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Rationality Quotes June 2012

4 Post author: OpenThreadGuy 02 June 2012 05:14PM

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  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB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 (413)

Comment author: Oligopsony 06 June 2012 07:06:56PM *  28 points [-]

So, let's say some bros of mine and I have some hand-signals for, you know, bro stuff. And one of the signals means, "Oh, shit. Here comes that girl! You know. That girl. She's coming." That signal has a particular context. Eventually, one of my bros gets tired of sloppy use of the signal, and sets about laying out specifically what situations make a girl that girl. If I used the signal in a close-but-not-quite context, he'd handle it and then pull me aside and say, "I know she and I had that thing that one time, but we never... well, it wasn't quite THAT. You know? So that signal, it freaked me out, because I thought it had to be someone else. Make sure you're using it properly, okay?" And I'd be like, "Bro. Got it."

Another friend of mine, he recognizes the sorts of situations we use the signal in have a common thread, so he begins using the hand signal for other situations, any situation that has the potential for both danger and excitement. So if someone invites us to this real sketchy bar, he'll give me the signal - "This could be bad. But what if it's not?" And I'd respond, "I see what you did there."

Maybe you see where this is going. We're hanging out one day, and some guy suggests we crash some party. Bro #2 signals, and bro #1 freaks out, looking around. And then he's like, "OH FUCK I HAVE TO CALL HER." And #2 says, "No, dude, there's no one coming. I just meant, this is like one of those situations, you know?" And they're pissed at each other because they're using the same signal to mean different things. I'm not mad, because I generally know what they each mean, but I have more context than they do.

The same thing probably happens with analytics and Continentals.

Philosophy Bro

Comment author: [deleted] 06 June 2012 07:56:40PM 1 point [-]

Upvoted for introducing me to one of the funniest blogs I've ever seen. The ironic writing style is brilliant:

Aw yeah, the is-ought problem. Shit's classic, bro

Comment author: Alejandro1 05 June 2012 03:26:47PM *  23 points [-]

When I was 11, I was fascinated with a flame and I didn't know what it was. I went to a teacher and said, "What's a flame? What's going on in there?" And she said "It's oxidation." And that's all she said. And I never heard that word before, so that was like, calling it by another name.

--Alan Alda, in an interview at The Colbert Report, telling the story that gave rise to The Flame Challenge. It has been mentioned on LW before, but I thought it was worth posting it here as a perfect illustration of a Teacher's Password.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 03 June 2012 10:11:44AM 22 points [-]

Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.

-Charles Babbage

Comment author: othercriteria 05 June 2012 03:19:07PM *  3 points [-]

Only if you're using a consistent estimator. (Yes, that's a frequentist concept, but the same sorts of problems show up in a Bayesian context once you try to learn nonparametric models...)

Comment author: fortyeridania 05 June 2012 02:36:56PM 3 points [-]

On the other hand:

A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.

Alexander Pope

Comment author: khafra 05 June 2012 04:24:43PM 4 points [-]

I'd heard that quote before, but this was the first time I recognized the referent for Mount Stupid.

Comment author: Pavitra 13 June 2012 02:20:58AM 21 points [-]

Every creative act is open war against The Way It Is. What you are saying when you make something is that the universe is not sufficient, and what it really needs is more you. And it does, actually; it does. Go look outside. You can’t tell me that we are done making the world.


Comment author: VKS 08 June 2012 11:13:33AM *  19 points [-]

I am reminded of a commentary on logic puzzles of a certain kind; it was perhaps in a letter to Martin Gardner, reprinted in one of his books. The puzzles are those about getting about on an island where each native either always tells the truth or always lies. You reach a fork in the road, for example, and a native is standing there, and you want to learn from him, with one question, which way leads to the village. The “correct” question is “If I asked you if the left way led to the village, would you say yes?” But why should the native’s concept of lying conform to our own logical ideas? If the native is a liar, it means he wants to fool you, and your logical trickery will not work. The best you can do is say something like “Did you hear they are giving away free beer in the village today?” and see which way the native runs. You follow him, even if he says something like “Ugh, I hate beer!” since then he probably really is lying.

  • Alexandre Borovik, quoting an unidentified colleague, paraphrasing another unidentified source, possibly Martin Gardner quoting a letter he got.
Comment author: Fyrius 18 June 2012 11:23:20AM *  5 points [-]

It seems to make the same point as the Parable of the Dagger.

(I.e.: logic games are fun and all, but don't expect things to work that way in the real world. Or: it's valuable to know the difference between intelligent thinking and smart-assery.)

Comment author: CaveJohnson 13 June 2012 03:00:40PM 17 points [-]

In general, nothing is more difficult than not pretending to understand.

--Nicolás Gómez Dávila, source

Comment author: MinibearRex 15 June 2012 05:34:54AM 6 points [-]

I liked the quote, once I figured out how all the negatives interacted with each other.

Comment author: AlexMennen 06 June 2012 04:31:12PM 15 points [-]

The present impossibility of giving a scientific explanation is no proof that there is no scientific explanation. The unexplained is not to be identified with the unexplainable, and the strange and extraordinary nature of a fact is not a justification for attributing it to powers above nature.

-The Catholic Encyclopedia

Comment author: pnrjulius 09 June 2012 12:51:50AM 4 points [-]

What makes that one most interesting is its source.

Comment author: Alejandro1 13 June 2012 05:49:11PM 7 points [-]

I suspect that if the source was a less unexpected one, say Albert Einstein or Carl Sagan, the quote would seem obvious and uninteresting to LWers and its karma score would be less than half what it is.

Comment author: pnrjulius 30 June 2012 03:42:33AM 2 points [-]

This makes perfect sense in terms of Bayesian reasoning. Unexpected evidence is much more powerful evidence that your model is defective.

If your model of the world predicted that the Catholic Church would never say this, well... your model is wrong in at leas that respect.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 June 2012 05:26:51AM *  15 points [-]

Problem solving is hunting; it is savage pleasure and we are born to it.

Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs

Comment author: Kyre 04 June 2012 07:16:46AM 9 points [-]

The other day a client sent me a new sighting of a bug I'd been stalking for a while. The new info allowed me to trap it between two repository revisions, flush it out of the diffs and stomp on the sucker. It did briefly feel kind of primal.

Comment author: wallowinmaya 01 June 2012 09:45:47PM *  39 points [-]

The categories and classes we construct are simply the semantic sugar which makes the reality go down easier. They should never get confused for the reality that is, the reality which we perceive but darkly and with biased lenses. The hyper-relativists and subjectivists who are moderately fashionable in some humane studies today are correct to point out that science is a human construction and endeavor. Where they go wrong is that they are often ignorant of the fact that the orderliness of many facets of nature is such that even human ignorance and stupidity can be overcome with adherence to particular methods and institutional checks and balances. The predictive power of modern science, giving rise to modern engineering, is the proof of its validity. No talk or argumentation is needed. Boot up your computer. Drive your car.

Razib Khan

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 01 June 2012 02:31:58PM *  37 points [-]

Two very different attitudes toward the technical workings of mathematics are found in the literature. Already in 1761, Leonhard Euler complained about isolated results which "are not based on a systematic method" and therefore whose "inner grounds seem to be hidden." Yet in the 20'th Century, writers as diverse in viewpoint as Feller and de Finetti are agreed in considering computation of a result by direct application of the systematic rules of probability theory as dull and unimaginative, and revel in the finding of some isolated clever trick by which one can see the answer to a problem without any calculation.


Feller's perception was so keen that in virtually every problem he was able to see a clever trick; and then gave only the clever trick. So his readers get the impression that:

  • Probability theory has no systematic methods; it is a collection of isolated, unrelated clever tricks, each of which works on one problem but not on the next one.
  • Feller was possessed of superhuman cleverness.
  • Only a person with such cleverness can hope to find new useful results in probability theory.

