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Rationality Quotes April 2012

4 Post author: Oscar_Cunningham 03 April 2012 12:42AM

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  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB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 (858)

Comment author: Maniakes 03 April 2012 12:51:28AM 30 points [-]

There are big differences between "a study" and "a good study" and "a published study" and "a study that's been independently confirmed" and "a study that's been independently confirmed a dozen times over." These differences are important; when a scientist says something, it's not the same as the Pope saying it. It's only when dozens and hundreds of scientists start saying the same thing that we should start telling people to guzzle red wine out of a fire hose.

Chris Bucholz

Comment author: soreff 06 April 2012 05:53:00PM 6 points [-]

Mostly agreed. If I were to stand on a soapbox and say "light with a wavelength of 523.4371 nm is visible to the human eye", it would fall into the category of an unsubstantiated claim by a single person. But it is implied by the general knowledge that the human visual range is from roughly 400 nm to roughly 700 nm, and that has been confirmed by anyone who has looked at a spectrum with even crude wavelength calibration.

Comment author: Random832 13 April 2012 08:41:37PM *  19 points [-]

The other day I was thinking about Discworld, and then I remembered this and figured it would make a good rationality quote...

[Vimes] distrusted the kind of person who'd take one look at another man and say in a lordly voice to his companion, "Ah, my dear sir, I can tell you nothing except that he is a left-handed stonemason who has spent some years in the merchant navy and has recently fell on hard times," and then unroll a lot of supercilious commentary about calluses and stance and the state of a man's boots, when exactly the same comments could apply to a man who was wearing his old clothes because he'd been doing a spot of home bricklaying for a new barbecue pit, and had been tattooed once when he was drunk and seventeen and in fact got seasick on a wet pavement. What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience!

-- Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay

Comment author: RobinZ 14 April 2012 04:13:39AM 10 points [-]

Reminded of a quote I saw on TV Tropes of a MetaFilter comment by ericbop:

Encyclopedia Brown? What a hack! To this day, I occasionally reach into my left pocket for my keys with my right hand, just to prove that little brat wrong.

Comment author: tut 14 April 2012 09:27:31AM 2 points [-]

Sounds like Vimes doesn't like Sherlock Holmes much.

Comment author: VKS 03 April 2012 07:51:55AM 18 points [-]

Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules. To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry. ... To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery.

  • George Pólya, How to Solve It
Comment author: MixedNuts 09 April 2012 11:59:30AM 5 points [-]

...and that's why the rule doesn't apply to the reference class of cases I just constructed to only contain my own, Officer.

Comment author: Stephanie_Cunnane 05 April 2012 04:09:46AM 17 points [-]

I believe I am accurate in saying that educators too are interested in learnings which make a difference. Simple knowledge of facts has its value. To know who won the battle of Poltava, or when the umpteenth opus of Mozart was first performed, may win $64,000 or some other sum for the possessor of this information, but I believe educators in general are a little embarrassed by the assumption that the acquisition of such knowledge constitutes education. Speaking of this reminds me of a forceful statement made by a professor of agronomy in my freshman year in college. Whatever knowledge I gained in his course has departed completely, but I remember how, with World War I as his background, he was comparing factual knowledge with ammunition. He wound up his little discourse with the exhortation, "Don't be a damned ammunition wagon; be a rifle!"

-Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy (1961)

Comment author: EditedToAdd 02 April 2012 04:51:17PM 17 points [-]

But, the hard part comes after you conquer the world. What kind of world are you thinking of creating?

Johan Liebert, Monster

Comment author: VKS 03 April 2012 08:52:49PM 13 points [-]

Don't just read it; fight it! Ask your own questions, look for your own examples, discover your own proofs. Is the hypothesis necessary? Is the converse true? What happens in the classical special case? What about the degenerate case? Where does the proof use the hypothesis?

  • Paul Halmos
Comment author: Stephanie_Cunnane 09 April 2012 02:15:40AM 12 points [-]

From this moment forward, remember this: What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. Efficiency is still important, but it is useless unless applied to the right things.

-Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

Comment author: CronoDAS 13 April 2012 08:18:15AM 3 points [-]

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently what should not be done at all.

-- Peter Drucker

(I've quoted this line several times before.)

Comment author: Stephanie_Cunnane 04 April 2012 03:27:55AM 32 points [-]

Another learning which cost me much to recognize, can be stated in four words. The facts are friendly.

It has interested me a great deal that most psychotherapists, especially the psychoanalysts, have steadily refused to make any scientific investigation of their therapy, or to permit others to do this. I can understand this reaction because I have felt it. Especially in our early investigations I can well remember the anxiety of waiting to see how the findings came out. Suppose our hypotheses were disproved! Suppose we were mistaken in our views! Suppose our opinions were not justified! At such times, as I look back, it seems to me that I regarded the facts as potential enemies, as possible bearers of disaster. I have perhaps been slow in coming to realize that the facts are always friendly. Every bit of evidence one can acquire, in any area, leads one that much closer to what is true. And being closer to the truth can never be a harmful or dangerous or unsatisfying thing. So while I still hate to readjust my thinking, still hate to give up old ways of perceiving and conceptualizing, yet at some deeper level I have, to a considerable degree, come to realize that these painful reorganizations are what is known as learning, and that though painful they always lead to a more satisfying because somewhat more accurate way of seeing life. Thus at the present time one of the most enticing areas for thought and speculation is an area where several of my pet ideas have not been upheld by the evidence, I feel if I can only puzzle my way through this problem that I will find a much more satisfying approximation to the truth. I feel sure the facts will be my friends.

-Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy (1961)

Comment author: Dorikka 05 April 2012 04:54:55PM 7 points [-]

Facts are friendly on average, that is. Individual pieces of evidence might lead you to update towards a wrong conclusion. /nitpick

Comment author: wedrifid 05 April 2012 04:56:36PM 2 points [-]

Facts are friendly on average, that is. Individual pieces of evidence might lead you to update towards a wrong conclusion. /nitpick

Even then we could potentially nitpick even further, depending on what is meant by 'average'.

Comment author: maia 12 April 2012 05:22:24PM 10 points [-]

Suppose you know a golfer's score on day 1 and are asked to predict his score on day 2. You expect the golfer to retain the same level of talent on the second day, so your best guesses will be "above average" for the [better-scoring] player and "below average" for the [worse-scoring] player. Luck, of course, is a different matter. Since you have no way of predicting the golfers' luck on the second (or any) day, your best guess must be that it will be average, neither good nor bad. This means that in the absence of any other information, your best guess about the players' score on day 2 should not be a repeat of their performance on day 1. ...

The best predicted performance on day 2 is more moderate, closer to the average than the evidence on which it is based (the score on day 1). This is why the pattern is called regression to the mean. The more extreme the original score, the more regression we expect, because an extremely good score suggests a very lucky day. The regressive prediction is reasonable, but its accuracy is not guaranteed. A few of the golfers who scored 66 on day 1 will do even better on the second day, if their luck improves. Most will do worse, because their luck will no longer be above average.

Now let us go against the time arrow. Arrange the players by their performance on day 2 and look at their performance on day 1. You will find precisely the same pattern of regression to the mean. ... The fact that you observe regression when you predict an early event from a later event should help convince you that regression does not have a causal explanation.

  • Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
Comment author: CronoDAS 13 April 2012 08:34:52AM *  4 points [-]

If you know the scores of two different golfers on day 1, then you know more than if you know the score of only one golfer on day 1. You can't predict the direction in which regression to the mean will occur if your data set is a single point.

The following all have different answers:

I play a certain video game a lot. The last time I played it, my score was 39700. What's your best guess for my score the next time I play it?

(The answer is 39700; I'm probably not going to improve with practice, and you have no way to know if 39700 is unusually good or unusually bad.)

My friend and I both play a certain video game a lot. The last time I played it, my score was 39700. The last time my friend played it, his score was 32100. What's your best guess for my score the next time I play it?

(The answer is some number less than 39700; knowing that my friend got a lower score gives you a reason to believe that 39700 might be higher than normal.)

I played a video game for the first time yesterday. My score was 39700, and higher scores are better than lower ones. What's your best guess for my score the next time I play it?

(The answer is some number higher than 39700, because I'm no longer an absolute beginner.)

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 01 April 2012 02:08:01PM 44 points [-]

I understand what an equation means if I have a way of figuring out the characteristics of its solution without actually solving it.

Paul Dirac

Comment author: Mark_Eichenlaub 02 April 2012 12:03:19AM *  27 points [-]

Gene Hofstadt: You people. You think money is the answer to every problem.

Don Draper: No, just this particular problem.

Mad Men, "My Old Kentucky Home"

Comment author: FiftyTwo 03 April 2012 09:47:12PM *  15 points [-]

Another good one from Don Draper:

I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie, there is no system, the universe is indifferent.

Comment author: maia 12 April 2012 05:51:31PM 9 points [-]

A shortcut for making less-biased predictions, taking base averages into account.

Regarding this problem: "Julie is currently a senior in a state university. She read fluently when she was four years old. What is her grade point average (GPA)?"

Recall that the correlation between two measures - in the present case, reading age and GPA - is equal to the proportion of shared factors among their determinants. What is your best guess about that proportion? My most optimistic guess is about 30%. Assuming this estimate, we have all we need to produce an unbiased prediction. Here are the directions for how to get there in four simple steps:

  1. Start with an estimate of average GPA.
  2. Determine the GPA that matches your impression of the evidence.
  3. Estimate the correlation between your evidence and GPA.
  4. If the correlation is .30, move 30% of the distance from the average to the matching GPA.
  • Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
Comment author: Yvain 02 April 2012 12:55:42PM 36 points [-]

On counter-signaling, how not to do:

US police investigated a parked car with a personalized plate reading "SMUGLER". They found the vehicle, packed with 24 lb (11 kg) of narcotics, parked near the Canadian border at a hotel named "The Smugglers' Inn." Police believed the trafficker thought that being so obvious would deter the authorities.

-- The Irish Independent, "News In Brief"

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 April 2012 07:06:46PM *  9 points [-]

Maybe the guy had been reading too much Edgar Allan Poe? As a child, I loved "The Purloined Letter" and tried to play that trick on my sister - taking something from her and hiding it "in plain sight". Of course, she found it immediately.

