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

Rationality Quotes August 2012

6 Post author: Alejandro1 03 August 2012 03:33PM

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  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB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 (426)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 08 August 2012 04:43:07PM *  29 points [-]

But I came to realize that I was not a wizard, that "will-power" was not mana, and I was not so much a ghost in the machine, as a machine in the machine.

Ta-nehisi Coates

Comment author: roland 03 August 2012 08:56:07AM 29 points [-]

Yes -- and to me, that's a perfect illustration of why experiments are relevant in the first place! More often than not, the only reason we need experiments is that we're not smart enough. After the experiment has been done, if we've learned anything worth knowing at all, then hopefully we've learned why the experiment wasn't necessary to begin with -- why it wouldn't have made sense for the world to be any other way. But we're too dumb to figure it out ourselves! --Scott Aaronson

Comment author: faul_sname 03 August 2012 05:39:22PM 3 points [-]

Or at least confirmation bias makes it seem that way.

Comment author: roland 03 August 2012 08:49:06PM 6 points [-]

Also hindsight bias. But I still think the quote has a perfectly valid point.

Comment author: faul_sname 04 August 2012 07:54:51PM 3 points [-]


Comment author: Stabilizer 05 August 2012 11:19:45PM *  19 points [-]

I don't think winners beat the competition because they work harder. And it's not even clear that they win because they have more creativity. The secret, I think, is in understanding what matters.

It's not obvious, and it changes. It changes by culture, by buyer, by product and even by the day of the week. But those that manage to capture the imagination, make sales and grow are doing it by perfecting the things that matter and ignoring the rest.

Both parts are difficult, particularly when you are surrounded by people who insist on fretting about and working on the stuff that makes no difference at all.

-Seth Godin

Comment author: ChristianKl 08 August 2012 03:16:16PM 4 points [-]

Could you add the link if it was a blog post, or name the book if the source was a book?

Comment author: Stabilizer 09 August 2012 08:05:18PM 2 points [-]


Comment author: Matt_Simpson 09 August 2012 01:41:50AM 3 points [-]

A common piece of advice from pro Magic: the Gathering plays is "focus on what matters." The advice is mostly useless to many people though because the pros have made it to that level precisely because they know what matters to begin with.

Comment author: alex_zag_al 09 August 2012 04:56:43AM 16 points [-]

perhaps the better advice, then, is "when things aren't working, consider the possibility that it's because your efforts are not going into what matters, rather than assuming it is because you need to work harder on the issues you're already focusing on"

Comment author: djcb 15 August 2012 03:30:13PM 3 points [-]

That's a much better advice than Godin's near-tautology.

Comment author: Alicorn 06 August 2012 04:40:11AM *  17 points [-]

Since Mischa died, I've comforted myself by inventing reasons why it happened. I've been explaining it away ... But that's all bull. There was no reason. It happened and it didn't need to.

-- Erika Moen

Comment author: shminux 06 August 2012 05:53:07AM 3 points [-]

I wonder how common it is for people to agentize accidents. I don't do that, but, annoyingly, lots of people around me do.

Comment author: lukeprog 22 August 2012 07:03:40PM 14 points [-]

M. Mitchell Waldrop on a meeting between physicists and economists at the Santa Fe Institute:

...as the axioms and theorems and proofs marched across the overhead projection screen, the physicists could only be awestruck at [the economists'] mathematical prowess — awestruck and appalled. They had the same objection that [Brian] Arthur and many other economists had been voicing from within the field for years. "They were almost too good," says one young physicist, who remembers shaking his head in disbelief. "lt seemed as though they were dazzling themselves with fancy mathematics, until they really couldn't see the forest for the trees. So much time was being spent on trying to absorb the mathematics that I thought they often weren't looking at what the models were for, and what they did, and whether the underlying assumptions were any good. In a lot of cases, what was required was just some common sense. Maybe if they all had lower IQs, they'd have been making some better models.”

Comment author: Alicorn 22 August 2012 05:09:26AM 14 points [-]

Some critics of education have said that examinations are unrealistic; that nobody on the job would ever be evaluated without knowing when the evaluation would be conducted and what would be on the evaluation.

Sure. When Rudy Giuliani took office as mayor of New York, someone told him "On September 11, 2001, terrorists will fly airplanes into the World Trade Center, and you will be judged on how effectively you cope."


When you skid on an icy road, nobody will listen when you complain it's unfair because you weren't warned in advance, had no experience with winter driving and had never been taught how to cope with a skid.

-- Steven Dutch

Comment author: summerstay 04 August 2012 02:41:24PM *  38 points [-]

Interviewer: How do you answer critics who suggest that your team is playing god here?

Craig Venter: Oh... we're not playing.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 August 2012 10:47:22PM 12 points [-]

The problem with therapy-- include self help and mind hacks-- is its amazing failure rate. People do it for years and come out of it and feel like they understand themselves better but they do not change. If it failed to produce both insights and change it would make sense, but it is almost always one without the other.

-- The Last Psychiatrist

Comment author: [deleted] 25 August 2012 10:55:45AM *  11 points [-]

To understand our civilisation, one must appreciate that the extended order resulted not from human design or intention but spontaneously: it arose from unintentionally conforming to certain traditional and largely moral practices, many of which men tend to dislike, whose significance they usually fail to understand, whose validity they cannot prove, and which have nonetheless fairly rapidly spread by means of an evolutionary selection — the comparative increase of population and wealth — of those groups that happened to follow them. The unwitting, reluctant, even painful adoption of these practices kept these groups together, increased their access to valuable information of all sorts, and enabled them to be 'fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it' (Genesis 1:28). This process is perhaps the least appreciated facet of human evolution.

-- Friedrich Hayek, The Fatal Conceit : The Errors of Socialism (1988), p. 6

Comment author: [deleted] 08 August 2012 07:58:35PM 11 points [-]

When a philosophy thus relinquishes its anchor in reality, it risks drifting arbitrarily far from sanity.

Gary Drescher, Good and Real

Comment author: Stabilizer 03 August 2012 04:07:02AM 11 points [-]

But a curiosity of my type remains after all the most agreeable of all vices --- sorry, I meant to say: the love of truth has its reward in heaven and even on earth.

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Comment author: Delta 03 August 2012 10:41:45AM 55 points [-]

“Ignorance killed the cat; curiosity was framed!” ― C.J. Cherryh

(not sure if that is who said it originally, but that's the first creditation I found)

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 August 2012 08:52:13PM 35 points [-]

British philosophy is more detailed and piecemeal than that of the Continent; when it allows itself some general principle, it sets to work to prove it inductively by examining its various applications. Thus Hume, after announcing that there is no idea without an antecedent impression, immediately proceeds to consider the following objection: suppose you are seeing two shades of colour which are similar but not identical, and suppose you have never seen a shade of colour intermediate between the two, can you nevertheless imagine such a shade? He does not decide the question, and considers that a decision adverse to his general principle would not be fatal to him, because his principle is not logical but empirical. When--to take a contrast--Leibniz wants to establish his monadology, he argues, roughly, as follows: Whatever is complex must be composed of simple parts; what is simple cannot be extended; therefore everything is composed of parts having no extension. But what is not extended is not matter. Therefore the ultimate constituents of things are not material, and, if not material, then mental. Consequently a table is really a colony of souls.

The difference of method, here, may be characterized as follows: In Locke or Hume, a comparatively modest conclusion is drawn from a broad survey of many facts, whereas in Leibniz a vast edifice of deduction is pyramided upon a pin-point of logical principle. In Leibniz, if the principle is completely true and the deductions are entirely valid, all is well; but the structure is unstable, and the slightest flaw anywhere brings it down in ruins. In Locke or Hume, on the contrary, the base of the pyramid is on the solid ground of observed fact, and the pyramid tapers upward, not downward; consequently the equilibrium is stable, and a flaw here or there can be rectified without total disaster.

--Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy

Comment author: roland 03 August 2012 08:06:53AM *  8 points [-]

Explanations are all based on what makes it into our consciousness, but actions and the feelings happen before we are consciously aware of them—and most of them are the results of nonconscious processes, which will never make it into the explanations. The reality is, listening to people’s explanations of their actions is interesting—and in the case of politicians, entertaining—but often a waste of time. --Michael Gazzaniga

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 August 2012 09:30:14AM *  6 points [-]

Does that apply to that explanation as well?

Does it apply to explanations made in advance of the actions? For example, this evening (it is presently morning) I intend buying groceries on my way home from work, because there's stuff I need and this is a convenient opportunity to get it. When I do it, that will be the explanation.

In the quoted article, the explanation he presents as a paradigmatic example of his general thesis is the reflex of jumping away from rustles in the grass. He presents an evolutionary just-so story to explain it, but one which fails to explain why I do not jump away from rustles in the grass, although surely I have much the same evolutionary background as he. I am more likely to peer closer to see what small creature is scurrying around in there. But then, I have never lived anywhere that snakes are a danger. He has.

And yet this, and split-brain experiments, are the examples he cites to say that "often", we shouldn't listen to anyone's explanations of their behaviour.

If you were to have asked me why I had jumped, I would have replied that I thought I’d seen a snake. The reality, however, is that I jumped way before I was conscious of the snake.

I smell crypto-dualism. "I thought there was a snake" seems to me a perfectly good description of the event, even given that I jumped way before I was conscious of the snake. (He has "I thought I'd seen a snake", but this is a fictional example, and I can make up fiction as well as he can.)

The article references his book. Anyone read it? The excerpts I've skimmed on Amazon just consist of more evidence that we are brains: the Libet experiments, the perceived simultaneity of perceptions whose neural signals aren't, TMS experiments, and so on. There are some digressions into emergence, chaos, and quantum randomness. Then -- this is his innovation, highlighted in the publisher's blurb -- he sees responsibility as arising from social interaction. Maybe I'm missing something in the full text, but is he saying that someone alone really is just an automaton, and only in company can one really be a person?

I believe there are people like that, who only feel alive in company and feel diminished when alone. Is this is just an example of someone mistaking their idiosyncratic mental constitution for everybody's?

Comment author: roland 03 August 2012 08:55:53PM 4 points [-]

There is a famous study that digs a bit deeper and convincingly demonstrates it: Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 August 2012 07:46:44AM *  6 points [-]

From the abstract:

This suggests that though people may not be able to observe directly their cognitive processes, they will sometimes be able to report accurately about them.

It seems to me that "cognitive processes" could be replaced by "physical surroundings", and the resulting statement would still be true. I am not sure how significant these findings are. We have imperfect knowledge of ourselves, but we have imperfect knowledge of everything.

Comment author: MixedNuts 10 August 2012 08:07:42AM 2 points [-]

Did you in fact buy the groceries?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 10 August 2012 08:55:54AM 3 points [-]

I did.

There are many circumstances that might have prevented it; but none of them happened. There are many others that might have obstructed it; but I would have changed my actions to achieve the goal.

Goals of such a simple sort are almost invariably achieved.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 12 August 2012 10:39:48AM 3 points [-]

Three upvotes for demonstrating the basic competence to buy groceries?

Comment author: Cyan 03 August 2012 02:31:12PM *  2 points [-]

..listening to people’s explanations of their actions is... often a waste of time.

Does that apply to that explanation as well?

Obviously not, since Gazzaniga is not explaining his own actions.

Comment author: peter_hurford 03 August 2012 12:17:53AM 31 points [-]

All of the books in the world contain no more information than is broadcast as video in a single large American city in a single year. Not all bits have equal value.

Carl Sagan

Comment author: Nisan 03 August 2012 07:31:40AM 4 points [-]

Of course, one can argue that some kinds of knowledge -- like the kinds you and I know? -- are vastly more important than others, but such a claim is usually more snobbery than fact.

— Nick Szabo, quoted elsewhere in this post. Fight!

Comment author: faul_sname 03 August 2012 05:32:03PM 10 points [-]

Knowledge and information are different things. An audiobook takes up more hard disk space than an e-book, but they both convey the same knowledge.

Comment author: Never_Seen_Belgrade 19 August 2012 04:03:18PM 10 points [-]

"Comparing information and knowledge is like asking whether the fatness of a pig is more or less green than the designated hitter rule." -- David Guaspari

Comment author: faul_sname 20 August 2012 01:17:12AM 3 points [-]

I now have coffee on my monitor.

Comment author: katydee 03 August 2012 08:35:20AM 19 points [-]

I have always thought that one man of tolerable abilities may work great changes, and accomplish great affairs among mankind, if he first forms a good plan, and, cutting off all amusements or other employments that would divert his attention, makes the execution of that same plan his sole study and business.

-- Benjamin Franklin

Comment author: Delta 03 August 2012 10:24:51AM 12 points [-]

The sentiment is correct (diligence may be more important than brilliance) but I think "all amusements and other employments" might be too absolute an imperative for most people to even try to live by. Most people will break down if they try to work too hard for too long, and changes of activity can be very important in keeping people fresh.

Comment author: BillyOblivion 09 August 2012 10:19:47AM 6 points [-]

I think that both you and Mr. Franklin are correct.

To wreak great changes one must stay focused and work diligently on one's goal. One needn't eliminate all pleasures from life, but I think you'll find that very, very few people can have a serious hobby and a world changing vocation.

Most of us of "tolerable" abilities cannot maintain the kind of focus and purity of dedication required. That is why the world changes as little as it does. If everyone, as an example who was to the right of center on the IQ curve could make great changes etc., then "great" would be redefined upwards (if most people could run a 10 second 100 meter, Mr. Bolt would only be a little special).

Further more...Oooohh...shiny....

Comment author: shokwave 04 August 2012 07:46:50PM 4 points [-]

It's possible that what Franklin meant by "amusements" didn't include leisure: in his time, when education was not as widespread, a gentleman might have described learning a second language as an "amusement".

Comment author: [deleted] 05 August 2012 06:00:31AM *  5 points [-]

I've heard this a lot, but it sounds a bit too convenient to me. When external (or internal) circumstances have forced me to spend lots of time on one specific, not particularly entertaining task, I've found that I actually become more interested and enthusiastic about that thing. For example, when I had to play chess for like 5 hours a day for a week once, or when I went on holiday and came back to 5000 anki reviews, or when I was on a maths camp that started every day with a problem set that took over 4 hours.

Re "breaking down": if you mean they'll have a breakdown of will and be unable to continue working, that's an easy problem to solve - just hire someone to watch you and whip you whenever your productivity declines. And/Or chew nicotine gum when at your most productive. Or something. If you mean some other kind of breakdown, that does sound like something to be cautious of, but I think the correct response isn't to surrender eighty percent of your productivity, but to increase the amount of discomfort you can endure, maybe through some sort of hormesis training.

Comment author: DanielH 07 August 2012 01:48:40AM 9 points [-]

Playing chess for 5 hours a day does not make chess your "sole study and business" unless you have some disorder forcing you to sleep for 19 hours a day. If you spent the rest of your waking time studying chess, playing practice games, and doing the minimal amount necessary to survive (eating, etc.), THEN chess is your "sole study and business"; otherwise, you spend less than 1/3 your waking life on it, which is less than people spend at a regular full time job (at least in the US).

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 09 August 2012 02:36:53PM *  6 points [-]

just hire someone to watch you and whip you whenever your productivity declines

In my model this strategy decreases productivity for some tasks; especially those which require thinking. Fear of punishment brings "fight or flight" reaction, both of these options are harmful for thinking.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 25 August 2012 09:16:21AM 2 points [-]

My very tentative guess is that for most people, there is substantial room to increase diligence. However, at the very top of the spectrum trying to work harder just causes each individual hour to be less efficient. Also note that diligence != hours worked, I am often more productive in a 7 hour work day than an 11 hour work day if the 7-hour one was better-planned.

