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Rationality Quotes: June 2011

4 Post author: Oscar_Cunningham 01 June 2011 08:17AM

Y'all know the rules:

  • 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.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 (470)

Comment author: Patrick 03 June 2011 02:13:04PM 38 points [-]

If a process is potentially good, but 90+% of the time smart and well-intentioned people screw it up, then it's a bad process. So they can only say it's the team's fault so many times before it's not really the team's fault.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 June 2011 09:58:59AM 26 points [-]

If you want to beat the market, you have to do something different from what everyone else is doing, and you have to be right.

David Bennett

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 12 June 2011 05:30:47PM 17 points [-]

The science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke remarked that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Clarke was referring to the fantastic inventions we might discover in the future or in our travels to advanced civilizations. However, the insight also applies to self-perception. When we turn our attention to our own minds, we are faced with trying to understand an unimaginably advanced technology. We can't possibly know (let alone keep track of) the tremendous number of mechanical influences on our behavior because we inhabit an extraordinarily complicated machine. So we develop a shorthand, a belief in the causal efficacy of our conscious thoughts. We believe in the magic of our own causal agency.

  • Daniel M. Wegner, The Illusion of Conscious Will
Comment author: adamisom 23 June 2011 06:04:08PM 1 point [-]

Of course. But I wonder what the word "we" is referring to in this sentence: "So WE develop a shorthand...". Didn't that strike anybody else?

Comment author: Manfred 24 June 2011 01:41:53AM 2 points [-]

Nobody here but us brains.

Comment author: servumtuum 06 June 2011 09:37:47PM 17 points [-]

The essence of wisdom is to remain suspicious of what you want to be true.

-Jon K. Hart

Comment author: Document 07 June 2011 12:18:38PM 5 points [-]

Without wanting to start a debate: that belief kept me in Mormonism for about two unnecessary years.

Comment author: MixedNuts 07 June 2011 12:26:32PM 13 points [-]

Okay, so the essence of wisdom is to be exactly as suspicious of everything as you should be, the first-pass approximation of wisdom is to remain suspicious of what you want to be true, and the second-pass approximation of wisdom is to be also suspicious of current beliefs you want to be untrue.

Comment author: servumtuum 08 June 2011 05:09:40AM 4 points [-]

MixedNuts, I take the quote as a mental "post-it note" reminder to be cognizant of the potential presence of confirmation bias-in both directions as you stated.

Comment author: phaedrus 02 June 2011 12:26:26AM 17 points [-]

‎"We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself." --Chris Mooney

Comment author: RobinZ 01 July 2011 05:32:10PM 2 points [-]

I just got that one. It's a remark on bias, isn't it?

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 08 June 2011 03:26:07PM *  16 points [-]

"Attack and absorb the data that attack produces!"

-Tylwyth Waff in Heretics of Dune

(Hi. I'm new.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 06 June 2011 01:21:30PM 16 points [-]

If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin. - Ivan Turgenev

Comment author: RichardKennaway 01 June 2011 11:08:54AM 16 points [-]

If you have ten minutes unscheduled and the phone isn't ringing, what do you do? What do you start?

Seth Godin

Comment author: RichardKennaway 01 June 2011 11:00:49AM 45 points [-]

If the fossil record shows more dinosaur footprints in one period than another, it does not necessarily mean that there were more dinosaurs -- it may be that there was more mud.

Elise E. Morse-Gagné

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 01 June 2011 08:20:21AM 59 points [-]

Just because you two are arguing, doesn't mean one of you is right.

Maurog: http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=14222

Comment author: chatquitevoit 24 June 2011 05:21:12PM *  4 points [-]

...or that both of you are wrong. Most times people argue, neither party actually has a fundamental grasp of their own position. If both did, it would either change the argument to an ENTIRELY different and more essential one, or dissolve it. And either of those options is of absolute gain for the participants.

Not that I can do anything about this aside from in my own actions, but it's annoying as hell sometimes.

Comment author: Pugovitz 07 June 2011 07:18:02PM 13 points [-]

"Try to learn something about everything and everything about something." ~Thomas H. Huxley

One of my favorite quotes; from the father of the word "agnostic."

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 07 June 2011 08:43:08AM 13 points [-]
Comment author: Miller 01 June 2011 11:52:54PM 58 points [-]

The megalomania of the genes does not mean that benevolence and cooperation cannot evolve, any more than the law of gravity proves that flight cannot evolve. It means only that benevolence, like flight, is a special state of affairs in need of an explanation, not something that just happens.

  • Pinker, The Blank Slate
Comment author: Antisuji 02 June 2011 05:41:47PM *  1 point [-]

The great thing about this quote for me is that when I read it I can hear Pinker's voice saying it in my mind.

Comment author: Alicorn 24 June 2011 01:22:42AM 12 points [-]

"People argue against the existence of spirits and immaterial souls because they can't be explained by science. But if by definition these things are outside the scope of science, then you can't use science to prove or disprove them."

"Do these spirits and souls actually affect anything in the real world?"


"Then they're within the scope of science."

"Okay, let's say they don't interact at all with the world."

"Then why do we care?!?!"

--Calamities of Nature

Comment author: beoShaffer 12 June 2011 08:53:58PM *  12 points [-]

Tom smiled. "Yes, Don't you like that idea?" "Liking it and having it be true aren't the same thing, Tom."

-Clive Barker, Abarat

Comment author: RobertLumley 02 June 2011 12:21:14AM 12 points [-]

"If in other sciences we should arrive at certainty without doubt and truth without error, it behooves us to place the foundations of knowledge in mathematics." – Roger Bacon

Comment author: James_K 02 June 2011 07:04:56PM 7 points [-]

It's even better when said by Leonard Nimoy.

Comment author: RobertLumley 02 June 2011 10:13:40PM 3 points [-]

Ah, so someone knows where I found this quote. :-)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 June 2011 02:16:06PM 11 points [-]

I see that I've quoted the following twice before within other comment threads, so I think it deserves a place here:

He who would be Pope must think of nothing else.

Usually cited as a Spanish proverb.

Comment author: beoShaffer 03 June 2011 12:40:04AM *  11 points [-]

quoted text The art of concluding from experience and observation consists in evaluating probabilities, in estimating if they are high or numerous enough to constitute proof. This type of calculation is more complicated and more difficult than one might think. It demands a great sagacity generally above the power of common people. The success of charlatans, sorcerors, and alchemists — and all those who abuse public credulity — is founded on errors in this type of calculation.

Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier, Rapport des commissaires chargés par le roi de l'examen du magnétisme animal (1784), as translated in "The Chain of Reason versus the Chain of Thumbs", Bully for Brontosaurus (1991) by Stephen Jay Gould, p. 195, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin

Comment author: jscn 02 June 2011 12:26:59AM 11 points [-]

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

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

Comment author: NihilCredo 01 June 2011 03:06:46PM *  49 points [-]

A little long, but I don't see the possibility of a good cut:

“Other men were stronger, faster, younger, why was Syrio Forel the best? I will tell you now.” He touched the tip of his little finger lightly to his eyelid. “The seeing, the true seeing, that is the heart of it.

“Hear me. The ships of Braavos sail as far as the winds blow, to lands strange and wonderful, and when they return their captains fetch queer animals to the Sealord’s menagerie. Such animals as you have never seen, striped horses, great spotted things with necks as long as stilts, hairy mouse-pigs as big as cows, stinging manticores, tigers that carry their cubs in a pouch, terrible walking lizards with scythes for claws. Syrio Forel has seen these things.