ETA: it was a girl, not a guy.

Comment author: RobertLumley 03 April 2012 01:32:15AM 3 points [-]

I find it highly unlikely that this is the whole story. Surely the police are not licensed to investigate a car based solely on its vanity plate and where it was parked...

Comment author: TimS 03 April 2012 01:44:35AM 9 points [-]

You are probably right that more information drew police attention to the car, but "near the border" gets one most of the way to legally justified. In the 1970s, the US Supreme Court explicitly approved a permanent checkpoint approximately 50 miles north of the Mexican border.

Comment author: RobertLumley 03 April 2012 01:49:42AM 6 points [-]

Well that's a rather depressing piece of law...

Comment author: [deleted] 27 April 2012 07:39:39AM 8 points [-]

Generally when I see write-ups of statistical results, I immediately go to the original source. The fact is that the media is liable to simply shade and color the results to suit their own pat narrative. That’s just human nature.

--Razib Khan, source

Comment author: lsparrish 04 April 2012 03:19:15AM 22 points [-]

What really matters is:–

  1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else.

  2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don't implement promises, but keep them.

  3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean "More people died" don't say "Mortality rose."

  4. In writing. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, "Please will you do my job for me."

  5. Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

-- C. S. Lewis

Comment author: VKS 04 April 2012 10:23:55AM 32 points [-]

Just as there are odors that dogs can smell and we cannot, as well as sounds that dogs can hear and we cannot, so too there are wavelengths of light we cannot see and flavors we cannot taste. Why then, given our brains wired the way they are, does the remark, "Perhaps there are thoughts we cannot think," surprise you?

  • Richard Hamming
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 April 2012 08:10:47PM 25 points [-]

It surprises people like Greg Egan, and they're not entirely stupid, because brains are Turing complete modulo the finite memory - there's no analogue of that for visible wavelengths.

Comment author: AspiringKnitter 05 April 2012 06:05:40AM 23 points [-]

If this weren't Less Wrong, I'd just slink away now and pretend I never saw this, but:

I don't understand this comment, but it sounds important. Where can I go and what can I read that will cause me to understand statements like this in the future?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 05 April 2012 09:15:23AM *  31 points [-]

When speaking about sensory inputs, it makes sense to say that different species (even different individuals) have different ranges, so one can percieve something and other can't.

With computation it is known that sufficiently strong programming languages are in some sense equal. For example, you could speak about relative advantages of Basic, C/C++, Java, Lisp, Pascal, Python, etc., but in each of these languages you can write a simulator of the remaining ones. This means that if an algorithm can be implemented in one of these languages, it can be implemented in all of them -- in worst case, it would be implemented as a simulation of another language running its native implementation.

There are some technical details, though. Simulating another program is slower and requires more memory than the original program. So it could be argued that on a given hardware you could do a program in language X which uses all the memory and all available time, so it does not necessarily follow that you can do the same program in language Y. But on this level of abstraction we ignore hardware limits. We assume that the computer is fast enough and has enough memory for whatever purpose. (More precisely, we assume that in available time a computer can do any finite number of computation steps; but it cannot do an infinite number of steps. The memory is also unlimited, but in a finite time you can only manage to use a finite amount of memory.)

So on this level of abstraction we only care about whether something can or cannot be implemented by a computer. We ignore time and space (i.e. speed and memory) constraints. Some problems can be solved by algorithms, others can not. (Then, there are other interesting levels of abstraction which care about time and space complexity of algorithms.)

Are all programming languages equal in the above sense? No. For example, although programmers generally want to avoid infinite loops in their programs, if you remove a potential for infinite loops from the programming language (e.g. in Pascal you forbid "while" and "repeat" commands, and a possibility to call functions recursively), you lose ability to simulate programming languages which have this potential, and you lose ability to solve some problems. On the other hand, some universal programming languages seem extremely simple -- a famous example is a Turing machine. This is very useful, because it is easier to do mathematical proofs about a simple language. For example if you invent a new programming language X, all you have to do to prove its universality, is to write a Turing machine simulator, which is usually very simple.

Now back to the original discussion... Eliezer suggests that brain functionality should be likened to computation, not to sensory input. A human brain is computationally universal, because (given enough time, pen and paper) we can simulate a computer program, so all brains should be equal when optimally used (differing only in speed and use of resources). In another comment he adds that ability to compute isn't the same as ability to understand. Therefore (my conclusion) what one human can understand, another human can at least correctly calculate without understanding, given a correct algorithm.

Comment author: AspiringKnitter 05 April 2012 07:51:31PM 6 points [-]

Wow. That's really cool, thank you. Upvoted you, jeremysalwen and Nornagest. :)

Could you also explain why the HPMoR universe isn't Turing computable? The time-travel involved seems simple enough to me.

Comment author: thomblake 05 April 2012 08:57:48PM 7 points [-]

Not a complete answer, but here's commentary from a ffdn review of Chapter 14:

Kevin S. Van Horn
7/24/10 . chapter 14
Harry is jumping to conclusions when he tells McGonagall that the Time-Turner isn't even Turing computable. Time travel simulation is simply a matter of solving fixed-point equation f(x) = x. Here x is the information sent back in time, and f is a function that maps the information received from the future to the information that gets sent back in time. If a solution exists at all, you can find it to any desired degree of accuracy by simply enumerating all possible rational values of x until you find one that satisfies the equation. And if f is known to be both continuous and have a convex compact range, then the Brouwer fixed-point theorem guarantees that there will be a solution.

So the only way I can see that simulating the Time-Turner wouldn't be Turing computable would be if the physical laws of our universe give rise to fixed-point equations that have no solutions. But the existence of the Time-Turner then proves that the conditions leading to no solution can never arise.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 06 April 2012 02:04:48AM 7 points [-]

I got the impression that what "not Turing-computable" meant is that there's no way to only compute what 'actually happens'; you have to somehow iteratively solve the fixed-point equation, maybe necessarily generating experiences (waves hands confusedly) corresponding to the 'false' timelines.

Comment author: tgb 10 April 2012 11:29:12PM 2 points [-]

Sounds rather like our own universe, really.

Comment author: johnswentworth 09 April 2012 10:52:42PM 3 points [-]

There's also the problem of an infinite number of possible solutions.

Comment author: Nornagest 05 April 2012 06:42:10AM *  3 points [-]

A computational system is Turing complete if certain features of its operation can reproduce those of a Turing machine, which is a sort of bare-bones abstracted model of the low-level process of computation. This is important because you can, in principle, simulate the active parts of any Turing complete system in any other Turing complete system (though doing so will be inefficient in a lot of cases); in other words, if you've got enough time and memory, you can calculate anything calculable with any system meeting a fairly minimal set of requirements. Thanks to this result, we know that there's a deep symmetry between different flavors of computation that might not otherwise be obvious. There are some caveats, though: in particular, the idealized version of a Turing machine assumes infinite memory.

Now, to answer your actual question, the branch of mathematics that this comes from is called computability theory, and it's related to the study of mathematical logic and formal languages. The textbook I got most of my understanding of it from is Hopcroft, Motwani, and Ullman's Introduction to Automata Theory, Languages, and Computation, although it might be worth looking through the "Best Textbooks on Every Subject" thread to see if there's a consensus on another.

Comment author: jeremysalwen 05 April 2012 06:18:04AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: Vaniver 04 April 2012 08:35:43PM 6 points [-]

brains are Turing complete modulo the finite memory

What does that statement mean in the context of thoughts?

That is, when I think about human thoughts I think about information processing algorithms, which typically rely on hardware set up for that explicit purpose. So even though I might be able to repurpose my "verbal manipulation" module to do formal logic, that doesn't mean I have a formal logic module.

Any defects in my ability to repurpose might be specific to me: I might able to think the thought "A-> B, ~A, therefore ~B" with the flavor of trueness, and another person can only think that thought with the flavor of falseness. If the truth flavor is as much a part of the thought as the textual content, then the second thinker cannot think the thought that the first thinker can.

Aren't there people who can hear sounds but not music? Are their brains not Turing complete? Are musical thoughts ones they cannot think?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 April 2012 09:33:35PM 14 points [-]

It means nothing, although Greg Egan is quite impressed by it. Sad but true: Someone with an IQ of, say, 90 can be trained to operate a Turing machine, but will in all probability never understand matrix calculus. The belief that Turing-complete = understanding-complete is false. It just isn't stupid.

Comment author: komponisto 05 April 2012 09:57:52PM 3 points [-]

[That human brains are Turing-complete] means nothing, although Greg Egan is quite impressed by it. Sad but true: Someone with an IQ of, say, 90 can be trained to operate a Turing machine, but will in all probability never understand matrix calculus.

It doesn't mean nothing; it means that people (like machines) can be taught to do things without understanding them.

(They can also be taught to understand, provided you reduce understanding to Turing-machine computations, which is harder. "Understanding that 1+1 = 2" is not the same thing as being able to output "2" to the query "1+1=".)

Comment author: Will_Newsome 04 April 2012 09:13:02PM *  6 points [-]

Aren't there people who can hear sounds but not music?

FWIW I've read a study that says about 50% of people can't tell the difference between a major and a minor chord even when you label them happy/sad. [ETA: Happy/sad isn't the relevant dimension, see the replies to this comment.] I have no idea how probable that is, but if true it would imply that half of the American population basically can't hear music.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 April 2012 04:05:43PM 16 points [-]


It shocked the hell out of me, too.

Comment author: Dmytry 05 April 2012 04:55:31PM *  4 points [-]

This is weird. It is hard for me to hear the difference in the cadence, but crystal clear otherwise. In the cadence, the problem for me is that the notes are dragging on, like when you press pedal on piano a bit, that makes it hard to discern the difference.

Maybe they lost something in retelling here? Made up new stimuli for which it doesn't work because of harmonics or something?

Or maybe its just me and everyone on this thread? I have a lot of trouble hearing speech through noise (like that of flowing water), i always have to tell others, i am not hearing what you're saying i am washing the dishes. Though i've no idea how well other people can hear something when they are washing the dishes; maybe i care too much not to pretend to listen when i don't hear.

This needs proper study.

