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Rationality Quotes March 2012

4 Post author: Thomas 03 March 2012 08:04AM

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  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB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 (525)

Comment author: baiter 02 March 2012 12:52:37PM *  59 points [-]

"...I always rejoice to hear of your being still employ'd in experimental Researches into Nature, and of the Success you meet with. The rapid Progress true Science now makes, occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the Power of Man over Matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large Masses of their Gravity, and give them absolute Levity, for the sake of easy Transport. Agriculture may diminish its Labor and double its Produce; all Diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard. O that moral Science were in as fair a way of Improvement, that Men would cease to be Wolves to one another, and that human Beings would at length learn what they now improperly call Humanity!"

-- Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Joseph Priestley, 8 Feb 1780

Comment author: [deleted] 05 March 2012 09:28:37PM 10 points [-]

We've made really decent progress in only two hundred and thirty-odd years. We're ahead of schedule.

Comment author: Stabilizer 04 March 2012 05:54:09AM *  10 points [-]

One of the first transhumanists?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 05 March 2012 08:29:56AM 6 points [-]

The hard core of transhumanism goes back to at least the Middle Ages, possibly sooner.

Comment author: Stabilizer 05 March 2012 08:35:52AM 2 points [-]

Interesting. The particular philosophers you have in mind?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 05 March 2012 09:44:52AM 13 points [-]

Primarily, I had the Arabic-speaking philosophical alchemists in mind, but there are others. If there is significant interest, then I will elaborate further.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 06 March 2012 12:52:01PM *  20 points [-]

Okay, 2 comments and 3 upvotes is good enough for a quick comment but not a discussion post.

By the "hard core of transhumanism" I mean the belief that humans could use reason to obtain knowledge of the natural world that we can use in order to develop technologies that will allow us to cure sickness, eliminate the need to labor, and extend our lifespans to greater-than-human levels and that we should do these things.

During the Islamic Golden Age, many thinkers combined Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism with knowledge from indigenous craft traditions into a form of alchemy that was refined using logic and laboratory experimentation (Jābir ibn Hayyān is probably the most famous of these thinkers). These philosophers and technologists believed that their theoretical system would allow them to perform transmutation of matter (turn one element into another) unlocking the ability to create almost any "machine" or medicine imaginable. This was thought to allow them to create al ixir (elixir) of Al Khidr fame which, in principle, could extend human life indefinitely and cure any kind of disease. Also of great interest was the attainment of takwin, which is artificial, laboratory-created "life" (even including the intelligent kind). It was hoped (by some) that these artificial creations (called a homunculus by Latin speakers and analogous to the Jewish golem) could do the work of humans the way angels do Allah's work. Not only could these AIs do our work for us, they could continue our scientific enterprise. According to William Newman, these AIs or robots "...of the pseudo-Plato and Jabir traditions could not only talk - it could reveal the secrets of nature." Sound familiar?

Comment author: Will_Newsome 06 March 2012 01:36:27PM 7 points [-]

Was there any speculation about the Friendly takwin problem?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 06 March 2012 01:44:48PM *  16 points [-]

Not that I know of, but you would think they would have since they were familiar with how badly you could end up screwing yourself dealing with Jinn even though they would do exactly what you tell them to (literally). There are a great many Arabic texts that historians of science have yet to take a look at. Who knows, maybe we'll luck out and find the solution to the FAI problem in some library in Turkey.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 05 March 2012 09:10:21AM 1 point [-]

Does Imitation of Christ count as transhumanism, or is too ideologically distinct?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 05 March 2012 09:41:13AM 2 points [-]

I would say no, because their isn't enough emphasis on technology as the means of achieving post-humanity.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 04 March 2012 12:14:24PM *  -2 points [-]

"Be perfect, like an FAI is perfect." -- Jesus

Comment author: peter_hurford 06 March 2012 03:38:09AM *  2 points [-]

Benjamin Franklin sure knew how to use the caps. I miss the old days.

Comment author: DSimon 02 March 2012 05:50:57AM *  29 points [-]

T-Rex: Our bodies are amazing things! Check it, everyone!
We use our mouths to talk. We invent, remember and teach entire languages with which to do the talking! And if that fails, we can talk with our hands. We build planes and boats and cars and spaceships, all by either using our bodies directly, or by using instruments invented by our bodies. We compose beautiful music and tell amazing stories, all with our bodies, these fleshy bags with spooky skeletons inside.
And yet, if we have a severe enough peanut allergy, we can be killed in seconds by a friggin' legume. And hey, 70% of our planet is water, but what happens if we spend too much time in it? We drown. Game over, man!
I used to make fun of Green Lantern for being vulnerable to the color yellow. Then I choked on my orange juice one morning and nearly suffocated.

-- Dinosaur Comics

Comment author: gwern 01 March 2012 05:57:07PM 21 points [-]

"All logic texts are divided into two parts. In the first part, on deductive logic, the fallacies are explained; in the second part, on inductive logic, they are committed."

--Morris Raphael Cohen, quoted by Cohen in "The Earth Is Round (p < 0.05)"

Comment author: Stephanie_Cunnane 10 March 2012 10:32:20PM *  18 points [-]

Some environments are worse than irregular. Robin Hogarth described "wicked" environments, in which professionals are likely to learn the wrong lessons from experience. He borrows from Lewis Thomas the example of a physician in the early twentieth century who often had intuitions about patients who were about to develop typhoid. Unfortunately, he tested his hunch by palpating the patient's tongue, without washing his hands between patients. When patient after patient became ill, the physician developed a sense of clinical infallibility. His predictions were accurate--but not because he was exercising professional intuition!

--Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow

Comment author: NexH 06 March 2012 02:19:52PM *  17 points [-]

When it comes to rare probabilities, our mind is not designed to get things quite right. For the residents of a planet that may be exposed to events no one has yet experienced, that is not good news.

 --Daniel Kahneman, *Thinking, fast and slow*
Comment author: gyokuro 02 March 2012 04:39:18AM *  16 points [-]

"I've never ever felt wise," Derk said frankly. "But I suppose it is a tempation, to stare into distance and make people think you are."
"It's humbug," said the dragon. "It's also stupid. It stops you learning more."

Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Lord of Derkholm

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 06 March 2012 12:15:36PM 15 points [-]

Carefully observe those good qualities wherein our enemies excel us

Plutarch, found here

Comment author: taelor 07 March 2012 09:00:12AM *  13 points [-]

But even as light is opposed by darkness, science and reason have their enemies. Superstition and belief in magic are as old as man himself; for the intransigence of facts and our limitations in controlling them can be powerfully hard to take. Add to this the reflection that we are in an age when it is popular to distrust whatever is seen as the established view or the Establishment, and it is no wonder that anti-rational attitudes and doctrines are mustering so much support. Still, we can understand what encourages the anti-rationalist turn without losing our zeal for opposing it. A current Continuing Education catalogue offers a course description, under the heading "Philosophy", that typifies the dark view at its darkest: "Children of science that we are, we have based our cultural patterns on logic, on the cognitive, on the verifiable. But more and more there has crept into current research and study the haunting suggestion that there are other kinds of knowledge unfathomable by our cognition, other ways of knowing beyond the limits of our logic, which are deserving of our serious attention." Now "knowledge unfathomable by our cognition" is simply incoherent, as attention to the words makes clear. Moreover, all that creeps is not gold. One wonders how many students enrolled.

-- W. V. O. Quine

Comment author: JoachimSchipper 07 March 2012 11:52:04AM 1 point [-]

(1978). I expected this to be older.