Indeed, clever tricks do have an aesthetic quality that we all appreciate at once. But we doubt whether Feller, or anyone else, was able to see those tricks on first looking at the problem. We solve a problem for the first time by that (perhaps dull to some) direct calculation applying our systematic rules. After seeing the solution, we may contemplate it and see a clever trick that would have led us to the answer much more quickly. Then, of course, we have the opportunity for gamesmanship by showing others only the clever trick, scorning to mention the base means by which we first found.

E. T. Jaynes "Probability Theory, The Logic of Science"

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 01 June 2012 02:40:23PM *  40 points [-]

Then there is the famous fly puzzle. Two bicyclists start twenty miles apart and head toward each other, each going at a steady rate of 10 m.p.h. At the same time a fly that travels at a steady 15 m.p.h. starts from the front wheel of the southbound bicycle and flies to the front wheel of the northbound one, then turns around and flies to the front wheel of the southbound one again, and continues in this manner till he is crushed between the two front wheels. Question: what total distance did the fly cover ?

The slow way to find the answer is to calculate what distance the fly covers on the first, northbound, leg of the trip, then on the second, southbound, leg, then on the third, etc., etc., and, finally, to sum the infinite series so obtained. The quick way is to observe that the bicycles meet exactly one hour after their start, so that the fly had just an hour for his travels; the answer must therefore be 15 miles.

When the question was put to von Neumann, he solved it in an instant, and thereby disappointed the questioner: "Oh, you must have heard the trick before!"

"What trick?" asked von Neumann; "all I did was sum the infinite series."

An anecdote concerning von Neumann, here told by Halmos.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 June 2012 03:12:50PM 36 points [-]

I recall a math teacher in high school explaining that often, in the course of doing a proof, one simply gets stuck and doesn't know where to go next, and a good thing to do at that point is to switch to working backwards from the conclusion in the general direction of the premise; sometimes the two paths can be made to meet in the middle. Usually this results in a step the two paths join involving doing something completely mystifying, like dividing both sides of an equation by the square root of .78pi.

"Of course, someone is bound to ask why you did that," he continued. "So you look at them completely deadpan and reply 'Isn't it obvious?'"

I have forgotten everything I learned in that class. I remember that anecdote, though.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 June 2012 06:10:39PM *  3 points [-]

IIRC there was an xkcd about that, but I don't remember enough of it to search for it.

EDIT: It was the alt test of 759.

Comment author: gjm 02 June 2012 10:39:04PM 17 points [-]

Note that xkcd 759 is about something subtly different: you work from both ends and then, when they don't meet in the middle, try to write the "solution" in such a way that whoever's marking it won't notice the jump.

I know someone who did that in an International Mathematical Olympiad. (He used an advanced variant of the technique, where you arrange for the jump to occur between two pages of your solution.) He got 6/7 for that solution, and the mark he lost was for something else. (Which was in fact correct, but you will appreciate that no one was inclined to complain about it.)

Comment author: JoshuaZ 02 June 2012 07:18:47PM *  2 points [-]

Is 759 the one you are thinking of? The alt-text seems to be relevant.

Comment author: pnrjulius 09 June 2012 01:18:54AM 1 point [-]

The standard proof of the Product Rule in calculus has this form. You add and subtract the same quantity, and then this allows you to regroup some things. But who would have thought to do that?

Comment author: gwern 09 June 2012 01:33:37AM 10 points [-]

One of the characteristics of successful scientists is having courage. Once you get your courage up and believe that you can do important problems, then you can. If you think you can't, almost surely you are not going to. Courage is one of the things that Shannon had supremely. You have only to think of his major theorem. He wants to create a method of coding, but he doesn't know what to do so he makes a random code. Then he is stuck. And then he asks the impossible question, ``What would the average random code do?'' He then proves that the average code is arbitrarily good, and that therefore there must be at least one good code. Who but a man of infinite courage could have dared to think those thoughts? That is the characteristic of great scientists; they have courage. They will go forward under incredible circumstances; they think and continue to think.

--Richard Hamming

Comment author: Vaniver 01 June 2012 02:57:55PM 3 points [-]

It's "Jaynes."

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 01 June 2012 03:19:10PM 3 points [-]

Fixed. Thanks.

Comment author: pnrjulius 09 June 2012 01:17:46AM 4 points [-]

This is also why I don't trust poets who claim that their works spring to them automatically from the Muse. Yes, it would be very impressive if that were so; but how do I know you didn't actually slave over revisions of that poem for weeks?

Comment author: Vaniver 07 June 2012 10:55:44PM 10 points [-]

One reason why research is so important is precisely that it can surprise you and tell you that your subjective convictions are wrong. If research always found what we expected, there wouldn't be much point in doing research.

--Eugene Gendlin

Comment author: [deleted] 03 June 2012 12:40:51AM 10 points [-]

Humility bids us to take ourselves as we are; we do not have to be cosmically significant to be genuinely significant.

  • Patricia Churchland
Comment author: GLaDOS 23 June 2012 01:34:50PM *  8 points [-]

In the past I have made an analogy between science and the Roman Catholic Church, despite the discomfort of some readers. I go back to that now. The Catholic Church of the years during which Erasmus flourished was quite corrupt. It is upon this fertile ground that the printing press added some combustible fuel. But despite his influence upon them Erasmus could never be convinced by the Reformers to leave the Church. Why? Erasmus was a critic of the Church, but he also perceived in it a superior product to what Protestantism had on offer. At any given moment science is rather like the Catholic Church, riddled with falsehood. But it is the best we have, and we should attempt to work within its institutional framework, rather tearing it apart limb from limb. That was Erasmus’ position. He may have been a critic, but ultimately he thought the institution could be genuinely reformed. The struggle never ends, but we can’t see any returns if we give up immediately.

--Razib Khan, The Erasmus Path in Science

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 03 June 2012 10:13:25AM 8 points [-]

In the mathematics I can report no deficience, except that it be that men do not sufficiently understand the excellent use of the pure mathematics, in that they do remedy and cure many defects in the wit and faculties intellectual. For if the wit be too dull, they sharpen it; if too wandering, they fix it; if too inherent in the sense, they abstract it. So that as tennis is a game of no use in itself, but of great use in respect it maketh a quick eye and a body ready to put itself into all postures; so in the mathematics, that use which is collateral and intervenient is no less worthy than that which is principal and intended.

-Roger Bacon

Comment author: [deleted] 02 June 2012 05:40:17AM *  39 points [-]

You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel, but you can make yourself do right in spite of your feelings.

Pearl S. Buck


Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 June 2012 10:07:31PM 18 points [-]

Upvoted for the "related".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 June 2012 01:14:46PM 3 points [-]


Video by Fallon, a scientist who found out that he was a sociopath-- he says it doesn't bother him that everyone he knew said he was bad at connecting emotionally, but he does seem motivated to work on changing.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 June 2012 11:53:58PM 6 points [-]


I really wish we had brain scans of this guy at 19 and at 25. I want to see which areas were developed!

Comment author: wedrifid 02 June 2012 11:55:29PM *  5 points [-]

You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel

Yes I can. Speak for yourself (Buck).

Comment author: Grognor 05 June 2012 02:02:34PM 4 points [-]

I read it more charitably, as being isomorphic to Schopenhauer's "A man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills." The idea is that you are feeling something and not something else, and regardless of what you are feeling you can and should do right.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 June 2012 07:17:03PM 4 points [-]

The distinction may be between setting up the preconditions for a feeling (which has some chance of working) and trying to make a feeling happen directly (which I think doesn't work).

Comment author: ChristianKl 07 June 2012 03:59:42PM 7 points [-]

Making a feelings happen directly isn't easy. It's a skill. Given the demographic on this website there a good chance that a lot of the readers can't control their feelings. Most of the people here are skilled at rationality but not that skilled at emotional matters.

It's a bad idea to generalise your own inability to control your feelings to other people.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 June 2012 07:22:48PM 2 points [-]

Well, what works for someone may not work for someone else. (Heck, what works for me at certain times doesn't work for me at other times.)

