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Rationality Quotes October 2012

8 Post author: MBlume 02 October 2012 06:50PM

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  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB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 (298)

Comment author: AlexSchell 01 October 2012 08:39:25PM 43 points [-]

A lot of outcomes about which we care deeply are not very predictable. For example, it is not comforting to members of a graduate school admissions committee to know that only 23% of the variance in later faculty ratings of a student can be predicted by a unit weighting of the student's undergraduate GPA, his or her GRE score, and a measure of the student's undergraduate institution selectivity -- but that is opposed to 4% based on those committee members' global ratings of the applicant. We want to predict outcomes important to us. It is only rational to conclude that if one method (a linear model) does not predict well, something else may do better. What is not rational -- in fact, it's irrational -- is to conclude that this "something else" necessarily exists and, in the absence of any positive supporting evidence, is intuitive global judgment.

Hastie & Dawes, Rational Choice in an Uncertain World, pp. 67-8.

Comment author: AlexSchell 04 October 2012 03:37:26AM 6 points [-]


[The results that] (a) the correlation with the model's predictions is higher than the correlation with clinical prediction, but (b) both correlations are low [...] often lead psychologists to interpret the findings as meaning that while the low correlation of the model indicates that linear modeling is deficient as a method, the even lower correlation of the judges indicates only that the wrong judges were used.

Dawes, in JUU:HB p. 392.

Comment author: gwern 18 October 2012 05:33:06PM 23 points [-]

The late F.W.H. Myers used to tell how he asked a man at a dinner table what he thought would happen to him when he died. The man tried to ignore the question, but on being pressed, replied: "Oh well, I suppose I shall inherit eternal bliss, but I wish you wouldn't talk about such unpleasant subjects."

--Bertrand Russell (Google Books attributes this to In praise of idleness and other essays, pg 133)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 12 October 2012 08:51:49AM 22 points [-]

“But can’t you just wave your hand and make all the dirt fly away, then?”

“The trouble is getting the magic to understand what dirt is,” said Tiffany, scrubbing hard at a stain. “I heard of a witch over in Escrow who got it wrong and ended up losing the entire floor and her sandals and nearly a toe.”

Mrs. Aching backed away. “I thought you just had to wave your hands about,” she mumbled nervously.

“That works,” said Tiffany, “but only if you wave them about on the floor with a scrubbing brush.”

Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith

Comment author: MBlume 01 October 2012 07:54:31PM *  62 points [-]

Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect

--Teller (source)

Comment author: DanielVarga 10 October 2012 10:49:46PM 16 points [-]

I love uncertainty. In many situations I'd rather try something just to see what happens. I'm the character that gets killed first in every horror movie, but that's fine with me, since life is not generally like a horror movie.

Noah Smith

Comment author: Alejandro1 06 October 2012 03:35:52PM 16 points [-]

I prefer this sort of distant, reductionist, structural approach to analysing the race because there's little reason to believe in the validity of the implicit theories or "models" lurking behind pundits' gut judgments. When I heard Mr Romney's 47% comments, I thought "Oooh, he's toast!" and then I stopped myself and acknowledged that I actually have no rational basis for believing that his remarks would in the final analysis hurt Mr Romney at all. What percentage of undecided or weakly-decided swing-state voters ever caught wind of Mr Romney's embarrassing chat? I didn't know! Of those who became aware of it, how many cared? I didn't know! So why did I think "Oooh, he's toast!" Because I am human, and I make most judgments and decisions on the basis of crackpot hunches, the underlying logic of which is almost completely inscrutable to me.

--Will Wilkinson

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 October 2012 06:43:05PM 5 points [-]

That comment did move Intrade shares by around 10 percentage points, I think, though I'm only going on personal before-and-after comparisons. The good Will may have picked the wrong time to criticize his instincts.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 October 2012 11:34:38PM 6 points [-]

That comment did move Intrade shares by around 10 percentage points,

So? That just means that some of the people who trade on intrade also made the mistake Will alludes to.

Comment author: PlacidPlatypus 12 October 2012 12:53:36AM 1 point [-]

Nate Silver's model also moved toward Obama, so it's probably reflecting something real to some extent.

Comment author: Alejandro1 12 October 2012 01:38:38AM 2 points [-]

But the gains have been already cancelled by Romney's better performance in the first debate. You could spin this in two ways. One one hand, you could argue that the "47%" comment did move the polls, and that ceteris paribus it would have reduced significantly Romney's chances of winning. On the other hand, you could say that ceteris should not be expected to be paribus; polls are expected to shift back and forth, and regress to the mean (where "the mean" is dictated by the fundamentals--incumbency, state of the economy, etc), and that if 47% and the debate hadn't happened, other similar things would have.

Comment author: lukeprog 19 October 2012 10:54:24PM 11 points [-]

To say our predictions are no worse than the experts’ is to damn ourselves with some awfully faint praise.

Nate Silver

Comment author: RobinZ 27 October 2012 04:12:32AM 1 point [-]

From the introduction to The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don't, section entitled "The Prediction Solution".

Comment author: grendelkhan 15 October 2012 05:40:26PM *  11 points [-]

It's all fine and good to declare that you would have freed your slaves. But it's much more interesting to assume that you wouldn't have and then ask, "Why?"

--Ta-Nehisi Coates, "A Muscular Empathy"

Comment author: Alejandro1 01 October 2012 08:00:01PM 61 points [-]

This time he covered a lot more ground and was willing to talk about the mundane details of presidential existence. “You have to exercise,” he said, for instance. “Or at some point you’ll just break down.” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

--Michael Lewis' profile of Barack Obama

Comment author: Kindly 01 October 2012 08:54:14PM 11 points [-]

Possibly also explaining this trend in the world of academia.

Comment author: BerryPick6 03 October 2012 11:58:40AM 6 points [-]

I'm assuming many are already aware of this, but he's talking about decision fatigue here.

Comment author: AspiringRationalist 04 October 2012 06:59:56PM *  24 points [-]

To succeed in a domain that violates your intuitions, you need to be able to turn them off the way a pilot does when flying through clouds. You need to do what you know intellectually to be right, even though it feels wrong.

-- Paul Graham

Comment author: DaFranker 04 October 2012 07:04:27PM *  1 point [-]

Thanks. That article (link) is very relevant to me after a discussion I just had on LW. Good advice, too, as far as I can tell.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 October 2012 03:24:10PM 24 points [-]

And who shows greater reverence for mystery, the scientist who devotes himself to discovering it step by step, always ready to submit to facts, and always aware that even his boldest achievement will never be more than a stepping-stone for those who come after him, or the mystic who is free to maintain anything because he need not fear any test?

Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies

Comment author: Tenoke 22 October 2012 01:41:53AM *  8 points [-]

"People who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds.”

Jeff Bezos

Comment author: palladias 02 October 2012 07:52:35PM *  27 points [-]

“You’re saying I’ll get used to being a warlock, or whatever it is that I am.”
“You’ve always been what you are. That’s not new. What you’ll get used to is knowing it.”

Jem and Tessa, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Comment author: RobertLumley 11 October 2012 04:27:12PM *  6 points [-]

The moment when someone attaches to a philosophy or a movement, then they assign all the baggage and all the rest of the philosophy that goes with it to you, and when you want to have a conversation they will assert that they already know everything important there is to know about you because of that association.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, “Atheist or Agnostic?”

Comment author: chaosmosis 03 October 2012 03:14:29AM 6 points [-]

No, correlation does not imply causation, but it sure as hell provides a hint.

A good article on Slate.com by Daniel Engber

Comment author: arundelo 04 October 2012 12:46:48AM 23 points [-]

This thread needs a mention of this saying: "Correlation correlates with causation because causation causes correlation." (I don't know if anyone knows who came up with this.)

