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Rationality quotes January 2012

9 Post author: Thomas 01 January 2012 10:28AM

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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.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 (462)

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 January 2012 07:11:34AM *  32 points [-]

Not everything that is more difficult is more meritorious.

-Saint Thomas Aquinas

I wish I would have memorized this quote before attending university.

*This comment was inspired by Will_Newsome's attempt to find rationality quotes in Summa Theologica.

Comment author: summerstay 03 January 2012 01:26:22PM *  7 points [-]

Summa Theologica is a good example of what happens when you have an excellent deductive system (Aquinas was great at syllogisms) and flawed axioms (a literal interpretation of the Bible).

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 03 January 2012 02:19:27PM *  5 points [-]

Summa Theologica is a good example of what happens when you have an excellent deductive system (Aquinas was great at syllogisms) and flawed axioms (a literal interpretation of the Bible).

Aquinas probably meant something different by "literal interpretation" than you think. For instance, I'm pretty sure he agreed with Augustine that the six days of creation were not literally six periods of 24 hours.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 07 January 2012 02:08:43AM 4 points [-]

For instance, I'm pretty sure he agreed with Augustine that the six days of creation were not literally six periods of 24 hours.

Out of curiosity, where did Augustine say that? It's interesting that anyone bothered doubting that the six days were literal before the literal interpretation became embarrassingly inconsistent with established science.

Comment author: Ezekiel 15 January 2012 11:59:06PM 3 points [-]

The first three "days" happened before the sun and moon were created, so a literal interpretation was problematic even then.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 January 2012 12:17:48AM 3 points [-]

Eh, there's an easy hack around that: God already knew what the length of a day was before it created the sun and the moon.

Comment author: HonoreDB 10 January 2012 07:48:23PM *  22 points [-]

...some people requested that I be prohibited from studying. One time they achieved it through a very holy and simple mother superior who believed that studying would get me in trouble with the Inquisition and ordered me not to do it. I obeyed her for the three months that she was in office in as far as I did not touch a book, but as far as absolutely not studying, this was not in my power. [...] Even the people I spoke to, and what they said to me, gave rise to thousands of reflections. What was the source of all the variety of personality and talent I found among them, since they were all one species? [...] Sometimes I would pace in front of the fireplace in one of our large dormitories and notice that, though the lines of two sides were parallel and its ceiling level, to our vision it appears as though the lines are inclined toward each other and the ceiling is lower in the distance than it is nearby. From this it can be inferred that the lines of our vision run straight, but not parallel, to form the figure of a pyramid. And I wondered if that was the reason that the ancients questioned whether the earth was a sphere or not. Because although it seemed so, their vision might have deceived them, showing concave shapes where there were none. [...] Once I saw two girls playing with a top, and hardly had I seen the movement and the shape when I began, in my insane way, to consider the easy movement of the spherical shape and how long the momentum, once established, remained independent of its original cause, the distant hand of the girl. Not content with this I had flour brought and sprinkled on the floor in order to discover whether the spinning top would describe perfect circles or not. It turned out that they were not perfect circles but spirals that lost their circular shape to the degree that the top lost momentum.

Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, 1691 (tr. Pamela Kirk Rappaport)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 January 2012 10:04:36PM 18 points [-]

Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known the effect cannot be produced. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule.

Francis Bacon

Comment author: CharlieSheen 25 January 2012 11:55:12PM *  16 points [-]

It’s not a good idea for members of the faith-based community like Hitchens to proclaim things like: Science proves we’re all genetically equal, so therefore you shouldn’t be beastly toward people of other races. The obvious flaw in this strategy is that eventually people will figure out that you are lying about what the science of genetics says, and therefore, by your own logic, that discredits the perfectly valid second half of your assertion.

--Steve Sailer

Comment author: Booty4Bayes 25 January 2012 11:58:14PM 7 points [-]

Good chop, bro.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 January 2012 05:03:52PM 16 points [-]

... if anyone thinks they can get an accurate picture of anyplace on the planet by reading news reports, they're sadly mistaken.

--Bruce Schneier

Comment author: CaveJohnson 18 January 2012 07:36:34PM 15 points [-]

Most people are theists not because they were "reasoned into" believing in God, but because they applied Occam's razor at too early an age. Their simplest explanation for the reason that their parents, not to mention everyone else in the world, believed in God, was that God actually existed. The same could be said for, say, Australia.

--Mencius Moldbug

Comment author: gwern 18 January 2012 08:06:32PM 7 points [-]

Please remember sources; this is from "How I Stopped Believing in Democracy", 31 January 2008.

Comment author: CaveJohnson 18 January 2012 08:18:45PM *  5 points [-]

Is it conventional to add sources when it is an on-line? Sorry didn't know that was expected, since it wasn't in the posting rule set. Will remember to add sources in the future.

BTW gwern sometimes your attention to detail is as unnerving as it is helpful and impressive.

Comment author: Anubhav 08 January 2012 05:16:29AM 13 points [-]

Imagine willpower doesn't exist. That's step 1 to a better future.

Second slide of this powerpoint by Stanford's Persuasive Tech Lab.

Comment author: Lightwave 01 January 2012 12:24:52PM *  35 points [-]

Do not accept any of my words on faith,
Believing them just because I said them.
Be like an analyst buying gold, who cuts, burns,
And critically examines his product for authenticity.
Only accept what passes the test
By proving useful and beneficial in your life.

-- The Buddha, Jnanasara-samuccaya Sutra

Comment author: Nick_Roy 02 January 2012 04:11:06AM 2 points [-]

Good instrumental rationality quote; not so good for epistemic rationality.

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 January 2012 11:31:49AM 3 points [-]

Why do you say that?

Comment author: Nick_Roy 03 January 2012 02:50:14AM 2 points [-]

"Proving useful in your life" (but not necessarily "proving beneficial") is the core of instrumental rationality, but what's useful is not necessarily what's true, so it's important to refrain from using that metric in epistemic rationality.

Example: cognitive behavioral therapy is often useful "to solve problems concerning dysfunctional emotions", but not useful for pursuing truth. There's also mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for an example more relevant to Buddhism.

Comment author: fortyeridania 04 January 2012 12:48:26PM 6 points [-]

I suppose that is a tension between epistemic and instrumental rationality.

Put in terms of a microeconomic trade-off: The marginal value of having correct beliefs diminishes beyond a certain threshold. Eventually, the marginal value of increasing one's epistemic accuracy dips below the marginal value that comes from retaining one's mistaken belief. At that point, an instrumentally rational agent may stop increasing accuracy.

On the other hand, it may be a problem of local-versus-global optima: The marginal value of accuracy may creep up again. Or maybe those who see it as a problem can fix it with the right augmentation.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 04 January 2012 01:50:00PM 5 points [-]

I suppose that is a tension between epistemic and instrumental rationality.

There is no tension. Epistemic rationality is merely instrumental, while instrumental rationality is not. They are different kinds of things. Means to an end don't compete with what the end is.

Comment author: wedrifid 04 January 2012 12:33:58AM 2 points [-]

Example: cognitive behavioral therapy is often useful "to solve problems concerning dysfunctional emotions", but not useful for pursuing truth.

It is useful for pursuing truth to the extent that it can correct actually false beliefs when they happen to tend in one direction.

Comment author: fortyeridania 04 January 2012 12:32:09PM 2 points [-]

This sometimes comes at the expense of other truths, just as pursuing evidence for your preferred conclusion turns up real evidence but a less accurate map.

Comment author: Karmakaiser 09 January 2012 04:33:02PM *  12 points [-]

"A “lie-to-children” is a statement which is false, but which nevertheless leads the child’s mind towards a more accurate explanation, one that the child will only be able to appreciate if it has been primed with the lie." "Yes, you needed to understand that” they are told, “so that now we can tell you why it isn’t exactly true." It is for the best possible reasons, but it is still a lie".”

