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Rationality Quotes December 2011

4 Post author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 December 2011 06:01AM

Here's the new thread for posting quotes, with the usual 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.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 (577)

Comment author: Alejandro1 06 December 2011 09:10:10PM 54 points [-]

On the difficulties of correctly fine-tuning your signaling:

I once expressed mild surprise at the presence of a garden gnome in an upper-middle-class garden …. The owner of the garden explained that the gnome was “ironic”. I asked him, with apologies for my ignorance, how one could tell that his garden gnome was supposed to be an ironic statement, as opposed to, you know, just a gnome. He rather sniffily replied that I only had to look at the rest of the garden for it to be obvious that the gnome was a tounge-in-cheek joke.

But surely, I persisted, garden gnomes are always something of a joke, in any garden—I mean, no-one actually takes them seriously or regards them as works of art. His response was rather rambling and confused (not to mention somewhat huffy), but the gist seemed to be that while the lower classes saw gnomes as intrinsically amusing, his gnome was amusing only because of its incongruous appearance in a “smart” garden. In other words, council-house gnomes were a joke, but his gnome was a joke about council-house tastes, effectively a joke about class….

The man’s reaction to my questions clearly defined him as upper-middle, rather than upper class. In fact, his pointing out that the gnome I had noticed was “ironic” had already demoted him by half a class from my original assessment. A genuine member of the upper classes would either have admitted to a passion for garden gnomes … or said something like “Ah yes, my gnome. I’m very fond of my gnome.” and left me to draw my own conclusions.

Kate Fox, Watching the English (quoted here).

Comment author: Bugmaster 06 December 2011 09:44:42PM 24 points [-]

Ah yes, my gnome. I’m very fond of my gnome.

Oh I am so getting my own gnome, just so that I can use that phrase on people.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 12 December 2011 02:23:21PM 16 points [-]
Comment author: Nominull 07 December 2011 11:48:59PM 28 points [-]

Perhaps he's ultra-high-class, and is only defending the object-level irony of his garden gnome ironically.

Comment author: Teal_Thanatos 07 December 2011 11:26:57PM 13 points [-]

I upvoted this half because I laughed and half because I now want a gnome.

Comment author: Multiheaded 19 May 2013 01:53:50PM *  3 points [-]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_and_non-U_English

Amusing illustration through a 1950s sociolinguistic study.

(Damn, I swear there was a far longer discussion on signaling and countersignaling around here, can't find it.)

Comment author: FiftyTwo 20 December 2011 12:44:16AM 3 points [-]

Out of interest, how does this read from a non-uk perspective?

Comment author: arundelo 20 December 2011 01:35:55AM 3 points [-]

I'm American and I thought it was quite funny.

Comment author: Pfft 16 December 2011 12:02:37AM *  3 points [-]

Maybe the story should be captioned "on the ease of fine-tuned signaling"? After all, the gnome-owner very effectively did communicate his class. On the other hand, deceiving people about your class is hard. But it's hard partly because there are so many way for people to send credible signals, so an absence of signaling becomes evidence on its own.

Comment author: Alejandro1 16 December 2011 04:16:42PM 8 points [-]

Hmm, what I had in mind when I wrote the caption was something like this:

The man's social model had three classes: lower class (owns gnomes non-ironically), middle class (would never own a gnome), upper class (can own a gnome "ironically" as a joke on low-class tastes), and he aimed for signalling upper-class status. He failed at fine-tuned signalling because he did not realize that his "upper class" behavior is actually upper-middle; true upper classes are allowed to own gnomes and genuinely like them, and don't need to defensively plead irony because they have no lingering anxiety about being confused with lower classes.

Comment author: Pfft 21 December 2011 05:30:10AM 5 points [-]

But how do we know that he aimed at signalling upper-class membership?

The alternative I'm proposing is that middle-class people will not try to deceive others about their social position (because that would never work in the long run), but they are adopting lots of signalling about their true position, in order to not get mistakenly perceived as being lower than their true position during short encounters.

I think this is consistent with common folk-wisdom about classes. I have often heard claimed that the primary concern of the lower-middle class is to distinguish themselves from working class. I have never heard it claimed that their primary concern is to pass as middle-middle class.

Comment author: peter_hurford 30 November 2011 09:06:07PM *  45 points [-]

Most people don't know the basic scientific facts about happiness—about what brings it and what sustains it—and so they don't know how to use their money to acquire it. It is not surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about wine end up with cellars that aren't that much better stocked than their neighbors', and it should not be surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about happiness end up with lives that aren't that much happier than anyone else's. Money is an opportunity for happiness, but it is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don't.

From "If money doesn't make you happy, then you probably aren't spending it right" by Elizabeth W. Dunn, Daniel T. Gilbert, Timothy D. Wilson in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. (http://dunn.psych.ubc.ca/files/2011/04/Journal-of-consumer-psychology.pdf)

Comment author: Bugmaster 01 December 2011 07:59:35PM 13 points [-]

The title of the book is a good candidate for a December quote, in and of itself.

Comment author: XFrequentist 01 December 2011 08:15:12PM 5 points [-]

(article)

Comment author: KenChen 06 December 2011 04:03:07PM 5 points [-]

Interesting article, thanks. Reposting the abstract here:

The relationship between money and happiness is surprisingly weak, which may stem in part from the way people spend it. Drawing on empirical research, we propose eight principles designed to help consumers get more happiness for their money. Specifically, we suggest that consumers should (1) buy more experiences and fewer material goods; (2) use their money to benefit others rather than themselves; (3) buy many small pleasures rather than fewer large ones; (4) eschew extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance; (5) delay consumption; (6) consider how peripheral features of their purchases may affect their day-to-day lives; (7) beware of comparison shopping; and (8) pay close attention to the happiness of others.

Comment author: kpreid 04 December 2011 11:09:32PM 2 points [-]

Is the article useful to someone having money and seeking to spend it right?

Comment author: peter_hurford 05 December 2011 01:18:52AM 3 points [-]

It's more general, but I still think it has practical guidelines for spending. Read it and see for yourself: http://dunn.psych.ubc.ca/files/2011/04/Journal-of-consumer-psychology.pdf

Comment author: kpreid 05 December 2011 02:06:25AM *  3 points [-]

Thank you, reading.

I suggest including that link in the original comment. I had assumed the article was paywalled, as most academic publications are.

Comment author: djcb 02 December 2011 06:48:20AM *  26 points [-]

If you hit this sign, you will hit that bridge.

-- Road sign in Griffin, Georgia, showing that sometimes it's good to have some distance between map and area.

Comment author: Maniakes 03 December 2011 12:26:40AM 24 points [-]

We are much beholden to Machiavel and others, that write what men do, and not what they ought to do.

-- Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning

Comment author: Maniakes 03 December 2011 12:30:14AM 23 points [-]

If you're tempted to respond, "But I love school, and so do all my friends. Ah, the life of the mind, what could be better?" let me gently remind you that readers of economics blogs are not a random sample of the population. Most people would hate reading this blog; you read it just for fun!

-- Bryan Caplan

Comment author: J_Taylor 04 December 2011 08:10:29AM *  22 points [-]

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

-Probably not Henry Ford

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/08/henry_ford_never_said_the_fast.html

Comment author: gwern 01 December 2011 08:48:36PM 20 points [-]

"The older we become, the more important it is to use what we know rather than learn more."

--I.J. Good (as quoted in "The Problem of Thinking Too Much" by Persi Diaconis)

Comment author: DSimon 05 December 2011 02:04:14AM *  19 points [-]

Unlike programs, computers must obey the laws of physics.

-- Alan J. Perlis, in the foreword to Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 02 December 2011 03:09:16PM 17 points [-]

Mind is a machine for jumping to conclusions - Daniel Kahneman

Comment author: kateblu 09 December 2011 03:42:02AM 15 points [-]

"If a theory has a lot of parameters, you adjust their values to fit a lot of data, and your theory is not really predicting those things, just accommodating them. Scientists use words like “curve fitting” and “fudge factors” to describe that sort of activity. On the other hand, if a theory has just a few parameters but applies to a lot of data, it has real power. You can use a small subset of the measurements to fix the parameters; then all other measurements are uniquely predicted. " Frank Wilczek

Comment author: RichardKennaway 09 December 2011 10:25:17AM 17 points [-]

"With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk."

John von Neumann

Comment author: Vladimir_M 02 December 2011 05:32:21AM *  32 points [-]

Every time that a man who is not an absolute fool presents you with a question he considers very problematic after giving it careful thought, distrust those quick answers that come to the mind of someone who has considered it only briefly or not at all. These answers are usually simplistic views lacking in consistency, which explain nothing, or which do not bear examination.

-- Joseph de Maistre (St. Petersburg Dialogues, No. 7)

Comment author: Zvi 03 December 2011 08:56:25PM 9 points [-]

I have on numerous occasions presented problems to others, after giving them careful thought, and had them reply instantly with the correct answer. Usually the next question is "why didn't I think of that?" which sometimes has an obvious answer and sometimes doesn't.

My favorite remains Eliezer asking me the question "why don't you just use log likelihood?" I still don't have a good answer to why I needed the question!

Comment author: Vladimir_M 04 December 2011 08:22:55AM *  12 points [-]

I don't think that de Maistre's "quick answers" category is supposed to include answers based on sound expertise.

