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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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.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: [deleted] 01 February 2012 02:08:17PM *  6 points [-]

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


Comment author: orthonormal 04 February 2012 09:21:48PM 0 points [-]

This song has been instrumentally useful to me in more ways than one...

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: 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: CronoDAS 05 February 2012 03:31:29AM 5 points [-]
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: 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: 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 12:39:27AM *  0 points [-]

I like this William James quote and some others, but I guess LW doesn't, considering this comment's score. I could speculate on it as much as I want, but I don't know why.

Edited for wedifrid's uncharitable objection.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 February 2012 03:34:19AM 2 points [-]

I like William James, but I guess LW doesn't, considering this comment's score. I could speculate on it as much as I want, but I don't know why.

It is conceivable that people vote based on quotes and not just the author the quote is attributed to!

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: Jonathan_Graehl 03 February 2012 06:56:21AM 1 point [-]

At least that explanation was fun to read :) Thanks.

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: 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: 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: 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: 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: [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: 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: thomblake 02 February 2012 04:57:40PM 0 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.

This seems obviously correct, but at the same time it seems at odds with the virtue of evenness.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 02 February 2012 05:02:18PM 6 points [-]

At a minimum, you could include estimates of the ability to carry out the threat in your calculations.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 February 2012 07:59:14AM 2 points [-]
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: 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: 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: wilder 01 February 2012 05:56:26PM 1 point [-]

"I yield the Lamp of Scientism to no one!"

Mark Wilson, Wandering Significance

Comment author: wilder 01 February 2012 09:24:48PM *  2 points [-]

Curious to know why this was downvoted. Many philosophers use 'scientism' as a term of abuse, and Luke has written about reclaiming the term here. I found this a rather pithy rallying call that antedates Rosenberg's.

Apologies if this is gratuitous but it was my first post!

Comment author: Grognor 02 February 2012 01:58:13AM 11 points [-]

The quote doesn't seem to actually say anything.

Comment author: wilder 02 February 2012 01:41:07PM *  4 points [-]

I suppose it's one of those statements that says a good deal in context and rather less outside it. 'Scientism' usually refers to a belief in the universal applicability of the tools of science in understanding the world. It is so understood by two camps, one who views it as an intellectual failing, the other a virtue. Wilson's point is that the latter camp should not cede any ground to the former -- not even terminological ground.

Edit: by context here I don't mean the book in particular. More like, reading too much contemporary philosophy.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 February 2012 05:38:59AM 0 points [-]

Unfortunately, the word "scietism" does describe a real set of related failure modes that people trying to be "scientific" frequently fall into, as I discussed in more detail in this thread.

Comment author: wilder 02 February 2012 01:43:22PM *  1 point [-]

Unscientific does that job already, while the '-ism' suffix denotes, in this case, belief in science. Why let them have a perfectly good word?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 February 2012 06:28:29PM 3 points [-]

Unscientific does that job already

No. It also cover people who don't even try to be scientific.

Comment author: wilder 02 February 2012 08:45:16PM 0 points [-]

Agree with that. There is a finer-grained distinction worth drawing -- with some other word!

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 02 February 2012 10:32:01PM 5 points [-]

I think "scientism," "unscientific," and "pseudoscientific" all have different and necessary meanings: respectively, "attempting to use scientific epistemology but misunderstanding it", "using bad epistemology," and "using bad epistemology but making a deliberate effort to look like one is being scientific". The word closest to meaning what you want "scientism" to mean is probably "Bayesianism".

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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Baughn 04 February 2012 01:23:58PM 1 point [-]

I tried reading that story, but got stuck on the brat. Please tell me she gets better?

Comment author: Alicorn 04 February 2012 05:55:05PM 1 point [-]

Not really, but there's more focus on other characters as the comic goes on, and events get to show more sides to her (still basically bratty) personality.

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: 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: 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: djcb 01 February 2012 10:21:14PM 0 points [-]

I guess it's re-stating Antoine de Saint Exupéry's "It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove".

