Rationality Quotes March 2014

by MalcolmOcean1 min read1st Mar 2014330 comments


Rationality Quotes
Personal Blog

Another month has passed and here is a new rationality quotes thread. The usual rules are:

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
329 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 1:02 PM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

As burglars, they used some unusual techniques...During their casing, they had noticed that the interior door that opened to the draft board office was always locked. There was no padlock to replace...The break-in technique they settled on at that office must be unique in the annals of burglary. Several hours before the burglary was to take place, one of them wrote a note and tacked it to the door they wanted to enter: "Please don't lock this door tonight." Sure enough, when the burglars arrived that night, someone had obediently left the door unlocked. The burglars entered the office with ease, stole the Selective Service records, and left. They were so pleased with themselves that one of them proposed leaving a thank-you note on the door. More cautious minds prevailed. Miss Manners be damned, they did not leave a note.

-- Betty Medsger

5Stabilizer7yTears in my eyes... awesome beyond words. The fact that this wasn't fictional makes it brilliant. The fact that the burglars were acting against an over-reaching institution is just icing on the cake. It's been sometime since I heard a story that warmed my heart so much.
2DanielLC7yHow did they know they considered leaving a thank-you note? Did they confess afterwards?


Well. Sort of. Not exactly.

They were stealing government files on domestic surveillance in order to leak them - the quote comes from the journalist who was their press contact (see the link beneath the quote.)

As the world becomes more addictive, the two senses in which one can live a normal life will be driven ever further apart. One sense of "normal" is statistically normal: what everyone else does. The other is the sense we mean when we talk about the normal operating range of a piece of machinery: what works best.

These two senses are already quite far apart. Already someone trying to live well would seem eccentrically abstemious in most of the US. That phenomenon is only going to become more pronounced. You can probably take it as a rule of thumb from now on that if people don't think you're weird, you're living badly.

-- Paul Graham, The Acceleration of Addictiveness

2Torello7yThank you for linking to the piece where the quote was drawn. Great article!
-1Eugine_Nier7yBTW, here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/h3/superstimuli_and_the_collapse_of_western/] is Eliezer's article on the same topic.

In our large, anonymous society, it's easy to forget moral and reputational pressures and concentrate on legal pressure and security systems. This is a mistake; even though our informal social pressures fade into the background, they're still responsible for most of the cooperation in society.

  • Bruce Schneier, expert in security systems
6ChristianKl7yCould you link the source of the quote?
6dspeyer7yIt's in chapter 16 of Liars and Outliers [http://shop.oreilly.com/product/9781118143308.do], which AFAIK has no url.
4FiftyTwo7yFound it with google [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=lPsbhIUexo0C&pg=PT181&lpg=PT181&dq=In+our+large,+anonymous+society,+it%27s+easy+to+forget+moral+and+reputational+pressures+and+concentrate+on+legal+pressure+and+security+systems.+This+is+a+mistake;+even+though+our+informal+social+pressures+fade+into+the+background,+they%27re+still+responsible+for+most+of+the+cooperation+in+society.&source=bl&ots=8ZSPB5p9cS&sig=xYGcjk0oCsjPdL64sW1Y0whvSzM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=4KgVU6S3FKel4ATyuYGQDg&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=In%20our%20large%2C%20anonymous%20society%2C%20it's%20easy%20to%20forget%20moral%20and%20reputational%20pressures%20and%20concentrate%20on%20legal%20pressure%20and%20security%20systems.%20This%20is%20a%20mistake%3B%20even%20though%20our%20informal%20social%20pressures%20fade%20into%20the%20background%2C%20they're%20still%20responsible%20for%20most%20of%20the%20cooperation%20in%20society.&f=false]
[-][anonymous]7y 45

"Consider the people who routinely disagree with you. See how confident they look while being dead wrong? That’s exactly how you look to them." - Scott Adams

0Luke_A_Somers7yI sense an asymmetry when both sides are express mere high confidence in their primary conclusions, but they keep on claiming I've got some sort of absolute faith.

The use with children of experimental [educational] methods, that is, methods that have not been finally assessed and found effective, might seem difficult to justify. Yet the traditional methods we use in the classroom every day have exactly this characteristic--they are highly experimental in that we know very little about their educational efficacy in comparison with alternative methods. There is widespread cynicism among students and even among practiced teachers about the effectiveness of lecturing or repetitive drill (which we would distinguish from carefully designed practice), yet these methods are in widespread use. Equally troublesome, new "theories" of education are introduced into schools every day (without labeling them as experiments) on the basis of their philosophical or common-sense plausibility but without genuine empirical support. We should make a larger place for responsible experimentation that draws on the available knowledge--it deserves at least as large a place as we now provide for faddish, unsystematic and unassessed informal "experiments" or educational "reforms."

-- John R. Anderson, Lynne M. Reder & Herbert A. Simon: Applications and Misapplications of Cognitive Psychology to Mathematics Education

He says we could learn a lot from primitive tribes. But they could learn a lot more from us!

  • Jeremy Clarkson

Yes, but on net primitive tribes (at least in the short-run) seem to be made worse off from contact with technologically advanced civilizations.

4RolfAndreassen7ySure, but that doesn't change the fact that they could learn a lot from us. Indeed, if that weren't so, they a) would be primitive and b) wouldn't be (especially and unusually) harmed by the contact.
2DanArmak7yEven after controlling for harmful or exploitative behavior by the advanced civilizations?
6James_Miller7yYes because of germs.
6bramflakes7yDepends which primitive tribes. Amerindians died from European diseases and Europeans died from African diseases.
1DanielLC7yAnd germs. Are the ideas harmful?
2James_Miller7ySome religious views might be.
9[anonymous]7yI'm pretty sure most uncontacted tribes had their own religious weirdness.
1DanArmak7yGood point, but that doesn't fall under the "a lot to learn from" rubric. Your general point about contact is likely true.
0James_Miller7yPretend I'm a fantastic in-person teacher but if you get near me you will die of some disease. Do you have a lot to learn from me?
1DanArmak7yAs I said, your general point about net value of contact is correct.
0Luke_A_Somers7yYes. Use a correspondence course...
0James_Miller7yAnd if you can't read?
0Luke_A_Somers7yMy reply was not entirely literal; in short, information and disease do not all follow the same vectors. A sterilized phone would be helpful, but of course then you could say what if you don't know how to use a phone...
4RolfAndreassen7ySo, it's positive-sum. But anyway, who cares what a primitive tribe learns? We, surely, are the center and purpose of the universe; our gain, however small or large, is the important thing.

If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.

Warren Buffett

It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake. Serious-minded persons, for example, are continually condemning the habit of going to the cinema, and telling us that it leads the young into crime. But all the work that goes to producing a cinema is respectable, because it is work, and because it brings a money profit. The notion that the desirable activities are those that bring a profit has made everything topsy-turvy. The butcher who provides you with meat and the baker who provides you with bread are praiseworthy, because they are making money; but when you enjoy the food they have provided, you are merely frivolous, unless you eat only to get strength for your work. Broadly speaking, it is h

... (read more)
3[anonymous]7yI once attempted to sum this up on another forum by saying, "Careerism is a subgoal stomp." Russell, of course, better expresses the broader point that the subgoal stomp of maximizing productivity has almost entirely replaced all discussion of what kind of terminal goals individuals and societies should have.
-1Viliam_Bur7yThe problem with spending money -- and consumption in general -- is the opportunity cost. If by doing something you are not maximizing some value, then it would be better if you did. The same criticism could be also made about production: if you work hard and make profit by creating value, but by doing something else you could create even more value, then it would be better if you did the other thing. Perhaps the difference is that on the production side people at least try to maximize (of course with all the human irrationality involved), but on the consumption side we often forget to think about it. So we need to be reminded there more.
2Lumifer7yNot some value -- a lot of people are maximizing the wrong values. One of the reasons why this whole thing is so complicated is that in reality people very rarely optimize for a single value. They optimize for a set of values which usually isn't too coherent and the weights for these values tend to fluctuate...

"He keeps saying, you can run, but you can't hide. Since when do we take advice from this guy?"

You got a really good point there, Rick. I mean, if the truth was that we could hide, it's not like he would just give us that information.

  • Rick and Morty.

The other thing is that he probably can't know whether you can hide.

0DanielLC7yAfter Rick and Morty hid, he started looking for them in a way that made it pretty clear that he knew they were hiding. It didn't stop him from saying that they couldn't hide.

Procrastination is the thief of compound interest.

-Venkatesh Rao

[A]lmost no innovative programs work, in the sense of reliably demonstrating benefits in excess of costs in replicated RCTs [randomized controlled trials]. Only about 10 percent of new social programs in fields like education, criminology and social welfare demonstrate statistically significant benefits in RCTs. When presented with an intelligent-sounding program endorsed by experts in the topic, our rational Bayesian prior ought to be “It is very likely that this program would fail to demonstrate improvement versus current practice if I tested it.”

In other words, discovering program improvements that really work is extremely hard. We labor in the dark -- scratching and clawing for tiny scraps of causal insight.

Megan McArdle quoting or paraphrasing Jim Manzi.

[Edited in response to Kaj's comment.]

8Will_Sawin7y10% isn't that bad as long as you continue the programs that were found to succeed and stop the programs that were found to fail. Come up with 10 intelligent-sounding ideas, obtain expert endorsements, do 10 randomized controlled trials, get 1 significant improvement. Then repeat.

