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Rationality quotes: October 2010

4 Post author: Morendil 05 October 2010 11:38AM

This is our monthly thread for collecting these little gems and pearls of wisdom, rationality-related quotes you've seen recently, or had stored in your quotesfile for ages, and which might be handy to link to in one of our discussions.

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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.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

Comments (472)

Comment author: Yvain 07 October 2010 07:00:04PM *  32 points [-]

Even after ten thousand explanations, a fool is no wiser, but an intelligent man requires only two thousand five hundred.

-- Brahma, Mahabharata

Comment author: [deleted] 06 October 2010 01:48:49PM *  22 points [-]

To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it--the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.

... "But," says one, "I am a busy man; I have no time for the long course of study which would be necessary to make me in any degree a competent judge of certain questions, or even able to understand the nature of the arguments."

Then he should have no time to believe.

--W. K. Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief."

Comment author: RobinZ 06 October 2010 04:03:19PM 2 points [-]

The first line was previously posted in a Rationality Quotes without context or full citation - I consider the additional material sufficient value-added to justify the duplication.

Comment author: cata 06 October 2010 07:25:11PM *  18 points [-]

One of my mentors once gave me a list of obvious things to check when stuff doesn't work. Funny, years later I still need this list:

  1. It worked. No one touched it but you. It doesn't work. It's probably something you did.

  2. It worked. You made one change. It doesn't work. It's probably the change you made.

  3. It worked. You promoted it. It doesn't work. Your testing environment probably isn't the same as your production environment.

  4. It worked for these 10 cases. It didn't work for the 11th case. It was probably never right in the first place.

  5. It worked perfectly for 10 years. Today it didn't work. Something probably changed.

edw519, Hacker News, on debugging.

I always need that list, too.

Comment author: sketerpot 08 October 2010 02:31:13AM *  4 points [-]

It worked for these 10 cases. It didn't work for the 11th case. It was probably never right in the first place.

That one is counterintuitive, but true surprisingly often. Maybe not most of the time, but more often than you might think. And it picks the worst times to be right, let me tell you. Especially if it reveals a mistake in the math underlying everything you've been doing....

The solution, I suppose, is to learn to enjoy rewriting.

Comment author: Unnamed 05 October 2010 08:48:57PM 13 points [-]

God, grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.

-- adapted from Reinhold Niebuhr

Is this a piece of traditional deep wisdom that's actually wise?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 October 2010 10:33:19AM 12 points [-]

God grant me the strength to change the things I can,

The intelligence to know what I can change,

And the rationality to realize that God isn't the key figure here.

Comment author: Unnamed 06 October 2010 02:00:55AM *  9 points [-]

What I like about the serenity prayer (at least the way I interpret it) is that it puts the priority on changing things; serenity is just a second-best option for things that are unchangeable.

In that respect, it's like a transhumanist slogan. With something like life extension, I want to point to the serenity prayer and say we can change this, which means we need to have the courage to change. Death at the end of the current lifespan isn't something that we should serenely accept because we can change it. The serenity prayer calls for courage and action to follow through and make those changes.

Part of the difficulty is that the wisdom to know the difference also requires the wisdom to change your mind. Once people accept that something cannot be changed, then their serenity-producing mechanisms prevent them from reconsidering the evidence and recognizing that maybe it really can (and should) be changed.

If I was going to alter the serenity prayer, that's one thing I'd add. In Alicorn's version, that means the strength as a rationalist to distinguish what I can and cannot change, and to update those categorizations as new evidence arises.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 06 October 2010 04:12:53AM 12 points [-]

Friends, help me build the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to continually update which is which based on the best available evidence.

Comment author: Alicorn 05 October 2010 09:46:49PM 17 points [-]

I think the local version would be something like, "May my strength as a rationalist give me the ability to discern what I can and cannot change, and the determination to make a desperate effort at the latter when remaining uncertainty allows that this has the highest expected utility."

Comment author: arch1 06 October 2010 09:15:06PM 4 points [-]

Er, how about the wisdom to know whether a thing should be changed in the 1st place?

Comment author: wedrifid 08 October 2010 12:08:08AM 2 points [-]

A good point... although I would remove the 'should' and instead emphasise the coherence and self awareness to know which things I want.

Comment author: James_K 06 October 2010 05:40:04AM 2 points [-]

I think it genuinely wise, it contains three related important concepts: 1) You should try to make the world a better place, 2) You shouldn't waste your effort in attempting 1 in situations when you will almost certainly fail, 3) in order to succeed at 1 & 2 you need to be able to understand the world around you, a desire, to affect change isn't enough.

The only thing that's missing form it is something about having the insight to distinguish good changes form bad ones.

Comment author: wedrifid 08 October 2010 12:01:36AM 3 points [-]

You shouldn't waste your effort in attempting 1 in situations when you will almost certainly fail,

Not quite. You want to consider the expected value of the attempt, not the raw probability of success. A 0.1% chance of curing cancer or 'old age' is to be preferred over an 80% chance of winning the X-Factor (particularly given that the latter applies to yourself).

It would definitely be foolish to waste effort attempting something that will certainly fail.

Comment author: komponisto 05 October 2010 07:02:24PM *  13 points [-]

In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

-- Bertrand Russell

(Quoted, in Italian translation, on p. 174 of Amanda Knox's appeal brief.)

Comment author: Alicorn 05 October 2010 08:15:24PM 8 points [-]

Why does something called a "brief" have 174-plus pages?

Comment author: Mass_Driver 06 October 2010 04:14:18AM *  3 points [-]

brief (n.) from L. breve (gen. brevis), noun derivative of L. adj. brevis (see brief (adj.)) which came to mean "letter, summary" (specifically a letter of the pope, less ample and solemn than a bull), and came to mean "letter of authority," which yielded the modern, legal sense of "summary of the facts of a case" (1630s). The verb meaning "to give instructions or information to" (1866) was originally "to instruct by a brief" (1862); hence briefing, first attested 1910 but popularized by WWII pre-flight conferences.


As a member of the legal profession, all I have to add is that "summary of the facts of the case" isn't quite right; better would be "summary of the law that applies to the facts of the case." The term passed from ecclesiastical law to civil law because the applicable civil law is an authority on what a judge should do in much the same way that a papal proclamation was thought of as an authority on what Catholics should do.

Comment author: komponisto 05 October 2010 08:34:35PM 2 points [-]

Ha -- you'd have to ask a member of the legal profession. (No doubt you could think of a few other questions while you were at it.)

In fairness, however, the document is actually called an atto di appello (literally "act of appeal"). I probably should have just translated it as "appeal document" rather than trying to show off my cursory familiarity with (anglophone) legal terminology.

Comment author: apophenia 09 October 2010 11:54:34PM 10 points [-]

"Because this is the Internet, every argument was spun in a centrifuge instantly and reduced down into two wholly enraged, radically incompatible contingents, as opposed to the natural gradient which human beings actually occupy." -Tycho, Penny Arcade

Comment author: tim 06 October 2010 04:57:36AM *  10 points [-]

The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture "This is a pipe," I'd have been lying!

-- René Magritte, on his painting The Treachery of Images depicting a pipe with "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" ("This is not a pipe") written under it

Comment author: xamdam 15 October 2010 12:03:34PM *  9 points [-]

AI makes philosophy honest

-- Dan Dennet

Comment author: Rain 12 October 2010 12:18:52AM *  9 points [-]

I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and in many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here, and what the question might mean. I might think about a little, but if I can't figure it out, then I go to something else. But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me.

-- Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Comment author: [deleted] 06 October 2010 10:53:08PM *  9 points [-]

Elphaba, where I'm from, we believe all sorts of things that aren't true. We call it - "history."

A man's called a traitor - or liberator.

A rich man's a thief - or philanthropist.

Is one a crusader - or ruthless invader?

It's all in which label is able to persist.

There are precious few at ease, with moral ambiguities. So we act as though they don't exist.

  • The Wizard of Oz, during the song Wonderful from Wicked
Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 October 2010 02:34:03PM 9 points [-]

What is required is less advice and more information. – Gerald M. Reaven

Found at The Healthy Skeptic.

Comment author: RobinZ 05 October 2010 05:05:54PM 3 points [-]

Cited here as appearing in Reaven GM, "Effect of dietary carbohydrate on the metabolism of patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus." Nutr Rev 1986 , 44(2):65-73.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 October 2010 01:42:32AM *  25 points [-]

Philosopher: Can we ever be certain an observation is true?

Engineer: Yep.

Philosopher: How?

Engineer: Lookin'.

Scrollover of SMBC #1879

Comment author: AdShea 12 October 2010 05:55:58PM 3 points [-]

I'd say a good engineer would reply: No observation is true, but truth doesn't matter if it works.

Comment author: sketerpot 13 October 2010 08:52:49PM 5 points [-]

In that case, I'd say you're using a much too binary definition of "true". I'm sure this has been posted a dozen times before, but it seems relevant:

"When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

-Isaac Asimov

Comment author: AdShea 13 October 2010 09:45:43PM 2 points [-]

Exactly the sort of quote I was looking for. The philosopher is asking about absolute truth, the engineer only cares about finding parameters for a model of reality that works well enough for what you need it to do.

