Rationality Quotes December 2013

by Cyan1 min read17th Dec 2013464 comments


Rationality Quotes
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Rationality quotes time! 

The usual rules:

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
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"Finally, a study that backs up everything I've always said about confirmation bias." -Kslane, Twitter


Most of the Headlines from a Mathematically Literate World. An example:

Our World: Hollywood Breaks Box Office Records with Explosions, Rising Stars.

Mathematically Literate World: Hollywood Breaks Box Office Records with Inflation, Rising Population.

More of these gems, for the lazy:

Our World: Firm’s Meteoric Rise Explained by Daring Strategy, Bold Leadership

Mathematically Literate World: Firm’s Meteoric Rise Explained by Good Luck, Selection Bias

Our World: One Dead in Shark Attack; See Tips for Shark Safety Inside

Mathematically Literate World: One Dead in Tragic, Highly Unlikely Event; See Tips for Something Useful Inside

Our World: Poll Finds 2016 Candidates Neck and Neck

Mathematically Literate World: Poll Finds 2016 Predictions Futile, Absurd

Mathematically and Economically Literate World: Rapid economic growth in India and China create record sales for low marginal cost information goods that achieve cross-cultural appeal by, for example, playing to base pleasures by displaying explosions and beautiful actors.

7Vaniver7yNotice the number of political digs among the clear ones.
2Luke_A_Somers7yLooks to me like around 4, with one of them being of no particular partisan orientation. Okay, what's special about that number, that I should notice it? Seems about what one would expect for a list of that length. A bit low, frankly.
1Vaniver7yThe number doesn't seem as important as the habit of noticing political digs, regardless of whether or not you agree with them.
2Luke_A_Somers7yOkay. I was just wondering why you said 'number' there.
5MTGandP7yIn case anyone's curious, here are the highest-grossing films, adjusted for inflation [http://boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted.htm].

By the middle of the seventeenth century it had come to be understood that the world was enclosed in a sea of air, much as the greater part of it was covered by water. A scientist of the period, Francesco Lana, contended that a lighter-than-air ship could float upon this sea, and he suggested how such a ship might be built. He was unable to put his invention to a practical test, but he saw only one reason why it might not work:

". . . that God will never suffer this Invention to take effect, because of the many consequencies which may disturb the Civil Government of men. For who sees not, that no City can be secure against attack, since our Ship may at any time be placed directly over it, and descending down may discharge Souldiers; the same would happen to private Houses, and Ships on the Sea: for our Ship descending out of the Air to the sails of Sea-Ships, it may cut their Ropes, yea without descending by casting Grapples it may over-set them, kill their men, burn their Ships by artificial Fire works and Fire-balls. And this they may do not only to Ships but to great Buildings, Castles, Cities, with such security that they which cast these things down from a height out of

... (read more)

He had predicted modern air warfare in surprisingly accurate detail—with its paratroopers and its strafing and bombing.

Not really relevant, but this seems like an overstatement. Paratroopers and bombing I can see, but strafing doesn't seem to be mentioned, and I'm not aware that using airborne grapples to overturn ships has ever happened (my understanding is that the weight ratios wouldn't cooperate).

He also seems to be predicting that only one side in any given conflict will have airships, and assuming that everyone else will just keep doing what they were doing before instead of developing strategies and technologies to defend against this new threat.

4HungryHippo7yAs to your last paragraph: yes, Lana could have imagined the future "one step further" by considering what would have happened when both sides of a war acquire these flying ships. In this respect, his "error" in considering only one of the two sides seems similar to one of Sun Tzu which goes something like: What happens when both you and your enemy "know the enemy and know yourself". How can neither of you not fear the result of a hundred battles? However, consider also The Bomber Will Always Get Through [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_bomber_will_always_get_through], some 300 years later, as a counterpoint to "develop new strategies to defend against this new threat".
5Vaniver7yTwo interpretations jump to mind: the first is that 'fear' is interpreted as uncertainty, the second is that mutually fully informed agents could do enough damage to each other that war between them is senseless, and thus there are no battles.
1AndHisHorse7yAlternately, I interpreted it as saying that war between two such agents will always be a stalemate, with both sides gingerly risking pawns and trading minor victories which, while never leading to substantial success, do not lead to crushing defeat, either. Of course, your second interpretation is much more applicable in the general case of two sides which are not evenly matched, in which case the weaker one will accept their defeat (either by surrendering or deciding to go out in a defiant but hopeless battle), in which case your first interpretation comes into play.
3philh7yI note that people on the ground did develop new strategies to defend against planes. Radar and antiaircraft guns and those balloon things to take them down, bomb shelters to make them less lethal. I wonder how many WWII bombers would it take to land a single bomb on DC? The bombers also evolved, of course (I guess now it would be "the missile will always get through"), and my understanding is that defense hasn't kept up with offense. But a race with a clear victor isn't the same thing as no race at all.

There are tens of thousands of professional money managers. Statistically, a handful of them have been successful by pure chance. Which ones? I don't know, but I bet a few are famous.

The market doesn't care how much you paid for a stock. Or your house. Or what you think is a "fair" price.

Professional investors have better information and faster computers than you do. You will never beat them short-term trading. Don't even try.

The book Where Are the Customers' Yachts? was written in 1940, and most still haven't figured out that financial advisors don't have their best interest at heart.

The low-cost index fund is one of the most useful financial inventions in history. Boring but beautiful.

Highlights from "50 Unfortunate Truths About Investing" by Morgan Housel.

3pianoforte6117yMore of the people reading this comment are likely to hire a financial advisor than try to become an investor. With that in mind I'd like to hear more about why financial advisors don't have our best interests at heart. I took a personal finance course in college that was 95% telling us how to create and execute financial plans and 5% telling us that in practice you should just hire a financial advisor. The former is to ensure that you know if your financial advisor knows what he's talking about. Is this actually bad advice?
7EHeller7yIn my experience, quite a few money managers generate a lot more fees then they strictly need to. Even some index funds will churn/rebalance more than necessary in order to generate a fee. When you consider the oft-cited statistic that very few managers outperform the market, and add in the fact that many they do eat the entire much of the surplus with fees, it becomes optimal to buy a good index rather than hire a financial adviser. The problem with hiring advisers of all kinds is that you are hiring someone because they know more than you- which means you run the risk of them using their knowledge to rip you off.
0pianoforte6117yFinancial advisors aren't exactly the same as money managers. They aren't just there for advice on investing. They are there to help you create a financial plan, create financial goals, tell you how much you need to spend and save in order to meet those goals and if they are good, make sure you know when you are failing in those goals. At least in theory. Ergo, index funds aren't exactly a replacement for financial advisors. I accept that if you just want to invest then index funds might be your best bet. Moreover, even if I understand index funds and the basic of personal finance, it might still be a good idea to hire an advisor. I think that after many years of school, I understand the principles of how to learn a new subject effectively. Yet it is still far more productive for me to take a class than to try to self study a topic. This isn't true for everyone (see Scott H Young) but its true for me. Having a structured environment keeps me on track. I suspect that managing my finances will be similar.
0James_Miller7yProbably good advice, although for middle class Americans you don't really need a financial advisor if you understand index funds and the tax benefits of pensions.
3hyporational7yI'd be interested in some guesstimations on how much luck it would take to be Warren Buffett, for example. Survivorship bias in finance is often employed as a just so story.
4James_Miller7yLess than you think given that he was able to cheaply borrow money through his insurance company.
1hyporational7yCan you think of any investor billionaires who seem to have become rich mostly by chance? I suppose they'd have to be people who were already rich and didn't have to make many decisions to become even richer.
5Desrtopa7yHow would you distinguish an investor billionaire who became rich by chance from one who chose wisely, after the fact? If you have access to information regarding how they made their investment decisions, you should be able to tell them apart, but in most cases that information probably isn't available. One of Jon Ronson's [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Ronson] books (probably Lost At Sea, but I've since returned it to the library and no longer have it for reference,) features interviews with individuals at levels of income on steps of about five times apart, and one of those individuals, whose wealth was not in the billions, but was in the hundreds of millions, had made his wealth because a college friend introduced him to one of the founders of.... some major online corporation, possibly Amazon, so that he could provide startup money which he'd received from his father's business. So his acquisition of his wealth was largely effortless and due to chance by his own admission. I don't know to what extent this is normal for very wealthy people, but his perception seemed to be that it was quite common.
1hyporational7yAssess how many decisions they had to make to get there. Did they make a couple of large successful investments, or many smaller successful investments? My point exactly. Fewer decisions to make by flipping a coin to become even richer, less chance of losing your money. There are fewer billionaires than millionaires who got there that way, because the initial money needed is harder to come by. I wonder if one could become a successful investor by studying people who made their fortune gradually.
1Desrtopa7yJust because someone made their money through many small investments though, doesn't mean that they didn't make their money by luck. You'd have to be quite lucky, but then, there are quite a lot of people involved with the opportunity to get lucky. Also, even a "smaller investment" in a business that grows explosively can be sufficient to produce considerable wealth. Suppose that of an investor's investments, 49 out of 50 fail or stagnate, but the remaining one grows in value by 100,000%. Overall, the investor has multiplied their investment twenty times. It's not necessary for an investor to usually pick right, just to occasionally pick very right. This is the principle that Paul Graham works by in funding startups.
2hyporational7yOf course it doesn't, are we speaking in certainties now? That's not "people who make their fortune gradually". Don't learn from people who hit for every 20 misses. That depends on how much money they have in the first place and how often "occasionally" means. Also if this is a generally successful strategy, then obviously they are not just lucky.
0Desrtopa7ySince what we're examining is the set of investors who're already rich, then the fact that a strategy has a low prior likelihood of working by chance doesn't tell us that the investor probably didn't achieve their success by chance, if there are enough people trying the strategy. It's a successful strategy for those who are able to make large winners a significant fraction of their total investments, and this is something that could conceivably be achieved by intelligent selection or by luck.
0[anonymous]7yYou missed the part I edited.
0hyporational7yWould you say the same of successful neurosurgeons? Your argument is missing something.
2Desrtopa7yI would say the comment isn't relevant with respect to neurosurgeons, because there isn't a large body of people attempting neurosurgery, most of whom are unsucessful. One can become rich through investment through frequent failure and occasional large success, but to be successful in neurosurgery, your success must be consistent. Successful neurosurgeons stand out among regular neurosurgeons for extra-consistent success out of a field where consistent success is already the standard.
6Lumifer7yOnly provided you have a large initial pool of capital. If you don't, the first few failures will knock you out at which point you stop playing the game and the future potential large success never gets realized.
1Desrtopa7yYou can start with a small pool of capital and keep it up if you're lucky with something among your first investments. I can only speculate on how many people are in a position to experience this though, so I don't know how likely that it is that anyone ends up rich by luck by that avenue.
0[anonymous]7yThanks. That's a useful distinction.
0AshwinV7yThis isnt hitting directly at the crux of this conflict, but I wanted to make this recommendation to you since you mentioned this strategy of 49 companies outta 50 failing... you oughtta check out this book called the black swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It deals with small events having large impacts and how difficult it is to foresee some of these events. Also, he reasons that these events seem very predictable with hindsight. I think it will add significant value to this discussion thread
3James_Miller7yI'm not able to distinguish chance from skill for investors like George Soros.
-1Lumifer7yWhat exactly do you mean by "by chance"? I am quite sure that the subset of people who invest by consulting a high-quality random generator is pretty small.
0hyporational7yThat we should probably ask from the quoted or the provider of the quote. If you can think of an interesting way to steelman it, please let me know.
1passive_fist7yThe question is: luck in what, specifically? Luck in every single trade? Luck in that first trade that made him big money? Luck in being exposed to trade at such a young age? Luck in being born at the right place, right time? Luck in having a specific set of genes that, say, gives him a high intelligence? If you say "all of the above", then being Warren Buffet is pure luck, and since there is only one Warren Buffet in 7 billion people, the maximum likelihood estimate for the probability of having enough luck to be Warren Buffet is about 1/7,000,000,000. This answer probably doesn't help at all, I'm just trying to point out some of the difficulties in guesstimation :)
2hyporational7yI'd venture a guess luck/chance in this context means winning against the odds, making decisions that should have negative or zero/little expected utility given the available information and becoming rich in spite of that. Is luck really this difficult a concept?
-1bobn7yThis is virtually a verbatim quote something my father told me 30+ years ago.

It's hard enough to overcome one's own misconceptions without having to think about how to get the resulting ideas past other people's. I worry that if I wrote to persuade, I'd start to shy away unconsciously from ideas I knew would be hard to sell. When I notice something surprising, it's usually very faint at first. There's nothing more than a slight stirring of discomfort. I don't want anything to get in the way of noticing it consciously.

When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted "an epistemology," he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear--it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn't matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party.

  • Daniel Dennett

Example of professing a belief - here, belief is a fashion statement, or something fun to whip out at parties, not a thing that actually constrains anticipation.

I wonder what the story would sound like if told from the perspective of the literary theorist. Perhaps a story about how philosophers like to go on and on about truth and rationality, but when pressed by a relatively intelligent interlocutor, can't even supply you with something as basic as a theory of knowledge?