Comment author: Grognor 03 March 2012 08:57:49AM 37 points [-]

“Stupider” for a time might not have been a real word, but it certainly points where it’s supposed to. The other day my sister used the word “deoffensify”. It’s not a real word, but that didn’t make it any less effective. Communication doesn’t care about the “realness” of language, nor does it often care about the exact dictionary definitions. Words change through every possible variable, even time. One of the great challenges of communication has always been making sure words mean the same thing to you and your audience.

-Michael "Kayin" O'Reilly

Comment author: Bugmaster 03 March 2012 09:54:54AM 15 points [-]

Or, as the Language Log puts it:

The first thing to say is that the only possible way to settle a question of grammar or style is to look at relevant evidence. I suppose there really are people who believe the rules of grammar come down from some authority on high, an authority that has no connection with the people who speak and write English; but those people have got to be deranged.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 March 2012 11:03:54AM *  6 points [-]

the Language Log

It's Language Log, without the, goddammit!

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 06 March 2012 03:50:43PM 7 points [-]

Without the what? That isn't grammatical.

Comment author: wnoise 11 March 2012 06:21:46AM 2 points [-]

Without the fnord, of course.

Comment author: RobertLumley 06 March 2012 05:59:21PM 1 point [-]

Upvoted under the presumption that you're being ironic.

Comment author: Nominull 03 March 2012 09:58:49AM 5 points [-]

Swap out "grammar" and "style" for "morality" and "ethics"?

Comment author: DSimon 04 March 2012 05:55:45AM 2 points [-]

One of my favorite things about many constructed languages is that they get rid of this distinction entirely. You don't have to worry about whether or not "Xify" is a so-called real word for any given value X, you only have to check if it X's type fits the pattern. This happens merely because it's a lot easier, when you're working from scratch anyways, to design the language that way than to have to come up with a big artificial list of -ify words.

Comment author: Stabilizer 06 March 2012 04:51:18AM *  11 points [-]

We have not succeeded in answering all our problems.
The answers we have found only serve
to raise a whole set of new questions.
In some ways we feel we are as confused as ever,
but we believe we are confused on a higher level
and about more important things.

-Posted outside the mathematics reading room, Tromsø University
From the homepage of Kim C. Border

Comment author: peter_hurford 01 March 2012 05:19:45PM *  31 points [-]

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.

-- Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 March 2012 02:01:50AM 4 points [-]

Fits this one, two out of three.

Comment author: DanielLC 01 March 2012 07:09:07PM 5 points [-]

For me, I am driven by two main philosophies

I think he'd do better if he just made up his mind. I'd go with the second one.

Comment author: pedanterrific 01 March 2012 07:41:37PM 27 points [-]

watch out folks, we got a badass over here

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2012 09:09:23PM 35 points [-]

False opinions are like false money, struck first of all by guilty men and thereafter circulated by honest people who perpetuate the crime without knowing what they are doing

--Joseph de Maistre, Les soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg, Ch. I

Comment author: Ezekiel 05 March 2012 10:32:25PM *  3 points [-]

I think this quote implies that most false opinions were deliberately invented to further someone's agenda, and I don't think that's true. People's brains just aren't optimised for forming true opinions.

(This is something of a sore point with me, as I've met too many religious people who challenge atheism with "What? You think [famously good guy X] was lying?")

And if you say that "guilty" here means not bothering to properly investigate before forming an opinion, then those who continue circulating it are equally guilty for not bothering to investigate before accepting an opinion.

Comment author: Thomas 02 March 2012 02:15:44PM 4 points [-]

Some guilt also falls onto those who are not eager enough to verify those opinions or the money they circulate.

The man on the top (at the beginning) is NOT guilty for everything.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 March 2012 05:38:16PM 15 points [-]

To my way of thinking, it's quite possible for me to be fully responsible for a chain of events (for example, if they would not have occurred if not for my action, and I was aware of the likelihood of them occurring given my action, and no external forces constrained my choice so as to preclude acting differently) and for other people upstream and downstream of me to also be fully responsible for that chain of events. This is no more contradictory than my belief that object A is to the left of object B from one perspective and simultaneously to the right of object A from another. Responsibility is not some mysterious fluid out there in the world that gets portioned out to individuals, it's an attribute that we assign to entities in a mental and/or social model.

You seem to be claiming that models wherein total responsibility for an event is conserved across the entire known causal chain are superior to mental models where it isn't, but I don't quite see why i ought to believe that.

Comment author: cousin_it 14 March 2012 12:01:03PM 8 points [-]

Running any enterprise the size of Google or Goldman Sachs requires trading off many competing factors. To make the tradeoff, someone has to keep all that information in their head at once. There's no other way to balance competing demands; if you keep only part of the information in your head, your decision will be biased towards the part that you've loaded into your brain. If you try to spread decision making across multiple people, the decisions will be biased towards the part that the person who screams the loudest can hold in his head (which is usually a smaller subset than optimal; it takes mental effort to scream loudly).

-- nostrademons on Hacker news

Comment author: Hul-Gil 30 March 2012 06:14:05PM *  2 points [-]

That's a good quote! +1.

Unfortunately, for every rational action, there appears to be an equal and opposite irrational one: did you see bhousel's response?

Rationality is emotionless and mechanical. It's about making a reasonable decision based on whatever information is available to you. However, rational decisions do not involve morals, culture, or feelings. This is exactly what companies like Google and Goldman Sachs are being criticized for. [...] If I look down into my wallet and see no money there, and I'm hungry for lunch, and I decide to steal some money from a little old lady, that may be a perfectly rational decision to make. An outside observer may say I'm being evil, but they don't have a complete information picture about how hungry I am, or how long the line at the ATM is, or that everyone else is eating lunch so I have a duty to my shareholders to do the same.


Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 March 2012 01:26:22PM *  8 points [-]

My father was a psychologist and a lifelong student of human behavior, and when I brought him my report card he often used to say: “This tells me something about you, something about your teacher, and something about myself.

Lynne Murray

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2012 04:56:33PM 22 points [-]

“Anne!” Anne was seated on the springboard; she turned her head. Jubal called out, “That new house on the far hilltop — can you see what color they’ve painted it?”

Anne looked in the direction in which Jubal was pointing and answered, “It’s white on this side.”

Robert Heinlein, Stranger In A Strange Land

Comment author: roystgnr 05 March 2012 09:55:29PM 14 points [-]

Wait, Google says nobody's posted this joke on LessWrong before?


A philosopher, a scientist, and a mathematician are travelling through Scotland, gazing out the window of the train, when they see a sheep.

"Ah," says the philosopher, "I see that Scottish sheep are black."

"Well," says the scientist, "at least we see that some Scottish sheep are black."

"No," says the mathematician, "we merely know that there exists at least one sheep in Scotland which is black on at least one side."

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 March 2012 10:19:19PM 22 points [-]

"Actually," says the stage magician, "we merely know that there exists something in Scotland which appears to be a sheep which is black on at least one side when viewed from this spot."

Comment author: RichardKennaway 12 March 2012 11:14:24AM 7 points [-]

Said by a pub manager I know to someone who came into his pub selling lucky white heather:

"I'm running a business turning over half a million pounds a year, and you're selling lucky heather door to door. Doesn't seem to work, does it?"