Comment author: [deleted] 02 February 2012 12:33:35AM *  8 points [-]

I don't think that's quite right. To me it sounds more like: "In a harsh enough environment, the wrong kind of perfectionism can distract from matters more pertinent to your survival."

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 02 February 2012 03:17:03AM 3 points [-]

The quote needn't be taken as approving. Muad'Dib wanted to avoid the jihad he unleashed, even though he eventually came to see it as necessary. If you take it as neutral reporting of how the Fremen think, it could be taken as a comment on how circumstances shape your thinking, or as a caution against allowing no-longer-extant circumstances to constrain you.

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

Is this a recommendation or a warning?

Comment author: jimmy 03 February 2012 08:55:49AM 1 point [-]

Can't it be both?

Comment author: wedrifid 03 February 2012 05:49:03PM 6 points [-]

Can't it be both?

In this case that roughly translates to self contradictory advice. Do and do not do. There are plenty of quotes that make just as much sense when reversed and in such cases the quotes themselves contain very information and any actual wisdom must be entirely embedded in the algorithm that selects which quoted meaning to apply in which case.

Comment author: jimmy 05 February 2012 03:17:01AM *  5 points [-]

You can't simultaneously say "aim higher on the margin" and "aim lower on the margin", but you can say "don't aim too high" and "don't aim too low" - or more simply "mind your aim point". It is entirely possible that people miss on both sides and they are simply not being careful enough to avoid either extreme.

Consider it a recommendation to be aware of the trade off, not a recommendation to bias your decisions in any particular direction.

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: 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: khafra 02 February 2012 02:38:57PM 1 point [-]

Calibration is awesome. However, note that without an audience like the NSA or Paul Graham, this is probably sub-optimal signaling.

Comment author: gwern 02 February 2012 04:31:50PM 11 points [-]

I have to say, I haven't found calibration hugely useful. It's certainly nice, but for the most part people ignore you.

Comment author: David_Gerard 02 February 2012 09:31:39PM 2 points [-]

Does it give you better answers, though?

Comment author: gwern 02 February 2012 09:35:27PM 10 points [-]

Sure, but I find that most of what I do is not dependent on small probability increments.

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: 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: 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: mas 01 February 2012 10:59:03PM *  1 point [-]

Within ten days thou wilt seem a god to those to whom thou art now a beast and an ape, if thou wilt return to thy principles and to worshiping of reason

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 02 February 2012 10:24:54PM 2 points [-]

Should "seen a god" there be "seem a god"?

More substantially, isn't this basically saying "Believe X because then you'll get status"?

Comment author: mas 03 February 2012 12:51:13AM 1 point [-]

I fixed it, thank you very much.

I interpreted it to mean that if you adhere to logical principles based on a rational view of reality, you will be better because you do so.

So, yes you're right. I would just change it to this: Do X because then you'll get status.

While status isn't the focus, it could (and likely will be) a product of what you're doing.

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: [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: 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: RobertLumley 02 February 2012 02:20:19AM 0 points [-]

Funny, I guess, but how is it rationality related?

Comment author: Alicorn 02 February 2012 02:22:28AM 19 points [-]

"Imaginary horses are much slower than the other kind." Pretending to have horses doesn't allow you any of the benefits of having a horse, such as going faster.

Comment author: RobertLumley 02 February 2012 02:39:25AM 2 points [-]

Ah, I guess I was reading it with the wrong inflection. Thanks.

Comment author: dchow45 02 February 2012 04:18:41PM -1 points [-]

That is quite rational. However, some studies have shown that imagining (pretending) one is doing physical exercise can help heal the body as well as doing physical exercise. I find children imagining themselves as animals while playing often develop some amazing skills of both mind and body.

Long way of saying the power of our minds can sometimes stretch the known limits of rationality.