Comment author: gwern 06 October 2010 12:23:32AM *  24 points [-]

'One day, Korzybski was giving a lecture to a group of students, and he interrupted the lesson suddenly in order to retrieve a packet of biscuits, wrapped in white paper, from his briefcase. He muttered that he just had to eat something, and he asked the students on the seats in the front row, if they would also like a biscuit. A few students took a biscuit.
"Nice biscuit, don't you think," said Korzybski, while he took a second one. The students were chewing vigorously. Then he tore the white paper from the biscuits, in order to reveal the original packaging. On it was a big picture of a dog's head and the words "Dog Cookies."
The students looked at the package, and were shocked. Two of them wanted to vomit, put their hands in front of their mouths, and ran out of the lecture hall to the toilet.
"You see," Korzybski remarked, "I have just demonstrated that people don't just eat food, but also words, and that the taste of the former is often outdone by the taste of the latter."'

(R. Diekstra, Haarlemmer Dagblad, 1993, cited by L. Derks & J. Hollander, Essenties van NLP (Utrecht: Servire, 1996), p. 58)

I think of this as a rationalist parable and not so much a quote. It has a lot of personal resonance since I often had dog biscuits with my tea when I was younger.

Comment author: sketerpot 06 October 2010 01:19:24AM 3 points [-]

Speaking of Korzybski, does anybody have a concise summary of his ideas? Maybe some introductory material? I looked over the wikipedia article on General Semantics, and I'm still not entirely sure what it's talking about.

Comment author: gwern 06 October 2010 01:01:04PM *  8 points [-]

I did a little reading about General Semantics after running into it in SF like Frank Herbert's; my general take on it is that it's an extended reminder that 'the map is not the territory' and that we do not have access to any eternal verities or true essences but only our tentative limited observations.

Exercises like writing in E-Prime remind us of our own fallibility. We should not say 'Amanda Knox is innocent' (who are we, an omniscient god judging her entire life?) but 'Amanda Knox likely did not commit that murder and I base this probability on the following considerations...' (note that I don't hide my own subjective role by saying something like 'the probability is based on').

(I've never found E-Prime very useful because I've always been rather empiricist in philosophy outlook and aware that I should always be able to reduce my statements down to something referring to my observations, and I suspect most LWers would not find E-Prime useful or interesting for much the same reason. But I could see it being useful for normal people.)

In this specific anecdote, the students are mistaking map for territory. The biscuit is perfectly good to eat as dog food is produced to pretty similar quality levels (and health problems would be very unlikely even if the quality were much lower), they have just eaten and enjoyed some anyway, the label 'dog biscuit' only refers to one potential use out of a great many, and yet they still have these incredible reactions to a particular label being put on this agglomeration of wheat and other agricultural products, a reaction that has no utility and no reason behind it.

EDIT: an earlier comment of mine on E-Prime: http://lesswrong.com/lw/9g/eprime/6hk

Comment author: pjeby 06 October 2010 08:51:54PM 3 points [-]

I've never found E-Prime very useful because I've always been rather empiricist in philosophy outlook and aware that I should always be able to reduce my statements down to something referring to my observations, and I suspect most LWers would not find E-Prime useful or interesting for much the same reason. But I could see it being useful for normal people.

I personally think of it as a tool, not unlike "lint" for C programmers. It shows things in your code (speech) that may contain errors.

To put it another way, if you know how to spot what isn't E-Prime in a sentence, you can dissect the sentence to expose flawed reasoning... which actually turns out to be a pretty useful tool in e.g. psychotherapy.

Whether or not RET (rational-emotive therapy) and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) directly derive from General Semantics and E-Prime (or their logical successor, the linguistic meta-model), modern psychotherapy is all about map-territory separation and map repair.

Comment author: erratio 06 October 2010 01:34:47AM 5 points [-]

Extremely short version: it's a load of crap

Slightly longer version: He taught that you should never refer to things in general terms or else you'll confuse the map for the territory. For example, the chair I'm sitting in now is chair^1, the identical chair across the table is chair^2, there's chair^1 as I'm eperiencing it now, chair^1 as I experienced it last night, and so forth. Oh and you should try to avoid the use of the copula "to be" because it encourages sloppy thinking (i'm not sure how, just paraphrasing what I remember)

Comment author: NihilCredo 06 October 2010 10:36:08AM 5 points [-]

You didn't make it sound like a load of crap: it reminds me of the idea of using Lojban, or even better a formal logic system, for everyday speech. Impractical, but it would avoid a ton of misunderstanding, or spilled blood for that matter.

Comment author: erratio 06 October 2010 10:51:09AM 6 points [-]

I'm a big fan of Lojban in principle, even more so after studying it in depth for a paper I'm writing, but I just don't think it's possible to significantly affect thought through language.

That's why General Semantics is a load of crap to me - being anal retentive with language is just going to annoy the heck out of everyone involved, and nothing else. There's a good reason why natural language is so vague.

Comment author: DSimon 06 October 2010 02:26:18PM *  6 points [-]

Of note is that Lojban doesn't fall into that chair trap in particular. I can easily talk about "le stizu" the same way I use "the chair" in English.

More literally, "le stizu" means "the particular chair(s) which in context I'm obviously referring to". Lojban is all about using context to reduce unneccessary verbiage, same as a natural language. The big difference is that the ambiguity in Lojban is easier to locate, and easier to reduce when it becomes necessary.

(Also, if I really did need chair^1 and chair^2 for some reason, I can just talk about "le stizu goi ko'a" and "le stizu goi fo'a", then later use just "ko'a" and "fo'a" for shorthand).

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2010 12:07:37PM 6 points [-]

I'm a big fan of Lojban in principle, even more so after studying it in depth for a paper I'm writing, but I just don't think it's possible to significantly affect thought through language.

I was about to upvote this but then I realised I wasn't in the right thread for that!

I couldn't disagree more strongly. Our thoughts are fundamentally affected by which concepts are easiest to express given our language primitives. You can control how people think simply by altering which concepts are permitted as base level representations even if everything is permitted as a construct thereof.

In the same way people will think differently when they are writing in C than when they are writing in LISP even though technically everything that can be done in one can be done in the other (or in Brainfuck or Conways Life for that matter).

Comment author: nerzhin 06 October 2010 06:05:52PM 5 points [-]

You can control how people think simply by altering which concepts are permitted as base level representations

Really? A claim like this needs some evidence. George Orwell novels don't count.

I recommend Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, which clarifies to what extent language can influence thought.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2010 06:16:02PM *  6 points [-]

Really? A claim like this needs some evidence. George Orwell novels don't count.

I never read it. I understand there were pigs involved.

I recommend Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, which clarifies to what extent language can influence thought.

I liked Pinker when I read other stuff of his but I haven't got to that book yet.. Now, back to thinking about good modularity and DRY while writing OISC machine code.

(In case my meaning was not clear, let me be explicit. You made the response "A claim like this needs some evidence" to a comment that actually referred to evidence. Even if you think there is other, stronger, evidence that contradicts what we can infer from observing the influence of language on programmers it is still poor conversational form to reply with "needs non-Orwell evidence".)

Comment author: sfb 06 October 2010 09:45:12PM *  4 points [-]

I never read it. I understand there were pigs involved.

I guess you are referring to Newspeak, which is in "1984" whereas pigs are in "Animal Farm". If you wish to read either, (George) Orwell's writings and books are available online for free (I don't know what the copyright situation is) here:


Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2010 04:45:46AM 4 points [-]

I guess you are referring to Newspeak, which is in "1984" whereas pigs are in "Animal Farm".

My point was that I was not referring to anything by Orwell, having read none of his works.

Thankyou for the link. I suppose I wouldn't be doing my nerdly duty if I didn't read Orwell eventually. Even though from what I've seen the sophisticated position is to know what's in Orwell but to look down your nose at him somewhat for being simplistic.

Comment author: nerzhin 06 October 2010 09:04:04PM 10 points [-]

I apologize for poor conversational form.

Let me try again, hopefully more nicely: You made a very strong claim with very weak evidence.

You claimed our thoughts were fundamentally affected by our language, and that someone can control how people think by tweaking the language. Your evidence was your own sense (not a paper, not even a survey) that people think differently when writing in a different programming language.

If you have more evidence, I would really like to see it, I am not just saying that to score points or to make you angry.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2010 05:11:11AM *  5 points [-]

Your evidence was your own sense (not a paper, not even a survey) that people think differently when writing in a different programming language.

I refer not to my own sense so much as what is more or less universally acknowledged by influential thinkers in that field. That doesn't preclude the culture being wrong, but I do put Paul Graham on approximately the same level as Pinker, for example.

While Pinker is an extremely good populariser and writes some engaging accounts that are based off real science, I've actually been bitten by taking his word on faith too much before. He has a tendency to present things as established fact when they are far from universally agreed upon in the field and may not even be the majority position. The example that I'm thinking of primarily is what he writes about fear instincts, regarding to what extent fear of snakes (for example) is learned vs instinctive. His presentation of what has been determined by primate studies is, shall we say, one sided at best.

Comment author: NihilCredo 07 October 2010 01:26:45AM 4 points [-]

It's a fairly extensive subject; I doubt you'll settle this within a comment thread.