However I am still pretty uncertain about this. I am pretty near the top end of the spectrum for diligence and trying to see if I can hack it a bit higher without getting burn-out or decreased efficiency.

Comment author: BrianLloyd 15 August 2012 07:42:54PM 3 points [-]

Except when when the great change requires a leap of understanding. Regardless of how diligently she works, the person who is blind in a particular area will never make the necessary transcendental leap that creates new understanding.

I have experienced this, working in a room full of brilliant people for a period of months. It took the transcendental leap of understanding by someone outside the group to present the elegantly-simple solution to the apparently intractable problem.

So, while many problems will fall to persistence and diligence, some problems require at least momentary transcendental brilliance ... or at least a favorable error. Hmm, this says something about the need for experimentation as well. Never underestimate the power of, "Huh, that's funny. It's not supposed to do that ..."


Comment author: cousin_it 16 August 2012 05:35:13PM 17 points [-]

If cats looked like frogs we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are.

-- Terry Pratchett, "Lords and Ladies"

Comment author: J_Taylor 03 August 2012 02:09:49AM 34 points [-]

If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience.

-- G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 August 2012 05:04:58PM 16 points [-]

"Silver linings are like finding change in your couch. It's there, but it never amounts to much."

-- http://www.misfile.com/?date=2012-08-10

Comment author: JQuinton 15 August 2012 09:35:56PM *  5 points [-]

Evil doesn't worry about not being good

  • from the video game "Dragon Age: Origins" spoken by the player.

Not sure if this is a "rationality" quote in and of itself; maybe a morality quote?

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 02 August 2012 09:27:58PM *  13 points [-]

By keenly confronting the enigmas that surround us, and by considering and analyzing the observations that I have made, I ended up in the domain of mathematics.

M. C. Escher

Comment author: bungula 03 August 2012 07:28:59AM 23 points [-]

“I drive an Infiniti. That’s really evil. There are people who just starve to death – that’s all they ever did. There’s people who are like, born and they go ‘Uh, I’m hungry’ then they just die, and that’s all they ever got to do. Meanwhile I’m driving in my car having a great time, and I sleep like a baby.

It’s totally my fault, ’cause I could trade my Infiniti for a [less luxurious] car… and I’d get back like $20,000. And I could save hundreds of people from dying of starvation with that money. And everyday I don’t do it. Everyday I make them die with my car.”

Louis C.K.

Comment author: DanielLC 04 August 2012 02:39:48AM 21 points [-]

… and I’d get back like $20,000. And I could save hundreds of people from dying of starvation with that money.

According to GiveWell, you could save ten people with that much.

Comment author: grendelkhan 29 August 2012 06:20:50PM 10 points [-]

The math here is scary. If you spitball the regulatory cost of life for a Westerner, it's around seven million dollars. To a certain extent, I'm pretty sure that that's high because the costs of over-regulating are less salient to regulators than the costs of under-regulating, but taken at face value, that means that, apparently, thirty-five hundred poor African kids are equivalent to one American.

Hilariously, the IPCC got flak from anti-globalization activists for positing a fifteen-to-one ratio in the value of life between developed and developing nations.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 August 2012 08:42:22AM 9 points [-]

To save ten lives via FAI, you have to accelerate FAI development by 6 seconds.

Comment author: TGM 30 August 2012 08:48:36AM 3 points [-]

Aren't you using different measures of what 'saving a life' is, anyway? The starving-child-save gives you about 60 years of extra life, whereas the FAI save gives something rather more.

Comment author: [deleted] 30 August 2012 02:08:56PM 5 points [-]

...then what are you doing here? Get back to work!

Comment author: Vaniver 30 August 2012 02:21:12PM 3 points [-]

Advocacy and movement-building?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 03 August 2012 01:23:26PM 27 points [-]

Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own. To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it. But what makes this difference? When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble? When we are always so much more deeply affected by whatever concerns ourselves, than by whatever concerns other men; what is it which prompts the generous, upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others? It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love. It is a stronger power, a more forcible motive, which exerts itself upon such occasions. It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct. It is he who, whenever we are about to act so as to affect the happiness of others, calls to us, with a voice capable of astonishing the most presumptuous of our passions, that we are but one of the multitude, in no respect better than any other in it; and that when we prefer ourselves so shamefully and so blindly to others, we become the proper objects of resentment, abhorrence, and execration. It is from him only that we learn the real littleness of ourselves, and of whatever relates to ourselves, and the natural misrepresentations of self-love can be corrected only by the eye of this impartial spectator. It is he who shows us the propriety of generosity and the deformity of injustice; the propriety of resigning the greatest interests of our own, for the yet greater interests of others, and the deformity of doing the smallest injury to another, in order to obtain the greatest benefit to ourselves. It is not the love of our neighbour, it is not the love of mankind, which upon many occasions prompts us to the practice of those divine virtues. It is a stronger love, a more powerful affection, which generally takes place upon such occasions; the love of what is honourable and noble, of the grandeur, and dignity, and superiority of our own characters.

-Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 August 2012 01:45:23PM 19 points [-]

And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident [as the destruction of China] had happened.

Now that we are informed of disasters worldwide as soon as they happen, and can give at least money with a few mouse clicks, we can put this prediction to the test. What in fact we see is a very great public response to such disasters as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Comment author: Petra 03 August 2012 02:01:45PM 4 points [-]

What in fact we see is a very great public response to such disasters as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

True, but first of all, the situation posited is one in which China is "swallowed up". If a disaster occurred, and there was no clear way for the generous public to actually help, do you think you would see the same response? I'm sure you would still have the same loud proclamations of tragedy and sympathy, but would there be action to match it? I suppose it's possible that they would try to support the remaining Chinese who presumably survived by not being in China, but it seems unlikely to me that the same concerted aid efforts would exist.

Secondly, it seems to me that Smith is talking more about genuine emotional distress and lasting life changes than simply any kind of reaction. Yes, people donate money for disaster relief, but do they lose sleep over it? (Yes, there are some people who drop everything and relocate to physically help, but they are the exception.) Is a $5 donation to the Red Cross more indicative of genuine distress and significant change, or the kind of public sympathy that allows the person to return to their lives as soon as they've sent the text?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 August 2012 02:24:56PM *  7 points [-]

If a disaster occurred, and there was no clear way for the generous public to actually help, do you think you would see the same response?

If help is not possible, obviously there will be no help. But in real disasters, there always is a way to help, and help is always forthcoming.

Comment author: J_Taylor 03 August 2012 10:37:42PM 8 points [-]

Even if help is not possible, there will be "help."

Comment author: [deleted] 03 August 2012 04:35:02PM 16 points [-]

Why did people in olden times hate paragraphs so much?

Comment author: DaFranker 03 August 2012 04:48:13PM *  12 points [-]

Paragraphs cost lines, and when each line of paper on average costs five shillings, you use as many of them as you can get away with.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 August 2012 05:05:55PM 20 points [-]

I propose all older works be therefore re-typeset as their creators obviously intended. It'll be like Ted Turner colorizing old movies, except the product in this case will become infinitely more consumable instead of slightly nauseating.

Comment author: DaFranker 03 August 2012 05:13:36PM *  4 points [-]

I support this motion, and further propose that formatting and other aesthetic considerations also be inferred from known data on the authors to fully reflect the manner in which they would have presented their work had they been aware of and capable of using all our current nice-book-writing technology.

...which sounds a lot like Eliezer's Friendly AI "first and final command". (I would link to the exact quote, but I've lost the bookmark. Will edit it in once found.)

Comment author: [deleted] 03 August 2012 05:17:08PM *  6 points [-]

I concur, with the proviso that "nice technology" must also include the idea compression style of Twitter.

Also, if paper was so expensive, why the hell did they overwrite so much? Status-driven fashion?

