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

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be voted up/down separately.  (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments.  If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.

ETA: It would seem that rationality quotes are no longer desired. After several days this thread stands voted into the negatives. Wolud whoever chose to to downvote this below 0 would care to express their disapproval of the regular quotes tradition more explicitly? Or perhaps they may like to browse around for some alternative posts that they could downvote instead of this one? Or, since we're in the business of quotation, they could "come on if they think they're hard enough!"

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From a BBC interview with a retiring Oxford Don:

Don: "Up until the age of 25, I believed that 'invective' was a synonym for 'urine'."

BBC: "Why ever would you have thought that?"

Don: "During my childhood, I read many of the Edgar Rice Burroughs 'Tarzan' stories, and in those books, whenever a lion wandered into a clearing, the monkeys would leap into the trees and 'cast streams of invective upon the lion's head.'"

BBC: "But, surely sir, you now know the meaning of the word."

Don: "Yes, but I do wonder under what other misapprehensions I continue to labour."

On utility:

culturejammer: you know what pennies are AWESOME for?

culturejammer: throwing at cats

culturejammer: it only costs a single penny

culturejammer: and they'll either chase it, or get hit by it and look pissed off

culturejammer: i now use that system to value prices of things

culturejammer: for example, a thirty dollar game has to be at least as awesome as three thousand catpennies


also from bash.org (made as a reply since I'm already at my 5-quote limit):

<+kritical> christin: you need to learn how to figure out stuff yourself..
<+Christin1> how do i do that

The analysis fails to take into account the cost of buying and raising of cats.

Or at least of maintaining friendships with people who have cats.

While hilarious, and I upvoted it, I doubt economists would agree with the stated cost of the catpenny game, nor with its comparability to other forms of entertainment.

ETA: and catpenny seems likely to be subject to drastically diminishing returns.

I seriously can't decide if catpennies have diminishing marginal utility or not!

We should test this! Anyone got a cat? I've got 9 pennies I don't want.

Don't forget to consider the negative utility of an angry cat attacking the catpenny player, which will surely happen after x catpennies.

Anyone going to go looking for x? It would of course have to be statistical distribution, varying with cat age, breed, and so on.

Also, how hard you've managed to hit it with the pennies. I think you have to try to maximise the damage:irateness ration.

Doesn't catpenny cost less than a penny (in terms of dollars spent)? You can recover most, if not all, of the pennies.

also, don't forget to consider that the cat is conscious and might not like getting hit by pennies :)
Given yesterday's xkcd [http://xkcd.com/696/], I note that Google has no hits for "strip catpennies."
Huh; I know someone who made this same suggestions, only he was talking about throwing the pennies at people... I suppose it's worth noting that in this case, the pennies are not as recoverable.

Many people equate tolerance with the attitude that every belief is equally true, and that we should all simply accept this fact and go our separate ways. But I view tolerance as the willingness to come together, to face one another in the same room and hack at each other with claw hammers until the truth finally trickles out from the blood and the tears.

-- Raving Atheist, found via the Black Belt Bayesian blog (props to Steven)

maybe 'tolerance' simply means: "the cost of settling our differences outweighs the benefits"
That makes sense, but knowing in advance which outweighs which is problematic.
Which suggests rationality may not be as purely instrumental as we would like to think. It can only practically happen between people who already have generally low preferences over beliefs, those who want truth for its own sake.

"Intuition only works in situations where neurology and evolution has pre-equipped us with a good set of basic-level categories. That works for dealing with other humans, and for throwing things, and for a bunch of other things that do not, unfortunately, include constructing viable philosophies."

-- Eric S. Raymond

If you can't feel secure - and teach your children to feel secure - about 1-in-610,000 nightmare scenarios - the problem isn't the world. It's you.

-- Bryan Caplan

Great quote, though it took me a minute to parse. I think it's the dashes that did it. Wouldn't this read a lot better with commas instead?
If you can't feel secure (and teach your children to feel secure) in nightmare scenarios with 1-in-610,000 odds, the problem isn't the world. It's you.
It works better with longer dashes -- I always get thrown off when someone uses a single hyphen instead of faking an en dash with two hyphens surrounded by spaces.
Should be an em-dash, really. You can get em-dashes — on a mac, at least — by typing option–shift–minus-sign.
Some people prefer en-dashes – option-hyphen, alt-0150 – when you're surrounding them with spaces, only using em-dashes without the spaces, but I don't think it's important. Hyphens are more Lynx-friendly, so I often use those.

Education is a technology that tries to make up for what the human mind is innately bad at. Children don't have to go to school to learn how to walk, talk, recognize objects, or remember the personalities of their friends, even though these tasks are much harder than reading, adding, or remembering dates in history. They do have to go to school to learn written language, arithmetic, and science, because those bodies of knowledge and skill were invented too recently for any species-wide knack for them to have evolved.

