be underestimated that when it comes to non-democratic forms of government what kind of people are in power genuinely does have a big impact on how the country is run. Wanting a philosopher king isn't a bad idea if you aren't mistaken about the philosopher king in question.
1DanArmak9yWhat kind of people are in power has a big impact under all forms of government, democracy included.
1Multiheaded10yOr about your definition of "Philosopher king" in the first place. The character of Marcus Aurelius fit the preferences of those in Rome who dreamt of such a philosopher king; yet he was a poor ruler who displayed apathy - including going against his moral intuitions so as not to actually do anything, like finding gladiatorial games distasteful but making no attempt to limit them - and mediocre crisis management
3RichardKennaway10yDo we agree on that? I think there are quite a few on LessWrong who are no more in favour of democracy than Ben O'Neill. Or by linking "democracy" to the Sequences post on applause lights, do you mean to imply you mean the opposite of that sentence? Yet it is embedded between two others apparently intended straightforwardly.
1CaveJohnson10yThat democracy can reliably be used as an applause light is a sign that we as a society agree it is indeed a good thing.
4RichardKennaway10yBut not a sign that it is indeed a good thing.
3wedrifid10yOr, if I model human behavior correctly, it could also have been as sign that we as a society at one point agreed that it is a good thing but now agree that we agree that it is a reliable applause light. (But I don't think democracy-approval has devolved to that level yet. We actually do seem to think it is a good idea.)
1Jayson_Virissimo10yFrom the mission statement [http://shprs.clas.asu.edu/] of the school at which I studied political science:
1DanArmak9yEven if society-at-large agrees something is good, the LW community may disagree in whole or in part. Other things society-at-large treats as good and applause lights include: * Belief in belief * Deathism * Tabooing tradeoffs of sacred values like human life

Probably a duplicate, but I can't find a previous version:

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

H. L. Mencken

5djcb10yIt's in the wiki [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Fake_simplicity]: (but it's good enough that it can be repeated now and then...)

"...When I was still doubtful as to his [Wittgenstein's] ability, I asked G.E. Moore for his opinion. Moore replied, 'I think very well of him indeed.' When I enquired the reason for his opinion, he said it was because Wittgenstein was the only man who looked puzzled at his lectures."

--Bertrand Russell, pg 178 Last philosophical testament: 1943-68

Wishing for something that is logically impossible is a sign that there is something better to wish for.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

8MixedNuts10ytries Yes, but it's also logically impossible.

If we want to know if there has been a change from the start to the end dates, all we have to do is look! I’m tempted to add a dozen more exclamation points to that sentence, it is that important. We do not have to model what we can see. No statistical test is needed to say whether the data has changed. We can just look.

I have to stop, lest I become exasperated. We statisticians have pointed out this fact until we have all, one by one, turned blue in the face and passed out, the next statistician in line taking the place of his fallen comrade.

-William M. Briggs

3ShardPhoenix10yVoted up for the link, but the meaning of the quote isn't very clear out of context.

Any logically coherent body of doctrine is sure to be in part painful and contrary to current prejudices

– Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy p. 98

Bertie is a goldmine of rationality quotes.

Also don't confuse "logically coherent" with "true".

3Will_Newsome10yYou keep saying things I was gonna say. Dost thou haveth a blog perchance?
2AspiringKnitter10yDownvoted for incorrect subject-verb agreement.
4Will_Newsome10yIt was purposeful. It's like "can i haz cheezburger?" but olde schoole.
7fubarobfusco10yYou can't get ye flask.
7AspiringKnitter10yUn-downvoted. Sorry. But it's "i can haz cheesburger?" btw. ;)
0thomblake10yI don't believe you.
1Will_Newsome10yReally? There's precedent in my other comments. Massacring grammar is a compulsion I indulge in when I don't want to be seen as unreservedly endorsing something, in this case Eugine_Nier's comments. E.g. I sent this to Vladimir_M in a private message:
1pedanterrific10yThat's a little much even for me, and I know what you're talking about. Edit: Ok, so apparently people think it actually is important to phrase it "hast thou a blog". Shows what I know.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky10yI would think it should be "Dost thou havest a blog?"
2NancyLebovitz10yI'm voting for "Hast thou a blog?" if one wants to use period English, but I'm going by feel. Does anyone actually know?
1gwern10yMay I suggest looking in period literature? If I Google Books "Hast thou a ", I see in the first page of results hits from John Bunyan, 1678-1684 and William Shakespeare, c. 1591, among lesser lights.
2NancyLebovitz10yGood point. Googling "Dost thou havest a " turns up two results, one of which is Eliezer's comment. On the other hand, my instincts aren't perfect. I'd have bet that "havest" wasn't a word, but it is [http://onlinedictionary.datasegment.com/word/havest]. "Hast" is a contraction of "havest". I was wondering whether the problem was that "dost havest" is redundant, but "havest thou a" doesn't turn up anything period.
3[anonymous]10yYeah, “dost thou havest” would be much like “does he has”...
1Eugine_Nier10yThanks. Sorry, I don't have a blog.

The human understanding is no dry light, but receives an infusion from the will and affections; whence proceed sciences which may be called "sciences as one would." For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should seem to be occupied with things mean and transitory; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless, in short, are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections color and infect the understanding.

-- Francis Bacon, Novum Organum (Aphorism XLIX), 1620. (1863 translation by Spedding, Ellis and Heath. You should read the whole thing, it's all this good.)

Death is the gods' crime.

Humanity becomes more and more of an accessory every day; with increasing power comes increasing responsibility.

2Baughn10yI tried reading that story, but got stuck on the brat. Please tell me she gets better?
1Alicorn10yNot really, but there's more focus on other characters as the comic goes on, and events get to show more sides to her (still basically bratty) personality.

Game theory won out over good wishes.

--Burning Man organizers

Latest news: Burning Man blames game theory for their failure to understand basic supply and demand, hugely underprices tickets, 2/3 of buyers left in cold, Market Economics Fairy cries.

That's not a fair assessment of the organizers' skill level.

They seem to have a nice firm grip on the effect of fixed supply, fixed price, and increasing demand:

And in those regards, the ticket selection system worked as planned — but it created other unforeseen problems, and most of them boil down to an unpredicted, overwhelming level of demand. The impact of that demand is beyond what we projected when designing the system; even if we knew there were destined to be some people missing out, we didn’t expect nearly so many.

What they didn't predict was that the expectation of scarcity would further increase demand, creating a positive feedback loop. In their words:

there was a fair amount of over-registration – those who said “I need one but I’ll order two…” or “I’m not sure I’m going but I’ll get one just in case.” We can now see that some of that happened simply because the perception of scarcity drove fear and action for all of us.

So, they understand supply and demand (they just made a bad factual estimate of demand), and they didn't really understand game theory - but after they made their mistake they publicly admitted it, asked around to see what they did wrong, and proposed strategies for mitigating the mistake.

Why are we mocking them again?

4NancyLebovitz10yI gather they didn't know how huge the demand would be this year. Burning Man's problem might be a good topic for LW to kick around. Suppose you have pretty good abundance, how do you ration access to excellent social venues without having barriers that do damage to the venues? Is this even possible?

In this particular case, not all attendees appear to be equally valuable to the event/other attendees. Giving priority to people who've organized cool things in the last few years may make sense.

Yes, this was my reaction - 'let the price float, and give transferrable vouchers to the people who do the most awesome stuff; if they object, well, that's why the vouchers are transferrable'. It's not much different from what they're already suggesting, telling the lucky ones to distribute excess tickets among people they like.

