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Rationality Quotes July 2011

2 Post author: Normal_Anomaly 03 July 2011 06:41AM

Here's the new quotes thread.


  • 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.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 (145)

Comment author: Bongo 04 July 2011 04:25:00PM *  70 points [-]

The tautological emptiness of a Master's Wisdom is exemplified in the inherent stupidity of proverbs. Let us engage in a mental experiment by way of trying to construct proverbial wisdom out of the relationship between terrestrial life, its pleasures, and its Beyond. If ones says, "Forget about the afterlife, about the Elsewhere, seize the day, enjoy life fully here and now, it's the only life you've got!" it sounds deep. If one says exactly the opposite ("Do not get trapped in the illusory and vain pleasures of earthly life; money, power, and passions are all destined to vanish into thin air - think about eternity!"), it also sounds deep. If one combines the two sides ("Bring Eternity into your everyday life, live your life on this earth as if it is already permeated by Eternity!"), we get another profound thought. Needless to add, the same goes for it's inversion: "Do not try in vain to bring together Eternity and your terrestrial life, accept humbly that you are forever split between Heaven and Earth!" If, finally, one simply gets perplexed by all these reversals and claims: "Life is an enigma, do not try to penetrate its secrets, accept the beauty of its unfathomable mystery!" the result is, again, no less profound than its reversal: "Do not allow yourself to be distracted by false mysteries that just dissimulate the fact that, ultimately, life is very simple - it is what it is, it is simply here without reason and rhyme!" Needless to add that, by uniting mystery and simplicity, one again obtains a wisdom: "The ultimate, unfathomable mystery of life resides in its very simplicity, in the simple fact that there is life."

  • Slavoj Zizek
Comment author: RichardKennaway 04 July 2011 09:07:37PM 19 points [-]

This puts in a new light Bohr's saying that "It is the hallmark of any deep truth that its negation is also a deep truth." (Source.)

Comment author: [deleted] 15 January 2012 11:19:36PM *  2 points [-]

"It is the hallmark of any deep truth that its negation is not also a deep truth."

Comment author: gwern 05 July 2011 12:18:38AM 1 point [-]

New light? That was the same Bohr who made the famous horseshoe quip.

Comment author: MichaelGR 07 July 2011 03:38:33AM 1 point [-]

Unless there are two horseshoe quotes, this one seems to be disputed:


Comment author: ata 28 December 2011 07:17:15AM *  2 points [-]

I (or someone) should update that page; the earliest source of the horseshoe story that I know of is from a 1927 essay by Heisenberg:

Niels closed the conversation with one of those stories he liked to tell on such occasions: "One of our neighbors in Tisvilde once fixed a horseshoe over the door to his house. When a mutual acquaintance asked him, 'But are you really superstitious? Do you honestly believe that this horseshoe will bring you luck?' he replied, 'Of course not; but they say it helps even if you don't believe it.'"

Edit: Actually that date is almost definitely wrong, the essay refers to a conference that took place in 1927, probably wasn't given there. The earliest Google Books result for this quote is Heisenberg's 1969 autobiography, though, so that's still earlier and more authoritative than any of the sources given on the Wikiquote page.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 December 2011 05:36:47AM 15 points [-]

This is one of the more brilliant illustrations I've seen, and I suspect that what it illustrates is that the Deep Wisdom of a statement is mostly the cumulative Deep Wisdom points scored by each deep-sounding concept. Thus, reversing the meaning of a sentence has little effect on its Deep Wisdom points, so long as the same concepts are being invoked.

Comment author: 27chaos 05 December 2014 01:02:46AM 0 points [-]

I think we can view Deep Wisdom as an escalating status competition. It's about taking someone else's Deep Wisdom and elevating your own above it. As the above quotation hints at, eventually you will escalate so far up the chain of wisdom that you'll arrive back where you've started again. Like a Shepard tone.

Comment author: Leon 04 December 2014 11:18:32PM 0 points [-]

Opposing Bohr's interpretation.

Comment author: titi 09 July 2011 11:31:14AM -1 points [-]

i remember i started to "reverse" things according to Lou Reed lyrics, the one of yesterday if you try to solve a problem, and fail, people will think you created it, but if you try to create a problem, and fail, they'll think you solved it !"

Comment author: Yvain 03 July 2011 11:07:00PM *  11 points [-]

"I would not give a farthing for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity."

-- Oliver Wendell Holmes (quoted by Venkatesh Rao; thanks to InquilineKea)

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 04 July 2011 01:08:23AM 6 points [-]

Can you explain this quote? I don't understand what the "simplicity on this side of complexity" and the "simplicity on the other side of complexity" are. Does he mean naive opinions and well-thought-out opinions? Or folk theories and deep elegant true theories?

