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Rationality Quotes September 2012

7 Post author: Jayson_Virissimo 03 September 2012 05:18AM

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  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB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 (1088)

Comment author: katydee 07 September 2012 02:15:02AM 36 points [-]

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

Solzhenitsyn

Comment author: shminux 07 September 2012 06:19:58PM *  16 points [-]

But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

If only it were a line. Or even a vague boundary between clearly defined good and clearly defined evil. Or if good and evil were objectively verifiable notions.

Comment author: simplicio 08 September 2012 12:05:22AM 4 points [-]

Or even a vague boundary between clearly defined good and clearly defined evil.

You don't think even a vague boundary can be found? To me it seems pretty self-evident by looking at extremes; e.g., torturing puppies all day is obviously worse than playing with puppies all day.

By no means am I secure in my metaethics (i.e., I may not be able to tell you in exquisite detail WHY the former is wrong). But even if you reduced my metaethics down to "whatever simplicio likes or doesn't like," I'd still be happy to persecute the puppy-torturers and happy to call them evil.

Comment author: lukeprog 09 September 2012 01:36:00AM 34 points [-]

A problem well stated is a problem half solved.

Charles Kettering

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 01 September 2012 03:57:48PM 24 points [-]

It is now clear to us what, in the year 1812, was the cause of the destruction of the French army. No one will dispute that the cause of the destruction of Napoleon's French forces was, on the one hand, their advance late in the year, without preparations for a winter march, into the depths of Russia, and, on the other hand, the character that the war took on with the burning of Russian towns and the hatred of the foe aroused in the Russian people. But then not only did no one foresee (what now seems obvious) that this was the only way that could lead to the destruction of an army of eight hundred thousand men, the best in the world and led by the best generals, in conflict with a twice weaker Russian army, inexperienced and led by inexperienced generals; not only did no one foresee this, but all efforts on the part of the Russians were constantly aimed at hindering the one thing that could save Russia, and, on the part of the French, despite Napoleon's experience and so-called military genius, all efforts were aimed at extending as far as Moscow by the end of summer, that is, at doing the very thing that was to destroy them.

  • Leo Tolstoy, "War and Peace", trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky
Comment author: SisterY 05 September 2012 06:25:44PM 7 points [-]

"Possibly the best statistical graph ever drawn" http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters

Comment author: JQuinton 11 September 2012 02:01:34PM 20 points [-]

"If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years educate children" - Confucius

Comment author: Sarokrae 18 September 2012 05:49:06AM 7 points [-]

...If your plan is for eternity, invent FAI?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 September 2012 01:53:02PM 2 points [-]

Depends how you interpret the proverb. If you told me the Earth would last a hundred years, it would increase the immediate priority of CFAR and decrease that of SIAI. It's a moot point since the Earth won't last a hundred years.

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 18 September 2012 01:57:50PM 5 points [-]

Sorry, Earth won't last a hundred years?

Comment author: [deleted] 11 September 2012 10:07:40AM *  18 points [-]

To use an analogy, if you attend a rock concert and take a box to stand on then you will get a better view. If others do the same, you will be in exactly the same position as before. Worse, even, as it may be easier to loose your balance and come crashing down in a heap (and, perhaps, bringing others with you).

-- Iain McKay et al., An Anarchist FAQ, section C.7.3

Comment author: alex_zag_al 11 September 2012 01:13:28PM 31 points [-]

Tropical rain forests, bizarrely, are the products of prisoner's dilemmas. The trees that grow in them spend the great majority of their energy growing upwards towards the sky, rather than reproducing. If they could come to a pact with their competitors to outlaw all tree trunks and respect a maximum tree height of ten feet, every tree would be better off. But they cannot.

Matt Ridley, in The Origins of Virtue

Comment author: Delta 05 September 2012 01:09:15PM 46 points [-]

“A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely relative,’ is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.” ― Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey

Comment author: cata 03 September 2012 11:10:45PM *  15 points [-]

Does the order of the two terminal conditions matter? / Think about it.

Does the order of the two terminal conditions matter? / Try it out!

Does the order of the two previous answers matter? / Yes. Think first, then try.

  • Friedman and Felleisen, The Little Schemer
Comment author: RomanDavis 03 September 2012 11:19:06PM 4 points [-]

Could you unpack that for me?

Comment author: cata 04 September 2012 01:02:46AM *  9 points [-]

Sure. The book is a sort of resource for learning the programming language Scheme, where the authors will present an illustrative piece of code and discuss different aspects of its behavior in the form of a question-and-answer dialogue with the reader.

In this case, the authors are discussing how to perform numerical comparisons using only a simple set of basic procedures, and they've come up with a method that has a subtle error. The lines above encourage the reader to figure out if and why it's an error.

With computers, it's really easy to just have a half-baked idea, twiddle some bits, and watch things change, but sometimes the surface appearance of a change is not the whole story. Remembering to "think first, then try" helps me maintain the right discipline for really understanding what's going on in complex systems. Thinking first about my mental model of a situation prompts questions like this:

  • Does my model explain the whole thing?
  • What would I expect to see if my model is accurate? Can I verify that I see those things?
  • Does my model make useful predictions about future behavior? Can I test that now, or make sure that when it happens, I gather the data I need to confirm it?

It's harder psychologically (and maybe too late) to ask those questions in retrospect if you try first, and then think, and if you skip asking them, then you'll suffer later.

Comment author: RomanDavis 04 September 2012 01:45:30AM 4 points [-]

You know, I've seen a lot on here about how programming relates to thinking relates to rationality. I wonder if it'd be worth trying and where/how I might get started.

Comment author: cata 04 September 2012 02:01:59AM *  4 points [-]

It's certainly at least worth trying, since among things to learn it may be both unusually instructive and unusually useful. Here's the big list of LW recommendations.

Comment author: RomanDavis 04 September 2012 02:10:30AM *  3 points [-]

Khan Academy has a programming course? I might try it.

Mostly, I want the easiest, most handholdy experience possible. Baby talk if necessary. Every experience informs me that programming is hard.

Comment author: cata 04 September 2012 03:18:24AM *  7 points [-]

This is the easiest, most handholdy experience possible: http://learnpythonthehardway.org/book/

A coworker of mine who didn't know any programming, and who probably isn't smarter than you, enjoyed working through it and has learned a lot.

Programming is hard, but a lot of good things are hard.

Comment author: katydee 02 September 2012 06:51:54PM 15 points [-]

When we were first drawn together as a society, it had pleased God to enlighten our minds so far as to see that some doctrines, which we once esteemed truths, were errors; and that others, which we had esteemed errors, were real truths. From time to time He has been pleased to afford us farther light, and our principles have been improving, and our errors diminishing.

Now we are not sure that we are arrived at the end of this progression, and at the perfection of spiritual or theological knowledge; and we fear that, if we should once print our confession of faith, we should feel ourselves as if bound and confin'd by it, and perhaps be unwilling to receive farther improvement, and our successors still more so, as conceiving what we their elders and founders had done, to be something sacred, never to be departed from.

Michael Welfare, quoted in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Comment author: OnTheOtherHandle 19 September 2012 05:24:59AM 11 points [-]

Let us together seek, if you wish, the laws of society, the manner in which these laws are reached, the process by which we shall succeed in discovering them; but, for God's sake, after having demolished all the a priori dogmatisms, do not let us in our turn dream of indoctrinating the people...let us not - simply because we are at the head of a movement - make ourselves into the new leaders of intolerance, let us not pose as the apostles of a new religion, even if it be the religion of logic, the religion of reason.

Pierre Proudhon, to Karl Marx

Comment author: [deleted] 29 September 2012 09:57:18AM *  10 points [-]

For a hundred years or so, mathematical statisticians have been in love with the fact that the probability distribution of the sum of a very large number of very small random deviations almost always converges to a normal distribution. ... This infatuation tended to focus interest away from the fact that, for real data, the normal distribution is often rather poorly realized, if it is realized at all. We are often taught, rather casually, that, on average, measurements will fall within ±σ of the true value 68% of the time, within ±2σ 95% of the time, and within ±3σ 99.7% of the time. Extending this, one would expect a measurement to be off by ±20σ only one time out of 2 × 10^88. We all know that “glitches” are much more likely than that!

-- W.H. Press et al., Numerical Recipes, Sec. 15.1

Comment author: Ezekiel 02 September 2012 01:16:02AM 28 points [-]

My brain technically-not-a-lies to me far more than it actually lies to me.

-- Aristosophy (again)

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 02 September 2012 05:48:43PM *  26 points [-]

Qhorin Halfhand: The Watch has given you a great gift. And you only have one thing to give in return: your life.

Jon Snow: I'd gladly give my life.

Qhorin Halfhand: I don’t want you to be glad about it! I want you to curse and fight until your heart’s done pumping.

--Game of Thrones, Season 2.

Comment author: Rhwawn 03 September 2012 12:20:30AM 26 points [-]

Reminds me of Patton:

No man ever won a war by dying for his country. Wars were won by making the other poor bastard die for his. You don't win a war by dying for your country.