1Oscar_Cunningham10yI don't understand, won't pricing the tickets higher just cause people to be disappointed that the tickets were too expensive for them, instead of there not being enough?
3Nornagest10yIt'd probably lead to a roughly equal amount of personal disappointment once the dust settles, but less disruption to the community. Major projects, the kind that the newsletter's alluding to when it talks about collaborations, aren't cheap; members of the camps that put them on usually spend at least their ticket price on supplies, to say nothing of labor. That implies that there's enough loose money floating around those projects that an increase in ticket prices wouldn't be an insurmountable hurdle. Of course, it may very well be such a hurdle for those burners who've joined the event as spectators; principle of inclusion aside, though, those participants aren't as valuable to the organization or to each other as more committed folks. If there's concern over raising the bar too high for marginal theme camps to participate, the organizers could divert some of the excess funds into grants or reduced-price tickets for that demographic. I get the impression that this line of thinking looks too cold-blooded for the Burning Man organizers to take to heart, though. Hence the rather strained attempt at casting the problem in terms of "Civic Responsibility" and "Communal Effort".
1dwalt7510yIt will allow people that were willing to pay the market price actually buy the tickets. If there is sufficient demand then maybe a Burning Man 2 festival makes economic sense, or increasing the supply of tickets for Burning Man itself. We live in a world of limited resources not of good wishes. Good wishes lead to dead weight losses. I don't see a possible scenario where price control is a good idea - LAW of supply and demand. If there is some societal interest that the market fails to protect here (is Burning Man a fundamental right applicable to a certain type of person?) If so, then we should have a BMPA (like the EPA) formed to regulate the event. Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries. - Ayn Rand
2Larks10yWelcome to Less Wrong! If you have time, feel free to introduce yourself to the community here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/90l/welcome_to_less_wrong_2012/].
0[anonymous]10yF*cking Markets, How Do They Work?

From the blog post:

No event organizer or ticket seller has solved scalping completely.

It seems pretty easy to solve: auction off all the tickets.

The Market Economics Fairy is pleased with you! She blesses you with sparkles from her wand!

[-][anonymous]10y 12

What profit does she get from dispensing sparkles?

It improves the chance that further Market Economics will happen by rewarding people who produce it. It goes without saying that Market Economics is a terminal value to the Market Economics Fairy. If she was just interested in profit, she'd be starting a hedge fund instead of going around telling people about Market Economics.

Market Economics fairy should consider starting a hedge fund anyway and investing that money into a lobby group or other means of promoting Market Economics. I sincerely doubt emitting sparkles from her wand is where her comparative advantage lies.

What do you mean? The Market Economics Fairy is way better at emitting sparkles from her wand than anyone else, and has no special talent for managing hedge funds.

9Armok_GoB10yMaybe, but I'm pretty sure there are substitutes: both for the role of sparkles, and manual production of them using a wand.

Well now you've proved that the Market Economics Fairy should quit her job and found a startup aimed at roboticizing sparkle production. I hope you're happy.

9Armok_GoB10yVery. :D
4wedrifid10yJust how much better than everyone else is she? Perhaps her comparative advantage is in creating a power company [http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2305#comic]. Spend early revenue on recursively improving (ie. research that is money limited) sparkle -> electricity conversion then spend later revenue on hiring people to do FAI research so she can maintain and consolidate her overall advantage as technology makes sparkle power obsolete. Unfortunately for the rest of us the FAI creates an environment that degenerates into a Hansonian Hell (then further into mere cosmic commons burning). If it behaved like a FAI and did the smart thing and became a singleton the market economics fairy would disintegrate into a puff of vapor - presumably not part of her extrapolated volition. Once someone has won (secured control via overwhelming intelligence advantage) 'Market Economics' becomes nothing more than a charade. Yet maintaining an environment where market economics hold sway ensures a steady evolution towards more efficient competition which will tend toward one of two obvious local minima (burn the earth or, more likely, burn the light cone, depending on whether the leap to interstellar is viable for anyone at any point in the economic competition.) The Market Economics Fairy must (eventually) die or we will! (Pardon the Newsomlike tangential stream. It seems relevant/interesting/important to me at least!)
5MixedNuts10yWho do you think is behind Ayn Rand?

You're missing the unstated corollary to this, or any other discussion of scalpers: 'and prices have to be "reasonable" for whatever demographic we claim to serve or would prefer to serve'.

Hence, you get discussions of young girl singers unhappy that all these icky old men are paying hundreds of dollars for the tickets to her concert, even though the market doesn't clear at the $40 or $60 her preteen fans can spare. (And if an organization does let the price float to its natural level of hundreds of dollars, then you get shocked articles in the newspaper on 'ticket inflation' and angry letters to the editor about how in their day you could get in for a nickel...)

5Vaniver10yI agree that ticketing is a difficult problem, but getting rid of scalping is easy if that's your primary objective. Pricing the externalities of event-goers is tough, especially when anti-discrimination legislation means you generally can't be upfront about it.

So there is the problem: The ideal of non-discrimination is not compatible with cases where the demographics of event-goers is itself a strong influence on the quality of the event for everyone involved.

0NancyLebovitz10yI don't get the impression that getting rid of scalping is easy at all. What do you have in mind?
4Vaniver10yIn the ancestral post, I recommend auctioning off the tickets. This ensures that the people who are willing to pay the most get the tickets, dramatically reducing the demand and increasing the risk for scalpers (if I buy a $20 ticket to a show I expect to sell out, a price decline is unlikely, and even if it happens it's probably only a few bucks per ticket. If I buy a $500 ticket to a show I expect to sell out, a price decline could wipe me out). Now, you could still have people buying tickets at auction to sell at the door to people who weren't prepared, but that won't be a moral issue since you've already established that the tickets go to the highest bidder. gwern rightly points out that this doesn't always deliver the best experience. The good first approaches to diversity are quotas and subsidies. They might offer burning man attendance at historical prices to people who have come previously, and then auction off a batch of tickets to new attendees, or give previous attendees vouchers which increase their bids by a set amount or a multiplier. (Content providers could even be paid for their trouble.) Whatever you decide you want to encourage, though, you're better off working with the price system than against the price system.
0endoself10yWould public hostility really result in lower profits than just selling at the market equilibrium price? If I did not know about the actual amount of scalping that happen, I would be very suprised to learn that tickets are priced so far below equilibrium.
7gwern10yThe public hostility is clearly a negative of some kind; whether it actually reduces net lifetime discounted income or some metric like that, you'd have to ask an economist. But the artists clearly do want to avoid the true prices being in any way ascribable to them. An example: I read in an article somewhere of the lawsuits against Ticketmaster where apparently one of the revelations was that high powered acts were able to quietly demand shares of Ticketmaster's 'fees' - this price increase was not perceived as a price increase by the act, but as Ticketmaster's fault. They took the blame in exchange for the act using their services, basically. I would guess that Ticketmaster gets a bigger percentage of the 'fees' than they would get in a straight ticket price increase; this difference would represent Ticketmaster's compensation for taking the heat. (And there was another bit, about acts demanding larger fractions of the tickets, which they would quietly sell at premium prices - but without the public opprobrium accompanying official prices that high.)
3Eugine_Nier10yThis [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1zv/the_shabbos_goy/] post seems relevant.
0[anonymous]10yThere are a lot of people in the entertainment industry and they tend to want to make money. Shouldn't they know the answer and act upon it by now?
2NancyLebovitz10yHostility might not be the only risk. If you want to have fans for an extended period, you'd do well to attract young people-- and they're likely to not have as much money.

Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife - chopping off what's incomplete and saying: "Now, it's complete because it's ended here."

~ Collected Sayings of Muad'Dib, Irulan, Herbert elder

I've never been able to make sense out of that. It sounds very tough and definite, but what does it mean?

5Xom10yThis is sort of what I say to remind myself that having read some of something isn't a sufficient reason to finish it. I pasted it into Google just now and found this article [http://iwriteiam.nl/Dune7.html] quoting it in a similar context.
4adamisom10yI agree. It's not... quite.... complete. Let's chop it off. (Let's keep it at 0 points). There, now it's complete.
1djcb10yI guess it's re-stating Antoine de Saint Exupéry's "It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove".
[-][anonymous]10y 10

.

7RolfAndreassen10yThe quote needn't be taken as approving. Muad'Dib wanted to avoid the jihad he unleashed, even though he eventually came to see it as necessary. If you take it as neutral reporting of how the Fremen think, it could be taken as a comment on how circumstances shape your thinking, or as a caution against allowing no-longer-extant circumstances to constrain you.
8wedrifid10yIs this a recommendation or a warning?
0jimmy10yCan't it be both?
9wedrifid10yIn this case that roughly translates to self contradictory advice. Do and do not do. There are plenty of quotes that make just as much sense when reversed and in such cases the quotes themselves contain very information and any actual wisdom must be entirely embedded in the algorithm that selects which quoted meaning to apply in which case.
6jimmy10yYou can't simultaneously say "aim higher on the margin" and "aim lower on the margin", but you can say "don't aim too high" and "don't aim too low" - or more simply "mind your aim point". It is entirely possible that people miss on both sides and they are simply not being careful enough to avoid either extreme. Consider it a recommendation to be aware of the trade off, not a recommendation to bias your decisions in any particular direction.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky10yUpvoted because I actually think this phrase as my reminder-keyword on appropriate occasions. E.g. publishing an MOR chapter.

Title should read: "Making Stuff Up Is Easy, Overcoming Cognitive Biases and Discovering How Things Really Work Is Difficult: An Exercise in the Obvious"

Reddit user sciencecomic, in response to a headline reading "'Why Religion Is Natural and Science Is Not'. Emory philosopher Robert McCauley suggests that science is more fragile than we think while religion more resilient – all for reasons coming back to humans' cognitive processes."

3thomblake10yYou should include a link.
0Zeej10yDone.

The world is a place
made of land and water
and even though it makes
sense in pictures
I do not understand it.

-a kid named Noah. (Hat-tip to Yvain.)

0HonoreDB10yOriginal post [http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/fkrvd/i_found_this_on_my_way_to_class_after_passing_by/] . It was found stuck underneath a metal bench at an elementary school bus stop.
0Desrtopa10yWhere did you read that he was five? I definitely wasn't that literate as a five year old.
0Grognor10yFixed.

The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.

Leonardo da Vinci

A poem about decision trees:

I think that I shall never see
A decision complex as that tree—

A tree with roots in ancient days
(At least as old as Reverend Bayes);

A tree with trunk all gnarled and twisted
With axioms by Savage listed;

A tree with branches sprouting branches
And nodes declaring what the chance is;

A tree with flowers in its tresses
(Each flower made of blooming guesses);

A tree with utiles at its tips
(Values gleaned from puzzled lips);

A tree with stems so deeply nested
Intuition’s completely bested;

A tree with branches in a tangle
Impenetrable from any angle;

A tree that tried to tell us “should”
Although its essence was but “would”;

A tree that did decision hold back
’Til calculation had it rolled back.

Decisions are reached by fools like me,
But it took a consultant to make that tree.

Michael Rothkopf

[-][anonymous]10y 12

.

1orthonormal10yThis song has been instrumentally useful to me in more ways than one...

It is bad luck to be superstitious.

-Andrew W. Mathis

5wedrifid10yOr potentially good luck if the combination of your instincts and the (irrationally justified) memes you inherited from tradition are better than your abstract decision making.
-4Will_Newsome10yOr maybe some non-negligible subset of superstitions give good luck because they're in fact rationally justifiable.
1katydee10yOr because their signalling (or countersignalling) value outweighs their instrumental disadvantages.
0wedrifid10yOr, while we are at it, superstitions held by those with a generally optimistic outlook will tend towards 'good luck' superstitions and so result in greater exploitation of potential opportunities.
0wedrifid10yIs this not approximately the same thing that I said, just changed from: "It is good luck to " to "There is a class X of strategies that represent good luck" and a truncation of some causal details regarding the selection process? (That is, is my meaning not clear?)
-4Will_Newsome10yMere difference in connotation. I attribute my good luck to the gods, and would be annoyed at the implication that such an attribution is irrational justification obscuring my good luck's allegedly-actual origin in my optimistic outlook or whatever. By my lights some non-negligible subset of superstitions give good luck due to the combination of ones instincts, cultural inheritance, and also quite crucially the help of the gods. This is compatible with what you said but I wanted to emphasize the importance of the gods, without which I suspect many superstitions would be pointless. It's true that as you imply maybe even in the absence of gods superstitions would still be adaptive, but I'm less sure of such a counterfactual than of this world where there are in fact gods.
4wedrifid10yI'm afraid I must disagree with your connotation now that it is explicit and for the following reason: No, the problem isn't with the whole "gods exist" idea. Rather, given that gods (counterfactually) exist, rational and justified belief in them and behaving in a way that reflects that belief is not superstition. It's the same as acting as though quarks exist. When those crackpots who don't believe in gods (despite appearing to be on average for more epistemically rational in all other areas and appearing to have overwhelming evidence with respect to this one) call you superstitious for behaving as an agent who exists in the actual world they are mistaken.
2Will_Newsome10yThis is a dispute over definitions then? On your terms then what should I call the various cognitive habits I have about not jinxing things and so on? (I don't think the analogy to quarks holds, because quarks aren't mysterious agenty things in my environment, they're just some weird detail of some weird model of physics, whereas gods are very phenomenologically present.) It seems there is a distinct set of behaviors that people call "superstition" and that should be called "superstition" even if they are the result of epistemically rational beliefs. The set of behaviors is largely characterized by its presumption of mysterious supernatural agency. I see no reason not to call various of my cognitive habits superstitions, as it'd be harder to characterize them if I couldn't use that word. This despite thinking my superstitions have strong epistemic justification.
2wedrifid10yThat, and how the abstract concepts represented by them interact with the insight underlying the quote. Oh, and underneath that and causing the disagreement is a fundamental incompatibility of view of the nature of the universe itself which is in turn caused by, from what you have said in the past, a dispute over how the very act of epistemological thinking should be done.
1Will_Newsome10yWhat's the nature of the difference? I figure we both have some sort of UDT-inspired framework for epistemology, bolstered in certain special cases by intuitions about algorithmic probability, and so any theoretical disagreements we have could presumably be resolved by recourse to such higher level principles. On the practical end of course we're likely to have somewhat varying views simply due to differing cognitive styles and personal histories, and we've likely reached very different conclusions on various particular subjects for various reasons. Is our dispute more on the theoretical or pragmatic side?
5wedrifid10yI can only make inferences based on what you have described of yourself (for example 'post-rationalist' type descriptions) as well, obviously, as updates based on conclusions that have been reached. Given that the subject is personal I should say explicitly that nothing in this comment is intended to be insulting - I speak only as a matter of interest. I think UDT dominates your epistemology more than it does mine. Roughly speaking UDT considerations don't form the framework of my epistemology but instead determine what part of the epistemology to use when decision making. This (probably among other things that I am not aware of) leads me to make less drastic conclusions about fundamental moralities and gods. Yet UDT considerations remain significant when deciding which things to bother even considering as probabilities in such a way that the diff of will/wedrifid's epistemology kernel almost certainly remains far smaller than wedrifid/average_philosopher. Yes, most of our thinking is just a bunch of messy human crap that could be ironed out by such recourse. A little of both I think? At least when I interpret that at the level of "theories about theorizing" and "pragmatic theorizing". Not much at all (from what I can see) with respect to actually being pragmatic. But who knows? Modelling other humans internal models is hard enough even when you are modelling cookie cutter 'normal' ones.
-6Will_Newsome10y

Rationality promotion:

However, I would advise our readers to be good Bayesian thinkers and consider how easily tonight’s evidence fits in to the perspective they had on the race going into Tuesday evening.