Comment author: katydee 02 February 2012 04:40:01PM 10 points [-]
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: 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: 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: 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: 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: i77 02 February 2012 10:38:11AM *  -1 points [-]

Delenn: They will join with the souls of all our people. Melt one into another until they are born into the next generation of Minbari. Remove those souls and the whole suffers. We are diminished, each generation becomes less than the one before.

Soul Hunter: A quaint lie, pretty fantasy. The soul ends with death, unless we act to preserve it.

-- Babylon 5, "Soul Hunter"

Comment author: [deleted] 02 February 2012 11:40:01AM 2 points [-]

Somewhat weakened by the fact that the show leaves it open whether or not Delenn was right.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 February 2012 04:08:22AM *  1 point [-]

In show, she more-or-less was.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 February 2012 04:40:52PM 1 point [-]

Hmm? She didn't have any real evidence other than a perceived degradation of Minbari society.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 February 2012 02:00:49AM 1 point [-]

I was thinking of whatever test they did to determine that Sinclair has a Minbari soul.

Comment author: Alicorn 04 February 2012 02:03:00AM 0 points [-]

A specific Minbari soul, picking him out with stunning accuracy.

Comment author: beoShaffer 04 February 2012 02:18:12AM *  0 points [-]

-edit never mind answering my question would have probably involved spoilers.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 February 2012 02:54:27AM 3 points [-]


All the test showed is that Sinclair had Valen's DNA. Except Valen is Sinclair after some Minbari DNA splicing; the reverse of what Delenn did.

Stable time loops for the win.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 February 2012 12:25:32PM *  0 points [-]

Soul Hunter: A quaint lie, pretty fantasy. The soul ends with death, unless we act to preserve it.

The fantasy doesn't sound quaint - it sounds like a depressing story of inevitable decay and without even the possibility of allowing the creation of new (ensouled) individuals even in the case where those alive remove their vulnerability to death. The Soul Hunter presents a reality where souls evidently become generated each generation in the same way that they were before.

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: 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: 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: Jayson_Virissimo 02 February 2012 03:17:44PM 1 point [-]

Good point.

Comment author: Desrtopa 02 February 2012 03:38:28PM 0 points [-]

those that gain the benefit of the eccentric opinions on their way to being accepted are not necessarily those that first hold them.

Not necessarily, but it's often an effective way to gain status by being seen as visionary.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 February 2012 03:40:43PM 1 point [-]

Not necessarily, but it's often an effective way to gain status by being seen as visionary.

I'd recommend the alternative of gaining enough status and power that you can easily take credit for other people's opinions when you have reason to believe they will be adopted.

Comment author: Desrtopa 02 February 2012 03:52:57PM 1 point [-]

I don't see how a method of gaining status that begins with an unelucidated "First, gain status" is very helpful.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 February 2012 04:00:55PM *  7 points [-]

I don't see how a method of gaining status that begins with an unelucidated "First, gain status" is very helpful.

It's rather a lot more useful than "Be weird because it doesn't always backire".

There are some social moves that do only work once you have sufficient status to pull them off. Gaining more status through differentiation is one of those.

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: [deleted] 02 February 2012 06:16:34PM 1 point [-]

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.

I gave up trying to parse that sentence after the third attempt. Punctuation exists for a reason! :-)

Comment author: gwern 02 February 2012 07:41:15PM *  9 points [-]

No no, it's not that bad if you try to figure out where the commas go:

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.

So to rewrite with fewer negations:

Most eccentric opinions are not ultimately accepted. And when those rare eccentric opinions get accepted, their original accepters don't benefit much; but instead, the credit or rewards are reaped by those who accept them later in the acceptance process.

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: 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: 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: CronoDAS 05 February 2012 07:50:46AM 0 points [-]

Thanks. :)

Comment author: Spectral_Dragon 02 February 2012 08:01:39PM 1 point [-]

When learning, you must know how to make the clear distinction between what is ideology and what is genuine knowledge.

There is no such thing as good and evil. There is what is right and what is bad, what is consistent and what is wrong.