Comment author: bbleeker 05 September 2012 10:37:28PM 13 points [-]

I especially like the way he calls the enemy "the other poor bastard". And not, say, "the bastard".

Comment author: Ezekiel 02 September 2012 10:54:07PM 8 points [-]

And you only have one thing to give in return: your life.

Also effort, expertise, and insider information on one of the most powerful Houses around. And magic powers.

Comment author: alex_zag_al 06 September 2012 07:56:42PM 49 points [-]

There is something about practical things that knocks us off our philosophical high horses. Perhaps Heraclitus really thought he couldn't step in the same river twice. Perhaps he even received tenure for that contribution to philosophy. But suppose some other ancient had claimed to have as much right as Heraclitus did to an ox Heraclitus had bought, on the grounds that since the animal had changed, it wasn't the same one he had bought and so was up for grabs. Heraclitus would have quickly come up with some ersatz, watered-down version of identity of practical value for dealing with property rights, oxen, lyres, vineyards, and the like. And then he might have wondered if that watered-down vulgar sense of identity might be a considerably more valuable concept than a pure and philosophical sort of identity that nothing has.

John Perry, introduction to Identity, Personal Identity, and the Self

Comment author: DanielLC 10 September 2012 05:33:12AM 24 points [-]

He bought the present ox along with the future ox. He could have just bought the present ox, or at least a shorter interval of one. This is known as "renting".

Comment deleted 01 September 2012 09:33:16AM *  [-]
Comment author: Ezekiel 01 September 2012 09:16:48PM 8 points [-]

... which one wish, carefully phrased, could also provide.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 03 September 2012 03:58:34AM 9 points [-]
Comment author: Mestroyer 05 September 2012 09:08:33PM 8 points [-]

"I wish for the result of the hypothetical nth wish I would make if I was allowed to make n wishes in the limit as n went to infinity each time believing that the next wish would be my only one and all previous wishes would be reversed, or if that limit does not exist, pick n = busy beaver function of Graham's number."

Comment author: gwern 01 September 2012 06:47:39PM 4 points [-]
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 September 2012 05:19:56AM 14 points [-]

Er... actually the genie is offering at most two rounds of feedback.

Sorry about the pedantry, it's just that as a professional specialist in genies I have a tendency to notice that sort of thing.

Comment author: lukeprog 09 September 2012 11:56:38PM 23 points [-]

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t easily be measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t easily be measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.

Charles Handy describing the Vietnam-era measurement policies of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara

Comment author: VKS 04 September 2012 11:51:02PM *  23 points [-]

After I spoke at the 2005 "Mathematics and Narrative" conference in Mykonos, a suggestion was made that proofs by contradiction are the mathematician's version of irony. I'm not sure I agree with that: when we give a proof by contradiction, we make it very clear that we are discussing a counterfactual, so our words are intended to be taken at face value. But perhaps this is not necessary. Consider the following passage.

There are those who would believe that every polynomial equation with integer coefficients has a rational solution, a view that leads to some intriguing new ideas. For example, take the equation x² - 2 = 0. Let p/q be a rational solution. Then (p/q)² - 2 = 0, from which it follows that p² = 2q². The highest power of 2 that divides p² is obviously an even power, since if 2^k is the highest power of 2 that divides p, then 2^2k is the highest power of 2 that divides p². Similarly, the highest power of 2 that divides 2q² is an odd power, since it is greater by 1 than the highest power that divides q². Since p² and 2q² are equal, there must exist a positive integer that is both even and odd. Integers with this remarkable property are quite unlike the integers we are familiar with: as such, they are surely worthy of further study.

I find that it conveys the irrationality of √2 rather forcefully. But could mathematicians afford to use this literary device? How would a reader be able to tell the difference in intent between what I have just written and the following superficially similar passage?

There are those who would believe that every polynomial equation has a solution, a view that leads to some intriguing new ideas. For example, take the equation x² + 1 = 0. Let i be a solution of this equation. Then i² + 1 = 0, from which it follows that i² = -1. We know that i cannot be positive, since then i² would be positive. Similarly, i cannot be negative, since i² would again be positive (because the product of two negative numbers is always positive). And i cannot be 0, since 0² = 0. It follows that we have found a number that is not positive, not negative, and not zero. Numbers with this remarkable property are quite unlike the numbers we are familiar with: as such, they are surely worthy of further study.

  • Timothy Gowers, Vividness in Mathematics and Narrative, in Circles Disturbed: The Interplay of Mathematics and Narrative
Comment author: Ezekiel 01 September 2012 11:27:29AM *  58 points [-]

"Wait, Professor... If Sisyphus had to roll the boulder up the hill over and over forever, why didn't he just program robots to roll it for him, and then spend all his time wallowing in hedonism?"
"It's a metaphor for the human struggle."
"I don't see how that changes my point."

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 September 2012 02:53:57AM *  29 points [-]

Well, his point only makes any sense when applied to the metaphor since a better answer to the question

"Wait, Professor... If Sisyphus had to roll the boulder up the hill over and over forever, why didn't he just program robots to roll it for him, and then spend all his time wallowing in hedonism?"

is:

"where would Sisyphus get a robot in the middle of Hades?"

Edit: come to think of it, this also works with the metaphor for human struggle.

Comment author: Swimmy 04 September 2012 12:44:33AM 12 points [-]

I thought the correct answer would be, "No time for programming, too busy pushing a boulder."

Though, since the whole thing was a punishment, I have no idea what the punishment for not doing his punishment would be. Can't find it specified anywhere.

Comment author: RobinZ 04 September 2012 01:01:39AM 18 points [-]

I don't think he's punished for disobeying, I think he's compelled to act. He can think about doing something else, he can want to do something else, he can decide to do something else ... but what he does is push the boulder.

Comment author: CronoDAS 06 September 2012 10:51:59AM 11 points [-]

The version I like the best is that Sisyphus keeps pushing the boulder voluntarily, because he's too proud to admit that, despite all his cleverness, there's something he can't do. (Specifically, get the boulder to stay at the top of the mountain).

Comment author: Xachariah 06 September 2012 11:43:06PM 8 points [-]

My favorite version is similar. Each day he tries to push the boulder a little higher, and as the boulder starts to slide back, he mentally notes his improvement before racing the boulder down to the bottom with a smile on his face.

Because he gets a little stronger and a little more skilled every day, and he knows that one day he'll succeed.

Comment author: gwern 07 September 2012 03:06:49AM 10 points [-]

In the M. Night version: his improvements are an asymptote - and Sisyphus didn't pay enough attention in calculus class to realize that the limit is just below the peak.

Comment author: DanielLC 11 September 2012 02:39:09AM 5 points [-]

Or maybe the limit is the peak. He still won't reach it.

Comment author: MixedNuts 04 September 2012 07:31:35PM 7 points [-]

In some versions he's harassed by harpies until he gets back to boulder-pushing. But RobinZ's version is better.

Comment author: Alejandro1 03 September 2012 03:01:13AM 5 points [-]

Borrowing one of Hephaestus', perhaps?

Comment author: Ezekiel 03 September 2012 05:54:26AM 19 points [-]

Now someone just has to write a book entitled "The Rationality of Sisyphus", give it a really pretentious-sounding philosophical blurb, and then fill it with Grand Theft Robot.

Comment author: taelor 03 September 2012 04:42:35AM 15 points [-]

Answer: Because the Greek gods are vindictive as fuck, and will fuck you over twice as hard when they find out that you wriggled out of it the first time.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 03 September 2012 11:04:20AM *  13 points [-]

Who was the guy who tried to bargain the gods into giving him immortality, only to get screwed because he hadn't thought to ask for youth and health as well? He ended up being a shriveled crab like thing in a jar.

My highschool english teacher thought this fable showed that you should be careful what you wished for. I thought it showed that trying to compel those with great power through contract was a great way to get yourself fucked good an hard. Don't think you can fuck with people a lot more powerful than you are and get away with it.

EDIT: The myth was of Tithonus. A goddess Eos was keeping him as a lover, and tried to bargain with Zeus for his immortality, without asking for eternal youth too. Ooops.

Comment author: Ezekiel 03 September 2012 03:14:29PM 21 points [-]

Don't think you can fuck with people a lot more powerful than you are and get away with it.

I'm no expert, but that seems to be the moral of a lot of Greek myths.

Comment author: Morendil 29 September 2012 04:50:20PM 8 points [-]

New ideas are sometimes found in the most granular details of a problem where few others bother to look. And they are sometimes found when you are doing your most abstract and philosophical thinking, considering why the world is the way that it is and whether there might be an alternative to the dominant paradigm. Rarely can they be found in the temperate latitudes between these two spaces, where we spend 99 percent of our lives.

-- Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise

Comment author: RobinZ 11 September 2012 06:30:18PM 8 points [-]

Intelligence about baseball had become equated in the public mind with the ability to recite arcane baseball stats. What [Bill] James's wider audience had failed to understand was that the statistics were beside the point. The point was understanding; the point was to make life on earth just a bit more intelligible; and that point, somehow, had been lost. "I wonder," James wrote, "if we haven't become so numbed by all these numbers that we are no longer capable of truly assimilating any knowledge which might result from them."