Comment author: Yvain 06 July 2011 02:39:03AM 5 points [-]

I think the simplicity on this side of complexity is naive theories that "just make sense" and the simplicity on the other side of complexity is mathematical elegance.

When one of the commenters in the Amanda Knox thread said yesterday that the probability has to be either 0 or 1 because either she did it or she didn't, that sounds simple. The mathematics of Bayesian probability are also simple, in that they can be derived from a few premises and explain a wide variety of disparate situations. But they're not the same sort of simplicity.

Comment author: shokwave 04 July 2011 04:55:30PM 4 points [-]

Substitute understanding for complexity, maybe? I got the sense he was saying that simplifying before having a full understanding isn't valuable; but simplifying after a full understanding, having a simple model that still accurately describes the world, is extremely valuable.

Comment author: brevitae 07 July 2011 01:25:45AM 3 points [-]

The way I first took that quote:

Simple version: "Grass is always greener on the other side".

Complex version: Simplicity (aka Pattern, aka Information) is awesome, but becomes quickly boring and meaningless because it is KNOWN. It is the Simplicity/Pattern/Information which is currently hiding in the Chaos/Randomness which we're so eager for. It will, for a short while, be meaningful and interesting. Until we get used to it, too. Rinse and repeat.

Comment author: AreteMaat 08 July 2011 07:56:55PM *  1 point [-]

On This Side would be that planets orbit circularly. The Complexity would be large numbers of circles within circles. On The Other Side would be that planets orbit elliptically.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 09 July 2011 07:49:00PM 4 points [-]

Holmes is revered as a quasi-deity among most legal academics, and while I think he's entitled to far less respect than he generally receives, I've always appreciated this sentiment. Basically, "the simplicity on the other side of complexity" is the lawyer's way of stating "it all adds up to normality."

So, the simplicity on this side of complexity would be something like naive free will theory -- basically, "it feels like I have free will, so something magic must happen that gives me true power to choose." If you reject this simplicity, but don't make it to the other side of complexity, you might end up saying silly things like "free will doesn't exist, so all of our choices are meaningless -- everything is determined for us." You need to work your way through the complexity to reach the simplicity that says "yeah, the experience of making decisions is real, and that's what matters -- this is just a normal part of physics, not something magic." Sometimes, simple truths really are correct -- but you need to work through a bit of complexity to understand why that's the case.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 09 July 2011 08:25:53PM 2 points [-]

Another good example with regard to reductionism:

Simplicity on this side of complexity: rainbows are real and awesome!

Stuck in complexity: everything is just quarks, your model of "rainbows" is a mere product of your own mind, beauty doesn't really exist in nature, get over yourself.

Simplicity on the other side of complexity: rainbows are explained in reductionism, but not explained away; yes, my model of a rainbow is "just" a model, but that doesn't mean rainbows aren't "real"; you can think a rainbow really, truly is beautiful, and still believe in reductionism.

Comment author: Pavitra 11 July 2011 01:37:25AM *  -2 points [-]

-1 for shifgrethor contagion. Especially bad if the accusations against his character are true.

Comment author: wedrifid 15 July 2011 04:13:15AM *  2 points [-]

-1 for ad hominem. Especially bad if the accusations against his character are true.

Misleading usage of the ad hominem concept. If your objection is "the parent said something that lowers the status of another" then you may consider instead claiming 'offensive' or 'rude'. (I would disagree with either of those charges too but it would be a matter of subjective preference and not one of abstract understanding.)

Comment author: Pavitra 15 July 2011 04:20:47AM 0 points [-]

Yes, that's correct. Edited.

Comment author: wnoise 14 July 2011 11:08:00PM 2 points [-]

Where's the ad hominem? He's not using the badness of the man to attack the statement. He is noting that even though he thinks the man is bad, the statement is respectable (with his exegesis).

Comment author: Pavitra 15 July 2011 04:01:40AM 2 points [-]

Humans are bad at correctly dealing with affect-laden sentiments. It's bad practice even to mention a status-valuation of a person in a context nearby to a discussion of the merits of something that person said.

That is, it doesn't actually matter all that much that

He's not using the badness of the man to attack the statement.

It's enough that he mentioned the badness of the man before discussing the statement.

There would of course be no problem if the participants in the discussion were intelligent, rather than human.

Comment author: innailana 04 July 2011 03:10:57AM 22 points [-]

"When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action. When you desire a consequence you had damned well better take the action that would create it."

--Lois McMaster Bujold

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 06 July 2011 02:33:34AM 20 points [-]

"Aaron, you always criticize religious people for adhering to their beliefs... but the beliefs you have about evolution, global warming, or the lack of god are just as passionate as any fundamentalist. How are you any better?"

"There's one big difference. I know what it would take for me to change my mind."

— Raymond and Aaron, Calamities of Nature

Comment author: MinibearRex 03 July 2011 07:37:40PM 19 points [-]

"When someone pulls a gun on you, what are your options?"