10% isn't that bad as long as you continue the programs that were found to succeed and stop the programs that were found to fail.

Unfortunately we don't really have the political system to do this.

5[anonymous]7yBut I have this great idea that will change that! ...Oh.
4Eugine_Nier7yUnfortunately, governments are really bad at doing this.

Humans in general are very bad at this. The only reason capitalism works is that the losing experiments run out of money.

The only reason capitalism works is that the losing experiments run out of money.

That's a very powerful reason.

2Will_Sawin7yTrue, but that doesn't mean we're laboring in the dark. It just means we've got our eyes closed.
-3Eugine_Nier7yUnfortunately, the people involved have an incentive to keep them closed.
4Will_Sawin7yI don't think that's really relevant to the original quote.
0ThrustVectoring7yIt depends on how many completely ineffectual programs would demonstrate improvement versus current practices.
6gwern7ySome relevant links: * "The Iron Law Of Evaluation And Other Metallic Rules" [http://www.gwern.net/docs/1987-rossi], Rossi 1987 * "The Efficacy of Psychological, Educational, and Behavioral Treatment: Confirmation From Meta-Analysis" [http://www2.jura.uni-hamburg.de/instkrim/kriminologie/Mitarbeiter/Enzmann/Lehre/StatIIKrim/AP_1993_1181-1209.pdf] , Lipsey & Wilson 1993 * "Randomized Controlled Trials Commissioned by the Institute of Education Sciences Since 2002: How Many Found Positive Versus Weak or No Effects?" [http://coalition4evidence.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/IES-Commissioned-RCTs-positive-vs-weak-or-null-findings-7-2013.pdf] , Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy 2013 (excerpts [https://plus.google.com/103530621949492999968/posts/eYiX4namZmb]) * "One Hundred Years of Social Psychology Quantitatively Described" [http://jenni.uchicago.edu/Spencer_Conference/Representative%20Papers/Richard%20et%20al,%202003.pdf] , Bond et al 2003
6CCC7yThis is a higher rate than I'd expected. It implies that current policies in these three fields are not really thoroughly thought out, or at least not to the extent that I had expected. It seems that there is substantial room for improvement. I would have expected perhaps one or two percent.
7pgbh7yRemember that programs will not even be tested unless there are good reasons to expect improvement over current protocol. Most programs that are explicitly considered are worse than those that are tested, and most possible programs are worse than those that are explicitly considered. Therefore we can expect that far, far fewer than ten percent of possible programs would yield significant improvements.
2CCC7yThat is true. However, there is a second filtering process, after filtering by experts; and that is what I will refer to as filtering by experiment (i.e. we'll try this, and if it works we keep doing it, and if it doesn't we don't). Evolution is basically a mix of random mutation and filtering by experiment, and it shows that, given enough time, such a filter can be astonishingly effective. (That time can be drastically reduced by adding another filter - such as filtering-by-experts - before the filtering-by-experiment step) The one-to-two percent expectation that I had was a subconscious expectation of the comparison of the effectiveness of the filtering-by-experts in comparison to the filtering-by-experiment over time. Investigating my reasoning more thoroughly, I think that what I had failed to appreciate is probably that there really hasn't been enough time for filtering-by-experiment to have as drastic an effect as I'd assumed; societies change enough over time that what was a good idea a thousand years ago is probably not going to be a good idea now. (Added to this, it likely takes more than a month to see whether such a social program actually is effective or not; so there hasn't really been time for all that many consecutive experiments, and there hasn't really been a properly designed worldwide experimental test model, either).
4Lumifer7yThat's one possible explanation. Another possible explanation is that there is a variety of powerful stakeholders in these fields and the new social programs are actually designed to benefit them and not whoever the programs claim to help.
2maia7yRemember, you expect 5% to give a statistically significant result just by chance...
2CCC7yThat's only true of the programs which can be expected to produce no detriments, surely?
6Kaj_Sotala7yI think the quote is from Jim Manzi rather than Megan McArdle, given that McArdle starts the article with and later on in the article it says suggesting that the whole article after the first paragraph is a quote (or possibly paraphrase).

Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false’, but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’, ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless’. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous— that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

-- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

This is better than the other Screwtape quote, but - given the example of Ayn Rand - I think Lewis still gets causality backwards where smart Marxists were concerned. I think they started by being right about God and "materialism" when most people were insistently wrong (or didn't care about object-level truth.) This gave them an inflated view of their own intelligence and the explanatory power of Marxism.

4JQuinton7yI admit, I get horribly mind-killed whenever I realize I'm reading something by CS Lewis, especially anything from The Screwtape Letters. That's because years ago, the arguments in this book were used against me by a girl I was dating as a means to end our relationship (me being non-religious), who herself was convinced by her friends and family that we should break up. That said, I was able to read this and appreciate it more clearly if I substituted the quote like so: If we are attempting to spread good rationality around, would it be efficient to not try to convince people that rationality was "true", but instead attempt to promote good rationality by saying that rationality is "strong, stark, or courageous -- that it is the philosophy of the future"?
3Said Achmiz7ySo you propose to spread rationality by encouraging irrationality? Even assuming that this will work — that is, not just get people to buy into rationality (that part is simple) but actually become more rational, after this initial dose of irrational motivation — what do you suggest we do when our new recruits turn around and go "Hey, wait a tick; you guys got me into this through blatantly irrational arguments! You cynically and self-servingly pandered to my previously-held biases to get me on your side! You tricked me, you bastards!"? Grin and say "worked, didn't it"?
-2JQuinton7yThat seems to be what the quote is arguing.

The quote is spoken by a devil, who's deliberately seeking to destroy and devour a person...

3RolfAndreassen7yThe speaker does not himself believe that materialism is true; he is giving advice on how to make another believe a falsehood.
0Said Achmiz7yAnd do you think it's a good idea?
-2DanielLC7yWe aren't trying to promote the idea that rationality is true. We are trying to promote that it is useful. More accurately, we have defined "rational" to mean "useful", and when we argue that something is rational, we are arguing that it's useful.
0TheAncientGeek7yIf you are, you are being irresponsible because you are not checking what people are going to do with this useful thing.
2DanielLC7yI can't know for sure that it won't come back to bite me, but I suspect helping people generally tends to be helpful. There are things that are easier to use to cause harm than to help, like nuclear weaponry, but in general helpful things seem to have improved humanity's standard of living, and made them care more about morality.
0TheAncientGeek7yI don't actually think that teaching rationality is dangerous. I think that LW expects it to have an edifying effect, to change values for the better. So it is the claim of purely instrumental rationality that is the problem.
0Luke_A_Somers7yThe only senses in which you wouldn't say it's true are those in which that would be a type error.
0RichardKennaway7yWe are trying to promote the idea that it is useful because it is true.
0Jiro7yWhile it is true that you shouldn't be a materialist just because it's fashionable, there's a fine line between saying "you shouldn't be a materialist just because it's fashionable" and "my opponents are just materialists because it's fashionable". The second is a straw man argument, and given that this is CS Lewis putting words in the mouth of Satan, I read this as the straw man argument. Needless to say, a straw man argument is not a good rationalist quote.

The second is a straw man argument, and given that this is CS Lewis putting words in the mouth of Satan, I read this as the straw man argument.

That sounds to me like you're assuming that Lewis wrote the book so that he could put the devil to say strawmannish things, in order to mock the devil. Which is not the case at all - the demon writing the letters is much more similar to MoR!Quirrel, displaying a degree of rationality-mixed-with-cynicism which it uses to point out ways by which the lives of humans can be made miserable, or by which humans make their own lives miserable. Much of it can be read as a treatise on various biases and cognitive mistakes to avoid, made more compelling by them being explained by someone who wants those mistakes to be exploited for actively harming people.

2Jiro7yI read that quote as saying that the Devil (or a demon) deceives people by making them believe those things, not that the Devil believes these things himself. That's how demons behave, they lie to people. This one lies to people about why one should be a materialist and the people fall for it. The point is not to mock the demon, who in the quote is acting as a liar rather than a materialist, but to mock materialists themselves by implying that they are materialists for spurious reasons. Of course, Lewis has plausible deniability. One can always claim he's not attributing anything to materialists in general--you're supposed to infer that; it's not actually stated. Edit: Also, remember when Lewis wrote that. 1942 wasn't like today, when it's possible to say you don't believe in the supernatural and (if you live in the right area) not suffer too many consequences except not ever being able to run for political office. Any materialist at the time who claimed he was courageous could easily be just responding to persecution, not claiming that that was his reason for being a materialist. Mocking materialists for that would be like mocking gay pride parades today on the grounds that pride is a sin and a form of arrogance--pride in a vacuum is, but pride in response to someone telling you you're shameful isn't.

The demon is not just lying at random - the demon is lying with the purpose of getting a certain reaction (in this case, getting the human to subscribe to the philosophy of materialism). The original quote is advice on how to use the human's cognitive biases against him, in order to better achieve that goal.

The point of the quote isn't materialism. That could be replaced with any other philosophy, quite easily. The point of the quote is that, for many people, subscribing to a philosophy isn't about whether that philosophy is true at all; it's more about whether that philosophy is popular, or cool, or daring.

The point isn't to mock the demon, or the materialist. The point is to highlight a common human cognitive mistake.