Michael Lewis, Moneyball, ch. 4 ("Field of Ignorance")

Comment author: Yvain 01 September 2012 02:20:44PM 56 points [-]

Do unto others 20% better than you expect them to do unto you, to correct for subjective error.

-- Linus Pauling

Comment author: gwern 01 September 2012 07:14:46PM 18 points [-]

Citation for this was hard; the closest I got was Etzioni's 1962 The Hard Way to Peace, pg 110. There's also a version in the 1998 Linus Pauling on peace: a scientist speaks out on humanism and world survival : writings and talks by Linus Pauling; this version goes

I have made a modern formulation of the Golden Rule: "Do unto others 20 percent better than you would be done by - the 20 percent is to correct for subjective error."

Comment author: Caspian 03 September 2012 07:15:29AM 3 points [-]

Did you take "expect" to mean as in prediction, or as in what you would have them do, like the Jesus version?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 01 September 2012 08:25:27AM *  34 points [-]

Infallible, adj. Incapable of admitting error.

-L. A. Rollins, Lucifer's Lexicon: An Updated Abridgment

Comment author: katydee 02 September 2012 09:01:21PM 32 points [-]

Lady Average may not be as good-looking as Lady Luck, but she sure as hell comes around more often.

Anonymous

Comment author: Omegaile 03 September 2012 08:35:56PM *  15 points [-]

Not always, since:

The average human has one breast and one testicle

Des McHale

In other words, the average of a distribution is not necessarily the most probable value.

Comment author: RobinZ 03 September 2012 09:03:23PM *  18 points [-]

In other words: expect Lady Mode, not Lady Mean.

Comment author: sketerpot 05 September 2012 09:47:03PM *  6 points [-]

Don't expect her, either. In Russian Roulette, the mode is that you don't die, and indeed that's the outcome for most people who play it. You should, however, expect that there's a very large chance of instadeath, and if you were to play a bunch of games in a row, that (relatively uncommon) outcome would almost certainly kill you.

(A similar principle applies to things like stock market index funds: the mode doesn't matter when all you care about is the sum of the stocks.)

The real lesson is this: always expect Lady PDF.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 03 September 2012 11:11:29PM 10 points [-]

In my high school health class, for weeks the teacher touted the upcoming event: "Breast and Testicle Day!"

When the anticipated day came, it was of course the day when all the boys go off to one room to learn about testicular self-examination, and all the girls go off to another to learn about breast self-examination. So, in fact, no student actually experienced Breast and Testicle Day.

Comment author: simplicio 01 September 2012 04:06:40PM 20 points [-]

...a good way of thinking about minimalism [about truth] and its attractions is to see it as substituting the particular for the general. It mistrusts anything abstract or windy. Both the relativist and the absolutist are impressed by Pilate's notorious question 'What is Truth?', and each tries to say something useful at the same high and vertiginous level of generality. The minimalist can be thought of turning his back on this abstraction, and then in any particular case he prefaces his answer with the prior injunction: you tell me. This does not mean, 'You tell me what truth is.' It means, 'You tell me what the issue is, and I will tell you (although you will already know, by then) what the truth about the issue consists in.' If the issue is whether high tide is at midday, then truth consists in high tide being at midday... We can tell you what truth amounts to, if you first tell us what the issue is.

There is a very powerful argument for minimalism about truth, due to the great logician Gottlob Frege. First, we should notice the transparency property of truth. This is the fact that it makes no difference whether you say that it is raining, or it is true that it is raining, or true that it is true that it is raining, and so on forever. But if 'it is true that' introduced some substantial, robust property of a judgment, how could this be so? Consider, for example, a pragmatism that attempts some equation between truth and utility. Then next to the judgment 'it is raining' we might have 'it is useful to believe that it is raining.' But these are entirely different things! To assess the first we direct our attention to the weather. To assess the second we direct our attention to the results of believing something about the weather - a very different investigation.

Let us return to Pilate. Where does minimalism about truth leave him? It suggests that when he asked this question, he was distracting himself and his audience from his real job, which was to find out whether to uphold certain specific historical charges against a defendant. Thus, if I am innocent, and I come before a judge, I don't want airy generalities about the nature of truth. I want him to find that I did not steal the watch if I did not steal the watch. I want him to rub his nose in the issue. I want a local judgment about a local or specific event, supposed to have happened in a particular region of time and space.

(Simon Blackburn, Truth)

Comment author: Alejandro1 01 September 2012 05:14:07PM 7 points [-]

The pithiest definition of Blackburn's minimalism I've read is in his review of Nagel's The Last Word:

We can see why this is so if we put it in terms of what we can call Ramsey’s ladder. This takes us from p to it is true that p, to it is really true that p, to it is really a fact that it is true that p, and if we like to it is really a fact about the independent order of things ordained by objective Platonic normative structures with which we resonate in harmony that it is true that p. For the metatheoretical minimalist, Ramsey’s ladder is horizontal. The view from the top is just the same as the view from the bottom, and the view is p.

It is followed by an even pithier response to how Nagel refutes relativism (pointing that our first-order conviction that 2+2=4 or that murder is wrong is more certain than any relativist doubts) and thinks that this establishes a quasi-Platonic absolutism as the only alternative:

This is… taking advantage of the horizontal nature of Ramsey’s ladder to climb it, and then announce a better view from the top.

Comment author: taelor 14 September 2012 07:16:44AM *  18 points [-]

Oh, right, Senjōgahara. I've got a great story to tell you. It's about that man who tried to rape you way back when. He was hit by a car and died in a place with no connection to you, in an event with no connection to you. Without any drama at all. [...] That's the lesson for you here: You shouldn't expect your life to be like the theater.

-- Kaiki Deishū, Episode 7 of Nisemonogatari.

Comment author: Zvi 01 September 2012 09:10:38PM 17 points [-]

Subway ad: "146 people were hit by trains in 2011. 47 were killed."

Guy on Subway: "That tells me getting hit by a train ain't that dangerous."

  • Nate Silver, on his Twitter feed @fivethirtyeight
Comment author: Grognor 04 September 2012 01:26:39AM *  20 points [-]

This reminds me of how I felt when I learned that a third of the passengers of the Hindenburg survived. Went something like this, if I recall:

Apparently if you drop people out of the sky in a ball of fire, that's not enough to kill all of them, or even 90% of them.

Comment author: RobinZ 04 September 2012 01:53:16AM 13 points [-]

Actually, according to Wikipedia, only 35 out of the 97 people aboard were killed. Not enough to kill even 50% of them.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 September 2012 12:27:26AM 9 points [-]

Wait, 32% probability of dying “ain't that dangerous”? Are you f***ing kidding me?

Comment author: Hariant 02 September 2012 12:37:46AM 22 points [-]

If I expect to be hit by a train, I certainly don't expect a ~68% survival chance. Not intuitively, anyways.

Comment author: radical_negative_one 02 September 2012 04:25:22PM 17 points [-]

I'm guessing that even if you survive, your quality of life is going to take a hit. Accounting for this will probably bring our intuitive expectation of harm closer to the actual harm.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 September 2012 10:20:58PM 3 points [-]

Hmmm, I can't think of any way of figuring out what probability I would have guessed if I had to guess before reading that. Damn you, hindsight bias!

(Maybe you could spell out and rot-13 the second figure in the ad...)

Comment author: wallowinmaya 02 September 2012 10:30:35PM 34 points [-]

Nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time.

Ken Wilber

Comment author: MileyCyrus 03 September 2012 03:11:36AM 15 points [-]

Lol, my professor would give a 100% to anyone who answered every exam question wrong. There were a couple people who pulled it off, but most scored 0<10.

Comment author: Decius 03 September 2012 03:26:56AM 11 points [-]

I'm assuming a multiple-choice exam, and invalid answers don't count as 'wrong' for that purpose?

Otherwise I can easily miss the entire exam with "Tau is exactly six." or "The battle of Thermopylae" repeated for every answer. Even if the valid answers are [A;B;C;D].

Comment author: MugaSofer 01 October 2012 11:51:13AM 2 points [-]

"The battle of Thermopylae" repeated for every answer.

Unless it really was the battle of Thermopylae. Not having studied, you wont know.

Comment author: Alejandro1 03 September 2012 03:35:59AM 29 points [-]

"But I tell you he couldn't have written such a note!" cried Flambeau. "The note is utterly wrong about the facts. And innocent or guilty, Dr Hirsch knew all about the facts."

"The man who wrote that note knew all about the facts," said his clerical companion soberly. "He could never have got 'em so wrong without knowing about 'em. You have to know an awful lot to be wrong on every subject—like the devil."

"Do you mean—?"

"I mean a man telling lies on chance would have told some of the truth," said his friend firmly. "Suppose someone sent you to find a house with a green door and a blue blind, with a front garden but no back garden, with a dog but no cat, and where they drank coffee but not tea. You would say if you found no such house that it was all made up. But I say no. I say if you found a house where the door was blue and the blind green, where there was a back garden and no front garden, where cats were common and dogs instantly shot, where tea was drunk in quarts and coffee forbidden—then you would know you had found the house. The man must have known that particular house to be so accurately inaccurate."