2TheAncientGeek7y"So what's it all about then, Bertie?"
2Desrtopa7yI'm not sure why a literary theorist would expect a theory of knowledge to be particularly basic, if they did they'd probably feel equipped to come up with one themself.
4Jayson_Virissimo7yBasic to the field of philosophy (it is supposed to be in their domain after all, like criticism is supposed to be the domain of literary theorists), not basic as in trivial for non-experts.
8Desrtopa7yIf one were to fault a philosopher for not being able to generate something basic in that sense, I'd think one would also have to fault physicists for not yet having generated a Theory of Everything. A generalized theory of knowledge would be fundamental within philosophy, but that doesn't equate to being easy to generate, or impossible to work without (if it were, after all, nobody else ought to be able to get any work done without it either.)
1alex_zag_al7yI think an epistemology is something a literary theorist in particular has special need of. One thing you can do with an epistemology is recognize meaningless or unknowable claims. I mean, I don't know much about literary theory. But I expect my belief that literary theorists need to know epistemology is common here. I mean, one of the (older) posts uses a literature professor as an example of someone trapped by a meaningless claim (No Logical Positivist, I [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ss/no_logical_positivist_i/]). As for "an" epistemology, yes, there are a plurality of them. Of which one (or more?) is Bayesian epistemology. Imagine if Dennet taught the literary theorist that, don't you think he'd do better literary theory? Don't you think he'd avoid traps that other theorists fall into, of arguing the meaningless or unknowable?
2Ben Pace7yYou seem to miss Dennett's point: the guy wasn't there because he cared about having a good epistemology, an accurate theory of the world - it's merely what everyone else is doing at the minute, and so he's doing it too.
4alex_zag_al7yHe was there because at the time, you needed an epistemology to be taken seriously as a literary theorist. Good. Literary theorists probably need epistemologies. What I'm saying is maybe this fashion, as Dennett calls it, is functional. Maybe it's popular for a very good reason. The way falsifiability is popular in science, for example.. Can't it be a good thing that the theorist is responding to a pressure in his field? ... not really... if he's not actually motivated by the additional rightness you can get with a theory of knowledge, then, why would he choose a good theory of knowledge instead of a cool one? I think I see what you're saying now.
2Ben Pace7yYes, that's what this line is about: Also, saying that literary theorists need good epistemologies because it's crucial to their job is... Something you should offer a fair bit of evidence for. I don't see the relationship at all - other than the general use of believing true over false things.
2alex_zag_al7y... I completely missed that line when I read the quote. This is embarrassing. And I don't have a fair bit of evidence for it, all I have is * literary theorists are pretty smart and apparently they thought it was necessary * an epistemology is good for recognizing meaningless or unknowable claims, and from the little I've seen of literary theory a lot of the claims looked like that on the surface that was enough to make me think it was possible that Daniel Dannett was just being a jerk. Because I missed the part of the quote about how the literary theorist didn't care about getting the right epistemology. I thought he was just making fun of the literary theorist for responding to pressure within his field, because it looked to him like following a fashion. Again. Not something I still believe. It's because I missed that part of the quote.
0ChristianKl7yI don't know whether an epistemology can be true or false. A literature professor might ask: What happens when you see Hamlet in terms of Dennett"s epistemology as opposed to the epistemology of Aristotele? If you want to ask that question it doesn't matter whether the epistemologies are true. It makes sense that the professor focuses on understanding the epistemology of Daniel Dennett instead of trying to understand which epistemology is true. An literature professor doesn't try to understand the epistemology of God, the one true epistemology. He tries to understand the epistemology of authors. Daniel Dennett happens to be an important author and his epistemology seems worthy of analysis.
7ialdabaoth7yThat's because "true" or "false" are aspects of maps, and epistemologies aren't maps - they're mapmaking tools. You don't judge tools based on their truth or falsehood; you judge them based on their usefulness towards a certain purpose. In humans' case, I think that an epistemology's job is to act as a bridge between our naive map-making and the world - that is, an epistemology's usefulness is measured by how well humans can use it to generate maps of their territory, and how well the maps it generates conform to their territory when read by humans. (Where "territory" can mean something as bare and ephemeral as raw qualia, barring any deeper assertion of the epistemology in question).
1ChristianKl7yYes. To the extend that's your paradigm Dennett's truth centered paradigm is misguided.
0RichardKennaway7yAnd if you want to ask the question of whether a yeti could defeat a Mongolian death worm it doesn't matter whether they exist. What is the purpose of seeing Hamlet in terms of this or that epistemology?
0simplicio7yThe same purpose as reading Hamlet in the first place; aesthetic enjoyment & intellectual exercise.
-1Ben Pace7ySounds like you've got a funny epistemology... Try reading The Useful Idea of Truth [http://lesswrong.com/lw/eqn/the_useful_idea_of_truth/].
5khafra7yA recipe for making a cake cannot exactly be true or false; you need additional criteria like a claim, "when followed exactly, this recipe will produce something most people consider to be a delicious cake." Without a precise claim, there's room for reasonable disagreement whether the recipe should be optimized for usability by the average individual or for perfect results from a master baker; what exactly constitutes a "delicious cake," etc. (The Useful Idea of Truth tackles the second question only).
0TheOtherDave7yOf course, for this particular claim to make any cake recipe in the real world true, we must understand "followed exactly" to include making a whole bunch of correct assumptions about how to do many things that are implied but not specified by the recipe (just to pick one example, when told to preheat my oven to 350 degrees, I'm expected to infer Farenheit, or at least whoever calibrated my oven's temperature dial is expected to have done so). Of course, many people have no difficulty in practice making cakes by following recipes, precisely because in fact we do routinely make those assumptions. And I'm not sure how that process is any different from what I'm doing when, if asked whether a recipe is true or false, I assume an interpretive frame similar to the additional criteria you say we need. That is, faced with that question, I infer additional criteria like "following this recipe conventionally will produce a conventionally acceptable cake" whether the criteria are there or not, just like when faced with the instruction to set my oven to 350 I assume Farenheit rather than Celsius. Inferring the additional criterion is itself conventional. So I would say that "A recipe for making a cake cannot exactly be true or false" is true denotationally but implies falsehoods; in practice, there seem to be conventional ways of casting a cake recipe to a Boolean type. So I guess the question is, are there similarly conventional ways of casting an epistemology to a Boolean? You seem to be suggesting otherwise, though you don't precisely say so.
0lmm7yIn my experience even the best cake recipes are not entirely reliable; the best you can coerce them to is an odds ratio. And since individual chefs have their own preferred recipes, it's exceedingly hard to tell the difference between a bad recipe favoured by a good chef, and vice versa. I would suspect the same of epistemologies.
0TheOtherDave7yI agree with all of this except "exceedingly hard." It's not that hard to tell the difference between a recipe an average person can reliably make a tasty cake with (aka a "good recipe") and one they can't (aka a "bad recipe") -- just ask a bunch of average people to follow the recipe and see what happens.
0Said Achmiz7yNo comment on epistemologies, but (as someone who regularly bakes cakes) I must object to your views on cake. It would be quite a stretch, I think, to say that cakes may usefully be classified as "good" and "bad", or "tasty" and "not tasty". Individual preferences are one reason, of course. Regional/cultural/etc. preferences are another. What threshold of "acceptability" (for any meaning of the word) you accept for your cake is yet another. How many people are "most people" is yet another. In many of these things, there are both gradations (which do not, themselves, threaten the good/bad distinction, only force it into a continuous variable instead of a binary one) and sharper categories of ways in which a cake may or may not be acceptable (which do). For instance, a cake may be "bad" by being inedible by nearly anyone (you mistook salt for sugar); it may be bad by being a bland, sugary superstimulus, good-tasting but lacking in interesting flavor (you ruined or omitted the more delicate flavor-granting ingredients); it may be bad by being unacceptably and avoidably unhealthy (many forms of buttercream tend toward this); it may be bad by failing to satisfy the criteria of its design (you set out to make a red velvet cake, but the result was merely a chocolate cake with buttercream frosting and red food coloring). And that's not even getting into the quality of a recipe! One may make a cake by following either of two (or more) recipes that differ from each other far more than their versions of the finished product will! Recipes may differ by difficulty of execution; by difficulty of acquiring ingredients; by sensitivity to variation in conditions of preparation; and by other factors. And what is an "average person", anyway? Do we judge a recipe by how reliably it makes a "good" (see above) cake when followed by someone with little or no knowledge of baking? Or by an experienced, though non-professional, home baker? Does "average" refer to general intelligence and
0TheOtherDave7yYes, I agree with all of this.
0lmm7yFair - I meant more at the margin, it's hard to tell the difference between a quite good chef with a very good recipe and vice versa. Likewise there are many obviously bad epistemologies, but the ones that are still in serious contention, that successful philosophers use, will all be at least pretty good.
0TheOtherDave7yMm. How do we recognize a successful philosopher?
0[anonymous]7yGood question! How would you go about answering that?
0TheOtherDave7yIn this context, I'd probably say a successful philosopher is one who discerns truths that weren't previously known. (This is not unique to philosophers.)

Visit with your predecessors from previous Administrations. They know the ropes and can help you see around some corners. Try to make original mistakes, rather than needlessly repeating theirs.

Donald Rumsfeld

8JackV7yI don't like a lot of things he did, but that's the second very good advice I've heard from Rumsfeld. Maybe I need to start respecting his competence more.

The "known knowns" quote got made fun of a lot, but I think it's really good out of context:

"There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know."

Also, every time I think of that I try to picture the elusive category of "unknown knowns" but I can't ever think of an example.

I guess "unknown knowns" are the counterpoint to "unknown unknowns" -- things it never occurred to you to consider, but didn't. Eg. "We completely failed to consider the possibility that the economy would mutate into a continent-sized piano-devouring shrimp, and it turned out we were right to ignore that."

We completely failed to consider the possibility that the economy would mutate into a continent-sized piano-devouring shrimp, and it turned out we were right to ignore that.

That's a survivor bias.

9TheOtherDave7yThings that we know that we don't know we know? I run into these all the time... last night, for example, I realized that I knew the English word for the little plastic cylinders at the end of a shoelace. (I discovered this when someone asked me what an 'aglet' was.) I'd had no idea.
2hyporational7yAn aglet... beautiful. I probably have a larger vocabulary in English than in Finnish by now. Lots of unknown knowns there I bet.
1TheOtherDave7yI cannot for the life of me remember why I know that word.
1Roxolan7yIt's also a speed-boosting item in the video game Terraria. (I did not know the meaning of the word until now.)
0sixes_and_sevens7yIt was a minor plot point in a Terry Pratchett novel. Could that be it?
0TheOtherDave7yI don't think I've ever read any Pratchett novels, but I might well have read a summary or discussion of the relevant one.
0sixes_and_sevens7yIt was a pretty minor plot point, so that probably isn't it.
1Ishaan7yI'm going to guess you have at one point watched this "Phineas and Ferb" [http://phineasandferb.wikia.com/wiki/Tip_of_the_Day] episode, and then forgot it. There's a song [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Evcsj1gx1CE] and the chorus is "A-G-L-E-T don't forget it". If that's how it happened, it's pretty amusing, because one of the running gags was that Candace kept going on about how there was absolutely no need for anyone to know the word aglet, and she became frustrated when it started catching on everywhere.
2TheOtherDave7yMy brain has, in the intervening weeks, offered up a memory of learning the word "aglet" from a Reader's Digest vocabulary quiz in my childhood. That said, your explanation is much better than mind, despite being false, so I'm tempted to accept it as the official story of why I know the word "aglet". On this site, I really ought to be downvoted for that sentiment, I suppose.
1BlueSun7yYes but as soon as you thought of it it becomes a known known :)
4TheOtherDave7yTrue, much as unknown unknowns become known unknowns. That said, I can infer from how often I come across them (converting them in the process) that there's a large store of them remaining unconverted.
2Zando7yI figure "unknown knowns" covers a huge category of its own: willful ignorance. All those things that are pretty obvious (e.g. the absence of the Dragon in the garage [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i4/belief_in_belief/]) but that many people, including Rumsfeld apparently, choose to ignore or "unknow".
0Randy_M7yInformation that was relevant and available but not considered at the time of decision making I'd consider unknown knowns.
0[anonymous]7yA patient comes to visit you with weird symptoms, and you suddenly remember this rare disease you once read in a book and had forgotten about that perfectly fits them. The patient really just has an unusual form that you've never learned, of a common disease. You correctly medicate the rare disease, and the patient dies. Now you realize you have no idea why the patient died, so you request an autopsy.
5FiftyTwo7yIts much easier to generate good advice than to follow it.
3NancyLebovitz7yI'm also fond of Rumsfeld quotes [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Donald_Rumsfeld] He's oversimplifying-- was it necessary to go to war then?-- but it's still worth thinking about whether a criticism is based on what's actually possible.
1roland7yWhat's the first one?
0[anonymous]7yProbably the "unknown unknowns [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_are_known_knowns]" bit. (Although, on reflection, that's not quite advice.) And also already mentioned. [http://lesswrong.com/lw/j8o/rationality_quotes_december_2013/a532]

In every way that people, firms, or governments act and plan, they are making implicit forecasts about the future.

-The Economist

0[anonymous]7yIt might be my hindsight bias acting again, but wasn't this kinda obvious? I thought the discipline of economics was based on this assumption.

You know what they say - "Asking once will bring you temporary shame, whereas not doing so will bring you permanent shame".

They also say "Answering a question will make you feel superior for a while, whereas not doing so will give you a lifelong sense of superiority".

"A problem well put, is half solved." - John Dewey

Mike nodded. He wasn't really surprised, though. One of the things he'd come to learn since the Ring of Fire, all the way down to the marrow of his bones, was that if the ancestors of twentieth-century human beings didn't do something that seemed logical, it was probably because it wasn't actually logical at all, once you understood everything involved. So it turned out that such notorious military numbskulls as Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Phil Sheridan, Stonewall Jackson, William Tecumseh Sherman and all the rest of them hadn't actually been idiots after all. It was easy for twentieth-century professors to proclaim loftily that Civil War generals had insisted on continuing with line formations despite the advent of the Minié ball-armed rifled musket because the dimwits simply hadn't noticed that the guns were accurate for several hundred yards. When—cluck; cluck—they should obviously have adopted the skirmishing tactics of twentieth-century infantry.

But it turned out, when put to a ruthless seventeenth-century Swedish general's test in his very rigorous notion of field exercises, that those professors of a later era had apparently never tried to stand their ground when caval

... (read more)

Saying "everyone is equally to blame" is great if you want to sound reasonable and paint yourself as a moderate voice in a debate, but it doesn't really work if you actually want to be correct.

From a commenter called "ThisIsMyRealName" over at Slate

3Vaniver7ySee also Pretending to Be Wise [http://lesswrong.com/lw/yp/pretending_to_be_wise/].
2DanielLC7yI don't think that's quite right. Assigning blame isn't about being correct. It's about figuring out how to prevent the problem from being repeated. Once you know who is at fault and how, you know what to warn them not to do in order to keep it from being repeated.
1JQuinton7yEven still, saying everyone is equally to blame doesn't actually figure out how to prevent the problem from being repeated.
0Eugine_Nier7yIt's also about counter-factually preventing the problem, UDT-style.
0Acidmind7yAs blame is a social construct that can be used to modify behavior and status, blame assignment can be a constructive way of preventing unwanted consequenses. At least in part.
0Sanji7yThen again negative reinforcement doesn't work quite as well as positive reinforcement, and is sometimes counterproductive? The Power of Reinforcement [http://lesswrong.com/lw/cu2/the_power_of_reinforcement/] It implies that in there all over the place but never outright states it. EDIT: Assuming that blame is being used as operent conditioning, which is the impression I got.

