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Rationality Quotes February 2012

5 [deleted] 01 February 2012 09:03PM

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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.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 (401)

Comment author: Solvent 02 February 2012 06:03:59AM 68 points [-]

And here, according to Trout, was the reason human beings could not reject ideas because they were bad: Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity. The ideas Earthlings held didn’t matter for hundreds of thousands of years, since they couldn’t do much about them anyway. Ideas might as well be badges as anything.

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Comment author: Stabilizer 03 February 2012 05:38:50AM 5 points [-]

...the reason human beings could not reject ideas because they were bad: Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity.

The most beautiful explanation of Hansonian signalling I've seen.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 04 February 2012 06:15:18AM 3 points [-]

With all due respect to Robin, this very thread supplies prior art for this idea :).

Comment author: Stabilizer 04 February 2012 11:00:27AM 4 points [-]

Having an inkling about the existence of gravity is different from figuring out the motions of all the planets. Hanson actually built the idea into useful models. He gets the name. :D

Comment author: gwern 01 February 2012 03:23:59PM 45 points [-]

"He [H.G. Wells] has abandoned the sensational theory with the same honourable gravity and simplicity with which he adopted it. Then he thought it was true; now he thinks it is not true. He has come to the most dreadful conclusion a literary man can come to, the conclusion that the ordinary view is the right one. It is only the last and wildest kind of courage that can stand on a tower before ten thousand people and tell them that twice two is four."

--Heretics, G. K. Chesterton

Comment author: Mark_Eichenlaub 01 February 2012 08:24:34PM *  21 points [-]

I was interested in the context here. Chesterton was referencing Wells' original belief that the classes would differentiate until the upper class ate the lower class. Wells changed his mind to believe the classes would merge.

The entire book is free on Google Books.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 02 February 2012 07:54:38PM 14 points [-]

At the point where those are the two hypothesises being considered there may be larger problems.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 February 2012 02:42:39AM 3 points [-]

I think you've got problems at the point where you're using that language to write your hypotheses.

Comment author: Anubhav 04 February 2012 05:26:43AM 5 points [-]

Wells' original belief that the classes would differentiate until the upper class ate the lower class

In the Time Machine, it's the other way round.

Comment author: scmbradley 02 February 2012 01:43:12PM 36 points [-]

The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem, in a way that will allow a solution

– Bertrand Russell

Comment author: Grognor 02 February 2012 03:29:36AM *  31 points [-]

Il est dangereux d’avoir raison dans des choses où des hommes accrédités ont tort.
It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.

-Voltaire (usually presented as, "It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.")

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 02 February 2012 10:15:50AM 29 points [-]

“I was just doing my job” or “I don’t make the rules” is not a defense if you have a history of deciding what your job actually is, and selectively breaking or bending rules.

"Heads I Win, Tails You Lose" by Venkat Rao

Comment author: MixedNuts 03 February 2012 11:34:38AM 3 points [-]

It's also a good introduction to Nietzsche. (I find that most introductions to Nietzsche are good as long as they are humorous and informal enough that they wouldn't be used in philosophy class.)

Comment author: arundelo 01 February 2012 09:46:04PM 29 points [-]

Robert Morris has a very unusual quality: he's never wrong. It might seem this would require you to be omniscient, but actually it's surprisingly easy. Don't say anything unless you're fairly sure of it. If you're not omniscient, you just don't end up saying much.

[....] He's not just generally correct, but also correct about how correct he is.

-- Paul Graham

Comment author: thomblake 02 February 2012 05:43:26PM 7 points [-]

Being well-calibrated is great, but it sounds like rtm isn't even wrong in retrospect. I much prefer to say wrong things very loudly so that I will discover when I am in error.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 February 2012 05:40:03PM 21 points [-]

... People usually don't know why they vote for the candidates they choose to vote for, and are not particularly good at assessing how something influenced that vote -- let alone how some hypothetical future event would influence them.

...if you ask voters, it turns out that some will tell you that they would be more likely, and a somewhat larger number will tell you that they'll be less likely, to vote for someone with a Trump endorsement. Hey, reporters: don't believe those polls! You can take it as a measure of what respondents think about Trump, if you care about such things, but there's no reason to believe that this kind of self-reporting about vote choice is meaningful at all, and it shouldn't be included in stories about a Trump endorsement as if it was meaningful.

...The bottom line here is that polling is a really good tool for reporters to use in many cases, but remember: what polling tells you for sure is only what people will say if they're asked a question by a pollster.

Jonathan Bernstein

Comment author: thomblake 02 February 2012 05:47:52PM 6 points [-]

Working in market research, I have to resist the impulse to point this out practically every day.

Comment author: Alejandro1 05 February 2012 05:41:50AM 20 points [-]

Any time we find that “math” disagrees with reality, the problem is never with “math”—it’s with us, for using the wrong math!

Scott Aaronson

Comment author: HonoreDB 18 February 2012 09:45:08PM *  19 points [-]

Luck is opportunity plus preparation plus luck.

--Jane Espenson

Comment author: wedrifid 18 February 2012 10:09:31PM 4 points [-]

That is brilliant, I'm taking that one. It's refreshing to see an alternative to the typical belligerently optimistic 'motivational' quotes that deny the rather significant influence of chance.

Comment author: arundelo 11 February 2012 06:22:39PM 19 points [-]

Any time you say something is "more likely" than something else, that an explanation is "improbable," or "almost certainly true," or "implausible," and so on, you are making mathematical statements. Any time something is "more" than something else, that's math.

-- Richard Carrier

Comment author: RobinZ 04 February 2012 12:17:40AM 18 points [-]

I’ve very often made mistakes in my physics by thinking the theory isn’t as good as it really is, thinking that there are lots of complications that are going to spoil it — an attitude that anything can happen, in spite of what you’re pretty sure should happen.

Richard Feynman, in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, chapter entitled "Mixing Paints".

Comment author: scmbradley 02 February 2012 01:41:43PM 18 points [-]

Anyone who can handle a needle convincingly can make us see a thread which isn't there

-E.H. Gombrich

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 01 February 2012 09:51:09PM 18 points [-]

Paradoxes, like optical illusions, are often used by psychologists to reveal the inner workings of the mind, for paradoxes stem from (and amplify) dormant clashes among implicit sets of assumptions.

Judea Pearl (Causality)

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 01 February 2012 09:55:36PM *  29 points [-]

A paradox arises when two seemingly airtight arguments lead to contradictory conclusions—conclusions that cannot possibly both be true. It’s similar to adding a set of numbers in a two-dimensional array and getting different answers depending on whether you sum up the rows first or the columns. Since the correct total must be the same either way, the difference shows that an error must have been made in at least one of the two sets of calculations. But it remains to discover at which step (or steps) an erroneous calculation occurred in either or both of the running sums. There are two ways to rebut an argument. We might call them countering and invalidating.

+To counter an argument is to provide another argument that establishes the opposite conclusion.

+To invalidate an argument, we show that there is some step in that argument that simply does not follow from what precedes it (or we show that the argument’s premises—the initial steps—are themselves false).

If an argument starts with true premises, and if every step in the argument does follow, then the argument’s conclusion must be true. However, invalidating an argument—identifying an incorrect step somewhere—does not show that the argument’s conclusion must be false. Rather, the invalidation merely removes that argument itself as a reason to think the conclusion true; the conclusion might still be true for other reasons. Therefore, to firmly rebut an argument whose conclusion is false, we must both invalidate the argument and also present a counterargument for the opposite conclusion.

In the case of a paradox, invalidating is especially important. Whichever of the contradictory conclusions is incorrect, we’ve already got an argument to counter it—that’s what makes the matter a paradox in the first place! Piling on additional counterarguments may (or may not) lead to helpful insights, but the counterarguments themselves cannot suffice to resolve the paradox. What we must also do is invalidate the argument for the false conclusion—that is, we must show how that argument contains one or more steps that do not follow.

