- Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be voted up/down separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
- Do not quote yourself.
- Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.
- No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
Dr. Ralph Merkle (quoted on the Alcor website - I'm surprised this hasn't been posted before, but I can't find it in the past pages)
Well, to be fair, the experimental group isn't doing a lot better either, just yet.
On the living/non-living part, yeah. (They're all dead.)
On the brains remaining recognizable and intact, I suspect they're doing better than even professionally embalmed and maintained corpses like Lenin or Mao are.
More precisely, an uncertain value of 'dead'.
Miracle Max: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What's that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.
It would be a miracle.
Reminds me of the proposed double blind studies about the effectiveness of parachutes in preventing injuries while falling from great heights.
I thought it was trite, but here it is.
ETA: Posted this from work, didn't realize it was paywalled. Here's a pdf
If you say that all experiments have to be placebo controlled double blind experiments you aren't advocating more experiments.
You are advocating that the resources get spread about over less experiments but that those experiments that are done have a higher standard. http://www.blog.sethroberts.net/2011/01/25/monocultures-of-evidence/
G. K. Chesterton, article in the Illustrated London News, 1907, collected in "The Man Who Was Orthodox", p.96.
Your post reminds me of this quote about how a teacher's assumptions affect identity:
"When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you ... when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing." —Adrienne Rich, 1984
As I read this quote, I was reminded of what it felt like to be (repressed) homosexual in a strongly heteronormative culture. The act of claiming my sexuality could only happen outside of that culture (in Europe, for me), and when I came back home, I became profoundly depressed, convinced I would never amount to anything.
Gay people are often surprised at how their internal turmoil, which seems so particular and special, turns out to be the usual result of growing up queer in a straight society. We're surprised because our experience is so different from what most people around us seem to be feeling.
So, I would say Rich was not generalizing from one example, but was talking about the generality of the experience of the ignored minority, and trying to convey that experience to an audience who would be largely ignorant of that feeling of psychic non-existence. They have been affirmed by whatever presumptions are prevalent in their society, be they heteronormative, ethnic, racial, religious or whatever.
So, this is a great rationality quote, because it reminds us all (gay people included) to challenge ourselves constantly to recognize the lenses through which we understand reality, and to try to sort out what is real from what is cultural. People, especially young people, kill themselves because of this. Challenging our cultural assumptions can save lives.
"The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance - it is the illusion of knowledge." -Daniel J. Boorstin
This reminds me of "It ain't what we don't know that hurts us, it's what we know that ain't so."
Which I have seen attributed to at least half a dozen different people over the years.
Peanuts, 1961 April 26&27:
Or, as the Urban Dictionary puts it:
A meta-comment: It's always good to have an arsenal of mainstream-accessible quotes to use for those times when explaining game theory is just loo much of an inferential leap. I'd like to find more of these.
Disagree. This is just a get out of jail free card, a universal excuse. Don't blame me, blame the system / my genes / my memes / my parents / determinism / indeterminism...
When said in first person, it can feel like a dodge.
However, when used as a third-person response to retorts like "politicians have got to stop being so corrupt!", I find it fits just fine, and it is in this context that I posted it. (also, notice that the elaboration is in third person)
That may not be what it's supposed to mean, but I've heard people use it that way.
If there were no players, then there would be no game.
Er, that context doesn't sound like "I'm a puppet of the system" to me at all. It sounds more like, "don't be mad at me because I'm successful and you're not ("Actin' like a brother done did somethin' wrong cause he got his game tight"); if you have to be mad at something, be mad at the rules which elevate some and lower others ("some come up and some get done up"), by requiring us to risk much to gain great rewards ("If you out for mega cheddar, you got to go high risk"). Otherwise, work on improving your own performance ("tighten your aim"), rather than envying my success ("act like you don't see me / You wanna be me")."
Given that most of the song is bragging about his past actions and willingness to take more such actions in the future, it certainly doesn't sound like a declaration of helplessness. Heck, for a rap song, it's practically self-improvement advice. ;-)
I think this quote is especially apposite when your looking at ways of reforming a system. Attributing bad policy outcomes to the perfidy of individuals is generally unhelpful in designing a solution.
It's good to understand the player's actions as being part of a particular game. But it's okay to punish the player, if you're feeling altruistic or vengeful enough (that is, you want to do your part to discourage people from playing that game).
When you're not prepared to anger the player, the game is indeed a safe target for your ineffectual outrage.