Steven Pinker -- The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

I love this quote, and I plan to get around to reading this book soon, but I figured I should post this article [http://discovermagazine.com/2009/nov/17-the-brain-humanity.s-other-basic-instinct-math/article_view?b_start:int=0&-C=] which seems to say that we do have an innate instinct for numbers, addition, and subtraction, even if we may not completely realize it right away.
[-][anonymous]12y 27

"You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right." --Randall Munroe, in the alt-text of xkcd 701

"In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it." GK Chesterton

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to close it again on something solid.

-- G.K. Chesterton

A "friend" of mine was a fan of using this to argue for Christianity. The idea of never changing one's mind doesn't seem very rational.
[-][anonymous]12y 12

Your friend must be pretty hungry by now.

"Who are you?"

"Who am I? I'm not quite sure."

"I admire an open mind. My own is closed upon the conviction that I am Shardovan, the librarian of Castrovalva."

-- Doctor Who

To be fair, G.K. Chesterton was probably also using this to argue for Christianity.

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things
We know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

-- Donald Rumsfeld, Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Something is missing here, a fourth term: [..] the unknown knowns - things we don't know that we know. That's the unconscious! That's ideology!

-- Slavoj Žižek @ Google

I saw the Rumsfeld quote, immediately thought of that Zizek line and then instantly concluded no one at Less Wrong would like to hear from Slavoj Zizek. This must be the first time a continental philosopher has received upvotes here. I'm fascinated.
He noticed the blatantly missing corner in the field of possibilities and replied to it intelligibly. I have no idea what a continental philosopher is, much less who Zizek is, but the quote is appropriate.
Did no one check out the video?
I didn't - watching just now, as suggested by your comment, I bailed at the German type of toilet.

One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.

I will maintain a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Even though this takes some of the fun out of the job, at least I will never utter the line "No, this cannot be! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!" (After that, death is usually instantaneous.)

I will be neither chivalrous nor sporting. If I have an unstoppable superweapon, I will use it as early and as often as possible instead of keeping it in reserve.

If my advisors ask "Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?", I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them.

I will see a competent psychiatrist and get cured of all extremely unusual phobias and bizarre compulsive habits which could prove to be a disadvantage.

I will never build a sentient computer smarter than I am.

-- Peter's Evil Overlord List on how to be a less wrong fictional villain

Hear, hear! :D

Yeah, let me do it.

Sentient [http://lesswrong.com/lw/x7/cant_unbirth_a_child/]?
2Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
Fair 'nuff.

Thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically--without learning how, or without practicing.... People with untrained minds should no more expect to think clearly and logically than people who have never learned and never practiced can expect to find themselves good carpenters, golfers, bridge-players, or pianists.

Alfred Mander -- Logic for the Millions

On parsimony:

If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.

--John von Neumann, at the first national meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery

That is not dead which can eternal lie,/ And with strange aeons even Death may die.

—H.P. Lovecraft, clearly talking about cryonic preservation

4Paul Crowley12y
Yeats, on what he'll do when no longer "fastened to a dying animal".
Definitely cryonics. I never really understood why this phrasing applies to Cthulhu, although I haven't read very much of Lovecraft.
The Elder Gods and other nameless menaces are portrayed as unphysical quasi-extra-dimensional beings from elsewhere; as such, death does not apply to them. Astronomical/universal conditions merely allow or disallow their projects.
But what are strange aeons? Why will Death die?
Reading Lovecraft: You're doing it wrong.
Strange eons are many and long aeons; HPL thinks in a steady state cosmos where the universe is indefinitely old. Death will die in the Christian phrasing - the non-human menaces grow more powerful over time and their 'sleep' periods will shrink.

"If the tool you have is a hammer, make the problem look like a nail."

Steven W. Smith, The Scientist and Engineer's Guide to Digital Signal Processing

If [Ayn] Rand really wanted to build an individualist sub-culture, she would have done so in an evolutionarily informed way. If people naturally care about the opinions of others, jumping on people is a good way to get dishonest conformity, but a bad way to get an honest exchange of ideas. Instead, an individualist sub-culture must be built upon tolerance and honesty. I'd suggest three key norms:

  1. Don't think less of people who sincerely disagree.
  2. Do think less of people who insincerely agree.
  3. Do think less of people who think less of people who sincerely disagree.

--Bryan Caplan

Reference: Guardians of Ayn Rand

In our public medical personas, we often act as though morality consisted only in following society's conventions: we do this not so much out of laziness but because we recognize that it is better that the public think of doctors as old-fashioned or stupid, than that they should think us evil.