-- Nate Silver, today's 538 blog

http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/g-o-p-race-has-hallmarks-of-prolonged-battle/

The original even linked to the wikipedia entry on "Bayesian".

"The Enlightenment is the moment at which explanatory knowledge is beginning to assume its soon-to-be-normal role as the most important determinant of physical events. At least it could be: we had better remember that what we are attempting – the sustained creation of knowledge – has never worked before. Indeed, everything that we shall ever try to achieve from now on will never have worked before. We have, so far, been transformed from the victims (and enforcers) of an eternal status quo into the mainly passive recipients of the benefits of relatively rapid innovation in a bumpy transition period. We now have to accept, and rejoice in bringing about, our next transformation: to active agents of progress in the emerging rational society – and universe."

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

Consider for a moment the first primitive amphibian that crawled up out of the sea around 400 million years ago. A contemporary biologist, had any existed, would certainly have classed this species as a rather unusual type of fish, for it would be far more closely related to certain kinds of fish than any other extant species. It is only in hindsight that we can see that it was not a fish, but the first representative of an entirely new class[41] of [vertebrates], the amphibians. But intelligence and tool-using are developments of comparable scope to the ability to breath air and move about on land. I therefore argue that human beings are not primates; we are not even mammals. Homo sapiens is a radical evolutionary phenomenon, the first representative of a new class of [vertebrates].

-- Ronald E. Merrill

(The brackets around "vertebrates" are just for a spelling correction.)

8roystgnr10yThis sounds radical but is if anything far too conservative. Intelligence and tool using has for millennia allowed us to apply selection pressures which are much more focused than natural selection, and now also allows us to directly edit genetic material in ways which would be slower or even impossible via random mutation alone. Intelligence also allows for the generation, mutation, and replication of ideas, which end up having a much greater, much more rapidly changing impact on ourselves and our environment than the variation in our genes alone. Those aren't changes comparable to the difference between breathing water and breathing air; they're changes comparable to the difference between non-life and life. The very idea of biological clades becomes more and more fuzzy when we make horizontal gene transfer a regular fact of life for even complex organisms, intermixing DNA from species that haven't had a common ancestor in a billion years.

Once, as a junior doctor, I was walking through the hospital grounds when I noticed a patient sitting on a bench slashing his wrists with a broken bottle of vodka whose contents he had just drunk. I asked him to come into the hospital where I could sew him up (sobering him up was beyond my powers). He refused and I went to fetch a porter to drag him in by force.

By the time we returned, he had climbed up the fire escape (it was a Victorian building) and clambered over the railings on to a narrow ledge three storeys up, on which he was swaying drunkenly. The porter and I went up the fire escape: the man threatened to jump if we came nearer. We decided we had to make a grab for him; as we did so, he jumped. We held him suspended by his arms three storeys up. First he shouted, “Let me go, you bastards!” and then, “Help, I’m falling!” – a metaphor for the whole of human life, when you come to think of it.

Theodore Dalrymple

What a cliffhanger.

[-][anonymous]10y 9

It's easy to just say, "They're crazy, who can explain crazy people?" and be done with it. It's easy to act like there's a separate species of people that naturally believes only wrong things, like dogs chasing squirrels, or rabbits digging holes.

It's harder to think that these are human beings who probably don't arbitrarily decide on a hobby of being wrong about things because it is fun, and that they're being driven by basic human qualities that we also have, like fear or ego. Or that they feel the need to make larger-than-life monsters and he

... (read more)
4[anonymous]10yI had already read about the ideas of that Cracked in the sequences ( http://lesswrong.com/lw/i7/belief_as_attire/ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i7/belief_as_attire/], http://lesswrong.com/lw/9v/beware_of_otheroptimizing/ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/9v/beware_of_otheroptimizing/], http://lesswrong.com/lw/i0/are_your_enemies_innately_evil/ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i0/are_your_enemies_innately_evil/]), but I still found it awesome.
-2thomblake10yA bit long for a quote. Might have been a good summary for a discussion post link.

Once the demands of acting - and hence deciding - in a time-pressured world are factored into our vision of rational thought, we get a model of the mind vastly unlike the model typically (and dimly) imagined by rationalists in the in the great tradition of Descartes, Leibniz and Kant.

Daniel Dennett, Elbow Room, (Control and Self-Control)

[-][anonymous]10y 9

Words are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools, that value them by the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any other doctor whatsoever, if but a man.

--Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

"The talk of believing by our volition seems, then, from one point of view, simply silly. From another point of view it is worse than silly, it is vile. When one turns to the magnificent edifice of the physical sciences, and sees how it was reared; ... what submission to the icy laws of outer fact are wrought into its very stones and mortar; how absolutely impersonal it stands in its vast augustness — then how besotted and contemptible seems every little sentimentalist who comes blowing his voluntary smoke-wreaths, and pretending to decide things fro

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1Grognor10yI like [http://lesswrong.com/lw/94r/rationality_quotes_january_2012/5mng] this William James quote and some others, but I guess LW doesn't, considering this comment's score. I could speculate on it as much as I want, but I don't know why. Edited for wedifrid's uncharitable objection.
4wedrifid10yIt is conceivable that people vote based on quotes and not just the author the quote is attributed to!

What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. This foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation . . . the dispositions of the enemy are ascertainable through spies and spies alone.

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War
quoted from here in that particular form

... Let us think about the future! Not only praise it, not only worship or shrink in terror from it, not only dream of it or fear it — let us think about it, invent it, prepare for it!..

— Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

[-][anonymous]10y 8

A good test for getting rid of anything is: if we didn't have this, would we need it? For example, let's say you have a ratty old armchair. You love your chair, you do. It was a new chair once and fine, it reclines, and you have spent many cool evenings ensconced in it, drinking Henry Weinhard's and munching Pringles, maybe indulging in a few controlled substances and watching Liquid TV (yes, the chair is that old). But many Pringles and not a little Henry's have made their ways into its funky blue fibers, which are not, in any way shape or form, washable

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Everything after "If so - definitely, keep it. If not..." is (a) context-dependent and (b) debatable.

There is no magical unreliability attaching to results just because they are results of single trials.

John Leslie, The End of the World, p. 242 (paperback)

(He is not talking about about trials in the "randomized controlled trial" sense but rather in the sampling sense.)

A half truth is more frightening than a lie.

-Bengali proverb

2NancyLebovitz10yI've heard a theory that half truths told with intent to deceive are more damaging than outright lies because if someone is deceived, they're more likely to blame themselves.
8Eugine_Nier10yAlso, you're more likely to notice that an outright lie is false.

When someone says they want to annihilate you believe them.

Douglas Murray describing advice from a Holocaust survivor.