Comment author: Will_Newsome 11 March 2012 05:57:39PM 7 points [-]

To a Frenchman like M. Renan, intelligence does not mean a quickness of wit, a ready dexterity in handling ideas, or even a ready accessibility to ideas. It implies those, of course, but it does not mean them; and one should perhaps say in passing that it does not mean the pert and ignorant cleverness that current vulgar usage has associated with the word. Again it is our common day-to-day experience that gives us the best possible assistance in establishing the necessary differentiations. We have all seen men who were quick witted, accessible to ideas and handy with their management of them, whom we should yet hesitate to call intelligent; we are conscious that the term does not quite fit. The word sends us back to a phrase of Plato. The person of intelligence is the one who always tends to "see things as they are," the one who never permits his view of them to be directed by convention, by the hope of advantage, or by an irrational and arbitrary authoritarianism. He allows the current of his consciousness to flow in perfect freedom over any object that may be presented to it, uncontrolled by prejudice, prepossession or formula; and thus we may say that there are certain integrities at the root of intelligence which give it somewhat the aspect of a moral as well as an intellectual attribute.

Albert Jay Nock, The Theory of Education in the United States

Comment author: Woodbun 04 March 2012 12:02:38PM *  19 points [-]

"One of the great commandments of science is, 'Mistrust arguments from authority'. (Scientists, being primates, and thus given to dominance hierarchies, of course do not always follow this commandment.)"

-Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World

Comment author: Stabilizer 01 March 2012 09:29:18AM 17 points [-]

To be a good diagnostician, a physician needs to acquire a large set of labels for diseases, each of which binds an idea of the illness and its symptoms, possible antecedents and causes, possible developments and consequences, and possible interventions to cure or mitigate the illness. Learning medicine consists in part of learning the language of medicine. A deeper understanding of judgments and choices also requires a richer vocabulary than is available in everyday language. The availability of a diagnostic label for [the] bias... makes it easier to anticipate, recognize and understand.

-Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Comment author: khafra 01 March 2012 01:10:25PM 4 points [-]

Yeah, a good compression algorithm--a dictionary that has short words for the important stuff--is vital to learning just about anything. I've noticed that in the martial arts; there's no way to learn a parry, entry, and takedown without a somatic vocabulary for the subparts of that; and the definitions of your "words" affects both the ease of learning and the effectiveness of its execution.

Comment author: Stabilizer 02 March 2012 03:03:24AM 3 points [-]

Also, wouldn't it be better to call it a hash table or a lookup-table rather than a compression algorithm. The key is swift and appropriate recall. Example: Compare a long-time practicing theoretical physicist with a physics grad student. Both know most of basic quantum mechanics. But the experienced physicist would know when to whip out which equation in which situation. So, the knowledge content is not necessarily compressed (I'm sure there is some compression) as much as the usability of the knowledge is much greater.

Comment author: gwern 01 March 2012 05:58:00PM 25 points [-]

"It's easy to think of yourself as being quite a nice person so long as you live on your own and are the only witness to yourself."

--Alain de Botton

Comment author: scav 05 March 2012 02:02:46PM 6 points [-]

Most of world history is a clash of mental illnesses.

-- Evan V Symon, Cracked.com http://www.cracked.com/article_19669_the-5-saddest-attempts-to-take-over-country.html

Not completely serious, but think of it in relation to the sanity waterline...

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 07 March 2012 11:08:18PM *  16 points [-]

-So what do you think happens after we die?
-The acids and lifeforms living inside your body eat their way out, while local detritivores eat their way in. Why?
-No, no, no, what happens to you?
-Oh, you guys mean the soul.
-Is that in the body?
-The acids and lifeforms eat their way out, while local detritivores eat their way in.

--SMBC Theater - Death

Comment author: HonoreDB 01 March 2012 04:58:22PM 23 points [-]

"Are you trying to tell me that there are sixteen million practicing wizards on Earth?" "Sixteen million four hundred and--" Dairine paused to consider the condition the world was in. "Well it's not anywhere near enough! Make them all wizards."

--Diane Duane, High Wizardry

Comment author: Alejandro1 01 March 2012 06:23:41PM 15 points [-]

The demons told me that there is a hell for the sentimental and the pedantic. They are abandoned in an endless palace, more empty than full, and windowless. The condemned walk about as if searching for something, and, as we might expect, they soon begin to say that the greatest torment consists in not participating in the vision of God, that moral suffering is worse than physical suffering, and so on. Then the demons hurl them into the sea of fire, from where no one will ever take them out.

Adolfo Bioy Casares (my translation)

Comment author: cousin_it 07 March 2012 09:28:34AM *  16 points [-]

'Your God person puts an apple tree in the middle of a garden and says, do what you like, guys, oh, but don't eat the apple. Surprise surprise, they eat it and he leaps out from behind a bush shouting "Gotcha". It wouldn't have made any difference if they hadn't eaten it.'

'Why not?'

'Because if you're dealing with somebody who has the sort of mentality which likes leaving hats on the pavement with bricks under them you know perfectly well they won't give up. They'll get you in the end.'

-- Douglas Adams

Comment author: Incorrect 01 March 2012 06:32:51PM 10 points [-]

The condemned walk about as if searching for something, and, as we might expect, they soon begin to say that the greatest torment consists in not participating in the vision of God, that moral suffering is worse than physical suffering, and so on

Why don't they just play tag with each other? Sounds like it would be fun.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 01 March 2012 10:22:26PM 4 points [-]

Because they're jerks.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 March 2012 09:06:29PM 5 points [-]

Indeed. The kind of people who would go "Whee! Let's play tag!" in this situation do not find themselves in Hell (at least in this particular one) in the first place.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 March 2012 03:25:48PM *  22 points [-]


Comment author: James_Miller 01 March 2012 03:22:58PM 14 points [-]

Had no idea so much strategy was possible in Rock, Paper, Scissors? The rules of the game itself may be simple, but the human mind is not.

Natalie Wolchover

Comment author: Giles 04 March 2012 02:35:08PM 3 points [-]

I saw on TV some kid lose convincingly against a RPS champion when the kid had been given a prepared (random) list of moves to make ahead of time. That can't be explained by strategy - it was either coincidence or it's possible to cheat by seeing which way your opponent's hand is unfolding and change your move at the last moment.

Comment author: James_Miller 04 March 2012 08:50:42PM 6 points [-]

Or the losers were unintentionally signaling their moves beforehand.

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 March 2012 02:45:36PM 5 points [-]

The latter is definitely possible. Back when I was still playing RPS as a kid, I was fairly good at it; enough for somewhere upwards of 70% of my plays to be wins.

You don't want to change your move at the last moment though so much as you want to keep your hand in a plausibly formless configuration you can turn into a move at the last moment. Less likely to be called out for cheating.

Comment author: EllisD 02 March 2012 02:24:29PM *  13 points [-]

Whether a mathematical proposition is true or not is indeed independent of physics. But the proof of such a proposition is a matter of physics only. There is no such thing as abstractly proving something, just as there is no such thing as abstractly knowing something. Mathematical truth is absolutely necessary and transcendent, but all knowledge is generated by physical processes, and its scope and limitations are conditioned by the laws of nature.

-David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 March 2012 05:25:23PM *  8 points [-]

There is no such thing as abstractly proving something

Of course there is. A proof of a mathematical proposition is just as much itself a mathematical object as the proposition being proved; it exists just as independently of physics. The proof as written down is a physical object standing in the same relation to the real proof as the digit 2 before your eyes here bears to the real number 2.

But perhaps in the context Deutsch isn't making that confusion. What scope and limitations on mathematical knowledge, conditioned by the laws of nature, does he draw out from these considerations?

