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

  • 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.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.
487 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:48 AM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

Even after ten thousand explanations, a fool is no wiser, but an intelligent man requires only two thousand five hundred.

-- Brahma, Mahabharata

One thing I have advocated, without much success, is that children be taught social rules (when they are ready) in exactly the same way they are taught and teach each other games. The point is not whether the rules are right or wrong. Are the rules of 5-card stud poker or hopscotch right or wrong? It's that we're playing a certain game here, and there are rules to this game just as in any other game. If you want to be in the game, then you have to learn how to play it. Different groups of people play different games (different rules = different game), so if you want to play in different groups, you have to learn the games they play. When you develop the levels of understanding above the rule level, you'll be able to understand all games, and be able to join in anywhere. You won't be stuck knowing how to play only one game.

My problem with selling this idea is that people tend to think that their game is the only right one. In fact, being told that they are playing a game with arbitrary rules is insulting or frightening. They want to believe that the rules they know are the ones that everyone ought to play by; they even set up systems of punishment and reward to make sure that nobody tries to play a different game. They turn the game into something that is deadly serious, and so my idea simply seems frivolous instead of liberating.

William T. Powers

8Academian12y
I'd be concerned that this phrasing would raise more sociopaths... because that's how they think about morality. The idea of teaching relativism for moral specifics is good, but consider that there are aspects of morality common to all sustainable cultures. Powers' framing would describe these as "common game elements" or "aspects common to all these different games". I think they should be emphasized/emotionalized as a little more than that (even if they aren't), so to avoid sociopathy (if that's even possible). Less specifically, and with more confidence: emotional intelligence is a thing, and children need to be taught that, too. Perhaps Powers could achieve this by teaching kids that "feeling good about doing good things" is part of the game, and maybe one of the objectives of the game.

I'd be concerned that this phrasing would raise more sociopaths... because that's how they think about morality.

Sociopaths and mature adults share that conception. Both of these groups of people tend to have also discovered that it is usually not in their best interest to discuss the subject with people who do not share their maturity or sociopathic nature respectively.

The reason a sociopath must arrive at the insight Powers proposes we teach earlier is that they cannot survive without it. Where a normal individual can survive (but not thrive) with a naive morality a sociopath cannot rely on the training wheels of guilt or shame to protect them from the most vicious players in the game before they work things out.

I predict that Powers' curriculum would produce no more sociopaths, make those sociopaths that are inevitable do less damage and result in a whole heap less burnt out, anti-social (or no longer pro-social) idealists.

5Jonathan_Graehl12y
You're awesome. Specifically, you communicate useful insights often. I tend to agree with you, but when I don't, I'm glad to have read you. Making incompetent sociopaths more rational would create new harms as well. They would be better able to fool people and would erode the trustworthiness of "normal-seeming people" a little. But since there are already many competent sociopaths, and because normal people are situationally also selfishly destructive (self-serving bias+hypocrisy), we have institutions that mitigate those harms. Also, I agree that preventing damaged people from running amok (in the extreme killing N people and then themselves) would be fantastic.
5wedrifid12y
That sounds right to me. I suspect the main difference that improving social education for all children would have on sociopaths is that it would knock some of the rough edges off the less intelligent among them. The kind of behaviours that are maladaptive even for sociopaths and may lead them to do overtly anti-social things and wind up sanctioned. The models I have for competent sociopaths and high status individuals are approximately identical for basically this reason.

The analogy I use in my head instead of games is languages. They both have rules, but "games" implies something fake, not productive, and not to be taken seriously. "Languages" are tools we're accustomed to using for everyday functional reasons, and it's clearer that breaking their rules arbitrarily has a more immediate detrimental effect on their purpose (communication).

The most common way I use the metaphor explicitly is during a misunderstanding with a friend. "Wait--what does X mean in Sammish? Z? Ohh, now I get it. In Relsquish, X means Y. That's why I thought you were talking about Y."

The nice thing about this model is that, in a game, you expect everyone to know the rules before you sit down to play. If someone doesn't follow them, they're either too ignorant to play or cheating. When you're talking to someone who speaks a different language from you (even if they're just different versions of English, like Sammish and Relsquish are), occasional confusion is a matter of course. When you misunderstand each other, no one has "broken" the rules; it's just a mismatch. You identify that, explain in other words, and move on, with much fewer hard feelings or blame.

0Alicorn12y
That is very fun to say. Rel-squish!
2Relsqui12y
Haha. Yes, it is. I don't get to say it much, because I'm Fizz to almost everybody who knows me in person--so I refer to myself as speaking Fizzish instead. I didn't think it was worth the trouble of explaining that for the sake of the example, though. :)
7RichardKennaway12y
The quote doesn't talk about morality. I take it to be about social rules such as what is considered proper dress, table manners, rudeness and politeness, playing nicely, and so on. At a certain age (as WTP alludes to) children become capable of understanding above that level, and they will need a proper upbringing in what is good and real at that level as well. There's another quote of WTP I could give in this connection, but I've used up my quote quota for this month.
2wedrifid12y
If you share it in a multiply nested reply to another comment then it is not included in the 'quote quota' - it's just the same as including a quote in any other conversation. (ie. Your interpretation about applying to social rules rather than morality and ethics themselves seems right and I am interested in hearing the quote you have in mind.)
8RichardKennaway12y
Ok then: -- William T. Powers
1wedrifid12y
I like the first paragraph in particular.
1taw12y
Care to name a few that I cannot counter with some European culture of last 3000 years, without even going any further?
1Academian12y
"It is generally undesirable for members of my own culture / social class to murder each other without just cause." Before you respond, note that "Person X committed murder in Society Y and it was okay," is not a counterexample. You will need to present an entire culture which was * sustainable, and * has no general aversion to unjust intra-class murder. ... and, I guess if you're still going for it, one which existed in Europe since 1000BC.
-4taw12y
Easy, before Christianization Germanic (and some other Indo-European) cultures were totally casual about people killing each other, any social class, no reason necessary [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weregild].
6Vladimir_M12y
That's like saying that in modern-day U.S., the culture is "totally casual about people killing each other, any social class, no reason necessary," and justifying that by linking to a web page discussing the penalties for murder in present-day American law. As that Wikipedia page will tell you, wergeld was a legal penalty for killing imposed on the guilty person. Today, punishing murder with fines sounds unusual (though perhaps not so much when you consider that wrongful death torts [http://topics.law.cornell.edu/wex/wrongful_death_action] still exist), and this is indeed a sign of significant cultural change, but the idea that killing people was seen as an OK casual thing to do among the old Germanics, or any other historical people, is just ludicrous.
-3taw12y
You're committing fallacy of reinterpreting past cultures in terms of your own culture. Weregild was not a penalty, and had nothing to do with guilt. It was debt towards family to compensate for their economic loss with no consideration of "guilt" whatsoever. Wikipedia doesn't say so, but it was debt of extended family to extended family. Thinking in terms of "guilt" doesn't even make that much sense to cultures that organized society in terms of clans or families instead of individuals. Such cultures used to be very common. Even as late as 19th century there was no legal personhood for most women, and there still isn't much of it for young people (they're treated as children instead far longer than makes sense; more or less like women were treated in earlier times).
4Vladimir_M12y
taw: As you say, these people were illiterate, and they didn't leave much record of their feelings and abstract opinions in these cases. But the fact is that if you killed someone, you'd be obliged to submit to legal sanctions, and if you failed to do so, you were in big trouble. This is not a situation that follows after acts that are considered "totally casual," and whatever were the old Germanic words used to describe people in this situation, "guilty" seems to me like an accurate modern English translation. The fact that these sanctions were administered at clan level changes nothing. That is true when it comes to property rights, contract law, etc. for married women. But it doesn't mean that killing women was legal, married or not. You are making invalid analogies.
2Tyrrell_McAllister12y
The wikipedia page also says that Emphasis added. How is legal blood revenge consistent with the interpretation of murder as nothing but an economic debt owed to the family? ETA: Besides which, even if murder were only bad because of the financial loss to the extended family, murder would still be bad. Giving a reason why murder is bad isn't to say that murder is not bad.
-1taw12y
Your paradigm blinds you to reality. There was no "murder", no "guilt", and no "penalty", and no "legal reparation" (in narrow modern sense) anywhere here. These concepts make no sense in such cultures. Intentional killing is treated identically to a common accident. For another example - killing own babies was extremely widespread, not even condemned in any way [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infanticide] in most cultures including pre-Christian Rome. It was just as casual as abortion is today. Or killing family members who disgraced your family in any way (your judgment) is widely praised in many cultures [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor_killing]. You might be confused by historical record, as cultures without centralized states and legal systems it brings tends to lack writing as well - so most of our records come from highly unusual subset of cultures with centrally enforced law, relatively individualistic societies etc.
4Tyrrell_McAllister12y
Your disagreement is with the terminology used in your own cite. But the terminology doesn't matter. If your cite is anywhere in the neighborhood of accurate, then these cultures held that something wrong had happened — that is, some imbalance had occurred that had to be righted — when one person caused the death of another. Perhaps they considered intentional killing to be no worse than a common accident. But another way to say that is that they considered unintentional killing to be just as bad as intentional killing. If the cultures you want to use for your argument left sparser evidence, then that means that you should be less confident about your interpretation of the moral thinking that was behind the written laws that they did leave behind. In fact, you have a greater burden of proof than your interlocutors. You are saying that a culture that left less evidence was different in a particular way from most of the cultures for which we have better evidence, whereas your interlocutors are saying that the less-evidenced culture was probably about the same in this particular way. That means that your hypothesis is more complicated, and so a priori less likely.
3Vladimir_M12y
taw: You're right about this. Attitudes towards infanticide vary greatly between cultures, and in many cultures, both past and present, the recognized authority of the senior family/clan members has included the power to enforce their will, and the standards of behavior, by threats of death against the subordinate family members. But again, all this always happens within a legal structure with clear rules about what constitutes unlawful killing, and serious penalties for those who kill unlawfully. This legal structure may have the form of unwritten folk custom, but people living under it are no more capable of ignoring it than the citizens of modern states can ignore the codified criminal laws. (In fact, even less so, since many laws nowadays are enforced only sporadically or not at all, and flouted widely and openly.) You don't have to reach for misty prehistory, or even for particularly exotic and remote parts of the world, to find examples of traditional societies where the formal state-enforced law is largely irrelevant. For example, there are still ongoing clan blood feuds in some places in the Balkans, specifically in parts of Albania [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4273020.stm]. These examples show a huge problem with informal revenge-based folk justice, namely that vengeance for individual killings can easily escalate into out of control clan warfare. Yet all this only goes to show how serious a transgression it is.
4Tyrrell_McAllister12y
You were to provide an example of a culture where murder without cause wasn't generally undesirable. But instead you pointed to a cultural that quantified exactly how undesirable they considered murder to be. It looks like they imposed pretty heavy fines, especially for the murder of those with high status. So they must have considered the murder of such people to be pretty undesirable.
4JoshuaZ12y
Note that that continued until Christianity was still pretty popular. Thus, there were specific rules about the weregild for clergy members.
2taw12y
Impact of Christianity was very shallow at first, and limited to social elites. It took something like century or two for it to really replace previous norms.
1prase12y
Game players usually evolve some sense of honour which avoids them breaking the rules, and although they know the rules are arbitrary, they aren't willing to change them at any moment. If more frequent breaking of the rules is what you fear.
6Kaj_Sotala12y
I wish my mother had used this strategy, instead of the completely arbitrary-sounding "this is just the way you are to do things" which just caused a counter-reaction.

Grownups have already learned the reason to follow the rules: it's what society expects, so your life will be easier and you will be able to accomplish more if you follow them. But for the most part they learned it by osmosis, intuition, and implication--as you presumably did when you grew up--because nobody made it explicit to them, either. I think that most people don't explain this to their kids because they don't understand it themselves; they've never verbalized the reason, so they're just passing on the social pressure which worked for them.

