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Rationality Quotes: June 2011

The intellect, as a means for the preservation of the individual, unfolds its chief powers in simulation; for this is the means by which the weaker, less robust individuals preserve themselves, since they are denied the chance of waging the struggle for existence with horns or the fangs of beasts of prey. In man this art of simulation reaches its peak: here deception, flattering, lying and cheating, talking behind the back, posing, living in borrowed splendor, being masked, the disguise of convention, acting a role before others and before oneself—in short, the constant fluttering around the single flame of vanity is so much the rule and the law that almost nothing is more incomprehensible than how an honest and pure urge for truth could make its appearance among men. They are deeply immersed in illusions and dream images; their eye glides only over the surface of things and sees "forms"; their feeling nowhere lead into truth, but contents itself with the reception of stimuli, playing, as it were, a game of blindman's buff on the backs of things.

Nietzsche, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense

How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

MixedNuts's comment reminded me of a good resource for such techniques, and, indeed, for generally improving one's effectiveness at reading: How To Read A Book

Rationality Quotes January 2010

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.

-- Mark Twain

Clearly Dennett has his sources all mixed up.

Open Thread: January 2010
  • Solaris by Stanislaw Lem is probably one of my all time favourites.
  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson is very good.
Open Thread: January 2010

Voted up mainly for the Greg Egan recommendations.

Open Thread: November 2009

But the problem is worse than that because "Sometimes, crows caw" actually does allow you to make predictions in the way "electricity!" does not.

The problem is even worse than that, because "Sometimes, crows caw" predicts both the hearing of a caw and the non-hearing of a caw. So it does not explain either (at least, based on the default model of scientific explanation).

If we go with "Crows always caw and only crows caw" (along with your extra premises regarding lungs, sound and ears etc), then we might end up with a different model of explanation, one which takes explanation to be showing that what happened had to happen.

The overall problem you seem to have is that neither of these kinds of explanation gives a causal story for the event (which is a third model for scientific explanations).

(I wrote an essay on these models of scientific explanation earlier in the year for a philosophy of science course which I could potentially edit and post if there's interest.)

Some good, early papers on explanation (i.e., ones which set the future debate going) are:

The Value of Laws: Explanation and Prediction (by Rudolf Carnap), Two Basic Types of Scientific Explanation, The Thesis of Structural Identity and Inductive-Statistical Explanation (all by Carl Hempel).

I'm Not Saying People Are Stupid

Huh, I thought there was a fair bit of evidence around showing that people perform basically just as badly on tests which exploit cognitive biases after being told about them as they do in a state of ignorance.

Recommended reading for new rationalists

I found Drive Yourself Sane useful for similar reasons.

I've been meaning to take a stab at Korzybski's Science and Sanity (available on the interwebs, I believe) for a while, but I've heard it's fairly impenetrable.

Rationality Quotes - June 2009

It's a wonderful thing to be clever, and you should never think otherwise, and you should never stop being that way. But what you learn, as you get older, is that there are a few million other people in the world all trying to be clever at the same time, and whatever you do with your life will certainly be lost - swallowed up in the ocean - unless you are doing it with like-minded people who will remember your contributions and carry them forward. That is why the world is divided into tribes.

-- Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

I neglected to record from which character the quote came.

Open Thread: June 2009

Rationality is highly correlated intelligence

According to research K.E. Stanovich, this is not the case:

Intelligence tests measure important things, but they do not assess the extent of rational thought. This might not be such a grave omission if intelligence were a strong predictor of rational thinking. But my research group found just the opposite: it is a mild predictor at best, and some rational thinking skills are totally dissociated from intelligence.

See http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/stanovich1

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