-- "Behaviour Guide (in order to avoid mere survival)", Jean Touitou

Comment author: pedanterrific 02 February 2012 08:23:46PM 1 point [-]

Are these two different quotes, or were they juxtaposed like this in the original? (i.e. "You must distinguish between ideology and knowledge. -> There is no such thing as good and evil.")

Comment author: taelor 02 February 2012 09:24:01PM 4 points [-]

The first part seems rather applause lighty; I think almost everyone agrees that we need to distinguish between ideology and fact; actually doing so is the hard part, and the quote doesn't provide any interesting insights in how best to go about doing that.

Comment author: Spectral_Dragon 02 February 2012 11:07:22PM 1 point [-]

True, however if I recall correctly, one of the lessons in The Teacher's Password not everything is about the answer. A lot of the time I gain more from the question than being served the answer directly. We need more insights anyway, so how DO we distinguish fact from ideology? People claim that the earth was created by God in 6 days, and others claim The Big Bang caused the creation of what we know as the universe, but since I haven't discovered either of these on my own, how can I be sure that either is true?

Comment author: ahartell 03 February 2012 01:29:34PM 0 points [-]
  1. By looking at the views of those who have been right about this sort of thing in the past, i.e., physicists.
  2. Given more time, by asking/searching for the evidence that convinced that group.
Comment author: Ezekiel 03 February 2012 04:11:28PM 2 points [-]

This is probably me projecting, but I took it to be about distinguishing between those which make claims about reality and those which don't.

For example: If somebody says "You should be democratic, because the people have the right to rule themselves" - that's not even claiming to be a fact, just an ethical position. If they say "You should be democratic, because democratic countries do better economically," then that's a about the real world, which I could even test if I wanted to.

In my admittedly limited experience, it seems that a lot of confusion in the greatest mind-killing subjects (politics and spirituality) come from people not properly distinguishing between those two kinds of statements.

Comment author: kilobug 03 February 2012 05:04:45PM 2 points [-]

And that issue often becomes circular. People often have both ethical and factual reasons to take a political position, and they don't clearly split them apart in their mind, each reason propagating to reinforce the other.

I'll take a personal example : I oppose death penalty for many reason, but among them one is ethical (I don't approve of voluntary terminating a human life for ethical reasons) and one is more factual (I believe as a fact, from various statistics, that death penalty does not deter crime). But it requires a conscientious effort from myself (and I didn't always do it, and I suspect many don't do it) to not have each of two reasons reinforcing the other with a feedback loop.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 February 2012 02:17:17AM 1 point [-]

The interesting question is how you evaluate proposed big changes. Democracy has turned out to be a moderately good idea, but trying it out for the first few times was something of a leap in the dark.

There are reasons for thinking that democracy might work better than monarchy-- generally speaking, a bad ruler can do more damage than not having a great ruler can do good, but is the theoretical reason good enough?

Comment author: CronoDAS 05 February 2012 07:35:56AM 2 points [-]

From what I heard, the person who established Athenian democracy did so after first overthrowing the previous ruler in a civil war, having concluded that becoming powerful was the best way to become a Great Man. He then reasoned that, since everyone should strive to be a Great Man, then everyone else would also be obliged to do the same thing he just did - which would mean endless civil wars. Which would be bad. So he came up with the clever solution of making everyone a ruler, so they could all be Great Men without having to kill each other first. Hence, democracy.

Or something like that, anyway. Wikipedia doesn't say all that much, so I suspect that the story I remember is more story than actual history.