The sad thing about this is not only that it leads to parroting "courtesy" without real understanding. It's that without being able to articulate the purpose of the social contract in general, one can't evaluate the reasons for specific clauses within it. When they seem arbitrary, they're difficult to remember, and even more difficult to respect. Consciously examining the structure allows you to see patterns in it (e.g. if X is rude, putting someone in a position where they must do X is also rude), as well as compare their implied goals against your actual goals.

For example, there are a few situations where I consider a clear und... (read more)

2wedrifid11y
Wrong. It's an idiotic game. Makes no sense at all.
1RichardKennaway11y
Eh? On looking it up [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopscotch] [1], it seems about as sensible as any other children's game. It encourages dexterity and fitness, it's spontaneously played by children, and it only needs a stick of chalk and a pebble. Whence this burst of antipathy to a game mentioned only in passing? [1] It was played when I was a boy, but in the culture I grew up in, it was exclusively a girls' game. I never figured out what the rules were just from seeing it played in the street.
3HonoreDB11y
You know what children's game is wrong? Elbow Tag [http://familyfun.go.com/playtime/elbow-tag-game-708021/]. It requires a large group, but at any given moment, only two people are actually playing. If the chasee is faster than the chaser, there is an equilibrium state that lasts until the chasee has mercy on the rest of the group and voluntarily lets someone else play...but even if that happens, since the new chasee is rested and the chaser is the same, you're normally back in the same boat. Ugh. I have no idea what wedrifid has against hopscotch, but I empathize with the sentiment.
0RichardKennaway11y
So the game teaches how to have cooperative fun. This is a feature, not a bug.
1wedrifid11y
It sounds like it is a game that mostly allows people to demonstrate superior status by proving how inconsiderate of others they can get away with being. I consider that a bug. I have more respect for games in which people can gain status by proving how skilled they are at said game. (There are other ways to flaunt the ability to be inconsiderate and attention seeking that don't waste game playing time.)
0HonoreDB11y
Don't all games do that?
0RichardKennaway11y
As does life itself. But different situations teach different aspects of a lesson in different ways.
2DilGreen12y
I think that this quote misses an important point - and am in agreement with Academician. Although the particular social etiquette habits of different cultures vary widely, many of them serve similar, underlying purposes. Kurt Vonnegut makes my case beautifully, and as gently as always in 'Cat's Cradle'. Without going into the plot, there is a 'holy man' (actually, a rationalist in an impossible situation, IMHO); followers of this holy man, when they meet each other, undertake a ritual called "the meeting of souls" (or similar) :- they remove their shoes and socks, and sit down, legs extended, foot to foot. Abstract: Ritual forms of social etiquette are human and beneficial (if not essential): the form that they take is non-essential. There is a higher order of information in this than in the assumption that all rituals are simply arbitrary game-playing.

'One day, Korzybski was giving a lecture to a group of students, and he interrupted the lesson suddenly in order to retrieve a packet of biscuits, wrapped in white paper, from his briefcase. He muttered that he just had to eat something, and he asked the students on the seats in the front row, if they would also like a biscuit. A few students took a biscuit.
"Nice biscuit, don't you think," said Korzybski, while he took a second one. The students were chewing vigorously. Then he tore the white paper from the biscuits, in order to reveal the original packaging. On it was a big picture of a dog's head and the words "Dog Cookies."
The students looked at the package, and were shocked. Two of them wanted to vomit, put their hands in front of their mouths, and ran out of the lecture hall to the toilet.
"You see," Korzybski remarked, "I have just demonstrated that people don't just eat food, but also words, and that the taste of the former is often outdone by the taste of the latter."'

(R. Diekstra, Haarlemmer Dagblad, 1993, cited by L. Derks & J. Hollander, Essenties van NLP (Utrecht: Servire, 1996), p. 58)

I think of this as a rationalist parable and not so much a quote. It has a lot of personal resonance since I often had dog biscuits with my tea when I was younger.

3sketerpot12y
Speaking of Korzybski, does anybody have a concise summary of his ideas? Maybe some introductory material? I looked over the wikipedia article on General Semantics [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_semantics], and I'm still not entirely sure what it's talking about.

I did a little reading about General Semantics after running into it in SF like Frank Herbert's; my general take on it is that it's an extended reminder that 'the map is not the territory' and that we do not have access to any eternal verities or true essences but only our tentative limited observations.

Exercises like writing in E-Prime remind us of our own fallibility. We should not say 'Amanda Knox is innocent' (who are we, an omniscient god judging her entire life?) but 'Amanda Knox likely did not commit that murder and I base this probability on the following considerations...' (note that I don't hide my own subjective role by saying something like 'the probability is based on').

(I've never found E-Prime very useful because I've always been rather empiricist in philosophy outlook and aware that I should always be able to reduce my statements down to something referring to my observations, and I suspect most LWers would not find E-Prime useful or interesting for much the same reason. But I could see it being useful for normal people.)

In this specific anecdote, the students are mistaking map for territory. The biscuit is perfectly good to eat as dog food is produced to pretty sim... (read more)

3pjeby12y
I personally think of it as a tool, not unlike "lint" for C programmers. It shows things in your code (speech) that may contain errors. To put it another way, if you know how to spot what isn't E-Prime in a sentence, you can dissect the sentence to expose flawed reasoning... which actually turns out to be a pretty useful tool in e.g. psychotherapy. Whether or not RET (rational-emotive therapy) and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) directly derive from General Semantics and E-Prime (or their logical successor, the linguistic meta-model [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meta-model_%28NLP%29]), modern psychotherapy is all about map-territory separation and map repair.
4erratio12y
Extremely short version: it's a load of crap Slightly longer version: He taught that you should never refer to things in general terms or else you'll confuse the map for the territory. For example, the chair I'm sitting in now is chair^1, the identical chair across the table is chair^2, there's chair^1 as I'm eperiencing it now, chair^1 as I experienced it last night, and so forth. Oh and you should try to avoid the use of the copula "to be" because it encourages sloppy thinking (i'm not sure how, just paraphrasing what I remember)
5NihilCredo12y
You didn't make it sound like a load of crap: it reminds me of the idea of using Lojban, or even better a formal logic system, for everyday speech. Impractical, but it would avoid a ton of misunderstanding, or spilled blood for that matter.
5erratio12y
I'm a big fan of Lojban in principle, even more so after studying it in depth for a paper I'm writing, but I just don't think it's possible to significantly affect thought through language. That's why General Semantics is a load of crap to me - being anal retentive with language is just going to annoy the heck out of everyone involved, and nothing else. There's a good reason why natural language is so vague.
8DSimon12y
Of note is that Lojban doesn't fall into that chair trap in particular. I can easily talk about "le stizu" the same way I use "the chair" in English. More literally, "le stizu" means "the particular chair(s) which in context I'm obviously referring to". Lojban is all about using context to reduce unneccessary verbiage, same as a natural language. The big difference is that the ambiguity in Lojban is easier to locate, and easier to reduce when it becomes necessary. (Also, if I really did need chair^1 and chair^2 for some reason, I can just talk about "le stizu goi ko'a" and "le stizu goi fo'a", then later use just "ko'a" and "fo'a" for shorthand).
1erratio12y
One of the more interesting things I noticed in Lojban is that the underlying structure is this awesome predicate logic, but the way it's actually used by most people is very similar to other natural languages, just with some nifty tricks stolen from programming to supplement it. Would it bother you if I PMed you with some questions about the stuff I'm working on? I've spent as long on Lojban as I had time to (read: not long enough) but I'm worried I might have gotten the details wrong, or missed something even niftier that deserves an example
1rastilin12y
I don't have much experience with Lojban but the news that people use it in a similar way to current languages wouldn't surprise me at all. I've noticed that a great deal of misunderstandings happen when one side is being vague on purpose because they don't want to give up too much information.
1DSimon12y
Go ahead, though you should be aware that I am far from an expert on Lojban. I also recommend the FreeNode #lojban channel, they've always been friendly and helpful whenever I've stopped by.
7wedrifid12y
I was about to upvote this but then I realised I wasn't in the right thread [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2sl/the_irrationality_game/] for that! I couldn't disagree more strongly. Our thoughts are fundamentally affected by which concepts are easiest to express given our language primitives. You can control how people think simply by altering which concepts are permitted as base level representations even if everything is permitted as a construct thereof. In the same way people will think differently when they are writing in C than when they are writing in LISP even though technically everything that can be done in one can be done in the other (or in Brainfuck or Conways Life for that matter).
6nerzhin12y
Really? A claim like this needs some evidence. George Orwell novels don't count. I recommend Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, which clarifies to what extent language can influence thought.
9wedrifid12y
I never read it. I understand there were pigs involved. I liked Pinker when I read other stuff of his but I haven't got to that book yet.. Now, back to thinking about good modularity and DRY while writing OISC [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OISC] machine code. (In case my meaning was not clear, let me be explicit. You made the response "A claim like this needs some evidence" to a comment that actually referred to evidence. Even if you think there is other, stronger, evidence that contradicts what we can infer from observing the influence of language on programmers it is still poor conversational form to reply with "needs non-Orwell evidence".)

I apologize for poor conversational form.

Let me try again, hopefully more nicely: You made a very strong claim with very weak evidence.

You claimed our thoughts were fundamentally affected by our language, and that someone can control how people think by tweaking the language. Your evidence was your own sense (not a paper, not even a survey) that people think differently when writing in a different programming language.

If you have more evidence, I would really like to see it, I am not just saying that to score points or to make you angry.

7wedrifid12y
I refer not to my own sense so much as what is more or less universally acknowledged by influential thinkers in that field. That doesn't preclude the culture being wrong, but I do put Paul Graham [http://www.paulgraham.com/avg.html] on approximately the same level as Pinker, for example. While Pinker is an extremely good populariser and writes some engaging accounts that are based off real science, I've actually been bitten by taking his word on faith too much before. He has a tendency to present things as established fact when they are far from universally agreed upon in the field and may not even be the majority position. The example that I'm thinking of primarily is what he writes about fear instincts, regarding to what extent fear of snakes (for example) is learned vs instinctive. His presentation of what has been determined by primate studies is, shall we say, one sided at best.
6erratio12y
Seconded. Reading him is a good method of learning how to resist the Dark Arts, since he's pretty good at writing persuasively.
4NancyLebovitz12y
I've heard more than once from people who are fluent in more than one language that they feel as though they're a different person in each language.
6NihilCredo12y
It's a fairly [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_Determinism] extensive [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapir%E2%80%93Whorf_hypothesis] subject [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_and_thought]; I doubt you'll settle this within a comment thread. With regards to whether it is possible to deliberately use language to alter everyday thoughts, we know Orwell's Newspeak was based on at least one [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LTI_-_Lingua_Tertii_Imperii] real-life example (and I can think of a couple of similar tricks being employed right now, but this could verge into mind-killing territory).
1wedrifid12y
You have made me quite curious...
4wedrifid12y
Fair points, and using the term control does make the claim sound a whole heap stronger than 'are influenced' does. (Although technically there is very little difference.)
6sfb12y
I guess you are referring to Newspeak, which is in "1984" whereas pigs are in "Animal Farm". If you wish to read either, (George) Orwell's writings and books are available online for free (I don't know what the copyright situation is) here: http://www.george-orwell.org/ [http://www.george-orwell.org/]
5wedrifid12y
My point was that I was not referring to anything by Orwell, having read none of his works. Thankyou for the link. I suppose I wouldn't be doing my nerdly duty if I didn't read Orwell eventually. Even though from what I've seen the sophisticated position is to know what's in Orwell but to look down your nose at him somewhat for being simplistic.
1erratio12y
I disagree with you at least as strongly, but since I have a deadline to meet I'll have to leave it at that.
0wedrifid12y
Understood.

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."