People are often confused about questions to which an expert in the relevant area will give a quick and reliably correct answer. However, an expert capable of answering a technical question competently is not someone who has "considered [the question] only briefly or not at all": he is in fact someone who has spent a great deal of time and effort (along with possessing the necessary talent) on understanding a broad class of questions that subsumes the one being asked.

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 December 2011 05:44:18AM 11 points [-]

[citation needed]

It doesn't seem at all uncommon for someone from domain A to present a problem and for someone from domain B to immediately reply "Oh, we have just the perfect tool for that in my field!".

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 02 December 2011 11:05:02AM 6 points [-]
Comment author: MixedNuts 02 December 2011 11:07:01AM 6 points [-]

What's missing is indication that the physicist is wrong. Cows are spheres, right?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 02 December 2011 09:46:05PM 6 points [-]

This gives, by implication, a detector for absolute folly: the condition of believing that something is a very problematic question, when in fact it has a quick, consistent, explanatory answer available to those who have considered it only briefly or not at all.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 03 December 2011 06:55:37AM 5 points [-]

It doesn't necessarily follow that it's a highly accurate detector, though. If only a small minority of reasonable people are in this condition, while complete fools are commonly in this condition but their number is still much smaller than this minority of reasonable people, then the above quote would be true and yet your proposed test would be very weak.

A fascinating question would be how strong this test actually is, and how it varies with different subjects.

Comment author: Desrtopa 02 December 2011 02:52:42PM 2 points [-]

In my experience this is true given a definition of "complete fool" that encompasses a majority of the population, provided the person supplying quick answers isn't also a fool.

Comment author: billswift 30 November 2011 05:30:07PM *  32 points [-]

There's 2 varieties of subjectivism:

  • Hayekian subjectivism of limited knowledge, and limited reason, and error, resulting in Bayesian probabilities in the .8 range and below, with required updating, and impact on making +EV decisions...

  • Hippie subjectivism of you believe what you want to believe, and I believe what I want to believe.

Aretae

Comment author: jdgalt 03 December 2011 01:31:34AM 5 points [-]

There's also the subjectivism of taste, sometimes known as consumer sovereignty (the idea, from David Friedman's <i>The Machinery of Freedom</i>, that a person's own good is defined as whatever he says it is). Not believing in that leads to outbreaks of senseless and counterproductive nannyism, whether carried out alone or with the help of authorities.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 December 2011 01:58:27AM 2 points [-]

I assume that what you mean by "whatever he says it is" is whatever preferences his choices reveal, not literally what he says it is.

Believing that a person's good is literally what they say it is can just as easily lead to "nannyism", if we decided to prevent people from acting against their own good.

Comment author: Bugmaster 01 December 2011 03:17:24AM *  49 points [-]

Miss Tick sniffed. "You could say this advice is priceless," she said, "Are you listening?"
"Yes," said Tiffany.
"Good. Now...if you trust in yourself..."
"Yes?"
"...and believe in your dreams..."
"Yes?"
"...and follow your star..." Miss Tick went on.
"Yes?"
"...you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye."

-- Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

Comment author: Nominull 01 December 2011 04:18:51AM 26 points [-]

And they'll be beaten in turn by people who were in the right place at the right time, or won the genetic lottery. A little luck can make up for a lot of laziness, and working hard and learning things can just leave you digging ditches and able to quote every Simpsons episode verbatim.

Comment author: Apteris 02 December 2011 12:19:35PM 10 points [-]

Thankfully for Mr. Pratchett, you can't influence the genetic lottery or the luck fairy, so his is still valid advice. In fact, one could see "trust in yourself" et al. as invitations to "do or do not, there is no try", whereas "work hard, learn hard and don't be lazy" supports the virtue of scholarship as well as that of "know when to give up". Miss Tick is being eminently practical, and "do or do not", while also an important virtue, requires way more explanation before the student can understand it.

Comment author: Nisan 02 December 2011 09:29:37PM *  7 points [-]

Yeah. "Do or do not" / "believe in yourself" should either be administered on a case-by-case basis by a discerning mentor, or packaged with the full instruction manual.

Comment author: lessdazed 02 December 2011 10:42:02PM 11 points [-]

working hard and learning things can just leave you digging ditches and able to quote every Simpsons episode verbatim.

http://www.engadget.com/2011/12/01/geeks-lose-minds-recreate-first-level-of-super-mario-land-with/

There's homage and there's homage. And then there's three guys spending over 500 hours to recreate the first two minutes and twenty seconds of Super Mario Land using more than 18 million Minecraft blocks. The movie, made by carpenter James Wright, Joe Ciappa and a gamer known as Tempusmori, had the guys running the classic monochrome platformer in an emulator and replicating it pixel-for-wool-block-pixel inside a giant Minecraft Game Boy. The team spent approximately four weeks, working six to seven hours a day with no days off...

Comment author: [deleted] 03 December 2011 12:06:48AM 15 points [-]

And the worst thing is they don't use a piston array! Making a scrolling wall of blocks is fairly easy within Minecraft and would've saved them the trouble of manually shifting all their blocks every single frame. That's easily an order of magnitude less work, and can be re-used for other stop-motion movies.

Their excuse? "We dont have the smarts"(sic). Sigh.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 03 December 2011 08:17:31PM 7 points [-]

Its almost a new type of super-stimulus, where rather than being extraordinarily entertaining its extraordinarily difficult.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 December 2011 11:10:38PM 2 points [-]

Wow. That's absolutely bonkers. And impressive. XKCD almost seems realistic now!

Comment author: gwern 02 December 2011 08:16:46PM 27 points [-]

Economists essentially have a sophisticated lack of understanding of economics, especially macroeconomics. I know it sounds ridiculous. But the reason why I tell people they should study economics is not so they’ll know something at the end—because I don’t think we know much—but because we’re good at thinking. Economics teaches you to think things through. What you see a lot of times in economics is disdain for other's lack of thinking. You have to think about the ramifications of policies in the short run, the medium run, and the long run. Economists think they’re good at doing that, but they’re good at doing that in the sense that they can write down a model that will help them think about it—not in terms of empirically knowing what the answers are. And we have gotten so enamored of thinking things through that the fact that we don’t know anything needs to bother us more. So, yes, it’s true that the average guy on the street doesn’t understand economics, and it’s also true that we don’t understand economics. We just have a more sophisticated lack of understanding than the guy on the street.

---"Culture in Economics and the Culture of Economics: Raquel Fernández in Conversation with The Straddler"

Comment author: Stabilizer 02 December 2011 09:40:22AM *  37 points [-]

(Tuco is in a bubble bath. The One Armed Man enters the room)

One Armed Man: I've been looking for you for 8 months. Whenever I should have had a gun in my right hand, I thought of you. Now I find you in exactly the position that suits me. I had lots of time to learn to shoot with my left.

(Tuco kills him with the gun he has hidden in the foam)

Tuco: When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.

--The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 December 2011 11:13:16AM *  2 points [-]

I never thought I'd see a reference to my favorite movie on Less Wrong. Although...the decision theory involved in navigating a Mexican standoff could be interesting.

Comment author: gwern 08 December 2011 03:59:31AM 23 points [-]

'Tell me one last thing,' said Harry. 'Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?'

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry's ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

'Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Comment author: [deleted] 03 December 2011 03:05:16PM 23 points [-]

Fujiwara no Yoshitake (954-974), a handsome nobleman, tragically died of smallpox at age 21. He left a love poem full of pathos:

Kige ga tame
oshikarazarishi
Inochi sae
Nagaku mo gana to
Omoikeru kana

For your precious sake, once I thought
I could die.
Now, I wish to live with you
a long, long time.

--Hokusai and Hiroshige

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 04 December 2011 12:06:20AM 21 points [-]

For your precious sake, once I thought I could die.

It took me a long time to figure out this poem isn't about a recovering alcoholic.

Comment author: GLaDOS 18 December 2011 03:15:26PM 8 points [-]

"Well, if it were true, how would the world look different from what we see around us?"

--Gregory Cochran

Comment author: [deleted] 02 December 2011 05:26:12AM *  8 points [-]

Once man is in a rut he seems to have the urge to dig even deeper

Fritz Zwicky, Morphological Astronomy

Comment author: Manfred 01 December 2011 12:05:32AM *  44 points [-]

“Should we trust models or observations?” In reply we note that if we had observations of the future, we obviously would trust them more than models, but unfortunately observations of the future are not available at this time.

Knutson and Tuleya, Journal of Climate, 2005.

Comment author: matt 07 December 2011 12:22:32AM *  2 points [-]

In the absence of observations of future events, observation of the past performance of your model is advisable (and rare). If your confidence in the current accuracy of your model is much higher than the past performance of your models... you may be optimizing for something other than accuracy.

Comment author: Keratin 24 December 2011 06:33:23AM *  7 points [-]

"'...You are now nearly at childhood's end; you are ready for the truth's weight, to bear it. The truth is that the heroism of your childhood entertainments was not true valor. It was theater. The grand gesture, the moment of choice, the mortal danger, the external foe, the climactic battle whose outcomes resolve all-- all designed to appear heroic, to excite and gratify an audience. An audience.' He made a gesture I can't describe: 'Gentlemen, welcome to the world of reality-- there is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth-- actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it. No one is interested.'"

