Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Rationality Quotes May 2012

6 Post author: OpenThreadGuy 01 May 2012 11:37PM

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  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB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 (696)

Comment author: Grognor 02 May 2012 03:42:19AM *  73 points [-]

Tags like "stupid," "bad at __", "sloppy," and so on, are ways of saying "You're performing badly and I don't know why." Once you move it to "you're performing badly because you have the wrong fingerings," or "you're performing badly because you don't understand what a limit is," it's no longer a vague personal failing but a causal necessity. Anyone who never understood limits will flunk calculus. It's not you, it's the bug.

-celandine13 (Hat-tip to Frank Adamek. In addition, the linked article is so good that I had trouble picking something to put in rationality quotes; in other words, I recommend it.)

Comment author: [deleted] 05 May 2012 04:11:11AM 5 points [-]

I already upvoted this but want to emphasize that the article is really good.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 05 May 2012 09:04:29PM *  18 points [-]

Another quote from the same piece, just before that para:

Once you start to think of mistakes as deterministic rather than random, as caused by "bugs" (incorrect understanding or incorrect procedures) rather than random inaccuracy, a curious thing happens.

You stop thinking of people as "stupid."

I really, really like this. Thanks for posting it!

To elucidate the "bug model" a bit, consider "bugs" not in a single piece of software, but in a system. The following is drawn from my professional experience as a sysadmin for large-scale web applications, but I've tried to make it clear:

Suppose that you have a web server; or better yet, a cluster of servers. It's providing some application to users — maybe a wiki, a forum, or a game. Most of the time when a query comes in from a user's browser, the server gives a good response. However, sometimes it gives a bad response — maybe it's unusually slow, or it times out, or it gives an error or an incomplete page instead of what the user was looking for.

It turns out that if you want to fix these sorts of problems, considering them merely to be "flakiness" and stopping there is not enough. You have to actually find out where the errors are coming from. "Flaky web server" is an aggregate property, not a simple one; specifically, it is the sum of all the different sources of error, slowness, and other badness — the disk contention; the database queries against un-indexed tables; the slowly failing NIC; the excess load from the web spider that's copying the main page ten times a second looking for updates; the design choice of retrying failed transactions repeatedly, thus causing overload to make itself worse.

There is some fact of the matter about which error sources are causing more failures than others, too. If 1% of failed queries are caused by a failing NIC, but 90% are caused by transactions timing out due to slow database queries to an overloaded MySQL instance, then swapping the NIC out is not going to help much. And two flaky websites may be flaky for completely unrelated reasons.

Talking about how flaky or reliable a web server is lets you compare two web servers side-by-side and decide which one is preferable. But by itself it doesn't let you fix anything. You can't just point at the better web server and tell the worse one, "Why can't you be more like your sister?" — or rather, you can, but it doesn't work. The differences between the two do matter, but you have to know which differences matter in order to actually change things.

To bring the analogy back to human cognitive behavior: yes, you can probably measure which of two people is "more rational" than the other, or even "more intelligent". But if someone wants to become more rational, they can't do it by just trying to imitate an exemplary rational person — they have to actually diagnose what kinds of not-rational they are being, and find ways to correct them. There is no royal road to rationality; you have to actually struggle with (or work around) the specific bugs you have.

Comment author: Desrtopa 23 May 2012 06:04:41PM *  4 points [-]

Once you start to think of mistakes as deterministic rather than random, as caused by "bugs" (incorrect understanding or incorrect procedures) rather than random inaccuracy, a curious thing happens.

You stop thinking of people as "stupid."

I agree with the general thrust of the essay (that broad, fuzzy labels like "bad at" are more useful if reduced to specific bug descriptions,) but I'll note that being aware of the specific bugs that cause people to make the mistakes they're making does not stop me from thinking of people as stupid. If a person's bugs are numerous, obtrusive, and difficult to correct, I'm going to end up thinking of them as stupid even if I can describe every bug.

Comment author: rocurley 05 May 2012 09:14:39PM *  3 points [-]

I read the article because of your post; thank you.

(obviously the grandparent deserves credit too).

Comment author: MBlume 05 May 2012 08:38:10AM *  10 points [-]

Author used to post here as __, but I think her account's been deleted.

ETA: removed username as I realized this comment kind of frustrates the presumable point of the account deletion in the first place.

Comment author: jooyous 27 January 2013 12:26:02AM 2 points [-]

I've been trying to change my impulse to think "this person is an idiot!" into "this person is a noob," because the term still kinda has that slightly useful predictive meaning that suggests incompetence, but it also contains the idea that they have the potential to get better, rather than being inherently incompetent.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 May 2012 05:45:15PM *  15 points [-]
Is it fair to say you're enjoying the controversy you've started?
Thiel: I don't enjoy being contrarian.
Yes you do. *laughs*
Thiel: No, I think it is much more important to be right than to be contrarian.

--Peter Thiel, on 60 Minutes

Comment author: [deleted] 08 May 2012 02:24:04PM *  14 points [-]

The universe, I'd learned, was never, ever kidding.

Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Comment author: chaosmosis 04 May 2012 07:00:21PM *  34 points [-]

Being - forgive me - rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.

Albus Dumbledore

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 May 2012 06:51:34AM 11 points [-]

Sometimes I check the original and am surprised by how little I actually diverged from Rowling's Dumbledore.

Comment author: Document 09 May 2012 09:58:45PM 6 points [-]

It took MatthewBaker's reply to make me realize you were talking about your character and not yourself.

Comment author: MatthewBaker 07 May 2012 01:00:30AM 3 points [-]

PHOENIXS FATE, was something I don't think Rowling's Dumbledore could have done but up until Dumbledore lost the idiot ball in recent chapters I fully agree with you :)

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 01 May 2012 08:08:55AM 32 points [-]

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.


Comment author: bentarm 01 May 2012 08:27:35PM 9 points [-]

In this case, isn't it equally true that no wind is unfavourable?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 May 2012 11:38:26PM 29 points [-]

"The Way is easy for those who have no utility function." -- Marcello Herreshoff

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 20 May 2012 12:11:08AM *  6 points [-]

Not sure, this came up in a few previous conversations. If an agent is almost certain that it's completely indifferent to everything, the most important thing it could do is to pursue the possibility that it's not indifferent to something, that is to work primarily on figuring out its preference on the off chance that its current estimate might turn out to be wrong. So it still takes over the universe and builds complicated machines (assuming it has enough heuristics to carry out this line of reasoning).

Say, "Maybe 1957 is prime after all, and hardware used previously to conclude that it's not was corrupted," which is followed by a sequence of experiments that test the properties of preceding experiments in more and more detail, and then those experiments are investigated in turn, and so on and so forth, to the end of time.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 20 May 2013 02:59:53PM 2 points [-]

That depends on whether your goal is to travel or to arrive.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 07 May 2012 06:09:23PM *  31 points [-]

How a game theorist buys a car (on the phone with the dealer):

"Hello, my name is Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. I plan to buy the following car [list the exact model and features] today at five P.M. I am calling all of the dealerships within a fifty-mile radius of my home and I am telling each of them what I am telling you. I will come in and buy the car today at five P.M. from the dealer who gives me the lowest price. I need to have the all-in price, including taxes, dealer prep [I ask them not to prep the car and not charge me for it, since dealer prep is little more than giving you a washed car with plastic covers and paper floormats removed, usually for hundreds of dollars], everything, because I will make out the check to your dealership before I come and will not have another check with me."

From The Predictioneer's Game, page 7.

Other car-buying tips from Bueno de Mesquita, in case you're about to buy a car:
* Figure out exactly what car you want to buy by searching online before making any contact with dealerships.
* Don't be afraid to purchase a car from a distant dealership--the manufacturer provides the warranty, not the dealer.
* Be sure to tell each dealer you will be sharing the price they quote you with subsequent dealers.
* Don't take shit from dealers who tell you "you can't buy a car over the phone" or do anything other than give you their number. If a dealer is stonewalling, make it quite clear that you're willing to get what you want elsewhere.
* Arrive at the lowest-price dealer just before 5:00 PM to close the deal. In the unlikely event that the dealer changes their terms, go for the next best price.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 09 May 2012 02:43:56AM *  14 points [-]

From my limited experience with buying cars, as well as from theoretical considerations, this won't work because you lack the pre-commitment to buy at the price offered. Once they give you a favorable price, you can try to push it even further downwards, possibly by continuing to play the dealerships against each other. So they'll be afraid to offer anything really favorable. (The market for new cars is a confusopoly based on concealing the information about the dealers' exact profit margins for particular car models, which is surprisingly well-guarded insider knowledge. So once you know that a certain price is still profitable for them, it can only be a downward ratchet.)

The problem can be solved by making the process double-blind, i.e. by sending the message anonymously through a credible middleman, who communicates back anonymous offers from all dealers. (The identities of each party are revealed to the other only if the offer is accepted and an advance paid.) Interestingly, in Canada, someone has actually tried to commercialize this idea and opened a website that offers the service for $50 or so (unhaggle.com); I don't know if something similar exists in the U.S. or other countries. (They don't do any sort of bargaining, brokering, deal-hunting, etc. on your behalf -- just the service of double-anonymous communication, along with signaling that your interest is serious because you've paid their fee.) From my limited observations, it works pretty well.