-1Jiro7yYou correctly describe what the quote literally says, but there's a fine line between "I'm just writing a story which requires that these particular materialists be biased" and "I'm accusing materialists in general of being biased like this". The former is often a way for authors to hint at the latter without saying it. I could easily write a story where the Devil tempts Jews into baking matzohs using the blood of Christian babies. I could then argue that I'm not really accusing any Jews except my fictional characters of anything, and that this is simply a story about how people can do bad things for bad reasons. But you would be completely justified in not believing me when I say that.

You correctly describe what the quote literally says, but there's a fine line between "I'm just writing a story which requires that these particular materialists be biased" and "I'm accusing materialists in general of being biased like this".

Lewis is not accusing materialists in general of having that bias - Lewis is accusing humans in general of having that bias. The idea that humans have that bias, and that that bias can be exploited to convince a human to subscribe to a given philosophy independantly of whether that philosophy is true is rather the point of the quote.

Well, I think it is both.

Lewis described how humans can subscribe to a given philosophy independently of its correctness. That part is completely rational.

But he didn't use a random example to describe this bias. -- Just look at all other books he wrote, they all deal with the same topic. His choice of Devil is not the same as e.g. Tolkien's choice of elves. Tolkien wrote fiction, but Lewis wrote fiction as a propaganda tool. Tolkien didn't believe in elves, but Lewis did believe in Devil. -- Therefore it seems to me very likely that he wanted his readers to think about this specific example instead of using this kind of reasoning generally.

In other words, his work is an equivalent of a hypothetical LW article: "Top 10 cognitive biases that Republicans have, and how it influences their voting". (Assume that the author wrote dozen articles on Republicans, and none about anything else.) Cognitive biases: okay. Selective attention to one specific group: not okay.

6Wes_W7ySince the author thought materialism was thoroughly false, this constitutes one of the mildest attacks on the character of materialists he could have written, short of just omitting the topic altogether. Thinking your opponents are wrong because they were misled by epistemic sleight of hand (from malevolent ageless invisible all-seeing schemers, no less) is nicer than thinking they're wrong due to stupidity or sheer contrarian defiance. The Screwtape Letters is a hundred-page collection of mistakes to be avoided. It seems silly to assume hostile intent behind this particular passage, rather than reading it in the same "don't be misled in this particular way" spirit as the rest of the text.
7Jiro7yThat's actually one of the reasons I'm more inclined to interpret it that way. If Lewis thought there were also materialists with superb reasoning abilities who believed in materialism by correctly exercising those reasoning abilities, I wouldn't think a passage about poorly reasoned materialists was meant to be a generalization. Hypothesis: Lewis was well aware that there are materialists who are good people. Yet his religion forced him to think bad of materialists. He handled this cognitive dissonance by thinking bad of materialists in one of the weakest ways possible. In other words, he knew too much to be able to believe that all materialists are power-hungry maniacs, but he couldn't avoid at least politely thinking they were all materialists because of everyday human foibles. It's like Lewis's beliefs about homosexuality. He was forced by his religion to believe that homosexuality is a sin and that all gay people should abstain from sex, but he tried to be as polite to them as he could within the confines of these beliefs and did not write about how gays are a menace to our children.
3Vaniver7yWhy do you think he didn't think this? I'm having a hard time not seeing this exchange as you projecting negativity onto Lewis, when he was writing about fully general cognitive biases and weaknesses with compassion towards all humans who share those biases.
8Jiro7yIf he thought that materialists became materialists by reasoning correctly, he would either have been a materialist, or would have taken one of a particularly narrow set of positions (such as "materialism is based on correct reasoning, and how something can be false and correctly reasoned at the same time is one of God's mysteries" or "materialists are only materialists because they start with different premises from me, but correctly reason from those premises") which as far as I know he didn't. (Or else taken no opinion on materialism, which he wasn't going to do.)
7DanArmak7yI don't think he was mocking, but I do think he was correct. I claim that it's perfectly true that most materialists today are materialists for spurious, non-object-level reasons. The same goes for all other widespread philosophies. People in general are biased and also don't care about philosophical truth much.
9ChristianKl7yI think the non-object-level reasons that the devil names are interesting. I think few new atheists care about whether atheism is strong or courageous. They rather care about the fact that it's what the intelligent people believe and they also want to be intelligent.
8Jiro7yI suspect that most members of the Democratic Party are Democrats for spurious reasons too. But a Republican who lists a bunch of human foibles and writes a scenario that specifically names Democrats as being subject to them is probably attacking Democrats, at least in passing, not just attacking human beings.
-1ChristianKl7yDon't let yourself be mindkilled. Arguments aren't soldiers. Focus on the true things you can say about the the world.
6Jiro7yI am tempted to reply to this with "May the Force be with you", but instead I'll ask "just what are you trying to say?" You just gave me a reply which consists entirely of slogans, with no hint as to how you think they apply.
0ChristianKl7yI think the argument I made was fairly obvious, but let me break it down. You care about who's attacking whom. If you are in that mindset arguments are soldiers. You treat the argument that there are atheists who are atheists because it's cool to be an atheist as a foreign soldier that has to be fought. A foreign soldier that doesn't play according to the rules. Those considerations don't matter if you want to decide whether there are atheists who are motivated by the coolness of being an atheist. If you care about truth, you want to have true beliefs about how much atheists are motivated by the coolness factor of atheism. It doesn't matter for this discussion whether that argument is fair. What matters is whether it's true.
3Jiro7y1. I also want to have true beliefs about Lewis and about Lewis's writings. Whether the statement is an attack matters for those beliefs. 2. Whether the statement is an attack also matters for whether it is a rationalist quote. A proper rationalist quote should only be about its apparent subject and should not try to sneak in such an attack under the radar. 3. It is possible to produce an endless sequence of statements with truth values (or to go through literature and extract an endless sequence of prewritten statements with truth values). Nobody has the time to evaluate all of them; we must pick and choose between them. 4. The implicit attack "all materialists are materialists because they are flawed humans who make mistakes" also has a truth value, and this truth value is something that I can care about just as much as the truth value of the statement's literal words. Pointing out the attack is not ignoring truth in favor of something else, it's recognizing that there's something else there whose truth may be in question as well.
1Luke_A_Somers7y4 is wrong. The demon is talking about THIS GUY. The subject (or object as appropriate) is "Your man", "He", "him", throughout. Neither the demon nor Lewis is talking about people who really think things through, nor implying that they don't exist.
0Jiro7yNeither the demon nor Lewis is saying words which literally read like that, but words have implications beyond the literal.
0Luke_A_Somers7yEhhh. The consistency of the pronoun usage is so strong that I would expect him to have generalized somewhere if he (either one) meant it. The class he's a part of is 'philosophically weak borderline Christians', not 'Materialists'. After all, they guy isn't a materialist. And if you're a philosophically weak borderline Christian, the easiest route to materialism is indeed how useful it is, not a philosophical argument, because these folks don't give a whit about philosophy.
-2ChristianKl7yJudging authors by a single quote without knowing the context is a bad idea. Rousseau begins one of his works by saying ""Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains." Taken on it's own you might think that Rousseau is somehow criticizing that man is in chains. He isn't. He advocates that man is chained by the social contract. I really had a hard time with ideas like this because I had read the book and my history teacher hadn't, so discussing Rousseau was really hard. Why do you care about Lewis? We are a group of smart people. There nothing wrong with a quote having multiple layers of meaning and saying something in addition to it's apparent subject. On LW we care about rationality. Having accurate beliefs about what makes people become atheists is useful for that purpose. On the other hand having accurate beliefs about CS Lewis is less important. The truth value of that statement matters a great deal but that in no way implies that we shouldn't take about that statement and it has no place on LW. You didn't attack it on grounds that it's wrong and that there evidence that it's wrong but on the grounds that it's an unfair attack.
1Viliam_Bur7ySee filtered evidence [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Filtered_evidence]. It is completely possible to mislead people by giving them only true information... but only those pieces of information which support the conclusion you want them to make. If you had a perfect superhuman intelligence, perhaps you could give them dozen information about why X is wrong, a zero information about why Y is wrong, and yet the superintelligence might conclude: "Both X and Y are human political sides, so I will just take this generally as an evidence that humans are often wrong, especially when discussing politics. Because humans are so often wrong, it is very likely that the human who is giving this information to me is blind to the flaws of one side (which in this specific case happens to be Y), so all this information is only a very weak evidence for X being worse than Y." But humans don't reason like this. Give them dozen information about why X is wrong, and zero information about why Y is wrong; in the next chapter give them dozen information about why Y is good and zero information about why X is good... and they will consider this a strong evidence that X is worse than Y. -- And Lewis most likely understands this.
1ChristianKl7yI doubt that any LW member would take all of his information about the value of atheism from Lewis. If you let yourself convince that atheism is wrong by reading Lewis than your belief in atheism was very weak in the first place. I have a hard time imagine pushing anyone in LW into a crisis of faith about atheism in which we wouldn't come out with better belief system than he started. If someone discovers that he actually follows in atheism because it's cool and works through his issues, he might end up in following atheism for better reasons.
3Jiro7yI agree that this attack would not convince a typical LW-er, but I would claim that an unconvincing attempt to mislead with the truth is still an attempt to mislead with the truth and as such is ineligible to be a good rationality quote.
3Viliam_Bur7yThis quote taken together with the basic LW wisdom can be useful. But taken separately from any LW context, it would probably just push the reader a little towards religion. In other words, a LW reader has no problem to imagine a complementary and equally valid quote (actually he probably already did something similar before reading Lewis) like:
0ChristianKl7yWhy would you want to do that? The effects of little pushes are complicated. Vaccination is about little pushes. The difference is that many Christians already argue that one should be Christian because it's the moral thing to do and it's socially beneficial. Christians don't engage in the same behavior of trying to make people think it's true than atheists do. Christian missionaries actually do a lot of socially beneficial work in order to convince people of Christianity. As far as "traditional wisdom" goes it gets interesting. I don't think that Christianity grows in China because the Chinese consider it traditional wisdom. Mormons argue that the fact that the religion grows as fast at it does is a sign that it's true. They don't see it as a religion of the past but as one of the future. Despite talking about ancient wisdom New Age folks use the word 'new' as part of their brand. I think it's very useful to understand why certain movements win and move past your first stereotypes and actually seek understanding. Even Hitler who wanted to bring back traditional values was very clever in painting the status quo as going to end soon and the future as either his nationalism or communism. He made it the cool philosophy that the young people at the universities wanted to follow before he had success with elections.
5Salemicus7yYour understanding of 1942 is amazingly flawed. No-one in the developed world was persecuted for being a materialist at that time, but plenty were for their religion. Moreover, the fashionable belief at the time was dialectical materialism, and part of the claim made for it, by dialectical materialists themselves, was that it was the philosophy of the future.