"'Routine, repetition, tedium, monotony, ephemeracy, inconsquence, abstraction, disorder, boredom, angst, ennui-- these are the true hero's enemies, and make no mistake, they are fearsome indeed. For they are real.'"

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King, p. 232

Comment author: cousin_it 15 December 2011 04:41:13PM 7 points [-]

If wanting to be right is wrong, I don't want to be right.

-- Steven Kaas

Comment author: RobinZ 15 December 2011 06:28:25PM 2 points [-]

Old joke, but a good one.

Comment author: J_Taylor 04 December 2011 08:23:34AM 28 points [-]

Nobody panics when things go "according to plan"… even if the plan is horrifying.

  • The Joker
Comment author: MixedNuts 04 December 2011 06:19:54PM 15 points [-]

Well, that makes sense. They've panicked earlier, when the plan was announced.

Comment author: Ezekiel 05 December 2011 07:55:04PM 12 points [-]

Not necessarily. The human race wasn't around when "Everyone dies" was announced, so we never had the opportunity to panic properly.

Comment author: DanielLC 06 December 2011 12:58:00AM 7 points [-]

Each individual was around when it was announced to them.

Comment author: shokwave 06 December 2011 06:00:03AM 15 points [-]

And each individual panics! Witness the common existential crisis: execute a head-first dive into mild depression and loudly proclaim your conversion to pure hedonism. But since nobody else is currently panicking, the individual comes to mimic the standard mental state. Which may not be the correct mental state...

Comment author: Tesseract 01 December 2011 05:40:37PM 24 points [-]

One of the toughest things in any science... is to weed out the ideas that are really pleasing but unencumbered by truth.

Thomas Carew

Comment author: Grognor 01 December 2011 04:11:53AM 31 points [-]

What is more important in determining an (individual) organism's phenotype, its genes or its environment? Any developmental biologist knows that this is a meaningless question. Every aspect of an organism's phenotype is the joint product of its genes and its environment. To ask which is more important is like asking, Which is more important in determining the area of a rectangle, the length or the width? Which is more important in causing a car to run, the engine or the gasoline? Genes allow the environment to influence the development of phenotypes.

-Tooby and Cosmides, emphasis theirs. It occurred to someone on the Less Wrong IRC channel how good this is an isomorphism of, "You have asked a wrong question."

Comment author: shokwave 01 December 2011 04:19:40AM *  13 points [-]

chelz: shminux: are you more your dna or are you more your personality?

Grognor: chelz: is the area of a rectangle more the length, or the width?

shokwave: grognor: wow. mind if I borrow that?

shokwave: because that is just about the best 'you have asked a wrong question' statement i've ever seen

The conversation in question.

Comment author: CronoDAS 01 December 2011 04:49:01AM *  20 points [-]

Grognor: chelz: is the area of a rectangle more the length, or the width?

The width. Changing the width makes a bigger change in the area than changing the length does. (By convention, the width is defined as the smaller of the two dimensions of the rectangle.)

Comment author: Benquo 02 December 2011 02:48:14PM 5 points [-]

Only if you're augmenting/cutting by a fixed length.

If you're using a proportion (e.g. cut either the length or the width in half) then they're equivalent.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 December 2011 05:24:13AM 12 points [-]

You have resolved the question to the nearest available sane question but that isn't the answer to the question itself and does not make the question valid.

Come to think of it I am somewhat dubious with answering "is the area of this 1km by 1m rectangle more the 1km or the 1m?" with "the 1m". That just doesn't seem right.

Comment author: CronoDAS 01 December 2011 06:02:07AM 4 points [-]

Hmmm...

"is the area of this 1km by 1m rectangle more the 1km or the 1m?"

"No."

Is that better?

Comment author: Kytael 02 December 2011 08:56:08PM 4 points [-]

I could also meaninglessly answer that the length is more important, as it will always be equal or bigger.

the key to finding a wrong question is finding that the answer doesn't help the person who asked it.

Comment author: SilasBarta 01 December 2011 04:29:25PM *  23 points [-]

That sounds like less of a wrong question and more of a "right question with surprising (low prior) answer". As far as the asker knew, the answer could have turned out to be, "Genes produce the same organism phenotype across virtually all environments, so genes are more important because changing them is much more likely to change the expressed phenotype than changing the environment." (and indeed, life would not be life if genes could not force some level of environment-invariance, thereby acting as a control system for a low-entropy island)

I don't see what's wrong with answering this question with "neither [i.e., they're equal], because they jointly determine phenotype, as independent changes in either have the same chance of affecting phenotype".

An example of a wrong question, by contrast, would be something like, "Which path did the electron really take?" because it posits an invalid ontology of the world as a pre-requisite. The question about phenotypes doesn't do that.

Comment author: SilasBarta 02 December 2011 11:23:18PM 5 points [-]

Since my sibling reply got voted up a lot, I want to follow up: it seems that not only is the question not wrong, the "dissolving" answer is itself wrong, or at least very misleading. (Naturally, I have to tread cautiously, since I'm not an Expert in this area.)

As I said in my other reply, the defining characteristic of life is its ability to maintain a low-entropy island against the entropizing forces of nature. So there must be some range of environments in which an organism (via genes) is able to produce the same phenotype regardless of where its environment falls within that range. In effect, the genes allow the phenotype to be "screened off" (d-separated, whatever) from its environment (again, within limits).

A thing that truly allows the environment equal influence in its final form as the thing itself (as suggested by the T&C answer) is not what we mean by "life". It's the hot water that eventually cools to a temperature somewhere between its current temperature and that of its initial environment. It's the compressed gas molecules in the corner of a chamber that eventually spread out evenly throughout the chamber. It is, in short, not the kind of self-replicating, low entropy island we associate with life, and so has no basic units thereof, be they genes or memes.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 December 2011 05:30:38AM 4 points [-]

So there must be some range of environments in which an organism (via genes) is able to produce the same phenotype regardless of where its environment falls within that range.

The organism needs to successfully thrive and reproduce within that range. Sometimes this means tailoring its phenotype to the environment it finds itself in.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 03 December 2011 07:36:36PM 9 points [-]

Of course.

But imagine a world in which environment truly was more determining than genes. Every animal born in a swamp would be a frog (no matter what its parents were) and every animal born in a tree would be a bird. Perhaps coloration or some other trait might be heritable — blue birds who move to swamps give rise to little blue tadpoles — but the majority of phenotypic features would be governed by the environment in which the organism is born and develops.

In our world, all we know about X is that it is a phenotypic feature, then we should expect it is more likely to be stable under different environments than to be stable under different genotypes. Features must owe more (on the aggregate) to genes than to environment. If it were otherwise, then we would not talk about species! We know we are not in the swamp-birds-have-tadpoles world.

When people talk about genes vs. environment, they usually aren't really talking about all features. They're usually talking about some particular, politically interesting set of features of humans ...

Comment author: PhilGoetz 06 December 2011 04:19:12AM 23 points [-]

"I did not think; I investigated."

Wilhelm Roentgen, when asked by an interviewer what he thought on noticing some kind of light (X-ray-induced fluorescence) apparently passing through a solid opaque object. Quoted in de Solla Price, Science Since Babylon, expanded edition, p. 146.

Comment author: RobinZ 02 December 2011 03:18:52AM 14 points [-]

Il est dans la nature humaine de penser sagement et d'agir d'une façon absurde.

English translation: It is human nature to think wisely and to act in an absurd fashion.

Anatole France, Le livre de mon ami (1885)

Comment author: RobinZ 02 December 2011 03:27:23AM 16 points [-]

Anatole France is probably better known for saying, "La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain" - or, in English, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

Comment author: SilasBarta 02 December 2011 03:52:32PM 3 points [-]

I love how English/French translations have so many cognates! (You could even up that one a little more by using "sagely" instead of "wisely".)

Comment author: RobinZ 02 December 2011 05:18:05PM 12 points [-]

I actually have a mild distrust of cognates - I don't think the connotations are necessarily preserved.

Comment author: Prismattic 03 December 2011 12:23:30AM 3 points [-]

Also true of translated terms in general...

Comment author: SilasBarta 02 December 2011 07:42:47PM 2 points [-]

I agree, especially with French. (I've seen people translate "dialogue" from French using the cognate, and it sounds like middle-manager-speak.) Didn't mean to criticize your choice, just something I've found neat.

Comment author: gwern 01 December 2011 04:35:04AM 14 points [-]

"Suffering by nature or chance never seems so painful as suffering inflicted on us by the arbitrary will of another."

--Arthur Schopenhauer

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 01 December 2011 11:09:19AM 5 points [-]

This seems obviously true, but why is it true?

Comment author: Larks 01 December 2011 11:17:30AM 36 points [-]

There's not point being annoyed at nature, but a precommitment to revenge is useful.

Comment author: gwern 01 December 2011 02:55:14PM 7 points [-]

Incidentally, I would point out that I'm pretty sure I've read of psychology experiments where self-inflicted pain is rated as less painful than the same electrical shocks inflicted by another person.