Comment author: arundelo 05 April 2012 11:22:03PM *  4 points [-]

The following recordings are played on an acoustic instrument by a human (me), and they have spaces in between the chords. The chord sequences are randomly generated (which means that the major-to-minor ratio is not necessarily 1:1, but all of them do have a mixture of major and minor chords).

Each of the following two recordings is a sequence of eight C major or C minor chords:

Each of the following two recordings is a sequence of eight "cadences" -- groups of four chords that are either

F B♭ C F


F B♭ Cminor F

Edit: Here's a listing of the chords in all four sound files.

Edit 2 (2012-Apr-22): I added another recording that contains these chords:

F B♭ C F
F B♭ Cmi F

repeated over and over, while the balance between the voices is varied, from "all voices roughly equal" to "only the second voice from the top audible". The second voice from the top is the only one that is different on the C minor chord. My idea is that hearing the changing voice foregrounded from its context like this might make it easier to pick it out when it's not foregrounded.

Comment author: Scottbert 09 April 2012 03:12:11PM 3 points [-]

Ditto for me -- The difference between the two chords is crystal clear, but in the cadence I can barely hear it.

I'm not a professional, but I sang in school chorus for 6 years, was one of the more skilled singers there, I've studied a little musical theory, and I apparently have a lot of natural talent. And the first time I heard the version played in cadence I didn't notice the difference at all. Freaky. I know how that post-doc felt when she couldn't hear the difference in the chords.

Comment author: majus 10 April 2012 11:31:02PM 5 points [-]

In Pinker's book "How the Mind Works" he asks the same question. His observation (as I recall) was that much of our apparently abstract logical abilities are done by mapping abstractions like math onto evolved subsystems with different survival purposes in our ancestors: pattern recognition, 3D spatial visualization, etc. He suggests that some problems seem intractable because they don't map cleanly to any of those subsystems.

Comment author: MixedNuts 04 April 2012 04:06:45PM 3 points [-]

Because thoughts don't behave much like perceptions at all, so that wouldn't occur to us or convince us much once we hear it. Are there any thoughtlike things we don't get but can indirectly manipulate?

Comment author: Vaniver 04 April 2012 05:20:23PM 7 points [-]

Parity transforms as rotations in four-dimensional space.

Comment author: VKS 04 April 2012 04:17:21PM *  9 points [-]

Extremely large numbers.

(among other things)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 April 2012 04:33:13PM 2 points [-]

thoughts don't behave much like perceptions at all

Can you expand on what you mean by that? There are many ways in which thoughts behave quite a bit like perceptions, which is unsurprising since they are both examples of operations clusters of neurons can perform, which is a relatively narrow class of operations. Video games behave quite a bit like spreadsheets in a similar way.

Of course, there are also many ways in which video games behave nothing at all like spreadsheets, and thoughts behave nothing like perceptions.

Comment author: iwdw 24 April 2012 03:48:57PM 7 points [-]

The fact that I can knock 12 points off a Hamilton Depression scale with an Ambien and a Krispy Kreme should serve as a warning about the validity and generalizability of the term "antidepressant."

Comment author: Wei_Dai 10 April 2012 05:41:47PM 7 points [-]


Chinese proverb, meaning "the onlooker sees things more clearly", or literally, "the player lost, the spectator clear"

Comment author: [deleted] 10 April 2012 05:48:38PM *  11 points [-]


Chinese proverb, "three men make a tiger", referring to a semi-mythological event during the Warring States period:

According to the Warring States Records, or Zhan Guo Ce, before he left on a trip to the state of Zhao, Pang Cong asked the King of Wei whether he would hypothetically believe in one civilian's report that a tiger was roaming the markets in the capital city, to which the King replied no. Pang Cong asked what the King thought if two people reported the same thing, and the King said he would begin to wonder. Pang Cong then asked, "what if three people all claimed to have seen a tiger?" The King replied that he would believe in it. Pang Cong reminded the King that the notion of a live tiger in a crowded market was absurd, yet when repeated by numerous people, it seemed real. As a high-ranking official, Pang Cong had more than three opponents and critics; naturally, he urged the King to pay no attention to those who would spread rumors about him while he was away. "I understand," the King replied, and Pang Cong left for Zhao. Yet, slanderous talk took place. When Pang Cong returned to Wei, the King indeed stopped seeing him.

-- Wikipedia

Comment author: RichardKennaway 11 April 2012 08:42:53AM 4 points [-]

In personal development workshops, the saying is, "the one with the mike in their hand is the last to see it." Of doctors and lawyers it is said that one who treats himself, or acts in court for himself, has a fool for a client.

Comment author: Rhwawn 06 April 2012 07:54:30PM 17 points [-]

By relieving the brain of all unnecessary work, a good notation sets it free to concentrate on more advanced problems, and, in effect, increases the mental power of the race.

Alfred North Whitehead, “An Introduction to Mathematics” (thanks to Terence Tao)

Comment author: Andy_McKenzie 01 April 2012 10:10:38PM 42 points [-]

A few years into this book, I was diagnosed as diabetic and received a questionnaire in the mail. The insurance carrier stated that diabetics often suffer from depression and it was worried about me. One of the questions was “Do you think about death?” Yes, I do. “How often?” the company wanted to know. “Yearly? Monthly? Weekly? Daily?” And if daily, how many times per day? I dutifully wrote in, “About 70 times per day.” The next time I saw my internist, she told me the insurer had recommended psychotherapy for my severe depression. I explained to her why I thought about death all day—merely an occupational hazard—and she suggested getting therapy nonetheless. I thought, fine, it might help with the research.

The therapist found me tragically undepressed, and I asked her if she could help me design a new life that would maximize the few years that I had left. After all, one should have a different life strategy at sixty than at twenty. She asked why I thought I was going to die and why I had such a great fear of death. I said, I am going to die. It’s not a fear; it’s a reality. There must be some behavior that could be contraindicated for a man my age but other normally dangerous behavior that takes advantage of the fact that I am risking fewer years at sixty or sixty-five years of age than I was at twenty or twenty-five (such as crimes that carry a life sentence, crushing at age twenty but less so at age sixty-five). Surely psychology must have something to say on the topic. Turns out, according to my therapist, it does not. There was therapy for those with terminal illness, for the bereaved, for the about-to-be-bereaved, for professionals who dealt with terminal patients, and so on, but there was nothing for people who were simply aware that their life would come to a natural end. It would seem to me that this is a large, untapped market. The therapist advised me not to think about death.

Dick Teresi, The Undead

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 02 April 2012 06:02:54AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: Nisan 02 April 2012 05:51:56PM 5 points [-]

I like the first video, but I wish it ended at 4:20. It reminds me a lot of Ecclesiastes, which is a refreshingly honest essay about the meaning of life, with the moral "and therefore you should do what God wants you to do" tacked on at the end by an anonymous editor.

Comment author: asparisi 20 April 2012 07:23:30PM 6 points [-]

"If you had a choice between the ability to detect falsehood and the ability to discover truth, which would you take? There was a time when I thought they were different ways of saying the same thing, but I no longer believe that. Most of my relatives, for example, are almost as good at seeing through subterfuge as they are at perpetrating it. I'm not at all sure, though, that they care much about truth. On the other hand, I'd always felt there was something noble, special, and honorable about seeking truth..."

  • Merlin, Sign of Chaos
Comment author: Vaniver 01 April 2012 11:20:25PM 16 points [-]

For those who feel deeply about contemporary politics, certain topics have become so infected by considerations of prestige that a genuinely rational approach to them is almost impossible.

-George Orwell

Comment author: Multiheaded 10 April 2012 02:29:29PM *  4 points [-]

Sadly, there's no need of any adjective before "Politics" here. It's a fully general statement.

Comment author: Elithrion 03 April 2012 01:38:31AM *  23 points [-]

"What really is the point of trying to teach anything to anybody?" This question seemed to provoke a murmur of sympathetic approval from up and down the table. Richard continued, "What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that's really the essence of programming. By the time you've sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you've learned something about it yourself."

Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Comment author: [deleted] 12 April 2012 07:39:12AM 14 points [-]

The most fundamental form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do in the first place


Comment author: Alejandro1 02 April 2012 07:08:33PM 21 points [-]

On politics as the mind-killer:

We’re at the point where people are morally certain about the empirical facts of what happened between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman on the basis of their general political worldviews. This isn’t exactly surprising—we are tribal creatures who like master narratives—but it feels as though it’s gotten more pronounced recently, and it’s almost certainly making us all stupider.

-- Julian Sanchez (the whole post is worth reading)

Comment author: RobertLumley 03 April 2012 01:42:13AM 4 points [-]

It starts to seem, as Albert Camus once put it, that we’ve made the mind into an armed camp—in which not only politicians and legislative proposals, but moral philosophies, artworks, even scientific theories, have to wear the insignia of one or the other army

Does anyone know the exact quote to which he is referring here?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 April 2012 09:47:52PM 10 points [-]

We've reached the point where the weather is political, and so are third person pronouns.

Comment author: RobertLumley 03 April 2012 01:55:58AM 4 points [-]

I think it's this but I'm not sure:

The Greeks never made the human mind into an armed camp, and in this respect we are inferior to them.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 April 2012 03:46:26AM 8 points [-]

Tell that to Socrates.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 03 April 2012 09:55:58PM 4 points [-]

Given that they supposedly drowned people for discussing irrational numbers that seems false.

Comment author: A4FB53AC 01 April 2012 03:48:12PM *  26 points [-]

A faith which cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets.

Arthur C. Clarke

Comment author: Multiheaded 04 April 2012 12:59:14PM 9 points [-]

The trouble is, the most problematic kinds of faith can survive it just fine.

Comment author: gwern 07 April 2012 08:48:11PM 6 points [-]

Which leads us to today's Umeshism: "Why are existing religions so troublesome? Because they're all false, the only ones that exist are so dangerous that they can survive the truth."

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 08 April 2012 03:00:44PM 3 points [-]

That's very nice to say, but people are apt to find giving up some faiths very emotionally wrenching and socially costly (even if the faith isn't high status, a believer is likely to have a lot of relationships with people who are also believers). Now what?