-- The Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine

More people are killed every year by pigs than by sharks, which shows you how good people are at evaluating risk.

Bruce Schneier

Presumably not per unit exposure, which is the relevant measure when you're near a pig or shark. If he's talking about abstract worry, then he might have a point.

6Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
I've decided to spend today abstractly worrying about sharks.
Fake Jedi sharks, no doubt.
Is today silly comment day?
But what's the unit exposure? Does the exposure related to ocean swimming match the exposure of camping in Michigan wilderness [http://greatlakesecho.org/2009/07/10/big-pigs-big-problem-feral-swine-spread-to-great-lakes-region/] ? You have a point, though. Of course, most people should worry about neither pig nor shark attacks.
Ok, but most people who are more worried about sharks than pigs are going on vacation to the beach and don't work on a swine farm. And I don't think those people are wrong to worry about sharks more than pigs. It is also quite likely that swine farmers do worry about pigs more than the rest of us.
I googled for it but didn't find any evidence for pigs killing people.
Googled it too. You need to expand "pigs" to include "wild boar". Still this "six times as many death from pigs as from sharks" sounds suspiciously like an urban legend, the precise multiplier implies that there should be a well known source and not finding it is a hint. The numbers are small enough that the ratio should be all over the map.
Average Number of Deaths per Year in the U.S * Bee/Wasp 53 * Dogs 31 * Spider 6.5 * Rattlesnake 5.5 * Mountain lion 1 * Shark 1 * Alligator 0.3 * Bear 0.5 * Scorpion 0.5 * Centipede 0.5 * Elephant 0.25 * Wolf 0.1 * Horse 20 * Bull 3 Here [http://historylist.wordpress.com/2008/05/29/human-deaths-in-the-us-caused-by-animals/] Not entirely sure of the accuracy of these, but still. I think 31x as many killed by dogs as by sharks is a much more important figure than deaths from pigs.
Looks like a slight mangling of the data from http://www.wemjournal.org/wmsonline/?request=get-document&issn=1080-6032&volume=016&issue=02&page=0067#i1080-6032-016-02-0067-t02 [http://www.wemjournal.org/wmsonline/?request=get-document&issn=1080-6032&volume=016&issue=02&page=0067#i1080-6032-016-02-0067-t02]
I find 3 pig related occupational fatalities in the US from 1992-1997 [http://www.usark.org/uploads/Animal%20Related%20Fatalities.pdf], and total US deaths at 4 from all marine animals, 2 of which were venomous from 1991 to 2001 [http://www.scark.org/docs/Animal%20Related%20Fatalities.pdf]. So it looks like pigs have it, though it's not like the difference is statistically significant.
I heard recently that when The Wizard of Oz came out, more people would have realized how dangerous it was when Dorothy fell in the pig pen. Today, we watch that movie and think it was just about her losing her balance, and maybe wonder why the farmer who saved her was so visibly upset about it. (I contacted my source and he said it was 'just common knowledge', and that pigs have since been domesticated from the wild boars they were, and that I should google, "pigs aggression".)
Since when is fear only about risk of death?
I suspect similar odds hold for non-fatal injuries. Is there some fear associated with sharks other than the danger of injury or death?

The terrifying soundtrack that accompanies them when they approach.

O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

-- Mark Twain, excerpt from The War Prayer

0Paul Crowley12y
And there was me thinking that The Shamen had written all that. Thanks.

Million-to-one odds happen eight times a day in New York.

Penn Jillette

[-][anonymous]12y 14

Note to self: every day, eight million things happen in New York.

I'm guessing the number comes from the population of New York city: about 8 million.
Wow, New York must be a pritty boring place to live in.
Events with million-to-one odds of happening in one day to one person happen eight times a day in New York - on average.
Hm. And I thought I was being original when I liked to say 'billion to one odds happen 7 times a day on Earth'.

Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you think yourself.

--- James Stephens

Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.

-- Isaac Asimov via Salvor Hardin, Foundation

The introduction of suitable abstractions is our only mental aid to organize and master complexity.

-- Edsger W. Dijkstra

"We can get very confused, because we think that words must have some secret meaning that we have to figure out. They don't. They are just noises or marks, and they mean whatever experience you have learned to mean by them. People tend to use similar words in similar situations, but unless you have specifically agreed on what the words will mean, in terms of underlying experiences, there's no way to know what another person understands when you use them. The experience you attach to a word when you say it isn't automatically the same as the experience another person attaches to the same word when hearing it."

William T. Powers

I find this (the unspoken and un-agreed-upon array of connotations behind a word) is a major source of disagreement even on this site.

'Cause it's gonna be the future soon
And I won't always be this way
When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away

--Jonothan Coulton

Perfecting my warrior robot race, Building them one laser gun at a time. I will do my best to teach them About life and what it's worth, I just hope that I can keep them From destroying the Earth! --SIAI
Interesting vid here [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OL33OEW6QA].