Comment author: Unnamed 01 December 2011 05:50:07PM 18 points [-]

Gray, K., & Wegner, D. M. (2008). The sting of intentional pain. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1260-1262. pdf

Comment author: soreff 02 December 2011 02:33:23PM 3 points [-]

Many thanks for the reference!

I wonder what would happen where the pain is something like a needle-stick in a blood donation: Inflicted by someone else, but with the consent of the person experiencing it. Presumably the element of malice wouldn't be present...

Comment author: Bugmaster 06 December 2011 07:17:46PM 20 points [-]

-- You can look at the stars and say "they sure are pretty" without having to calculate how many light-years away each one is.
-- Not if you want to get to them someday.

-- Questionable Content #2072

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 30 November 2011 11:05:02AM *  20 points [-]

Gradually I began to intellectually reject some of my delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation. This began, most recognizably, with the rejection of politically-oriented thinking as essentially a hopeless waste of intellectual effort.

-John Nash, A Beautiful Mind

In other words, recognizing that politics is the mind-killer helped Nash manage his paranoid-scizophrenia.

Comment author: paper-machine 30 November 2011 11:28:57AM 15 points [-]

Or, at least, he believes it did.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 30 November 2011 05:38:24PM 2 points [-]

Are you saying that it actually didn't help Nash manage his scizophrenia or are you just inserting the uncertainty back into that statement?

Comment author: paper-machine 30 November 2011 05:41:40PM *  15 points [-]

The latter. I don't think Nash is a reliable narrator.

EDIT: And not merely because of his schizophrenia. Without hard data, I'd be hard-pressed to evaluate whether or not learning a mental habit increased or decreased my sanity, and that's assuming I'm sane to begin with.

Comment author: Thomas 11 December 2011 03:35:40PM 13 points [-]

Remember — there is a correlation between correlation and causation.

  • ChaosRobie on Reddit
Comment author: Alejandro1 11 December 2011 10:02:15PM 11 points [-]

More like a causation, I'd say: causation causes correlation.

Comment author: FAWS 13 December 2011 12:27:44PM 3 points [-]

But correlation only correlates with causation.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 17 December 2011 04:52:17AM 15 points [-]

The way I like to put it is this: "correlation correlates with causation because causation causes correlation." :)

Comment author: paper-machine 06 December 2011 06:34:25AM 13 points [-]

Rejecting all organs of information therefore but my senses, I rid myself of the Pyrrhonisms with which an indulgence in speculations hyperphysical and antiphysical so uselessly occupy and disquiet the mind. A single sense may indeed be sometimes decieved, but rarely: and never all our senses together, with their faculty of reasoning. They evidence realities; and there are enough of these for all the purposes of life, without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence.

I am sure that I really know many, many, things, and none more surely than that I love you with all my heart, and pray for the continuance of your life until you shall be tired of it yourself.

Thomas Jefferson, to John Adams, August 15, 1820.

Comment author: perturbation 16 December 2011 04:58:11PM 4 points [-]

I had thought that Jefferson and Adams were bitter political rivals and so was very surprised to read this. With a quick check from Wikipedia, I learned that, "[after being] defeated for re-election by Thomas Jefferson and retir[ing] to Massachusetts, he later resumed his friendship with Jefferson."

Anyway, I like the quote for rationality purposes as well as for the fact that I now have a start on quote-mining if I ever need to write terrifying Jefferson/Adams shipping fanfiction. Why I would need to do so is nonobvious to me right now, but it is one of many contingencies for which I am now prepared.

Comment author: J_Taylor 04 December 2011 12:04:58PM *  13 points [-]

When you choose

How much postage to use,

When you know

What's the chance it will snow,

When you bet

And you end up in debt,

Oh try as you may,

You just can't get away

From mathematics!

Tom Lehrer, "That's Mathematics"

(If one were so inclined, one could give a quasi-rationalist commentary on practically every lyric in that song.)

Comment author: bungula 30 November 2011 04:11:16PM *  19 points [-]

"I just read a pop-science book by a respected author. One chapter, and much of the thesis, was based around wildly inaccurate data which traced back to ... Wikipedia. To encourage people to be on their toes, I'm not going to say what book or author."

-Randall Munroe, xkcd

Comment author: Karmakaiser 01 December 2011 01:40:48AM 12 points [-]

Be careful to leave your sons well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant.

~Epictetus

Comment author: shokwave 01 December 2011 01:49:41AM 5 points [-]

Better to leave them well-instructed and rich, surely?

Comment author: JoachimSchipper 01 December 2011 02:03:50PM *  8 points [-]

This is rather self-serving: the Stoics in general were renowned (and well-paid) teachers. (More practically, I've seen some articles suggesting that, in the US, the cost of some majors now outweighs the monetary benefits. The cost of education should at least be considered.)

Comment author: Xom 30 November 2011 10:27:11PM 11 points [-]

Perhaps you are beginning to see how essential a part of reading it is to be perplexed and know it. Wonder is the beginning of wisdom in learning from books as well as from nature.

~ Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 04 December 2011 12:23:32AM 21 points [-]

In the early 1970's it cost $7 to buy a share in [Warren Buffett's] company, and that same share is worth $4,900 today... That makes Buffett a wonderful investor. What makes him the greatest investor of all time is that during a certain period when he thought stocks were grossly overpriced, he sold everything and returned all the money to his partners at a sizable profit to them. The voluntary returning of money that others would gladly pay you to continue to manage is, in my experience, unique in the history of finance.

  • Peter Lynch, "One Up on Wall Street"
Comment author: Ezekiel 30 November 2011 11:03:32PM *  20 points [-]

I had a dream that I met a girl in a dying world. [...] I knew we didn't have long together. She grabbed me and spoke a stream of numbers into my ear. Then it all went away.

I woke up. The memory of the apocalypse faded to mere fancy, but the numbers burned bright in my mind. I wrote them down immediately. They were coordinates. A place and a time, neither one too far away.

What else could I do? When the day came, I went to the spot and waited.

And?

It turns out wanting something doesn't make it real.

~ Randall Munroe, xkcd #240: Dream Girl

Comment author: RichardKennaway 30 November 2011 11:16:58PM 16 points [-]

It turns out wanting something doesn't make it real.

Except that in this case it did.

Comment author: philh 02 December 2011 01:01:51PM *  12 points [-]

What made it real was (among other things) Randall posting that comic. He wanted the meetup, and chose that method to publicise it.

Wanting something isn't sufficient: desire is a force that acts upon you, not on the universe.

Comment author: Multiheaded 26 December 2011 12:49:50PM 4 points [-]

(I can't give the exact quote, as it's hearsay, and I'm translating it back into English from Russian)

During WW2, British aircraft engineers had to reach a compromise between an airplane's structural durability and other uses of weight such as armor, defensive armament, etc. The odds of losing a bomber due to its structure falling apart were much less than those of it simply being shot down; 1:10000 and 1:20 respectively. Yet when the designers proposed sacrificing some structural integrity to improve the bomber's armor plating or machineguns, the pilots were adamant. They hated the thought of their plane breaking up on its own so much that they passed up the opportunity to reduce a MUCH more likely risk.

(I suspect that the bias here had to do with risks somewhat dependent on the subject seeming much more controllable and less abhorrent).

  • Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down, by J. E. Gordon
Comment author: jcb 23 December 2011 01:56:34AM *  4 points [-]

“The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more."

--Christopher Hitchens (Dec. 15 December 2011) The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-believer

Comment author: JJXW 05 December 2011 11:24:33PM *  4 points [-]

The crucial point to be considered in a study of language behavior is the relationship of language and reality, between words and not-words. Except as we understand this relationship, we run the grave risk of straining the delicate connection between words and facts, of permitting our words to go wild, and so of creating for ourselves fabrications of fantasy and delusion.

-- Wendell Johnson, as quoted in Language Thought and Action

Comment author: MinibearRex 01 December 2011 05:19:09AM 10 points [-]

The story of computers and artificial intelligence (known as AI) resembles that of flight in air and space. Until recently people dismissed both ideas as impossible - commonly meaning that they couldn't see how to do them, or would be upset if they could.

-Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation

Comment author: perturbation 16 December 2011 06:12:02PM 9 points [-]

A witty saying proves nothing. --Voltaire

This is just reinforcing what people (on LessWrong) already think about non-narrow AI; you could just as easily have someone say that:

The story of computers and artificial intelligence (known as AI) resembles that of alchemy and the search for the philosopher's stone. There have been some resultant areas of research, such as chemistry deriving from alchemy, but the original focus (the philosopher's stone) will never be reached.

I remember reading on LessWrong (though I can't find the link now) about how if folk wisdom/sayings can be reversed and applied to the situation, it means that neither is capable of giving real insight to the problem.

Comment author: baiter 01 December 2011 10:34:19PM 19 points [-]

God created the Earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.

-- Dutch proverb

Comment author: Ezekiel 01 December 2011 11:01:52PM 3 points [-]

Can someone please explain this one to me? I'm just getting "living things shape their environment", which while inspirational doesn't have much to do with rationality.

Comment author: PhilosophyTutor 01 December 2011 11:18:22PM 6 points [-]

It looks to me like a more pacifistic version of "God made man, but Samuel Colt made them equal". Which could be taken to mean "faith might have its place, but science and hard work are what solve problems". Both proverbs are open to other interpretations of course.