With regards to whether it is possible to deliberately use language to alter everyday thoughts, we know Orwell's Newspeak was based on at least one real-life example (and I can think of a couple of similar tricks being employed right now, but this could verge into mind-killing territory).

Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2010 04:41:29AM *  3 points [-]

Fair points, and using the term control does make the claim sound a whole heap stronger than 'are influenced' does. (Although technically there is very little difference.)

Comment author: Thomas 20 October 2010 11:45:29AM 8 points [-]

Truth does not demand belief. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing 'Yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up must come down, down, down. Amen!' If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it.

  • Dan Barker
Comment author: ata 13 October 2010 06:11:19PM 8 points [-]

You're only as young as the last time you changed your mind.

— Timothy Leary

Comment author: Yvain 07 October 2010 07:04:21PM 22 points [-]

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."

— Marcus Aurelius

Comment author: Document 11 October 2010 03:54:41AM *  4 points [-]

Is there a general name for that shape of argument? It or something close to it seems to be a recurring pattern.

(Edit: removed opening "also".)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 October 2010 01:13:47PM 3 points [-]

False dilemna. Also false dicholomy or possibly black and white thinking.

Comment author: jimrandomh 11 October 2010 04:03:11AM 3 points [-]

I've never heard a name for that, and it ought to have one. How about "the predestination fallacy"? They all seem to start with the assumption that something will go the same way no matter what, then conclude that therefore, pushing it in a bad direction is okay.

Comment author: gjm 11 October 2010 12:26:21PM 1 point [-]

It's not always a fallacy. Examples:

  1. You're trying to achieve some objective, and the difference between achieving it and not achieving it swamps all other differences between credible outcomes. It may then be rational to assume that your desired objective is achievable. (You have nasty symptoms, which can be caused by two diseases. One will kill you in a week whatever you do. One is treatable. If it's at all difficult to distinguish the two, you might as well assume you've got the treatable one.)

  2. You're trying to achieve some objective, and you know it's achievable because others have achieved it, or because the situation you're in has been crafted to make it so. It's rational to assume it's achievable. (There's an example in J E Littlewood's "Mathematician's Miscellany": he was climbing a mountain, he got to a certain point and couldn't see any way to make progress, and he reasoned thus: I know this is possible, and I know I've come the right way so far, so there must be a hidden hold somewhere around there ... and, indeed, there was.)

Comment author: Document 12 September 2012 12:16:59AM 1 point [-]

It looks like it's called Morton's fork.

Comment author: Document 18 October 2011 09:08:29PM 3 points [-]

I've just been advised that he probably didn't say that.

Comment author: gwern 24 October 2010 11:58:59PM 7 points [-]

"The conversation eventually turned to the fact that Palanpur farmers sow their winter crops several weeks after the date at which yields would be maximized. The farmers do not doubt that earlier planting would give them larger harvests, but no one, the farmer explained, is willing to be the first to plant, as the seeds on any lone plot would be quickly eaten by birds.
I asked if a large group of farmers, perhaps relatives, had ever agreed to sow earlier, all planting on the same day to minimize the losses. 'If we knew how to do that,” he said, looking up from his hoe at me, "we would not be poor.'"

--Microeconomics, pg 39, Samuel Bowles

Comment author: ata 13 October 2010 02:51:06AM *  7 points [-]

Ralph: When's Bart coming back?
Lisa: He's not. He thought he was better than the laws of probability. Anyone else think he's better than the laws of probability?
(Nelson raises his hand.)
Lisa: Well, you're not!

— The Simpsons, Season 22, Episode 3, "MoneyBART"

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 12:37:58PM 19 points [-]

Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; for every one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already possess.

Rene Descartes.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 October 2010 04:07:04AM 1 point [-]

Ha! That's very clever and nicely phrased. (And true, sadly.)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 01:33:08PM 33 points [-]

One thing I have advocated, without much success, is that children be taught social rules (when they are ready) in exactly the same way they are taught and teach each other games. The point is not whether the rules are right or wrong. Are the rules of 5-card stud poker or hopscotch right or wrong? It's that we're playing a certain game here, and there are rules to this game just as in any other game. If you want to be in the game, then you have to learn how to play it. Different groups of people play different games (different rules = different game), so if you want to play in different groups, you have to learn the games they play. When you develop the levels of understanding above the rule level, you'll be able to understand all games, and be able to join in anywhere. You won't be stuck knowing how to play only one game.

My problem with selling this idea is that people tend to think that their game is the only right one. In fact, being told that they are playing a game with arbitrary rules is insulting or frightening. They want to believe that the rules they know are the ones that everyone ought to play by; they even set up systems of punishment and reward to make sure that nobody tries to play a different game. They turn the game into something that is deadly serious, and so my idea simply seems frivolous instead of liberating.

William T. Powers

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 06 October 2010 10:12:22AM *  5 points [-]

I wish my mother had used this strategy, instead of the completely arbitrary-sounding "this is just the way you are to do things" which just caused a counter-reaction.

Comment author: Relsqui 06 October 2010 08:31:29PM *  8 points [-]

Grownups have already learned the reason to follow the rules: it's what society expects, so your life will be easier and you will be able to accomplish more if you follow them. But for the most part they learned it by osmosis, intuition, and implication--as you presumably did when you grew up--because nobody made it explicit to them, either. I think that most people don't explain this to their kids because they don't understand it themselves; they've never verbalized the reason, so they're just passing on the social pressure which worked for them.

The sad thing about this is not only that it leads to parroting "courtesy" without real understanding. It's that without being able to articulate the purpose of the social contract in general, one can't evaluate the reasons for specific clauses within it. When they seem arbitrary, they're difficult to remember, and even more difficult to respect. Consciously examining the structure allows you to see patterns in it (e.g. if X is rude, putting someone in a position where they must do X is also rude), as well as compare their implied goals against your actual goals.

For example, there are a few situations where I consider a clear understanding of the situation more important than courtesy, and will press someone to explain something which would otherwise be rude to ask for. But, unless they already know me well not to need it, I'll also explain what I'm doing and why, so they know it's not simply out of disregard. Like many things (grammar, musical composition), you have to understand the rules well before you can break them intelligently. It's a lot more acceptable to violate the social contract if you understand why the part you're violating exists and have made a conscious choice not to follow it.

I suspect that, for that reason, real understanding of society and its rules would make social change easier and bring the rules themselves more in line with peoples' actual goals. The key word there is "real," though. Just a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Comment author: Academian 05 October 2010 05:21:17PM *  8 points [-]

I'd be concerned that this phrasing would raise more sociopaths... because that's how they think about morality.

The idea of teaching relativism for moral specifics is good, but consider that there are aspects of morality common to all sustainable cultures. Powers' framing would describe these as "common game elements" or "aspects common to all these different games". I think they should be emphasized/emotionalized as a little more than that (even if they aren't), so to avoid sociopathy (if that's even possible).

Less specifically, and with more confidence: emotional intelligence is a thing, and children need to be taught that, too. Perhaps Powers could achieve this by teaching kids that "feeling good about doing good things" is part of the game, and maybe one of the objectives of the game.

Comment author: Relsqui 06 October 2010 08:47:41PM *  10 points [-]

The analogy I use in my head instead of games is languages. They both have rules, but "games" implies something fake, not productive, and not to be taken seriously. "Languages" are tools we're accustomed to using for everyday functional reasons, and it's clearer that breaking their rules arbitrarily has a more immediate detrimental effect on their purpose (communication).

The most common way I use the metaphor explicitly is during a misunderstanding with a friend. "Wait--what does X mean in Sammish? Z? Ohh, now I get it. In Relsquish, X means Y. That's why I thought you were talking about Y."

The nice thing about this model is that, in a game, you expect everyone to know the rules before you sit down to play. If someone doesn't follow them, they're either too ignorant to play or cheating. When you're talking to someone who speaks a different language from you (even if they're just different versions of English, like Sammish and Relsquish are), occasional confusion is a matter of course. When you misunderstand each other, no one has "broken" the rules; it's just a mismatch. You identify that, explain in other words, and move on, with much fewer hard feelings or blame.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 07:09:02PM 5 points [-]

I'd be concerned that this phrasing would raise more sociopaths... because that's how they think about morality.

The quote doesn't talk about morality. I take it to be about social rules such as what is considered proper dress, table manners, rudeness and politeness, playing nicely, and so on. At a certain age (as WTP alludes to) children become capable of understanding above that level, and they will need a proper upbringing in what is good and real at that level as well. There's another quote of WTP I could give in this connection, but I've used up my quote quota for this month.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2010 04:34:31PM 2 points [-]

There's another quote of WTP I could give in this connection, but I've used up my quote quota for this month.

If you share it in a multiply nested reply to another comment then it is not included in the 'quote quota' - it's just the same as including a quote in any other conversation.

(ie. Your interpretation about applying to social rules rather than morality and ethics themselves seems right and I am interested in hearing the quote you have in mind.)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 07 October 2010 10:09:08PM 5 points [-]

Ok then:

If you happen to believe that people ought to live all bunched up together, be nice and refrain from violence, keep their promises and commitments to each other, take care of the helpless, do their share by helping with the unpleasant or boring jobs, teach the young, love truth, and be respectful of the environment, that's fine. What you should do is go around talking to people, trying to persuade them that they will be better off if they act like this, explaining to them the advantages of this kind of behavior toward others and the disadvantages of other ways of behaving, and so forth. The more of them you can persuade, the more people there will be in the world who want the same things you want, and who will help get them in situations where one person alone would be ineffective. Nothing the matter with that.