Failing to recognize the need for invalidation can lead to frustratingly circular exchanges between proponents of the conflicting positions. One side responds to the other’s argument with a counterargument, thinking it a sufficient rebuttal. The other side responds with a counter- counterargument—perhaps even a repetition of the original argument— thinking it an adequate rebuttal of the rebuttal. This cycle may persist indefinitely. With due attention to the need to invalidate as well as counter, we can interrupt the cycle and achieve a more productive discussion.

Gary Drescher (Good and Real)

Comment author: [deleted] 01 February 2012 10:24:33PM 3 points [-]


I think this is also how the best standup comedians work.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 February 2012 05:21:12PM *  15 points [-]

Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.

H. Jackson Brown

(The second-last paragraph of The Power of Agency by Lukeprog reminded me of it.)

Comment author: JoshuaZ 03 February 2012 05:33:42AM 66 points [-]

Doctor Slithingly watched the readout on the computer screen and rubbed his hands together. ‘Excellent,’ he muttered, his voice a thin, rasping hiss. ‘Excellent!’ He laughed to himself in a chilling falsetto. ‘Soon my plan will come to fruition. Soon I will destroy them all!’ The room resounded with the sound of his insane giggling. This was the culmination of years of research – years of testing tissue samples and creating unnatural biological hybrids – but now it was over. Now, finally, he would destroy them all – every single type and variation of leukaemia. In doing so, he would render useless the work of thousands of charitable organisations as well as denying medical professionals the world over a source of income. He would prevent the publication of hundreds of inspiring stories of survival and sacrifice which might otherwise have sold millions of copies worldwide. ‘Bwahaha!’ he laughed. ‘So long, you meddling haematological neoplasm, you!’

Joel Stickley, How To Write Badly Well

Comment author: Grognor 16 February 2012 07:59:35AM *  11 points [-]

If we want to know if there has been a change from the start to the end dates, all we have to do is look! I’m tempted to add a dozen more exclamation points to that sentence, it is that important. We do not have to model what we can see. No statistical test is needed to say whether the data has changed. We can just look.

I have to stop, lest I become exasperated. We statisticians have pointed out this fact until we have all, one by one, turned blue in the face and passed out, the next statistician in line taking the place of his fallen comrade.

-William M. Briggs

Comment author: ShardPhoenix 16 February 2012 11:42:34PM *  3 points [-]

Voted up for the link, but the meaning of the quote isn't very clear out of context.

Comment author: gwern 12 February 2012 11:35:54PM *  11 points [-]

"...When I was still doubtful as to his [Wittgenstein's] ability, I asked G.E. Moore for his opinion. Moore replied, 'I think very well of him indeed.' When I enquired the reason for his opinion, he said it was because Wittgenstein was the only man who looked puzzled at his lectures."

--Bertrand Russell, pg 178 Last philosophical testament: 1943-68

Comment author: Stabilizer 03 February 2012 10:42:15PM 30 points [-]

"The truth is whatever you can get away with."

"No, that’s journalism. The truth is whatever you can’t escape."

-Greg Egan, Distress

Comment author: [deleted] 01 February 2012 03:34:11PM *  55 points [-]

It shouldn't be disrespectful to the complexity of the human condition to say that despair is also, often, just low blood sugar.

Alain de Botton

Comment author: JoachimSchipper 01 February 2012 05:13:11PM 11 points [-]

Is this true? Naive Googling yields this, which suggests (non-authoritatively) that blood sugar and moods are indeed linked (in diabetics, but it's presumably true in the general population). However, despair is not noted and the effects generally seem milder than that (true despair is a rather powerful emotion!)

Comment author: kalla724 01 February 2012 09:43:58PM 12 points [-]

Blood sugar is very closely linked to self-control, including suppression of emotion. While this may appear to be a different thing, it isn't: when you include feedback loops and association spirals, a transient, weak emotional distraction can become deep and overwhelming if normal modes of suppression fail.

See here, here and here.

Comment author: orbenn 01 February 2012 06:56:44PM *  6 points [-]

Anecdotally: I'm not diabetic that I know of, but my mood is highly dependent on how well and how recently I've eaten. I get very irritable and can break down into tears easily if I'm more than four hours past due.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 February 2012 11:55:23PM 6 points [-]

Low moods and despair are both made of atoms. The quality of atomness doesn't vanish as bad feelings get worse. The quote is suggesting that keeping this fact in mind may be therapeutically valuable -- you're probably less likely to despair if you understand that your despair has a knowable, physical, potentially correctable basis.

Comment author: gwern 01 February 2012 03:38:37PM 17 points [-]

"Our moods are so unstable because we are only chemicals in a saline solution - not entries in a ledger or words in a book."

--Alain de Botton

Comment author: katydee 03 February 2012 09:45:09PM *  9 points [-]

The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.

Leonardo da Vinci

Comment author: wilder 01 February 2012 06:25:52PM 9 points [-]

"The Enlightenment is the moment at which explanatory knowledge is beginning to assume its soon-to-be-normal role as the most important determinant of physical events. At least it could be: we had better remember that what we are attempting – the sustained creation of knowledge – has never worked before. Indeed, everything that we shall ever try to achieve from now on will never have worked before. We have, so far, been transformed from the victims (and enforcers) of an eternal status quo into the mainly passive recipients of the benefits of relatively rapid innovation in a bumpy transition period. We now have to accept, and rejoice in bringing about, our next transformation: to active agents of progress in the emerging rational society – and universe."

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

Comment author: lukeprog 02 February 2012 07:14:13PM 37 points [-]

Just because science doesn't know everything doesn't mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you.

Dara O'Briain

Comment author: FiftyTwo 03 February 2012 12:01:34PM 27 points [-]

Science knows it doesn't know everything, otherwise it would stop.

Dara O'Briain

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 12 February 2012 12:21:55PM 4 points [-]

He also paraphrases what I've seen described as "the Minchin Principle" a few sentences later.

...and then we tested [herbal medicine] and the stuff that worked became... medicine. And he rest of it is just a nice bowl of soup and some potpurri.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 February 2012 07:53:20AM 23 points [-]

Already I had learned from thee that because a thing is eloquently expressed it should not be taken to be as necessarily true; nor because it is uttered with stammering lips should it be supposed false. Nor, again, is it necessarily true because rudely uttered, nor untrue because the language is brilliant. Wisdom and folly both are like meats that are wholesome and unwholesome, and courtly or simple words are like town-made or rustic vessels — both kinds of food may be served in either kind of dish.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 February 2012 08:59:37AM *  35 points [-]

It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.

George Bernard Shaw

Comment author: Will_Newsome 10 February 2012 11:22:11AM 4 points [-]

In my experience I've noticed the reverse, but I could be persuaded otherwise with statistics.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 February 2012 04:50:16PM *  22 points [-]

I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.

— from *The South Pole* by Roald Amundsen
Comment author: MixedNuts 03 February 2012 11:55:35AM 8 points [-]

Yeah, but that's not very useful to tell when you're taking sensible precautions and when you're just packing cans of shark repellent.

Comment author: Endovior 08 February 2012 10:44:43PM 3 points [-]

Not necessarily. Note that you take precautions because you foresee difficulties. If you intend to go diving in shark-infested waters... or, indeed, any body of water that might conceivably host sharks... then considering that fact in advance, purchasing shark repellent, and having it on-hand during the dive is totally sensible. If you're going to the South Pole instead, then shark repellent is worse then useless; it's presence will serve merely as additional weight to hinder your progress. The difference is, as the quote suggests, a question of whether you're preparing because you've carefully considered the situation in advance, and determined that the preparation in question is necessary to your task... or whether you don't really have a solid idea of why you'd need to do a given thing, but it seems like something that might be useful for a reason you haven't considered carefully enough to describe in words.

Comment author: lukeprog 21 February 2012 11:18:30PM *  7 points [-]

A poem about decision trees:

I think that I shall never see
A decision complex as that tree—

A tree with roots in ancient days
(At least as old as Reverend Bayes);

A tree with trunk all gnarled and twisted
With axioms by Savage listed;

A tree with branches sprouting branches
And nodes declaring what the chance is;

A tree with flowers in its tresses
(Each flower made of blooming guesses);

A tree with utiles at its tips
(Values gleaned from puzzled lips);

A tree with stems so deeply nested
Intuition’s completely bested;

A tree with branches in a tangle
Impenetrable from any angle;

A tree that tried to tell us “should”
Although its essence was but “would”;

A tree that did decision hold back
’Til calculation had it rolled back.

