Rationality Quotes: February 2010

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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.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, 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

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 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.

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.

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.

"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

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