Comment author: gwern 07 May 2012 08:08:21PM 4 points [-]

I take he does not discuss whether he actually ever did that.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 08 May 2012 01:13:43AM *  17 points [-]

I have personally purchased Toyotas, Hondas, and a Volkswagen this way. Some of my students at NYU have taken up this method and bought cars this way too... They and I have always beat the price quoted on the Internet with this method.

He further claims to have once saved $1,200 over the price quoted on the Internet for a car he negotiated for his daughter, who was 3000 miles away at the time.

Apparently being a game theory expert does not prevent one from being a badass negotiator.

Why did you guess otherwise?

Comment author: gwern 08 May 2012 01:23:32AM 16 points [-]

Typically people describing clever complex schemes involving interacting with many other people do not actually do them. Mesquita has previously tripped some flags for me (publishing few of his predictions), so I had no reason to give him special benefit of the doubt.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 08 May 2012 04:21:35AM 2 points [-]

Maybe many of his predictions are classified because they are for the government?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 09 May 2012 03:08:35AM *  2 points [-]

He further claims to have once saved $1,200 over the price quoted on the Internet for a car he negotiated for his daughter, who was 3000 miles away at the time.

What does he mean by "price quoted on the Internet"? If it's the manufacturer's suggested retail price, then depending on the car model and various other factors, saving $1,200 over this price sounds unremarkable at best, and a badly losing proposition at worst. If it was the first price quoted by the dealer, it could be even worse -- at least where I live, dealers will often start with some ridiculous quote that's even higher that the MSRP.

Comment author: shminux 15 July 2012 11:16:57PM *  3 points [-]

Having bought/leased a few new and used cars over the years, I immediately think of a number of issues with this, mainly because this trips their "we don't do it this way, so we would rather not deal with you at all" defense. This reduces the number of dealers willing to engage severely. Probably is still OK in a big city, but not where there are only 2 or 3 dealerships of each kind around. There are other issues, as well:

  • Bypassing the salesperson and getting to talk to the manager directly is not easy, as it upsets their internal balance of fairness. The difference is several hundred dollars.

  • The exact model may not be available unless it's common, and the wait time might be more than you are prepared to handle. Though the dealers do share the inventory and exchange cars, they are less likely to bother if they know that the other place will get the same request.

  • They are not likely to give you the best deal possible, because they are not invested in the sale (use sunk cost to your advantage)

  • They are not likely to believe that you will do as you say, because why should they? There is nothing for you to lose by changing your mind. In fact, once you have all the offers, you ought to first consider what to do next, not blindly follow through on the promise.

  • This approach, while seemingly neutral, comes across as hostile, because it's so impersonal. This has extra cost in human interactions.

  • "Searching online" is no substitute to kicking the tires for most people. The last two cars I leased I found on dealers' lots after driving around (way after I researched the hell out of it online), and they were not the ones I thought I would get.

  • And the last one: were this so easy, the various online car selling outfits, like autobytel would do so much better.

So, while this strategy is possibly better than the default of driving around the lots and talking to the salespeople, it is far from the best way to buy a car.

Comment author: Grognor 01 May 2012 07:13:26AM *  28 points [-]

Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, probably not apocryphal (at first, this comment said "possibly apocryphal since I can't find it anywhere except collections of quotes")

Comment author: Mark_Eichenlaub 02 May 2012 05:34:28AM *  27 points [-]

Asked today if the Titanic II could sink, Mr Palmer told reporters: "Of course it will sink if you put a hole in it."


Comment author: gRR 01 May 2012 12:10:20PM *  55 points [-]

Once upon a time, there was a man who was riding in a horse drawn carriage and traveling to go take care of some affairs; and in the carriage there was also a very big suitcase. He told the driver to of the carriage to drive non-stop and the horse ran extremely fast.
Along the road, there was an old man who saw them and asked, “Sir, you seem anxious, where do you need to go?”
The man in the carriage then replied in a loud voice, “I need to go to the state of Chu.” The old man heard and laughing he smiled and said, “You are going the wrong way. The state of Chu is in the south, how come you are going to to the north?”
“That’s alright,” The man in the carriage then said, “Can you not see? My horse runs very fast.”
“Your horse is great, but your path is incorrect.”
“It’s no problem, my carriage is new, it was made just last month.”
“Your carriage is brand new, but this is not the road one takes to get to Chu.”
“Old Uncle, you don’t know,” and the man in the carriage pointed to the suitcase in the back and said, “In that suitcase there’s alot of money. No matter how long the road is, I am not afraid.”
“You have lots of money, but do not forget, The direction which you are going is wrong. I can see, you should go back the direction which you came from.”
The man in the carriage heard this and irritated said, “I have already been traveling for ten days, how can you tell me to go back from where I came?” He then pointed at the carriage driver and said, “Take a look, he is very young, and he drives very well, you needn’t worry. Goodbye!”
And then he told the driver to drive forward, and the horse ran even faster.

--Chinese Tale

Comment author: RomeoStevens 01 May 2012 10:42:37PM 13 points [-]

I always use the metaphor of the fast car to distinguish between intelligence and rationality.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 May 2012 09:15:56PM 2 points [-]

That's a very handy assortment of fallacies. Where did you find it?

Comment author: gRR 01 May 2012 10:48:16PM 4 points [-]

I first saw the story in "School in Carmarthen", which I would absolutely recommend to everyone, except it's in Russian. I thought there should probably be an English translation of the Chinese tale, so I googled it up by keywords.

The tale is apparently the origin story behind a common Chinese idiom that literally translates as "south house north rut”, and which means acting in a way that defeats one's purpose.

Comment author: Endovior 12 May 2012 04:04:17AM 9 points [-]

People are happy to judge each other according to what they think of as standards, while thinking their own particular case is, well… particular. It’s different for you because you have reasons, everybody else just has excuses.

--Hazel, Tales of MU

Comment author: kalla724 02 May 2012 01:35:54AM *  9 points [-]

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.

-- Anais Nin

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 May 2012 04:28:18PM 5 points [-]

This misses the point. There shouldn't be any mystery left. And that'll be okay.

Comment author: DanArmak 02 May 2012 04:35:20PM 10 points [-]

With perfect knowledge there would be no mystery left about the real world. But that is not what "sense of wonder and mystery" refers to. It describes an emotion, not a state of knowledge. There's no reason for it to die.

Comment author: chaosmosis 02 May 2012 04:39:22PM *  9 points [-]

You can't stop looking for flaws even after you've found all of them, otherwise you might miss one.

Also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unexpected_hanging_paradox

Comment author: [deleted] 01 May 2012 01:06:48PM *  42 points [-]

For example, in many ways nonsense is a more effective organizing tool than the truth. Anyone can believe in the truth. To believe in nonsense is an unforgeable demonstration of loyalty. It serves as a political uniform. And if you have a uniform, you have an army.

--Mencius Moldbug, on belief as attire and conspicuous wrongness.


Comment author: Waldheri 03 May 2012 05:57:46PM 12 points [-]

This reminds me of the following passage from We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver:

But keeping secrets is a discipline. I never use to think of myself as a good liar, but after having had some practice I had adopted the prevaricator's credo that one doesn't so much fabricate a lie as marry it. A successful lie cannot be brought into this world and capriciously abandoned; like any committed relationship it must be maintained, and with far more devotion than the truth, which carries on being carelessly true without any help. By contrast, my lie needed me as much as I needed it, and so demanded the constancy of wedlock: Till death do us part.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 02 May 2012 04:54:25AM *  8 points [-]

Possible additional factor: The truth is frequently boring-- it helps to add some absurdity just to get people's attention. Once you've got people's attention, proof of loyalty can come into play.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 May 2012 04:25:04AM 3 points [-]

Also relevant.

Comment author: nykos 03 May 2012 12:21:41PM *  4 points [-]

More quotes by Mencius Moldbug:

When they say things like "in cognitive science, Bayesian reasoner is the technically precise codeword that we use to mean rational mind," they really do mean it. Move over, Aristotle!

Of course, in Catholicism, Catholic is the technically precise codeword that they use to mean rational mind. I am not a Catholic or even a Christian, but frankly, I think that if I had to vote for a dictator of the world and the only information I had was whether the candidate was an orthodox Bayesian or an orthodox Catholic, I'd go with the latter.

The only problem is that this little formula is not a complete, drop-in replacement for your brain. If a reservationist is skeptical of anything on God's green earth, it's people who want to replace his (or her) brain with a formula.

To make this more concrete, let's look at how fragile Bayesian inference is in the presence of an attacker who's filtering our event stream. By throwing off P(B), any undetected pattern of correlation can completely foul the whole system. If the attacker, whenever he pulls a red ball out of the urn, puts it back and keeps pulling until he gets a blue ball, the Bayesian "rational mind" will conclude that the urn is entirely full of blue balls. And Bayesian inference certainly does not offer any suggestion that you should look at who's pulling balls out of the urn and see what he has up his sleeves. Once again, the problem is not that Bayesianism is untrue. The problem is that the human brain has a very limited capacity for analytic reasoning to begin with.

They are all from the article A Reservationist Epistemology

Comment author: tgb 03 May 2012 01:00:10PM 11 points [-]

If the attacker, whenever he pulls a red ball out of the urn, puts it back and keeps pulling until he gets a blue ball, the Bayesian "rational mind" will conclude that the urn is entirely full of blue balls.