Comment author: Alejandro1 03 October 2012 02:17:47PM 23 points [-]

xkcd said it better:

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 October 2012 08:30:50AM *  5 points [-]

I found the article rather confused. He begins by criticising the slogan as over-used, but by the end says that we do need to distinguish correlation from causation and the problem with the slogan is that it's just a slogan. His history of the idea ends in the 1940s, and he appears completely unaware of the work that has been done on this issue by Judea Pearl and others over the last twenty years -- unaware that there is indeed more, much more, than just a slogan. Even the basic idea of performing interventions to detect causality is missing. The same superficiality applies to the other issue he covers, of distinguishing statistical significance from importance.

I'd post a comment at the Slate article to that effect, but the comment button doesn't seem to do anything.

ETA: Googling /correlation causation/ doesn't easily bring the modern work to light either. The first hit is the Wikipedia article on the slogan, which actually does have a reference to Pearl, but only in passing. Second is the xkcd about correlation waggling its eyebrows suggestively, third is another superficial article on stats.org, fourth is a link to the Slate article, and fifth is the Slate article itself. Further down is RationalWiki's take on it, which briefly mentions interventions as the way to detect causality but I think not prominently enough. One has to get to the Wikipedia page on causality to find the meat of the matter.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 03 October 2012 10:02:06AM 5 points [-]

I have a lot of sympathy for the article, though I agree it's not very focused. In my experience, "correlation does not imply causation" is mostly used as some sort of magical talisman in discussion, wheeled out by people who don't really understand it in the hope that it may do something.

I've been considering writing a discussion post on similar rhetorical talismans, but I'm not sure how on-topic it would end up being.

Comment author: RobinZ 03 October 2012 04:40:52PM 2 points [-]

I would like to see an article which advised you on how you could:

  1. Recognize when you are using such a talisman, and/or
  2. Induce thought in someone else using such a talisman.
Comment author: gwern 06 October 2012 12:49:25AM *  15 points [-]

Despite the difficulty of exact Bayesian inference in complex mathematical models, the essence of Bayesian reasoning is frequently used in everyday life. One example has been immortalized in the words of Sherlock Holmes to his friend Dr. Watson: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” (Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four, 1890, Ch. 6). This reasoning is actually a consequence of Bayesian belief updating, as expressed in Equation 4.4. Let me re-state it this way: “How often have I said to you that when p(D|θ_i ) = 0 for all i!=j, then, no matter how small the prior p(θ_j ) > 0 is, the posterior p(θ_j |D) must equal one.” Somehow it sounds better the way Holmes said it.

--Kruschke 2010, Doing Bayesian Data Analysis, pg56-57

Comment author: thomblake 09 October 2012 08:22:02PM *  19 points [-]

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains is often more improbable than your having made a mistake in one of your impossibility proofs.

-Steven Kaas (via)

Comment author: PhilGoetz 01 November 2012 09:07:50PM 5 points [-]

It always irritates me slightly that Holmes says "whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth", when multiple incompatible hypotheses will remain.

My Holmes says, "When you have eliminated the possible, you must expand your conception of what is possible."

Comment author: pragmatist 06 October 2012 07:35:07AM *  2 points [-]

You have an inequality symbol missing at the end of the quote (between i and j). That made it slightly difficult for me to parse it on my first read-through ("Why does it say 'for all i, j' when the only index in the expression is 'i'?").

Comment author: WingedViper 09 October 2012 01:52:37PM 1 point [-]

I don't know if you know, but just in case you (or someone else) don't: There is no inequality symbol on the computer keyboard, so he used a typical programmer's inequality symbol which is "!=". So yes, it is not easily readable (i! is a bad combination...) but totally correct.

Comment author: pragmatist 09 October 2012 02:20:38PM *  3 points [-]

The symbol wasn't there when I wrote my comment. It was edited in afterwards.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 October 2012 12:53:56PM *  2 points [-]

(i! is a bad combination...)

The way to handle that is whitespace: i != 0. (I once was teased by my tendency to put whitespace in computer code around all operators which would be spaced in typeset mathematical formulas.)

EDIT: I also use italics for variables, boldface for vectors, etc. when handwriting. Whenever I get a new pen I immediately check whether it's practical to do boldface with it.

Comment author: Dan_Moore 09 October 2012 02:29:23PM 2 points [-]

A space between variable & operator would help.

Comment author: khafra 09 October 2012 07:13:02PM *  1 point [-]

Of course, an infitesimal prior dominating the posterior pdf might also be a hint that your model needs adjustment.

Comment author: Stabilizer 02 October 2012 06:46:48AM 28 points [-]

Curiosity was framed. Avoid it at your peril. The cat's not even sick. If you don't know how it works, find out. If you're not sure if it will work, try it. If it doesn't make sense, play with it until it does. If it's not broken, break it. If it might not be true, find out. And most of all, if someone says it is none of your business, prove them wrong.

-Seth Godin

Comment author: DanArmak 02 October 2012 06:07:00PM *  25 points [-]

If it doesn't make sense, play with it until it does. If it's not broken, break it.

Spoken like a true cat.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2012 11:21:26AM 17 points [-]

And most of all, if someone says it is none of your business, prove them wrong.

I'm going to adopt at different social strategy and not be the obnoxiously nosy guy with no boundaries. Some things I'm curious about really aren't my business and actively seeking to uncover information that people try to keep secret is usually a personal (and often legal) violation. The terms 'industrial espionage' and 'stalking' both spring to mind.

Curiosity didn't kill the cat. The redneck with the gun killed it for tresspassing.

Comment author: Athrelon 02 October 2012 05:58:56PM 20 points [-]

It is easier to love humanity than to love one's neighbor.

--Eric Hoffer, on Near/Far

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 October 2012 06:09:59PM 31 points [-]

Invertible fact alert!

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.

  • Men In Black

It's a lot easier to hate Creationists than to hate my landlady.

Comment author: dspeyer 03 October 2012 05:52:44AM 10 points [-]

It is easier to control how you relate to a theoretical group than a concrete individual. If you believe it is proper to hate Creationists, you can do so with little difficulty. If you change your mind and think it is better to pity them, you can do that.

But if you landlady has actually helped or hurt you, and you know a strong emotional response isn't actually called for, you're going to have a very hard time not liking or hating her.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 October 2012 06:29:25PM *  12 points [-]

Mad libs:

It is a lot easier to <strong emotion> <vaguely defined group> than to <same strong emotion> <actual acquaintance>.

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 October 2012 06:37:20PM 1 point [-]

And sometimes it's true with s/easier/harder/. ("feel compassion for".) Hence invertibility.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 October 2012 09:59:01PM 4 points [-]

Well, yes, but the invertibility is conditional.

Compassion is easier with a concrete person for a target. As is... idk. There's probably some (respect? romantic love? Loyalty?).

Hate is easier with a diffuse target. As is, say, idolizing love, disgust, contempt, superiority, etc.

The invertibility isn't in that you can flip "harder" to "easier" and then have it make just as much sense. You have to change the emotion too, which signifies that there is a categorization of emotions: useful!

If you insist that this is invertible wisdom, then I must say you are misapplying the heuristic.

Comment author: prase 04 October 2012 07:00:36PM 11 points [-]

Hate is easier with a diffuse target.

Depends. A klansman may find it easy to hate "niggers" but much harder to hate his black neighbour. A literary critic who values her tolerance may it find difficult to hate an abstract group but can passionately hate her mother-in-law. I am not sure whether the difference stems from there being two different types of hate, or only from different causes of the same sort of hate.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 03 October 2012 11:02:18AM 9 points [-]

It is easier to <far-mode emotion> <vaguely defined group> than to <same far-mode emotion> <specific person>.

It is harder to <near-mode emotion> <vaguely defined group> than to <same near-mode emotion> <specific person>.

Comment author: chaosmosis 03 October 2012 03:35:35AM 2 points [-]

I don't think hate is necessarily easier with a diffuse target. People hold personal grudges well. There's also the fact that there are sometimes legitimate reasons to hate specific people, but there are basically never legitimate reasons to hate entire groups of people.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 02 October 2012 07:47:40PM 9 points [-]

I love mankind. It's people I can't stand!