Comment author: James_K 03 August 2012 09:52:36PM 2 points [-]

I think much of it is that brevity simply wasn't seen as a virtue back then. There were far fewer written works, so you had more time to go through each one.

Comment author: gwern 04 August 2012 01:39:58AM *  4 points [-]

I think it's the vagary of various times. All periods had pretty expensive media and some were, as one would expect, terse as hell. (Reading a book on Nagarjuna, I'm reminded that reading his Heart of the Middle Way was like trying to read a math book with nothing but theorems. And not even the proofs. 'Wait, could you go back and explain that? Or anything?') Latin prose could be very concise. Biblical literature likewise. I'm told much Chinese literature is similar (especially the classics), and I'd believe it from the translations I've read.

Some periods praised clarity and simplicity of prose. Others didn't, and gave us things like Thomas Browne's Urn Burial.

(We also need to remember that we read difficulty as complexity. Shakespeare is pretty easy to read... if you have a vocabulary so huge as to overcome the linguistic drift of 4 centuries and are used to his syntax. His contemporaries would not have had such problems.)

Comment author: [deleted] 04 August 2012 02:26:53AM 3 points [-]

I'm told much Chinese literature is similar (especially the classics), and I'd believe it from the translations I've read.

For context, the first paragraph-ish thing in Romance of the Three Kingdoms covers about two hundred years of history in about as many characters, in the meanwhile setting up the recurring theme of perpetual unification, division and subsequent reunification.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 August 2012 08:44:49AM 3 points [-]

I detect a contradiction between "brevity not seen as virtue" and "they couldn't afford paragraphs".

Comment author: maia 03 August 2012 07:38:10PM 2 points [-]

Some writers were paid by the word and/or line.

Comment author: [deleted] 30 August 2012 02:14:56PM 2 points [-]

Ancient Greek writing not only lacked paragraphs, but spaces. And punctuation. And everything was in capitals. IMAGINETRYINGTOREADSOMETHINGLIKETHATINADEADLANGUAGE.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 09 August 2012 01:48:45AM 3 points [-]

When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble?

Why do some people so revile our passive feelings, and so venerate hypocrisy?

Comment author: wedrifid 09 August 2012 02:44:00PM 5 points [-]

Why do some people so revile our passive feelings, and so venerate hypocrisy?

Because it helps coerce others into doing things that benefit us and reduces how much force is exercised upon us while trading off the minimal amount of altruistic action necessary. There wouldn't (usually) be much point having altruistic principles and publicly reviling them.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 August 2012 03:33:20PM 1 point [-]

I was expecting the attribution to be to Mark Twain. I wonder if their style seems similar on account of being old, or if there's more to it.

Comment author: Never_Seen_Belgrade 05 August 2012 03:46:00PM 13 points [-]

I think it means you're underread within that period, for what it's worth.

The voice in that quote differs from Twain's and sounds neither like a journalist, nor like a river-side-raised gentleman of the time, nor like a Nineteenth Century rural/cosmopolitan fusion written to gently mock both.

Comment author: Swimmy 09 August 2012 07:23:15PM 3 points [-]

Though the voice isn't, the sentiment seems similar to something Twain would say. Though I'd expect a little more cynicism from him.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 August 2012 06:38:58PM 4 points [-]

Tentatively: rhetoric was studied formally, and Twain and Smith might have been working from similar models.

Comment author: GLaDOS 06 August 2012 10:04:20AM 22 points [-]

The findings reveal that 20.7% of the studied articles in behavioral economics propose paternalist policy action and that 95.5% of these do not contain any analysis of the cognitive ability of policymakers.

-- Niclas Berggren, source and HT to Tyler Cowen

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 08 August 2012 03:49:39AM *  5 points [-]

Sounds like a job for...Will_Newsome!

EDIT: Why the downvotes? This seems like a fairly obvious case of researchers going insufficiently meta.

Comment author: MatthewBaker 10 August 2012 07:50:13PM 4 points [-]

META MAN! willnewsomecuresmetaproblemsasfastashecan META MAN!

Comment author: MichaelGR 09 August 2012 08:06:20PM 11 points [-]

The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes…

— Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

Comment author: lukeprog 29 August 2012 09:37:32PM 4 points [-]

Ignorance is preferable to error and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong.

Thomas Jefferson

Comment author: [deleted] 29 August 2012 09:58:45PM *  1 point [-]

I wonder how we could empirically test this. We could see who makes more accurate predictions, but people without beliefs about something won't make predictions at all. That should probably count as a victory for wrong people, so long as they do better than chance.

We could also test how quickly people learn the correct theory. In both cases, I expect you'd see some truly deep errors which are worse than ignorance, but that on the whole people in error will do quite a lot better. Bad theories still often make good predictions, and it seems like it would be very hard, if not impossible, to explain a correct theory of physics to someone who has literally no beliefs about physics.

I'd put my money on people in error over the ignorant.

Comment author: aausch 05 August 2012 07:52:35PM 15 points [-]

Did you teach him wisdom as well as valor, Ned? she wondered. Did you teach him how to kneel? The graveyards of the Seven Kingdoms were full of brave men who had never learned that lesson

-- Catelyn Stark, A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin

Comment author: D_Malik 04 August 2012 04:15:04AM *  14 points [-]

Only the ideas that we actually live are of any value.

-- Hermann Hesse, Demian

Comment author: MichaelHoward 03 August 2012 11:41:24AM 9 points [-]

Should we add a point to these quote posts, that before posting a quote you should check there is a reference to it's original source or context? Not necessarily to add to the quote, but you should be able to find it if challenged.

wikiquote.org seems fairly diligent at sourcing quotes, but Google doesn't rank it highly in search results compared to all the misattributed, misquoted or just plain made up on the spot nuggets of disinformation that have gone viral and colonized Googlespace lying in wait to catch the unwary (such as apparently myself).

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 August 2012 12:05:45PM 4 points [-]

Yes, and also a point to check whether the quote has been posted to LW already.

Comment author: Alicorn 09 August 2012 12:26:50AM 12 points [-]

It's not the end of the world. Well. I mean, yes, literally it is the end of the world, but moping doesn't help!

-- A Softer World

Comment author: Nisan 03 August 2012 07:25:20AM 8 points [-]

"So now I’m pondering the eternal question of whether the ends justify the means."

"Hmm ... can be either way, depending on the circumstances."

"Precisely. A mathematician would say that stated generally, the problem lacks a solution. Therefore, instead of a clear directive the One in His infinite wisdom had decided to supply us with conscience, which is a rather finicky and unreliable device."

— Kirill Yeskov, The Last Ringbearer, trans. Yisroel Markov

Comment author: frostgiant 08 August 2012 02:13:24AM *  27 points [-]

The problem with Internet quotes and statistics is that often times, they’re wrongfully believed to be real.

— Abraham Lincoln

Comment author: Eneasz 20 August 2012 06:56:35PM 11 points [-]

An excerpt from Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss. Boxing is not safe.

The innkeeper looked up. "I have to admit I don't see the trouble," he said apologetically. "I've seen monsters, Bast. The Cthaeh falls short of that."

"That was the wrong word for me to use, Reshi," Bast admitted. "But I can't think of a better one. If there was a word that meant poisonous and hateful and contagious, I'd use that."

Bast drew a deep breath and leaned forward in his chair. "Reshi, the Cthaeh can see the future. Not in some vague, oracular way. It sees all the future. Clearly. Perfectly. Everything that can possibly come to pass, branching out endlessly from the current moment."

Kvothe raised an eyebrow. "It can, can it?"

"It can," Bast said gravely. "And it is purely, perfectly malicious. This isn't a problem for the most part, as it can't leave the tree. But when someone comes to visit..."

Kvothe's eyes went distant as he nodded to himself. "If it knows the future perfectly," he said slowly, "then it must know exactly how a person will react to anything it says."

Bast nodded. "And it is vicious, Reshi."

Kvothe continued in a musing tone. "That means anyone influenced by the Cthaeh would be like an arrow shot into the future."