“On the day I am speaking of, the first sword was newly dead, and the Sealord sent for me. Many bravos had come to him, and as many had been sent away, none could say why. When I came into his presence, he was seated, and in his lap was a fat yellow cat. He told me that one of his captains had brought the beast to him, from an island beyond the sunrise. ‘Have you ever seen her like?’ he asked of me.

“And to him I said, ‘Each night in the alleys of Braavos I see a thousand like him,’ and the Sealord laughed, and that day I was named the first sword.”

Arya screwed up her face. “I don’t understand.”

Syrio clicked his teeth together. “The cat was an ordinary cat, no more. The others expected a fabulous beast, so that is what they saw. How large it was, they said. It was no larger than any other cat, only fat from indolence, for the Sealord fed it from his own table. What curious small ears, they said. Its ears had been chewed away in kitten fights. And it was plainly a tomcat, yet the Sealord said ‘her,’ and that is what the others saw. Are you hearing?”

Arya thought about it. “You saw what was there.”

“Just so. Opening your eyes is all that is needing. The heart lies and the head plays tricks with us, but the eyes see true. Look with your eyes. Hear with your ears. Taste with your mouth. Smell with your nose. Feel with your skin. Then comes the thinking, afterward, and in that way knowing the truth.”

- George R.R. Martin, "A Game of Thrones"

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 June 2011 09:08:56PM *  6 points [-]

What are the tigers with a pouch for their young? There seem to be no large carnivorous marsupials. A candidate is the marsupial lion (which is also striped), but it's been extinct for a while.

Edit: Ah, the thylacine ("Tasmanian wolf") was also known as the Tasmanian tiger. Yay for learning!

Comment author: brazzy 03 June 2011 09:18:14AM 7 points [-]

The quote is from a fantasy book. There are dragons in it...

Comment author: Alicorn 03 June 2011 05:36:26PM 6 points [-]

Yes, but "striped horses" have an obvious Earthly referent, and so it was not unreasonable to suppose that marsupial tigers might too (as indeed they have).

Comment author: MixedNuts 06 June 2011 06:37:17AM 2 points [-]

Yup. I don't know if that's what the terrible walking lizards are, or if they are that other kind of dragon of something in the same family.

Comment author: Alicorn 01 June 2011 09:10:05PM *  10 points [-]

Thylacines, maybe.

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 June 2011 03:49:29PM 11 points [-]

This is beautiful, and inspiring. In fact, I predict LW will do better if we have an introductory post consisting of this quote and "That's our goal. Come on in and let's work on that." (would probably cause copyrighty troucle).

It's not a pure illustration, though. Maybe the others thought "Huh, that's just a regular cat. But if I say that the king might ordered me killed in the kind of way people die in Martin books. Better kiss some ass.".

Comment author: Dorikka 02 June 2011 03:57:01AM 6 points [-]

It's not a pure illustration, though. Maybe the others thought "Huh, that's just a regular cat. But if I say that the king might ordered me killed in the kind of way people die in Martin books. Better kiss some ass.".

I agree that the existence of this factor makes whether someone announces that it's a normal cat a poor indication of whether they actually realized such. However, I think it's reasonable to hypothesize that Syrio was looking for someone who both recognized that he was holding a normal cat and was willing to tell him such.

Comment author: gwern 01 June 2011 08:34:20PM 2 points [-]

Hrm. How would one tell it was not female? Was it sitting on the king's lap in a rather unlikely fashion?

Comment author: NihilCredo 04 June 2011 06:10:54PM *  3 points [-]

I think the "plainly" meant that his jewels were in plain sight.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 June 2011 08:39:59PM 6 points [-]

Tomcats are usually stouter and more muscular, and have a more robust head shape? Also, they have pretty large and conspicuous balls.

Comment author: gwern 02 June 2011 12:06:02AM 3 points [-]

It's a large cat by stipulation.

Also, they have pretty large and conspicuous balls.

What, even when sitting nicely on someone's lap?

Comment author: taryneast 02 June 2011 12:33:11PM 5 points [-]

A large indolent cat is unlikely to actually sit on somebody's lap. In my experience they sprawl.

Comment author: Patrick 01 June 2011 01:47:26PM *  28 points [-]

I didn't do the engineering, and I didn't do the math, because I thought I understood what was going on and I thought I made a good rig. But I was wrong. I should have done it.

Jamie Hyneman

Comment author: sketerpot 03 June 2011 07:28:52PM *  12 points [-]

Of course, that depends on how costly failure is, compared to the up-front analysis that would make failure less likely. I don't know who said "Fail fast, fail cheap," but it's a good counterpoint quote.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 June 2011 01:25:20PM 26 points [-]

I cannot see that such inward convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists.

Charles Darwin

Comment author: roland 04 June 2011 05:28:05PM *  9 points [-]

This quote is from a passage where Darwin is talking about religion:

At present the most usual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from deep inward conviction and feelings which are experienced by most persons. But it cannot be doubted that Hindoos, Mahomadans and others might argue in the same manner and with equal force in favour of the existence of one God, or of many Gods, or as with the Buddhists of no God....

Formerly I was led by feelings such as those just referred to, (although I do not think that the religious sentiment was ever strongly developed in me), to the firm conviction of the existence of God, and of the immortality of the soul... ...This argument would be a valid one, if all men of all races had the same inward conviction of the existence of one God; but we know this is very far from being the case. Therefore I cannot see that such inward convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists....

Source: http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/faith_vs_reason_debate.html

Comment author: Nick_Roy 01 June 2011 06:25:51PM 22 points [-]

The whole universe sat there, open to the man who could make the right decisions.

Frank Herbert, "Dune"

Comment author: CSalmon 04 June 2011 01:26:27AM 21 points [-]

Rin: What are clouds? I always thought they were thoughts of the sky or something like that. Because you can't touch them.

[ . . . ]

Hisao: Clouds are water. Evaporated water. You know they say that almost all of the water in the world will at some point of its existence be a part of a cloud. Every drop of tears and blood and sweat that comes out of you, it'll be a cloud. All the water inside your body too, it goes up there some time after you die. It might take a while though.

Rin: Your explanation is better than any of mine.

Hisao: Because it's true.

Rin: That must be it.

Katawa Shoujo

Comment author: sketerpot 04 June 2011 10:21:29PM 7 points [-]

For those who are interested: Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel currently in beta, which you can freely download on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.

Comment author: gwern 07 June 2011 04:04:29PM 2 points [-]

You know, when I first heard about Katawa Shoujo, I was horrified. (Struck a little too close to home.) But if the rest of the writing is on par with that, I might have to play it.

Comment author: sketerpot 07 June 2011 08:27:43PM *  3 points [-]

The writing isn't all shining gems of dialogue, but it's solidly entertaining, and not nearly as horrifying as the premise might make it sound. The various disabilities are treated more as inconvenient body quirks, rather than defining features; the characters are defined by their personalities and actions. If Katawa Shoujo has a message, that's it.

Anyway, I got a few very enjoyable hours out of it.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 26 June 2011 01:26:06PM 7 points [-]

"Everyone thinks himself the master pattern of human nature; and by this, as on a touchstone, he tests all others. Behavior that does not square with his is false and artificial. What brutish stupidity!” -- Montaigne

Comment author: Document 10 July 2011 09:34:13PM 3 points [-]

"Man, what a pretentious quote. I'm filing it under typical mind fallac-- oh, yeah."

Comment author: MichaelGR 02 June 2011 06:35:34PM 7 points [-]

The way to maximize outcome is to concentrate on the process.