Linus van Pelt

Comment author: RichardKennaway 04 October 2012 08:59:02AM *  5 points [-]

The mind has its illusions as the sense of sight; and in the same manner as feeling corrects the latter, reflection and calculation correct the former.

Pierre Simon, Marquis de Laplace, "A Philosophical Essay On Probabilities", quoted here. (Hat tip.)

Comment author: arundelo 02 October 2012 01:58:29AM 16 points [-]

My wife and I, since we'd been in lock-down with each other, oh, these past nine years, have developed a bit of shorthand. If one of us says something the other has heard so many times before that tears of boredom flow, the victim has a right to protest. The victim says, "That's on the tape." As in, that's on your tape -- the list of stories and obsessions you've rewound so often I could sing along with them in my sleep.

-- Mark Schone

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 26 October 2012 03:54:45AM 4 points [-]

Sometimes adults don't know what they're talking about.


Comment author: lukeprog 25 October 2012 08:15:49PM 4 points [-]

The formalization of knowledge — which includes giving precise definitions — usually comes at the end of the original research in a given field, not at the very beginning. A particularly illuminating example is the concept of number, which was properly defined in the modern sense only after the development of axiomatic set theory in the… twentieth century.

Milan Cirkovic

Comment author: shminux 25 October 2012 08:27:43PM 0 points [-]

So... the formal FAI theory will only be developed after an AI fooms? Makes perfect sense to me... We are all doomed!!

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 03 October 2012 01:22:57AM 19 points [-]

The truth is out there, but so are the lies.

-Dana Scully, The X-Files, Season 1, Episode 17

Comment author: taelor 03 October 2012 01:39:31AM 20 points [-]

The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.

--Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2012 11:23:44AM 6 points [-]

The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.

Pretty sure the lies are out there too. I think I prefer Scully.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 03 October 2012 11:31:31AM 8 points [-]

The quote can be said to mean that reality ("out there") doesn't lie -- falsehoods are in the map, not in the territory. But truth is what corresponds to reality...

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 October 2012 01:16:34PM 15 points [-]

Other people's maps are part of my territory.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 October 2012 09:42:09PM 5 points [-]

Quibble: "Your" territory?

Comment author: DanArmak 03 October 2012 10:04:49PM 1 point [-]

This point is also relevant to Eliezer's post on truth as correspondance. A belief can start unentangled with reality, but once people talk about it, the belief itself becomes part of the territory.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2012 09:51:49PM 1 point [-]

Yes, this.

Other people's expressions of verbal symbols that are not even part of their map are also part of the territory.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 October 2012 03:37:26AM *  22 points [-]

Understanding an idea meant entangling it so thoroughly with all the other symbols in your mind that it changed the way you thought about everything.

Greg Egan, Diaspora

Comment author: [deleted] 03 October 2012 04:07:44PM 18 points [-]

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man misunderstand correlation versus causation.


Comment author: johnlawrenceaspden 08 October 2012 01:59:25PM 1 point [-]

This sounds like it ought to mean something, but every time I try to think what it might be I fail. Is it just clever?

Comment author: J_Taylor 03 October 2012 03:43:31AM *  23 points [-]

Will Smith don't gotta cuss in his raps to sell his records;

well I do, so fuck him and fuck you too!

--Eminem, "The Real Slim Shady"

Eminem seeks his comparative advantage and avoids self-handicapping.

Comment author: BerryPick6 03 October 2012 02:28:16PM 3 points [-]

I wonder how many other Rationality Quotes we can find in rap lyrics...

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 October 2012 12:44:21AM 19 points [-]

Lastly, there is an attitude not unknown in the crisis against which I should particularly like to protest. I should address my protest especially to those lovers and pursuers of Peace who, very short-sightedly, have occasionally adopted it. I mean the attitude which is impatient of these preliminary details about who did this or that, and whether it was right or wrong. They are satisfied with saying that an enormous calamity, called War, has been begun by some or all of us; and should be ended by some or all of us. To these people this preliminary chapter about the precise happenings must appear not only dry (and it must of necessity be the driest part of the task) but essentially needless and barren. I wish to tell these people that they are wrong; that they are wrong upon all principles of human justice and historic continuity: but that they are specially and supremely wrong upon their own principles of arbitration and international peace.

These sincere and high-minded peace-lovers are always telling us that citizens no longer settle their quarrels by private violence; and that nations should no longer settle theirs by public violence. They are always telling us that we no longer fight duels; and need no longer wage wars. In short, they perpetually base their peace proposals on the fact that an ordinary citizen no longer avenges himself with an axe. But how is he prevented from revenging himself with an axe? If he hits his neighbour on the head with the kitchen chopper, what do we do? Do we all join hands, like children playing Mulberry Bush, and say "We are all responsible for this; but let us hope it will not spread. Let us hope for the happy day when he shall leave off chopping at the man's head; and when nobody shall ever chop anything for ever and ever." Do we say "Let byegones be byegones; why go back to all the dull details with which the business began; who can tell with what sinister motives the man was standing there within reach of the hatchet?" We do not. We keep the peace in private life by asking for the facts of provocation, and the proper object of punishment. We do go into the dull details; we do enquire into the origins; we do emphatically enquire who it was that hit first. In short we do what I have done very briefly in this place.

-- G. K. Chesterton, "The Appetite of Tyranny", arguing against pretending to be wise

Comment author: taelor 03 October 2012 01:33:23AM *  3 points [-]

WAR, n.

A by-product of the arts of peace. The most menacing political condition is a period of international amity. The student of history who has not been taught to expect the unexpected may justly boast himself inaccessible to the light. "In time of peace prepare for war" has a deeper meaning than is commonly discerned; it means, not merely that all things earthly have an end -- that change is the one immutable and eternal law -- but that the soil of peace is thickly sown with the seeds of war and singularly suited to their germination and growth. It was when Kubla Khan had decreed his "stately pleasure dome" -- when, that is to say, there were peace and fat feasting in Xanadu -- that he "heard from afar / Ancestral voices prophesying war."

One of the greatest of poets, Coleridge was one of the wisest of men, and it was not for nothing that he read us this parable. Let us have a little less of "hands across the sea," and a little more of that elemental distrust that is the security of nations. War loves to come like a thief in the night; professions of eternal amity provide the night.

--Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Comment author: novalis 02 October 2012 09:27:37PM 2 points [-]

Two WAITWs don't make a right.

In this quotation, Chesterton writes against people who compare war to vigilante justice. But his argument is not that this is a poor comparison, but that instead the analogy doesn't go far enough. So, he compounds the error of his opponents with an error of his own.

There's also some scenario slippage -- in the peacenik argument, the citizen "avenges" himself, but by the time Chesterton gets to him, the dead man was just "standing there within reach of the hatchet." That alone gives you a hint about you what kind of hearing the accused is likely to get in Chesterton's court.

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 October 2012 08:50:24AM 1 point [-]

The international equivalent is not a police and justice system, it's vigilante justice. Doing nothing is not much worse than killing the attacker, being killed by the attacker's friends who believe the victim had started it, and starting a vendetta. How do you arrest a state? Ask the UN for permission to carpet-bomb it?

Comment author: roystgnr 02 October 2012 08:01:14PM 8 points [-]

Under the assumption that a lesser power is unable to punish injustice done by a greater power, the three possible alternatives at any level of power are "Injustice is dealt with by a greater power", "Injustice is dealt with by peers", and "Injustice is dealt with by nobody". The first system sounds nice, except that infinite regression is impossible, and so eventually you end up at the greatest level of power, choosing between systems two and three. In that case, system two seems preferable, "vigilante" connotations notwithstanding.

Comment author: biased_tracer 03 October 2012 08:33:43PM 8 points [-]

[W]hen one hasn't gone wrong, it's often because one hasn't the chance.

Émile Zola

Comment author: MBlume 01 October 2012 07:56:20PM *  15 points [-]

I can pick up a mole (animal) and throw it. Anything I can throw weighs one pound. One pound is one kilogram.