Decisions are reached by fools like me,
But it took a consultant to make that tree.

Michael Rothkopf

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 08 February 2012 05:13:42PM *  7 points [-]

Rationality promotion:

However, I would advise our readers to be good Bayesian thinkers and consider how easily tonight’s evidence fits in to the perspective they had on the race going into Tuesday evening.

-- Nate Silver, today's 538 blog


The original even linked to the wikipedia entry on "Bayesian".

Comment author: [deleted] 05 February 2012 11:49:46PM 7 points [-]

Words are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools, that value them by the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any other doctor whatsoever, if but a man.

--Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

Comment author: [deleted] 02 February 2012 12:37:31AM 37 points [-]

The point of rigour is not to destroy all intuition; instead, it should be used to destroy bad intuition while clarifying and elevating good intuition.

Terence Tao

Comment author: arundelo 05 February 2012 08:54:15PM 60 points [-]

You are not the king of your brain. You are the creepy guy standing next to the king going "a most judicious choice, sire".

-- Steven Kaas

Comment author: [deleted] 01 February 2012 02:18:49PM *  27 points [-]

It is the most common way of trying to cope with novelty: by means of metaphors and analogies we try to link the new to the old, the novel to the familiar. Under sufficiently slow and gradual change, it works reasonably well; in the case of a sharp discontinuity, however, the method breaks down: though we may glorify it with the name 'common sense', our past experience is no longer relevant, the analogies become too shallow, and the metaphors become more misleading than illuminating.

E. W. Dijkstra

Comment author: CronoDAS 05 February 2012 03:31:29AM 5 points [-]
Comment author: cousin_it 02 February 2012 02:31:14PM *  2 points [-]

That's certainly a mistake that many people make, but we shouldn't consciously correct for it unless it's a bias with predictable direction. Does excessive belief in common-sense analogies really cause more problems than excessive belief in new shiny ideas? How do you tell?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 February 2012 02:41:22PM 6 points [-]

I don't think the quote is about favoring common sense over new shiny ideas. I think it's about how we tend to be lazy with words as long as we can get away with it -- until the words are completely wrong.

Dijkstra doesn't propose that novelty is avoidable. He admonishes us for describing it poorly.

Comment author: Cyan 27 February 2012 12:19:22AM 6 points [-]

Many of us spontaneously anticipate how friends and colleagues will evaluate our choices; the quality and content of these anticipated judgments therefore matters. The expectation of intelligent gossip is a powerful motive for serious self-criticism, more powerful than New Year resolutions to improve one's decision making at work and at home.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Comment author: fburnaby 12 February 2012 12:38:58AM 6 points [-]

Once the demands of acting - and hence deciding - in a time-pressured world are factored into our vision of rational thought, we get a model of the mind vastly unlike the model typically (and dimly) imagined by rationalists in the in the great tradition of Descartes, Leibniz and Kant.

Daniel Dennett, Elbow Room, (Control and Self-Control)

Comment author: Tesseract 01 February 2012 07:53:34PM *  24 points [-]

What is the aim of philosophy? To be clear-headed rather than confused; lucid rather than obscure; rational rather than otherwise; and to be neither more, nor less, sure of things than is justifiable by argument or evidence. That is worth trying for.

Geoffrey Warnock

Comment author: wallowinmaya 01 February 2012 06:54:38PM *  27 points [-]

It is easy to be certain....One has only to be sufficiently vague.

Charles S. Peirce

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 19 February 2012 03:49:58PM 5 points [-]

To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle. One thing that helps toward it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record of one's opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it. Political predictions are usually wrong. But even when one makes a correct one, to discover why one was right can be very illuminating. In general, one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality. If one recognizes this, one cannot, of course, get rid of one's subjective feelings, but one can to some extent insulate them from one's thinking and make predictions cold-bloodedly, by the book of arithmetic. In private life most people are fairly realistic. When one is making out one's weekly budget, two and two invariably make four. Politics, on the other hand, is a sort of sub-atomic or non-Euclidean word where it is quite easy for the part to be greater than the whole or for two objects to be in the same place simultaneously. Hence the contradictions and absurdities I have chronicled above, all finally traceable to a secret belief that one's political opinions, unlike the weekly budget, will not have to be tested against solid reality.

George Orwell

He's mistaken about math and physics, possibly because he didn't expect his ideas on the subjects to be tested against solid reality....

Comment author: AlexSchell 04 February 2012 09:02:48PM 5 points [-]

There is no magical unreliability attaching to results just because they are results of single trials.

John Leslie, The End of the World, p. 242 (paperback)

(He is not talking about about trials in the "randomized controlled trial" sense but rather in the sampling sense.)

Comment author: gwern 01 February 2012 03:27:12PM *  13 points [-]

On the Outside View:

"Of course, if you want to, you can always come up with reasons why the lessons from the Neo-Sumerian Empire don't apply to you."

--Steven Kaas

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 01 February 2012 06:54:41PM 2 points [-]

What lessons? The WP link was interesting, but I didn't catch anything other than "defunct empire".

Comment author: gwern 01 February 2012 07:03:13PM *  17 points [-]

To explain: the Outside View is a powerful tool, but one sometime should reject it based on even more powerful factors from the Inside View, where one can be sure that one is in a new (or at least, different) reference class from the one being used in the Outside View. Of course, one may want to reject it based just on one like one's views...

This sometimes leads to a back-and-forth series of arguments over burdens of proof dubbed 'reference class tennis' where the two sides argue over what is the correct reference class which will either support or undermine a particular claim (is AGI in the reference class of "additional incremental innovation", which would undermine claims of significant danger/reward, or entire "regime changes", which would support the same claims? This is the game of reference class tennis which Eliezer and Hanson are arguing their way through in the link and related links).

Kaas is humorously parodying a side using an Outside View involving the Neo-Sumerian Empire, replying to the other side making the commonsense position - yours too ('what lessons?') - that the quasi-literate agricultural Neo-Sumerian Empire from 3000 years ago is not in any reference class that matters to us, and implying that the speaker is writing the other side off as rationalizing and excuse-seeking. The parody works because we agree that in this case, the Outside View is not applicable or its weak evidence is overwhelmed by Inside View evidence about how different the Neo-Sumerian Empire is from any contemporary societies or organizations or processes, and this reminds us that often Outside View arguments simply may not work (eg. arguments from evolutionary psychology, which draw from time periods and societies even more distant from and less like our own than the Neo-Sumerian Empire).

And now that I've explained it entirely, I can no longer find it funny. I hope you're happy.

Comment author: steven0461 02 February 2012 12:01:54AM 7 points [-]

Thanks. The statement you quoted was meant as a continuation of this, in case that makes it less confusing. I should probably have made that explicit.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 February 2012 04:29:03PM *  18 points [-]

The tendency toward generalization doesn’t bother me in an of itself, rather, I’m focused on whether the proposition is true. But the hypocrisy gets tiresome sometimes, as people will fluidly switch from a cognitive style which accepts generalization to one which rejects it. A stereotype is often a generalization whose robustness you don’t want to accept. Negative generalities need context when they’re unpalatable, but no qualification is necessary when their truth is congenial.

--Razib Khan, here

Comment author: taelor 01 February 2012 06:05:49PM 22 points [-]

I am a physical object sitting in a physical world. Some of the forces of this physical world impinge on my surfaces. Light rays strike my retinas; molecules bombard my eardrums and fingertips. I strike back, emanating concentic air waves. These waves take the form of torrents of discourses about tables, people, molecules, light rays, retinas, air waves, prime numbers, infinite classes, joy and sorrow, good and evil.

--W. V. O. Quine

Comment author: J_Taylor 01 February 2012 11:41:19PM 32 points [-]

We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.