"Do what they say or get shot."

Wrong. You take their gun, or pull out a bigger gun, or call their bluff, or do any one of 146 other things."

-Suits (TV show)

Comment author: Desrtopa 03 July 2011 11:01:09PM 18 points [-]

Of course, lots of those things, including "pull out a bigger gun," fall under the practical category of "get shot."

Comment author: RobinZ 05 July 2011 02:41:48AM *  13 points [-]

Including, often, "do what they say".

(Edit: This is particularly likely when they are telling you to go somewhere - "somewhere" is likely to be a place where they will be less inconvenienced by shooting you.)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 July 2011 10:26:52PM 1 point [-]

Depends on how good a shot they are.

Comment author: MatthewBaker 05 July 2011 11:17:56PM 1 point [-]

I'm pretty sure pull out a bigger gun is being used as a euphemism for having a gun under the table, or basically just having a better weapon then they do with an inherently faster draw time.

Comment author: MinibearRex 13 July 2011 03:00:30AM 1 point [-]

Indeed. The gun in this case is a metaphorical gun. The real object under discussion is a piece of information that was being used as blackmail against one of the characters, and the eventual response to it was a blend of calling their bluff (the blackmailer did not have the proof he claimed to have) and pulling out the bigger gun (a piece of information that was used to blackmail the blackmailer).

Comment author: Teal_Thanatos 11 July 2011 06:53:47AM 0 points [-]

I am sure that this quote indicates that categorizing options too far is detrimental. The Sequence on Reductionism's summary states 'complicated things are made of simpler things' but categorizing all the simple things together despite their belonging to separate complicated things should indicate a fallacy. It also indicates that the entirety of the options available are not considered properly if they're grouped too much.

Comment author: Desrtopa 11 July 2011 02:39:22PM *  2 points [-]

You can go too far with that though. Separating categories is only useful insofar as we care about the differences between them. If you don't want to get shot and don't care why you're being shot, then there's not much sense in separating options that lead directly to that outcome.

Obviously there are a lot more than 149 options. You could stick the barrel into your mouth, for instance, using either your left or right hand. But if you start counting this way it's obvious that these options are useless and a waste of brain space. A good decisionmaker needs not only to be aware of the options available to them, but to be able to dismiss the bad options with a minimum of wasted thought.

Comment author: Teal_Thanatos 12 July 2011 04:38:26AM 1 point [-]

I agree with going too far, this quote seems to me to be reflecting extremities and mid-ranges categorization. Yes, there's a lot more than 149 options, but there's many which are functionally the same, and categorizing it all under two options 'Get Shot' & 'Do what they say' doesn't take into consideration 'Do what they say, then get shot to hide witnesses' or any other option, it parses all options into mutually exclusive categories when in reality, they're not mutually exclusive.

By enforcing the two phase blanketing mentality, there's no consideration of changing of situation or any other variables. (Such as, 'wait to attention elsewhere, escape.'). A good decision maker does need to be able to dismiss bad options with minimal thought, but dismissing good(Less Wrong!) options with the bad is detrimental as well. What I'm taking from the quote is not that I must consider every option (The first speaker does not, he/she merely considers three and states the existence of others.) but that I must be cognizant of the fact that there are other options available and not categorize them in such a way that they are unavailable to my self.

As I'm new to Rationality, this may be a little convoluted, if you could explain any holes in what I am trying to explain I will be grateful.

Comment author: Tesseract 03 July 2011 04:25:27AM 29 points [-]

We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it.

Mark Twain

Comment author: orthonormal 07 July 2011 04:04:14PM 28 points [-]

Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is "wishful thinking." You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant — but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds. It is the same with all thinking and all systems of thought. If you try to find out which are tainted by speculating about the wishes of the thinkers, you are merely making a fool of yourself. You must first find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments. Afterwards, if you like, go on and discover the psychological causes of the error.

C.S. Lewis, "Bulverism"

(It's not exactly correct- evidence of bias is some evidence against a belief- but not always as strong of evidence as it's assumed to be.)

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 09 July 2011 07:25:30PM 10 points [-]

I've actually always found C.S. Lewis to be one of the single most fascinating and compelling Christian writers. Obviously I think he makes some very fundamental mistakes, but his approach to Christianity is about as rationalist as you can get. He really emphasizes that if you're going to believe in something, it better really be true not just "worth believing in" or "virtuous" or "helpful" -- he himself could have written Belief in Belief. Furthermore, he seems committed to a conception of "faith" that doesn't involve any conflict with rationality -- he thinks that the logical arguments for the existence of God do a lot of work, and he's fairly sophisticated scientifically (seems reasonably knowledgeable about evolution, quantum mechanics, etc.). I would actually highly recommend The Screwtape Letters to any rationalists who find religious arguments interesting (if not compelling).