I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.

Johannes Kepler

So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for every thing one has a mind to do.

-- Benjamin Franklin

It's amazing the things people would rather have than money.

-- Garfield

The original cartoon [http://sluha.pri.ee/stuff/garfield.php?day=23&month=11&year=1988].
"Dad, the reason I like to shop and buy things is to get rid of my money" 8 year old Cayley Landsburg, quoted in Fair Play [http://www.landsburg.com/fairplay.html] edit. Link added to disambiguate citation...
"Fair Play [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_Play]" is somewhat ambiguous a citation...
"Cayley Landsburg Fair Play [http://www.google.ca/search?q=Cayley+Landsburg+Fair+Play]" is enough, though.
Why is this interesting? Money isn't inherently useful. Why say "than money" when "It's amazing the things people like" will serve?

There's no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.

-- Han Solo

4Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
http://home.netcom.com/~rogermw2/force_skeptics.html [http://home.netcom.com/~rogermw2/force_skeptics.html] This page persuaded me, by the way - I am now a Force Skeptic with respect to the Star Wars universe.
That page sounded like banal propaganda. Yes, any magic is indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology but it sounds to me like the author has a strong preference to blaming evidence on an invisible robotic dragon in his garage rather than uncover the actual explanation whatever it may be. This is a world where you can hear sound in space and of light is more of a guideline than an actual rule. Your real world preconceptions just don't apply. Once there is any evidence whatsoever that Jedi are unwilling to subject the force to any scientific scrutiny then such skepticism beings to gain credibility. As things stand, however, I would expect the Jedi to be willing participants in Force research. I would, naturally, engage in such research myself. Partly out of a desire to understand the laws of the universe but mostly because I intended to harness the force to my own ends.
Rather, it sounds exactly like a humorous, ironic fan-written piece, with no intention to truthfully explain in-universe things...
... that should leave us all being highly amused Force Believers with respect to the Star Wars universe.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
Sure, if you believe everything you see in the movies, but that seems like obvious Rebel propaganda to me.
Even worse, some senior imperial officers at the time of Yavin IV believed it!
From an EU perspective, that page is quite wrong, especially with assertions like (EU introduced Force-detecting devices left over from the Jedi purges.) or (I think Lucas himself wrote in a blind Jedi or two.)
Expanded universe. [http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Expanded_Universe]

Yet whenever I see that, I think "European Union". And when I first saw Star Wars fans talk about the OT, my first though was, "Old Testament". Actually, that's not far off, in a sense! (It's actually "Original Trilogy".)

ETA: A "Jew" of Star Wars would, I guess, be someone who accepts the OT, but rejects everything thereafter. There seem to be many...

6Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
Expected utility. It's more powerful than the Force.
My initial thought was 'Eliezer Yudkowsky' until I realized that that would be EY and not EU... The way I assume your name is pronounced made that mistake possible.
Expanded Universe. All of the books, comics, etc outside of the movies.
Expanded Universe, probably.

I'll start incorporating crazy counter-intuitive notions about the nature of the universe when the cold implacable hand of the universe starts shoving them down my throat, not before!

-- PZ Myers

I wonder if people who upvoted this did so sincerely or as a "look how irrational elite scientists are" [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ij/update_yourself_incrementally/] quote.

Ce que l'on conçoit bien s'énonce clairement / Et les mots pour le dire arrivent aisément

-- Nicolas Boileau

Rough translation: "What is well understood can be told clearly, and words to express it should come easily."

ETA: it is worth pondering the converse; just because something rolls off the tongue doesn't mean it's well understood. It could be that it's only well-rehearsed.

What the quote is aimed at is work of a supposedly high intellectual caliber, which just so happens to be couched in impenetrable jargon. Far more often, that is in fact evidence of muddled thought, not that the material is "beyond me".

It's obvious, but I must point out that giving the quote in the original French and providing a "rough translation" seems at odds with the message of the quote.
Why? I'm not an expert French->English translator, and I only invested a few minutes in the translation, so calling it "rough" seems appropriate. And saying something clearly in more than one language is more difficult than saying the same thing clearly in one language. That a perfect, instant translation of a well-crafted quote by a talented French Enlightenment philosopher doesn't just roll off my fingertips in English shouldn't compromise the message.
Weird. I thought you'd posted it this way to be ironic. Anyway... It compromises the message for precisely that reason. If you agree with the quote, then if you understand what it means, then it should be easy to express it clearly.
Which are you claiming: a) that I don't understand the quote, or b) that my rough translation is unclear? Are you perhaps supposing that "rough" and "clear" are antonyms? I think the translation is clear enough; what makes it "rough" is that a perfect translation would feel like it was a literal translation, all the while keeping the exact nuance of the original. If you will, it is the fact of its being a translation which makes it rough. For more on the subtleties of translation, I'll direct you to Hofstadter's excellent Le Ton Beau de Marot.

