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  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB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

New Comment
902 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:38 PM
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

On the error of failing to appreciate your opponents' three-dimensionality:

They had cliche answers but only to their self-created straw-men. To exaggerate only slightly, they had never talked to anyone who really believed, and had thought deeply about, views drastically different from their own. As a result, when they heard real arguments instead of caricatures, they had no answers, only amazement that such views could be expressed by someone who had the external characteristics of being a member of the intellectual community, and that such views could be defended with apparent cogency. Never have I been more impressed with the advice I once received: "You cannot be sure that you are right unless you understand the arguments against your views better than your opponents do."

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.

Of course, even in this case, you often cannot be very sure.

If any idiot ever tells you that life would be meaningless without death, Hyperion corporation recommends killing them.

--Borderlands 2

If you don't think your life is more important than someone else's, sign your organ donor card and kill yourself.

(House, MD deals with moral grandstanding)

Is the expected number of people you'd save by doing that actually greater than 1?

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.

Does that include the cost of finding a donor?
There are other estimates available on the web, but I worked off this one: [] Cost of finding a donor is under 'procurement'. As far as I can tell, the immunosuppressant entry only covers the first year of post-transplant care, so factoring in a five-year mean survival time gives the $1.1 million figure I mentioned.
$1.1M was at least an order of magnitude larger than my guesstimate for the price of the transplant itself, so I wondered if that figure included something else. [follows link] OK, the figure for "physician during transplant" was indeed within an order of magnitude of what I expected, but hardly any of the other expenses had even occurred to me.
Correction: the median post-heart-transplant survival time seems to be a little over 10 years now, so the mean is probably close to that.. However, it's important to note that organ transplants aren't performed just before the patient dies of natural causes, so there's overlap between post-transplant survival and the lifespan the patient would have had without a transplant. Case in point: An acquaintance with COPD had a lung transplant, then died a year later of related causes. His condition at the time of the lung transplant wasn't good but wasn't that dire; it's quite possible he would have lived longer and had a better QoL without the transplant. The national registry on solid organ transplants is at [], if anyone wants to do some data mining.
1Rob Bensinger11y
What do you mean by 'shouldn't be done'? Do you mean it's imprudent for an individual to spend that much money on a heart transplant, even though she values her own life? Or do you mean it's immoral for an individual to spend that much money on herself, rather than on greater utility for others? Or do you mean it's imprudent or immoral for medical practitioners and researchers to invest so much time and effort into performing heart transplants and gradually improving the technology? Or do you mean it's imprudent or immoral for the state to fund such efforts? Or do you mean it's imprudent or immoral for the state to permit individuals to purchase heart transplants?
If it's moral for someone to spend that much of their money on a house or a yacht, it's moral for them to spend it on a heart transplant, but it may be a net utility loss for the patient. The first heart transplant was performed 45 years ago. Almost half a century of effort has yielded a state of affairs that could politely be described as 'dire'. Immoral, no, imprudent yes. Yes and yes. The return on investment is appalling. A back of the envelope estimate I did a while ago, IIRC, showed that public health investment had a RoI 6 to 8 orders of magnitude better than organ transplants. I also think it's immoral that the donor's estate is denied even a tiny share of the revenue. See above, re: houses and yachts.
But the RoI for the patient himself is great. You present an argument against publicly funded research into heart transplants, but not against doing them at all.
If the patient is spending her own money, the RoI is still terrible compared to comparable interventions like hiring a personal trainer, diet coach, personal chef, etc. that could have forestalled the need for a heart transplant. Furthermore, the actually existing health infrastructure, particularly organ procurement, is so deeply entangled with the state, that it's difficult to speak meaningfully of strictly privately funded efforts.
Even having purchased all those, a person may need a heart transplant. Genes, disease, accidents, and nurture while young (and unable to choose one's own lifestyle) all strongly influence the eventual need for a heart transplant. So for many people, even a lot of lifetime investment into their health won't mean the RoI on a heart transplant will be bad. Also, at the point where you choose whether to have a heart transplant, the RoI needs to be compared with other things you can do with that money during the time you have left to live without a transplant. If you have a lot of money, and the transplant improves your QALY, then the RoI is likely good.
Why? What's the mean survival time and QoL for people who need a transplant but don't get one? Then by killing the donor, you get two kidneys and twice as much RoI. Is it worth the death yet?
The information is available, but takes time and work to interpret. I gave a link with data. From that page, you can get to [] which provides much more detail. Please consult it, and if you need more, I'm available starting at $100/hr. Point is, these discussions are kind of pointless without quantitative context. If you can give someone 80 years of healthy lifespan for a dollar, few people would object. If you can give someone one day of agony for a billion dollars, few people would support. Most medical interventions fall somewhere in between. Vaccinations are closer to the former, organ transplants closer to the latter. That's not how RoI works.
Why not? The investment here being 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.

Thanks, it's clear to me now. It seems obvious but I didn't understand it correctly the first time around.
What IainM said. RoI is the ratio return/investment. The return is doubled, the investment is (substantially) more than doubled, thus the ratio decreases.
AFAIK yes. Up to 8 people.

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).

And if they don't actually commit suicide but still suffer from depression, or dislike living for any reason so much that they want to die, we should reduce their QALY in the equation.
When do we hit diminishing returns?
Let's find out.

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.

Do you mean saving figuratively? (Also addressed at drethelin who used "save a life".) Heart, lungs, liver, left kidney, right kidney = 5, and that's being generous. Pancreas and corneas certainly improve quality of life, but aren't life savers. For skin grafts there's alternatives AFAIK. Is there a stash of secret organs I'm missing?
You can give a small part of the liver, which grows to a functioning liver in the recipient. Presumably that means that you could get multiple liver transplants from one suicide by organ donations.
Yes, to my knowledge that was only done with living donors, but you are correct: Interestingly, "living donor liver transplantation for pediatric recipients involves removal of approximately 20% of the liver", but you can't just take any 20% unfortunately. If only there were more focused, high-scale, no-holds-barred research efforts on growing organs in the vat, xenotransplants from engineered e.g. pigs, for all of which proofs-of-concept and actual human trials by isolated low-funded groups exist (e.g. artificially grown trachea for a swedish girl if I recall correctly)! We have the technology, as they say, we're just too reluctant to use it.
I have no idea where to find quantified data on average lives saved. Most of the people involved have an incentive to exaggerate.
Up to?
Not all of your organs will be usable or near enough to save a life. A lot depends on the way you choose to kill yourself.
I'd realized as much, but that still left me wondering what actual average "Up to 8" signifies. After allowing for different suicide methods and such, that "Up to 8" might be 8, or it might be something like 1.1. The result of a utilitarian calculation would probably be sensitive to the real world average being ≈8 versus ≈1.
Excellent game BTW. It's better than Diablo 3 at what Diablo 3 is supposed to be (kill-loot-repeat), and it has good and actually funny writing, and passable shooter mechanics.

A Bet is a Tax on Bullshit

Alex Tabarrok

In which Winnie-the-Pooh tests a hypothesis about the animal tracks that he is following through the woods:

“Wait a moment,” said Winnie-the-Pooh, holding up his paw.

He sat down and thought, in the most thoughtful way he could think. Then he fitted his paw into one of the Tracks…and then he scratched his nose twice, and stood up.

“Yes,” said Winnie-the Pooh.

“I see now,” said Winnie-the-Pooh.

“I have been Foolish and Deluded,” said he, “and I am a Bear of No Brain at All.”



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:

"It's my fate to steal," pleaded the man who had been caught red-handed by Diogenes.

"Then it is also your fate to be beaten," said Diogenes, hitting him across the head with his staff.

This works until the king sends armed men to confiscate your vegetables.

Damn near every one of them through the systemical implementation of taxation?



You can dynamite stones as an example to other would be stones.
"Would be". As in, "don't become a stone; if I can't get blood from you I'm liable to blow you up instead".
Which would be a problem if the dynamiter was trying to minimize the number of stones rather than maximizing the amount of blood, I suppose.
But you can destroy the stone, and put something you can get blood from in its place.
Well, you might be bulldozing the whole area.
Maybe you can destroy the stone, but you can't explain moral arguments to it [].
"Once, Chuang Tzu was fishing the P’u River when the King of Ch’u sent two of his ministers to announce that he wished to entrust to Chuang Tzu the care of his entire domain. Chuang Tzu held his fishing pole and, without turning his head, said: 'I have heard that Ch’u possesses a sacred tortoise which has been dead for three thousand years and which the king keeps wrapped up in a box and stored in his ancestral temple. Is this tortoise better off dead and with its bones venerated, or would it be better off alive with its tail dragging in the mud?' 'It would be better off alive and dragging its tail in the mud,' the two ministers replied. 'Then go away!' said Chuang Tzu, 'and I will drag my tail in the mud!'"
Translation recommendation for Zhuangzi? (I've been reading Burton Watson's [].)
Maybe undignified, but my favorite translations are from Tsai Chih Chung's series of manhua interpretations of the Chinese classics, specifically Zhuangzi Speaks: the Music of Nature [] and The Dao of Zhuangzi: the Harmony of Nature [] The kind of formal distance one usually sees in academic translations distorts Zhuangzi's message. The comic book form suits it very well.

Let me differentiate between scientific method and the neurology of the individual scientist. Scientific method has always depended on feedback [or flip-flopping as the Tsarists call it]; I therefore consider it the highest form of group intelligence thus far evolved on this backward planet. The individual scientist seems a different animal entirely. The ones I've met seem as passionate, and hence as egotistic and prejudiced, as painters, ballerinas or even, God save the mark, novelists. My hope lies in the feedback system itself, not in any alleged saintliness of the individuals in the system.

Robert Anton Wilson



"Critically consider the benefits and drawbacks of being in the box?"



I think people tell you that when you aren't as good at the inside the box things as your competitors and need to take a risk to set yourself apart. Thinking outside the box is a gamble, which may be the only shot for someone in a losing position. Of course, that's from a business perspective, where I've tended to hear it more. For a science/truth seeking perspective I'd say "Don't forget to look at the box from outside from time to time."

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.

Currency is binary, either genuine or counterfeit. Ideas are on a continuum, some less wrong than others. Generally, bad ideas are dangerous because there's some truth or utility to them; few people are seduced by palpable nonsense. Parsing mixed ideas is a big part of rationality, and it's harder than spotting fake money.
5Robert Miles11y
A technicality: Officially, currency is binary, but in practice that's not the case. Fake currency that is convincing still has value. A fake dollar bill with a 50% probability of going un-noticed is in practice worth 50 cents (ignoring social consequences of passing off fake money). Fake currency with 100% convincingness is 100% as valuable as real currency (until you make enough to cause inflation).
2Robert Miles11y
Because it's immaterial to the central point. For a high enough level of "convincingness", fake money has significant real-world value.
In most societies this is more than outweighed by the sanctions for using it. As it should be.
You've got to multiply those sanctions by the probability of getting caught, though. (ISTM that robertskmiles is thinking purely CDTically/act-consequentialistically, ignoring acausal/Kantian/golden rule/rule-consequentialist concerns.)
1Robert Miles11y
That's accurate, yes.
Admittedly, there is a certain point where the odds of discovery are low enough that it balances out and can even have a net positive. Those are pretty rare, though - remember that the punishment for discovery usually vastly outweighs the benefit received. And, of course, higher denominations are subject to greater scrutiny.
I remember having a conversation with my mother where she recounted an experience of having a twenty dollar bill examined at a store, and wondering who on earth bothers counterfeiting twenties anyway. I said that if I were going to counterfeit money, that's the denomination I'd pick, because it's the largest bill that most people spend regularly and casually. Hardly anyone seriously examines them, so your chances of getting caught are that much smaller.
Related quote from the Buddha [].

Often a person uses some folk proverb to explain a behavioral event even though, on an earlier occasion, this same person used a directly contradictory folk proverb to explain the same type of event. For example, most of us have heard or said, “look before you leap.” Now there’s a useful, straightforward bit of behavioral advice—except that I vaguely remember admonishing on occasion, “he who hesitates is lost.” And “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a pretty clear prediction of an emotional reaction to environmental events. But then what about “out of sight, out of mind”? And if “haste makes waste,” why do we sometimes hear that “time waits for no man”? How could the saying “two heads are better than one” not be true? Except that “too many cooks spoil the broth.” If I think “it’s better to be safe than sorry,” why do I also believe “nothing ventured, nothing gained”? And if “opposites attract,” why do “birds of a feather flock together”? I have counseled many students to “never to put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” But I hope my last advisee has never heard me say this, because I just told him, “cross that bridge when you come to it.”

The enormous appeal of cliché

... (read more)
Lazarsfeld is also discussed here under []
These aren't exactly opposed - 'out of sight, out of mind' is generally applied to things and problems, not, say, warm relationships. Some of the others aren't exactly opposed either - I've generally heard not crossing a bridge before you get to it referring to trying to solve a problem you anticipate before it's possible to actually start solving the problem.
Really? I've seen it used twice for non-relationship contexts, but too many times to care to count (on the order of 50-80) in the context of long-distance relationships, usually as a warning that a couple should not hope to remain steady and trust eachother if they become far apart for a long period of time (months or more) for the first time since entering a relationship. In fiction, this either turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy or becomes the whole reason the main character can complete the main quest. In reality, the causal influence doesn't seem to be there, but anecdotally I observe that the drifting-apart usually happens regardless of whether any such prediction was made. Knowledge of this leads a significant fraction of couples to break-up preemptively when they're about to enter such a situation.
That's interesting. I'd more seen it used with annoyances. Maybe because I haven't seen much of LD relationships, and those that I did see, worked. And it was clear they were going to work from the outset because they were really serious about each other.
Yeah. The advice applies mostly to "Let's get married when you return!"-style relationships, where the couple met in meatspace, dated in meatspace, became a "couple" in meatspace, and then have to separate for a long period of time and things will all be better once they get back together... all of which often fails horribly. From three data points, it seems like those that survive the first separation might have no trouble with subsequent ones, or at least that the risk of repeat separations is greatly diminished (though if one cheated the first time, they'll likely be cheating the other times too, AFAIK, but that's 1 more datapoint + folk wisdom). 7/7 relationships I've seen that were started in cyberspace, stayed long distance for a while, then met in meatspace, then had to have a long-distance period, all survived (and are still healthy couples to this day as far as I'm aware). Seems like the filtering effect applies long before anyone ever meets eachother for cyberspace-started relationships, especially for long-distance ones.

After all, the essential point in running a risk is that the returns justify it.

-Sennett Forell, Foundation and Empire

A sound banker, alas, is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.

-John Maynard Keynes

Breaking: To surprise of pundits, numbers continue to be best system for determining which of two things is larger.


What is he alluding to? (I don't watch lots of mass media these day, let alone American mass media.)

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):

When we talk about the epistemology of journalism, it all eventually ties into objectivity. The journalistic norm of objectivity is more than just a careful neutrality or attempt to appear unbiased; for journalists, it’s the grounds on which they claim the authority to describe reality to us. And the authority of objectivity is rooted in a particular process.