Comment author: [deleted] 05 February 2012 02:52:23AM 16 points [-]

This is why science and mathematics are so much fun; You discover things that seem impossible to be true, and then get to figure out why it's impossible for them NOT to be.

-Vi Hart, Doodling in Math: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant- Part 3 of 3

Comment author: Alejandro1 01 February 2012 04:55:17PM *  15 points [-]

"Stay, 'tis just a figure!" Root laughed rather winningly, reaching out to touch Locke's shoulder.

"A faulty one," Daniel said, "for you are an alchemist."

"I am called an Alchemist. Within living memory, Daniel, everyone who studied what I—and you—study was called by that name. And most persons even today observe no distinction between Alchemy and the younger and more vigorous order of knowledge that is associated with your club."

"I am too exhausted to harry you through all of your evasions. Out of respect for your friends Mr. Locke, and for Leibniz, I shall give you the benefit of the doubt, and wish you well," Daniel said.

"God save you, Mr. Waterhouse."

"And you, Mr. Root. But I say this to you—and you as well, Mr. Locke. As I came in here I saw a map, lately taken from this house, burning in the fire. The map was empty, for it depicted the ocean—most likely, a part of it where no man has ever been. A few lines of latitude were ruled across that vellum void, and some legendary isles drawn in, with great authority, and where the map-maker could not restrain himself he drew phantastickal monsters. That map, to me, is Alchemy. It is good that it burnt, and fitting that it burnt tonight, the eve of a Revolution that I will be so bold as to call my life's work. In a few years Mr. Hooke will learn to make a proper chronometer, finishing what Mr. Huygens began thirty years ago, and then the Royal Society will draw maps with lines of longitude as well as latitude, giving us a grid— what we call a Cartesian grid, though 'twas not his idea—and where there be islands, we will rightly draw them. Where there are none, we will draw none, nor dragons, nor sea-monsters—and that will be the end of Alchemy."

Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver.

Comment author: Alejandro1 01 February 2012 05:18:25PM 9 points [-]

I was pondering whether to cut the quote at this point, or to include the rest of the dialogue between natural philosopher Daniel Waterhouse and alchemist Enoch Root. I decided to cut the quote here firstly because otherwise it would be too long, and secondly because the rest of the dialogue does not have the same stirring, "yay science!", "yay modernity!" feeling of Daniel's tirade. But it is thought-provoking, so I include it below, with some reflections after it:

" 'Tis a noble pursuit and I wish you Godspeed," Root said, "but remember the poles."

"The poles?"

"The north and south poles, where your meridians will come together—no longer parallel and separate, but converging, and all one."

"That is nothing but a figment of geometry."

"But when you build all your science upon geometry, Mr. Water-house, figments become real."

Daniel sighed. "Very well, perhaps we'll get back to Alchemy in the end—but for now, no one can get near the poles—unless you can fly there on a broom, Mr. Root—and I'll put my trust in geometry and not in the books of fables that Mr. Boyle and Sir Elias are sorting through below. 'Twill work for me, for the short time I have remaining. I have not time to-night."

How do you interpret this? The best interpretation I can make for what Root is saying is that when you describe Nature in abstract, mathematical/geometrical ways, you will end up confusing your abstraction for reality -- and then anything which does not fit with your abstraction (like the pole does not fit in the Cartesian grid) will seem inherently mysterious, even though its mystery is an illusion of your abstract description and it is not more inherently mysterious than the pole is inherently different from other points on Earth.

This resonates with the view some philosophers have on the hard problem of consciousness and how to dissolve it: the idea goes that modern science describes nature in quantitative terms and pushes everything qualitative to the subjective realm (e.g., light is "in reality" electromagnetic waves defined as such and such equations, and color is the subjective perception of it and exists only "in the mind") and then qualia seem inherently mysterious and not-fitting with the rest of nature, but this is only because we have confused our abstractions for reality. The more recent Putnam has said things along these lines, as well as several "neo-Aristotelian" philosophers. But I wouldn't have associated Stephenson with such views, and yet Root seems to be speaking for him here, so I am a bit confused.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 February 2012 01:20:34PM 2 points [-]

Hunh? It's just an allusion to non-Euclidean geometry and the Gauss-Bonnet theorem, which prevents any Cartesian grid system from working on the sphere.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 February 2012 04:57:37PM 3 points [-]

Yes, that is the surface meaning, but it seems to me there must be a secondary one. Daniel's tirade in the previous comment is not just saying "we will be able to draw accurate maps using a Cartesian grid" (otherwise, why say "that will be the end of Alchemy"? what does that literal meaning have to do with alchemy?). Notice that he is responding there to Root's assertion that there is little contrast between alchemy and "the younger and more vigorous order of knowledge that is associated with your club", i.e. modern science (the club is the Royal Society). So I take him to mean that the new scientific method, which relies on precise, mathematical thinking as opposed to the qualitative, semi-mystical thinking in alchemy (this is what "Cartesian grid vs dragons" stands for), will carry the day and eliminate alchemy. So I think that Root's reply that "you will leave out the poles" must have a hidden interpretation that fits in this broader argument, besides the surface one you point out.

That there must be a second meaning is also supported by Daniel saying with a sigh "Very well, perhaps we'll get back to Alchemy in the end" -- you wouldn't need alchemy to draw a map with a different projection that includes the pole!

Comment author: gwern 02 February 2012 05:52:43PM 3 points [-]

Well, it's been pointed out on occasion that modern physics did get back to alchemy - in the sense of transmuting elements (radioactivity). Personally, I took Root as referring to what the alchemists did achieve: apparent immortality, given his presence in Cryptonomicon. The younger order achieved a great deal, but just as map projections always have difficulties caused by mapping 3D to 2D, the younger order has difficulties with a few singular parts of the territory, if you will.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 February 2012 04:20:42AM 4 points [-]

Ah, nothing like a good old-fashioned book-burning.

Comment author: lessdazed 11 February 2012 12:00:57AM 10 points [-]

Game theory won out over good wishes.

--Burning Man organizers

Comment author: Vaniver 15 February 2012 12:10:30AM 17 points [-]

From the blog post:

No event organizer or ticket seller has solved scalping completely.

It seems pretty easy to solve: auction off all the tickets.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 February 2012 05:10:39AM 19 points [-]

The Market Economics Fairy is pleased with you! She blesses you with sparkles from her wand!

Comment author: [deleted] 15 February 2012 05:40:38AM 11 points [-]

What profit does she get from dispensing sparkles?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 February 2012 10:02:20AM 17 points [-]

It improves the chance that further Market Economics will happen by rewarding people who produce it. It goes without saying that Market Economics is a terminal value to the Market Economics Fairy. If she was just interested in profit, she'd be starting a hedge fund instead of going around telling people about Market Economics.

Comment author: CharlieSheen 15 February 2012 02:07:24PM *  11 points [-]

Market Economics fairy should consider starting a hedge fund anyway and investing that money into a lobby group or other means of promoting Market Economics. I sincerely doubt emitting sparkles from her wand is where her comparative advantage lies.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 February 2012 12:04:03AM 12 points [-]

What do you mean? The Market Economics Fairy is way better at emitting sparkles from her wand than anyone else, and has no special talent for managing hedge funds.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 16 February 2012 01:15:28AM 8 points [-]

Maybe, but I'm pretty sure there are substitutes: both for the role of sparkles, and manual production of them using a wand.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 February 2012 02:45:04AM 16 points [-]

Well now you've proved that the Market Economics Fairy should quit her job and found a startup aimed at roboticizing sparkle production. I hope you're happy.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 16 February 2012 11:52:39AM 6 points [-]

Very. :D

Comment author: wedrifid 18 February 2012 06:16:14AM 3 points [-]

What do you mean? The Market Economics Fairy is way better at emitting sparkles from her wand than anyone else, and has no special talent for managing hedge funds.

Just how much better than everyone else is she? Perhaps her comparative advantage is in creating a power company. Spend early revenue on recursively improving (ie. research that is money limited) sparkle -> electricity conversion then spend later revenue on hiring people to do FAI<Market Economics Fairy> research so she can maintain and consolidate her overall advantage as technology makes sparkle power obsolete.