— Marcus Aurelius

5Document11y
I've just been advised that he probably didn't say that [http://threeshoutsonahilltop.blogspot.com/2011/06/marcus-aurelius-and-source-checking.html] .
4Document12y
Is there a general name for that shape of argument? It or something close to it seems to be a recurring pattern. * "People who can manage their lives will, despite MMOs." [http://www.reddit.com/r/gaming/comments/dno73/i_decided_to_take_the_time_today_and_figure_out/c11korw?context=1] . (People who lose time playing MMOs are bad at managing life, so they would've lost the time anyway.) * "There's only two possible outcomes for their relationship. They split, or they stay together forever. If it's split, then the sooner it happens the better for everyone. If it's stay, then my meddling won't matter." [http://community.livejournal.com/clinic_duty/34995.html]. * "No one you would want to meet would find you boring." [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2q7/open_thread_september_2010_part_2/2opy?c=1&context=2] . (Edit: removed opening "also".)
5jimrandomh12y
I've never heard a name for that, and it ought to have one. How about "the predestination fallacy"? They all seem to start with the assumption that something will go the same way no matter what, then conclude that therefore, pushing it in a bad direction is okay.
3gjm12y
It's not always a fallacy. Examples: 1. You're trying to achieve some objective, and the difference between achieving it and not achieving it swamps all other differences between credible outcomes. It may then be rational to assume that your desired objective is achievable. (You have nasty symptoms, which can be caused by two diseases. One will kill you in a week whatever you do. One is treatable. If it's at all difficult to distinguish the two, you might as well assume you've got the treatable one.) 2. You're trying to achieve some objective, and you know it's achievable because others have achieved it, or because the situation you're in has been crafted to make it so. It's rational to assume it's achievable. (There's an example in J E Littlewood's "Mathematician's Miscellany": he was climbing a mountain, he got to a certain point and couldn't see any way to make progress, and he reasoned thus: I know this is possible, and I know I've come the right way so far, so there must be a hidden hold somewhere around there ... and, indeed, there was.)
2Document10y
It looks like it's called Morton's fork [http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Morton%27s_fork].
3NancyLebovitz12y
False dilemna [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma]. Also false dicholomy or possibly black and white thinking.
0b1shop12y
Disjunctive reasoning. I liked the example in this post [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2g1/what_intelligence_tests_miss_the_psychology_of/].
0Document12y
Calling it fake or selective disjunctive reasoning might describe it, I guess.
0b1shop12y
Can you think of any possibilities the good emperor didn't mention?
0Document12y
Also: * The phrase "the people who mind don't matter and the people who matter don't mind". Similarly, the phrase/meme "haters gonna hate" (edit: although that usually has further information implied). * Possibly the saying that if you're worried you might be crazy, it proves that you're not. (Although the problem with that could have more to do with taking your conclusion and adding it back to the evidence pile, ala One Argument Against an Army.) * "And people do stupid things no matter what -- beer or grass or whatever are all incidental to that central fact." [http://craphound.com/littlebrother/Cory_Doctorow_-_Little_Brother.htm]. That's fits under "predestination fallacy", but possibly not the concept I was originally thinking of, which was something like "argument by subtly-flawed categorization". * "If I lied the first time, I'm not going to tell you the truth just because you ask twice." [http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5782108/7/Harry_Potter_and_the_Methods_of_Rationality] . I'll edit this post with any further examples. Last edited 2010/11/07.
2Document12y
For the first two "then"s, the conclusions seem plausible but far from the only possible ones if the possibility of (knowable) gods were taken seriously. It sounds like saying that if you live under an unjust government, you should act like it doesn't exist until you get arrested, rather than either accepting it or trying to fight it.
2[anonymous]12y
As Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher king, I get the feeling this quote is in the context of the gods being unknowable. The unjust government, on the other hand, is here and knowable.
0Document12y
Were there people who advocated worshipping unknowable gods?
3[anonymous]12y
Arguably. The main one I could find was this: Though I remember at least once being told that God's "mystery", that is, the inability to figure him out, understand him, or be absolutely certain he's there, was part of a reason to worship him.
0Document12y
Since St. Augustine was a Christian, I don't think he fits. By "knowable" I meant something like "we can identify an action that they're more likely to regard as worship than as blasphemy, thereby making the question of whether to worship them relevant". I'm uncomfortable with my use of the action/inaction distinction there, but I'm going to leave it. Alternate interpretation of the Marcus Aurelius quote: It illustrates how far thoughts fit ideals [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/05/far-thoughts-match-values.html]. Regardless of whether he took gods seriously, they were distant enough that he could make grand moral claims without worrying about living up to them.
1[anonymous]12y
For the first two "then"s, the conclusions seem plausible but far from the only possible ones if the possibility of (knowable) gods were taken seriously. It sounds like saying that if you live under an unjust government, you should act like it doesn't exist until you get arrested, rather than either accepting it or trying to fight it.
0[anonymous]12y
Also, is there a general name for that shape of argument? It or something close to it seems to be a recurring pattern. * "People who can manage their lives will, despite MMOs." [http://www.reddit.com/r/gaming/comments/dno73/i_decided_to_take_the_time_today_and_figure_out/c11korw?context=1] . (People who lose time playing MMOs are bad at managing life, so they would've lost the time anyway.) * "There's only two possible outcomes for their relationship. They split, or they stay together forever. If it's split, then the sooner it happens the better for everyone. If it's stay, then my meddling won't matter. In fact, if they survive it, it might even make their bond stronger." [http://community.livejournal.com/clinic_duty/34995.html]. * "No one you would want to meet would find you boring." [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2q7/open_thread_september_2010_part_2/2opy?c=1&context=2] .
[-][anonymous]12y 31

Philosopher: Can we ever be certain an observation is true?

Engineer: Yep.

Philosopher: How?

Engineer: Lookin'.

Scrollover of SMBC #1879

3AdShea12y
I'd say a good engineer would reply: No observation is true, but truth doesn't matter if it works.
7sketerpot12y
In that case, I'd say you're using a much too binary definition of "true". I'm sure this has been posted a dozen times before, but it seems relevant: "When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together." -Isaac Asimov
2AdShea12y
Exactly the sort of quote I was looking for. The philosopher is asking about absolute truth, the engineer only cares about finding parameters for a model of reality that works well enough for what you need it to do.
0Tiiba12y
Sssso there AR threeeeeee Hariats. Toldem so Oh god, my head. **Note: the dupes are on purpose
0Tiiba12y
Sssso there AR threeeeeee Hariats. Toldem so Oh god, my head. **Note: the dupes are on purpose
0[anonymous]12y
Sssso there AR threeeeeee Hariats. Toldem so Oh god, my head. **Note: the dupes are on purpose
[-][anonymous]12y 30

To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it--the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.

... "But," says one, "I am a busy man; I have no time for the long course of study which would be necessary to make me in any degree a competent judge of certain questions, or even able to understand the nature of the arguments."

Then he should have no time to believe.

--W. K. Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief."

3RobinZ12y
The first line was previously posted in a Rationality Quotes without context or full citation [http://lesswrong.com/lw/20y/rationality_quotes_april_2010/1up5?c=1] - I consider the additional material sufficient value-added to justify the duplication.

We live in a world where it has become "politically correct" to avoid absolutes. Many want all religions to be given the same honor, and all gods regarded as equally true and equally fictitious. But take these same people, who want fuzzy, all-inclusive thinking in spiritual matters, and put them on an airplane. You will find they insist on a very dogmatic, intolerant pilot who will stay on the "straight and narrow" glidepath so their life will not come to a violent end short of the runway. They want no fuzzy thinking here!

-- Jack T. Chick

I'm continually amused by the abundance of quotes here on LW from sundry wingnuts and theists, some of which are quite good. We've had Jack Chick, Ted Kaczynski, CS Lewis (howdya like that reference class, Lewis), GK Chesterton, and that crazy "Einstein was wrong!" guy.

Maybe being a contrarian in anything whatsoever helps one to break through the platitudes and cached thoughts that ordinary folks seem to bog down in whenever they try to think.

There's also a certain fun challenge in looking for jewels among the fecal matter. Rationalist aphorisms by Voltaire or Russell are a regular feature of their writing, and have been quoted in books and articles for decades or centuries, but a pearl of wisdom by a fideist is a tough find and most likely unknown to other LW readers.

Heh. Of all goddamn things to be a hipster about, "rationality quotes" has got to be one hell of a weird choice.

There's also a certain fun challenge in looking for jewels among the fecal matter.

Do that with the writings of Space Tetrahedron Guy, and then all further Ultimate Space Tetrahedron Documents will have a header text SPACE TETRAHEDRON THEORY IS ENDORSED BY NIHILCREDO.

8CronoDAS12y
In the game "Alpha Protocol", one of the characters is a conspiracy theorist. When he sends you an email about the Federal Reserve (which, according to him, is deliberately engineering a financial crisis so the banks can foreclose on all the houses and get everyone's property), you can respond by quoting Time Cube at him. Which makes him like you more.

No, they don't want a dogmatic and intolerant pilot. They want an empirical pilot who trusts his observations and instruments and uses them to make the best judgement regarding how to operate the plane.

On the other hand, a dogmatic, absolutist pilot who is absolutely sure as to the best way to land the airplane under all conditions, ignores his instruments, weather conditions and data from the control towers, and never listens to his flight crew... is a recipe for disaster.

Dogmatic absolutists mistake observation, skepticism, tolerance and empiricism for "fuzzy thinking". They don't realize that their own thinking is the very opposite of scientific thinking- which is based on observation, not fixed dogmas.

0Apprentice12y
I agree! And I think atheist writers, in their worst moments, fall into the same trap.
3Paul Crowley12y
Could you give an example?
1Apprentice12y
Well, the obvious one is the Dawkins quote on the airplane, already treated in ways I agree with by SilasBarta. More generally, I am troubled by atheist attacks on the idea of religious tolerance - Sam Harris says it's "driving us toward the abyss". I mean, really, if you find yourself nodding along to a pro-intolerance rant from Jack Chick then maybe you want to ask yourself some questions. Even so, I, like Sam Harris and Jack Chick, think that Islam is awful and needs to be resisted. Edit: Bleh, this comment came out wrong - it's more condescending than helpful. The subject is probably too complicated to deal with here. Basically I think religious tolerance has a fairly good track record and I'd want to be very careful in tinkering with it.
3Paul Crowley12y
I agree with your last sentence. But I don't think you've provided an example of any of these writers doing any of the things attributed to "dogmatic absolutists" in N_MacDonald's last paragraph.
-8Dragonlord12y

Compare:

Show me a cultural relativist at thirty thousand feet and I'll show you a hypocrite.

-- Richard Dawkins

1SilasBarta12y
I was about to stand and applause, until I realized... Let's say I like flying, I like the earth's ecology, I think large-scale flying is killing the earth's ecology, I think my individual flying is not capable of making a difference to the planet's ecology, and I think technologically advanced cultures capable of sustaining commercial human flight only appear superior because they're able to offload the costs of their advancement to the rest of the earth's population [1]. And I'm at 30,000 feet. Am I a hypocrite? Worse, am I Richard Dawkins, once you clip of the last item on the first paragraph? [1] Not my actual beliefs. Except one.

I think you may have misunderstood the point Dawkins was making. It wasn't "if you're in an aeroplane, you aren't entitled to denigrate the society whose achievements made that possible". It was "If you're in an aeroplane, you aren't entitled to claim that all truth is relative, because the fact that the aeroplane stays in the air is dependent on a very particular set of notions about truth, which demonstrably work better than their rivals -- as demonstrated by the fact that our aeroplanes actually fly."

Some context that may be helpful.