Comment author: ShardPhoenix 06 March 2012 09:55:47AM 18 points [-]

Past me is always so terrible, even when I literally just finished being him.

Comment author: CuSithBell 22 April 2012 07:24:07PM *  2 points [-]

I'm also fond of:

The only guy more irritating and stupid than future me is past me.

Karkat's just full of these gems of almost-wisdom.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 02 March 2012 09:55:32AM *  18 points [-]

If you want to know how decent people can support evil, find a mirror.

Mencius Moldbug, A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations (part 2) (yay reflection!)

Comment author: satt 03 March 2012 02:53:15PM 21 points [-]

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 March 2012 02:15:31AM 17 points [-]

"I don't know if we've sufficiently analyzed the situation if we're thinking storming Azkaban is a solution."

Comment author: AspiringKnitter 25 March 2012 03:56:59AM 6 points [-]

If Eliezer Yudkowsky, the author, is lauding this statement, I think we can rule this out as Harry's solution.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 March 2012 07:49:32AM 11 points [-]

As previously stated, Harry is not a perfect rationalist.

Comment author: Nominull 25 March 2012 08:27:54AM 12 points [-]

Neither is Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 March 2012 05:45:14PM 10 points [-]

My philosophy is that it's okay to be imperfect, but not so imperfect that other people notice.

Comment author: Alex_Altair 30 March 2012 01:39:38PM 4 points [-]

I propose that it's okay to be imperfect, but not so imperfect that reality notices.

Comment author: Pavitra 28 March 2012 04:29:42AM 2 points [-]

This is a cool-sounding slogan that doesn't actually say anything beyond "Winning is good."

Comment author: David_Gerard 30 March 2012 10:55:14AM 1 point [-]

No, it says that practical degrees of excellence are just fine and you don't actually have to achieve philosophically perfect excellence to be sufficiently effective.

It's the difference between not being able to solve an NP-complete problem perfectly, and being able to come up with pretty darn close numerical approximations that do the practical job just fine. (I think evolution achieves a lot of the latter, for example.)

Comment author: wedrifid 25 March 2012 07:22:41AM *  5 points [-]

"I don't know if we've sufficiently analyzed the situation if we're thinking storming Azkaban is a solution."

Naturally not. Harry would only do something that reckless if it was to save a general of the Dark Lord on the whim of his mentor. ;)

I of course agree with thatguy, with substitution of 'the most viable immediate' in there somewhere. It is a solution to all sorts of things.

Comment author: Anubhav 25 March 2012 03:22:00AM 3 points [-]

enunciating an important general principle

This variant of when all you have is a hammer is seen often enough to merit a name.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 26 March 2012 03:18:16AM 7 points [-]

"When all you have is a powered-up Patronus, every problem looks like storming Azkaban is the answer"?

Comment author: Anubhav 26 March 2012 01:40:30PM *  7 points [-]

I meant something along the lines of "When your hammer is too darn impressive, everything begins to look like a nail."

Comment author: XFrequentist 02 March 2012 09:01:52PM 11 points [-]

May the best of your todays, be the worst of your tomorrows

  • Jay-Z, Forever Young

[Taking the lyrics literally, the whole thing is a pretty sweet transhumanist anthem.]

Comment author: Stabilizer 04 March 2012 05:50:49AM 21 points [-]

Society changes when we change what we're embarrassed about.

In just fifty years, we've made it shameful to be publicly racist.

In just ten years, someone who professes to not know how to use the internet is seen as a fool.

The question, then, is how long before we will be ashamed at being uninformed, at spouting pseudoscience, at believing thin propaganda? How long before it's unacceptable to take something at face value? How long before you can do your job without understanding the state of the art?

Does access to information change the expectation that if you can know, you will know?

We can argue that this will never happen, that it's human nature to be easily led in the wrong direction and to be willfully ignorant. The thing is, there are lots of things that used to be human nature, but due to culture and technology, no longer are.

-Seth Godin

Comment author: simplyeric 06 March 2012 06:05:52PM 1 point [-]

A. I'm not entirely sure that things that used to be human nature no longer are. We deal with them, surpress them, sublimate, etc. Anger responses, fear, lust, possesiveness, nesting. The animal instincts of the human animal. How those manifest does indeed change, but not the "nature" of them.

B. We live (in the USA) in a long-term culture of anti-intellectualism. Obviously this doesn't mean it can't change... Sometimes it seems like it will (remember the days before nerd-chic?), but in a nominally democratic society, there will always be a minority of people who are relatively "intellectual" by definition, we should recognize that you don't have to overcome anti-intellectualism, you just have to raise the bar. While still anti-intellectual, in many ways even the intentionally uninformed know more than the average person did back in the day. (just like there will always be a minority of people who will be "relatively tall", even as the average height has tended to increased over the generations)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 07 March 2012 05:06:09AM 4 points [-]

We live (in the USA) in a long-term culture of anti-intellectualism.

Which type of anti-intellectualism are you referring to?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 07 March 2012 05:35:51AM 2 points [-]

Interesting. If my experience is representative, then a sizable subset of Less Wrongers are what the author calls epistemic-skeptical anti-intellectuals.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 07 March 2012 08:31:21AM 2 points [-]

It seems slightly odd that there are many on LessWrong whose justification for not looking deeply into the philosophy literature is that philosophers "are too prone to overestimate their own cleverness" and end up shooting their own philosophical feet off, but that subset of LessWrong doesn't seem to overlap much with those who are epistemic-skeptical anti-intellectuals in the more political sense. Admittedly my own view is that the former subset is basically wrong whereas the latter is basically right, but naively viewed the two positions would seem to go together much as they do with neoconservatives. ...I feel like I'm not carving up reality correctly.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 March 2012 03:07:47PM 4 points [-]

In truth we know that the wind is its blowing. Similarly the stream is the running of water. And so, too, I am what I am doing. I am not an agent but a hive of activity. If you were to lift off the lid, you would find something more like a compost heap than the kind of architectural structure that anatomists and psychologists like to imagine.

---Tim Ingold, “Clearing the Ground"

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 March 2012 12:34:26PM *  4 points [-]

I wouldn’t say that we defy the limit, I’d say that we reexamine it, by very carefully considering the set of cases that actually matter.

--- pseudonym

Comment author: CasioTheSane 09 March 2012 07:51:03AM *  10 points [-]

"Sir Isaac Newton, renowned inventor of the milled-edge coin and the catflap!"

"The what?" said Richard.

"The catflap! A device of the utmost cunning, perspicuity and invention. It is a door within a door, you see, a ..."

"Yes," said Richard, "there was also the small matter of gravity."

"Gravity," said Dirk with a slightly dismissed shrug, "yes, there was that as well, I suppose. Though that, of course, was merely a discovery. It was there to be discovered." ...

"You see?" he said dropping his cigarette butt, "They even keep it on at weekends. Someone was bound to notice sooner or later. But the catflap ... ah, there is a very different matter. Invention, pure creative invention. It is a door within a door, you see."

-Douglas Adams

Comment author: Stephanie_Cunnane 08 March 2012 10:44:15PM 10 points [-]

Now let's talk about efficient market theory, a wonderful economic doctrine that had a long vogue in spite of the experience of Berkshire Hathaway. In fact, one of the economists who won--he shared a Nobel Prize--and as he looked at Berkshire Hathaway year after year, which people would throw in his face as saying maybe the market isn't quite as efficient as you think, he said, "Well, it's a two-sigma event." And then he said we were a three-sigma event. And then he said we were a four-sigma event. And he finally got up to six sigmas--better to add a sigma than change a theory, just because the evidence comes in differently. [Laughter] And, of course, when this share of a Nobel Prize went into money management himself, he sank like a stone.