But if you tell them they should do all these things because there are social forces that make them necessary or right, then you're lying. The truth is that these are things you want to happen. You may have lots of good reasons for wanting them to happen, and there's certainly nothing wrong with telling people what convinced you and seeing whether the same things will convince others. But trying to convince people that there are forces other than you that demand the behavior you want in some objective way is just an empty threat; anyone who disagrees with you can nullify your argument by claiming knowledge of other forces that demand a different kind of behavior. Since you're both making up these external forces in your imaginations, nobody wins.

-- William T. Powers

Comment author: wedrifid 05 October 2010 06:57:04PM *  11 points [-]

I'd be concerned that this phrasing would raise more sociopaths... because that's how they think about morality.

Sociopaths and mature adults share that conception. Both of these groups of people tend to have also discovered that it is usually not in their best interest to discuss the subject with people who do not share their maturity or sociopathic nature respectively.

The reason a sociopath must arrive at the insight Powers proposes we teach earlier is that they cannot survive without it. Where a normal individual can survive (but not thrive) with a naive morality a sociopath cannot rely on the training wheels of guilt or shame to protect them from the most vicious players in the game before they work things out.

I predict that Powers' curriculum would produce no more sociopaths, make those sociopaths that are inevitable do less damage and result in a whole heap less burnt out, anti-social (or no longer pro-social) idealists.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 05 October 2010 08:31:38PM *  4 points [-]

You're awesome. Specifically, you communicate useful insights often. I tend to agree with you, but when I don't, I'm glad to have read you.

Making incompetent sociopaths more rational would create new harms as well. They would be better able to fool people and would erode the trustworthiness of "normal-seeming people" a little. But since there are already many competent sociopaths, and because normal people are situationally also selfishly destructive (self-serving bias+hypocrisy), we have institutions that mitigate those harms.

Also, I agree that preventing damaged people from running amok (in the extreme killing N people and then themselves) would be fantastic.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2010 10:13:31AM 5 points [-]

Making incompetent sociopaths more rational would create new harms as well. They would be better able to fool people and erode the trustworthiness of "normal-seeming people" a little. But since there are already many competent sociopaths, and because normal people are situationally also selfishly destructive (self-serving bias+hypocrisy), we have institutions that mitigate those harms.

That sounds right to me. I suspect the main difference that improving social education for all children would have on sociopaths is that it would knock some of the rough edges off the less intelligent among them. The kind of behaviours that are maladaptive even for sociopaths and may lead them to do overtly anti-social things and wind up sanctioned.

But since there are already many competent sociopaths, and because normal people are situationally also selfishly destructive (self-serving bias+hypocrisy), we have institutions that mitigate those harms.

The models I have for competent sociopaths and high status individuals are approximately identical for basically this reason.

Comment author: wedrifid 19 December 2010 02:47:42AM 2 points [-]

Are the rules of ... hopscotch right or wrong?

Wrong. It's an idiotic game. Makes no sense at all.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 19 December 2010 09:01:19AM *  1 point [-]

Eh? On looking it up [1], it seems about as sensible as any other children's game. It encourages dexterity and fitness, it's spontaneously played by children, and it only needs a stick of chalk and a pebble. Whence this burst of antipathy to a game mentioned only in passing?

[1] It was played when I was a boy, but in the culture I grew up in, it was exclusively a girls' game. I never figured out what the rules were just from seeing it played in the street.

Comment author: HonoreDB 19 December 2010 09:25:06AM 2 points [-]

You know what children's game is wrong? Elbow Tag. It requires a large group, but at any given moment, only two people are actually playing. If the chasee is faster than the chaser, there is an equilibrium state that lasts until the chasee has mercy on the rest of the group and voluntarily lets someone else play...but even if that happens, since the new chasee is rested and the chaser is the same, you're normally back in the same boat.

Ugh. I have no idea what wedrifid has against hopscotch, but I empathize with the sentiment.

Comment author: DilGreen 05 October 2010 06:40:15PM *  3 points [-]

I think that this quote misses an important point - and am in agreement with Academician.

Although the particular social etiquette habits of different cultures vary widely, many of them serve similar, underlying purposes.

Kurt Vonnegut makes my case beautifully, and as gently as always in 'Cat's Cradle'. Without going into the plot, there is a 'holy man' (actually, a rationalist in an impossible situation, IMHO); followers of this holy man, when they meet each other, undertake a ritual called "the meeting of souls" (or similar) :- they remove their shoes and socks, and sit down, legs extended, foot to foot.

Abstract: Ritual forms of social etiquette are human and beneficial (if not essential): the form that they take is non-essential.

There is a higher order of information in this than in the assumption that all rituals are simply arbitrary game-playing.

Comment author: Apprentice 06 October 2010 10:13:16AM 23 points [-]

We live in a world where it has become "politically correct" to avoid absolutes. Many want all religions to be given the same honor, and all gods regarded as equally true and equally fictitious. But take these same people, who want fuzzy, all-inclusive thinking in spiritual matters, and put them on an airplane. You will find they insist on a very dogmatic, intolerant pilot who will stay on the "straight and narrow" glidepath so their life will not come to a violent end short of the runway. They want no fuzzy thinking here!

-- Jack T. Chick

Comment author: simplicio 06 October 2010 06:57:11PM 19 points [-]

I'm continually amused by the abundance of quotes here on LW from sundry wingnuts and theists, some of which are quite good. We've had Jack Chick, Ted Kaczynski, CS Lewis (howdya like that reference class, Lewis), GK Chesterton, and that crazy "Einstein was wrong!" guy.

Maybe being a contrarian in anything whatsoever helps one to break through the platitudes and cached thoughts that ordinary folks seem to bog down in whenever they try to think.

Comment author: NihilCredo 07 October 2010 02:50:43AM *  23 points [-]

There's also a certain fun challenge in looking for jewels among the fecal matter. Rationalist aphorisms by Voltaire or Russell are a regular feature of their writing, and have been quoted in books and articles for decades or centuries, but a pearl of wisdom by a fideist is a tough find and most likely unknown to other LW readers.

Heh. Of all goddamn things to be a hipster about, "rationality quotes" has got to be one hell of a weird choice.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 07 October 2010 06:50:36AM 12 points [-]

There's also a certain fun challenge in looking for jewels among the fecal matter.

Do that with the writings of Space Tetrahedron Guy, and then all further Ultimate Space Tetrahedron Documents will have a header text SPACE TETRAHEDRON THEORY IS ENDORSED BY NIHILCREDO.

Comment author: CronoDAS 09 October 2010 06:46:27AM 8 points [-]

In the game "Alpha Protocol", one of the characters is a conspiracy theorist. When he sends you an email about the Federal Reserve (which, according to him, is deliberately engineering a financial crisis so the banks can foreclose on all the houses and get everyone's property), you can respond by quoting Time Cube at him. Which makes him like you more.

Comment author: N_MacDonald 12 October 2010 09:30:14AM 15 points [-]

No, they don't want a dogmatic and intolerant pilot. They want an empirical pilot who trusts his observations and instruments and uses them to make the best judgement regarding how to operate the plane.

On the other hand, a dogmatic, absolutist pilot who is absolutely sure as to the best way to land the airplane under all conditions, ignores his instruments, weather conditions and data from the control towers, and never listens to his flight crew... is a recipe for disaster.

Dogmatic absolutists mistake observation, skepticism, tolerance and empiricism for "fuzzy thinking". They don't realize that their own thinking is the very opposite of scientific thinking- which is based on observation, not fixed dogmas.

Comment author: komponisto 06 October 2010 05:14:58PM 12 points [-]


Show me a cultural relativist at thirty thousand feet and I'll show you a hypocrite.

-- Richard Dawkins

Comment author: SilasBarta 06 October 2010 06:36:46PM 1 point [-]

I was about to stand and applause, until I realized...

Let's say I like flying, I like the earth's ecology, I think large-scale flying is killing the earth's ecology, I think my individual flying is not capable of making a difference to the planet's ecology, and I think technologically advanced cultures capable of sustaining commercial human flight only appear superior because they're able to offload the costs of their advancement to the rest of the earth's population [1].

And I'm at 30,000 feet. Am I a hypocrite?

Worse, am I Richard Dawkins, once you clip of the last item on the first paragraph?

[1] Not my actual beliefs. Except one.

Comment author: gjm 07 October 2010 01:46:49AM 18 points [-]

I think you may have misunderstood the point Dawkins was making. It wasn't "if you're in an aeroplane, you aren't entitled to denigrate the society whose achievements made that possible". It was "If you're in an aeroplane, you aren't entitled to claim that all truth is relative, because the fact that the aeroplane stays in the air is dependent on a very particular set of notions about truth, which demonstrably work better than their rivals -- as demonstrated by the fact that our aeroplanes actually fly."

Some context that may be helpful.