Surely the actual Bayesian rational mind's conclusion is that the attacker will (probably) always show a blue ball, nothing to do with the urn at all.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 04 May 2012 08:19:12AM 9 points [-]

Solomonoff prior gives nonzero probability to the attacker deceiving us. But humans are not very good at operating with such probabilities precisely.

Comment author: Multiheaded 07 May 2012 05:39:52AM 4 points [-]

And Bayesian inference certainly does not offer any suggestion that you should look at who's pulling balls out of the urn and see what he has up his sleeves.

I just facepalmed the hardest I've ever done while reading Unqualified Reservations. That is, not very hard - Mencius is nothing if not a charming and polite author - but still. Maybe he really ought to read at least one Sequence!

Comment author: roystgnr 17 May 2012 04:07:43AM 7 points [-]

Could we start that reading with the classic Bayes' Theorem example? Suppose 1% of women have breast cancer, 80% of mammograms on a cancerous woman will detect it, 9.6% on an uncancerous woman will be false positives. Suppose woman A gets a mammogram which indicates cancer. What are the odds she has cancer?

p(A|X) = p(X|A)p(A)/(p(X|A)p(A)+p(X|~A)p(~A)) = 7.8% Hooray?

Now suppose women B, C, D, E, F... Z, AA, AB, AC, AD, etc., the entire patient list getting screened today, all test positive for cancer. Is the probability that woman A has cancer still 7.8%? Bayes' rule, with the priors above, still says "yes"! You need more complicated prior probabilities (e.g. what are the odds that the test equipment is malfunctioning?) before your evidence can tell you what's actually likely to be happening. But those more complicated, more accurate priors would have (very slightly) changed our original p(A|X) as well!

It's not that Bayesian updating is wrong. It's just that Bayes' theorem never allows you to have a non-zero posterior probability coming from a zero prior, and to make any practical problem tractable everybody ends up implicitly assuming huge swaths of zero prior probability.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 May 2012 03:56:28PM 7 points [-]

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

Comment author: Multiheaded 16 May 2012 12:31:44PM *  7 points [-]

I've been looking up some American people (radical activists/left-wing theorists/etc) whom I knew little about but felt surprised about how they're a byword and evil incarnate to every right-wing blogger out there. I don't have any political or moral judgment about what I've read in regards to those (or at least let's pretend that I don't), but incidentally I found a nice quote:

If people feel they don’t have the power to change a situation, they stop thinking about it.

Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

Comment author: TheOtherDave 16 May 2012 02:31:20PM 4 points [-]

Relatedly, if we don't want to think about a situation, we frequently convince ourselves that we're powerless to change it.

Less relatedly, I am growing increasingly aware of the gulf between what is implied by talking about "people" in the first person plural, and talking about "people" in the third person plural.

Comment author: Multiheaded 16 May 2012 12:46:29PM *  8 points [-]

And here's some rather... more spicy stuff from him:

The seventh rule of the ethics of means and ends is that generally success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics. The judgment of history leans heavily on the outcome of success or failure; it spells the difference between the traitor and the patriotic hero. There can be no such thing as a successful traitor, for if one succeeds he becomes a founding father.

The ninth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.

In this world laws are written for the lofty aim of "the common good" and then acted out in life on the basis of the common greed. In this world irrationality clings to man like his shadow so that the right things get done for the wrong reasons—afterwards, we dredge up the right reasons for justification. It is a world not of angels but of angles, where men speak of moral principles but act on power principles; a world where we are always moral and our enemies always immoral; a world where "reconciliation" means that when one side gets the power and the other side gets reconciled to it, then we have reconciliation.

Always remember the first rule of power tactics: Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have. The second rule is: Never go outside the experience of your people. When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, it results in confusion, fear, and retreat. [...] The third rule is: Whenever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.

Comment author: TimS 19 May 2012 08:58:00PM *  4 points [-]

Alinsky is interesting to me because it seems like he was one of the first to notice a new, likely to be effective method of social change - and he used up all the effectiveness of the technique.

I wouldn't expect non-violent protest (in America) to be capable of that kind of social change in the future, because those in power have learned how to deal with it effectively (mass arrest for minor infractions and an absolute refusal to engage in political grandstanding). By this point, mass protests are quite ineffective at creating social change here in the US (consider the relatively pointlessness of the Occupy movement)

I'm sure there are other examples of techniques of social change becoming totally ineffective as authorities learned how to respond better, but I can't think of any off the top of my head.

Comment author: john_ku 05 May 2012 12:48:46PM *  18 points [-]

If the difficulty of a physiological problem is mathematical in essence, ten physiologists ignorant of mathematics will get precisely as far as one physiologist ignorant of mathematics and no further.

Norbert Wiener

Comment author: soreff 05 May 2012 10:58:52PM 2 points [-]

I'm going to be unfair here - there is a limit to how much specificity one can expect in a brief quote but: In what sense is the difficulty "mathematical in essence", and just how ignorant of how much mathematics are the physiologists in question? Consider a problem where the exact solution of the model equations turns out to be an elliptic integral - but where the practically relevant range is adequately represented by a piecewise linear approximation, or by a handful of terms in a power series. Would ignorance of the elliptic integral be a fatal flaw here?

Comment author: othercriteria 06 May 2012 10:12:44PM 9 points [-]

Speaking as someone who is neither the OP nor Norbert Wiener, I think even the task of posing an adequate mathematical model should not be taken for granted. Thousands of physiologists looked at Drosophila segments and tiger stripes before Turing, thousands of ecologists looked at niche differentiation before Tilman, thousands of geneticists looked at the geological spread of genes before Fisher and Kolmogorov, etc. In all these cases, the solution doesn't require math beyond an undergraduate level.

Also, concern over an exact solution is somewhat misplaced given that the greater parts of the error are going to come from the mismatch between model and reality and from imperfect parameter estimates.

Comment author: MichaelGR 03 May 2012 05:32:32PM 17 points [-]

“Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.”

― Brandon Mull, Fablehaven

Comment author: Ezekiel 04 May 2012 10:35:28PM 9 points [-]

The real sharp ones also learn from the mistakes of others.

Comment author: fortyeridania 05 May 2012 12:07:24PM 2 points [-]

Are you correcting the accuracy of the quotation, or commenting?

Comment author: wadavis 22 May 2013 03:44:32PM 3 points [-]

Others rarely collect enough data when making mistakes. Sometimes you need to go make the mistake yourself.

Comment author: William_Kasper 06 May 2012 08:10:15PM *  25 points [-]

[Political "gaffe" stories] are completely information-free news events, and they absolutely dominate political news coverage and analysis. It's like asking your doctor if the X-rays show a tumor, and all he'll talk about is how stupid the radiologist's haircut looks. . . . ["Blast"] stories are. . . just as content-free as the "gaffe" stories. But they are popular for the same reason: There's a petty, tribal satisfaction in seeing a member of our team really put the other team in their place. And there's a rush of outrage adrenaline when the other team says something mean about us. So, instead of covering pending legislation or the impact it could have on your life, the news media covers the dick-measuring contest.

-David Wong, 5 Ways to Spot a B.S. Political Story in Under 10 Seconds

Comment author: gwillen 15 May 2012 06:22:18AM 12 points [-]

I am consistently impressed by the quality of the writing that comes out of Cracked, especially relative to what one might expect given its appearance.

Comment author: albeola 06 May 2012 09:07:11PM 7 points [-]

instead of covering pending legislation or the impact it could have on your life

If "impact on your life" is the relevant criterion, then it seems to me Wong should be focusing on the broader mistake of watching the news in the first place. If the average American spent ten minutes caring about e.g. the Trayvon Martin case, then by my calculations that represents roughly a hundred lifetimes lost.

Comment author: homunq 20 May 2012 01:03:47PM 7 points [-]

You have a funny definition of "lost". By that measure, JRR Tolkien is worse than a mass-murderer.

Comment author: Ezekiel 04 May 2012 10:52:03PM *  14 points [-]

When scientists discuss papers:
"I don't think this inference is entirely reasonable. If you're using several non-independent variables you're liable to accumulate more error than your model accounts for."
When scientists discuss grants:
"A guy who worked at the NSF once told me if we light a candle inside this jackal skull, the funders will smile upon our hopes."
"I'll get the altar!"

~ Zach Weiner, SMBC #2559

Comment author: fortyeridania 05 May 2012 12:24:48PM 6 points [-]

(1) Do people act more rationally when their interests are more directly concerned? (2) Are scientists' interests more directly concerned with winning grants than with making correct scientific inferences?

If the answer to both is "yes," then I think we should raise our confidence in jackal rituals relative to the current methodologies of statistical inference.

Comment author: khafra 07 May 2012 03:12:38PM 3 points [-]

Fortunately for jackals, there's an unjustified independence assumption here. Other stuff I've read strongly suggests that the outcomes of published research are strongly influenced by the expectations of the researchers about future grant money.

Comment author: Old_Rationality 02 May 2012 11:44:04AM 14 points [-]

The atmosphere of political parties, whether in France or England, is not congenial to the formation of an impartial judgment. A Minister, who is in the thick of a tough parliamentary struggle, must use whatever arguments he can to defend his cause without inquiring too closely whether they are good, bad, or indifferent. However good they may be, they will probably not convince his political opponents, and they can scarcely be so bad as not to carry some sort of conviction to the minds of those who are predisposed to support him.

Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer, Modern Egypt

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 02 May 2012 03:49:35PM 21 points [-]

The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.

Wikiquotes: Huston Smith Wikipedia: Ralph Washinton Sockman

Comment author: Thomas 03 May 2012 07:18:03PM 5 points [-]

A short shoreline of wonder is a good sign that the island of knowledge is small.

Comment author: DanArmak 02 May 2012 04:48:51PM 26 points [-]

Only while the island is smaller than half the world :-)

Anyway, I can always measure your shore and get any result I want.

Comment author: jeremysalwen 02 May 2012 06:35:02PM 7 points [-]

No, you can only get an answer up to the limit imposed by the fact that the coastline is actually composed of atoms. The fact that a coastline looks like a fractal is misleading. It makes us forget that just like everything else it's fundamentally discrete.

This has always bugged me as a case of especially sloppy extrapolation.

Comment author: DanArmak 02 May 2012 06:42:19PM 5 points [-]

Of course you can't really measure on an atomic scale anyway because you can't decide which atoms are part of the coast and which are floating in the sea. The fuzziness of the "coastline" definition makes measurement meaningless on scales even larger than single atoms and molecules, probably. So you're right, and we can't measure it arbitrarily large. It's just wordplay at that point.

Comment author: VKS 02 May 2012 10:31:09PM 7 points [-]

The island of knowledge is composed of atoms? The shoreline of wonder is not a fractal?

Comment author: Bugmaster 02 May 2012 10:44:38PM 4 points [-]

The island of knowledge is composed of atoms?

Perhaps it's composed of atomic memes ?

Comment author: Snowyowl 08 May 2012 05:52:35PM 11 points [-]

I think this conversation just jumped one of the sharks that swim in the waters around the island of knowledge.

Comment author: CuSithBell 04 May 2012 03:35:30PM 2 points [-]

And assuming an arbitrarily large world, as the area of the island increases, the ratio of shoreline to area decreases, no? Not sure what that means in terms of the metaphor, though...

Comment author: DanArmak 04 May 2012 05:57:54PM 6 points [-]

Eventually the island's population can't fit all at once on the shore, and so not everyone can gather new wonder.

Comment author: rocurley 03 May 2012 11:42:32PM *  27 points [-]

Inspired by maia's post:

“When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! I don’t want your damn lemons, what the hell am I supposed to do with these? Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lemons! I’m gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!”

---Cave Johnson, Portal 2

Comment author: SpaceFrank 04 May 2012 08:03:04PM 12 points [-]

When life gives you lemons, order miracle berries.

Comment author: Nisan 03 May 2012 11:57:16PM 34 points [-]

"When life hands you lemons, make lemonade" = "I have water and sugar and you don't, aren't I awesome"

Steven Kaas

Comment author: [deleted] 04 May 2012 01:43:42AM 7 points [-]

I say, when life gives you a lemon, wing it right back and add some lemons of your own!

Calvin, Calvin and Hobbes

Comment author: [deleted] 04 May 2012 06:29:57PM *  6 points [-]

When life gives you lemons, lemon canon.

Comment author: DSimon 06 May 2012 12:35:43AM 4 points [-]

"He says what we're all thinking!"

---GlaDOS, Portal 2, in response to above quote

Comment author: dlthomas 03 May 2012 11:49:31PM 4 points [-]

I like lemons...

Comment author: DanArmak 04 May 2012 12:38:07AM 9 points [-]

When life gives you lemons, be sure to say Thank-you politely.

Comment author: Zubon 26 May 2012 02:40:10PM *  5 points [-]

The more accurate the map, the more it resembles the territory. The most accurate map possible would be the territory, and this would be perfectly accurate and perfectly useless.

-- American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 January 2014 09:09:39PM 5 points [-]

The more accurate the map, the more it resembles the territory. The most accurate map possible would be the territory, and this would be perfectly accurate and perfectly useless.

This quote hides a subtle equivocation, which it relies on to jump from "you have X" to "you do not have X" without us noticing.

If I have a map I can look at it, draw marks on it and make plans. I can also tear it to pieces and analyse it with a mass spectrometer without it damaging the territory. Make the map I start with more accurate and I can draw on it in more detail and make more accurate analysis. Make the map nearly perfect and I can get nearly perfect information from the map without destroying breaking anything in the territory. Moving from 'nearly perfect' to 'perfect' does not mean "Oh, actually you don't have one territory and also one map. You only have this one territory".

As a practical example consider a map of a bank I am considering robbing. I could have blueprint of the building layout. I could have detailed photographs. Or I could have a perfect to-scale clone of the building accurate in every detail. That 'map' sounds rather useful to me.

Imprecision is not the only purpose of a map.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 May 2012 09:06:16PM 5 points [-]

It is not merely that a stock of true beliefs is vastly more likely to be helpful than a stock of false ones, but that the policy of aiming for the truth, of having and trying to satisfy a general (de dicto) desire for the truth—what we might simply call "critical inquiry"—is the best doxastic policy around. Anything else, as Charles Peirce correctly insists, lead to "a rapid deterioration of intellectual vigor."—Richard Joyce, The Myth of Morality (2001) p. 179.

Comment author: shminux 24 May 2012 06:14:17PM 13 points [-]

if you can’t explain how to simulate your theory on a computer, chances are excellent that the reason is that your theory makes no sense!

-- Scott Aaronson

Comment author: BillyOblivion 28 May 2012 07:31:51AM 3 points [-]

OTOH it could be that the "you" in the above knows little to nothing about computer simulation.

For example a moderately competent evolutionary virologist might have theory about how viruses spread genes across species, but have only a passing knowledge of LaTeX and absolutely no idea how to use bio-sim software.

Or worse, CAN explain, but their explanation demonstrates that lack of knowledge.

Comment author: Annie0305 20 May 2012 10:13:35AM 13 points [-]

Oh, and Paul Graham again from the same piece:

When people are bad at math, they know it, because they get the wrong answers on tests. But when people are bad at open-mindedness they don't know it.

Comment author: Vaniver 10 May 2012 04:07:28PM 13 points [-]

If rational thought is useful at all, then it must be maintained as a practice. Parents must teach it to their children, teachers must teach it to their students, and people must respect each other for their rationality. If the practice of rational thought is not to be lost, some group of people, at least, will have to maintain it.

-Jonathan Baron

Comment author: AlexSchell 02 May 2012 02:32:49AM 13 points [-]

[Instrumentalism about science] has a long and rather sorry philosophical history: most contemporary philosophers of science regard it as fairly conclusively refuted. But I think it’s easier to see what’s wrong with it just by noticing that real science just isn’t like this. According to instrumentalism, palaeontologists talk about dinosaurs so they can understand fossils, astrophysicists talk about stars so they can understand photoplates, virologists talk about viruses so they can understand NMR instruments, and particle physicists talk about the Higgs Boson so they can understand the LHC. In each case, it’s quite clear that instrumentalism is the wrong way around. Science is not “about” experiments; science is about the world, and experiments are part of its toolkit.

David Wallace

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 May 2012 01:30:49PM 4 points [-]

This criticism of instrumentalism only works in so far as instrumentalism is descriptive, rather than prescriptive.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 01 May 2012 07:48:47AM *  13 points [-]

Proper treatment will cure a cold in seven days, but left to itself a cold will hang on for a week.

-Henry G. Felsen

Comment author: RichardKennaway 09 May 2012 07:48:11AM 25 points [-]

Saying "what kind of an idiot doesn't know about the Yellowstone supervolcano" is so much more boring than telling someone about the Yellowstone supervolcano for the first time.


Comment author: Desrtopa 10 May 2012 04:52:40AM 4 points [-]

Because instead of pissing them off you get to terrify them?

Comment author: cousin_it 16 May 2012 11:51:40PM *  19 points [-]

The Patrician steepled his hands and looked at Vimes over the top of them.

"Let me give you some advice, Captain," he said.

"Yes, sir?"

"It may help you make some sense of the world."


"I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people," said the man. "You're wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides. "

He waved his thin hand towards the city and walked over to the window.

"A great rolling sea of evil," he said, almost proprietorially. "Shallower in some places, of course, but deeper, oh, so much deeper in others. But people like you put together little rafts of rules and vaguely good intentions and say, this is the opposite, this will triumph in the end. Amazing!" He slapped Vimes good-naturedly on the back.

"Down there," he said, "are people who will follow any dragon, worship any god, ignore any iniquity. All out of a kind of humdrum, everyday badness. Not the really high, creative loathesomeness of the great sinners, but a sort of mass-produced darkness of the soul. Sin, you might say, without a trace of originality. They accept evil not because they say yes, but because they don't say no. I'm sorry if this offends you,'' he added, patting the captain's shoulder, "but you fellows really need us."

"Yes, sir?" said Vimes quietly.

"Oh, yes. We're the only ones who know how to make things work. You see, the only thing the good people are good at is overthrowing the bad people. And you're good at that, I'll grant you. But the trouble is that it's the only thing you're good at. One day it's the ringing of the bells and the casting down of the evil tyrant, and the next it's everyone sitting around complaining that ever since the tyrant was overthrown no-one's been taking out the trash. Because the bad people know how to plan. It's part of the specification, you might say. Every evil tyrant has a plan to rule the world. The good people don't seem to have the knack."