-Charlie Munger

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 11 March 2012 06:41:31PM 8 points [-]

I'm surprised by how consistently misinterpreted the EMH is, even by people with the widest possible perspective on markets and economics. The EMH practically requires that some people make money by trading, because that's the mechanism which causes the market to become efficient. The EMH should really be understood to mean that as more and more money is leached out of the market by speculators, prices become better and better approximations to real net present values.

Comment author: roystgnr 24 March 2012 10:49:20PM 4 points [-]

I've always thought of the Efficient Market Hypothesis as the anti-Tinkerbell: if everybody all starts clapping and believing in it, it dies.

See, for example, every bubble ever. "We don't need to worry about buying that thing for more than it seems to be worth, because prices are going up so we can always resell it for even more than that later!"

Comment author: wedrifid 25 March 2012 07:49:50AM 4 points [-]

See, for example, every bubble ever. "We don't need to worry about buying that thing for more than it seems to be worth, because prices are going up so we can always resell it for even more than that later!"

If they actually believed the market they were trading in was efficient they wouldn't believe that prices would continue to go up. They would expect them to follow the value of capital invested at that level of risk. Further - as applicable to any bubble that doesn't represent overinvestment in the entire stockmarket over all industries - they wouldn't jump on a given stock or group of stocks more than any other. They would buy random stocks from the market, probably distributed as widely as possible.

No, belief in an efficient market can only be used as a scapegoat here, not as a credible cause.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 March 2012 12:19:59PM *  10 points [-]

The reality is actually scarier than that if there was a big conspiracy run by an Inner Party of evil but brilliant know-it-alls, like O’Brien in “1984″ or Mustapha Mond in “Brave New World.” The reality is that nobody in charge knows much about what is going on.

--Steve Sailer, here

Comment author: Ezekiel 06 March 2012 02:48:06PM 4 points [-]

For all that it's fun to signal our horror at the ignorance/irrationality/stupidity of those in charge, I still think real-world 2012 Britain, USA, Canada and Australia are all better than Oceania circa 1984. For one thing, people are not very often written out of existence.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 March 2012 02:57:00PM 6 points [-]

For one thing, people are not very often written out of existence.

Or ... are they?

Comment author: RobinZ 06 March 2012 06:35:59PM 4 points [-]

At a certain point, conspiracy theories become indistinguishable from skeptical hypotheses.

Comment author: Aryn 07 March 2012 11:12:58PM 1 point [-]

The quote states that the current establishment has no idea what's going on. How would they be competent enough in this state to band together, write people out of existence, then keep it a secret indefinitely?

Comment author: [deleted] 08 March 2012 07:50:49AM *  2 points [-]

The response was a joke.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 March 2012 01:36:55AM 18 points [-]

The reason you can't rigidly separate positive from normative economics is that you can't rigidly separate claims of fact from claims of value in general. Human language is too laden with thick concepts that mix the two. The claim that someone is a "slut" or a "bitch", for example, melds together factual claims about a woman's behavior with a lot of deeply embedded normative concepts about what constitutes appropriate behavior for a woman. The claim that financial markets are "efficient" is both an effort to describe their operation and a way of valorizing them. The idea of a "recession" or "full employment" or "potential output" all embed certain ideas about what would constitute a normal arrangement of human economic activity (...) You could try to rigorously purge your descriptions of the economy of anything that vaguely smells of a thick moral concept, but you'd find yourself operating with an impoverished vocubulary unable to describe human affairs in any kind of reasonable way.

--Matt Yglesias

Comment author: Nominull 02 March 2012 09:53:45AM 13 points [-]

I found that very poignant, but I'm not sure I agree with his final claim. I think he's committing the usual mistake of claiming impossible what seems hard.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 02 March 2012 12:20:09PM *  8 points [-]

Is it even hard? JFDI, or as we might say here, shut up and do the impossible. Is "efficient" a tendentious word? Taboo it. Is discussion being confused by mixing normative and positive concepts? DDTT.

The quote smells like rationalising to me.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 March 2012 05:42:07PM 4 points [-]

Yeah, agreed. It's entirely possible to describe a system of economic agents without using such value-laden terns (though in some cases we may have to make up new terms). We don't do it, mostly because we don't want to. Which IMHO is fine; there's no particular reason why we should.

Comment author: James_K 06 March 2012 07:02:13AM 2 points [-]

Yglesias seems to be committing an error here by confusing technical jargon with common English. Efficient has a very specific meaning in economics (well, two specific meanings, depending on what kind market you're talking about). The word efficient is not meant to refer to universal goodness and it's a mistake to treat it as if it were.

Comment author: gwern 01 March 2012 05:58:13PM 18 points [-]

"Hope always feels like it's made up of a set of reasons: when it's just sufficient sleep and a few auspicious hormones."

--Alain de Botton

Comment author: Will_Newsome 03 March 2012 01:51:57AM 8 points [-]

(Perhaps this individual quote is insightful (I can't tell), but this sort of causal analysis leads to basic confusions of levels of organization more often than it leads to insight.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 March 2012 01:05:31PM 9 points [-]

It is more important to know what is true today, than to have been right yesterday

Found here.

Comment author: Cthulhoo 01 March 2012 10:18:27AM 20 points [-]

When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter; if I am right, he will learn; if I am wrong, I will; one of us will win, but both will profit.

Ayn Rand

Comment author: Giles 04 March 2012 02:39:43PM *  5 points [-]

I think that if the other person convinces you that they are right and they are right, then it should count as "winning the argument". It's the idea that has lost, not you.

Comment author: florian 01 March 2012 12:11:53PM 32 points [-]

Making the (flawed) assumption that in a disagreement, they cannot both be wrong.

Comment author: peter_hurford 01 March 2012 05:22:16PM 16 points [-]

Also, they could be wrong about whether they actually disagree.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 March 2012 09:08:48PM 3 points [-]

IME that's the case in a sizeable fraction of disagreements between humans; but if they “let reality be [their] final arbiter” they ought to realize that in the process.

Comment author: shokwave 02 March 2012 12:24:16AM 3 points [-]

one of us might win, but both will profit.

I have also heard it quoted like this.

Comment author: Endovior 05 March 2012 10:31:24PM 2 points [-]

Perhaps, but it is rather unlikely that they are equally wrong. It is far more likely that one will be less wrong than the other. Indeed, improving on our knowledge by the comparison between such fractions of correctness would seem to be the whole point of Bayesian rationality.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 04 March 2012 12:10:37PM 12 points [-]

The world is paved with good intentions; the road to Hell has bad epistemology mixed in.

Steven Kaas

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 07 March 2012 05:00:51AM 6 points [-]

I think the original is instrumentally more useful. On hearing "the road to hell is paved with good intentions", one of my reactions is "I have good intentions, I'd better make sure I'm not on the road to hell". On hearing your version my first reaction is "whew, this doesn't apply to me, only to those people with bad epistemology".

Comment author: Will_Newsome 07 March 2012 08:38:36AM 5 points [-]

On hearing your version my first reaction is "whew, this doesn't apply to me, only to those people with bad epistemology".

Interesting, my immediate reaction is "oh, I guess I need to seriously work on my epistemology rather than work on having better intentions as such".

Comment author: David_Gerard 30 March 2012 11:17:06AM 2 points [-]

I suspect that's a standard reaction to hearing of any cognitive bias.