Comment author: SilasBarta 01 December 2011 11:14:14PM 16 points [-]

Possibly it's making a subtle equivocation between "earth" and "land", that is, the Dutch obtained a lot of what is now the Netherlands by extracting underwater land from the sea (or used to, something like that). It's not just saying that the Dutch "created their nation" in the sense of laws and whatnot, but actually "made" the land for it.

My guess, anyway.

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 December 2011 11:19:12PM 2 points [-]

That's the interpretation given in this French children's book, where I first encountered the proverb.

Comment author: bbleeker 02 December 2011 11:11:44AM 13 points [-]

That's also how this Dutchwoman interprets it. But of course, while it literally refers to the creation of polders, the figurative meaning is 'faith might have its place, but science and hard work are what solve problems', like PhilosophyTutor said. (With a little bit of 'Gee, aren't we Dutch GREAT?' thrown in. ;p)

Comment author: Alerik 06 December 2011 05:28:36PM 13 points [-]

“To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.” ― Paul Valéry

Comment author: HonoreDB 01 December 2011 06:31:19PM 8 points [-]

Winning is getting what we want, which often includes assisting others in getting what they want. Winning may forward a just cause. It may help strangers. It may discover the truth. Winning may help a loved one to succeed, a child to bloom, an enemy to see us in a new light.

Gerry Spence (emphasis his)

Comment author: gwern 04 December 2011 01:47:19PM *  24 points [-]

In the autumn of 1939, Ludwig Wittgenstein and his young Cambridge student and friend Norman Malcolm were walking along the river when they saw a newspaper vendor's sign announcing that the Germans had accused the British government of instigating a recent attempt to assassinate Hitler. When Wittgenstein remarked that it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true, Malcolm retorted that it was impossible because "the British were too civilized and decent to attempt anything so underhand, and . . . such an act was incompatible with the British 'national character'." Wittgenstein was furious. Some five years later, he wrote to Malcolm:

"Whenever I thought of you I couldn't help thinking of a particular incident which seemed to me very important. . . . you made a remark about 'national character' that shocked me by its primitiveness. I then thought: what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., & if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life, if it does not make you more conscientious than any . . . journalist in the use of the DANGEROUS phrases such people use for their own ends."

--Marjorie Perloff, Wittgenstein's Ladder; apparently of the many attempts, the one referred to did not actually have British backing, although some did eg. the Oster Conspiracy or Operation Foxley.

(This is the full and original quote; the emphasis is on the section which is usually paraphrased as, "What is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic...if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life?")

Comment author: Vladimir_M 06 December 2011 04:48:35AM *  8 points [-]

I don't understand what exactly is supposed to be so shockingly "primitive" or illogical about Malcolm's statements. The remarks about the national character of the British and their level of civilization and decency can be interpreted as a reasonable belief that conspiring to assassinate a foreign head of state would be a violation of certain norms that the British government is known to follow consistently in practice, and expected to follow by a broad consensus of the British people -- such consensus being strong enough that it can be considered part of their national character.

Now, one may argue that Malcolm had mistaken beliefs about some of the relevant facts here, but Wittgenstein's reaction looks in any case like a silly tantrum. He also seems to be using the Dark Arts tactic of throwing exalted and self-important rhetoric about general intellectual principles to draw attention away from his petty and unreasonable behavior.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 December 2011 10:17:38PM 4 points [-]

"a violation of certain norms that the British government is known to follow consistently in practice"

What does "what is known" have to do with what is in fact? The suppressed premise is that citizens know what their governments do, even those parts of the government termed its "secret service." That governments don't operate by ordinary standards of "decency" has been known at least since Machiavelli.

Comment author: gwern 06 December 2011 02:46:00PM *  8 points [-]

Malcolm was one of Wittgenstein's most promising students; yet even he fell - unquestioningly - into the vapid jingoistic idea that there are intrinsic 'national characters' (aggregates over millions of people of multiple regions!) which carry moral qualities despite the obvious conflict of interest (who is telling him the English are too noble to assassinate), that they exist and carry enough information to overrule public claims like that, and all his philosophical training which ought to have given him some modicum of critical thought, some immunity against nationalism, did nothing. And in point of fact, he was blatantly wrong, which is why I linked the British-connected plots and assassins.

The remarks about the national character of the British and their level of civilization and decency can be interpreted as a reasonable belief that conspiring to assassinate a foreign head of state would be a violation of certain norms that the British government is known to follow consistently in practice, and expected to follow by a broad consensus of the British people -- such consensus being strong enough that it can be considered part of their national character.

Uh huh. And if a Tea Partier tells you that Abu Ghraib was just youthful spirits and black sites don't exist, well, obviously that's a reasonable interpretation of the facts based on that non-chimerical 'national character' or a broad consensus of the American people... Whatever.

In retrospect maybe I should've rewritten the anecdote as a German saying it (about Churchill claiming a German attempt on his life) and an English rebuking him later, just to see whether there would be anyone trying to justify it. (It's not that famous a Wittgenstein quote, I don't think anyone would notice.)

Comment author: Vladimir_M 06 December 2011 03:43:07PM *  11 points [-]

With all due respect, you are getting seriously mind-killed here.

Do you agree that the probability of a person accepting and following certain norms (and more generally, acting and thinking in certain ways) can be higher or lower conditional on them belonging to a specific nationality? Similarly, would you agree that the probability of a government acting in a certain way may strongly depend on the government in question? Or are these "vapid jingoistic idea[s]"?

For example, suppose I'm an American and someone warns me that the U.S. government would have me tortured to death in the public square if I called the U.S. president a rascal. I reply that while such fears would be justified in many other places and times, they are unfounded in this case, since Americans are too civilized and decent to tolerate such things, and it is in their national character to consider criticizing (and even insulting) the president as a fundamental right. What exactly would be fallacious about this reply?

Note that I accept it as perfectly reasonable if one argues that Malcolm was factually mistaken about the character of the British government. What I object to is grandstanding rhetoric and moral posturing that tries to justify what is in fact nothing more than a display of the usual human frailty in a petty politicking quarrel.

Comment author: Emile 06 December 2011 05:21:50PM *  7 points [-]

Do you agree that the probability of a person accepting and following certain norms (and more generally, acting and thinking in certain ways) can be higher or lower conditional on them belonging to a specific nationality? Similarly, would you agree that the probability of a government acting in a certain way may strongly depend on the government in question?

I agree, but I don't think that you're describing Malcolm's position - Wittgenstein was the one expressing uncertainty on the issue ("When Wittgenstein remarked that it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true, Malcolm retorted that it was impossible"), so for Malcolm to disagree with him he must be quite confident, not merely think that the British are less likely to assassinate than others.

And when someone has undue confidence in how good his group is, beyond what evidence mandates - than yes, it seems correct to say that he was mind-killed by his "primitive" jingoism, and Wittgenstein is correct to rebuke him.

If I read about an assassination attempt on Hitler and about how some said it was mandated by the British, then my position would be Wittgenstein's - that it wouldn't surprise me if that was true (even before reading Gwern's post). It may be that hindsight is 20/20, but I think Malcolm, who had much more information about the times than I do, should have been able to see more clearly.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 06 December 2011 04:22:15PM 5 points [-]

Note that I accept it as perfectly reasonable if one argues that Malcolm was factually mistaken about the character of the British government.

Malcolm spoke about the British national character (not the character of the British government) and from this he arbitrarily leaped to thinking that it binds the actions of the British government; as if the British government is somehow a random or representative sample of the British population.

The assumptions and leaps of logic necessary for this flawed logic are obvious to those who've managed to avoid thinking of whole nations as if they're homogeneous groups. Wittgenstein was correct to call it primitive. Malcolm was not saying anything more intelligent or subtle or deep than "Our monkey tribe good! Therefore nobody from our monkey tribe ever do bad thing!" If the representation of the conversation is a fair one, Malcolm wasn't wise enough to be able to even distinguish between government and governed, and consider the differences that might accumulated to each.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 06 December 2011 05:24:35PM 6 points [-]

Malcolm spoke about the British national character (not the character of the British government) and from this he arbitrarily leaped to thinking that it binds the actions of the British government; as if the British government is somehow a random or representative sample of the British population.

Such an absurd assumption is not necessary. It is sufficient that the way government officials are selected from the British population doesn't specifically select for traits contrary to the "national character," or that their behavior is constrained by what the general public would be outraged at, even when they act in secret. (Note also that this isn't necessarily due to rational fear of being caught -- people are normally afraid and reluctant to do outrageous things even when rational calculations tell them the probability of getting caught is negligible. With the exception of certain things where hypocrisy is the unspoken de facto norm, of course, but that's not the case here.)

Malcolm was not saying anything more intelligent or subtle or deep than "Our monkey tribe good! Therefore nobody from our monkey tribe ever do bad thing!"

Malcolm may well have been guilty of such thinking, but at the same time, Wittgenstein clearly had a fit of irrational anger at the suggestion that probabilities of monkey behaviors are not independent of their tribe. (I won't speculate on what part his own residues of tribal feelings might have played here.)

And nobody here is claiming that Malcolm was correct -- merely that Wittgenstein's reaction was hardly the paragon of rationality it's presented to be.