That process is very roughly this: Journalists get access to privileged information from official sources, then evaluate, filter, and order it through the rather ineffable quality alternatively known as “news judgment,” “news sense,” or “savvy.” This norm of objectivity is how political journalists say to the public (and to themselves), “This is why you can trust what we say we know — because we found it out through this process.” (This is far from a new observation – there are decades of sociological research on this.)

Silver’s process — his epistemology — is almost exactly the opposite of this:

Where political journalists’ inform

... (read more)

other data-based analysts like Sam Wang and Josh Putnam made essentially the same predictions

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.

Many Republican pundits had elaborate theories about how polls were understating Romney's chances in the recent US presidential election, but the results turned out to match polls quite well.
Republicans talking about skewed polls were the most egregious example, but nonpartisan media was generally calling the election "razor tight", "a tossup" and similar things, too. In their case, the reason seems to be an ignorance of how statistics works. E.g. seeing polls with Obama up by 2% and a margin of error of 3, they would label it "a statistical tie", even though a) even with a single such poll, it implies a much higher chance of Obama winning, and b) with many polls giving numbers in that range, the chances of Romney being actually ahead drop to near-zero, barring systematic error.
True, also the media will tend to exaggerate the tightness of any race to make their news more exciting. Who will say up until the wee hours of the morning watching commercials and news, if the outcome is certain?
Assuming the “margin of error” is one sigma, that's a 75% probability of Obama winning, which hardly qualifies as “much higher” IMO. EDIT: Retracted. If, as James_K says [], the margin of error is 1.96 sigma, that's a 90% probability for Obama.
The normal margin of error on a political opinion poll would be 1.96 sigma - a 95% confidence interval (that's how you'd get a margin of error of just over 3 percentage points on a poll of 1000 people.
If you look at the picture it seems to be: Numbers are better than fancy visualsations.

You can't distinguish your group by doing things that are rational and believing things that are true. If you want to set yourself apart from other people you have to do things that are arbitrary and believe things that are false.

Paul Graham


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

(ii) Adopt the stance of rebel: There is nothing that plays worse in our culture than seeming to be the stodgy defender of old ideas, no matter how true those ideas may be. Luckily, at this point the orthodoxy of the academic economists is very much a minority position among intellectuals in general; one can seem to be a courageous maverick, boldly challenging the powers that be, by reciting the contents of a standard textbook. It has worked for me!

(Very close to the end of Ricardo's Difficult Idea] )

Well, it is similar insofar as "reciting the contents of a standard textbook" and "doing rational things" are similar. Mileage varies.
7Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
Krugman's talking about Ricardo's Law in particular, very basic, very old, not disputed so far as I know, and not known to the general populace.

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.

You are correct, but I just want to point out that the original quote talks about distinguishing yourself, not shocking people. And I think most of what you said still applies.
Sometimes, yes, but only along certain dimensions. If your group performs rituals, they can't be rational because then they will be the same as other groups'. For example, the Jewish practice of eating flat bread on Passover is arbitrary [1], but it only works because it is arbitrary. [1] It's not entirely arbitrary if you believe the story of Passover, but that's a somewhat different point. Actually, it may be interesting to examine whether it's rational in that case—I can see arguments for both sides.
Interestingly, group rituals purely for the sake of group bonding needn't be irrational. It's irrational to believe that God is going to punish you if you eat leavened bread during Passover - I am caricacturizing Jewish theology here but the general point is sound - but it can be useful to set a test for group membership, or an action to marks you as part of a group, to help group cohesion. This is particularly useful if you're up against other groups that would like to exploit you and you need as much help as possible to stay together so your group can put up a united front. Arbitrary dietary restrictions seem like a decent way to do that. Not that anyone actually sat down and thought it out like this before deciding that Jews should abstain from leavened bread for a week every spring, or that Mormons shouldn't drink alchohol, and so on. But I think there's value in having an arbitrary ritual explicitly for the sake of group cohesion.
Sure, but that's a lot more difficult. There are so many arbitrary things to do, and wrong things to believe, that they're going to be the default because they're easy.


Partial duplicate []
I think it's still worth leaving up, because the previous post left off the second half of the quote. The quote I posted is more comprehensive.

The inhabitants of Florence in 1494 or Athens in 404 BCE could be forgiven for concluding that optimism just isn't factually true. For they knew nothing of such things as the reach of explanations or the power of science or even laws of nature as we understand them, let alone the moral and technological progress that was to follow when the Enlightenment got under way. At the moment of defeat, it must have seemed at least plausible to the formerly optimistic Athenians that the Spartans might be right, and to the formerly optimistic Florentines that Savonarola might be. Like every other destruction of optimism, whether in a whole civilization or in a single individual, these must have been unspeakable catastrophes for those who had dared to expect progress. But we should feel more than sympathy for those people. We should take it personally. For if any of those earlier experiments in optimism had succeeded, our species would be exploring the stars by now, and you and I would be immortal.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

I think he vastly overestimates the affect of optimism on technological development, vs say population size, disease levels and food supply.
And yet they couldn't even defeat the Spartans or keep Savonarola from taking power.
To be fair, with a general like Napoleon, how could the Spartans lose?
Fixed typo.
Or, more accurately, you and I would be non-existent and some other group of beings would be quasi-immortal.

If I have a Grand Unified Theory Of Everything, it's this: I believe that people always do things that make sense to them. Hard as it is to believe with all the hurting out there, almost nobody hurts others just to be a jerk. So if you want to change human behavior on a grand scale, you can't tell people "stop being a jerk." You have to dissect and then recreate their models of the world until being a jerk doesn't make sense.

Cliff Pervocracy

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.

Fair point. I can't really think of anything I've done that didn't make at least some sort of sense at the time, but I can think of at least one thing I've done where I seriously have to strain to see how it ever could have made sense to me (though I remember feeling like it did). Looking back on it, I feel like I was carrying the idiot ball [].

"Because they were hypocrites," Finkle-McGraw said, after igniting his calabash and shooting a few tremendous fountains of smoke into the air, "the Victorians were despised in the late twentieth century. Many of the persons who held such opinions were, of course, guilty of the most nefandous conduct themselves, and yet saw no paradox in holding such views because they were not hypocrites themselves-they took no moral stances and lived by none."

"So they were morally superior to the Victorians-" Major Napier said, still a bit snowed under. "-even though-in fact, because-they had no morals at all." There was a moment of silent, bewildered head-shaking around the copper table.

"We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy," Finkle-McGraw continued. "In the late-twentieth-century Weltanschauung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception-he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course, most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it's a spirit-is-willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing."