-Seth Klarman, letter to shareholders

Comment author: Thomas 18 June 2011 08:46:31AM 19 points [-]

Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.

  • Laurence J. Peter
Comment author: jasonmcdowell 01 June 2011 09:23:48PM *  29 points [-]

I wish there was no illness, I don't care if an old doctor starves.

Loā Hô, a Taiwanese physician and poet.

Comment author: gwern 07 June 2011 03:59:54PM 10 points [-]

What I really like about this quote is that I'm fairly sure the 'old doctor' is himself.

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 June 2011 09:37:14PM 23 points [-]

I care. If illness is abolished and a doctor of any age is starving, they can stay at my place and I'll feed them. Alternately, we could raise taxes slightly to finance government-mandated programs for training and reconversion of young doctors and early retirement for old doctors.

In other words: beware of though-mindedly accepting bad consequences of overall good policies. Look for a superior alternative first.

Comment author: SilasBarta 01 June 2011 10:01:56PM *  23 points [-]

I agree. Unfortunately, the way it actually works is, "No, we can't allow your universal cure -- the AMA/[your country's MD association] is upset."

"No, we can't accept your free widgets -- that would cost our widgetmakers major sales."

"No, I don't want you to work for me for free -- that would put domestic servants out of jobs."

"No, I don't want to marry you -- that would hurt the income of local prostitutes."

"No, I don't want your solar radiation -- that would put our light and heat industries out of business."

Edit: Even better: "No, I don't want you to be my friend -- what about my therapist's loss of revenue?"

Comment author: wedrifid 01 June 2011 10:55:38PM *  16 points [-]

"No, I don't want to marry you -- that would hurt the income of local prostitutes."

That is a brilliant line. Now I'm trying to work out how to create a circumstance in which to use it.

Comment author: NihilCredo 04 June 2011 06:18:47PM 4 points [-]

The worst thing about how frequenting prostitutes is no longer socially acceptable, even for males, is that there are so many quips and jokes that just don't work any more.

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 June 2011 10:10:59PM 1 point [-]

IRL it's the pharmaceutic labs that block it, not the docs.

That's one of the reasons why you try to mitigate bad side effects: so that people who'll suffer on net from the efffects will STFU.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 03 June 2011 11:12:51AM 6 points [-]

IAWYC. One quibble:

we could raise taxes slightly to finance government-mandated programs for...early retirement for old doctors.

If illness is abolished, what's the point of retirement?

Comment author: NihilCredo 04 June 2011 06:20:08PM *  5 points [-]

To keep dusky sports pubs in business, of course.

Comment author: endoself 01 June 2011 09:42:29PM *  3 points [-]

That can be a danger, but I think starvation is an obvious enough problem that people won't take this literally.

Comment author: Document 01 June 2011 09:44:04PM *  4 points [-]

Starvation is an illness. (Or food dependency if you prefer.)

Comment author: Alicorn 01 June 2011 10:27:55PM 16 points [-]
Comment author: Document 13 July 2011 05:31:58PM 1 point [-]

SMBC #2305 is another, more cynical instance of the false dichotomy.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 June 2011 03:58:08PM *  37 points [-]

The bulk of political discourse today is purposefully playing telephone with facts in ways that couldn't be done in the Information Age if people just had the know-how to check for themselves. Comprehending complex sentences is something that can be done by first grade, and comprehending complex concepts and issues is without a doubt something better learned in math than in English, where one learns to obfuscate concepts and issues, and to play to baser emotions. Granted, one also learns to recognize and to defend against these tactics, but it still can't hold a candle to the "mental gymnastics" referenced above. Do you realize what the world looks like if you've got a background in math? Imagine signs reading DANGER: KEEP OUT are planted everywhere, but people purposefully and proudly ignore them, treating it as laughably eccentric to have learned more than half the alphabet, approaching en masse and dragging you with them.

~From the Math It Just Bugs Me page, TV Tropes

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 02 June 2011 09:27:21PM 26 points [-]

If you want to know the way nature works, we looked at it, carefully... that's the way it looks! You don't like it... go somewhere else! To another universe! Where the rules are simpler, philosophically more pleasing, more psychologically easy. I can't help it! OK! If I'm going to tell you honestly what the world looks like to the human beings who have struggled as hard as they can to understand it, I can only tell you what it looks like. And I cannot make it any simpler, I'm not going to do this, I'm not going to simplify it, and I'm not going to fake it. I'm not going to tell you it's something like a ball bearing inside a spring, it isn't. So I'm going to tell you what it really is like, and if you don't like it, that's too bad.

— Richard Feynman, the QED Lectures at the University of Auckland

Comment author: gwern 07 June 2011 04:01:26PM 25 points [-]

Reminds me of a Schneier quote that I like:

'Every time I write about the impossibility of effectively protecting digital files on a general-purpose computer, I get responses from people decrying the death of copyright.

"How will authors and artists get paid for their work?" they ask me.

Truth be told, I don't know. I feel rather like the physicist who just explained relativity to a group of would-be interstellar travelers, only to be asked: "How do you expect us to get to the stars, then?"

I'm sorry, but I don't know that, either.'

"Protecting Copyright in the Digital World", Bruce Schneier http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-0108.html#7

Comment author: MichaelGR 02 June 2011 06:36:26PM 17 points [-]

"The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war."

--WSJ article about Navy SEALs

Comment author: khafra 03 June 2011 01:12:07PM 3 points [-]

I wonder how many other people on LW heard this quote first while in the process of sweating in training; and how many other military aphorisms could be repurposed this way.

Comment author: simplyeric 03 June 2011 03:26:20PM 0 points [-]

It's an interesting point but exceedingly simplistic, more so these days than ever before.
What about "the more you think in training", or "the more you learn in training"? Don't get me wrong, I'm not denying the value of sweat (excerise, fitness, etc), I'm just saying it's not even close to the whole equation.

Comment author: MarkMk1 03 June 2011 05:30:14PM 12 points [-]

Actually I think the full formula is "sweat saves blood, but brains save both". That's as rlevant today as when it was first used, which was in the British Army, around the time of the Crimean War. I think. I wasn't there.

Comment author: bcoburn 03 June 2011 05:34:10PM 5 points [-]

"Sweat" here is a standin for generic effort, whether it's actual physical sweat or not depends on what exactly you're training for.

Comment author: homunq 28 June 2011 11:16:17PM 6 points [-]

I am quite prepared to be told, with regard to the cases I have here proposed, as I have already been told with regard to others, "Oh, that is an extreme case, it would never really happen!" Now I have observed that the answer is always given instantly, with perfect confidence, and without examination of the details of the proposed case. It must therefore rest on some general principle: the mental process being probably something like this — 'I have formed a theory. This case contradicts my theory. Therefore this is an extreme case, and would never occur in practice'.

-Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), relating to the possibility of strategically-induced Condorcet cycles in elections.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 June 2011 06:38:57PM *  6 points [-]

"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance — that principle is contempt prior to investigation."

attribution unknown

I may have posted a little too fast-- I picked up the quote from a site which says it's a misquotation, and apt to be used to support dubious ideas.

On the other hand, contempt can come into play too quickly and reflexively, so I'm not deleting the quote.

Comment author: MixedNuts 11 June 2011 09:18:09PM 1 point [-]

Is this the absurdity heuristic, or a superset? If the later, what else is in the set? Maybe moral absurdity, and affiliation with outgroups (in particular, first encountering the idea during a heated debate or from someone lower-status than you).

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 08 June 2011 10:00:01PM 16 points [-]

"Three-fourths of philosophy and literature is the talk of people trying to convince themselves that they really like the cage they were tricked into entering."

