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Rationality Quotes: February 2011

13 Post author: gwern 01 February 2011 05:46PM

Take off every 'quote'! You know what you doing. For great insight. Move 'quote'.

And if you don't:

  • 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts from LW. (If you want to exclude OB too create your own quotes thread! OB is entertaining and insightful and all but it is no rationality blog!)
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.

Comments (347)

Comment author: Costanza 01 February 2011 09:31:17PM *  54 points [-]

A long one:

. . . once upon a time men lived among the giants, who were like themselves but far more powerful, and these giants always had a supply of bread, fruit, milk, and all that was necessary to sustain life, which they must have acquired in ways that cost them little, for they would always give away their goods to whoever knew how to please them. And the giants would also carry them wherever they wanted to go, provided they asked in the proper way. So it came about that men never thought of working, nor of walking, nor of building wagons or ships; instead they became natural orators, and spent all of their time watching the giants, figuring out what would please or displease them, smiling at them or imploring them with tears in their eyes; or else simply pronouncing the necessary words, which had to be memorized exactly, though they had no understanding of the changes of humor that would come over the giants, their brusque refusals, or their sudden willingness. Now, if some man, in those days, had tried to get something for himself by his own industry, they would have laughed him to scorn; for the results of his labor would have been puny beside the immense provisions the giants had amassed; and besides with one false step the giants could easily have crushed those little beginnings of labor out of existence. That is why all human wisdom came down to knowing how to speak and how to persuade; and, rather than move things about with great effort, men chose to learn what words it would take to get one of the giants to do their moving. In short, their main business, or rather their only business, was to please, and above all not to displease, their incomprehensible masters, who seemed nevertheless to be charged with nourishing them and housing them and transporting them, and who eventually carried out their duties, provided they were prayed to. This kind of existence, in which men never knew whether they were the masters or the slaves, lasted for a long time, so that the habit of asking, of hoping, of counting on those stronger than themselves left indelible traces in human nature. . . . That is why, as if they were still waiting for the return of the giants, men do not forget to pray and make offerings, though no giant has ever shown himself . . .

-- "Alain" (Émile Chartier) The Gods. A meditation on childhood.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 February 2011 02:06:20AM 21 points [-]

I thought the punchline was going to be that the men were cats.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 02 February 2011 05:45:27PM 8 points [-]

Nah, definitely dogs. They're the undisputed masters of manipulating humans in the animal kingdom.

Comment author: wnoise 03 February 2011 05:36:02AM 12 points [-]

Excepting other humans.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 February 2011 12:18:00AM 14 points [-]

This was wasted as a point about 'gods'. The commentary on human social instincts irrespective of belief in literal gods was far more insightful.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 08 February 2011 01:55:32PM 9 points [-]

Ok, so it seems almost everyone got a different idea of who the giants and the men were. Children and adults, pets and humans, humans and gods, governments and populations (in both directions!), humans and computers...

My first impulse upon seeing this, is that this must be a very general phenomena that occurs in a great spectrum of situations. That all these different situations are isomorpic towards one another. The next is that we should come up with a generalized theory for the concept and maybe make up a word to access the concept quicker.

Comment author: SRStarin 03 February 2011 05:21:53PM 6 points [-]

I didn't know where it was going at all until I hit the words "instead they became natural orators." It was a that point that I thought of my 17-month-old daughter. Thank you for a very timely message.

Comment author: gwern 01 February 2011 09:46:40PM 6 points [-]

Hah; I read through that entire thing expecting the punchline to be that the giants were computers.

Comment author: Costanza 01 February 2011 09:52:13PM 3 points [-]

Maybe one day they will be.

Or we will be, or they'll make paperclips of us all.

Comment author: Eneasz 02 February 2011 06:55:06PM 14 points [-]

I guess I'm far too literal-minded. The whole time I simply assumed the giants were a normal God parable. I was rather non-plussed about the whole quote until I saw "A meditation on childhood" and then my head exploded. I don't even remember being a kid anymore.

Comment author: CronoDAS 02 February 2011 11:46:21PM 3 points [-]

I saw it coming before I read the line that explicitly mentioned childhood.

Comment author: Costanza 03 February 2011 12:15:02AM *  4 points [-]

On the next page in the book, the author mentions, "I decided to go through with the fiction of the giants, although the reader will have seen by the third line where I was leading him."

Personally, I didn't see it coming when I first read it. My first reaction was pretty much the same as Eneasz'.

Comment author: AngryParsley 02 February 2011 10:44:02AM *  2 points [-]

For most of the time I spent reading this quote, I thought the men were celebrities or demagogues and the giants were the populace.

Comment author: benelliott 02 February 2011 09:05:24PM 47 points [-]

Day ends, market closes up or down, reporter looks for good or bad news respectively, and writes that the market was up on news of Intel's earnings, or down on fears of instability in the Middle East. Suppose we could somehow feed these reporters false information about market closes, but give them all the other news intact. Does anyone believe they would notice the anomaly, and not simply write that stocks were up (or down) on whatever good (or bad) news there was that day? That they would say, hey, wait a minute, how can stocks be up with all this unrest in the Middle East?

--Paul Graham

Comment author: simplyeric 04 February 2011 03:14:22PM 6 points [-]

An interesting concept...but I wonder. I bet at least some people would actually notice that. They'd see unrest in the middle east and say "hmm...oil prices didn't change the way I expected them to" or something. Sometimes you see things like "_ index rises in spite of _".

I think Graham's inference has merit: these people don't really know what's happening...but I think some people at least would notice the anomoly.

Comment author: benelliott 04 February 2011 04:43:07PM 9 points [-]

Well now I want to test this. Do we have anyone here who thinks they know a thing or two about the stock market? If so would they be amenable to an experiment?

I'm thinking that they would agree not to look at any stock price information for a day (viewing all the other news they want). At the end of the day they are presented with some possible sets of market closes, all but one of which of which are fake, and we see if they can reliably find the right one.

Comment author: Gurkenglas 28 June 2013 09:30:55PM 2 points [-]

Finding the most probable market outcome given a few possibilities and a day's news is easier than noticing by yourself that the news and the market don't fit.

Comment author: ig0r 26 February 2011 10:29:17PM 2 points [-]

I will participate if you'd like to try, there are some problems with the experiment though

Comment author: private_messaging 28 August 2013 03:28:04PM *  3 points [-]

Well, the time Steve Ballmer announced he was to quit the Microsoft, Microsoft's stock jumped quite a bit, clearly because Ballmer quit, even though one could perhaps explain either a raise or a fall with Ballmer quitting. Expected square of a change was big from Ballmer quitting, that's for sure. Same goes for any dramatic news, such as the recent gas attack in Syria.

And yes, over the time one could tell that something is up if the stock market graph is uneventful while there's dramatic news.

Bottom line is, a causal link can exist and be inferred even when there is no correlation.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 February 2011 07:21:19AM *  44 points [-]

In the past, also, war was one of the main instruments by which human societies were kept in touch with physical reality.

(...)

In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane they had to make four.

-- George Orwell, 1984

Comment author: gwern 02 February 2011 06:21:47PM 12 points [-]

"Great is Bankruptcy: the great bottomless gulf into which all Falsehoods, public and private, do sink, disappearing; whither, from the first origin of them, they were all doomed. For Nature is true and not a lie. No lie you can speak or act but it will come, after longer or shorter circulation, like a Bill drawn on Nature's Reality, and be presented there for payment, - with the answer, No effects.