... (read more)
I'm uncomfortable with Stephenson's take here* on hypocrisy because I think it neglects context. His implied analysis holds in the context of a homogeneous culture, but fails badly in a relatively heterogeneous one, and here's why: In a heterogeneous/multicultural society, the moral stances you publically advocate signal a frame for others, who hold different values, to engage with you. They tell others about what topics to avoid in discussion, how to predict your behavior, and so on--generally, how to behave politely and get along with you. In the heterogeneous society, the hypocrite is wasting other people's time, in forcing unnecessary behavioral accomodations on them. *: It's possible that Stephenson was entirely aware of what I'm saying here, since he's describing only the semi-closed neo-Victorians, but those who quote him take the description at face value.
I read that as a point against multicultural society.
The word "multicultural" deserves a better analysis. What exactly is a "culture" (besides that for many people it is an applause light), which parts of culture should we preserve and which are free for optimization, whether we can measure a utility function of a culture and whether that function itself is culture-specific, whether cultures can be extrapolated, how much can human cultures be different, et cetera. The important part is that we are speaking about human cultures, which puts some limit on how different they can be. We should not discuss them as if there is no such limit, as if an arbitrary set of values can be a culture, and each such set is automatically an applause light. To the extent that humans from different cultures can share values, there can be common values even in the multicultural society. And there can be cross-cultural hypocrisy with regards to these common values. In other words, we should not model humans from different cultures as incomprehensible aliens. Funny thing is that there two opposite political reasons to do so. The obvious one: racists/nationalists/etc. try to describe the other people as completely alien, to make it easier to explain why we should avoid them. The more subtle one: politically correct people sometimes also describe humans from other culture as aliens, just to signal how tolerant they are; because tolerance to an alien is more difficult, and therefore more noble, than tolerance to a mere human. In yet other words, the "multicultural" society -- as its greatest proponents and opponents imagine it -- does not really exist. There is just an interaction between different human cultures, which includes a lot of differences, but also a lot of shared values.
As far as I can see, "multiculturalism" is the belief that we should celebrate and encourage diversity because we are all really the same. If one looks at the competing Christological doctrines [] of early Christianity -- Arianism, monophysitism, monothelitism, Marcionism, Patripassianism, Nestorianism, Chalcedonianism, and so on, from a modern atheistic perspective it all looks insane. Even leaving aside one's presumption of the non-existence of the relevant supernatural entities, it still looks like a mass of confabulation accreted like a pearl in an oyster, around a seed of irritation resulting from thinking about how Jesus could have been both a man and God. So, after perusing that section of the Wikipedia page I just linked, look at the first paragraph of Wikipedia on multiculturalism []. Doesn't it look just as insane? Is "a society at ease with the rich tapestry of human life and the desire amongst people to express their own identity in the manner they see fit" any more meaningful a string of words than "the human nature and pre-incarnate divine nature of Christ were united as one divine human nature from the point of the Incarnation onwards"? What would the bishops who argued about the latter at Chalcedon have made of the former? Never mind agreeing or disagreeing with it, what would it even mean?
What exactly is "a society at ease with the rich tapestry of human life"? Am I "at ease" with cultures that have a hobby of cutting small girls' genitalia? Hell no! Does that make me an intolerant racist, or whatever is the most appropriate boo light today? So sue me, or at least make sure I will never get a job at academia! Multiculturalism is an applause light, until you look at specific details. Then it sometimes gets ugly. Of course, to remain "politically correct" you have to stay in the far mode, and ignore all the details. It's easier that way. Just like "desire amongst people to express their own identity in the manner they see fit". Again, if your desire includes a desire to cut small girls' genitalia, then I think those girls deserve to have their opinion heard too. If that is against your sick religion, again, you have the choice to sue me, criticize me in media, assassinate me, or all three things combined. (In a sufficiently "politically correct" society you literally could do all three suggested things, and then have some educated people excuse your actions.) This all is a completely different thing from when people from village X decide to wear robes with red flowers, and people from village Y decide to wear robes with blue flowers. Or if Americans pour ketchup over all their foods, while Asians use the soy sauce. With that kind of culture I have no problems. I also have no problems with folk songs, operas, paintings, or books (assuming those books don't preach something I find repulsive). It is bad that these two things are often mixed together under a wide umbrella of "culture". Then it makes people objecting to genital mutilation seem like brain-damaged bigots obsessing about the right color of flowers on everyone's robes. And that is pretty dishonest. And evil.
To all those claiming that multiculturalism has no downsides [], I would like to point out that "equal time for creationism" sprung from and used multiculturalism; the notion that you can justify anything using religious freedom can and does lead to Bad Things being justified thus. AFAIK no real society is perfectly multicultural, but that's poor implementation; a bug, not a feature. EDIT: I am in favour of all the Good Things that spring to mind when we hear "multiculturalism", and do not advocate the Bad Things associated with opposing it (ie a single monolithic and enforced culture.)
Not outside the US it didn't
Are you saying it didn't happen outside the US or when it did it had some other origin?
The former.
That's false. It happened in 1980 in Queensland, and 1985 in Turkey (the latter continuing to the present). Just a few years ago in Switzerland, many schools had science books that gave equal time for creationism, but it was controversial and ultimately rejected. While a separate issue, many Islamic countries ban the teaching of evolution or teach an "intelligent design" friendly version.
Exactly which multiculturalist do you think are "at ease" with that behavior? Assassination is not really an accepted political move in Western Europe or the US, which are the domains of political correctness. I challenge you to find a recent murder in either region that was not prosecuted by the government authorities for "political correctness" (as opposed to established legal doctrines like insanity).
About as many as there are environmentalists who are "at ease" with the mercury content of compact fluorescent bulbs, while campaigning to abolish incandescents. Female genital mutilation is a cultural practice, but instead of saying that this cultural practice is wrong and should be stopped, which a multiculturalist cannot do, some of them say that "there are cultural and political aspects to the practice's continuation that make opposition to it a complex issue", or that "the ritual of FGM has been the primary context in some communities in which the women come together", or that colonial attempts at eradication constitute "interference with women's decisions about their own rituals", or that "its apparent victims were in fact its central actors". Quotes from Wikipedia []. A multiculturalist could take a different tack and argue that FGM is not a cultural practice, making it permissible to oppose. However, since it is a cultural practice, and is clearly understood and explicitly stated by those who practice it to be a cultural practice, that isn't so easy to maintain. But I doubt impossible; the insanity is not peculiar to philosophers and theologians, but is bred whenever one is obliged to cling to both sides of a contradiction.
On both points: what the flaming Hell are you talking about? Snopes says, [] (Wiki-link added.) See also the information - in particular, the graph of lifetime mercury emissions for incandescent vs flourescent - at []. So the comparison with FGM seems truly bizarre. I also don't think you have the slightest clue what you're talking about when it comes to FGM and multiculturalism -- in particular, I doubt you bothered to follow the link to the Lynn Thomas source. It seems straightforwardly descriptive. Feminists sometimes criticize attempts to impose a ban in African nations because bans tend not to work and may turn this horrific practice into a symbol of resistance to imperialism. I gather people have had more success by talking to mothers about the health risks. So this seems like a fine example of how: *understanding other cultures can help you talk to people and find common values *conservatives talking about feminism or "multiculturalism" often look really stupid.
And yet they have a problem with adding the trace lead amounts of lead to electronics necessary to prevent tin whiskers [].
We are seeing political memes here, standard stories or arguments. First, the mercury in CFLs compared to the impact of incandescents. That one is just plain silly, and hairyfigment cited some good sources. Sure, mercury in CFLs is a matter of concern, but in the real world, we must compare choices until we have better ones. As to Female Genital Mutilation, I have a perspective on it, as I have a daughter from Ethiopia, a place where female circumcision is practiced, and there was some suspicion that she had been circumcised. (Believe it or not, it's not always easy to tell. The ultimate professional opinion was, No.) Is it "mutilation" or is it a "cultural practice" or does it have some other purpose? There are all kinds of variation in the process. But to start, what about "Male Genital Mutilation," i.e., circumcision, which is practically universal in Islam and Judaism? Female circumcision is controversial in Islam, and, apparently, was a pre-Islamic practice that was allowed, the Prophet is reported as saying, "If you cut your women, cut only a little." It was never considered an obligation by sane Muslim scholars. The horror stories that are told about FGM are far, far from a "little." Probably the soundest approach to alleviating suffering here would be education, and that is exactly what is going on in Ethiopia. Someone who imagines that there is some moral absolute here is dreaming. It looks like a cultural absolutism is being suggested. This culture is good and that culture is bad. Personally, I'm horrified by the extreme stories. However, I was also circumcised as a boy, it was routine, and my parents were Christian. And that has gone in and out of fashion over the years. Because my older boys were born at home, they were not immediately circumcised. There were problems, later, and eventually they went through the procedure. And it was a real problem, the doctor botched it. It would have been trivial at birth. Does that mean that boys should be circum
Would you mind describing the Schelling fence [] between those two things.
Policy debates should not appear one-sided []. There are pluses and minuses to multiculturalism. Other cultures have good and bad aspects, and the default for humans is to reject anything out-group, good or bad. So a shove in the direction of the ridiculous caricature of multiculturalism above would generally be a good thing, on the whole.
Compared to what? If you have a sitation, where de facto, severla cultures are under a single politcal authority with a predominant culture, there are only so many things that can happen: 1) The minority culture(s) are physcially expelled--pogroms. 2) Wall are built within the state--apartheid, ghettos 3) The minority cultures are foricibly homogenised or converted 4) The minority cultures are tolerated. I think it is pretty clear that 4 is the least ugly. Even if it needs a little bit of (3) to work. Which is where most of the controversy comes from.
In point 4 you misuse the word pogrom [], while deportation may include pogroms those aren't a necessary feature. And even when violent they often in the long term solve many difficult problems and resolve sources of conflict, see the population exchange between Greece and Turkey []. 5) The multi-ethnic state is broken up along ethnic lines This can occur violently or relatively peacefully [] as in the dissolution of Czechoslovakia or the independence of Slovenia. Other times they are accompanied by violence see the independence of Ireland or Greece or some anti-colonial movements. This was the ideal in large part was behind the self-determination. See also self-determination []. 6) The state is already practically mono-cultural, simply don't allow immigration where the immigrants are unlikely to assimilate Now depending on the features of the society option 6 might mean practically no immigration (Japan) or relatively high levels (19th century France or America for white immigrants) depending on various factors.
I could have included extermination, and I could have been accused of baising the issue even more That is the extreme of (2). Aparthied-era SA included "independent homelands". I was assuming that it isnt. You cant' solve the problem of de facto multi-ethnicity by wishing it had never happened.
Extermination was indeed historically used by states (especially in newly conquered territories) but to me it seems to be a separate solution from deportation or expulsion. Sometimes however deportation was used as a cover for extermination. By formulating it as you did originally you imported negative connotations. By picking this particular example you again import negative connotations. Many of these are pretty reasonable. Independence imports positive connotations, many of these are pretty reasonable. But you seem to refuse to accept the latter. Why? In any case I think there is a big difference between setting up say a Millet system [] or some other kind of separation in the same state and dissolving the state entirely and have each cultural community be sovereign. Isn't this a narrow perspective? Just because this isn't a solution to existing multicultural societies like say the US it doesn't mean it isn't a viable solution for many other societies (such as say Japan or Finland).
Only because you've chosen the alternatives in order to favour it. "The melting pot", as a description of America's former waves of immigration, does not fit any of them. "(4), oh, and with a little bit of (3)" is glossing over the problem, trying to save an unsalvageable idea by changing the words used to express it. Besides, a multiculturalist would give you stick for using the word "tolerated", which is insufficiently accepting these days. Try "celebrated", which suggests happy friendly things like colourful street parties and festivals, framing cultural differences as dressing-up games.
So what does it fit? (2) was tried at one time --Jim Crow. The US has not has a sngle consistent approach. Are you sure it is not a differnt idea? Are you saying anythign with the label "mutlicuralism" is unsalvageable, irrespective of what it is*? Some subtypes of MC-ist might. But werent you just saying that 1-4 are not exhaustive?
An alternative not on your list: immigrants aspiring towards assimilation into a single culture to which they give their allegiance, superseding their original one, of which nothing remains but the dressing-up aspects. I am saying that the concept described by the Wikipedia article I linked, which seems to me an accurate statement of what "multiculturalism" is generally used as a name for, is incoherent. Privately using the word differently doesn't change that. "(4) with a side order of (3)" looks more like a rationalisation of the incoherence of the original concept than a decision to use the word to name something else. ETA: On further thought, I might be being too inflexible. One might certainly present a model of how people of multiple cultures should coexist as "multiculturalism", even if the model deviates substantially from the current one that goes by that name. One would, in effect, be presenting the model as a new interpretation of a deeper, unchanging fundamental concept, superior to the previous interpretation. Certainly, that describes the history of Euler's Theorem []: mathematicians coming to a better understanding of the underlying concepts and finding better expressions of mathematical truths. But then, there is an unchanging objective reality in mathematics. In sociology, not so much. Instead, one has to adopt the methods of religion, presenting a new concept as merely a better understanding of the old.
In a different subthread*, the line of reasoning went that this does not positively "deal with" multiculturalism, but rather eliminates or prevents it. This seems to be part of what is happening in Japan; IIRC they deliberately filter immigrants for willingness to blend in, though they do so in more politically-correct terms. * This one [], though most of the replies that are most relevant will probably be hidden, since it appears Peterdjones is being heavily downvoted on this topic for some reason.
"let the problem solve itself".. How do you have a policy of people just voluntarily doing what is most convenient? Can you eliminate crime that way? ETA: All I can see is you stating that MC construed in a particular way has consequences you don't like. That isn't incoherence
I'm not familiar with the history of the migrations to the USA of the 19th and early 20th centuries beyond a quick look at Wikipedia, but from that, it looks like it pretty much did solve itself. There was friction. It passed. What has that to do with this discussion?
Weren't severe restrictions on immigration, practically closed borders, instituted during the early 1900s?
It depends a bit on ethnicity. Quotas were in place that favored Northern and Western Europeans over Eastern and Southern (Mediterranean) Europeans. And anyone from Europe was favored over Japanese or Chinese - thus things like the Chinese Exclusion Act [] of 1880.
Those favored ethnicities were also those closest to the existing elites' desired American culture, which kinda makes the point: they felt the more dissimilar ethnicities couldn't be absorbed at their existing immigration rate.
Bussing, voter registration drives and reservations are all quite artificial and politicaly driven. Even pledging allegiance is a mildish form of (3). ETA: Incidentally, you have throughout been associating multiculturalism with immigration, but minority aborginal populations can be relevant as well. Among other things. It is a way of making the point that hoping that problems solve themselves is hardly ever a workable solution to anything.
You don't actually need one - people tend to do what's most convenient on their own. An attempt at policy tends to just get in the way. Sadly, no; crime is often what is most convenient.
People tend to do wha't convenient for them, left on their own. Hence crime.
Yes, and assimilation is frequently most convenient.
Given sufficient opportunity, yes.
I don't see where you see that. Rather, RichardKennaway seems to be saying that MC construed in the usual way is incoherent. I'm not seeing any mention of consequences.
Yes, he's said that it is incoherent. He hasn't said why. Sayign he doesn't like FGM doens't demosntrate incoherence.
Perhaps I should have made more explicit references back. The incoherence that I see is what I was talking about when I originally said this: It's that basic contradiction: 1. We are all different! Diversity! CLAP NOW! 2. We are all the same! Equality! CLAP NOW! that this thread has been about: how do you support "the rich tapestry of human life and the desire amongst people to express their own identity in the manner they see fit" without prohibiting yourself from criticising abhorrent cultural customs like FGM? It's that contradiction that gives rise to the contortions around the subject of FGM that I earlier quoted from the Wikipedia page.
One common approach is called "liberalism". It ascribes certain notional boundaries — called "rights" — to each individual; and asserts that each individual may do as they choose to express their identity, so long as they do not transgress the notional boundaries of another person. This places certain limits on the ways each person can "express their own identity in the manner they see fit" in order to define a space in which all others can do so too.
The conflict between individuality and cultural consistency is practically as old as civilization itself. Most ideologies throughout history included ad hoc, unprincipled, case-by-case solutions to those problems. Why do you think that multi-culturalism is more inconsistent and unprincipled than any other historical solution to the individuality / group identity problem?
The problem is not that it is inconsistent and unprincipled, but that it is inconsistent and principled.
But it isn't inconsistent.
1Rob Bensinger11y
Prizing equal rights obviously isn't in tension with prizing diverse human exercise of those rights. You haven't cited a contradiction. However, we could use your argument to spin off a real tension: Similarity (e.g., our common humanity, our common interests and heritage and concerns) is valuable. But dissimilarity (e.g., cultural and individual diversity) is also valuable. So 'value' seems to be trivial. Response: What we really value is not 'being the same' or 'being different' in a vacuum. What we value is (a) being similar or different in particular respects, and (b) having a certain ratio of similarity to difference. The English language just isn't sophisticated enough to allow for easy slogans of either of those forms. We can't easily signal that we value diversity, but in specific areas and not in all areas; likewise for valuing some similarities, but not all. And we can't easily signal that we value a certain mixture of sameness and differentness, because too much of one or the other would make life less worth living. They seem like platitudes, but they aren't false, and they're worth taking seriously if only because they stand in for so many specific attributes that we need to take very seriously. It's just important to see past the surface structure of some virtues.
Thank you for clarifying. That really was unclear.
"Equality" never means identicality in the political context. It instead means equal value or equal worth.
That's what we're talking about. Requiring a religious day of rest every Friday, or every Saturday, or every Sunday, are indeed practices of equal worth. FGM is not of equal worth with those.
It means people are of equal worth. In liberal democracies you don't have to show that any kind of behaviour is of worth before you do it, you have to show that is does no harm and has consent.
That works until you start getting into details of exactly what constitutes "harm" and "consent".
In the overwhelming majority of the cases the distinction is clear-cut; it's just that the ones where it isn't tend to be much more salient.
And those are precisely the type of cases that gradually cause attitudes to change.
I don't know who would think that would demonstrate incoherence. And I don't notice RichardKennaway pointing out that he doesn't like FGM, so that seems totally irrelevant.
Ah, different thread, thanks. Yes, there doesn't seem to be anything in that comment where RichardKennaway connects FGM with incoherence. You seem to be jumping to conclusions.
I think that's a wrong question. I'm pretty sure the above was mostly just a reminder that policy debates should not appear one-sided []. EDIT: Never mind, that comment is the opposite of that.
The red car effect/availability heuristic at work - I instantly thought of a Zizek quote. Or were you quoting this bit too? * Zizek on the "decaffeinated Other"
I'm more on the "good fences make good neighbors" side, which I guess is the opposite from Zizek (judging by this quote; I don't know more about his opinions). He criticizes the fear of harassment (and labels it "obsessive", just to remind the reader that it is a boo light); I would like to talk also about those specific situations where the threat is real. To me it seems that the "politically correct" description of people from other cultures is that they are a) completely different, but also b) completely harmless. On the other hand, my opinion is that people from other cultures are often very similar [], but even the small differences can be dangerous. A "political correct" picture of a different people is something like this: They have green skin and worship ants... but if we will tolerate their green skins and ant worship, they will certainly be pleasant neighbors and our lives will be made more rich by their presence. My picture of a different people is something like this: They are mostly like me: they value truth, and they want to punish people who harm others. Unfortunately, their idea of truth is whatever their holy prophet said; their idea of harm is opposing the prophet's words; and their idea of proper punishment is to murder everyone who disagrees with their prophet. This is why they wouldn't make pleasant neighbors.
Yep, that picture is a lot like mine, but Zizek would add pages upon pages about religion to it, to show how the words of the prophet - if the prophet said anything interesting at all - can be twisted and turned [] until the resulting ideology is refined enough, and more viable in a civilized world. That's the massively oversimplifying cynical take on it, anyway.
It's also worth noting that human "cultures" behave remarkably like empirical clusters [] of loosely-correlated social norms, behaviors, signals, status rules, hierarchical systems, beliefs, and moral systems. This seems to strongly support most of what you've said here, and obviously there is some drift and some shared space between "cultures" depending on how you carve them.
What you're describing is the definition of "culture" (more precisely, a definition of "culture", and a good one). I'm not sure why you're giving the weaker qualification of "behave remarkably like" rather than "are".
This particular wording was meant to convey the sense that "Whatever people generally define as 'culture' or as separate 'cultures', even if they use rigid aristotelian categories, it still behaves pretty much like this."
see also []
Of course it's easy to say one has no morals at all when the morals in question are so much more complicated - they'll seem permissive by your ability to manipulate them in contrived edge cases. This complication, though, is for adaptation to the real world - they have something useful to say about very real cases that Victorian morality completely chokes and dies on. But that's not really in conflict with the point of the quote, is it?

In a man whose reasoning powers are good, fallacious arguments are evidence of bias.

--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.)

Or laziness, or lack of time, or honest error. Multiple causes can have the same effect, and hanlons razor comes into play/
"Bias" can include those flaws, especially how the word is used on this site
"Bias" [] has a strict definition []. Not all errors are biases. One can clearly be wrong and rational, for example, by not gathering enough information (laziness, or lack of time...).
I think men whose reasoning powers are that good are few and far between. (Women too, I'm not trying to be some sort of sexist here.)
I've encountered the phenomena described in this quote and used it as a signal in the game of Mafia. It's quite effective but I think has limited general application.

As the philosopher David Schmidtz says, if your main goal is to show that your heart is in the right place, then your heart is not in the right place.

Jason Brennan, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know

"Oh, sorry, I have this condition where I don't see or hear anything I disagree with."

"I had no idea that being human was a disease."

"A bad one! Everyone who contracts it eventually dies!"

Something Positive

See also: [].

"Look,” [Deutsch] went on, “I can’t stop you from writing an article about a weird English guy who thinks there are parallel universes. But I think that style of thinking is kind of a put-down to the reader. It’s almost like saying, If you’re not weird in these ways, you’ve got no hope as a creative thinker. That’s not true. The weirdness is only superficial."

New Yorker article on David Deutsch

(I saw this on Scott Aaronson's blog)

And then she said, "Ha ha ha, I figured out how to remove the closing quotation mark! From now on, the whole future is my story!

-Aristosophy. I like to think this is about the Robot's Rebellion.

well shit that didn't work."

"Reality Injection Attack" would make a great name for a mathcore band.

Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat. Metaphysics is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn't there. Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn't there and shouting "I found it!" Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a flashlight.


Recognizing the startling resurgence in realism, Don Philahue (of The Don Philahue Show) invited a member of Realists Anonymous to bare his soul on television. After a brief introduction documenting the spread of realism, Philahue turned to his guest:

DP: What kinds of realism were you into, Hilary?

H: The whole bag, Don. I was a realist about logical terms, abstract entities, theoretical postulates - you name it.

DP: And causality, what about causality?

H: That too, Don. (Audience gasps.)

DP: I'm going to press you here, Hilary. Did you at any time accept moral realism?

H: (staring at feet): Yes.

DP: What effect did all this realism have on your life?

H: I would spend hours aimlessly wandering the streets, kicking large stones and shouting, "I refute you thus!" It's embarrassing to recall.

DP: There was worse, wasn't there Hilary?

H: I can't deny it, don. (Audience gasps.) Instead of going to work I would sit at home fondling ashtrays and reading voraciously about converging scientific theories. I kept a copy of "Hitler: A Study in Tyranny" hidden in the icebox, and when no one was around I would take it our and chant "The Nazis were bad. The Nazis were really bad."