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 December 2011 10:14:34AM *  2 points [-]

"Our monkey tribe good! Therefore nobody from our monkey tribe ever do bad thing!"

Don't forget Wittgenstein may have reacted as he did out his own emotional attachment as well.

"Who you to say your monkey tribe so much better than mine!"

Which is not to imply that he was identifying with Nazis, which he obviously wasn't, but you would be surprised how many historic accounts of those of say Jewish descent that fled the National Socialist regime still overall held German and Austrian culture and "national character" in higher esteem than that of say the British, Russians or Americans, we have.

"If my monkey tribe can do horrible things, well yours isn't that different!"

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 07 December 2011 10:43:02AM *  2 points [-]

Don't forget Wittgenstein may have reacted as he did out his own emotional attachment as well.

"Who you to say your monkey tribe so much better than mine!"

Agreed. Or from e.g. feeling betrayed that Malcolm didn't consider him and Wittgenstein to belong in the same monkey tribe for all intends and purposes. I've not read any of Wittgenstein, but if he was of internationalist ideology, he might have been disappointed to see nationalist sentiment in Malcolm (which would put Malcolm and Wittgenstein in different tribes) rather than whatever ideological/political/racial/religious/class distinctions would have put them in the same tribe.

I don't make the same tribal distinctions that a Greek nationalist would make, or a white nationalist would make. For someone to put much weight on such distinctions would mark him as a different tribe according to my distinctions, even though I'm Greek and white too.

Comment author: Oligopsony 07 December 2011 01:37:36PM *  13 points [-]

This makes me think of one of those intellectual hipster Hegelian dialectic thingies.

Idiot: My monkeys are better than your monkeys. (Blood for the blood god, etc; Malcolm.)

Contrarian: My monkeys are better than your monkeys, because they don't say things like "My monkeys are better than your monkeys." (Secular Western cosmopolitanism, faith in progress, etc; Wittgenstein.)

Hipster: My monkeys are better than your monkeys, because they don't say things like "My monkeys are better than your monkeys, because they don't say things like 'My monkeys are better than your monkeys.'" (Postmodernism, cultural relativism, etc; Vladimir.)

It amuses me that I can think of a few trendy Continentals right now who base their appeal on working at level four.

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 December 2011 11:37:29AM *  4 points [-]

People can get very upset when those they like, "suddenly" turn out not to be "part" of the same tribe.

Comment author: Vaniver 06 December 2011 03:13:53PM 2 points [-]

the British government is known to follow consistently in practice

Emphasis mine. That's the part that's the result of bias (i.e. primitive and illogical).

Comment author: Vladimir_M 06 December 2011 04:00:32PM *  4 points [-]

However, Wittgenstein is not criticizing Malcolm just for supposedly having wrong factual beliefs, but for mere willingness to use probabilities about beliefs and behavior of people that are conditional on their natonality. He is objecting to the very idea that the probability of the British government commiting a certain act may be different from the probability of some other government committing it, or that certain broader norms that also prohibit such behavior might be a matter of exceptionally strong consensus among the British, which would by itself provide strong evidence that their government is unlikely to exhibit it.

Comment author: Vaniver 06 December 2011 05:07:56PM 5 points [-]

I think we are interpreting Malcolm's position very differently. Malcolm isn't saying "I would be surprised; I put a low probability that the British government would do that." Malcolm appears offended- it is impossible because the British are too decent. You are right that one could, say, be less surprised by an American assassination attempt than a Canadian assassination attempt based on past actions of the governments, but that's not what Malcolm is doing here. He's exhibiting a nationalistic, self-serving bias, which Wittgenstein is right to object to.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 06 December 2011 06:27:54PM 4 points [-]

I am not concerned with whether Malcolm was correct, and I'm not saying that Wittgenstein had nothing to object to. This is not a situation where we're judging them as symmetrical parties in a debate, but a situation where we discuss whether Wittgenstein's position deserves to be pointed out as an outstanding example of rationality. And it seems tome that even if one takes a much less favorable view of Malcolm, Wittgenstein is still displaying a fair amount of mind-killing biases.

Comment author: M88 04 December 2011 03:30:07AM *  7 points [-]

With ten-thousand-time-told truths, you've still got to ask for proof. Ask for proof, because if you're dying to be led they'll lead you up the hill in chains to their popular refrains until your slaughter's been arranged, my little lamb, and it's much too late to talk the knife out of their hands.

"The Latest Toughs" by Okkervil River http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tziQcj4XIYw

Comment author: jsbennett86 02 December 2011 02:02:32AM 3 points [-]

"Clear language engenders clear thought, and clear thought is the most important benefit of education." - Richard Mitchell, The Graves of Academe

Comment author: Tesseract 01 December 2011 05:39:22PM 10 points [-]

A system for generating ungrounded but mostly true beliefs would be an oracle, as impossible as a perpetual motion machine.

(McKay & Dennett 2009)

Comment author: harshhpareek 04 December 2011 07:32:21AM *  12 points [-]

The Meander (aka Menderes) is a river in Turkey. As you might expect, it winds all over the place. But it doesn't do this out of frivolity. The path it has discovered is the most economical route to the sea

-- Paul Graham, "The Age of the Essay" (http://www.paulgraham.com/essay.html)

Comment author: jimmy 15 December 2011 07:04:55PM *  4 points [-]

But its not true. (well, under the most reasonable interpretations that come to mind)

Rivers do meander "frivolously" due to instabilities.

Even if it didn't carve into the earth, it wouldn't be true, since it's a simple gradient descent.

Comment author: Tesseract 01 December 2011 05:35:16PM 6 points [-]

Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.

Euripides, Helen

Comment author: Ezekiel 01 December 2011 11:13:57PM 8 points [-]

We practice rationality because we don't have a "sense" of what not to believe, or at least not a reliable one. The closest thing is the absurdity heuristic, which is very hit-and-miss.

Comment author: rmurf 08 December 2011 10:59:57PM 8 points [-]

“If you follow the ways in which you were trained, which you may have inherited, for no other reason than this, you are illogical.”

--Jalaluddin Rumi

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 30 November 2011 11:39:36AM 16 points [-]

The man, who in a fit of melancholy, kills himself today, would have wished to live had he waited a week.

-Voltaire, Cato

Comment author: anonymous259 02 December 2011 02:38:59AM 5 points [-]
Comment author: Nominull 30 November 2011 03:34:52PM 4 points [-]

But which of these more accurately represents his "actual preferences", to the extent that such a thing even exists?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 30 November 2011 05:03:01PM 7 points [-]

Not only is "actual preferences" ill-defined, but so is "accurately represent." So let me try and operationalize this a bit.

We have someone with a set of preferences that turn out to be mutually exclusive in the world they live in.
We can in principle create a procedure for sorting their preferences into categories such that each preference falls into at least one category and all the preferences in a category can (at least in principle) be realized in that world at the same time.
So suppose we've done this, and it turns out they have two categories A and B, where A includes those preferences Cato describes as "a fit of melancholy."

I would say that their "actual" preferences = (A + B). It's not realizable in the world, but it's nevertheless their preference. So your question can be restated: does A or B more accurately represent (A + B)?

There doesn't seem to be any nonarbitrary way to measure the extent of A, B, and (A+B) to determine this directly. I mean, what would you measure? The amount of brain matter devoted to representing all three? The number of lines of code required to represent them in some suitably powerful language?

One common approach is to look at their revealed preferences as demonstrated by the choices they make. Given an A-satisfying and a B-satisfying choice that are otherwise equivalent (and constructing such an exercise is left as an exercise to the class), which do they choose? This is tricky in this case, since the whole premise here is that their revealed preferences are inconsistent over time, but you could in principle measure their revealed preferences at multiple different times and weight the results accordingly (assuming for simplicity that all preference-moments are identical in weight).

When you were done doing all of that, you'd know whether A > B, B>A, or A=B.

It's not in the least clear to me what good knowing that would do you. I suspect that this sort of analysis is not actually what you had in mind.

A more common approach is to decide which of A and B I endorse, and to assert that the one I endorse is his actual preference. E.g., if I endorse choosing to live over choosing to die, then I endorse B, and I therefore assert that B is his actual preference. But this is not emotionally satisfying when I say it baldly like that. Fortunately, there are all kinds of ways to conceal the question-begging nature of this approach, even from oneself.

Comment author: peter_hurford 06 December 2011 12:18:11AM 3 points [-]

Thanks to all the pushback against my initial complaint, I've retracted my downvote. I announce this here so that I can signal what a wonderful rationalist I am.

Comment author: peter_hurford 30 November 2011 09:07:43PM 13 points [-]

I think this quote unfairly trivializes the subjectively (and often objectively) harsh lives suicidal people go through.

Comment author: roystgnr 03 December 2011 04:38:05PM 15 points [-]

I think this quote is objectively accurate:

"of all would-be jumpers who were thwarted from leaping off the Golden Gate between 1937 and 1971 — an astonishing 515 individuals in all — he painstakingly culled death-certificate records to see how many had subsequently “completed.” His report, “Where Are They Now?” remains a landmark in the study of suicide, for what he found was that just 6 percent of those pulled off the bridge went on to kill themselves. Even allowing for suicides that might have been mislabeled as accidents only raised the total to 10 percent."