--G.K. Chesterton, "The Duel of Dr. Hirsch"

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 04 September 2012 12:08:03PM *  5 points [-]

An interesting corollary of the efficient market hypothesis is that, neglecting overhead due to things like brokerage fees and assuming trades are not large enough to move the market, it should be just as difficult to lose money trading securities as it is to make money.

Comment author: Plubbingworth 01 October 2012 09:41:26PM 2 points [-]

This reminds me of an episode of QI, in which Johnny Vegas, who usually throws out random answers for the humor, actually managed to get a question (essentially) right.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 01 September 2012 06:08:27PM 49 points [-]

The person who says, as almost everyone does say, that human life is of infinite value, not to be measured in mere material terms, is talking palpable, if popular, nonsense. If he believed that of his own life, he would never cross the street, save to visit his doctor or to earn money for things necessary to physical survival. He would eat the cheapest, most nutritious food he could find and live in one small room, saving his income for frequent visits to the best possible doctors. He would take no risks, consume no luxuries, and live a long life. If you call it living. If a man really believed that other people's lives were infinitely valuable, he would live like an ascetic, earn as much money as possible, and spend everything not absolutely necessary for survival on CARE packets, research into presently incurable diseases, and similar charities.

In fact, people who talk about the infinite value of human life do not live in either of these ways. They consume far more than they need to support life. They may well have cigarettes in their drawer and a sports car in the garage. They recognize in their actions, if not in their words, that physical survival is only one value, albeit a very important one, among many.

-- David D. Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom

Comment author: simplicio 21 September 2012 10:50:15PM 6 points [-]

But since miracles were produced according to the capacity of the common people who were completely ignorant of the principles of natural things, plainly the ancients took for a miracle whatever they were unable to explain in the manner the common people normally explained natural things, namely by seeking to recall something similar which can be imagined without amazement. For the common people suppose they have satisfactorily explained something as soon as it no longer astounds them.

(Baruch Spinoza)

Comment author: lukeprog 15 September 2012 07:56:22AM 6 points [-]

You don’t have to know all the answers, you just need to know where to find them.

Albert Einstein (maybe)

Cf. this and this.

Comment author: lukeprog 22 September 2012 01:28:25PM 16 points [-]

The problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence.

Bill Clinton

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 September 2012 08:41:56AM 24 points [-]

The following quotes were heavily upvoted, but then turned out to be made by a Will Newsome sockpuppet who edited the quote afterward. The original comments have been banned. The quotes are as follows:

If dying after a billion years doesn't sound sad to you, it's because you lack a thousand-year-old brain that can make trillion-year plans.

— Aristosophy

One wish can achieve as much as you want. What the genie is really offering is three rounds of feedback.

— Aristosophy

If anyone objects to this policy response, please PM me so as to not feed the troll.

Comment author: Document 09 September 2012 04:18:34AM 12 points [-]

Edited how?

Comment author: Davorak 12 September 2012 02:25:03PM 8 points [-]

If I remember correctly the second quote was edited to be something along the lines of "will_newsome is awesome."

Comment author: [deleted] 09 September 2012 08:40:12AM 10 points [-]

I do find some of Will Newsome's contributions interesting. OTOH, this behaviour is pretty fucked up. (I was wondering how hard it would be to implement a software feature to show the edit history of comments.)

Comment author: wedrifid 08 September 2012 09:31:05AM 16 points [-]

The following quotes were heavily upvoted, but then turned out to be made by a Will Newsome sockpuppet who edited the quote afterward. The original comments have been banned. The quotes are as follows:

Defection too far. Ban Will.

Comment author: katydee 13 September 2012 05:07:40AM *  15 points [-]

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.

Ernest Hemingway

Comment author: wedrifid 13 September 2012 08:37:48AM 7 points [-]

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.

Excellent. A shortcut to nobility. One day of being as despicable as I can practically manage and I'm all set.

Comment author: WingedViper 19 September 2012 04:54:11PM *  3 points [-]

It does not state which (!) former self, so I would expect some sort of median or mean or summary of your former self and not just the last day. So I'm sorry but there is no shortcut ;-)

Comment author: peter_hurford 01 September 2012 06:19:37PM 30 points [-]

"He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his candle at mine, receives light without darkening me. No one possesses the less of an idea, because every other possesses the whole of it." - Jefferson

Comment author: Matt_Caulfield 03 September 2012 05:40:36PM *  10 points [-]

But many people do benefit greatly from hoarding or controlling the distribution of scarce information. If you make your living off slavery instead, then of course you can be generous with knowledge.

Comment author: Vaniver 03 September 2012 06:16:57PM 9 points [-]
Comment author: CCC 05 September 2012 06:35:45AM 4 points [-]

If you do not hoard your ideas, and neither do I, then we can both benefit from the ideas of the other. If I can access the ideas of a hundred other people at the cost of sharing my own ideas, then I profit; no matter how smart I am, a hundred other people working the same problem are going to be able to produce at least some ideas that I did not think of. (This is a benefit of free/open source software; it has been shown experimentally to work pretty well in the right circumstances).

Comment author: imaxwell 03 September 2012 10:01:52PM 22 points [-]

The only road to doing good shows, is doing bad shows.

  • Louis C.K., on Reddit
Comment author: Desrtopa 04 September 2012 05:36:56PM 28 points [-]

Unfortunately, doing bad shows is not only a route to doing good shows.

Comment author: imaxwell 05 September 2012 05:28:45PM 3 points [-]

True, and I hope no one thinks it is. So we can conclude that doing bad shows at first is not a strong indicator of whether you have a future as a showman.

I guess I see the quote as being directed at people who are so afraid of doing a bad show that they'll never get in enough practice to do a good show. Or they practice by, say, filming themselves telling jokes in their basement and getting critiques from their friends who will not be too mean to them. In either case, they never get the amount of feedback they would need to become good. For such a person to hear "Yes, you will fail" can be oddly liberating, since it turns failure into something accounted for in their longer-term plans.

Comment author: lukeprog 09 September 2012 11:47:06PM 14 points [-]

...the 2008 financial crisis showed that some [mathematical finance] models were flawed. But those flaws were based on flawed assumptions about the distribution of price changes... Nassim Taleb, a popular author and critic of the financial industry, points out many such flaws but does not include the use of Monte Carlo simulations among them. He himself is a strong proponent of these simulations. Monte Carlo simulations are simply the way we do the math with uncertain quantities. Abandoning Monte Carlos because of the failures of the financial markets makes as much sense as giving up on addition and subtraction because of the failure of accounting at Enron or AIG’s overexposure in credit default swaps.

Douglas Hubbard, How to Measure Anything

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 03 September 2012 08:59:50AM 33 points [-]

...beliefs are like clothes. In a harsh environment, we choose our clothes mainly to be functional, i.e., to keep us safe and comfortable. But when the weather is mild, we choose our clothes mainly for their appearance, i.e., to show our figure, our creativity, and our allegiances. Similarly, when the stakes are high we may mainly want accurate beliefs to help us make good decisions. But when a belief has few direct personal consequences, we in effect mainly care about the image it helps to project.

-Robin Hanson, Human Enhancement

Comment author: buybuydandavis 03 September 2012 10:45:47AM 15 points [-]

I think he's mischaracterizing the issue.

Beliefs serve multiple functions. One is modeling accuracy, another is signaling. It's not whether the environment is harsh or easy, it's which function you need. There are many harsh environments where what you need is the signaling function, and not the modeling function.

Comment author: zslastman 03 September 2012 06:32:55PM 32 points [-]

I feel like Hanson's admittedly insightful "signaling" hammer has him treating everything as a nail.

Comment author: Nominull 03 September 2012 10:53:57PM 25 points [-]

I agree in principle but I think this particular topic is fairly nailoid in nature.

Comment author: zslastman 04 September 2012 10:26:50AM 7 points [-]

I'd say it's such a broad subject that there have to be some screws in there as well. I think Hanson has too much faith in the ability of evolved systems to function in a radically changed environment. Even if signaling dominates the evolutionary origins of our brain, it's not advisable to just label everything we do now as directed towards signaling, any more than sex is always directed towards reproduction. You have to get into the nitty gritty of how our minds carry out the signaling. Conspiracy theorists don't signal effectively, though you can probably relate their behavior back to mechanisms originally directed towards, or at least compatible with, signaling.

Also, an ability to switch between clear "near" thinking and fluffy "far" thinking presupposes a rational decision maker to implement the switch. I'm not sure Hanson pays enough attention to how, when, and for what reasons we do this.

Comment author: Matt_Caulfield 03 September 2012 10:27:36PM 49 points [-]

Your contrarian stance against a high-status member of this community makes you seem formidable and savvy. Would you like to be allies with me? If yes, then the next time I go foraging I will bring you back extra fruit.