Comment author: SilasBarta 07 October 2010 10:21:06PM 7 points [-]

Okay, point taken. But to nitpick, that sounds more like epistemological relativism than cultural -- though he can be forgiven for not expecting his audience to be sensitive to the difference. And the context makes it clear too.

Comment author: Tenek 06 October 2010 04:05:10PM 2 points [-]

Well, Jack doesn't want any thinking at all, so I'm not sure if that's better or worse than fuzziness.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 October 2010 05:32:03PM 5 points [-]

There is no point in saying that one should not doubt or one should believe. Just to say 'I believe' does not mean that you understand and see. When a student works on a mathematical problem, he comes to a stage beyond which he does not know how to proceed, and where he is in doubt and perplexity. As long as he has this doubt, he cannot proceed. If he wants to proceed, he must resolve this doubt. And there are ways of resolving that doubt. Just to say 'I believe', or 'I do not doubt' will certainly not solve the problem. To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.

Walpola Rahula

Comment author: gwern 25 October 2010 12:02:12AM *  1 point [-]

"Persist, and faith will come to you."

--Jean le Rond d'Alembert on infinitesimals (as quoted in Mathematics: the loss of certainty, by Morris Kline)

Comment author: Yvain 07 October 2010 07:08:15PM *  5 points [-]

The line between genius and insanity is measured only by success

-- unknown

Comment author: Apprentice 09 October 2010 10:04:35AM 3 points [-]


Only the insane have strength enough to prosper. Only those that prosper may truly judge what is sane.

Comment author: Leonhart 11 October 2010 11:32:10PM 7 points [-]

Therefore, one-box. FOR THE EMPEROR.

Comment author: katydee 09 October 2010 08:50:27PM 2 points [-]

Generally speaking, Warhammer 40k probably isn't a good source for philosophy.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 October 2010 10:28:08PM 8 points [-]

I rate it above Decartes.

Comment author: bojangles 11 October 2010 04:09:27AM 6 points [-]

above "invented analytic geometry" Descartes or just above meditations descartes?

Comment author: Kobayashi 06 October 2010 11:28:21PM 13 points [-]

"You can always reach me through my blog!" he panted. "Overpowering Falsehood dot com, the number one site for rational thinking about the future--"

  • Zendegi, by Greg Egan (2010)

Go ahead, down-vote me. It's still paradoxically-awesome to be burned in a Greg Egan novel...

Comment author: NihilCredo 07 October 2010 01:36:57AM 3 points [-]

What is the context of the quote? Is the OF.com guy a total dolt, an arrogant twat, a cloud cuckoolander, or what?

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 07 October 2010 06:38:18AM 4 points [-]

Found a couple of semi-spoilery reviews for Zendegi. Apparently it has stand-ins for Robin Hanson and SIAI as foils for the authorial message.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 07 October 2010 06:58:12AM 2 points [-]

Thought this was worthy of its own thread in Discussion so interested people won't miss it: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/2ti/greg_egan_disses_standins_for_overcoming_bias/

Comment author: Vladimir_M 06 October 2010 10:49:54PM *  13 points [-]

Prompted by the discussion of Sam Harris's idea that science should provide for a universal moral code, I thought of this suitable reply given long ago:

[The] doctrine of right and wrong is perpetually disputed, both by the pen and the sword: whereas the doctrine of lines and figures is not so, because men care not in that subject what be truth, as a thing that crosses no man's ambition, profit, or lust. For I doubt not, but if it had been a thing contrary to any man's right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square, that doctrine [would] have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)

(It also provides for some interesting perspective on the current epistemological state of various academic fields that are taken seriously as a source of guidance for government policy.)

Comment author: Yvain 07 October 2010 07:07:18PM *  12 points [-]

A neighbor came to Nasrudin, asking to borrow his donkey. "It is out on loan," the teacher replied. At that moment, the donkey brayed loudly inside the stable. "But I can hear it bray, over there." "Whom do you believe," asked Nasrudin, "me or a donkey?"

-- old Sufi parable

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 05 October 2010 06:09:40PM 12 points [-]

"Ideas are tested by experiment." That is the core of science. All else is bookkeeping.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 05 October 2010 11:02:30PM *  5 points [-]

Hm, how about...

Beliefs are justified by their Solomonoff-nature. That is the core of Bayesianism. Science is bookkeeping.

Comment author: NihilCredo 06 October 2010 10:51:05AM *  3 points [-]

It bothers me that "bookkeeping" is given a disparaging tone.

Comment author: SilasBarta 06 October 2010 05:46:16PM *  10 points [-]

That's because it's easy to misvalue assets if you're disconnected from the production process. So when you have specialized bookkeepers, others will typcially see them as ignorant of the true value of the assets, and associate this with bookkeeping per se, rather than bookkeeping with a screwy incentive structure and/or knowledge flows. Because this is the context in which most people interface with accountants, they tend to be associated with misvaluing assets. And thus:

"Beancounters didn't think a soldier's life was worth 300 [thousand dollars]." -- Batman Begins

Edit: Sorry, I forgot to translate all that: P(observe "accountant" | believe accountant misvalued assets) > P(observe "accountant" | ~believe accountant misvalued assets)

Comment author: NihilCredo 06 October 2010 06:01:07PM *  17 points [-]



...reason #7 I love LessWrong: when they want to improve audience comprehension, people have to translate from English to mathematical formulas instead of the reverse.

Comment author: RomanDavis 06 October 2010 07:50:14PM 4 points [-]

If I could just recruit another equally capabler soldier for $ 299,000 or less with no ill consequences, then this seems like a shut up and multiply situation that accountants are trained for.

Hell, from a utilitarian perspective, if I saved a single soldier with that money instead of feeding and housing let's say, 300 African children for 10 years, then I made a stupid decision.

I think the accountant got things just about right.

Comment author: SilasBarta 06 October 2010 07:58:23PM 3 points [-]

Good point, bad example -- that's probably a case where accountants have the best knowledge of the costs of losing a soldier, and the generals are best capable of communicating it. The military also provides a certain payout to the family for a death.

Still, I find it hard to believe that there aren't some US soldiers for which it's worth spending 300k for the level of protection that a high-tech kevlar bodysuit provides. Special Forces goes to pretty insane lengths to provide protection, although perhaps the $300k unit cost would only be with a bulk discount, etc.

(Of course, it's fictional evidence anyway...)

Comment author: komponisto 06 October 2010 05:56:30PM 2 points [-]

This is very insightful. Upvoted.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 06 October 2010 12:52:07PM 1 point [-]

Perhaps because it is easy to ritualize bookkeeping? I think to remember that is to keep within the spirit of the twelfth virtue, the void.

Comment author: Morendil 05 October 2010 11:40:36AM 12 points [-]

The suggestion that designers should record their wrong decisions, to avoid having them repeated, met the following response: (McClure:) "Confession is good for the soul..." (d’Agapeyeff:) "...but bad for your career."

-- Proceedings of the 1968 NATO Conference on Software Engineering

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 12:41:05PM 17 points [-]

On the same theme as the previous one:

I've begun worshipping the sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the sun. It's there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, a lovely day. There is no mystery, no one asks for money, I don't have to dress up, and there is no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the sun and the prayers I formerly offered to "God" are all answered at about the same 50-percent rate.

George Carlin

Comment author: MC_Escherichia 05 October 2010 04:42:23PM 14 points [-]

Either the prayer is answered, or not, so the odds must be 50%, right? :)

Comment author: wedrifid 05 October 2010 07:03:33PM 2 points [-]

And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the sun and the prayers I formerly offered to "God" are all answered at about the same 50-percent rate.

From this I infer that Carlin errs somewhat on the side of pessimism. Optimal habits of thought will tend to produce the kind of positive attention and focus that prompts prayer in cases that are actually less than 50% likely to occur.

Comment author: Rain 05 October 2010 05:37:38PM 20 points [-]

The singularity is my retirement plan.

-- tocomment, in a Hacker News post

Comment author: Nisan 06 October 2010 03:59:28AM 11 points [-]

This sounds like a bad idea.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2010 05:09:59PM *  14 points [-]

This sounds like a bad idea.

It does, but mostly for the same reasons that cryonics does. It's a violation of Common Sense and Sensibility. But given the beliefs that tocomment has (emphasis: not mine!) it is the wise decision for him to make. He has just bitten the bullet and actually followed through from his stated beliefs with (token verbal support of) the rational conclusion.

I think tocomment has his predictions about the future miscallibrated and has probably not accounted for his own cognitive failure modes but I suspect that people would judge him to be 'unwise' almost completely independently of whether or not they share his premised beliefs.

Basically, I think we (that is, humans) are likely to judge him as naive and foolish because he is actually acting as though his beliefs should relate to his pragmatic choices.

By way of some illustration:

  • A mainstream 'retirement plan' is probably making the same 'putting all your eggs in one basket' mistake that tocomment makes. It is by no means certain that the structures and circumstances that make conventionally wise retirement plans will remain in place. There are perhaps other more fundamental actions that should be taken to ensure future safety and wellbeing than investing in superannuation. "Creating a stash of gold somewhere" may be a little trite but "develop the kind of social and political connections and develop the skills and resources that will allow you to survive into your later years even in the face of social upheaval" is something that makes sense and has applied across all cultures and times. Yet we aren't likely to look down our noses at people who don't divert significant resources away from their 401k and into that sort of future insurance.
  • "Retirement Plans" essentially amount to saving up lots of money for use while you go through the process of physical and mental decline and then death. A plausible and sane person may actually have values such that a conventional retirement plan is a strictly irrational allocation of resources. That person is probably still going to be labelled foolish, unwise or naive despite the fact that he is acting entirely in his own best interests. ie. At worst he is weird, not stupid but will usually be lumped with the latter judgement.
Comment author: SilasBarta 06 October 2010 06:25:05PM *  4 points [-]

You know, that actually sums up my concerns regarding saving.