Comment author: JoshuaZ 04 September 2011 12:00:15AM *  5 points [-]

He really emphasizes that if you're going to believe in something, it better really be true not just "worth believing in" or "virtuous" or "helpful" -- he himself could have written Belief in Belief.

One gets that impression if one reads Mere Christianity and the Screwtape Letters. But if one reads his works aimed at children one gets the impression that he wants children to believe despite evidence. See for example the scene in The Silver Chair where the protagonists are trapped underground and the Lady of the Green Kirtle tries to enchant them to think that Narnia, Aslan and the Sun are all things they made up as part of a game. They are almost taken in until they declare that they will believe in Aslan even if there's is no Aslan because the world they've imagined if it has been imagined is a better world than the one they live in.

Comment author: orthonormal 10 July 2011 10:43:17PM 3 points [-]

He's proof that you can develop a quite rational account of human psychology, and then use it to shoot yourself in the foot.

Comment author: orthonormal 07 July 2011 04:05:52PM 3 points [-]

(Thanks to ciphergoth for the pointer to this quote.)

Comment author: CarmendeMacedo 10 July 2011 09:24:25AM 1 point [-]

Why should evidence of bias be some evidence against a belief? This would be like magic: using someone's failure of rationality to learn something about the world, which is absurd. (Example: Federer's wife is very confident that he will win, because she is biased in his favor. Does this give me any reason to bet against Federer? Obviously not.)

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 10 July 2011 10:01:00AM 9 points [-]

If you find out that someone believes A then that's evidence for A, so your beliefs change away from the priors. If you subsequently find that the person is likely biased then your beliefs return some way toward your priors. So finding out about the bias was in some sense evidence about A.

Comment author: Tesseract 10 July 2011 06:35:56PM *  3 points [-]

To be precise, knowing that someone is biased towards holding a belief decreases the amount you should update your own beliefs in response to theirs — because it decreases the likelihood ratio of the test.

(That is, having a bias towards a belief means people are more likely to believe it when it isn't true (more false positives), so a bias-influenced belief is less likely to be true and therefore weaker evidence. In Bayesian terms, bias increases P(B) without increasing P(B|A), so it decreases P(A|B).)

So CarmendeMacedo's right that you can't get evidence about the world from knowledge of a person's biases, but you should decrease your confidence if you discover a bias, because it means you had the wrong priors when you updated the first time.

Comment author: alexflint 13 July 2011 10:45:00PM 1 point [-]

You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition

On the contrary, in the absence of the time, resources, or inclination to completely retrace a person's reasoning, psychological factors (such as whether the result is desirable to the person in question) are indeed relevant to the probability that the person made a mistake since in general

P(made mistake | result is appealing) != P(made mistake | result not appealing)

Comment author: jimmy 04 July 2011 05:13:21AM *  28 points [-]

I had a scheme, which I still use today when somebody is explaining something that I'm trying to understand: I keep making up examples. For instance, the mathematicians would come in with a terrific theorem, and they're all excited. As they're telling me the conditions of the theorem, I construct something which fits all the conditions. You know, you have a set (one ball) – disjoint (two balls). Then the balls turn colors, grow hairs, or whatever, in my head as they put more conditions on. Finally they state the theorem, which is some dumb thing about the ball which isn't true for my hairy green ball thing, so I say, 'False!'

-Richard Feynman

Comment author: Tesseract 03 July 2011 04:42:28AM 30 points [-]

Sometimes, apparently rational self-interested strategies turn out (as in the prisoners' dilemma) to be self-defeating. This may look like a defeat for rationality, but it is not. Rationality is saved by its own open-endedness. If a strategy of following accepted rules of rationality is sometimes self-defeating, this is not the end. We revise the rules to take account of this, so producing a higher-order rationality strategy. This in turn may fail, but again we go up a level. At whatever level we fail, there is always the process of standing back and going up a further level.

Quoted in The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker

Comment author: Tesseract 03 July 2011 04:19:04AM *  32 points [-]

It was a good answer that was made by one who when they showed him hanging in a temple a picture of those who had paid their vows as having escaped shipwreck, and would have him say whether he did not now acknowledge the power of the gods,—‘Aye,' asked he again, ‘but where are they painted that were drowned after their vows?' And such is the way of all superstition, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happens much oftener, neglect and pass them by.

Francis Bacon

Comment author: hickeys 08 July 2011 11:07:19PM 1 point [-]

I've been looking for this quote for years since I read it in college and lost the book. Thanks for posting it.

Comment author: arundelo 17 July 2011 10:08:20PM 5 points [-]

Our brains are like lawyers, not scientists.

-- Michael Shermer (one minute into the clip)

Comment author: Thomas 13 July 2011 12:10:52PM 5 points [-]

No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.