Comment author: Spectral_Dragon 02 February 2012 10:59:55PM 7 points [-]

BEHAVIOR GUIDE (in order to avoid mere survival) Intended for younger generations by JEAN TOUITOU

  1. Although appearance shows quite the reverse the natural trend of the system is to turn you into a slave. Your mission is to remain erect and never crawl.
  2. when learning, you must know how to make the clear distinction between what is ideology and what is genuine knowledge.
  3. Be fully aware of the difference between making a compromise and compromising yourself.
  4. Whatever happens, heart break hotel is sure to be your dwelling place, for one or several stays. This is no reason to overindulge in the pangs of love for too long.
  5. Learn how to make simple and excellent meals.
  6. Fear no gods, whatever appearance they may have.
  7. For girls: all boys are more or less the same. For boys: all girls are different.
  8. Keep well away from competitive sport that will only cause wounds that will make you suffer when you are over forty.
  9. There is no such thing as good and evil. There is what is right and what is bad, what is consistent and what is wrong.

That is the entire original quote, but not all felt like it belonged here. It's all part of the same, I think.

Comment author: Ezekiel 02 February 2012 11:33:09PM 4 points [-]

I like the first line.

The second line, though... what on Earth is the difference between "good" and "right" or between "evil" and "bad"? They mean the same thing; "good" and "evil" have just migrated to slightly higher-brow-sounding language.

Comment author: TimS 03 February 2012 02:09:44AM 0 points [-]

I'm not trying to defend the quote, but there are no evil microscopes. There are useful microscopes and not useful microscopes.

I'm confused why the original quote contrasts right with bad, rather than with evil, but I think that's what Touitou is trying to say.

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: 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: 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: Bugmaster 05 February 2012 06:59:17PM 0 points [-]

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

I don't know, I find the Wall of Vapor quote inspirational, as well:

Walls of a castle are made out of stone,
Walls of a house out of bricks or of wood.
My walls are made out of magic alone,
Stronger than any that ever have stood.

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: Thomas 04 February 2012 08:01:33AM *  0 points [-]

If you download a LOT of old movies onto your PC, a truck full of old tapes heading towards you, could be a great internet speed up from your perspective.

Or a pizza delivering man, he could bring you some files in less time than the email.

At least in principle, some "station wagons full of tapes", cargo planes in the sky full of USB flash drives and pedestrians running on the streets with a massive data storage devices in their bags - they all together could increase the network bandwidth we need.

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: kilobug 04 February 2012 10:07:21AM 2 points [-]

Everyone in the western world you mean ? Because 2 euros per hour is much more than the minimal wage in many countries. Sorry for nit-picking but forgetting that more than half of the world doesn't live in as much comfort as we do is a frequent bias (probably a consequence of availability bias, we don't see them as often).

Comment author: JoachimSchipper 04 February 2012 03:28:25PM 4 points [-]

True, but "everyone on LW" seems to be fairly defensible.

Comment author: Nominull 05 February 2012 06:15:55AM 0 points [-]

You're assuming away a lot of individual variation in time spent manually washing dishes.

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

The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.

Leonardo da Vinci

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

A half truth is more frightening than a lie.

-Bengali proverb

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 February 2012 02:58:04PM 1 point [-]

I've heard a theory that half truths told with intent to deceive are more damaging than outright lies because if someone is deceived, they're more likely to blame themselves.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 February 2012 05:47:20PM 6 points [-]

Also, you're more likely to notice that an outright lie is false.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 February 2012 03:25:57PM *  -2 points [-]

I know that we're different
but we were one cell in the sea
in the beginning

Alison Sudol (singer/composer) The Minnow and the Trout

Comment author: gwern 04 February 2012 05:38:02PM 0 points [-]

So? We're also 'starstuff'.

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: [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: [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: 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: 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: 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: David_Gerard 05 February 2012 01:57:30PM 2 points [-]

I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp.

-- W. Somerset Maugham

Comment author: Swimmer963 05 February 2012 02:26:34PM 2 points [-]

Ohh man, that would be convenient... Actually, given my current schedule, it'd be pretty irritating. I'd spend my mornings sitting in class, fuming that I couldn't just leave and go write all day.

Comment author: David_Gerard 05 February 2012 02:54:08PM 2 points [-]

I think what he meant is sit down and get to work on a regular schedule, "inspired" or not. c.f. this.

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: [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: 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: 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