I think that: Within the next 30 years, a singularity and major economic upheaval are each much more likely than any kind of "business as usual" situation for which IRAs were intended. I also think that money (at least USD) will be of much less value to me when I'm 60.

And yet I contribute anyway, and only have about 8% of current USD value of my savings invested in a way appropriate for one of those scenarios.

Now, I've gotten a bit better: I stopped maxing out the 401k (i.e. putting 25% of pre-tax earnings in it), and I'm keeping a car loan I could pay off. But if I were really serious about this, I should empty most of the account, and put it in something else, even though this will incur a big penalty.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2010 07:05:09PM 2 points [-]

Now, I've gotten a bit better: I stopped maxing out the 401k (i.e. putting 25% of pre-tax earnings in it), and I'm keeping a car loan I could pay off.

Wow. I was the one that initiated this line of reasoning and even so I took a double take at seeing that

Comment author: RichardKennaway 30 November 2010 09:35:59AM 1 point [-]

I should empty most of the account, and put it in something else, even though this will incur a big penalty.

What would the something else be?

Comment author: wedrifid 05 October 2010 06:29:26PM 1 point [-]

Brilliant. And if they did make it into a tshirt (as per reply) I'd quite possibly buy one!

Comment author: Will_Newsome 05 October 2010 10:57:43PM 4 points [-]

(I is going to get started on setting up the Less Wrong store with User:Kevin starting in a week or two, after which we'll be able to sell awesome LW-related shirts like this.)

Comment author: thomblake 05 October 2010 11:16:06PM 3 points [-]

Good, I was afraid I was the only one who'd started calling him "User:Kevin" after seeing Clippy do it.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 06 October 2010 08:36:40AM 4 points [-]

By the way, I will definitely design an "Escape your closing parenthesis." t-shirt.

Comment author: Cyan 07 October 2010 12:45:48AM 4 points [-]

Must repost:

Comment author: NihilCredo 06 October 2010 10:53:25AM 3 points [-]

Appropriate, since it's about as wise as the average T-shirt slogan.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2010 11:58:40AM 2 points [-]

On the other hand some t-shirts are a source of true wisdom! ;)

Comment author: CronoDAS 24 October 2010 05:46:51AM 4 points [-]

Marijuana is death on writers. I’ve seen several go that route. Typical behavior for a long time marijuana user is as follows. He gets a story idea. He tells his friends about it, and they think it’s wonderful. He then feels as if he’s written it, published it, cashed the check and collected the awards. So he never bothers to write it down.

Alcohol can have the same effect.

-- Larry Niven

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 24 October 2010 06:58:04AM 7 points [-]

I am momentarily breaking hiatus specifically to say that you don't even need marijuana or alcohol to suffer from this. The normal human capacity for self-delusion and need for self-esteem are more than deadly enough all by themselves.

Personally, I'm still struggling to accept this lesson: that it's not enough to be a smart person who has good ideas; you need to do something that actually works. It is, in its own way, a highly counterintuitive idea, much like this notion that plausibility isn't enough, and beliefs should actually predict experimental results. I keep wanting to protest that I was morally right. Well, say that I was. In order for that moral rightness to change anything, I still need a method that really actually works, not just morally works.

Comment author: ciphergoth 24 October 2010 10:10:43AM 3 points [-]

I think there are legitimate questions about the advisability of marijuana, but this is a claim for which counterexamples are plentiful. Alan Moore springs to mind.

OTOH "you only tell your story once so do it on paper" is also in Dorothea Brandt's "Becoming a Writer".

Comment author: Relsqui 24 October 2010 08:15:05AM 3 points [-]

Funny, I got the same advice sans drugs about NaNoWriMo a while back, and was just passing it on recently to someone else. The way it was put to me, though, was that "you can only tell your story once." Not literally, of course--you can relate what happens in it more than once--but you can only really tell it and put your heart into it once. Don't waste it talking to your friends about the idea. Get it on paper the way you feel it. Then tell your friends the lesser version afterwards, or just wait and let them read what you wrote down.

Comment author: Apprentice 06 October 2010 10:47:42AM 13 points [-]

If I close my mind in fear, please pry it open.

-- Metallica

Comment author: SilasBarta 06 October 2010 02:56:53PM *  7 points [-]

A real-world example of Parfit's Hitchhiker was prominently in the news recently, about firefighters that watched a guy's house burn down because didn't buy a subscription, even though he offered to pay when they arrived at the scene (which I assume means with all the penalties for serving a non-member, etc.). The parallel to PH became clear from this exchange with a writer on Salon:

Yes, he offered to pay, while his house burned. I can’t prove what would have happened, but the FD would probably have had to sue him to gain full reimbursement. ...

A man whose house is on fire will say anything to a guy with the means to put the fire out -- best not to trust him, unless you can get it in writing.

Obviously, this doesn't carry over the "perfect predictor" aspect, but I'm guessing the FD's decision maker could do much better than chance in guessing whether they'd be able to recover the money -- and the homeowner suffered as a result of not being able to credibly tell the FD (which, of course, has its own subjunctive decision-theoretic concerns about "if I put out the fires of non-payers when they ...") that he would pay later.

(Sorry if this has been posted already, and let me know if this belongs somewhere else like the new discussion forum.)

Update: Okay, it looks like details are in dispute -- by some accounts, he wasn't offering the penalty rate, and people dispute whether the nonpayment was deliberate or an oversight (and the evidence strongly favors the former). "You'll say anything", indeed.

Comment author: humpolec 09 October 2010 10:54:05PM 4 points [-]

I see here a Newcomb-like situation, but in the reverse direction - the fire department didn't help the guy out to counterfactually make him pay his $75.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 06 October 2010 03:15:35PM 10 points [-]

I assumed that the firefighters didn't accept the offer to pay them on the spot because that would send the signal to all the other houseowners that they could skip the regular fire department fee and then make an emergency payment when their house catches fire.

Comment author: SilasBarta 06 October 2010 03:34:30PM *  5 points [-]

Okay, but that wouldn't be a free ride if the emergency payment were high enough -- the guy wasn't saying, "okay, fine, I'll pay this year's subscription fee -- now will you put out the fire?" He was offering the higher amount (which isn't credible, because the court wouldn't enforce it because if your house is burning, you'll lie, knowing you won't pay, because the court won't enforce ...).

(Long ago, I had this image in my mind of a rude, doesn't-get-it guy who didn't buy car insurance, didn't understand car insurance, and then when his car was wrecked, visits an insurance company, expecting a payout. When they don't pay out, he sighs and says, "Fine, how much is a month of coverage? There -- there you go. NOW will you pay for my car?"

That's not what's going on here.)

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2010 03:57:50PM 3 points [-]

Multiple paragraph parenthesising - nice!

An analogy that fits better is that of simple gym membership. "I haven't paid a gym membership for this year but I really want to go to the gym today. How much do you charge?" There is no particularly good reason why the fire putting out service must be a subscription service or insurance model.

The ambulance service, at least the one we have here, seems to be practical. You can get a membership. If you don't have one then when you wake up in hospital you'll have a bill to pay. If you needed a helicopter rescue it'll be a big bill.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2010 03:16:30PM 6 points [-]

Wow. I just felt a surge of patriotism. I had no idea that sort of system was in place in any first world country. I'm sure it's all Right, True, and Capitalistic but I must say I prefer the system here.

In fact, in rural areas (where I grew up) most firefighters are actually volunteers. Those that I knew considered the drastic enhancement to sexual attractiveness to be more than enough payment. ;)

Comment author: James_K 07 October 2010 08:13:42AM 6 points [-]

It's a government-run fire station, so it's not all that capitalistic.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2010 08:35:07AM 3 points [-]

Really? Going for a 'worst of both worlds' approach it would seem. ;)

If you are going to make fire fighting a pay for individual service system instead of a cooperation problem handled by central authority and taxation then you may as well at least get the efficiency benefits of competition in private industry. In fact a completely capitalistic organisation with no interest in public welfare would probably not have had a problem like we see in this instance. The organisation would have set up payment contingencies such that they can sell their services at a penalty rate to those who didn't buy according to the preferred subscription/insurance model.

Comment author: James_K 08 October 2010 04:20:14AM 6 points [-]

For some strange reason a lot of US policy in particular seems to fall into the "worst of both worlds" camp ( I would consider their health insurance system as an example). As I'm not an American I don't know why this is the case.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 08 October 2010 06:23:32PM 3 points [-]

a lot of US policy in particular seems to fall into the "worst of both worlds" camp

Could you give other examples? I certainly accept health insurance and this particular fire department, but I don't think it is a representative fire department. Is the common theme the word "insurance"?