  • David Hume
Comment author: MixedNuts 13 July 2011 01:20:15PM *  2 points [-]

...man, even I can write more clearly than that. Jefferson said it much better (and he was wrong):

I would sooner believe that two Yankee professors would lie than that stones would fall from heaven.

If you want the formal general version rather than the concrete example: "To prove a miracle, finding out your proof is false must be weirder than the miracle." - still bad writing, but better than Hume's.

Incidentally, this is a good principle. I think. (How would you check?) There are a few things I believe because the alternative involves delusions so weird I expect human brains can't support them and keep functioning, even given the existence of some really weird delusions.

Edit: Jefferson might not actually have said it, it's unclear.

Comment author: arundelo 07 July 2011 02:04:33AM 12 points [-]

Bill James was asked about the Holmes saying "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". He responded:

That Sherlock Holmes line is very, very interesting. It's false, and extremely arrogant, and very dangerous. That's not a real way to think about the world. This concept of eliminating the impossible -- we could never do that. The whole idea of Sherlock Holmes is dangerous because it encourages people to think that -- if they're intelligent enough -- they could put all the pieces together in absolute terms. But the human mind is not sophisticated enough to do that. People are not that smart. It's not that Sherlock Holmes would need to be twice as smart as the average person; he'd have to be a billion times as smart as the average person.

Comment author: Pfft 07 July 2011 04:26:22PM *  9 points [-]

Surely that also depends on the domain you are reasoning about? For example, when debugging computer programs it seems that I am eliminating the impossible all the time. "Hm, this function is not returning the answer I expect. Am I calling it with the wrong argument? (Printf -- no.) Are the calculations right up to this point? (Printf -- yes). Aha, this must be the line that's wrong!"

Comment author: arundelo 07 July 2011 07:15:09PM 6 points [-]

True! However, I know I've had times in program debugging (though I can't remember a specific one) when I eliminated something "impossible" and it turned out not to be. I think there was usually a flaw in my reasoning though, rather than a flaw in my knowledge of what's possible. (In other words, I overlooked some simple possibility.) Anyway, when I feel like I'm at the end of my debugging rope, I just start from the beginning with an eye towards stuff I could have missed the first time around, including stuff that I disregarded as "impossible".

Related: "select" Isn't Broken".

Comment author: handoflixue 09 July 2011 08:22:05AM 4 points [-]

I once wrote code that crashed my C++ compiler. For the life of me I Was sadly never able to reproduce it, but it's definitely in my book as an impossible error. (this is not "the programmed crashed when run", this was "the compiler crashed when trying to compile this program")

When debugging, I now label things as "extremely unlikely" instead...

Comment author: feanor1600 19 August 2011 04:08:13PM 2 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: Oscar_Cunningham 19 August 2011 04:14:52PM *  0 points [-]

This reminds me of something Eliezer said.

But the wonderful thing about unanswerable questions is that they are always solvable, at least in my experience. What went through Queen Elizabeth I's mind, first thing in the morning, as she woke up on her fortieth birthday? As I can easily imagine answers to this question, I can readily see that I may never be able to actually answer it, the true information having been lost in time.

On the other hand, "Why does anything exist at all?" seems so absolutely impossible that I can infer that I am just confused, one way or another, and the truth probably isn't all that complicated in an absolute sense, and once the confusion goes away I'll be able to see it.

Comment author: wedrifid 10 July 2011 09:03:45PM -1 points [-]

It's false


and extremely arrogant

True. (So?)

and very dangerous.


That's not a real way to think about the world.

False (unless he meant realistic?)

Comment author: khafra 11 July 2011 04:54:13PM 0 points [-]

It's false


I think the previous appearance of a quote about this Sherlock Holmes quote bears out its falsity, except for Laplace's Demon-type intelligences.

Comment author: wedrifid 11 July 2011 06:25:21PM *  3 points [-]

I think the previous appearance of a quote about this Sherlock Holmes quote bears out its falsity, except for Laplace's Demon-type intelligences.

The statement is a literally true statement as a matter of logical deduction. When using the words 'true' and 'false' then logic is what you are doing. Applying the word 'false' to 'true' statements is simply an error, as would be holding this particular quote to a different standard to any other logical claim. It has the same problems as logical reasoning generally does, those of assuming certainty of premises and relying on incomplete or incorrect simplified models. Focus on the dangerous not incorrect because accuracy just is not the flaw.

Instead of false consider (something like) "f@#%ing stupid". Or you are just wrong.

Comment author: komponisto 10 July 2011 09:32:03PM 0 points [-]

It's false


and extremely arrogant

True. (So?)

It seems a bad heuristic to follow for ordinary folks, susceptible to overconfidence in their judgements of "impossibility".

Comment author: Thomas 04 July 2011 07:57:13PM 26 points [-]

A scholar is just a library’s way of making another library.