--Randal Munroe, A Mole of Moles

Comment author: [deleted] 01 October 2012 08:15:19PM 23 points [-]

… if anyone asks, I did not tell you it was ok to do math like this.

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 October 2012 08:24:54PM 6 points [-]

It's called "show, don't tell".

Comment author: ChrisHibbert 06 October 2012 06:06:16PM 1 point [-]

Did Munroe add that? It's incorrect. There are lots of situations in which it's reasonable to calculate while throwing away an occasional factor of 2.2.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 01 October 2012 08:27:21PM 17 points [-]

Frodo: Those that claim to oppose the Enemy would do well not to hinder us.

Faramir: The Enemy? (turns over body of an enemy soldier) His sense of duty was no less than yours, I deem. You wonder what his name is, where he came from, and if he was really evil at heart. What lies or threats led him on this long march from home, and if he'd not rather have stayed there... in peace. War will make corpses of us all.

-- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (extended edition)

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2012 11:14:28AM *  10 points [-]

What Faramir says contains wisdom but so do Frodo's words. The enemy is trying to destroy the world with some kind of epic high fantasy apocalypse. Frodo does not terminally value the death (heh) of specific foot soldiers. They may be noble and virtuous and their deaths a tragic waste. But Frodo has something to protect and also has baddass allies who return from the (mostly) dead with a wardrobe change. But he doesn't have enough power to give himself a batman-like self-handicap of using non-lethal force. Killing those who get in his way (but lamenting the necessity) is the right thing for him to do and so yes, people would do well not to hinder him.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 03 October 2012 12:11:53PM 1 point [-]

Agreed. Though of course, I don't really see Faramir as disagreeing -- it was, after all, the Rangers of Ithilien who ambushed the Haradrim and killed the soldier they're talking about.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2012 12:28:16PM 1 point [-]

Agreed. Though of course, I don't really see Faramir as disagreeing -- it was, after all, the Rangers of Ithilien who ambushed the Haradrim and killed the soldier they're talking about.

I'm a little bit proud that I don't know who all these people are.

Comment author: ChrisHibbert 06 October 2012 06:04:06PM 3 points [-]

downvoted. You're saying you don't know anything about the context provided by a story that is apparently of interest to (at least) several readers here, and you're proud of not sharing the context. Doesn't seem like something to crow about without first finding out if the content is frivolous.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2012 07:08:22PM 3 points [-]

You're saying you don't know anything about the context provided by a story

No I wasn't. I could give you an analysis of likely outcomes of a battle between Mirkwood and Lorien archers depending on terrain. It isn't often that my knowledge of utterly useless details of fantasy stories is outclassed. I may as well enjoy the experience.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 October 2012 07:33:18PM 2 points [-]

I'd ding you for having confessed to being proud of your ignorance, except that what you confessed ignorance of was not, technically speaking, a fact.

Comment author: AspiringRationalist 05 October 2012 04:16:48PM 3 points [-]

I'm never quite sure what to think about being proud of not knowing a fact. On one hand, knowledge itself almost certainly has positive value, even if that value is very small. On the other hand, making the effort to acquire very low-usefulness knowledge generally has negative expected utility, so I can understand prioritized a particular body of knowledge as "not worth it."

Of course, pride is really about signaling, so it makes sense to look at what sort of signal one's pride is sending. If someone seems particularly knowledgeable about a low-status topic, such as celebrity gossip, I judge them negatively for it. I assume most people do this, though with different lists of which topics are low-status (or am I just projecting?).

Ultimately, I think the questions to consider are: 1. As an individual, does prideful ignorance of a topic you consider not worthwhile send a signal you want to send, and 2. As a community, is this the sort of signal we want to encourage?

Comment author: arundelo 04 October 2012 12:39:22AM 9 points [-]

People tend to be way more helpful than one expects, especially Americans, museum workers, librarians and musicians. I think of it as one of the world's cool hidden features.

-- mme_n_b

Comment author: Alejandro1 01 October 2012 08:15:38PM 8 points [-]

From the leavings of memory and forgetfulness we could create a nearly complete map, I think, of a person's values. What you don't even see -- the subtle sadness in a colleague's face? -- and what you might briefly see but don't react to or retain, is in some sense not part of the world shaped for you by your interests and values. Others with different values will remember a very different series of events.

Michelangelo is widely quoted as having said that to make David he simply removed from the stone everything that was not David. Remove from your life everything you forget; what is left is you.

Eric Schwitzgebel

Comment author: RomeoStevens 02 October 2012 01:16:40AM 6 points [-]

Remove from your life everything you forget;

what is left are the data points that align with your narrative about yourself.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 October 2012 01:43:21AM 1 point [-]

Indeed, which together with the quote implies "you" = "your narrative about yourself". See also Dennett's "The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity".

Comment author: PhilGoetz 01 November 2012 09:09:14PM *  4 points [-]

I resent this attitude. People often assume that I don't care about the things that I forget. Really, I am tired of a whole host of prejudices against people with poor memories. People assume that I am just like them, and that if I fail to remember something they would have remembered, it was deliberate.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 November 2012 09:30:15PM 2 points [-]

Nevertheless; for any given person, the more he cares about something, the less likely he is to forget about it.

Comment author: Ezekiel 03 October 2012 08:40:35AM 3 points [-]

Remove from your life everything you forget; what is left is you.

Can we just agree that English doesn't have a working definition for "self", and that different definitions are helpful in different contexts? I don't think there's anything profound in proposing definitions for words that fuzzy.

Comment author: MBlume 01 October 2012 07:57:22PM *  10 points [-]

Paths are made by walking

-Franz Kafka (quoted in Joy of Clojure)

Comment author: Unnamed 02 October 2012 06:11:21PM 10 points [-]

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.

-Antonio Machado


Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that must never be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road—
Only wakes upon the sea.

Comment author: BlazeOrangeDeer 02 October 2012 08:04:52AM *  15 points [-]

From the stories I expected the world to be sad

And it was.

And I expected it to be wonderful.

It was.

I just didn't expect it to be so big.

-- xkcd: Click and Drag

Comment author: lukeprog 12 October 2012 09:59:48AM 5 points [-]

Learn from science that you must doubt the experts... Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

Richard Feynman

(Partially quoted here, but never given in a Rationality Quotes thread before.)

Comment author: Patrick 06 October 2012 10:31:21AM 5 points [-]

The belief that one can find out something about real things by speculation alone is one of the most long-lived delusions in human thought. It is the spirit of antiscience which is always trying to lead men away from the study of reality to the spinning of fanciful theories out of their own minds. It is the spirit which every one of us (whether he is engaged in scientific investigation or in deciding how to use his vote in an election) must cast out of his own mind. Mastery of the art of thought is only the beginning of the task of understanding reality. Without the correct facts it can only lead us into error.

-- Robert H. Thouless, Straight and Crooked Thinking

Comment author: AlexMennen 02 October 2012 02:27:13AM *  11 points [-]

A common mistake is to suppose that scientists are such admirable people that they can be safely entrusted with the ultimate responsibil­ity for guiding scientific research. In fact they are no more admirable than any other type of worker. Neither selection nor self-selection tor a scientific career is based on admirableness. Though the conventions and protocols of science enforce on scientists, in comparison to astrologers and English professors—and lawyers—a high degree of objec­tivity when they are doing science, it does not follow that such indi­viduals can be depended on to be objective policy analysts. That is a role for which they are not trained (but is anyone?) and that does not impose the constraints that science imposes.

Richard Posner, Catastrophe: Risk and Response

Comment author: Nominull 02 October 2012 02:38:13AM 17 points [-]

Well they're maybe a little more admirable than some other types of worker. Let's not go overboard here.

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 October 2012 08:31:24AM 5 points [-]

Yet a policymaker for science must either be a scientist (ish), or a Pointy-Haired Boss.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2012 11:31:15AM 5 points [-]

Yet a policymaker for science must either be a scientist (ish), or a Pointy-Haired Boss.