In other words, if you ever think you want to kill yourself, there's a 90% chance you're wrong. Behave accordingly.

Comment author: quinsie 04 December 2011 07:59:31PM 5 points [-]

All this data says is that between 90% and 94% of people who are convinced not to jump did not go on to successfully commit suicide at a later date. It would be a big mistake to assume that whether or not you would come to regret your choice is 100% independent of whether or not you can be convinced not to jump and that therefore the fraction of people who came to regret commiting suicide is the same as the fraction who would have come to regret commiting suicide if they had failed their attempt.

Comment author: roystgnr 05 December 2011 11:20:16PM 5 points [-]

"Apprehended" isn't synonymous with "convinced not to jump", but there does seem to be a sampling bias here, yes. (And can I say how refreshing it is to hear someone point that out and not be ignorantly insulted for it by dozens of people? Hyperlink to a "More Wrong" website omitted in the name of internet civility, but take my word for it that I'm describing an actual event.)

I think even "convinced not to jump" wouldn't necessarily change the decision calculus here, though. To the extent there is a selection bias it's because some subset of suicidal people behaved in ways which caused them to avoid opportunities to have their minds changed. That's so irrational you could practically write a book about it.

One old study about one bridge is not the whole body of evidence regarding suicide, either. Read a few more bits from just that one news article.

Suicide rates reduced by a third in Britain merely because one easy method became unavailable? In other words, a large minority of would-be suicides didn't even need to be convinced by someone else, they just needed less time to convince themselves than it would have taken them to find a slightly less convenient way of killing themselves. Even "very slightly less convenient" can provide enough time: 4 bridge jumpers per year were all deterred by one new barrier at the Ellington bridge, the local suicide rate went down by 4 jumpers per year, and the suicide rate at the unprotected, easily visible neighboring bridge only went up by 0.3 per year?

I personally wouldn't have predicted any of this, but I don't think there's any major flaws in the data now that I've seen it. The biggest selection bias here may be one for those of us who naturally try to predict how people will rationally respond to changing incentives: applying such predictions to a tiny fraction of the population which has already self-selected for irrationality is not going to work well.

Comment author: Desrtopa 06 December 2011 01:23:41AM *  4 points [-]

Suicide rates reduced by a third in Britain merely because one easy method became unavailable? In other words, a large minority of would-be suicides didn't even need to be convinced by someone else, they just needed less time to convince themselves than it would have taken them to find a slightly less convenient way of killing themselves.

Not that I don't think that most people who plan to kill themselves will tend to think better of it as time passes, but it's a mistake to assume that trivial inconveniences only prevent people from doing things they don't really want or believe are good for them.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 December 2011 04:44:22PM 5 points [-]

In other words, if you ever think you want to kill yourself, there's a 90% chance you're wrong.

That isn't what the quote tells you. It is evidence that you could be wrong but certainly doesn't make you 90% likely to be wrong.

Comment author: roystgnr 05 December 2011 10:51:16PM 5 points [-]

Well, yes, it just establishes a prior. But a remarkably hard prior to update, don't you think? "I'm probably in worse shape than all those people who tried to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge" would demand some exceptional new information.

Comment author: DanielLC 06 December 2011 01:01:55AM 2 points [-]

If you ever think you want to kill yourself, there's a 90% percent chance that, either you're wrong, or you will be after surviving the attempt.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 01 December 2011 03:59:48AM *  26 points [-]

As a 911 Operator, I have spoken to hundreds of suicidal people at their very lowest moment (often with a weapon in hand). In my professional judgment, the quote is accurate for a large number of cases (obviously, there are exceptions).

Comment author: Desrtopa 02 December 2011 01:58:37AM 3 points [-]

I have read that a majority of people who survive suicide attempts end up glad that they did not succeed (although I can no longer remember and thus cannot vouch for the source.) A somewhat alarming proportion of my own acquaintances have attempted suicide though, and all except for one so far have attested that this is the case for them.

Comment author: lemonfreshman 02 December 2011 08:33:48PM 5 points [-]

There are many people who want to die. There are few who are willing to commit suicide to do it.

Comment author: DanielLC 06 December 2011 12:59:56AM 3 points [-]

From what I understand, it's accurate. Whether waiting a week would result in a more or less responsible decision is an open question.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 December 2011 05:18:20PM 3 points [-]

When it is subjectively and not objectively harsh, what needs to happen is that their malfunctioning brain be fixed.

Comment author: dlthomas 05 December 2011 05:39:48PM 3 points [-]

And what needs to happen, for the others, is that their objective reality be fixed.

Comment author: hairyfigment 03 December 2011 12:17:34AM 11 points [-]

Every properly trained wizard has heard of Abraham, the idiot apprentice who recklessly enchanted a massive diamond instead of selling it to pay someone more skilled to fix his cursed noble friend. Haven't you destroyed the bloody thing by now?

  • Raven, from Dan Shive's webcomic El Goonish Shive.
Comment author: Stabilizer 11 December 2011 08:31:27PM 7 points [-]

"Numbers---you know? The kind with decimals in them?"

--Max Tegmark, asking for some quantitative information in a vague lecture.

Comment author: Morendil 13 December 2011 09:33:11AM 5 points [-]

I should not choose long, hard words just to make other persons think that I know a lot. I should try to make my thoughts clear; if they are clear and right, then other persons can judge my work as it ought to be judged.

-- Guy Steele, Growing a Language (pdf)

Comment author: lukeprog 24 December 2011 04:37:35PM *  8 points [-]

I have a lot of beliefs, and I live by none of them. That's just the way I am. They're just my beliefs, I just like believing them. I like that part.

They're my little "believees," they make me feel good about who I am. But if they get in the way of a thing I want or I want to jack off or something, I fuckin' do that.

Louis C.K., Live at the Beacon Theater

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 30 November 2011 11:21:10AM *  12 points [-]

Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung.

-Pierre de Beaumarchais (and usually incorrectly attributed to Voltaire)

Comment author: fortyeridania 30 November 2011 12:20:35PM 5 points [-]

Is this about the seductive power of music to fool people into believing implausible things? If not, what is its rationality?

Comment author: Ezekiel 30 November 2011 10:45:10PM 11 points [-]

I would take it to be about art in general rather than music specifically. It's socially acceptable for works of art to support a particular viewpoint - and try to convert their consumers to it - without supplying much evidence to show that it's actually true.

One example that will probably ring true with LWers is the strong lesson in lots of fiction that following one's "heart" is a better (more moral, or more likely to lead to success) course of action than following one's "head".

Comment author: lessdazed 30 November 2011 11:22:26PM 4 points [-]

A similar principle might be: any popular game with poor plot, balance, gameplay, etc. has good graphics.

Comment author: Xom 30 November 2011 10:26:52PM 11 points [-]

Every Sauron considers himself a Boromir.

~ Mencius Moldbug

Comment author: hairyfigment 02 December 2011 11:48:59PM 3 points [-]

I can't let a liar like Sauron win! I owe it to The People!

Saruman, in this image at A Tiny Revolution.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 17 December 2011 12:23:21AM *  2 points [-]

That doesn't seem like the right pair of characters for making the intended point. Here is the context:

Perhaps the most important fact about power is that the powerful are almost always sincere. They honestly believe they are doing good. Every Sauron considers himself a Boromir. And - as Acton observed - every Boromir has an inner Sauron.

Boromir himself was an example of a character who was doing bad but thought (until just before the end) that he was doing good. So, to consider oneself to be a Boromir is to consider oneself to be fooling oneself in just the way that Moldbug describes. Boromir already is just the kind of self-deluded person that Moldbug is saying that powerful people are. It would have made his point better to say that "Every Boromir considers himself a Faramir". Or, "Every Sauron considers himself a Gandalf".

Comment author: DanArmak 17 December 2011 03:20:28PM *  7 points [-]

Boromir himself was an example of a character who was doing bad

You let an evil magic artifact of unimaginable power sway you for literally two minutes and that's the only thing people remember you for, for the rest of eternity.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 17 December 2011 07:19:41AM 4 points [-]

"Every Sauron considers himself a Gandalf".

The problem is that Gandalf explicitly refuses the ring for fear he would find it useful and thus be corrupted by it. Whereas Moldbug's point is about how Sauron would rationalize taking the ring. Perhaps a better phrasing would be, "Every Sauron starts out as a Boromir."

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 17 December 2011 07:44:20AM *  3 points [-]

The problem is that Gandalf explicitly refuses the ring for fear he would find it useful and thus be corrupted by it.

Like Gandalf, then, except smart enough not to pass up such an awesome opportunity to do so much good :D.

Incidentally, there's an essay by Tolkien where he explores the differences between the motivations of Morgoth and Sauron: Notes on motives in the Silmarillion. Some excerpts:

Thus, as "Morgoth", when Melkor was confronted by the existence of other inhabitants of Arda, with other wills and intelligences, he was enraged by the mere fact of their existence, and his only notion of dealing with them was by physical force, or the fear of it. His sole ultimate object was their destruction. [...] This was sheer nihilism, and negation its one ultimate object [...] Melkor could do nothing with Arda, which was not from his own mind and was interwoven with the work and thoughts of others: even left alone he could only have gone raging on till all was levelled again into a formless chaos.

[...]