Comment author: Klevador 14 April 2012 04:48:48AM *  12 points [-]

Any collocation of persons, no matter how numerous, how scant, how even their homogeneity, how firmly they profess common doctrine, will presently reveal themselves to consist of smaller groups espousing variant versions of the common creed; and these sub-groups will manifest sub-sub-groups, and so to the final limit of the single individual, and even in this single person conflicting tendencies will express themselves.

— Jack Vance, The Languages of Pao

Comment author: [deleted] 17 April 2012 10:52:27AM 7 points [-]

Shorter version:

Quot homines, tot sententiae (as many people, so many opinions)

-- Terence, Phormio

Comment author: MixedNuts 20 April 2012 05:52:14PM 3 points [-]

My favorite:

Two {people, rabbis, economists}, three opinions.

Comment author: Multiheaded 06 April 2012 08:20:31PM *  18 points [-]

[Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all "progressive" thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flag and loyalty-parades.

However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarized version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a grudging way, have said to people "I offer you a good time," Hitler has said to them "I offer you struggle, danger and death," and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.

(George Orwell's review of Mein Kampf)

(well, we have videogames now, yet... we gotta make them better! more vicseral!)

Comment author: Oligopsony 11 April 2012 05:44:17AM 3 points [-]

I don't see that that's true. Germany loved Hitler when he was giving them job security and easy victories and became much less popular once the struggle and danger and death arrived on the scene.

Comment author: Spurlock 02 April 2012 04:45:14AM 22 points [-]

"Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad‘Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson"

Frank Herbert, Dune

Comment author: gwern 04 April 2012 12:53:26AM 8 points [-]
Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 02 April 2012 06:10:24AM *  19 points [-]

It took me years to learn not to feel afraid due to a perceived status threat when I was having a hard time figuring something out.

A good way to make it hard for me to learn something is to tell me that how quickly I understand it is an indicator of my intellectual aptitude.

Comment author: Spurlock 02 April 2012 03:32:25PM 18 points [-]

Interesting article about a study on this effect:

Dweck’s researchers then gave all the fifth-graders a final round of tests that were engineered to be as easy as the first round. Those who had been praised for their effort significantly improved on their first score—by about 30 percent. Those who’d been told they were smart did worse than they had at the very beginning—by about 20 percent.

Dweck had suspected that praise could backfire, but even she was surprised by the magnitude of the effect. “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 April 2012 04:23:00PM 8 points [-]

This seems like a more complicated explanation than the data supports. It seems simpler, and equally justified, to say that praising effort leads to more effort, which is a good thing on tasks where more effort yields greater success.

I would be interested to see a variation on this study where the second-round problems were engineered to require breaking of established first-round mental sets in order to solve them. What effect does praising effort after the first round have in this case?

Perhaps it leads to more effort, which may be counterproductive for those sorts of problems, and thereby lead to less success than emphasizing intelligence. Or, perhaps not. I'm not making a confident prediction here, but I'd consider a praising-effort-yields-greater-success result more surprising (and thus more informative) in that scenario than the original one.

Comment author: Spurlock 02 April 2012 05:07:46PM 6 points [-]

I agree that the data doesn't really distinguish this explanation from the effect John Maxwell described, mainly I just linked it because the circumstances seemed reminiscent and I thought he might find it interesting. Its worth noting though that these aren't competing explanations: your interpretation focuses on explaining the success of the "effort" group, and the other focuses on the failure of the "intelligence" group.

To help decide which hypothesis accounts for most of the difference, there should really have been a control group that was just told "well done" or something. Whichever group diverged the most from the control, that group would be the one where the choice of praise had the greatest effect.

Comment author: undermind 03 April 2012 01:50:27PM *  7 points [-]

I've seen this study cited a lot; it's extremely relevant to smart self- and other-improvement. But there are various possible interpretations of the results, besides what the authors came up with... Also, how much has this study been replicated?

I'd like to see a top-level post about it.

Comment author: Pavitra 05 April 2012 12:59:38PM 11 points [-]

In the real world things are very different. You just need to look around you. Nobody wants to die that way. People die of disease and accident. Death comes suddenly and there is no notion of good or bad. It leaves, not a dramatic feeling but great emptiness. When you lose someone you loved very much you feel this big empty space and think, 'If I had known this was coming I would have done things differently.'

Yoshinori Kitase

Comment author: [deleted] 02 April 2012 05:13:52PM *  11 points [-]

I first encountered this in a physics newsgroup, after some crank was taking some toy model way too seriously:

Analogies are like ropes; they tie things together pretty well, but you won't get very far if you try to push them.

Thaddeus Stout Tom Davidson

(I remembered something like "if you pull them too much, they break down", actually...)

Comment author: tgb 01 April 2012 01:30:37PM *  11 points [-]

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

-- Christina Rossetti, Who has seen the Wind?

Comment author: BlazeOrangeDeer 02 April 2012 05:44:59AM *  2 points [-]

Interestingly enough, this is my friend's parents response when asked why they believe in an invisible god. I suppose they haven't considered that the leaves and trees may be messed up enough to shake of their own accord.

Comment author: tgb 02 April 2012 11:12:25AM *  5 points [-]


It is rather unlikely that Christina Rossetti intended this to be a rationalist quote in a sense we would identify with. I do read it as an argument for scientific realism and belief in the implied invisible, but it seems likely that she was merely being poetic or that she was making a pro-religion argument, given her background. Of course the beauty of this system is that if someone quotes this to you as an argument for God (or anything), you can ask them what the leaves and trees are for their wind and thus get at their true argument.

Furthermore, the context in which I first read it is the video game Braid, juvpu cerfragrq vg va gur pbagrkg bs gur chefhvg bs fpvrapr. I would highly recommend this game, by the way.

Comment author: Kutta 01 April 2012 01:00:30PM *  11 points [-]

He who knows how to do something is the servant of he who knows why that thing must be done.

-- Isuna Hasekura, Spice and Wolf vol. 5 ("servant" is justified by the medieval setting).

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 02 April 2012 06:12:57AM 3 points [-]

I don't get it.

Comment author: Vaniver 02 April 2012 05:21:34PM 3 points [-]

Short explanation: the person that knows why a thing must be done is generally the person who decides what must be done. Application to rationality: instrumental rationality is a method that serves goals. The part that values and the part that implements are distinct. (Also, you can see the separation of terminal and instrumental values.)

Comment author: gwern 04 April 2012 12:49:55AM 5 points [-]

And explains why businessmen keep more of the money than the random techies they hire.

Comment author: Blueberry 02 April 2012 07:48:02AM 2 points [-]

Would "servant" not otherwise be justified?

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 April 2012 01:39:22PM *  4 points [-]

If it can fool ten thousand users all at once (which ought to be dead simple, just add more servers), does that make it ten thousand times more human than Alan Turing?

Bruce Sterling

Comment author: FiftyTwo 03 April 2012 09:31:53PM 15 points [-]

I know a lot of scientists as well as laymen are scornful of philosophy - perhaps understandably so. Reading academic philosophy journals often makes my heart sink too. But without exception, we all share philosophical background assumptions and presuppositions. The penalty of _not _ doing philosophy isn't to transcend it, but simply to give bad philosophical arguments a free pass.

David Pearce

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 04 April 2012 09:57:59AM 5 points [-]

This is analogous to my main worry as someone who considers himself a part of the anti-metaphysical tradition (like Hume, the Logical Positivists, and to an extent Less Wrongers): what if by avoiding metaphysics I am simply doing bad metaphysics.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 01 April 2012 02:07:43PM 15 points [-]

You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way.

Marvin Minsky

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 02 April 2012 05:39:48AM *  10 points [-]

Don't kid yourself, just because you got the correct numerical answer to a problem is not justification that you understand the physics of the problem. You must understand all the logical steps in arriving at that solution or you have gained nothing, right answer or not.

My old physics professor David Newton (yes, apparently that's the name he was born with) on how to study physics.

Comment author: gwern 07 April 2012 07:30:53PM 7 points [-]

A novice was trying to fix a broken Lisp machine by turning the power off and on.

Knight, seeing what the student was doing, spoke sternly: “You cannot fix a machine by just power-cycling it with no understanding of what is going wrong.”

Knight turned the machine off and on.

The machine worked.

--Some AI Koans, collected by ESR

Comment author: Alejandro1 03 April 2012 05:01:58PM 17 points [-]

‘I’m exactly in the position of the man who said, ‘I can believe the impossible, but not the improbable.’’

‘That’s what you call a paradox, isn’t it?’ asked the other.

‘It’s what I call common sense, properly understood,’ replied Father Brown. ’It really is more natural to believe a preternatural story, that deals with things we don’t understand, than a natural story that contradicts things we do understand. Tell me that the great Mr Gladstone, in his last hours, was haunted by the ghost of Parnell, and I will be agnostic about it. But tell me that Mr Gladstone, when first presented to Queen Victoria, wore his hat in her drawing-room and slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, and I am not agnostic at all. That is not impossible; it’s only incredible.

-G. K. Chesterton, The Curse of the Golden Cross

Comment author: CronoDAS 04 April 2012 03:13:41AM 25 points [-]

"What was the Sherlock Holmes principle? 'Once you have discounted the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.'"

"I reject that entirely," said Dirk sharply. "The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks. How often have you been presented with an apparently rational explanation of something that works in all respects other than one, which is just that it is hopelessly improbable? Your instinct is to say, 'Yes, but he or she simply wouldn't do that.'"

"Well, it happened to me today, in fact," replied Kate.

"Ah, yes," said Dirk, slapping the table and making the glasses jump. "Your girl in the wheelchair -- a perfect example. The idea that she is somehow receiving yesterday's stock market prices apparently out of thin air is merely impossible, and therefore must be the case, because the idea that she is maintaining an immensely complex and laborious hoax of no benefit to herself is hopelessly improbable. The first idea merely supposes that there is something we don't know about, and God knows there are enough of those. The second, however, runs contrary to something fundamental and human which we do know about. We should therefore be very suspicious of it and all its specious rationality."

-- Douglas Adams. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988) p.169

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 April 2012 01:07:00PM 7 points [-]

I can't find the quote easily (it's somewhere in God, No!), but Penn Jillette has said that one aspect of magic tricks is the magician putting in more work to set them up than anyone sane would expect.