--(The Science of Discworld, Ebury Press edition, quotes from pp 41-42)

Comment author: Alejandro1 03 January 2012 11:56:30PM *  12 points [-]

Prompted by Maniakes', but sufficiently different to post separately:

It cannot have escaped philosophers' attention that our fellow academics in other fields--especially in the sciences--often have difficulty suppressing their incredulous amusement when such topics as Twin Earth, Swampman, and Blockheads are posed for apparently serious consideration. Are the scientists just being philistines, betraying their tin ears for the subtleties of philosophical investigation, or have the philosophers who indulge in these exercises lost their grip on reality?

These bizarre examples all attempt to prove one "conceptual" point or another by deliberately reducing something underappreciated to zero, so that What Really Counts can shine through. Blockheads hold peripheral behavior constant and reduce internal structural details (and--what comes to the same thing--intervening internal processes) close to zero, and provoke the intuition that then there would be no mind there; internal structure Really Counts. Manthra is more or less the mirror-image; it keeps internal processes constant and reduces control of peripheral behavior to zero, showing, presumably, that external behavior Really Doesn't Count. Swampman keeps both future peripheral dispositions and internal states constant and reduces "history" to zero. Twin Earth sets internal similarity to maximum, so that external context can be demonstrated to be responsible for whatever our intuitions tell us. Thus these thought experiments mimic empirical experiments in their design, attempting to isolate a crucial interaction between variables by holding other variables constant. In the past I have often noted that a problem with such experiments is that the dependent variable is "intuition"--they are intuition pumps--and the contribution of imagination in the generation of intuitions is harder to control than philosophers have usually acknowledged.

But there is also a deeper problem with them. It is child's play to dream up further such examples to "prove" further conceptual points. Suppose a cow gave birth to something that was atom-for-atom indiscernible from a shark. Would it be a shark? What is the truth-maker for sharkhood? If you posed that question to a biologist, the charitable reaction would be that you were making a labored attempt at a joke. Suppose an evil demon could make water turn solid at room temperature by smiling at it; would demon-water be ice? Too silly a hypothesis to deserve a response. All such intuition pumps depend on the distinction spelled out by McLaughlin and O'Leary-Hawthorne between "conceptual" and "reductive" answers to the big questions. What I hadn't sufficiently appreciated in my earlier forthright response to Jackson is that when one says that the truth-maker question requires a conceptual answer, one means an answer that holds not just in our world, or all nomologically possible worlds, but in all logically possible worlds. Smiling demons, cow-sharks, Blockheads, and Swampmen are all, some philosophers think, logically possible, even if they are not nomologically possible, and these philosophers think this is important. I do not. Why should the truth-maker question cast its net this wide? Because, I gather, otherwise its answer doesn't tell us about the essence of the topic in question. But who believes in real essences of this sort nowadays? Not I.

Daniel Dennett, "Get Real" (emphasis added).

Comment author: [deleted] 04 January 2012 12:13:56AM *  6 points [-]

"How would I explain the event of my left arm being replaced by a blue tentacle? The answer is that I wouldn't. It isn't going to happen."

Eliezer Yudkowsky

(Some discussions here, such as those involving such numbers as 3^^^3, give me the same feeling.)

Comment author: cousin_it 05 January 2012 12:03:22PM *  5 points [-]

I don't understand that quote. A good Bayesian should still pick the aposteriori most probable explanation for an improbable event, even if that explanation has very low prior probability before the event.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 January 2012 06:21:53AM 7 points [-]

I suspect the point is that it's not worthwhile to look for potential explanations for improbable events until they actually happen.

Comment author: APMason 15 January 2012 08:53:22PM 4 points [-]

I think it's more than that - he's saying that if you have a plausible explanation for an event, the event itself is plausible, explanations being models of the world. It's a warning against setting up excuses for why your model fails to predict the future in advance - you shouldn't expect your model to fail, so when it does you don't say, "Oh, here's how this extremely surprising event fits my model anyway." Instead, you say "damn, looks like I was wrong."

Comment author: APMason 15 January 2012 08:54:31PM 2 points [-]

I don't, however, think it's meant to be a warning against contrived thought experiments.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 January 2012 12:32:02AM *  5 points [-]

Absolutely: I strongly recommend you not try to explain how 3^^^3 people might all get a dustspeck in their eye without anything else happening as a consequence, for example.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 January 2012 04:28:39PM 2 points [-]

Is Eliezer claiming that we aren't living in a simulation, claiming that if we are living in a simulation, it's extremely unlikely to generate wild anomalies, or claiming that anything other than those two is vanishingly unlikely?

Comment author: WrongBot 04 January 2012 06:22:27PM *  2 points [-]

It's Yudkowsky. Sorry, pet peeve.

Comment author: David_Gerard 04 January 2012 02:36:28PM 2 points [-]

Bloody p-zombies. Argh. Yes.

Comment author: CaveJohnson 19 January 2012 10:59:42PM *  11 points [-]

We should venture on the study of every kind of animal without distaste; for each and all will reveal to us something natural and something beautiful.


Comment author: Stabilizer 02 January 2012 05:58:19PM 30 points [-]

The road to wisdom? — Well, it's plain
and simple to express:
and err
and err again
but less
and less
and less.

--Piet Hein


Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 01 January 2012 03:53:09PM *  29 points [-]

...when you do have a deep understanding, you have solved the problem and it is time to do something else. This makes the total time you spend in life reveling in your mastery of something quite brief. One of the main skills of research scientists of any type is knowing how to work comfortably and productively in a state of confusion.

-Anon http://www.quora.com/What-is-it-like-to-have-an-understanding-of-very-advanced-mathematics#ans873950

(emphasis mine)

Comment author: Stabilizer 02 January 2012 05:36:28PM 14 points [-]

Teaching, for me and several other people I know, serves the purpose of reveling in your mastery. In fact, Feynman said it best:

In any thinking process there are moments when everything is going good and you've got wonderful ideas. Teaching is an interruption, and so it's the greatest pain in the neck in the world. And then there are the longer period of time when not much is coming to you. You're not getting any ideas, and if you're doing nothing at all, it drives you nuts! You can't even say "I'm teaching my class."

If you're teaching a class, you can think about the elementary things that you know very well. These things are kind of fun and delightful. It doesn't do any harm to think them over again. Is there a better way to present them? The elementary things are easy to think about; if you can't think of a new thought, no harm done; what you thought about it before is good enough for the class. If you do think of something new, you're rather pleased that you have a new way of looking at it.

Teaching helps me a lot in this respect, because I become very insecure sometimes when I do my research.

Comment author: lukeprog 25 January 2012 10:26:25PM 10 points [-]

I do not pretend to start with precise questions. I do not think you can start with anything precise. You have to achieve such precision as you can, as you go along.

Bertrand Russell

Comment author: Patrick 23 January 2012 05:11:30PM *  10 points [-]

Ninety per cent of most magic merely consists of knowing one extra fact.

Terry Pratchett

Comment author: CharlieSheen 14 January 2012 09:18:22AM *  10 points [-]

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.

-Winston Churchill

Comment author: gwern 14 January 2012 05:52:50PM 3 points [-]

The rest of the story is interesting; from http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/speeches/quotations

—House of Commons (meeting in the House of Lords), 28 October 1943. The old House was rebuilt in 1950 in its old form, remaining insufficient to seat all its members. Churchill was against "giving each member a desk to sit at and a lid to bang" because, he explained, the House would be mostly empty most of the time; whereas, at critical votes and moments, it would fill beyond capacity, with members spilling out into the aisles, in his view a suitable "sense of crowd and urgency."

An apt comparison would be Napoleon's reconstruction of Paris with broad straight streets, I think. (Code is Law.)

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 19 January 2012 07:40:41AM *  9 points [-]

Part of the reason atheism looks the way it does now, and is so lacking in warm fuzzies like "Love and Completeness are Your Spiritual Right," is because it is a refuge for people who think warm fuzzies are bullshit.

-- Dave Gottlieb

Comment author: scmbradley 03 January 2012 11:12:02PM *  9 points [-]

Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales

— Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy (from the introduction)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 January 2012 11:41:14AM 8 points [-]

A stoic sage is one who turns fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.