Perhaps this should be checked by comparing the number of people who say they want to annihilate a group to the number of attempts at annihilation.

True, but you should first assign appropriate weights to the two categories you mention based on the expected cost of having an incorrect belief.

1thomblake10yThis seems obviously correct, but at the same time it seems at odds with the virtue of evenness.
9Eliezer Yudkowsky10yNo, the weight factors into an expected utility calculation, it's separate from the probability calculation. Miller didn't say otherwise. BTW, the opening three comments of this thread would make a great introduction to what the LW website is all about.
0thomblake10yAha. The original claim was that one should believe them, so I thought the weights were supposed to bear upon that question. In that case, which expected utility calculation are you referring to? Or are you claiming that believing a proposition is more than a matter of the probability calculation?
9NancyLebovitz10yAt a minimum, you could include estimates of the ability to carry out the threat in your calculations.
0Zvi10yI don't attempt everything I want to do, either. But the number who try to do so given the opportunity...
4NancyLebovitz10yJust for fun: similar advice based on British folk ballads [http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/006448.html].

Many of us spontaneously anticipate how friends and colleagues will evaluate our choices; the quality and content of these anticipated judgments therefore matters. The expectation of intelligent gossip is a powerful motive for serious self-criticism, more powerful than New Year resolutions to improve one's decision making at work and at home.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.

— Will Durant, Life, Oct. 18, 1963

To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle. One thing that helps toward it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record of one's opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it. Political predictions are usually wrong. But even when one makes a correct one, to discover why one was right can be very illuminating. In general, one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality. If one recognizes this, one

... (read more)

I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp.

-- W. Somerset Maugham

3Swimmer96310yOhh man, that would be convenient... Actually, given my current schedule, it'd be pretty irritating. I'd spend my mornings sitting in class, fuming that I couldn't just leave and go write all day.
5David_Gerard10yI think what he meant is sit down and get to work on a regular schedule, "inspired" or not. c.f. this [http://lesswrong.com/lw/9t2/what_are_you_working_on_february_2012/5tzi].

I think if you do anything patiently people mistake it for being genius [...]

-- Nicholas Gurewitch (creator of Perry Bible Fellowship)

Terrible video game: Science was my religion. Now, religion has become my science.
Michael "slowbeef" Sawyer: Oh, that's deep, when you switch the words.

-Retsupurae

9CronoDAS10yThat's exactly how the character "The Sphinx" in the film "Mystery Men" delivered all his wise-sounding lines. Eventually it becomes a bit predictable to the D-list "superhero" characters that he's trying to serve as a mentor to. Edit: See DSimon's reply for the dialogue.

The Sphinx: To learn my teachings, I must first teach you how to learn.

[...]

The Sphinx: He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions.

[...]

Mr. Furious: Okay, am I the only one who finds these sayings just a little bit formulaic? "If you want to push something down, you have to pull it up. If you want to go left, you have to go right." It's...
The Sphinx: Your temper is very quick, my friend. But until you learn to master your rage...
Mr. Furious: ...your rage will become your master? That's what you were going to say. Right? Right?
The Sphinx: Not necessarily.

[...]

[Mr. Furious tries to balance a hammer on his head]
Mr. Furious: Why am I doing this, again?
The Sphinx: When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack.
Mr. Furious: And why am I wearing the watermelon on my feet?
The Sphinx: [looks at the watermelon on Mr. Furious' feet] I don't remember telling you to do that.

0CronoDAS10yThanks. :)
[-][anonymous]10y 4

“It seems to me that often dumb people believe x, smart people believe y, really smart people believe x.”

-- Attributed to Gregory Cochran

On intellectual hipsters.

3skepsci10yI would be very interested if anyone has good examples of this phenomenon. There are a few "triads" mentioned in the intellectual hipster article, but the only one that really seems to me like a good example of this phenomenon is the "don't care about Africa / give aid to Africa / don't give aid to Africa" triad.
0Dmytry10yWell, the "dumb" (and uneducated) explanation of airfoil lift is that wings push air downwards. The slightly less dumb people get exposed to bits and pieces of products of thought of very very smart people, which they completely don't understand and absolutely can't use for reasoning. But they want to be smart. So they come up with explanation that air on top of the wing must match up with the air on the bottom, but path is longer, so it must go faster, and so with bernoulli effect, there's lift. Reduced from dumbly talking in dumbspeech to incoherently babbling in smartspeech. The actually smart people's explanation is that wings push air downwards (and also pull it downwards). The reasoning tools made by real smart people for real smart people are a memetic hazard to semi smart slightly educated people, but not so much to uneducated people, in much same way how power tools made for adults are a huge hazard to children that can open the cabinet, but not infants. If we meet super smart aliens, and they just dump knowledge, results on the really smart people might well be exactly the same.
[-][anonymous]10y 4

[A] single qubit that you understand is better than a thousand qubits that you don’t.

-- Scott Aaronson, in this blog post, reaching out to the pointy-haired bosses of the quantum computing world.

[-][anonymous]10y 4

Man gives indifferent names to one and the same thing from the difference of their own passions; as they that approve a private opinion call it opinion; but they that mislike it, heresy: and yet heresy signifies no more than private opinion.

--Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

2Prismattic10yI think there's more to it than that. To label an opinion heresy is to claim that it deviates from the majority opinion, whether or not that is actually the case. Sort of related: The Bolsheviks were clever to call themselves Bolsheviks; the Mensheviks probably outnumbered them at the time of the split, but failed to contest the nomenclature.
1[anonymous]10yThe Bolsheviks had a majority at the party congress where the split occurred. The Mensheviks were a loosely organized group of study circles. They included all sorts of "members" who weren't actually active. They might have more members, but the defined "members" differently, and that definition was in fact the main basis for the original split with the Mensheviks.
0DanArmak9yI think that's part of the meaning of "private opinion" in the quote. If someone agrees with the majority, they don't have their own private opinion.

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.

  • Andrew Tanenbaum
6MixedNuts10yTony Dye [http://tonydye.typepad.com/main/2007/05/station_wagon_b.html]
3Thomas10yFrom your link: "Bit meters per second" or "megabyte kilometers per hour" would be a better measure than just "bits per second".
4NancyLebovitz10yAre there useful generalizations which can be derived from this?

"Shut up and multiply" works for practical purposes too.

(One of my favorite shut-up-and-multiply results: automatic dishwashers cost less than 2 euro per hour saved, so everyone should have one.)

2MixedNuts10yI live on a fixed income, so hourly wage isn't a very relevant metric. It wouldn't even fit in my place. I couldn't take it with me when I move, and I move a lot.
3JoachimSchipper10yWould even this [http://tinyhouseblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/ddw497w_vl5.jpg] [source [http://tinyhouseblog.com/tiny-furnishings/tiny-portable-dishwashers/]] be too large? It's only ~50lbs (~22 kg), so moving it should be possible. (This is not an endorsement of the specific machine or this class of machines, I didn't look very closely.) I can't sell an extra hour either, but reverse the situation: would you be willing to wash dishes for an hour for $2? (If so, I have a few jobs for you that are harder to automate than dishwashing... ;-))
0juliawise10yI've lived in apartments where this would not fit. And I don't think I know anyone who, after finishing dinner, would actually go and earn money during the time they used to spend washing up.
1kilobug10yEveryone in the western world you mean ? Because 2 euros per hour is much more than the minimal wage in many countries. Sorry for nit-picking but forgetting that more than half of the world doesn't live in as much comfort as we do is a frequent bias (probably a consequence of availability bias, we don't see them as often).
4JoachimSchipper10yTrue, but "everyone on LW" seems to be fairly defensible.
0Desrtopa10yDishwasher efficacy is variable. Where I live, the water is actually hard enough that I have to hand scrub most of the dishes I use because the dishwasher alone won't clean them properly. It only barely takes me less time to get many of my dishes dishwasher-ready than to clean them entirely by hand
0Nominull10yYou're assuming away a lot of individual variation in time spent manually washing dishes.
0Thomas10yIf you download a LOT of old movies onto your PC, a truck full of old tapes heading towards you, could be a great internet speed up from your perspective. Or a pizza delivering man, he could bring you some files in less time than the email. At least in principle, some "station wagons full of tapes", cargo planes in the sky full of USB flash drives and pedestrians running on the streets with a massive data storage devices in their bags - they all together could increase the network bandwidth we need.