8SilasBarta12y
Okay, point taken. But to nitpick, that sounds more like epistemological relativism than cultural -- though he can be forgiven for not expecting his audience to be sensitive to the difference. And the context makes it clear too.
2Tenek12y
Well, Jack doesn't want any thinking at all, so I'm not sure if that's better or worse than fuzziness.
1wedrifid12y
That guy would've gone through hell in high school unless he was really good at sport. :P
4billswift12y
Or really funny. When I was in school I know I thought those little booklets were hilarious.
1wedrifid12y
Err... booklets? Am I missing something here? Oh, are you talking about airplane flights?
6arundelo12y
"Chick tracts are short evangelical-themed tracts created by American publisher Jack Chick. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chick_tract]"
1wedrifid12y
Ahh, thanks. I don't think we ever got those here.

Ooh, they are insane. You can read many or all of them online. This one ("Dark Dungeons") is a favorite of mine.

Edit: As mentioned in the Wikipedia article, an earlier version of "Dark Dungeons" (the one that was my introduction to Chick tracts a couple decades ago) listed C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as occult authors whose books should be burned.

4sketerpot12y
No link to chick.com is complete without mentioning these two things: Dark Dungeons with MST3K-style snarking. [http://www.fecundity.com/darkdung/index.html] This really improves it. Lisa, which is no longer published or archived on the Chick Publications web site. [http://sites.google.com/site/sketerpot/] It has some... interesting ideas about how one should deal with people who rape children. (Everything is okay after five minutes of prayer! No need to report it to the police! Lalala!) There are some other great Chick tracts, but those are the cream of the crop.
4gjm12y
And also the famous Who will be eaten first? [http://rubbersuitstudios.com/ptcct.htm] which, for the avoidance of doubt, is not really by Jack Chick.
3wedrifid12y
That's brilliant. :P
8NancyLebovitz12y
I have a notion that the Chick flavor of Christianity is trying to set itself up as the monopoly supplier of fantasy.
2AngryParsley12y
Jack T. Chick draws religious comics called Chick tracts [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chick_tract].
1NihilCredo12y
Wouldn't surprise me if he'd been home-schooled.
5DilGreen12y
from a European perspective, and simultaneously from the perspective of one who sees most state-sanctioned educational approaches as almost comically counter-productive, the idea that appears common in the US, that home schooled = fundamentalist christian parents is confusing. Many home educators in europe are specifically atheist.
3NancyLebovitz12y
As far as I can tell, "home schooled = fundamentalist" is American left-wing nonsense. In fact, while many home-schoolers are fundamentalist, there are a slew of motivations. Some home schoolers think that conventional schooling is a bad environment for learning. Some have children with special needs. Some live in isolated areas. Some are religious, but not pathologically so.
0NihilCredo12y
Depends on which parts of Europe, I guess. I am told that homeschooling is relatively common in the British Isles, but in the countries I am familiar with (Italy, Sweden, to a lesser degree Germany and Belgium) it ranges from unheard-of to extremely unusual.

The singularity is my retirement plan.

-- tocomment, in a Hacker News post

This sounds like a bad idea.

This sounds like a bad idea.

It does, but mostly for the same reasons that cryonics does. It's a violation of Common Sense and Sensibility. But given the beliefs that tocomment has (emphasis: not mine!) it is the wise decision for him to make. He has just bitten the bullet and actually followed through from his stated beliefs with (token verbal support of) the rational conclusion.

I think tocomment has his predictions about the future miscallibrated and has probably not accounted for his own cognitive failure modes but I suspect that people would judge him to be 'unwise' almost completely independently of whether or not they share his premised beliefs.

Basically, I think we (that is, humans) are likely to judge him as naive and foolish because he is actually acting as though his beliefs should relate to his pragmatic choices.

By way of some illustration:

  • A mainstream 'retirement plan' is probably making the same 'putting all your eggs in one basket' mistake that tocomment makes. It is by no means certain that the structures and circumstances that make conventionally wise retirement plans will remain in place. There are perhaps other more fundamental actions that should be taken to
... (read more)
5SilasBarta12y
You know, that actually sums up my concerns regarding saving. I think that: Within the next 30 years, a singularity and major economic upheaval are each much more likely than any kind of "business as usual" situation for which IRAs were intended. I also think that money (at least USD) will be of much less value to me when I'm 60. And yet I contribute anyway, and only have about 8% of current USD value of my savings invested in a way appropriate for one of those scenarios. Now, I've gotten a bit better: I stopped maxing out the 401k (i.e. putting 25% of pre-tax earnings in it), and I'm keeping a car loan I could pay off. But if I were really serious about this, I should empty most of the account, and put it in something else, even though this will incur a big penalty.
3wedrifid12y
Wow. I was the one that initiated this line of reasoning and even so I took a double take at seeing that
1SilasBarta12y
Elaborate.
2wedrifid12y
I'm just noting that while it makes sense in context I don't usually expect to see "Now, I've gotten a bit better ... I'm keeping a car loan I could pay off." The irony appeals.
2SilasBarta12y
LOL good point. 99.999% of personal finance discussions, it's supposed to work out the opposite.
2RichardKennaway11y
What would the something else be?
1wedrifid12y
Brilliant. And if they did make it into a tshirt (as per reply) I'd quite possibly buy one!
5NihilCredo12y
Appropriate, since it's about as wise as the average T-shirt slogan.
3wedrifid12y
On the other hand some t-shirts are a source of true wisdom [http://www.zazzle.com.au/i_heart_nerds_tshirt-235278809186219917]! ;)
5Will_Newsome12y
(I is going to get started on setting up the Less Wrong store with User:Kevin starting in a week or two, after which we'll be able to sell awesome LW-related shirts like this.)
4thomblake12y
Good, I was afraid I was the only one who'd started calling him "User:Kevin" after seeing Clippy do it.
7Will_Newsome12y
By the way, I will definitely design an "Escape your closing parenthesis." t-shirt.
7Cyan12y
Must repost [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1sa/things_you_cant_countersignal/1n9u?c=1&context=1#comments] :
1curiousepic12y
Where will proceeds go?
0Will_Newsome12y
Not sure yet... I think the largest functionality will be selling rationality-related books and the like, pre-vetted by rationalists, with reviews, and all in one place. I'm not sure if we can get bulk pricing, and there's not much incentive to buy books from the LW store if you can get the same from Amazon. What I wanted to do was set up a checkout system where you can choose your price beyond a certain minimum, where proceeds will go to your choice of one of a few rationality-related charities listed (potential candidates being FHI, SIAI, Richard Dawkins Foundation, et cetera). At some point I'm going to dig through my old files and find my original proposal, then modify it and post it in the discussion section here at LW. I'll ask for proposals and request ideas/critiques. That'll probably be in a week to three from now.
4wedrifid12y
Did you consider just using Amazon Affiliates? If I recall one of the options would just allow you to set up a completely independent website, send the orders through them and take a cut. Charging more is also possible. Obviously you don't get anywhere near as much money as if you did it all yourself but you would need to be passing a LOT of inventory to make that hassle worthwhile. And if you do end up making large numbers of sales then you can transition to handling the orders yourself if it happens to be worth it.
1Will_Newsome12y
Huh, Affiliates seems to have changed since I checked it out a few months ago, or maybe I misunderstood it back then. Thanks for the tip.
2wedrifid12y
From memory there are actually a variety of different options. Ranging from 'link to us and get a cut if your readers convert to sales' through 'they will not even know Amazon is involved' and even the option of actually owning your own stock and using Amazon to handle storing and distribution. (None of this is as cheap as making some business connections and private arrangements. But it's a heck of a lot easier!)
0Document12y
I have no actual information on how well that will work (it seems like it would), but that phrase triggered a memory for me of an xkcdsucks post [http://xkcdsucks.blogspot.com/2010/02/xkcd-store-update.html]: I'll try to ignore that bias and evaluate the store neutrally when it's up. This post may be noise.
1Douglas_Knight12y
This is a bit tangential to your point... That may well not be true. I doubt that there's an easy route to send small amounts of money to most bands (unlike charities). Here [http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2009/03/reminder-why-theres-no-tipjar.html] is a tech-savvy author turning away tips from readers, out of fear that they're pirating his books. And he does have free books that might elicit a tip.
3Document12y
Interesting. I just found Cory Doctorow expressing a similar view here [http://craphound.com/littlebrother/Cory_Doctorow_-_Little_Brother.htm]: In his case, he's apparently set up a system for readers to buy copies and have them donated to libraries.
-2[anonymous]12y
Not sure yet... I think the largest functionality will be selling rationality-related books and the like, pre-vetted by rationalists, with reviews, and all in one place. I'm not sure if we can get bulk pricing, and there's not much incentive to buy books from the LW store if you can get the same from Amazon. What I wanted to do was set up a checkout system where you can choose your price beyond a certain minimum, where proceeds will go to your choice of one of a few rationality-related charities listed (potential candidates being FHI, SIAI, Richard Dawkins Foundation, et cetera). At some point I'm going to dig through my old files and find my original proposal, then modify it and post it in the discussion section here at LW. I'll ask for proposals and request ideas/critiques. That'll probably be in a week to three from now.

Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; for every one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already possess.

Rene Descartes.

0[anonymous]12y
Ha! That's very clever and nicely phrased. (And true, sadly.)

One of my mentors once gave me a list of obvious things to check when stuff doesn't work. Funny, years later I still need this list:

  1. It worked. No one touched it but you. It doesn't work. It's probably something you did.

  2. It worked. You made one change. It doesn't work. It's probably the change you made.

  3. It worked. You promoted it. It doesn't work. Your testing environment probably isn't the same as your production environment.

  4. It worked for these 10 cases. It didn't work for the 11th case. It was probably never right in the first place.

  5. It worked perfectly for 10 years. Today it didn't work. Something probably changed.

edw519, Hacker News, on debugging.

I always need that list, too.

5sketerpot12y
That one is counterintuitive, but true surprisingly often. Maybe not most of the time, but more often than you might think. And it picks the worst times to be right, let me tell you. Especially if it reveals a mistake in the math underlying everything you've been doing.... The solution, I suppose, is to learn to enjoy rewriting.

On the same theme as the previous one:

I've begun worshipping the sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the sun. It's there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, a lovely day. There is no mystery, no one asks for money, I don't have to dress up, and there is no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the sun and the prayers I formerly offered to "God" are all answered at about the same 50-percent rate.

George Carlin

Either the prayer is answered, or not, so the odds must be 50%, right? :)

2wedrifid12y
From this I infer that Carlin errs somewhat on the side of pessimism. Optimal habits of thought will tend to produce the kind of positive attention and focus that prompts prayer in cases that are actually less than 50% likely to occur.

Prompted by the discussion of Sam Harris's idea that science should provide for a universal moral code, I thought of this suitable reply given long ago:

[The] doctrine of right and wrong is perpetually disputed, both by the pen and the sword: whereas the doctrine of lines and figures is not so, because men care not in that subject what be truth, as a thing that crosses no man's ambition, profit, or lust. For I doubt not, but if it had been a thing contrary to any man's right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square, that doctrine [would] have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)

(It also provides for some interesting perspective on the current epistemological state of various academic fields that are taken seriously as a source of guidance for government policy.)

2torekp12y
The continuing controversy over well-established facts of evolution, even though the threat they pose to religious leaders' dominion is very indirect, would seem to prove Hobbes right.

"You can always reach me through my blog!" he panted. "Overpowering Falsehood dot com, the number one site for rational thinking about the future--"

  • Zendegi, by Greg Egan (2010)

Go ahead, down-vote me. It's still paradoxically-awesome to be burned in a Greg Egan novel...