Nasim Taleb

Comment author: [deleted] 19 January 2012 06:05:29PM 8 points [-]

Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.

--William F. Buckley

Comment author: [deleted] 17 January 2012 04:32:55PM *  8 points [-]

I am often wrong. My prejudices are innumerable, and often idiotic.

--H.L. Mencken

Comment author: peter_hurford 01 January 2012 11:23:36PM 44 points [-]

"if we offer too much silent assent about mysticism and superstition – even when it seems to be doing a little good – we abet a general climate in which skepticism is considered impolite, science tiresome, and rigorous thinking somehow stuffy and inappropriate. Figuring out a prudent balance takes wisdom.”

– Carl Sagan

Comment author: tingram 01 January 2012 12:38:52AM *  44 points [-]

Everyday words are inherently imprecise. They work well enough in everyday life that you don't notice. Words seem to work, just as Newtonian physics seems to. But you can always make them break if you push them far enough.

--Paul Graham, How to Do Philosophy

[surprisingly not a duplicate]

Comment author: khafra 03 January 2012 05:02:23AM 30 points [-]

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.

-- H. L. Mencken, describing halo bias before it was named

Comment author: majus 13 January 2012 05:26:04PM 8 points [-]

I like the pithy description of halo bias. I don't like or agree with Mencken's non-nuanced view of idealists. it's sarcastically funny, like "a liberal is one who believes you can pick up a dog turd by the clean end", but being funny doesn't make it more true.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 04 January 2012 01:08:40AM 4 points [-]

Do roses make for good soup? They make for good chocolate.

Comment author: Vaniver 04 January 2012 04:35:33AM 5 points [-]

Do roses make for good soup?

Rose water is used for flavoring, sometimes. Roses have essentially no nutritional value, though, and cabbages are widely held to taste better than they smell.

Comment author: scmbradley 17 January 2012 05:11:59PM 3 points [-]

I've had rosewater flavoured ice cream.

I bet cabbage ice cream does not taste as nice.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 January 2012 07:16:40PM 7 points [-]

No matter if it is a white cat or a black cat; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat.

--Deng Xiaoping

Comment author: cousin_it 09 January 2012 04:32:27PM *  18 points [-]

Chu-p’ing Man studied the art of killing dragons under Crippled Yi. It cost him all the thousand pieces of gold he had in his house, and after three years he'd mastered the art, but there was no one who could use his services. - Chuang Tzu

So he decided to teach others the art of kiling dragons. - René Thom

Comment author: torekp 02 January 2012 12:50:30AM 26 points [-]

"Never interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake." -- Napoleon Bonaparte

(This has been mentioned before on LW but not in a quote thread. I figured it was fair game.)

Comment author: dspeyer 04 January 2012 07:16:07AM 6 points [-]

Just make sure to only apply this one to your actual enemies, and not to people who generally wish you well but disagree on some key point.

Comment author: wedrifid 04 January 2012 07:35:11AM 4 points [-]

Just make sure to only apply this one to your actual enemies, and not to people who generally wish you well but disagree on some key point.

Interrupting even neutral associates when they are making a mistake does not necessarily have good outcomes for you either. Being the messenger has a reputation...

Comment author: gwern 01 January 2012 01:28:20AM 17 points [-]

"Don't ask whether predictions are made, ask whether predictions are implied."

--Steven Kaas

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2012 07:09:11AM 6 points [-]

Being right in the sense of being correct is not sufficient to win. Political technology determines political success. Learn how to organize and how to communicate. Most political technology is philosophically neutral. You owe it to your philosophy to study how to win.

Morton Blackwell

Comment author: Nornagest 25 January 2012 07:14:24AM *  2 points [-]

I might have upvoted the first sentence of this -- it's accurate, at least, if a little unproductive -- but out of context the rest is difficult to parse and might imply some seriously problematic attitudes. I take it political technology means something along the lines of "rhetoric"?

Comment author: tut 19 January 2012 07:31:23PM 6 points [-]

What we perceive today as elegant, natural selection created as simply as gravity creates a river. The water will flow downhill, every other parameter is free.

John Hawks

Comment author: gwern 01 January 2012 01:24:02AM 15 points [-]

“The general method that Wittgenstein does suggest is that of ’shewing that a man has supplied no meaning for certain signs in his sentences’.

I can illustrate the method from Wittgenstein’s later way of discussing problems. He once greeted me with the question: ‘Why do people say that it was natural to think that the sun went round the earth rather than that the earth turned on its axis? I replied: ‘I suppose, because it looked as if the sun went round the earth.’ ‘Well,’ he asked, ‘what would it have looked like if it had looked as if the earth turned on its axis?’

This question brought it out that I had hitherto given no relevant meaning to ‘it looks as if’ in ‘it looks as if the sun goes round the earth’.

My reply was to hold out my hands with the palms upward, and raise them from my knees in a circular sweep, at the same time leaning backwards and assuming a dizzy expression. ‘Exactly!’ he said.”

–Elizabeth Anscombe, An Introduction To Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (1959); apropos of a recent Scot Sumner blog post

Comment author: Alejandro1 01 January 2012 05:26:12PM 11 points [-]

Another great quote by Sumner in that same post:

The Great Depression was originally thought to be due to the inherent instability of capitalism. Later Friedman and Schwartz blamed it on a big drop in M2. Their view is now more popular, because it has more appealing policy implications. It’s a lot easier to prevent M2 from falling, than to repair the inherent instability of capitalism. Where there are simple policy implications, a failure to do those policies eventually becomes seen as the “cause” of the problem, even if at a deeper philosophical level “cause” is one of those slippery terms that can never be pinned down. [Bold added]

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2012 03:51:50AM *  14 points [-]

A critical analysis of the present global constellation -- one which offers no clear solution, no "practical" advice on what to do, and provides no light at the end of the tunnel, since one is well aware that this light might belong to a train crashing towards us -- usually meets with reproach: "Do you mean we should do nothing? Just sit and wait?" One should gather the courage to answer: "YES, precisely that!" There are situations when the only truly "practical" thing to do is to resist the temptation to engage immediately and to "wait and see" by means of a patient, critical analysis.

Slavoj Žižek, Violence, emphasis added. Admittedly not the most clear elucidation of the subject of how urgency (fabricated or otherwise) should affect ethical deliberation, but see also his essay "Jack Bauer and the Ethics of Urgency" -- if you're into that sort of thing.

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 January 2012 12:03:22PM 14 points [-]

The truth is common property. You can't distinguish your group by doing things that are rational, and believing things that are true.

Paul Graham, Lies We Tell Kids

Comment author: wedrifid 02 January 2012 01:59:13PM 11 points [-]

The truth is common property. You can't distinguish your group by doing things that are rational, and believing things that are true.

It would seem that if no other humans are behaving rationality and your group is behaving rationally then even Sesame St could tell you which of these things is not the same.

Comment author: roystgnr 05 January 2012 08:19:01PM 3 points [-]

If no other groups of humans are behaving as rationally as yours is, then it's likely no other humans are capable of easily identifying that your group is the one with the high level of uniquely rational behavior. To the extent that other groups can identify rational behaviors of yours, they will have already adopted them and will not consider you unique for having adopted them too.

You can signal the uniqueness your group by believing and doing things that are both rational and unpopular, but to most outsiders this only signals uniqueness, not rationality, because the reason such things are unpopular is because most people don't find them to be obviously rational. And the outsiders are usually right: even though they're wrong in your particular actually-is-rational case, that's outnumbered by the other cases which, from the outside, all appear to be similar arational group-identifying behaviors and rationalizations thereof. E.g. at first glance there's not a huge difference between "I'm going to get frozen after I die", "I don't eat pork", "I avoid caffeine and hot drinks", etc.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 January 2012 06:26:56AM 2 points [-]

Depends on how immediate and/or dramatic the benefits of the rational behavior are.