A few from M:TG flavour text.

When nothing remains, everything is equally possible. ~One with Nothing

"Believe in the ideal, not the idol." -Serra ~Worship

"War glides on the simplest updrafts while peace struggles against hurricane winds. It is the way of the world. It must change." ~Commander Eesha

I must admit that one of my favorite quotes from M:tG is one of the less rational ones:

Of course you should fight fire with fire. You should fight everything with fire.

-- Sizzle

4CronoDAS10y-- Fodder Cannon [http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=45467] The card art of Browse [http://img.mogg.fr/HIRES/AL/Browse.full.jpg] gives this gem, which I think I may have posted before: But the best flavor text ever is still Martyrs' Tomb [http://img.mogg.fr/HIRES/AP/Martyrs%27%20Tomb.full.jpg].
0Bugmaster10yI don't know, I find the Wall of Vapor [http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=2821] quote inspirational, as well:
6Daermonn10yFrom Shattered Perception [http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=254058] (Discard all the cards in your hand, then draw that many cards.): I think this one takes the cake, in terms of rationality.
8JoshuaZ10yTo a large extent it already has. Humans are much more peaceful now than they have been in the past. This is part of a large set of broad trends. See Pinker's excellent "The Better Angels of Our Nature". At this point, I'm not sure this quote is really accurate.
0Eugine_Nier10yTrue in the sense that 0=0.
3shokwave10yI understood it as advocating a maximum ignorance prior. In hindsight, it's an MT:G card, so probably not.
6Eugine_Nier10yAlso I don't recommend throwing out what you know to have a maximum ignorance prior.
2CronoDAS10yIncidentally, the card itself is notorious for being among the most useless cards ever printed and routinely shows up on "worst card ever" lists.

Sometimes, you can spend an expensive five hours hunting on the web for data that a research librarian could retrieve from a reference book in minutes.

~ Pat Wagner

Which occasions? If this were a rationality kata I would immediately ask, "What trigger condition does the person need to recognize that chains into using this technique?"

8sketerpot10yWe will have to make the web better, then.
6Emile10yWho cares about "sometimes" when making a decision? What counts is the expectation, what happens on average. Yes, sometimes investing all your savings in a single high-risk stock picked at random while drunk works better than listening to various experts, researching the relevant literature and diversifying your investments. That doesn't mean it's a good idea.
6Jayson_Virissimo10yThis quote seems to be losing its relevance, since even when I was a college senior you could get help from research librarians via web chat.
[-][anonymous]10y 3

实事求是

"Seek truth from facts"

--Chinese saying

1fubarobfusco10yhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seek_truth_from_facts [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seek_truth_from_facts]

The strategy was really easy on the paper: no driver mistake, no pit stop mistake, no mechanic mistake, no engineer mistake ... it is so easy to write these things, but it is almost impossible to make it happen.

Dindo Capello, as quoted in Truth in 24 (2009 film).

8djcb10y-- .Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800-1891) (paraphrased)

When learning, you must know how to make the clear distinction between what is ideology and what is genuine knowledge.

There is no such thing as good and evil. There is what is right and what is bad, what is consistent and what is wrong.

-- "Behaviour Guide (in order to avoid mere survival)", Jean Touitou

5Ezekiel10yI like the first line. The second line, though... what on Earth is the difference between "good" and "right" or between "evil" and "bad"? They mean the same thing; "good" and "evil" have just migrated to slightly higher-brow-sounding language.
0TimS10yI'm not trying to defend the quote, but there are no evil microscopes. There are useful microscopes and not useful microscopes. I'm confused why the original quote contrasts right with bad, rather than with evil, but I think that's what Touitou is trying to say.
1pedanterrific10yAre these two different quotes, or were they juxtaposed like this in the original? (i.e. "You must distinguish between ideology and knowledge. -> There is no such thing as good and evil.")

BEHAVIOR GUIDE (in order to avoid mere survival) Intended for younger generations by JEAN TOUITOU

  1. Although appearance shows quite the reverse the natural trend of the system is to turn you into a slave. Your mission is to remain erect and never crawl.
  2. when learning, you must know how to make the clear distinction between what is ideology and what is genuine knowledge.
  3. Be fully aware of the difference between making a compromise and compromising yourself.
  4. Whatever happens, heart break hotel is sure to be your dwelling place, for one or several stays. This is no reason to overindulge in the pangs of love for too long.
  5. Learn how to make simple and excellent meals.
  6. Fear no gods, whatever appearance they may have.
  7. For girls: all boys are more or less the same. For boys: all girls are different.
  8. Keep well away from competitive sport that will only cause wounds that will make you suffer when you are over forty.
  9. There is no such thing as good and evil. There is what is right and what is bad, what is consistent and what is wrong.

That is the entire original quote, but not all felt like it belonged here. It's all part of the same, I think.

4taelor10yThe first part seems rather applause lighty; I think almost everyone agrees that we need to distinguish between ideology and fact; actually doing so is the hard part, and the quote doesn't provide any interesting insights in how best to go about doing that.
5Ezekiel10yThis is probably me projecting, but I took it to be about distinguishing between those which make claims about reality and those which don't. For example: If somebody says "You should be democratic, because the people have the right to rule themselves" - that's not even claiming to be a fact, just an ethical position. If they say "You should be democratic, because democratic countries do better economically," then that's a about the real world, which I could even test if I wanted to. In my admittedly limited experience, it seems that a lot of confusion in the greatest mind-killing subjects (politics and spirituality) come from people not properly distinguishing between those two kinds of statements.
3kilobug10yAnd that issue often becomes circular. People often have both ethical and factual reasons to take a political position, and they don't clearly split them apart in their mind, each reason propagating to reinforce the other. I'll take a personal example : I oppose death penalty for many reason, but among them one is ethical (I don't approve of voluntary terminating a human life for ethical reasons) and one is more factual (I believe as a fact, from various statistics, that death penalty does not deter crime). But it requires a conscientious effort from myself (and I didn't always do it, and I suspect many don't do it) to not have each of two reasons reinforcing the other with a feedback loop.
-1NancyLebovitz10yThe interesting question is how you evaluate proposed big changes. Democracy has turned out to be a moderately good idea, but trying it out for the first few times was something of a leap in the dark. There are reasons for thinking that democracy might work better than monarchy-- generally speaking, a bad ruler can do more damage than not having a great ruler can do good, but is the theoretical reason good enough?
1CronoDAS10yFrom what I heard, the person who established Athenian democracy did so after first overthrowing the previous ruler in a civil war, having concluded that becoming powerful was the best way to become a Great Man. He then reasoned that, since everyone should strive to be a Great Man, then everyone else would also be obliged to do the same thing he just did - which would mean endless civil wars. Which would be bad. So he came up with the clever solution of making everyone a ruler, so they could all be Great Men without having to kill each other first. Hence, democracy. Or something like that, anyway. Wikipedia doesn't say all that much [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleisthenes], so I suspect that the story I remember is more story than actual history.
1Spectral_Dragon10yTrue, however if I recall correctly, one of the lessons in The Teacher's Password [http://lesswrong.com/lw/iq/guessing_the_teachers_password/] not everything is about the answer. A lot of the time I gain more from the question than being served the answer directly. We need more insights anyway, so how DO we distinguish fact from ideology? People claim that the earth was created by God in 6 days, and others claim The Big Bang caused the creation of what we know as the universe, but since I haven't discovered either of these on my own, how can I be sure that either is true?
2ahartell10y1. By looking at the views of those who have been right about this sort of thing in the past, i.e., physicists. 2. Given more time, by asking/searching for the evidence that convinced that group.

Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

Bertrand Russell

9wedrifid10yThat advice seems to be predicated on poor reasoning. Not only are most eccentric opinions that have been held not accepted, those that gain the benefit of the eccentric opinions on their way to being accepted are not necessarily those that first hold them.
9thomblake10yIt's bad advice if the advice is supposed to help a particular person get ahead. If you want a new good opinion to be generated, give that advice to ten thousand people.
2[anonymous]10yI gave up trying to parse that sentence after the third attempt. Punctuation exists for a reason! :-)

No no, it's not that bad if you try to figure out where the commas go:

Not only are most eccentric opinions that have been held not accepted, those that gain the benefit of the eccentric opinions on their way to being accepted, are not necessarily those that first hold them.

So to rewrite with fewer negations:

Most eccentric opinions are not ultimately accepted. And when those rare eccentric opinions get accepted, their original accepters don't benefit much; but instead, the credit or rewards are reaped by those who accept them later in the acceptance process.

2Jayson_Virissimo10yGood point.
0Desrtopa10yNot necessarily, but it's often an effective way to gain status by being seen as visionary.
0wedrifid10yI'd recommend the alternative of gaining enough status and power that you can easily take credit for other people's opinions when you have reason to believe they will be adopted.
1Desrtopa10yI don't see how a method of gaining status that begins with an unelucidated "First, gain status" is very helpful.
9wedrifid10yIt's rather a lot more useful than "Be weird because it doesn't always backire". There are some social moves that do only work once you have sufficient status to pull them off. Gaining more status through differentiation is one of those.
0NancyLebovitz10yI expect the other half of the advice is to fear being wrong. Lowering one's fear of being eccentric could be quite useful if you suspect that the usual opinions are wrong and you can do better.

...the other, to change thy opinion, if there is anyone at hand who sets thee right and moves thee from any opinion. But this change of opinion must proceed only from a certain persuasion, as of what is just or of common advantage, and the like, not because it appears pleasant or brings reputation.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

Wisdom is more easily tweeted than internalized.

Saeid Fard

1vallinder9yIndeed, even this quote is way below 140 characters :-) By the way, you're off by a year: the February 2013 thread is here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/gjk/rationality_quotes_february_2013/].
0lukeprog9yoops

We produce 30-year projections of social security deficits and oil prices without realizing that we cannot even predict these for next summer --- our cumulative prediction errors for political and economic events are so monstrous that every time I look at the empirical record I have to pinch myself to verify that I am not dreaming. What is surprising is not the magnitude of our forecast errors, but absence of awareness of it.

Nassim Taleb

2gwern9yIsn't it a common-place of forecasting (and chaos theory in particular) that short-term projections can be terribly inaccurate, even while long-term forecasting can be extremely accurate?
0Vaniver9yChaos theory often points in the opposite direction. For example, consider weather simulations which become worse than careful ignorance after 5 days- slight variations in initial conditions (and multiplication roundoff errors in computation, and so on) grow out of control, and soon the system is less accurate than just saying "it rains 20% of the time in general; 6 days from now, there is a 20% chance of rain." It is often the case that long-run means are easier to predict than short-run means, in large part because the variability in long-run means is lower. This is especially the case for systems with negative feedback loops, where the system corrects deviations from normality, making normality especially likely. It's not clear to me that that does much for oil prices or social security deficits, since I don't see either as being systems where the negative feedback is obviously stronger than the positive feedback. Typically, short-term forecasting is stymied by noise rather than fundamental underlying uncertainty. For example, consider the wager between Simon and Ehrlich [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon%E2%80%93Ehrlich_wager]. They used a basket of commodities because they didn't want short-term noise to upset the wager, but the main difference in the long-term predictions was the different underlying models.
0gwern9yIn both the oil and Social Security examples, there are powerful long-term trends which mean we should have as much or more confidence in long-term projections than short-term ones: in oil, as a nonrenewable resource, the more efficient the market the closer it will conform to Hotelling's rule [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotelling%27s_rule], and in SS, it's almost entirely driven by locked-in demographics or actuarial factors, and the uncertainty is in how and whether payouts will be modified or revenue increased. (The latter might be what Taleb is getting at, but since he's an arrogant blowhard who loves to oversimplify and believes he is right about everything, I am not inclined to be charitable and think he's making a subtle claim about the different sources of variability and their foreseeability over the short and long run.) Regardless, Taleb is making the argument: "if we cannot predict something in the short term, we cannot predict it in the long-term" which is not true of many things and may not even be true of his chosen examples.

Now you're looking for the secret. But you won't find it because, of course, you're not really looking. You don't really want to work it out. You want to be... fooled.

--John Cutter, The Prestige

The context in the movie is a bit different, but it's a nice illustration of how people can let themselves be seduced by mysterious answers to mysterious questions, even when they purport to be "looking for the answer."

What makes a subject difficult to understand — if it is significant, important — is not that some special instruction about abstruse things is necessary to understand it. Rather it is the contrast between the understanding of the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things that are most obvious can become the most difficult to understand. What has to be overcome is not difficulty of the intellect but of the will.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Occasions

4Will_Newsome10yArthur Schopenhauer [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Arthur_Schopenhauer], Counsels and Maxims
[-][anonymous]10y 1

The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.

--Albert Einstein

Mandatory for science, generally advisable for anything else.

1skepsci10yThis advice is worse than useless. But coming from someone who was instrumental in the "Physicists have figured a way to efficiently eradicate humanity; let's tell the politicians so they may facilitate!" movement, it's not surprising. Protip: the maxim "That which can be destroyed by the truth, should be" does not mean we should publish secrets that have a chance of ending global civilization.
1[anonymous]10yI tend to think of science as the public common knowledge of mankind. It is obviously not the only kind of knowledge. Also I would say that humans tend to err more often in the direction of needlessly keeping secret important information rather than in the direction sharing it too easily. Especially since it is easier to fool yourself than others.

It is the tragedy of the world that no one knows what he doesn't know - and the less a man knows, the more sure he is that he knows everything.

--Joyce Cary

1[anonymous]10y. [http://www.edgeofgrace.net/2006/11/10/jacques-ellul-on-propaganda/]

"I yield the Lamp of Scientism to no one!"

Mark Wilson, Wandering Significance

4wilder10yCurious to know why this was downvoted. Many philosophers use 'scientism' as a term of abuse, and Luke has written about reclaiming the term here [http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=16151]. I found this a rather pithy rallying call that antedates Rosenberg's. Apologies if this is gratuitous but it was my first post!

The quote doesn't seem to actually say anything.