"An arrow only hits on person, Reshi." Bast's dark eyes were hollow and hopeless. "Anyone influenced by the Cthaeh is like a plague ship sailing for a harbor." Bast pointed at the half-filled sheet Chronicler held in his lap. "If the Sithe knew that existed, they would spare no effort to destroy it. They would kill us for having heard what the Cthaeh said."

"Because anything carrying the Cthaeh's influence away from the tree..." Kvothe said, looking down at his hands. He sat silently for a long moment, nodding thoughtfully. "So a young man seeking his fortune goes to the Cthaeh and takes away a flower. The daughter of the king is deathly ill, and he takes the flower to heal her. They fall in love despite the fact that she's betrothed to the neighboring prince..."

Bast stared at Kvothe, watching blankly as he spoke.

"They attempt a daring moonlight escape," Kvothe continued. "But he falls from the rooftops and they're caught. The princess is married against her will and stabs the neighboring prince on their wedding night. The prince dies. Civil war. Fields burned and salted. Famine. Plague..."

"That's the story of the Fastingsway War," Bast said faintly.

Comment author: gwern 20 August 2012 08:14:29PM 3 points [-]

Hah, I actually quoted much of that same passage on IRC in the same boxing vein! Although as presented the scenario does have some problems:

00:23 < Ralith> that was depressing as fuck
00:24 <@gwern> kind of a magical UFAI, although a LWer would naturally ask why it hasn't managed to free itself
00:24 < Ralith> gwern: gods, probably
00:24 <@gwern> Ralith: well, in this universe, gods seem killable
00:24 <@gwern> Ralith: so it doesn't actually resolve the question of how it remains boxed
00:24 < Ralith> gwern: sure, but they're probably more powerful
00:25 < Ralith> the real question is why isn't whatever entity is powerful enough to keep it in place also keeping people away from it
00:25 <@gwern> Ralith: well, the only guards listed are faeries, and among the feats attributed to it is starting a war between the mortal and faerie folk, so...
00:26 < Ralith> a faerie is the one who that info came from, yes?
00:26 < Ralith> hardly an objective source
00:26 <@gwern> Ralith: and I would think a faerie reporting that faerie guard it increases credence
00:27 < Ralith> that only faerie guard it?
00:27 <@gwern> Ralith: well, Bast mentions no other guards
00:27 < Ralith> :P
00:28 < Ralith> anything capable of keeping it in that tree should be capable of keeping people away from it
00:28 < Ralith> since the faeries are presumably trying to do both, they can't be the responsible party.
00:29 <@gwern> who said anything was keeping it in the tree?
00:29 < Ralith> gwern: I did

Comment author: chaosmosis 22 August 2012 08:54:38PM *  2 points [-]

I thought Chronicler's reply to this was excellent, however. Omniscience does not necessitate omnipotence.

I mean, the UFAI in our world would have an easy time of killing everything. But in their world it's different.

EDIT: Except that maybe we can be smart and stop the UFAI from killing everything even in our world, see my above comment.

Comment author: gwern 11 August 2012 09:42:43PM 7 points [-]

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

--Herbert Simon (quoted by Pat Langley)

Comment author: [deleted] 12 August 2012 01:57:19PM 7 points [-]

Including artificial intelligence? ;-)

Comment author: Vaniver 12 August 2012 12:13:53AM 5 points [-]

The Chesterton version looks like it was designed to poke the older (and in my opinion better) advice from Lord Chesterfield:

Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.

Or, rephrased as Simon did:

Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

I strongly recommend his letters to his son. They contain quite a bit of great advice- as well as politics and health and so on. As it was private advice given to an heir, most of it is fully sound.

(In fact, it's been a while. I probably ought to find my copy and give it another read.)

Comment author: gwern 12 August 2012 12:17:10AM *  8 points [-]

Yeah, they're on my reading list. My dad used to say that a lot, but I always said the truer version was 'Anything not worth doing is not worth doing well', since he was usually using it about worthless yardwork...

Comment author: arundelo 11 August 2012 09:51:17PM 2 points [-]

A favorite of mine, but according to Wikiquote G.K. Chesterton said it first, in chapter 14 of What's Wrong With The World:

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

Comment author: lukeprog 31 August 2012 08:05:38PM 3 points [-]

A principal object of Wald's [statistical decision theory] is then to characterize the class of admissible strategies in mathematical terms, so that any such strategy can be found by carrying out a definite procedure... [Unfortunately] an 'inadmissible' decision may be overwhelmingly preferable to an 'admissible' one, because the criterion of admissibility ignores prior information — even information so cogent that, for example, in major medical... safety decisions, to ignore it would put lives in jeopardy and support a charge of criminal negligence.

...This illustrates the folly of inventing noble-sounding names such as 'admissible' and 'unbiased' for principles that are far from noble; and not even fully rational. In the future we should profit from this lesson and take care that we describe technical conditions by names that are... morally neutral, and so do not have false connotations which could mislead others for decades, as these have.

E.T. Jaynes, from page 409 of PT: LoS.

Comment author: Alicorn 05 August 2012 07:18:30PM 18 points [-]

My knee had a slight itch. I reached out my hand and scratched the knee in question. The itch was relieved and I was able to continue with my activities.

-- The dullest blog in the world

Comment author: cousin_it 06 August 2012 11:53:25AM 6 points [-]

I had an itch on my elbow. I left it to see where it would go. It didn’t go anywhere.

-- The comments to that entry.

When I stumbled on that blog some years ago, it impressed me so much that I started trying to write and think in the same style.

Comment author: JQuinton 15 August 2012 09:43:56PM 6 points [-]

When I was a teenager (~15 years ago) I got tired of people going on and on with their awesome storytelling skills with magnificent punchlines. I was never a good storyteller, so I started telling mundane stories. For example, after someone in my group of friends would tell some amazing and entertaining story, I would start my story:

So this one time I got up. I put on some clothes. It turned out I was hungry, so I decided to go to the store. I bought some eggs, bread, and bacon. I paid for it, right? And then I left the store. I got to my apartment building and went up the stairs. I open my door and take the eggs, bacon, and bread out of the grocery bag. After that, I get a pan and start cooking the eggs and bacon, and put the bread in the toaster. After all of this, I put the cooked eggs and bacon on a plate and put some butter on my toast. I then started to eat my breakfast.

And that was it. People would look dumbfounded for a while waiting for a punchline or some amazing happening. When the realized none was coming and I was finished, they would start laughing. Granted, this little joke of mine I would only do if there was a long time of people telling amazing/funny stories.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 16 August 2012 12:16:56AM 13 points [-]

(nods) In the same spirit: "How many X does it take to change a lightbulb? One."

Though I am fonder of "How many of my political opponents does it take to change a lightbulb? More than one, because they are foolish and stupid."

Comment author: Fyrius 02 September 2012 10:18:33AM 3 points [-]

...I don't really get why this is a rationality quote...

Comment author: Alicorn 02 September 2012 05:16:22PM 7 points [-]

Sometimes proceeding past obstacles is very straightforward.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 August 2012 10:23:42PM 2 points [-]

Why do I find that funny?

Comment author: Incorrect 02 August 2012 11:13:29PM 27 points [-]

It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.

-- Oscar Wilde

Comment author: MixedNuts 10 August 2012 08:27:23AM 10 points [-]

That's excellent advice for writing fiction. Audiences root for charming characters much more than for good ones. Especially useful when your world only contains villains. This is harder in real life, since your opponents can ignore your witty one-liners and emphasize your mass murders.

(This comment brought to you by House Lannister.)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 10 August 2012 11:07:44PM 8 points [-]

This is harder in real life, since your opponents can ignore your witty one-liners and emphasize your mass murders.

The scary thing is how often it does work in real life. (Except that in real life charm is more than just witty one-liners.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 August 2012 06:00:43AM 30 points [-]

Thank you, Professor Quirrell.