Well, my first thought was Bertrand Russell being fired from CUNY, which was around 1940, although that was mostly because of his beliefs about sex (which are still directly related to his disbelief in religion). Religion classes in public schools were legal until 1948, and compulsory school prayer was legal until 1963. "In God We Trust" was declared the national motto of the US in 1956.

3DanArmak7yLewis' point of reference is the UK, not the US. I don't know how much that changes the picture.
3Jiro7yI think the US counts as part of "the developed world", however.
-2Eugine_Nier7yLike Salemicus said, no one of those things are persecutions. The closest of your examples is Bertrand Russell's firing, but even you admit that wasn't over his materialism. By way of contrast there were in fact places in the developed world [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrible_Triangle] during the 1930's-1940's where one could be prosecuted for not being a materialist. And by prosecuted, I mean religious people were being semi-systematically arrested and/or executed (not necessarily in that order).
2Jiro7ySaying "people in this time period are persecuted for their religion" implicitly limits it to Western democracies unless you specifically are talking about something else. It's like claiming that "in the 1980's, women weren't allowed to vote". That's literally true, because there are countries where in the 1980's (or even today) women could not vote, but it's not what most people would mean by saying such a thing. Furthermore, the existence of laws implies persecution. If school prayer is compulsory, that means that people in schools are punished for not praying or have to pray against their will for fear of punishment. That's what "compulsory" means. (Besides, if you're going to interpret it that way. I could point out that in countries like Saudi Arabia, people could be killed for not believing in God, and that this wasn't any better in the 1930's in most of those countries.)
-2Eugine_Nier7ySpain was certainly a democracy at the time this prosecutions were happening, granted it was engaged in a civil war, but it was the democratic side whose partisans were doing the prosecution. Furthermore, "Western democracies" wasn't a stable category during the period in question, so it was perfectly reasonable for a religious person living in a western democracy to worry that his country would stop being democratic shortly. So can you cite an example of someone being imprisoned or executed for refusing to engage in school prayer?
1Jiro7yI didn't say people were imprisoned or executed; I used it as an example of persecution. It certainly was that. You may think that persecution only means being imprisoned or executed, but I don't agree with that.
-4Larks7yBertrand Russell wasn't a materialist; he believed in Universals. I think you are confusing "materialist" with "people I agree with".
6Protagoras7yIf accepting universals made one not a materialist, that would rule out some of the great Australian materialists, such as David Armstrong. Thus, that would clearly be a non-standard use of the label "materialist." Perhaps there are details of Russell's account of universals which are not shared by Armstrong's which make it anti-materialist, but you don't specify any. I know that Russell's views changed over the years, which of course complicates things, but he certainly didn't believe in spooky souls, and most of the doctrines of his I can think of which seem to be in possible tension with materialism are either susceptible to varying interpretations or matters he changed his mind on at different points or both.
-3Eugine_Nier7yBeing proud of something that is actually shameful strikes me as particularly sinful.
4fubarobfusco7yHow about being ashamed of something that is actually prideworthy?
5Vaniver7yIf someone is a materialist just because it's fashionable, that's trouble. Lewis may be wrong on whether or not the Church is 'true,' but I don't think Lewis is wrong on calling out compartmentalization and inconsistency rather than thinking about whether or not doctrines are true or false.
0[anonymous]7yThat's a rather uncharitable reading.

The same persons who cry down Logic will generally warn you against Political Economy. It is unfeeling, they will tell you. It recognises unpleasant facts. For my part, the most unfeeling thing I know of is the law of gravitation: it breaks the neck of the best and most amiable person without scruple, if he forgets for a single moment to give heed to it. The winds and waves too are very unfeeling. Would you advise those who go to sea to deny the winds and waves – or to make use of them, and find the means of guarding against their dangers? My advice to you is to study the great writers on Political Economy, and hold firmly by whatever in them you find true; and depend upon it that if you are not selfish or hard-hearted already, Political Economy will not make you so.

-- John Stuart Mill

0DanielLC7yThat last sentence makes it sound like it makes you selfish and hard-hearted. I noticed it could be interpreted to be that it will make you at least one, which seems more accurate. If you desire to be kind-hearted and help others, you will either have to accept that you can't help others if you're kind-hearted, or stop trying to help others. You don't have to be selfish and you don't have to be hard-hearted, but you do have to be selfish or hard-hearted. Also, considering Mill is considered the father of Utilitarianism, it seems unlikely that he was preaching egoism.

Allow me to express now, once and for all, my deep respect for the work of the experimenter and for his fight to wring significant facts from an inflexible Nature, who says so distinctly "No" and so indistinctly "Yes" to our theories.

— Hermann Weyl

(quoted in Science And Sanity, by Alfred Korzybski, of "the map is not the territory" fame)

A: Maybe an Air Nomad Avatar will understand where I'm coming from...(simulates Yangchen)...

Y: Avatar Aang, I know that you are a gentle spirit. And the monks have taught you well. But this isn't about you. This is about the world.

A: But the monks taught me I had to detach myself from the world so my spirit could be free!

Y: ...Here is my wisdom for you: selfless duty calls for you to sacrifice your own spiritual needs, and do whatever it takes to protect the world.

  • Avatar: The last airbender
6Mestroyer7yContext: Aang ("A") is a classic Batman's Rule (never kill) hero, as a result of his upbringing in Air Nomad culture. It appears to him that he must kill someone in order to save the world. He is the only one who can do it, because he's currently the one and only avatar. Yangchen ("Y") is the last avatar to have also been an Air Nomad, and has probably faced similar dilemmas in the past. Aang can communicate with her spirit, but she's dead and can't do things directly anymore. The story would have been better if Aang had listened to her advice, in my opinion.

May I make a general request to people posting quotes? Please include not just the author's name but sufficient information to enable a reader to find the relevant quote. This doesn't necessarily have to be full MLA format; but a title, journal or book name if from a print source, page number or URL, and date would be helpful. Hyperlinked URLs are excellent if available but do not substitute for the rest of this information since these threads will likely outlive the location of some of the sources.

Doing so enables the reader not just to get a brief hit of rationality but to say, "Gee, that's interesting. I'd like to learn more," and read further in the source.

In fact, why don't we add a fifth bullet point to the header:

  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the original source of the quote
3[anonymous]7yThat's what archive.org is for. (Okay, it's not perfectly reliable, but...)
1Bakkot7yIf you want to avoid that problem, whenever you post a link you should submit it to archive.org or archive.is.
[-][anonymous]7y 26

"This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution." - Daniel Kahneman

The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth - that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured on one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.

--H. L. Mencken


Just because you no longer believe a lie, does not mean you now know the truth.

[-][anonymous]7y 23

"Luck plays a large role in every story of success; it is almost always easy to identify a small change in the story that would have turned a remarkable achievement into a mediocre outcome." - Daniel Kahneman

1[anonymous]7yIt's from a book: Thinking Fast and Slow.

The secret of life is: This is not a drill.

-The Wise Man in Darkside, a radio play by Tom Stoppard

This quote reminded me of a quote from an anime called Kaiji, albeit your quote is much more succinct.

Normally, those people would never wake up from their fantasy worlds. They live meaningless lives. They waste their precious days over nothing. No matter how old they get, they'll continue to say, "My real life hasn't started yet. The real me is still asleep, so that's why my life is such garbage." They continue to tell themselves that. They continue. And they age. Then die. And on their deathbeds, they will finally realize: the life they lived was the real thing. People don't live provisional lives, nor do they die provisional deaths. That's a simple fact! The problem... is whether they realize that simple fact.

  • Yukio Tonegawa in Kaiji
4[anonymous]7yMore succinctly... -- John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”

This is not a drill. Therefore, make sure you have drills for the really important bits.

And bits for the really important drills.