G. K. Chesterton (unsourced)
If only people believed that this could happen in philosophy.
Apologetics is a subset of theology, concerned strictly with justifying the tenets of the faith to doubters and nonbelievers.
Thomas Aquinas, by contrast, argued for the existence of God only briefly at the very beginning of the Summa Theologica, and devoted the rest to elucidating the properties of God, the other supernatural beings, and humanity. Much of theology is philosophy done with some particular background assumptions; apologetics is argument and rhetoric in defense of those assumptions.
ETA: In the modern world, most of the positive arguments for the existence of God are (of course) fatally flawed. The older "mainline" denominations realize this on some level and have essentially fallen back to the position "You can't know that there's not a God", which is something of a defense against losing one's own faith but not a great opening gambit for winning converts. The newer Protestant denominations aren't generally aware of the flaws in their arguments, and so use them to win converts.
In particular, the mainline denominations (and their theologians) shy away from empirical tests, while the newer denominations (and their apologists) embrace bad empirical tests. This is of course an oversimplification, but it's generally true.
It does on rare occasion. And then that particular subfield is no longer called philosophy.
Dilbert creator Scott Adams discussing Charlie Sheen.
Bruce Gregory "Inventing Reality: Physics as Language" pp.186-187.
On noticing confusion:
Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Priory School
-- David Foster Wallace
"If the wonder's gone when the truth is known, there never was any wonder." — Gregory House, M.D. ("House" Season 4, Episode 8 "You Don't Want to Know," written by Sara Hess)
I'm quite uncomfortable with these sorts of statements. Rationalism and science are ways of approaching and analysing the world, not modes of aesthetic appreciation. This smacks a little to me of the idea that the scientifically aware realise that there is 'more beauty' in nature than in art.
If I met someone who was clear-minded, analytical and empirical I wouldn't call them irrational and unscientific just because they experience wonder at unexplained magic tricks rather than great scientific theories, or because they found the poetry of Eliot more beautiful than the structure of the universe (I know you haven't claimed the latter, just addressing a more widespread 'scientific people appreciate X' claim).
-Kaname Madoka, Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Episode #7 of Madoka, and I'm thinking, "It's amazing how many anime problems can be solved by polyamory and the pattern theory of identity."
This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune,--often the surfeit
of our own behavior,--we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star!
Wm. Shakspere King Lear
-John Maynard Keynes, on models of unemployment that seemed nice on paper but did not measure up to the real world.
"An accumulation of facts, however large, is no more science than a pile of bricks is a house."
Roger Peters, Practical Intelligence
-- Alonzo Fyfe
"Anything you can do, I can do meta" -Rudolf Carnap
John Stewart Bell, "Against Measurement" in Physics World, 1990.
Daniel Kish (Human Echolocation researcher, advocate and instructor).
I rather suspect you miss the point of the metaphor. Perhaps you also missed the entirely literal meaning as well. Seeing the pole coming is not an option you have available if, as is the case with Kish and many of the people he works with, you do not have retinas.
— Wolof proverb
[ In The Intelligent Investor, Benjamin Graham, who was Warren Buffett's mentor, shares his views on investing for a wider audience. I like the rationalist, no-nonsense approach he takes (as seen in this quote) esp. in a field like this ]
This is an old saying, which I learnt from the 1994 movie Forrest Gump (not otherwise a bastion of rationalism).
While we may judge people as irrational ("stupid") based on what they know (epistemic rationality, roughly), it's instrumental rationality that matters in the end.
It's better to be lucky than smart, but it's easier to be smart twice than lucky twice
-- Aleister Crowley, Liber ABA
Crowley's writings are an odd mixture of utter raving, self-conscious mysticism, and surprising introspective clarity. The above refers to his concept of True Will, which reads at times like an occultist's parameterization of epistemic rationality; some of his writings on meditation, too, wouldn't look too far out of place as top-level posts here.
Here's a long one:
"When humanity lay grovelling in all men's sight, crushed to the earth under the dead weight of superstition whose grim features loured menacingly upon mortals from the four quarters of the sky, a man of Greece was first to raise mortal eyes in defiance, first to stand erect and brave the challenge. Fables of the gods did not crush him, nor the lightning flash and the growling menace of the sky. Rather, they quickened his manhood, so that he, first of all men, longed to smash the constraining locks of nature's doors. The vital vigour of his mind prevailed. He ventured far out beyond the flaming ramparts of the world and voyaged in mind throughout infinity. Returning victorious, he proclaimed to us what can be and what cannot: how a limit is fixed to the power of everything and an immovable frontier post. Therefore superstition in its turn lies crushed beneath his feet, and we by his triumph are lifted level with the skies."
-Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe
I wasn't sure who this was referring to (I thought it was about Socrates), so I looked it up. It's about Epicurus.
William T. Powers
An irrationality quote from Samuel Johnson via Boswell:
I am taking a first-aid class at my local community college. Our instructor, a paramedic, after telling us about the importance of blood flow to the brain, and the poor prognosis for someone who is left comatose from oxygen deprivation, says:
"There are some people who say, 'But miracles can happen!' Yeah, miracles are one in a million. What number are you?"
Dr. Cuddy: "And you're always right. And I don't mean you always think you're right. But y--you are actually always right, because that's all that matters."
House: "That doesn't even make sense. What, you want me to be wrong?"
I got your Friendly AI problem right here...
"To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society."
Can't help but twist that into "To educate a society in morals and not in mind is to educate a menace to humanity..."
Unfortunately I lost the source for this - anybody recognize it? It was from a book I read 12 to 15 years ago, I can't remember any more than that.
Thanks for the irony!
"If you want truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between "for" and "against" is the mind's worst disease." — Sent-ts'an
Demosthenes (384–322 BCE)
Sandra Tsing Loh
Not a rationality quote as such, but maybe an anti-hubris caveat for those of us that were never child prodigies.
The great ethicists of history share essentially the same goal: get strangers to always pick D. ...
The Simpsons, "Kidney Trouble"
— Randall Munroe, today's xkcd alt text
"Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy."
"The only thing I'm addicted to right now is winning." - Charlie Sheen
Pragmatic rationality, perhaps? :
— Theodore Roethke
You would have to notice when they acheive the impossible.
Or that they make visible progress towards the impossible.
Or that they acheive interesting side projects in their down time from working on the impossible.
That is a good one (that applies even under strict definitions of 'the impossible'). Closely related is if they make valuable tangential contributions to the non-impossible while working on the impossible.
I'd look for the explosions.
"The hell of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the hell where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the hell and become such a part of it that you can never see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the hell, are not hell, then make them endure, give them space." -- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
This is the las... (read more)
"Hell" is the default translation, and definitely the correct one here, in my opinion (just as it is, for example, in Dante).
"Inferno" in English should just be a fancy Italianate way of saying "hell", but seems to have acquired a connotation of literal heat and flames. (That is, it's as if people have forgotten that "the blazing inferno of a burning building" is a metaphor.) In any case, neither cultured fanciness nor literal flames are intended by Calvino in that passage, as far as I can tell.
I'm not sure prudishness is necessarily to blame; it may just be a case of that all-too-common translator syndrome of reaching for a word that looks like the original word, rather than the word that the author would have used if he or she were actually a native speaker of the language you're translating into.
Here's the passage in the original, for those interested (source):
-- Clifford, The Ethics of Belief
Agent Orange - Too Young To Die
Perhaps it will help to know that Andrew Hussie is a webcomic artist, and his webcomic is the golden egg in question?
It's a newcomb-like problem faced by anyone who wants to enjoy anyone else's creative output. People fear creating good things for fear that they will be expected to go on creating them.
More generally, it's an extension of the original moral-- have respect for how things actually work instead of trying to force them to be what you want.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
Bruce Gregory, Inventing Reality: Physics as Language, p.184
This point was made long ago by J.L. Austin in (I believe) Sense and Sensibilia. Austin points out several things about "real", among them that "real" is substantive-hungry: You can't answer "Is such-and-so real?" without asking first, "Is it a real what?"
A decoy duck is not a real duck, but it is a real decoy -- whereas a rubber duck is not a real decoy; and a decoy coot might be mistaken for a decoy duck if you know little of waterfowl, but isn't a real decoy duck.
There is no sense of "real" that applies to all substantives that we would describe as real. The word makes sense only in contrast to specific ways of being unreal: being a forgery, a toy, an hallucination, a fictional character, an exaggeration, a case of mistaken identity, a doctored picture, etc. It is these negative concepts, and not the concept of "real", that actually do all the explanatory work. "Real" is both ambiguous and negative.