Comment author: roland 11 June 2012 01:13:55AM *  6 points [-]

Common sense is not so common. -- Voltaire

Comment author: Pavitra 12 June 2012 02:01:25AM *  3 points [-]

Shhh. My common sense is tingling.


Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 03 June 2012 10:01:09AM 29 points [-]

The greatest weariness comes from work not done.

-Eric Hoffer

Comment author: Mark_Eichenlaub 02 June 2012 11:52:31PM 29 points [-]

And clearly my children will never get any taller, because there is no statistically-significant difference in their height from one day to the next.

Andrew Vickers, What Is A P-Value, Anyway?

Comment author: Emile 04 June 2012 09:50:15PM 22 points [-]

In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time someting like that happened in politics or religion.

-- Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP Keynote Address

Comment author: ChristianKl 05 June 2012 01:45:04PM 15 points [-]

I don't think that the idea that politicians don't change their position has much basis in reality. There are a lot of people who complain about politicians flip-flopping.

When a politician speaks publically, he usually doesn't speak about his personal decision but about a position that's a consensus of the group for which the politician speaks. He might personally disagree with the position and try to change the consensus internally. It's still his role to be responsible for the position of the group to which he belongs. In the end the voter cares about what the group of politicians do. What laws do they enact? Those laws are compromises and the politicians stand for the compromise even when they personally disagree with parts of it.

A scientist isn't supposed to be responsible for the way his experiments turn out.

And if you take something like the Second Vatican Council there's even change of positions in religion.

Comment author: fortyeridania 05 June 2012 03:39:29PM 3 points [-]

Yes, politicians flip-flop, and they take heat for it. And religious organizations do revise their doctrines from time to time.

But they don't like to admit it. This shows itself most clearly in schisms, where it's obvious at least one party has changed it stance, yet both present the other side as the schismatic one (splitters).

Thus even though they have changed, they do not "update"--or they do, but then they retcon it to make it look like they've always done things this way. (Call it "backdating," not updating.) This is what the superstates do in 1984.

Coming up with real examples is trivial. Just find a group that has ever had a schism. That's basically every group you've heard of. Ones that come to mind: Marxists, libertarians, Christians, the Chinese Communist Party. Triggering issues for the above groups include the nature of revolution, the relationship between rights and welfare, the Trinity, the role of the state in the economy...

Comment author: ChristianKl 05 June 2012 10:57:56PM *  4 points [-]

How many scientific papers contain the lines: "In the past the authors of this papers were wrong about X, but they changed their opinion because of Y"?

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 06 June 2012 01:00:02AM 2 points [-]

None, because journals are really careful about proof-reading.

Comment author: ChristianKl 02 June 2012 05:25:23PM 22 points [-]

[About the challenge of skeptics to spread their ideas in society] In times of war we need warriors, but this isn't war. You might try to say it is, but it's not a war. We aren't trying to kill an enemy. We are trying to persuade other humans. And in times like that we don't need warriors. What we need are diplomats.

Phil Plait, Don't Be A Dick (around 23:30)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 June 2012 10:58:26AM 4 points [-]

Voted up for the link to the video, which is a good explanation for why dumping hostility on people is not an effective method of convincing them.

Comment author: elspood 05 July 2012 09:44:57PM 2 points [-]

FWIW, those that are 'hostile' don't generally believe they're going to convince the people they're being hostile to. They're after the peanut gallery; the undecided.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 July 2012 11:27:37PM 2 points [-]

The effect on the peanut gallery is hard to track.

It's at least as likely that dumping hostility on outsiders is a way of maintaining group cohesion among those who have already identified themselves with the issue.

Comment author: wedrifid 05 July 2012 10:15:05PM 3 points [-]

We aren't trying to kill an enemy. We are trying to persuade other humans.

The former is the most powerful method I know of for the latter. As elspood mentioned, it obviously isn't the victims in particular that will be persuaded.

Comment author: Alicorn 11 June 2012 07:09:59PM 27 points [-]

Do you ever get the feeling that God has a plan?

And you're the only one who can stop it?

Comment author: James_Miller 01 June 2012 04:34:51PM *  17 points [-]

“My other piece of advice, Copperfield,” said Mr. Micawber, “you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (HT Cafe Hayek.)

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 02 June 2012 07:26:59PM 10 points [-]

A reasonable start, but quite insufficient for the long run. Sixpence savings on twenty pounds income is not going to insulate you from disaster, not even with nineteenth-century money.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 05 June 2012 11:17:29PM 2 points [-]

Sixpence savings on twenty pounds income is not going to insulate you from disaster, not even with nineteenth-century money.

A disaster is an abrupt fall in income or abrupt increase in expenditures, so it falls under the general claim.

Comment author: pkkm 02 June 2012 07:04:03AM *  16 points [-]

People who do great things look at the same world everyone else does, but notice some odd detail that's compellingly mysterious.

Paul Graham, What You'll Wish You'd Known

Comment author: gwern 02 June 2012 04:00:25PM 14 points [-]

Also true of, say, OCD.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 June 2012 08:40:08PM *  32 points [-]

Bit of a tangent, but something from that essay always bothered me.

I recently saw an ad for waiters saying they wanted people with a "passion for service." The real thing is not something one could have for waiting on tables.

Paul Graham

So I began to linger in my duties around Vincent's tables to observe his technique. I quickly learned that his style was to have no single style. He had a repertoire of approaches, each ready to be used under the appropriate circumstances. When the customers were a family, he was effervescent—even slightly clownish— directing his remarks as often to the children as the adults. With a young couple on a date, he became formal and a bit imperious in an attempt to intimidate the young man (to whom he spoke exclusively) into ordering and tipping lavishly. With an older, married couple, he retained the formality but dropped the superior air in favor of a respectful orientation to both members of the couple. Should the patron be dining alone, Vincent selected a friendly demeanor—cordial, conversational, and warm. Vincent reserved the trick of seeming to argue against his own interests for large parties of 8 to 12 people. His technique was veined with genius. When it was time for the first person, normally a woman, to order, he went into his act. No matter what she elected, Vincent reacted identically: His brow furrowed, his hand hovered above his order pad, and after looking quickly over his shoulder for the manager, he leaned conspiratorially toward the table to report for all to hear "I'm afraid that is not as good tonight as it normally is. Might I recommend instead the [blank] or the [blank]?" (At this point, Vincent suggested a pair of menu items that were slightly less expensive than the dish the patron had selected initially.) "They are both excellent tonight." With this single maneuver, Vincent engaged several important principles of influence. First, even those who did not take his suggestions felt that Vincent had done them a favor by offering valuable information to help them order. Everyone felt grateful, and consequently, the rule for reciprocity would work in his favor when it came time for them to decide on his gratuity. Besides hiking the percentage of his tip, Vincent's maneuver also placed him in a favorable position to increase the size of the party's order. It established him as an authority on the current stores of the house: he clearly knew what was and wasn't good that night. Moreover—and here is where seeming to argue against his own interests comes in—it proved him to be a trustworthy informant because he recommended dishes that were slightly less expensive than the one originally ordered. Rather than trying to line his own pockets, he seemed to have the customers' best interests at heart. To all appearances, he was at once knowledgeable and honest, a combination that gave him great credibility. Vincent was quick to exploit the advantage of this credible image. When the party had finished giving their food orders, he would say, "Very well, and would you like me to suggest or select wine to go with your meals?" As I watched the scene repeated almost nightly, there was a notable consistency to the customer's reaction—smiles, nods, and, for the most part, general assent.

Robert Cialdini, Influence

Comment author: gjm 02 June 2012 10:20:41PM 31 points [-]

It doesn't seem to me that Vincent-as-described-by-Cialdini is someone with a passion for waiting at tables; especially not the sort that could also be described as a "passion for service". If anything, he has a passion for exploiting customers, or something of the kind. I would expect someone with a genuine passion for table-waiting -- should such a person exist -- to be as reluctant to mislead customers as, say, someone with a passion for science would be to spend their life working for a partisan think tank putting out deliberately misleading white papers on controversial topics.