Unfortunately for the rest of us the FAI<MEF> creates an environment that degenerates into a Hansonian Hell (then further into mere cosmic commons burning). If it behaved like a FAI<humanity> and did the smart thing and became a singleton the market economics fairy would disintegrate into a puff of vapor - presumably not part of her extrapolated volition. Once someone has won (secured control via overwhelming intelligence advantage) 'Market Economics' becomes nothing more than a charade. Yet maintaining an environment where market economics hold sway ensures a steady evolution towards more efficient competition which will tend toward one of two obvious local minima (burn the earth or, more likely, burn the light cone, depending on whether the leap to interstellar is viable for anyone at any point in the economic competition.)

The Market Economics Fairy must (eventually) die or we will!

(Pardon the Newsomlike tangential stream. It seems relevant/interesting/important to me at least!)

Comment author: MixedNuts 15 February 2012 02:17:37PM 4 points [-]

Who do you think is behind Ayn Rand?

Comment author: gwern 15 February 2012 12:25:26AM 11 points [-]

You're missing the unstated corollary to this, or any other discussion of scalpers: 'and prices have to be "reasonable" for whatever demographic we claim to serve or would prefer to serve'.

Hence, you get discussions of young girl singers unhappy that all these icky old men are paying hundreds of dollars for the tickets to her concert, even though the market doesn't clear at the $40 or $60 her preteen fans can spare. (And if an organization does let the price float to its natural level of hundreds of dollars, then you get shocked articles in the newspaper on 'ticket inflation' and angry letters to the editor about how in their day you could get in for a nickel...)

Comment author: Vaniver 15 February 2012 12:37:29AM 5 points [-]

I agree that ticketing is a difficult problem, but getting rid of scalping is easy if that's your primary objective. Pricing the externalities of event-goers is tough, especially when anti-discrimination legislation means you generally can't be upfront about it.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 16 February 2012 12:11:37AM 12 points [-]

So there is the problem: The ideal of non-discrimination is not compatible with cases where the demographics of event-goers is itself a strong influence on the quality of the event for everyone involved.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 February 2012 06:56:28PM 17 points [-]

Latest news: Burning Man blames game theory for their failure to understand basic supply and demand, hugely underprices tickets, 2/3 of buyers left in cold, Market Economics Fairy cries.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 14 February 2012 11:35:57PM 9 points [-]

That's not a fair assessment of the organizers' skill level.

They seem to have a nice firm grip on the effect of fixed supply, fixed price, and increasing demand:

And in those regards, the ticket selection system worked as planned — but it created other unforeseen problems, and most of them boil down to an unpredicted, overwhelming level of demand. The impact of that demand is beyond what we projected when designing the system; even if we knew there were destined to be some people missing out, we didn’t expect nearly so many.

What they didn't predict was that the expectation of scarcity would further increase demand, creating a positive feedback loop. In their words:

there was a fair amount of over-registration – those who said “I need one but I’ll order two…” or “I’m not sure I’m going but I’ll get one just in case.” We can now see that some of that happened simply because the perception of scarcity drove fear and action for all of us.

So, they understand supply and demand (they just made a bad factual estimate of demand), and they didn't really understand game theory - but after they made their mistake they publicly admitted it, asked around to see what they did wrong, and proposed strategies for mitigating the mistake.

Why are we mocking them again?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 February 2012 08:45:51PM 4 points [-]

I gather they didn't know how huge the demand would be this year.

Burning Man's problem might be a good topic for LW to kick around. Suppose you have pretty good abundance, how do you ration access to excellent social venues without having barriers that do damage to the venues? Is this even possible?

Comment author: JoachimSchipper 11 February 2012 09:11:25PM 10 points [-]

In this particular case, not all attendees appear to be equally valuable to the event/other attendees. Giving priority to people who've organized cool things in the last few years may make sense.

Comment author: gwern 11 February 2012 10:12:45PM 7 points [-]

Yes, this was my reaction - 'let the price float, and give transferrable vouchers to the people who do the most awesome stuff; if they object, well, that's why the vouchers are transferrable'. It's not much different from what they're already suggesting, telling the lucky ones to distribute excess tickets among people they like.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 11 February 2012 07:39:07PM 2 points [-]

I don't understand, won't pricing the tickets higher just cause people to be disappointed that the tickets were too expensive for them, instead of there not being enough?

Comment author: Nornagest 12 February 2012 10:51:28PM *  4 points [-]

It'd probably lead to a roughly equal amount of personal disappointment once the dust settles, but less disruption to the community. Major projects, the kind that the newsletter's alluding to when it talks about collaborations, aren't cheap; members of the camps that put them on usually spend at least their ticket price on supplies, to say nothing of labor. That implies that there's enough loose money floating around those projects that an increase in ticket prices wouldn't be an insurmountable hurdle.

Of course, it may very well be such a hurdle for those burners who've joined the event as spectators; principle of inclusion aside, though, those participants aren't as valuable to the organization or to each other as more committed folks. If there's concern over raising the bar too high for marginal theme camps to participate, the organizers could divert some of the excess funds into grants or reduced-price tickets for that demographic.

I get the impression that this line of thinking looks too cold-blooded for the Burning Man organizers to take to heart, though. Hence the rather strained attempt at casting the problem in terms of "Civic Responsibility" and "Communal Effort".

Comment author: dwalt75 12 February 2012 05:00:28PM 2 points [-]

It will allow people that were willing to pay the market price actually buy the tickets. If there is sufficient demand then maybe a Burning Man 2 festival makes economic sense, or increasing the supply of tickets for Burning Man itself.

We live in a world of limited resources not of good wishes. Good wishes lead to dead weight losses. I don't see a possible scenario where price control is a good idea - LAW of supply and demand.

If there is some societal interest that the market fails to protect here (is Burning Man a fundamental right applicable to a certain type of person?) If so, then we should have a BMPA (like the EPA) formed to regulate the event.

Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries. - Ayn Rand

Comment author: David_Gerard 03 February 2012 07:33:07AM *  10 points [-]

The human understanding is no dry light, but receives an infusion from the will and affections; whence proceed sciences which may be called "sciences as one would." For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should seem to be occupied with things mean and transitory; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless, in short, are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections color and infect the understanding.

-- Francis Bacon, Novum Organum (Aphorism XLIX), 1620. (1863 translation by Spedding, Ellis and Heath. You should read the whole thing, it's all this good.)

Comment author: CaveJohnson 08 February 2012 05:51:26PM *  14 points [-]

When people talk about the importance of democracy, it is never democracy as it has ever actually functioned, with the politicians that have actually been elected, and the policies that have actually been implemented. It is always democracy as people imagine it will operate once they succeed in electing "the right people" — by which they mean, people who agree almost completely with their own views, and who are consistent and incorruptible in their implementation of the resulting policies.

--Ben O'Neill, here

Considering the above quote can be used to criticize nearly any popular political position I don't think it is inherently mind-killing. Also since we all agree democracy is a good thing this isn't even very political. The original article and context obviously does make it somewhat political.

Comment author: Sly 11 February 2012 08:36:01PM 10 points [-]

I don't think everyone here would agree that democracy is a good thing.

Comment author: CaveJohnson 12 February 2012 05:38:04PM *  7 points [-]

Obviously you are right on that. I should have said:

Also [ we as a society ] agree democracy is a good thing this isn't even very political.

What I really meant by this is that Democracy is something very well entrenched and accepted in Western society and even LessWrong. Dissent from democracy isn't threatening heresy it is the mark of an eccentric.

Comment author: taelor 12 February 2012 07:55:27PM 14 points [-]

Paul Graham has written quite extensively of why some things are considered "threatening heresy", and other things mere eccentricity. Ultimately, he concludes that in order for something to be tabooed, it must be threatening to some group that is powerful enough to enforce the taboo, but not powerful enough that the can safely ignore what their critics say about them. Democracy is currently so entrenched in western civilization that it doesn't have to give a fuck if a few people here and there criticize it occasionally.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 10 February 2012 04:23:42AM 11 points [-]

The same is true of people who call for a dictatorship or any non-democratic form of government. They also always imagine it will be governed by "the right people", and imagine all the things "the right people" could accomplish if freed from the need to listen to the "ignorant mob".