Scott Aaronson after looking into the JFK assassination conspiracy evidence:

Before I started reading, if someone forced me to guess, maybe I would’ve assigned a ~10% probability to some sort of conspiracy. Now, though, I’d place the JFK conspiracy hypothesis firmly in Moon-landings-were-faked, Twin-Towers-collapsed-from-the-inside territory. Or to put it differently, “Oswald as lone, crazed assassin” has been added to my large class of “sanity-complete” propositions: propositions defined by the property that if I doubt any one of them, then there’s scarcely any part of the historical record that I shouldn’t doubt.

9satt7yHuh, I didn't know Bertrand Russell, Carl Sagan & John Kerry were JFK truthers (for want of a more precise term). That's kind of interesting. (I don't mean to imply that's particularly good evidence for a JFK assassination conspiracy. Scientists, philosophers & politicians are about as good as the rest of us at getting things outside their speciality wrong. I really do just mean that it's mildly interesting.) That post nicely demonstrates some useful heuristics. Point 11 = "Hug the Query [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ly/hug_the_query/]". Point 12 = "Proving Too Much [http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/04/13/proving-too-much/]". Point 14 = " Burdensome Details [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jk/burdensome_details/]". Point 18 = "cock-up before conspiracy [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor#Similar_quotations]". Point 20 uses a rule of thumb I recognize but haven't seen named anywhere yet: beware of rejecting a reasonably complete, orthodox theory in favour of a contrarian theory merely because contrarians claim to have piled up an assortment of anomalous "details that don’t add up in the official account".

Working with a top secret clearance has made me much more aware of how different hardball power reality is than it is presented. Just as one might consider a predilection towards conspiracies a bias, I think I came in to that job with a bias AGAINST conspiracies. I liked believing the world is a fair place where all sorts of tricky evil secret stuff "just wouldn't be done."

I now think (> 50% probability) that the bulk of society is coddled in a belief that things are fair and the world works in a warmish fuzzish way, but that the interactions especially between states and non-state power organizations (terrorists in common usage) is essentially without rules. If you can concieve of a way to get an advantage, it will be R&D'd and if it is workable it will be used.

I figure with just above 50% probability JFK was lone-assasinated purely on the basis that in 50 years with so much attention something would have broken, probably, if there was more to break. It would not matter to me much if it turned out to be a conspiracy of some sort, even if it was covered up, it would be par for the course in my current world view, either way.

Meaning I would be careful imputing too much superiority to myself over Russel, Sagan and/or Kerry purely on the basis of thinking JFK was lone-assasinated.

0satt7yYes, of course. Russell & Sagan's intellectual achievements tower over mine, whether or not they called the JFK assassination wrongly. That's a real bias too, I reckon. I think of it sometimes when I see someone putting too much weight on a weak anti-conspiracy theory heuristic [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1kj/the_911_metatruther_conspiracy_theory/2zi7].
2JoshuaZ7yBoth Sagan and Russell were despite their general bastions of rationality, both heavily influenced by their left-wing political environments. I find it surprising still despite that, but not very surprising.
0simplicio7yMaybe nothing, but it's strange that Aaronson identifies "sanity" primarily or significantly with buying into the bulk of the historical record. Does sanity really require being approximately right about history?
1David_Gerard7yIt's not clear from your comment if you're just replying to the quoted bit, or if you read the entire original post and its comments (where Aaronson engages with commenters).
0linkhyrule57yNo - but it does require that you recognize that "There is a very thorough conspiracy that has convinced the entire known world of falsehoods about events as recent as 50 years ago" is significantly less likely than "The majority of the historical record is true."

All appearances to the contrary, the managers involved in this debacle aren't dumb. But they come from a background -- law and politics -- where arguments often take the place of reality, and plausibility can be as good as, or better than, truth.

What engineers know that lawyers and politicians often don't is that in the world of things, as opposed to people, there's no escaping the sharp teeth of reality. But in law, and especially politics, inconvenient facts are merely inconvenient, something to be rationalized away.

Glenn Reynolds

8simplicio7ySaid the engineer to the engineers.
6Eugine_Nier7yWell, Glenn Reynolds is a law professor.
2simplicio7yFair enough, heh. But I wouldn't want to idealize the epistemic purity of engineering. Amusingly in this context, often engineering decisions are based more on precedent than science (has somebody else done things this way?), and it sometimes happens that there is a "bottom line" for which evidence is post hoc deduced (e.g., by relaxing the stringency of assumptions in a model in order to get the "right" answer). Granted, such rationalizations usually affect risks only at the margin, but still... I guess the bottom line is that engineering is not just science but also aesthetics, economics, and group coordination. To the extent that those things involve cognitive biases et cetera, engineering does too.
1Remontoire7yI disagree. Unless we are talking about sofware engineering then it seems to me that what you select is based on previous projects but the choices themselves are based on tested scientific models with predictive power.
1simplicio7yTo clarify; the use of precedent in engineering is not objectionable (on the contrary, it is quite sensible); it merely runs counter to this popular idea that engineers are forever deciding everything via Science. You seem to be saying that any engineering precedent must ultimately be based on a scientific model somebody used in the past. Well, maybe... if you're willing to call "we tried it this way and it seemed to work" a scientific model, then okay.
1Xenocles7yEvery subsequent use of an engineering technique could be seen as a scientific experiment testing the validity of an abstract principle. It's just that by the time a principle gets to the engineering phase these experiments are no longer interesting - or they had better not be, anyway. (It would be very interesting if a bridge failed because the gravitational constant over that particular span of river were higher than in the rest of the known universe, for instance.) Science explores the phenomenon and develops the principle. Engineering exploits the principle and provides a degree of diverse and rigorous demonstration of it. Edited to add: This process does not always occur in this order.
1Eugine_Nier7yPrecedent is evidence that "doing things this way" works. This is generally a better basis then new, and hence speculative, science. Especially when the price of getting it wrong is frequently high.
2simplicio7yAs I was saying to Remontoire, I wholly agree. But (a) precendent is not "Science", unless you want to be very semantically generous, and (b) precedent is one primary method by which the law does its "rationalization", which the OP was attacking.
1[anonymous]7y(You put the closing quotation mark one word too early.)

Note: When treating mental patients who think they’re Samson, cut their hair before putting them in the locked ward.

--Fred Clark

Lovecraft sipped his tea, obviously framing his answer carefully. "One doesn't have to believe in Santa Claus to recognize that people will exchange presents at Christmas time. One doesn't have to believe in Yog Sothoth, the Eater of Souls, to realize how people will act who do hold that belief. It is not my intent, in any of my writings, to provide information that will lead even one unbalanced reader to try experiments that will result in the loss of human life."

— Wilson and Shea, Illuminatus!

5hyporational7yThat's a great way to make them lose their trust in medical professionals indefinitely. It's probably not a good idea to reinforce their delusions, either.
4Alejandro17yFair point, and I don't mean to endorse the quote as psychiatric advice (nor do I believe the quote was intended as such). I took is as an amusing expression of a general principle, that people with deluded beliefs may be quite rational in following the consequences of those beliefs, which should be taken into account when dealing with them.
4hyporational7yI didn't think you endorsed it, but if an analogy is problematic, then the principle it's trying to express might be too.
0DanielLC7yIs the point to keep them from injuring themselves while trying to break the walls down?
2Alejandro17yThe quote in its original context:
1Eliezer Yudkowsky7yDoesn't this only allow 'patients' who correctly think they have superpowers to escape? How is this a net improvement in holding only patients who are actually insane?

How is this a net improvement in holding only patients who are actually insane?

A patient who believes they are Samson inaccurately believes they have a weakness: their hair being cut. By cutting their hair, you trigger their imaginary weakness, which decreases the amount that they resist, and thus you do not have to pin them down with orderlies.

0Desrtopa7yOn the other hand, a patient who believes they are Samson may resist having their hair cut quite forcefully, at least if you do it while they're conscious. A non-superpowered individual struggling to prevent someone from wielding scissors about their head may be quite a bit more of a liability than a non-superpowered individual struggling against facilities built to contain crazy people.
3Vaniver7yAnd... problem solved! Whew, that was easy. (Also, why scissors, and not an electric razor? Way safer for everyone involved.)
2Desrtopa7yIf I were going to cut the hair of a patient who believed they were Samson, I would definitely want to do it when they were sedated, but then, a patient who believed they were Samson who had their hair cut in their sleep might be highly aggrieved and become aggressive in response. (Keep in mind that the biblical Samson physically destroyed the building in which he was being contained, at the cost of his own life, when he entreated God to return his strength for a final act of vengeance after he was betrayed and had his hair cut.)
3Vaniver7yActually, his hair had regrown at that point- his captors thought that he was powerless because they had blinded him after Delilah delivered him to them, and apparently Delilah never told them the real secret to his strength.
3Desrtopa7yHis hair had regrown, but he still had to pray to God to restore his lost strength, because cutting it at all broke his vows as a Nazirite [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazirite].
0[anonymous]7yThat would be nothing that medication doesn't temporarily fix, no need to render the patient unconscious. I wouldn't endorse this hair cutting approach, really.
8[anonymous]7yThink of PCP-driven berserkers flipping cars with their mere, ordinary human strength, fully unleashed without regard to injury or death, and you've got some notion of the problem posed by a delusional man who thinks he's Samson.
7hyporational7yDo you have evidence that car flipping really happens?
0ialdabaoth7yThere is at least evidence that people who think they are Samson can tear out the bars of their windows [http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2007/07/06/lb-muggletonian/] to escape a mental ward.
1hyporational7yThat evidence seems to be hearsay, so really weak. Must have been weak bars too.
7TheOtherDave7yPresumably in the same spirit, when treating mental patients who think they're Superman, expose them to glowing yellow rocks. That said, does this sort of thing actually work in real life?
2hyporational7yReinforcing their beliefs might work for making them even more insane.
2TheOtherDave7yHonestly, it would surprise me if either of those strategies worked (or failed) as one might naively expect, since I mostly expect pathological delusions to involve some seriously atypical connections between observations and conclusions. But I bet there's people on LW with experience in the field, or at least who have read up on case studies.
3Jayson_Virissimo7yI used to have a wrestling coach that used the very un-PC term "retard strength" to refer to the ability of an opponent to apply lots of force from angles you wouldn't think they could a priori (as a compliment, not a slur).

This was what made the fall of Iothiah so disastrous. <...> Strategically, the loss of Iothiah was little more than a nuisance.

Symbolically, however…

The crisis she faced was a crisis in confidence, nothing more, nothing less. The less her subjects believed in the Empire, the less some would sacrifice, the more others would resist. It was almost arithmetic. The balance was wobbling, and all the world watched to see which way the sand would spill. She had made a resolution to act as if she believed to spite all those who doubted her as much as anything else, and paradoxically, they had all started believing with her. It was a lesson Kellhus had drummed into her countless times and one she resolved never to forget again.

To know is to have power over the world; to believe is to have power over men.

Scott R. Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior

The most important professions in the modern world may be the most reviled: advertiser, salesperson, lawyer, and financial trader. What these professions have in common is extending useful social interactions far beyond the tribe-sized groups we were evolved to inhabit (most often characterized by the Dunbar number). This commonly involves activities that fly in the face of our tribal moral instincts.

Nick Szabo

9Bundle_Gerbe7yInterestingly, advertiser, lawyers, and financial traders all have in common that they are agents who play zero-sum or almost zero-sum games on behalf of someone. People who represent big interests in these games are compensated well, because of the logic of the game: so much is at stake that you want to have the best person representing you, so these people's services are bid up. But there is still the feeling that the game is wasteful, though perhaps unavoidably so. Also, problematically for first sentence, I don't think many people would necessarily come up with the four professions named, especially "advertiser" and "salesperson", if asked to name the most important professions in the modern world, and some important professions, like "scientist", are widely valorized, while others, like "engineer", are at the least not reviled.

Interestingly, advertiser, lawyers, and financial traders all have in common that they are agents who play zero-sum or almost zero-sum games on behalf of someone.

Not nearly as much as you think, the game is in a sense locally zero sum, but it greatly benefits the wider system if the right person wins. Hint: consider what would happen if court cases or the resource allocation problems implicit in stock trading were decided by coin flips.

Also contrast with warriors, they really do engage in almost zero-sum games on behalf of someone else, and their game is much less optimized to increase the odds of the right side wining, and yet they're generally considered valiant heroes. The reason being that they were necessary even in the tribal period, so our instincts have evolved to take them into account.