(To forestall political arguments: I am not implying that all think tanks are partisan, nor that all white papers put out by partisan think tanks are deliberately misleading.)

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 02 June 2012 09:42:27PM 9 points [-]

...and "Influence" goes onto my "to read" list.

Comment author: athingtoconsider 13 June 2012 12:25:02PM 3 points [-]


  • Robert Cialdini, author of "Influence"
Comment author: Daermonn 04 June 2012 06:16:55AM *  6 points [-]

This speech was really something special. Thanks for posting it. My favorite sections:

"If it takes years to articulate great questions, what do you do now, at sixteen? Work toward finding one. Great questions don't appear suddenly. They gradually congeal in your head. And what makes them congeal is experience. So the way to find great questions is not to search for them-- not to wander about thinking, what great discovery shall I make? You can't answer that; if you could, you'd have made it.

The way to get a big idea to appear in your head is not to hunt for big ideas, but to put in a lot of time on work that interests you, and in the process keep your mind open enough that a big idea can take roost. Einstein, Ford, and Beckenbauer all used this recipe. They all knew their work like a piano player knows the keys. So when something seemed amiss to them, they had the confidence to notice it."


"Rebellion is almost as stupid as obedience. In either case you let yourself be defined by what they tell you to do. The best plan, I think, is to step onto an orthogonal vector. Don't just do what they tell you, and don't just refuse to. Instead treat school as a day job. As day jobs go, it's pretty sweet. You're done at 3 o'clock, and you can even work on your own stuff while you're there."

Great stuff.

Comment author: arundelo 22 June 2012 03:38:27PM 4 points [-]

If we find out tomorrow that the universe is made of jello, all we will have learned about morality is that it, like everything else, is ultimately jello-dependent.

-- Will Wilkinson

Comment author: GESBoulder 14 June 2012 06:33:21PM 4 points [-]

Speaking the Truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act. - George Orwell

Comment author: gwern 09 June 2012 04:31:48PM 10 points [-]

I favor any skepsis to which I may reply: 'Let us try it!' But I no longer wish to hear anything of all those things and questions that do not permit any experiment.

--Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science #51

Comment author: shminux 05 June 2012 06:05:55PM *  14 points [-]

If you pay nothing for expert advise you will value it at epsilon more than nothing, if you pay five figures for it you will clear your schedule and implement recommendations within the day. In addition to this being one of consulting’s worst-kept secrets, it suggests persuasive reasons why you should probably extract a commitment out of software customers prior to giving them access for the software. Doing this will automatically make people value your software more

Patrick McKenzie, the guy who gets instrumental rationality on the gut level.

More from the same source:

I always thought I really hated getting email. It turns out that I was not a good reporter of my own actual behavior, which is something you’ll hear quite a bit if you follow psychological research. (For example, something like 75% of Americans will report they voted for President Obama, which disagrees quite a bit with the ballot box. They do this partially because they misremember their own behavior and partially because they like to been seen as the type of person who voted for the winner. 99% of geeks will report never having bought anything as a result of an email. They do this because they misremember their own behavior and partially because they believe that buying stuff from “spam” is something that people with AOL email addresses do, and hence admitting that they, too, can be marketed to will cause them to lose status. The AppSumo sumo would be a good deal skinnier if that were actually the case, but geeks were all people before they were geeks, and people are statistically speaking terrible at introspection.)

Comment author: gwern 05 June 2012 06:22:56PM 12 points [-]

If you pay nothing for expert advise you will value it at epsilon more than nothing, if you pay five figures for it you will clear your schedule and implement recommendations within the day.

Obviously I need to figure out how to start charging for my website!

Comment author: shminux 05 June 2012 07:54:37PM *  8 points [-]

I've had the impression that you've been selling yourself short for quite some time.

Maybe you can start by following Patrick's example and offering some of the choice data you collect and analyze to the people subscribing to your mailing list. You can also figure out who might be interested in the information you collect (a cool project in itself), and how much it would be worth to them.

Comment author: Vaniver 07 June 2012 11:14:09PM 5 points [-]

I wonder if a donate button at the end of each article, tied with a question along the lines of "How valuable was the article you just read?", would be effective. (You could even set it up so that you can track the amount donated by article, and use that to guide future research- I'm not sure how effective that would be, since that depends on how many alternatives you have to pick from in considering new research topics.)

Comment author: gwern 08 June 2012 01:56:14AM *  2 points [-]

Well, I do have donation stuff setup; last week I moved the Paypal button from the very bottom, post footnotes (where the Bitcoin address remains), to the left sidebar, to see if that would help. (So far it hasn't.)

A rating widget is a good idea; I'm messing around with some but I'm not seeing any really good ones hosted by third-parties (static site, remember).

that depends on how many alternatives you have to pick from in considering new research topics.

I am completely undisciplined and I do this stuff as the whim takes me. A month ago I didn't expect to learn how to do meta-analyses and run a DNB meta-analysis and 2 weeks ago I wasn't expecting to do an iodine meta-analysis either; the day before Kiba hired me to write a Silk Road article, I wasn't expecting that either...

Comment author: pnrjulius 09 June 2012 01:06:43AM 0 points [-]

There's also a competition effect here. With thousands of free blogs, people don't want to pay for yours or mine. They'll just navigate to someone else's, even if it isn't quite as brilliantly insightful.

Comment author: gwern 09 June 2012 01:31:23AM 4 points [-]

Indeed, that's a problem. I like to think my content is pretty unique - no other site is as good a resource on dual n-back, no other site is as good a resource on modafinil, etc. - but that doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy old world.

Comment author: khafra 06 June 2012 06:09:17PM 5 points [-]

I do value your research and writings. I was thinking about offering to buy you a laptop because it sounded like you had an old POS that was hampering said research and writings, but then I decided that would be too weird.

Comment author: alex_zag_al 08 June 2012 04:57:22PM 2 points [-]

I will sing the praises of git and vim, but I didn't pay any money for them. He says extract a commitment, not necessarily a monetary commitment; I read half a book before I started using git, and vim took a lot of practice. So you could use more specialized terminology or something like that. git and vim are both very well-spoken of, and I probably wouldn't have bothered to learn them if they weren't. But I also don't bother to spend money on things that don't have a good reputation, if I haven't had experience with them already. So, either way, requiring a commitment from the user turns away a lot of them.

(I've never read your website)

Comment author: [deleted] 05 June 2012 10:45:00PM 6 points [-]

They do this partially because they misremember their own behavior

FFS, how can people misremember who they voted for in an election with only two plausible candidates?

Comment author: MinibearRex 08 June 2012 06:16:36AM 7 points [-]

A large number of them may have not voted at all, but remember themselves doing so.

Comment author: kdorian 06 June 2012 02:58:00PM 5 points [-]

I suspect, with no data to back me up, that is those who were ambivalent when they stepped into the polling booth that genuinely misremember. Others know they voted for the other guy, but want to be seen as one of the 'winners'.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 06 June 2012 04:35:41PM 7 points [-]

There are many U.S. elections I have voted in where there were two candidates for an office and I couldn't tell you which one I voted for. Admittedly, no cases involving Presidential candidates; I'm usually pretty sure who I'm voting for in those cases.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 June 2012 07:49:42PM 3 points [-]

I suspect, with no data to back me up, that the latter class contains many more people than the former. (If I were that ambivalent, I wouldn't vote for either major candidate at random; I would either vote for a minor candidate, or not vote at all. But I guess not everybody is like me.)

Comment author: alex_zag_al 08 June 2012 05:01:30PM 2 points [-]

Or the survey he's referring to is biased. Seems hard for it not to be... did they knock on doors all across the country? If it's based on mail or telephone responses, are people who voted for Obama more likely to respond to those?