Comment deleted 01 September 2012 09:35:51AM *  [-]
Comment author: Ezekiel 02 September 2012 12:06:06PM 3 points [-]

Open question: Do you care about what (your current brain predicts) your transhuman self would want?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 September 2012 05:22:24AM 10 points [-]

If you don't, you're really going to regret it in a million years.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 September 2012 07:56:47PM 20 points [-]

"Nontrivial measure or it didn't happen." -- Aristosophy

(Who's Kate Evans? Do we know her? Aristosophy seems to have rather a lot of good quotes.)

Comment author: Alicorn 01 September 2012 08:08:35PM 22 points [-]

*cough*

"I made my walled garden safe against intruders and now it's just a walled wall." -- Aristosophy

Comment author: RomanDavis 01 September 2012 10:30:40PM *  19 points [-]

Attachment? This! Is! SIDDHARTHA!

Is that you? That's ingenious.

For more rational flavor:

Live dogmatic, die wrong, leave a discredited corpse.

This should be the summary for entangled truths:

To find the true nature of a thing, find the true nature of all other things and look at what is left over.

how to seem and be deep:

Blessed are those who can gaze into a drop of water and see all the worlds and be like who cares that's still zero information content.

Dark Arts:

The master said: "The master said: "The master said: "The master said: "There is no limit to the persuasive power of social proof.""""

More Dark arts:

One wins a dispute, not by minimising potential counterarguments' plausibility, but by maximising their length.

Luminosity:

Have you accepted your brain into your heart?

Comment author: Alicorn 01 September 2012 10:42:11PM 6 points [-]

No, I'm not her. I don't know who she is, but her Twitter is indeed glorious. (And Google Reader won't let me subscribe to it the way I'm subscribed to other Twitters, rar.)

Comment author: RomanDavis 01 September 2012 10:51:42PM *  15 points [-]

She's got to be from here, here's learning biases can hurt people:

Heuristics and biases research: gaslighting the human race?

Cryonics:

"Are you signed up for Christonics?" "No, I'm still prochristinating."

I'm starting to think this is someone I used to know from tvtropes.

Comment author: chaosmosis 30 September 2012 01:18:43AM *  5 points [-]

Cultural critics like to speculate on the cognitive changes induced by new forms of media, but they rarely invoke the insights of brain science and other empirical research in backing up those claims. All too often, this has the effect of reducing their arguments to mere superstition.

Steven Johnson, Everything Bad is Good For You

(His book argues that pop culture is increasing intelligence, not dumbing it down. He argues that plot complexity has increased and that keeping track of large storylines is now much more common place, and that these skills manifest themselves in increased social intelligence (and this in turn might manifest itself in overall intelligence, I'm not sure). Here, he's specifically discussing video games and the internet.)

I highly recommend the book, it's interesting in terms of cognitive science as well as cultural and social analysis. I thought it sounded only mildly interesting when I first picked it up, but now I'm thinking more along the lines that it's extremely interesting. At least give it a try, because it's difficult to describe what makes it so good.

Comment author: gwern 01 October 2012 01:06:24AM 3 points [-]

Really? I thought it was very short and not in depth at all; yeah, his handful of graphs of episodes was interesting from the data visualization viewpoint, but most of his arguments, such as they were, were qualititative and hand-wavey. (What, there are no simplistic shows these days?)

Comment author: lukeprog 09 September 2012 12:46:27AM 13 points [-]

If a thing can be observed in any way at all, it lends itself to some type of measurement method. No matter how “fuzzy” the measurement is, it’s still a measurement if it tells you more than you knew before.

Douglas Hubbard, How to Measure Anything

Comment author: RichardKennaway 16 September 2012 06:10:49PM 12 points [-]

When a precise, narrowly focused technical idea becomes metaphor and sprawls globally, its credibility must be earned afresh locally by means of specific evidence demonstrating the relevance and explanatory power of the idea in its new application.

Edward Tufte, "Beautiful Evidence"

Comment author: simplicio 17 September 2012 02:46:46AM *  3 points [-]
  • Evolution
  • Relativity
  • Foundational assumptions of standard economics

...what else?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 20 September 2012 11:08:00AM 4 points [-]
  • Bayes' theorem
  • Status
  • Computation
  • Utility
  • Optimisation
Comment author: benelliott 18 September 2012 07:13:33PM 2 points [-]

Quantum physics

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 September 2012 10:49:29PM 12 points [-]

“The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know.”

― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Comment author: mrglwrf 11 September 2012 07:00:03PM 18 points [-]

You know those people who say "you can use numbers to show anything" and "numbers lie" and "I don't trust numbers, don't give me numbers, God, anything but numbers"? These are the very same people who use numbers in the wrong way.

"Junior", FIRE JOE MORGAN

Comment author: Konkvistador 04 September 2012 08:39:45AM *  17 points [-]

Neither side of the road is inherently superior to the other, so we should all choose for ourselves on which side to drive. #enlightenment

--Kate Evans on Twitter

Comment author: AlexMennen 04 September 2012 02:11:40AM 22 points [-]

Discovery is the privilege of the child, the child who has no fear of being once again wrong, of looking like an idiot, of not being serious, of not doing things like everyone else.

Alexander Grothendieck

Comment author: bbleeker 18 September 2012 10:04:57AM 7 points [-]

I remember being very much afraid of all those things as a child. I'm getting better now.

Comment author: Fyrius 12 September 2012 02:47:12PM 5 points [-]

...screw it, I'm not growing up.

Comment author: khafra 10 September 2012 07:06:52PM 11 points [-]

I particularly like the reminder that I'm physics. Makes me feel like a superhero. "Imbued with the properties of matter and energy, able to initiate activity in a purely deterministic universe, it's Physics Man!"

-- GoodDamon (this may skirt the edge of the rules, since it's a person reacting to a sequence post, but a person who's not a member of LW.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 06 September 2012 11:05:03AM 24 points [-]

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.” This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write “Childhood’s End” and think up communications satellites. My old colleague Ted Rall recently wrote a column proposing that we divorce income from work and give each citizen a guaranteed paycheck, which sounds like the kind of lunatic notion that’ll be considered a basic human right in about a century, like abolition, universal suffrage and eight-hour workdays. The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.

-- Tim Kreider

The interesting part is the phrase "which sounds like the kind of lunatic notion that’ll be considered a basic human right in about a century, like abolition, universal suffrage and eight-hour workdays." If we can anticipate what the morality of the future would be, should we try to live by it now?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 06 September 2012 01:11:55PM 8 points [-]

How do you envision living by this model now working?
That is, suppose I were to embrace the notion that having enough resources to live a comfortable life (where money can stand in as a proxy for other resources) is something everyone ought to be guaranteed.
What ought I do differently than I'm currently doing?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 September 2012 12:53:24PM 6 points [-]

If we can anticipate what the morality of the future would be, should we try to live by it now?

Not if the morality you anticipate coming into favour is something you disagree with. If it's something you agree with, it's already yours, and predicting it is just a way of avoiding arguing for it.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 06 September 2012 04:24:08PM 16 points [-]

If we can anticipate what the morality of the future would be, should we try to live by it now?

Not if it's actually the same morality, but depends on technology. For example, strong prohibitions on promiscuity are very sensible in a world without cheap and effective contraceptives. Anyone who tried to live by 2012 sexual standards in 1912 would soon find they couldn't feed their large horde of kids. Likewise, if robots are doing all the work, fine; but right now if you just redistribute all money, no work gets done.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 September 2012 12:56:57AM *  6 points [-]

Lack of technology was not the reason condoms weren't as widely available in 1912.

Comment author: shminux 06 September 2012 06:08:34PM *  5 points [-]

Right idea, not a great example. People used to have lots more kids then now, most dying in childhood. Majority of women of childbearing age (gay or straight) were married and having children as often as their body allowed, so promiscuity would not have changed much. Maybe a minor correction for male infertility and sexual boredom in a standard marriage.

Comment author: Desrtopa 06 September 2012 06:41:11PM 5 points [-]

Strong norms against promiscuity out of wedlock still made sense though, since having lots of children without a committed partner to help care for them would usually have been impractical.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 06 September 2012 07:50:38PM 7 points [-]

You seem to have rather a different idea of what I meant by "2012 standards". Even now we do not really approve of married people sleeping around. We do, however, approve of people not getting married until age 25 or 30 or so, but sleeping with whoever they like before that. Try that pattern without contraception.

Comment author: thomblake 28 September 2012 02:25:39PM 3 points [-]

If we can anticipate what the morality of the future would be, should we try to live by it now?

If we can afford it.

Moral progress proceeds from economic progress.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 06 September 2012 03:54:05PM 7 points [-]

If you are a consequentialist, you should think about the consequences of such decision.

For example, imagine a civilization where an average person has to work nine hours to produce enough food to survive. Now the pharaoh makes a new law saying that (a) all produced food has to be distribute equally among all citizens, and (b) no one can be compelled to work more than eight hours; you can work as a volunteer, but all your produced food is redistributed equally.