Pity only that it often had so long a circulation: that the original forger were so seldom he who bore the final smart of it! Lies, and the burden of evil they bring, are passed on; shifted from back to back, and from rank to rank; and so land ultimately on the dumb lowest rank, who with spade and mattock, with sore heart and empty wallet, daily come in contact with reality, and can pass the cheat no further.
[...]
But with a Fortunatus' Purse in his pocket, through what length of time might not almost any Falsehood last! Your Society, your Household, practical or spiritual Arrangement, is untrue, unjust, offensive to the eye of God and man. Nevertheless its hearth is warm, its larder well replenished: the innumerable Swiss of Heaven, with a kind of Natural loyalty, gather round it; will prove, by pamphleteering, musketeering, that it is a truth; or if not an unmixed (unearthly, impossible) Truth, then better, a wholesomely attempered one, (as wind is to the shorn lamb), and works well.

Changed outlook, however, when purse and larder grow empty! Was your Arrangement so true, so accordant to Nature's ways, then how, in the name of wonder, has Nature, with her infinite bounty, come to leave it famishing there? To all men, to all women and all children, it is now indubitable that your Arrangement was false. Honour to Bankruptcy; ever righteous on the great scale, though in detail it is so cruel! Under all Falsehoods it works, unweariedly mining. No Falsehood, did it rise heaven-high and cover the world, but Bankruptcy, one day, will sweep it down, and make us free of it."

--The French Revolution: a history, by Thomas Carlyle; as quoted by Mencius Moldbug

Comment author: SilasBarta 03 February 2011 08:02:13PM 0 points [-]

But ... but ... what about bankruptcies induced by a liquidity crunch -- the kind the political elite's propagandists have have been telling me entitle a "too big to fail" company to receive perpetual government assistance?

In those cases, bankruptcy wouldn't suck up falsehoods, would it?

Comment author: gwern 03 February 2011 11:21:49PM 5 points [-]

No. But I think you* are guilty of affirming the consequent. If something is false, then it will end in bankruptcy - but that does not logically imply that everything ending in bankruptcy was false. So something true could still end in bankruptcy (for whatever reason, like a liquidity crunch).

* Or Carlyle, I suppose, but given the choice between accusing a famous thinker of an elementary fallacy and a quick off-the-cuff Internet comment, I'd rather accuse the latter.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 02 February 2011 11:03:39PM 3 points [-]

Well, I don't know. The sort of gun you had before modern precision machining, 4.2 would be good enough, maybe 4.3 at a pinch.

Comment author: CronoDAS 03 February 2011 07:25:10PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: gwern 01 February 2011 06:03:48PM 35 points [-]

"Programmers waste enormous amounts of time thinking about, or worrying about, the speed of noncritical parts of their programs, and these attempts at efficiency actually have a strong negative impact when debugging and maintenance are considered.
We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time; premature optimization is the root of all evil."

--Donald Knuth (see also Amdahl's law)

Comment author: CronoDAS 02 February 2011 11:53:38PM 6 points [-]

"The first rule of code optimization: Don't."

Comment author: sfb 02 February 2011 06:55:56PM 12 points [-]

A premature really powerful Optimization Process is the root of all future evil.

Comment author: imaxwell 04 February 2011 03:30:08PM 4 points [-]

I never thought of this quote outside the context of programming before reading it here, but it does seem pretty generally applicable. The force behind premature optimization is the force that causes me to spend so much time comparison shopping that the time lost eventually outvalues the price difference; or to fail to give money to charity at all because there may be a better charity to give it to. (I've recently started donating the dollar to Vague Good Cause at stores and restaurants when asked, because it's all well and good to say "SIAI is better," but that defense only works if I then actually give the dollar to SIAI.)

Comment author: MichaelGR 03 February 2011 02:51:58PM 32 points [-]

The Company that needs a new machine tool is already paying for it.

-old Warner & Swasey ad

Comment author: RichardKennaway 02 February 2011 01:07:05AM 92 points [-]

At home there was a game that all the parents played with their children. It was called, What Did You See? Mara was about Dann’s age when she was first called into her father’s room one evening, where he sat in his big carved and coloured chair. He said to her, ‘And now we are going to play a game. What was the thing you liked best today?’

At first she chattered: ‘I played with my cousin . . . I was out with Shera in the garden . . . I made a stone house.’ And then he had said, ‘Tell me about the house.’ And she said, ‘I made a house of the stones that come from the river bed.’ And he said, ‘Now tell me about the stones.’ And she said, ‘They were mostly smooth stones, but some were sharp and had different shapes.’ ‘Tell me what the stones looked like, what colour they were, what did they feel like.’

And by the time the game ended she knew why some stones were smooth and some sharp and why they were different colours, some cracked, some so small they were almost sand. She knew how rivers rolled stones along and how some of them came from far away. She knew that the river had once been twice as wide as it was now. There seemed no end to what she knew, and yet her father had not told her much, but kept asking questions so she found the answers in herself. Like, ‘Why do you think some stones are smooth and round and some still sharp?’ And she thought and replied, ‘Some have been in the water a long time, rubbing against other stones, and some have only just been broken off bigger stones.’ Every evening, either her father or her mother called her in for What Did You See? She loved it. During the day, playing outside or with her toys, alone or with other children, she found herself thinking, Now notice what you are doing, so you can tell them tonight what you saw.

She had thought that the game did not change; but then one evening she was there when her little brother was first asked, What Did You See? and she knew just how much the game had changed for her. Because now it was not just What Did You See? but: What were you thinking? What made you think that? Are you sure that thought is true?

When she became seven, not long ago, and it was time for school, she was in a room with about twenty children – all from her family or from the Big Family – and the teacher, her mother’s sister, said, ‘And now the game: What Did You See?’

Most of the children had played the game since they were tiny; but some had not, and they were pitied by the ones that had, for they did not notice much and were often silent when the others said, ‘I saw . . .’, whatever it was. Mara was at first upset that this game played with so many at once was simpler, more babyish, than when she was with her parents. It was like going right back to the earliest stages of the game: ‘What did you see?’ ‘I saw a bird.’ ‘What kind of a bird?’ ‘It was black and white and had a yellow beak.’ ‘What shape of beak? Why do you think the beak is shaped like that?’

Then she saw what she was supposed to be understanding: Why did one child see this and the other that? Why did it sometimes need several children to see everything about a stone or a bird or a person?

Doris Lessing, "Mara and Dann"

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 03 February 2011 11:38:09PM 27 points [-]

Just saw on reddit a perfect accidental metaphor: jakeredfield posted this in r/gaming:

For the people that have no played Portal yet, be warned, there may be spoilers up ahead for you.

So anyway, I am a huge fan of Portal, I love everything about the game. I bought it upon release and have played through it multiple times. My friends aren't as big of gamers as me so it took them some time to get their hands on Portal. My one friend didn't have a computer capable of running Portal so I let him play on mine.

I pulled up a chair besides him and eagerly watched him play then entire time. He loved the game. I expected him to. It's an awesome game. But here comes the WTF part...(SPOILERS AHEAD)

He go to the part at the last puzzle, right before GlaDOS tries to kill you in the fire. So then, my friend is like, "Oh, so it's one of those games where you die at the end. Haha, it was a good game." And then he immediately shuts it down. I just sat there. Shocked. In awe. I couldn't believe what I just saw. He turns to me and goes, "Good game, I'd play that again."

This is the part where I just hit him and yell, "IT WASN'T OVER YET!" He was so confused. He loaded it back up to that part and couldn't figure it out. I then pointed it out to him what he needed to do from there. He eventually fully finished the game.

Imagine what would have happened if I wasn't there? How many other people do you think only experienced the game up to this part, because they didn't have someone tell them?

What makes it even more perfect is this reply by Aleitheo:

So rather than try to see if he could live or even just die in the fire he turned off the game before he even saw the "ending"?

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 03 February 2011 11:41:18PM 10 points [-]

KanadianLogik adds:

[...] Imagine if you really were Chell, and just accepted your fate....