-- Gary Snyder (bOING bOING #9, 1992)

I don't have a strong feeling about the accuracy of the percentage, but the general point sounds plausible.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 June 2011 12:34:21AM 23 points [-]

In the study of reliable processes for arriving at belief, philosophers will become technologically obsolescent. They will be replaced by cognitive and computer scientists, workers in artificial intelligence, and others.

Robert Nozick, The Nature of Rationality

If you haven't read this book yet, do so. It is basically LessWrongism circa 1993.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 June 2011 09:57:43AM 14 points [-]

A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.

-- Kahlil Gibran

Comment author: MichaelGR 02 June 2011 06:37:39PM 32 points [-]

"At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: “You don’t understand. This is a jobs program.” To which Milton replied: “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.”

-Milton Friedman story

Comment author: James_K 02 June 2011 07:07:42PM 6 points [-]

For the record, I'm pretty sure this story is apocryphal, though that doesn't take away from it's value as a rationality quote.

Comment author: Document 08 June 2011 12:53:19AM 5 points [-]

Seems like more of a libertarianism quote to me.

Comment author: MichaelGR 08 June 2011 05:29:12PM 5 points [-]

It can be that, but I think it also illustrate the importance of understanding people's real goals and intentions and not assuming that they are what they appear to be at first glance.

Comment author: brazzy 03 June 2011 09:09:01AM 25 points [-]

A few points come to mind:

  • Presumably they also wanted a canal and there may well be an optimum point where you maximize some sort of combined utility
  • Jobs programs, even those that create nothing particularly useful, are about giving people a sense of worth and accomplishment, otherwise you could just hand out money. Obviously futile make-work activities like the one suggested achieve the opposite of that and are, indeed, often deliberately used to punish and humiliate people.
Comment author: Mercy 06 June 2011 11:51:22PM *  10 points [-]

"They" is the tricky bit there. Presumably some people wanted a canal, and some people other people wanted jobs, and for that matter presumably some people wanted money to go to the construction company who've got an opening for a government liaison consultant coming up in five years time. There's little reason to think the equilibrium is welfare maximising.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 26 June 2011 07:31:03AM *  7 points [-]

Probably, but Brazzy's explanation without adding all those other variables fits well enough to show why Milton's statement might have been missing something important. The point of a jobs program is that society pays some cost (of not using the most optimal method, i.e. more machines and fewer workers) in order to keep its members out of the unemployment trap. To propose, even as a deliberate reductio ad absurdum, that this would go just as well with spoons rather than shovels is not rationality, it's Spock-logic.

Now I'm quite willing to suppose that he understood the usefulness of such programs as an economist and overall had good reasons to see them as not worth it, or that some other measure would do better, but that particular quote fails to show it.

Comment author: chatquitevoit 24 June 2011 05:29:30PM 5 points [-]

"Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."

  • 1984, George Orwell (although I really shouldn't have to attribute this one)

Probably my favorite statement on rationality, it's so practical for launching off into every other sphere of thought - politics, ethics, theology, maths/physics, and, well, all else that follows.

Comment author: soreff 17 June 2011 12:28:39AM 5 points [-]

"Does it work?" is actually a much more important question than "Should it work?"

  • Druin Burch, "Blood Sports: Does a popular performance-enhancing subterfuge actually work" in Natural History 6/11/2011
Comment author: [deleted] 07 June 2011 12:49:07PM *  5 points [-]

Math is cumulative. Even Wiles and Perelman had to stand on the lemma-encrusted shoulders of giants.

Scott Aaronson, "Ten Signs a Claimed Mathematical Breakthrough is Wrong", which is worth reading in its own right.

Comment author: Patrick 07 June 2011 03:45:19AM 13 points [-]

If things are nice there is probably a good reason why they are nice: and if you do not know at least one reason for this good fortune, then you still have work to do.

Richard Askey

Comment author: RobertLumley 02 June 2011 12:19:35AM 13 points [-]

"There always comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two plus two equals four is punished with death … And the issue is not a matter of what reward or what punishment will be the outcome of that reasoning. The issue is simply whether or not two plus two equals four." – Albert Camus, The Plague

Comment author: advancedatheist 01 June 2011 08:13:16PM *  19 points [-]

From Space Viking, by H. Beam Piper:

"Young man," Harkaman reproved, "the conversation was between Lord Trask and myself. And when somebody makes a statement you don't understand, don't tell him he's crazy. Ask him what he means. What do you mean, Lord Trask?"



Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 September 2011 09:53:03AM 2 points [-]

Space Viking has got to be one of the leading "way more rational than its title sounds like" books out there. I wonder if Piper actually named it that or if it was some bright-eyed publisher.

Comment author: CharlesR 06 June 2011 01:09:01AM 12 points [-]

Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons.

-- Michael Shermer

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 06 June 2011 10:23:16PM 15 points [-]

Sometimes smart people believe weird things because they're actually, y'know, true.

Comment author: MixedNuts 06 June 2011 03:42:28PM 8 points [-]

The same Shermer who publicly recognizes that his widely-repeated "this is your brain on cryonics" is crap but won't even post a half-hearted correction? Yes. Yes they do.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 05 June 2011 02:40:05AM 17 points [-]

No man has wit enough to reason with a fool.

Proyas (fictional character - author: R. Scott Bakker)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 September 2011 09:57:56AM 17 points [-]

<mental model of Michael Vassar says>This strikes me as a nerdism. If you don't find less intelligent people easier to manipulate, you must be working on sympathetic models of them instead of causal ones. I expect that experience would cure this, and after a few months of empirical practice and updating on the task of reasoning with fools, you would find it was actually easier to get them to do whatever you wanted - if you could manage to actually try a lot of different things and notice what worked, instead of being incredulous and indignant at their apparent reasoning errors.</Vassar>

Comment author: Yvain 02 September 2011 10:36:34AM 14 points [-]

Upvoted the original for reference to Prince of Nothing series. And upvoted this comment for the terms "sympathetic model" and "causal model", which is one of those times that having the right word for a concept you've been trying to understand is worth a month of trying to untangle things in your head.

...although now I'm not sure whether I should upvote Eliezer or Michael Vassar. It seems kind of unfair to deny Michael an upvote just because the specific instantiation of his algorithm that said this happened to be running on Eliezer's brain at the time.

Comment author: thomblake 02 September 2011 01:37:13PM 2 points [-]

having the right word for a concept you've been trying to understand is worth a month of trying to untangle things in your head

On a related note, it's a programming cliche that 90% of development time is trying to think up the right names for things.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 02 September 2011 09:01:24PM 9 points [-]

I agree with the Vassar-homonculus, but I took as the point that "reasoning with" may be the wrong tool - not that reasonable practice will fail to suggest the most effective hooks for manipulating the unreasonable fool.

Comment author: lessdazed 02 September 2011 09:39:41PM 11 points [-]

I agree. The quote wasn't "No man has wit enough to manipulate a fool."

Comment author: lessdazed 02 September 2011 10:13:59AM 3 points [-]

do whatever you wanted

Not for the reasons wanted.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 02 September 2011 09:04:12PM 1 point [-]

Also a great addition to a psychological-thriller villain: he not only insists on compliance, but for the "right" reasons.

Comment author: lessdazed 02 September 2011 09:15:43PM 1 point [-]

Which will be explained to the hero in due course while he is caught in the villain's trap, with escape impossible. Impossible I say!