Or, he's misquoting the survey. If you were testing the hypothesis that people misremember voting for the winner, wouldn't you sample a smaller area than the whole country, and then compare your results with the vote count from that area? Why would an experiment like that ever get a number meant to be compared with the whole country's votes?

Comment author: Strange7 09 June 2012 01:46:10AM 2 points [-]

Wrong question. I'd say people who voted for the other guy remember, but aren't so eager to respond to surveys.

Comment author: cmessinger 05 June 2012 05:21:47PM 9 points [-]

Seek not to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek what they sought. -Matsuo Basho, poet (1644-1694)

Seems like a good way to think of the "seek to succeed, not to be rational" idea.

Comment author: David_Gerard 23 June 2012 01:21:11PM 8 points [-]

The biggest threat to an artist is neither piracy nor obscurity. It's dicking around on the internet.

-- James L. Sutter

Comment author: David_Gerard 25 June 2012 10:29:56AM 7 points [-]

It is better to build a seismograph than to worship the volcano.

-- Terry Pratchett (on Nation)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 June 2012 12:20:04PM 3 points [-]

Understand that your system will resist change: Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous patience -- Admiral Rickover

found here

Comment author: [deleted] 03 June 2012 12:42:35AM *  9 points [-]

[...] if you make yourself really small you can externalize virtually everything. The imaginative pressure to think of yourself as very small is easy enough to find. When I raise my arm, well what is it? There must be some part of my brain that is sort of sending out the signal and then my arm is obeying me, and then when I think about the reasons why, it’s very natural to suppose that my reason store is over there somewhere, and I asked my reason store to send me some good reasons. So the imagery keeps shrinking back to a singularity; a point, a sort of Cartesian point at the intersection of two lines and that’s where I am. That’s the deadly error, to retreat into the punctate self. You’ve got to make yourself big; really big."

  • Daniel Dennett
Comment author: wedrifid 04 June 2012 11:18:30AM 2 points [-]

You’ve got to make yourself big; really big."

When I read the opening line I guessed he was going to go in the opposite direction - as Paul Graham probably would have.

I can see uses to both ways of simplifying one's relationship with the rest of the universe.

Comment author: Alejandro1 04 June 2012 04:51:58PM *  11 points [-]

Aren't Graham and Dennett talking about different things entirely? Dennett is trying to help us understand better how materialism is compatible with having free will and a conscious self; his prescription here is to avoid a common pitfall, that of dismissing all "upwards" processing of perception and all "downwards" action-starting signals as "mechanical computing, not part of the self" and locating the Cartesian self at the zero-extension intersection of these two processes. It is better to think of the self as extended in both directions. When Graham says "keep your identity small", he is talking about a different sense of "identity" and "small", roughly "do not describe yourself with labels because you might become overly invested in them and lose objectivity and perspective".

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 June 2012 02:56:58PM 2 points [-]

I now want to make up bumper stickers that read "What Would Paul Graham Do?"

Granted, I want to do other things that preclude doing so even more.

Comment author: shokwave 07 June 2012 07:53:57PM 8 points [-]

I now want to make up bumper stickers that read "What Would Paul Graham Do?"

Wanting to associate your identity with a person, in part because they have a very good argument for why you shouldn't associate your identity with things, and then doing something more important instead... there's something almost poetic or ironic about it.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 June 2012 03:45:11PM 4 points [-]

This is only tangentially related, but:

It's probably really important to notice when you feel a desire to signal affiliation with someone or something by purchasing paraphernalia or, e.g., getting a bumper sticker. Wanting to signal that you like something generally means that your identity has expanded to include that thing. This, of course, can be both a symptom and a cause of bias (although it isn't necessarily so). See also all this stuff. Or, more concisely: "I want to buy a bumper sticker/t-shirt/pinup calendar/whatever" should sound an alarm and prompt some introspection.

(I'm not trying to imply that you have a bias towards Paul Graham, just making a general statement.)

Comment author: gwern 04 June 2012 03:23:57PM 2 points [-]

Looking briefly at a few sites specializing in custom bumper stickers, I estimate you could probably make and pay for some in half an hour to an hour. Do you want to do those other things that badly?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 June 2012 03:49:11PM 4 points [-]

You know, it's actually a really good question.

I think what's true here, now that I'm considering it for more than five seconds, is that I don't actually want to do this at all, I just think it's a funny idea and wanted to share it, and I chose "I want to X" as a conventional way of framing the idea... a habit I should perhaps replace with "It would be funny to X" in the spirit of not misrepresenting my state to no purpose.

Comment author: gwern 04 June 2012 03:52:12PM 2 points [-]

Yes, I figured as much. :)

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 June 2012 12:35:00AM 11 points [-]

"The veil before my eyes dropped. I saw he was insincere ... a liar. I saw marriage with him would have been marriage to a worthless adventurer. I saw all this within five minutes of that meeting.” As if she heard a self-recriminatory bitterness creep into her voice again, she stopped; then continued in a lower tone. “You may wonder how I had not seen it before. I believe I had. But to see something is not the same as to acknowledge it."

-- John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 16 June 2012 09:57:19PM 7 points [-]

Indeed the authority of those who profess to teach is often a positive hindrance to those who desire to learn; they cease to employ their own judgement, and take what they perceive to be the verdict of their chosen master as settling the question. In fact I am not disposed to approve the practice traditionally ascribed to the Pythagoreans, who, when questioned as to the grounds of any assertion that they advanced in debate, are said to have been accustomed to reply 'He himself said so', 'he himself' being Pythagoras. So potent was an opinion already decided, making authority prevail unsupported by reason.

Cicero, De Natura Deorum

Comment author: witzvo 12 June 2012 06:06:46PM *  5 points [-]

There was a time in my life when I couldn't get anything done. ...

Perfectionism, which was always a friend, turned into my worst enemy. ...

I've heard that "perfect is the enemy of good enough" many times, but the repressed artist in me refused to accept this as truth. ...

Eventually I lucked out. By accident (or was it an accident?) I stumbled on the fascinating Book of Tea which led me to the concept of Wabi-sabi - the Japanese art of imperfect beauty. ...

Looking at Wabi-sabi objects was a breath of fresh air. Inability to achieve any lasting perfection is not fought, but embraced via lack of symmetry, respect for blemishes, and unsanitized simplicity. Imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness is incorporated directly into the design - a simple idea that cuts the disease of perfectionism at its core. ...

Real artists ship.

Slava Akhmechet see also Enso and the rest

Comment author: Spectral_Dragon 03 June 2012 12:35:55AM *  5 points [-]

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.

-- Albert Einstein

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 June 2012 05:02:56AM 3 points [-]

Any fool can also make a simple theory to describe anything, provided he is willing to hide dis-confirming evidence under the rug.

Comment author: Alicorn 19 June 2012 06:46:23PM *  6 points [-]

"But say an assembled force of divine beings had teamed up and got everybody to evacuate the coasts.”

“Yeah, say they did,” I said. “Where’s the downside?”

“Maybe there isn’t one,” Steff said. “But if they’re doing that, what about all the people who died from fires or plagues or war or basic stupidity at the same time?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe the gods should just a more pro-active stance on that stuff anyway.”

“Okay, but… where does it stop?”

“Maybe it stops when everybody’s safe!” I said...

(I read it for the worldbuilding...)

Comment author: Thomas 04 June 2012 09:21:43PM 6 points [-]

No experiment should be believed until it has been confirmed by theory!

  • Arthur S. Eddington
Comment author: kdorian 06 June 2012 02:53:10PM 4 points [-]

There is a condition worse than blindness, and that is seeing something that isn't there.

Thomas Hardy

Comment author: MixedNuts 07 June 2012 02:35:51PM 3 points [-]

Pretty sure most people would pick hallucinations over blindness. Easier to correct for.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 June 2012 04:54:02PM 5 points [-]

Hallucinations are easier to correct for?
So, I start out with an input channel whose average throughput rate is T1, and whose reliability is R1.
Case 1, I reduce that throughput to T2.
Case 2, I reduce the reliability to R2.