Comment author: Aryn 05 February 2011 07:14:58PM 2 points [-]

It's possible that if there were several copies of Chell, some of them did.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 04 February 2011 02:40:13PM 5 points [-]

Unfortunately, I think I saw somebody else play that section correctly before I played it myself. Still, if I had died, I would've come back at the last time I saved. That would've clued me in that I was supposed to survive, and I probably would've figured it out in one or two more tries tops.

Comment author: atucker 14 February 2011 03:34:24AM *  2 points [-]

I am going to shamelessly and totally steal this example for when talking about anti-deathism to anyone.

Seriously, thank you so much.

Comment author: billswift 01 February 2011 07:45:56PM 25 points [-]

Speed is not attained by hurrying; it is an unsought by-product of intelligent and continuous work.

-- Frederick Giesecke, et al, Technical Drawing, 8th ed

Comment author: gwern 01 February 2011 06:00:54PM 24 points [-]

"After solving a problem, humanity imagines that it finds in analogous solutions the key to all problems.
Every authentic solution brings in its wake a train of grotesque solutions."

--Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección, p. 430

Comment author: aausch 07 February 2011 04:25:37PM 18 points [-]

As they say in Discworld, we are trying to unravel the Mighty Infinite using a language which was designed to tell one another where the fresh fruit was.

-- Terry Pratchett

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 February 2011 04:42:36PM 6 points [-]

"Language is a drum on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the while we wish to move the stars to pity." -- Flaubert

Comment author: steven0461 06 February 2011 09:16:23PM 18 points [-]

Some in their discourse desire rather commendation of wit, in being able to hold all arguments, than of judgment, in discerning what is true; as if it were a praise to know what might be said, and not what should be thought.

Francis Bacon

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 February 2011 07:10:04PM 3 points [-]

I shall have to quote this a good deal more when dealing with people who chide me for not mentioning all the possible objections that philosophers consider to still be in play.

Comment author: David_Gerard 19 February 2011 08:21:32PM 1 point [-]

It doesn't help that undergraduate philosophy has rather a lot of enumerating the history of philosophical arguments regardless of quality.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 02 February 2011 11:31:14AM 51 points [-]

I will not procrastinate regarding any ritual granting immortality.

--Evil Overlord List #230

Comment author: purpleposeidon 04 February 2011 08:50:11AM 17 points [-]

The following reminded me of Arguments as Soldiers:

Statistics for the enemy. Anecdotes for the friend. -- Zach Weiner

I'm sorry to have not found his blog sooner.

Comment author: Kazuo_Thow 02 February 2011 06:05:08AM 17 points [-]

Apathy on the individual level translates into insanity at the mass level.

-- Douglas Hofstadter

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 February 2011 02:16:02PM 9 points [-]

Insanity will prevail when sane men do nothing? (Apologies to Edmund Burke)

Comment author: Kazuo_Thow 02 February 2011 05:54:54PM 3 points [-]

I think this adaptation is much more precise than the original.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 04 February 2011 06:56:10PM 3 points [-]

Not when apathy and insanity are correlated. See, e.g., The Myth of the Rational Voter

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 February 2011 12:10:49AM *  17 points [-]

Statistics is applied philosophy of science.

A. P. Dawid

Comment author: lukeprog 12 February 2011 03:30:48PM *  16 points [-]

If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible.

Paul Graham

Comment author: RichardKennaway 02 February 2011 01:41:35AM *  15 points [-]

People who have been living with serious problems for a long time find it hard to imagine that there's been a solution within their reach all along. For the short term, it's easier to go on putting up with the problem than it is to change one's expectations.

paulwl (quoted here)

ETA: I thought this had the smell of Usenet about it, and on Google Groups I found the original, written by one Alex Clark here. paulwl is actually the person he was replying to.

BTW, there's quite a bit of rationality (and irrationality) on that newsgroup on the subject of people looking for relationships (mostly men looking for women), from way back when. I don't know if 1996 predates the sort of PUA that has been talked about on LW.

Comment author: billswift 01 February 2011 07:55:18PM 14 points [-]

Too broad a viewpoint, too philosophical an outlook paralyzes the will.

-- Robert A Heinlein, Lost Legacy

Comment author: sketerpot 02 February 2011 05:01:00AM 17 points [-]

Go not to the elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.

-- Frodo Baggins, conveying one of the many wise sayings that Hobbits chuck around daily. The elf he was talking with thought it was hilarious, but refused to simply agree or disagree with it.

Comment author: mwengler 02 February 2011 08:12:58PM 4 points [-]

I prefer its negation: "Go to the elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes."

Comment author: endoself 08 February 2011 10:53:58AM *  13 points [-]

After finishing dinner, Sidney Morgenbesser decides to order dessert. The waitress tells him he has two choices: apple pie and blueberry pie. Sidney orders the apple pie. After a few minutes the waitress returns and says that they also have cherry pie at which point Morgenbesser says "In that case I'll have the blueberry pie."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independence_of_irrelevant_alternatives

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Morgenbesser

Comment author: Konkvistador 03 February 2011 08:35:54PM 13 points [-]

To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.

-Confucius

Comment author: MichaelGR 03 February 2011 02:51:43PM 13 points [-]

Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself.

-Chinese proverb

Comment author: sketerpot 03 February 2011 11:54:14PM 12 points [-]

Sometimes they only unlock the deadbolt, and you need a friend to help push open the door. Sometimes the door is on the top of a cliff, and you need to climb up the rope of Wikipedia to get there. And so on. A lot of people who are having trouble learning something are having trouble realizing what resources they have available.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 11 September 2011 09:26:46PM 8 points [-]

Its a bizarre feature of university life that it is very difficult to get students to take opportunities for help, even when they are obviously and explicitly provided.

Comment author: sketerpot 12 September 2011 04:55:01AM *  12 points [-]

And the reasons those students don't take opportunities for help tend to be embarrassingly pathetic. Like, so embarrassing that they avoid even thinking about it, because if they made their real reason explicit, they would be pained at how dumb it is. (I've done this sot of thing myself, more times than I'm comfortable with.)

For example, I discovered that a significant fraction of the students in a certain class were afraid to ask questions of the professor because they found him scary. Now, I know the professor in question, and he's a friendly person who wishes that his students would talk to him more -- but he has an abrupt, somewhat awkward way of speaking, and an eastern European accent. Such superficial details are apparently what leaves the biggest impression on most people.

Or there are the guys who get depressed and stop coming to class for a week or two, and then keep on not coming to class because they haven't been to class for a while, and it would be hard trying to get back up to speed. I really sympathize with these guys, but that doesn't make their reasoning any saner. (A fair number of them come in at the end of a semester to flunk their final exams. Damn it all, this is painful to watch.)

Or there are the people who won't read textbooks, or Wikipedia, or whatever, because they feel like everything ought to be covered in class well enough that they can just show up every day and get a good grade. I can not think of any good pedagogical reason why this should be so, and indeed, it usually isn't.

I could go on. There are plenty more examples. But instead I think I'll just paraphrase the not-actually-evil professor from eastern Europe. "These kids," he said. "They aren't resourceful because they have never had to be resourceful. They need more adversity in life. When I was their age, I had to bribe a local official just to get a dorm room."

Comment author: FiftyTwo 30 September 2011 05:18:38PM 5 points [-]

My experience of students here at [prominent UK university] is that they are very unwilling to ask for help because they have never needed to do so before, and so consider asking for help as a sign of weakness/low intelligence/low status.

This makes a certain amount of sense, the people who have been able to meet entry requirements are likely in the top percentile of their subject and been the best or nearly at their school. Generally this has been the result of either natural ability or brute force work (memorising equations and examples etc) rather than acting strategically and gaining study skills such as the ability to find new sources f information or ask for help. So they either despair at the seeming impossibility of their tasks, or spend increasingly large amounts of time brute forcing the work and burn out.