-1[anonymous]7yBy whom?
4RichardKennaway7yBy everyone throughout history who has enjoyed stories of valiant heroes. Were you really asking a question here?
0[anonymous]7yI think Eugine Nier was talking about real-world warriors, not stories. (I don't think all the people who enjoy watching HIMYM for the Barney Stinson character also have positive attitudes towards real-world PUAs, I know at least one person (namely myself) who enjoyed playing Carmageddon but is generally horrified by real-world serious violence for frivolous purposes, etc.) IME people who worship warriors as heroes tend to come from the right-wing/theist/low-Openness/nationalist cluster, and there are plenty of people from the other ‘side’ who condemn them as murderers (or pity them as slaves, as the case may be) instead. And the people who dislike advertisers, lawyers, and financial traders for playing zero-sum games are more likely to be from the latter cluster, so fewer people may be inconsistent [http://lesswrong.com/lw/134/sayeth_the_girl/8j24] than Eugine Nier realizes
4RichardKennaway7yI had in mind real figures, and mythologised versions of them. Shakespeare's Henry V, for example. I'm not sure what this has to do with it, as people who commit real-world serious violence for frivolous purposes are not regarded as valiant heroes, even in war [http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/editorials/marine-a-is-guilty-of-an-appalling-murder-but-fridays-sentencing-should-reflect-the-wider-context-of-the-crime-8983402.html] . Eugine said "they're generally considered valiant heroes". What process led to your fingers typing "worship"? This looks like pure politics devoid of rational content. Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but it sounds to me that "right-wing/theist/low-Openness/nationalist" is a way of implying "therefore they don't count, because they're wrong/stupid/ignorant/malicious/brain-damaged/subhuman/Republican", and "side" is in quotes because where you stand doesn't feel to you like a "side", it feels like reality itself. Are the entrails leading me astray? How big is this "plenty"? America still has a huge military, and I haven't heard of any mainstream agitation for shutting it down as a gang of murderers and slaves, which would be the consequence of actually believing that. In fact, I rather doubt that any country anywhere, ever, has had any substantial movement for disbanding its military on these grounds.
1[anonymous]7yAnd yet it's fun to watch people who commit fictional serious violence for frivolous purposes. So what's fun to watch isn't a terribly reliable way of telling what's considered good. I'll try to reword my post to avoid those connotations. Anyway, “right-wing/theist/low-Openness/nationalist” was supposed to imply "not the whole of humanity, and therefore I wouldn't assume Bundle_Gerbe is from that cluster without any evidence other that they are human", and by “‘side’” I meant something roughly like "each of the two regions of ideologyspace you get when you split it by the sign of the first principal component". I don't have statistics, but probably around 50% of my high-school classmates. (More recent social circles of mine aren't unbiased samples.) Never been to the US and don't know much about it, so I won't say anything except... doesn't it still have (say) 95-year-long copyright too? Are you treating non-mainstream groups the way you accused me of treating right-wing/theist/low-Openness/nationalist groups? As for the “slaves” part, well, conscription was recently abolished in my country (two years before I was supposed to be drafted, lucky me!). And whereas there aren't that many people who propose to disband the military altogether (which is a much stronger position than not thinking soldiers are heroes), pacifism [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacifism] doesn't seem exceedingly rare to me.
1adbge7yIt's possible there is a bit of a cultural disconnect here. I live in the United States and soldiers are treated with a great deal of respect, often receiving discounts on meals and other services [http://www.veteransadvantage.com/]. Here's a Reddit thread [http://www.reddit.com/r/TrueReddit/comments/1qb39p/soldier_worship_blinds_us_to_the_grim_reality_of/cdb3g5h] where former military talk about "soldier worship." We also have a [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veterans_Day] couple [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day] national holidays honoring service people. On these days, it's common for there to be parades and for ex-military members to speak at schools. I'm uncertain how common this knowledge is outside of the US, so apologies if this is obvious, but I think it would be fair to characterize soldiers in the United States as "generally considered valiant heroes," especially among e.g. World War II veterans who fought at the Normandy landings.
1Nornagest7yI'm not sure I'd say "heroes"; soldiering's definitely a respected profession, but as far as I can tell that respect doesn't approach worship. Familiarity probably has a lot to do with this: with about half a percent of the population on duty and many more retired, almost everyone in the States knows a soldier or a sailor or a Marine fairly well. Pretty hard to worship someone that, let's say, shared your first cigarette with you when you were both thirteen. There's also a bit of a rural/urban divide, though. Servicepeople receive noticeably more respect in my hometown (of a few thousand people) than my current city (100,000 people, part of a contiguous urban area containing millions).
-3Eugine_Nier7yI was talking about our instincts about what's moral. These are reflected in both our attitude towards real people and the kind of stories we tend to enjoy.
1[anonymous]7ySpeak for yourself! I don't have a positive attitude towards real-world soldiers and actually find war movies kinda boring. (And if that ‘stories we tend to enjoy’ heuristic makes sense, what does the success of the Hannibal Lecter franchise tell us?) (OK, as far as you could tell I might be lying or self-deluded, but in principle you could test this by administering me an IAT for soldiers vs hippies or something.)
-3Eugine_Nier7ySomething rather disturbing, although, to be fair, he is the villain.
0hyporational7yHe also does have quite a few redeeming qualities. If he were just an average Joe who eats people, I doubt the franchise would have gotten far.
-2Eugine_Nier7yUnfortunately, his redeeming qualities tended to be of the incorruptibly evil [http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2012/09/incorruptibly_e.html] variety, i.e., normally good qualities that made him more effective at his evil goals.
6passive_fist7yWhy the focus on advertisers and salespeople? I mean, if you're just talking about extending 'useful' social interactions, policemen do that too. So do company managers and military officers. There are lots of lines of work where people interact with a large number of people on a daily basis. Drug dealers would be another example. Yet such professions need not act in a way that is psychopathic (except maybe drug dealers, but they, too, often build friendships and trust with their clients).

We see things not as they are but as we are, ...

- G. T. W. Patrick

2Rob Bensinger7yWe see things not as they are, but as they make us be.


When he studied which psychological studies were replicatable, and had to choose whether to disbelieve some he'd previously based a lot of work on, Brian Nosek said:

I choose the red pill. That's what doing science is.

(via ciphergoth on twitter)

4mwengler7yWhich one is the red pill again?
8Vaniver7yFrom The Matrix Original Script [http://thematrixtruth.remoteviewinglight.com/html/original-matrix-script-9.html] (the wording is slightly different in the movie).

As a side note, never take pills from strange people in empty werehouses who found you on the internet.

That depends, how were their reviews on Silk Road? :P

3simplicio7yEspecially not in werehouses, no.

I'm wary of being in werehouses at all. They could turn back to people at any time!

Why, because I cannot help feeling that you are now saying what is not quite consistent or accordant with what you were saying at first about rhetoric. And I am afraid to point this out to you, lest you should think that I have some animosity against you, and that I speak, not for the sake of discovering the truth, but from jealousy of you.

Now if you are one of my sort, I should like to cross-examine you, but if not I will let you alone. And what is my sort? you will ask. I am one of those who are very willing to be refuted if I say anything which is not true, and very willing to refute any one else who says what is not true, and quite as ready to be refuted as to refute-I for I hold that this is the greater gain of the two, just as the gain is greater of being cured of a very great evil than of curing another.

--Socrates in Gorgias (Paragraph break mine, to make it slightly less of a wall of text. This has shown up before, in a somewhat different form.)

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. -Samuel Beckett

0mwengler7yThey do not move.

One of the last of the many legendary contests won by the British philosopher A. J. Ayer was his encounter with Mike Tyson in 1987. As related by Ben Rogers in ”A. J. Ayer: A Life,” Ayer — small, frail, slight as a sparrow and then 77 years old — was entertaining a group of models at a New York party when a girl ran in screaming that her friend was being assaulted in a bedroom. The parties involved turned out to be Tyson and Naomi Campbell.

”Do you know who … I am?” Tyson asked in disbelief when Ayer urged him to desist: ”I’m the heavyweight champion of the world.”

”And I am the former Wykeham professor of logic,” Ayer answered politely. ”We are both pre-eminent in our field. I suggest that we talk about this like rational men.”

So they did, while Campbell slipped away.

[Via] (http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/12/24/reviews/001224.24spurlit.html)

Impressive, but it does have a pretty dramatic possible failure state where Tyson's response is "I suggest we settle this by punching each other." (In deed if not in word.)

7simplicio7yI think the cleverness is in the violation of Tyson's expectations about how the encounter will go. Ayer went off script and that seems to have nonplussed Tyson.
6blacktrance7yAnd so philosophyboxing was born.
5Viliam_Bur7yRelevant for LW: Could superhumanly strong AI box its way out of the box?
3blacktrance7yHow good would a boxing AI be at Newcomb's Problem?
1Armok_GoB7yImpossibly good, since the placement of money is dependent on if the boxes are removed, not the money in them. So, smash both boxes, take the money in them, only remove the one box thus making sure there was money in both.

Expressed in pictures rather than words, but a great example of how to respond to humanity-threatening calamities:


Sidenote: Almost every Minus comic is wonderful, and there aren't that many of them (you can read the whole series in an hour).

5Eliezer Yudkowsky7yI printed this up and hung it on my wall for a while. Before anyone gets worried about what that indicates, the girl in the comic is a reality warper and could get away with it. Never found a good enough image of Akemi Homura changing her eyes, though.
1aarongertler7yI recently bought a print of the same comic from the author. They are still being sold: http://www.kiwisbybeat.com/store.html#minus [http://www.kiwisbybeat.com/store.html#minus]
0[anonymous]7yThis one [http://grouther.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/madoka_10_06.jpg] seems reasonably nice. Would you rather the soul gem shimmered?
0linkhyrule57yWhy that image, if I may? (Have a hypothesis and would like to test it.)
7ESRogs7yIs your hypothesis, "Eliezer wants to save the world from doom, and this picture is inspirational."? If so, I think you nailed it.
4linkhyrule57ySlightly ruined by the fact that, well, given minus, I'm really more worried about the meteor...
3adamzerner7yIt's probably because I'm not familiar with Minus, but I don't understand what the girl did that is admirable. If she's normal, Mestroyer's comment addresses why it isn't admirable. If she has superpowers, destroying the meteor is completely effortless for her, making her action simply a decision of saving humanity over letting it die, which mostly anyone would make.
3cody-bryce7yCool comic, though a repeat http://lesswrong.com/lw/2o3/rationality_quotes_september_2010/2juu [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2o3/rationality_quotes_september_2010/2juu]
3Mestroyer7yThe girl with the bat is trying to try. It's symbolic defiance, not a proper response to a humanity-threatening calamity. Granted defiance is a better attitude than the attitudes of the people shivering in fear, praying, smiling and holding up "Welcome to Earth!" signs, looting and pillaging, sitting around mellow-ly and talking and doing nothing, and standing in lines and holding hands. But that girl is still going to die and so will the rest of humanity. Maybe you can argue that she doesn't know it won't work, but there are kinds of virtue a rationalist should not aspire to, and that includes the kind that you can only have by being ignorant of things.
7Desrtopa7yThe girl with the bat, in the context of the comic, is actually basically omnipotent. Not only is she entirely capable of destroying the asteroid and eliminating whatever threat it represents using a baseball bat, given the content of the other comics, I think there's actually a reasonable chance that she consciously or subconsciously created the asteroid in the first place to give herself something to do.
3Mestroyer7yActually now that you mention it, I remember hearing that in a previous discussion of the comic. And what you say makes her despicable, instead of courageous but irrational. Am I strategically forgetting things to make better stories? (shudder).
8Desrtopa7yMinus is about as despicable as any ordinary child of seven or so would be if they were also omnipotent. Which is to say she's kind of horrifying, but not with any sort of deliberation involved.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky7yNot to mention the applicable Riddle of Kyon.
2Fyrius7yI'm thankful this TV tropes page [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanficRecs/HaruhiSuzumiya] helpfully provided a synopsis of your fanfic for context. I wouldn't have understood you without it. (Is the conditional probability that a given person had read all your fanfics, given that she visits LessWrong, high enough to overcome the low prior probability that a given person has read all your fanfics?)
2MugaSofer7yShe's a reality warper - thus, taking action that appears pointless to the uninformed observer (such as yourself), but is in fact an extremely effective method of saving the world. Not sure if that's the intention in linking to it, but...
0lmm7yWhen you've exhausted the options, obtained enough evidence to realize you'll get more utilons by enjoying your last few moments than by genuinely trying to stop it, what then? I think the best, most rational thing to do is to be as awesome as possible in your final moments, and she's doing that.
2DanielLC7yAre you saying that you should respond by being omnipotent?

A classic illustration of how to use (and how to not use) conditional probabilities:

"'Her foot,' says the journal, 'was small- so are thousands of feet. Her garter is no proof whatever- nor is her shoe- for shoes and garters are sold in packages. The same may be said of the flowers in her hat. One thing upon which M. Beauvais strongly insists is, that the clasp on the garter found had been set back to take it in. This amounts to nothing; for most women find it proper to take a pair of garters home and, fit them to the size of the limbs they are to e

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3bentarm7yHard to tell out of context, but is this claiming that each successive flower is independent evidence? In general, it feels like the reasoner is missing some dependency relationships between bits of evidence here.
0Alejandro17yThe story does not make clear whether Beauvais had seen the arrangement of flowers on the living Marie's hat, or just knew that she used to wear these approximate kind of flowers. If the former, finding all the flowers together is certainly much stronger evidence that the corpse is Marie than finding just one (even though they are not strictly independent). If the latter, then Dupin's reasoning indeed seems fallacious on this particular point, though not on the more general one of whether the identification of the corpse is beyond reasonable doubt.

No one makes the wrong decisions for reasons they think are wrong. The more clever the man, as the Nroni were fond of saying, the more apt he was to make a fool of himself. We all argue ourselves into our mistakes.

Scott R. Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior

8Xenocles7yThis is a good take, but I think I like the Feynman better (which I have to assume has appeared months and months ago): "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." From a different angle, there's also the Heinlein: "Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate — and quickly."
2WingedViper7yI guess we could just add most of the "Prince of Nothing" and the "The Aspect-Emperor" Series by Scott R. Bakker to the LessWrong quotes ;-) By the way, is there a reading list that we can add them to?
1Nornagest7yThe most recent reading list, as such, that I know of is XiXiDu's [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2un/], and it's quite old (though still fairly comprehensive) and no longer being updated. Its fiction section is also fairly light. Your best bet might be adding a review in one of the monthly media threads, the most recent of which is here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/j95/december_2013_media_thread/].
[-][anonymous]7y 7 (Exercise) Have prices actually risen? Economists generally agree that the meaning of “prices have risen” is that you would prefer past prices to current prices. What makes this challenging is that the set of available products change over time. Cars have gone up significantly in price, but are also more reliable. Would you be better off with your current income in 1913 than today? You would be very rich with current average income in 1913, but not have access to modern medicine, television, electronics, refrigeration, highways, and many other tec