A lot seems to depend on T2/T1 and R2/R1.
From what I've gathered from talking to blind people, I'd estimate that T2/T1 in this case is ~.1. That is, sighted people have approximately an order of magnitude more input available to them than blind people. (This varies based on context, of course, but people have some control over their context in practice.)
Hallucinations vary. If I take as my example the week I was in the ICU after my stroke, I'd estimate that R2/R1 is ~.1. That is, any given input was about ten times more likely to not actually correlate to what another observer would see than it usually is.

Both of these estimates are, of course, pulled out of my ass. I mention them only to get some precision around the hypothetical, not as an assertion about what blindness and hallucination are like in the real world. If you prefer other estimates, that's fine.

Given those estimates... hm.
Both of them suck.
I think I would probably choose hallucination, in practice.
I think I would probably be better off choosing blindness.

Comment author: cmessinger 05 June 2012 05:22:24PM 4 points [-]

Margaret Fuller, intoxicated by Transcendentalism, said, "I accept the universe," and Thomas Carlyle, told of the remark, supposedly said, "Gad, she’d better."

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 June 2012 05:04:45AM 3 points [-]

This depends on what is meant by "accept the universe". Does this mean that you're ready to deal with reality, or that you accept the way the universe currently is and aren't going to try to make it better?

Comment author: Emile 01 June 2012 08:14:26PM *  6 points [-]

If you want something to exist, make it!

-Vincent Baker

Comment author: wedrifid 01 June 2012 09:43:44PM 7 points [-]

No. If I want something to exist I'll offer a reward or plain and simple pay someone to build it.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 June 2012 09:19:28AM 5 points [-]

No. If I want something to exist I'll offer a reward or plain and simple pay someone to build it.

Perhaps by "it", he meant money.

Comment author: Karmakaiser 04 June 2012 03:41:30PM 2 points [-]

Doubtful. Money already exists, but it doesn't exist my pocket.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 June 2012 10:01:22AM 3 points [-]

If what you want is difficult to explain, it might be as easy to do it yourself.

Comment author: Fyrius 19 June 2012 02:03:30PM 2 points [-]

I read the quote as "make it (exist)!", instead of "create it". But whether that's what was meant or not, I think that to the basic idea, it doesn't matter all that much whether you cause it to exist directly or via someone else.

As an addition: when I come up with something cool that I wish existed, my first step is to google around if someone else has ever invented it and sells it. : ) Twice so far the answer has been yes.

Comment author: billswift 03 June 2012 12:52:11AM 1 point [-]

Any muttonhead with money can have a nice house or car or airplane, but how many can build one?

Dean Ing, The Ransom of Black Stealth One

Comment author: wedrifid 03 June 2012 01:12:15AM *  13 points [-]

Any muttonhead with money can have a nice house or car or airplane, but how many can build one?

Dean Ing, The Ransom of Black Stealth One

Exactly. Buying things is far more practical, harnessing the power of specialization and comparative advantage. Building the thing yourself is almost always the incorrect decision. Build it yourself if you are good at building that kind of thing and, more importantly, suck at doing other things that provide more (fungible) value.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 June 2012 12:50:02PM 6 points [-]

Build it yourself if you are good at building that kind of thing and, more importantly, suck at doing other things that provide more (fungible) value.

Or if you enjoy the process of building it. Or if the process of building it will help you relax or something so that you'll be able to do more things-that-provide-more-value later. Or if you're trying to impress someone. Or any other of the reason people have hobbies. (Also, “suck” suggests a much lower threshold than there actually is, especially in times of unemployment and recession. Telling people who have to cook because they can't afford eating at restaurants twice a day that they “suck” at making money sounds bad to me.)

Comment author: wedrifid 03 June 2012 01:00:57PM 3 points [-]

Or if you enjoy the process of building it. Or if the process of building it will help you relax or something so that you'll be able to do more things-that-provide-more-value later. Or if you're trying to impress someone. Or any other of the reason people have hobbies.

Those are all reasons to build things. But not the subject of the context.

If you want something to exist, make it!

Closely related principle: Purchase Fuzzies and Utilons Separately.

Comment author: shminux 04 June 2012 07:14:13AM *  7 points [-]

"Rich people plan for three generations. Poor people plan for Saturday night." -- Gloria Steinem

The rest of her quotes are pretty good, too.

Comment author: pnrjulius 09 June 2012 01:10:17AM 5 points [-]

Here's what I don't like about that quote: It doesn't tell me which way the causation goes (or if it's feedback, or a lurking variable, or a coincidence). Does being rich make you plan better? Or does planning better make you rich?

Comment author: Grognor 06 June 2012 02:17:21PM 5 points [-]

The presupposition is that passing judgment on somebody’s “lifestyle” (for those who do not speak psychobabble, this means the English word behaviors) is an activity which is forbidden. It follows immediately that when the person says to you “Don’t be all judgmental” they are in fact passing judgment on your behavior. In other words, they are “being all judgmental.” It is, therefore, impossible not to pass judgment. I do not mean “impossible” in the colloquial sense of “unlikely”, but in the logical sense of “certainly cannot be no matter what.”

-William M. Briggs

Comment author: steven0461 08 June 2012 12:22:32AM 14 points [-]

I am a Norman. It is the immemorial custom of my people to conquer our neighbours, seize their land, suppress their culture, and impose our rule as aristocrats. By the principle of cultural relativity this way of life is no worse than any other.

Brett Evill

Comment author: roystgnr 08 June 2012 10:20:53PM 11 points [-]

The best similar cultural-relativity-based deduction I've read, as introduced by Wikipedia:

A story for which [Charles James] Napier is often noted involved Hindu priests complaining to him about the prohibition of Sati by British authorities. This was the custom of burning a widow alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. As first recounted by his brother William, he replied:

"Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs."

Comment author: DanielLC 07 June 2012 12:13:17AM *  2 points [-]

You can refrain from passing judgment yourself, but allow others to pass judgement.

For example, rocks are not judgmental.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 06 June 2012 04:44:04PM 1 point [-]

It doesn't follow, from the fact that passing judgment on someone else's act of passing judgment on people is itself an act of passing judgment on people, that it is impossible not to pass judgment on people.

I'm also not quite clear on whether "passing judgment on" is denotatively the same or different from "judging." (I understand the connotative differences.)

All that said, for my own part, I want to be judged. I want to be judged in certain ways and not in others, certainly, and the possibility of being judged in ways I reject can cause me unhappiness, and I might even say "don't judge me!" as shorthand for "don't apply the particular decision procedure you're applying to judgments of me!" or as a non-truth-preserving way of expressing "your judgment of me upsets me!", but if everyone I knew were to give up having judgments of me at all, or to give up expressing them, that would be a net loss for me.

Comment author: Grognor 01 June 2012 01:46:09PM 5 points [-]

To change your mind it does not suffice to change your opinion.

-Aaron Haspel

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 June 2012 02:05:13PM 5 points [-]

There's no context in the source, so: WTF?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 14 June 2012 01:52:02PM 2 points [-]

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

--Marie Curie

Comment author: Bakkot 24 June 2012 12:11:51AM 9 points [-]

Given that she died from overexposure to radiation, I'm not sure how seriously I can take this.

Comment author: Desrtopa 24 June 2012 03:23:34AM 2 points [-]

Well, now people who are in the know can avoid fear by knowing to avoid doing the stuff that she did. It's mostly the people who believe that radiation is dangerously little understood to whom it seems scary.

Of course, I'd have to say the quote is still incorrect. If I understand that I'm a prisoner of war who's going to be tortured to make my superiors want to ransom me more, I'm damn well going to be afraid.

But I still find "Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less" awfully uplifting.