Comment author: CaveJohnson 11 February 2012 12:00:19PM *  3 points [-]

Yes I fully agree. But it shouldn't be underestimated that when it comes to non-democratic forms of government what kind of people are in power genuinely does have a big impact on how the country is run.

Wanting a philosopher king isn't a bad idea if you aren't mistaken about the philosopher king in question.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 20 March 2012 11:36:10AM 3 points [-]

Also since we all agree democracy is a good thing this isn't even very political.

Do we agree on that? I think there are quite a few on LessWrong who are no more in favour of democracy than Ben O'Neill. Or by linking "democracy" to the Sequences post on applause lights, do you mean to imply you mean the opposite of that sentence? Yet it is embedded between two others apparently intended straightforwardly.

Comment author: CaveJohnson 21 March 2012 07:54:50PM 2 points [-]

That democracy can reliably be used as an applause light is a sign that we as a society agree it is indeed a good thing.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 March 2012 12:04:36PM 3 points [-]

That democracy can reliably be used as an applause light is a sign that we as a society agree it is indeed a good thing.

Or, if I model human behavior correctly, it could also have been as sign that we as a society at one point agreed that it is a good thing but now agree that we agree that it is a reliable applause light. (But I don't think democracy-approval has devolved to that level yet. We actually do seem to think it is a good idea.)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 21 March 2012 08:40:22PM 3 points [-]

But not a sign that it is indeed a good thing.

Comment author: Kyre 02 February 2012 05:11:44AM 22 points [-]

“I choose not to believe in any gods as an act of charity,” Marcus said.
“Charity toward whom?”
“Toward the gods. Seems rude to think they couldn’t make a world better than this,”

Daniel Abraham, The Dragon's Path

Comment author: Grognor 05 February 2012 11:44:23AM *  9 points [-]

The world is a place
made of land and water
and even though it makes
sense in pictures
I do not understand it.

-a kid named Noah. (Hat-tip to Yvain.)

Comment author: [deleted] 07 February 2012 03:20:34PM 13 points [-]

It may be expecting too much to expect most intellectuals to have common sense, when their whole life is based on their being uncommon -- that is, saying things that are different from what everyone else is saying. There is only so much genuine originality in anyone. After that, being uncommon means indulging in pointless eccentricities or clever attempts to mock or shock.

--Thomas Sowell

Comment author: Will_Newsome 10 February 2012 11:43:15AM 3 points [-]

(On a related theme:) Intelligent folk may be better at processing evidence and drawing correct conclusions, but this is to some extent counteracted by the massive selection effects on what evidence they actually encounter.

Comment author: JoachimSchipper 10 February 2012 12:06:18PM 5 points [-]

Other than various social effects ("everyone knows about the Pythagorean Theorem"), in what areas do you think intelligent people generally have worse information than their "normal" peers?

Comment author: Maniakes 02 February 2012 12:41:11AM *  19 points [-]

"Today we will be dragoons, until we are told otherwise"

"Where are our horses, then?"

"We must imagine them."

"Imaginary horses are much slower than the other kind."

Neal Stephenson, The Confusion

Comment author: skepsci 18 February 2012 11:18:27AM 8 points [-]

It is bad luck to be superstitious.

-Andrew W. Mathis

Comment author: wedrifid 18 February 2012 08:32:34PM 4 points [-]

It is bad luck to be superstitious.

Or potentially good luck if the combination of your instincts and the (irrationally justified) memes you inherited from tradition are better than your abstract decision making.

Comment author: wilder 01 February 2012 10:34:36PM 14 points [-]

Wishing for something that is logically impossible is a sign that there is something better to wish for.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

Comment author: MixedNuts 03 February 2012 11:36:35AM 7 points [-]


Yes, but it's also logically impossible.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 February 2012 03:37:21AM 7 points [-]

It's easy to just say, "They're crazy, who can explain crazy people?" and be done with it. It's easy to act like there's a separate species of people that naturally believes only wrong things, like dogs chasing squirrels, or rabbits digging holes.

It's harder to think that these are human beings who probably don't arbitrarily decide on a hobby of being wrong about things because it is fun, and that they're being driven by basic human qualities that we also have, like fear or ego. Or that they feel the need to make larger-than-life monsters and heroes out of real people (throwing away facts to do so) in order to make sense out of the confusing and painful situation our country has been going through (the economy, the release of the Ghost Rider sequel, etc.).

They're not good reasons, but they are reasons, beyond just "They're bad people, that's what bad people do."

Cracked, 4 Reasons Humans Will Never Understand Each Other

Comment author: [deleted] 22 February 2012 06:15:41PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: Zeej 13 February 2012 06:35:37PM *  7 points [-]

Title should read: "Making Stuff Up Is Easy, Overcoming Cognitive Biases and Discovering How Things Really Work Is Difficult: An Exercise in the Obvious"

Reddit user sciencecomic, in response to a headline reading "'Why Religion Is Natural and Science Is Not'. Emory philosopher Robert McCauley suggests that science is more fragile than we think while religion more resilient – all for reasons coming back to humans' cognitive processes."

Comment author: thomblake 13 February 2012 08:41:05PM 2 points [-]

You should include a link.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 05 February 2012 06:51:30AM *  7 points [-]

... Let us think about the future! Not only praise it, not only worship or shrink in terror from it, not only dream of it or fear it — let us think about it, invent it, prepare for it!..

— Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Comment author: [deleted] 22 February 2012 01:48:28AM 3 points [-]

[A] single qubit that you understand is better than a thousand qubits that you don’t.

-- Scott Aaronson, in this blog post, reaching out to the pointy-haired bosses of the quantum computing world.

Comment author: RobinZ 05 February 2012 06:28:12PM 3 points [-]

The strategy was really easy on the paper: no driver mistake, no pit stop mistake, no mechanic mistake, no engineer mistake ... it is so easy to write these things, but it is almost impossible to make it happen.

Dindo Capello, as quoted in Truth in 24 (2009 film).

Comment author: djcb 05 February 2012 08:43:22PM 6 points [-]

No plan survives contact with the enemy.

-- .Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800-1891) (paraphrased)

Comment author: kalla724 01 February 2012 09:38:43PM *  15 points [-]

Probably a duplicate, but I can't find a previous version:

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

H. L. Mencken

Comment author: djcb 05 February 2012 08:59:00PM *  5 points [-]

It's in the wiki:

Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong. —H. L. Mencken

(but it's good enough that it can be repeated now and then...)

Comment author: kdorian 04 February 2012 12:12:23PM *  6 points [-]

A half truth is more frightening than a lie.

-Bengali proverb

Comment author: scmbradley 03 February 2012 09:25:26PM 10 points [-]

Any logically coherent body of doctrine is sure to be in part painful and contrary to current prejudices

– Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy p. 98

Bertie is a goldmine of rationality quotes.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 February 2012 01:55:36AM 14 points [-]

Also don't confuse "logically coherent" with "true".

Comment author: Will_Newsome 10 February 2012 11:40:01AM 4 points [-]

You keep saying things I was gonna say. Dost thou haveth a blog perchance?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 11 February 2012 04:26:08AM *  2 points [-]

Thanks. Sorry, I don't have a blog.

Comment author: AspiringKnitter 11 February 2012 12:52:42AM 2 points [-]

Downvoted for incorrect subject-verb agreement.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 11 February 2012 06:21:29AM *  4 points [-]

It was purposeful. It's like "can i haz cheezburger?" but olde schoole.

Comment author: AspiringKnitter 11 February 2012 07:05:05AM *  4 points [-]

Un-downvoted. Sorry.

But it's "i can haz cheesburger?" btw. ;)

Comment author: fubarobfusco 12 February 2012 12:16:47AM 3 points [-]

You can't get ye flask.

Comment author: Alicorn 01 February 2012 08:16:27PM 11 points [-]

Death is the gods' crime.