Comment author: wedrifid 05 January 2012 08:32:05PM 2 points [-]

To the extent that other groups can identify rational behaviors of yours, they will have already adopted them and will not consider you unique for having adopted them too.

Not actually true. I'd like it to be!

Comment author: Will_Newsome 03 January 2012 08:57:42AM 2 points [-]

It would seem that if no other humans are behaving rationally

then you're probably insanely wrong.

Comment author: satt 02 January 2012 01:47:22PM 2 points [-]

It's been a while since I read that essay. I can't tell whether that quotation's meant to be an example of a lie we tell kids, or one of Paul Graham's own beliefs! (An invertible fact?)

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 January 2012 03:32:57PM 2 points [-]

It is Graham's own belief.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 January 2012 09:33:38PM *  13 points [-]

In short, they made unrealistic demands on reality and reality did not oblige them.

Cory Doctorow talking about DRM, but I think there are some wider applications.

Comment author: gwern 18 January 2012 08:13:09PM *  3 points [-]

Reminiscent of one of my favorite Bruce Schneier quotes.

Comment author: Alicorn 06 January 2012 09:19:01PM 12 points [-]

"This has been a good day... I haven't done a single thing that was stupid..."

"Have you done anything that was smart?"

--Peanuts (Nov. 23, 1981) by Charles Schulz

Comment author: quinox 01 January 2012 01:46:52AM *  18 points [-]

"Is it hard?"

"Not if you have the right attitudes. It’s having the right attitudes that’s hard."

-- Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Comment author: imbatman 10 January 2012 11:21:33PM 11 points [-]

"A Confucian has stolen my hairbrush! Down with Confucianism!"

-GK Chesterton (on ad hominems)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 January 2012 08:05:18PM *  11 points [-]

As in the Roman empire age, the theoretical concepts, taken out of the theories assigning their meaning and considered instead real objects, whose existence can be apparent only to the initiated people, are used to amaze the public. In physics courses the student (now unaware of the experimental basis of heliocentrism or of atomic theory, accepted on the sole basis of the authority principle) gets addicted to a complex and mysterious mythology, with orbitals undergoing hybridization, elusive quarks, voracious and disquieting black holes and a creating Big Bang: objects introduced, all of them, in theories totally unknown to him and having no understandable relation with any phenomenon he may have access to.

Lucio Russo, The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why it Had to Be Reborn

Comment author: Manfred 03 January 2012 10:38:17AM *  9 points [-]

Some people will always have to take most of natural science on authority. Sure you can make that sound bad, but to me it sounds like "children take 9*9=81 on authority! spoooooky."

Ye gots to wiggle yer fingers when ye say it.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 07 January 2012 01:58:41AM *  2 points [-]

A "preview" electronic version of this book is available through the translator's website here: http://www.msri.org/~levy/files/russo/

I enjoyed the book a lot. It's true that the author reads Hellenic scientists in the most favorable possible light while reading Renaissance scientists in the least favorable possible light. But he gives extensive quotations from the available sources, so that you can judge for yourself whether his interpretations are stretched.

Comment author: lessdazed 02 January 2012 09:26:01PM 4 points [-]

A soldier should always seek the most desperate post that has to be filled.

--William Ransom Johnson Pegram

Comment author: jsbennett86 01 January 2012 08:17:36PM 4 points [-]

In every branch of knowledge the progress is proportional to the amount of facts on which to build, and therefore to the facility of obtaining data.

— James Clerk Maxwell

Comment author: [deleted] 15 January 2012 08:44:11AM 10 points [-]

Each age would do better if it studied its own faults and endeavoured to mend them instead of comparing itself with others to its own advantage.

--James Anthony Froude

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 12:17:44AM 14 points [-]

Science isn't just a job, it's a means of determining truth. Methods of determining truth that aren't trustworthy in the laboratory don't become trustworthy when you leave it. There is no doctrine of applying scientific methodology to every aspect of one's life, you either follow trustworthy methods of investigation or you don't, and "follow trustworthy methods of investigation" is the core of science.

~Desertopa, TVTropes Forum

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 January 2012 07:32:54PM 9 points [-]

There are types of valid evidence that aren't scientific. In particular science is also partially a social process, whereas you trying to find the truth for yourself is not.

Comment author: GLaDOS 06 January 2012 09:42:21AM 18 points [-]

In questions of this appalling magnitude, I find the best way to "overcome bias" is often to find perspectives which seem to make each answer obvious. Once we recognize that both A and B are obviously true, and A is inconsistent with B, we are in the right mindset for actual thought.

--Mencius Moldbug

Comment author: gwern 18 January 2012 08:18:45PM 2 points [-]

Remember sources please; "How Dawkins got pwned (part 7)", 8 November 2007

Comment author: gwern 01 January 2012 01:28:47AM 18 points [-]

"When picking fruit, an excellent first choice is the low-hanging ladderfruit. It is especially delicious."

--Frank Adamek

Comment author: lukeprog 09 January 2012 08:27:32PM 2 points [-]

While you're there, enjoy the laddergoat.

Comment author: gwern 01 January 2012 07:58:04PM 17 points [-]

"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death"

--1 Corinthians 15:26

(I wonder what Eliezer would've made of it - as far as I know, he never read Deathly Hallows and so never read about the tombstone.)

Comment author: Raemon 03 January 2012 01:19:22AM *  6 points [-]

Well, he knows about the Hallows themselves via wiki-readings. I think he would have written the story the way it is whether he knew about the tombstone or not, but I put fairly high probability that he does know about the tombstone and how fantastically awesome an endcap it's going to be on the story.

Comment author: J_Taylor 01 January 2012 08:35:29AM 27 points [-]

“A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”

  • Friedrich Nietzsche
Comment author: Will_Newsome 02 January 2012 05:04:28AM *  2 points [-]

That would seem to be an odd notion of "faith"; is the translation untrue to the original or is Nietzsche just being typically provocative? (I also personally don't see how the quote is at all profound or interesting but that's a separate issue and more a matter of taste.)

Comment author: J_Taylor 03 January 2012 04:53:22AM *  10 points [-]

I apologize for practicing inferior epistemic hygiene. Thank you for indirectly bringing this to my attention. I knew that the quote was commonly attributed to Nietzsche, but I had never seen the original source. It would seem to be a rephrasing of this quote from The Antichrist:

The fact that faith, under certain circumstances, may work for blessedness, but that this blessedness produced by an idée fixe by no means makes the idea itself true, and the fact that faith actually moves no mountains, but instead raises them up where there were none before: all this is made sufficiently clear by a walk through a lunatic asylum.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 03 January 2012 07:22:30AM *  2 points [-]

Ah, that sounds a bit more like the Nietzsche I know and kinda like! Thanks for digging up the more accurate quote.

Comment author: taelor 02 January 2012 06:24:41AM 4 points [-]

I'd parse the quote as meaning "Believing in something doesn't make it true", in which case it's something that pretty much everyone on this site takes for granted, but that the average person hasn't necessarily fully internalized. Yudkowsky felt the need to make a similar point near the end of this article, and philosophers as diverse as St. Anselm and William James have built entire epistemologies around the notion that faith is sufficient to justify belief, so obviously it's a point that needs to be made.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 02 January 2012 07:43:50AM *  4 points [-]

I dunno about St. Anselm but I found James's "The Will to Believe" essay reasonable as a matter of practical rationality. The sort of Bayesian epistemology that is Eliezer's hallmark isn't exactly fundamental, and the map-territory distinction isn't either, so I don't find it too surprising that e.g. Kantian epistemology looks a lot more like modern decision theory than it does Bayesian probability theory. I suspect a lot of "faith"-like behaviors don't look nearly as insane when seen from this deeper perspective. So on one level we have day-to-day instrumental rationality where faith tends to make sense for the reasons James cites, and on a much deeper level there's uncertainty about what beliefs really are except as the parts of your utility function that are meant for cooperation with other agents (ETA: similar to Kant's categorical imperative). On top of that there are situations where you have to have something like faith, e.g. if you happen upon a Turing oracle and thus can't verify if it's telling you the truth or not but still want to do hypercomputation. Things like this make me hesitant to judge the merits of epistemological ideas like faith which I don't yet understand very well.