I'm moderately sure that he's overestimating how clearly the vast majority of people think about what's needed to make a magic trick work.

Comment author: arundelo 04 April 2012 02:51:32PM *  15 points [-]

His partner Teller says the same thing here:

Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth. You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest. My partner, Penn, and I once produced 500 live cockroaches from a top hat on the desk of talk-show host David Letterman. To prepare this took weeks. We hired an entomologist who provided slow-moving, camera-friendly cockroaches (the kind from under your stove don't hang around for close-ups) and taught us to pick the bugs up without screaming like preadolescent girls. Then we built a secret compartment out of foam-core (one of the few materials cockroaches can't cling to) and worked out a devious routine for sneaking the compartment into the hat. More trouble than the trick was worth? To you, probably. But not to magicians.

Edit: That trick is 19 minutes and 50 seconds into this video.

Comment author: gwern 04 April 2012 12:57:19AM 8 points [-]

The ghost of Parnell is Far, the presentation to the Queen is Near?

Comment author: Alejandro1 04 April 2012 03:34:04AM *  2 points [-]

Perhaps. I had thought of the quote in the context of a distinction between epistemic/Bayesian probability and physical possibility or probability. For us (though perhaps not for Father Brown) the ghost story is physically impossible, it contradicts the basic laws of reality, while the presentation story does not. (In terms of the MWI we might say that there is a branch of the wavefunction where Gladstone offered the Queen a cigar, but none where a ghost appeared to him.) However, we might very well be justified in assigning the ghost story a higher epistemic probability, because we have more underlying uncertainty about (to use your words) Far concepts like the possibility of ghosts than about Near ones like how Gladstone would have behaved in front of the Queen.

Comment author: dvasya 01 April 2012 04:01:25PM 17 points [-]

Our minds contain processes that enable us to solve problems we consider difficult. "Intelligence" is our name for whichever of those processes we don't yet understand.

Some people dislike this "definition" because its meaning is doomed to keep changing as we learn more about psychology. But in my view that's exactly how it ought to be, because the very concept of intelligence is like a stage magician's trick. Like the concept of "the unexplored regions of Africa," it disappears as soon as we discover it.

-- Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind

Comment author: Stephanie_Cunnane 03 April 2012 07:51:19AM 13 points [-]

In short, and I can't emphasize this strongly enough, a fundamental issue that any theory of psychology ultimately has to face is that brains are useful. They guide behavior. Any brain that didn't cause its owner to do useful--in the evolutionary sense--things, didn't cause reproduction.

-Robert Kurzban, Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind

Comment author: [deleted] 18 April 2012 12:44:24PM 8 points [-]

A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong. This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence. It is instructive to see what happens to these very people as their squat strength goes up.

-- Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength

Comment author: Manfred 22 April 2012 05:21:14AM 5 points [-]

Sample: men who come to this guy to get stronger, I assume?

Comment author: Nornagest 22 April 2012 06:37:02AM 3 points [-]

Hmm. This sort of thing seems plausible, but I wonder how much of it is strength-specific? I've heard of eudaimonic effects for exercise in general (not necessarily strength training) and for mastering any new skill, and I doubt he's filtering those out properly.

Comment author: lukeprog 15 April 2012 01:30:09PM 8 points [-]

Every intelligent ghost must contain a machine.

Aaron Sloman

Comment author: Bugmaster 05 April 2012 05:48:37AM *  14 points [-]

-- So... if they've got armor on, it's a battle !
-- And who told you that ?
-- A knight...
-- How'd you know he was a knight ?
-- Well... that's 'cause... he'd got armor on ?
-- You don't have to be a knight to buy armor. Any idiot can buy armor.
-- How do you know ?
-- 'Cause I sold armor.

-Game of Thrones (TV show)

Comment author: gwern 07 April 2012 05:47:58PM 7 points [-]

"The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it.

And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate."

--Francis Bacon, Novum Organum (1620) <!-- 1905 (Ellis, R. & Spedding, J., Trans.). London: Routledge. -->

Comment author: jsbennett86 03 April 2012 02:17:07AM *  13 points [-]

But when we have these irrational beliefs, these culturally coded assumptions, running so deep within our community and movement, how do we actually change that? How do we get people to further question themselves when they’ve already become convinced that they’re a rational person, a skeptic, and have moved on from irrationality, cognitive distortion and bias?

Well I think what we need to do is to change the fundamental structure and values of skepticism. We need to build our community and movement around slightly different premises.

As it has stood in the past, skepticism has been predicated on a belief in the power of the empirical and rational. It has been based on the premise that there is an empirical truth, and that it is knowable, and that certain tools and strategies like science and logic will allow us to reach that truth. In short, the “old guard” skepticism was based on a veneration of the rational. But the veneration of certain techniques or certain philosophies creates the problematic possibility of choosing to consider certain conclusions or beliefs to BE empirical and rational and above criticism, particularly beliefs derived from the “right” tools, and even more dangerously, to consider oneself “rational”.


I believe that in order to be able to question our own beliefs as well as we question those of others, we need to restructure skepticism around awareness of human limitation, irrationality and flaws. Rather than venerating the rational, and aspiring to become some kind of superhuman fully rational vulcan minds, we need to instead create a more human skepticism, built around understanding how belief operates, how we draw conclusions, and how we can cope with the human limitations. I believe we need to remove the focus from aspiring towards ridding ourselves of the irrational, and instead move the focus towards understanding how this irrationality operates and why we believe all the crazy things we believe. We need to position as our primary aspiration not the achievement of a perfect comprehending mind, but instead an ability to maintain constant hesitation and doubt, to always always ALWAYS second-guess our positions and understand that they’re being created through a flawed mind, from flawed perceptions.

Science and reason are excellent tools to allow us to cope with being crazy, irrational human beings, but it CANNOT allow us to transcend that. The instant we begin to believe that we have become A Skeptic, A Rational Person, that is when we’ve fucked up, that is when we stop practicing skepticism, stop keeping an eye out for our mistakes, and begin to imagine our irrational perceptions as perfect rational conclusions. It’s only by building a skepticism based on the practice of doubt, rather than the state of Skeptic, that we’ll truly be able to be move on from our assumptions.

Comment author: MixedNuts 04 April 2012 04:18:15PM 5 points [-]

Upvoted because I like Natalie Reed, but this is way too long. The key sentence seems to be

We need to position as our primary aspiration not the achievement of a perfect comprehending mind, but instead an ability to maintain constant hesitation and doubt, to always always ALWAYS second-guess our positions and understand that they’re being created through a flawed mind, from flawed perceptions.

Comment author: Particleman 03 April 2012 07:40:16PM 3 points [-]

Dear, my soul is grey
With poring over the long sum of ill;
So much for vice, so much for discontent...
Coherent in statistical despairs
With such a total of distracted life,
To see it down in figures on a page,
Plain, silent, clear, as God sees through the earth
The sense of all the graves, - that's terrible
For one who is not God, and cannot right
The wrong he looks on. May I choose indeed
But vow away my years, my means, my aims,
Among the helpers, if there's any help
In such a social strait? The common blood
That swings along my veins, is strong enough
To draw me to this duty.

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, 1856

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 April 2012 07:40:33PM 18 points [-]

Truth must necessarily be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it.

G. K. Chesterton

Comment author: Ezekiel 01 April 2012 11:27:00PM 8 points [-]

Zach Wiener's elegant disproof:

Think of the strangest thing that's true. Okay. Now add a monkey dressed as Hitler.

(Although to be fair, it's possible that the disproof fails because "think of the strangest thing that's true" is impossible for a human brain.)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 April 2012 12:24:19AM 8 points [-]

This quote seems relevant:

They must be true because, if there were not true, no one would have the imagination to invent them.

G. H. Hardy, upon receiving a letter containing mathematical formulae from Ramanujan

Comment author: Blueberry 02 April 2012 07:44:37AM 13 points [-]

It also fails in the case where the strangest thing that's true is an infinite number of monkeys dressed as Hitler. Then adding one doesn't change it.

More to the point, the comparison is more about typical fiction, rather than ad hoc fictional scenarios. There are very few fictional works with monkeys dressed as Hitler.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 April 2012 02:19:38AM 6 points [-]

Indeed, I posted this quote partially out of annoyance at a certain type of analysis I kept seeing in the MoR threads. Namely, person X benefited from the way event Y turned out; therefore, person X was behind event Y. After all, thinking like this about real life will quickly turn one into a tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 03 April 2012 09:52:54PM *  5 points [-]

Yes but in real life the major players don't have the ability to time travel, read minds, become invisible, manipulate probability etcetera, these make complex plans far more plausible than they would be in the real world. (That and conservation of detail.)

Comment author: Pavitra 05 April 2012 01:20:41PM 11 points [-]

In real life the major players are immune to mindreading, can communicate securely and instantaneously worldwide, and have tens of thousands of people working under them. You are, ironically, overlooking the strangeness of reality.

Conservation of detail may be a valid argument though.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 April 2012 03:46:42AM 4 points [-]

Conservation of detail may be a valid argument though.

Conservation of detail is one of the memetic hazards of reading too much fiction.

Comment author: gwern 04 April 2012 12:51:09AM 2 points [-]

Namely, person X benefited from the way event Y turned out; therefore, person X was behind event Y.

Which is exactly what MoR tells us to do to analyze it, is it not?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 April 2012 03:53:01AM 2 points [-]

That's still not a reason for assuming everyone is running perfect gambit roulettes.

Comment author: Ezekiel 02 April 2012 11:05:42AM 2 points [-]

Depends on the infinity. Ordinal infinities change when you add one to them.

If we're restricting ourselves to actual published fiction, I present Cory Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. The protagonist's parents are a mountain and a washing machine, it gets weirder from there, and the whole thing is played completely straight.

Comment author: gjm 03 April 2012 10:58:12AM 2 points [-]

Ordinal infinities change when you add one to them.

Depends on which end you add one at. :-)

(I mention this not because I think there's any danger Ezekiel doesn't know it, but just because it might pique someone's curiosity.)

Comment author: [deleted] 04 April 2012 02:29:02PM 4 points [-]

Doesn't work if (n + 1) monkeys dressed as Hitler are no stranger than n monkeys dressed as Hitler, and n monkeys dressed as Hitler are true.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 April 2012 05:49:36AM 10 points [-]

The fundamental rule of political analysis from the point of psychology is, follow the sacredness, and around it is a ring of motivated ignorance.