"Maybe. But you're wrong about the rest!" said Vimes. "It's just because people are afraid, and alone-" He paused. It sounded pretty hollow, even to him.

He shrugged. "They're just people," he said. "They're just doing what people do. Sir."

Lord Vetinari gave him a friendly smile. "Of course, of course," he said. "You have to believe that, I appreciate. Otherwise you'd go quite mad. Otherwise you'd think you're standing on a feather-thin bridge over the vaults of Hell. Otherwise existence would be a dark agony and the only hope would be that there is no life after death. I quite understand."


After a while he made a few pencil annotations to the paper in front of him and looked up.

"I said," he said, "that you may go."

Vimes paused at the door.

"Do you believe all that, sir?" he said. "About the endless evil and the sheer blackness?"

"Indeed, indeed," said the Patrician, turning over the page. "It is the only logical conclusion."

"But you get out of bed every morning, sir?"

"Hmm? Yes? What is your point?"

"I'd just like to know why, sir."

"Oh, do go away, Vimes. There's a good fellow."

-- Terry Pratchett, "Guards! Guards!"

I really like the character of Lord Vetinari. He's like a more successful version of Quirrell from HPMOR who decided that it's okay to have cynical beliefs but idealistic aims.

Comment author: Bugmaster 17 May 2012 12:24:01AM 2 points [-]

I really like this passage, and Vetinari in general, but I downvoted your quote simply because it's too long. It would be better if you could somehow condense it into a single paragraph.

Comment author: Annie0305 20 May 2012 09:43:39AM 12 points [-]

"Almost certainly, there is something wrong with you if you don't think things you don't dare say out loud."

~Paul Graham

Comment author: Old_Rationality 02 May 2012 11:59:39AM 12 points [-]

His mind refused to accept a simple inference from simple facts, which were patent to all the world. The very simplicity of the conclusion was of itself enough to make him reject it, for he had an elective affinity for everything that was intricate. He was a prey to intellectual over-subtlety.

Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer, Modern Egypt

Comment author: maia 03 May 2012 09:12:09PM 18 points [-]

"If God gives you lemons, you find a new God."

-- Powerthirst 2: Re-Domination

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 05 May 2012 01:03:06AM 7 points [-]

I maintain you should use the lemons as an offering to appease your angry new god.

Comment author: Mark_Eichenlaub 02 May 2012 05:29:43AM *  18 points [-]

I don't think we can get much more specific without starting to be mistaken.

Paul Graham, "Is It Worth Being Wise?" http://paulgraham.com/wisdom.html

Comment author: shokwave 02 May 2012 06:10:13AM 8 points [-]

Noticing this moment is important!

Of course, we shouldn't stop when we notice this. We should keep getting more specific, and we should begin testing whether we are mistaken.

Comment author: Stephanie_Cunnane 02 May 2012 05:11:15AM 11 points [-]

Are you better off than you were one year ago, one month ago, or one week ago?

-Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

Comment author: Mass_Driver 02 May 2012 11:37:12PM *  13 points [-]

Has anyone tried to put Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek plan into practice? If so, did it make you better off than you were a month ago?

EDIT: Ferriss recommends (among other things) that readers invent and market a simple product that can be sold online and manufactured in China, yielding a steady income stream that requires little or no ongoing attention. There are dozens of anecdotes on his website and in his book that basically say "I heard that idea, I tried it, it worked, and now I'm richer and happier." These anecdotes (if true) indicate that the plan is workable for at least some people. What I don't see in these anecdotes is people who say "I really didn't think of myself as an entrepreneur, but I forced myself to slog through the exercises anyway, and then it worked for me!"

So, I'm trying to elicit that latter, more dramatic kind of anecdote from LWers. It would help me decide if most of the value in Ferriss's advice lies in simply reminding born entrepreneurs that they're allowed to execute a simple plan, or if Ferriss's advice can also enable intelligent introverts with no particular grasp of the business world to cast off the shackles of office employment.

Comment author: knb 03 May 2012 03:37:50AM 3 points [-]

I have, and yes it made me much better off (although I wouldn't really describe it as a "plan", since its more "meta" than I think of "plans" as being.)

Some more anecdotal evidence.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 04 May 2012 08:20:41AM 7 points [-]

Cool! So, what was your pre-4HWW lifestyle like, and how did it change?

Comment author: sometimes_rational 08 May 2012 11:44:55AM 2 points [-]

There are other resources that recommend this practice. Steve Pavlina is currently running a series on passive income on his blog that looks interesting as well.

I don't know if the recommendations made in 4-Hour workweek or that blog are sustainable in the real world without a large amount of "luck".

Comment author: Ghatanathoah 02 May 2012 04:42:39PM *  26 points [-]

"It is indeed true that he [Hume] claims that 'reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.' But a slave, it should not be forgotten, does virtually all the work."

-Alan Carter, Pluralism and Projectivism

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 May 2012 07:33:52PM *  16 points [-]

The word problem may be an insidious form of question-begging. To speak of the Jewish problem is to postulate that the Jews are a problem; it is to predict (and recommend) persecution, plunder, shooting, beheading, rape, and the reading of Dr. Rosenberg's prose. Another disadvantage of fallacious problems is that they bring about solutions that are equally fallacious. Pliny (Book VIII of Natural History) is not satisfied with the observation that dragons attack elephants in the summer; he ventures the hypothesis that they do it in order to drink the elephants' blood, which, as everyone knows, is very cold.

-- Jorge Luis Borges, "Dr. Américo Castro is Alarmed"

Comment author: fubarobfusco 02 May 2012 11:06:11PM 4 points [-]

(Pliny, not Plinty.)

The article is not about antisemitism, by the way. It's about one Dr. Castro's alarm over a "linguistic disorder in Buenos Aires" — i.e. a putative decline in the quality of Argentinian Spanish usage.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 May 2012 11:34:28PM 7 points [-]

Thank you, corrected! Yes, it is a wonderful demolition of Castro's pretentious pronouncements on the Argentine dialect, which contains some of the finest examples of Borges' erudite snark. ("...the doctor appeals to a method that we must either label sophistical, to avoid doubting his intelligence, or naive, to avoid doubting his integrity...")

Comment author: [deleted] 01 May 2012 08:27:25AM *  32 points [-]

If there is something really cool and you can't understand why somebody hasn't done it before, it's because you haven't done it yourself.

-- Lion Kimbro, "The Anarchist's Principle"

Comment author: olalonde 04 May 2012 12:48:32AM *  3 points [-]

Forgive my stupidity, but I'm not sure I get this one. Should I read it as "[...] it's probably for the same reasons you haven't done it yourself."?

Comment author: dlthomas 04 May 2012 01:32:40AM 3 points [-]

I think it just means "you should do it", which is only sometimes the appropriate response.

Comment author: tut 08 May 2012 05:55:31PM 10 points [-]

Those who wish to appear wise among fools, among the wise seem foolish.


Comment author: Grognor 01 May 2012 07:15:47AM *  29 points [-]

The Disobedi-Ant

The story of the Disobedi-Ant is very short. It refused to believe that its powerful impulses to play instead of work were anything but unique expressions of its very unique self, and it went its merry way, singing, "What I choose to do has nothing to do with what any-ant else chooses to do! What could be more self-evident?"

Coincidentally enough, so went the reasoning of all its colony-mates. In fact, the same refrain was independently invented by every last ant in the colony, and each ant thought it original. It echoed throughout the colony, even with the same melody.

The colony perished.

-Douglas Hofstadter (posted with gwern's "permission")

Comment author: MichaelGR 03 May 2012 05:33:52PM *  21 points [-]

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea...

  • Antoine de Saint Exupery
Comment author: MBlume 05 May 2012 08:46:37AM 7 points [-]

Both operations seem vitally necessary, but he's probably right that you should start with the latter.

Comment author: albeola 06 May 2012 11:11:45PM 3 points [-]
Comment author: Grognor 18 May 2012 06:52:28PM 9 points [-]

Every plane crash makes the next one less likely; every bank crash makes the next one more probable.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: CasioTheSane 05 May 2012 07:01:54PM *  13 points [-]

We're even wrong about which mistakes we're making.

-Carl Winfeld

Comment author: mindspillage 14 May 2012 02:19:05PM 12 points [-]

"In war you will generally find that the enemy has at any time three courses of action open to him. Of those three, he will invariably choose the fourth." —Helmuth Von Moltke

(quoted in "Capturing the Potential of Outlier Ideas in the Intelligence Community", via Bruce Schneier)

Comment author: fubarobfusco 15 May 2012 01:49:56AM 8 points [-]

There is a corollary of the Law of Fives in Discordianism, as follows: Whenever you think that there are only two possibilities (X, or else Y), there are in fact at least five: X; Y; X and Y; neither X nor Y; and J, something you hadn't thought of before.

Comment author: baiter 01 May 2012 01:07:24PM *  17 points [-]

My function is to raise the possibility, 'Hey, you know, some of this stuff might be bullshit.'