3DanielLC7yAnd make sure that the bit is properly secured and the chuck key is removed before operating the drill.
5[anonymous]7yAnd when someone tries to be the wall the stands in your way, you'll have something that will open a hole in them every time: your drill. (In a related matter, if there's a wall in your way, smash it down. If there isn't a path, carve one yourself.)
5AndekN7yBUT keep Chesterton's Fence [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Chesterton's_fence] in mind: if you don't know why there is a wall on your way, don't go blindly smashing it down. It might be there for a reason. First make absolutely sure you know why the wall exists in the first place; only then you may proceed with the smashing.
2DanielLC7y--Kamina, in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
0[anonymous]7yJust who the hell do you think we are!?
0Stabilizer7yI like the sentiment, but you do realize that breaking walls has costs.
-4[anonymous]7yDear Journal, My time among the Earthlings has yielded a strange new insight. These creatures are so spiritually ignorant that they have never even heard of the most sacred text, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (wthdytia). They may not even have yet acquired the Power of the Spiral at all. This explains much about the existential terror in which most of them live their lives, and it will be a pleasure to show them the Right Way. May this transmission reach the homeworld in good time, Eli

I. This Is Not A Game.
II. Here And Now, You Are Alive.

-- Om and many other gods, Small Gods, Terry Pratchett

3chaosmage7yFunny. I came up with almost the exact same line:

If everybody thinks you're crazy, they might have a point. But if nobody thinks you're crazy, you have surrendered to herd consensus and are being far too timid in what you allow yourself to think and say in public.

Eric Raymound

I agree with this. It's also a good quote. However there is an important caveat. It is possible to get caught-up in an echo chamber of equally crazy people. For extreme examples, consider the Lyndon Larouche crowd, Scientology, or the latest resurgence of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. So just because not everybody believes you're crazy, does not imply you are in fact, not crazy.

2[anonymous]7yI think it's important to distinguish between "crazy" and "irrational". Many crazy people are very rational. For instance, a fair portion of LW's users, including myself, have experienced some form of temporary or chronic mental illness; that's often exactly the impetus that gets someone to distrust their System 1 thinking and spend effort on deliberately becoming more rational.
-2Lumifer7yInstrumentally, sure. Epistemically, I don't think so.
-1Nornagest7yI might actually expect the opposite. Mental illness is conventionally defined in terms of a marked impairment of everyday cognition compared to the general population, i.e. instrumental irrationality. Yet relatively few mental disorders, from my reading, seem to have direct effects on an epistemic level.
-1Lumifer7yThat sounds very strange to me. The standard things like schizophrenia, paranoia, etc. are characterized precisely by a "wrong" picture of reality. If a paranoiac is unwilling to venture out to buy groceries, that's not a failure of instrumental rationality -- if there actually were people outside his door who want to kill him (as he believes), his behavior would be perfectly rational. Even depression has a strong epistemic component.
0Nornagest7ySure, but I don't think I'd describe that as a deficiency of epistemic rationality. People dealing with disorders like paranoia clearly have unusually strong biases (or other issues, in the case of schizophrenia) to deal with, but exceptional epistemic rationality consists of compensating well for your biases, not of not having any in the first place. Someone who's irrationally predisposed to interpret others' behavior as hostility, and who nonetheless strives with partial success to overcome that predisposition, is displaying better epistemic rationality skills than Joe Sixpack despite worse instrumental outcomes.
0Lumifer7yI am confused. If a paranoiac has "unusually strong biases" but is exceptionally good at compensating for them, he would not be diagnosed with paranoia and would not be considered mentally ill. My understanding of epistemic rationality is pretty simple: it is the degree to which your mental model matches the reality, full stop. It does not care how bad your biases are or how good are you at overcoming them, all that matters is the final result. I also don't think full-blown clinical paranoia is a "bias" -- I think it is exactly a wrong picture of reality that fails epistemic rationality.
-2Nornagest7yI think you're modeling epistemic rationality as an externally assessed attribute and I'm modeling it as a skill.
4Lumifer7yNot really. I am modeling epistemic rationality as a sum total of skill, and biases, and willingness to look for quality evidence, and ability to find such evidence, etc. It is all the constituent parts which eventually produce the final model-of-the-world. And that final model-of-the-world is what you called "an externally assessed attribute", but it is the result of epistemic rationality, not the thing itself.
0hairyfigment7ySo... you'd have a skill modifier plus or minus an ability modifier, and paranoiacs have a giant unrelated penalty?

If you're expecting the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you are fooling yourself. That's like expecting a lion not to eat you because you didn't eat him.


On the contrary, honesty, conscientiousness, being law-abiding, etc. have powerful reputational effects. This is easily seen by the converse; look, for example, at the effect a criminal record has on chance of getting a job.

This quote only gets any mileage by equivocating on the meaning of fair. What the quote is really saying is: "If you expect the world to fulfil even modest dreams just because you try not to be a jerk, expect disappointment." But said like that, if loses all its seemingly deep wisdom. In fact, of course, if you personally fulfilled even some modest dream of a large proportion of the people on earth, you would be wealthy beyond the dreams of lucre.

9Viliam_Bur7yMost of the comment is great, but this part seems like a Just World Fallacy. You can start a chain of cause and effect that will make billions of people a bit happier, and yet someone else may take the reward. But I agree that on average making a lot of people happy is a good way to get wealthy.
5michaelkeenan7yI see the quote as warning against a certain kind of naivety. I'm known as a trustworthy person and it's brought me many advantages - people have happily loaned me large sums of money, for example, and I've been employed in high-trust-requiring positions. But I have cooperated in Prisoner's Dilemma-type situations when I really should have realized the other guy was going to defect. In one case, he'd told me he was a narcissist and a Slytherin, and I still thought he'd keep our agreement. I lost a lot.
1[anonymous]7yIt always struck me that "fair" is one of the most misused words we have. What we mean when we say "fairness" is a sense that socially-constructed games have fixed rules leading to predictable outcomes, when some notion of a social contract or other ethical framework is exercised. If you enter a game with no rules, what would it even mean to expect a fair reward for fair play?

I’m a strong believer in modus ponens, in any domain of discourse where I know the meanings of all the words!

Scott Aaronson in reply to Max Tegmark replying to Scott's review of Max's book. He goes on:

In physics, however, I only believe in “approximate modus ponens,” in the following sense: if I accept “A” and “A⇒B,” then I’ll tentatively accept “B,” but I might decide on further reflection that I meant something different by a word appearing in “B” than by the same word in “A” or “A⇒B.” And in any case, I rarely would’ve considered “A” or “A⇒B” certain, just very well-established. For both of those reasons, I can start with physics statements that I consider to be well-established, apply enough steps of “modus ponens,” and end with a statement I consider to be speculation!

(Emphasis mine.)

6Jayson_Virissimo7yThis sounds similar to the view that is sometimes called the fragility of deduction. It was why John Stuart Mill distrusted "long chains of logical reasoning" and according to Paul Samuelson it is why "Marshall treated such chains as if their truth content was subject to radioactive decay and leakage."
1TheAncientGeek7yAnd that is why the long chains of logical reasoning used in the UFAI argument should not be regarded as terminating in conclusions of near certainty or high probability.
2Oscar_Cunningham7yYou could say that about anything.
0TheAncientGeek7yMaybe, but it would not be very painful in many cases. In most cases, people who put forward highly conjunctive arguments don't put out them forward as urgent, near certainties which require immediate and copious funding.Moreover, most audiences have enough common sense to implications as lossy. MIRI/LW presen ts an unusual set of circa,stances which is worth pointing out.
-4VAuroch7yThat chain of reasoning isn't very long.
-1TheAncientGeek7yIt is when you supply the unstated assumptions.
0VAuroch7yPlease elaborate.

Don't you think it would be a useful item to add to your intellectual toolkits to be capable of saying, when a ton of wet steaming bullshit lands on your head, 'My goodness, this appears to be bullshit'?

-Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

For men imagine that their reason governs words, while, in fact, words react upon the understanding; and this has rendered philosophy and the sciences sophistical and inactive. Words are generally formed in a popular sense, and define things by those broad lines which are most obvious to the vulgar mind; but when a more acute understanding or more diligent observation is anxious to vary those lines, and to adapt them more accurately to nature, words oppose it. Hence the great and solemn disputes of learned men often terminate in controversies about words and names...

-- Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

[-][anonymous]7y 16

"Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed." - Daniel Kahneman

"Therefore, this kind of experiment can never convince me of the reality of Mrs Stewart's ESP; not because I assert Pf=0 dogmatically at the start, but because the verifiable facts can be accounted for by many alternative hypotheses, every one of which I consider inherently more plausible than Hf, and none of which is ruled out by the information available to me.

Indeed, the very evidence which the ESP'ers throw at us to convince us, has the opposite effect on our state of belief; issuing reports of sensational data defeats its own purpose. For if the prior probability for deception is greater than that of ESP, then the more improbable the alleged data are on the null hypothesis of no deception and no ESP, the more strongly we are led to believe, not in ESP, but in deception. For this reason, the advocates of ESP (or any other marvel) will never succeed in persuading scientists that their phenomenon is real, until they learn how to eliminate the possibility of deception in the mind of the reader. As (5.15) shows, the reader's total prior probability for deception by all mechanisms must be pushed down below that of ESP."

ET Jaynes, Probability Theory (S 5.2.2)

2dthunt7yI found this (and the preceding bit) noteworthy on two points; first in the obvious mathematical respect that explains the relationship between favored hypotheses and less favored hypotheses which are both supported by data; Second, by the realization that researchers favoring ESP most likely fail to apprehend the hypothesis that they are testing, w/r to their critics. In the case in question, they collected 37100 predictions, which seems a little excessive considering it had essentially no persuasive power to skeptics.