I always saw a close kinship between the needs of "pure" mathematics and a certain hero of Greek mythology, Antaeus. The son of Earth, he had to touch the ground every so often in order to reestablish contact with his Mother; otherwise his strength waned. To strangle him, Hercules simply held him off the ground. Back to mathematics. Separation from any down-to-earth input could safely be complete for long periods — but not forever.

-Benoit Mandelbrot

While I agree, where could the earth be getting its strength from?
Also: if mathematics in contact only with mathematics becomes "less mathematical" than mathematics in contact with praxis, then how can praxis in contact with mathematics become more practical than praxis out of contact with mathematics?
If you have no mathematical techniques, you don't know how to think about your empirical evidence. If you have no empirical evidence, you have nothing to use your mathematical techniques on. You need both.
Circular reasoning. One chunk pushes against the next, which pushes against the next....until you're back where you started.

"People are not complicated. People are really very simple. What makes them appear complicated is our continual insistence on interpreting their behavior instead of discovering their goals."

-- Bruce Gregory

Margaret Mead made a world-wide reputation for herself with her book Coming of Age in Samoa. After visiting the island of Samoa and talking to some teenage girls, she came away convinced that the Puritanism of the American sexual code was cultural artifact. In Samoa, by contrast, sex was freely practiced, with little attention to any niceties. Unfortunately, she was wrong about this, as we learned almost a half a century later, when Derek Freeman, who actually spoke Samoan, went to Samoa and interviewed the now grown women who had been interviewed by Margaret Mead many years earlier. He discovered that they had been putting her on. Decency and sexual restraint were as important to Samoans as to Americans.

  • James Q. Wilson, Moral Intuitions
Freeman's case is not so clear-cut. From Skeptic Magazine: The Trashing of Margaret Mead: How Derek Freeman Fooled Us All on an Alleged Hoax [http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-12-16/]
That's odd. The Wilson quote in aausch's post heavily implies that Freeman spoke Samoan and Mead didn't. But Paul Shankman's Skeptic article says Hmm. Wonder who's right.
In context, the closing paragraphs of the article are also relevant:
http://lesswrong.com/lw/20y/rationality_quotes_april_2010/1v7e [http://lesswrong.com/lw/20y/rationality_quotes_april_2010/1v7e]
I'd like to buy each of those ladies a beer.

Organizations don’t suffer pathologies; they are intrinsically pathological constructs. Idealized organizations are not perfect. They are perfectly pathological.

-- http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-or-the-office-according-to-the-office/

I'm interested to find that you read ribbonfarm.com, since along with lesswrong it's one of my two most-visited blogs. I sometimes think Venkatash's way of thinking might be on a level above that of many of the posts here. As an engineer he seems to have internalized the scientific/rationalist way of thinking, but he's combined that with a metaphorical/narrative/artistic way of looking at the world. When it works well, it works really well. What do other people think? Interestingly, he has PhD in an AI-related field (specifically, control theory), but thinks the Singularity is unlikely to happen: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/01/28/the-misanthropes-guide-to-the-end-of-the-world/ [http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/01/28/the-misanthropes-guide-to-the-end-of-the-world/] Another article that might contradict a common belief of this community: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/09/28/learning-from-one-data-point/ [http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/09/28/learning-from-one-data-point/] Anyway, certainly a blog I'd recommend to lesswrongers.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
Erm, sorry, I was just linked there or Googled there or something, don't read it on a regular basis.
Among my favorites as well! Venkat and Eliezer's recommendations currently dominate my reading queue, and I'd be hard-pressed to pick which of their books I'm more eagerly anticipating. Venkat's observations about group decision making and organizational dynamics are a big part of what made me write this proposal [http://lesswrong.com/lw/298/more_art_less_stink_taking_the_pu_out_of_pua/] (which I've procrastinated following up on due to being uncertain how to proceed). There's definitely some interesting contrast between Venkat and Eliezer's views/styles/goals. A Blogging Heads episode could be fascinating!

'Nash equilibrium strategy' is not necessarily synonymous to 'optimal play'. A Nash equilibrium can define an optimum, but only as a defensive strategy against stiff competition. More specifically: Nash equilibria are hardly ever maximally exploitive. A Nash equilibrium strategy guards against any possible competition including the fiercest, and thereby tends to fail taking advantage of sub-optimum strategies followed by competitors. Achieving maximally exploitive play generally requires deviating from the Nash strategy, and allowing for defensive leaks in ones own strategy. -- Johannes Koelman

If you think of losing as “not winning,” then when you try to work out why you’ve lost, or (God forbid) why you’re a loser, you’ll tend to focus on the things you didn’t do and the qualities you don’t have. So it goes with any “negative” concept, one that is defined by what it isn’t (think of how “background” = “everything but the foreground” or how valleys are made by the mountains around them).