Comment author: gwern 24 June 2012 03:10:51AM 3 points [-]

So the science gets done, and you make a neat quote, for the people who are still alive.

Comment author: Multiheaded 05 June 2012 07:19:37AM *  2 points [-]

The Western World has been brainwashed by Aristotle for the last 2,500 years. The unconscious, not quite articulate, belief of most Occidentals is that there is one map which adequately represents reality. By sheer good luck, every Occidental thinks he or she has the map that fits. Guerrilla ontology, to me, involves shaking up that certainty.

I use what in modern physics is called the "multi-model" approach, which is the idea that there is more than one model to cover a given set of facts. As I've said, novel writing involves learning to think like other people. My novels are written so as to force the reader to see things through different reality grids rather than through a single grid. It's important to abolish the unconscious dogmatism that makes people think their way of looking at reality is the only sane way of viewing the world. My goal is to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone, but agnosticism about everything. If one can only see things according to one's own belief system, one is destined to become virtually deaf, dumb, and blind. It's only possible to see people when one is able to see the world as others see it.

That's what guerrilla ontology is — breaking down this one-model view and giving people a multi-model perspective.

Robert Anton Wilson, from an interview

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 06 June 2012 06:59:10PM *  6 points [-]

It depends what kind of maps. Multiple consistent maps are clearly a good thing (like switching from geometry to coordinates and back). Multiple inconsistent ad-hoc maps can be good if you have a way to choose which one to use when.

Wilson doesn't say which he means, I think he's guilty of imprecision.

Comment author: hairyfigment 08 June 2012 01:19:36AM 2 points [-]

I think he means that people choose not to think about any map but their favorite one ("their way of looking at reality is the only sane way of viewing the world"), to the point where they can't estimate the conditional probability P(E|a) of the evidence given not-A.

The link with Aristotle seems weak. But the problem obviously makes it harder to use "the logic of probability," as Korzybski called it, and Wilson well knew that Korzybski contrasted probability with classical "Aristotelian" logic. (Note that K wrote before the Bayesian school of thought really took off, so we should expect some imprecision and even wrong turns from him.)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 07 June 2012 11:54:40PM 1 point [-]

Or you could always just average your inconsistent maps together, or choose the median value. Should work better than choosing a map at random.

Comment author: rocurley 13 June 2012 01:43:22AM *  5 points [-]

By sheer good luck, every Occidental thinks he or she has the map that fits.

This seems unfair. I have a map; it reperesents what I think the universe is like. Certainty it is not perfect, but if I thought a different one was better I would adopt it. There is a distinction between "this is correct" and "I don't know how to pick something more correct".

Comment author: bramflakes 05 June 2012 11:49:04PM *  2 points [-]

"Most people have a wrong map, therefore we should use multiple maps" doesn't follow. Reversed stupidity isn't intelligence, and in this case Aristotle appears to have been right all along.

If I'm out charting the oceans, I'd probably need to use multiple maps because the curvature of the Earth makes it difficult to accurately project it onto a single 2D surface, but I do that purely for the convenience of not having to navigate with a spherical map. I don't mistake my hodge-podge of inaccurate 2D maps for the reality of the 3D globe.

Comment author: kdorian 06 June 2012 03:03:15PM 4 points [-]

No, but your "hodge-podge of inaccurate 2D maps", while still imperfect, is more accurate than relying on a single 2-D map - which is the point I took from the original quote.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 June 2012 07:54:43PM *  2 points [-]

Isn't “convenience” also the reason not to use the territory itself as a map in the first place? You know, knowing quantum field theory and general relativity isn't going to give you many insights about (say) English grammar or evolutionary psychology.

Comment author: khafra 06 June 2012 06:13:43PM *  1 point [-]

If you're favoring hedgehogs over foxes, you're disagreeing with luminaries like Robin Hanson and billionaire investors like Charlie Munger. There is, in fact, far more than one globe--the one my parents had marked out the USSR, whereas ones sold today do not; and on the territory itself you won't see those lines and colorings at all.

Some recent quotes post here had something along the lines of "the only perfect map is a 1 to 1 correspondence with everything in the territory, and it's perfectly useless."

Comment author: James_Miller 01 June 2012 04:27:55PM 2 points [-]

Humor is the brain rewarding us for finding errors and inconsistencies in our thinking.

Eric Barker

Comment author: fubarobfusco 01 June 2012 06:34:49PM 8 points [-]

How does this account for the use of humor in mocking outgroup members?

Comment author: James_Miller 01 June 2012 07:04:37PM 11 points [-]

It doesn't.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 June 2012 05:39:30AM 2 points [-]

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

Comment author: VKS 02 June 2012 10:43:30PM *  2 points [-]

Duplicate of this. (Well, close enough that the monicker should apply.)

Comment author: Stabilizer 03 June 2012 12:15:48AM *  1 point [-]

It was impossible for sure. OK. So, let’s start working.

-Philippe Petit. On the idea of walking rope in between the World Trade Center towers.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 June 2012 12:25:41AM *  1 point [-]

It was impossible for sure. OK. So, let’s start working.

-Philippe Petit. On the idea of walking rope in between the World Trade Center towers.

It's not impossible for sure now. If he thought it was impossible when they were actually in existence then he doesn't remotely understand the word. That is beyond even a "Shut up and do the impossible!" misuse.

Comment author: Stabilizer 03 June 2012 02:03:13AM 3 points [-]

I don't understand. Are you saying it wasn't impossible enough?

He actually did it in 1974. It took nearly six years of planning. In order to practice for the walk between the World Trade Center towers he first did tightrope walks between the towers of the Notre Dame and then the Sydney Harbor Bridge. All of these were of course illegal. In WTC case, he had to sneak in, tie the ropes between the towers without anyone knowing and walked between the towers without any harness for nearly 45 mins at that height with the wind and everything. For the complete details, watch the documentary 'Man on Wire'. I think it was as impossible as it got in his line of work.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 June 2012 09:02:32AM *  -1 points [-]

I don't understand.

How on earth could you not understand? If this is sincere incomprehension then all I can do is point to google: define.

Are you saying it wasn't impossible enough?

Yes. This quote is an example of nothing more than how to be confused about words and speak hyperbole for the sake of bravado.

If you have to ask whether something is "impossible enough" you have already answered your question.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 June 2012 09:45:47PM 4 points [-]

How on earth could you not understand? If this is sincere incomprehension then all I can do is point to google: define.

Have you seen Google's definitions yourself? Because 2. does seem to match what Stabilizer means.

Comment author: Stabilizer 03 June 2012 09:45:43PM *  2 points [-]

How on earth could you not understand?

Your sentence wasn't clear enough.

About your gripe with use of the word impossible: it's a quote. Most of the quotes are like applause-lights. Everybody who read that quote understood the intent and meaning. Philippe Petit didn't employ the literal meaning of impossible. But the literal meaning of 'impossible' is rarely used in colloquial contexts. Even in 'Shut up and do the impossible', the absolute literal meaning is not employed. Because if the literal meaning is used, then by definition you can't do it, ever. So the only thing left is the degree of impossibility. You say that the task was too doable to be considered 'impossible' under your standards. Fine. Just mentally replace 'impossible' in that sentence with 'really goddamn hard that no one's done before and everyone would call me crazy if I told them I'm going to do it' and you'd read it the way most people would read it. The spirit of the quote would still survive.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 June 2012 10:08:29PM *  -2 points [-]

About your gripe with use of the word impossible: it's a quote. Most of the quotes are like applause-lights.

Yes, it's an applause light. It isn't one that made me applaud. It isn't a rationalist quote. It doesn't belong here.

Just mentally replace 'impossible' in that sentence

No. I instead choose to mentally replace the quote entirely with a better one and oppose this one. Even Nike's "Just Do It" is strictly superior as rationalist quote, despite being somewhat lacking in actionable detail.

Comment author: kdorian 06 June 2012 03:13:54PM 2 points [-]

It isn't a rationalist quote. It doesn't belong here.