As the marijuana legalization movement strengthens, you can see hints of how hard it is to hit the libertarian sweet spot where something is simultaneously legalized but remains rare and distasteful. People, especially young people, pick up messages from society about what is winning and what is losing more than they pick up nuanced messages. Smoking tobacco is losing so it seems reasonable to ban smoking it even in your own car while driving through a brushfire zone. Smoking marijuana is winning, so it doesn't seem like the ban on smoking in Laurel Canyon applies to dope.

Steve Sailer

How many things apparently impossible have nevertheless been performed by resolute men who had no alternative but death.

-- Napoleon Bonaparte.

The language you use to talk about something influences the way you think about it. If the chemistry you’re talking about is truly something new, then a fight over terminology may be quite an important part of getting to understand that chemistry better.

Jay A. Labinger

Many have imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather bring about his own ruin than his preservation.

  • Machiavelli

Fault is a backward-looking concept: it focuses on deviations between the bad present and some desired past. Ability is forward-looking: it focuses on the deviation between some sub-optimal present and a desired future.

Anonymous commenter

If you try too hard to fight a problem within yourself or someone else, the very act of fighting will often create resistance. Sometimes when you accept the problem and stop trying so hard, things will suddenly begin to change.

David Burns in "The feeling good handbook" about the "acceptance paradox" (The book has been shown to be effective at improving the condition of depressive people in controlled trials) Page 67

2William_Quixote7yI feel like the claim made about the source is strong enough that it should have a link to a study.
0ChristianKl7yIt has sort of. It is in the forward of the recent edition of the book. In general the book is well known on LW and I'm just reiterating a fact that's already established by other people. At the moment the LW search finds 431 hits for the search "feeling good handbook".

Quotes from the Screwtape Letters have not been terribly well-received in this thread. So, perversely, I decided I had to take a turn:

Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient's soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at all in inflaming his hatred of Germans if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train. Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy...you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us.

-- The demon Screwtape, on how best to tempt a human being to destruction.

The existence of souls notwithstanding, Screwtape is clearly right: if you are charitable to almost everybody--except for those your see every day!--then you are not practicing the virtue of charity and are ill-served to imagine otherwise. You cannot fantasize good mental habits into being; they must be acted upon.

6khafra7yWho does more good with their life--the person who contributes a large amount of money to efficient charities while avoiding the people nearby, or the person who ignores anyone more than 100 miles away while being nice to his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train?
2dspeyer7yIf he actually donates the money then the charity is not constrained to fantasy. By the miracle of the world banking network, people thousands of literal miles away can be brought as close as the sphere of action. Those concentric rings are measured in frequency and impactfulness of interaction, not physical distance. What Screwtape is advocating is that he simply intend to donate the money once Givewell publishes a truely definitive report (which they never will). Or better, that he feel great compassion for people so many steps removed that he could not possibly do anything for them (perhaps the people of North Korea, who are beyond the reach of most charities due to government interdiction).
0fezziwig7yYeah, that's been confusing: I meant this principle of charity [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_charity].
-1CCC7yA tricky question. The obvious, and trivially true, answer is that he who does both does more good than either. But that's not what you asked. So. It can be hard to compare the two options when considering the actions of a single person, since the beneficiaries of the actions do not overlap. Therefore I shall employ a simple heuristic; I shall assume that the option which does the most good when one person does it is also the option that does the most good when everyone does it. So, the first option; everyone (who can afford it) makes large donations to efficient charities, while everyone avoids those nearby and is unpleasant when forced to deal with someone else directly. If I make a few assumptions about the effectiveness (and priorities) of the charities and the sum of the donations, I find myself considering a world where everyone is sufficiently fed, clothed, sheltered, medically cared for and educated. However, the fact that everyone is unpleasant to everyone else leads to everyone being grumpy, irritated, and mildly unhappy. Considering the second option; charitable donations drastically decrease, but everyone is pleasant and helpful to everyone they meet face-to-face. In this possible world, there are people who go hungry, naked, homeless. But probably fewer than in our current world; because everyone they meet will be helpful, aiding if they can in their plight. And because everyone's pleasant and tries to uplift the mood of those they meet, a large majority of people consider themselves happy.

Therefore I shall employ a simple heuristic; I shall assume that the option which does the most good when one person does it is also the option that does the most good when everyone does it.

This assumption seems trivially false to me, and despite being labeled as a mere 'heuristic', it is the crucial step in your argument. Can you explain why I should take it seriously?

0CCC7yWell, for most choices between "is this good?" and "is this bad?" the assumption is true. For example, is it good for me to drop my chocolate wrapper on the street instead of finding a rubbish bin? If I assume everyone were to do that, I get the idea of a street awash in chocolate wrappers, and I consider that reason enough to find a rubbish bin. Furthermore, and more importantly, the aim here is not to produce an argument that one action is better than the other in a single, specific case; rather, it is to produce a general principle (whether it is generally better to be charitable to those nearby, or to those further away). And if option A is generally better than option B, then I think it is very probable that universal application of A will remain better than universal application of B; and vice versa.
5Jiro7yWhen you ask what it's like if everyone were to "do that", the answer you get is going to be determined by how you define "that". For instance, if everyone were to drop chocolate wrappers on the lawn of your annoying neighbor, you might be happy. So is it okay to drop the wrapper on your neighbor's lawn? It's tempting to reply to this by saying "'doing the same thing' means removing all self-serving qualifiers, so the correct question is whether you would like it if people dropped wrappers wherever they wanted, not specifically on your neighbor's lawn". This reply doesn't work, because there are are plenty of situations where you want the qualifier--for instance, putting criminals in jail when the qualifier "criminal" excludes yourself. (And what's your stance on homosexuality? If everyone were to do that, humanity would be extinct.)
0CCC7yI do need to be careful to define "that" as a generally applicable rule. In this case, the generally applicable rule would be, is it okay to drop chocolate wrappers on the lawn of people one finds annoying? So I need to consider the world in which everyone drops chocolate wrappers on the lawn of people they find annoying. Considering this, the chances of someone dropping a wrapper on my lawn becomes dependent on the probability that someone will find me annoying. So, in short, I can put as many qualifiers on the rule as I like. However, I have to be careful to attach my qualifiers to the true reason for my formulation of the rule; I cannot select the rule "it is acceptable to drop chocolate wrappers on that exact specific lawn over there" without referencing the process by which I chose that exact specific lawn. I can't attach a qualifier to a specific person; but I can attach a qualifier to a specific quality, like being annoying, when considering a proposal.
-2DanArmak7yWell, what's your stance on forcing homosexuals to breed heterosexually to save humanity from extinction? Or forcing all homosexual women and a few men chosen by lottery, since we have an overabundance of sperm?
8Jiro7yI don't think people should be forced to breed, but I wasn't arguing that people should be forced to breed, I was pointing out that the above argument (would you like if everyone did that) means that it is wrong to refuse to breed. Pointing out that an argument I oppose leads to an uncomfortable conclusion is a reductio ad absurdum and does not mean that I endorse that conlusion myself.
0CCC7yAnd if everyone were to breed, that would exacerbate the problems that are due to overpopulation. This implies that there should be some process that one follows when deciding whether or not to breed; it should be a process that has a nonzero chance of making the decision either to breed or not. Exactly what the optimal process is, I do not know.
3[anonymous]7yYvain in these [http://squid314.livejournal.com/308666.html] two [http://squid314.livejournal.com/308872.html] old blog posts of his makes the case that it's not clear that a world with grumpy people is worse than a world with hungry people.
3CCC7yYou are correct. It is by no means clear which is better.
2hairyfigment7yWhy the Hell would I want to practice the virtue of charity? If anything, I want to help people. And hating people from a foreign country could be an excellent way to do damage!
0fezziwig7yI'm sorry, my original post was not quite precise. I meant charity in the sense of the Principle of Charity [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_charity], not charitable contributions. If you prefer, substitute "kind" for "charitable"; it's not quite the same but illustrates the point just as well. Keep in mind, we're talking about the damage you do to yourself. Hating people you've never met is not a very efficient way to damage yourself. Much better is to hate people you know intimately and see every day. That way you can practice your vices efficiently, and will have as many opportunities as possible to act them out.
-4hairyfigment7yApplying the principle of charity to people you know but not to foreigners is a well-known failure mode that produced Soviet atrocities against Germans [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Berlin#Aftermath], to use Lewis' own example. And again, here [http://www.anamardoll.com/2014/02/narnia-pass-magic-peas-please.html] is Lewis applying the principle of charity to a transformation-happy Sith Lord with a mind-altering book after writing these allegedly helpful quotes. He seems to genuinely not see the parallels between borderline-self-insert Coriakin and his most famous villain. Lewis is explicitly writing religious propaganda. It's not coincidence that his advice would have his mostly-Christian readers focus on charity to Christian authority figures before Soviets, or even Church critics they don't personally know.
0fezziwig7yThe three examples given in the quote are: Which of those are Christian authority figures?
0fubarobfusco7yTo self-modify, perhaps?
-2Eugine_Nier7yExcept, with that attitude you won't. You'll sit around telling yourself how virtuous you are for liking people you've never met, while being a misanthrope to everyone you personally know. Furthermore, if (or when) you mean one of the foreign people you supposedly love, you'll wind up being a misanthrope to them as well. Really? How does you, personally, hating people from a foreign country do damage?
5hairyfigment7yAnd why would I care about that if my donations produce a giant net benefit? When did I even claim to love anyone?
-4RowanE7yIf you don't love people, why would your utility function include a term for their wellbeing?
1VAuroch7yWhere did he claim that his utility function included a term for the stranger's well-being?
0RowanE7yI think it's implicit from when he said "if anything, I want to help people", and when he described donations that are efficient at helping anonymous strangers as "produc[ing] a giant net benefit".
0hairyfigment7yIf Stalin didn't love his own people, why would he mildly prefer not to throw them at Hitler?
0RowanE7yThe people of the soviet union were a resource that Stalin had a great amount of control over, and so even if he was perfectly selfish and uncaring towards his people, he would prefer to preserve that resource. The selfish benefit to be gained from saving a life in Africa is negligible, and is vastly outweighed by the cost. I suppose I should clarify that I'm taking "love" in this context to basically mean the same thing as "like" - in many contexts it's not just a mere difference of degree, but in the context of "loving humanity" and such phrases I think it probably is.
0[anonymous]7yOf course, it's a lot harder to be charitable to the man on the train - or worse, to one's own exploiter employer - than to one's mother. For one thing, the wider the circle of charity, the deeper a pit to fill with one's efforts! Which was precisely why, during my internship last summer, I eventually just picked one homeless guy and gave him my loose $1 bills every day during my commute.