Comment author: orangecat 09 October 2010 04:19:56AM 5 points [-]

"Too big to fail" banks: they profit when their gambles pay off, we bail them out when they don't. Also arguably telecommunications carriers that have quasi-natural quasi-monopolies.

Comment author: wnoise 08 October 2010 05:47:13AM 6 points [-]

As I'm not an American I don't know why this is the case.

Neither do Americans.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 October 2010 02:51:27PM 9 points [-]

Neither do Americans.

Sure we do. It's all the other party's fault.

Comment author: CronoDAS 08 October 2010 03:23:46PM 0 points [-]

Sure we do. It's all the other party's fault.

I agree with this statement. Either extreme would probably be better than what we actually ended up with.

Comment author: komponisto 08 October 2010 01:33:11PM 3 points [-]

Wow. I just felt a surge of patriotism. I had no idea that sort of system was in place in any first world country. I'm sure it's all Right, True, and Capitalistic but I must say I prefer the system here.

It is very likely that this is an issue of a particular locality and that plenty of places in the U.S. are sane about matters like this. (You'll also note that it made the news, suggesting people may not have realized this kind of thing was possible.)

From what I know, it's utterly common for several different fire departments to respond to a single call that happens to be near, even if not in, their specific jurisdictions, and I was utterly shocked to read this story.

Comment author: cousin_it 01 November 2010 01:40:05PM *  3 points [-]

He was at once a man of thought and a man of action - a combination as rare as it is usually deplorable. The man of action in him might have gone far had he not been ruined at the outset by the man of thought.

-- Rafael Sabatini, "The Sea-hawk"

Comment author: Perplexed 25 October 2010 03:18:39PM *  3 points [-]

I do not want to itemize the various fallacies that are commonly offered in seeking to justify cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma. In brief, they mostly proceed by arguing that the Prisoner's Dilemma is really some other game in which cooperation is not irrational. Game Theorists do not object to some other game being analyzed: only to the analysis of some other game being offered as an analysis of the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Ken Binsmore - in a critique of Gauthier's "Morals by Agreement"

Comment author: [deleted] 13 October 2010 05:42:11PM 3 points [-]

Who knows truly? Who here will declare whence it arose, whence this creation? The gods are subsequent to the creation of this. Who, then, knows whence it has come into being?

Whence this creation has come into being; whether it was made or not; he in the highest heaven is its surveyor. Surely he knows, or perhaps he knows not.

Not sure if this will qualify as a rationalist quote, but these are the last few lines from the Creation Hymn in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Hindu sacred texts & estimated to be composed around 1100 BC. I like the note of uncertainty, rather rare among religious texts.

Comment author: gwern 13 October 2010 06:10:10PM *  6 points [-]

In its original, atheist Carvaka writings contained much verse (as Indian philosophy/theology usually does); see http://www.humanistictexts.org/Carvaka.htm In translation, they almost sound like senryū:

 If a beast slain as an offering to the dead
will itself go to heaven,
why does the sacrificer not straightway offer his father?
Comment author: sketerpot 13 October 2010 08:49:07PM *  6 points [-]

Reminds me of the doctrine that some Christians have, where anybody who dies before a certain age automatically goes to heaven, while people above that age can go to hell. The question then becomes: why don't parents kill their children, thus saving them from the all-too-likely possibility of eternal torture?

(Fun fact: most people who believe in hell can be made very uncomfortable if you look at the unfortunate implications of what they believe.)

Comment author: Desrtopa 19 October 2010 11:28:25PM 7 points [-]

I was once in a debate in which I pursued that point at some length. I don't think most people who believe in Hell find that particular point more difficult to rationalize than most of their other religious beliefs, but I bring it up because it led to a quote which, while only tangentially relating to rationality, strikes me as pretty memorable.

"That seems like an awfully selfish reason not to kill a million babies."

Comment author: CronoDAS 11 October 2010 06:20:51AM 3 points [-]

Kids, you tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.

-- Homer Simpson

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 12:30:08PM 9 points [-]

If you state any two propositions abstractly enough, they will appear to be the same because you subsume them under the same generalization. But this does not mean they have anything to do with each other; it means only that you prefer not to see the differences.

William T. Powers

Comment author: James_Miller 05 October 2010 01:49:30PM 5 points [-]

I don't understand the first sentence.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 02:04:33PM *  33 points [-]

Proposition 1: All matter is composed of four elements: earth, water, air, and, fire, each having an unchanging essence, and the variety of the world resulting from their combinations.

Proposition 2: All matter is composed of about 90 elements (the cutoff depending on how many of the more unstable ones one counts), most of which are created out of hydrogen and helium in stars and their supernovas, and which, in combination, give rise to the different material substances we observe.

More abstract proposition that ignores the differences: all matter is composed of fundamental elements.

Erroneous conclusion: the ancients knew modern science!

Proposition 1: Six thousand years ago, God created the world in six days.

Proposition 2: Everything started with the Big Bang some billions of years ago.

Abstract proposition: The universe had a beginning.

Erroneous conclusion: God created the universe. Scientists just call it the Big Bang because they don't want to admit it was God.

ETA: Further example: anyone saying that all religions are fundamentally the same.

ETA: Proposition 1: Here is a hammer. It drives nails.

Proposition 2: Here is a screwdriver. It drives screws.

Abstract proposition: Here is a tool. It drives spiky metal fasteners.

Erroneous conclusion: A Manchester screwdriver.

Comment author: DanielVarga 05 October 2010 04:10:30PM 7 points [-]

Your explanation was way better than your quote.

Comment author: bbleeker 05 October 2010 03:11:11PM 2 points [-]

Voted up, because I don't understand that sentence either. Could someone explain it, with an example if possible?

Comment author: wedrifid 05 October 2010 04:57:22PM 4 points [-]

Reference class tennis.

Comment author: nhamann 24 October 2010 07:48:41PM *  2 points [-]

Is it through grandmother or grandfather that you descend from a monkey?

-- Samuel Wilberforce

Would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather, or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means and influence, and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion – I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.

-- T. H. Huxley

From an 1860 Oxford evolution debate (Quoted from Games, Groups and Global Good)

(Interestingly, the author, Robert May, after presenting these quotes, goes onto suggest that "Wilberforce, had he possessed an all-encompassing knowledge of the science of his day, could have won the debate. The Darwin–Wallace theory of evolution, at that time, had three huge problems.")

Comment author: nhamann 24 October 2010 08:38:19PM *  2 points [-]

Oh what the heck, here are two of the problems that Robert May spoke of in the above quote:

The first problem concerned the time available for evolutionary processes to operate. Fifty years were to elapse before the first glimmers of awareness of weak and strong nuclear forces were to appear. Of the four fundamental forces recognized by today’s physics, only gravitational and electromagnetic (“chemical”) forces were known in Darwin’s day. But if the sun’s energy source was gravitational, it could not have been burning for more than about 20 million years. And chemical fuels would give an even shorter life. A different calculation showed that it could not have taken more than roughly 20–40 million years for the earth to cool from molten rock to its present temperature. These two calculations meant that either the earth was at most a few tens of millions of years old, or that Victorian physics was fundamentally deficient...Of course, the subsequent discovery of nuclear forces showed Victorian physics was indeed inadequate: the sun burns nuclear fuel; and the heat generated by the decay of radioactive elements inside the earth invalidates simplistic calculations about cooling rates. We now understand that evolutionary processes on earth have all the time they need.


The second problem stemmed from the conventional wisdom of the day, namely that inheritance worked by a blending of maternal and paternal characters. The essentials of this issue can be grasped by considering a trait (such as height or weight) that can be described by a single variable.... It is [...] straightforward to show that, with blending inheritance, the variance of this trait in the next generation is halved. But persisting variability is the raw stuff upon which natural selection works to produce descent with modification; it was critical to Darwin’s ideas.... The resolution of this major difficulty lies, of course, in the fact that genes are inherited in particulate Mendelian fashion, not by “blending”. And, as shown in 1908 independently by Hardy and by Weinberg, under Mendelian inheritance variability remains unchanged from generation to generation, unless perturbed by factors such as selection, mutation, statistical drift, or nonrandom mating.

Comment author: gwern 24 October 2010 08:05:29PM *  2 points [-]

Well, now I have to link this DC: http://dresdencodak.com/2009/08/06/youre-a-good-man-charlie-darwin-2/

(Interestingly, the author, Robert May, after presenting these quotes, goes onto suggest that "Wilberforce, had he possessed an all-encompassing knowledge of the science of his day, could have won the debate. The Darwin–Wallace theory of evolution, at that time, had three huge problems.")

Not a surprise at all. Most major new paradigms have huge gaping flaws; this is one of the core theses of Paul Feyerabend's brand of philosophy of science in works like Against Method (eg. look at his analyses of major flaws in Galileo).

Comment author: Craig_Heldreth 24 October 2010 03:31:28PM 2 points [-]

(I was amazed this was not on the first three pages of a google search of the site.)

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that."

Richard Feynman in cargo cult science.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 13 October 2010 12:15:18PM 2 points [-]

"Whereas the howto is, by definition, addressed to a lay audience, it currently takes an expert on howtos to know which title in the tangled mass will deliver the goods." ---Dwight MacDonald, 1954

Cited here in an article about recalls of dangerously inaccurate how-to books.

