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Rationality quotes: September 2010

If there were a party of those who are not sure they are right, I'd belong to it.

--Albert Camus

The Importance of Self-Doubt
  1. Jeremy Bentham may be a candidate, or perhaps James Mill, father of J.S. Mill--though there's been some recent speculation that the former fell somewhere on the autism spectrum (no slight intended). By the way, if you're interested, check out the research on shifting modes of moral congition, deontological vs. consequentialist, depending upon subject matter, featured in the work of David Pizarro, e.g. Further afield, one may check out what Taleb has to say about who has led a genuinely Popperian lifestyle.
Book Recommendations

Eclectic lists can be fun. Here are a few titles:

  1. Letters from a Stoic by Seneca;
  2. Obliquity by John Kay;
  3. Mistakes were Made but Not by Me by Tavris and Aronson;
  4. Master and Margerita by Bulgakhov;
  5. Social Cognition by Ziva Kunda;
  6. The Synaptic Self by Joseph LeDoux;
  7. Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz;
  8. Knowledge and Its Limits by Tim Williamson;
  9. Dilemmas by Gilbert Ryle; and 10.The Sacred Canopy by Peter Berger
Book Review: The Root of Thought

This new finding may be correct, but the old dictum about "nullius in verba" still makes sense.

Rationality Quotes: July 2010

What frightens us most in a madman is his sane conversation.

--Anatole France

But Somebody Would Have Noticed

Respectfully, the idiosyncracy of Semmelweis's personality isn't directly the point. Semmelweis had established beyond doubt early in his career that hand-washing with chlorinated water before deliveries dramatically drove down the maternal mortality rate. This was a huge finding. Incredibly to most of us now, at one time childbirth was a leading cause of death. The gut prejudice of his peers prevailed, however, and it was to be another 60 years later that the introduction of sulfa drugs and antibiotics again began to drive down maternal mortality. The point relates to pluralistic ignorance and the role of social proof. Social proof roughly means that the greater number of persons who find an idea correct, the greater it will be correct. In situations of uncertainty , everyone looks at everyone else to see what they are doing. One answer to Alicorn's query at the end of her post is to bear in mind the phenomenon of social proof, and the tendency toward pluralistic ignorance. Therefore, look beyond what the plurality of people are doing or saying.

But Somebody Would Have Noticed

The compact terminology for the class of phenomena you are describing is "pluralistic ignorance," and in other contexts it presents a far vaster challenge that the Kitty Genovese case would indicate. Consider the 19th century physician Ignatz Semmelweis, who pioneered the practice of hand-washing as a means of reducing sepsis and therefore maternal mortality. He was ostracized by fellow practitioners and died in destitution.

Rationality quotes: May 2010

Leisure? Happiness? Aurelius, the emperor, was always on the move with his army trying to preserve his empire and worried about his conniving son, Commodus. Beethoven was a reclusive single man, who grew ill and deaf in later years. Schopenhauer was a self-absorbed and misogynistic single man (though he supposedly enjoyed walking his poodles). Nietzsche was a precocious and convalescent single man. Why not add Wittgenstein to the list? Selection bias?

Singularity Summit 2009 (quick post)

Has anyone considered extending an invitation to Raymond Smullyan, as, say, a guest of honor to the summit (if not having done so already). Living in New York State, he recently published an amusing and short literary book (at age 89). There aren't many students of A. Church (recall that Turing was one of them) still with us. With Aubrey de Grey on the roster covering issues of longevity and more, an appearance by Ray Smullyan, provided he is willing and able, may raise the level of your conference not only intellectually, but also in terms of humor, humanity and perspective. I've heard he also does magic tricks. Thoughts?

The Strangest Thing An AI Could Tell You

Well spotted! But why is it NOT strange to hold that the CI applies to an AI? Isn't the raison d'etre of AI to operate on hypothetical imperatives?

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