Comment author: Kyre 04 August 2012 10:10:09AM 4 points [-]

On the face of it I would absolutely disagree with Wilde on that: to live a moral life one absolutely needs to distinguish between good and bad. Charm (in bad people) and tedium (in good people) get in the way of this.

On the other hand, was Wilde really just blowing a big raspberry at the moralisers of his day ? Sort of saying "I care more about charm and tedium than what you call morality". I don't know enough about his context ...

Comment author: tgb 04 August 2012 02:21:12PM 14 points [-]

Since I can't be bothered to do real research, I'll just point out that this Yahoo answer says that the quote is spoken by Lord Darlington. Oscar Wilde was a humorist and an entertainer. He makes amusing characters. His characters say amusing things.

Do not read too much into this quote and, without further evidence, I would not attribute this philosophy to Oscar Wilde himself.

(I haven't read Lady Windermere's Fan, where this if from, but this sounds very much like something Lord Henry from The Picture of Dorian Gray would say. And Lord Henry is one of the main causes of the Dorian's fall from grace in this book; he's not exactly a very positive character but certainly an entertainingly cynical one!)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 August 2012 11:44:18PM 6 points [-]
Comment author: VKS 06 August 2012 02:57:48AM *  3 points [-]

I don't know that you can really classify people as X or ¬X. I mean, have you not seen individuals be X in certain situations and ¬X in other situations?


Comment author: Nisan 03 August 2012 04:46:32PM 4 points [-]

It is absurd to divide people into charming or tedious. People either have familiar worldviews or unfamiliar worldviews.

Comment author: DaFranker 03 August 2012 04:51:00PM 6 points [-]

It is absurd to divide people into familiar worldviews or unfamiliar worldviews. People either have closer environmental causality or farther environmental causality.

(anyone care to formalize the recursive tower?)

Comment author: faul_sname 03 August 2012 05:48:34PM *  5 points [-]

It's absurd to divide people into two categories and expect those two categories to be meaningful in more than a few contexts.

Comment author: Stabilizer 03 August 2012 09:05:32PM 20 points [-]

It is absurd to divide people. They tend to die if you do that.

Comment author: Kindly 04 August 2012 12:19:55AM 8 points [-]

It's absurd to divide. You tend to die if you do that.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 04 August 2012 04:45:07PM 12 points [-]

It's absurd: You tend to die.

Comment author: faul_sname 04 August 2012 07:55:29PM 7 points [-]

It's absurd to die.

Comment author: albeola 04 August 2012 08:43:51PM 5 points [-]

It's bs to die.

Comment author: Epiphany 18 August 2012 05:11:50AM *  4 points [-]


Comment author: Decius 04 August 2012 09:50:42PM 1 point [-]

Nobody alive has died yet.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 August 2012 12:43:19AM 8 points [-]

“Males” and “females”. (OK, there are edge cases and stuff, but this doesn't mean the categories aren't meaningful, does it?)

Comment author: Clippy 03 August 2012 08:38:37PM 1 point [-]

What about good vs bad humans?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 August 2012 11:37:37PM 2 points [-]

I like it, but what's it got to do with rationality?

Comment author: [deleted] 03 August 2012 07:05:44AM 9 points [-]

To me at least, it captures the notion of how the perceived Truth/Falsity of a belief rest solely in our categorization of it as 'tribal' or 'non-tribal': weird or normal. Normal beliefs are true, weird beliefs are false.

We believe our friends more readily than experts.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 August 2012 01:37:40PM 6 points [-]

“If a man take no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand.”


Comment author: harshhpareek 03 August 2012 04:22:53PM *  6 points [-]

To develop mathematics, one must always labor to substitute ideas for calculations.

-- Dirichlet

(Don't have source, but the following paper quotes it : Prolegomena to Any Future Qualitative Physics )

Comment author: Scottbert 08 August 2012 02:34:31AM *  20 points [-]

reinventing the wheel is exactly what allows us to travel 80mph without even feeling it. the original wheel fell apart at about 5mph after 100 yards. now they're rubber, self-healing, last 4000 times longer. whoever intended the phrase "you're reinventing the wheel" to be an insult was an idiot.

--rickest on IRC

Comment author: [deleted] 08 August 2012 07:57:10PM *  19 points [-]

That's not what "reinventing the wheel" (when used as an insult) usually means. I guess that the inventor of the tyre was aware of the earlier types of wheel, their advantages, and their shortcomings. Conversely, the people who typically receive this insult don't even bother to research the prior art on whatever they are doing.

Comment author: thomblake 08 August 2012 09:01:19PM 15 points [-]

To go along with what army1987 said, "reinventing the wheel" isn't going from the wooden wheel to the rubber one. "Reinventing the wheel" is ignoring the rubber wheels that exist and spending months of R&D to make a wooden circle.

For example, trying to write a function to do date calculations, when there's a perfectly good library.

Comment author: DaFranker 10 August 2012 05:24:37PM 1 point [-]

For example, trying to write a function to do date calculations, when there's a perfectly good library.

One obvious caveat is when the cost of finding, linking/registering and learning-to-use the library is greater than the cost of writing + debugging a function that suits your needs (of course, subject to the planning fallacy when doing estimates beforehand). More pronounced when the language/API/environment in question is one you're less fluent/comfortable with.

In this optic, "reinventing the wheel" should be further restricted to when an irrational decision was taken to do something with less expected utility - cost than simply using the existing version(s).

Comment author: thomblake 10 August 2012 06:11:52PM 5 points [-]

That's why I chose the example of date calculations specifically. In practice, anyone who tries to write one of those from scratch will get it wrong in lots of different ways all at once.

Comment author: DaFranker 10 August 2012 06:17:08PM *  2 points [-]

Yes. It's a good example. I was more or less making a point against a strawman (made of expected inference), rather than trying to oppose your specific statements; I just felt it was too easy for someone not intimate with the headaches of date functions to mistake this for a general assertion that any rewriting of existing good libraries is a Bad Thing.

Comment author: kboon 13 August 2012 12:47:27PM *  6 points [-]

So, no, you shouldn't reinvent the wheel. Unless you plan on learning more about wheels, that is.

Jeff Atwood

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 30 January 2013 10:39:20AM *  3 points [-]

Clever-sounding and wrong is perhaps the worst combination in a rationality quote.

Comment author: lukeprog 04 August 2012 10:28:30AM 10 points [-]

Reductionism is the most natural thing in the world to grasp. It's simply the belief that "a whole can be understood completely if you understand its parts, and the nature of their sum." No one in her left brain could reject reductionism.

Douglas Hofstadter

Comment author: [deleted] 06 August 2012 07:56:27AM 9 points [-]

ADBOC. Literally, that's true (but tautologous), but it suggests that understanding the nature of their sum is simple, which it isn't. Knowing the Standard Model gives hardly any insight into sociology, even though societies are made of elementary particles.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 04 August 2012 10:32:56AM 8 points [-]

That quote is supposed to be paired with another quote about holism.

Comment author: chaosmosis 05 August 2012 11:55:00PM *  1 point [-]

Q: What did the strange loop say to the cow? A: MU!

Comment author: Alejandro1 06 August 2012 03:54:30AM 5 points [-]

-- Knock knock.

-- Who is it?

-- Interrupting koan.

-- Interrupting ko-

-- MU!!!

Comment author: ChristianKl 11 August 2012 11:21:09AM 5 points [-]

The interesting thing is that Hofstadter doesn't seem to argue here that reductionism is true but that it's a powerful meme that easily gets into people brain.

Comment author: lukeprog 12 August 2012 07:15:37PM 6 points [-]

In matters of science, the authority of thousands is not worth the humble reasoning of one single person.


Comment author: [deleted] 12 August 2012 08:38:20PM 5 points [-]

OTOH, thousands would be less likely to all make the same mistake than one single person -- were it not for information cascades.

Comment author: wedrifid 13 August 2012 01:05:14AM 1 point [-]

In matters of science, the authority of thousands is not worth the humble reasoning of one single person.