4NihilCredo12y
What is the context of the quote? Is the OF.com guy a total dolt, an arrogant twat, a cloud cuckoolander, or what?
6Risto_Saarelma12y
Found a couple of [http://reviews.media-culture.org.au/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=4147] semi-spoilery [http://gareth-rees.livejournal.com/31182.html] reviews for Zendegi. Apparently it has stand-ins for Robin Hanson and SIAI as foils for the authorial message.
3Kaj_Sotala12y
Thought this was worthy of its own thread in Discussion so interested people won't miss it: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/2ti/greg_egan_disses_standins_for_overcoming_bias/ [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/2ti/greg_egan_disses_standins_for_overcoming_bias/]
1gwern12y
Oh, I see - the ref is to 'Overcoming Bias.com'. For a moment I was confused because overpoweringfalsehood.com doesn't work and I didn't see any URL in your profile and I thought you were talking about you being burned and not all of us.
0MC_Escherichia12y
Someone's snapped it up now: http://whois.domaintools.com/overpoweringfalsehood.com [http://whois.domaintools.com/overpoweringfalsehood.com]
2gwern12y
And not by someone who intends to use it for good, it seems. (Only now do I realize that 'overpoweringfalsehood.com' isn't that bad a domain name.)
6iongantas12y
That depends entirely on whether 'overpowering' is a verb or an adjective.
2gwern12y
So... you're saying it would be a perfect replacement domain for timecube.com?
0Vladimir_Nesov12y
Same applies to 'overcoming' of 'overcoming bias'.
2MC_Escherichia12y
"Overcoming" doesn't really work as an adjective.
5[anonymous]12y
My goodness, that bias is quite overcoming, wouldn't you say?
7MC_Escherichia12y
No, nobody would ever say that.
1Vladimir_Nesov12y
Seems so, 79000 results for "is quite overpowering" compared to 1800 for "is quite overcoming".
1[anonymous]12y
I realize. It was a joke to even see if it sounded like it fit.
0[anonymous]12y
I would.

If I close my mind in fear, please pry it open.

-- Metallica

"Ideas are tested by experiment." That is the core of science. All else is bookkeeping.

6Will_Newsome12y
Hm, how about... Beliefs are justified by their Solomonoff-nature. That is the core of Bayesianism. Science is bookkeeping.
4NihilCredo12y
It bothers me that "bookkeeping" is given a disparaging tone.

That's because it's easy to misvalue assets if you're disconnected from the production process. So when you have specialized bookkeepers, others will typcially see them as ignorant of the true value of the assets, and associate this with bookkeeping per se, rather than bookkeeping with a screwy incentive structure and/or knowledge flows. Because this is the context in which most people interface with accountants, they tend to be associated with misvaluing assets. And thus:

"Beancounters didn't think a soldier's life was worth 300 [thousand dollars]." -- Batman Begins

Edit: Sorry, I forgot to translate all that: P(observe "accountant" | believe accountant misvalued assets) > P(observe "accountant" | ~believe accountant misvalued assets)

...

...

...reason #7 I love LessWrong: when they want to improve audience comprehension, people have to translate from English to mathematical formulas instead of the reverse.

6RomanDavis12y
If I could just recruit another equally capabler soldier for $ 299,000 or less with no ill consequences, then this seems like a shut up and multiply situation that accountants are trained for. Hell, from a utilitarian perspective, if I saved a single soldier with that money instead of feeding and housing let's say, 300 African children for 10 years, then I made a stupid decision. I think the accountant got things just about right.
4SilasBarta12y
Good point, bad example -- that's probably a case where accountants have the best knowledge of the costs of losing a soldier, and the generals are best capable of communicating it. The military also provides a certain payout to the family for a death. Still, I find it hard to believe that there aren't some US soldiers for which it's worth spending 300k for the level of protection that a high-tech kevlar bodysuit provides. Special Forces goes to pretty insane lengths to provide protection, although perhaps the $300k unit cost would only be with a bulk discount, etc. (Of course, it's fictional evidence anyway...)
1RomanDavis12y
Usually military personnel who have received expensive enough training to justify that are called officers, but there are definitely some exceptions. I wouldn't disagree. And, now that you mention it, I could imagine the pay out being expensive enough that not paying the money would flatly irrational, but I don't know the number.
3SilasBarta12y
I don't either, but the most it could save would be the soldier's life value times the current risk of death (i.e. assume the bodysuit prevents all deaths), not the full life value. And, although Lucius Fox is potrayed as a smart man, the context makes it seem like he was comparing $300k to the cost of a life, without adjusting for the chance that it would actually save the life.
1komponisto12y
That isn't a counterargument. "Officer" is a (category of) rank, not a job description. A whole lot of actual military "action" work is in fact performed by officers, particularly if it involves high levels of skill. (For example, pilots are usually officers.)
1RomanDavis12y
Yes, they are. But I've never heard a pilot called a soldier. This goes for most jobs performed by people in the O Ranks. I am using Soldier to be interchangeable with Enlisted Man since I've seen and heard it used that way myself. I assumed it was used that way in context, but maybe it wasn't.
1komponisto12y
No, "soldier", at least in U.S. military jargon, means "member of the Army" (as opposed to the other services). The Army chief-of-staff, a four-star general, will refer to themselves as a "soldier".
2komponisto12y
This is very insightful. Upvoted.
2[anonymous]12y
I've never met an accountant I didn't like. The nice thing about bookkeeping is that you have to make your sums come out right.
1wedrifid12y
Nor have I. (But I haven't met enough accountants for this to mean much either way.) I also thoroughly approve of all kinds of bookkeeping, related to science or otherwise. In particular I praise anyone else who takes care of it (so that I don't have to!)
1Will_Newsome12y
Perhaps because it is easy to ritualize bookkeeping? I think to remember that is to keep within the spirit of the twelfth virtue, the void.
0gwern12y
I see it as disparaging because I regard it as something a computer ought to be doing. If a human is doing bookkeeping and they aren't doing it for a reason like 'to practice' or 'to understand better', then something is very wrong.
3NihilCredo12y
Just because something is a job for computers does not mean that it's not a critical job.
0gwern12y
Maintaining a nuclear core at a constant temperature is a very critical job, but I would regard as a dystopia any world where all cores are so maintained by a human and not a microcontroller.
4NihilCredo12y
We are in agreement on that. My point is that the quote "everything else [in scientific rigor] is bookkeeping" conveys the idea that it's not important, not that it isn't a human's job.
0wedrifid12y
"Testing" needs to be replaced with a new term if you are moving to that level.
2Will_Newsome12y
Changed to 'justified' 'cuz that's the first thing that came to mind...
1wedrifid12y
That works. I was tossing up "evaluated" or "weighed" but nothing sprung to mind that was a clear winner.

God, grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.

-- adapted from Reinhold Niebuhr

Is this a piece of traditional deep wisdom that's actually wise?

I think the local version would be something like, "May my strength as a rationalist give me the ability to discern what I can and cannot change, and the determination to make a desperate effort at the latter when remaining uncertainty allows that this has the highest expected utility."

1wedrifid12y
(Where leaving out or replacing 'strength as a rationalist' makes the quote a whole lot more appealing to me if nobody else. Heck, even the jargon term 'luminosity' would feel better.)
1[anonymous]12y
That was beautiful. :)

God grant me the strength to change the things I can,

The intelligence to know what I can change,

And the rationality to realize that God isn't the key figure here.

0xamdam12y
Cute, but you just undermined "strength" :)

What I like about the serenity prayer (at least the way I interpret it) is that it puts the priority on changing things; serenity is just a second-best option for things that are unchangeable.

In that respect, it's like a transhumanist slogan. With something like life extension, I want to point to the serenity prayer and say we can change this, which means we need to have the courage to change. Death at the end of the current lifespan isn't something that we should serenely accept because we can change it. The serenity prayer calls for courage and action to follow through and make those changes.

Part of the difficulty is that the wisdom to know the difference also requires the wisdom to change your mind. Once people accept that something cannot be changed, then their serenity-producing mechanisms prevent them from reconsidering the evidence and recognizing that maybe it really can (and should) be changed.

If I was going to alter the serenity prayer, that's one thing I'd add. In Alicorn's version, that means the strength as a rationalist to distinguish what I can and cannot change, and to update those categorizations as new evidence arises.

Friends, help me build the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to continually update which is which based on the best available evidence.

6arch112y
Er, how about the wisdom to know whether a thing should be changed in the 1st place?
2wedrifid12y
A good point... although I would remove the 'should' and instead emphasise the coherence and self awareness to know which things I want.
3James_K12y
I think it genuinely wise, it contains three related important concepts: 1) You should try to make the world a better place, 2) You shouldn't waste your effort in attempting 1 in situations when you will almost certainly fail, 3) in order to succeed at 1 & 2 you need to be able to understand the world around you, a desire, to affect change isn't enough. The only thing that's missing form it is something about having the insight to distinguish good changes form bad ones.
3wedrifid12y
Not quite. You want to consider the expected value of the attempt, not the raw probability of success. A 0.1% chance of curing cancer or 'old age' is to be preferred over an 80% chance of winning the X-Factor (particularly given that the latter applies to yourself). It would definitely be foolish to waste effort attempting something that will certainly fail.
0James_K12y
I agree with your qualifications, I was oversimplifying. And the reason I didn't say certainly fail because I try to avoid using the word "certain" unless I'm dealing with purely logical systems.
1wedrifid12y
A worthy goal. Usually that will prevent you from making claims that are technically wrong despite being inspired by good thinking. This seems to be a rare case where defaulting to not using an absolute introduces the technical problem.
0James_K12y
Just an indication that one should avoid absolutes: even an absolute directive to avoid absolutes ;)
1soreff12y
I don't think that is actually implied by the original wording. Clippy could also view as wise, though in vis case, "the things I cannot change" would be closer to "the resources I am unable to apply to paperclips". One can't expect too much specificity from a 25 word quote... I'm taking your point (which I agree with) as meaning that one should have the insight to distinguish instrumental subgoals that actually will advance one's ultimate goals from subgoals that don't accomplish this. (This is separate from differences in ultimate goals.)
1James_K12y
That all sounds right to me.
0[anonymous]12y
Yes.
0Scott7870412y
Except for the God grant me part, yeah.
-4xamdam12y
I think Mike Vassar said something like "you should not have preferences over the current states of the world, only over your emotional dispositions". It's a second-hand quote, but seems like a good way of putting it.
0Document11y
Are you sure you don't have his comment backwards [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1yi/the_scourge_of_perversemindedness/1sqx]?
-2xamdam12y
I didn't expect much karma for this, but WTF with the downvote?
3gwern12y
Because the quote seems to be endorsing wireheading, which is pretty universally condemned here, and seems of little relevance anyway.
2xamdam12y
As far as the false suspicion of wireheading [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2t0/rationality_quotes_october_2010/2rhg?c=1], I am not sure about the attitudes here, but isn't it just a value? I mean I don't think I am interested in wireheading, but if someone truly thinks it's for them, why would we condemn? I thought the forum is about being rational, not about a specific set of values.
6wedrifid12y
Your point is valid. Where it does make sense to call another's choice to wirehead a mistake (rather than just a difference in values) is when that person thinks that wireheading is what they want but they are actually mistaken about their own values or how to achieve them. It is a little counterintuitive but even though values are entirely subjective people are actually not the absolute authority on what their subjective preferences are. Subjective preferences are objective facts in as much as they are represented by the physical state of the universe (particularly that part of the universe that is the person's head). People's beliefs about that part of the universe and the implications thereof can (and often are) wrong. This particularly applies to abstract concepts - we aren't very good at wiring up our abstract beliefs with rest of our desires.
0xamdam12y
Absolutely. In a way we owe this understanding to Freud, he popularized the notion that people do not know what they are really pursuing. Of course he thought they were pursuing sex with their mother...
1wedrifid12y
Could we instead say "this understanding is predated by Freud's popularized notion..."? There is no debt if the concept is arrived at independently and this is a general philosophical point that is not limited to humans specifically while Freud's is proto-psychology.
2wedrifid12y
+(-1) Did Vassar really say something like that? I didn't think he was, well, silly.
0gwern12y
I didn't either; fortunately, no source has been presented, so I don't need to believe he said that and can postulate that he actually said the opposite or was engaged in criticizing such a position.
7LucasSloan12y
I can confirm he said something like it. However, what he meant by it was that our emotions should be keyed to how we act, not how the universe is. We should be rewarded for acting to produce the best outcome possible. We don't control what the universe is, just our actions, so we shouldn't be made to feel bad (or good) because of something we couldn't control. For example, if we imagine a situation where 10 people were going to die, but you managed to save 5 of them, your emotional state shouldn't be sad, because they should reward the fact that you saved 5 people. Equivalently, you shouldn't really be all that happy that a thousand people get something that makes them really happy when your actions reduced the number of people who received whatever it is by 500. Just because the people are better off you shouldn't be emotionally rewarded, because you reduced the number who would be happy. If the best you can make the universe is horrible you shouldn't be depressed about it, because it isn't good to increase the amount of disutility in the universe and doesn't incentivize acting to bring the best situation about. Conversely, if the worse you can do is pretty damn good, you shouldn't be happy about it, because you shouldn't incentivize leaving utility on the table. Basically, it's an endorsement of virtue ethics for human-type minds.
2xamdam12y
Thanks, that is a deeper understanding than I got from it second - hand (though I did not think it meant wireheading). I understood it to warn having and reacting to false sense of control, which I often see, "accepting that there are (many) things you cannot change".
1wedrifid12y
I've got no problem with being happy that a thousand people get a bunch of utility (assuming they are people for whom I have altruistic interest). I would not be glad about the fact that I somehow screwed up (or was unlucky) and prevented even more altruistic goodies but I could be glad (happy) that some action of mine or external cause resulted in the boon for the 1,000. I have neither the need nor desire to rewire my emotions such that I could unload a can of Skinner on my ass.