Plenty of dogberts get in on the action as well.

Comment author: ZoneSeek 03 October 2012 02:20:37AM 6 points [-]

We keep the wheel turning slowly and smoothly. Some anonymous Corpsman put it into words a long time ago: "When in doubt, delay the big ones and speed the little ones.''

--Frank Herbert, The Tactful Saboteur

A good heuristic. Barack Obama limits his wardrobe choices, Feynman decides to just always order chocolate ice cream for dessert. Leaves more time and energy for important stuff.

Comment author: Plubbingworth 11 October 2012 05:41:14AM 1 point [-]

When I was a kid, removing my niggling and nagging choices, distractions, and petty inabilites sounded grand. It kinda backfired at first because I started over-planning the details of my daily activities, like ya do. And anything I actually took an interest in, to quell my confusion and streamline my time, drew people towards me for my arcane skills.

Is there any honor in hiding your abilities (when it's not your job) so people don't ask for help with simple stuff?

I was... uh... the family IT guy. My dad still needs the computer's power button pointed out to him.

Comment author: CCC 11 October 2012 07:14:59AM 2 points [-]

Place a notebook next to the computer. When you tell someone how to do something, tell them to write it down, every step, in the notebook. Tell them to write it down so that they will be able to understand it later. Next time they ask you the same question, refer them to the notebook. If this fails to help, consider insisting on some minor cost (such as 'buy me a chocolate' - nothing expensive, more an irritant than anything else, merely a cost for the sake of having a cost) for reiterating anything that has been written in the notebook.

It may or may not help, but if it doesn't help, then at least you'll get a certain amount of chocolate out of it.

Comment author: katydee 02 October 2012 05:59:24AM *  7 points [-]

To think only of winning is sickness. To think only of using the martial arts is sickness. To think only of demonstrating the results of one's training is sickness, as is thinking only of making an attack or waiting for one. To think in a fixated way only of expelling such sickness is also sickness. Whatever remains absolutely in the mind should be considered sickness. As these various sicknesses are all present in the mind, you must put your mind in order and expel them.

Yagyu Munenori, The Life-Giving Sword (translated by William Scott Wilson).

Comment author: lukeprog 10 October 2012 05:24:05AM 4 points [-]

Everyone takes the limits of [their] own vision for the limits of the world.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Comment author: bbleeker 11 October 2012 08:35:17AM 1 point [-]

That made me think of this:

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky -
No higher than the soul is high.
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Comment author: Kawoomba 10 October 2012 05:31:46AM 1 point [-]

That follows in a fairly straightforward way from his central theme in his dissertation, The World as Will and Representation, which is that the world is, well, the title spoiled it.

Comment author: novalis 12 October 2012 05:17:43PM 2 points [-]

"Anything that real people do in the world is by definition interesting. By 'interesting', I mean worthy of the kind of investigation that puts curiosity and honesty well before judgment. Judgment may come, but only after you’ve done some work." - Timothy Burke

Comment author: Alicorn 06 October 2012 08:29:41PM *  8 points [-]

"...city law states that 'children under the age of twelve must attend school,' but it never said they had to 'attend school' more than once."

Hermione's mouth moved, but no words came out.

"It's funny, I got an A in my Munchkinry course without ever showing up past the first lesson. All the other students failed."

-- Harry Potter and the Natural 20

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 09 October 2012 03:36:59PM 14 points [-]

This is a clever little exchange, and I'm generally all about munchkinry as a rationalist's tool. But as a lawyer, this specific example bothers me because it relies on and reinforces a common misunderstanding about law -- the idea that courts interpret legal documents by giving words a strict or literal meaning, rather than their ordinary meaning. The maxim that "all text must be interpreted in context" is so widespread in the law as to be a cliche, but law in fiction rarely acknowledges this concept.

So in the example above, courts would never say "well, you did 'attend' this school on one occasion, and the law doesn't say you have to 'attend' more than once, so yeah, you're off the hook." They would say "sorry, but the clear meaning of 'attend school' in this context is 'regular attendance,' because everyone who isn't specifically trying to munchkin the system understands that these words refer to that concept." Lawyers and judges actually understand the notion of words not having fixed meanings better than is generally understood.

Comment author: Alicorn 09 October 2012 04:20:10PM 4 points [-]

Yes, but the setting in question is a D&D universe and many things work differently, rules-in-general most certainly included.

Comment author: thomblake 09 October 2012 04:24:02PM 5 points [-]

rules-in-general most certainly included.

Well, a great many D&D players / DMs would argue that Jay_Schweikert's explanation applies equally well to the rules of role-playing games.

Comment author: chaosmosis 13 October 2012 11:46:09PM 2 points [-]

Not the fun ones.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 09 October 2012 04:24:58PM 2 points [-]

Ah, fair enough. I suppose the title of the work and the idea of an actual course on Munchkinry should have been clues about the setting.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 October 2012 09:14:10AM 2 points [-]

In Italy, IIRC, some kind of rule explicitly specifies the maximum number of days, and the maximum number of consecutive days, a school child can be absent (except for health reason). Otherwise, would going to school four days a week count as “attending”? Natural language's fuzziness is a feature in normal usage, but a bug if you have a law and you need to decide how to handle borderline cases.

Comment author: Daniel_Molloy 13 October 2012 11:40:36PM *  3 points [-]

Well, that was a fun way to spend my Saturday. I haven't had a fanfic monopolize my time this much since Friendship Is Optimal.

Best part so far:

"This is ridiculous," Milo muttered to Hermione, his chess partner. "Skill Ranks in Profession (Chessmaster) have no bearing on one's ability to stomp squishy wizards."

"See, the thing is," Hermione said, "I know what all of those words mean in and of themselves, but the way you string them together... it's like someone handed a book of Mad Libs to a Confunded Troll."

"I'm a Confunded Troll, am I?" Milo asked with a slight edge in his voice. "Well you're blind to the story unfolding before your very eyes."

"Blind?" Hermione asked, a dangerous glint entering her eyes. "No, you're just convinced this is some storybook fairytale land where everything happens for a reason. And not a good reason, mind, but a stupid, trite, clichéd reason."

"Not a story," Milo said, placing his pieces on the board, "an adventure. Completely different school of magic."

"Real life does not have adventures!" Hermione said, her voice growing louder. "It has rules, responsible adults, homework, and grades!"

"I think we've more or less exhausted the possibilities of this conversation," Milo said coolly. "Roll for Initiative, bookworm."

Hermione, playing white, naturally won Initiative. She sent one of her Commoners forwards, breaking their naturally defensive spear-wall and leaving her Aristocrats vulnerable to a cavalry charge from Milo's flanking Knights.

"My left and right Clerics cast Wall of Stone and Flame Strike, respectively," Milo declared, "while the Commoners garrison these towers and ready an action to provide covering fire should any white soldiers enter range of their crossbows. The Knights run up to this position," he placed the two horses near Hermione's Clerics to Attack of Opportunity them should they try to cast anything, "and my Aristocrats take a full defence action."

"Er," Hermione said. "You can only move one piece on your turn."

"Oh, we're tracking individual Initiatives? Okay. In that case, Flame Strike. Let's see some Reflex Saves, now, shall we?"

"Why me?" Hermione asked the air dramatically. "Why? What did I ever do to deserve this? You know what? Here. Just take my tag, I forfeit. It's just not worth it. I'll go play with Neville in the corner." Hermione stalked off as Milo clipped Hermione's tag to his robes under his own.

"One down," he smirked. "Four hundred to go."

"Blimey," said one of Milo's Clerics. "I don't think you quite understand how this works, do you?"

"Holy Crap! You can talk?"

Comment author: shminux 08 October 2012 07:40:28PM 5 points [-]

For purely practical reasons we count one human body as one "person." That makes sense for all sorts of legal and economic purposes. But it sure doesn't feel as if I have only one person in my head. It feels like a conversation between two friends.