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2mwengler7yA 100 page comic book cost me $0.25 US in 1970 or so, it is a few US$ now. A 12 oz soft drink cold in a deli was about $0.10, it is more usually $1.00 now. A gallon of gasoline $0.29, now about $4.50. Not a single one of these is of notably better quality now than it was then, I'd say they are directly comparable and are quite different enough in nominal price so that there can be no doubt. Sorry not to go all the way back to 1913, but I was 13 years old in 1970 so it was easier to use what I could remember.
4Eugine_Nier7yNitpick: well the gasoline no longer has lead in it.
3mwengler7ycounter-nitpick because of government regulations about mixing with ethanol the current gallon has fewer watt-hours in it.
2Desrtopa7yA few dollars? 100 page comic books in the U.S. these days usually sell for upwards of $20. But comics are really another case where the product itself isn't directly comparable between time periods.The market has shrunk tremendously, so they try to make up the difference in volume by selling high quality "glossies" rather than the old low quality "pulps," for a larger profit margin per sale. In terms of physical quality of materials, it absolutely is better than what you'd buy in the 1970's, although arguably the quality of the materials doesn't have much to do with how entertaining the contents are. The writing is also completely different, since comics today target a very different age demographic than they did a few decades ago.
1Jiro7yAny comic book fan could tell you why comic books went up in price. It has to do with 1) the collapse of the newsstand market and the decrease in readership, and 2) having to give creators better pay/royalties. (It sometimes gets blamed on the paper stock, which isn't really true). (And you probably didn't mean to say 100 pages. There were 100 page comics then and there still are now, but they cost 50 cents. Typical size of a comic book is 32 pages.) It's also pretty obvious that gasoline has gone up in price for reasons that are not just general increase in prices.
2mwengler7yThe typical size comic books were $0.12 when I started buying them. I have no idea what they cost now. And yet despite its uniqueness, it doesn't really deviate from the trend that everything else follows. Go figure. I could have thrown in college tuition [http://www.swarthmore.edu/Documents/administration/ir/Tuition.pdf], about $2870 in 1974 when I started at Swarthmore College, currently $44,368. You still get a professor standing in front of the room for the same number of hours per semester.
5Jiro7yYou can't legitimately cherry pick a few examples where prices went up faster than inflation and then, when called on it, cherry pick yet another example where prices went up faster than inflation. The examples are still cherry-picked; like comics and gasoline, college education is something else whose price went up unusually fast, and again for well-known reasons having nothing to do with the rise in prices in general.
1mwengler7yIf you are going to tell me what i can and can't do, then please let me return the favor. You can't effectively counter a list of prices of items whose quality is the same in the 70s and the 10s but whos price is quite different without giving at least a few examples whos price goes in the other direction. It simply doesn't make sense to challenge my methodology as cherry picking, which it was not, without doing the minimum amount of work it would require to check to see if you have any case at all by discovering even one item whos quality has not changed much between the 70s and the 10s but whos price has decreased. T-shirts? cardboard boxes? soft-serve ice cream from a truck? A bus ride across a city? You have probably literally a million things you could choose from to check their prices and you don't bother finding even one? It makes more sense in a discussion like this, if you realize I am right to just accept that and to not make arguments against me that have the form of sensible concerns but lack the content. I'm not cherry picking examples. I'm remembering my trips to the store and library on bicycle when I was 12 years old and other trips I took around that age, and what the prices were. A slice of pizza was $0.25. There is simply NOTHING in my recollection that was more expensive then than it is now, not even cherries.
1[anonymous]7y...he said, on the Internet.
1Jiro7yYou can do anything you want, it just wouldn't be a legitimate argument. You're either cherry-picking examples, or by coincidence you're picking cherry-pickable examples. I can't read your mind, and if you indeed chose the examples for that reason, it's just a coincidence that you chose examples that are very inapt. But they're still inapt. Comic books specifically, as well your other examples of gasoline and college educations, have gone up in price a lot for well-understood reasons that are unrelated to the fact that things in general go up in price. That slice of pizza is only "more expensive" because of inflation. Same for your T-shirts and bus rides. And if all you're saying is that prices have gone up according to inflation, then of course they have. But by the standards of the post you were replying to, and almost anyone else, that means that pizza hasn't gone up in price at all--that was about price compared to income and income has gone up because of inflation too, so prices have not increased relative to income. .>You have probably literally a million things you could choose from to check their prices and you don't bother finding even one? That million things only went up in price because of inflation, which doesn't count. Comic books (and gas and college) are different because they have gone up faster than inflation, and thus really are "more expensive", but they're more expensive for specific reasons.
0[anonymous]7yYou misread it. Eugine is right.
-1Eugine_Nier7yI believe the original quote was talking about prices unadjusted for inflation.
2Jiro7yI don't think it makes sense either with or without inflation. My first reaction that it was adjusted for inflation, since 40000 is probably below the family income of most people here. On the other hand, most people's income is less than 40000 in 1913 dollars. On the gripping hand, the question doesn't really make much sense if you don't adjust for inflation. "Cars have gone up significantly in price, but are also more reliable." If you don't adjust for inflation, then while the question produces the author's desired result when applied to 1913, it fails in other situations--for instance, with the price of a car today I could buy seven cars in 1963. Cars are not so much more reliable than 1963 cars to make up for such a difference, and in order to conclude the author's point that cars are a better bargain now than in the past you have to take inflation into account. At any rate, comic books, gasoline, and college educations are known cases where something went up in price faster than inflation.
1Nornagest7yI don't read the original quote as an argument against the standard idea of inflation, but rather as a suggestion to additionally factor in changes in quality when discussing changes in price. It's clear from looking at commodity prices that inflation has occurred; gas might be a bad example, but things like timber, steel, rice probably aren't. But most consumer goods are not commodities in this sense, and 1913 or 1970 prices for them are not as directly comparable to those of modern goods. In some cases the comparison seems to clearly favor either past or contemporary goods -- I might prefer 1970 kitchen appliances or comic books, but I'd definitely prefer contemporary radios or TVs. In others it's more of a wash -- adjusted for inflation, a 2013 Ford Focus costs about twice as much as a 1970 Ford Maverick, but it's got about twice the engine power and more interior room, and it's far safer and more reliable. (At a guess, incidentally, I'd say that $40000 was chosen because it's close to the median household income in the US.)
2snafoo7yCollege tuition inflation is often talked about but rarely dealt with sensibly. To understand the nature and extent of college tuition inflation, it's important to understand 1. Looking at the sticker price isn't comparing apples to apples. Aid has gone up drastically. It's never been cheaper for a kid from a poor family to get an education. Although a lot of the increases at state schools relate to decreasing funding, a huge amount of them at private schools (and a lesser extent at state schools) is their financial aid programs. Tuition has become more progressive and we're comparing the top prices. 2. Running a college is about as labor-intensive as it ever has been, which is to say, very. Prices in all labor-intensive stuff have gone up faster than CPI. There has been a real increase, but it's not all real and it's not all for the reasons a lot of people assume.
0Eugine_Nier7yBut if you're middle class the price has gone up and may be unaffordable. And the ratio of administrators to professors has also exploded.
0snafoo7yMy basic point was just the fact that the numbers we compare have nothing to do with each other. (The really don't.) The number of administrators, as traditionally defined, has changed little, though the number of professional staff has increased a lot. The biggest increase has been the growth of IT, though it goes beyond that. The part of this which is IT-related is somewhat mirrored by most other labor-intensive stuff.

"Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power."

-Lao Tzu (c.604 - 531 B.C.)

One shouldn't compare apples to oranges. But it's fair to say both are food.

--Scott Adams

5shminux7yYour link is to the site, not to the blog post http://dilbert.com/blog/entry/the_mythical_49/ [http://dilbert.com/blog/entry/the_mythical_49/]
1napieed7yThanks. Fixed.
2bentarm7yI'm not sure I get this - If you're not allowed to compare apples to oranges, how do you decide which to eat? Is that the point this quote is trying to make?
2hyporational7yIt's a common English expression [https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/apples_and_oranges] that has nothing to do with food.

A cucumber is bitter--throw it away. There are briars in the path--turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, "And why were such things put into the world?"

--Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.50

If you get one bitter cucumber, asking for its cause may be a waste of time. But if you get a lot of bitter cucumbers, spending some time on changing that might give net positive utility.

3DanielLC7yWhy not? It can be useful to know whether they were placed there by a benevolent god or a blind idiot god.

If you find yourself taken unawares by someone you thought you knew, recall that the character revealed is as much your own as otherwise. When it comes to Men and their myriad, mercenary natures, revelation always comes in twos.

– Managoras, Ode to the Long-Lived Fool

Scott R. Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior

6BT_Uytya7yAnother good fictional epigraph from the same book:

Everybody's a complex person. Everybody. Everybody's nuanced. -Jack Abramoff

2hyporational7yA wave hitting a rock is complex, so is a vegetable on life support. What's the context?
8WalterL7yNot sure, actually, dude was a corrupt lobbyist, so presumably he was emphasizing that he had his reasons for the stuff he got up to. I like it as a reminder that everyone is their own story's protagonist. Its easy for me to view someone as the jerk who cut in front of the traffic, but presumably their own narrative includes a compelling reason for their seemingly antisocial behavior.
1satt7y— Adam Cadre [http://adamcadre.ac/calendar/12/12979.html]
[-][anonymous]7y 4

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways: the point, however, is to change it.”

-- Karl Marx

"We evolve beyond the person we were a minute before! Little by little, we advance a bit further with each revolution. That's how a drill works!!"

-- Shimon the Digger

4Eugine_Nier7yOr rather we change little by little. Remember that while every improvement is a change, not every change is an improvement.
1Larks7yApproximately 100 million deaths [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_killings_under_Communist_regimes] later, philosophers vowed to go back to just interpreting.

“It’s easy to put your head down and just work on what you think needs to be done. It’s a lot harder to pull your head up and ask why.” - Rework

But the campaign against the backwardness of the masses in this matter of religion, must be conducted with patience and considerateness, as well as with energy and perseverance. The credulous crowd is extremely sensitive to anything which hurts its feelings. To thrust atheism upon the masses, and in conjunction therewith to interfere forcibly with religious practices and to make mock of the objects of popular reverence, would not assist but would hinder the campaign against religion. If the church were to be persecuted, it would win sympathy among the mas

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Nevertheless, the problem of meandering is certain to re-emerge once we learn how to make machines that examine themselves to formulate their own new problems. Questioning one's own "top-level" goals always reveals the paradox-oscillation of ultimate purpose. How could one decide that a goal is worthwhile -- unless one already knew what it is that is worthwhile? How could one decide when a question is properly answered -- unless one knows how to answer that question itself? Parents dread such problems and enjoin kids to not take them seriously.

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“I have thought for a long time now that if, some day, the increasing efficiency for the technique of destruction finally causes our species to disappear from the earth, it will not be cruelty that will be responsible for our extinction and still less, of course, the indignation that cruelty awakens and the reprisals and vengeance that it brings upon itself…but the docility, the lack of responsibility of the modern man, his base subservient acceptance of every common decree. The horrors that we have seen, the still greater horrors we shall presently see, a... (read more)

1mwengler7yI think this quote is sentimentally motivated inaccuracy. It relies upon the romantic notion that if the docile masses were to arise that they would be morally superior to those that do already choose to lead men. I think this thought of Bernanos does not arise from any sort of evidence at all, and that if there is any evidence about what happens when previously docile men rise to power it is that they behave very much like men in power have always behaved in the past, that there is no particularly great wisdom they bring with them on rising. I am thinking in particular of the rise of the communists in Russia and China and more recently the governments that have arisen in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt.
0Lumifer7yInteresting. I read no such implication in this quote. I see it as a lament that "rebels, insubordinate, untamable men" are basically bred out of the population that becomes more and more sheeple. And the "docile masses" will not revolt opening the way for highly repressive societies.
0mwengler7yFrom the original quote: These common decrees are coming from men, not the docile masses but the small minority of leaderly men. Where is the existential threat in the common decrees of leaderly men as opposed to the hypothetical actions the masses of docile men would take if they were not docile? I understand neither why one expects an existential threat from the decrees of leaderly men nor why one expects that threat to be countered by the hypothetical actions of docile men made counterfactually non-docile. Or rather I don't understand these as things for which there is evidence. An apparently relatively docile Chinese population seems to have done OK under a repressive communist government, certainly not seeming to come close to anything that was an existential threat. So how is a repressive society an existential threat?
0Lumifer7yHm. Let me try to offer a hypothesis. I am not sure I believe it myself, but I'll throw it out for evaluation. I think that the existential threat of repressive societies has to do with expected variation. Societies where general population provides strong inputs into the political process tend to be less adventurous and more mundane. It's decision-making by committee and committees rarely make unexpected, radical decisions. Regression to the mean is the rule and keeps things contained. Autocratic societies, on the other hand, don't have these built-in brakes. Small ruling elites are subject to less constraints and can take off into strange directions some of which are dangerous. In particular, small elites see much less problems with killing large numbers of people (compared to more-or-less democratic societies) in pursuit of goals they find worthy. Now, this is not saying that autocratic societies are "bad" and democratic ones are "good". What this hypothesis asserts is that the the range of behavior of autocratic societies will be wider than that of democratic societies. P.S. And that, of course, is speaking just of existential threat and not about which society it's better to live in.
0DeevGrape7yHmm, that's a good point. I can see how this might seem like a romantic/Marxist/anti-elite sentiment. When I read it, I was thinking almost exclusively in terms of existential risk, the connection being that the end of the world (by, for instance, Unfriendly AI) won't be brought about by a cruel mad scientist, but more likely by normal people trying to make economic and scientific advances without concern for the potential consequences. Sorry if the quote doesn't communicate that very clearly.
0Nornagest7yThat might say more about how populist movements tend to work than about the character of the docile masses, to use your phrase, when raised to power. It's rather uncommon for first-generation revolutionary leaders to come from the lower social classes: Stalin is an exception, but he's the only one I can think of among famous communists, and in any case he arguably belonged to the second generation of his revolution. Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao all emerged from upper middle-class backgrounds, roughly speaking, although their exact circumstances differed. Fidel Castro came from an upper-class family.

“What does a fish know about the water in which he swims?” - Albert Einstein

Sort of a well known quote, but it's not here, and it's amazing, so I figured I'd submit it.

"The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity." - Vinod Khosla

6Viliam_Bur7ySeems like a just-world fallacy. The cost:benefit ratio of problems is not fixed.
3adamzerner7yI guess what matters in a problem is size * solvability. Solvability may be variable, but bigger problems do necessarily mean more room for improvement. Even though it doesn't account for solvability, I still think it's a good quote. Most people become very accustomed to the way things are, even if they're bad, and never think to change them. This quote reverses that mindset, by getting you to think in terms of opportunity. Once you get over that hump, then you could think about solvability. The real point is that the hump is very important to get over, and this quote is pretty effective in getting you over it.

If we work around this assumption of being cis as the default… like, for example, if we stop thinking about the fact that as an abstract, general question a random human being is much more likely to be cis than trans, and instead consider the question in terms of whether, given everything we observe in ourselves, and everything we feel, and how strong our feelings are about this question of gender, which (cis or trans) is more likely for us… if we consider “is it really all that likely that I’m just a cis person who has somehow managed to convince myself

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8Eugine_Nier7yGiven that this quote essentially advises ignoring priors, I don't see what's so Bayesian about it.
6VAuroch7yThe other way of reading the quote is that it's emphasizing the huge complexity penalty which should be assessed on "I’m just a cis person who has somehow managed to convince myself that I’m trans to the point that I’m having this kind of crisis" and nodding in the direction of the reversal test. And emphasizing that part of the argument makes it look pretty good.
6ialdabaoth7yWould you mind explicitly stating the prior that it's advising to ignore?

if we stop thinking about the fact that as an abstract, general question a random human being is much more likely to be cis than trans

That said, it could also be taken as advising you not to double-count your priors by using them to discount the evidence. Imagine you've drawn a ball from an urn, and the ball looks blue to you — but your priors say that 99% of the balls in that urn are red. How much time do you want to spend questioning the validity of your color vision or the lighting before you consider that you drew a rare ball?