Sauron had never reached this stage of nihilistic madness. He did not object to the existence of the world, so long as he could do what he liked with it. He still had the relics of positive purposes, that descended from the good of the nature in which he began: it had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall, and of his relapse) that he loved order and coordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction. [...] Sauron had, in fact, been very like Saruman, and so still understood him quickly and could guess what he would be likely to think and do, even without the aid of the palantíri or of spies; whereas Gandalf eluded and puzzled him. [...] But like all minds of this cast, Sauron's love (originally) or (later) mere understanding of other individual intelligences was correspondingly weaker; and though the only real good in, or rational motive for, all this ordering and planning and organization was the good of all inhabitants of Arda (even admitting Sauron's right to be their supreme lord), his "plans", the idea coming from his own isolated mind, became the sole object of his will, and an end, the End, in itself.

[...]

Morgoth had no "plan"; unless destruction and reduction to nil of a world in which he had only a share can be called a "plan".

Comment author: thelittledoctor 12 December 2011 03:22:29AM 7 points [-]

There is a thing called knowledge of the world, which people do not have until they are middle-aged. It is something which cannot be taught to younger people, because it is not logical and does not obey laws which are constant. It has no rules. Only, in the long years which bring women to the middle of life, a sense of balance develops. You can't teach a baby to walk by explaining the matter to her logically -- she has to learn the strange poise of walking by experience. In some way like that, you cannot teach a young woman to have knowledge of the world. She has to be left to the experience of the years. And then, when she is beginning to hate her used body, she suddenly finds that she can do it. She can go on living -- not by principle, not by deduction, not by knowledge of good and evil, but simply by a peculiar and shifting sense of balance which defies each of these things often. She no longer hopes to live by seeking the truth -- if women ever do hope this -- but continues henceforth under the guidance of a seventh sense. Balance was the sixth sense, which she won when she first learned to walk, and now she has the seventh one -- knowledge of the world.

The slow discovery of the seventh sense, by which both men and women contrive to ride the waves of a world in which there is war, adultery, compromise, fear, stultification and hypocrisy -- this discovery is not a matter for triumph. The baby, perhaps, cries out triumphantly: I have balance! But the seventh sense is recognized without a cry. We only carry on with our famous knowledge of the world, riding the queer waves in a habitual, petrifying way, because we have reached a stage of deadlock in which we can think of nothing else to do.

And at this stage we begin to forget that there ever was a time when we lacked the seventh sense. We begin to forget, as we go stolidly balancing along, that there could have been a time when we were young bodies flaming with the impetus of life. It is hardly consoling to remember such a feeling, and so it deadens in our minds.

But there was a time when each of us stood naked before the world, confronting life as a serious problem with which we were intimately and passionately concerned. There was a time when it was of vital interest to us to find out whether there was a God or not. Obviously the existence or otherwise of a future life must be of the very first importance to somebody who is going to live her present one, because her manner of living it must hinge on the problem. There was a time when Free Love versus Catholic Morality was a question of as much importance to our hot bodies as if a pistol had been clapped to our heads.

Further back, there were times when we wondered with all our souls what the world was, what love was, what we were ourselves.

All these problems and feelings fade away when we get the seventh sense. Middle-aged people can balance between believing in God and breaking all the commandments, without difficulty. The seventh sense, indeed, slowly kills all the other ones, so that at last there is no trouble about the commandments. We cannot see any more, or feel, or hear about them. The bodies which we loved, the truths which we sought, the Gods whom we questioned: we are deaf and blind to them now, safely and automatically balancing along toward the inevitable grave, under the protection of our last sense. "Thank God for the aged", sings the poet:

Thank God for the aged And for age itself, and illness and the grave. When we are old and ill, and particularly in the coffin, It is no trouble to behave.

-T.H. White, in The Once And Future King (book III, Le Chevalier Mal Fet)

Comment author: Manfred 12 December 2011 03:20:14PM *  5 points [-]

It is something which cannot be taught to younger people, because it is not logical and does not obey laws which are constant.

We have never yet found a single illogical thing. Things, by and large, are pretty ordinary. If something is hard to teach and hard to learn, it's more likely that humans just suck at teaching and learning it. Alternately, some of this stuff sounds like it would really suck to learn, so active avoidance could be part of it too.

Really well written though :D

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 12 December 2011 05:42:27PM *  4 points [-]

Alternately, some of this stuff sounds like it would really suck to learn, so active avoidance could be part of it too.

That's the point. The passage is being sarcastic.

Comment author: thelittledoctor 13 December 2011 03:17:06AM 5 points [-]

Of course. What he's describing isn't rationality, it's dysrationalia - and especially the ability to compartmentalize. The rational ones in this passage are the young, who are "intimately and passionately concerned" with the existence of God, Free Love versus Catholic Morality, and so on. More than anything I see this quote as a caution against losing the fire in your belly.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 December 2011 11:33:56PM *  4 points [-]

At some point, our society decided with great certainty that the Earth is a sphere and, consequently, that further consideration is unnecessary and anyone holding an opposing viewpoint is unworthy of debate.

-- Daniel Shelton, re-founder of the Flat Earth Society

(We're looking for good illustrations of motivated uncertainty, insistence that no conclusion can be drawn from overwhelming data. Shelton may not be a good example because he is probably a deliberate troll who does not really believe the Earth is flat. Also, religious examples are excluded, but examples from e.g. astrology and homeopathy would not be. Daily-life examples are best.)

Comment author: kalla724 02 December 2011 07:29:19PM *  4 points [-]

Let's go for two-in-one this time:

It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this. - Bertrand Russell

The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance. - Benjamin Franklin

Comment author: lessdazed 02 December 2011 07:50:17AM 4 points [-]

Phenotype is the genotype transformed and refracted through the lens of developmment and the environment; all genes are pleiotropic, all traits are polygenic.

--PZ Myers

Comment author: hairyfigment 14 December 2011 12:14:02AM 2 points [-]

After describing an odd subjective experience:

If the rationalist reader has had the quite super-Stylite patience to read to this point, he will surely now at last throw down the book with an ethically justifiable curse.

Yet I beg him to believe that there is a shade of difference between me and a paradox-monger. I am not playing with words -- Lord knows how I wish I could! I find that they play with me! -- I am honestly and soberly trying to set down that which I know, that which I know better than I know anything else in the world, that which so transcends and excels all other experience that I am all on fire to proclaim it.

Yet I fail utterly. I have given my life to the study of the English language; I am supposed by my flatterers to have some little facility of expression, especially, one may agree, in conveying the extremes of thought of all kinds. Yet here I want to burn down the Universe for lack of a language.

-- Aleister Crowley here

Comment author: kateblu 07 December 2011 12:44:45PM 2 points [-]

Seeing how individual decisions are rational within the bounds of the information available does not provide an excuse for narrow-minded behavior. It provides an understanding of why that behavior arises. Within the bounds of what a person in that part of the system can see and know, the behavior is reasonable. Taking out one individual from a position of bounded rationality and putting in another person is not likely to make much difference. Blaming the individual rarely helps create a more desirable outcome. – Donella H Meadows

Comment author: bungula 30 November 2011 04:22:08PM 9 points [-]

The Doctor: The security protocols are still online and there's no way to override them. It's impossible.

River: How impossible?

The Doctor: A few minutes.

-Doctor Who, Season 5, Episode 5

Comment author: wedrifid 01 December 2011 05:30:34AM *  3 points [-]

I love the quote. The Doctor is badass. But ultimately this seems to be a quote about misusing the word 'impossible' - totally out of place in this thread!

Comment author: bungula 02 December 2011 12:17:01PM 4 points [-]

I see it as taking the Outside View on impossibility. Of course, in real life it usually takes more than a few minutes, but in the Whoniverse it is not unreasonable. Also, asking "How impossible?" seems to me like a good question in some cases.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 December 2011 03:00:02PM *  6 points [-]

I see it as taking the Outside View on impossibility. Of course, in real life it usually takes more than a few minutes, but in the Whoniverse it is not unreasonable. Also, asking "How impossible?" seems to me like a good question in some cases.

So long as it is kept in mind that "How impossible?" is merely a more polite and less coherent way of replying "Bullshit. How difficult is it really?".

Comment author: gwern 14 December 2011 04:52:08PM *  5 points [-]

"One should forgive one's enemies, but not before they are hanged."

--Heinrich Heine; an early, little-known German contribution to the Evil Overlord List.

Comment author: brilee 02 December 2011 02:32:02PM *  6 points [-]

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” - Zen saying

A warning that not all hyperrationality is beneficial.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 02 December 2011 02:47:42PM 33 points [-]

Or a warning that the Zen notion of enlightenment won't let you automate menial tasks you dislike.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 December 2011 04:21:12PM 18 points [-]

...or another way of saying "it all adds up to normal."

Comment author: jdgalt 03 December 2011 01:18:02AM 6 points [-]

Or at least, that at some point, if you want to improve your lot, you need to leave off thinking long enough to build, buy, or improve some gadget or agreement that will actually help. Labor-saving tech really does equal progress.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 December 2011 06:22:33AM 9 points [-]

How strange; I live in an Enlightened civilization and I haven't chopped wood or carried water in a good long while. It would seem that someone has, once again, underestimated the potential of the mind because their own method did not suffice to achieve it.