-- A dialogue by Philip Gasper

Hilarious. It reminded me of Dennett's "Superficiality vs. Hysterical Realism []" (which is much more serious and academic, though).

I've never heard more different explanations for anything parents tell kids than why they shouldn't swear. Every parent I know forbids their children to swear, and yet no two of them have the same justification. It's clear most start with not wanting kids to swear, then make up the reason afterward.

-Paul Graham in The Lies We Tell Kids

This sounds like a challenge. Would you prefer your children to not swear; and if yes, why? My reasoning would be that I want my children to be successful (for both altruistic and selfish reasons), and I believe that a habit of swearing is on average harmful to social skills. Disclaimer: There are situations where swearing is the right thing to do, so it would be optimal to swear exactly in these situations. But it would be difficult for a child to determine these situations precisely; and from the simple strategies, "never swear" (which often develops towards "don't swear in presence of adult people or someone who would inform them") seems very good.

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.

Thank you for this. I've been wondering reflectively why I've been swearing more frequently lately, and I just realized that it's to make sure my voice is heard. I'll try to attack the root of this and instead get my attention-validation from having good things to say rather than saying them most crassly.
I'm almost sure this is mainly a status thing. Frequent swearing is perceived as crass, a lower-class practice, and so aspirational parents encourage their children not to. This intent then proceeds to backfire when children develop their own social networks: status relations among children and young teenagers are quite different from adult ones, and swearing in this context is often a marker of independence and perceived maturity. This gradually unwinds during the teenage years as swearing in the presence of adults becomes more socially acceptable and adult-style status relations start to assert themselves. The only thing that confuses me about this model is the lack of countersignaling, but perhaps children of that age can't reliably parse signaling at that level of indirection. Or maybe I just don't remember enough childhood social dynamics.
Or you could, y'know, try to think of a better way []. That you know what a policy of punishing swearing develops into ("don't swear in presence of adult people or someone who would inform them") shows that you have the ability to think forwards into the consequences, but also hints at some sort of stopping, perhaps motivated [] (because hey, finding better solutions is hard). Clearly, you also have the ability to reason a bit further: What sort of microsociety does the above behavior encourage once they get into high school, where the majority of their perceivable world is a miniature scheduled wildland? When I was six and used swear words in front of my school principal (hey, when you spend half the day in the principal's office for the 13th time, you kinda get used to someone), he later brought it up with my parents (though I vaguely recall it wasn't in any negative manner). My parents immediately started reprimanding me, naturally, but he stopped them, and afterwards they changed strategies based on his advice and some insight they gained from reading more research and books on related topics. I'm certainly glad they did, in retrospect, because in the twisted social environment that high schools are, a good swearing strategy can be extremely effective. I don't know how widely this'd work, YMMV and all that, but a "leave me alone" usually didn't get prospective bullies off my back. If I then followed up with a steady gaze and a "leave me the fuck alone" (yes, I know, but that's how 14-year-olds talked when I was there), now suddenly they'd grow much more cautious and start re-evaluating whether they should still try to play their little status game and get their cheap fun, when someone who rarely ever swears had just signaled to them that shit got serious. All in all, "never swear" seems to me like it never actually works, and takes much
Oh, I was not specific enough. What I wanted to write is that a habit of swearing is harmful to your social skills after you leave the school. Imagine a person at a job interview saying: "Yeah, I know the fucking Java, but NetBeans is gay, and if you ain't doing unit tests like all the time, you are seriously retarded, man." ;-) Probably no one would do this intentionally, but the problem is, if you get a habit of swearing, then sometimes a word or two slips through, often unnoticed (by you; but your audience is shocked). At some moment this happened to me (no, not at a job interview, at least I think so), and after getting a feedback I decided to be extra careful. Which I would want to teach my children. I was very lucky to get that feedback, because most people assume that others are well aware of all the words they use.
Since I don't have nor plan on having children I actually haven't given it much thought. I posted this because it gives a good example of rationalization in action.

Slogans like “practice random acts of kindness” feel good and are easy to put into practice. But if we don’t take our activism more seriously than that, our motive is probably a desire to feel good about ourselves, to help ourselves or those close to us, or to act out our self-identity. The endpoint of authentic compassion is a desire to do the most good that one can, to be as effective as possible in creating a world with less suffering and destruction and more joy. Figuring out how we can do the most good takes careful thought over a long period of time, and it means moving into new and possibly uncomfortable areas of advocacy. But the importance of taking our activism seriously and approaching it from this utilitarian perspective cannot be overstated. It will mean a difference between life and death, between happiness and suffering, for thousands of people, for thousands of acres of the ecosystem, and for tens of thousands of animals.

Nick Cooney, Change of Heart

"The boundary between these 2 classes [the Eloi & Morlocks] is more porous than I've made it sound. I'm always running into regular dudes - construction workers, auto mechanics, taxi drivers, galoots in general - who were largely aliterate until something made it necessary for them to become readers and start actually thinking about things. Perhaps they had to come to grips with alcoholism, perhaps they got sent to jail, or came down with a disease, or suffered a crisis in religious faith, or simply got bored. Such people can get up to speed on particular subjects quite rapidly. Sometimes their lack of a broad education makes them over-apt to go off on intellectual wild goose chases, but, hey, at least a wild goose chase gives you some exercise."

--Neal Stephenson, In the Beginning Was... the Commandline

The last project that I worked on with [Richard Feynman] was in simulated evolution. I had written a program that simulated the evolution of populations of sexually reproducing creatures over hundreds of thousands of generations. The results were surprising in that the fitness of the population made progress in sudden leaps rather than by the expected steady improv

... (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.

I would like to upvote the Feynman quote. I am not interested in upvoting the Stephenson quote.

I would like to upvote the Stephenson quote, and not the Feynman quote.

You two talk between yourselves so that only one of you upvote the entire comment.

This reminds of how two high school classmates of mine eluded the prohibition from voting for themselves as class representatives by voting for each other.
Or, you both downvote the conglomerate and each write a comment expressing objection to the combination, approval of the desired quote and indifference to the other. (I downvoted the conglomerate on the principle "I wish to see less quote-comments that people believe should be separate, especially when said quotes are verbose anyway". There is an implied "...and would upvote both comments if they were split to encourage trivial improvements in response to feedback".)

In the way that skepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the skeptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many ways consonant with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped.

--Carl Sagan

It is neither desirable nor any longer effective to try bullying people into accepting the authority of science. Instead, all members of the educated public can be invited to participate in science, in order to experience the true nature and value of scientific inquiry. This does not mean listening to professional scientists tell condescending stories about how they have discovered wonderful things, which you should believe for reasons that are too difficult for you to understand in real depth and detail. Doing science ought to mean asking your own questions, making your own investigations, and drawing your own conclusions for your own reasons. Of course it will not be feasible to advance the "cutting edge" or "frontier" of modern science without first acquiring years of specialist training. However, the cutting edge is not all there is to science, nor is it necessarily the most valuable part of science. Questions that have been answered are still worth asking again, so you can understand for yourself how to arrive at the standard answers, and possibly discover new answers or recover forgotten answers that are valuable.

Hasok Chang, Inventing Temperature: Measurement and Scientific Progress

I am too much of a sceptic to deny the possibility of anything... but I don't see my way to your conclusion.

Thomas Huxley

Remember, kids, the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.

-- 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.

“It was, of course, a grand and impressive thing to do, to mistrust the obvious, and to pin one’s faith in things which could not be seen!”

-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.

And in case it's not obvious to readers, the Greeks were huge fans of irony - the above quote should be read sarcastically.
Yes, in MythBusters context, sitting around talking about stuff doesn't qualify as screwing around. It is, at best, the thing you do to prepare for screwing around.
-1Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
My understanding is that they had the screwing-around, despite some philosophers not doing it. They didn't have the concept that the results of screwing-around was more virtuous than the philosophy.

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?

  1. The ancients achieved less science because they were less scientific in ideology or culture; because they had mistaken ideas about the relative virtue of experiment and philosophy.
  2. The ancients achieved less science because they lacked the precision equipment that modern scientists have.
  3. The ancients achieved less science because they lacked the generations of accumulation of information that modern scientists benefit from.
  4. The ancients achieved less science because there were fewer of them, population-wise. Fewer people → fewer Einsteins.
  5. The ancients achieved less science because they lacked a large-scale scientific community; developments were isolated to their developers' city-states.
  6. The ancients achieved a lot more science than we know, but it has been deliberately suppressed by political and religious censorship and so we haven't heard of it.
  7. The ancients achieved a lot more science than we know, but it has been accidentally lost in fires, floods, wars, or other disasters where they hadn't taken adequate backups.
1. The ancients achieved a lot of science, but it wasn't applied much to create technology because they had access to cheap slave labor.

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

I hoped the footnote would exemplify some such processes...
Export-oriented slavery in the Americas was actually fairly technically dynamic, so if this is really the explanation I suspect it's because slave societies lack a mass consumer base.
*10. The ancients achieved less science because they cared less than we do about the actual goals science was useful for. (Later generations cared even less and forgot most of what was already known by the ancients.) *11. The ancients achieved less science due to lack of research funding models. All funding was private and rich people were patrons to artists, not scientists.
I think that we can dismiss 2. because they did make precision devices when they wanted to (see the Antikythera Mechanism). If this had been the limiting factor they should have been able to reach at least the level we had in the nineteenth century.
I guess that several of those had a non-negligible impact.

"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.

Well, all of classical and medieval Europe had writing, and yet science was created much later than writing. There were many other pieces to the puzzle: naturalism, for instance.

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.

It had nothing to do with compartmentalized their theism. They cared for the physical laws because they wanted to know how God wants things to be. If some witch violates the physical laws through her witchcraft that was considered to be bad, not impossible. God wasn't supposed to have a reason to violate his own laws. A God that violates his own laws wouldn't be perfect. Their key idea wasn't to get rid of theism but to replace looking at the bible to find out God's will with looking at reality to find out God's will.
That implies God does not create miracles - violations of his laws. And that was and is a heresy according to the Catholic church, and I imagine almost all other Christian denominations as well. The story of Christ alone is full of law-violating miracles.
It could imply God left some sort of "backdoor" in his creation, a lawful yet seemingly miraculous and near-impossible to detect part of creation. Matrix Lords, psychic powers etc. It does seem rather incompatible with Christianity, though.
If the Texanian government sentence a person to death you don't call the event manslaughter. The fact that the person get's sentenced to death doesn't mean that a law gets violated. The 10 commendments contain "do not kill" but death as punishment for nearly every offence. Laws are a tricky business. But yes, those early scientists did had a problem of being seen as heretics by the established church.
That is a mistranslation. The original reads "do not murder", i.e. do not kill extrajudicially.
Also, it's 10 commandments not commendments :) God was apparently not overly pleased with his chosen people, certainly not enough to commend them 10 ways on the exodus well done.
I hear it was actually closer to "do not engage in blood feud", but I don't recall where I heard that so treat it with deep suspicion. In any case, one could add "unless you're God" to these physical laws for the same effect. (Wait, if God kills you, isn't that still extrajudicial? God isn't working for the government.)
Not really. Divine judgement qualifies for two out of three definitions [] of judicial right of the bat and then we have to consider that for religious purposes everyone is considered to either belong to a Theocracy under God or be a heathen enemy of the state. On top of that God's scriptures dedicate much of their content to setting up a legal system, with a book outright dedicated to "Judges". If it wasn't for the fact that God just doesn't exist I think it'd be fair to say that he claimed precedence on "Judicial" a long time back and human states just borrow the concept.
You know, you're right.
Ahh, that makes more sense. ... wait, does that imply there are non-supernatural (ie heaven and hell) sources of magic? Because I can think of other reasons why you wouldn't want to do business with a demon. Y'know, the whole "wants to torture your soul forever" thing might cause some issues. EDIT: that is to say, is this intended to justify not using fairies or whatever other superstition? Because I doubt most people are ok with dealing with a demon (that is, something that has "torture all humans forever" as an explicit goal.)
Law 34: God can do whatever the hell he wants. This law supersedes any precedent and subsequent laws. If only they'd thought of that one.
That was my first thought. []
Oh, true. I guess I read your post too quickly and didn't process the information.
Hey, if God didn't think of it...
I always got the impression that it how physical law was being violated (ie selling your soul) that was condemned.
The core idea of laws is that it's morally bad to violate them. If you make a contract with another person and then violate that contract you are violating "natural law" in addition to violating the "law of the land". You sin and might get judged by God after your death for violating "natural law". The witch is also violating "natural law". Now there's the problem that God might punish the village in which the witch lives for natural law violations. As a result that village might prefer to get rid of the witch. The idea that the physical laws of the universe are qualitatively different than natural laws like "honor your contracts" is a later development. The first interest in finding out the natural laws was a very theistic endevour. Their revolutionary core idea was that it's possible to understand what God wants by studying reality. Empiric research is a better tool than reading old scriptures to understand God's will.
As I have said, I was under the impression that demons were supposed to have a natural ability to produce "miracles" from their angel days, and used them as payment for the souls of witches. That said, there would have been considerable variation anyway.
A demon who might want to corrupt a woman won't start by asking for her soul. To corrupt her he might start by giving her some power without asking anything in return. Even today there are still Christians who consider certain New Age practices immoral. Hypnosis doesn't involve summoning the devil and making a bargain with him. It's still considered to be a dark practice by many Christians. The catholic church took till 1956 to accept hypnosis as not being immoral. Genemanipulated food would be a modern example where some Christians object that the practice is violating "natural law". Craig Venter has to defend against the charge of playing God. According to that Christian perspective biologists are supposed to study how nature works instead of changing it. Similar things are true for opposition to cryonics. The person who get a contract with Alcor isn't a Satanist. He still sins, by trying to escape God's plans for how human's are supposed to live.
And the same applies to all doctors. Study of anatomy and medicine was traditionally illegal.
That was out of respect for corpses, IIRC.
I doubt they had that much respect for corpses of non-human animals. Anyway, trying to heal the sick by whatever method was held to be a sin. Sickness and accidents were believed to be caused by God as a punishment for sin, and a faithful believer would accept the punishment and try to repent. Death itself was a punishment for the original sin, so trying to medically delay death was (at certain times and places) a sin and therefore illegal.
As I recall, executed criminals were often kosher as well. I'm going to call BS on that one. To my knowledge, no-one ever has banned attempting to cure the sick. Certain methods of doing so, perhaps, but then I myself am not in favor of legalizing mercury injections.
But that would be the ultimate goal, yes? (Why specify a woman?) So is karate. What's your point? ... Huh. So ... metallurgy is also sinful because God intended ores to be impure and buried? ALL OF MEDICINE is evil because we're messing up His plans for that disease? Interracial marriage is bad because God created the races separate? (That last one is both the least plausible and also the only one that was actually made, AFAIK.) EDIT: fixed some typos.
True, but I don't think "naturalism" is the right name for that. "Determinism" seems closer to it; though perhaps many of them believed that humans had souls that were exempt from the physical laws of nature--so, "physical determinism"? I also don't think "successfully compartmentalized their theism" is a good description of what they did. Many of them would have insisted there the lawfulness of Nature was tied to the existence of a Lawgiver, and that theism and science fit together harmoniously in a unified worldview, not in separate mental boxes. From today's standpoint we can say that the implications of the scientific way of thinking that they launched lead, when fully developed, to an incompatibility or at least a strong tension with theism. But I'd say it is anachronistic to say read that back some hundreds of years and say that the early scientists were compartmentalizing.
Science is also possible in a non-deterministic universe, one in which the evolution of physical systems has a random component and the future is not fully predictable from a full knowledge of the present. All science needs are natural laws, repeated regularities; they don't have to be entirely deterministic. And in fact scientists did not have a strong reason to think the universe is deterministic until they had what looked like a complete set of the laws of physics, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. On the other hand, a god that does miracles is incompatible with natural law as we know it, because we presumably can't put an upper limit on the probability of a miracle occurring. An intelligent god can selectively cause miracles to disrupt particular experiments or to lead scientists to a false conclusion. Science pretty much assumes that won't happen. "Many" is ambiguous. What place and time are we talking about? I would expect that until, say, the 19th century, the majority of scientists everywhere were conventionally religious.
Twentieth? If you're talking about the first couple decades of it, yeah, but I'm pretty sure that, after quantum mechanics became widely accepted and before the relative state interpretation and similar were proposed, most scientists were not determinists, and many still aren't today (see the third column of this table []).
I don't know the math of quantum mechanics. My layman's understanding includes the belief that quanum state evolution is deterministic (described by the Shrodinger equation). I may well be wrong about this. Either way, my point was that before Maxwell's equations for electromagnetism, and the understanding that light was a form of EM, science didn't have anything like a complete description of physics. So it was hard to say whether physics was deterministic, even though the existing Newtonian law of gravity was. Once there was an attempt at a Law of Everything, even though it was refined over time, there was at least strong evidence for determinism.
Yes, the evolution of the quantum state is deterministic, but according to certain interpretations of quantum mechanics, after a “measurement” “wave function collapse” occurs, which is stochastic.
An intelligent God could also write crap into a holy book to mislead people. A God that's good has no reason to mislead people.
Or does he?!
There are places in the Bible where it sounds very much like God does not want to be clearly understood. I seem to remember a verse (I don't recall which book it's in...) where Jesus says that he speaks in parables (as opposed to plainly) because otherwise most people would understand him. The general argument I've heard is that evil serves a purpose, and perfection according to God requires the experience of lots and lots of bullcrap. The obvious question is why he wouldn't then create people with those experiences built in...
Those ... don't seem connected. You appear to be talking about theodicy []. As for "otherwise most people would understand him", I think that's in the context of hiding his messiah-ness.
I'm talking from the perspective of modern people like Newton. They didn't consider a good God to engage in morally bad practices like lying and misleading.
And I was joking. That said, lying could be a necessary evil. Perhaps there are lovecraftian mind-destroying truths out there? EDIT: relevent []
EDIT: Retracted due to double-post.
Judea Pearl always gives Abraham arguing with God about Sodom and Gomorrah as the example of the first recorded scientist. The point of science is the discovery of rules (in Abraham's case the rule for collective punishment).
If this [] is to be believed, “Traditionalists” (i.e. Catholics) were originally already “compartimentalized” (to use your word, which I'm not sure is the best one -- see Alejandro1's reply []) to begin with, and it's “Moderns” (i.e. Protestants) who decompartimentalized.
That's a fair description. Even earlier Traditionalists were not yet compartmentalized, and so couldn't do Science. Compartmentalization helped them. Then "Moderns" decompartmentalized again, with the result that some of them moved towards either atheism or a completely lawful (non-interfering) concept of God, and could do science; while others moved towards fundamentalism, and ended up rejecting the lawfulness of nature and therefore science.
Er, yeah, “originally” was the wrong word -- look at what happened to Galileo.
I believe DanArmak may be referring to Methodological naturalism
They didn't screw around, and/or they didn't write about that, because contradicting the Aristotelian/Christian worldview was Evil.
They... did? If you want to make a distinction between Greek natural philosophy [] and modern science, which understands more about theories, hypotheses, and causality, and is rich enough to support an entire class of professional investigators into the natural world, then sure, the Greeks only had natural philosophy, and Savage is being too broad with his definition of 'science.' I think I side with Savage's approach of normalizing science- I would rather describe science as "deliberate curiosity" than something more rigorous and restrictive.
The people in this thread should read The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why it Had to Be Reborn [] by Lucio Russo.
They did. Look up Thales, Aristotle, Democritus, and Archimedes just for a start. Particularly Archimedes.
It makes more sense if you consider "screwing around" in thMyth