-2simplicio7yIs cis or trans identity really something that is truth-apt (& therefore in the purview of probability)? It seems to be a combination of self-description of feelings, plus chosen group affiliation. The self-description of feelings is presumably more or less infallible, and the group affiliation is stipulated by the individual.
7nshepperd7yWell, it's possible to be wrong about your own feelings. The question that matters is "later, after transitioning, would I feel better or worse than I do now", which isn't necessarily infallibly correlated to your current feelings.
3hyporational7yThanks for the ManU fan example, it helped. If we reformulate the gender identity question as "will my future self be happy if I make permanent decisions based on my current perceived identity?", we get something that makes more sense to assess probabilistically. I guess the ManU fan case could be reformulated in a similar way, but I can't imagine how the real life scenario would look like.
0hyporational7yCould you explain what you mean by this via an easier to grasp concept than gender identity, preferably in a way that preserves relevance to identity?
3simplicio7ySure. Does it make sense for an individual to think about the probability that they (themselves) are a Manchester United fan? I say it doesn't, really. If you (a) like ManU in some sense, and (b) are willing to call yourself a ManU fan, you are a ManU fan.
8ialdabaoth7yAnd yet there are plenty of sports fans that question the legitimacy of other fans, based on accidental characteristics. I.e., "You can't be an Auburn fan, you're a goddamn Yankee!" Which, in essence, is the same problem I think: there's all sorts of semantic and pragmatic meaning attached to concepts like gender (and fandom!) that exist outside of the mind of the individually engendered or fanatic person, which cause other people to feel that their own meaning is being betrayed by that person. In a weird way, I think this is part of a failure to keep one's identity small - when people include potentially falsifiable beliefs-about-the-world/beliefs-about-others in their own identity, they risk having that identity thrown into crisis whenever those beliefs are challenged.
4Nornagest7yWell, in some sense, obviously, you can identify as whatever you please. But it's a rare identity that carries no implications about the world or at least how you react to it. To run with the example, I expect there are a number of imperfectly correlated reasons you might call yourself a Manchester United fan: you might for example feel more excited -- a physical, measurable response -- when watching ManU games than games ManU isn't involved in, or you might be involved with the club's fan community. Generally, however, these are going to be statements about the state of the world, not purely arbitrary stances. To the extent that it makes sense to talk about the legitimacy of an identity, it might be said to refer to how closely that identity maps to these evidences. That's not to say that a good litmus test exists in every particular case, though.
0ialdabaoth7yThat's one interpretation. Another interpretation is that "trans identity" is a symptom of a diseased mind and culture, whereas a normal and healthy understanding of gender would understand that it's simply the correct cultural roles assigned to each sex - either as part of a Schelling point necessitated by our need for roles and divisions of duty, or as part of inherent biological differences. Each interpretation is entangled with a particular world-view and a particular political position, so it becomes very difficult to extract true facts from bald assertions.
2VAuroch7yTrans people are more likely than normal to reject the usual role for their birth gender, but being trans is very separate from gender role. Or at least, all the trans people I know, and at least most they know, consider it to be so.
0hylleddin7yUntil recently, there were a lot of trans people who had this interpretation of gender and the associated world-view, but just thought their minds had their identified gender's biological characteristics so they fit better there. See "Harry Benjamin Syndrome". Though I'll warn you that it mostly fell out of favor before the modern internet, so there isn't much information on it online.
6VAuroch7yThe prior probability for a person being cis is obviously much higher than the prior for trans; looking at it one way, this quote is advising ignoring that prior. Of course, looked at another way, it's specifically noting that there should be a large complexity penalty for the hypothesis "I’m just a cis person who has somehow managed to convince myself that I’m trans to the point that I’m having this kind of crisis" relative to the hypothesis "I'm trans". And also implicitly using the reversal test.
-3Eugine_Nier7yWhy? Also could we unpack the "I am trans" hypothesis? It seems to say "sometime during development something flipped the secondary sexual characteristics in my brain but not any of the ones outside it" given the type of spaghetti code evolution tends to produce, this seems rather unlikely. On the other hand, people convince themselves of weird beliefs and take them seriously enough to generate crises fairly regularly.
4[anonymous]7yAnd yet... [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_identity_disorder#Biological_causes]
-3Eugine_Nier7yWell, one obvious explanation for people thinking themselves trans is that maybe one of the secondary sexual characteristics flipped or maybe even something not related to sex at all. As a result they don't quite fit in, then they here about the transsexuality movement and convince themselves that they've found the problem. Note that this is consistent with the twin studies. All the brain scan stuff strikes me as the "we picked it up on a brain scan therefore it must be biologically caused" fallacy.
3hyporational7yDoes it matter to you if it's biologically caused all else being equal? Biologically caused is a problematic expression. Everything in the brain is biologically caused if we're generous enough. I assume you mean genetically caused or developmentally caused.
-3Eugine_Nier7yWell, biologically as opposed to memetically, for starters.
4VAuroch7yThis is a potentially valid but minority interpretation of the statement "X is trans.", held by no trans people I have discussed the subject with (and it tends to come up, eventually, across a sample size of a dozen middling-to-close friends). The more common one, which all trans people I know hold, is "At some point during my development I gained a strong repulsion from the particular cultural bundle labeled with the gender which matches the dominant one for my sex." Generally this is also a strong attraction to the other major gender bundle, but sometimes the trans person finds that bundle equally off-putting and rejects both, and others exchange between the two regularly or hold themselves to be both. Also, the poor coding practices which evolution uses make this more, not less, likely to occur. Most people who study trans issues, history, etc. agree that there were probably high rates of 'masked' trans people in the past, who kept their personal identification preferences secret.
2[anonymous]7yBut that's way too broad IMO. I mean, I have an Y chromosome. I have male genitalia and no desire to ever change this. (I also happen to have quite a few traits that are way more common among males than among females, e.g. being about 1.88 m (6'2") tall, having a baritone vocal range, having quite a lot of terminal [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminal_hair] facial and body hair, and being sexually attracted to women.) I find calling myself male a quite reasonable way of summarizing that info. But I find claims that all this means that my long hair/dislike of football/low aggressiveness/finding it easier to befriend women than men/etc.¹ are somehow suboptimal or make my maleness any less valid to be preposterous and/or offensive. ("So I guess your wooden leg makes you a table." -- Frank Zappa) IOW I do have “a strong repulsion from the particular cultural bundle labeled with the gender which matches the dominant one for my sex”. But I don't see any particular need to throw the baby away with the bath water and stop calling myself a man. (As for neurological differences, I haven't got a brain scan in the couple few decades, but FWIW my girlfriend is a heterosexual female neurologist.) And I think that once one knows all this about me, there's no question left to ask [http://lesswrong.com/lw/of/dissolving_the_question/] whether I actually am a man. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1. For something more quantitative and less stereotypical, I score slightly above median on both the masculinity and the femininity scales of the BSRI, and slightly higher on the latter than on the former.
5TheOtherDave7yLike you, I have a Y chromosome and male genitalia and some traits that are more common among males than females, as well as some traits that are more common among females than males (such as being sexually attracted to men). And, sure, calling myself male is a fine way of summarizing that info, and nobody seems to object. And I am entirely comfortable describing myself as male and being described that way. I'm comfortable playing a male social role, in other words. It sounds like you are, as well. By contrast, I have friends who, like you and me, have a Y chromosome and male genitalia and etc. and etc. But they are not comfortable playing a male social role. So there seems to be a difference between you and me, on the one hand, and my friends, on the other. Consequently, it seems useful to have language that lets us talk about that difference. Some of those friends refer to themselves as "trans women". I see no reason not to use that language to refer to them.
1RichardKennaway7yPresumably they are also uncomfortable having male physiology? Otherwise why do such people seek to change it? It seems a drastic step to take if the only motivation is to join the other social club.
1TheOtherDave7yThe trans people I know vary widely in terms of whether they seek to alter their sexual physiology. Some do, some don't, some do in principle but don't consider the options provided by current technology good enough for the benefits to outweigh the cost. But that aside, yeah, agreed. That, too, is a difference for which it is sometimes useful to have language. Speaking more generally here... presumably that depends a lot on how much we perceive membership in the other "social club" to depend on physiological markers, and the advantages we perceive in such membership. (Just to be clear, I'm not talking here about trans folk, but about people who seek to change their physiology in pursuit of social mobility, which is a whole different thing.)
2[anonymous]7yThis is why it's usually said that sex is biological, but gender is socio-cultural. Gender ideals and gender roles can change a lot from one culture to another. You might be a seemingly effeminate man in one place, and yet find that you're entirely normal in another place. It's complete delusion to think white North American cultural roles correspond to some Deep Time-driven neurological or evolutionary factor in some special way nobody else on the planet has access to. Imagine being told that 90% of the planet's men are less masculine than the median! Does that make the statistician in you perk up his ears and start screaming bloody murder, or what!?
0[anonymous]7yThan the median man, or than the median person?
1[anonymous]7yEither way. It doesn't really matter. An extreme spread between the median and mean, or between the supposed population median and the apparent sample median, indicates that somebody didn't do their sampling right at some point. Or in other words, they sampled WEIRDoes again instead of global humanity in general.
0[anonymous]7y(I had misread "less masculine" as "more masculine".)
1hyporational7yI don't entertain ideas about my gender identity at all, and don't understand people who do. Perhaps as a small child I might have done that, but don't remember a single instance. This might make me jump to the conclusion that gender identity isn't important to me, but I think it's just as possible that being a man is invisible to me, since there's no cognitive dissonance whatsoever. Listing characteristics that are important for being a man would be quite difficult for me. I could list many things that women usually do that I dislike, but I can think of many other reasons other than femininity for why I dislike them.
0VAuroch7yI don't consider your IOW to be accurate; rejecting the masculine stereotypes is not the same as rejecting the cultural bundle labeled 'man', though obviously it's similar. Most trans men I know are fairly femme, and most trans women fairly butch.
0[anonymous]7yHow so? I don't suppose you consider stuff like height or vocal range as cultural, do you?
3VAuroch7yYou're rejecting the subbundle "Manly Man" without rejecting the rest of the bundle. You still, most likely, take up as much space as you need when in a space with other people, without questioning whether that is fair. You still probably make insulting cracks at your friends when hanging out, though they're jokes, not serious. Your Adam's apple doesn't feel like an out-of-place tumor, nor does your penis (dysphoria). And you don't get the gender-swapped equivalent of this (direct quote from a trans guy): I intend to ask my other trans friends (who I can contact) in the next day or two. Clearly there is an element of having the wrong XML tag, but I strongly expect that there are other elements that cause that. And even if there aren't, this isn't a wrong question; being referred to correctly is important to them. Also, in his words:
0[anonymous]7yHow do I take less space than I need? The fact that I'm physically big is hardly cultural. (I do think that that's unfortunate when I am in a limited space with someone else, but there's little I can do about that.) Yeah, sometimes I do, but it's not like women never do. That's hardly cultural. I actually usually do. (There are exceptions.)
1VAuroch7yWomen, generally, take up as little space as they can manage. It is not comfortable to sit with your arms held in past your sides and your ankles crossed, yet this is the default position most women will assume when sitting anywhere public. There is the baseline assumption that for 1 pie= the space of a room with 20 people, they deserve less than 1/20th of the pie; any space they take up is intrusive and taking any more pie than they need to not starve is wrong, even if others need no pie. Generally they don't. It's rare, and women who do with any regularity are partially breaking from the bundle. Which happens, of course; people hold to the bundles to different degrees. Also, The feeling of those body parts being part of you is entirely mental and heavily associated with the bundles 'man' and 'woman'. So you should not expect those sensations (or the reverse 'breasts feel like tumors' and 'vagina feels like a wound') to co-occur with the bundle 'man' (or the reverse with 'woman').
-4Eugine_Nier7yThat kind of feeling isn't limited to sexual characteristics [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BIID] and it's not clear that the right solution is amputating the offending body part, as opposed to dealing with the feelings of tumorness themselves.
3VAuroch7yYou didn't finish writing this comment. I will wait until you do to address this point.
0Jiro7yThere was once an old Saturday Night Live skit about nationality-change operations. But given your explanation, wouldn't that imply that some people might actually think of themselves as a different nationality than the one they were born into? It's certainly a cultural bundle, after all. Why don't we see that?
1VAuroch7yFirst of all: We don't? It's less visible, certainly, but I know people who have felt they had a lot more in common with another country (or just another part of the country, within the US) than where they were born, and usually move there. Of course, moving is comparatively easy and isn't stigmatized. Second: In my (purely American) experience, nationality is less remarked upon. If you assume it takes (for a random number) 300 mental notes of discord to notice that being treated as part of a bundle feels inappropriate, it might take 50 days for a transgender person, and three years for a "transnationality" person. (Okay, 300 was significantly low.) So having them not notice to the extent that they feel the need to change is plausible. Third: Nationality isn't as low-level a drive as gender. Tribe-membership is, but co-opting it to nationalist sentiment not so much. And I certainly know people who felt intensely out of place in the tribes they were born into; political alignment, sports, family ties, etc. I'd be quite surprised if you don't know several such people. So some combination of those reasons? And possibly others. I don't know which of these if any is accurate (and my trans definition is obviously imperfect). But I don't think any of them is particularly complex, and they seem to explain the trends.
0Jiro7yThat doesn't work so well when the nationality is also associated with physical differences. If a white person were to say "I feel I'm really Chinese", and it was clear that he meant it and it wasn't just a metaphor meaning "I studied China a lot", people would think he's an idiot. And nobody ever wants to get an operation to make their facial features look more Chinese because they feel they are Chinese. Furthermore, he need not express an interest in moving to do this--what if he says "I feel I'm Chinese-American" (in the same sense that a person with Chinese heritage is, again not just meaning "I studied China")?
-1hyporational7yI doubt there's much neurobiology backing it up on a higher level than "Look! These brains are different! Let me make a huge list of rationalisations why." From a medical POV neurobiology could help, but isn't necessary to take action. ETA: Regarding the first point, finding neurological differences in different kinds of minds should be the default assumption, and shouldn't in general make the experiences of these minds more or less valid. I think validating or invalidating empirical psychology via biology with our crude tools is a fallacy, and wonder if there's a name for it. I suppose it could be some kind of a subtype of the naturalistic fallacy.
-4Eugine_Nier7yIt mentions the priors about being trans and then proceeds to ignore them. Also, its not clear how the question "Am I cis ot trans?" relates to anything besides XML tags.
3[anonymous]7yI took it to be about using posteriors rather than priors (i.e., P(X is trans | X is wondering whether they're trans) != P(X is trans)), but I know I steelman writers on the Internet too much.
2hyporational7yThere's such a thing as too much steelmanning?
2Lumifer7yYes. There is far too much idiocy in the world to spend time and effort on trying to make it look presentable.
2[anonymous]7yOTOH the result of doing that is sometimes just plain awesome [http://squid314.livejournal.com/327646.html].
1Roxolan7yThis link is dead (possibly because the blog has been hidden then re-opened in the interval). Could you please update it?
0Lumifer7yThat's not steelmanning, that's having fun and having fun is awesome :-)
0hyporational7yI think an argument has to have some value going for it in the first place to make it presentable by steelmanning and the idea is to preserve the gist of what someone was trying to communicate. Batshit crazy just won't compute no matter how much you patch it with duct tape, and making a whole new argument from scratch (like reading the Bible or Mein Kampf metaphorically) doesn't count as steelmanning, I think. Definitions, definitions...
3Lumifer7yIt's a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. Steelmanning is an attempt to see if there is some rational core that can be salvaged from a bad argument by making all conditions and assumptions for it as favorable as possible -- in a way you can't decide whether an argument is worth steelmanning until you have steelmanned it. But I guess it's possible just to have two thresholds: one (low) for even trying to steelman, and one (higher) for checking whether the steelmanned version makes any sense.
1Luke_A_Somers7y... by manipulating conditions and assumptions? No. Just like strawmanning, it's actually going in and changing the content of the argument.
0hyporational7yBy manipulating conditions and assumptions that are not explicitly stated?
1[anonymous]7yYes? [http://lesswrong.com/lw/fm/a_parable_on_obsolete_ideologies/] (OK, well, maybe I'm not going that far.)
1arborealhominid7yGood point; I hadn't really thought about it that way! I had interpreted it as reminding you to update your probability estimates based on observed evidence.