Comment author: HonoreDB 01 February 2012 08:22:53PM 22 points [-]

Humanity becomes more and more of an accessory every day; with increasing power comes increasing responsibility.

Comment author: arundelo 14 February 2012 06:15:52AM *  8 points [-]

Consider for a moment the first primitive amphibian that crawled up out of the sea around 400 million years ago. A contemporary biologist, had any existed, would certainly have classed this species as a rather unusual type of fish, for it would be far more closely related to certain kinds of fish than any other extant species. It is only in hindsight that we can see that it was not a fish, but the first representative of an entirely new class[41] of [vertebrates], the amphibians. But intelligence and tool-using are developments of comparable scope to the ability to breath air and move about on land. I therefore argue that human beings are not primates; we are not even mammals. Homo sapiens is a radical evolutionary phenomenon, the first representative of a new class of [vertebrates].

-- Ronald E. Merrill

(The brackets around "vertebrates" are just for a spelling correction.)

Comment author: roystgnr 14 February 2012 05:47:19PM 6 points [-]

This sounds radical but is if anything far too conservative.

Intelligence and tool using has for millennia allowed us to apply selection pressures which are much more focused than natural selection, and now also allows us to directly edit genetic material in ways which would be slower or even impossible via random mutation alone. Intelligence also allows for the generation, mutation, and replication of ideas, which end up having a much greater, much more rapidly changing impact on ourselves and our environment than the variation in our genes alone.

Those aren't changes comparable to the difference between breathing water and breathing air; they're changes comparable to the difference between non-life and life. The very idea of biological clades becomes more and more fuzzy when we make horizontal gene transfer a regular fact of life for even complex organisms, intermixing DNA from species that haven't had a common ancestor in a billion years.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 February 2012 05:17:51AM *  8 points [-]

A good test for getting rid of anything is: if we didn't have this, would we need it? For example, let's say you have a ratty old armchair. You love your chair, you do. It was a new chair once and fine, it reclines, and you have spent many cool evenings ensconced in it, drinking Henry Weinhard's and munching Pringles, maybe indulging in a few controlled substances and watching Liquid TV (yes, the chair is that old). But many Pringles and not a little Henry's have made their ways into its funky blue fibers, which are not, in any way shape or form, washable. And frankly, with the new set from Pottery Barn - you're just not sure it goes. Here's one way to put the question. If you didn't have your chair, and you saw it sitting on the sidewalk somewhere, would you say: "Dude, someone's throwing out a perfectly good chair!" If so - definitely, keep it. If not... Of course, to make the analogy accurate, the chair would have to be 231 years old, so full of beer and chips it makes a sort of slosh-crunch noise when you sit on it, have a huge sharpened coil that's worked its way past the foam and stabs you in the ass on a regular basis, smell like a cross between a dead goat and an oil refinery, refuse to function at all without a staff of specialized chair administrators who must be onsite 24-7 and are extremely expensive and rude, and have expanded to fill the entire first floor of your house, with giant pseudopodia of ratty blue upholstery snaking out the windows and invading the neighbors' lawns.

Mencius Moldbug

Comment author: RobinZ 05 February 2012 05:28:49AM 7 points [-]

Everything after "If so - definitely, keep it. If not..." is (a) context-dependent and (b) debatable.

Comment author: Grognor 14 February 2012 05:10:13AM 6 points [-]

What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. This foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation . . . the dispositions of the enemy are ascertainable through spies and spies alone.

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War
quoted from here in that particular form

Comment author: [deleted] 05 February 2012 11:51:15PM 6 points [-]

Man gives indifferent names to one and the same thing from the difference of their own passions; as they that approve a private opinion call it opinion; but they that mislike it, heresy: and yet heresy signifies no more than private opinion.

--Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

Comment author: Costanza 01 February 2012 05:28:46PM 8 points [-]

Once, as a junior doctor, I was walking through the hospital grounds when I noticed a patient sitting on a bench slashing his wrists with a broken bottle of vodka whose contents he had just drunk. I asked him to come into the hospital where I could sew him up (sobering him up was beyond my powers). He refused and I went to fetch a porter to drag him in by force.

By the time we returned, he had climbed up the fire escape (it was a Victorian building) and clambered over the railings on to a narrow ledge three storeys up, on which he was swaying drunkenly. The porter and I went up the fire escape: the man threatened to jump if we came nearer. We decided we had to make a grab for him; as we did so, he jumped. We held him suspended by his arms three storeys up. First he shouted, “Let me go, you bastards!” and then, “Help, I’m falling!” – a metaphor for the whole of human life, when you come to think of it.

Theodore Dalrymple

Comment author: DanielVarga 02 February 2012 06:38:16AM 5 points [-]

What a cliffhanger.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 February 2012 09:04:45PM *  4 points [-]

“It seems to me that often dumb people believe x, smart people believe y, really smart people believe x.”

-- Attributed to Gregory Cochran

On intellectual hipsters.

Comment author: skepsci 28 February 2012 09:09:50PM 2 points [-]

I would be very interested if anyone has good examples of this phenomenon.

There are a few "triads" mentioned in the intellectual hipster article, but the only one that really seems to me like a good example of this phenomenon is the "don't care about Africa / give aid to Africa / don't give aid to Africa" triad.

Comment author: Xom 01 February 2012 09:26:06PM *  8 points [-]

Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife - chopping off what's incomplete and saying: "Now, it's complete because it's ended here."

~ Collected Sayings of Muad'Dib, Irulan, Herbert elder

Comment author: wedrifid 02 February 2012 07:46:39AM 6 points [-]

Is this a recommendation or a warning?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 February 2012 09:42:18PM 8 points [-]

I've never been able to make sense out of that. It sounds very tough and definite, but what does it mean?

Comment author: Xom 01 February 2012 10:31:39PM 3 points [-]

This is sort of what I say to remind myself that having read some of something isn't a sufficient reason to finish it.

I pasted it into Google just now and found this article quoting it in a similar context.

Comment author: adamisom 02 February 2012 07:35:05AM 4 points [-]

I agree. It's not... quite.... complete.

Let's chop it off. (Let's keep it at 0 points).

There, now it's complete.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 February 2012 03:09:06AM 2 points [-]

Upvoted because I actually think this phrase as my reminder-keyword on appropriate occasions. E.g. publishing an MOR chapter.

Comment author: James_Miller 01 February 2012 04:19:40PM *  8 points [-]

When someone says they want to annihilate you believe them.

Douglas Murray describing advice from a Holocaust survivor.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 February 2012 05:16:43PM 20 points [-]

Perhaps this should be checked by comparing the number of people who say they want to annihilate a group to the number of attempts at annihilation.

Comment author: James_Miller 01 February 2012 06:11:10PM *  22 points [-]

True, but you should first assign appropriate weights to the two categories you mention based on the expected cost of having an incorrect belief.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 February 2012 07:59:14AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: tut 20 February 2012 04:03:42PM 5 points [-]

Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.

— Will Durant, Life, Oct. 18, 1963

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 February 2012 02:36:52PM *  5 points [-]

Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

Bertrand Russell

Comment author: wedrifid 02 February 2012 03:14:38PM *  7 points [-]

Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

That advice seems to be predicated on poor reasoning. Not only are most eccentric opinions that have been held not accepted, those that gain the benefit of the eccentric opinions on their way to being accepted are not necessarily those that first hold them.

Comment author: thomblake 02 February 2012 03:50:16PM 8 points [-]

It's bad advice if the advice is supposed to help a particular person get ahead. If you want a new good opinion to be generated, give that advice to ten thousand people.

Comment author: Xom 01 February 2012 09:23:05PM 6 points [-]

Sometimes, you can spend an expensive five hours hunting on the web for data that a research librarian could retrieve from a reference book in minutes.

~ Pat Wagner

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 February 2012 02:54:33AM 8 points [-]

Which occasions? If this were a rationality kata I would immediately ask, "What trigger condition does the person need to recognize that chains into using this technique?"

Comment author: sketerpot 05 February 2012 10:20:22PM 6 points [-]

We will have to make the web better, then.

