Here's the new thread for posting quotes, with the usual rules:
- Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be voted up/down separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
- Do not quote yourself
- Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB
- No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
On the error of failing to appreciate your opponents' three-dimensionality:
Source: Milton Friedman, "Schools at Chicago," from The Indispensable Milton Friedman
H/T David Henderson at EconLog
Note: The final sentence of the passage, as presented by Henderson, is missing closing quotation marks. I have added them.
(House, MD deals with moral grandstanding)
I checked the numbers on this recently. An average heart transplant costs about 1.1 million dollars, and has a mean survival time of about five years (at a very poor QoL). I think there's a pretty strong case that they shouldn't be done at all.
Kidney transplants have a much better RoI, but they don't require the death of the donor.
The benefit is doubled in the second case, but the investment is much larger (obviously), so RoI is not doubled. In fact, the investment is more than doubled (you have to pay for two transplants instead of one, as well as killing someone), so the RoI plummets.
Does it means "8 people saved (for unspecified time)" or "the saved people gain 8 times as much QALYs as the donor lost"?
AFAIK, the there are some problems with transplanted organs which require repeated medical attention and sometimes a lot of painkillers, so we convert X years of a healthy person to Y years of people with bad health.
On the other hand, a person willing to follow this advice and kill themselves probably suffers from depression, so we should reduce their remaining years estimate by a probability of suicide (other than the specific one recommended in this thread).
You mean by calculation, right?
I mean, if every suicidal person saves the lives of up to eight people who want to live, it might be worth outright encouraging this approach, rather than having suicidal people kill themselves in ways that damage their bodies for this purpose, and then spend effort and money trying to bring them back.
Once a certain number of people is reached, though, there might be a degree of overabundance of organs compared to the needs, and unless you want to make the jurisdiction that allows this some sort of exporter of literal human resources, you should probably stop there.
In which Winnie-the-Pooh tests a hypothesis about the animal tracks that he is following through the woods:
The real irony of the story is a historical context I think most readers these days miss: that when the real Plato paid court to a 'king' - Dionysius II, tyrant of Syracuse - it went very poorly. Plato was arrested, and barely managed to arrange his freedom & return to Athens.
And supposedly Plato was sold into slavery by the previous tyrant.
Another from the same site — on free will:
Damn near every one of them through the systemical implementation of taxation?
Robert Anton Wilson
Therefore, the first and most important duty of philosophy is to test impressions, choosing between them and only deploying those that have passed the test. You know how, with money--an area where we believe our interest to be at stake--we have developed the art of assaying, and considerable ingenuity has gone into developing a way to test if coins are counterfeit, involving our senses of sight, smell, hearing, and touch. The assayer will let the denarius drop and listen intently to its ring; and he is not satisfied to listen just once: after repeated listenings he practically acquires a musician's subtle ear. It is a measure of the effort we are prepared to expend to guard against deception when accuracy is at a premium.
When it comes to our poor mind, however, we can't be bothered; we are satisfied accepting any and all impressions, because here the loss we suffer is not obvious. If you want to know just how little concerned you are about things good and bad, and how serious about things indifferent, compare your attitude to going blind with your attitude about being mentally in the dark. You will realize, I think, how inappropriate your values really are.
Epictetus, Discourses I.2... (read more)
It is somewhat amazing to me that there are people who much less concerned about their ability to recognize false reasoning than their ability to recognize counterfeit currency. It seems pathetically obvious to me that sloppiness in the former, meta level would tend to be expensive at the latter, object level - for example, you end up with people placing their trust in tools like iodine pens to detect counterfeit notes when almost no evidence exists that such a measure is effective.
-Sennett Forell, Foundation and Empire
-John Maynard Keynes
Traditional pundits are intimidated and frightened by Nate Silver's quantitative analysis. They see their comfy job pandering to the beliefs-as-attire market, with no expectation of accuracy, disappearing if pundits who can actually predict things take over.
edit: This comment, further down the page, explains well.