(potential spoilers removed, so if this dialogue doesn't make sense, be assured that it makes sense in context)

"Just wait," Zsoronga said. "Something auspicious will happen. Some twist will keep you here, where you can discharge your fate! Wait and see."

"And what if they know?" Sorweel finally asked, voicing the one alternative they had passed over in silence.

"They don't know."

"But wh-"

"They don't know."

Zsoronga, Sorweel was beginning to realize, possessed the enviable ability to yoke

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If you're good at something, never do it for free.

--The Joker

The Dark Knight (2008)

I'm good at blowing bubbles with bubble gum. I have yet to charge anyone for doing it.

I suppose you could say that as long as I gain pleasure from blowing bubbles I'm not doing it "for free" but that makes the statement very trivial. Under normal interpretations of "for free", the statement is wrong because there's no demand from anyone else that I blow bubbles.

I'd correct that statement to "if you're good at something, never do it under market value", which raises the possibility that I would still do for free things like blowing bubbles that have no market value.

I'm good at blowing bubbles with bubble gum. I have yet to charge anyone for doing it.

Gum bubble fetish camming?

2Xenocles7y"I'm good at blowing bubbles with bubble gum. I have yet to charge anyone for doing it." I think it's implied that this only applies when there is a demand for the service. Were you to find that there's a large audience for your displays, I bet you'd at least pass the hat around before doing another one.
1snafoo7yThe quote is a good one, and not because it's true.
1NancyLebovitz7yIs the Joker's advice supposed to be sensible enough that it's worth analyzing?
2Jiro7yWhat he said was proposed as a rationalist quote, which presumes a level of sensibility.
2AndHisHorse7yWell, the Joker is supposed to be portrayed a sort of an anti-romantic - he doesn't believe in the nobility of the people, he doesn't believe in the existence of some transcendent morality - he accepts the world as being without supernatural meaning, and instead imposes his own. So while he's absolutely bonkers, I wouldn't be surprised if the writers put a few pearls of uncommon wisdom in the dialogue, even if it was just to make him seem nuttier. Also, it might be worth analyzing just for the fun of it. That's why I visit this thread.

I don't see the Ledger Joker as irrational, merely insane. It's just his morality and ethics that are horrible. As far as reaching his goals, he is extremely (unrealistically) competent. You don't flawlessly account for every move your opponents make, in advance, for 98% of your visible career, by being totally irrational.

2Lethalmud7yUnless you have plot armor.
1VAuroch7ySince his primary goal is to make Batman kill him, it's hard to say he has plot armor.
1gwern7yPerhaps we should call it 'irony armor'?
1Torello7yI think most things have a certain type of market value, just measured using varying currencies. As a kid, did you ever blow a big bubble and your friends were jealous? You "earned" some status points. As an adult, you can leverage this "zero-demand" skill next time you're in line next to a kid at the airport. I think it would be possible to imagine a context where many such skills can earn you non-monetary rewards.
3[anonymous]7yYes, but “for free” normally means ‘not for money’, or at least ‘not for tangible goods’. If you take it to mean ‘for no reason at all, not even the fun of it’ it becomes nearly meaningless.

So all these dire warnings about Internet-of-Things — well, they are a good sign for the industry in some ways. It’s emotional, it’s plaintive — it’s like you’re about to kiss somebody for the first time, and they suddenly look at you all big-eyed and tremulous and ask if you’re going to hurt them.

The only honest answer is OF COURSE you’re going to hurt them, at least some, and on occasion, but not on purpose and, what the hell, if it’s any good they’ll get over it! But nobody’s gonna scrape it down to that level of raw honesty, except for marriage counse

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The danger of reading financial & other news (or econobullshit) is that things that don't make sense at all start making sense to you after progressive immersion.

Nassim Taleb

4Eliezer Yudkowsky7yAfter years of reading econblogs, I now understand that the Federal Reserve is not creating enough money. I don't actually think that understanding is a bad thing.
2[anonymous]7yI can see why inflation can be good for a smallish economy, but the US dollar is widely used as a reserve currency by foreigners, and if they no longer trusted it to stay hard they'd probably switch to gold or Swiss francs or bitcoins or whatnot and... I dunno what would happen, but I kinda doubt it would be nice. (I hardly know anything about macroeconomics, so I'm very likely missing something.) Nice example of metacontrarianism [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2pv/intellectual_hipsters_and_metacontrarianism/], BTW: “why don't they just print more money” is something uneducated people often come up with, and most literate people realize there are problems with that, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong.
3satt7yI think the missing bits here are that (1) creating money needn't necessarily raise inflation, and (2) modest increases in US inflation are unlikely to trigger a mass flight from the US dollar.
0Eugine_Nier7yOnly if the Federal Reserve is in fact not creating enough money.
0satt7yInterpreting the quotation charitably, it doesn't say that everything you'd learn from news ("or econobullshit") would be nonsense. It just means some of it would be.
2[anonymous]7y“Progressive” as in ‘gradual’ or as in ‘left-wing’? If the former, how is that a danger? I mean, the same is true about general relativity or quantum field theory.
7Manfred7yI will attempt to fix the quote:
6mwengler7yThe danger of reading quotes like this is the message that some field is wrong and crazy is delivered as an aside when it is an hypothesis worthy of a great amount of questioning that is almost certainly largely incorrect.
3ChristianKl7yHe means gradual. If you look to long at random distribution and listen to people who are in the narration business to frame the random distribution you will start seeing patterns that don't exist.
2Luke_A_Somers7yNo, those things do in fact make sense. They simply aren't intuitive.

"I have a complete listing of this universe's source code," says Ching. "I'm theoretically omnipotent. It's just a matter of time."

-- Fine Structure

-2Eugine_Nier7yShouldn't that be "omniscient"?
3RolfAndreassen7yNope. Firstly, code is not data. Secondly, in the physics of the fic, access to the source code enables you to install informational machinery in your brain, which can modify the universe in essentially arbitrary ways, because the universe is asserted to consist of a long series of statements like "there is a proton at location (x, y, z)" and so on.
0Luke_A_Somers7yA complete listing of the code is different from ability to change it, let alone feed the modified code back into the active interpreter (I'm going to guess that it's not a compiled language in this case). I suppose Ching also had this ability?
1RolfAndreassen7yHe did, yes, as I outlined in the parent of your post. Perhaps the quote needed a bit more context, but it's hard to find a pithy explanation of the background information. That aside, I suggest that a full listing of the source code of the universe you're running in is the maximum potence you're likely to get, no matter which specific hacks it allows.
1Luke_A_Somers7yHow the frell did I miss that? Seriously. WTF. Out of fic, though, I doubt that knowing the laws of the universe immediately leads to 'maximum potence'. There are hard engineering problems.

"Nothing can kill me because I am already dead."

-- Zombie Neitzsche

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

If we could achieve eternal life through the clever use of linguistic ambiguity, then post-structuralist continental philosophers would have defeated death long ago. What would the world be like, I wonder, if all forms of cleverness were useful? A candidate for weirdtopia, probably.

"You flatter me. But still, what advice would you give the Almighty? What, in your opinion, would the Almighty have to do so that you'd be able to say: the world is now truly good and beautiful?" Budach smiled approvingly, leaned comfortably back in his armchair and folded his hands across his stomach. Full of interest and anticipation, Kyra peered into the physician's face. "All right then," he said, "if you so desire. I would tell the Almighty: 'Great Creator, I do not know your plan; maybe it's si