In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

-- Bertrand Russell

(Quoted, in Italian translation, on p. 174 of Amanda Knox's appeal brief.)

9Alicorn12y
Why does something called a "brief" have 174-plus pages?
4Mass_Driver12y
[Dictionary.com] As a member of the legal profession, all I have to add is that "summary of the facts of the case" isn't quite right; better would be "summary of the law that applies to the facts of the case." The term passed from ecclesiastical law to civil law because the applicable civil law is an authority on what a judge should do in much the same way that a papal proclamation was thought of as an authority on what Catholics should do.
1NihilCredo12y
I just got the urge to paraphrase Duke Leto Atreides: "A rationalist lawyer would be formidable indeed."
2Mass_Driver12y
Flattery will get you everywhere.
0komponisto12y
Interesting; thanks. In the Italian system, as I understand it, the first level of appeal remains concerned with the facts of the case, in addition to the applicable law -- so "summary of the facts of the case" would actually be more appropriate than usual here. (Although the most informative description is probably just "critique of the lower court's ruling".)
3komponisto12y
Ha -- you'd have to ask a member of the legal profession. (No doubt you could think of a few other questions while you were at it.) In fairness, however, the document is actually called an atto di appello (literally "act of appeal"). I probably should have just translated it as "appeal document" rather than trying to show off my cursory familiarity with (anglophone) legal terminology.

A neighbor came to Nasrudin, asking to borrow his donkey. "It is out on loan," the teacher replied. At that moment, the donkey brayed loudly inside the stable. "But I can hear it bray, over there." "Whom do you believe," asked Nasrudin, "me or a donkey?"

-- old Sufi parable

The suggestion that designers should record their wrong decisions, to avoid having them repeated, met the following response: (McClure:) "Confession is good for the soul..." (d’Agapeyeff:) "...but bad for your career."

-- Proceedings of the 1968 NATO Conference on Software Engineering

Truth does not demand belief. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing 'Yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up must come down, down, down. Amen!' If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it.

  • Dan Barker

AI makes philosophy honest

-- Dan Dennet

"Because this is the Internet, every argument was spun in a centrifuge instantly and reduced down into two wholly enraged, radically incompatible contingents, as opposed to the natural gradient which human beings actually occupy." -Tycho, Penny Arcade

The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture "This is a pipe," I'd have been lying!

-- René Magritte, on his painting The Treachery of Images depicting a pipe with "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" ("This is not a pipe") written under it

I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and in many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here, and what the question might mean. I might think about a little, but if I can't figure it out, then I go to something else. But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me.

-- Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

You're only as young as the last time you changed your mind.

— Timothy Leary

Ralph: When's Bart coming back?
Lisa: He's not. He thought he was better than the laws of probability. Anyone else think he's better than the laws of probability?
(Nelson raises his hand.)
Lisa: Well, you're not!

— The Simpsons, Season 22, Episode 3, "MoneyBART"

If you state any two propositions abstractly enough, they will appear to be the same because you subsume them under the same generalization. But this does not mean they have anything to do with each other; it means only that you prefer not to see the differences.

William T. Powers

6James_Miller12y
I don't understand the first sentence.

Proposition 1: All matter is composed of four elements: earth, water, air, and, fire, each having an unchanging essence, and the variety of the world resulting from their combinations.

Proposition 2: All matter is composed of about 90 elements (the cutoff depending on how many of the more unstable ones one counts), most of which are created out of hydrogen and helium in stars and their supernovas, and which, in combination, give rise to the different material substances we observe.

More abstract proposition that ignores the differences: all matter is composed of fundamental elements.

Erroneous conclusion: the ancients knew modern science!

Proposition 1: Six thousand years ago, God created the world in six days.

Proposition 2: Everything started with the Big Bang some billions of years ago.

Abstract proposition: The universe had a beginning.

Erroneous conclusion: God created the universe. Scientists just call it the Big Bang because they don't want to admit it was God.

ETA: Further example: anyone saying that all religions are fundamentally the same.

ETA: Proposition 1: Here is a hammer. It drives nails.

Proposition 2: Here is a screwdriver. It drives screws.

Abstract proposition: Here is a tool. It drives spiky metal fasteners.

Erroneous conclusion: A Manchester screwdriver.

Your explanation was way better than your quote.

1Sabiola12y
Thanks! I get it now.
0[anonymous]12y
ETA: Further example: anyone saying that all religions are fundamentally the same.
2Sabiola12y
Voted up, because I don't understand that sentence either. Could someone explain it, with an example if possible?
1gwern12y
http://www.google.com/search?q=reference%20class%20tennis%20site%3Alesswrong.com [http://www.google.com/search?q=reference%20class%20tennis%20site%3Alesswrong.com]
5wedrifid12y
Reference class tennis.

"The conversation eventually turned to the fact that Palanpur farmers sow their winter crops several weeks after the date at which yields would be maximized. The farmers do not doubt that earlier planting would give them larger harvests, but no one, the farmer explained, is willing to be the first to plant, as the seeds on any lone plot would be quickly eaten by birds.
I asked if a large group of farmers, perhaps relatives, had ever agreed to sow earlier, all planting on the same day to minimize the losses. 'If we knew how to do that,” he said, looking up from his hoe at me, "we would not be poor.'"

--Microeconomics, pg 39, Samuel Bowles

What is required is less advice and more information. – Gerald M. Reaven

Found at The Healthy Skeptic.

4RobinZ12y
Cited here [http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/2/1/31] as appearing in Reaven GM, "Effect of dietary carbohydrate on the metabolism of patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus." Nutr Rev 1986 , 44(2):65-73.
[-][anonymous]12y 9

Elphaba, where I'm from, we believe all sorts of things that aren't true. We call it - "history."

A man's called a traitor - or liberator.

A rich man's a thief - or philanthropist.

Is one a crusader - or ruthless invader?

It's all in which label is able to persist.

There are precious few at ease, with moral ambiguities. So we act as though they don't exist.

  • The Wizard of Oz, during the song Wonderful from Wicked

A real-world example of Parfit's Hitchhiker was prominently in the news recently, about firefighters that watched a guy's house burn down because didn't buy a subscription, even though he offered to pay when they arrived at the scene (which I assume means with all the penalties for serving a non-member, etc.). The parallel to PH became clear from this exchange with a writer on Salon:

Yes, he offered to pay, while his house burned. I can’t prove what would have happened, but the FD would probably have had to sue him to gain full reimbursement. ...

A man

... (read more)

I assumed that the firefighters didn't accept the offer to pay them on the spot because that would send the signal to all the other houseowners that they could skip the regular fire department fee and then make an emergency payment when their house catches fire.

8SilasBarta12y
Okay, but that wouldn't be a free ride if the emergency payment were high enough -- the guy wasn't saying, "okay, fine, I'll pay this year's subscription fee -- now will you put out the fire?" He was offering the higher amount (which isn't credible, because the court wouldn't enforce it because if your house is burning, you'll lie, knowing you won't pay, because the court won't enforce ...). (Long ago, I had this image in my mind of a rude, doesn't-get-it guy who didn't buy car insurance, didn't understand car insurance, and then when his car was wrecked, visits an insurance company, expecting a payout. When they don't pay out, he sighs and says, "Fine, how much is a month of coverage? There -- there you go. NOW will you pay for my car?" That's not what's going on here.)
4wedrifid12y
Multiple paragraph parenthesising - nice! An analogy that fits better is that of simple gym membership. "I haven't paid a gym membership for this year but I really want to go to the gym today. How much do you charge?" There is no particularly good reason why the fire putting out service must be a subscription service or insurance model. The ambulance service, at least the one we have here, seems to be practical. You can get a membership. If you don't have one then when you wake up in hospital you'll have a bill to pay. If you needed a helicopter rescue it'll be a big bill.
0rastilin12y
I've been told that the cost of deploying the fire department runs into several thousand; this would be a pretty nasty invoice to get in addition to fire damage. The insurance model makes it easier to pay. Also, in that specific incidence, it wasn't their fire-department. The township was getting fire services from the next station over; not their own. They had to pay monthly fees for this, so without a monthly payment, they wouldn't be convincing those guys to maintain service.
7wedrifid12y
Wow. I just felt a surge of patriotism. I had no idea that sort of system was in place in any first world country. I'm sure it's all Right, True, and Capitalistic but I must say I prefer the system here. In fact, in rural areas (where I grew up) most firefighters are actually volunteers. Those that I knew considered the drastic enhancement to sexual attractiveness to be more than enough payment. ;)
7James_K12y
It's a government-run fire station, so it's not all that capitalistic.
3wedrifid12y
Really? Going for a 'worst of both worlds' approach it would seem. ;) If you are going to make fire fighting a pay for individual service system instead of a cooperation problem handled by central authority and taxation then you may as well at least get the efficiency benefits of competition in private industry. In fact a completely capitalistic organisation with no interest in public welfare would probably not have had a problem like we see in this instance. The organisation would have set up payment contingencies such that they can sell their services at a penalty rate to those who didn't buy according to the preferred subscription/insurance model.
8James_K12y
For some strange reason a lot of US policy in particular seems to fall into the "worst of both worlds" camp ( I would consider their health insurance system as an example). As I'm not an American I don't know why this is the case.
7wnoise12y
Neither do Americans.
[-][anonymous]12y 10

Neither do Americans.

Sure we do. It's all the other party's fault.

1CronoDAS12y
I agree with this statement. Either extreme would probably be better than what we actually ended up with.
4Douglas_Knight12y
Could you give other examples? I certainly accept health insurance and this particular fire department, but I don't think it is a representative fire department. Is the common theme the word "insurance"?
6orangecat12y
"Too big to fail" banks: they profit when their gambles pay off, we bail them out when they don't. Also arguably telecommunications carriers that have quasi-natural quasi-monopolies.
1James_K12y
I'd go along with both of those examples (though the US has a history of corporate bailouts that extends far beyond current events). Also rent control (it has significant perverse effects on rental markets and often hurts the poor). That's not to say other countries don't have their problems, I don't think the US is a uniquely bad policy maker, but there is something about the way the US government makes policy that seems to want to have its cake and eat it too. When they try that it usually doesn't end well.
1wedrifid12y
What little I know of that system scares me.
8James_K12y
I'm an economist and it makes no sense to me at all. It seems almost like someone carefully identified the efforts insurance markets make to mitigate the failures in health markets and then crippled them. I actually have trouble convincing some of my colleagues that I'm serious when I describe the regulatory structure.
6NancyLebovitz12y
Could you expand on the specific details of what went wrong?