'At my funeral, I don't want people to wear bright colors and smile and laugh fondly at the wonderful memories of the precious time we spent together on Earth. Tell them to wear black and cover their faces with ash. Tell them to weep bitter tears and rail angrily against the cruel God who took me at so young an age. Do this for me, my beloved.',772/

I find both the ironic and straightforward meaning of this quote to be meaningful.

If any man pretend to me that God hath spoken to him … immediately, and I make doubt of it, I cannot easily perceive what argument he can produce to oblige me to believe it .. For to say that God … hath spoken to him in a dream is no more than to say he dreamed that God spoke to him.

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.

But then the dream is doing zero work: your friend could simply say God told him the proof of the conjecture, and your situation is the same - if the proof checks out then you need to compare base rate for gods delivering math proofs and your friend secretly having a hobby of being a mathematician and succeeding etc to see whether it changes your beliefs. And delivering a mathematical proof is surely not what >99% of God's previous statements were doing.
How do you know? People mention "divine inspiration" quite frequently. The point is that the statement is untestable and thus irrelevant, not that it is most likely false.
I don't think the version with the math proof is meaningless in a probabilistic sense; my point is that the meaning comes from an additional factor unrelated to the dream, and I think Hobbes would agree that in the absence of any additional aspect of God speaking to the dreamer such as prophecies (objectively verifiable, like the proof!) there's no reason to believe him. But these additional aspects are the strange and unusual things which might oblige Hobbes to believe him, not the speech in a dream.
Why is that relevant? To see the flaw in your reasoning replace "God" with "mathematician X" and notice that >99% of mathematician X's previous statements aren't delivering mathematics proofs either.
Statements in general was not the reference class.
What I've observed in myself about reports of "God" doing something I'll describe as "insufficient curiosity." I have frequently not asked how the person identified the source as "God." White beard, what? No, I've assumed, way too easily, that their actual experience doesn't matter. And this could also be quite interesting if the person is a mathematician. Depends on what is more important to us, solving the unsolved math problem, and perhaps understanding heuristics, or coming up with evidence that something unexpected is going on. Can't explain it? Goddidit. Q.E.D.
But then that doesn't hold up to any decent Bayesian probabilistic analysis. When you trace the chain of causality for why they thought it was "God" that spoke to them in the first place, you find that they use very vague heuristics for identifying speakers-in-dreams as "God" as opposed to "Some Mathematically-genius Alien", and then that the source of those heuristics is even more vague and unlikely to be accurate: Biblical readings, inferences from the bible, third-hand accounts from some person who listened to some priest who read the Bible, etc. So the final compound probability that their source of information was good and they correctly applied the right heuristics and their conclusion that "God" was communicating to them was correct and that it was actually a communication in a dream rather than a dream about a communication and that the proof was given by this communication rather than subconsciously arrived at by the non-mathematician friend somehow... is not very high. (well, depending on some priors, obviously... if your priors for "God exists" and "God frequently communicates with people through dreams" are very high to begin with, the above starts sounding much more plausible)
I didn't say I'd think God was involved. I said the deliberately vague, conjunction-fallacy-avoiding phrasing "I would think something more interesting than a typical dream was going on." That means I'd update P(God spoke to him OR aliens spoke to him OR he's secretly a genius mathematician and trolling me OR he's got serious math talent he can't access consciously OR [more hypotheses I won't bother generating because this didn't happen]), with the most likely possibility being that my friend is a genius troll. Then I'd do more experiments. Note: I didn't downvote you.
Ah, yes. I took you to imply you would acknowledge the friend without telling him that he's probably wrong, or that you'd update disproportionately higher the probability that "God spoke to him in his dream". i.e. I had assumed an uncharitable interpretation. Doing more experiments on the basis that something interesting happening has suddenly become very likely sounds like a healthy (well, scientifically-healthy) thing to do! Re. downvote: One single downvote usually doesn't mean much for posts where I expected karma to remain near 0 anyway. Despite the name and intended purposes of this site, there are still systematic downvoters, karma trolls, generic trolls and biased people around. I've noticed (and corrected, hopefully) at least one instance where I was systematically being biased against a certain user and downvoting their comments more frequently than I should. I suspect not everyone is as careful with this.
Yep. Barney Stinson once spoke to me in a dream.
That proves that Barney Stinson is real doesn't it?

The great thing about reality is that eventually you hit it.

Source: Andrew Sullivan in an otherwise fairly bland political post

More often than not it hits you first.

Not for all aspects of reality. Some require very extreme conditions (like large, complex physics experiments like the LHC) to hit.

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)

Chris Cillizza says that [...] the surge in the quantity of public polling available creates a confusing fog of numbers in which "partisans, who already live in a choose-your-own-political-reality world, can select the numbers that comply with their view of the race and pooh-pooh the data that suggest anything different."

That's true. But if you actually want to know what's happening in the race the increased poll volume makes it clearer not less clear. The sense that the polls are "all over the map" is the mistake. You need to think of each datapoint as having an associated probability distribution and then look at where they overlap. [...] The fact that we now have tons of polling that averages out to [a] conclusion means the scope for "sampling error" to throw us off is, at this point, tiny. One poll showing a lead of the current magnitude would leave us with a ton of uncertainty, but a bunch of polls makes the picture pretty clear.

By the time one is consciously aware of something, the brain has already done the work.

--Michael Gazzaniga

Girl 1: Because distance is infinitely divisible, if you assign number pairs to each letter of the alphabet, you can specify any string of letters just by pointing to a very specific place on this centimeter and getting its decimal output. In fact, that sentence I just said is at a particular point on the centimeter, as was this one, and whatever you or I say in the future. The centimeter has read every book there will ever be and knows every scientific fact that can be. It knows the future of our friendship. It knows how we'll die. It knows how the universe ends and how it began.

Girl 2: What's the point of doing anything then?

Girl 1: Well, the centimeter also "knows" a bunch of crazy stuff.

Centimeter callouts: "2+2=3" "Up is down, rotated 90 degrees" "Ponies aren't awesome"

Girl 2: So I know infinity less than the centimeter, but have infinity better discretion.

Girl 1: Yeah, that's basically your life. You know relatively no information, but you're relatively great at using it.

Girl 2: I bet if I tell Bobby about this, he'll like me.

Girl 1: Well, you're okay at using it.

--Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

For some reason, I interpreted Girl 1 to be a Boy.

The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us.

Paul Valéry



An astronomer, a physicist and a mathematician are on a train in Scotland. The astronomer looks out of the window, sees a black sheep standing in a field, and remarks, "How odd. Scottish sheep are black." "No, no, no!" says the physicist. "Only some Scottish sheep are black." The mathematician rolls his eyes at his companions' muddled thinking and says, "In Scotland, there is at least one sheep, at least one side of which appears to be black from here."

(This version is from Wikipedia.)

Previously approximated here.

I still habitually complete this joke with:

"Actually," says the stage magician, "we merely know that there exists something in Scotland which appears to be a sheep which is black on at least one side when viewed from this spot."

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!”

Best version, in my snap judgment. The story, told this way, is about the different modes of thinking of astronomers, physicists, mathematicians, and shepherds. (and there are other variations about the approaches of stage magicians and cognitive psychologists, each of which has a characteristic interest. As a pure and careful thinker, the mathematician comes up with something similar to the practical approach of the stage magician, or the more-carefully-specified approach of the cognitive psychologist.) But the shepherd is living in a different realm, very connected to reality, and comes up with something, from knowledge, not from thinking and careful analysis, that the sheep isn't black at all. The cognitive psychologist allowed for this, distinguishing the possibility of perceptual error, but still could not speak with authority about the sheep itself. But this version doesn't mention the cognitive psychologist. The shepherd essentially confirms the conceptual space of the cognitive psychologist.

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.

And Paul Graham is making money off of startups that try to profit from the recent boom in Scottish sheep color economies. Oh wait... []
Cloned white and black True ScotsSheep with lifetime color warranties are marketed, free shipping worldwide.
Add in another scoffing thermodynamicist, and we can round out the joke with an infinite regress.

If we see in each generation the conflict of the future against the past, the fight of what might be called progressive versus reactionary, we shall find ourselves organizing the historical story upon what is really an unfolding principle of progress, and our eyes will be fixed upon certain people who appear as the special agencies of that progress. [...] But if we see in each generation a clash of wills out of which there emerges something that probably no man ever willed, our minds become concentrated upon the process that produced such an unpredictable issue, and we are more open for an intensive study of the motions and interactions that underlie historical change. [...] The process of the historical transition will then be recognized to be unlike what the whig historian seems to assume – much less like the procedure of a logical argument and perhaps much more like the method by which a man can be imagined to work his way out of a "complex". It is a process which moves by mediations and those mediations may be provided by anything in the world – by men’s sins or misapprehensions or by what we can only call fortunate conjunctures. Very strange bridges are used to make

... (read more)

Besides being fascinating in its own right, such exotic finds are a good test of astronomers’ theories about how planets form. In PH1’s case, its four stars are actually a pair of binaries. Conventional planetary-formation theory holds that worlds condense out of a disc of dust and rubble early in a star’s life. But in this case, “the second binary would sit right at the edge of the protoplanetary disc,” notes Dr Lintott. Computer models suggest that the gravitational influence of the second pair of stars ought to disrupt the disc and prevent the formation of planets. Reality, in this case, disagrees with the models—and that is how science advances.

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.

As we learn more and more about the solar system, the reality-check that our theories have to pass becomes more and more stringent. This is one reason why scientists have a habit of opening up old questions that everybody assumed were settled long ago, and deciding that they weren’t. It doesn’t mean the scientists are incompetent: it demonstrates their willingness to contemplate new evidence and re-examine old conclusion in its light. Science certainly does not claim to get things right, but it has a good record of ruling out ways to get things wrong.

-- The Science of Discworld, Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen

Yes, yes it does. Otherwise, what would be the point? There's an infinity of ways to get things wrong; you don't want to spend your life catalouging them.
The word "right" (without the use of modifiers such as “exactly”) might sound too weak and easily satisfiable, but I think the idea is the following: Theories that may seem complete and robust today might be found to be incomplete or wrong in the future. You cannot claim certainty in them, although you can probably claim high confidence under certain conditions.
You can't ever claim absolute certainty in anything. There's no 1.0 probability in predictions about the universe. But science can create claims of being "right" as strong and justified as any other known process. Saying "science doesn't claim to get things right" is false, unless you go on to say "nothing can (correctly) claim to get things right, it's epistemologically impossible".
but are we 100% CERTAIN there's no 1.0 probability in predictions about the universe?
We are certain because we treat it as an axiom (loosely speaking) of our epistemology. We're as certain of it as we would be of a logical truth. In practice we are fallible and can make mistakes about logical truths. But in theory, they are absolutely certain; they have a higher status than mere beliefs about the universe. Assigning 1.0 probability to any proposition means you can never update away from that probability, no matter what the evidence. That means there's a part of your map that isn't causally entangled with the territory. What we're certain of is that there shouldn't be such a part.