“Hah, this article nails those assholes perfectly!”
-- some asshole

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 March 2012 12:12:54PM 8 points [-]



Comment author: arundelo 01 March 2012 08:03:29PM 11 points [-]

When reading, you win if you learn, not if you convince yourself that you know something the author does not know.

-- Reg Braithwaite (raganwald)

Comment author: MinibearRex 08 March 2012 11:50:38PM 7 points [-]

On the mind projection fallacy:

Mankind are (sic) always predisposed to believe that any subjective feeling, not otherwise accounted for, is a revelation of some objective reality.

-John Stuart Mill

Comment author: bungula 01 March 2012 01:30:50PM 13 points [-]

It's the Face of Boe. I'm absolutely certain about this, absolutely positive. Of course I'll probably turn out to be incorrect

Sam Hughes, talking about the first season finale of Doctor Who, differentiating between the subjective feeling of certainty and the actual probability estimate.

Comment author: faul_sname 23 March 2012 10:44:11PM 3 points [-]

"The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are sometimes right."

-Winston Churchill

Comment author: Ezekiel 05 March 2012 10:13:09PM *  10 points [-]

Because throughout history, every mystery ever solved has turned out to be... Not Magic

-- Tim Minchin, Storm

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 March 2012 02:47:55AM *  9 points [-]

That could just mean we're no good at solving mysteries that involve magic.

Also, I think there is a selection effect in so far as there are solved mysteries where the solution was magic; however, you'd probably argue that they were not solved correctly using no other evidence than that the solutions involved magic.

Comment author: Ezekiel 06 March 2012 01:01:50PM 11 points [-]

It depends what you mean by magic. Nowadays we communicate by bouncing invisible light off the sky, which would sure as hell qualify as "magic" to someone six hundred years ago.

The issue is that "magic", in the sense that I take Minchin to be using it, isn't a solution at all. No matter what the explanation is, once you've actually got it, it's not "magic" any more; it's "electrons" or "distortion of spacetime" or "computers" or whatever, the distinction being that we have equations for all of those things.

Take the witch trials, for example - to the best of my extremely limited knowledge, most witch trials involved very poorly-defined ideas about what a witch was capable of or what the signs of a witch were. If they had known how the accused were supposed to be screwing with reality, they wouldn't have called them "witches", but "scientists" or "politicians" or "guys with swords".

Admittedly all of those can have the same blank curiosity-stopping power as "magic" to some people, but "magic" almost always does. Which is why, once you've solved the mystery, it turns out to be Not Magic.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 12 March 2012 01:25:10AM 3 points [-]

Take the witch trials, for example - to the best of my extremely limited knowledge, most witch trials involved very poorly-defined ideas about what a witch was capable of or what the signs of a witch were.

Consider something like this and notice that our modern "explanations" aren't much better.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 12 March 2012 01:48:54AM 3 points [-]

And because of those damned atheists we can't even start a witch hunt to figure out who's responsible!

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 12 March 2012 03:03:17AM *  2 points [-]

Sure we can.

We just need to rephrase "witch" in scientific terms.

(Also sorry about the political link, but with a topic like this that's inevitable).

UPDATE: This post goes into more details.

Comment author: philh 01 March 2012 10:32:08PM *  10 points [-]

The Princess Bride:

Man in Black: Inhale this, but do not touch.
Vizzini: [sniffs] I smell nothing.
Man in Black: What you do not smell is called iocane powder. It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadlier poisons known to man.
[He puts the goblets behind his back and puts the poison into one of the goblets, then sets them down in front of him]
Man in Black: All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right... and who is dead.
[Vizzini stalls, then eventually chooses the glass in front of the man in black. They both drink, and Vizzini dies.]
Buttercup: And to think, all that time it was your cup that was poisoned.
Man in Black: They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.

Comment author: shokwave 02 March 2012 12:18:19AM *  8 points [-]

Man in Black: All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun.
Vizzini: But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool. You would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Man in Black: You've made your decision then?
Vizzini: Not remotely! Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows! And Australia is entirely peopled with criminals. And criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.
Man in Black: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.
Vizzini: And you must have suspected I would have known the powder's origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Man in Black: You're just stalling now.
Vizzini: You'd like to think that, wouldn't you?! You've beaten my giant, which means you're exceptionally strong, so you could've put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you! But, you've also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me!
Man in Black: Then make your choice.
Vizzini: I will, and I choose- ...

Vizzini of the Princess Bride, on the dangers of reasoning in absolutes - both logically ("this is proof it's not in my goblet") and propositionally (the implicit assumption Vizzini has that one and only one wine goblet is poisoned - P or ~P, as it were)

Comment author: philh 02 March 2012 01:49:57AM 24 points [-]

I don't agree that Vizzini is trying to reason in logical absolutes. He talks like he is, but he doesn't necessarily believe the things he's saying.

Man in Black: You're trying to trick me into giving away something. It won't work.
Vizzini: It has worked! You've given everything away! I know where the poison is!

My interpretation is that he really is trying to trick the man.

Later he distracts the man and swaps the glasses around; then he pretends to choose his own glass. He makes sure the man drinks first. I think he's reasoning/hoping that the man would not deliberately drink from the poisoned cup. So when the man does drink he believes his chosen cup is safe. If the man had been unwilling to drink, Vizzini would have assumed that he now held the poisoned glass, and perhaps resorted to treachery.

He's overconfident, but he's not a complete fool.

(I don't have strong confidence in this analysis, because he's a minor character in a movie.)

Comment author: shokwave 02 March 2012 04:46:33AM 3 points [-]

(I don't have strong confidence in this analysis, because he's a minor character in a movie.)

That the Man in Black describes it as a battle of wits - and not a puzzle - agrees with you.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2012 08:02:07PM 9 points [-]

On our kind not cooperating:

When somebody is doing the right thing, you dont mess with them.

Michelle Obama

Comment author: FiftyTwo 04 March 2012 07:22:34PM 2 points [-]

Sounds like a counter to "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." (Attributed but seemingly falsely to Napoleon Bonaparte)

Comment author: Voltairina 04 March 2012 10:51:52PM *  6 points [-]

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

Winston Churchill

Comment author: Ezekiel 06 March 2012 02:50:30PM 2 points [-]

Incidentally, you need a double-newline to break the quote bar.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2012 04:04:23PM 6 points [-]

Sometimes the only thing left is to know that it’s okay to be uncomfortable.

Wendy Braitman

Comment author: Nisan 13 March 2012 10:54:11PM 8 points [-]

Related to Schelling fences on slippery slopes:

If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begun upon this downward path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time.

— Thomas De Quincey

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 14 March 2012 11:59:23PM 6 points [-]

I don't get this quote, it strikes me as wit with no substance.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 15 March 2012 01:01:27AM 2 points [-]

Presumably the quote is from De Quincey's essay "On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts", and with that context & perspective in mind it has a tad more substance.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2012 04:00:15PM 8 points [-]

Outrage indicates how outraged individuals want the world to be; evidence tells everyone how the world is.

Tauriq Moosa

Comment author: GLaDOS 01 March 2012 07:07:58PM 12 points [-]

I have sometimes seen people try to list what a real intellectual should know. I think it might be more illuminating to list what he shouldn’t.

--Gregory Cochran, in a comment here

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2012 09:11:09PM 12 points [-]

Also good, from that comment's OP:

One of the main reasons that I shy away from modern liberalism is a strong commitment to interchangeability and identity across all individuals and populations as a matter of fact, rather than equality as a matter of legal commitment.