It takes a lot for people to understand that needing help doesn't mean you are stupid, but that the work is hard and its supposed to be hard.

Comment author: Swimmer963 30 September 2011 07:19:46PM 3 points [-]

Or there are the people who won't read textbooks, or Wikipedia, or whatever, because they feel like everything ought to be covered in class well enough that they can just show up every day and get a good grade. I can not think of any good pedagogical reason why this should be so, and indeed, it usually isn't.

I've often found that this is so. I do try to read my textbooks, at least the assigned readings, because...well, because you're supposed to, I guess. But for most of my first year classes (three anatomy courses, psych 101, microbiology) just going to class was enough. (I did of course take detailed notes, with colourful diagrams, and then study from my notes afterwards. I have now bequeathed my anatomy notes to a friend a couple of grades younger.) One possible reason why this is true for me is that I like biology-related subjects, and I've always read anything I could get my hands on, and so I arrived in university to find that I already knew at least 50% of the material.

Areas where this isn't true: English classes, history classes, etc, where there are a lot of required readings that cover material not covered in class, and where there are essays or papers to be written on material that isn't covered in class. And of course there's no rule that you can get good grades without reading textbooks. It just happens to be true sometimes, for some people.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 12 September 2011 09:35:43AM 3 points [-]

That's not "adversity", that's "solvable problems requiring initiative".

Comment author: benelliott 01 February 2011 08:28:48PM 13 points [-]

Admitting error clears the score and proves you wiser than before.

--Arthur Guiterman

Comment author: jimrandomh 02 February 2011 04:06:04AM 11 points [-]

Will_Newsome pointed out the caveat that it's only good to admit errors when actually in error. I'd add a second caveat, which is that most of the benefit from admitting an error is in the lessons learnt by retracing steps and finding where they went wrong. Each error has a specific cause - a doubt not investigated, a piece of evidence given too much or too little weight, or a bias triggered. I try to make myself stronger by identifying those causes, concretely envisioning what I should have done differently, and thinking of the reference classes where the same mistake might happen in the future.

Comment author: Pavitra 02 February 2011 07:25:42PM *  5 points [-]

The wording actually given in this quote avoids the problems discussed by Will_Newsome and jimrandomh: admitting error clears the score, resets it to zero. If you were wrong, this wipes out your negative score, for a net win; if you were right, it wipes out your positive score, setting you back.

Comment author: benelliott 03 February 2011 07:55:48PM 2 points [-]

if you were wrong, it wipes out your positive score, setting you back.

I think you meant to say right instead of wrong in this bit.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 02 February 2011 03:30:33AM *  3 points [-]

(Unless you weren't in error. Once you start awarding yourself internal karma for admitting that you were wrong, it becomes much easier to do so even when you weren't actually wrong. Of course, this is sidestepped with empiricism.)

Comment author: PhilGoetz 06 February 2011 06:34:56AM 12 points [-]

"But can people in desperate poverty be considered to be making free choices? Many say no. So, is the choice between starving and selling one’s kidney really a choice? Yes; an easy one. One of the options is awful. To forbid organ selling is to take away the better choice. If we choose to provide an even better option to the person that would be great – but it is no solution to the problem of poverty to take away what choices the poor do have absent outside help."

Katja Grace, on Metaeuphoric, Dying for a Donation

Comment author: Eneasz 03 February 2011 04:58:02AM 12 points [-]

At my mother's knee I learned to view religious worship as a practice which lures people away from their duties and pleasures on earth, and breeds in them a thirst for impossible things, the chasing of which can bring no honour or delight but only bewilderment, disappointment, and insanity.

  • K. J. Bishop, "The Etched City"

(a sentiment I think applies to all super-stimuli)

Comment author: gwern 07 February 2011 12:48:39AM 11 points [-]

"Nor let him [the ruler] ever believe that a state can always make safe choices; on the contrary, let him think that he must make only doubtful ones; because this is in the order of things, that one never tries to avoid one inconvenience without incurring another; but prudence consists of knowing how to recognize the kinds of inconveniences, and to take the least sad for good."

--Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

Comment author: DSimon 02 February 2011 06:20:47PM *  27 points [-]

Kräht der Hahn am Mist, ändert sich's Wetter oder es bleibt wie's ist.

-- Common German folk saying

Translates as "If the rooster crows on the manure pile, the weather will change or stay as it is." In other words, P(W|R) = P(W) when W is uncorrelated with R.

Comment author: DSimon 02 February 2011 06:26:12PM 31 points [-]

Another good one:

Ist's zu Sylvester hell und klar, ist am nächsten Tag Neujahr.

"If it's bright and clear on New Year's Eve, the next day will be New Year's."

Comment author: D_Alex 07 February 2011 07:14:28AM 8 points [-]

I'll chip in with this Russian saying:

"It is better to be rich and healthy than to be poor and sick!"

Comment author: Kutta 07 February 2011 09:43:12AM 8 points [-]

Woody Allen had a take on it too:

Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.

Comment author: bbleeker 09 February 2011 05:20:28PM 3 points [-]

Als het regent in mei, is april al voorbij. (If it rains in May, April is already past)

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 12 February 2011 09:35:31AM 8 points [-]

Heed a lesson from a successful practical propagandist. If you want to persuade people that a premise they unconsciously hold is wrong, do not give it a label they will perceive as insulting! If you do this, you make them reluctant to consciously accept that they hold the premise, which will make it more difficult to argue them out of it!

This rule does not hold for conscious premises. It can be effective to make insulting labels for those.

Eric S. Raymond

(This applies no less strongly to one's own brain.)

Comment author: cwillu 06 February 2011 03:00:12AM 8 points [-]

Since so many poker opponents often decide at whim, we need to do more than just strategically analyze their actions relative to what they should be doing. We need to watch and listen and determine what they are doing.

--Mike Caro, Caro's Book of Tells

Comment author: Nornagest 12 February 2011 01:27:05AM *  7 points [-]

On simpler solutions:

"But still you did not know the algorithm."

"Yes, but I had some idea that it was related to the Azure/Pufferfish algorithm, which in turn is related to the zeta functions that we studied at Princeton. So I just sat down and said to myself if Rudy were going to build the ultimate cryptosystem on this basis, and if Azure/Pufferfish is a simplified version of that system, then what is Arethusa? That gave me a handful of possibilities."

"And out of that handful you were able to pick the right one."

"No," Waterhouse says, "it was too hard. So I went to the church where Enoch was working, and looked through his wastebasket. "

Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 02 February 2011 01:19:25AM 7 points [-]

I think some time we should have an irrationality quotes thread, kind of in the "how not to" spirit.

Comment author: RobinZ 02 February 2011 01:47:55AM 11 points [-]

I think such a thread should include an expectation of deconstruction - "this is wrong and this is why".

Comment author: Alicorn 02 February 2011 01:28:55AM 8 points [-]
Comment author: Perplexed 03 February 2011 02:49:09PM *  8 points [-]

I don't think that thread serves the purpose RobinZ seems to have in mind. That one seems to be oriented at laughing at the theists, thus promoting ridicule of them and self-esteem for ourselves. It might instead be nice to have a thread of anti-rationality quotes devoted to advancing our rationality, rather than merely celebrating it.

One idea for doing this is to also use "anti- ground rules". Require that the anti-rationality quotes must come from LessWrong. You can quote only yourself or Eliezer. And, as RobinZ suggests, explain why the quotation exemplifies an error of rationality (one you have since recognized and corrected).

Do we make enough educational mistakes so that we can populate a thread with them? I suspect we do.

Comment author: ata 02 February 2011 01:29:52AM *  4 points [-]

We have one: http://lesswrong.com/lw/b0/antirationality_quotes/

Edit: Oops, Alicorn beat me by 57 seconds.