Scott Adams

While I don't ever feel that way, I understand that many people have such internal verbal or non-verbal conversations with one or more other "selves". These are also common in fiction, probably in part as a literary device, but also probably as a reflection of the author's mind. Hmm, maybe it is worth a poll.

Comment author: bbleeker 09 October 2012 11:07:48AM 12 points [-]

Lucky him - his internal persons are friends.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 October 2012 12:36:03AM 5 points [-]

Experience trumps brilliance.

— Thomas Sowell

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 October 2012 01:00:46AM 16 points [-]

This belief seems to me very convenient for the brilliant, implying that they got where they are by hard work and properly deserve everything they have. Of course brilliant people also have to put in hard work, but their return on investment is much higher than many other contenders who may have put in even more work for lower total returns. Just-world hypothesis; life is not this fair. And while I do go about preaching the virtue of Hufflepuff, I also go about saying that people should try to Huffle where they have comparative advantage.

Comment author: Vaniver 02 October 2012 01:58:53AM 12 points [-]

My reading of the quote is that empiricism is superior to rationalism (the old philosophical schools, not the sort we discuss here). If I have a proof that my bridge will hold a thousand pounds, and it breaks under a hundred, then the experiment trumps the proof.

Comment author: David_Gerard 02 October 2012 09:05:40PM 3 points [-]

In practical terms, though, experience does frequently trump brilliance. This does not mean this is a good thing to have happened, only that it does. Experience makes one more likely to be good at competition.

Comment author: CCC 03 October 2012 10:51:19AM 2 points [-]

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.

-- Thomas Edison

Comment author: [deleted] 03 October 2012 05:21:53PM 22 points [-]

Lacking sufficient inspiration, I shall reduce my perspiration until recommended ratio is met.

Comment author: Unnamed 03 October 2012 08:52:33PM 3 points [-]

Unfortunately, this will produce only a very small quantity of genius.

Comment author: thomblake 03 October 2012 08:55:38PM 1 point [-]

Yes, but it's the best you can do sometimes. And the excess sweat would otherwise be wasted.

Comment author: CCC 04 October 2012 06:02:08PM 1 point [-]

And the excess sweat would otherwise be wasted.

Not necessarily. You can always apply your excess perspiration to someone else's excess inspiration (and then claim 99% of any resultant profits - assuming that you provide all the perspiration, of course).

Anecdotally, I seem to observe more excess inspiration than excess perspiration, so I don't think that excess inspiration will be hard to find.

Comment author: DaFranker 04 October 2012 06:08:15PM *  1 point [-]

Hmm. Corollary:

Lacking sufficient perspiration, I shall reduce my inspiration until recommended ratio is met.

Eh. Doesn't sound quite as awesome.

Comment author: gwern 03 October 2012 08:03:33PM 5 points [-]

Have you considered LSD, for the inspiration? I mean, if the sources don't matter, just the ratio...

Comment author: chaosmosis 03 October 2012 04:59:44PM 6 points [-]

A true genius would do nothing and then steal the results of other people's inspiration and perspiration.


Comment author: listic 18 October 2012 11:15:32PM *  1 point [-]

Diligence overcomes all!

It happens diligence overcomes even reason.

— Kozma Prutkov

(translation mine)

Comment author: Mestroyer 06 October 2012 09:27:41AM *  6 points [-]

Why, I wonder, didn't he say something like: 'Great Scott, the ontological argument seems to be plausible. But isn't it too good to be true that a grand truth about the cosmos should follow from a mere word game?


My own feeling, to the contrary, would have been an automatic, deep suspicion of any line of reasoning that reached such a significant conclusion without feeding in a single piece of data from the real world.

--Richard Dawkins on the ontological argument for theism, from The God Delusion, pages 81-82.

Comment author: Larks 06 October 2012 04:18:19PM 2 points [-]

That sounds like the sort of thing you'd say if you'd never heard of mathematics.

Comment author: gwern 06 October 2012 06:38:22PM 5 points [-]

And that sounds like the sort of thing you might say if you were unaware of countless examples of analytic-synthetic distinction in actually applying math (say, which geometry do you live in right now? And what axioms did you deduce it from, exactly?).

Comment author: PhilGoetz 01 November 2012 09:04:34PM 2 points [-]

He has a point. It isn't obvious that Dawkins' objection doesn't apply to math. The ontological argument probably has more real-world assumptions used in it than does arithmetic.

Comment author: johnlawrenceaspden 09 October 2012 02:59:49PM 1 point [-]

Do people who've never heard of mathematics often say such things?

Comment author: brazil84 28 October 2012 05:19:25PM 3 points [-]

People, even regular people, are never just any one person with one set of attributes. It's not that simple. We're all at the mercy of the limbic system, clouds of electricity drifting through the brain. Every man is broken into twenty-four-hour fractions, and then again within those twenty-four hours. It's a daily pantomime, one man yielding control to the next: a backstage crowded with old hacks clamoring for their turn in the spotlight. Every week, every day. The angry man hands the baton over to the sulking man, and in turn to the sex addict, the introvert, the conversationalist. Every man is a mob, a chain gang of idiots.

This is the tragedy of life. Because for a few minutes of every day, every man becomes a genius. Moments of clarity, insight, whatever you want to call them. The clouds part, the planets get in a neat little line, and everything becomes obvious. I should quit smoking, maybe, or here's how I could make a fast million, or such and such is the key to eternal happiness. That's the miserable truth. For a few moments, the secrets of the universe are opened to us. Life is a cheap parlor trick.

But then the genius, the savant, has to hand over the controls to the next guy down the pike, most likely the guy who just wants to eat potato chips, and insight and brilliance and salvation are all entrusted to a moron or a hedonist or a narcoleptic.

The only way out of this mess, of course, is to take steps to ensure that you control the idiots that you become. To take your chain gang, hand in hand, and lead them.

From Memento Mori by Jonathan Nolan

Comment author: [deleted] 26 October 2012 02:29:05PM 3 points [-]

The best description of the scientific method I have ever seen is from a conceptual physics textbook by Hobson. Paraphrasing:

The scientific method involves the dynamic interplay between theory and experiment.

That’s it. Perfect. As a scientist, I don’t come to work on Monday and make an observation, then form a hypothesis on Tuesday, devise an experiment to test some prediction on Wednesday, perform the experiment Thursday, and interpret the result on Friday. On any given day I would be hard pressed to tell you where I am in the process. All of the above, really. It’s a mess. It’s a constant back and forth comparing theoretical expectations to the final arbiter of any dispute: nature. Some people specialize in one aspect of the process, and can spend years chewing on some piece of it. But it is seldom done in isolation.

Meanwhile, science fair projects across the nation—under the advisement of teachers who themselves often do not have personal experience in how science really works—approach their subject in an uncharacteristically formulaic way. Nine times out of ten the effort culminates in a proof that the initial hypothesis was right; as if that were the goal and criterion for success. The rare student is surprised by the data, admitting to a failure of the hypothesis, quickly reconsidering initial assumptions and driving into an unexpected yet rewarding direction (dynamic interplay). That’s the real scientist at work. Too bad the judges (in my experience as a judge) often don’t recognize this apparent failure as the true success.

I can’t pass up the opportunity to share with you the “best” high school science fair project I ever saw (when I was myself a student participant in the fair—and no, it was not my project): “Does light travel through the dark?” Setup: light-tight cardboard box painted black on the inside; flashlight shining through a hole in one end; a peephole in the other end to see if the light made it. Any guesses?

-- Tom Murphy

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 26 October 2012 06:53:10PM 3 points [-]

What would be a better way to teach young children about the nuances of the scientific method? This isn't meant as a snarky reply. I'm reasonably confident that Tom Murphy is onto something here, and I doubt most elementary school science fairs are optimized for conveying scientific principles with as much nuance as possible.