Daniel Dennett

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 05 July 2011 04:57:56PM 3 points [-]

Forgive me if I'm being dense, but... witty as it is, why is this a rationality quote?

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 05 July 2011 05:40:38PM 6 points [-]

My hypothesis is that it's saying that people are vehicles for their memes in the same way they are vehicles for their genes. Ideas "use" people to propagate themselves.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 09 July 2011 07:03:30PM 4 points [-]

Well yes, I know that much. Is there a rationality-related moral to it? Or is it just that people here like memetics?

Comment author: Thomas 05 July 2011 05:44:41PM 0 points [-]

Your hypothesis is of course correct.

Comment author: avantikalal 05 July 2011 10:58:55AM 1 point [-]

Very true.

Comment author: abcd_z 03 July 2011 05:15:40AM 29 points [-]

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

John Maynard Keynes

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 21 November 2015 10:42:57PM 3 points [-]

It is doubtful this quote is authentic. See here.

Comment author: AlanCrowe 09 July 2011 08:06:06PM 6 points [-]

I think of facts as historical events. They cannot change. We just get more of them, and sometimes the more recent ones are more relevant to the near future.

Keynes notion of facts changing strikes me as creepy, with a hint of Orwell's Minitrue employing Winston Smith to change them.

Keynes seems to be peddling a vision in which intellectual progress in not cumulative. Facts are established. Theory accounts for them. Facts change. Theory must also be changed. It leaves open the possibility that facts may change again or even change back!

"When the facts change" must be read as short hand for "When new facts come along that falsify the old theory, the one that did an apparently adequate job on the old facts...". There is an important distinction but it is not between those who change their minds and those who do not. Age and generational forgetting will take care of those who refuse to change. In the fullness of time a new generation will believe in the new facts and the new theories; change is inevitable.

The big distinction is between folk-wisdom, which is content to have the new theory explain the new facts, and science, which holds itself to a higher standard. Science expects the new theory to explain the new facts and the old facts. That tends to be socially awkward, because progress, if it is permitted at all, tends to bring out the ways in which the old facts got bent to better fit the old theories.

Comment author: squarecubed 23 July 2011 02:15:26AM 4 points [-]

"I find it deeply unimpressive that the bible can be said to predict the big bang. There are only two possibilities: either the universe began or it's been here forever. Just two possibilities. To get one of them is really not that impressive."

~ Richard Dawkins, in response to John Lennox's claim that the bible predicted that the universe had a beginning.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 14 July 2011 02:37:54PM 4 points [-]

Between 1880 and 1887, Heaviside developed the operational calculus (involving the D notation for the differential operator, which he is credited with creating), a method of solving differential equations by transforming them into ordinary algebraic equations which caused a great deal of controversy when first introduced, owing to the lack of rigour in his derivation of it. He famously said, “Mathematics is an experimental science, and definitions do not come first, but later on.” He was replying to criticism over his use of operators that were not clearly defined. On another occasion he stated somewhat more defensively, “I do not refuse my dinner simply because I do not understand the process of digestion.”

Oliver Heaviside

Comment author: Document 17 July 2011 02:28:17AM 2 points [-]

No law against liking to talk about yourself, I guess.

Comment author: SimonF 15 July 2011 10:48:35AM 10 points [-]

Don't you believe in flying saucers, they ask me? Don't you believe in telepathy? — in ancient astronauts? — in the Bermuda triangle? — in life after death? No, I reply. No, no, no, no, and again no. One person recently, goaded into desperation by the litany of unrelieved negation, burst out "Don't you believe in anything?" "Yes", I said. "I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I'll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be."

Isaac Asimov

Comment author: MichaelGR 03 July 2011 04:39:12AM *  21 points [-]

One of the most serious problems with modern "management" is that the incentives are all wrong. Imagine that I hire a programmer and pay him by the line of code. This idea has been so thoroughly debunked that it is nearly impossible to write out the consequences without sounding cliché. Yet it happens all the time: Companies promote "Architects" who are evaluated by the weight of their "architecture." The result is stultifying and demoralizing. The architect does not work to facilitate the programmer's work, he works to produce evidence of his contribution in the form of frameworks, standards, and software process.

So, how are most managers evaluated? By the amount of "managing" they do, as measured by the amount of process they impose on their team. Evaluating a manager by the amount of managing they do is exactly the same thing as evaluating a programmer by the amount of code they write. And it produces results like you describe, where the manager works to produce evidence of their management in the form of processes and decisions from the top down, rather than facilitating the work actually being done.