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 02 September 2011 09:37:06PM 2 points [-]

But there is no independent existence of hero's personality apart from their mind, so the hero doesn't just have the memes designed by the villain, the hero is villain's memes.

Comment author: Solvent 02 September 2011 10:17:24AM -1 points [-]

My new goal in life is having Eliezer Yudkowsky respect me enough that he makes comments like this for me.

Comment author: loqi 01 June 2011 06:54:15PM 15 points [-]

If you can't think intuitively, you may be able to verify specific factual claims, but you certainly can't think about history.

Well, maybe we can't think about history. Intuition is unreliable. Just because you want to think intelligently about something doesn't mean it's possible to do so.

Jewish Atheist, in reply to Mencius Moldbug

Comment author: CuSithBell 02 June 2011 07:51:48PM 4 points [-]

I would think this an irrationality quote? "Fuzzy" thinking skills are ridiculously important. "Intuition" may be somewhat unreliable, but in certain domains and under certain conditions, it can be - verifiably - a very powerful method.

Comment author: shokwave 06 June 2011 03:42:50PM 2 points [-]

I took as being rationality in the sense that it follows the form: "just because you want to action x does not mean that action x is possible", which is always a good reminder.

Comment author: CuSithBell 09 June 2011 03:02:43PM 2 points [-]

That's so, but it's also true that just because you're personally not good at X, that does not mean that X is impossible or worthless.

Comment author: Will_Euler 12 June 2011 08:47:50PM *  8 points [-]

"When he is confronted by the necessity for a decision, even one which may be trivial from a normal standpoint, the obsessive-compulsive person will typically attempt to reach a solution by invoking some rule, principle, or external requirement which might, with some degree of plausibility, provide a "right" answer....If he can find some principle or external requirement which plausibly applies to the situation at hand, the necessity for a decision disappears as such; that is, it becomes transformed into the purely technical problem of applying the correct principle. Thus, if he can remember that it is always sensible to go to the cheapest movie, or "logical" to go to the closest, or good to go to the most educational, the problem resolves to a technical one, simply finding which is the most educational, the closest, or such. In an effort to find such requirements and principles, he will invoke morality, "logic," social custom, and propriety, the rules of "normal" behavior (especially if he is a psychiatric patient), and so on. In short he will try to figure out what he "should" do.

-David Shapiro, Neurotic Styles

Comment author: MixedNuts 13 June 2011 08:47:42PM 2 points [-]

Please post anything there might be on how to deal with that. I'm exactly like that, and my rules often break down and then I'm unable to decide.

I've known someone else like that. She made rules about food because it made it easier to decide what to eat.

Could you also post the cites on why "obsessive-compulsive"? Neither I nor the other person have an OCD diagnosis or seem to match the criteria. Any OCD LWers want to chip in?

Comment author: MattFisher 23 June 2011 02:16:44PM *  2 points [-]

I try to avoid over-optimising on considered principles. I am willing to accept less-than-optimal outcomes based on the criteria I actually consider because those deficits are more often than not compensated by reduced thinking time, reduced anxiety, and unexpected results (eg the movie turning out to be much better or worse than expected).

'Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart' indicates most decisions are actually made by considering a single course of action, and taking it unless there is some unacceptable problem with it. What really surprised the researchers was that this often does better than linear recursion and stacks up respectably against Bayesian reasoning.

So my answer is, "make random selections from the menu until you hit something you're willing to eat." :)

Comment author: Will_Euler 14 June 2011 06:28:07PM *  2 points [-]

This quote was written in 1965 by a psychoanalyst, so I don't even know if they had the same diagnostic criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that they do today. He's talking about "styles" of behavior. Based on a little searching, it seems to me that a preoccupation with rules is characteristic of what is called Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. As is so often the case, there's a broad spectrum from quirky behavior to personality disorder.

What makes it a disorder is if it is interferring with your enjoyment of life. It is irrational to choose according to arbitrary rules when doing so makes you miss out on outcomes that are preferable but require you going outside of your rules.

A little searching on the Internet says the treatment for the disorder is talk therapy. It's possible that could work.

I would say first of all you have to recognize when living according to rules is making your life better and when living based on rules is boxing you in. Having rules can make decisions easier, but it can make you miss out on a lot of life. Seek feedback from friends and family members about areas in which you might be too rigid. Make sure you tell them you really want honest feedback. Then take baby steps to break out of routines. Doing so will also build your courage.

Accept that it's OK to make mistakes. Failure is a great source of learning. If you have an attitude that says, "I am going to make mistakes," then you might not feel so much anxiety about making a less-than-optimal choice. (I recommend the book The Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben-Shahar. I learned a lot about avoiding perfectionism from that book.)

You might find that something like an improv comedy class makes you more spontaneous and able to see how rules for behavior aren't as fixed as you might think they are. People get by and thrive by doing things totally differently from how you do, and you might like a different way better, if you gave yourself the chance.

Try something that you wouldn't have ever thought you'd do before. See how it doesn't feel that bad. (Again, you might start small: browse through the section of the bookstore where you would normally never be caught dead.)

Be courageous. Be spontaneous. Have fun.

Comment author: MixedNuts 15 June 2011 06:36:36AM 1 point [-]

The problem is not to muster the courage to break rules, it's to decide what to do when you don't have relevant rules.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 15 June 2011 10:20:28AM 1 point [-]

"She made rules about food because it made it easier to decide what to eat" - This actually works for such a person? Interesting, I think a lot of people have the opposite problem. I wish I found it easy to follow my own rules.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 15 June 2011 10:31:42AM 2 points [-]

Tentative hypothesis: some people start with the intention of making rules they'd want to follow, and others don't. The first set might find themselves with a rule they don't follow, but the second assuredly will.

This goes beyond the temperamental difference between people who find rules a reassuring way of limiting choices and those who find rules an irritant at best.

How much care do you put into crafting your rules?

Comment author: chatquitevoit 24 June 2011 05:02:55PM 1 point [-]

This is a valid attempt to deal with conflicting stimuli from the world - to create standards to which you adhere consciously because you don't trust your intuitions to motivate you rationally in the environment with which you must interact. And really, such attention is partially what it means to be conscious/human - to audit your actions 'from the outside' instead of merely reacting. And with today's bizarre and skewed 'food environment', as it were, this becomes VERY necessary, especially for people with a predilection for analyzing their own behavior even in such supposedly mundane (but really fundamental) things as food consumption.

Comment author: MixedNuts 17 June 2011 09:17:18AM 1 point [-]

The rules were supposed to approximate her actual tastes, but more rigid and outright made up when she was unsure if she liked something. I don't think it would work if she suddenly decided she disliked peanut butter.

Comment author: MixedNuts 06 June 2011 03:17:18PM 11 points [-]

When shall we cross ourselves?

Whenever we are about to perform a good deed, or when we see or feel that we might commit a sin.

  • Carlos Gimenez, Barrio (Context: children in a religious institution are answering catechism questions)

This sounds like a great way to prime yourself. Crossing yourself has all the wrong connotations, but a gesture meaning "I choose good." should help in general. (I like the fist-over-heart Battlestar Galactica salute.)

Having a whole set of gestures, along with pithy quotes, should prove even more effective.

Comment author: Leonhart 06 June 2011 11:08:22PM *  11 points [-]

Their insignia was a hand poised with fingers ready to snap.

ETA: Or is that reserved for "I choose whatever they aren't expecting"?

Comment author: Unnamed 01 June 2011 07:11:09PM 27 points [-]

Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.


Comment author: Dorikka 02 June 2011 04:04:49AM 3 points [-]

This is confusing. Does your use of violence change your intended destination, or does it just exert certain optimization pressures on future world-states, as do all of your other actions?