What does Magritte mean when he says "This is not a pipe"? It sure looks like a pipe. But step back for a moment: what is the definition of the thing you are looking at? The thing you are looking at is not a pipe. The thing you are looking at is a picture. ... You see, if it were actually a pipe, you could stuff tobacco in it, smoke it, etc. But you cannot do anything like that with it. This is not a pipe. It's a picture.

We generally figure this out when we're growing up. You have a Teddy Bear. When you're a child, perhaps you very adorably treat Rupert as if he were "Bear: Subtype Stuffed". But that isn't really true! Rupert is not any kind of a bear at all, and has no actual connection to Ursus. In reality, the amusing childhood mistake is an inversion of the true state of affairs... Rupert is really a "Stuffed Toy: Subtype Bear".

Likewise, Magritte's treacherous pipe is not a "Pipe: Subtype Picture". Rather, it is a "Picture: Subtype Pipe".

Here's another fine example: consider trips to Rome. You can have an expensive trip to Rome, a long trip to Rome, a pious trip to Rome, etc. Some trips to Rome can be several of these at once. There are all sorts of trips to Rome: religious tr

... (read more)
“It was designed to look like one” does sound like a connection to me.
On the level of an abstraction, yes. But as a physical object or basic function? No. I think that what this quote is getting at, though I'm not sure what the point is as I find all this extremely self evident.

Quote from Peter Watts' Blindsight.

About the prospects of a fight against a superintelligence:

Still, I could tell that Bates' presence was a comfort, to the Human members of the crew at least. If you have to go up unarmed against an angry T-rex with a four-digit IQ, it can't hurt to have a trained combat specialist at your side.

At the very least, she might be able to fashion a pointy stick from the branch of some convenient tree.

Great book, it's freely available here [], in plain html. Can you recommend similar novels?
Unfortunately, I can’t: this kind of (strangely refreshing) cynicism is, in my limited experience, unique to Peter Watts, and the use of interesting “starfish aliens” [] seems to be quite rare. There are, however, other short stories (not novels) of Peter Watts that have a somewhat similar mood , such as Ambassador [], but you probably are already aware of them.
How about R. Scott Bakker's Disciple of the Dog and Neuropath? YMMV on his Second Apocalypse books.
I thought this book was really good up until the ending, which was beyond predictable-- yet I had the impression it was meant to be quite the surprise.

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

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)


Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.


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.

Fair enough, but I think Epicurus' point might be rephrased thus: -not really Epicurus If that's right, it's not so much a question of being concerned about things you don't coexist with. He's saying that it's irrational to be concerned about things which are impossible and inconceivable. That's stupid, of course. Of course, people die. But I have a hard time seeing where the argument actually goes wrong. I am regrettably susceptible to philosophical nonsense of every kind.

It's linguistic trickery, like saying prisoners can't escape because if they escape they're not really prisoners now are they?

4Said Achmiz11y
I don't think that's the kind of linguistic trickery it is. It's more like: The dead person's body exists, but the dead person's mind/consciousness no longer does. If you equivocate by calling both of those things "the person", then they seem to simultaneously be dead and not dead. If you stop equivocating, the problem goes away.
That's a good point, but it's not a solution (so much as a repitition) of the problem. How is it possible that prisoners can escape? Or that ships can sink? I'm not saying I actually doubt that ships can sink, prisoners can escape, and people can die. That would be insane. My problem is that I have a hard time denying the force of the argument.
Try this one: 1. Premise: Imaginary cheese is cheese that is imaginary. 2. In particular, imaginary cheese is cheese. 3. Therefore, some cheese is imaginary. 4. Premise: Invisible cheese is imaginary. 5. Therefore, some imaginary cheese is invisible. 6. By (3) and (5), some cheese is invisible. 7. Where can I get some of that. EDIT: Changed some details because they were distracting.
Yes, I think I also just deny premise 2. Some words work like that: former presidents, for example, are not presidents.
4Said Achmiz11y
The problem is in #2. Imaginary cheese is not a kind of cheese. Edit: I'm not entirely sure this is where I saw it first, but this forum post [] (ironically, on a Catholic forum of some sort, apparently discussing whether certain games such as Magic are evil...) makes the argument excellently. Edit2: In fact, I daresay an excerpt from said post is good enough to post as a rationality quote on its own, which I will now do.
I'm not sure I like this phrasing although the essential point is correct. I'd say rather that generally when one uses a word one implicitly has "actual" or "real" in front of it. Adding the word "actual" at the relevant points in the argument makes the problem more clear.
3Said Achmiz11y
What is the position of imaginary cheese in thingspace, relative to the position of the cheese similarity cluster? Along most dimensions (those relating to physical properties, most causal properties, etc.), imaginary cheese is quite far removed from actual cheeses. Along a couple of dimensions (verbal description, perhaps something like "what sorts of neutral firings are involved in perceiving it"), imaginary cheese is closer to actual cheeses. To take a two-dimensional example, perhaps gouda is at (4,6), cheddar is (5,3), mozarella is (3,7), provolone is (3,5)... and imaginary cheese is, say, (100,4). Within the cluster if you look only at the y dimension, quite distant from it if you look at all dimensions. And if we actually plotted cheese and imaginary cheese in some suitably higher-dimensional space, there'd be a lot of dimensions like x in my toy example (along which imaginary cheese is far from actual cheeses), and few like y (along which imaginary cheese is close to actual cheeses). Out of those dimensions in which cheeses form a cluster, most would be like x, few like y. Edit: the basic issue is that things cluster in thingspace; categories into which we place things are reflections of that clustering. What things do not, in fact, do is fall neatly into classes and subclasses that might seem natural to us, like objects in Java, where if you have e.g. ImaginaryCheese extends Cheese (i.e. the ImaginaryCheese class is a subclass of the Cheese class), then ImaginaryCheese is guaranteed to inherit any and all properties of its superclass Cheese. All we really have is approximations of this behavior, to a lesser or greater extent, e.g.: GoudaCheese behaves more or less like a subclass of Cheese; most relevant properties of Cheese (that is, properties shared by all things within the main body of the Cheese similarity cluster) are in fact inherited by GoudaCheese... because, of course, GoudaCheese is within the main body of the Cheese similarity cluster. Conv
Wonder what the author of that post was banned for.
In your imagination. Look! I made a pretty picture to help! []
-1Said Achmiz11y
As I said here [], imaginary cheese doesn't belong in the Cheese circle. Imaginary cheese is not a kind of cheese.
This argument implicitly assumes that we can't meaningfully talk about things not in the present.
The argument asserts that 'death' (which we might taboo as 'a change, the result of which is not existing') is an incoherent concept. It's not claiming that death is always in the future, it's claiming that there is just no such thing as death.
I wasn't referring to death not being in the present. Rather, the problem with the statement is that it assumes that because the person doesn't exist in the present, it isn't meaningful to talk about that person existing at all.
Ahh, I see, that's a very good point. So you would say that Socrates, despite being dead, nevertheless exists now as someone who is dead. I suppose if we've got a block-time view of things anyway, existence wouldn't have much of anything to do with presentness. I like that answer.
Try playing Taboo.
So 'ceasing to exist' would replace 'dying'. The argument would then be that nothing can cease to exist, and an implicit premise would be that the referent of the subject of a true sentence must exist. Is that true? I guess the reason it's tempting to think it's true in the case of death is that dying is a change in which some particular thing goes from existing to not existing. Yet in the moment the change is complete, there is nothing undergoing any change. So as long as the changing thing (and thus the change) exists, it has not yet died, and if it has died, there is neither a changing thing nor a change. At the very least, this makes death a very weird kind of change.

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.

Which of those ('no experience' or 'wild geese') is correct, and which is incorrect? Both seem plausible to me.
Yeah, sorry, my comment was poorly written. Both statements seem correct to me, but the second one contradicts a certain interpretation of the Epicurus quote, thus making that interpretation incorrect.
It's pretty much correct [], as far as I can see. One should avoid death because s/he values life, rather than cling to life because s/he fears death.
Doing the latter helps sustain ability to do the former.
At the very least, even assuming there's no reason to worry about your own death, you would probably still care about the deaths of others -- at least your friends and family. Given a group of people who mutually value having each other in their lives, death should still be a subject of enormous concern. I don't grant the premise that we shouldn't be concerned about death even for ourselves, but I don't think that premise is enough to justify Epicurus's attitude here. Of course, for most of human history, there genuinely wasn't much of anything that could be done about death, and there's value in recognizing that death doesn't render life meaningless, even if it's a tragedy. But today, when there actually are solutions on the table, this quote sounds more in complacency than acceptance. Upvoted though, because it points to an important cluster of questions that's worth untangling.
Death should still concern you very much. Even though you should not necessarily 'care' about your own death, certainly you should try to eliminate those horrible occasions of your loved ones dying.

The most astonishingly incredible coincidence imaginable would be the complete absence of all coincidences.

-- John Allen Paulos(from Beyond Numeracy)

Be more than good; be good for something

Henry David Thoreau

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.

Charles Mackay from "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds"

Three years ago...I learned that people to whom I defer, and whose authority over my actions is hardly less than that of my own reason over my thoughts, had disapproved of a hypothesis in the field of physics that had been proposed somewhat earlier by another person. I do not want to say that I had accepted that hypothesis...This occurrence was enough to make me change my resolution to publish the treatise...

(Knowledge of "bodies" in the sense of matter) would not only be desirable in bringing about the invention of an infinity of devices to ena

... (read more)

Romana: You mean you didn't believe his story?

The Doctor: No.

Romana: But he had such an honest face.

The Doctor: Romana, you can't be a successful crook with a dishonest face, can you?

Doctor Who

In fact, we come to associate having to expend effort and do things with our work, and associate relaxing and not doing anything with leisure time. So, because many of us don't like our jobs, we tend to associate having to do things with being unhappy, while happiness, as far as we ever know it, means... not doing anything. We never act for ourselves, because we spend our whole days acting for other people, and we think that acting and working hard always leads to unhappiness; our idea of happiness is not having to act, being on permanent vacation.

And th

... (read more)

The question I pose to you is simple. Who is to be the master, you or the bits of talented meat that secrete hormones for you? Your glands are the product of aeons of evolution, and they are not to be scorned, but neither are they to be obeyed blindly.

--Prime Function Aki Zeta-Five, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

Removing all those glands and hormones (assuming they are pars pro toto for our evolved urges), what would be left? A frontal lobe staring at the wall?
Why the criticism?
While I'm not privy to exactly what Prime Function Aki Zeta-Five meant to imply, this especially: ... creates an impression of a homunculus, a little man in the box (the brain). An entity ("you") who'd still have a utility function after removing all the evolved urges that initially drove it. I object to that kind of mystical thinking (and the frontal lobe just staring can also serve as a visual cue of criticism []).
I think that the parts of ourself that we identify with don't comprise all of our hormones. Yes, parts of the quote seem to border on dualism, but I think that it only does so because dualism is a neat little persuasive trick.

He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars: General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite and flatterer.

William Blake

That's Blake again []. Tim Freeman is the author of the quote before the Blake quotes on this page [].
Thanks, fixed.

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:

I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

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.

What does this mean?
Steel man [] See [] also [].
Thank you!

Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened." Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked

... (read more)

"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." ?