The question presupposes a classical view of "rational argument," namely the use of classical logic (e.g., mathematical logic) in the service of self-interest.

But that is not how real rationality works. Political argument starts with moral framing - what is assumed to be right, not wrong or morally irrelevant. Conservatives and liberals differ on what is right. Real rational argument uses the logic of frames and metaphors, as well as the use of emotion in setting goals. For example, poor conservatives may care more about their moral identity as

... (read more)

... the controlling factor, the root cause, of risk is dependence, particularly dependence on the expectation of stable system state. Yet the more technologic the society becomes, the greater the dynamic range of possible failures. When you live in a cave, starvation, predators, disease, and lightning are about the full range of failures that end life as you know it and you are well familiar with each of them. When you live in a technologic society where everybody and everything is optimized in some way akin to just-in-time delivery, the dynamic range o

... (read more)

Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true.

Ye say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgression of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents.

And ye also say that Christ shall come. But behold, I say that ye do not know that there shall be a Christ. And ye say also that he shall be slain for the sins of the world –

And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye ke

... (read more)

I'm hardly an expert on the Book of Mormon, but this quote surprised me so I googled it. It appears to be an accurate quote but is not fully attributed. As best I can make out, the speaker is the antichrist (or some such evil character; not sure on the exact mythology in play here).

Failure to note that means this quote gives either an incorrect view of the Book of Mormon, or of the significance of the text, or both.

When quoting fiction, I recommend identifying both the character and the author. E.g.

Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true.

--Korihor in the The Book of Mormon (Alma 30.24-28); Joseph Smith, 1830

Having said all that, it's still a damn good rationality quote.

1[anonymous]7yI would think it's bad publicity for us to explicitly note a resemblance to antichrist-type characters.
9blacktrance7yUnless we're trying to appeal to contrarians.
5Strange77yConsidering how much hating on religion there already is around here, I don't think there's much left to lose on that front.
9[anonymous]7yAh, of course, because it's more important to signal one's pure, untainted epistemic rationality than to actually get anything done in life, which might require interacting with outsiders.
3Nornagest7yUpvoted because that really is a failure mode worth keeping in mind, but I don't think it's responsible for the attitude towards religion around here; I think that's a plain old founder effect.
2ChrisHallquist7yThis is a failure mode I worry about, but I'm not sure ironic atheist re-appropriation of religious texts is going to turn off anyone we had a chance of attracting in the first place. Will reconsider this position if someone says, "oh yeah, my deconversion process was totally slowed down by stuff like that from atheists," but I'd be surprised.
1Strange77y"Pick a side and stick with it, supporting your friends and bashing your enemies at every cost-effective opportunity" is the dominant strategy in factional politics much the same way tit-for-tat is dominant in iterative prisoner's dilemma. Generosity to strangers and mercy to enemies are so heavily encouraged because in the absence of that encouragement they're the rare, virtuous exception. Yes, obviously we have to interact with outsiders. That's what makes them outsiders, rather than meaningless hypothetical aliens beyond our light-cone. The question is, should we be interacting with organized religion by trying to ally with, or at least avoid threatening, the people in charge? Or by threatening them so comprehensively that (figuratively speaking) we destroy their armies and take their cattle for our own? The antichrist is a hypothetical figure who poses the greatest possible ideological threat, an exploit against which the overwhelming majority of Christianity's (worldly) resources and personnel cannot be secured. The popular theory is, that individual's public actions would trigger the ultimate 'evaporative cooling' event. Everybody who doesn't really believe, everybody who just checks "christian" on the census form and shows up to church for the social network and the pancakes, will stop doing so. In short, the sanity waterline would rise.
2[anonymous]7yThat's nice, but I'm Jewish ;-). Or in other words, the very nature of an "antichrist" pins you to opposing one kind of religion in specific, and also pins you to moral positions you probably don't want to take. It's the ultimate sin of privileging the hypothesis: you've assumed it's a Christian world you have to persuade away from their Christianity. (In real life, I would argue the greatest utility to be gained from deconversions right now is in the Muslim world, where one currently finds the greatest amount of religious violence over the smallest differences. You could tell me to go become the Anti-Muhammad, but again, I'm already Jewish.) Remember, the Antichrist is also puppy-kickingly evil. You don't hate puppies, do you? Then why are you signing up for a role that outright requires you to kick them? Are you sure there's not some other evil villain you'd prefer to be?

"I have frequently detected myself in such kind of mistakes," said Elinor, "in a total misapprehension of character in some point or other: fancying people so much more gay or grave, or ingenious or stupid than they really are, and I can hardly tell why or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what they say of themselves, and very frequently by what other people say of them, without giving oneself time to deliberate and judge."

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

4Protagoras7yIt's pretty remarkable to detect yourself in that kind of mistake; most people are very good at finding confirming evidence for whatever judgments they've made about people, and ignoring any contrary indications.
5Salemicus7yYes, this is a good point - we generally don't realise that we are (self-)deceived, so we can't even begin to think about where we went wrong. Of course, Elinor Dashwood is something of an authorial stand-in, so it's not really surprising that she's incredibly wise and perspicacious like that.
0Luke_A_Somers7yYes. This can happen, but what you describe is more common. Once a coworker was sure that I was an ultra-right-wing militiaman, based on one indirect, misleading bit of evidence, ignoring all else. Merely declaring my general political alignment and support and opposition to various candidates was totally inadequate. I had to explicitly enumerate several political positions to get him to adjust, and even then he seized on the nuances to try to interpret it as my secretly being a right-wing nut.
3chaosmage7yI think those mistakes usually happen for an entirely different reason. New people remind us of ones we've already met, and we unconsciously "fill in the blanks" in what we know about the new person with what we know about person we know, or some kind of average-ish judgement about the group of comparable people we know.

When he goes inside [the church], he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the

... (read more)

Genuine self-esteem is based on humility and an acceptance of your shortcomings.

David Burns in "The feeling good handbook" (The book has been shown to be effective at improving the condition of depressive people in controlled trials) Page 69

Never abandon life. There is a way out of everything except death.

Winston Churchill

Certainty is the most dangerous emotion a human being can feel in politics and religion. Certainty stops all outside thought or reason. It closes the door and is a metaphorical spit in the face of anyone who disagrees. Changing one’s mind is the essence of critical thinking.

Edwin Lyngar at Salon

0ChristianKl7yI don't think certainty is an emotion in the first place. The emotion that people who are certain feel is confidence. Even then I think it's frequently better than anger.
0Nornagest7yConfidence in oneself, or confidence in someone or something external? The two feel quite different to me, subjectively -- something like a feeling of lightness and elevation vs. groundedness and solidity, although English doesn't have a very good vocabulary for this sort of thing.

Bernard and Sir Humphrey are British government functionaries in the comedy show 'Yes Minister'

Bernard: If it's our job to carry out government policies, shouldn't we believe in them?

Sir Humphrey: Oh, what an extraordinary idea! I have served 11 governments in the past 30 years. If I'd believed in all their policies, I'd have been passionately committed to keeping out of the Common Market, and passionately committed to joining it. I'd have been utterly convinced of the rightness of nationalising steel and of denationalising it and renationalising it. Capit... (read more)

You can never be loved for your successes-only for your vulnerabilities. People may be attracted to you and may admire you if you are a great success. They may also resent and envy you. But they can never love you for your success.