-raganwald, HN, http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2423236

Comment author: djcb 03 July 2011 10:19:33AM 7 points [-]

Hmmm, maybe a bit of an overgeneralization? Or a US-thing? I've never seen a manager being rewarded for the amount of "process" they impose on their team. I'm sure there are many bad managers, but it's also somewhat of a cliché for programmers to blame management for the parts of the work they don't like.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 July 2011 05:47:52PM 2 points [-]

Or a US-thing? I've never seen a manager being rewarded for the amount of "process" they impose on their team.

I have, and I do not (usually) reside in the US.

Comment author: lessdazed 03 July 2011 05:10:41AM 0 points [-]

It also produces comic strips. So it's not all bad.

Comment author: gwern 03 July 2011 03:41:59PM 10 points [-]

Like broken windows are not all bad.

Comment author: MichaelGR 07 July 2011 03:43:09AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: djcb 03 July 2011 10:28:23AM 13 points [-]

In an article in a women’s magazine many years ago we advised the readers to buy their stocks as they bought their groceries, not as they bought their perfume.

-- Benjamin Graham The Intelligent Investor, 1949.

(I really like Graham's rational, down-to-earth approach to investing, and this quote is a good example of the kind of thinking he wants to convey)

Comment author: Nic_Smith 03 July 2011 03:01:50PM 20 points [-]

"Death is the termination of life, not a creature with a scythe who has a just claim to the lives he takes. (Death hates to be anthropomorphized.)" -- Ben Best, Cryonics − Frequently Asked Questions

Comment author: katydee 16 July 2011 04:36:49PM *  6 points [-]

In my experience, nothing is ever what it seems to be, but everything is exactly what it is.

Buckaroo Banzai

Comment author: Alicorn 04 July 2011 07:45:14PM *  8 points [-]

Eternal life
Is super fun!

  • "Hello!", The Book of Mormon Musical
Comment author: gwern 28 July 2011 06:12:01PM 2 points [-]

"What we wish, we readily believe, and what we ourselves think, we imagine others think also."

--Julius Caesar; cf. 'Bayesian truth serum'

Comment author: VManuel 13 July 2011 06:13:45PM *  2 points [-]

The world is not an inherently kind nor fair place. It is up to us to make it so.

  • E.A. Manuel, Jr.
Comment author: beoShaffer 13 July 2011 06:43:35PM *  1 point [-]

Um, who are you quoting? -edited to add Ah, E.A Manuel thanks for adding that bit

Comment author: MichaelGR 03 July 2011 04:37:58AM *  5 points [-]

One perennial problem is the overwhelming incentive for analysts to issue “Buy” recommendations. The universe of stocks not owned by a customer is always much larger than the list of those currently owned. Consequently, it’s much easier to generate commissions from new “Buy” recommendations than from recommendations to sell.

-Joel Greenblatt

Comment author: MixedNuts 03 July 2011 04:12:07PM 8 points [-]

That whole "buying" vs "selling" dichotomy does nothing but cause problems. Let's just treat selling as buying negative stock.

Comment author: ESRogs 12 July 2011 08:38:50PM 1 point [-]

Like shorting?

Comment author: MixedNuts 13 July 2011 06:24:14AM 2 points [-]

Rather, not like shorting. Unless we also use a word like "longing" to mean buying a stock you haven't previously sold.

Comment author: Nic_Smith 03 July 2011 02:59:18PM *  8 points [-]

"There are two types of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb (HT: Fugitive Knowledge)

Comment author: wedrifid 03 July 2011 05:39:18PM *  8 points [-]

They are never the same

Clearly false. There are all sorts of situations in which argument winning is instrumentally useful.

Comment author: Endovior 03 July 2011 11:14:07PM 2 points [-]

Perhaps, but it seems to be more likely that a focus on winning arguments is less useful then a focus on winning in general. Winning an argument may help you win on occasion; but as many lose sight of their goals in pursuit of a victorious argument, it seems more useful to hold the argument always in an instrumental sense, and never as an end in and of itself.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 04 July 2011 06:33:03PM 2 points [-]

Funny, reading The Black Swan, Taleb struck me as someone who was trying to win an argument.

(Though he did have a point)

Comment author: Zvi 04 July 2011 11:45:30PM 2 points [-]

I'm sorry. That was abuse.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 05 July 2011 03:18:48AM 0 points [-]

Do you mean what Taleb did was abuse? (I'm confused)

Comment author: tlholaday 06 July 2011 05:57:29PM 3 points [-]

The "abuse" quip is a Monty Python reference: The Argument Clinic.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 06 July 2011 08:57:16PM 1 point [-]


That's one of my favorite Monty Python sketches too. Drops head in shame

Comment author: jschulter 10 July 2011 05:57:47PM *  3 points [-]

"When you are stubbornly making an argument, there is a possibility that you are uninformed, ignorant, in denial, and/or being a jerk. Of course, you might be right."

Comment author: Nominull 11 July 2011 05:18:43PM 2 points [-]

Not that being right means you're necessarily not uninformed, ignorant, or in denial. And being right is probably positively correlated with being a jerk, as most people measure things.