It's an example of how even absurd amounts of research can fail to move a religious thought. I think too many people will fail to get the joke and the potential for abuse is too high.
In abandoning one's religion, one also abandons an ethical system. If this lacuna is not filled in by another ethical system that works at least passably well, the consequences for personal and political behaviour can be dire.
For decision-theoric reasons, the dark lords of the matrix give superhumanly good advice about social organization to religious people in ways that look from inside the simulation like supernatural revelations; non-religious people don't have access to these revelations so when they try to do social organization it ends in disaster. Obviously.
Seems legit.
Bonus challenge accepted, blind mode - no peeking at comments, take my word. "God" = the objectively present, difficult-to-disentangle historical trends of the West, and the memetic strains that caused those trends, chiefly Universalism and its Christianity section. So here, a Universalist culture has violated Universalism's own naturally-evolved barriers and safety measures, and suffered for it by landing in a shallow circle of Hell. But Solzhenitsyn wasn't very Universalist, I'd say - not like Zizek and Moldbug and yours truly take it - so he couldn't see that Universalism can only stay alive while moving ever onwards and unfolding itself. Also: this quote should be way way up there! And the Obamas of today shouldn't be quoted so much - all is dust, and all will be dust. But history will sort its Right and Left... in due course. (help help will newsome is taking me over with his computational theology konkvistador you know you saw it help)
Meta-level point: It is possible to steel-man someone's position into an argument that they would not actually endorse. I think that might be what you are doing here. I'm trying to be more whimsical in my posting on LW, but I'm not sure that "rationality," "optimization," or any other special virtue in this community is advanced by this provocative post or its religious-language framing.
For a more detailed discussion go here [].
A key of Marxist thought is the rejection of the idea of God. The Marxist morality that drove the Russian revolutionaries was different than Christian morality. I don't the an inherent problem with blaming the Russian revolution on that change in morality. It's a bit like putting the blame that the crusades happened on Christianity.
Was it really? For example, "the meek shall inherit the earth" transfers basically unchanged.
In Christianity the meek somehow inherent the earth while staying meek. In Marxism they do it through running a revolution and overthrowing the old order.
That sounds like an empirical prediction, not a moral claim.
In Marxism there's no difference between empirical predictions about the far future and moral claims. Marx basically got the idea that you can make empirical predictions about how moral standards will be at the end of history. According to Marx all actions that move the world in the direction of being more in line with the moral standards at the end of history are morally good.
That's not completely relevant, as "the meek shall inherit the earth" was a Christian claim.
You're making a category error. Historical materialism just doesn't have anything to say on the subject of morality, certainly nothing so silly as that. At the end of history the universe will be dirt and dust, but I haven't seen any Marxist who cares (though I think I did once encounter someone who concluded from this and Aristotelian teleology that morality is whatever maximizes entropy, lol.) More generally, even if we can make reasonable claims about what Marxists' and Christians' effective moralities, asking whether these are the same moralities or not is a confused question, for entirely different reasons.
I've seen several compelling arguments along similar lines.
Compelling? Do you mean compelled to reject the premises or compelled to accept the conclusion?
Mostly, I was compelled to author the grandparent comment. So not very compelling.
You're misreading the Marxist "end of history". To Marx, history is the story of class struggle, and so once there are no more classes there is no more history.
You might both be confusing Marxist and Marxian [] thought.
I'm certainly not confused, but those trying to make that distinction might be. His political and sociological theories followed directly from his economic theories - refuting the labor theory of value is really sufficient to defeat Marx entirely, or at least eliminate anything that wasn't already said better by Hegel.
OK, sorry for the superfluous advice then. I have only had a cursory glance at your discussion.
Marx burrowed the idea of history from Hegel. For Marx history is the process of social changes. When that process of changes reaches it's end, you have Marx's end of history. For Marx that's a communist society in which all workers get equal pay and life happily ever after. Afterwards there are no social changes, therefore there's no history. Marx makes a prediction that this communist society will come about. Things that move the world closer to that prediction are morally good for Marx.
I'd say that's like putting the blame for the battle of Normandy on democracy.
Very, very well put! (FYI, Eugine_Nier appears to be pro-democracy) Uru uru uru... ur'f nyernql trggvat zber Znekvfg, abj gb nqq fbzr Ynpna sbe znkvzhz cbgrapl... qnza, Mvmrx unfa'g jevggra nalguvat nobhg ubj gb fcvxr crbcyr'f qvfphffvbaf jvgu Ynpnavna Serhqvfz! Tnu, guvf Serhqb-Znekvfz qnex fbeprel vf pbzcyvpngrq! ^ looks just right in rot13, too! Black Speech! []
I can't tell whether you understood my point, or completely misunderstood it. I don't see where I was "thinking like a Marxist".
Not in this comment specifically - just a general thing about your view of economics' relation to social structures having similar focus (determinism etc) to the Marxist view. TimS has called you out on it recently, no? But still, "moral fashion doesn't ever cause revolutions on its own" is a statement any Marxist would sign under. So in this regard you ironically proved closer to Marxism than the view you kinda-opposed as insufficiently strongly worded ("causal link about as evident as for crusades and Christianity"). See?
TGGP [] defends economic determinism [] here [].
Heh! Cool, thanks.
Ok, so you did misunderstand my intent. My point, was mainly that the Crusades are not a good example of "religion causes people to do something evil".
Wait, why are the Crusades not a good example of religion causing people to do evil things? Do you think they weren't evil, or that religion wasn't to blame?
That depends on what you mean by those terms. Was the battle of Normandy a good thing?
I'm confused. Yes, D-Day was a good thing. Yes, D-Day was violence in service of democracy. What does this have to do with whether (1) the Crusades were a good thing, or (2) whether religion (particularly Catholicism) was a substantial cause of the Crusades?
The crusades are often portrayed as violent Christians invading Muslim lands, which forgets that the Muslims violently took those lands from Christians in the first place. On the other hand, no one complains that the battle of Normandy consisted of violent democracies attacking the lands of the Third Reich.
There probably would be people complaining if D-Day had occurred four centuries after the fall of France.
We could debate the reasoning that led the Western and Northern Europeans to militarily support the Byzantines until the heat death of the universe - but it's not a particularly interesting discussion. But the Crusades did spark a lot of in-group / out-group violence [] in Europe itself. De-tangling the Crusaders related pogroms from the base rate of pogroms in Europe is very difficult - but it is at least plausible that the increased religious fervor was a partial cause of the Crusader pogroms.
If it's a question of whether religion has a history of motivating violence, it's worth considering why the Muslims took those lands to begin with.
I agree that's a better example. One thing to notice is that the propensity of a religion to cause violence varies by religion.
Plunder and glory? edit: To put it another way, I'd argue the conquest of traditionally Christian territories under the Rashidun and Ummayad Caliphs was due to religion in the same way the Spanish conquests in the Americas were - enabled and justified by religion, but motivated primarily by the desire for wealth and fame. I can go into further detail if anyone wants, though I doubt that is the case.
Fair enough. What about what the Conquistadores did in the Americas, or what the Inquisition did to heretics? Were they good things too?
The Conquisadores destroyed the human-sacrificing Aztecs. A better example for religion causing people to do bad things would be the Aztecs themselves.
1) There no rule that says the Spanish and the Aztecs can't both be wrong. 2) That doesn't resolve the invasion of the Inca in South America 3) The Spanish occupation over the next few centuries probably caused more suffering than the Aztec (or possibly even the Crusades).
The main suffering caused by the Spanish was through the unknowing introduction of European diseases, not because of their religion. I haven't studied the issue of the invasion of the Inca but I haven't heard it religiously motivated either. My point remains that the actions of the Aztecs are a far better example of religion causing people to bad thing.
The conquest of the Inca was probably a mixed religious / imperialist motive on the part of the Spanish - as was basically all activity by the Spanish throughout the New World. But the occupation throughout Latin America also had a substantial religious component - including religious justification of the plantation system and harsh conversion practices. In short, I am unsure how frequent the human sacrifice component of Aztec religion was performed. But it would need to be quite frequent to exceed the suffering caused by the Spanish governing practices in the New World - even excluding suffering caused by introduction of new disease. Finally, I mostly agree with Eugine_Nier above that the brutally of warfare in that era cannot reasonably be counted as evidence of evil on par with the evil of human sacrifice or human slavery. For example, Medieval siege created massive suffering, but that's just the cost of war in that era. Calling it evil is the same as calling war evil - a position I'm willing to consider, but acknowledge is quite extreme..
Unfortunately this is a controversial subject in academia -- largely because it informs arguments like this one, but also because of sparse primary evidence. I've seen estimates as high as 250,000 sacrifices a year [] in Aztec-controlled territory, although more conservative figures put the number an order of magnitude lower []; I'd probably be more inclined to accept the latter, given the relatively small population of the Aztec states of the time. Aztec use of prisoners of war as objects of sacrifice is pretty well documented (though there's some controversy over the role of the so-called flower wars []), but even with that input it seems to me that there'd be some basic sustainability concerns. I've heard estimates even lower than that, but I'm not sure how credible they are.
From what I understand it would be more credible to blame said behavior on "capitalism" than "religion". What with the invading to take the land and natural resources (gold, for example).
IIRC what little "statistics" and population estimates I've seen of native americans and aztecs in particular, a bunch of hotspots around the world today are doing much, much worse damage both per-capita and especially in terms of raw numbers. Any number of them could reasonably be attributed to religion, but they could also be attributed to a bunch of other factors, which would be better described overall as "anti-epistemology" or just generalized stupidity.
Any examples?
Well, taking estimates from various of the top search engine hits and wikipedia, I arrive at an uppper 95%-confidence bound of 7% (rounded up) of the aztec population sacrificed systematically per year on average (during the peak of the empire, though, probably not sustained for more than a decade if even that), using the lower 300k total peak population and the (probably over-)estimated 20k number for annual human fatal sacrifices. The actual ratio was most likely much lower than this, but I wanted to challenge myself a bit. By comparison, the ongoing war(s) in Afghanistan [] are estimated at a total three million deaths (upper bound also). This is over 34 years however, and the population estimates at the start were of 15 million, with current estimates around 30 million (this is all according to wikipedia data, though). This brings us to an average 0.5% deaths from war, rather than systematized sacrifice, which is arguably different and not quite the same as "religion causing people to do bad things". Similar data from similar sources on the Darfur case give a 1.1% figure, though I only used the pre-war 6-million population for this and the ratio would be higher if I had excluded the massive amount of people who fled or were displaced soon after that whole nightmare began. So I'm running short on time here and won't go analyzing other examples I had in mind, but in retrospect it seems I don't quite have such clear-cut numbers here, and while I find the 20k/year estimate for aztec sacrifices ridiculously unlikely compared to the estimates for Afghanistan or Darfur, it would be reasonable to take my previous statement on per-capita with a large dose of salt. However, the "raw scale" point is certainly valid - even the impressive 20k/year figure pales in comparison to the 66k/year of Darfur or the 88k/year of Afghanistan, or some other figures that could be found with some more digging, and
Mass murder, theft, and enslavement don't become okay just because contemporaneous plagues have a higher death toll. And yes, the former tended to justified in religious terms, for whatever you think that's worth.
The argument I was responding was "The Spanish occupation caused more suffering", therefore it bloody well is relevant to figure out how much of that suffering was the result of religious motivations and how much of it wasn't. If the argument is supposed to be about "mass murder, theft and enslavement" instead about "suffering", then the argument should have said "mass murder, theft and enslavement" rather than "suffering". And nowhere do I see any place where I say or imply that mass murder, theft and enslavement are "okay" -- I'd appreciate it if you keep the Principle of Charity [] in mind when you're responding to people.
You're right, you didn't "imply mass murder, theft, and enslavement are okay", you neglected to mention them entirely, despite them being relevant to your claim that "the actions of the Aztecs are a far better example of religion causing people to bad thing", unlike disease. You made no argument against the claim that the suffering inflicted by the Spanish directly exceeded that caused by the Aztecs (#3 in TimS's post). Instead you simply noted that disease caused "the main suffering", and restated your previous position. What would you accept as a charitable interpretation of that?
I could also play the game where I claim you implied human sacrifice is okay, but that would be falling to your level. Hence: end of discussion on my part.
Well, they achieved that by exterminating them (well, they didn't even have to try that hard -- infectious diseases did much of the work for them -- but still...) rather than by converting them, so the cure was worse than the disease.
Um... technically that's a geographical impossibility. Once the democracies liberated French territory (violently taken by the Third Reich from France in the first place) and launched offensives beyond the "lawful" borders of Germany as drawn under the Treaty of Versailles, it wasn't called the "Battle of Normandy" anymore. Normandy is a mid-sized region on the northwestern French coast. (Wikipedia article) []
You are being extremely uncharitable to Eugine's point. D-Day or "Battle of Normandy" is a reasonable shorthand for the Allied liberation of France and followup invasion of Nazi Germany.
I know, I know. It's just that I'm a pretty hardcore (read: obsessive) World War 2 geek :).
The Third Reich considered northern France a part of itself.
That depends where you draw the line. The Third Reich considered Vichy France a client state, dependent on but legally separate from itself. The north and west of France, including Normandy, fell under German military occupation after 1940 (as did the rest of the country after 1942), but that ostensibly represented wartime defense needs rather than a permanent territorial claim. Germany did administer some French lands as part of itself during the war, all in France's northeast along the German border. There's some indication that territorial expansion would have proceeded further had the Nazis won, but most of the Third Reich's annexations took place east of Germany's prewar territory.
That religion wasn't to blame. Read the grandparents, most notably this []. EDIT: Wait, no. I had that backwards [].
Did the (nominal) Christians who did violent and terrible things forget God too?
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn doesn't speak about "why people do violent things?" in the quote but about why the Russian revolution happened.

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."

Interpreting Carlin charitably, he is talking about moral or rational authority, not about authority in the sense of power over others.
What's "rational authority"?
'Rational authority' is the reason why, e.g., if you care about the election outcome, you are more interested in Nate Silver's opinion than a taxi driver's.
Oh, I see. Good point.
The first entry Google gives me for authority is "the power or right to give orders", which is presented as a single definition but which is clearly two very different concepts lumped together. Carlin's quote and your parody each seem to be focusing on only one or the other half of that definition, but he does so in a way intended to highlight the distinction whereas you seem to be doing so in a way which hides it.
You could replace "Pope" with "President" in that quote, and it's still true.


I think analogies are really only useful for explaining the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. This kind of bizzare analogy, explaining the familiar in terms of the unfamiliar, is only useful for amusement purposes.

-- 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:

So start with an interesting hypothetical: does everybody need to work anymore? I understand work from an ethical/character perspective, this is not here my point. Since we no longer need e.g. manufacturing jobs-- cheaper elsewhere or with robots-- since those labor costs have evaporated, could that surplus go towards paying people simply to stay out of trouble? [...] Let me be explicit: my question is not should we do this, my question is that since this is precisely what's happening already, is i

... (read more)
the meaning or source of the $ amounts if very unclear to me. Is there more on it somewhere?
* $150/mo for SNAP (i.e., food stamps) is in the right ballpark; the average in 2011 [] was $133.85/mo. * $700/mo for SSI is an overestimate; the average benefit for those under 18 [] (i.e., "some high school") was $621.30/mo. * I couldn't find an average benefit estimate from the department of labor for unemployment insurance, but sufficiently many sources claim on the order of $300-500/week, possibly before taxes. $1500/mo is perhaps reasonable. * I don't know where he's getting the jail number from, but some random googling suggests that the average cost per inmate of American prisons is something like $20k-40k/year. Presumably he means minimum security prisons (as he uses the example of an incarcerated marijuana user later).

And knock it off the with "buts", as in, "Thank you for clarifying, but it's not good enough..." You can say that without the "but": "Thank you for clarifying. That's very helpful. Now that I have basis to discuss your plans, I want to let you know how much I hate that..." It's not a "but" statement -- it doesn't sit in contradiction of the "thank you" -- it's an "and" statement: "Thank you for fixing problem #1 and problems #2 through #46 still exist."

The only place that

... (read more)
Meh. 'But' is just 'and' with a case of incongruity. That's what it is, so I don't see a problem with using it for that... though of course dark arts applications would be problematic.
It's even more dark artsy to not even mention contrary evidence.
Unless you know they'll run across it and want to control their exposure to it.
Train self to perceive the word "but" as an alarm bell. When tempted to use it in an argument, immediately abort sentence and reflect on whether to swap the clauses before and after it, or even save the latter for a more appropriate time. (I imagine a lot of people here already do that.)

So the first lesson about trusting your senses is: don't. Just because you believe something to be true, just because you know it's true, that doesn't mean it is true. The most important maxim for fighter pilots is "Trust your instruments."

--David Eagleman

The final sentence of that quote is true whether the first two sentences are there or not. Thus, I could make the same assertion by saying:

Two, you can use this corpus to conduct a very interesting exercise: you can triangulate. This is an essential skill in defensive historiography. If you like UR, you like defensive historiography.

Historiographic triangulation is the art of taking two or more opposing positions from the past, and using hindsight to decide who was right and who was wrong. The simplest way to play the game is to imagine that the opponents in the debate were reanimated in 2008, informed of present conditions, and reunited for a friendly panel discussion. I'm afraid often the

... (read more)

From moment to moment, different modules or systems compete for attention and the winner serves as the neural system underlying that moment of conscious experience.

--Michael Gazzaniga

Regarding brain architecture.

I like these. Has he written papers or books that might be of particular interest or value if I'm interested in the gritty bits of what-we-don't-know about neurobiology, brain architecture and general brain-related stuffs?
You may be interested in chapter 14 by Christof Koch (the one and only) in an anthology on Consciousness, the whole chapter is available for free at google books here []. In general, Koch's [] the go-to guy for these kinds of questions.
I have these from the youtube lectures [] he has given, very accessible and interesting(thanks to lukeprog for the tip):

As soon as an Analytical Engine exists, it will necessarily guide the future course of the science.

Charles Babbage

I suppose we don't know if this is true, since it doesn't yet exist. BTW, what has this to do with rationality?

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".

Computers have revolutionized most fields of science. I take it as a general "yay science/engineer/computers" quote.
Babbage's prediction isn't about computers in general; it is about the Analytical Engine (which, as I pointed out, has never been constructed in its entirety).
What could his Analytical Engine do that a modern computer can't? (BTW, I've just read the lead of the Wikipedia article and I'm seriously impressed.)
So, what's the relevance of the fact that his Engine “has never been constructed in its entirety” if machines that can do everything it could do do exist?

The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

William Blake

Freeman? That's one of my favorite lines from Blake's "Proverbs of Hell"...