Almost always false.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 13 August 2012 03:34:29PM 6 points [-]

If the basis of the position of the thousands -is- their authority, then the reason of one wins. If the basis of their position is reason, as opposed to authority, then you don't arrive at that quote.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 20 August 2012 09:19:07AM 4 points [-]

Man likes complexity. He does not want to take only one step; it is more interesting to look forward to millions of steps. The one who is seeking the truth gets into a maze, and that maze interests him. He wants to go through it a thousand times more. It is just like children. Their whole interest is in running about; they do not want to see the door and go in until they are very tired. So it is with grown-up people. They all say that they are seeking truth, but they like the maze. That is why the mystics made the greatest truths a mystery, to be given only to the few who were ready for them, letting the others play because it was the time for them to play.

Hazrat Inayat Khan.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 August 2012 10:57:28PM *  2 points [-]

Inside every non-Bayesian, there is a Bayesian struggling to get out.

Dennis Lindley

(I've read plenty of authors who appear to have the intuition that probabilities are epistemic rather than ontological somewhere in the back --or even the front-- of their mind, but appear to be unaware of the extent to which this intuition has been formalised and developed.)

Comment author: FiftyTwo 09 August 2012 07:06:09PM 5 points [-]

[Meta] This post doesn't seem to be tagged 'quotes,' making it less convenient to move from it to the other quote threads.

Comment author: lukeprog 05 August 2012 03:26:02AM 5 points [-]

He who knows best, best knows how little he knows.

Thomas Jefferson

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 August 2012 09:04:20PM 8 points [-]

[M]uch mistaken thinking about society could be eliminated by the most straightforward application of the pigeonhole principle: you can't fit more pigeons into your pigeon coop than you have holes to put them in. Even if you were telepathic, you could not learn all of what is going on in everybody's head because there is no room to fit all that information in yours. If I could completely scan 1,000 brains and had some machine to copy the contents of those into mine, I could only learn at most about a thousandth of the information stored in those brains, and then only at the cost of forgetting all else I had known. That's a theoretical optimum; any such real-world transfer process, such as reading and writing an e-mail or a book, or tutoring, or using or influencing a market price, will pick up only a small fraction of even the theoretically acquirable knowledge or preferences in the mind(s) at the other end of said process, or if you prefer of the information stored by those brain(s). Of course, one can argue that some kinds of knowledge -- like the kinds you and I know? -- are vastly more important than others, but such a claim is usually more snobbery than fact. Furthermore, a society with more such computational and mental diversity is more productive, because specialized algorithms, mental processes, and skills are generally far more productive than generalized ones. As Friedrich Hayek pointed out, our mutual inability to understand a very high fraction of what others know has profound implications for our economic and political institutions.

-- Nick Szabo

Comment author: bramflakes 02 August 2012 10:45:16PM 6 points [-]

What about compression?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 August 2012 11:42:23PM 5 points [-]

Do you mean lossy or lossless compression? If you mean lossy compression then that is precisely Szabo's point.

On the other hand, if you mean lossless, then if you had some way to losslessly compress a brain, this would only work if you were the only one with this compression scheme, since otherwise other people would apply it to their own brains and use the freed space to store more information.

Comment author: VKS 02 August 2012 11:51:41PM 8 points [-]

You'll probably have more success losslessly compressing two brains than losslessly compressing one.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 August 2012 09:05:32PM 7 points [-]

Not only should you disagree with others, but you should disagree with yourself. Totalitarian thought asks us to consider, much less accept, only one hypothesis at a time. By contrast quantum thought, as I call it -- although it already has a traditional name less recognizable to the modern ear, scholastic thought -- demands that we simultaneoulsy consider often mutually contradictory possibilities. Thinking about and presenting only one side's arguments gives one's thought and prose a false patina of consistency: a fallacy of thought and communications similar to false precision, but much more common and imporant. Like false precision, it can be a mental mistake or a misleading rhetorical habit. In quantum reality, by contrast, I can be both for and against a proposition because I am entertaining at least two significantly possible but inconsistent hypotheses, or because I favor some parts of a set of ideas and not others. If you are unable or unwilling to think in such a quantum or scholastic manner, it is much less likely that your thoughts are worthy of others' consideration.

-- Nick Szabo

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 04 August 2012 01:53:43PM 12 points [-]

the overuse of "quantum" hurt my eyes. :(

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 17 August 2012 07:09:06AM 6 points [-]

"Given the nature of the multiverse, everything that can possibly happen will happen. This includes works of fiction: anything that can be imagined and written about, will be imagined and written about. If every story is being written, then someone, somewhere in the multiverse is writing your story. To them, you are a fictional character. What that means is that the barrier which separates the dimensions from each other is in fact the Fourth Wall."

-- In Flight Gaiden: Playing with Tropes

(Conversely, many fictions are instantiated somewhere, in some infinitesimal measure. However, I deliberately included logical impossibilities into HPMOR, such as tiling a corridor in pentagons and having the objects in Dumbledore's room change number without any being added or subtracted, to avoid the story being real anywhere.)

Comment author: jslocum 17 August 2012 03:11:43PM *  14 points [-]

(Conversely, many fictions are instantiated somewhere, in some infinitesimal measure. However, I deliberately included logical impossibilities into HPMOR, such as tiling a corridor in pentagrams and having the objects in Dumbledore's room change number without any being added or subtracted, to avoid the story being real anywhere.)

In the library of books of every possible string, close to "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" and "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationalitz" is "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Logically Consistent Edition." Why is the reality of that books' contents affected by your reticence to manifest that book in our universe?

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 17 August 2012 11:49:23PM 3 points [-]

Absolutely; I hope he doesn't think that writing a story about X increases the measure of X. But then why else would he introduce these "impossibilities"?

Comment author: Desrtopa 17 August 2012 11:56:12PM 5 points [-]

Because it's funny?

Comment author: VKS 21 August 2012 09:06:29PM *  5 points [-]

impossibilities such as ... tiling a corridor in pentagons

Huh. And here I thought that space was just negatively curved in there, with the corridor shaped in such a way that it looks normal (not that hard to imagine), and just used this to tile the floor. Such disappointment...

This was part of a thing, too, in my head, where Harry (or, I guess, the reader) slowly realizes that Hogwarts, rather than having no geometry, has a highly local geometry. I was even starting to look for that as a thematic thing, perhaps an echo of some moral lesson, somehow.

And this isn't even the sort of thing you can write fanfics about. :¬(

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 19 August 2012 01:12:03PM 3 points [-]

However, I deliberately included logical impossibilities into HPMOR, such as tiling a corridor in pentagons and having the objects in Dumbledore's room change number without any being added or subtracted, to avoid the story being real anywhere.

Could you explain why you did that?

As regards the pentagons, I kinda assumed the pentagons weren't regular, equiangular pentagons - you could tile a floor in tiles that were shaped like a square with a triangle on top! Or the pentagons could be different sizes and shapes.

Comment author: Raemon 17 August 2012 03:53:50PM 3 points [-]

Tiling the wall with impossible geometry seems reasonable, but from what I recall about the objects in Dumbledore's room, all the story said was that Hermione kept losing track. Not sure whether artist intent trumps reader interpretation, but at first glance it seems far more likely to me that magic was causing Hermione to be confused than that magic was causing mathematical impossibilities.

Comment author: nagolinc 18 August 2012 03:14:58AM 2 points [-]

The problem with using such logical impossibilities is you have to make sure they're really impossible. For example, tiling a corridor with pentagons is completely viable in non-euclidean space. So, sorry to break it to you, but it there's a multiverse your story is real in it.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 18 August 2012 12:31:42AM *  2 points [-]

"She heard Harry sigh, and after that they walked in silence for a while, passing through an archway of some reddish metal like copper, into a corridor that was just like the one they'd left except that it was tiled in pentagons instead of squares."