8wilder10yI suppose it's one of those statements that says a good deal in context and rather less outside it. 'Scientism' usually refers to a belief in the universal applicability of the tools of science in understanding the world. It is so understood by two camps, one who views it as an intellectual failing, the other a virtue. Wilson's point is that the latter camp should not cede any ground to the former -- not even terminological ground. Edit: by context here I don't mean the book in particular. More like, reading too much contemporary philosophy.
-2Eugine_Nier10yUnfortunately, the word "scietism" does describe a real set of related failure modes that people trying to be "scientific" frequently fall into, as I discussed in more detail in this [http://lesswrong.com/lw/7wm/rationality_quotes_october_2011/53b6?context=1#comments] thread.
3wilder10yUnscientific does that job already, while the '-ism' suffix denotes, in this case, belief in science. Why let them have a perfectly good word?
5Normal_Anomaly10yI think "scientism," "unscientific," and "pseudoscientific" all have different and necessary meanings: respectively, "attempting to use scientific epistemology but misunderstanding it", "using bad epistemology," and "using bad epistemology but making a deliberate effort to look like one is being scientific". The word closest to meaning what you want "scientism" to mean is probably "Bayesianism".
4[anonymous]10yNo. It also cover people who don't even try to be scientific.
1wilder10yAgree with that. There is a finer-grained distinction worth drawing -- with some other word!

If you were smart enough to earn a Ph.D. in math, you should be able to learn how to program, once you overcome a possible psychological block. More important, let's make sure that our grad students are top-notch programmers, since very soon, being a good programmer will be a prerequisite to being a good mathematician.

-- Doron Zeilberger - (see also)

2gwern9yPossibly useful career advice, but not a rationality quote.

You can only become intellectually an adult, so to speak, if you break through domain dependence.

Nassim Taleb

Taleb runs an interesting Facebook, but if you don't want to get a Facebook account, I expect that a lot of this material will be in his upcoming book about anti-fragility (systems which get stronger when stressed).

I just realized that his domain dependence is equivalent to Rand's "concrete-bound mentality"-- in both cases, it's getting stuck on a single example rather than seeing general principles.

Work with people who want to work with you and who are relatively sane.

Time and Robbery by Rebecca Ore

This quote hasn't gotten any karma yet-- it isn't funny, and it seems so obvious as to almost not be worth saying.

Still, I suspect that a lot of trouble is caused by ignoring that advice.

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world -- its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. ... We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs know

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[-][anonymous]10y 0

I needed reinforcements. "Look," I said, "four billion people believe in some sort of God and free will. They can't all be wrong."

"Very few people believe in God," he replied.

I didn't see how he could deny the obvious. "Of course they do. Billions of people believe in God."

The old man leaned toward me, resting a blanketed elbow on the arm of his rocker.

"Four billion people say they believe in God, but few genuinely believe. If people believed in God, they would live every minute of their lives in sup
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[-][anonymous]10y 0

Delenn: They will join with the souls of all our people. Melt one into another until they are born into the next generation of Minbari. Remove those souls and the whole suffers. We are diminished, each generation becomes less than the one before. Soul Hunter: A quaint lie, pretty fantasy. The soul ends with death, unless we act to preserve it.

-- Babylon 5, "Soul Hunter"

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There is one art, no more, no less: to do all things with artlessness.

-Piet Hein

5DSimon10yWhy is "artlessness" desirable? AIUI the word means "without skill".
3katydee10y"Artlessness" has a connotation of doing something naturally/smoothly/without guile.
4fubarobfusco10yWiktionary gives both senses for artless [http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/artless] . These words change sense over time, too. For instance, it's my impression that once upon a time, saying that a person's work was "artificial" was a compliment, meaning that it showed great skill (artifice). Today it would imply that it was inauthentic, contrived, or a surface imitation.
1TheOtherDave10yI suspect that in this context it's meant to connote "attending to the task, rather than attending to your own technique for performing the task."
-3dwalt7510yLess is more. Ockham's razor (the law of parsimony, economy or succinctness), is a principle that generally recommends that, from among competing hypotheses, selecting the one that makes the fewest new assumptions usually provides the correct one, and that the simplest explanation will be the most plausible until evidence is presented to prove it false.

Methodologically speaking, we must be careful to prevent valid insights from degenerating into fantasies and superstition, and not develop the tendency to see an occult background everywhere and at all costs. In this regard, every assumption we make must have the character of what are called "working hypotheses" in scientific research - as when something is admitted provisionally, thus allowing the gathering and arranging of a group of apparently isolated facts, only to confer on them a character not of hypothesis but of truth when, at the end o

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Within ten days thou wilt seem a god to those to whom thou art now a beast and an ape, if thou wilt return to thy principles and to worshiping of reason

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

The intended listener must be doing an awful lot of stuff they already know is wrong. Ten days is a pretty short period of time to impress people as a god, and it usually requires more training and practice to get there. Heck, I still only impress people as a god around 10% of the time, and it took me 17 years to get here from when I first dedicated myself to rationality.

3Tyrrell_McAllister10yMy understanding is that the intended listener was himself. He wrote the Meditations for his own benefit, to be read by himself to strengthen his own resolve. And indeed he does characterize himself as doing a lot of stuff that he knows is wrong.
0NancyLebovitz10yYour likelihood of being seen as a god is also dependent on what sort of people are looking at you.
4Normal_Anomaly10yShould "seen a god" there be "seem a god"? More substantially, isn't this basically saying "Believe X because then you'll get status"?
1mas10yI fixed it, thank you very much. I interpreted it to mean that if you adhere to logical principles based on a rational view of reality, you will be better because you do so. So, yes you're right. I would just change it to this: Do X because then you'll get status. While status isn't the focus, it could (and likely will be) a product of what you're doing.
[-][anonymous]10y -2

I know that we're different
but we were one cell in the sea
in the beginning

Alison Sudol (singer/composer) The Minnow and the Trout

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-2gwern10ySo? We're also 'starstuff'.

Delenn: They will join with the souls of all our people. Melt one into another until they are born into the next generation of Minbari. Remove those souls and the whole suffers. We are diminished, each generation becomes less than the one before.

Soul Hunter: A quaint lie, pretty fantasy. The soul ends with death, unless we act to preserve it.

-- Babylon 5, "Soul Hunter"

3[anonymous]10ySomewhat weakened by the fact that the show leaves it open whether or not Delenn was right.
-1Eugine_Nier10yIn show, she more-or-less was.
2[anonymous]10yHmm? She didn't have any real evidence other than a perceived degradation of Minbari society.
-1Eugine_Nier10yI was thinking of whatever test they did to determine that Sinclair has a Minbari soul.
5[anonymous]10yI GUESS WE'RE MARKING SPOILERS FOR FIFTEEN YEAR OLD TELEVISION SHOWS All the test showed is that Sinclair had Valen's DNA. Except Valen is Sinclair after some Minbari DNA splicing [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Babylon_5_characters#V]; the reverse of what Delenn did. Stable time loops for the win.
0beoShaffer10y-edit never mind answering my question would have probably involved spoilers.
-1Alicorn10yA specific Minbari soul, picking him out with stunning accuracy.
1wedrifid10yThe fantasy doesn't sound quaint - it sounds like a depressing story of inevitable decay and without even the possibility of allowing the creation of new (ensouled) individuals even in the case where those alive remove their vulnerability to death. The Soul Hunter presents a reality where souls evidently become generated each generation in the same way that they were before.
[-][anonymous]10y -4

All models are wrong. Some models are useful.

--George Box

2gwern10yDupe: http://lesswrong.com/lw/2ev/rationality_quotes_july_2010/285f [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2ev/rationality_quotes_july_2010/285f]