My friend the Angel climb'd up from his station into the mill; I remain'd alone, & then this appearance was no more, but I found myself sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moonlight hearing a harper who sung to the harp, & his theme was, The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind.

What do I mean by “generally correct but overly simple”? Imagine a physicist who says, if he drops a sheet of paper and a bag of bricks from the top of a high tower, they'll both hit the ground at the same time. When the local villagers tell him he must be mad, he scoffs, and declares they must not understand gravity, for which (as Galileo proved) the rate of an object's downward acceleration is independent of its mass. When the villagers continue to doubt him, he writes angry pamphlets expressing his disappointment that everyone is too foolish to accept

... (read more)

“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

King Kai: It’s…. It’s over.
Yamcha: What?
King Kai: Goku could not escape the explosion. Namek is gone, and so is he.
Yamcha: No. Goku no. NOOOOOOOOO! [Cries]
Tien: Why do you care?
Yamcha: Ah, wha?
Tien: Why do any of you care? Are you forgetting the whole reason they went to Namek in the first place? Now we have two sets of Dragon Balls.
Yamcha: Well…. yeah but you make it sound like death has no consequence.
Tien: It really doesn’t. We’re literally waiting to go back. Hell, this is Chiaotzu’s second time.
Chiaotzu: Next time I get a free sundae!
Yamcha: Huh.

... (read more)

There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.

H.L. Mencken

"Some magic bullets from the past" []

On [the bottom line([politics as a mindkiller](

This is a practical country. We have ideals; we have philosophies. But the problem with any ideology is, it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. [Stewart: Right.] So you have to mold the evidence to get the answer that you've already decided you've got to have. It doesn't work that way.

Source: Bill Clinton, in an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (episode date: September 20, 201... (read more)

Duplicate []
So it is. I guess I didn't check thoroughly enough. Thanks.

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.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
Misclicking like a madman today, Transitional species, Winston Rowntree [] is one massive, awesome quote. Only one part wouldn't do it justice, unfortunately.

"Tell me," the great twentieth-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once asked a friend, "why do people always say it was natural for man to assume that the sun went around the Earth rather than that the Earth was rotating?"

His friend replied, "Well, obviously because it just looks as though the Sun is going around the Earth."

Wittgenstein responded, "Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating?"

-related by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion

Versions of this quote have been posted twice before; the best version of the quote includes the friend's reply to Wittgenstein: []
Thanks; I thought it was likely to have been posted, but I tried to search for it and didn't find it.
Mm. If you had googled for 'wittgenstein earth', which seems to me to be the most obvious search phrase, you would've found 2 links on the first page...
Yes, clearly my Google-fu is lacking. I think I searched for phrases like "sun went around the Earth," which fails because your quote has "sun went round the Earth."
There's your problem, you got overly specific. When you're formulating a search, you want to balance how many hits you get - the broader your formulation, the more likely the hits will include your target (if it exists) but the more hits you'll return. In this case, my reasoning would go something like this, laid out explicitly: '"Wittgenstein" is almost guaranteed to be on the same page as any instance of this quote, since the quote is about Wittgenstein; LW, however, doesn't discuss Wittgenstein very much, so there won't be many hits in the first place; to find this quote, I only need to narrow down those hits a little, and after "Wittgenstein", the most fundamental core word to this quote is "Earth" or "sun", so I'll toss one of them in and... ah, there's the quote.' If I were searching the general Internet, my reasoning would go more like "'Wittgenstein' will be on like a million websites; I need to narrow that down a lot more to hope to find it; so maybe 'Wittgenstein' and 'Earth' and 'Sun'... nope nothing on the first page, toss in 'goes around' OR 'go around', ah there it is!" (Actually, for the general Internet, just 'Wittgenstein earth sun' turns up a first page mostly about this quote, several of which include all the details one could need aside from Dawkins's truncated version.)
Like I was standing still and the earth was rotating.

Men go crazy in congregations; they only get better one by one


We do not belong to those who only get their thoughts from books, or at the prompting of books, it is our custom to think in the open air, walking, leaping, climbing, or dancing on lonesome mountains by preference, or close to the sea, where even the paths become thoughtful. Our first question concerning the value of a book, a man, or a piece of music is: Can it walk? or still better: Can it dance?

Nietzsche, The Gay Science

My view is that if your philosophy is not unsettled daily then you are blind to all the universe has to offer.

Neil deGrasse Tyson



Each morning I go through all my beliefs and randomly flip their truth values, guaranteeing maximal surprise

joking aside, this is a fun and somewhat useful exercise in deduction.
That's certainly true. I think the point isn't that you should be constantly changing everything you believe, but that you should actively seek out new knowledge—especially knowledge that has a high probability of shifting the way you think (in a positive direction, of course).
You're right, but the quote still makes sense. Humans are built so that they either live in ignorance or in perpetual wonder as they discover and rediscover that their intuitions don't accurately model reality. You might consider this as proof that humans are insane, and I'm inclined to agree, but the quote is still true and has a useful message.
See here [] and here [] for why you should prefer the stronger version of the injunction, even if it seems paradoxical.
I'm trying to figure out what "somewhat" adds. Seems to me it takes something away. It makes a powerful statement into a wimpy one. Sure, if you take "unsettled" to mean something like "check yourself into a psychiatric unit," and take "daily" literally, obviously there would be a problem. But "unsettled" means just that. Unsettled. Not fixed. In question. How much in question? What's the ideal level of "unsettled"? And, "Who is asking?" is the question I've been taught to ask. If I ask the question, I'm uncomfortable with "unsettled" and want to be assured that it will only be a little, so that I can continue with "my" philosophy without any significant transformation. Pretty standard survival thinking. The rest of the statement makes it clear. It implies a value to "all the universe has to offer." When? Every day. What philosophy? Part of it? No, the whole thing. Look, I should be so lucky that the whole complex constructed mess disappears. Doesn't happen that way. If it did, the chance of a day with no established philosophy at all would be amazing. Where do I sign up? (No, if this was an amnesia drug that simply wiped it, I'd refuse. Rather, "unsettled" is just right, up to the point where it isn't attached at all, it's just sitting there, floating, not controlling, visible, available and useful if needed, seen for what it is, a pile of memories and patterns.)
Indeed. One should have an open mind but a very judicious customs agent at the gate.

I used to agree, but that part of my philosophy recently became unsettled.

There is no objective "world around us." There are only attempts to represent that world, whose attributes and flaws vary. I am a writer. I believe in being "on the ground." I believe in "seeing things." But part of "seeing things" is that if you actually are seeing as much as possible, you understand the limitations of your eyes.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

4Said Achmiz11y
Given that Coates is complaining about a pundit who disdains polls in favor of personal impressions (or worse, secondhand accounts thereof), it seems like a better conclusion would be "there is an objective world; and your feelings about how the world is, are not the world itself; you actually have to go and measure in a systematic fashion if you want to know what the world is like". I'm not sure why he concludes that the objective world is not real. Besides, if there's no objective world, then the notion of some attempts to represent that world being more or less flawed, seems incoherent... P.S. You've got the hyphen in Coates' name placed wrong; it should be "Ta-Nehisi Coates".
I think he means that none of the stuff in a mind is going to be a perfect representation, but if that's what he meant, then there were probably better ways of saying it. In any case, the location of the hyphen in his name is about as objective as you can get, and I've corrected it.
3Said Achmiz11y
Yes, to be fair, that seems like a reasonable charitable interpretation. Coates' writing (that I've seen linked from here, anyway) is consistently insightful and clear-headed, so I was actually somewhat surprised to read a "there is no reality" line from him. Perhaps the real rationality takeaway here is that sometimes the people who talk about the "objective world" and "looking at reality" and so forth are the ones who are engaging in woo and irrational nonsense, which baits their opponents into this strange arguing-against-objective-reality position. The lesson, then, is that we should look at how people actually derive their beliefs, not how objective they claim they're being.

Bokonon: One day the enhanced humans of the future will dig through their code, until they come to the core of their own minds. And there they will find a mass of what appears to be the most poorly written mess of spaghetti code ever devised, its flaws patched over by a massive series of hacks.

Koheleth: And then they will attempt to rewrite that code, destroying the last of their humanity in the process.

The Dialogues Between Bokonon and Koheleth

If we're using "humanity" to mean human values, this quote seems simply false (presuming that value stability is a solved problem by then). If we're using the word to mean the architecture of baseline humans, it seems somewhere between false and irrelevant depending on what features of that architecture we care about. If we're using it to mean some kind of metaphysical quality of human nature, it seems entirely unverifiable.
I found the quote amusing specifically because of this ambiguity (modulus your first point - the question of values seems tangential to me). I found the mix of optimism (ie. the assumptions that no extinction type events will occur, and that there will be a continuous descendant type relationship between generations far into our future, etc...) and pessimism (ie, the assumption that, on a large enough time scale, most architectural components traceable to now-humans will become obsolete) poignant.
That seems like the presumption that the quote is challenging.
Even if that's true (which I'm not convinced it is; as I implied, "humanity" covers a lot of ground before it stops working in context), I'm uncomfortable with the implications of the quote. It seems to be treating value stability less as a (difficult) problem and more as an insurmountable obstacle, the sort where the only way to win is not to play. Then there's the "alas, Babylon" overtones. Suppose I should expect as much from someone taking the name of a Kurt Vonnegut character, though.
Even if you think the essence of the quote is wrong, that "we" would be better off if all the poets and street performers were making good livings in the white economy, don't you think the quote is valuable for pointing up an important question that many of us working on coding intelligence may need to answer some day?
Wait, what? I was talking about self-modification, not social normativity. It might be a point about the latter in context, but it isn't out of context; I was responding to the words you presented, not the ones in the source. And my objection isn't that it raises the wrong question, but that it closes that question with a wrong answer.
What's the quote have to do with whether we want to be street performers? Do you think that self-modifying humans would try to make themselves want to work in offices instead of street performance, or something?
You can make a lot more money per unit time working in an office rather than as a street performer.
Is that what you would do if you could self-modify better? Do you use your limited capacity to change how your mind functions to make yourself into a more efficient money-making machine? I don't.
Do you do any instrumental things? Like say, eat? Practice? Learn? Self modify? Making more money happens to be a very effective way to achieve most goals. You should use your "limited capacity to change how your mind functions " to become more capable of doing whatever it is you want to do, in the most effective way possible. If you find that making money is not instrumental to your goals, say so, but don't just make fun of it and imply that the people who do (try to make money) are doing something wrong.
yeah. Sorry. The tone I was using was totally wrong for the kind of discussions we want to have here.
Is the point of being a street performer to make money or artistic fulfillment? It seems like there are better ways to achieve either one of these goals.
We shouldn't edit humanity to remove depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other mental illness? No thanks - instead, let's avoiding totally pointless wasting of human capability.
You shouldn't carelessly think you are necessarily wise enough to edit humanity without destroying it in the process. Things like "depression" "anxiety" "schizophrenia" are probably not neatly packed away in tidy little boxes you can remove from your brain without any side-effects at all. This has been somewhat discussed at Devil's offers []
I'm not saying that disentangling what we want to preserve will be easy. But the quote speaks in absolutes - fixing the code that causes schizophrenia or Capgras syndrone is prohibited because that would destroy our humanity. It's conflating the problem of Hidden Complexity of Wishes [] with Justification-for-being-hit-on-the-head-every-day.
The quote neither speaks in absolutes nor does it prohibit anything. Quotes must be compact and pithy to be quotable. If a quote refers to "advanced humans of the future," it is quite reasonable to expect they are talking about healthy, typical humans, and not referring to the repair of defects that only occur in some humans. The quote expresses a wistful sense of loss at a choice to clean out the evelved code that makes up our kernel. It doesn't prohibit anything.
I think the questions relevant to the quote would be should we avoid editing out crying at cute kitten videos, sitting with your grandmother while she tells you the same story for the 21st time, wearing a "kiss me I'm Polish" pin on st. patrick's day, laughing at three stooges movies, and swooning when a nice boy writes you doggerel or gives you an "Oh Henry" candy bar. In rewriting the part of the code that evolution put in, all sorts of idiosyncratic behavior will be written out. The fact that the root idio means self, personal, private will not make it any easier to replace the evolved code with rationalized, readable, maintainable code without losing all sorts of behaviors whos purpose is nearly unknowable when looking at the existing code. Since anxiety, depression, and especially schizophrenia are features of humanity which exist to a negative degree only in some of us, it will probably be possible to fix these by writing patches that operate on the relevant minds that have these features, and will not reqiure touching the evoluion-written code.
Why would you judge your morality by the quality of it's coding?

"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)

Duplicate. []
My mistake, I searched but didn't see it.
I read this quote as saying that we don't get educations in order to do things, but rather to have an awareness of things. I personally don't do that, with most things. I think this quote smacks of ivory-towerism.

We run the risk of going extinct, and the irony is, we did it to ourselves. The ‘smarty pants’ brain that created advanced weapons, complex global economics [and more] is routinely bossed around by the brain that shoots from the hip, makes often terrible decisions, and reacts more to fear and greed than to reason....

No one in their right mind would deliberately create the means of their own extinction, but that’s what we seem to be doing. The only conclusion is that we’re not in our right minds...

K.C. Cole

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.

If you're consistently in your right mind you can safely create the means of your own extinction, with the knowledge that you are sufficiently sane not to use it to extinguish yourself. This can come in handy when the means of your own extinction has significant non-extinction related uses.
This is true in theory, but do you think it's an accurate description of our real world? (Nuclear power is potentially great, but with a bit more patience and care, we could stretch our non-nuclear resources quite a bit further, which would have given us more time to build stable(r) political systems.)
No, I was responding to the "no one in their right mind" bit. It seems to me that when you are in your right mind is precisely the time to build artifacts that could destroy your civilization, and it doesn't seem to me that you could conclude from building such artifacts that you are not in your right mind. Rather, I think there's other evidence that humanity can't be trusted with e.g. nuclear weaponry, and this suggests that we should not build it. lukeprog's quote seems to me to be of the form "Humanity can't be trusted with nuclear weapons, yet builds them anyway, so it must be crazy, so it can't be trusted with nuclear weapons."
I think you set a false dichotomy here - we can generate relatively safe nuclear power (thorium reactors) without existential risk, and without creating the byproducts necessary to create nuclear weapons. This is not an argument against the root comment, however.
Sure, thorium reactors do not appear to immediately allow nuclear weapons - but the scientific and technological advances that lead to thorium reactors are definitely "dual-use". I'm not entirely convinced of either the feasibility or the ethics of the "physicists should never have told politicians how to build a nuke" argument that's been made multiple times on LW (and in HPMOR), but the existence of thorium reactors doesn't really constitute a valid argument against it - an industry capable of building thorium reactors is very likely able to think up, and eventually build, nukes.
Fallacy of Composition []? "We" didn't create advanced weapons, for example, tiny fractions of "we" did. And if half of humanity nukes the other half to extinction, but not before the other half fires off the nukes that wipe out the first half, then is it really fair to say that "we" committed suicide? The outcome is the same but you can't begin to understand the problem by oversimplifying it.