I think it’s worthwhile to occasionally invert the picture, to see “being a winner” as “not being a loser.” That way you attend to those habits of mind that are h

... (read more)

"Seeing is believing, but seeing isn't knowing." -- AronRa

The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.

-- H. Ross Perot

To take advantage of professional specialization, gains from trade, capital infrastructure, comparative advantage, and economies of scale, the way grownups do it when they actually care, I'd say that the activist is the one who pays someone else to clean up the river.

If people don't realise that the river is dirty and that's causing problems, changing that is valuable work by itself.

6Paul Crowley12y
The more I read this quote the more I hate it. It is an anti-rationality quote. It says, if you are not rich enough to run as an independent Presidential candidate, if you're not in a position to make a difference by yourself, if all the power you have is your voice, then shut up; leave action to the rich and powerful, without criticism. That your voice has power is part of the point of democracy, and it's not hard to see why a man like Perot might prefer to make that sound less legitimate.
I doubt that was the intended meaning. He's just encouraging you to do something. Doesn't have to be big.
0Paul Crowley12y
No, in the first sentence he's explicitly denigrating those who speak up.
..for being all talk. I can see how you might have come to your conclusion, but saying it's "explicit" is just not true.
That doesn't sound like an activist. That sounds like "sucker doing other people's work for free", which doesn't sound like an effective plan for bringing about positive change -- those people tend to "weed themselves out" over the long run. I'm not saying you shouldn't do things to make the world a better place, like: not litter, drive courteously, etc. (Although you should be careful about which [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1lb/are_wireheads_happy/1dyh] things actually accomplish a net good.) "Be the change you want in the world" (attr. Ghandi) is a good motto to keep. I'm just saying that you shouldn't expect major problems to get solved by Someone Else at no cost to you, nor complain about someone pointing out the dirty river instead of immediately cleaning it up.
Personally, I'm very good at discovering what's wrong with a process or situation. I can detect flaws easily and accurately. What I've found I need is someone who, after I've done my analysis, will look me in the eye and say, "OK. So how do we fix it?" Without that simple question, I find that far too often I stop at the identification step, shaking my head at the deplorable state of affairs.
The question analogous to to the Perot quote would be "So why don't you fix it?".
6Paul Crowley12y
So for example, it would make sense for me to try and personally swoop in and free Chinese political prisoners, but if I'm not prepared to do that, I shouldn't protest their incarceration. I don't think this rule leads to the right kind of behavour.
It doesn't, and it annoys me. That makes me quite ambivalent about the quote.
How is this comment responsive to my point or supportive of the original post?
Does this work better for you?: "The rationalist is not the man who complains about biases. The rationalist is the man who works to understand his biases." (coin-flipped for male)

A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.

-- Groucho Marx

It's bad luck to be superstitious.

The secret of what anything means to us depends on how we've connected it to all the other things we know. That's why it's almost always wrong to seek the "real meaning" of anything. A thing with just one meaning has scarcely any meaning at all.

Marvin Minsky -- The Society of Mind

[-][anonymous]12y 7

What is it about us, the public, and what is it about conformity itself that causes us all to require it of our neighbors and of our artists and then, with consummate fickleness, to forget those who fall into line and eternally celebrate those who do not?

-- Ben Shahn, "The Shape of Content"

"If we were bees, ants, or Lacedaemonian warriors, to whom personal fear does not exist and cowardice is the most shameful thing in the world, warring would go on forever.
But luckily we are only men - and cowards."

--Erwin Schrodinger, Mind and Matter

Karl Marx's writings glorifying communism (though Western capitalists regard it as grim and joyless) may well have reflected merely his alienation from society due to a lifelong series of excruciatingly painful boils, according to a recent British Journal of Dermatology article. In an 1867 letter, Marx wrote, "The bourgeoisie will remember my carbuncles until their dying day." [Reuters, 10-30-07]

-- News of the Weird (relevance)

During a conversation with a Christian friend, during which my apostasy was challenged sincerely and politely but with the usual arguments and style...

Christian: And the Bible tells us that if we have Faith as small as a mustard seed...
Me: Yeah, we can move mountains. Matthew 17:20. So, tell me. Could God make an argument so circular that even He couldn't believe it?
Christian: Of course! He's God, God can do anything.

'Made in His Image' seems to apply all too well.

5Paul Crowley12y
You're quoting yourself!
Excuse the cameo. I hope the extra context doesn't distract you too much from the SMBC quote or the reply.