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 January 2012 11:34:03AM 4 points [-]

This sort of taxonomy seems to deserve a more thorough treatment in a separate post.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 January 2012 05:18:07PM 8 points [-]

The problem with "electability" is that it requires voters to set aside their own feelings on the basis of what they think other people will think in a general election months in the future. The problem with this is that people are generally bad at predicting what other people will think and feel and are lousy at predicting the future. As a result, voters in primaries who focus on electability either vote based on regurgitated popular wisdom of the moment, or on an assumption that other people won't respond to the same things that they respond to in a candidate. Neither is a particularly good predictor. However, since it is impossible to rerun the election after the fact with the other candidate, it is not something easily disproved.


Comment author: Alejandro1 06 January 2012 12:36:20AM 8 points [-]

As an experimental psychologist I have been trained not to believe anything unless it can be demonstrated in the laboratory on rats or sophomores.

Steven Pinker, Words and Rules

Comment author: MixedNuts 07 January 2012 10:28:05AM 7 points [-]

Invertible fact alert: I can't tell if Pinker means that as (mostly) a good or a bad thing!

Comment author: nshepperd 07 January 2012 11:17:43AM 5 points [-]

Given the history of psychology as a field, I'd assume he's praising the merits of experimental evidence.

Comment author: gwern 18 January 2012 08:22:49PM 6 points [-]

I take it as ha ha only serious. Pinker knows that people are generally appallingly inaccurate and believe untruthful things, and that psychology is right to throw out every other belief and only depend on what it has rigorously verified; but he also knows the rigorous verification has been done on weird subjects and so psychology has thrown out a lot of correct beliefs as well. Accepting this tension is the mark of an educated man, as Aristotle says.

Comment author: tingram 01 January 2012 12:39:11AM *  18 points [-]

Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.

--Bruce Lee

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 January 2012 02:39:19AM 5 points [-]

That seems rather applause-lighty. The reversal is abnormal; who would say "Use some things that don't work"? Maybe in some traditionalist cultures "Resist the appeal of using things that work but come from unworthy places" would sound wise, but on LessWrong it would likely get stares.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 January 2012 02:22:18AM 14 points [-]

Bruce Lee was a martial artist, and martial arts is a field where a lot of people go by tradition rather than checking on what works.

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 January 2012 11:45:04AM 11 points [-]

That seems rather applause-lighty.

I think many cited quotations sound applause-lighty. They are meant to by pithy encapsulations of LW themes, after all. And I don't think that's necessarily a problem; applause lights are a problem for things that might be taken as reasoning, like posts.

Comment author: Desrtopa 17 January 2012 04:17:29PM *  2 points [-]

"Use only that which works" is obvious enough to be unhelpful, but "take it from any place you can find it" was pretty novel in the context in which he proposed it, and still is to a lot of people in a lot of domains.

The existence of the Traditional branch of Jeet Kune Do (as opposed to the Concepts branch,) which exclusively teaches the martial art as Bruce Lee practiced it at the time of his death, is testament to the strength of humans' tendency to behave counter to this advice.

Comment author: CaveJohnson 19 January 2012 10:59:04PM 7 points [-]

Men ... are easily induced to believe that in some wonderful manner everybody will become everybody's friend, especially when some one is heard denouncing the evils now existing in states, suits about contracts, convictions for perjury, flatteries of rich men and the like, which are said to arise out of the possession of private property. These evils, however, are due to a very different cause—the wickedness of human nature.


Comment author: torekp 02 January 2012 01:00:11AM *  7 points [-]

"Hit 'em where they ain't". --Douglas MacArthur commenting on his island-hopping strategy in WW2.

Comment author: gwern 02 January 2012 01:16:24AM *  15 points [-]

Sun Tzu said it better; VI, 'Weak Points and Strong':

  1. Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected.
  2. An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through country where the enemy is not.
  3. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.
  4. Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.
Comment author: MixedNuts 02 January 2012 02:20:33PM 13 points [-]

The ultimate theological question is: ‘Where does the Sun go at night?’.

The answer that so many civilisations agreed for so long was: ‘The Sun is driven by one of the gods, and at night it goes under the Earth to fight a battle. There is at least some risk that the god will lose this battle, and so the Sun may not rise tomorrow’. It’s something the human race understood was a cast iron fact before they knew how to cast iron. It survived as the working model twenty-five times longer than the four hundred years we’ve understood the Earth goes around the Sun.

Lance Parkin, Above us only sky

This is less a rationality quote than a "yay science" quote, but I find that impressive beyond words. For millenia that was a huge and frightening question, and then we went and answered it, and now it's too trivial to point out. We found out where the sun goes at night. I want to carve a primer on cosmology in gold letters on a mountain, entitled something in all caps along the lines of "HERE IS THE GLORY OF HUMANKIND".

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 January 2012 01:19:03PM *  8 points [-]

It survived as the working model twenty-five times longer than the four hundred years we’ve understood the Earth goes around the Sun.

Is it excessive nitpicking to point out that the daily disappearance and reappearance of the Sun has to do with the Earth's rotation on its axis, not its rotation about the Sun? (Probably not, as the first comment on Parkin's blog posting points out the same.)

Comment author: Will_Newsome 04 January 2012 01:12:43AM *  5 points [-]

Is it excessive nitpicking to note that not only did he misuse the word "ultimate", he used it to mean basically the opposite of what it actually means?

Comment author: tut 03 January 2012 06:29:45PM 2 points [-]

I want to carve a primer on cosmology in gold letters on a mountain

Do you mean cosmology or astronomy?

Comment author: MixedNuts 05 January 2012 02:40:59PM 5 points [-]

Both. Cosmological content: "stuff goes around other stuff"; astronomical content: "this applies to the stuff we sit on"; philosophical content: "finding this out proves we are awesome"; gastronomical content: "here's a recipe for cake to celebrate".

Comment author: CaveJohnson 22 January 2012 07:06:14PM 3 points [-]

There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.

--Alfred Korzybski

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 January 2012 12:04:37PM 10 points [-]

Songs can be Trojan horses, taking charged ideas and sneaking past the ego's defenses and into the open mind.

John Mayer, Esquire (the magazine, not the social/occupational title)

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 02:51:00AM *  20 points [-]

AUGUSTUS: I've had premonitions. Premonitions of death.

FABIUS MAXIMUS: We all have them.

AUGUSTUS: No, no, no. This is serious. Listen, old friend, let me tell you. Two weeks after we came back from you know where, I was in Mars Field giving a libation. A little ceremony. You remember?

FABIUS MAXIMUS: I remember, but I wasn't there.

AUGUSTUS: No? Well. nearby, there's a temple built in memory of Marcus Agrippa.

FABIUS MAXIMUS: Yes, I know it.

AUGUSTUS: An eagle circled me five times, then flew off and settled on the "A" of Agrippa's name.

FABIUS MAXIMUS: Well. Caesar...

AUGUSTUS: No, don't lie to me. It's clear what it means. It was telling me that my time had come and that I must give way to someone by the name of Agrippa.


AUGUSTUS: Who else?

FABIUS MAXIMUS: Did you consult an augur?

AUGUSTUS: No. I don't need an augur.

FABIUS MAXIMUS: Well. you're not an expert on the interpretation of signs.

AUGUSTUS: Then listen to this. The following day, lightning melted the "C" on my name on a statue nearby. It struck the "C" off "Caesar". Do you follow? What does "C" mean?


AUGUSTUS: A hundred. Exactly! Livia saw it. She went to an augur to find out what it meant. She wouldn't tell me, but I forced it out of her. It means that I have only a hundred days to live. I shall die in a hundred days.

(long pause)



FABIUS MAXIMUS: Why shouldn't it be weeks? Or months? Why shouldn't it mean that you'll live to be a hundred?