--Jonathan Haidt, source

Comment author: Multiheaded 16 April 2012 12:07:56PM *  7 points [-]

He also talks about how sacredness is one of the fundamental values for human communities, and how liberal/left-leaning theorists don't pay enough attention to it (and refuse to acknowledge their own sacred/profane areas).

I have more to say about his values theory, I'll post some thoughts later.

UPD: I wrote a little something, now I'm just gonna ask Konkvistador whether he thinks it's neutral enough or too political for LW.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 April 2012 03:03:56PM *  2 points [-]

Please make sure you do. I suspect it will be interesting. :)

Comment author: Spurlock 02 April 2012 04:44:28AM 15 points [-]

“The mind commands the body and it obeys. The mind orders itself and meets resistance. ”

-St Augustine of Hippo

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 April 2012 09:45:19PM 9 points [-]

The mind commands the body and it obeys.

Augustine has obviously never tried to learn something which requires complicated movement, or at least he didn't try it as an adult.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 April 2012 06:37:29PM 9 points [-]

All fiction needs to be taken both seriusly and not seriously.

Seriously because even the silliest of art can change minds.

Not seriously because no matter the delusions of the author, or the tone of the work, it's still fiction; entertainment, simulated on an human brain.

Rasmus Eide aka. Armok_GoB.

PS. This is not taken from an LW/OB post.

Comment author: spqr0a1 05 April 2012 11:44:50PM *  6 points [-]

To prize every thing according to its real use ought to be the aim of a rational being. There are few things which can much conduce to happiness, and, therefore, few things to be ardently desired. He that looks upon the business and bustle of the world, with the philosophy with which Socrates surveyed the fair at Athens, will turn away at last with his exclamation, 'How many things are here which I do not want'.

--Samuel Johnson, The Adventurer, #119, December 25, 1753.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 April 2012 05:54:48AM 6 points [-]

Seek knowledge, even as far as China.

-A Weak Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad

Comment author: HonoreDB 16 April 2012 03:26:14PM 8 points [-]

That's right, Emotion. Go ahead, put Reason out of the way! That's great! Fine! ...for Hitler.

--1943 Disney cartoon

Comment author: CronoDAS 04 April 2012 01:17:03AM 8 points [-]

Any “technology” which claims miraculous benefits on a timescale longer than it takes to achieve tenure and retire is vaporware, and should not be taken seriously.

-- Scott Locklin

Comment author: Alicorn 01 April 2012 06:09:23PM 27 points [-]

Westerners are fond of the saying ‘Life isn’t fair.’ Then, they end in snide triumphant: ‘So get used to it!’
What a cruel, sadistic notion to revel in! What a terrible, patriarchal response to a child’s budding sense of ethics. Announce to an Iroquois, ‘Life isn’t fair,’ and her response will be: ‘Then make it fair!’

Barbara Alice Mann

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 01 April 2012 08:44:32PM *  37 points [-]

I agree with the necessity of making life more fair, and disagree with the connotational noble Pocahontas lecturing a sadistic western patriarch. (Note: the last three words are taken from the quote.)

Comment author: Nornagest 01 April 2012 10:59:04PM *  21 points [-]

Agree that that looks an awful lot like an abuse of the noble savage meme. Barbara Alice Mann appears to be an anthropologist and a Seneca, so that's at least two points where she should really know better -- then again, there's a long and more than somewhat suspect history of anthropologists using their research to make didactic points about Western society. (Margaret Mead, for example.)

Not sure I entirely agree re: fairness. "Life's not fair" seems to me to succinctly express the very important point that natural law and the fundamentals of game theory are invariant relative to egalitarian intuitions. This can't be changed, only worked around, and a response of "so make it fair" seems to dilute that point by implying that any failure of egalitarianism might ideally be traced to some corresponding failure of morality or foresight.

Comment author: Multiheaded 03 April 2012 09:21:50PM *  2 points [-]

You are confusing "fairness" and egalitarianism. While everyone has their own definition of "fairness", it feels obvious to me that, even if you're correct about the cost of imposing reasonable egalitarianism being too high in any given situation, this does not absolve us from seeking some palliative measures to protect those left worst off by that situation. Reducing first the suffering of those who suffer most is an ok partial definition of fairness for me.

Despite (or due to, I'm too sleepy to figure it out) considering myself an egalitarian, I would prefer a world where the most achieving 10% get 200 units of income (and the top 10% of them get 1000), the least achieving 10% get 2 units and everyone else gets 5-15 units (1 unit supporting the lifestyle of today's European blue-collar worker) to a world where the bottom 10% get 0.2 units and everyone else gets 25-50. Isn't that more or less the point of charity (aside from signaling)?

Comment author: Nornagest 03 April 2012 11:11:39PM *  2 points [-]

even if you're correct about the cost of imposing reasonable egalitarianism being too high in any given situation

I didn't say this. Actually, I'd consider it somewhat incoherent in the context of my argument: if imposing reasonable egalitarianism (whatever "reasonable" is) was too costly to be sustainable, it seems unlikely that we'd have developed intuitions calling for it.

On the other hand, I suppose one possible scenario where that'd make sense would be if some of the emotional architecture driving our sense of equity evolved in the context of band-level societies, and if that architecture turned out to scale poorly -- but that's rather speculative, somewhat at odds with my sense of history, and in any case irrelevant to the point I was trying to make in the grandparent.

Anyway, don't read too much into it. My point was about the relationship between the world and its mathematics and our anthropomorphic intuitions; I wasn't trying to make any sweeping generalizations about our behavior towards each other, except in the rather limited context of game theory and its various cultural consequences. I certainly wasn't trying to make any prescriptive statements about how charitable we should be.

Comment author: Alicorn 01 April 2012 09:54:15PM 11 points [-]

I didn't think I could remove the quote from that attitude about it very effectively without butchering it. I did lop off a subsequent sentence that made it worse.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 02 April 2012 02:18:02AM 5 points [-]

Do people typically say "life isn't fair" about situations that people could choose to change?

Comment author: AspiringKnitter 02 April 2012 02:28:30AM 10 points [-]

Don't they usually say it about situations that they could choose to change, to people who don't have the choice?

Comment author: TimS 02 April 2012 02:52:41AM 4 points [-]

I agree, it's usually used as an excuse not to try to change things.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 April 2012 09:48:39AM *  9 points [-]

Do people typically say "life isn't fair" about situations that people could choose to change?

Introspection tells me this statement usually gets trotted out when the cost of achieving fairness is too high to warrant serious consideration.

EDIT: Whoops, I just realised that my imagination only outputted situations involving adults. When imagining situations involving children I get the opposite of my original claim.

Comment author: taelor 12 April 2012 10:48:05AM *  2 points [-]

The problem with saying that we should make life more fair is that life is often unfair with regard to our ability to make it more fair.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 April 2012 09:45:47AM 13 points [-]

The automatic pursuit of fairness might lead to perverse incentives. I have in mind some (non-genetically related) family in Mexico who don't bother saving money for the future because their extended family and neighbours would expect them to pay for food and gifts if they happen to acquire "extra" cash. Perhaps this "Western" patriarchal peculiarity has some merit after all.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 03 April 2012 08:41:20AM *  12 points [-]

Is this really about fairness? Seems like different people agree that fairness is a good thing, but use different definitions of fairness. Or perhaps the word fairness is often used to mean "applause lights of my group".

For someone fairness means "everyone has food to eat", for another fairness means "everyone pays for their own food". Then proponents of one definition accuse the others of not being fair -- the debate is framed as if the problem is not different definitions of fairness, but rather our group caring about fairness and the other group ignoring fairness; which of course means that we are morally right and they are morally wrong.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 03 April 2012 01:50:52PM 2 points [-]

Is this really about fairness?

IDK, but I have heard people refer to fairness in similar situations, so I am merely adopting their usage.

Seems like different people agree that fairness is a good thing, but use different definitions of fairness. Or perhaps the word fairness is often used to mean "applause lights of my group".

I agree. To a large degree the near universal preference for "fairness" in humans is illusory, because people mean mutually contradictory things by it.

For someone fairness means "everyone has food to eat", for another fairness means "everyone pays for their own food". Then proponents of one definition accuse the others of not being fair -- the debate is framed as if the problem is not different definitions of fairness, but rather our group caring about fairness and the other group ignoring fairness; which of course means that we are morally right and they are morally wrong.

I believe "fairness" can be given a fairly rigorous definition (I have in mind people like Rawls), but the second you get explicit about it, people stop agreeing that it is such a good thing (and therefore, it loses its moral force as a human universal).

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 16 April 2012 09:58:03AM 5 points [-]

Using an elementary accounting text and with the help of an accountant friend, I began. For me, a composer, accounting had always been the symbol of ultimate boredom. But a surprise awaited me: Accounting is just a simple, practical tool for measuring resources, so as to better allocate and use them. In fact, I quickly realized that basic accounting concepts had a utility far beyond finance. Resources are almost always limited; one must constantly weigh costs and benefits to make enlightened decisions.

--Alan Belkin From the Stock Market to Music, via the Theory of Evolution

This was just the first bit that stood out as LW-relevant; he also briefly mentions cognitive bias and touches on the possible benefits of cognitive science to the arts.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 April 2012 09:55:07PM 8 points [-]

So the interesting and substantive question is not whether one thinks the fit will survive and thrive better than the unfit. They will. The interesting question is what the rules are that determine what is "fit."

-- David Henderson on Social Darwinism

Comment author: Stabilizer 02 April 2012 08:39:55PM *  8 points [-]

Uxbal: I don't want to die, Bea. I'm afraid to leave the children on their own... I can't.
Bea: You think you take care of the children Uxbal. Don't be naive. The universe takes care of them.
Uxbal: Yes... but the universe doesn't pay the rent.


Comment author: MixedNuts 09 April 2012 03:24:07PM *  12 points [-]

On specificity and sneaking on connotations; useful for the liberal-minded among us:

I think, with racism and sexism and 'isms' generally, there's a sort of confusion of terminology.