As the mind learns to understand more complicated combinations of ideas, simpler formulae soon reduce their complexity; so truths that were discovered only by great effort, that could at first only be understood by men capable of profound thought, are soon developed and proved by methods that are not beyond the reach of common intelligence.

Marquis de Condorcet, 1794

"In my experience, the most staunchly held views are based on ignorance or accepted dogma, not carefully considered accumulations of facts. The more you expose the intricacies and realities of the situation, the less clear-cut things become."

Mary Roach - from her book Spook

The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

John Maynard Keynes

"I waste many hours each day being efficient."

--Emanuel Derman

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance: let us ask, "Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?" No. "Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?" No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. --- David Hume

(quoted in Beyond AI by JoSH Hall)

"Most people are more complicated than they seem, but less complicated than they think"

  • BS

Who am I to judge myself?

-- Karp

"Love God?" you're in an abusive relationship.

DLC, commenter at Pharyngula.

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons.

-- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I've always thought you can have more fun in New York than splashing around in the water. But I'm not a dolphin.

A bit of a meta-quote:

But in choosing a chair we follow the dictates of our eyes, for better or for worse, more often than those of our "ischial tuberosities," and the hammocklike Hardoy looks comfortable. [Joseph] Rykwert correctly assumes that "the buyers of Hardoy chairs, like many other customers for design goods, are guided in their choice by promptings quite different from the dictates of reason." And he adds a conclusion worth remembering: "The very fact that they do so should be a matter of interest to the designer: nothi

... (read more)

JANEWAY: I understand you grew up on Vico Five. No wonder you became a cosmologist.
HARREN: Wildest sky in the Alpha quadrant.
JANEWAY: So they say. I've never been there.
HARREN: Do you really believe that childhood environment is more important than genetically driven behaviour patterns?
JANEWAY: Just making conversation.
HARREN: Conversation filled with unspoken assumptions, which I don't agree with. I'm a product of my nucleic acids. Where and how I was raised are beside the point. So if you're trying to understand me better, questions about my home planet

... (read more)
I really dislike the nature versus nurture false dichotomy [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_versus_nurture]. It grates on me to see it still taken seriously, even after the premise that our actions are shaped entirely by one or the other has been as scientifically discredited as phlogiston.
Oh, I agree with you that nature vs. nurture is a false dichotomy, but I was actually cheered to see this exchange. As terrible as it is by our epistemic standards, it's actually quite sophisticated by Star Trek standards. (So much of what gets called science fiction is actually technology fantasy.) I was similarly cheered to see the other exchange [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1pq/rationality_quotes_february_2010/1khy] that I posted from that episode: he actually used the word hypothesis! Real philosophy of science! On Voyager! I love it! Best episode ever! And you can see how this is still a rationality quote despite the conceptual confusion. Janeway is trying to break through Harren's contempt, but Harren resists her cliches and insists on (what he erroneously thinks is) accuracy.
So which of the two characters exemplifies rationalist virtues? It seems to me we've got one who's trying to use clichés to "break through" to the other, and one who's just stubbornly wrong.
...this was fiction! Star Trek moreover. Do not expect realism!

“He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher...or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.”

"In madness all sounds become articulate." -- "Language of the Shadows", Nile

ETA: It would seem that rationality quotes are no longer desired. After several days this thread stands voted into the negatives. Wolud whoever chose to to downvote this below 0 would care to express their disapproval of the regular quotes tradition more explicitly?

For the record, I didn't downvote this below zero, but it did at one point downvote this back to zero (and did the same for the Open Thread). Not because I'd disagree with the tradition in any way, but because I don't think the first person to get around posting the month's thread should get tens of points of karma for simply being quick.

Rewarding people for prompt attention to housekeeping tasks seems more appropriate than punishing them.
I tend to vote such threads to around a couple of karma myself. 0 isn't unreasonable. < 0 is quite peculiar. But my confusion was resolved in this instance. Someone messaged me and explained that he was trying to work out why the votes were fluctuating so much (4 -> 0 in an hour) so was testing what would happen if he put down one more to -1. As a side effect to these posts going up and down I've now started paying attention to only the last digit of the score. The 10s are mostly noise!
I certainly wouldn't want to punish them, which is why I'd also upvote any such thread that ended up with a negative score.

"What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure."

--Dr. Samuel Johnson

There's no scientific reason to believe that we have free will. There's no buffer zone that we've found in any of the physical laws of how the universe works to make room for free will. There's non-determinism; but there's not choice. Choice is the introduction of something, dare I say it, supernatural: some influence that isn't part of the physical interaction, which allows some clusters of matter and energy to decide how they'll collapse a probabilistic waveform into a particular reality.