Comment author: brazzy 03 June 2011 09:34:26AM 5 points [-]

Read the (long) linked-to article from which the quote stems. Basically the point is that using violence to achieve a goal teaches the people involved that violence is an effective, legitimate way to achieve goals - and at some later point they will invariably have conflicting goals.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 June 2011 10:47:46AM 5 points [-]

See also: Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 02 June 2011 06:58:49PM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure there's a useful distinction between those two options. Your future selves are part of the future world-states that it's exerting pressure on, and not exempt from that pressure.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 June 2011 11:01:42PM *  13 points [-]

If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.

Including such destinations as "Not being the unwilling sex toy of the big bald guy while in prison". Although if you also don't use 'fraud' you may find yourself not in jail in the first place - but it's not always so simple. It also leads you to the destination "still having your food, possessions, dignity and social status in your schoolyard despite having no control of whether you wish to be subject to that environment".

Comment author: Unnamed 02 June 2011 04:15:37AM 22 points [-]

I didn't read the quote as a blanket opposition to violence. It's a warning about one thing to consider before you choose violence.

I also didn't read the quote as only being about violence. It also makes a more general point about means and ends. When you're considering an action in pursuit of a goal, you should consider the action in its own right and try to predict where it is likely to lead. Don't settle on an action just because it seems to fit with the goal. This is especially relevant when you consider using violence, coercion, manipulation, or dishonesty for a noble purpose, but it also applies more generally.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 02 June 2011 03:02:19AM 7 points [-]

Of course, sometimes one is prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to. The quote seems to already acknowledge this possibility.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 June 2011 05:10:07AM 3 points [-]

The quote seems to already acknowledge this possibility.

It does, hence allowing for me to phrase the counterpoint within the quote's own framework.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 01 June 2011 09:53:44PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: fubarobfusco 02 June 2011 02:15:58AM 7 points [-]

That lesson is pretty frequently homeschooled, sad to say.

Comment author: Thomas 04 June 2011 10:59:24AM 7 points [-]

We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.

  • George Orwell / saw on Discovery Channel
Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 04 June 2011 08:21:10PM 7 points [-]

From wikiquote

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

Alternative: "We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us."

In his 1945 "Notes on Nationalism", Orwell claimed that the statement, "Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf" was a "grossly obvious" fact.

Notes: allegedly said by George Orwell although there is no evidence that Orwell ever wrote or uttered either of these versions of this idea. They do bear some similarity to comments made in an essay that Orwell wrote on Rudyard Kipling, when quoting from one of his poems. Orwell did write, in his essay on Kipling, that the latter's "grasp of function, of who protects whom, is very sound. He sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them." (1942)

Comment author: Morendil 02 September 2011 11:00:00AM 3 points [-]

It’s not exactly a 'he said she said' argument. It’s a 'top experts on the subject predict significant methane emissions from melting permafrost, but some guy on my blog says they must be wrong' argument.

-- John Baez on Melting Permafrost

Comment author: gwern 14 June 2011 01:51:08AM *  3 points [-]
"...I thank my fortune for it,
My ventures are not in one bottom trusted,
Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate
Upon the fortune of this present year:
Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad."

--Antonio, The Merchant of Venice, Act 1 Scene 1. I have found this quote coming to mind recently apropos the recent Bitcoin price swings.

Comment author: EvelynM 14 June 2011 03:17:13PM 9 points [-]

"Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind." Bertrand Russell

Comment author: RobertLumley 02 June 2011 12:19:11AM 6 points [-]

I'm new to LW (Well, I've been reading Eliezer's posts in order, and am somewhere in 2008 right now, but I haven't read many of the recent posts) so these may have been posted before. But quote collecting is a hobby of mine and I couldn't pass it up.

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." – Albert Einstein

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 June 2011 12:56:14AM *  12 points [-]

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

I very much dislike Einstein quotes that have nothing to do with physics or mathematics. You don't have to be an Einstein to know a false dichotomy when you see one. What about living your life as if some things are miracles and some things aren't like most people who have ever lived? Surely, if most people have done it, then it is possible.

Also, welcome to Less Wrong.

Comment author: RobertLumley 02 June 2011 01:07:21AM 10 points [-]

Well for what it's worth, I don't think he means it literally. Or at least so exactly. My interpretation is that he is saying that you must accept a rational basis and explanation for everything, or believe that nothing can be explained - you must accept that the laws of physics apply to every one and everything, and that there are no mysterious phenomena, or you must deny the laws of physics and believe everything is mystical.

And thanks, it's a great blog. I've learned so much reading Eliezer's work. Well, perhaps learned isn't the best word. Realized may be more appropriate.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 03 June 2011 12:41:43AM 3 points [-]

Thank you for laying out that interpretation. I thought for years (perhaps because of the first context I saw it in) that it presented a choice between seeing the beauty in everything or not seeing it anywhere. Your interpretation makes much more sense.

Comment author: Desrtopa 02 June 2011 03:01:04PM 2 points [-]

Many, perhaps most people, appear to believe in separate magisteria of ordinary, explainable things, and unassailable supernatural mysteries.

Comment author: RobertLumley 02 June 2011 10:14:20PM 2 points [-]

But that doesn't make it rational to live that way...

Comment author: Desrtopa 02 June 2011 11:07:58PM 3 points [-]

True, but he didn't say there were only two rational ways of looking at the world.

I don't think the interpretation you gave is what he meant, anyway. Based on his writings about his own religious beliefs, Einstein would almost certainly have categorized himself as being one who saw everything as miraculous. Just because we accept that something is real and follows the same rules as all other known real things doesn't mean we can't have a sense of wonder over it.

Comment author: summerstay 15 June 2011 10:26:02PM 1 point [-]

I think he's saying that there are only two ways to live consistent with the world as it is, and they are identical except that the second includes the sense of awe or wonder. It's a miracle (a wonder, unexplained) that anything exists at all. Religion that believes only some things are miracles is not either of the ways he supports.

Comment author: dvasya 01 June 2011 05:42:14PM *  6 points [-]

Future possibilities will often resemble today's fiction, just as robots, spaceships, and computers resemble yesterday's fiction. How could it be otherwise? Dramatic new technologies sound like science fiction because science fiction authors, despite their frequent fantasies, aren't blind and have a professional interest in the area.


This may seem too good to be true, but nature (as usual) has not set her limits based on human feelings.

K. Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation Chapter 6

Comment author: gjm 01 June 2011 05:54:54PM 6 points [-]

When I read the first sentence quoted above, I assumed it was intended ironically.

Robots, spaceships and computers resemble yesterday's fiction? Hardly, except in so far as their fictional counterparts resemble the robots, spaceships and computers already in existence when the fiction was written. (And, to a lesser extent, in so far as people making new robots, spaceships and computers are inspired by the science fiction they've read.)

Comment author: fubarobfusco 02 June 2011 02:27:12AM 15 points [-]

Heinlein's spaceships relied on human beings doing orbital calculations on slide-rules and calling out orders to one another to direct the ship — "Brennschluss!" — to avoid disaster. Today, there are serious projects to move ground automobiles out of direct human control as a safety measure.

Asimov's robots, and the renegade computers on Star Trek, dealt with conflicting evidence so poorly that they could be permanently broken by receiving malicious data. Today's software engineers would call that a denial-of-service attack or "query of death", and fix it.

The real world has much higher standards for safety and reliability than fiction does!