--I, Claudius, "Poison Is Queen"

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 09 January 2012 10:39:42AM *  5 points [-]

Fabius actually seems a little irrational in this quote. At first he objects to Augustus's interpretation because Augustus is not an expert on the interpretation of signs, which is reasonable. But then when Augustus does have an intepretation that's coming from an augur, Fabius still continues to question it, pitting his view against expert opinion like it was still just the opinion of Augustus. Since it is not established that Fabius would be an augur himself, this seems like motivated cognition / not properly updating on evidence.

Alternatively, it could be that Fabius doesn't actually believe in omens, but in that case first appealing to the need to get an expert opinion is pretty dishonest.

Of course, Alejandro's comment below does clarify that Livia is probably lying about the augur's testimony, but I'm going by the quote as it was posted (and as most people probably read/voted it).

Comment author: Will_Newsome 03 January 2012 02:10:27AM *  3 points [-]

Because days is the Schelling point interpretation, and if gods are communicating with you they'll probably go for the Schelling point. Lightning implies Zeus-Jupiter, so Augustus should look into historical examples of Zeus talking to people to see if Zeus tends to be misleading in ways similar to those Fabius warns of; in fact the augur had probably already considered things like this before speaking with Livia. And Fabius should trust the augur, who is a specialist in the interpretation of signs and probably has more details of the case than he does. I mean seriously, what are the chances that the letter C would get struck by lightning? We are beyond the point of arbitrary skepticism. Deny the data or trust the professionals. (I'm not familiar with the series in question, I'm just filling in details in the most likely way I can think of.)

ETA: Wait, maybe Fabius is trolling Augustus/me? ...Nice one Fabius! I approve of your trolling. Downvote retracted. (Oh yeah and this is an excuse to link to the Wiki article on assassination markets.)

Comment author: Alicorn 09 January 2012 06:04:02PM 12 points [-]

If some persons died, and others did not die, death would indeed be a terrible affliction.

--Jean de la Bruyère

Comment author: Maniakes 03 January 2012 08:24:54PM 12 points [-]

I replied as follows: "What would you think of someone who said, "I would like to have a cat, provided it barked"? [...] As a natural scientist, you recognize that you cannot assign characteristics at will to chemical and biological entities, cannot demand that cats bark or water burn. Why do you suppose that the situation is different in the "social sciences?"

-- Milton Friedman

Comment author: gwern 03 January 2012 10:09:27PM 2 points [-]

cannot demand that cats bark or water burn

One of these things is not like the others, one of these things does not belong.

Comment author: Maniakes 03 January 2012 11:01:32PM 11 points [-]

There are valid quibbles and exceptions on both counts. Some breeds of cats make vocalizations that can reasonably be described as "barking", and water will burn if there are sufficient concentrations of either an oxidizer much stronger than oxygen (such as chlorine triflouride) or a reducing agent much stronger than hydrogen (such as elemental sodium).

In the general case, though, water will not burn under normal circumstances, and most cats are physiologically incapable of barking.

The point of the quote is that objects and systems do have innate qualities that shape and limit their behaviour, and that this effect is present in social systems studied by economists as well as in physical systems studied by chemists and biologists. In the original context (which I elided because politics is the mind killer, and because any particular application of the principle is subject to empirical debate as to its validity), Friedman was following up on an article about how political economy considerations incline regulatory agencies towards socially suboptimal decisions, addressing responses that assumed that the political economy pressures could easily be designed away by revising the agencies' structures.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 January 2012 10:25:44PM 7 points [-]
Comment author: Manfred 03 January 2012 10:55:21PM 3 points [-]

pfsch. You can burn water if you add salt and radio waves. Or if you put it in an atmosphere containing a reactive fluorine compound. Etc etc etc.

Comment author: arundelo 01 January 2012 10:28:31PM 6 points [-]

[I]ntractable problems are not a good reason to attempt impossible "solutions".

-- Eric Raymond

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 10:34:54PM 6 points [-]

Don't shut up and do the impossible!

Comment author: Alejandro1 01 January 2012 07:54:02PM 6 points [-]

Am I sure that there is no mind behind our existence and no mystery anywhere in the universe? I think I am. What joy, what relief it would be, if we could declare so with complete conviction. If that were so I could wish to live forever. How terrifying and glorious the role of man if, indeed, without guidance and without consolation he must create from his own vitals the meaning for his existence and write the rules whereby he lives.

Thornton Wilder, The Ides of March.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 11 January 2012 03:28:28AM *  8 points [-]

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.

C.S. Lewis, Introduction to a translation of, Athanasius: On the Incarnation

Comment author: gwern 18 January 2012 08:11:13PM 8 points [-]

If I may continue it:

...Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united-united with each other and against earlier and later ages-by a great mass of common assumptions….None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books."

From http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/athanasius/incarnation/incarnation.p.htm

Comment author: Bugmaster 11 January 2012 04:08:31AM 1 point [-]

Or, you know, some new books with a fresh outlook. Just saying.

Comment author: MixedNuts 11 January 2012 02:21:12PM 5 points [-]

Not written yet.

Comment author: taelor 15 January 2012 11:24:01AM *  7 points [-]

And now my labor is over. I have had my lecture. I have no sense of fatherhood. If my genetic and personal histories had been different, I should come into possession of a different lecture. If I deserve any credit at all, it is simply for having served as a place where certain processes could take place. I shall interpret your polite applause in that light.

--B.F. Skinner

Comment author: tingram 01 January 2012 12:41:45AM *  8 points [-]

They often do [scramble the reels] at art houses, and it would seem that the more sophisticated the audience, the less likely that the error will be discovered.

--Pauline Kael, Zeitgeist and Poltergeist; or, Are Movies Going to Pieces?


Comment author: Grognor 01 January 2012 01:33:05AM *  9 points [-]

A man said to the universe:
"Sir, I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

-Stephen Crane

Comment author: peter_hurford 01 January 2012 11:28:16PM *  15 points [-]

More accurate:

A man said to the universe: "Sir, I exist!"

The universe says nothing.

Comment author: SilasBarta 02 January 2012 04:45:17PM 6 points [-]

Right, because Eliezer Yudkowsky wasn't addressing it.

Comment author: Dorikka 03 January 2012 04:02:07AM 7 points [-]


Comment author: Arran_Stirton 04 January 2012 04:57:26AM *  6 points [-]

While this quote isn't directly about rationality, it reminds me a good deal of Tsuyoku Naritai!.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

~ Theodore Roosevelt, The Man in the Arena

(Edit: Just to clarify as some might misinterpret the posting of this to be a knock on rationality, the relevance of this quote is that what counts is trying to solve problem. While with hindsight it's easy to say how (to pick a mundane example) one might work out the area under a curve once you already know calculus, it's not so easy to do it without that knowledge.)

Comment author: gjm 01 January 2012 11:45:18AM 6 points [-]

The English mob preferred their calendar to disagree with the sun than to agree with the pope.

Attributed to Voltaire (referring of course to the Gregorian calendar reform) though evidence that Voltaire actually said or wrote any such thing seems scanty. Reversed stupidity is not intelligence.

Comment author: imbatman 11 January 2012 03:19:36PM 4 points [-]

"A man's gotta know his limitations." - Dirty Harry

Comment author: Grognor 08 January 2012 10:04:25AM 4 points [-]

What interest, zest, or excitement can there be in achieving the right way, unless we are enabled to feel that the wrong way is also a possible and a natural way, — nay, more, a menacing and an imminent way? And what sense can there be in condemning ourselves for taking the wrong way, unless we need have done nothing of the sort, unless the right way was open to us as well? I cannot understand the willingness to act, no matter how we feel, without the belief that acts are really good and bad.

-William James

Comment author: lukeprog 12 January 2013 06:50:23PM 2 points [-]

We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.

George Orwell

Comment author: Vaniver 09 January 2012 11:11:58PM 2 points [-]

But, above all, it is expected that the attention of instructors to the disposition of the minds and morals of the youth under their charge will exceed every other care; well considering that though goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous, and that both united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.