Comment author: mtaran 09 October 2010 03:23:00AM 5 points [-]

From a hacker news thread on the difficulty of finding or making food that's fast, cheap and healthy.

"Former poet laureate of the US, Charles Simic says, the secret to happiness begins with learning how to cook." -- pfarrell

Reply: "Well, I'm sure there's some economics laureate out there who says that the secret to efficiency begins with comparative advantage." -- Eliezer Yudkowsky

Comment author: gwern 13 October 2010 06:12:43PM 4 points [-]

I don't understand this one. A poetry guy says something practical (and completely unrelated to poetry) is a valuable thing, and Eliezer replies that an economics guy would say something about economics?

The message eludes me.

Comment author: whpearson 13 October 2010 07:00:04PM *  4 points [-]

My take: Comparative advantage as I understand it is about specializing and being better off for it (in simplistic terms).

So Eliezer is hinting that you should become good at thing X where X isn't cooking and pay for someone who has specialized in cooking to cook for you, and you'll both be better off.

Edit: I think he phrased it in the way (Economics laureate etc) as parody and to highlight the appeal to authority in the original (why should a poet laureate, no more than a normal poet or any other person what the secret to happiness was).

</ humour destruction through explanation>

Comment author: M88 08 October 2010 12:39:34PM *  3 points [-]

Freedom is not an immutable fact graven in nature and on the heart of man. It is not inherent in man or in society, and it is meaningless to write it into law. The mathematical, physical, biological, sociological, and psychological sciences reveal nothing but necessities and determinisms on all sides. As a matter of fact, reality consists in overcoming and transcending these determinisms.

...Freedom is not static but dynamic; not a vested interest, but a prize continually to be won. The moment man stops and resigns himself, he becomes subject to determinism. He is most enslaved when he thinks he is comfortably settled in freedom.

Jacques Ellul, "The Technological Society"

Comment author: DSimon 05 October 2010 02:21:30PM *  5 points [-]

Dexter: Dee Dee! I'm confused...

Dee Dee: Good!

Dexter's Laboratory

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 12:39:14PM 4 points [-]

My philosophy requires me to believe in the things I can see as well as those I can't see. When any faith contradicts truths that are plainly visible through the window, I believe it invalidates itself.

Serion Ironcroft

Comment author: wedrifid 05 October 2010 12:58:38PM 3 points [-]

That philosophy is not Psyclobin Complete. :)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 02:17:05PM 4 points [-]

No philosophy survives sticking a crowbar into your own brain.

Comment author: RobinZ 05 October 2010 02:38:15PM 7 points [-]

I don't know - Philip K. Dick seemed to do all right. And I heard of at least one schizophrenic who tried to record the voices in her head on a tape and figured out they weren't real that way.

Comment author: Thomas 06 October 2010 06:51:49PM *  2 points [-]

The new man of science must not think that the "inquisition of nature is in any part interdicted or forbidden." Nature must be ... put "in constraint" and "moulded" by the mechanical arts. The "searchers and spies of nature" are to discover "her" plots and secrets.

  • Francis Bacon
Comment author: simplicio 06 October 2010 08:57:04PM 2 points [-]

Great quote, but what's with the quotation marks?

Comment author: arundelo 06 October 2010 09:28:59PM 5 points [-]

It looks like this is actually a quote from Carolyn Merchant's The Death of Nature; only the parts in quotation marks are Bacon's words, taken from "The Great Instauration", "The Masculine Birth of Time", and "De Dignitate".

Comment author: RobinZ 07 October 2010 12:20:10AM 2 points [-]

Confirmed from the linked Amazon.com page by searching the preview for "searchers and spies of nature" (no quotes).

Comment author: XiXiDu 05 October 2010 01:49:19PM 2 points [-]

The idea that science can, and should, be run according to fixed and universal rules, is both unrealistic and pernicious. It is unrealistic, for it takes too simple a view of the talents of man and of the circumstances which encourage, or cause, their development. And it is pernicious, for the attempt to enforce the rules is bound to increase our professional qualifications at the expense of our humanity. In addition, the idea is detrimental to science, for it neglects the complex physical and historical conditions which influence scientific change. It makes our science less adaptable and more dogmatic: every methodological rule is associated with cosmological assumptions, so that using the rule we take it for granted that the assumptions are correct. Naive falsificationism takes it for granted that the laws of nature are manifest and not hidden beneath disturbances of considerable magnitude. Empiricism takes it for granted that sense experience is a better mirror of the world than pure thought. Praise of argument takes it for granted that the artifices of Reason give better results than the unchecked play of our emotions. Such assumptions may be perfectly plausible and even true. Still, one should occasionally put them to a test. Putting them to a test means that we stop using the methodology associated with them, start doing science in a different way and see what happens. Case studies such as those reported in the preceding chapters show that such tests occur all the time, and that they speak against the universal validity of any rule. All methodologies have their limitations and the only ‘rule’ that survives is ‘anything goes’.

Paul K. Feyerabend [The final chapter of Against Method, 1975]

The virtue which is nameless?

Comment author: [deleted] 07 October 2010 04:15:56AM *  3 points [-]

Actually, no. In the rest of "Against Method" it's pretty obvious that Feyerabend is saying is that since even our methodologies and standards of evidence are paradigm-dependent, none of them really allow us to objectively connect with reality. As a result, epistemology and science are "anything goes"; any standard of evidence is acceptable no matter what it is. So he's closer to a relativist than a rationalist.

(Edited for clarity)

Comment author: Perplexed 05 October 2010 09:27:42PM 0 points [-]

If capitalism is the evolutionary engine that leads to AI, then the advent AI cannot be separated from the larger economic consequences of AI. In my judgment, the single most realistic way to design God-AI that is friendly is to evolve such AI directly out the economy that succeeds human capitalism, i.e. as an economic servant to human needs. While this is not a guarantee of friendly AI in itself, any attempt to make AI friendly purely on the basis of absolute, unchanging principles is doomed to ultimate failure because this is exactly how human intelligence, at its best, does not work.

Mitchell Heisman, Suicide Note p315

Comment author: cousin_it 05 October 2010 11:24:36PM *  5 points [-]

Seconding CronoDAS, that's an awful book, but I found one funny sentence in it:

Can the theory of the separation of facts and values be tested empirically?

Comment author: James_K 06 October 2010 05:44:53AM 2 points [-]

The problem is that understanding the economy is probably harder than understanding human intelligence. After all, the global economy is the product of over 6 billion human brains interacting with each other and their environment.

Comment author: CronoDAS 05 October 2010 11:00:59PM 2 points [-]

I looked at that site. The guy writes like a crackpot.

Comment author: ikrase 03 February 2013 06:03:41PM 2 points [-]

Specific quote is a bit reminiscent of Social Justice Warriors who oppose capitalism, but see capitalism as being defined by oppression, inequality, and other bad stuff rather than by capital.

Comment author: aausch 08 October 2010 04:30:07PM *  0 points [-]

I may not be smart enough to debate you point-for-point on this, but I have the feeling about 60% of what you say is crap.

David Letterman, To Bill O'Reilly, in discussion about the supposed War on Christmas, as quoted in "In Letterman appearance, O'Reilly repeated false claim that school changed 'Silent Night' lyrics", Media Matters for America, (2006-01-04) (From Wikiquote)

Comment author: DilGreen 09 October 2010 11:34:13PM 1 point [-]

I imagine this is getting up-voted here in response to the sentiment, and I'm not going to vote it down. But this approach is more often used by deists against rationalists, and the next step is book-burning.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 October 2010 11:45:39PM 2 points [-]

Do deists really go around telling people how unintelligent they are? Around here they tend to be insecure about their intelligence and try hard to act smart. But the intellectual status of religious belief is something that varies by culture.

Comment author: aausch 13 October 2010 08:25:13PM 1 point [-]

This quote, for me, shows two ideas: The I defy the data that khafra mentions below, as well as, on Letterman's side, an ability to accurately detect bs and dismiss it without having spent significant resources on formal debate. That ability seems incredibly useful to me, and definitely worth cultivating.

I associate the second idea with the Prior Information Chapter of HPMoR

Comment author: James_Miller 05 October 2010 01:26:40PM *  1 point [-]

"[H]e who commands thirty legions is the most learned of all"
Favorinus explaining why he admitted that Emperor Hadrian had won their debate.

"Won't you stop citing laws to us who have our swords by our sides?" Pompey

Comment author: James_Miller 05 October 2010 01:45:47PM *  3 points [-]

The second quote explains why even in the United States you shouldn't argue over law with a police officer who is questioning you in a situation in which non-police officers are not observing you.

Pompey probably wasn't threatening but rather was pointing out stupidity.

Comment author: aausch 27 October 2010 09:15:04PM 1 point [-]

I'm above average in talent, but where I think I excel is psychotic drive. All I need is for somebody to say I can't do something and this crazy switch inside me makes me attack whatever I'm doing. Psychotic drive is where I excel over people that are probably more naturally gifted.

-- Will Smith

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 October 2010 01:27:44PM 1 point [-]

....research is after all, asking the universe silly questions and getting silly answers until neither question nor answer are silly any more

From a discussion of authodidacticism which may be of general interest.