Comment author: orthonormal 02 June 2011 10:14:07PM 6 points [-]

Or, to look at it less derisively, fiction needs its computer bugs and exploits to have simple narrative explanations.

Comment author: advancedatheist 01 June 2011 08:29:02PM 4 points [-]

Murray Leinster, who had a few patents to his name, anticipated the web and increasingly capable search engines in his visionary story, published in 1946, titled " A Logic Named Joe."

Comment author: Pavitra 01 June 2011 10:42:10PM 9 points [-]

You have to cherry-pick examples to make seeming correlations like that work. If, say, a particular author had several such coincidences, then that might be different, but as far as I can tell, for the most part science fiction predicts science in about the same way that fortune cookies predict lottery numbers.

Comment author: taryneast 02 June 2011 12:44:13PM 3 points [-]

If, say, a particular author had several such coincidences

Jules Verne

Comment author: Pavitra 03 June 2011 12:41:23AM 4 points [-]

Verne is a fairly strong example. He was reasonably popular in his time, so he didn't become famous only because of correlation-in-hindsight. We might ask whether he's an outlier or just the tail of the bell curve, but I strongly suspect that what actually happened was that later engineers were consciously influenced by his fictional designs, much like with William Gibson and the modern Internet.

This suggests that fiction-future correlation is largely determined by technical plausibility, which in turn suggests that we may be able to predict in advance which science-fiction predictions are most likely to come true. However, it occurs to me that we do a lot of this last already on this website (cryonics, uploading, nanotech, AI, computronium, ...) so I'm not sure if this quite counts as an "advance" strength of the theory.

(Other predicted technologies I don't remember seeing so much around here: Dyson spheres, space elevators, ... hm. Not that many, actually. Augmented reality and bionic implants are likely only transitional, but will probably have at least a few years of massive popularity at some point.)

Comment author: taryneast 04 June 2011 08:07:30AM *  3 points [-]

Dyson spheres are unlikely. They use too much physical matter to create. Ringworlds are slightly more likely.

Space elevators are awesome though. We should do that :)

Still waiting on the ability to grow nanotubes long enough, though... we're getting there. We can build them long enough to turn into thread - but proper long-filament nanotubes are the only thing (that we know of so far) that will be strong enough for the elevator ribbon.

Comment author: dvasya 09 June 2011 05:10:38PM 3 points [-]

'Dyson sphere' is a very broad term encompassing several distinct types of design, including very light ones.

Space elevator is awesome, but there exist much more clever alternative designs that have substantially lower requirements for material strength, as well as geographical positioning - this is also a huge issue with the original space elevator design. It is a beautiful idea, but that doesn't mean we should cling to it and ignore all other proposals :)

Comment author: chatquitevoit 24 June 2011 05:24:42PM 1 point [-]

The most feasible iteration of a Dyson sphere would probably be the least dense, which would have great influence on the ways they could be used, and that makes them less likely because they are less commercially useful. Still, it could happen.

Comment author: taryneast 27 June 2011 09:56:16AM 1 point [-]

Ok - I hadn't seen any info on that kind. Yes I agree, it could happen - though I suspect that by the time we get to the stage where we could - we'll probably have invented something even cooler/useful :)

Comment author: TrE 03 June 2011 06:40:00AM 8 points [-]

Teach a man to reason, and he'll think for a lifetime.

-- Phil Plait

Comment author: Patrick 04 June 2011 12:43:39PM 9 points [-]

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

Bruce Lee

Comment author: MixedNuts 06 June 2011 01:39:24PM 5 points [-]
Comment author: MarkusRamikin 15 June 2011 03:47:25PM 8 points [-]

Noooot the same thing.

Comment author: Owen_Richardson 10 June 2011 11:37:49PM 5 points [-]

"Ahh, there's no such thing as mysterious."

~Strong Bad, from sbemail 140 (Probably not originally intended in a rationalist sense.)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 01 June 2011 11:16:43AM 4 points [-]

One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one's greatest efforts.

Unsourced; attributed to Albert Einstein.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 June 2011 11:35:51AM 13 points [-]

Or, I could work out what I want and achieve that? There is even a time to focus on a goal over another purely because it is easier.

Comment author: cousin_it 25 June 2011 10:31:35PM 6 points [-]

When I try to learn stuff, I sometimes get good results from the opposite approach: instead of doing the hardest thing, do the easiest thing that counts as progress. In other words, instead of grabbing the highest rung I can reach, I grab the rung I can reach comfortably. Then I take my time to absolutely conquer that rung with perfect technique and control, doing many many repetitions. Then move on to the next.

Advantages of this approach: it's easier, less jerky and more methodical, I can spare attention for ironing out any mistakes in the basics... And most importantly, it feels like I have more "momentum". When my workouts or training sessions look like this, random events are much less likely to derail my schedule of leveling up.

Comment author: simplyeric 06 June 2011 05:57:50PM 5 points [-]

This doesn't seem rational. One must develop an instinct for what one really needs to/wants to/should achieve, and judge whether maximium effort (which I assume would be required to achieve the barely-achievable) is worth the return on that investment.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 June 2011 06:47:42PM 1 point [-]

If you're not putting in maximum effort, you're leaving utility on the table.

Comment author: simplyeric 07 June 2011 05:46:12PM 3 points [-]

But if you put out maximum effort, you can leave longevity and/or quality on the table. Silverbacks, pitchers, office workers, day-to-day-life, running, eating... Short term maximum effort might detract from long-term maximum utility. The cost/benefits analysis is at times subjective. "Utility" can mean different things to different people. "Utility", as I interpret in a Rationalist context has a very specific almost "economic" meaning. But you can choose to reduce effort and not push the envelop, and go home, have dinner, relax, and enjoy your life. Some people might refer to that as utility, others as low hanging fruit, still others as a healthy balance.

Comment author: darius 01 June 2011 08:59:19AM 5 points [-]

O shame to men! Devil with devil damned / Firm concord holds; men only disagree / Of creatures rational

-- Milton, Paradise Lost: not on Aumann agreement, alas

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 June 2011 09:25:23AM 8 points [-]

Yeah, but humans only exist of creatures rational.

Comment author: sgeek 02 June 2011 09:56:48PM 6 points [-]

We're working on that.

Comment author: dvasya 01 June 2011 05:28:39PM *  7 points [-]

Sorry for length, but this a nice sketch on the role of rationality in science :)

A glossary for research reports

Scientific term (Actual meaning)

It has long been known that. . . . (I haven’t bothered to look up the original reference)

. . . of great theoretical and practical importance (. . . interesting to me)

While it has not been possible to provide definite answers to these questions . . . (The experiments didn’t work out, but I figured I could at least get a publication out of it)

The W-Pb system was chosen as especially suitable to show the predicted behaviour. . . . (The fellow in the next lab had some already made up)

High-purity || Very high purity || Extremely high purity || Super-purity || Spectroscopically pure . . . (Composition unknown except for the exaggerated claims of the supplier)

A fiducial reference line . . . (A scratch)

Three of the samples were chosen for detailed study . . . (The results on the others didn’t make sense and were ignored)

. . . accidentally strained during mounting (. . . dropped on the floor)

. . . handled with extreme care throughout the experiments (. . . not dropped on the floor)

Typical results are shown . . . (The best results are shown)

Although some detail has been lost in reproduction, it is clear from the original micrograph that . . . (It is impossible to tell from the micrograph)

Presumably at longer times . . . (I didn’t take time to find out)

The agreement with the predicted curve is excellent (fair) || good (poor) || satisfactory (doubtful) || fair (imaginary) || . . as good as could be expected (non-existent)