David Burns in "The feeling good handbook" (The book has been shown to be effective at improving the condition of depressive people in controlled trials) Page 126

4Stabilizer7yUpvoted. I don't know if this is true; indeed, I suspect it is definitely partially false. But, I don't think it is entirely false. It's interesting and has made me think.
0ChristianKl7yIt's the position of someone at the heart of the evidence based framework of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Even if you happen to disagree and think you know better how emotions work than the people with the credentials I think it's still useful to know where you differ with them. I read David Burns book because it's the book that's most recommended on LW when it comes to dealing with emotions. I'm not quoting someone from a New Age background but someone who actually is trying to teach people to get rid of irrational beliefs by recognizing their mental distortions.
0Desrtopa7yAccording to the research summarized by Yvain, Cognitive Bahvioral Therapy does not seem to be more strongly supported as effective than Freudian psychoanalysis. [http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/09/19/scientific-freud/] Rather, it conducted the research which demonstrated its effectiveness relative to placebo earlier than other types of therapy, and thereby gained a reputation as evidence-based.
0ChristianKl7yNot quite. In Cognitive Behavior Therapy, there a strong focus on measuring the level of depression of the person who's coming to the sessions. Cognitive Therapist now tried different approaches of treating depression and believe in making decisions based on what interventions succeed in reducing the scores of someones level of depression. A Freudian would tell you, that he doesn't really care about the score but that he cares that the person just feels better and succeeds in dealing with his childhood traumas. David Burns wants that every patients fill out a questionnaire at every session that measures the amount of depression the person has at that time. He wants that psychologists who don't succeed in reducing the scores of their clients have no excuse because they are faced with hard numbers. Given that's Burns approach of looking at the world there going to be less inferential difference in getting Burn understood be LessWrongers than if I would pick someone who could also produce results but who doesn't really care about gathering academic evidence for what works. Don't confuse people who produce results by looking at published evidence and who base their practice on that evidence with people who just produce results.
3Desrtopa7yThe gist of the research though, is that while historically Freudian therapists have taken this approach, more recently many Freudian therapists have actually started performing the same sort of research on the effects of their therapy that Cognitive Behavioral Therapists have, and received essentially the same results. It's not that there isn't evidence to support Cognitive Behavioral Therapy working, but rather, more recent evidence seems to suggest that when they do gather the relevant data, other forms of therapy appear to work equally well. So it appears that the things about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that actually work are not things that are specific to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but rather, are general qualities of therapy provided by a trained practitioner.
-4ChristianKl7yNo, the average Freudian therapist doesn't focus on the measurement on a scale but rather takes a more holistic approach. Yes, you can run a controlled test where you pit Freudian therapists against Cognitive Behavioral Therapists and not find any difference in efficiency but that doesn't mean that both classes value published evidence and an improvement on a numerical score the same way.
0Desrtopa7y"Valuing published evidence" doesn't necessarily equate to having a more correct theoretical framework though. Reality doesn't grade for sentiment. Cognitive behavioral therapists might on average be more relatable to Less Wrong members than Freudian therapists, but that doesn't mean that prescriptions rooted in a cognitive behavioral model of the human mind are more likely to be correct or helpful.
-4ChristianKl7yYes. But if even the theory that most likely to be relatable to Less Wrong members get's voted down because the whole emotion business is just to strange, that's sad.

I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination

-- James Dean

2Curiouskid7yI find this a useful quote to keep in mind when I'm experiencing mental states that I don't want to experience.

What's that from?

0[anonymous]7yI made it up based on Eliezer's saying. I'm much too Gryffindor/Sunshine to call it world optimization.
0[anonymous]7yMy bad. Deleting.

"As I fear not a child with a weapon he cannot lift, I will never fear the mind of a man who does not think.’”

Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson, page 795

9Jiro7yBoth the metaphor and its literal application only make sense if "cannot" and "does not" means "never", and they really don't. While I'd never fear the mind of a man who literally is in a coma and doesnt think at all, I'd have plenty of reason to fear the mind of a man whose ability to think is merely limited. He can be a stupid moral reasoner and a clever killer at the same time.
7CCC7yI recall one Sherlock Holmes book, where Holmes said that he has a lot of trouble predicting the actions of idiots; an intelligent man, Holmes can work out what actions he would take in a given situation, but an idiot could do anything.
2TheOtherDave7yOf course, this presumes that one knows the goals of said intelligent agent.
1Strange77yIn that case, though, you're afraid of the man's axe more than his mind.
0Jiro7yNo, because it works as metaphor too. It's certainly possible to convince people of a proposition that is false; consider Eliezer doing the Ai-box experiment. In the Ai-box example, Eliezer understands that the proposition is false, but that need not be true in general; you can be bad at thinking in one way (and thus not understand that some proposition is false) but good at thinking in other ways (and thus be able to readily convince other people of the false proposition). In other words, instead of a stupid reasoner and a clever killer, a stupid reasoner and a clever convincer.

Truth has her throne on the shadowy back of doubt.

-- Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), Savitri - A Legend and a Symbol

I can't do anything on purpose.

  • Professor Utonium, realizing he has a problem

Supposedly, if you are totally uncompromising and intolerant with BS (particularly harmful BS), you lose friends. These are good friends to lose, for you will also make new friends, better friends.

Nassim Taleb

2MalcolmOcean7yReally curious about the "supposedly" in this. Does Nassim not actually believe or endorse this view?
2Vaniver7yI read it as him endorsing the empirical proposition, but not the value proposition. That's the point of the second sentence- he wouldn't say "these are good friends to lose" if there wasn't the potential to lose friends.
-2ChristianKl7yNassim doesn't advocate that you should become totally uncompromising toward BS as a technique to change the people with whom you hang out. He doesn't advocate that you should optimize your tactics in that way to get better friends. He rather advocates authenticity where you don't hide by avoiding to call out BS because you are afraid of offending other people. If being authentic means calling out BS than do it. If being authentic for you means to not confront other people about the BS they talk about, don't.
-3Eugine_Nier7yTaleb is responding to the common claim that one shouldn't call out BS because one will thus loose friends.
[-][anonymous]7y 0

"Failure always brings something valuable with it. I don’t let it leave until I extract that value. I have a long history of profiting from failure. My cartooning career, for example, is a direct result of failing to succeed in the corporate environment." - Scott Adams

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
[-][anonymous]7y 0

"The Six Filters for Truth:

Personal experience (Human perceptions are iffy.) Experience of people you know (Even more unreliable.)

*Experts (They work for money, not truth.)

*Scientific studies (Correlation is not causation.)

*Common sense (A good way to be mistaken with complete confidence.)

*Pattern recognition (Patterns, coincidence, and personal bias look alike.)

" - Scott Adams

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
[-][anonymous]7y 0

"The antifragile loves randomness and uncertainty, which also means—crucially—a love of errors, a certain class of errors. Antifragility has a singular property of allowing us to deal with the unknown, to do things without understanding them—and do them well. Let me be more aggressive: we are largely better at doing than we are at thinking, thanks to antifragility. I’d rather be dumb and antifragile than extremely smart and fragile, any time." - Nassim Taleb

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

The general principle of antifragility, it is much better to do things you cannot explain than explain things you cannot do.

Nassim Taleb

What does this mean?

3DanielLC7yMy interpretation is that having an explanation for something is useless if you can't actually make it happen. And even if you don't fully understand how something works, it's good to be able to use it. For example, I would much rather be able to use a computer than know how it works. Also, if you can't do it, that calls into question whether your explanation is actually valid. Anyone can explain something, so long as they're not required to actually make the explanation useful.
2[anonymous]7ySo we could rephrase as: "If I really understand X's, I can build one, but if I kind of understand X's, I can at least use one"?
3philh7yI interpret it as related to expert-at versus expert-on. If you assume that an expert-on is always an expert-at, then someone explaining something they can't do is clearly not an expert. I'm not sure that assumption is true, though I could believe it's a useful rule of thumb.
0Daniel_Burfoot7yThink of Steve Jobs vs. the business school professor who wrote a book about entrepreneurship.
0soreff7yI don't know, but it sounds similar to "It's smarter to be lucky than it's lucky to be smart."

The old temple inscription "Know Thyself" is often repeated today, but perhaps it is not adequate. It should declare "Construct Thyself" as well. Shape your mind, train your thinking power, and direct your emotions more rationally; liberate your behavior from the ancestral burden of reptiles and monkeys—be a man and use your intelligence to orient the reactions of your mind.

-- José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado

Because we must deal with the unknown, whose nature is by definition speculative and outside the flowing chain of language, whatever we make of it will be no more than probability and no less than error. The awareness of possible error in speculation and of a continued speculation regardless of error is an event in the history of modern rationalism whose importance, I think, cannot be overemphasized. This is to some extent the subject of Frank Kermode's Sense of an Ending, a book whose justifiable bias the connection between literature and the modes of fi

... (read more)
2NancyLebovitz7yThe first sentence seems excellent to me, and probably true of a great many things. I have trouble focusing on the rest, and more trouble making sense out of it. Anyone care to take a crack at a summary?
[-][anonymous]7y -4

"The fragilista falls for the Soviet-Harvard delusion, the (unscientific) overestimation of the reach of scientific knowledge. Because of such delusion, he is what is called a naive rationalist, a rationalizer, or sometimes just a rationalist, in the sense that he believes that the reasons behind things are automatically accessible to him. And let us not confuse rationalizing with rational—the two are almost always exact opposites. Outside of physics, and generally in complex domains, the reasons behind things have had a tendency to make themselves less obvious to us, and even less to the fragilista." - Nassim Taleb

Wittgenstein's appeal lies in the fact that he provides a strange kind of vindication of romanticism, of conceptual Gemeinschaft, of custom-based concepts rather than statute-seeking Reform, and that he does so through a very general theory of meaning, rather than from the premisses habitually used for this purpose. Because there is no unique formal notation valid for all speech, each and every culture is vindicated. One never knew that could be done - and so quickly too! It is that above all which endows his philosophy with such a capacity to attract and

... (read more)

Most fail to understand in the medical and socieconomic domains that treatment should never be equivalent to silencing symptoms.

Nassim Taleb

0DanielLC7yWhy not? The problem with a disease is the symptoms. If you can cure the disease, all the symptoms will go away, but if you can only cure the more harmful symptoms, that will generally be almost as good.
2Lumifer7yNot really. The word "symptoms" generally means "noticeable signs" and with some diseases the first visible sign is sudden death. Taleb is really talking about treating the cause and not visible manifestations.