But it's not clear to me what sort of process would be much better, and even upon reading the full post, the closest he comes to addressing this point is "don't interpret failure to prove the hypothesis as failure of the project." Good advice to be sure, but it doesn't really go to the "dynamic interplay" that he characterizes as so important. Maybe instruct that experiments should occur in multiple rounds, and that participants will be judged in large part by how they incorporate results from previous rounds into later ones? That would probably be better, although I imagine you'd start brushing up pretty quickly against basic time and energy constraints -- how many elementary schools would be willing and able to keep students participating in year-long science projects?

That's not to say we shouldn't explore options here, but it might be that, especially for young children, traditional one-off science fairs do a decent enough job of teaching the very basic idea that beliefs are tested by experiment. Maybe that's not so bad, akin to why Mythbusters is a net positive for science.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 October 2012 07:33:53PM *  2 points [-]

Well, doing experiments to test which of several plausible hypotheses is more accurate, rather than those where you can easily guess what's going to happen beforehand, would be a start. (Testing whether light can travel through the dark? Seriously, WTF?)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 26 October 2012 11:54:17PM 1 point [-]

As a scientist, I don’t come to work on Monday and make an observation, then form a hypothesis on Tuesday, devise an experiment to test some prediction on Wednesday, perform the experiment Thursday, and interpret the result on Friday. On any given day I would be hard pressed to tell you where I am in the process. All of the above, really. It’s a mess.

That is a large part of the reason why we have problems like the file drawer effect and data dredging.

Comment author: chaosmosis 28 October 2012 08:10:19AM 1 point [-]

I don't think that thinking categorically and mechanically would be feasibly productive.

It's a reality that we have to think messily in order to solve problems quickly, even if that efficiency also causes biases.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 28 October 2012 11:25:19PM 1 point [-]

However, we should at least be aware of what the proper way to do it would be.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 23 October 2012 12:44:38AM 3 points [-]

We should try to deserve such luck; we may deserve it by exploiting it.

—George Polya, How to Solve It

Comment author: AlexMennen 02 October 2012 02:05:45AM 5 points [-]

Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.

James Stephens

Comment author: philh 02 October 2012 05:23:57PM 5 points [-]

Is bravery a mental state (or something) that conquers fear, or is it bravery to conquer fear (e.g. because you're curious)?

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2012 11:29:57AM 3 points [-]

Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.

What testable predictions does this make and have they been tested? The typical interactions of various emotions with each other is something we should be able to find out but I'm not sure if the message of the quote is supposed to be anything to do with making a claim about reality.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 October 2012 05:19:53AM 2 points [-]

Talking is easy, listening is hard.

Fred de Martines, a pork farmer who does direct marketing

Comment author: tut 03 October 2012 04:14:28PM 2 points [-]

If goods don't cross borders, armies will.

Frédéric Bastiat.

Comment author: Tuna-Fish 08 October 2012 09:17:25AM 4 points [-]

Prior to WW2, Germany was the biggest trading partner of France.

Comment author: dlthomas 09 October 2012 10:05:59PM 4 points [-]

Irrelevant. The quote is not "If goods do cross borders, armies won't."

Comment author: gwern 09 October 2012 09:33:29PM 2 points [-]

And of course, one of the historical peaks of globalization and European integration was reached in 1914.

Comment author: MinibearRex 05 October 2012 05:40:44AM 4 points [-]

Libertarian quote, or rationality quote?

Comment author: wedrifid 05 October 2012 08:04:58AM *  0 points [-]

Libertarian quote, or rationality quote?

A libertarian would assert that it is both. (Most others would probably agree with claim or at least with the implied instrumental rationality related message.)

Comment author: MinibearRex 07 October 2012 03:38:20AM 9 points [-]

I happen to agree with the quote; I just don't think it's particularly a quote about rationality. Just because a quote is correct doesn't mean that it's a quote about how to go about acquiring correct beliefs, or (in general) accomplish your goals. The fact that HIV is a retrovirus that employs an enzyme called reverse transcriptase to copy its genetic code into the host cell is useful information for a biologist or a biochemist, because it helps them to accomplish their goals. But it is rather unhelpful for someone looking for a way to accomplish goals in general.

Comment author: johnlawrenceaspden 09 October 2012 02:16:23PM 1 point [-]

good fences make good neighbours

Traditional Aphorism

Comment author: Stabilizer 01 October 2012 08:13:25PM 2 points [-]

Suppose you were misguidedly to give your own child poison. The fact that you might think the poison you were administering was good for your child, the fact that you might have gone to a lot of trouble to obtain this poison, and that if it were not for all your efforts your child would not even been there to be offered it, none of this would give you a right to administer the poison—at most, it would only make you less culpable when the child died.

  • Nicholas Humphrey
Comment author: chaosmosis 02 October 2012 02:08:42AM 9 points [-]

I disagree. We're obligated to do things to the best of our ability based on the knowledge we have. If those decisions have bad outcomes, that doesn't mean our actions weren't justified. Otherwise, you displace moral judgement from the here and now into inaccessible ideas about what will have turned out to be the case.

Comment author: Stabilizer 02 October 2012 06:41:39AM *  3 points [-]

I guess there is a slight ambiguity in the way Nicholas Humphrey uses the word 'right' in the sentence: "none of this would give you a right to administer the poison". I doubt he is making a moral statement. What he is pointing out is that your beliefs will have to be judged by reality. Your beliefs do not affect the fact that what you are administering is poison.

In fact, he points out that having incorrect beliefs might make you morally less culpable. But it doesn't make you right.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 October 2012 04:26:10AM 3 points [-]

I disagree. We're obligated to do things to the best of our ability based on the knowledge we have.

No, we're obligated to make sure we have enough knowledge and to gather more knowledge if we don't. If you believe that you don't have the time and/or resources to do this, that's also a decision with moral consequences.

In other words, it's not enough to merely try to make the correct decision.

Comment author: Desrtopa 03 October 2012 01:51:19AM 6 points [-]

The possibility that more information will change your recommended course of action is one that has to be weighed against the costs of acquiring more information, not a moral imperative. One can always find oneself in a situation where the evidence is stacked to deceive one. That doesn't mean that before you put on your socks in the morning you ought to perform an exhaustive check to make sure that your sock drawer hasn't been rigged to blow up the White House when opened.

Comment author: Exiles 03 October 2012 04:25:09AM 1 point [-]

You use only the resources you have, including your judgement, including your metajudgement.

Comment author: Nominull 01 October 2012 11:54:40PM 7 points [-]

Somebody should start a sister site, Less Culpable. It might be More Useful.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2012 11:37:11AM 3 points [-]

none of this would give you a right to administer the poison

What does having a 'right' mean in this context? Is Humphrey trying to say that other observers who know that the vial contains poison aren't obliged to allow the confused parent to administer the poison? I suppose that would be a reasonable point to make. If he is only talking in the sense of degree of blame assigned to the confused parent then his claim is more ethically questionable.

Comment author: Nisan 04 October 2012 05:12:23PM *  2 points [-]

Trinity: "You always told me to stay off the freeway." Morpheus: "Yes, that's true." Trinity: "You said it was suicide." Morpheus: "Then let us hope that I was wrong."

The Matrix Reloaded

Comment author: chaosmosis 13 October 2012 11:49:20PM 3 points [-]

I think you must have made a mistake. This film doesn't exist.

Comment author: BerryPick6 14 October 2012 12:01:04AM 2 points [-]

Hypothetical quotes are the best kind of quotes...

Comment author: Fred 02 October 2012 03:10:42AM 1 point [-]

The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues.

  • G.K. Chesterton
Comment author: atorm 25 October 2012 10:34:19PM 1 point [-]

But mostly there was the knowledge that one day, quite soon, it would be all over. ‘Ah, well, life goes on,’ people say when someone dies. But from the point of view of the person who has just died, it doesn't. It's the universe that goes on. Just as the deceased was getting the hang of everything it's all whisked away, by illness or accident or, in one case, a cucumber. Why this has to be is one of the imponderables of life, in the face of which people either start to pray… or become really, really angry.