"she was trying to count the number of things in the room for the third time and still not getting the same answer, even though her memory insisted that nothing had been added or removed"

I'm curious though, is there anything in there that would even count as this level of logically impossible? Can anyone remember one?

Comment author: [deleted] 17 August 2012 10:22:47PM *  2 points [-]

Anyway, I've decided that, when not talking about mathematics, real, exist, happen, etc. are deictic terms which specifically refer to the particular universe the speaker is in. Using real to apply to everything in Tegmark's multiverse fails Egan's Law IMO. See also: the last chapter of Good and Real.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 August 2012 10:13:52PM *  2 points [-]

Of course, universes including stories extremely similar to HPMOR except that the corridor is tiled in hexagons etc. do ‘exist’ ‘somewhere’. (EDIT: hadn't notice the same point had been made before. OK, I'll never again reply to comments in “Top Comments” without reading already existing replies first -- if I remember not to.)

Comment author: arundelo 17 August 2012 03:20:43PM *  2 points [-]


[...] into a corridor that was just like the one they'd left except that it was tiled in pentagons instead of squares.

Comment author: Wrongnesslessness 17 August 2012 04:30:47PM 3 points [-]

And they aren't even regular pentagons! So, it's all real then...

Comment author: MichaelHoward 03 August 2012 12:33:29AM *  5 points [-]

Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.

-- [Edit: Probably not] Albert Einstein

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 August 2012 08:48:56AM 6 points [-]

Do you have a source? Einstein gets quoted quite a lot for stuff he didn't say.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 08 August 2012 03:55:45AM 4 points [-]

Do you have a source? Einstein gets quoted quite a lot for stuff he didn't say.

Yes, and even more annoyingly, he gets quoted on things of which he is a non-expert and has nothing interesting to say (politics, psychology, ethics, etc...).

Comment author: [deleted] 24 August 2012 10:30:48PM *  4 points [-]

Niels Bohr's maxim that the opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth [is a] profound truth [from which] the profound truth follows that the opposite of a profound truth is not a profound truth at all.

-- The narrator in On Self-Delusion and Bounded Rationality, by Scott Aaronson

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 August 2012 12:04:05AM 5 points [-]

I would remark that truth is conserved, but profundity isn't. If you have two meaningful statements - that is, two statements with truth conditions, so that reality can be either like or unlike the statement - and they are opposites, then at most one of them can be true. On the other hand, things that invoke deep-sounding words can often be negated, and sound equally profound at the end of it.

In other words, Bohr's maxim seems so blatantly awful that I am mostly minded to chalk it up as another case of, "I wish famous quantum physicists knew even a little bit about epistemology-with-math".

Comment author: TheOtherDave 25 August 2012 03:35:36AM 6 points [-]

I don't really know what "profound" means here, but I usually take Bohr's maxim as a way of pointing out that when I encounter two statements, both of which seem true (e.g., they seem to support verified predictions about observations), which seem like opposites of one another, I have discovered a fault line in my thinking... either a case where I'm switching back and forth between two different and incompatible techniques for mapping English-language statements to predictions about observations, or a case for which my understanding of what it means for statements to be opposites is inadequate, or something else along those lines.

Mapping epistemological fault lines may not be profound, but I find it a useful thing to attend to. At the very least, I find it useful to be very careful about reasoning casually in proximity to them.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 August 2012 11:41:02AM *  1 point [-]

I seem to recall E.T. Jaynes pointing out some obscure passages by Bohr which (according to him) showed that he wasn't that clueless about epistemology, but only about which kind of language to use to talk about it, so that everyone else misunderstood him. (I'll post the ref if I find it. EDIT: here it is¹.)

For example, if this maxim actually means what TheOtherDave says it means, then it is a very good thought expressed in a very bad way.

  1. Disclaimer: I think the disproof of Bell's theorem in the linked article is wrong.
Comment author: lukeprog 01 September 2012 05:58:13AM 3 points [-]

Suppose we carefully examine an agent who systematically becomes rich [that is, who systematically "wins" on decision problems], and try hard to make ourselves sympathize with the internal rhyme and reason of his algorithm. We try to adopt this strange, foreign viewpoint as though it were our own. And then, after enough work, it all starts to make sense — to visibly reflect new principles appealing in their own right. Would this not be the best of all possible worlds? We could become rich and have a coherent viewpoint on decision theory. If such a happy outcome is possible, it may require we go along with prescriptions that at first seem absurd and counterintuitive (but nonetheless make agents rich); and, rather than reject such prescriptions out of hand, look for underlying coherence — seek a revealed way of thinking that is not an absurd distortion of our intuitions, but rather, a way that is principled though different. The objective is not just to adopt a foreign-seeming algorithm in the expectation of becoming rich, but to alter our intuitions and find a new view of the world — to not only see the light, but also absorb it into ourselves.

Yudkowsky, Timeless Decision Theory

Comment author: Aurora 11 August 2012 03:35:41AM 3 points [-]

Who taught you that senseless self-chastisement? I give you the money and you take it! People who can't accept a gift have nothing to give themselves. » -De Gankelaar (Karakter 1997)

Comment author: tastefullyOffensive 06 August 2012 03:22:08AM 3 points [-]

A lie, repeated a thousand times, becomes a truth. --Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda

Comment author: metatroll 06 August 2012 04:35:43AM 22 points [-]

It does not! It does not! It does not! ... continued here

Comment author: David_Gerard 04 August 2012 05:08:58PM 3 points [-]

Fiction is a branch of neurology.

-- J. G. Ballard (in a "what I'm working on" essay from 1966.)

Comment author: [deleted] 04 August 2012 06:09:52PM 23 points [-]

Take, say, physics, which restricts itself to extremely simple questions. If a molecule becomes too complex, they hand it over to the chemists. If it becomes too complex for them, they hand it to biologists. And if the system is too complex for them, they hand it to psychologists ... and so on until it ends up in the hands of historians or novelists.

Noam Chomsky

Comment author: [deleted] 05 August 2012 01:00:33AM 4 points [-]
Comment author: David_Gerard 04 August 2012 07:25:08PM 3 points [-]

Ballard does note later in the same essay "Neurology is a branch of fiction."

Comment author: arundelo 04 August 2012 07:46:23PM 11 points [-]

I am a strange loop and so can you!

Comment author: itaibn0 13 August 2012 12:27:33AM *  2 points [-]

I fear perhaps thou deemest that we fare
An impious road to realms of thought profane;
But 'tis that same religion oftener far
Hath bred the foul impieties of men:
As once at Aulis, the elected chiefs,
Foremost of heroes, Danaan counsellors,
Defiled Diana's altar, virgin queen,
With Agamemnon's daughter, foully slain.
She felt the chaplet round her maiden locks
And fillets, fluttering down on either cheek,
And at the altar marked her grieving sire,
The priests beside him who concealed the knife,
And all the folk in tears at sight of her.
With a dumb terror and a sinking knee
She dropped; nor might avail her now that first
'Twas she who gave the king a father's name.
They raised her up, they bore the trembling girl
On to the altar—hither led not now
With solemn rites and hymeneal choir,
But sinless woman, sinfully foredone,
A parent felled her on her bridal day,
Making his child a sacrificial beast
To give the ships auspicious winds for Troy:
Such are the crimes to which Religion leads.

Lucrecius, De rerum natura

Comment author: Aurora 11 August 2012 03:23:08AM 2 points [-]

Nulla è più raro al mondo, che una persona abitualmente sopportabile. -Giacomo Leopardi

(Nothing more rare in the world than a person who is habitually bearable)

Comment author: Nisan 03 August 2012 07:24:22AM 1 point [-]

Some say (not without a trace of mockery) that the old masters would supposedly forever invest a fraction of their souls in each batch of mithril, and since today there are no souls, but only the ‘objective reality perceived by our senses,’ by definition we have no chance to obtain true mithril.

-Kirill Yeskov, The Last Ringbearer, trans. Yisroel Markov