Comment author: DSimon 10 February 2011 08:20:54PM *  19 points [-]

You know in those stories where there's this immortal guy and they talk about how bored they are and how boring life is after 5000 years or whatever? I am going to call something.

I am going to call SHENANIGANS.

You know who writes those stories? MORTALS. Folks using some of their PRECIOUS, FINITE LIFE to write a made-up story in which an imaginary person keeps going on about how being immortal is actually sucky and how they're totes jealous that others get to die someday!

Ridiculous!

And kinda sad!

-- Today's Dinosaur Comic

Comment author: gwern 01 February 2011 05:52:07PM *  17 points [-]

"I submit that claims about God are of this latter sort. There’s simply no reason to take them more seriously than one does claims about witches or ghosts. The idea that one needs powerful philosophical theories to settle such issues I like to call the “philosophy fallacy.”

We will see that people are particularly prey to it in religious discussions, both theist and atheist alike; indeed, atheists often get trapped into doing far more, far riskier philosophy than they need."

--Georges Rey, "Meta-atheism: Religious Avowal as Self-deception" (2009)

(First version seen on http://www.strangedoctrines.com/2008/09/risky-philosophy.html but quote from an expanded paper.)

Comment author: ata 01 February 2011 08:25:38PM *  13 points [-]

It's true that the question of God's existence is epistemologically fairly trivial and doesn't require its own category of justifications, and it's also true that even many atheists don't seem to notice this. But even with that in mind, it almost never actually helps in convincing people to become atheists (most theists won't respond to a crash course in Bayesian epistemology and algorithmic information theory, but they sometimes respond to careful refutation of the real reasons they believe in God), which is probably why this point is often forgotten by people who spend a lot of time arguing for atheism.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 02 February 2011 03:29:10AM -2 points [-]

It's true that the question of God's existence is epistemologically fairly trivial and doesn't require its own category of justifications

It's really epistemologically difficult to find out what people mean by God in the first case; how then can it be epistemologically trivial to judge the merits of such a hypothesis?

Comment author: shokwave 02 February 2011 09:48:37AM 11 points [-]

Difficult to pin down within a range of trivial-to-judge positions.

Comment author: DSimon 02 February 2011 06:09:40PM 9 points [-]

If a given hypothesis is incoherent even to its strongest proponents, then it's not very meritorious. It's in "not even wrong" territory.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 09 February 2011 11:02:02AM *  0 points [-]

I strongly suspect that there is a lot of coherence among many different spiritualists' and theologians' conception of God, and I strongly suspect that most atheists have no idea what kind of God the more enlightened spiritualists are talking about, and are instead constructing a straw God made up of secondhand half-remembered Bible passages. In general I think LW is embarrassingly bad at steel-manning.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 06 February 2011 06:36:55AM 6 points [-]

"What happens when you combine organized religion and organized sports? I don’t know, but I suspect not much would change for either institution."

Scenes from a Multiverse

Comment author: sfb 02 February 2011 06:51:06PM *  6 points [-]

"Please don't hold anything back, and give me the facts" – Wen Jiabao, Chinese Premier (when meeting disgruntled people at the central complaints offices).

Comment author: Nic_Smith 02 February 2011 07:48:24AM 6 points [-]

People think of the future as something other people do, But there's something weirder about a society where people don't think about the future. -- Peter Thiel

Comment author: MichaelGR 03 February 2011 02:52:24PM 15 points [-]

Life is tough, but it's tougher if you're stupid.

-John Wayne, Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

Comment author: MichaelGR 03 February 2011 02:50:58PM 15 points [-]

History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

-Mark Twain

Comment author: atucker 02 February 2011 01:51:35AM 22 points [-]

Things are only impossible until they're not.

-- Jean-Luc Picard

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 February 2011 02:51:27AM 18 points [-]

Sometimes not even then.

Comment author: Konkvistador 02 February 2011 10:40:20PM 14 points [-]

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

-Charles Babbage

Comment author: gwern 02 February 2011 10:49:48PM 5 points [-]
Comment author: Nic_Smith 08 February 2011 07:34:43AM 5 points [-]

To be sure, science is also mistrusted by those who don't like its discoveries for religious, political, ethical, or even esthetic reasons. Some thoughtful people complain that science has erased enchantment from the world. They have a point. Miracles, magic, and other fascinating impossibilities are no long much encountered except in movies. But in the light shed by the best science and scientists, everything is fascinating, and the more so the more that is known of its reality. To science, not even the bark of a tree or a drop of pond water is dull or handful of dirt banal. They all arouse awe and wonder. -- Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead

Comment author: Tesseract 02 February 2011 08:34:56PM 5 points [-]

Increasingly each year the wild predictions of science-fiction writers are made tame by the daily papers.

Robert Heinlein

Comment author: sketerpot 03 February 2011 11:48:46PM *  3 points [-]

At one point, he quite audaciously predicted that the Soviet Union was headed for collapse. If he'd lived longer, he would have seen that his prediction should have been even crazier: not only did the Soviet Union fall apart, but it did so without starting a major war, or nuking any cities.

And don't even get me started on his books where we've got interstellar travel, guided by computers that are the size of a room but barely faster than someone with a slide rule.

Comment author: beriukay 02 February 2011 06:25:30PM 5 points [-]

[Humanity] had been the mere plaything of nature, when first it crept out of uncreative void into light; but thought brought forth power and knowledge; and, clad with these, the race of man assumed dignity and authority.

-- Mary Shelley, The Last Man

Comment author: Perplexed 01 February 2011 08:18:41PM 5 points [-]

One might expect self-improving systems to be highly unpredictable because the properties of the current version might change in the next version. Our analysis will instead show that self-improvement acts to create predictable regularities. It builds on the intellectual foundations of microeconomics, the science of preference and choice in the face of uncertainty. The basic theory was created by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern in 1944 for situations with objective uncertainty and was later extended by Savage and Anscombe and Aumann to situations with subjective uncertainty. Our analysis shows that while the preferences of self-improving systems will depend on their origins, they will act on those preferences in predictable ways. Repeated self-improvement brings intelligent agents closer to an ideal that economists sometimes call “Homo Economicus”. Ironically, human behavior is not well described by this ideal and the field of “behavioral economics” has emerged in recent years to study how humans actually behave. The classical economic theory is much more applicable to self-improving systems because they will discover and eliminate their own irrationalities in ways that humans cannot.

Steve Omohundro, "The Nature of Self-Improving Artificial Intelligence" 2007

Comment author: gwern 01 February 2011 11:40:20PM 3 points [-]

It's an interesting topic, but what exactly makes this a rationality quote?

Comment author: aausch 04 February 2011 10:05:08PM 13 points [-]

Some pirates achieved immortality by great deeds of cruelty or derring-do. Some achieved immortality by amassing great wealth. But the captain had long ago decided that he would, on the whole, prefer to achieve immortality by not dying

-- The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett

Comment author: NihilCredo 04 February 2011 10:40:21PM 5 points [-]

So that's where Woody Allen got it from.

Comment author: ata 04 February 2011 11:42:02PM 6 points [-]

I haven't been able to find the original source of the Woody Allen quote, but it seems "The Colour of Magic" was published in 1983, and Google Books finds some copies of the Woody Allen quote predating that.

Comment author: billswift 01 February 2011 07:29:20PM 13 points [-]

How emotionally entangled are you with your point of view? Test yourself - defend an opposing view, believing your life depends upon it.

-- Marc Stiegler, David's Sling

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 02 February 2011 11:38:24AM 4 points [-]

I keep seeing insightful bits from this book (for instance, here and somewhere else that I forget). Am I correct when I say it seems worth reading as rationalist fiction?