Razib Khan

Comment author: GLaDOS 01 March 2012 10:50:43PM *  4 points [-]

Yes but I didn't at first want to post that because it is slightly political. Though I guess the rationality core does outweigh any mind-killing.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 March 2012 03:13:24AM 5 points [-]

You have a Rationality Core, too?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 March 2012 06:45:55AM 7 points [-]

Mine tastes kind of like nougat.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 March 2012 01:01:43PM 7 points [-]

This has 6 karma points, so I'm left curious about whether people have anything in mind about what real intellectuals shouldn't know.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 March 2012 12:39:51AM 2 points [-]

I interpret the quote as saying that to be a "good intellectual" one needs to not know the problems with the positions "good intellectuals" are expected to defend.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 March 2012 03:46:50PM *  2 points [-]

Real intellectuals shouldn't know the details of fictional worlds. They shouldn't know the private business of their neighbors. They shouldn't know more about sports than is necessary for casual conversation on the matter (though no less either). They shouldn't know how to lie, how to manipulate people, they shouldn't know much about how to make money, they shouldn't know much about concrete political affairs unless that is their business. They shouldn't know too much about food or the maintenance of their health.

Real intellectuals should be able to play an instrument, but not very well. They shouldn't know too much about crimes, mental disorders, disasters, diseases, or wars. They should know the broad strokes of history, but not the details unless that is their primary business.

Real intellectuals should enjoy music, but never study it, unless that is their primary business. Most essentially, real intellectuals shouldn't know what they don't have the time or inclination to know well.

Comment author: player_03 04 March 2012 12:46:17AM *  2 points [-]

I could be interpreting it entirely wrong, but I'd guess this is the list Cochran had in mind:

Comment author: cousin_it 07 March 2012 09:31:57AM *  1 point [-]

Real intellectuals shouldn't know things that science doesn't know.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 04 March 2012 06:49:33PM 1 point [-]

My immediate thought was a 'real intellectual' shouldn't fill their brain with random useless information, (e.g. spend their time reading tvtropes).

Comment author: CasioTheSane 09 March 2012 07:50:27AM 5 points [-]

I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.

-Douglas Adams

Comment author: Voltairina 06 March 2012 07:46:43PM *  5 points [-]

“It's the stupid questions that have some of the most surprising and interesting answers. Most people never think to ask the stupid questions.”

― Cory Doctorow, For The Win

I interpret this to mean that often times questions are overlooked because the possibility of them being true seems absurd. Similar to the Sherlock Holmes saying, “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Comment author: Nominull 07 March 2012 03:43:24PM 22 points [-]

When you've eliminated the impossible, if whatever's left is sufficiently improbable, you probable haven't considered a wide enough space of candidate possibilities.

Comment author: Voltairina 07 March 2012 07:21:19PM 3 points [-]

Seems fair. The Holmes saying seems a bit funny to me now that I think about it, because the probability of an unlikely event changes to become more likely when you've shown that reality appears constrained from the alternatives. I mean, I guess that's what he's trying to convey in his own way. But, by the definition of probability, the likelihood of the improbable event increases as constraints appear preventing the other possibilities. You're going from P(A) to P(A|B) to P(A|(B&C)) to.. etc. You shouldn't be simultaneously aware that an event is improbable and seeing that no other alternative is true at the same time, unless you're being informed of the probability, given the constraints, by someone else, which means that yes, they appear to be considering more candidate possibilities (or their estimate was incorrect. Or something I haven't thought of...).

Comment author: AspiringKnitter 09 March 2012 07:00:35AM 2 points [-]

Maybe he meant how a priori improbable it is?

Comment author: wedrifid 09 March 2012 06:50:51AM 4 points [-]

I interpret this to mean that often times questions are overlooked because the possibility of them being true seems absurd.

I interpret it to mean that Cory Doctorow doesn't fully consider the implications of hindsight bias when it comes to predicting the merits of asking questions from a given class.

Usually asking stupid questions really is just stupid.

Comment author: komponisto 02 March 2012 02:17:24AM *  5 points [-]

By studying the masters, not their pupils.

-- Niels Henrik Abel, on how he developed his mathematical ability.

Comment author: gRR 01 March 2012 04:21:08PM 6 points [-]

The winner is the one who makes the next-to-last mistake.

Ksawery Tartakower

Comment author: steven0461 02 March 2012 09:05:19PM *  3 points [-]

Suppose White gives away a pawn, and then the next move White accidentally lets Black put him in checkmate. White made the next-to-last mistake, but lost, so the saying must be false in a mundane sense. Is there an esoteric sense in which the saying is true?

Comment author: [deleted] 03 March 2012 03:01:58PM *  3 points [-]

The winner is the one who makes the next-to-last mistake.

I read this as implying that the loser is the one who makes the last mistake — the mistake that allows his opponent to win.

But yeah, I think the quote is kinda sloppy — it assumes that the opponents take turns in making mistakes.

Comment author: djcb 04 March 2012 09:56:58AM 8 points [-]

There is a spookier possibility. Suppose it is easy to send messages to the past, but that forward causality also holds (i.e. past events determine the future). In one way of reasoning about it, a message sent to the past will "alter" the entire history following its receipt, including the event that sent it, and thus the message itself. Thus altered, the message will change the past in a different way, and so on, until some "equilibrium" is reached--the simplest being the situation where no message at all is sent. Time travel may thus act to erase itself (an idea Larry Niven fans will recognize as "Niven's Law").

-- Hans Moravec Time Travel and Computing

Comment author: GLaDOS 30 March 2012 08:56:02AM *  4 points [-]

One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.

--George Orwell, here

Comment author: CasioTheSane 09 March 2012 07:50:03AM *  4 points [-]

If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands.

-Douglas Adams

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 March 2012 01:28:58PM 2 points [-]

No man demands what he desires; each man demands what he fancies he can get.

Chesterton, found here

Comment author: wallowinmaya 02 March 2012 08:25:53PM 5 points [-]

All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values.

Friedrich Nietzsche, foreseeing the CEV-problem? (Just kidding, of course)

Comment author: Thomas 01 March 2012 08:36:37AM 6 points [-]

How extremely stupid [I] not to have thought of that.

Thomas Henry Huxley - about Darwin's theory of evolution

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2012 10:47:51AM 30 points [-]

Meh. That's just hindsight bias.

All truths are easy to understand when they are revealed; what's hard is to find them out.

Galileo Galilei (translated by me)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 March 2012 08:10:32AM 18 points [-]

With the great historical exception of quantum mechanics.

Comment author: CasioTheSane 08 March 2012 03:52:45AM *  7 points [-]

I suspect this is because we're still missing major parts of quantum mechanics.

Richard Feynman's famous quote is accurate. Before I studied physics in college I was pretty sure that I still had a lot to learn about quantum mechanics. After studying it for several years, I now have a high level of confidence that I know almost nothing about quantum mechanics.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 March 2012 05:36:28AM 2 points [-]

Try reading this.

Comment author: Thomas 03 March 2012 08:48:22AM 4 points [-]

In fact, most people don't understand the Relativity. Most still rejects Evolution. It wasn't easy to understand the Copernican system in the Galileo's time.

It is easy to understand for a handful, and it seems obvious only to a few, when a new major breakthrough is made. Galileo was wrong. It may be easier, but not "easy to understand once a truth is revealed".

Comment author: [deleted] 03 March 2012 10:33:44AM *  2 points [-]

Historical? I know you count many worlds as “understanding”, but I wouldn't until this puzzle is figured out. (Or maybe it's that I like Feynman's (in)famous quote so much I want to keep on using it, even if this means using a narrower meaning for understand.)