-- Robert Anton Wilson

Comment author: cousin_it 01 May 2012 07:29:08PM *  41 points [-]

Contrarians of LW, if you want to be successful, please don't follow this strategy. Chances are that many people have raised the same possibility before, and anyway raising possibilities isn't Bayesian evidence, so you'll just get ignored. Instead, try to prove that the stuff is bullshit. This way, if you're right, others will learn something, and if you're wrong, you will have learned something.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 01 May 2012 09:39:57PM *  23 points [-]

For what it's worth, some context:

JW: To what extent do you think you've become a part of the New Age movement? The stalls in the atrium tonight seemed to be concerned with a lot of New Age material, and to an extent the way you've been talking about Virtual Realities and mind expansion you seem to be almost a forerunner of the movement.

RAW: The Berkeley mob once called Leary and me "the counter-culture of the counter-culture." I'm some kind of antibody in the New Age movement. My function is to raise the possibility, "Hey, you know, some of this stuff might be bullshit."


Wilson had a tendency to come across as a skeptic among mystics and a mystic among skeptics.

Comment author: handoflixue 01 May 2012 07:49:25PM 2 points [-]

I doubt I can do much to prove a lot of the 'core' concepts of rationality, but I can do a lot to point people towards it and shake up their belief that there isn't such a proof.

Comment author: fortyeridania 05 May 2012 11:44:56AM 3 points [-]

(1) Insisting that those who disagree with you prove their opinions sets too high a bar for them. Being light means surrendering to the truth ASAP.

(2) Raising possibilities is Bayesian evidence, assuming the possibility-raiser is a human, not a random-hypothesis generator.

Comment author: cousin_it 05 May 2012 11:56:28AM 6 points [-]

Yeah, and if the possibility-raiser is a human who would have provided evidence if they had any, then raising possibilities without evidence is Bayesian evidence in the other direction :-)

Comment author: abramdemski 21 May 2012 05:01:18AM 2 points [-]

I think "try to prove" was an importantly different word choice from "prove" in cousin_it's comment. The point is that in the context of a "new age" movement, it may be enough to raise the possibility; people really may not be thinking about it. In the context of Less Wrong, that is not usually enough; people are often already thinking about evidence for and against.

Comment author: Nominull 02 May 2012 01:39:17AM *  14 points [-]

Plato says that the unexamined life is not worth living. But what if the examined life turns out to be a clunker as well?

-Kurt Vonnegut

Comment author: gwern 02 May 2012 02:27:29AM 11 points [-]

Then you can commit suicide without worries.

Comment author: JoachimSchipper 02 May 2012 07:07:58AM 7 points [-]

Or try to vary life among other dimensions than (un)"examined"; most people do feel they live lifes worth living, after all.

(In general, I'm not sure we should be advocating suicide in all but the most extreme cases.)

Comment author: MBlume 05 May 2012 08:49:50AM 2 points [-]

I'm fairly sure gwern was being glib

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 May 2012 03:07:29AM 3 points [-]

The privilege of knowing how, painfully, to frame answerable questions, answers which will lead him to more insights and better questions, as far as his mind can manage and his own life lasts. It is what he wants more than anything in the world, always has.

The Psychologist Who Wouldn't Do Awful Things to Rats by James Tiptree

Comment author: MichaelGR 03 May 2012 05:31:34PM 14 points [-]

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

  • Confucius
Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 03 May 2012 09:29:42PM 16 points [-]

"Well it's alright for you, Confucius, living in 5th Century feudal China. Between all the documentation I have to go through at work, and all the blogs I'm following while pretending to work, and all the textbooks I have to get through before my next assignment deadline, I don't have time to read!"

Comment author: J_Taylor 03 May 2012 06:16:35PM 11 points [-]

It is not seeing things as they are to think first of a Briareus with a hundred hands, and then call every man a cripple for only having two. It is not seeing things as they are to start with a vision of Argus with his hundred eyes, and then jeer at every man with two eyes as if he had only one. And it is not seeing things as they are to imagine a demigod of infinite mental clarity, who may or may not appear in the latter days of the earth, and then to see all men as idiots.

-G.K. Chesterton

Comment author: thomblake 03 May 2012 06:39:43PM 3 points [-]

Related: this slide

Comment author: [deleted] 29 May 2012 05:32:35AM *  6 points [-]

I can tell how old I am because I can remember a day long ago when journalists would describe a book as "provocative" and "controversial" to whet readers' interest in the book. Today, the words "provocative" and "controversial" have become code for Move Along, Nothing to See Here.

--Steve Sailer, commenting on cultural changes and words


Comment author: komponisto 01 May 2012 03:05:58PM *  15 points [-]

[S]top whining and start hacking.

-- Paul Graham

(Arguably a decent philosophy of life, if a bit harshly expressed for my taste.)

Comment author: DanArmak 02 May 2012 11:19:32AM 20 points [-]

Hey, I can hack and whine at the same time!

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 May 2012 04:32:13PM 4 points [-]

Attempting this just reallocates all whining to being about inability to start hacking.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 05 May 2012 07:50:12AM *  2 points [-]

Kane: Quit griping!
Lambert: I like griping.

(from Alien)

Comment author: Mark_Eichenlaub 02 May 2012 05:33:38AM 16 points [-]

If you're trying to choose between two theories and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right.

Paul Graham “What You’ll Wish You’d Known” http://paulgraham.com/hs.html

Comment author: JGWeissman 02 May 2012 09:13:46PM 24 points [-]
Comment author: juped 05 May 2012 03:35:29PM 14 points [-]

Atheism is an excellent excuse for skipping church.

Comment author: Document 09 May 2012 09:43:42PM 5 points [-]

Believing there's no gold under your yard is an excellent excuse for not digging it up.

Comment author: Grognor 03 May 2012 01:08:03AM 3 points [-]

Almost the same as the one Eliezer used here

Comment author: thomblake 03 May 2012 03:43:56PM 5 points [-]

The quote in that link makes a good point: If one gives you an excuse to be lazy, then you might be privileging the hypothesis; it could be that it was only raised to the level of attention so that you can avoid work. Thus, the lazy choice really does get a big hit to its prior probability for being lazy.

But it's still false that the other one is probably right. In general, if a human is choosing between two theories, they're both probably insanely wrong. For rationalists, you can charitably drop "insanely" from that description.

Comment author: thomblake 02 May 2012 09:01:08PM 9 points [-]

Reversed stupidity is not intelligence!

Comment author: William_Kasper 06 May 2012 07:19:36PM 8 points [-]

It's weird how proud people are of not learning math when the same arguments apply to learning to play music, cook, or speak a foreign language.


Comment author: Nominull 07 May 2012 06:12:39AM 7 points [-]

I think that the relevant distinction is "is it really horribly unpleasant and I make no progress no matter how long I spend and I don't find correct output aesthetically pleasing."

"Weird" is a statement about your understanding of people's pride, not a statement about people's pride.

Comment author: TimS 08 May 2012 01:11:52AM 3 points [-]

Proud of not learning math includes math like algebra or conversation of units. That sort of math, which might be taught in elementary school, is practically useful in daily life. Being proud of not knowing that kind of math is profoundly anti-learning. The attitude applies equally to learning anything, from reading to history to car mechanics.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 08 May 2012 11:08:19AM 11 points [-]

Something a not-especially-mathsy friend of mine said a while back:

It makes me sad when I see or hear people say 'algebra and trig are pointless, you never use them in real life'.

Because what this says to me is 'I make life more difficult for myself because I don't understand how to make it simpler'.

Comment author: Nominull 08 May 2012 05:21:54PM 2 points [-]

Then how do you explain, in your model, the comic's implicit observation that people do not apply this same attitude to to learning to play music, cook, or speak a foreign language? Let's try to fit reality here, not just rag on people for being "anti-learning" in the same way others might speak of someone being "anti-freedom".

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 01 May 2012 07:58:52AM *  10 points [-]

Scientific Realism is the only philosophy that doesn't make the success of science a miracle.

-Hilary Putnam

Comment author: RobinZ 01 May 2012 02:53:45PM *  4 points [-]

One quote per post, please.

Edit: Belated thanks!

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 01 May 2012 04:05:16PM 10 points [-]

I claim that the success of current scientific theories is no miracle. It is not even surprising to the scientific (Darwinist) mind. For any scientific theory is born into a life of fierce competition, a jungle red in tooth and claw. Only the successful theories survive — the ones which in fact latched on to actual regularities in nature.

-Bas van Fraassen

Comment author: CharlieSheen 15 May 2012 11:17:25AM *  7 points [-]

pattern recognition is a valuable aid to anyone navigating the chaos of the real world, their denials they engage in such nefarious human-like activity to the contrary notwithstanding.

--Heartiste (the blogger formerly known as Roissy), on useful stereotypes. Source.

Comment author: DSimon 11 May 2012 04:31:34AM *  7 points [-]

"Our gods are dead. Ancient Klingon warriors slew them a millenia ago; they were more trouble than they were worth."

  • Lt. Cmdr. Worf, regarding Klingon beliefs
Comment author: Fyrius 14 May 2012 01:04:51PM *  4 points [-]

As badass as this bit of Klingon mythology may be, I'm not sure I see the relevance to rationalism. If I understand correctly, then what was considered "more trouble than they were worth" were the actual, really existing gods themselves, and not the Klingons' belief in imagined gods.

Comment author: DSimon 14 May 2012 09:44:01PM 8 points [-]

I was thinking in terms of moral realism and appropriate ambition rather than atheism or epistemology. The right response to a tyrannical or dangerous deity is to find a way to get rid of it if possible, rather than coming up with reasons why it's not really so bad.