Comment author: Desrtopa 01 February 2011 08:40:59PM 6 points [-]

There seem to be separate failure conditions here though. You could fail because you're too emotionally invested in your view, or you could fail because you can spot the flaws in all the arguments for the opposing view. If your original view was actually right, then you're not at fault.

Since this can be hard to distinguish from motivated cognition, I think the exercise is questionably useful.

Comment author: Nornagest 01 February 2011 09:11:50PM *  5 points [-]

I don't think the point of the exercise is to successfully defend the opposing point of view but to make a good-faith attempt to come up with an argument for it without getting your original emotions involved. If you can conjure up a coherent argument for the opposing side (allowing for a slightly different set of priors), that's some evidence that you're looking at consequences rather than being strung along by motivated cognition. If you can't -- and this is pretty common -- that's good evidence that the opposing view has been reduced to a caricature in your mind.

It's a litmus test for color politics, in other words. Not a perfect one, but it doesn't have to be.

Comment author: MichaelGR 03 February 2011 02:53:17PM 12 points [-]

It has never mattered to me that thirty million people might think I'm wrong. The number of people who thought Hitler was right did not make him right... Why do you necessarily have to be wrong just because a few million people think you are?

-- Frank Zappa, quoted from The Real Frank Zappa Book

Comment author: kboon 03 February 2011 10:46:55AM 11 points [-]

We've all bought and enjoyed books called 'Optical Illusions'. We all love optical illusions. But that's not what they should call the book. They should call them 'Brain Failures'. Because that what it is: a complete failure of human perception. All it takes is a few clever sketches and our brains can't figure it out.

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson

Transcribed from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAD25s53wmE

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 03 February 2011 12:49:51PM 9 points [-]

They should call them 'Brain Failures'

Disagree, at least in some instances. Many of these are just results of optimizing for normal environment.

There is a theorem in machine learning (blanking on the name) that says any "learner" will have to be biased in some sense.

Comment author: fiddlemath 03 February 2011 02:01:58PM *  7 points [-]

There is a theorem in machine learning (blanking on the name) that says any "learner" will have to be biased in some sense.

The No Free Lunch Theorem.

Also, just because we can't expect to be free of bias doesn't mean that the bias is "proper functioning" of the hardware. An expected failure, perhaps, but still a failure.

</pedantry>

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 03 February 2011 02:12:25PM *  3 points [-]

I make a finer distinction of "failure" as something that's inefficient for it's clear purpose. E.g. Laryngeal nerve of the giraffe. Evolution will do that on occasion. Sensory interpretations that optical illusions are based on are often optimal for the environment, and are a complement to the power of evolution if anything. Viewing something that is optimal as a failure seems like wishful thinking (though I suspect this is more of a misunderstanding of neurobiology).

Comment author: fiddlemath 03 February 2011 02:51:55PM 2 points [-]

Viewing something that is optimal as a failure seems like wishful thinking.

Actually, that seems kind of fair. Something is a "failure to X" if it doesn't achieve X; something is a "failure" if it doesn't achieve some implicit goal. You can rhetorically relabel something a "failure" by changing the context.

Vision works well in our usual habitat, so we should expect it to break down in some corner cases that we can construct: agreed. For me to argue further would be to argue the meaning of "failure" in this context, when I'm pretty sure I actually agree with you on all of the substance of our posts.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 03 February 2011 04:07:33PM 2 points [-]

For me to argue further would be to argue the meaning of "failure" in this context, when I'm pretty sure I actually agree with you on all of the substance of our posts.

I really do not want to argue about semantics either, but our agreed interpretation makes Niel's statement equivalent to "our visual system is not optimal for non-ancestral environments", which is highly uninteresting. I think the Dawkin's larengyal nerve example is much more interesting in this sense, since it points out body designs do not come from a sane Creator, at least in some instances (which is enough for his point).

Comment author: AstroCJ 05 February 2011 01:36:31PM 3 points [-]

Since we do not live in the ancestral environment now, I think the quotation could be just underlining how we should viscerally know our brain is going to output sub-optimal crud given certain inputs. Upvoted original.

Comment author: Timwi 07 February 2011 03:12:39AM 2 points [-]

How do you define “illusion”? I think an illusion is a type of brain failure. An optical illusion is even more specific. Therefore, I think the term is wholly appropriate — and “brain failure”, while not at all inappropriate, is just unnecessarily vague.

Comment author: CronoDAS 03 February 2011 07:19:37PM 10 points [-]

Nothing in life is certain except death, taxes and the second law of thermodynamics. All three are processes in which useful or accessible forms of some quantity, such as energy or money, are transformed into useless, inaccessible forms of the same quantity. That is not to say that these three processes don't have fringe benefits: taxes pay for roads and schools; the second law of thermodynamics drives cars, computers and metabolism; and death, at the very least, opens up tenured faculty positions.

-- Seth Lloyd

Comment author: MartinB 04 February 2011 05:41:33AM 11 points [-]

I would like to get rid of one or two of them. Its painfull to see how often really inevitable things get confused with those that could at least in theory be dealt with.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 08 February 2011 02:17:54PM 2 points [-]

I read this as an argument against having taxes.

Comment author: gwern 01 February 2011 05:48:38PM *  9 points [-]

"Alas, how terrible is wisdom
when it brings no profit to the man that's wise!
This I knew well, but had forgotten it,
else I would not have come here."

--Teiresias to the unrelenting Oedipus, Oedipus the King 316-9, Sophocles

(Assigning a specific location to 'here' left as an exercise for the reader...)

Comment author: atucker 02 February 2011 03:06:00AM *  8 points [-]

Probable impossibilities are to be preferred to improbable possibilities.

-- Aristotle

Comment author: khafra 02 February 2011 02:32:19PM 16 points [-]

"Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible. The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks." -- Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

Comment author: Snowyowl 02 February 2011 08:36:52PM *  10 points [-]

In Dirk Gently's universe, a number of everyday events involve hypnotism, time travel, aliens, or some combination thereof. Dirk gets to the right answer by considering those possibilities, but we probably won't.

Comment author: DSimon 02 February 2011 06:07:10PM 3 points [-]

I love this quote, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't describe it as "rational".

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 02 February 2011 06:18:44PM 22 points [-]

I think we could modify our sense of it to mean that if you are down to having to accept a 0.01% probability, because you've excluded everything else, then it's probably better to go back over your logic and see if there's any place you've improperly limited your hypothesis space.

Several paradigm-changing theories introduced concepts that would have previously been thought impossible (like special relativity, or many-worlds interpretation)

Comment author: false_vacuum 04 February 2011 12:45:09AM 2 points [-]

I don't understand this one.

Comment author: Thomas 01 February 2011 10:45:33PM 18 points [-]

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Give a man a fishing rod and he'll sell it for a fish.

  • ???
Comment author: Kyre 03 February 2011 04:31:24AM 6 points [-]

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day

Teach a man to fish, feed him for around 15 years until his major fishery collapses into unprofitability.

Comment author: MartinB 02 February 2011 12:51:48AM 7 points [-]

That looks like a description of one problem with support of developing countries.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 02 February 2011 11:33:05AM *  12 points [-]

Make a man a fire and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

(Terry Pratchett, I think.)

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 02 February 2011 11:37:34AM 16 points [-]

I saw a creepy hospice volunteer search ad on the street a few days ago. It said something along the lines of "They will be grateful to you for the rest of their lives." Like an inappropriate joke.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 02 February 2011 11:40:59AM 6 points [-]

That's... disturbing, but also weirdly compelling.

Comment author: Alicorn 02 February 2011 12:40:49PM 10 points [-]

I think it's more elegant to say it like this: "Light a man a fire and he'll be warm for a day. Light a man afire and he'll be warm for the rest of his life."