John Philips, 1781

Comment author: J_Taylor 18 January 2012 11:01:21PM *  5 points [-]

If only the dead people who god did not save, could return and give their opinion of a god.

-Gene Ray, The Wisest Human


Comment author: Eneasz 13 January 2012 07:34:57PM 5 points [-]

He lifted a hand, his index finger pointing upward. "How many fingers am I holding up?" I paused for a moment, which was more consideration than the question seemed to warrant. "At least one," I said. "Probably no more than six"

-Kvothe, The Name of the Wind

Comment author: James_Miller 01 January 2012 02:45:56AM *  7 points [-]

The existence of gray does not preclude the existence of black and white.

The existence of dawn and dusk does not preclude the existence of noon and midnight.

I'm not sure who originally said this but I vaguely remember the quotes from law school.

Comment author: torekp 02 January 2012 12:39:59AM 2 points [-]

I like to say "there are such things as dawn and dusk, but the difference between night and day is like ..." - and here I pause just long enough for the audience to mentally anticipate me - "the difference between night and day."

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 12:46:20AM *  5 points [-]

Professor: So, the invalidation of the senses and cognition as a means of knowing reality is a common thread through eastern mysticism and platonic philosophy. We will study the resurgence of these ideas within secular western philosophies starting with the explanation of how it's impossible to know things "as they are" versus things as they are within the bounds of our minds.
Phone: Beep Beep Beep ♪
Professor: See you on Monday.
(He answers)
Professor: Yes?
Wife: Honey, Angelica is having trouble with her vision. I'm going to use some of the rainy day account to take her to the optometrist.
Professor: Hahah! Actually, vision is merely a sense that supplies the mind with perceptions, interpreting with all biases and forming only-
Wife: Honey.
Professor: Oh. Yes dear. Go ahead.

~Jay Naylor, Original Life

Comment author: Kutta 01 January 2012 11:23:25AM *  9 points [-]

Most people you know are probably weak skeptics, and I would probably fit this definition in several ways. "Strong skeptics" are the people who write The Skeptics' Encyclopedia, join the California Skeptics' League, buy the Complete Works of James Randi, and introduce themselves at parties saying "Hi, I'm Ted, and I'm a skeptic!". Of weak skeptics I approve entirely. But strong skeptics confused me for a long while. You don't believe something exists. That seems like a pretty good reason not to be too concerned with it.

Edit: authorial instance specified on popular demand.

Comment author: Yvain 02 January 2012 05:40:15AM *  12 points [-]

More accurately, Yvain-2004

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 January 2012 11:49:23AM 6 points [-]

Is it more accurate to put it thus because Yvain-2012 disagrees with Yvain-2004 on this issue?

Comment author: Yvain 03 January 2012 02:12:29AM *  29 points [-]

I don't know if there's enough of a specific, meaningful claim there for me to disagree with, but Yvain-2012 probably would not have written those same words. Yvain-2012 would probably say he sometimes feels creeped out by the levels of signaling that go on in the skeptical community and thinks they sometimes snowball into the ridiculous, but that the result is prosocial and they are still performing a service.

(really I can only speak for Yvain-2011 at this point; my acquaintance with Yvain-2012 has been extremely brief)

Comment author: Stabilizer 02 January 2012 05:45:36PM 7 points [-]

Well, even if Yvain-2012 does not disagree with Yvain-2004, it would be nice to have the year attached. I would like that the year-attachment convention for attributing quotes and ideas becomes more widespread. Right now, the default assumption that everybody makes is that people are consistent over time. In reality, people almost surely change over time, and it is unreasonable to expect them to justify something which their earlier selves said. So, it would be really nice if the default was year-attachment.

Comment author: zntneo 02 January 2012 04:08:18AM 4 points [-]

I would say that for instance I don't believe that most alt med stuff works but this is exactly the reason I care that others know this and how we know this. This attitude infuriates me.

Comment author: machrider 02 January 2012 05:27:53PM *  4 points [-]

The fact is that there are many battles worth fighting, and strong skeptics are fighting one (or perhaps a few) of them. (As I was disgusted to see recently, human sacrifice apparently still happens.) However, I also think it's ok to say that battle is not the one that interests you. You don't have the capacity to be a champion for all possible good causes, so it's good that there is diversity of interest among people trying to improve the human condition.

Comment author: zntneo 03 January 2012 01:08:43AM 4 points [-]

I totally agree if its not your cup of tea fine. What pisses me off is the line about " if you don't believe it exists it seems like a good reason to not be concerned with it"

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 January 2012 02:28:32AM 14 points [-]

The next sentence is

It's not like belief in UFOs killed your pet hamster when you were a kid or something and you've had a terrible hatred of it ever since.

Skeptics will tell you that yes, it did. Belief that the Sun needs human sacrifices to rise in the morning killed their beloved big brother, and they've had a terrible hatred of it ever since. And they must slay all of its allies, everything that keeps people from noticing that Newton's laws have murder-free sunrise covered. Even belief in the Easter bunny, because the mistakes you make to believe in it are the same. That seems like a pretty good reason to be concerned with it.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 January 2012 03:56:42PM 5 points [-]

I was impressed when a skeptic source (sorry no cite) admitted that most people who read astrology columns do it for entertainment rather than for guidance in how to live their lives.

I don't know why some people and groups damp out most or all of the ill effects of their arbitrary beliefs, while others follow arbitrary beliefs to the point of serious damage or destruction. I don't think I've seen this discussed anywhere.

Comment author: James_K 02 January 2012 03:31:11AM 11 points [-]

Indeed. In fact there's a website: What's the Harm? that explains what damage these beliefs cause.

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 05 January 2012 09:12:32PM 4 points [-]
Comment author: MixedNuts 05 January 2012 09:15:55PM 3 points [-]

That actually seems to be a victim of belief in moon landing by people who have landed on the moon.

Comment author: Patrick 26 January 2012 12:49:42PM 3 points [-]

It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.

-- Deng Xioaping

Comment author: J_Taylor 18 January 2012 10:51:49PM *  3 points [-]

Thinking about thinking makes thinking thoughtful.



Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2012 05:42:47PM 3 points [-]

Lack of experience diminishes our power of taking a comprehensive view of the admitted facts. Hence those who dwell in intimate association with nature and its phenomena grow more and more able to formulate, as the foundations of their theories, principles such as to admit of a wide and coherent development: while those whom devotion to abstract discussions has rendered unobservant of the facts are too ready to dogmatize on the basis of a few observations.

-Aristotle, On Generation and Corruption

Comment author: Will_Newsome 05 January 2012 02:40:57AM 6 points [-]

We made our oath to Vavilov
We'd not betray the solanum
The acres of asteraceae
To our own pangs of starvation

"When The War Came", by The Decemberists

(from memory, will fix any errors later)

Comment author: David_Gerard 05 January 2012 08:50:56AM 18 points [-]


"While developing his theory on the centres of origin of cultivated plants, Vavilov organized a series of botanical-agronomic expeditions, collected seeds from every corner of the globe, and created in Leningrad the world's largest collection of plant seeds. This seedbank was diligently preserved even throughout the 28-month Siege of Leningrad, despite starvation; one of Nikolai's assistants starved to death surrounded by edible seeds."

Comment author: Will_Newsome 05 January 2012 11:59:11AM 3 points [-]

Thank you kind sir.

Comment author: fortyeridania 05 January 2012 02:58:29AM 5 points [-]

Can you elucidate the connection to rationality?

Comment author: katydee 06 January 2012 06:00:17AM 15 points [-]

A few Google searches resolved this question for me, and proved very interesting besides. Vavilov was a Soviet botanist focused on the cultivation of efficient seeds to mitigate hunger. In World War Two, Vavilov's Leningrad seedbank came under siege by the Nazis, who apparently wanted to steal/destroy the seeds. Considering the supplies vital to Russia's long-term survival, several of the scientists swore oaths to protect the seedbank against German forces, starving foragers, and rats.

They succeeded in doing so. The scientist-guards were so loyal that many of them died of starvation despite being in a facility full of edible seeds, as well as potatoes, corn, rice, and wheat. The seedbank endured the siege and was replenished after the city was liberated.