Comment author: Giles 04 March 2012 03:05:55PM 4 points [-]

I would say instead that many truths are easy to understand once you understand them. But still hard to explain to other people.

Comment author: wallowinmaya 02 March 2012 08:16:07PM 6 points [-]

Faith: not wanting to know what is true.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 March 2012 07:12:25AM 4 points [-]

I don't think that is a good description of what people mean by "faith".

For a better idea of the concept of faith start here.

Summary: Theory is to faith as our concept of physical necessitation is to that of social obligation.

Comment author: DSimon 04 March 2012 05:57:42AM *  2 points [-]

It's not what people intend "faith" to mean, but nevertheless it often ends up being its effective definition. (EDIT: To clarify, by "it" I am referring to Nietzsche's definition.)

Comment author: gwern 01 March 2012 05:55:59PM 4 points [-]

"In practice replacing digital computers with an alternative computing paradigm is a risky proposition. Alternative computing architectures, such as parallel digital computers have not tended to be commercially viable, because Moore's Law has consistently enabled conventional von Neumann architectures to render alternatives unnecessary. Besides Moore's Law, digital computing also benefits from mature tools and expertise for optimizing performance at all levels of the system: process technology, fundamental circuits, layout and algorithms. Many engineers are simultaneously working to improve every aspect of digital technology, while alternative technologies like analog computing do not have the same kind of industry juggernaut pushing them forward."

--Benjamin Vigoda, "Analog Logic: Continuous-Time Analog Circuits for Statistical Signal Processing" (2003 PhD thesis)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 01 March 2012 08:26:52PM 7 points [-]

Alternative computing architectures, such as parallel digital computers have not tended to be commercially viable, because Moore's Law has consistently enabled conventional von Neumann architectures to render alternatives unnecessary.

And the very next year, Intel abandoned its plans to make 4 GHz processors, and we've been stuck at around 3 GHz ever since.

Since when, parallel computing has indeed had the industry juggernaut behind it.

Comment author: benit0 18 March 2012 03:09:23AM 3 points [-]

If a sufficient number of people who wanted to stop war really did gather together, they would first of all begin by making war upon those who disagreed with them. And it is still more certain that they would make war on people who also want to stop wars but in another way. -G.I. Gurdjieff

Comment author: gwern 03 March 2012 07:53:42AM 5 points [-]

"A full tour through the modern critics of the competitive organization of society would be a truly exhausting trip. It would include the drama, the novel, the churches, the academies, the lesser intellectual establishments, the socialists and communists and Fabians and a swarm of other dissenters. One is reminded of Schumpeter’s remark that the Japanese earthquake of 1924 had a remarkable aspect: it was not blamed on capitalism. Suddenly one realizes how impoverished our society would be in its indignation, as well as in its food, without capitalism."

--George F. Stigler, "Economics or Ethics?"

Comment author: Grognor 06 March 2012 02:39:37PM 6 points [-]

So when somebody else asks for your help, in the form of charity or taxes, or because they need you to help them move a refrigerator, you can cite all sorts of reasons for not helping ("I think you're lying about needing help" or "I don't care" or "I'm too tied up with my own problems"), but the one thing you can't say is, "Why should you need help? I've never gotten help!" Not unless you're either shamefully oblivious, or a lying asshole.

-David Wong

Comment author: Xece 08 March 2012 12:22:36AM *  3 points [-]

Knowing is always better than not knowing

--Gregory House, M.D. - S02E11 "Need to Know"

Comment author: shminux 03 March 2012 08:00:39AM 3 points [-]

Here's my advice: If you meet an economist, ask him to adjust your spine so you no longer get the common cold. Then ask him for some specific investment tips and do exactly what he recommends. Let me know which one works out best.

Scott Adams

Comment author: BillyOblivion 06 March 2012 08:50:15AM 1 point [-]

Do the same with a Chiropractor and let me know if you get different results.

Comment author: Grognor 10 March 2012 12:21:46PM 2 points [-]

The origin of all science is in the desire to know causes; and the origin of all false science and imposture is in the desire to accept false causes rather than none; or, which is the same thing, in the unwillingness to acknowledge our own ignorance.

-William Hazlitt, attacking phrenology.

Comment author: antigonus 05 March 2012 07:33:53AM 2 points [-]

I tell you that as long as I can conceive something better than myself I cannot be easy unless I am striving to bring it into existence or clearing the way for it.

-- G.B. Shaw, "Man and Superman"

Shaw evinces a really weird, teleological view of evolution in that play, but in doing so expresses some remarkable and remarkably early (1903) transhumanist sentiments.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 05 March 2012 08:09:44AM 8 points [-]

I love that quote, but if it carries a rationality lesson, I fail to see it. Seems more like an appeal to the tastes of the audience here.

Comment author: antigonus 05 March 2012 09:48:42AM 4 points [-]

Yeah, you're correct. Wasn't thinking very hard.

Comment author: DSimon 05 March 2012 10:27:39AM 1 point [-]

I have to disagree; the lesson in the quote is "Win as hard as you can", which is very important if not very complicated.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 05 March 2012 11:10:48AM 2 points [-]

I don't see the connection. If bringing a superior being to myself into existence is maximum win for me, that's not obvious. Not everyone, like Shaw's Don Juan, values the Superman.

Comment author: Spectral_Dragon 04 March 2012 02:13:50AM 0 points [-]

"The only sovereign I can allow to rule me is reason. The first law of reason is this: what exists exists; what is is. From this irreducible, bedrock principle, all knowledge is built. This is the foundation from which life is embraced. Reason is a choice. Wishes and whims are not facts, nor are they a means to discovering them. Reason is our only way of grasping reality--it is our basic tool of survival. We are free to evade the effort of thinking, to reject reason, but we are not free to avoid the penalty of the abyss we refuse to see."

-- Terry Goodkind, Faith of the fallen. I know quite a few here dislike the author, but there's still a lot of good material, like this one, or the Wizard Rules.

Comment author: michaelcurzi 02 March 2012 04:01:53AM *  1 point [-]

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57

(I like this quote, as long as it's shamelessly presented without context of the last line: "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." )

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 March 2012 01:04:42AM 2 points [-]

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

How do you interpret that line?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 12 March 2012 11:23:09AM *  2 points [-]

The sting of death is ignorance, and the power of ignorance is the indifference of the universe. We do not yet know how to stop death, and until we do, we will go on dying.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 03 March 2012 12:57:48PM *  0 points [-]

"Do you believe in revolution
Do you believe that everything will change
Policemen to people
And rats to pretty women
Do you think they will remake
Barracks to bar-rooms
Yperit to Coca-Cola
And truncheons to guitars?

Oh-oh, my naive
It will never be like that
Oh-oh, my naive
Life is like it is

Do you think that ever
Inferiority complexes will change to smiles
Petržalka to Manhattan
And dirty factories to hotels
Do you think they will elevate
Your idols to gods
That you will never have to
Bathe your sorrow with alcohol?

Oh-oh, my naive...

Do you think that suddenly
Everyone will reconcile with everyone
That no one will write you off
If you will have holes in your jeans
Do you think that in everything
Everyone will help you
That you will never have to be
Afraid of a higher power?

Oh-oh, my naive..."

My translation of a Slovak punk-rock song in 1990s "Slobodná Európa: Nikdy to tak nebude". Is it an example of an outside view, or just trying to reverse stupidity?