-- Mark Chu-Carroll

There is more here: Brains as output/input devices [http://bjoern.brembs.net/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.39]
Although I should note that I believe there to be phenomena that qualify to be defined as 'free will'. Specifically endogenous processes generating behavioral variability and thus non-linearity. Especially if you can show that the complexity of transformation by which a system shapes the outside environment, in which it is embedded, does trump the specific effectiveness of the environmental influence on the defined system. In other words, mind over matter. You are able to shape reality more effectively and goal-oriented and thus, in a way, overcome its crude influence it exerts on you. For example, children and some mentally handicapped people are not responsible in same the way as healthy adults. They can not give consent or enter into legally binding contracts. One of the reasons for this is that they lack control, are easily influenced by others. Healthy humans exert a higher control than children and handicapped people. You experience, or possess a greater extent of freedom proportional to the amount of influence and effectiveness of control you exert over the environment versus the environment over you. Though this definition of free will only works once you arbitrarily define a system to be an entity within an environment contrary to being the environment. Thus the neural activity, being either consciously aware and controlled by the system itself, or not, is no valid argument within this framework. Of course, in a strong philosophical sense this definition fails to address the nature of free will as we can do what we want but not chose what we want. But I think it might after all be a useful definition when it comes to science, psychology and law. It might also very well address our public understanding of being free agents.
I should have checked the lesswrong wiki [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Free_will] before posting this. And of course read the mentioned posts here on lesswrong.com. Anyway, for those who care or are wondering what I have been talking about I thought I should provide some background information. My above drivel is loosely based on work by Björn Brembs [http://brembs.net/spontaneous/] et al. PLoS ONE: Order in Spontaneous Behavior [http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0000443] Maybe a misinterpretation on my side. But now my above comments might make a bit more sense, or at least show where I'm coming from. I learnt about this via a chat about 'free will'. Hope you don't mind I post this. Maybe somebody will find it useful or informative.
There is more here: Brains as output/input devices [http://bjoern.brembs.net/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.39]

Shamisen deserves an honorable mention. Although he only has one speech, he's a good enough philosopher that upon being introduced he manages to sidetrack the brigade members into a debate over the nature of conversation and away from the fact that, you know, _he's a talking cat_. - TV Tropes, "The Philosopher"

[Connections to rationality: Focus, taking action, and conversation style.]

TELFER: At least I have a friend. Don't you ever get lonely down there?
HARREN: In the company of my own thoughts? Never.
TELFER: I don't believe that. Spend some time with us when we get back. You might enjoy yourself.
HARREN: A hypothesis that would require testing. I'm a theoretician, remember?

---Star Trek: Voyager, "Good Shepherd"

[-][anonymous]12y 1

"To know something is to make this something that I know myself; but to avail myself of it, to dominate it, it has to remain distinct from myself." -- Miguel de Unamuno

[-][anonymous]12y 0

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a Starfleet tradition that at social gatherings disputes are not permitted. I hearby declare therefore all disagreements resolved.

--Jean-Luc Picard

[-][anonymous]12y 0



[-][anonymous]12y 0

a b

[-][anonymous]12y 0

Praise be to Nero's Neptune

The Titanic sails at dawn

And everybody's shouting,

Which side are you on?

[-][anonymous]12y 0

Artificial intelligences with human interests in mind could use their machine minds to solve human challenges in fields like medicine, physics, chemistry, engineering, politics, diplomacy, biology, sociology, and economics. Being native to the world of computers, they could run complex simulations in mere moments that would take human researchers years to build. Complex, detailed, mathematically accurate simulations could be the default thought mode for artificial intelligences—their “thoughts” could be far superior to our best simulations.

-Michael Anissimov

[-][anonymous]12y 0

Praise be to Nero's Neptune The Titanic sails at dawn And everybody's shouting, "Which side are you on?" — Bob Dylan, "Desolation Row"

[-][anonymous]12y -1

Don't tolerate intolerance. -bumper sticker

[-][anonymous]12y -1

Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody's shouting,
"Which side are you on?"

— Bob Dylan, "Desolation Row"

[-][anonymous]12y -2

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.

4Paul Crowley12y
No, curiosity seeks to annihilate itself [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jz/the_meditation_on_curiosity/].
[-][anonymous]12y -2

A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never quite sure.

A man with one watch might have the wrong time; a man with two watches is more aware of his own ignorance.

The only problem with this quote is that if I have two watches and they have the same time on them, maybe I synchronized them at some point, then that would seem to make me more confident about what time it actually was, given that if I have a single watch, the battery could be dying and the watch tick a little slower. Or maybe I'm thinking too much.
I always liked this quote. I think I originally saw it in a Robert Anton Wilson book. I usually use it in the context of terminal values.