Comment author: Emile 17 February 2012 10:28:01PM 4 points [-]

Who cares about "sometimes" when making a decision? What counts is the expectation, what happens on average.

Yes, sometimes investing all your savings in a single high-risk stock picked at random while drunk works better than listening to various experts, researching the relevant literature and diversifying your investments. That doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 08 February 2012 08:53:47AM 4 points [-]

Sometimes, you can spend an expensive five hours hunting on the web for data that a research librarian could retrieve from a reference book in minutes.

This quote seems to be losing its relevance, since even when I was a college senior you could get help from research librarians via web chat.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 February 2012 02:08:17PM *  6 points [-]

Just 'cause you feel it doesn't mean it's there.


Comment author: mas 01 February 2012 11:03:50PM 4 points [-]

...the other, to change thy opinion, if there is anyone at hand who sets thee right and moves thee from any opinion. But this change of opinion must proceed only from a certain persuasion, as of what is just or of common advantage, and the like, not because it appears pleasant or brings reputation.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

Comment author: arundelo 03 February 2012 05:28:47PM 3 points [-]

I think if you do anything patiently people mistake it for being genius [...]

-- Nicholas Gurewitch (creator of Perry Bible Fellowship)

Comment author: gwern 01 February 2012 03:25:01PM 4 points [-]

"The talk of believing by our volition seems, then, from one point of view, simply silly. From another point of view it is worse than silly, it is vile. When one turns to the magnificent edifice of the physical sciences, and sees how it was reared; ... what submission to the icy laws of outer fact are wrought into its very stones and mortar; how absolutely impersonal it stands in its vast augustness — then how besotted and contemptible seems every little sentimentalist who comes blowing his voluntary smoke-wreaths, and pretending to decide things from out of his private dream! Can we wonder if those bred in the rugged and manly school of science should feel like spewing such subjectivism out of their mouths?... It is only natural that those who have caught the scientific fever should pass over to the opposite extreme. ... "

--William James, The Will to Believe II

Comment author: Grognor 02 February 2012 07:28:23PM 3 points [-]

Terrible video game: Science was my religion. Now, religion has become my science.
Michael "slowbeef" Sawyer: Oh, that's deep, when you switch the words.


Comment author: CronoDAS 05 February 2012 05:57:34AM *  5 points [-]

That's exactly how the character "The Sphinx" in the film "Mystery Men" delivered all his wise-sounding lines. Eventually it becomes a bit predictable to the D-list "superhero" characters that he's trying to serve as a mentor to.

Edit: See DSimon's reply for the dialogue.

Comment author: DSimon 05 February 2012 06:12:04AM *  8 points [-]

The Sphinx: To learn my teachings, I must first teach you how to learn.


The Sphinx: He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions.


Mr. Furious: Okay, am I the only one who finds these sayings just a little bit formulaic? "If you want to push something down, you have to pull it up. If you want to go left, you have to go right." It's...
The Sphinx: Your temper is very quick, my friend. But until you learn to master your rage...
Mr. Furious: ...your rage will become your master? That's what you were going to say. Right? Right?
The Sphinx: Not necessarily.


[Mr. Furious tries to balance a hammer on his head]
Mr. Furious: Why am I doing this, again?
The Sphinx: When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack.
Mr. Furious: And why am I wearing the watermelon on my feet?
The Sphinx: [looks at the watermelon on Mr. Furious' feet] I don't remember telling you to do that.

Comment author: Thomas 02 February 2012 08:58:48PM 3 points [-]

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.

  • Andrew Tanenbaum
Comment author: MixedNuts 03 February 2012 11:10:12AM 4 points [-]

Although this quote is attributed to Andrew Tanenbaum in 1996, many agree that it was said much earlier, perhaps with minor variations.

Tony Dye

Comment author: Thomas 04 February 2012 08:12:09AM *  2 points [-]

From your link:

Seems that Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's CEO, posted something similar about moving a petabyte of data a couple months ago. He chose to use a sailboat for his example.

"Bit meters per second" or "megabyte kilometers per hour" would be a better measure than just "bits per second".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 February 2012 02:19:34AM 2 points [-]

Are there useful generalizations which can be derived from this?

Comment author: JoachimSchipper 04 February 2012 09:47:53AM 8 points [-]

"Shut up and multiply" works for practical purposes too.

(One of my favorite shut-up-and-multiply results: automatic dishwashers cost less than 2 euro per hour saved, so everyone should have one.)

Comment author: MixedNuts 07 February 2012 01:17:27PM 2 points [-]

I live on a fixed income, so hourly wage isn't a very relevant metric. It wouldn't even fit in my place. I couldn't take it with me when I move, and I move a lot.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 February 2012 02:32:54PM *  2 points [-]

The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.

--Albert Einstein

Mandatory for science, generally advisable for anything else.

Comment author: skepsci 28 February 2012 08:47:11PM *  2 points [-]

This advice is worse than useless. But coming from someone who was instrumental in the "Physicists have figured a way to efficiently eradicate humanity; let's tell the politicians so they may facilitate!" movement, it's not surprising.

Protip: the maxim "That which can be destroyed by the truth, should be" does not mean we should publish secrets that have a chance of ending global civilization.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 February 2012 11:07:19PM *  2 points [-]


"Seek truth from facts"

--Chinese saying

Comment author: Will_Newsome 05 February 2012 02:25:29PM *  2 points [-]

What makes a subject difficult to understand — if it is significant, important — is not that some special instruction about abstruse things is necessary to understand it. Rather it is the contrast between the understanding of the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things that are most obvious can become the most difficult to understand. What has to be overcome is not difficulty of the intellect but of the will.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Occasions

Comment author: Will_Newsome 05 February 2012 02:29:29PM 2 points [-]

The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Counsels and Maxims

Comment author: Multiheaded 02 February 2012 08:45:04PM *  2 points [-]

A few from M:TG flavour text.

When nothing remains, everything is equally possible. ~One with Nothing

"Believe in the ideal, not the idol." -Serra ~Worship

"War glides on the simplest updrafts while peace struggles against hurricane winds. It is the way of the world. It must change." ~Commander Eesha

Comment author: JoshuaZ 03 February 2012 05:38:48AM 8 points [-]

"War glides on the simplest updrafts while peace struggles against hurricane winds. It is the way of the world. It must change."

To a large extent it already has. Humans are much more peaceful now than they have been in the past. This is part of a large set of broad trends. See Pinker's excellent "The Better Angels of Our Nature". At this point, I'm not sure this quote is really accurate.

Comment author: Bugmaster 03 February 2012 10:20:33PM *  7 points [-]

I must admit that one of my favorite quotes from M:tG is one of the less rational ones:

Of course you should fight fire with fire. You should fight everything with fire.

-- Sizzle

Comment author: CronoDAS 05 February 2012 08:36:50AM 3 points [-]

Step 1: Find your cousin.
Step 2: Get your cousin in the cannon. Step 3: Find another cousin.

-- Fodder Cannon

The card art of Browse gives this gem, which I think I may have posted before:

"If A=B and B=C and C=D, then do not get a job proofreading." - Quid's Theorem

But the best flavor text ever is still Martyrs' Tomb.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 February 2012 04:01:57AM 2 points [-]

When nothing remains, everything is equally possible.

True in the sense that 0=0.

Comment author: shokwave 04 February 2012 12:49:37PM 2 points [-]

I understood it as advocating a maximum ignorance prior. In hindsight, it's an MT:G card, so probably not.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 February 2012 05:50:22PM 5 points [-]

Also I don't recommend throwing out what you know to have a maximum ignorance prior.

Comment author: CronoDAS 05 February 2012 07:50:04AM 2 points [-]

Incidentally, the card itself is notorious for being among the most useless cards ever printed and routinely shows up on "worst card ever" lists.

Comment author: beriukay 15 February 2012 07:23:40AM *  2 points [-]

It is the tragedy of the world that no one knows what he doesn't know - and the less a man knows, the more sure he is that he knows everything.

--Joyce Cary

Comment author: [deleted] 15 February 2012 07:34:06AM 2 points [-]