Exactly. Here is an excellent article elaborating further. (Only quibble is that is was not just Silver; other data-based analysts like Sam Wang and Josh Putnam made essentially the same predictions):... (read more)
A dataset including Wang & Putnam, with scoring of accuracy:
I assume he is referring to the tendency of the media to call a persistent but small lead "too close to call." It's confusing the margin of lead with the likelihood of winning.
Either that, or the tendency of partisan commentators to make predictions for their side that were totally unconnected to state-by-state polling results.
I mean, grain of truth, yes, literally true, no. You can shock the hell out of people and distinguish yourselves quite well by doing rational things.
Paul Krugman says something similar
(Very close to the end of Ricardo's Difficult Idea] )
You can shock many people by doing some rational things - those preselected for not being done by most people already, and also those that are explicitly counter to important irrational things that many people do. And these specific rational actions have an availability bias. Conversely, once something is "normal", it's not a highly available mental example of "especially rational".
But can you really shock many people by doing a randomly selected rational thing? By giving the right answer on a test? By choosing the deal that gains you the most money? By choosing a profession, a friend, a place to live, based on expectations of happiness? By choosing medical treatment based on scientific evidence? By doing something because it's fun?
It might shock people that the choice is in fact rational; they may disagree that the deal you chose will earn you the most money. But when people agree about predictions, why would they be shocked by most rational choices? I think a random (but doable) irrational act is much more shocking than a random rational one.
David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity
While I think there's some truth to this, it's easy for me to come up with examples of things I've done that never made sense to myself.
--Bertrand Russell, "Philosophy's Ulterior Motives". (The context is Descartes' philosophy and the obviously fallacious proofs he offers of the existence of God and the external world.)
Jason Brennan, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know
New Yorker article on David Deutsch
(I saw this on Scott Aaronson's blog)
-Aristosophy. I like to think this is about the Robot's Rebellion.
"Reality Injection Attack" would make a great name for a mathcore band.
-- A dialogue by Philip Gasper
-Paul Graham in The Lies We Tell Kids
I like to be around people who don't constantly emphasize their every word, making it hard to tell when something is actually important. Since swearing is a verbal marker of importance, its casual overuse is like shouting all the time; it's very wearying. And, lest I be accused of rationalising, I do not only apply this to children, but have also asked my wife to cut back on swearing.
As a side note, Americans are very loud, both in the literal sense of putting more decibels behind their voices, and in their over-reliance on swearing. I think you've fallen into the bad equilibrium that comes about when everyone has an incentive to be a little louder than the next guy, and there's no cost to being so.
Nick Cooney, Change of Heart
--Neal Stephenson, In the Beginning Was... the Commandline... (read more)
I would like to upvote the Feynman quote. I am not interested in upvoting the Stephenson quote. I think it would be better if these quotes were in separate comments, as recommended in the post.
I would like to abstain from voting on them, but to do so in separate posts.
You two talk between yourselves so that only one of you upvote the entire comment.
Hasok Chang, Inventing Temperature: Measurement and Scientific Progress
-- Adam Savage
If this were true, the ancient Greeks would've had science.
My impression was that it was the screwing around that was lacking.
-Galen, a Roman doctor/philosopher, on Asclepiades's unwillingness to admit that the kidneys processed urine - despite Galen demonstrating the function of the kidneys to Asclepiades by, well, cutting open a live animal and pointing to the urine flowing from its kidneys to its bladder (search the page for "ligatures" to find Galen's experiment described), among other things.
To say that the Greeks didn't have correct scientific theories is obviously true. To say that they had a methodology that departs from ours is somewhat true. To say that they were merely making stuff up without reference to any observation is to merely make stuff up without reference to any observation.
I could do someone significant bodily harm by hitting them with Aristotle's collected empirical works on the anatomies, reproductive systems, social habits, and forms of locomotion of animals. And I'm not a huge dude.