Comment author: shokwave 02 February 2011 12:53:22PM *  2 points [-]

In text, yes. I said it aloud a few times and I couldn't tell the two apart easily. Maybe "light a man A fire / light a man ON fire"

Comment author: cousin_it 14 February 2011 04:42:48PM 7 points [-]

The astro-philosophers of Krull once succeeded in proving conclusively that all places are one place and that the distance between them is an illusion, and this news was an embarrassment to all thinking philosophers because it did not explain, among other things, signposts.

-- Terry Pratchett, "Sourcery"

Comment author: mwengler 02 February 2011 08:07:40PM 7 points [-]

"Paper clips are gregarious by nature, and solitary ones tend to look very, very depressed." - dwardu

Comment author: Quirinus_Quirrell 02 February 2011 02:10:03AM 10 points [-]

The world around us redounds with opportunities, explodes with opportunities, which nearly all folk ignore because it would require them to violate a habit of thought ... I cannot quite comprehend what goes through people's minds when they repeat the same failed strategy over and over, but apparently it is an astonishingly rare realization that you can try something else.

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky, putting words in my other copy's mouth

Comment author: gwern 02 February 2011 02:25:26AM 8 points [-]

Meta-comment: I think MoR quotes are legitimate for rationality quote pages, since IIRC we previously established that Eliezer quotes from Hacker News were kosher. And if random Eliezer comments not on OB/LW are kosher, then surely quotes from his fiction are kosher.

Comment author: Perplexed 03 February 2011 02:18:09PM 11 points [-]

surely quotes from his fiction are kosher.

I'm happy to see gems from HPMOR done up in needlepoint and hung on the metaphorical wall of the parlor. But it still smells like trayf! Consider:

Quirrell avoids the ban on quoting himself by attributing the quotation to Eliezer. And he then avoids the ban on quoting Eliezer by pointing out that Eliezer was quoting Quirrell. This is clever and slippery and rabbinical and all that, but it jumps the shark when you realize that Quirrell is not just Eliezer's HPMOR character, he is also probably his LW sock-puppet!

Comment author: orthonormal 05 February 2011 10:30:59PM 15 points [-]

Quirrell is not just Eliezer's HPMOR character, he is also probably his LW sock-puppet!

Oh, come on. It's obviously been the other way around all along.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 07 February 2011 12:18:20AM 2 points [-]

You simultaneously gave me the lolz and the shivers. Karma for you!

Comment author: gwern 03 February 2011 11:25:58PM 6 points [-]

I didn't know there was another antonym to kosher besides nonkosher. Interesting.

Anyway, I don't think Quirrel is Eliezer; if he is, then most of the usual reasons against self-quoting wouldn't apply anyway. (It's not like Eliezer needs more karma or higher profile here.)

Comment author: shokwave 02 February 2011 02:47:43AM 14 points [-]

I disagree. MoR fits the same criteria ("shooting fish in a barrel") as OB/LW.

Comment author: Robin 02 February 2011 06:13:52PM 6 points [-]

The same reign of terror that occurred under Robespierre and Hitler occurred back then in the fifties, as it occurs now. You must realize that there is very little actual courage in this world. It's pretty easy to bend people around. It doesn't take much to shut people up, it really doesn't. In the fifties all I had to do was call a guy up on the telephone and say, "Well, I think your wife would like to know about your mistress."

An upvote to the first person to identify the author of that quote.

Comment author: knb 02 February 2011 08:19:23PM 4 points [-]

Ronald DeWolf. The son of L. Ron Hubbard.

Comment author: SilasBarta 02 February 2011 07:17:25PM 4 points [-]

So, wait, was it that:

a) Most men worth influencing in the 50s had a mistress his wife didn't know about?

or that:

b) Most men worth influencing in the 50s understood that the guy calling him could persuade the wife that there was a mistress irrespective of whether there was really a mistress?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 February 2011 07:23:36PM 6 points [-]

Or perhaps that they believed they had a mistress, whether they did or didn't?

</joke>

Comment author: Robin 02 February 2011 11:01:04PM 2 points [-]

I don't know which it was.

But I'd say that you're seeing the trees, not the forest.

The major point of the quote was that there's a lack of courage in the world, the rest of the quote is just examples.

Comment author: SilasBarta 03 February 2011 12:12:12AM 3 points [-]

The courage to allow one's infidelity to be exposed (let alone falsely exposed) isn't what most people have in mind when they think of courage.

Comment author: Eneasz 02 February 2011 07:12:49PM 0 points [-]

I like the quote, but I downvoted. An upvote to the first person to identify why.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 02 February 2011 11:46:22PM 6 points [-]

Because of the "an upvote to whoever can identify the author"?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 February 2011 07:15:07PM 2 points [-]

Godwin's Law violation?

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 03 February 2011 03:53:30AM 7 points [-]

"A witty saying proves nothing" --Voltaire

Comment author: ata 03 February 2011 04:16:43AM 7 points [-]

That's been posted (a few times) before. Though it may be worth repeating.

Comment author: CronoDAS 03 February 2011 07:21:22PM 9 points [-]

Wise men create proverbs, and fools repeat them.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 03 February 2011 01:28:19AM *  7 points [-]

I appeal to the philosophers of all countries to unite and never again mention Heidegger or talk to another philosopher who defends Heidegger.

-Karl Popper

Comment author: JoshuaZ 03 February 2011 06:18:44AM 6 points [-]

I don't like this quote. It is amusing but not very rational. It is not rational to ignore arguments because they were made by an awful person. It also isn't rational even if one thinks that an argument or set of ideas is not worth thinking about to actively refuse to discuss those ideas, even if one thinks that the ideas aren't worth considering. The first part of the quote is marginally defensible if Popper is very sure that Heidegger's ideas are a waste of time. The second part of the quote, about refusing to talk to people who defend Heidegger makes about as much sense as a religion telling its adherents not to listen to some specific critic.

(That said, while I'm by no means an expert on this matter, my general opinion is that Heidegger is a waste of time.)

Comment author: shokwave 03 February 2011 08:35:01AM 14 points [-]

It is not rational to ignore arguments because they were made by an awful person.

In academic philosophy there is a tendency to refer to "Heidegger's arguments and positions" as simply "Heidegger". (This is true of all philosophers, not just Heidegger). Popper, of course, would have been familiar with this; when I read that quote I got the distinct impression of "Heidegger's arguments are hollow and his positions are indefensible; please can we agree on this and stop discussing them?"

Comment author: Sniffnoy 03 February 2011 06:29:06AM 6 points [-]

The second part of the quote, about refusing to talk to people who defend Heidegger makes about as much sense as a religion telling its adherents not to listen to some specific critic.

Relevant old LW post: Tolerate tolerance.

Comment author: David_Gerard 19 February 2011 08:12:43PM *  4 points [-]

Seibel: The way you contributed technically to the PTRAN project, it sounds like you had the big architectural picture of how the whole thing was going to work and could point out the bits that it wasn’t clear how they were going to work.

Allen: Right.

Seibel: Do you think that ability was something that you had early on, or did that develop over time?

Allen: I think it came partially out of growing up on a farm. If one looks at a lot of the interesting engineering things that happened in our field—in this era or a little earlier—an awful lot of them come from farm kids. I stumbled on this from some of the people that I worked with in the National Academy of Engineering—a whole bunch of these older men came from Midwestern farms. And they got very involved with designing rockets and other very engineering and systemy and hands-on kinds of things. I think that being involved with farms and nature, I had a great interest in, how does one fix things and how do things work?

Seibel: And a farm is a big system of inputs and outputs.

Allen: Right. And since it’s very close to nature, it has its own cycles, its own system that you can do nothing about. So one finds a place in it, and it’s a very comfortable one.

-- Turing Award-winning computer scientist Fran Allen interviewed in Peter Seibel's Coders At Work, p507

(This is a great book, by the way. I strongly recommend it to anyone whose work involves how computers do what they do.)