Vavilov himself did not live to see the victory of his researchers, as he had been sent to a camp thanks to his disapproval of the scientific fraud of Lysenkoism and died (ironically, of malnutrition) before the war ended.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 06 January 2012 06:21:41AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: khafra 05 January 2012 06:02:20PM *  2 points [-]

At first glance, it looks like a clear case of Bayesians vs. Barbarians to me.

Comment author: wedrifid 05 January 2012 09:15:20AM *  0 points [-]

Can you elucidate the connection to rationality?

Can? Of course. "Will?" Less likely.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 January 2012 04:30:08AM 4 points [-]

Never work against Mother Nature. You only succeed when you're working with her. --Cesar Milan, quoting his grandfather in Cesar's Way, a book about rehabilitating dogs

Comment author: Nornagest 01 January 2012 02:06:20AM *  5 points [-]

By convention there is color, by convention sweetness, by convention bitterness; but in reality there are atoms and space.

-- Democritus

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 01 January 2012 08:44:24AM 3 points [-]

How are those things "convention"? Did all sentience have a pow-wow some time back and decide to experience such and such sensations when confronted with such and such physical things?

Comment author: Nornagest 01 January 2012 09:43:04AM *  5 points [-]

I read it as saying they're conventional in the sense that the lines between categories of sensory experience are drawn by consensus, lacking direct access to the experiences of others.

We of course lack direct access to the atomic-scale world as well, but I imagine that's the point -- atomism was a lot more abstract to the likes of Democritus than atomic theory is to us. The underlying physical reality is in a certain sense abstracted away from us, and we reflect that by talking about physical experiences in a conventional way, but those experiences are still rooted in the reality of atoms and space -- or distributions of probability density, if you prefer.

Comment author: James_Miller 01 January 2012 02:57:20AM *  3 points [-]

Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible. It's never easy when there's so much on the line. But you and I can make a difference. There's a mission just for you and me.

Former U.S. Presidential Candidate Herman Cain who was quoting from the movie Pokémon 2000.

A Pokémon quote Cain didn't repeat:

I pitted them against each other, but not until they set aside their differences did I see the true power they all share deep inside. I see now that the circumstances of one's birth are irrelevant; it is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 12:04:04AM *  3 points [-]

Human behavior is predictable if sad. As much as we like to delude ourselves we are rational thinkers we usually tend to fall back on habit and mental shortcuts. You can easily train your brain to overcome this but it does take some work on your part. So it probably isn’t going to happen. But I’ll do my part trying to point out your many and varied shortcomings and you can go along, nodding wisely and congratulating me on my benevolent teachings while all the while planning to ignore me and do things the same way as before. [...]

The family house you grow up in is what you see as normal. That is the definition of shelter in your life. If you encounter a new product, that first price is what you use as a “normal” one. So everything can suffer from your first encounters ( or look better in comparison ). This is why most people won’t look for shelter. They look for a house. Or an apartment. Whatever they are used to. They are not used to finding a way to keep the elements out, they are used to finding a house or apartment. This is the way it is done and any suggestion otherwise is ignored. They might pretend to be open to new ideas but once they find fault with any way other than their own they can claim to be objective while remaining safely cocooned in their normal world.

People don’t look at how to get from one point to another. They don’t look at the need for transportation, they look at the need for a car. So by comparison shopping for cars they ignore scooters or bicycles or public transport or even carpooling. They are used to having a car and that is the only way to do it. People don’t look at how to become secure, they look at how to make money. To them money equals security and there is no other way. They ignore being out of debt, they ignore decreasing dependence on a paycheck ( note I said decrease, not eliminate ). They ignore all but getting money. This is how it was done before and it is how they are going to continue to do it.

~James Dakin, throwing the anchor overboard

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 January 2012 02:48:32AM 3 points [-]

Recomputing everything/random things/currently unsatisfying things is expensive and error-prone. The standard for new good ideas may be to look at other cultures. For example, public transport was my first thought (I've lived in large cities in Western Europe). If nobody anywhere has implemented your awesome suggestion, maybe it's a rare problem so few solutions have been tried, maybe everyone got stuck in poor local optima, or maybe it sucks.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 January 2012 01:11:31AM *  2 points [-]

I agree that such looking ought to be one's first recourse, for exactly the reasons you cite. I note, however, that one should look at subcultures for ideas as well, not just at the mainstream cultures of different geographical regions. For example, if I were to look at methods of solving the issue of shelter mentioned in the quote, I would not just look at how regular people lived in the cities of Japan or the countryside of North America, but also at how, say, people in the frugality movement or soldiers in the military dealt with it. Maybe some historical cultures, too, if I could easily find enough information about them.

Comment author: Nominull 01 January 2012 07:30:38AM 1 point [-]

There is something to be said for the wisdom of crowds. Information cascades are a thing, but the reason they happen is that it's rational for each individual to go along with the crowd, and you're not going to form a new equilibrium by yourself.

Comment author: CharlieSheen 20 January 2012 09:58:54AM 2 points [-]

Nemo iudex in causa sua.

A latin proverb, and I think part of Roman law, it means no-one should be a judge in their own cause.

Comment author: lukeprog 09 January 2012 08:42:23PM 2 points [-]

Nominal essences are all the essences that science needs, and some are better than others, because they capture more regularity in nature.

Dan Dennett

To explain: a "nominal essence" is just an abstract idea that humans have decided to use to pick out a particular type of thing. This is contrasted with a more Aristotelean view of essence.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 01 January 2012 08:39:52AM 0 points [-]

Reply to Objection 3. Free-will is the cause of its own movement, because by his free-will man moves himself to act. But it does not of necessity belong to liberty that what is free should be the first cause of itself, as neither for one thing to be cause of another need it be the first cause. God, therefore, is the first cause, Who moves causes both natural and voluntary. And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their acts being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary: but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them; for He operates in each thing according to its own nature.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Question 83, Article 1

Comment author: khafra 03 January 2012 05:00:37AM *  6 points [-]

Is that just a theist version of compatibilist free will? Or an assertion that somehow you could create something without being responsible for its future actions, either by creating the policy that decided them or making them dependent on a source of randomness?

Comment author: Jack 03 January 2012 06:17:40AM 5 points [-]

The former.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 03 January 2012 07:18:56AM *  6 points [-]

As Jack says, it's the "theist version" of compatibilist free will, but you can replace "God" with "the universe" and the point goes through, Aquinas uses God because he's trying to build up a coherent metaphysics. And quite successfully! He gave the "right answer" to the "free will problem" off-the-cuff as if it was no big deal. This raises my confidence that Aquinas is also insightful when he discusses things I don't yet understand, like faith.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 January 2012 02:49:02AM *  1 point [-]

Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.

-- David Hume

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 01 January 2012 08:41:55AM 1 point [-]

Each man would like to be happy. But if you try to make it so that all men can be happy, each will grab you by the hands like one whose aching tooth is being pulled.

Bolesław Prus, "The Pharaoh" (translation mine)

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 12:16:43AM 7 points [-]

I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean.

Comment author: Spectral_Dragon 15 January 2012 09:17:30PM 1 point [-]

"People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are afraid it might be true. People's heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it all true. People are stupid; they can only rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth, and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool." -- Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander from the book "Wizard's first rule" by Terry Goodkind.

Comment author: David_Gerard 16 January 2012 12:34:08AM 3 points [-]

This is a useful quote when one remembers to apply it to oneself. "You know how transparently full of shit everyone else is? Guess how stupid you are yourself."

Comment author: [deleted] 15 January 2012 11:51:07PM 3 points [-]

In case this gives anyone the false impression that the Sword of Truth series is good, let me advise you: it isn't. What starts out as a decent premise devolves into the most convoluted argument for Objectivism since Rand herself.

Comment author: TimS 16 January 2012 01:26:42AM 2 points [-]

I didn't notice the Objectivism, since the S&M and scat play drove me away first. The first book was enjoyable.