I am forced to disagree; a quote about conquering the (colloquially) impossible with sufficient thought and planning is very appropriate for this site.

Comment author: witzvo 08 June 2012 06:19:10AM *  1 point [-]

Here, we report that colonization by gut microbiota impacts mammalian brain development and subsequent adult behavior. Using measures of motor activity and anxiety-like behavior, we demonstrate that germ free (GF) mice display increased motor activity and reduced anxiety, compared with specific pathogen free (SPF) mice with a normal gut micro- biota. ... Hence, our results suggest that the microbial colonization process initiates signaling mechanisms that affect neuronal circuits involved in motor control and anxiety behavior.

--Hejitz et.al.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 08 June 2012 07:58:58AM 2 points [-]

What's the significance of this?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 03 June 2012 09:59:31AM *  0 points [-]

Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.

-Eric Hoffer

Comment author: DanArmak 04 June 2012 07:20:51AM 12 points [-]

That may be Deep Wisdom but it's surface nonsense. Propaganda contains many untruths that people end up honestly believing in. The quote effectively says "propaganda is useless if only one is brave enough to believe what they know (how?) is really true". This is simply wrong.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 04 June 2012 09:18:25AM *  5 points [-]

That may be Deep Wisdom but it's surface nonsense.

It definitely isn't nonsense, because I know it is literally false.

Propaganda contains many untruths that people end up honestly believing in. The quote effectively says "propaganda is useless if only one is brave enough to believe what they know (how?) is really true". This is simply wrong.


Comment author: Strange7 04 June 2012 08:52:02AM 6 points [-]

I think the idea is that propaganda provides an easy answer, but doesn't really prevent anyone from doing research to find the harder answer. A more detailed example here.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 05 June 2012 03:35:04AM *  2 points [-]

Except people don't have the time to research every statement they hear.

Comment author: wmorgan 01 June 2012 02:27:20PM 0 points [-]

You have to know exactly what you want, and you have to know exactly how to get it.

Eben Moglen, on how to change the world

Comment author: gwern 02 June 2012 07:31:00PM 2 points [-]

I don't think Moglen always knew exactly what he was doing.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 June 2012 07:52:56PM 2 points [-]

And I've never heard of him, so perhaps he didn't change the world either.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 02 June 2012 11:12:05PM *  15 points [-]

A lot more people have heard of Michael Jordan than have heard of Norman Borlaug. Yet Borlaug is one of the few humans on the planet who can be personally credited with saving millions of lives. Who one has heard of is not likely to be highly correlated with what impact people have had.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 June 2012 12:04:23AM 1 point [-]

(I did perform a quick Google check after writing the comment and before posting it, just to make sure.)

Comment author: gwern 03 June 2012 12:50:52AM 2 points [-]

Somewhat ironically, I actually have heard of Moglen for what he's really famous for, but I thought the quote was from Elon Musk (for whom, it should be said, the quote would be much truer - so far). I was surprised you hadn't heard of him, so I checked Wikipedia and then realized my mistake.

Comment author: gjm 02 June 2012 10:49:31PM 8 points [-]

One of the defence team of Phil Zimmermann in the PGP case. General counsel of the Free Software Foundation and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center. Mostly responsible for the changes between version 2 and version 3 of the GNU General Public License.

I'm not sure any of that counts as changing the world, but it does seem like he's had some impact.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 June 2012 05:44:30PM 1 point [-]

When it comes to big things I don't think that you often know beforehand exactly how to get it. As you progress you learn more and it makes often sense to change course. A lot of startups have to pivot to find their way to change the world.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 June 2012 09:10:46PM 1 point [-]

On lost purposes:

The therapy changed my life. It feels as if I added a new sense to my palate of senses. I feel as if I was color blind for many years and at last I can see every color. Now that I’ve learned to recognize my pain, I can do something about it. I am so much happier today than I ever was before. While my friends may not have consciously recognized the big change in me, they have stopped calling me clueless and now often come to me for advice.

Did this solve my problem of tiredness? When Ella Friedman told me that I was no longer depressed, I still felt tired. I started investigating it further. It turns out that the depression was a result of the tiredness, not the other way around. It seems that I have a sleeping disorder and an iron problem.

-- Tanya Khovanova

Comment author: Multiheaded 06 June 2012 07:55:28AM -1 points [-]

By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.

George Carlin

Comment author: Gastogh 09 June 2012 04:15:59PM *  -1 points [-]

Whatever doubt or doctrinal Atheism you and your friends may have, don't fall into moral atheism.

-Charles Kingsley

Comment author: [deleted] 20 June 2012 02:36:24AM 0 points [-]

I love truth. It's such a wonderful thing. It makes you sane, helps you make better, more effective decisions and it irks all the right people. -Aaron Clarey aka "Captain Capitalism"

Comment author: Nornagest 13 June 2012 03:36:21AM *  0 points [-]

There is no evidence to show that man is created and accoutered to serve as God's vice-regent upon the earth. There is no reason to believe that he is naturally good and kind and brave and wise, or ever was. On the contrary, there is much to show that he is a beast, that has taken a strange turning in the jungle and blundered rather aimlessly into a mental world in which he is certainly not at home. [...]

That is his beauty and his significance: that out of the primordial forces of sex and survival he has forged reason and science, and spun the gossamer splendor of art and love. [...]

If we wish identity with a greater power, let us seek a union with ourself -- our total self raised to its highest potential of wisdom, knowledge, and experience. If we wish to unite with the universe, let us court the whole of nature, all experience, all truth, the wonder and the terror, the splendor and the pity and the pain of the awesome cosmos itself.

Jack Parsons

Comment author: stcredzero 15 June 2012 06:24:29PM *  1 point [-]

I think this quote is like a paraphrase of, "a sense that something more is possible." Imagine if someone invented a drug that gave chimpanzees the highest human levels of rationality at random intervals, for a total of about a half hour per day. They'd be pretty much like humans, only physically stronger.

EDIT: Downvoted? My comment is negative about humans, but it's hopeful. Human nature is pretty squalid, but there is plenty of opportunity for improvement. (Imagine if we could get the median human to the point where they're operating with clarity twice as much as they are now. Or for that matter, imagine myself.)

Comment author: beoShaffer 12 June 2012 02:29:40AM 0 points [-]

When you choose technology, you have to ignore what other people are doing, and consider only what will work the best. -Paul Graham

Comment author: robertskmiles 15 June 2012 03:22:25PM 3 points [-]

Unless your technology will be required to interact with the technology other people are using, which is most of the time. "What will work best" often depends heavily on "what other people are doing".

Comment author: shokwave 15 June 2012 03:33:02PM 3 points [-]

No, at that point you still only consider what will work the best. It's a nitpick, but "what will work the best when others do this" is a different question to "what are the other people doing".

Comment author: robertskmiles 15 June 2012 04:11:11PM *  3 points [-]

Absolutely. What I mean is that they are incompatible. In the common case, it's impossible to simultaneously "consider what will work best" and "ignore what other people are doing". Figuring out what will work best requires paying attention to what other people are doing.

Comment author: wedrifid 12 June 2012 02:58:19AM 3 points [-]

When you choose technology, you have to ignore what other people are doing, and consider only what will work the best. -Paul Graham

I find myself doing the latter via reference to the former.

Comment author: soreff 14 June 2012 06:54:45PM 2 points [-]

One of the things that other people do is to build standard parts. If one has an unlimited budget, one can ignore them, and build everything in a project from optimized custom parts. This is rare.

Comment author: kdorian 06 June 2012 02:48:55PM *  0 points [-]

Very few people see their own actions as truly evil.... It is left to their victims to decide what is evil and what is not.

Laurell K. Hamilton

A quote I find useful when considering both rationalizing, and the differences of relative perspective.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 06 June 2012 04:37:33PM 2 points [-]

Huh. Their victims decide, rather than everyone they affect deciding?
I don't think I agree.