What would happen is such situation? In my opinion, this would be a mass Prisoners' Dilemma where people would gradually stop cooperating (because the additional hour of work gives them epsilon benefits) and start being hungry. There would be no legal solution; people would try to make some food in their free time illegally, but the unlucky ones would simply starve and die.

The law would seem great in far mode, but its near mode consequences would be horrible. Of course, if the pharaoh is not completely insane, he would revoke the law; but there would be a lot of suffering meanwhile.

If people had "a basic human right to have enough money without having to work", situation could progress similarly. It depends on many things -- for example how much of the working people's money would you have to redistribute to non-working ones, and how much could they keep. Assuming that one's basic human right is to have $500 a month, but if you work, you can keep $3000 a month, some people could still prefer to work. But there is no guarantee it would work long-term. For example there would be a positive feedback loop -- the more people are non-working, the more votes politicians can gain by promising to increase their "basic human right income", the higher are taxes, and the smaller incentives to work. Also, it could work for the starting generation, but corrupt the next generation... imagine yourself as a high school student knowing that you will never ever have to work; how much effort would an average student give to studying, instead of e.g. internet browsing, Playstation gaming, or disco and sex? Years later, the same student will be unable to keep a job that requires education.

Also, if less people have to work, the more work is not done. For example, it will take more time to find a cure for cancer. How would you like a society where no one has to work, but if you become sick, you can't find a doctor? Yes, there would be some doctors, but not enough for the whole population, and most of them would have less education and less experience than today. You would have to pay them a lot of money, because they would be rare, and because most of the money you pay them would be paid back to state as tax, so even everything you have could be not enough motivating for them.

Comment author: Alicorn 17 September 2012 05:43:03PM 14 points [-]

I've always thought of the SkiFree monster as a metaphor for the inevitability of death.

"SkiFree, huh? You know, you can press 'F' to go faster than the monster and escape."

-- xkcd 667

Comment author: [deleted] 04 September 2012 06:55:38AM 14 points [-]

"If at first you don't succeed, switch to power tools." -- The Red Green Show

Comment author: RichardKennaway 01 September 2012 04:03:28PM 18 points [-]

Nothing can be soundly understood
If daylight itself needs proof.

Imām al-Ḥaddād (trans. Moṣṭafā al-Badawī), "The Sublime Treasures: Answers to Sufi Questions"

Comment author: gwern 01 September 2012 05:25:57PM *  10 points [-]
Comment author: siodine 02 September 2012 06:00:59PM *  4 points [-]

Richard Carrier on solipsism, but not nearly as pithy:

Solipsism still requires an explanation for what you are cognating. There are only two logically possible explanations: random chance, or design.

It’s easy to show that the probability that your stream of consciousness is a product of random chance is absurdly low (see Bolzmann brains, for example). In simple form, if we assume no prior knowledge or assumptions (other than logic and our raw uninterpreted experience), the prior probability of solipsism becomes 0.5 but the likelihood of the evidence on solipsism is then vanishingly small (approaching zero), since chance events would sooner produce a relative chaos than an organized stream of complex consciousness, whereas the likelihood of that same evidence on a modest scientific realism is effectively 100%. Work the math and the probability of chance-based solipsism is necessarily vanishingly small (albeit not zero, but close enough for any concern). Conclusion: random solipsism would sooner produce a much weirder experience.

That leaves some sort of design hypothesis, namely your mind is cleverly making everything up, just so. Which requires your mind to be vastly more intelligent and resourceful and recollectful than you experience yourself being, since you so perfectly create a reality for yourself that remains consistent and yet that you can’t control with your mind. So you control absolutely everything, yet control next to nothing, a contradiction in terms, although an extremely convoluted system of hypotheses could eliminate that contradiction with some elaborate device explaining why your subconscious is so much more powerful and brilliant and consistent and mysterious than your conscious self is. The fact that you have to develop such a vastly complex model of how your mind works, just to get solipsism to make the evidence likely (as likely as it already is on modest scientific realism), necessarily reduces the prior probability by as much, and thus the probability of intelligent solipsism is likewise vanishingly small. Conclusion: intelligent solipsism would sooner result in your being more like a god, i.e. you would have vast or total control over your reality.

One way to think of the latter demarcation of prior probability space is similar to the thermodynamic argument against our having a Boltzmann brain: solipsism is basically a cartesian demon scenario, only the demon is you; so think of all the possible cartesian demons, from “you can change a few things but not all,” to “you can change anything you want,” and then you’ll see the set of all possible solipsistic states in which you would have obvious supernatural powers (the ability to change aspects of reality) is vastly larger than the set of all possible solipsistic states in which you can’t change anything except in exactly the same way as a modest scientific realism would produce. In other words, we’re looking at an incredible coincidence, where the version of solipsism that is realized just “happens” to be exactly identical in all observed effects to non-solipsism. And the prior probability space shared by that extremely rare solipsism is a vanishingly small fraction of all logically possible solipsisms. Do the math and the probability of an intelligent solipsism is vanishingly small.

This all assumes you have no knowledge making any version of solipsism more likely than another. And we are effectively in that state vis-a-vis normal consciousness. However we are not in that state vis-a-vis other states of consciousness, e.g. put “I just dropped acid” or “I am sleeping” in your background knowledge and that entails a much higher probability that you are in a solipsistic state, but then that will be because the evidence will be just as such a hypothesis would predict: reality starts conforming to your whim or behaving very weirdly in ways peculiar to your own desires, expectations, fears, etc. Thus “subjective” solipsism is then not a vanishingly small probability. But “objective” solipsism would remain so (wherein reality itself is a product of your solipsistic state), since for that to explain all the same evidence requires extremely improbable coincidences again, e.g. realism explains why you need specific conditions of being drugged or sleeping to get into such a state, and why everything that happens or changes in the solipsistic state turns out not to have changed or happened when you exit that state, and why the durations and limitations and side effects and so on all are as they are, whereas pure solipsism doesn’t come with an explanation for any of that, there in that case being no actual brain or chemistry or “other reality” to return to, and so on, so you would have to build all those explanations in to get objective solipsism to predict all the same evidence, and that reduces the prior. By a lot.

There is no logically consistent way to escape the conclusion that solipsism is exceedingly improbable.

Comment author: gwern 02 September 2012 11:23:49PM 15 points [-]

I think that's actually a really terrible bit of arguing.

There are only two logically possible explanations: random chance, or design.

We can stop right there. If we're all the way back at solipsism, we haven't even gotten to defining concepts like 'random chance' or 'design', which presume an entire raft of external beliefs and assumptions, and we surely cannot immediately say there are only two categories unless, in response to any criticism, we're going to include a hell of a lot under one of those two rubrics. Which probability are we going to use, anyway? There are many more formalized versions than just Kolmogorov's axioms (which brings us to the analytic and synthetic problem).

And much of the rest goes on in a materialist vein which itself requires a lot of further justification (why can't minds be ontologically simple elements? Oh, your experience in the real world with various regularities has persuaded you that is inconsistent with the evidence? I see...) Even if we granted his claims about complexity, why do we care about complexity? And so on.

Yes, if you're going to buy into a (very large) number of materialist non-solipsist claims, then you're going to have trouble making a case in such terms for solipsism. But if you've bought all those materialist or externalist claims, you've already rejected solipsism and there's no tension in the first place. And he doesn't do a good case of explaining that at all.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 17 September 2012 12:15:54AM *  3 points [-]

So you control absolutely everything, yet control next to nothing, a contradiction in terms, although an extremely convoluted system of hypotheses could eliminate that contradiction with some elaborate device explaining why your subconscious is so much more powerful and brilliant and consistent and mysterious than your conscious self is.

A hypothesis like... I'm dreaming.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 02 September 2012 05:39:39PM 4 points [-]

This also made me think of the aphorism "if water sticks in your throat, with what will you wash it down?"

Comment author: [deleted] 11 September 2012 10:09:31AM 9 points [-]

If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.

-- Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 September 2012 04:53:20AM 9 points [-]

"Even in a minute instance, it is best to look first to the main tendencies of Nature. A particular flower may not be dead in early winter, but the flowers are dying; a particular pebble may never be wetted with the tide, but the tide is coming in."

G. K. Chesterton, "The Absence of Mr Glass"

Note: this was put in the mouth of the straw? atheist. It's still correct.

Comment author: peter_hurford 01 September 2012 06:18:48PM 20 points [-]

"In a society in which the narrow pursuit of material self-interest is the norm, the shift to an ethical stance is more radical than many people realize. In comparison with the needs of people starving in Somalia, the desire to sample the wines of the leading French vineyards pales into insignificance. Judged against the suffering of immobilized rabbits having shampoos dripped into their eyes, a better shampoo becomes an unworthy goal. An ethical approach to life does not forbid having fun or enjoying food and wine, but it changes our sense of priorities. The effort and expense put into buying fashionable clothes, the endless search for more and more refined gastronomic pleasures, the astonishing additional expense that marks out the prestige car market in cars from the market in cars for people who just want a reliable means to getting from A to B, all these become disproportionate to people who can shift perspective long enough to take themselves, at least for a time, out of the spotlight. If a higher ethical consciousness spreads, it will utterly change the society in which we live." -- Peter Singer

Comment author: prase 02 September 2012 09:35:19PM *  19 points [-]

As it is probably intended, the more reminders like this I read, the more ethical I should become. As it actually works, the more of this I read, the less I become interested in ethics. Maybe I am extraordinarily selfish and this effect doesn't happen to most, but it should be at least considered that constant preaching of moral duties can have counterproductive results.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 03 September 2012 09:18:02AM *  19 points [-]

I suspect it's because authors of "ethical remainders" are usually very bad at understanding human nature.