A "Racist1" is someone, who, like a majority of people in this society, has subconsciously internalized some negative attitudes about minority racial groups. If a Racist1 takes the Implicit Association Test, her score shows she's biased against black people, like the majority of people (of all races) who took the test. Chances are, whether you know it or not, you're a Racist1.

A "Racist2" is someone who's kind of an insensitive jerk about race. The kind of guy who calls Obama the "Food Stamp President." Someone you wouldn't want your sister dating.

A "Racist3" is a neo-Nazi. You can never be quite sure that one day he won't snap and kill someone. He's clearly a social deviant.

People use the word "Racist" for all three things, and I think that's the source of a lot of arguments. When people get accused of being racists, they evade responsibility by saying, "Hey, I'm not a Racist3!" when in fact you were only saying they were Racist1 or Racist2. But some of the responsibility is on the accusers too -- if you say "That Republican's a racist" with the implication of "a jerk" and then backtrack and change the meaning to "vulnerable to unconscious bias", then you're arguing in bad faith. Never mind that some laws and rules which were meant to protect people from Racist3's are in fact deployed against Racist2's.


Comment author: Vladimir_M 24 April 2012 07:30:01PM *  8 points [-]

How about:

  1. Someone who, following an honest best effort to evaluate the available evidence, concludes that some of the beliefs that nowadays fall under the standard definition of "racist" nevertheless may be true with probabilities significantly above zero.

  2. Someone who performs Bayesian inference that somehow involves probabilities conditioned on the race of a person or a group of people, and whose conclusion happens to reflect negatively on this person or group in some way. (Or, alternatively, someone who doesn't believe that making such inferences is grossly immoral as a matter of principle.)

Both (1) and (2) fall squarely under the common usage of the term "racist," and yet I don't see how they would fit into the above cited classification.

Of course, some people would presumably argue that all beliefs in category (1) are in fact conclusively proven to be false with p~1, so it can be only a matter of incorrect conclusions motivated by the above listed categories of racism. Presumably they would also claim that, as a well-established general principle, no correct inferences in category (2) are ever possible. But do you really believe this?

Comment author: [deleted] 25 April 2012 09:02:49AM 3 points [-]

That (1) only makes sense if there is a “standard” definition of racist (and it's based on what people believe rather than/as well as what they do). The point of the celandine13 was indeed that there's no such thing.

Comment author: cousin_it 12 April 2012 09:18:03AM 6 points [-]

Where would someone like Steve Sailer fit in this classification?

Comment author: BillyOblivion 17 April 2012 11:32:29AM 2 points [-]

So if a minority takes the Implicitly Association Test and finds out their biased against the dominant "race" in their area, are they a Racist1, or not?

I would also really question the validity of the Implicit Association Test. It says "Your data suggest a slight implicit preference for White People compared to Black People.", which given that blacks have been severely under-represented my social sub-culture for the last 27 years(Punk/Goth), the school I graduated from (Art School), and my professional environments (IT) for the last 20 years is probably not inaccurate.

However, it also says "Your data suggest a slight implicit preference for Herman Cain compared to Barack Obama." Which is nonsense. I have a STRONG preference for Herman Cain over Barack Obama.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 April 2012 01:31:51PM 4 points [-]

In recent years, I've come to think of myself as something of a magician, and my specialty is pulling the wool over my own eyes.

--Kip W

Comment author: Vulture 28 April 2012 03:04:31AM 4 points [-]

Human beings have been designed by evolution to be good pattern matchers, and to trust the patterns they find; as a corollary their intuition about probability is abysmal. Lotteries and Las Vegas wouldn't function if it weren't so.

-Mark Rosenfelder (http://zompist.com/chance.htm)

Comment author: chaosmosis 18 April 2012 05:29:45PM *  8 points [-]

"When I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn."

-- Farenheit 451

I'll be sticking around a while, although I'm not doing too well right now (check the HPMOR discussion thread for those of you interested in viewing the carnage, it's beautiful). It's not really a rationality problem, but I need to learn how to deal with other people who have big egos, because apparently only two or three people received my comments the way I meant them to come across. Plus, I like the idea of losing so much karma in one day and then eventually earning it all back and being recognized as a super rationalist. Gaining the legitimate approval of a group who now have a lot against me will be a decent challenge.

Also I doubt that I would be able to resist commenting even if I wanted to. That's probably mostly it.

Comment author: MixedNuts 20 April 2012 05:48:27PM *  25 points [-]

Tips for dealing with people with big egos:

  • Don't insult anyone, ever. If Wagner posts, either say "Hmm, why do you believe Mendelssohn's music to be derivative?" or silently downvote, but don't call him an antisemitic piece of shit.
  • Attributing negative motivations (disliking you, wanting to win a debate, being prejudiced) counts as an insult.
  • Attributing any kind of motivation at all is pretty likely to count as an insult. You can ask about motivation, but only list positive or neutral ones or make it an open question.
  • Likewise, you can ask why you were downvoted. This very often gets people to upvote you again if they were wrong to downvote you (and if not, you get the information you want). Any further implication that they were wrong is an insult.
  • Stick closely to the question and do not involve the personalities of debaters.
  • Exception to the above: it's okay to pass judgement on a personality trait if it's a compliment. If you can't always avoid insulting people, occasionally complimenting them can help.
  • A lot of things are insults. You will slip up. This won't make people dislike you.
  • If you know what a polite and friendly tone is, have one.
  • If someone isn't polite and friendly, it means you need to be more polite and friendly.
  • If they're being very rude and mean and it's getting annoying, you can gently mention it. Still make the rest of your post polite and friendly and about the question.
  • If the "polite and about the question" part is empty, don't post.
  • If you have insulted someone in a thread - either more than once, or once and people are still hostile despite you being extra nice afterwards - people will keep being hostile in the thread and you should probably walk away from it.
  • If hostility in a thread is leaking into your mood, walk away from the whole site for a little while.
  • When you post in another thread, people will not hold any grudges against you from previous threads. Sorry for your epic quest, but we don't have much against you right now.
  • Apologies (rather than silence) are a good idea if you were clearly in the wrong and not overly tempted to add "but".

On politeness:

  • Some politeness norms are stupid and harmful and wrong, like "You must not criticize even if explicitly asked to" or "Disagreement is impolite". Fortunately, we don't have these here.
  • Some are good, like not insulting people. Insulting messages get across poorly. This happens even when people ignore the insult to answer the substance, because the message is overloaded.
  • Some are mostly local communication protocols that help but can be costly to constrain your message around. It's okay to drop them if you can't bear the cost.
  • Some are about fostering personal liking between people. They're worthwhile to people who want that and noise to people who don't.
  • Taking pains to be polite is training wheels. People who are good with words can say precisely and concisely what they mean in a completely neutral tone. People who aren't are injecting lots of accidental interpersonal content, so we need to make it harmless explicitly.

People who are exempted:

  • The aforementioned people, who will never accidentally insult anyone;
  • People whose contribution is so incredibly awesome that it compensates for being insufferable; I know of a few but none on LessWrong;
  • wedrifid, who is somehow capable of pleasant interaction while being a complete jerk.
Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 April 2012 07:12:29PM *  6 points [-]

I'll add to this that actually paying attention to wedrifid is instructive here.

My own interpretation of wedrifid's behavior is that mostly s/he ignores all of these ad-hoc rules in favor of:
1) paying attention to the status implications of what's going on,
2) correctly recognizing that attempts to lower someone's status are attacks
3) honoring the obligations of implicit social alliances when an ally is attacked

I endorse this and have been trying to get better about #3 myself.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 20 April 2012 08:53:15PM 11 points [-]

The phrase "social alliances" makes me uneasy with the fear that if everyone did #3, LW would degenerate into typical green vs blue debates. Can you explain a bit more why you endorse it?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 April 2012 11:10:33PM 7 points [-]

If Sam and I are engaged in some activity A, and Pat comes along and punishes Sam for A or otherwise interferes with Sam's ability to engage in A...
...if on reflection I endorse A, then I endorse interfering with Pat and aiding Sam, for several reasons: it results in more A, it keeps me from feeling like a coward and a hypocrite, and I establish myself as a reliable ally. I consider that one of the obligations of social alliance.
...if on reflection I reject A, then I endorse discussing the matter with Sam in private. Ideally we come to agreement on the matter, and either it changes to case 1, or I step up alongside Sam and we take the resulting social status hit of acknowledging our error together. This, too, I consider one of the obligations of social alliance.
...if on reflection I reject A and I can't come to agreement with Sam, I endorse acknowledging that I've unilaterally dissolved the aspect of our social alliance that was mediated by A. (Also, I take that status hit all by myself, but that's beside the point here.)

I agree with you that if I instead skip the reflective step and reflexively endorse A, that quickly degenerates into pure tribal warfare. But the failure in this case is not in respecting the alliance, it's failing to reflect on whether I endorse A. If I do neither, then the community doesn't degenerate into tribal warfare, it degenerates into chaos.

Admittedly, chaos can be more fun, but I don't really endorse it.

All of that said, I do recognize that explicitly talking about "social alliances" (and, indeed, explicitly talking about social status at all) is a somewhat distracting thing to do, and doesn't help me make myself understood especially well to most audiences. It was kind of a self-indulgent comment, in retrospect, although an accurate one (IMO).

(I feel vaguely like Will_Newsome, now. I wonder if that's a good thing.)

Comment author: wedrifid 21 April 2012 06:05:17AM 16 points [-]

I feel vaguely like Will_Newsome, now. I wonder if that's a good thing.

Start to worry if you begin to feel morally obliged to engage in activity 'Z' that neither you, Sam or Pat endorse but which you must support due to acausal social allegiance with Bink mediated by the demon X(A/N)th, who is responsible for UFOs, for the illusion of stars that we see in the sky and also divinely inspired the Bhagavad-Gita.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 21 April 2012 03:20:55PM 3 points [-]

Been there, done that. (Not specifically. It would be creepy if you'd gotten the specifics right.)
I blame the stroke, though.

Comment author: wedrifid 21 April 2012 05:54:06PM 7 points [-]

Been there, done that. (Not specifically. It would be creepy if you'd gotten the specifics right.) I blame the stroke, though.