Comment author: kdorian 05 May 2012 02:38:28PM *  7 points [-]

You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame. Yeah, see, they die of shame. 'What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?' And so they sit there and they... die. Because they didn't do the one thing that would save their lives. Thinking.

- David Mamet

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 07 May 2012 08:12:56PM *  3 points [-]

ETA: Gwern checked the book and posted the relevant section below. I got it backwards-- seven to twelve are the ages most likely to die. Six and under are more likely to survive.

Actually, there's something rather like that in Deep Survival, a book that's mostly about wilderness survival. IIRC, six to twelve year olds are more likely to survive than adults, and it's because of less fear of embarrassment.

However, the author didn't go into a lot of details about which mistakes the adults make-- I think it was that the kids seek cover, but the adults make bad plans and insist on following through with them.

Comment author: gwern 07 May 2012 09:48:45PM 26 points [-]

Downloading the book, pg236, you forgot one interesting detail:

One of the many baffling mysteries concerns who survives and who doesn't. "It's not who you'd predict, either," Hill, who has studied the survival rates of different demographic groups, told me. "Sometimes the one who survives is an inexperienced female hiker, while the experienced hunter gives up and dies in one night, even when it's not that cold. The category that has one of the highest survival rates is children six and under, the very people we're most concerned about." Despite the fact that small children lose body heat faster than adults, they often survive in the same conditions better than experienced hunters, better than physically fit hikers, better than former members of the military or skilled sailors. And yet one of the groups with the poorest survival rates is children ages seven to twelve. Clearly, those youngest children have a deep secret that trumps knowledge and experience.

Scientists do not know exactly what that secret is, but the answer may lie in basic childhood traits. At that age, the brain has not yet developed certain abilities. For example, small children do not create the same sort of mental maps adults do. They don't understand traveling to a particular place, so they don't run to get somewhere beyond their field of vision. They also follow their instincts. If it gets cold, they crawl into a hollow tree to get warm. If they're tired, they rest, so they don't get fatigued. If they're thirsty, they drink. They try to make themselves comfortable, and staying comfortable helps keep them alive. (Small children following their instincts can also be hard to find; in more than one case, the lost child actually hid from rescuers. One was afraid of "coyotes" when he heard the search dogs barking. Another was afraid of one-eyed monsters when he saw big men wearing headlamps. Fortunately, both were ultimately found.) The secret may also be in the fact that they do not yet have the sophisticated mental mapping ability that adults have, and so do not try to bend the map. They remap the world they're in.

Children between the ages of seven and twelve, on the other hand, have some adult characteristics, such as mental mapping, but they don't have adult judgment. They don't ordinarily have the strong ability to control emotional responses and to reason through their situation. They panic and run. They look for shortcuts. If a trail peters out, they keep going, ignoring thirst, hunger, and cold, until they fall over. In learning to think more like adults, it seems, they have suppressed the very instincts that might have helped them. But they haven't learned to stay cool. Many may not yet be self-reliant.

http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Valley_of_bad_rationality ?

Comment author: [deleted] 19 May 2012 10:44:48AM 5 points [-]

If a student says “I find physics boring and dull”, it simply means only one thing: that they had a bad teacher. Any good teacher can turn physics into something absolutely spectacular.

Walter Lewin

Comment author: hairyfigment 03 May 2012 07:36:27AM 10 points [-]

When somebody picks my pocket, I'm not gonna be chasing them down so I can figure out whether he feels like he's a thief deep down in his heart. I'm going to be chasing him down so I can get my wallet back.

-- illdoc1 on YouTube

Comment author: Ezekiel 04 May 2012 10:36:41PM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure I get this. Could you explain, please?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 05 May 2012 10:11:48PM *  8 points [-]

The Imaginary Mongoose

Mr R. G. Knowles, on being asked what he considered to be the best story he had ever heard, instanced the following: —

An inquisitive gentleman, riding in a carriage in one of the London tube railways, noticed that a man opposite him carried upon his knees a small black box of somewhat peculiar construction. The inquisitive one eyed it furtively for a brief while, then, unable to restrain his curiosity, he leaned forward and remarked: —

"You seem to take great care of that box, sir. May I ask what it contains?"

"Certainly. It contains a mongoose," was the reply.

"Oh, indeed!" exclaimed the other, his curiosity still unsatisfied. "A mongoose! And pray, what is it for?"

"Well, the fact is," explained the owner of the box, lowering his voice, "I have got a friend who has got delirium tremens, and he fancies he sees snakes. Now, the mongoose, you know, kills snakes, so I am taking it to him."

"—Dear me!" cried the surprised recipient of this piece of information. "But—but" — here he thought hard for several seconds — "but surely you do not want a real mongoose to kill imaginary snakes!"

"Of course not," was the reply. "This is only an imaginary mongoose."

Kilmore Free Press; Kilmore, Victoria, Australia; 14 December 1916.

A version of this story is found in Aleister Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice, and a paraphrase is quoted in Robert Anton Wilson's Masks of the Illuminati, attributed to a fictionalized Crowley; that version may be found here.

Comment author: tgb 05 May 2012 11:56:12PM 20 points [-]

Love the story, but the punchline shouldn't be spoiled in the title!

Comment author: Old_Rationality 02 May 2012 11:52:19AM 7 points [-]

I can state very positively why it was that, after having twice refused to utilise General Gordon's services, I yielded on being pressed a third time by Lord Granville. I believed that at the time I stood alone in hesitating to employ General Gordon... With this array of opinion against me, I mistrusted my own judgement. I did not yield because I hesitated to stand up against the storm of public opinion. I gave a reluctant assent, in reality against my own judgement and inclination, because I thought that, as everybody differed from me, I must be wrong. I also thought I might be unconsciously prejudiced against General Gordon from the fact that his habits of thought and modes of action in dealing with public affairs differed widely from mine. In yielding, I made a mistake which I shall never cease to regret.

Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer, Modern Egypt

Comment author: dspeyer 01 May 2012 03:59:32PM 9 points [-]

It takes a very clever human to come up with a genuinely funny joke about goodness, but any human can be trained to act as if goodness were funny.

-- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (from memory -- I may have the exact phrasing wrong).

You can replace "goodness" in this sentence with almost anything that tends to get flippantly rejected without thought.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 01 May 2012 08:18:34PM 16 points [-]

Good memory. The original reads:

Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 02 May 2012 12:03:33AM 7 points [-]

Not sure if finding something funny in the context of a joke necessarily leads to one not taking it seriously in other contexts. [E.g. when xkcd and smbc make science jokes I don't think my belief in the science they are referencing diminishes.]

Comment author: dspeyer 13 May 2012 06:09:43PM *  5 points [-]

When xkcd and smbc make science jokes, they're real jokes written by clever humans.

Flippancy is more like Dell's recent "shut up bitch" scandal and the it's a joke, laugh reactions to it. Mads Christensen presented no substantive evidence that women are unable to contribute to IT, he just tried to train the crowd to regard the very idea of a capable woman as if it were funny.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 May 2012 03:20:26PM 4 points [-]

The bit about "trained to act as if" is very astute. The same training can be applied to overvaluing things with little or no apparent value.

Comment author: J_Taylor 01 May 2012 02:31:32PM 6 points [-]

Spider: The point is, the only real tools we have are our eyes and our heads. It's not the act of seeing with our own eyes alone; it's correctly comprehending what we see.

Channon: Treating life as an autopsy.

Spider: Got it. Laying open the guts of the world and sniffing the entrails, that's what we do.

-- Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan

Comment author: kdorian 05 May 2012 02:47:10PM 4 points [-]

We will find the key to our liberation only when we accept that what we once did to survive is now destroying us.

- Laura van Dernoot Lipsky

Comment author: hairyfigment 04 May 2012 07:14:10PM 4 points [-]

It has been my experience that most problems in life are caused by a lack of information...When two friends get mad at each other, they usually do it because they lack information about each other's feelings. Americans lack information about Librarian control of their government. The people who pass this book on the shelf and don't buy it lack information about how wonderful, exciting, and useful it is.

-- Alcatraz Smedry in Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson.

Comment author: gwillen 15 May 2012 06:33:18AM 2 points [-]

That did not go in anything like the direction I expected. :-)

Comment author: [deleted] 12 May 2012 12:28:14AM 3 points [-]

It is somewhat remarkable that this reverend divine should be so earnest for setting up new churches and so perfectly indifferent concerning the doctrine which may be taught in them. His zeal is of a curious character. It is not for the propagation of his own opinions, but of any opinions. It is not for the diffusion of truth, but for the spreading of contradiction. Let the noble teachers but dissent, it is no matter from whom or from what.

Edmund Burke on Richard Price, in "Reflections on the Revolution in France" which I am reading for the first time. This Richard Price, who is fascinating. Here is the sermon Burke was complaining about.

Comment author: CaveJohnson 11 May 2012 05:10:46PM *  3 points [-]

The fact is that political stupidity is a special kind of stupidity, not well correlated with intelligence, or with other varieties of stupidity.

--John Derbyshire, source


Comment author: Multiheaded 17 May 2012 03:40:40PM *  5 points [-]

Yet more of St. George:

...I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed œsophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul, and there was a period — twenty years, perhaps — during which he did not notice it.