What they essentially do is associate "ethical" with "unpleasant", because as long as you have some pleasure, you are obviously not ethical enough; you could do better by giving up some more pleasure, and it's bad that you refuse to do so. The attention is drawn away from good things you are really doing, to the hypothetical good things you are not doing.

But humans are usually driven by small incentives, by short-term feelings. The best thing our rationality can do is better align these short-term feelings with out long-term goals, so we actually feel happy when contributing to our long-term goals. And how exactly are these "ethical remainders" contributing to the process? Mostly by undercutting your short-term ethical motivators, by always reminding you that what you did was not enough, therefore you don't deserve the feelings of satisfaction. Gradually they turn these motivators off, and you no longer feel like doing anything ethical, because they convinced you (your "elephant") that you can't.

Ethics without understanding human nature is just a pile of horseshit. Of course that does not prevent other people from admiring those who speak it.

Comment author: RobinZ 02 September 2012 10:31:15PM 18 points [-]

xkcd reference.

Not to mention the remarks of Mark Twain on a fundraiser he attended once:

Well, Hawley worked me up to a great state. I couldn't wait for him to get through [his speech]. I had four hundred dollars in my pocket. I wanted to give that and borrow more to give. You could see greenbacks in every eye. But he didn't pass the plate, and it grew hotter and we grew sleepier. My enthusiasm went down, down, down - $100 at a time, till finally when the plate came round I stole 10 cents out of it. [Prolonged laughter.] So you see a neglect like that may lead to crime.

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 September 2012 05:46:18PM 9 points [-]

Judged against the suffering of immobilized rabbits having shampoos dripped into their eyes, a better shampoo becomes an unworthy goal.

I'm not at all convinced that this is the case. After all, the shampoos are being designed to be less painful, and you don't need to test on ten thousand rabbits. Considering the distribution of the shampoos, this may save suffering even if you regard human and rabbit suffering as equal in disutility.

Comment author: Konkvistador 14 September 2012 10:48:16AM 8 points [-]

the fact that ordinary people can band together and produce new knowledge within a few months is anything but a trifle

-- Dienekes Pontikos, Citizen Genetics

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 03 September 2012 06:22:54AM *  23 points [-]

“Why do you read so much?”

Tyrion looked up at the sound of the voice. Jon Snow was standing a few feet away, regarding him curiously. He closed the book on a finger and said, “Look at me and tell me what you see.”

The boy looked at him suspiciously. “Is this some kind of trick? I see you. Tyrion Lannister.”

Tyrion sighed. “You are remarkably polite for a bastard, Snow. What you see is a dwarf. You are what, twelve?”

“Fourteen,” the boy said.

“Fourteen, and you’re taller than I will ever be. My legs are short and twisted, and I walk with difficulty. I require a special saddle to keep from falling off my horse. A saddle of my own design, you may be interested to know. It was either that or ride a pony. My arms are strong enough, but again, too short. I will never make a swordsman. Had I been born a peasant, they might have left me out to die, or sold me to some slaver’s grotesquerie. Alas, I was born a Lannister of Casterly Rock, and the grotesqueries are all the poorer. Things are expected of me. My father was the Hand of the King for twenty years. My brother later killed that very same king, as it turns out, but life is full of these little ironies. My sister married the new king and my repulsive nephew will be king after him. I must do my part for the honor of my House, wouldn’t you agree? Yet how? Well, my legs may be too small for my body, but my head is too large, although I prefer to think it is just large enough for my mind. I have a realistic grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses. My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind… and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” Tyrion tapped the leather cover of the book. “That’s why I read so much, Jon Snow.”

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

Comment author: Plubbingworth 12 September 2012 03:37:05PM 8 points [-]

I'm surprised at how often I have to inform people of this... I have mild scoliosis, and so I usually prefer sitting down and kicking up my feet, usually with my work in hand. Coming from a family who appreciates backbreaking work is rough when the hard work is even harder and the pain longer-lasting... which would be slightly more bearable if the aforementioned family did not see reading MYSTERIOUS TEXTS on a Kindle and using computers for MYSTERIOUS PURPOSES as signs of laziness and devotion to silly frivolities.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this is not a very new situation.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 03 September 2012 08:37:29AM 6 points [-]

I think the quote could be trimmed to its last couple sentences and still maintain the relevant point..

Comment author: RobinZ 03 September 2012 04:22:57PM 29 points [-]

I disagree, in fact. That books strengthen the mind is baldly asserted, not supported, by this quote - the rationality point I see in it is related to comparative advantage.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 03 September 2012 08:43:42AM *  6 points [-]

Oh, totally. But I prefer the full version; it's really a beautifully written passage.

Comment author: chaosmosis 09 September 2012 12:34:36AM 11 points [-]

"You're very smart. Smarter than I am, I hope. Though of course I have such incredible vanity that I can't really believe that anyone is actually smarter than I am. Which means that I'm all the more in need of good advice, since I can't actually conceive of needing any."

  • New Peter / Orson Scott Card, Children of the Mind
Comment author: Fyrius 12 September 2012 02:02:55PM 3 points [-]

That's a modest thing to say for a vain person. It even sounds a bit like Moore's paradox - I need advice, but I don't believe I do.

(Not that I'm surprised. I've met ambivalent people like that and could probably count myself among them. Being aware that you habitually make a mistake is one thing, not making it any more is another. Or, if you have the discipline and motivation, one step and the next.)

Comment author: J_Taylor 02 September 2012 03:33:00AM *  11 points [-]

Major Greene this evening fell into some conversation with me about the Divinity and satisfaction of Jesus Christ. All the argument he advanced was, "that a mere creature or finite being could not make satisfaction to infinite justice for any crimes," and that "these things are very mysterious."

Thus mystery is made a convenient cover for absurdity.

  • John Adams
Comment author: Will_Newsome 01 September 2012 10:17:14AM *  11 points [-]

Proceed only with the simplest terms, for all others are enemies and will confuse you.

— Michael Kirkbride / Vivec, "The Thirty Six Lessons of Vivec", Morrowind.

Comment author: Ezekiel 03 September 2012 03:17:59PM 5 points [-]

Am I the only one who thinks we should stop using the word "simple" for Occam's Razor / Solomonoff's Whatever? In 99% of use-cases by actual humans, it doesn't mean Solomonoff induction, so it's confusing.

Comment author: Konkvistador 04 September 2012 08:40:20AM *  14 points [-]

Erode irreplaceable institutions related to morality and virtue because of their contingent associations with flawed human groups #lifehacks

--Kate Evans on Twitter

Comment author: simplicio 08 September 2012 01:27:28PM 4 points [-]

I was ready to applaud the wise contrarianism here, but I'm having trouble coming up with actual examples... marriage, maybe?

Comment author: arundelo 08 September 2012 02:58:12PM 4 points [-]

I don't know if this is what she was thinking of but church is what I thought of when I read it.

Comment author: simplicio 08 September 2012 03:20:37PM 3 points [-]

I thought of that too but dismissed it on the grounds that church is hardly "contingently associated" with religion.

But I think you're probably right that that's what she meant... and that being the case it is a pretty good point. I wish I belonged to something vaguely churchlike.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 September 2012 08:36:08PM *  10 points [-]

He had bought a large map representing the sea, / Without the least vestige of land: / And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be / A map they could all understand.

“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators, / Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?" / So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply / “They are merely conventional signs!

“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes! / But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank: / (So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best— / A perfect and absolute blank!”

-Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the snark

Comment author: peter_hurford 01 September 2012 06:16:01PM 15 points [-]

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Sagan

Comment author: buybuydandavis 03 September 2012 11:21:44AM *  9 points [-]

Rorschach: You see, Doctor, God didn't kill that little girl. Fate didn't butcher her and destiny didn't feed her to those dogs. If God saw what any of us did that night he didn't seem to mind. From then on I knew... God doesn't make the world this way. We do.

EDIT: Quote above is from the movie.

Comment author: Ezekiel 03 September 2012 02:19:52PM *  8 points [-]

Verbatim from the comic:

It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It's us.
Only us.

I personally think that Watchmen is a fantastic study* on all the different ways people react to that realisation.

("Study" in the artistic sense rather than the scientific.)

Comment author: asparisi 07 September 2012 02:55:20AM *  9 points [-]

.... he who works to understand the true causes of miracles and to understand Nature as a scholar, and not just to gape at them like a fool, is universally considered an impious heretic and denounced by those to whom the common people bow down as interpreters of Nature and the gods. For these people know that the dispelling of ignorance would entail the disappearance of that sense of awe which is the one and only support of their argument and the safeguard of their authority.