How would we compare these hypotheses?
9. Scientific advancement requires that in each generation, your culture acquires more knowledge about the world than it loses — and there are a lot of ways for a culture to lose knowledge; among them mortality, library fires, Alzheimer's, censorship, tech bubbles, faddish beliefs or cults, pareidolia, political propaganda, shame, anti-epistemology, language change, revolt of the masses, economic collapse rendering high-tech/high-knowledge trades untenable, superstitiogenesis¹, the madness of crowds, and other noise. In the absence of really good schooling, literacy, anti-censorship memes, skepticism memes, and economic resilience, the noise is likely to dominate the signal, driving cultures back towards subsistence and ignorant superstition — a condition in which beliefs are no more correlated with reality than is needed to keep you alive from day to day. However, the difference is basically quantitative (how much is preserved?) rather than qualitative (some cultures Have It and others Don't).
10. It's just too hard to maintain the technology base for scientific advancement with 1% literacy; there's just too much chance of losing it due to correlated death of the literate class — plagues; king decides to kill all the scribes and burn the books; barbarians invade and do the same; etc.
¹ any process by which new superstitions are created
"Virtue" has a specific meaning in the ancient Greek world which doesn't seem like it's all that relevant here.
The way I would put it is that a clever Greek interested in the natural world became an engineer, and a clever Greek interested in the social world became an active citizen, which is a sort of combination of landlord, lawyer, and philosopher. Archimedes made his living by basically being the iron-punk hero of Syracuse; Plato and Aristotle made their living by teaching young rich folks how to be effective rich adults. A broad-minded citizen should be curious about the natural world, but curiosity is just a hobby, not a calling.
They came impressively close considering they didn't have any giant shoulders to stand on.
Yep. If nothing of what Archimedes did counts as ‘science’, you're using an overly narrow definition IMO.
Naturalism came after science, not before it. Most if not all of the key figures of the Scientific Revolution were devout theists.
Many scientists today are also theists. The actors of the Scientific Revolution successfully compartmentalized their theism. If they had really thought God was likely to modify the results of their experiments to differ from established physical law just to mess around, or that there weren't any regular physical laws, they wouldn't have bothered with science.
I find both the ironic and straightforward meaning of this quote to be meaningful.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter 13
But if my (not a mathematician) friend says that god spoke to him in a dream, and gave him a proof of the Goldbach conjecture, and he has the proof and it's valid, then I would think something more interesting than a typical dream was going on.
Source: Andrew Sullivan in an otherwise fairly bland political post
More often than not it hits you first.
On confirmation bias
If a man objects to truths that are all too evident, it is no easy task finding arguments that will change his mind. This is proof neither of his own strength nor of his teacher's weakness. When someone caught in an argument hardens to stone, there is just no more reasoning with them.
Epictetus, Discourses I.5.1-2 (page 15 of this edition) (original Greek, with alternate translations at the link)
--Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
(This version is from Wikipedia.)
Previously approximated here.
I still habitually complete this joke with:
Though I'm now tempted to add:
"Hmph," snorts the cognitive psychologist. "Such presumption. An event occurred that we experienced as the perception of a black sheep, only one side of which was visible, standing on what we believed to be a field in Scotland."
I've heard a version in which after the mathematician speaks, the shepherd yells “Snowy White [the name of the sheep]! Stop rolling in the mud!”
And the biologist says, "guys, that's a dog"
"Bah", says the thermodynamicist. "All I know is that your brain is in a configuration that makes you say you saw a black sheep a minute ago."
"Meh", says the trivialist. "Scottish sheep are black. Scottish sheep are white. Scottish sheep are black and white. Scottish sheep are purple octopuses. And I don't even need to look out the window."
While everyone else is arguing the pragmatist has googled "Scottish Sheep varieties"
And Robin Hanson sets up a prediction market in Scottish sheep colors.