The essential problem is the way health insurance works in the US. The basic function of insurance is to protect people from strongly adverse events that would put them into financial distress. Insurance companies have to charge more than an actuarially fair rate for insurance in order to make a profit. This means that it is inefficient to run small or high probability expenses through an insurance scheme. The only reason this happens in the US is the tax deductibility of insurance and the mandates on coverage in some states. This turns health insurance into an inefficient health savings scheme.

Furthermore community rating produces very adverse outcomes. By preventing insurance companies from pricing insurance policies at a different rate for each customer (thus creating an expected profit from each customer), the insurance company has an incentive to refuse cover to high risk people (i.e. those that need insurance the most) or drive them away by making their life a misery every time they try to lodge a claim. To the extent they can't do this it drives low risk people out of the market, which leave them exposed if they suddenly need emergency health care (this is especially ... (read more)

1jimrandomh12y
This idea seems to involve people negotiating their health care expenses with providers directly, which doesn't work. Or rather, it only works for the routine expenses, and not the unexpected ones. Some fraction of health care decisions are made under conditions that are literally "buy this or die", and a large fraction of the remainder are made by people who are in no condition to negotiate, so either some form of collective bargaining, or else direct regulation of prices, is required.
2James_K12y
Not at all. Emergency care is precisely the sort of thing that should be covered by insurance. Equally, there's no reason why the providers of health savings accounts couldn't negotiate rates for their members, if that's a valuable service (in fact many insurance companies offer HSAs at the moment. Though I wouldn't object to the US government forcing hospitals to be more transparent about their pricing.
4komponisto12y
It is very likely that this is an issue of a particular locality and that plenty of places in the U.S. are sane about matters like this. (You'll also note that it made the news, suggesting people may not have realized this kind of thing was possible.) From what I know, it's utterly common for several different fire departments to respond to a single call that happens to be near, even if not in, their specific jurisdictions, and I was utterly shocked to read this story.
5humpolec12y
I see here a Newcomb-like situation, but in the reverse direction - the fire department didn't help the guy out to counterfactually make him pay his $75.
[-][anonymous]12y 8

There is no point in saying that one should not doubt or one should believe. Just to say 'I believe' does not mean that you understand and see. When a student works on a mathematical problem, he comes to a stage beyond which he does not know how to proceed, and where he is in doubt and perplexity. As long as he has this doubt, he cannot proceed. If he wants to proceed, he must resolve this doubt. And there are ways of resolving that doubt. Just to say 'I believe', or 'I do not doubt' will certainly not solve the problem. To force oneself to believe and to

... (read more)
2gwern12y
--Jean le Rond d'Alembert on infinitesimals (as quoted in Mathematics: the loss of certainty, by Morris Kline)

From a hacker news thread on the difficulty of finding or making food that's fast, cheap and healthy.

"Former poet laureate of the US, Charles Simic says, the secret to happiness begins with learning how to cook." -- pfarrell

Reply: "Well, I'm sure there's some economics laureate out there who says that the secret to efficiency begins with comparative advantage." -- Eliezer Yudkowsky

7gwern12y
I don't understand this one. A poetry guy says something practical (and completely unrelated to poetry) is a valuable thing, and Eliezer replies that an economics guy would say something about economics? The message eludes me.
7whpearson12y
My take: Comparative advantage [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_advantage] as I understand it is about specializing and being better off for it (in simplistic terms). So Eliezer is hinting that you should become good at thing X where X isn't cooking and pay for someone who has specialized in cooking to cook for you, and you'll both be better off. Edit: I think he phrased it in the way (Economics laureate etc) as parody and to highlight the appeal to authority in the original (why should a poet laureate, no more than a normal poet or any other person what the secret to happiness was). </ humour destruction through explanation>
0gwern12y
That seems possible... but I don't like the disconnect between the poetry guy talking about increasing happiness and the economics guy talking about increasing efficiency, with no connection given. They aren't the same thing at all, and I'm sure Eliezer understands that better than either of us.
0roland12y
I just saw this. I figured out a food with said qualities: chicken. 1) cheap and healthy 2) fast to prepare if you do it my way: buy chicken hips. wash them and put them into a pan with water, cook for 18 minutes. Eat. They don't taste that good but you can't beat the price and convenience.
0Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
thanks, but no quoting LWers in this post
7RobinZ12y
But the quote is from a hacker news thread, isn't it? Would we want to stop quoting Dennett's books if he became a regular here?
0Fleisch12y
Probably not, but you wouldn't (need to) quote what he wrote here. EDIT: Or rather, what he's writing since he's here, unless it's still novel to LW.

Dexter: Dee Dee! I'm confused...

Dee Dee: Good!

Dexter's Laboratory

He was at once a man of thought and a man of action - a combination as rare as it is usually deplorable. The man of action in him might have gone far had he not been ruined at the outset by the man of thought.

-- Rafael Sabatini, "The Sea-hawk"

Marijuana is death on writers. I’ve seen several go that route. Typical behavior for a long time marijuana user is as follows. He gets a story idea. He tells his friends about it, and they think it’s wonderful. He then feels as if he’s written it, published it, cashed the check and collected the awards. So he never bothers to write it down.

Alcohol can have the same effect.

-- Larry Niven

I am momentarily breaking hiatus specifically to say that you don't even need marijuana or alcohol to suffer from this. The normal human capacity for self-delusion and need for self-esteem are more than deadly enough all by themselves.

Personally, I'm still struggling to accept this lesson: that it's not enough to be a smart person who has good ideas; you need to do something that actually works. It is, in its own way, a highly counterintuitive idea, much like this notion that plausibility isn't enough, and beliefs should actually predict experimental results. I keep wanting to protest that I was morally right. Well, say that I was. In order for that moral rightness to change anything, I still need a method that really actually works, not just morally works.

3Paul Crowley12y
I think there are legitimate questions about the advisability of marijuana, but this is a claim for which counterexamples are plentiful. Alan Moore springs to mind. OTOH "you only tell your story once so do it on paper" is also in Dorothea Brandt's "Becoming a Writer".
3Relsqui12y
Funny, I got the same advice sans drugs about NaNoWriMo a while back, and was just passing it on recently to someone else. The way it was put to me, though, was that "you can only tell your story once." Not literally, of course--you can relate what happens in it more than once--but you can only really tell it and put your heart into it once. Don't waste it talking to your friends about the idea. Get it on paper the way you feel it. Then tell your friends the lesser version afterwards, or just wait and let them read what you wrote down.

The line between genius and insanity is measured only by success

-- unknown

3Apprentice12y
Compare:

Therefore, one-box. FOR THE EMPEROR.

2katydee12y
Generally speaking, Warhammer 40k probably isn't a good source for philosophy.

I rate it above Decartes.

8bojangles12y
above "invented analytic geometry" Descartes or just above meditations descartes?
0gwern12y
At least in fiction [http://www.fanfiction.net/s/3886999/1/Shinji_and_Warhammer40k] (quoted approvingly in the past by our glorious leader), Warhammer is great for instrumental rationality...
[-][anonymous]12y 5

Who knows truly? Who here will declare whence it arose, whence this creation? The gods are subsequent to the creation of this. Who, then, knows whence it has come into being?

Whence this creation has come into being; whether it was made or not; he in the highest heaven is its surveyor. Surely he knows, or perhaps he knows not.

Not sure if this will qualify as a rationalist quote, but these are the last few lines from the Creation Hymn in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Hindu sacred texts & estimated to be composed around 1100 BC. I like the note of un... (read more)

7gwern12y
In its original, atheist Carvaka [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cārvāka] writings contained much verse (as Indian philosophy/theology usually does); see http://www.humanistictexts.org/Carvaka.htm [http://www.humanistictexts.org/Carvaka.htm] In translation, they almost sound like senryū [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senryū]: If a beast slain as an offering to the dead will itself go to heaven, why does the sacrificer not straightway offer his father?
7sketerpot12y
Reminds me of the doctrine that some Christians have, where anybody who dies before a certain age automatically goes to heaven, while people above that age can go to hell. The question then becomes: why don't parents kill their children, thus saving them from the all-too-likely possibility of eternal torture? (Fun fact: most people who believe in hell can be made very uncomfortable if you look at the unfortunate implications of what they believe.)
9Desrtopa12y
I was once in a debate in which I pursued that point at some length. I don't think most people who believe in Hell find that particular point more difficult to rationalize than most of their other religious beliefs, but I bring it up because it led to a quote which, while only tangentially relating to rationality, strikes me as pretty memorable. "That seems like an awfully selfish reason not to kill a million babies."
0NihilCredo12y
I once read about a radical Christian sect in the early modern era that would kidnap newborn children, baptise them, and immediately kill them. I'm quite annoyed that I can't seem to remember the source, and particularly whether it was a real or fictional sect.

I do not want to itemize the various fallacies that are commonly offered in seeking to justify cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma. In brief, they mostly proceed by arguing that the Prisoner's Dilemma is really some other game in which cooperation is not irrational. Game Theorists do not object to some other game being analyzed: only to the analysis of some other game being offered as an analysis of the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Ken Binsmore - in a critique of Gauthier's "Morals by Agreement"

Is it through grandmother or grandfather that you descend from a monkey?

-- Samuel Wilberforce

Would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather, or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means and influence, and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion – I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.

-- T. H. Huxley

From an 1860 Oxford evolution debate (Quoted from Games, Groups and Global Good)

(Interestingly, the author, Robert May, after pr... (read more)

2nhamann12y
Oh what the heck, here are two of the problems that Robert May spoke of in the above quote: ...
2gwern12y
Well, now I have to link this DC: http://dresdencodak.com/2009/08/06/youre-a-good-man-charlie-darwin-2/ [http://dresdencodak.com/2009/08/06/youre-a-good-man-charlie-darwin-2/] Not a surprise at all. Most major new paradigms have huge gaping flaws; this is one of the core theses of Paul Feyerabend's brand of philosophy of science in works like Against Method [http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/feyerabe.htm] (eg. look at his analyses of major flaws in Galileo).

The idea that science can, and should, be run according to fixed and universal rules, is both unrealistic and pernicious. It is unrealistic, for it takes too simple a view of the talents of man and of the circumstances which encourage, or cause, their development. And it is pernicious, for the attempt to enforce the rules is bound to increase our professional qualifications at the expense of our humanity. In addition, the idea is detrimental to science, for it neglects the complex physical and historical conditions which influence scientific change. It m

... (read more)
4[anonymous]12y
Actually, no. In the rest of "Against Method" it's pretty obvious that Feyerabend is saying is that since even our methodologies and standards of evidence are paradigm-dependent, none of them really allow us to objectively connect with reality. As a result, epistemology and science are "anything goes"; any standard of evidence is acceptable no matter what it is. So he's closer to a relativist than a rationalist. (Edited for clarity)

My philosophy requires me to believe in the things I can see as well as those I can't see. When any faith contradicts truths that are plainly visible through the window, I believe it invalidates itself.

Serion Ironcroft

3wedrifid12y
That philosophy is not Psyclobin Complete. :)
3RichardKennaway12y
No philosophy survives sticking a crowbar into your own brain.

I don't know - Philip K. Dick seemed to do all right. And I heard of at least one schizophrenic who tried to record the voices in her head on a tape and figured out they weren't real that way.