Comment author: jschulter 12 July 2011 06:46:26AM 0 points [-]

True. I was actually considering omitting the last sentence, as it doesn't really contribute much, but I wasn't sure if that would have been misleading as to the original meaning.

Comment author: wallowinmaya 05 July 2011 04:46:47PM 3 points [-]

Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

-Ice Cube

Comment author: nazgulnarsil 03 July 2011 03:17:14PM *  1 point [-]

When you believe in things that you don't understand

Then you suffer

Superstition ain't the way

-Stevie Wonder, Superstition

Comment author: A_Priori 06 July 2011 08:18:04PM 10 points [-]

I realize that LW participants are having fun with this, but I’m a songwriter and I feel motivated to comment.

Writing lyrics is an extreme exercise in lossy data compression. If the lyrics are going to be interesting, you must have a tremendous story or concept in mind. Then you start throwing out 95% of your precious ideas because each gestalt has to fit into 4 lines and hit the listener in the gut or the heart. The best that you can hope for is to make people feel a few emotions and ponder a few ideas.

Stevie Wonder is among the best at the craft. He had to balance precision against brevity, word flow, and many other pressures including boring his audience. So even though a line like “All you need is love” or “my humps, my humps, my lovely lady lumps” hit the mark for their particular topics, I have to adjust Stevie Wonder’s score way up for pulling off a number 1 Bilboard hit with a subject carrying a large difficulty factor.

Comment author: nazgulnarsil 06 July 2011 09:09:22PM 5 points [-]

Ricky Gervais' Talk Funny brought up a similar point about Chris Rock. Louis C.K. pointed out that Rock makes jokes about complex ideas, and has evolved a style of delivery that allows him to do this without losing his audience.

Comment author: jimmy 04 July 2011 04:54:22AM 5 points [-]

Did he believe in quantum mechanics?

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 06 July 2011 02:22:00AM 2 points [-]

He is still alive.

Comment author: tlholaday 06 July 2011 05:54:17PM 1 point [-]

But is he suffering?

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 06 July 2011 10:32:36PM 1 point [-]

Perhaps he both believes it and understands it. The subject is not, after all, so complex as is usually thought. Or, conversely, perhaps he believes it in the sense of professing "Yes, QM is true", but does not have any strong beliefs in the sense of anticipation-constrainers.

Comment author: Alexei 03 July 2011 10:08:43PM 1 point [-]

This quote is probably well known, but I heard it for the first time this week: "Luck is probability taken personally." (I don't know who to attribute this to.)

Comment author: Alicorn 03 July 2011 10:17:41PM 3 points [-]
Comment author: Alexei 04 July 2011 03:38:11PM 1 point [-]


Comment author: beoShaffer 17 July 2011 03:23:07AM 1 point [-]

Without evidence, innovation is just another word for 'fad,' -Bill Gates

Comment author: Thomas 12 July 2011 04:44:24PM 1 point [-]

The Analytical Engine weaves Algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.

  • Ada Augusta, Countess of Lovelace
Comment author: Endovior 17 July 2011 05:35:20AM *  0 points [-]

It's your mind that guides you / In the world around you / Where veracity replies / To creations in your mind

-Dignity, from "Project Destiny"

Comment author: DataPacRat 04 July 2011 03:45:24AM *  0 points [-]

(Edit - missed seeing a rule)

Comment author: dares 04 July 2011 03:01:15AM 0 points [-]

"Please don't disillusion me. I haven't had breakfast yet." -Orson Scott Card, _Children of the Mind

Comment author: Alicorn 04 July 2011 03:09:59AM 1 point [-]

What makes this a rationality quote?

Comment author: Teal_Thanatos 11 July 2011 06:43:37AM 2 points [-]

Am I reading too much into this quote when I think it's referring to not crushing people's beliefs when they're incapable of surviving the damage to their Self? When I look at that (out of context, as I have not read the source) I'm seeing that without breakfast (a sturdy base to build upon) the character is not ready to have their beliefs destroyed.

Comment author: dares 04 July 2011 03:58:39AM -1 points [-]

Please don't hastily dismiss my quote, I haven't had breakfast yet.

Comment author: dares 04 July 2011 04:03:41AM 0 points [-]

The minus one must be for not seeing two fallacies and a bias in such a pretty package. Oh well, can't win em all.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 04 July 2011 04:07:11AM 4 points [-]

The -1 was partly for posting a quote that appears to have nothing to do with rationality, but mostly for being a smartass.

Comment author: kurokikaze 17 July 2011 12:43:17PM -1 points [-]

I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here: it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility... for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now - you're selling it.

Dr. Ian Malcolm, "Jurassic Park"

Comment author: Multiheaded 09 July 2011 12:26:59PM -1 points [-]