Source: The Economist's "Babbage" blog, in a post on exoplanets
(Of course, science advances when reality agrees with models too.)
Edited to remove "emphasis added" from the quotation, which I had added originally but have since decided against.
-- The Science of Discworld, Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen
Quote from Peter Watts' Blindsight.
About the prospects of a fight against a superintelligence:
John Maynard Keynes
Previously quoted on LW, but not in a quotes thread. I was reminded of it by this e... (read more)
"His mother had often said, When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action. She had emphasized the corollary of this axiom even more vehemently: when you desired a consequence you had damned well better take the action that would create it." - Lois McMaster Bujold, writer (b. 1949)
I need help on this: I'm torn between finding this argument to be preposterous, and being unable to deny the premises or call the argument invalid.
You are allowed to have preferences about things that don't coexist with you.
It's linguistic trickery, like saying prisoners can't escape because if they escape they're not really prisoners now are they?
I can think of two possible things Epicurus could have meant, one correct and the other incorrect. We don't need to fear the experience of being dead, because there's no experience of being dead. But if we care about saving wild geese, then we should avoid dying, because our dying leads to fewer saved geese.
-- John Allen Paulos(from Beyond Numeracy)
Henry David Thoreau
Charles Mackay from "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds"
--Prime Function Aki Zeta-Five, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
When I am speaking to people about rationality or AI, and they ask something incomprehensibly bizarre and incoherent, I am often tempted to give the reply that Charles Babbage gave to those who asked him whether a machine that was given bad data would produce the right answers anyway:
But instead I say, "Yes, that's an important question..." and then I steel-man their question, or I replace it with a question on an entirely different subject that happens to share some of the words from their original question, and I answer that question instead.
"Men have forgotten God" -> "Men have lost certain beliefs and practices that strengthened social stability, and thus provided (despite their actual falsehood or even ridiculousness) a certain local optimum." ?
I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it. -George Carlin
"I have the same height as the Empire State Building, I just don't tower as many feet from the ground."
-- George Weinberg commenting on Mencius Moldbug, “The magic of symmetric sovereignty”
(Not that I think that's a valid general principle, but I do feel that way about many of the thought experiments I see proposed on LW.)
The Last Psychiatrist bats another one out of the park:... (read more)
Regarding brain architecture.
It was a fairly audacious prediction, that turns out to have been true. I think it's fair to allow Babbage to describe as an analytical engine what we would nowadays call a "computer".
Freeman? That's one of my favorite lines from Blake's "Proverbs of Hell"...
“Must a name mean something?" Alice asked doubtfully.
Of course it must," Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh; "my name means the shape I am - and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
On [the bottom line(http://lesswrong.com/lw/js/the_bottom_line/)/[politics as a mindkiller](http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Politics_is_the_Mind-Killer):
Source: Bill Clinton, in an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (episode date: September 20, 201... (read more)
Transitional species, Winston Rowntree
I couldn't just quote a part of this, as any one good quote would drag half the comic with it. It deserves reading, though.
-related by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion
Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Each morning I go through all my beliefs and randomly flip their truth values, guaranteeing maximal surprise
I used to agree, but that part of my philosophy recently became unsettled.
The Dialogues Between Bokonon and Koheleth
"There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
"The real value of an education has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to ... (read more)
I dislike this quote because it obscures the true nature of the dilemma, namely the tension between individual and collective action. Being "not in one's right mind" is a red herring in this context. Each individual action can be perfectly sensible for the individual, while still leading to a socially terrible outcome.
The real problem is not that some genius invents nuclear weapons and then idiotically decides to incite global nuclear war, "shooting from the hip" to his own detriment. The real problem is that incentives can be aligned so that it is in everyone's interest every step along the way, to do their part in their own ultimate destruction.
Of course, if "right mind" was defined to mean "socially optimal mind," fine, we aren't in our right mind. But I don't think that's the default interpretation.