Terry Pratchett, The Last Hero

Comment author: Aurora 03 October 2012 03:44:51PM 0 points [-]

The trick is to combine your waking rational abilities with the infinite possibilities of your dreams. Because, if you can do that, you can do anything. -Waking life (2001)

Comment author: Fyrius 04 October 2012 01:07:20PM 12 points [-]

It's always "you can do anything" and never "you can do more than you currently believe you're capable of" with these motivational quotes.

Comment author: scav 04 October 2012 02:55:39PM 3 points [-]

I'm not convinced about the infinite possibilities of my dreams. Pretty sure large parts of my brain are not functioning as well during REM sleep as they are while I'm awake. For example, I don't think I can read in my dreams, or write computer programs. So possibly the things I can dream about are only a subset of the things I can think about while awake.

And that's leaving aside my heuristic judgement about all non-rigorous uses of the word "infinite".

Comment author: mfb 04 October 2012 06:06:25PM 1 point [-]

Daydreaming? I think we should not take "dream" to literal here.

"Infinite" is problematic, indeed. I think there is just a finite number of dreams of finite length.

Comment author: scav 05 October 2012 08:37:45AM 2 points [-]

I think it's OK to take "dreams" literally when contrasted in the same sentence with "waking". I'll give the writer the benefit of the doubt along one axis: either they were expressing insightless nonsense clearly, or they are not great at communicating their brilliant insights ;)

Comment author: Aurora 05 October 2012 02:21:32AM 2 points [-]

Take "infinite" as you would take the recursiveness of language, there is a set of finite words or particles from which you can just "create" infinite combinations.

About the numer of dreams, do you reckon there is something like a pool of dreams we use one by one until it's empty?

Comment author: Hawisher 11 October 2012 05:50:05AM 1 point [-]

But that's just not true. There is a finite limit to the length of text that can be produced. Evaluate a Busy Beaver function at Graham's Number.

Now take the aforementioned maximum text length in characters. Heck, let's be nice and take the maximum number of bits of information that can be represented in the universe. Raise that number to the power of itself. Now raise that number to the power of itself. You're not even CLOSE to the number you got in the first paragraph. We're quite a long way from infinity.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 25 October 2012 04:05:09PM 1 point [-]

Solve the problem, not the person

Found here.

It seems to be a misquotation of this.

Comment author: Bruno_Coelho 06 October 2012 02:11:31PM 1 point [-]

We are 'naturally' in ideology, our natural sight is ideological.

-- Slavoj Zizek, The Plague of Fantasies

Comment author: Hawisher 04 October 2012 02:02:52PM 1 point [-]

"A car with a broken engine cannot drive backward at 200 mph, even if the engine is really really broken."


Comment author: Fyrius 04 October 2012 03:33:11PM *  3 points [-]

Good quote, of course, but it's against one of the rules:

  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB
Comment author: DaFranker 04 October 2012 05:23:18PM 4 points [-]

Out of curiosity, does that rule extend to, say, material originally posted on Yudkowsky's personal site and later re-used or quoted as a source in a LW/OB article/post/comment? Is that a gray area?

Comment author: thomblake 04 October 2012 05:31:50PM 2 points [-]

Is that a gray area?

Yes. It's also slightly gray to post quotes from other prominent Lesswrongians.

Comment author: wedrifid 04 October 2012 05:51:44PM 3 points [-]

Yes. It's also slightly gray to post quotes from other prominent Lesswrongians.

Where I make my 'slightly gray' evaluation based on whether the quote is sufficiently baddass to make it worth stretching the spirit of the thread. Sometimes they are. It's when the quotes aren't even all that good that I'd discourage it.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 October 2012 10:24:27PM 2 points [-]

Yes. It's also slightly gray to post quotes from other prominent Lesswrongians.

When did this rule come about? As recently as six months ago it was considered normal to quote EY as long as it wasn't from LW.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 06 October 2012 06:15:58AM 2 points [-]

I figured the intent of the rule was "don't turn quotes threads into LW ingroup circlejerks", so the idea's to not do any quotes from e.g. the people in the "Top contributors" sidebar, no matter where they showed up. Do other people have other interpretations for the rule?

Comment author: thomblake 05 October 2012 02:05:47PM 2 points [-]

I'm surprised by this. I never noticed this "considered normal".

When did this rule come about?

I'm pretty sure gray areas aren't rules. The actual non-gray rule is listed in the OP.

Comment author: DaFranker 04 October 2012 06:05:08PM 1 point [-]

Hmm. So we're weighing badass-ness (as in wedrifid's comment (sister to this one)) against the "don't post quotes that are already part of the general LessWrong gestalt" (in whatever capacity that exists) valuation, in such cases?

Comment author: [deleted] 04 October 2012 06:22:14PM *  0 points [-]

The only truly lost cause is that which has been abandoned / Being able to accept defeat is part of winning / But if I must die, it is better to die fighting

-Mägo de Oz

Comment author: wedrifid 04 October 2012 07:35:02PM *  8 points [-]

The only truly lost cause is that which has been abandoned

Not only is this false, I would make the counter claim "There can be causes that have been abandoned that are less 'lost' than other causes that have not been abandoned."

Let's contrive an example: If everyone abandoned the cause 'prevent global warming over the time scale of 30 years' it would still be less of a lost cause than the cause "raise this child with faith in God such that she is accepted into eternal life in heaven" even though there may be several people diligently and actively working toward said cause.

As a rule of thumb, the word "Truly" in a claim constitutes the announcement "This claim probably relies on No True Scottsman".

Comment author: [deleted] 04 October 2012 09:21:20PM *  0 points [-]

Let's contrive an example: If everyone abandoned the cause 'prevent global warming over the time scale of 30 years' it would still be less of a lost cause than the cause "raise this child with faith in God such that she is accepted into eternal life in heaven" even though there may be several people diligently and actively working toward said cause.

First, you haven't supported your first statement at all - if everyone stopped trying to prevent global warming, what is the probability of successfully preventing global warming? Global warming could be averted by events such as a supervolcano or comet impact, but "preventing global warming" is a subgoal of "preserve the environment" or "reduce existential risk" so such disasters would not really count as accomplishing the task.

Second, if your mission is to raise a child that is accepted into heaven, it could be successful if somebody creates an AI which simulates the Christian God and uploads dead people into simulated realities in engineered basement universes or something.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 October 2012 10:05:27PM *  1 point [-]

A general rebuttal: Having a misunderstanding of the territory may cause you to formulate a goal that cannot be realized. However, a rational agent may well work to maximize his utility by approximating the resolution of the goal - decreasing the distance as much as possible between the territory and the goal-state. Not working towards the goal does not maximize utility.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 October 2012 07:06:19PM 1 point [-]

Utility functions aren't necessarily monotonic.

Comment author: chaosmosis 10 October 2012 07:26:55PM 0 points [-]

Something now appears to you as an error which you used to love as a truth, or as a probability. You cast this opinion aside and imagine that your reason has thereby gained a victory. But perhaps that error was as necessary for you then - for the old "you" (you are always another person) - as all your current "truths" : that "error" being a skin as it were which concealed and veiled from you much that you were not yet permitted to see. Your new life and not your reason has killed that opinion for you: you do not need it any longer, and now it breaks down of its own accord and the irrationality crawls out of it as a worm into the light. When we criticize something it is not something arbitrary and impersonal, it is, at least very often, a proof that there are lively, active forces in us which are growing and need to shed a skin. We deny, and must deny, because something in us wants to live and affirm itself, something which we perhaps do not as yet know or do not as yet see! There is so much in favour of criticism.

Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Comment author: DSimon 05 October 2012 03:19:44AM *  0 points [-]

[The people of my kingdom] rely on me. I can't imagine what might happen to them if I was gone. But after my brush with death at the hands of the Lich, I realized something: I'm not going to live forever, Finn. I would if I could. But modern science just isn't there yet. So I engineered a replacement who can live forever.

-- Princess Bubblegum

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 October 2012 10:44:37AM 11 points [-]

The graveyards are full of indispensable people.

Attributed to Charles De Gaulle.