"Hard to define" and "not clearly doing any work" are distinct properties; I'd agree about the former and not the latter. I do find it difficult to give a definition of "real" that isn't going to break when dealing with unusual border cases; but nevertheless, if I consider the question "Is Harry Potter real?", or "Is Barack Obama real?", or "Are atoms real?", then the two possible answers I could give for each will imply distinct models of reality that anticipate different experiences, and furthermore the word "real" can transfer such a model into someone else's mind pretty successfully. It doesn't particularly seem to have any of the characteristics of a non-descriptive term.
And is that laziness so bad? If extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, presumably ordinary claims require merely ordinary evidence...
"Ordinary claims require merely ordinary evidence" is an overlooked and tremendously important corollary.
"It’s fascinating to me that we live in a world where some intelligent people think we need to put more effort into sophisticated artificial intelligence, while others think tractors powered by methane from manure are more important, and each thinks the other is being unrealistic."
Quoted in the chapter on bounded rationality and the Revelation Principle in "Computational Aspects of Preference Aggregation" (.pdf) - an award winning 2006 PhD. Dissertation in AI by Vincent Conitzer.
Baseball pitchers have the option to 'walk' a batter, giving the other team a slight advantage but denying them the chance to gain a large advantage. Barry Bonds, a batter who holds the Major League Baseball record for home runs (a home run is a coup for the batter's team), also holds the record for intentional walks. By walking Barry Bonds, the pitcher denies him a shot at a home run. In other words, Paige is advising other pitchers to walk a batter when it minimizes expected risk to do so.
Since this denies the batter the opportunity to even try to get a hit, some consider it to be unsportsmanlike, and when overused it makes a baseball game less interesting. A culture of good sportsmanship and interesting games are communal goods in baseball-- the former keeps a spirit of goodwill, and the latter increases profitability-- so at a stretch, you might say Paige advises defecting in Prisoner's Dilemma type problems.
"Once we are all working in the slave-pits together, I will try to put in a good word for you all. I will be like the old Barnard Hughes character in Tron, who remembers the Master Control Program when it was just accounting software."
-- Ken Jennings
By Ben Goldacre
-- Howard Zinn in A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
There is some value in criticizing that which has been improperly popularly lionized, but this introduces its own skew. Zinn managed to truly piss me off because in his chapter on WWII he either did not mention or mentioned only in passing the rape of Nanking and similar Japanese atrocities, spent a few paragraphs on the Holocaust, surprisingly didn't particularly mention the firebombings of Dresden or Tokyo, but harped for several pages on the atomic bombs. Perhaps they needed examination, but incessantly and loudly examining them at the expense of everything else leaves the reader with a distinct impression of Zinn's own political beliefs.
I think this might be behind much of (American) conservatives' anger with liberals in the foreign policy domain, as exemplified by the insult "blame-America-first". Liberals are questioning America's policies, which is well and good, while leaving it as read that the actions of their adversaries (since the dynamic evolved, usually USSR or terrorists) are much worse. Conservatives see that apparent bias and gain the impression that all liberals hate America in particular. The situation is not improved by much political mind-death on all sides. This is probably going off on a bit of a tangent, but it's at least marginally relevant.
"Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought" Henri Bergson
When I first read this, I thought it was just applause lights. But I actually think it's highly applicable to rationalist standards of belief and practice.
Perhaps this precedes subsequent rationality:
On Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions
Context: The main character has been talking about the wonderful mysteriousness that makes another character so interesting. His companion (a self described humanist), tries to correct him, saying:
-Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
I'm afraid that this isn't a quote, but it seems like the best place to put it.
Earlier today, I had a discussion with my girlfriend about Santa Claus etc. She opined that it was worthwhile to believe in ‘impossible things’ (her words) because belief is in itself valuable. I didn't know where to begin disagreeing with that. (There was also something about the ‘magic of childhood’.)
This evening, we saw Rango. She squeezed my hand when the characters started talking about how it was important to have something to believe in, it gives people hope, etc. I ... (read more)
-- Randall Munroe
Knowing the risk, I quote this (given that I am a utilitarian pragmatist):
Diane Duane, The Wounded Sky
— G. K. Chesterson
From Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien:
"He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."
Although I think breaking things actually can be pretty useful if there are more things of that kind. If you're breaking something unique, well, then...
from a review of T Leary, The Intelligence Agents in Michael Marotta, The Code Book, 3rd ed
Is this too cryptic? :
Throw strikes. Home plate don't move. Satchel Paige
— law firm ad on the back of the Yellow Pages
-- Paul Krugman
(Not that this is necessarily a rationality quote, I just think it's cute.)