... (read more)
9Jiro7yThis quote betrays a limited imagination. God could, for instance, make it so that people just automatically become full every day if they don't eat, or he could make it so that anyone who tried to steal would instantly faint. Furthermore, the fact remains that in the real world, some people do have adequate food and shelter, are not powerful, and yet don't have it taken from them. If God were to magically give everyone food and shelter, even if he did not stop theft, there may be corrupt third world countries where there would be rampant theft and people still ended up starving, but there'd be a lot fewer homeless in first world countries (especially if he eliminated all mental illness at the same time). As for the argument is that providing people with things would eliminate man's motive to do work, there's a big gap between "food and shelter" and "able to live comfortably on your salary". Also, there's a difference between changing mankind's psychology (which I agree would pose problems) and merely physically changing mankind. A world where, say, all drunk people who tried to drive home were teleported home would contain less suffering with little downside. Likewise for a world that doesn't contain birth defects or cancer. This is a rationality quote?
2Lumifer7yNot quite, it makes much more sense within the context of the novel from which it's taken. In particular... In the novel, there is no God. The plot is similar to one of Iain Banks' Culture novels, Inversions (though it was written much earlier than Banks) -- there is an advanced starfaring civilization which has agents/helpers/guides on a medieval-tech planet and they are trying to improve things on that planet. Rumata is one of those agents and while his capabilities are magical and awesome from the point of view of the locals, he is very much not a god.
4Said Achmiz7yIndeed. To expand on that a bit more: The titular phrase is a line in the book, something that Rumata thinks to himself while attempting to explain, for the twentieth, futile, time, to one of the natives (a populist revolutionary leader of sorts) that he is not a god; and that, though he does possess great and awesome powers (i.e. advanced weaponry), he refuses to provide them to the natives. The constraints here are not just practical, but moral:
2dspeyer7y--1635 The Eastern Front Even if all Rumata has are a few history books and overwhelming weaponery, he should be able to make some solid improvements in the social organization. And if he has the full backing of a spacefaring civilization, he should be able to do a lot. I haven't read Hard to be a God (it does sound interesting), but my proposal: * First enough productive giveaways that there's a surplus worth speaking of. It has to exist before the people can keep it. * Then establish and protect a communications network. One armored internet terminal per tavern, perhaps. Create forums the powerful can't sensor. Publish some history and organization textbooks so that people get used to the idea that better things are possible. * Declare some meta-laws, like due process, no ex-post-facto, public jury trials... Make them mild enough that rulers consider them acceptable. Enforce them ruthlessly. * Publish relevant science and technology books. * This should be enough to see the beginnings of a middle class. Place them under your protection. * Whenever there's a succession crisis (those are common) declare a republic in the region. Crush any attempt to end it violently using overwhelming force. At first, you'll need to do a lot of work teaching people how to have a republic and enforcing things, but you should be able to back off as they learn. Basically plagiarize shamelessly from the nicer parts of history and keep your eyes open for how to use what you have.
1Lumifer7yI do recommend the book. It's not at all about sociotechnical difficulties of uplifting a medieval society...
0Said Achmiz7yAs Lumifer alludes to, your proposals, while interesting, solve problems other than the ones faced by Rumata. Here's the key issue: Rumata is not allowed to visibly interfere with the social structure of the society he is trying to "uplift". He can work only subtly, in the shadows, disguised as one of the locals, such that his actions are indistinguishable to even (most of) his local allies from the actions of a bored, eccentric aristocraft. He is not allowed to kill. One of his colleagues describes their work as "not even sowing, but only preparing the soil to be sowed"; slowly nudging the society's development in the right direction, without the local population suspecting a thing. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- More details for the curious: Hard to Be a God takes place in the Noon Universe, a fictional timeline of the future shared among many of the Strugatskys' novels. One of the core concepts in the Noon Universe is that of the "progressors", professional uplifters of sorts, who infiltrate less-advanced societies and work from within to steer them in the progressive, idealized-technocratic-communist direction (which is how Earth has developed, in this fictional world). The events of Hard to Be a God happen early in that timeline, where the ideology behind progressorism has not yet fully developed; where humanity is still unsure whether we have the moral right to interfere in alien societies at all. Rumata and his colleagues sometimes refer to themselves as "historians"; nominally, they are there to study the alien society; their actions are tightly constrained by the rules that govern their profession. Rumata is one of the first who takes actions that push the limits of his mandate. (Exactly how far he ends up going, or not going, is a plot point.) There is also this (Rumata's senior colleague, Don Kondor a.k.a. Aleksandr Vasilievich, lecturing Rumata on the problems with direct action): Basically, the n
0Bugmaster7yAs I said in the comment above, I highly recommend reading the sequel ("Beetle in an anthill", or something like that in English), in order to understand what uplift might look like from the other end. It's not all roses.
1Luke_A_Somers7yNot being uplifted isn't exactly roses either.
0Said Achmiz7yI don't know that I'd call Beetle in the Anthill a sequel to Hard to Be a God, per se (except insofar as they both take place in the Noon Universe), but yes, I agree with the recommendation. The sequel to Beetle, which I believe is called Time Wanderers in English (Waves Silence the Wind in Russian), illustrates this even more starkly.
0shminux7ySeems rather realistic to me, actually. Do you know of many examples where "well-meaning liberators" did not end up causing more suffering shortly after their intervention (or forced withdrawal)?
1TheOtherDave7yDoes technological development count as well-meaning intervention?
0shminux7yI am not sure what you mean here. Is it introducing new technologies as a part of a conquest, like the British did in India?
1TheOtherDave7yNo, I just mean developing new technologies. That is, at time T this community doesn't have the technology, then someone intervenes, and at time T+1 the community does have the technology. If that's out of scope for the kind of interventions you're asking about, that's fine, but if it isn't, then I suspect there are plenty of examples where well-meaning folk end up not causing more suffering after their intervention in a community.
0shminux7yI agree that organic technological development is beneficial on the whole, with some exceptions. It's the "prime directive violations" which backfire nearly uniformly. And that's what the story is about, if I recall (been many years since I read it).
0Said Achmiz7yI think to answer that, we'd need to be clear about what we mean by saying that a community "has" a technology. If I go to a tribe of hunter-gatherers, hand them a bunch of solar-powered toasters, and leave... do they now "have toaster technology"? I think not. I'd have to think a bit harder to define exactly what I would consider to be "having technology", but my intuition says that being able to build the thing, and/or having people in your society who understand how it works, is a requirement. To our hypothetical hunter-gatherers, the toasters are outright magic. They haven't the first clue of the most basic scientific or technological principles behind the artifacts that are in their physical possession. So I'd have to ask what you think is an example of an intervention that causes a community to have a technology, where previously they did not.
3TheOtherDave7yJiro's example of making mobile phones available to a town that lacks the facilities for building its own mobile phones (factories, etc) seems to me a good enough example of an intervention that causes a community to have a technology they previously lacked.
0Said Achmiz7ySure. Note, though, that what you're doing there is effectively making said town part of your community (in the context of who "has" what technology, in any case). Consider these scenarios: You show up to some remote island, build a bunch of cell towers, hand out mobile phones, and leave, never to be seen again. vs. You show up to the neighboring town, build a bunch of cell towers, which you connect to your own cell network, hand out mobile phones, and continue to administer and maintain said towers, and provide support for said phones. In the latter case, yeah, this community now has cell phone technology. But only because they're a part of you now. If you cut them off from yourself — by ceasing to provide maintenance and support for the technology you just gave them — they no longer have any technology, just a bunch of artifacts which work (for a while, anyway), but are as magic.
0TheOtherDave7ySemantics aside, I agree with the particulars of what providing cell phones (in a functional sense) to a town that can't manufacture them itself comprises. And I'm willing to use that definition of "part of my community" in this conversation if you like, though of course there are many implications of that phrase which don't apply to the scenario in question, so we should be careful about connotations. I'm not sure why it matters, though. Does something additional follow from that town now being part of my community (in this sense)? If so, perhaps it would be useful to state that consequence explicitly, because I'm not seeing it.
0Said Achmiz7ySure. The reason I made this distinction is this: we were discussing whether it's possible to have an advanced and well-meaning society give a technology to a sadly benighted, less-advanced society, and not thereby cause more suffering. Well, I think that question depends on what exactly is entailed by causing the less-advanced society to have a technology they didn't previously have. I think to do that, the more-advanced society has to intervene in the less-advanced society to a greater degree than just showing up, saying "here, take this", and leaving. The thing is, essentially enveloping an inferior culture in your own has other ethical issues. I do not think that saying "Hi, here is this amazing thing, and now you are dependent on our society and culture forever (or at least until such time as you have transformed your society and culture to essentially be copies of ours)" is ethically neutral. (Although you should by no means take this to be an expression of cultural relativism.) Whether doing this actually causes suffering in a straightforward, unambiguous sense, I am not sure. Maybe. Maybe not.
3TheOtherDave7ySo, just to echo this back to make sure I understand... your position is that if I effectively intervene in a culture to provide technology (such that they actually have it), this means I am also providing a certain level of ongoing maintenance and support of that technology, which in turn necessarily means I'm enveloping that culture in my own until such time as it becomes essentially a copy of mine, which is at best not ethically neutral and might result in suffering, and might even result in net suffering, although then again it might not. Yes? If so, OK... thanks for clarifying. For my own part, while I certainly agree that this sort of thing can happen, and some technologies lean that way more than others, I also suspect that there's a nontrivial excluded middle between "don't provide technology at all" and "essentially envelop an inferior culture in your own." For example, I think trade relations often exist in that middle ground.
1Said Achmiz7yThat is a reasonable summary of my position, yes. (It's actually a bit worse than that: "... becomes essentially a copy of mine" is often more like "... becomes a distorted copy of mine, without the counterbalancing influences that result from gradual acceptance of, and adaptation to, the new technologies and cultural practices which I am now dumping on the client culture all at once". But the core point is the same.) I agree that there might be an excluded middle. I am skeptical of any claim that it's common, though. Truly equitable, consensual (in a democratic sense) trade relations between grossly technologically unequal societies seem to be rare at best. Trade relations as a middle ground between the two extremes we're discussing occur, I think, between societies that are not as different, in technological and social development. Are there examples you can think of?
1TheOtherDave7yFor the most part, the historical examples of relations between "grossly technologically unequal societies" I can think of were deliberately exploitative. So, no, no examples of "truly equitable, consensual (in a democratic sense) trade relations" between such societies come to mind. For that matter, no examples of failed attempts at such relations that just end up causing net suffering despite the sincere best efforts of the principals involved come to mind, either. Not that I'm any kind of expert.
0Jiro7yIt's only very recently, historically speaking, that the balance between helping a less advanced culture and exploiting a less advanced culture has been so tilted in the direction of helping. (Except for meme plagues that come packaged with a message of "spreading this meme constitutes help", which we've always had, and which often end up as exploitation anyway.). So you're not going to see either many successful attempts at advancing the other culture, or many failed attempts--until now, there haven't been attempts at all.
3Jiro7yIn the present day, the average third world country doesn't "have" cell phones, by this definition. In fact, the average first world inner city doesn't have them either.
0Bugmaster7yI think this is perfectly reasonable, though it could be argued that the first world inner city does not really constitute a fully separate culture.
0Izeinwinter7yThere are some, but mostly they are cases of "local situation deteriorated to the point of piles of skulls" prior to the intervention, so foreigners stomping around were welcomed instead of shot at.
0Said Achmiz7yI agree, shminux. By "pessimistic" I didn't mean to imply "unrealistically pessimistic". The Strugatskys' views were well-informed by both history and contemporary events (Russian/Soviet policies in the Caucasus and Central Asia, to name one example relevant to this case).
0Desrtopa7yI believe that Yvain cited an example of such on his blog, but I think that it was on the older one whose contents have been recently deleted. It was a recent one, and the "liberators" were the French, but I don't recall enough relevant info to google it.
0Vaniver7yHe did recently mention the British conquest of Afghanistan vs. the American conquest of Afghanistan, but that was mostly the question of how quickly and successfully the country was pacified, not liberated.
0Desrtopa7yThis was definitely a different example than that, and drew on more recent history than the British conquest of Afghanistan.
0shminux7yThis plan is full of good intentions... Try conducting a premortem on each one.
-2Eugine_Nier7yProceed to become horrified by the actions of the demagogues voted into office.
1Bugmaster7yWARNING: MINOR SPOILERS below ! I should point out that, in this novel, humans from the distant future are attempting to uplift the culture of a relatively backward planet to somewhere closer to their own level. The locals do not really understand what is happening, but they know that some power beyound their understanding is messing with their world, and they try to exploit or resist it as best they can. The novel has a sequel. In it, one of the uplift agents returns to Earth, only to find out that there may be someone or something out there, which is beyound human understanding, acting upon the humans in order to further some inscrutable goal. In secret, the humans mount a desperate attempt to resist this influence, by any means necessary, as best they can... The sequel is followed by the final book of the trilogy. Whether what happens in it is wonderful or catastrophic depends on how you interpret the previous two books, I think, but it's at least a little sad all the same.
3Said Achmiz7yYour comment makes me wonder whether you are perhaps confusing Hard to Be a God with Inhabited Island (called Prisoners of Power in English, I believe).
1Bugmaster7yOh crap, you're right ! Good catch.
1[anonymous]7yYou both need to go read the Fun Theory sequence. Bloody small-minded humans, always mucking things up with their incrementalism and obsessive compulsions towards toil.

An average teenager today, if he or she could time-travel back to 1950, would have had an IQ of 118. If the teenager went back to 1910, he or she would have had an IQ of 130, besting 98 percent of his or her contemporaries. Yes, you read that right: if we take the Flynn Effect at face value, a typical person today is smarter than 98 percent of the people in the good old days of 1910. To state it in an even more jarring way, a typical person of 1910, if time-transported forward to the present, would have a mean IQ of 70, which is at the border of mental re

... (read more)
9bramflakes7yThat's only if we take the Flynn effect at face value. No one does, because the implications are nonsense. Go back in time and the average intelligence will be lower, but that's only because of a longer tail on the lower end of the distribution (the usual suspects: nutrition, lead poisoning, child abuse, iodine deficiency ...). On the smarter end, it's relatively unchanged because of diminishing returns. The Flynn effect has many proposed, non mutually-exlusive causes, but an actual secular increase in real brain horsepower is not among the big ones.
0CronoDAS7yhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everything_Bad_Is_Good_for_You [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everything_Bad_Is_Good_for_You]
2private_messaging7yUnfortunately, the progression seem to have ended or even reversed [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect#Possible_end_of_progression] .
1bramflakes7yReviews cite lack of hard evidence for the claims made, and as private_messaging said, the effect is slowing in developed countries (though the impact of immigration is difficult to assess).
8Vaniver7yNot a very good one, though. Most of the ancients that people pay attention to these days are the ones who were well-fed and well-read; it's strongly suspected [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_Effect#Proposed_explanations] much of the Flynn effect is population-wide increases in those two variables (as well as similar things like reduced disease load).
3Randaly7yYou mean well-fed in the sense of "not starving," but that doesn't imply "well-fed" in the sense of eating a healthy diet. There's reason to think that upper-class Romans would have been even more damaged by lead poisoning [http://io9.com/5877587/the-first-artificial-sweetener-poisoned-lots-of-romans] than the poor, and there's good evidence that even emperors were deficient in iodine [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1922948/pdf/canmedaj01217-0037.pdf] .
9Sophronius7yI have a historian standing next to me right now who says the lead poisoning story is BS and people who propagate it should be shot/severely eye-rolled at. He says that: -Romans did drink lead-sweetened wine but -only lower class romans did so because they could not afford better -lead-sweetened wine continued to be drunk up until the 18th century -While some people undoubtedly died, saying it caused the fall of the Roman Empire is a ridiculous just-so story -particularly because the sweetener was used centuries before and after the fall with no increasing usage leading up to the fall -and the eastern Roman empire continued to exist for another thousand years anyway.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky7yBut they weren't consuming huge amounts of unstable polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils, either.
0[anonymous]7yThey were [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive_oil#Production_and_trade], and who said they're bad [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyunsaturated_fat#Potential_benefits] anyway?
0Eliezer Yudkowsky7yOlive oil is only 10% PUFA and I doubt they were getting 10% of calories from olive oil. Benefits of PUFA are at much lower doses, or in the case of Omega-3 making up for huge O3/O6 imbalances.
3private_messaging7yYeah. The raise is not a simple shift of the entire curve. Though, this resonates with another topic: there's a lot of people today living in conditions vastly inferior to Americans or Europeans of 1910, mostly in Africa, scoring about the same on the IQ tests as western folks from the 1910 supposedly did. I see a plenty of people both accept the Flynn effect (whenever thinking about their superiority to people of the past) and think that said IQ gap is caused by inherently lower abilities (whenever thinking about their superiority to people of other races).
0James_Miller7yIf true then why has it been acting on white Americans post 1960?
2Vaniver7yIf I remember correctly, researchers suspect that there was significantly decreased lead exposure around that time. I personally prefer to think of it as the Flynn Result rather than the Flynn Effect, because the second seems too much like the Flynn Cause. There are a bunch of reasons why measured IQs could increase, and some of them are there sometimes and not other times, and the measured increase fluctuates accordingly.
4CronoDAS7yAnd I know more math than Newton, too! (Maybe not Euler, but definitely Newton.)
1Armok_GoB7yAnd there are far more modern people, of which a greater proportion is producing long-lasting informational stuff like quotes/metaphors/articles/books. I haven't run the number, but I expect there is more total "literally value" (whatever that means) produced, say, last year in fanfiction alone, that in all text written pre- industrial revolution. By orders of magnitude.
1[anonymous]7yRelevant [http://squid314.livejournal.com/348160.html] (see also followup [http://squid314.livejournal.com/348496.html])
1KnaveOfAllTrades7yDepends what you mean by 'know more math'. In a sense, anybody as fast as you who spent more time studying knows more than you, for how could it be any other way? But that could be because they have more depth in some areas whereas you might have a broader purview. (E.g. you might know more high-level theory about algebraic curves but lose to Newton on a details-oriented question on most cubic curves [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton#Classification_of_cubics].)
4CronoDAS7yIt takes a lot less time to learn calculus from a textbook than it does to invent it; it would presumably be accurate to say that Einstein knew more physics than Newton. I don't know if there are any problems in my 3-semester introductory calculus textbook that Newton would have choked on, but he'd definitely have a problem the first time he saw a complex number, let alone something like "e^(a+bi)= a cos(b) + ai sin (b)" that dates to Euler.
0KnaveOfAllTrades7yAhhh yeah I forgot discovery was a thing. I guess even going through the process to invent something is its own kind of learning, but that seems tenuous with respect to the original intent of what you said. Edit: But I think there is a meaningful sense (even if not the only one) in which, say, Euclid or Archimedes probably know more classical geometry than you. And perhaps its meaning comes from their internalisation of a greater depth (even if you could use a theorem prover or theory to quickly derive all their knowledge), which would make those deeper facts accessible to their intuition when solving other problems or developing theory.
-1private_messaging7yFor much smaller values of "know", probably. With google at your disposal, all the math is at your fingertips, but that doesn't mean you know how to solve a problem which doesn't come with keywords to search for. Same applies to typical declarative knowledge.
1CronoDAS7yMore specifically I mean that Newton couldn't pass the finals of many of the undergraduate math courses I took, because the math needed to solve the problems wouldn't have been invented yet.
1private_messaging7yWhat I mean is that facing a somewhat difficult problem in applied mathematics which arose naturally in some broader context, most undergraduates are not able to actually pinpoint the relevant methods that they know. (At the same time people like Newton were unusually able to do that). It's very apparent in e.g. programming contests, that the subset of what people can identify as applicable (without hints) is usually much smaller than the set of what they know.
0CronoDAS7yIndeed. Being able to pass a math test and being able to use the math in a real-world context are two different things.
0Pfft7yThe "average American teenager" definitely also could not pass those finals. I rather doubt that there are any math problems at all which an average american teenager could solve and Newton could not, even if they are handpicked to use "recent" math.
0CronoDAS7yPossible counterexample: x^2 + 1 = 0 Newton didn't believe in the square root of minus one.