0thomblake12y
Hmm... The complaint was that Psyclobin (for example, amongst other everyday occurrences) causes one to see things that you should not believe in. I'm not sure where the analogy holds with a crowbar, or else what point you were trying to make. The philosophy does not survive in the sense that it is instantiated in ones brain and the brain has been destroyed. But the crowbar experiment does not thus show that the beliefs thus destroyed are false.
1RichardKennaway12y
The crowbar was a metaphor for psilocybin and the like. I mean, yes, you can have hallucinations that you take for real and are mistaken to believe. But, y'know, there is such a thing as healthy mental functioning, and a real world that we are able to grope towards some fallible understanding of. There's a baseline of rationality that you have to have reached in order to progress to any higher level, but it isn't very high: anyone who hasn't suffered grievous insults to the brain is already there. Anyway, it's interesting to see this quote at -2, while the George Carlin quote is at +2 although it says the same thing. Surely on LessWrong people aren't merely voting up witty words, and nitpicking anything expressed more plainly?
2thomblake12y
Your quote seems to state, "Believe everything you see", on a site where people would often agree "Don't believe everything you think". Carlin does not seem to be making the same sort of claim.
1gwern12y
Shouldn't you believe you see everything you see? If you want to then make wild inferences like 'there is an imperceptible separate "matter" or "object" which "causes" these sights on past and future occasions and which continues to exist between them unobserved, and every sight has a corresponding "matter" or "object"', well, that's not Ironcroft's problem.

(I was amazed this was not on the first three pages of a google search of the site.)

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that."

Richard Feynman in cargo cult science.

0RobinZ12y
It has been mentioned several times, including in April '09 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/bs/rationality_quotes_april_2009/8a6?c=1], but never as a top-level comment on a Rationality Quotes post.

Kids, you tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.

-- Homer Simpson

Freedom is not an immutable fact graven in nature and on the heart of man. It is not inherent in man or in society, and it is meaningless to write it into law. The mathematical, physical, biological, sociological, and psychological sciences reveal nothing but necessities and determinisms on all sides. As a matter of fact, reality consists in overcoming and transcending these determinisms.

...Freedom is not static but dynamic; not a vested interest, but a prize continually to be won. The moment man stops and resigns himself, he becomes subject to determinism. He is most enslaved when he thinks he is comfortably settled in freedom.

Jacques Ellul, "The Technological Society"

The new man of science must not think that the "inquisition of nature is in any part interdicted or forbidden." Nature must be ... put "in constraint" and "moulded" by the mechanical arts. The "searchers and spies of nature" are to discover "her" plots and secrets.

  • Francis Bacon
2simplicio12y
Great quote, but what's with the quotation marks?
7arundelo12y
It looks like this is actually a quote fromCarolyn Merchant's [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolyn_Merchant]The Death of Nature [http://www.amazon.com/Death-Nature-Ecology-Scientific-Revolution/dp/0062505955/] ; only the parts in quotation marks are Bacon's words, taken from "The Great Instauration", "The Masculine Birth of Time", and "De Dignitate".
3RobinZ12y
Confirmed from the linked Amazon.com page by searching the preview for "searchers and spies of nature" (no quotes).
2arundelo12y
That's exactly what I did! (And looked up the sources in the endnotes.)
0Thomas12y
It is the very essence of the negation of the environmentalism. Too rational, too heartless quote for many readers of this page.
4simplicio12y
I interpreted it as a call for experiment, not industry. I could very well be wrong.

I'm above average in talent, but where I think I excel is psychotic drive. All I need is for somebody to say I can't do something and this crazy switch inside me makes me attack whatever I'm doing. Psychotic drive is where I excel over people that are probably more naturally gifted.

-- Will Smith

"Whereas the howto is, by definition, addressed to a lay audience, it currently takes an expert on howtos to know which title in the tangled mass will deliver the goods." ---Dwight MacDonald, 1954

Cited here in an article about recalls of dangerously inaccurate how-to books.

I may not be smart enough to debate you point-for-point on this, but I have the feeling about 60% of what you say is crap.

David Letterman, To Bill O'Reilly, in discussion about the supposed War on Christmas, as quoted in "In Letterman appearance, O'Reilly repeated false claim that school changed 'Silent Night' lyrics", Media Matters for America, (2006-01-04) (From Wikiquote)

0DilGreen12y
I imagine this is getting up-voted here in response to the sentiment, and I'm not going to vote it down. But this approach is more often used by deists against rationalists, and the next step is book-burning.
3aausch12y
This quote, for me, shows two ideas: The I defy the data [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ig/i_defy_the_data/] that khafra mentions below, as well as, on Letterman's side, an ability to accurately detect bs and dismiss it without having spent significant resources on formal debate. That ability seems incredibly useful to me, and definitely worth cultivating. I associate the second idea with the Prior Information Chapter of HPMoR [http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5782108/49/Harry_Potter_and_the_Methods_of_Rationality]
3wedrifid12y
Do deists really go around telling people how unintelligent they are? Around here they tend to be insecure about their intelligence and try hard to act smart. But the intellectual status of religious belief is something that varies by culture.
2khafra12y
I saw it as a real-life example of I defy the data [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ig/i_defy_the_data/].

"[H]e who commands thirty legions is the most learned of all"
Favorinus explaining why he admitted that Emperor Hadrian had won their debate.

"Won't you stop citing laws to us who have our swords by our sides?" Pompey

5James_Miller12y
The second quote explains why even in the United States you shouldn't argue over law with a police officer who is questioning you in a situation in which non-police officers are not observing you. Pompey probably wasn't threatening but rather was pointing out stupidity.
1NihilCredo12y
I suspect Plutarch stole the second quote from Cicero (Silent enim leges inter arma, "for among weapons laws fall silent") before shoving it in Pompey's mouth.
0Mass_Driver12y
Even here, this quote should not be presented with commentary. Some of the greatest tragedies of human history happened because people who commanded thirty legions through luck, birth, or narrow political talents believed that they were the most learned of all and insisted that others act accordingly. Might does not make right (justice); still less does it make right (wisdom/truth).
0James_Miller12y
The value of the first quote to a rationalist comes from understanding that the sentiment behind it has distorted the words of many writers. Favorinus probably believed that Hadrian would not have punished him had he not stated that he lost the debate.

....research is after all, asking the universe silly questions and getting silly answers until neither question nor answer are silly any more

From a discussion of authodidacticism which may be of general interest.

Some wisdom on warm fuzzies: http://www.pbfcomics.com/?cid=PBF162-Executive_Decision.jpg

[Not a quote, but doesn't seem suitable for a discussion article.]

1NancyLebovitz12y
Might this imply that we might still want open threads?

"If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must expect to employ methods never before attempted." --Sir Francis Bacon

From a TED talk about the remarkable low cost inventions being developed in India

"...It is a severe prescription. And yet now, as I grin broadly and wave to the gawkers, it occurs to me that the cold rationality of his approach may be only a surface feature and that, when linked to genuine rewards, even the chilliest of systems can have a certain visceral appeal.
By projecting the achievement of extreme memory back along the forgetting curve, by provably linking the distant future — when we will know so much — to the few minutes we devote to studying today, Wozniak has found a way to condition his temperament along with his memory

... (read more)

[W]hat theory of morals can ever serve any useful purpose, unless it can show, by a particular detail, that all the duties, which it recommends, are also the true interest of each individual?

Hume - An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

[-][anonymous]12y 0

[Sir Humphrey demonstrates how public surveys can reach opposite conclusions] Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?a Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there is lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do they respond to a challenge? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Might yo

... (read more)
[-][anonymous]12y 0

[Sir Humphrey demonstrates how public surveys can reach opposite conclusions]

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there is lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do they respond to a challenge? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Might you b

... (read more)
1NihilCredo12y
I don't see any rationality there, but the site seems a good resource for practising German. (Bilingual webcomic = bite-sized parts, usually fairly simple sentences, pictures provide hints, if still updated it becomes a regular exercise)
[-][anonymous]12y 0

"Desire is the essence of man insofar as it is conceived as determined to any action by any one of its modifications."

Baruch Spinoza

If capitalism is the evolutionary engine that leads to AI, then the advent AI cannot be separated from the larger economic consequences of AI. In my judgment, the single most realistic way to design God-AI that is friendly is to evolve such AI directly out the economy that succeeds human capitalism, i.e. as an economic servant to human needs. While this is not a guarantee of friendly AI in itself, any attempt to make AI friendly purely on the basis of absolute, unchanging principles is doomed to ultimate failure because this is exactly how human intelligence, at its best, does not work.

Mitchell Heisman, Suicide Note p315

7cousin_it12y
Seconding CronoDAS, that's an awful book, but I found one funny sentence in it:
2CronoDAS12y
I looked at that site. The guy writes like a crackpot.
1ikrase9y
Specific quote is a bit reminiscent of Social Justice Warriors who oppose capitalism, but see capitalism as being defined by oppression, inequality, and other bad stuff rather than by capital.
1fubarobfusco9y
... as opposed to Libertarian Warriors who support capitalism, but see capitalism as being defined by freedom of speech, at-will employment, and legalized drugs and prostitution rather than by capital? (Blue, Green, let's call the whole thing ao.)
1ikrase9y
Yeah, kinda. The Battle for Capitalism has always seemed to be a bit unusual here, though. Especially as it kind of looks like he just did try to make an AI with unchanging principles.
1James_K12y
The problem is that understanding the economy is probably harder than understanding human intelligence. After all, the global economy is the product of over 6 billion human brains interacting with each other and their environment.
0gwern12y
What does 'understanding the economy' mean? Routinely economists point out missed opportunities which the market then exploits (IIRC one of the standard examples was a paper which discovered a small average rise on Mondays), or simple models outperform the economists' predictions of the future.
0James_K12y
By "understand", I mean have a sufficiently good model to make high quality predictions about what key economic variables are going to do. And I wouldn't call papers like the one on the Monday effect routine, though they do happen.

"Everything has been said, yet few have taken notice of it. Since all our knowledge is essentially banal, it can only be of value to minds that are not"

Raoul Vaneigem

3Jonathan_Graehl12y
I'm having an extremely hard time understanding this quote. Its premises seem to contradict themselves. How can a mind be original (not banal) if everything has been said and all knowledge is banal? Only the set of beliefs that are actually routinely expressed can be considered banal; no matter if someone else has already said something, if it occurs to me organically, then it's probably useful.
1Pavitra12y
Perhaps data is banal and code may be either banal or non-banal.
0Jonathan_Graehl12y
Yes, that would be necessary for the quote to make sense. However, I call a mind banal to the extent that its output is.
0Pavitra12y
When evaluating the outputs of an algorithm, we have to consider the interestingness of the outputs under various counterfactuals. Otherwise, all game-theoretic agents are equivalent to either Cooperation Rock or Defection Rock, and all probabilities are either 0 or 1. And once you're specifying outputs as a complete truth-table, you're effectively specifying the algorithm. To give a concrete example, I consider the server running lesswrong.com to be a banal mind, because it performs little computation of interest itself, even though when messages are sent from it to my computer those messages often contain very interesting ideas.
1Jonathan_Graehl12y
I see your point. I was presuming a human mind w/ the typical range of experiences available to it.
-1DilGreen12y
The interesting thing about minds is that they are able to produce interesting conjunctions of and inferences from, seemingly unrelated data/experiences. Minds appear to be more than the sum of their experiences. This ability appears to defy the best efforts of coders to parallel. EDIT: This got voted down, perhaps because of the above: it may be worth me stating that I am not posing a 'mysterious question' - the key words are 'appears to' - in other words, this is an aspect which needs significant further work.. I consider almost all code 'banal', in that almost all code 'performs little computation of interest'. Pavitra clearly distinguishes between 'interest' and 'value'. Surely one way of looking at AI research is that it is an attempt to produce code that is not banal?
-1DilGreen12y
The implication is that connections between data are made by minds, and that minds that are not banal can make new and interesting connections between data.
[-][anonymous]12y -1

Desire is the essence of man insofar as it is conceived as determined to any action by any one of its modifications.

Baruch Spinoza