Comment author: Konkvistador 27 February 2011 03:21:30PM *  2 points [-]

Happily our civilization possesses two great advantages over past times : scientific knowledge and the scientific spirit. To us have been revealed secrets of life our forebears never knew. And to us has been vouchsafed a passion for truth such as the world has never seen. Other ages have sought truth from the lips of seers and prophets; our age seeks it from scientific proof. Other ages have had their saints and martyrs dauntless souls who clung to their faith with unshakable constancy. Yet our age has also its saints and martyrs heroes who can not only face death for their faith, but who can also scrap their faith when facts have proved it wrong.

--Lothrop Stoddard, The Revolt Against Civilization

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 26 February 2011 06:34:18AM 2 points [-]

Approximate quote: [You should] go in with a thesis, not a conclusion.

From a BBC program about the media and crime in Detroit. The context was the extent to which Detroit is over-reported as a high-crime city, and someone commented that the BBC had sent someone over for a reason, but they were actually looking at the situation instead of assuming they knew what they were going to see.

Comment author: Xom 03 February 2011 08:58:24PM *  6 points [-]

Opinions are like sex, you should change your positions if it feels wrong

~ garcia1000, Witchhunt game

Comment author: Jack 03 February 2011 11:08:42PM 20 points [-]

But unlike sex you shouldn't change positions just for fun and novelty.

Comment author: wnoise 04 February 2011 06:00:41AM *  1 point [-]

Depends on how useful you think the experience of being a devil's advocate is.

Comment author: AlexMennen 05 February 2011 05:49:28AM 6 points [-]

It would be more accurate to say that you should critically look over the evidence again if your position feels wrong. A belief can be justified by logic and still be at odds with intuition, making it still feel wrong. Example: There are compelling arguments that simulation hypothesis is at least somewhat likely to be correct. However, my intuition tells me that the simulation hypothesis is just plain false. I know that this is a subject that my intuition is poorly suited for, so I follow the logic and estimate a non-negligible chance of being in a simulation, despite it feeling wrong.

Comment author: sketerpot 02 March 2011 06:35:14AM 3 points [-]

"Meanness and stupidity are so closely related that anything you do to decrease one will probably also decrease the other."

--Paul Graham, here.

Comment author: lukeprog 21 February 2011 03:12:32AM 3 points [-]

"All this knowledge is giving me a raging brainer!"

Professor Farnsworth, Futurama

Comment author: billswift 01 February 2011 07:48:07PM *  4 points [-]

Pendarvis Theory of Technology: "..., it is my theory that everything wrong with everything is the fault of language teachers.

"If a child is taught that it is all right if you mis-spell a word occasionally, or don't always punctuate exactly correctly, then you are teaching that child that small mistakes are okay, as long as people know pretty well what is meant. I feel this is a dangerous attitude to foster in a highly technological society."

-- William Tuning, Fuzzy Bones

Comment author: mwengler 02 February 2011 08:14:22PM 17 points [-]

Better to teach the child the difference between programming a computer, proving a theorem, and writing an essay.

Comment author: Pavitra 02 February 2011 07:33:07PM 6 points [-]
Comment author: Wei_Dai 02 February 2011 07:55:40PM *  8 points [-]

That's true if the only benefit of proofreading is finding misspellings. But you should be proofreading to find errors of expression in general, and the optimal amount of proofreading for that may imply that you find and fix all misspellings.

Comment author: Thomas 09 February 2011 07:56:33PM 2 points [-]

Mr President, the Eagle has landed!

  • A note, left at Kennedy's grave.
Comment author: CronoDAS 02 February 2011 11:37:38PM 2 points [-]

[E]conomic statistics are a peculiarly boring sub-genre of science fiction; extremely useful, but not to be treated as absolute truth.

-- Paul Krugman

Comment author: Costanza 03 February 2011 12:46:23AM 4 points [-]

Speaking of peculiarly boring sub-genres of science fiction, I am told that Paul Krugman was once the best and most promising of the Jedi Masters of Economics. But somehow, the forces of the Sith seduced him to the dark side, and he has since become Darth Pundit the Mindkillingly Political.

In any case, if economic statistics are bad, let them be made better. For that matter, if they're very, very good, let them be made better still, and even then nobody should treat them as the absolute truth.

Comment author: gjm 12 September 2011 11:32:13AM 2 points [-]

He has certainly become political. It might be worth asking: Has he become any less accurate in the process? Another possibility would be that the positions taken up by the major political parties in the US at present are such that it's impossible to tell the truth about some subjects without being (perceived as) highly political.

(That's certainly happened often before. For extreme examples, consider cases where an important political movement is based on badly broken racial theories or on a specific religion.)

Comment author: paper-machine 12 September 2011 11:45:03AM *  2 points [-]

Has he become any less accurate in the process?

According to this study, he does okay, but I'm not impressed with their methodology. For some reason I can't copy/paste the relevant section of the PDF, but they discuss him explicitly on page 15. They looked at "a random sample" of his columns and television appearances (whatever that means) and found 17 predictions, of which 14 were right, 1 was wrong, and 1 was hedged.

Only 17 predictions? I thought we did science.

"He is, after all, a Nobel-prize winning economist."

Comment author: roland 06 February 2011 11:34:00PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 08 February 2011 11:39:14PM 1 point [-]

Whenever I’m about to do something, I think "would an idiot do that?" and if they would, I do not do that thing.

— Dwight Schrute ("The Office" Season 3, Episode 17 "Business School," written by Brent Forrester)

Comment author: Desrtopa 09 February 2011 02:02:18AM 6 points [-]

Sounds like reversed stupidity.

Comment author: RobinZ 11 February 2011 03:48:47AM 2 points [-]

It would be better to explain why that is a bad thing when you post statements such as that.

Comment author: wedrifid 11 February 2011 04:17:59AM *  2 points [-]

The 'least convenient possible world' might be relevant too. I translated the verbal self interrogation as something that would elicit responses along the lines of "would doing this thing distinguish one as an idiot?" In practice the question probably would be useful. In fact, in practice only an idiot would really reverse the stupidity of an idiot when asking that question of themselves. Breath, eat, etc.

Comment author: Robin 02 February 2011 06:13:11PM -1 points [-]

"Everything works by magick; science represents a small domain of magick where coincidences have a relatively high probability of occurrence."

Comment author: false_vacuum 04 February 2011 12:55:27AM 2 points [-]

Does this merely call attention to the high probability of the existence of unknown unknowns, or does it promote map-territory confusion?

Comment author: Robin 02 February 2011 06:15:02PM 0 points [-]

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but yourself can free your mind.

An upvote to the first person to correctly identify the first person to say that (the quote is often misattributed, you'll get a downvote if you identify the wrong author).

Comment author: Skatche 02 February 2011 11:21:00PM *  4 points [-]

We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind

Marcus Garvey. I think it works better in this longer form.

Comment author: gwern 02 February 2011 06:25:55PM *  2 points [-]

Bob Marley, although before I checked Google search, Books, and Scholar, I had expected to find it was by Epictetus. Oh well.

EDIT: In my defense, Garvey's original is not the same as the Bob Marley version which Robin presented. I think it's a little disingenuous to consider the Bob Marley version 'misattributed'.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 February 2011 10:53:31AM -1 points [-]

When we exhort people to Faith as a virtue, to the settled intention of continuing to believe certain things, we are not exhorting them to fight against reason. The intention of continuing to believe is required because, though Reason is divine, human reasoners are not. When once passion takes part in the game, the human reason, unassisted by Grace, has about as much chance of retaining its hold on truths already gained as a snowflake has of retaining its consistency in the mouth of a blast furnace.

C.S. Lewis, "Religion: Reality or Substitute?", in "Christian Reflections".