These results will be reported at a later date (I might possibly get around to this sometime)

The most reliable values are those of Jones (He was a student of mine)

It is suggested that || It is believed that || It may be that . . . (I think)

It is generally believed that . . . (A couple of other guys think so too)

It might be argued that . . . (I have such a good answer to this objection that I shall now raise it)

It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding . . . (I don’t understand it)

Unfortunately, a quantitative theory to account for these effects has not been formulated (Neither does anybody else)

Correct within an order of magnitude (Wrong)

It is to be hoped that this work will stimulate further work in the field (This paper isn’t very good, but neither are any of the others in this miserable subject)

Thanks are due to Joe Glotz for assistance with the experiments and to John Doe for valuable discussions (Glotz did the work and Doe explained what it meant)

C. D. Graham, Jr., Metal. Progress 71, 75 (1957) (actual source)

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 June 2011 08:47:06PM 8 points [-]

Funny, but I don't think it is the criticism of science it seems to be. Some items just point out that papers are formal, like

It is suggested that || It is believed that || It may be that . . . (I think)

Yeah, that's what it means. What's your point? (Well, it is useful at face value for people who don't understand formal language, but it's not trying to be.)

Others look like criticism but aren't, like

. . . accidentally strained during mounting (. . . dropped on the floor)

Yes, it's an amusing way of phrasing it, but there's noting wrong with the fact or with the phrasing - the meaning gets across!

Some do show scientists obfuscating problems, like

Typical results are shown . . . (The best results are shown)

but none of them are new. It has long been known that scientists tend to ignore negative results and the like. The most reliable values are those of Ben Goldacre.


Correct within an order of magnitude (Wrong)

Is just plain correct within an order of magnitude. If I compute the mass of the sun from a weight of a rock in my hands and the shadows of two sticks, being correct within an order of magnitude is incredibly precise.

Comment author: dvasya 02 June 2011 03:44:58PM *  1 point [-]

I don't think this was intended as a criticism of science... ;)

Comment author: Apprentice 03 June 2011 02:07:41PM 2 points [-]

It might be argued that . . . (I have such a good answer to this objection that I shall now raise it)

My favorite - I do this all the time.

It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding . . . (I don’t understand it)

Yeah, this one's familiar too. There's a long-ass section in my thesis that basically ends with this. So much data - so little sense.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 July 2011 06:36:57AM 3 points [-]

“It seems that those who legislate and administer and write about social policy can tolerate any increase in actual suffering so long as the system does not explicitly permit it.”

-Charles Murray

Comment author: Nornagest 02 July 2011 07:47:46AM 3 points [-]

This reads as a little applause-lighty for my taste, to be honest. It's really easy to claim that the arbiters of social policy are blind to actual suffering, and not much harder to spin that into an appeal for your particular ideology, which by virtue of its construction or unusual purity or definition of "actual suffering" of course doesn't have these problems.

If a quote on policy would be equally at home heading a libertarian or a socialist or an anarcho-primitivist blog, does it really constrain our anticipations about policy to any meaningful extent?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 July 2011 02:50:47PM *  4 points [-]

If a quote on policy would be equally at home heading a libertarian or a socialist or an anarcho-primitivist blog, does it really constrain our anticipations about policy to any meaningful extent?

I read it as cautioning us to resist the temptation to unquestioningly accept nice sounding policy as good policy.

Also any quotes that couldn't be read as potentially applicable by a large swath of the political spectrum might trigger blue-green tribalism feelings and kind of defeat the spirit of the no mind killer rule.

Comment author: gjm 02 September 2011 10:46:33AM 2 points [-]

The point isn't to constrain our anticipations about policy; it's to constrain our anticipations about policy-makers. To get actual policy anticipation-control, you need to apply it in a specific context where you know more about the sort of policy the people in question would favour if they (openly) didn't care about actual suffering.

Comment author: RobertLumley 02 June 2011 12:20:54AM 3 points [-]

“Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think.” – Jean de la Bruyère

Comment author: chatquitevoit 24 June 2011 05:18:09PM 4 points [-]

And what does this make it for those of us who do both?

Comment author: wedrifid 01 June 2011 10:15:24AM *  2 points [-]

Verberationes continuabunt dum animus melior fit. ("The beatings will continue until morale improves")

(My presentation of the quote constitutes an assertion that there is an insight here useful for navigating the world of tribal politics, hence the relevance.)

Comment author: bogus 01 June 2011 10:54:01AM *  2 points [-]

Politics are, as it were, the market place and the price mechanism of all social demands - though there is no guarantee that a just price will be struck; and there is nothing spontaneous about politics- it depends on deliberate and continuous activity.

--Bernard Crick

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 June 2011 12:51:59AM 1 point [-]

What is a "social demand"? By what method could we determine how much of a good is "socially demanded"?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 02 June 2011 02:37:57AM 1 point [-]

Justice, for instance. Can one person be reliably counted upon to measure how much justice he or she has received? Probably not. But political processes do work out various means for delivering more or less justice. These means appear to have something to do with the demands of various people. The market analogy is of course not perfect.

Comment author: Aryn 02 June 2011 09:00:02AM 5 points [-]

Justice, at least the way I've heard it used, is very much revenge without the stigma.

Comment author: brazzy 03 June 2011 10:17:55AM 5 points [-]

Criminal justice only if you tune out the rehabilitation aspect. Civil justice only if you tune out everything except punitive damages (which don't exist in many jurisdictions).

Comment author: Theist 04 June 2011 04:44:49AM 5 points [-]

There is a lot to be gained by delegating to a central authority the responsibility of maintaining a credible threat of retaliation.

Comment author: rlsmith 02 June 2011 02:52:41PM 1 point [-]

"Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness."

--George Santayana, Quoted by Carl Sagan in Contact, Chapter 14 "Harmonic Oscillator", page 231

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 June 2011 01:00:21PM *  11 points [-]


What, in this metaphor, corresponds to fidelity and happiness in the way that skepticism corresponds to chastity? Is Santayana's idea that we should search long for The Answer, but having found it, we should turn off our skepticism, stop thinking, and sink into the warm fuzzies of faith? It reminds me of the sea squirt that eats its own brain when it has found a comfortable spot to live and no longer needs it.

Comment author: Eneasz 02 June 2011 10:41:03PM 8 points [-]

Interestingly, I really like this quote about skepticism, even though I strongly dislike its fetishization of sexual inexperience.

Comment author: knb 05 June 2011 09:52:00AM *  5 points [-]

How is it a fetish and not a legitimate personal value? And the part relevant to skepticism seems totally off to me. We should never sacrifice skepticism for "fidelity" to an idea.

Comment author: Document 03 June 2011 05:27:47AM *  0 points [-]

<dentist> children are scum
<dentist> can't we figure out a way to get rid of kids but keep the human race alive
<dentist> we need to get on that shit

-- QDB, on immortalism

Comment author: sketerpot 03 June 2011 08:02:11PM *  19 points [-]

Man, that site is a funny time sink. Not the best source of rationality quotes, but there are a few that sort of count.

Greatgreen: I'm going to fail :(

NumberGuy: think positively

Greatgreen: I'm going to fail :)

Comment author: Endovior 24 June 2011 10:24:38PM 1 point [-]

Faith is not enough, for faith is blind by nature. Life needs insight. It is the dead, and the dying, that allow themselves to be led.

--Eve Online: Chronicles

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 15 June 2011 07:15:38AM 1 point [-]

Now that's the general solution to a problem that all the programmers in the world are out there inventing for you, the general solution, and nobody has the general problem.