Battling your way to sanity against corrupted hardware has the potential makings of a fascinating story.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 21 April 2012 06:56:08PM 7 points [-]

It wasn't quite as dramatic as you make it sound, but it was certainly fascinating to live through.
The general case is here.
The specifics... hm.
I remain uncomfortable discussing the specifics in public.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 21 April 2012 12:43:34AM *  4 points [-]

if on reflection I endorse A, then I endorse interfering with Pat and aiding Sam, for several reasons: it results in more A, it keeps me from feeling like a coward and a hypocrite, and I establish myself as a reliable ally. I consider that one of the obligations of social alliance.

Is establishing yourself as a reliable ally an instrumental or terminal goal for you? If the former, what advantages does it bring in a group blog / discussion forum like this one? The kind of alliance you've mentioned so far are temporary ones formed implicitly by engaging someone in discussion, but people will discuss things with you if they think your comments are interesting, with virtually no consideration for how reliable you are as an ally. Are you hoping to establish other kinds of alliances here?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 21 April 2012 01:06:07AM 2 points [-]

Is establishing yourself as a reliable ally an instrumental or terminal goal for you?


If the former, what advantages does it bring in a group blog / discussion forum like this one?

Trust, mostly. Which is itself an instrumental goal, of course, but the set of advantages that being trusted provides in a discussion is so ramified I don't know how I could begin to itemize it.
To pick one that came up recently, though, here's a discussion of one of the advantages of trust in a forum like this one, related to trolley problems and similar hypotheticals.
Another one that comes up far more often is other people's willingness to assume, when I say things that have both a sensible and a nonsensical interpretation, that I mean the former.

The kind of alliance you've mentioned so far are temporary ones formed implicitly by engaging someone in discussion, but people will discuss things with you if they think your comments are interesting, with virtually no consideration for how reliable you are as an ally.

Yes, I agree that when people form implicit alliances by (for example) engaging someone in discussion, they typically give virtually no explicit consideration for how reliable I am as an ally.

If you mean to say further that it doesn't affect them at all, I mostly disagree, but I suspect that at this point it might be useful to Taboo "ally."

People's estimation of how reliable I am as a person to engage in discussion with, for example, certainly does influence their willingness to engage me in discussion. And vice-versa. There are plenty of people I mostly don't engage in discussion, because I no longer trust that they will engage reliably.

Are you hoping to establish other kinds of alliances here?

Not that I can think of, but honestly this question bewilders me, so it's possible that you're asking about something I'm not even considering. What kind of alliances do you have in mind?

Comment author: MixedNuts 20 April 2012 07:29:28PM 8 points [-]

Might be too advanced for someone who just learned that saying "Please stop being stupid." is a bad idea.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 April 2012 07:42:42PM 4 points [-]

Sure. Then again, if you'd only intended that for chaosmosis' benefit, I assume you'd have PMed it.

Comment author: komponisto 22 April 2012 08:36:58PM 5 points [-]

wedrifid, who is somehow capable of pleasant interaction while being a complete jerk

Regardless of whether or not this is compatible with being a "complete jerk" in your sense, I wish to point out that wedrifid is in many respects an exemplary Less Wrong commenter. There are few others I can think of who are simultaneously as (1) informative, including about their own brain state, (2) rational, especially in the sense of being willing and able to disagree within factions/alliances and agree across them, and (3) socially clueful, in the sense of being aware of the unspoken interpersonal implications of all discourse and putting in the necessary work to manage these implications in a way compatible with one's other goals (naturally the methods used are community-specific but that is more than good enough).

In saying this, I don't know whether I'm expanding on your point or disagreeing with it.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 24 April 2012 05:50:04AM 3 points [-]

I would be interested in having wedrifid write a post systematically explaining his philosophy of how to participate on LW, because the bits and pieces of it that I've seen so far (your comment, TheOtherDave's, this comment by wedrifid) are not really forming into a coherent whole for me.

Comment author: wedrifid 24 April 2012 06:45:45AM 3 points [-]

I would be interested in having wedrifid write a post systematically explaining his philosophy of how to participate on LW, because the bits and pieces of it that I've seen so far (your comment, TheOtherDave's, this comment by wedrifid) are not really forming into a coherent whole for me.

That would be an interesting thing to do, too. It is on the list of posts that I may or may not get around to writing!

Comment author: wedrifid 22 April 2012 08:51:56PM *  4 points [-]

Regardless of whether or not this is compatible with being a "complete jerk" in your sense, I wish to point out that wedrifid is in many respects an exemplary Less Wrong commenter. There are few others I can think of who are simultaneously as (1) informative, including about their own brain state, (2) rational, especially in the sense of being willing and able to disagree within factions/alliances and agree across them, and (3) socially clueful, in the sense of being aware of the unspoken interpersonal implications of all discourse and putting in the necessary work to manage these implications in a way compatible with one's other goals (naturally the methods used are community-specific but that is more than good enough).

I appreciate your kind words komponisto! You inspire me to live up to them.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 April 2012 05:33:06PM 7 points [-]

It's not really a rationality problem, but I need to learn how to deal with other people who have big egos.

This is actually a really worthwhile skill to learn, independently of any LW-related foolishness. And it is actually a rationality problem.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 April 2012 07:54:07PM *  2 points [-]

And it is actually a rationality problem.

You mean to the extent that any problem at all is a rationality problem, or something else?

Comment author: [deleted] 18 April 2012 10:28:32PM 2 points [-]

It's a bias, as far as I'm concerned, and something that needs to be overcome. People with egos can be right, but if one can't deal with the fact that they're either right or wrong regardless of their egotism, then one is that much slower to update.

Comment author: thomblake 18 April 2012 06:06:15PM *  8 points [-]

Plus, I like the idea of losing so much karma in one day and then eventually earning it all back

This discussion is off-topic for the "Rationality Quotes" thread, but...

If you're interested in an easy way to gain karma, you might want to try an experimental method I've been kicking around:

Take an article from Wikipedia on a bias that we don't have an article about yet. Wikipedia has a list of cognitive biases. Write a top-level post about that bias, with appropriate use of references. Write it in a similar style to Eliezer's more straightforward posts on a bias, examples first.

My prediction is that such an article, if well-written, should gain about +40 votes; about +80 if it contains useful actionable material.

Comment author: pleeppleep 04 April 2012 03:41:52AM 6 points [-]

"An organized mind is a disciplined mind. And a disciplined mind is a powerful mind."

-- Batman (Batman the Brave and the Bold)

Comment author: wedrifid 05 April 2012 04:48:53PM 3 points [-]

"An organized mind is a disciplined mind. And a disciplined mind is a powerful mind."

That doesn't seem to follow. An organized mind may not be disciplined. It may even be obsessively organized at the expense of being disciplined.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 02 April 2012 08:21:11PM 8 points [-]

The majority of mankind is lazy-minded, incurious, absorbed in vanities, and tepid in emotion, and is therefore incapable of either much doubt or much faith; and when the ordinary man calls himself a sceptic or an unbeliever, that is ordinarily a simple pose, cloaking a disinclination to think anything out to a conclusion.

T. S. Eliot

Comment author: Alicorn 01 April 2012 06:08:56PM 7 points [-]

I was once a skeptic but was converted by the two missionaries on either side of my nose.

Robert Brault

Comment author: Desrtopa 02 April 2012 04:20:55AM 9 points [-]

Am I the only one who didn't realize before reading other comments that he was not claiming to have been converted by his nostrils?

Comment author: Ezekiel 01 April 2012 06:35:10PM 4 points [-]

Particularly interesting since I (and, I suspect, others on LW) usually attach positive affect to the word "skeptic", since it seems to us that naivete is the more common error. But of course a Creationist is sceptical of evolution.

(Apparently both spellings are correct. I've learned something today.)

Comment author: BlazeOrangeDeer 02 April 2012 05:39:47AM 2 points [-]

I'd call creatonists "evolution deniers" before I'd call them "evolution skeptics", but I suppose they'd do the same to me with God...

Comment author: scav 03 April 2012 07:53:33AM 6 points [-]

Clearly, Bem’s psychic could bankrupt all casinos on the planet before anybody realized what was going on. This analysis leaves us with two possibilities. The first possibility is that, for whatever reason, the psi effects are not operative in casinos, but they are operative in psychological experiments on erotic pictures. The second possibility is that the psi effects are either nonexistent, or else so small that they cannot overcome the house advantage. Note that in the latter case, all of Bem’s experiments overestimate the effect.

Returning to Laplace’s Principle, we feel that the above reasons motivate us to assign our prior belief in precognition a number very close to zero.

Why Psychologists Must Change the Way They Analyze Their Data: The Case of Psi

Eric–Jan Wagenmakers, Ruud Wetzels, Denny Borsboom, & Han van der Maas

Comment author: FiftyTwo 03 April 2012 09:40:35PM 4 points [-]

I don't see why the first hypothesis should necessarily be rejected out of hand. If the supposed mechanism is unconscious then having it react to erotic pictures and not particular casino objects seems perfectly plausible. Obviously the real explanation might be that the data wasn't strong enough to prove the claim, but we shouldn't allow the low status of "psi theories" to distort our judgement.

Comment author: VKS 03 April 2012 07:32:16AM *  5 points [-]

The last level of metaphor in the Alice books is this: that life, viewed rationally and without illusion, appears to be a nonsense tale told by an idiot mathematician. At the heart of things science finds only a mad, never-ending quadrille of Mock Turtle Waves and Gryphon Particles. For a moment the waves and particles dance in grotesque, inconceivably complex patterns capable of reflecting on their own absurdity.

  • Martin Gardner, The Annotated Alice
Comment author: gjm 12 April 2012 10:14:54PM 4 points [-]

Leaving aside the dubiousness of calling the way the universe actually works "nonsense" and "mad": It seems very, very, very unlikely that anything in Lewis Carroll's writings was a metaphor for quantum mechanics. He died in 1898.

(I suppose something can be used as a metaphor for quantum mechanics without having been intended as one, though.)

Comment author: MixedNuts 05 April 2012 04:38:56PM 2 points [-]

What's Martin complaining about, exactly? That goodness is nowhere in physical law, so things can be unfair and horrible for no reason? That goodness is reducible in the first place? That physics is hard and therefore deserves nasty words like "absurd"?