Baruch Spinoza Ethics

Comment author: Stabilizer 04 September 2012 05:22:25PM *  9 points [-]

Mathematics is a process of staring hard enough with enough perseverance at the fog of muddle and confusion to eventually break through to improved clarity. I'm happy when I can admit, at least to myself, that my thinking is muddled, and I try to overcome the embarrassment that I might reveal ignorance or confusion. Over the years, this has helped me develop clarity in some things, but I remain muddled in many others. I enjoy questions that seem honest, even when they admit or reveal confusion, in preference to questions that appear designed to project sophistication.

-- William Thurston

Comment author: Matt_Caulfield 03 September 2012 03:55:04PM 16 points [-]

It may be of course that savages put food on a dead man because they think that a dead man can eat, or weapons with a dead man because they think a dead man can fight. But personally I do not believe that they think anything of the kind. I believe they put food or weapons on the dead for the same reason that we put flowers, because it is an exceedingly natural and obvious thing to do. We do not understand, it is true, the emotion that makes us think it is obvious and natural; but that is because, like all the important emotions of human existence it is essentially irrational.

  • G. K. Chesterton
Comment author: simplicio 04 September 2012 03:38:43AM 13 points [-]

Or better, arational.

Comment author: MagnetoHydroDynamics 04 September 2012 10:38:33AM 4 points [-]

That is an incredible term. Going to use it all the time.

Comment author: MixedNuts 04 September 2012 06:56:06PM 14 points [-]

Chesterton doesn't understand the emotion because he doesn't know enough about psychology, not because emotions are deep sacred mysteries we must worship.

Comment author: RobinZ 04 September 2012 07:20:42PM 3 points [-]

I read "irrational" as a genuflection in the direction of the is-ought problem more than anything else.

Comment author: MixedNuts 04 September 2012 07:29:35PM 3 points [-]

My beef isn't with "irrational", he meant "arational" anyway. It's with the idea that this property of emotions make our ignorance about them okay.

Comment author: juliawise 11 September 2012 06:42:31PM *  8 points [-]

This is my home, the country where my heart is;

Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.

But other hearts in other lands are beating,

With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,

And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too and clover,

And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

-Lloyd Stone

Comment author: Alicorn 11 September 2012 07:18:38PM 3 points [-]

Duplicate, please delete the other.

Comment author: V_V 11 September 2012 07:27:14PM 5 points [-]

And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

obviously he never visited the British Isles :D

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 27 September 2012 12:26:39AM 10 points [-]

As far as I know, Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were indeed unusually incorruptible, and I do hate them for this trait.

Why? Because when your goal is mass murder, corruption saves lives. Corruption leads you to take the easy way out, to compromise, to go along to get along. Corruption isn't a poison that makes everything worse. It's a diluting agent like water. Corruption makes good policies less good, and evil policies less evil.

I've read thousands of pages about Hitler. I can't recall the slightest hint of "corruption" on his record. Like Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, Hitler was a sincerely murderous fanatic. The same goes for many of history's leading villains - see Eric Hoffer's classic The True Believer. Sincerity is so overrated. If only these self-righteous monsters had been corrupt hypocrites, millions of their victims could have bargained and bribed their way out of hell.

-- Bryan Caplan

Comment author: Konkvistador 15 September 2012 05:58:02PM *  11 points [-]
The Perfect Way is only difficult
for those who pick and choose;
Do not like, do not dislike;
all will then be clear.
Make a hairbreadth difference,
and Heaven and Earth are set apart;
if you want the truth to stand clear before you,
never be for or against.
The struggle between "for" and "against"
is the mind's worst disease.

-- Jianzhi Sengcan

Edit: Since I'm not Will Newsome (yet!) I will clarify. There are several useful points in this but I think the key one is the virtue of keeping one's identity small. Speaking it out loud is a sort of primer, meditation or prayer before approaching difficult or emotional subjects has for me proven a useful ritual for avoiding motivated cognition.

Comment author: Emile 16 September 2012 07:29:58PM *  3 points [-]

For the curious, it's the opening of 信心铭 (Xinxin Ming), whose authorship is disputed (probably not the zen patriarch Jiangzhi Sengcan). In Chinese, that part goes:

至道无难,惟嫌拣择。
但莫憎爱,洞然明白。
毫厘有差,天地悬隔。
欲得现前,莫存顺逆。
违顺相争。是为心病。

(The Wikipedia article lists a few alternate translations of the first verses, with different meanings)

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 01 September 2012 08:18:04AM *  12 points [-]

Conspiracy Theory, n. A theory about a conspiracy that you are not supposed to believe.

-L. A. Rollins, Lucifer's Lexicon: An Updated Abridgment

Comment author: Alicorn 16 September 2012 10:31:22PM 7 points [-]

Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow if tomorrow might improve the odds.

— Robert A. Heinlein

Comment author: Legolan 17 September 2012 12:38:11AM 4 points [-]

I think that quote is much too broad with the modifier "might." If you should procrastinate based on a possibility of improved odds, I doubt you would ever do anything. At least a reasonable degree of probability should be required.

Not to mention that the natural inclination of most people toward procrastination means that they should be distrustful of feelings that delaying will be beneficial; it's entirely likely that they are misjudging how likely the improvement really is.

That's not, of course, to say that we should always do everything as soon as possible, but I think that to the extent that we read the plain meaning from this quote, it's significantly over-broad and not particularly helpful.

Comment author: Athrelon 11 September 2012 03:50:48PM *  7 points [-]

The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic...Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of the mere "understanding". Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritansm; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.

CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Comment author: RobinZ 05 September 2012 08:52:08PM *  7 points [-]

[...] Three years later a top executive for those same San Diego Padres would say that the reason the Oakland A's win so many games with so little money is that "Billy [Beane, the general manager] got lucky with those pitchers."

And he did. But if an explanation is where the mind comes to rest, the mind that stopped at "lucky" when it sought to explain the Oakland A's recent pitching success bordered on narcoleptic.

Michael Lewis, Moneyball, Chapter Ten, "Anatomy of an Undervalued Pitcher".

Comment author: RomanDavis 14 September 2012 07:54:13AM 6 points [-]

Users always have an idea that what they want is easy, even if they can't really articulate exactly what they do want. Even if they can give you requirements, chances are those will conflict – often in subtle ways – with requirements of others. A lot of the time, we wouldn't even think of these problems as "requirements" – they're just things that everyone expects to work in "the obvious way". The trouble is that humanity has come up with all kinds of entirely different "obvious ways" of doing things. Mankind's model of the universe is a surprisingly complicated one.

Jon Skeet

Comment author: roland 04 September 2012 11:28:37PM *  7 points [-]

It seems clear that intelligence, as such, plays no part in the matter-that the sole and essential thing is use.

--Oliver Sacks regarding patients suffering from "developmental agnosia" who first learned to use their hands as adults.

Comment author: Vaniver 28 September 2012 02:19:00AM 4 points [-]

I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.

-- G.K. Chesterton

Comment author: shminux 17 September 2012 10:32:40PM 4 points [-]

I cannot tell if this is rationality or anti-rationality:

Q: What is Microsoft's plan if Windows 8 doesn't take off?

A: You know, Windows 8 is going to do great.

Q: No doubt at all?

A: I'm not paid to have doubts. (Laughs.) I don't have any. It's a fantastic product. ...

Steve Ballmer

Comment author: Desrtopa 17 September 2012 10:36:04PM 14 points [-]

I'd saying telling an interviewer you have sufficient confidence in your product to not need a backup plan is rational, actually not having one isn't.

Comment author: gwern 17 September 2012 10:52:49PM 7 points [-]

I'm reminded of a quote in Lords of Finance (which I finished yesterday) which went something like 'Only a fool asks a central banker about the currency and expects an honest answer'. Since confidence is what keeps banks and currencies going...

Comment author: shminux 17 September 2012 11:02:53PM *  6 points [-]

See, if instead of "I'm not paid to have doubts." he said "I am paid to address all doubts before a product is released", that would have made more sense.

Comment author: chaosmosis 17 September 2012 10:48:43PM *  3 points [-]

I'm not paid to have doubts. (Laughs.) I don't have any.

This comes across as inauthentic and slightly scared to me. At best, he's not great at PR. At worst, he doesn't have any back up plan. So that would support calling it irrationality.

telling an interviewer you have sufficient confidence in your product to not need a backup plan is rational

Well. I was thinking about it, and it seems like not having a backup plan is the kind of thing that would send bad signals to investors and whatnot. It's not clear to me that he's better off doing this than explaining how Microsoft is a fantastically professional company that's innovating and reaching into new frontiers, etc.

actually not having one isn't

I don't know specifically what alternate products would potentially be good ideas for them though. I agree that backup plans are good in general but I don't know if they're good for Microsoft specifically, based on the resources they have. Windows is kind of their thing, I don't know if they could execute on anything else.

Comment author: chaosmosis 13 September 2012 04:07:35PM *  4 points [-]

All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusions is called a philosopher.

Ambrose Bierce