It was absolutely necessary that the soul should be cut away. Religious belief, in the form in which we had known it, had to be abandoned. By the nineteenth century it was already in essence a lie, a semi-conscious device for keeping the rich rich and the poor poor. The poor were to be contented with their poverty, because it would all be made up to them in the world beyound the grave, usually pictured as something mid-way between Kew gardens and a jeweller's shop. Ten thousand a year for me, two pounds a week for you, but we are all the children of God. And through the whole fabric of capitalist society there ran a similar lie, which it was absolutely necessary to rip out.

Consequently there was a long period during which nearly every thinking man was in some sense a rebel, and usually a quite irresponsible rebel. Literature was largely the literature of revolt or of disintegration. Gibbon, Voltaire, Rousseau, Shelley, Byron, Dickens, Stendhal, Samuel Butler, Ibsen, Zola, Flaubert, Shaw, Joyce — in one way or another they are all of them destroyers, wreckers, saboteurs. For two hundred years we had sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake. The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all, it was a cesspool full of barbed wire.

It is as though in the space of ten years we had slid back into the Stone Age. Human types supposedly extinct for centuries, the dancing dervish, the robber chieftain, the Grand Inquisitor, have suddenly reappeared, not as inmates of lunatic asylums, but as the masters of the world. Mechanization and a collective economy seemingly aren't enough. By themselves they lead merely to the nightmare we are now enduring: endless war and endless underfeeding for the sake of war, slave populations toiling behind barbed wire, women dragged shrieking to the block, cork-lined cellars where the executioner blows your brains out from behind. So it appears that amputation of the soul isn't just a simple surgical job, like having your appendix out. The wound has a tendency to go septic.

Notes on the Way

Comment author: Desrtopa 21 May 2012 02:00:41AM 6 points [-]

...I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed œsophagus.

I find that hard to believe. I would expect even a wasp to notice this.

Comment author: Multiheaded 17 May 2012 03:50:51PM *  4 points [-]

Yes, before anyone pitches in with that observation, M.M. would surely quote the above with some glee. I'm confident that he'd refrain from posting the essay's ending, though:

Mr Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was a good caricature of the hedonistic Utopia, the kind of thing that seemed possible and even imminent before Hitler appeared, but it had no relation to the actual future. [1] What we are moving towards at this moment is something more like the Spanish Inquisition, and probably far worse, thanks to the radio and the secret police. There is very little chance of escaping it unless we can reinstate the belief in human brotherhood without the need for a ‘next world’ to give it meaning. It is this that leads innocent people like the Dean of Canterbury to imagine that they have discovered true Christianity in Soviet Russia. No doubt they are only the dupes of propaganda, but what makes them so willing to be deceived is their knowledge that the Kingdom of Heaven has somehow got to be brought on to the surface of the earth. We have not to be the children of God, even though the God of the Prayer Book no longer exists.

The very people who have dynamited our civilization have sometimes been aware of this, Marx's famous saying that ‘religion is the opium of the people’ is habitually wrenched out of its context and given a meaning subtly but appreciably different from the one he gave it. Marx did not say, at any rate in that place, that religion is merely a dope handed out from above; he said that it is something the people create for themselves to supply a need that he recognized to be a real one. ‘Religion is the sigh of the soul in a soulless world. Religion is the opium of the people.’ What is he saying except that man does not live by bread alone, that hatred is not enough, that a world worth living in cannot be founded on ‘realism’ and machine-guns? If he had foreseen how great his intellectual influence would be, perhaps he would have said it more often and more loudly.

[1] Okay, that's the one bit Orwell got wrong... maybe. Industrial murder did mark everything forever, though.

Comment author: beforearchimedes 17 May 2012 04:24:36PM *  3 points [-]

It is as though in the space of ten years we had slid back into the Stone Age. Human types supposedly extinct for centuries, the dancing dervish, the robber chieftain, the Grand Inquisitor, have suddenly reappeared, not as inmates of lunatic asylums, but as the masters of the world. Mechanization and a collective economy seemingly aren't enough. By themselves they lead merely to the nightmare we are now enduring: endless war and endless underfeeding for the sake of war, slave populations toiling behind barbed wire, women dragged shrieking to the block, cork-lined cellars where the executioner blows your brains out from behind. So it appears that amputation of the soul isn't just a simple surgical job, like having your appendix out. The wound has a tendency to go septic.

I don't see how this brutality was lacking when humans were more religiously observant. Furthermore, the quote seems to argue for religion.

Meaning the conclusion and the conclusion's reasoning are both wrong.

Comment author: Multiheaded 17 May 2012 04:35:01PM *  4 points [-]

I don't see how this brutality was lacking when humans were more religiously observant.

Not much revolutionary or counter-revolutionary terror, no death camps, comparatively little secret police. Little police and policing in general, actually; you could ride from one end of Europe to another without any prior arrangements, and if you looked alright everyone would let you in. The high and mighty being content with merely existing at the top of traditional "divinely ordained" hierarchy and not having the Will zur Macht that enables really serious tyranny, not attempting to forge new meanings and reality while dragging their subjects to violent insanity.
I agree that it was a cruel, narrow-minded and miserable world that denied whole classes and races a glimpse of hope without a second thought. But we went from one nightmare through a worse one towards a dubious future. There's not much to celebrate so far.

Furthermore, the quote seems to argue for religion.

It argues for a thought pattern and attitude to life that Christianity also exhibits at the best of times, but against the belief in supernatural.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 17 May 2012 04:52:25PM 6 points [-]

Much of this is simply not the case or ignores the largescale other problems. It may help to read Steven Pinker's book "The Better Angels of Our Nature" which makes clear how murder, and warfare (both large and small) were much more common historically.

Comment author: imbatman 21 May 2012 04:28:05PM 3 points [-]

"Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong."

Comment author: Oligopsony 21 May 2012 04:55:52PM 9 points [-]

Or that you've made an invalid inference.

Comment author: BillyOblivion 28 May 2012 07:32:59AM 3 points [-]

Or that both of them (to reference a previous Rationality Quotes entry on arguments) are wrong.

Comment author: Multiheaded 14 May 2012 11:41:31AM *  3 points [-]

"Nothing matters at all. Might as well be nice to people. (Hand out your chuckles while you can.)"

(Mouse over a strip to see its last sentence.)


"You were my everything. Which, upon reflection, was probably the problem."

"Overreaction: Any reaction to something that doesn't affect me."

"Civilization is the ability to distinguish what you like from what you like watching pornography of. (And anyway, why were you going through my computer?)"

"The Internet made us all into cyborgs with access to a whole world of information to back up whatever stupid thing we believe that day. (The Racist Computer Wore Tennis Shoes)"

"Everyone wants someone they can bring home to mom. I need someone to distract my mom while I raid the medicine cabinet. (Someone who thinks suggested dosages are quaint.)" - that's not a rationality quote, but it's how my boyfriend thinks and operates.

Comment author: Waldheri 03 May 2012 06:02:52PM 3 points [-]

All interpretation or observation of reality is necessarily fiction. In this case, the problem is that man is a moral animal abandoned in an amoral universe and condemned to a finite existence with no other purpose than to perpetuate the natural cycle of the species. It is impossible to survive in a prolonged state of reality, at least for a human being. We spend a good part of our lives dreaming, especially when we're awake.

― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel's Game

Comment author: Nagendran 02 May 2012 06:38:46PM 3 points [-]

We, humans, use a frame of reference constructed from integrated sets of assumptions, expectations and experiences. Everything is perceived on the basis of this framework. The framework becomes self-confirming because, whenever we can, we tend to impose it on experiences and events, creating incidents and relationships that conform to it. And we tend to ignore, misperceive, or deny events that do not fit it. As a consequence, it generally leads us to what we are looking for. This frame of reference is not easily altered or dismantled, because the way we tend to see the world is intimately linked to how we see and define ourselves in relation to the world. Thus, we have a vested interest in maintaining consistency because our own identity is at risk.

--- Brian Authur, The Nature of Technology

Comment author: NexH 12 May 2012 08:45:09AM *  3 points [-]

From Terry Pratchett´s Unseen Academicals (very minor/not significant spoilers):

‘You had to find the truth for yourself. That is how we all find the truth.’
‘And if the truth is terrible?’
‘I think you know the answer to that one, Nutt’ said the voice of Ladyship.
‘The answer is that, terrible or not, it is still the truth,’ said Nutt.
‘And then?’ said her voice, like a teacher encouraging a promising pupil.
‘And then the truth can be changed’ said Nutt.

Comment author: Desrtopa 14 May 2012 04:06:14AM 4 points [-]

If you feel the need to put the quote in rot13 to avoid spoilers, it's probably not worth posting at all (I don't think that this quote spoils anything significant about the plot in any case.)

Comment author: Leonhart 16 May 2012 10:53:35PM *  2 points [-]

On Fun Theory; by a great, drunken Master of that conspiracy:

It seems that by placing danmaku under the spellcard rule, the rule limits the freedom of the user, but that isn't true. To be unrestricted means to be able to do anything. On the contrary, that means the immediate pursuit of the best, which in turn destroys variation. If one were free, they need to pursue only "the most efficient, the most effective." For danmaku, that would be one with no gaps, or the fastest and largest attacks possible. That kind of attack can't be described as danmaku at all. Therefore, in a world without rules, danmaku is nonsense.

-- Marisa Kirisame, in her Grimoire