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Rationality Quotes November 2012

6 [deleted] 06 November 2012 10:38PM

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  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB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 (898)

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 November 2012 04:03:56AM *  61 points [-]

On the error of failing to appreciate your opponents' three-dimensionality:

They had cliche answers but only to their self-created straw-men. To exaggerate only slightly, they had never talked to anyone who really believed, and had thought deeply about, views drastically different from their own. As a result, when they heard real arguments instead of caricatures, they had no answers, only amazement that such views could be expressed by someone who had the external characteristics of being a member of the intellectual community, and that such views could be defended with apparent cogency. Never have I been more impressed with the advice I once received: "You cannot be sure that you are right unless you understand the arguments against your views better than your opponents do."

Source: Milton Friedman, "Schools at Chicago," from The Indispensable Milton Friedman

H/T David Henderson at EconLog

Note: The final sentence of the passage, as presented by Henderson, is missing closing quotation marks. I have added them.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 06 November 2012 02:59:40PM 38 points [-]

Let me differentiate between scientific method and the neurology of the individual scientist. Scientific method has always depended on feedback [or flip-flopping as the Tsarists call it]; I therefore consider it the highest form of group intelligence thus far evolved on this backward planet. The individual scientist seems a different animal entirely. The ones I've met seem as passionate, and hence as egotistic and prejudiced, as painters, ballerinas or even, God save the mark, novelists. My hope lies in the feedback system itself, not in any alleged saintliness of the individuals in the system.

Robert Anton Wilson

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 November 2012 05:25:58AM *  32 points [-]

Therefore, the first and most important duty of philosophy is to test impressions, choosing between them and only deploying those that have passed the test. You know how, with money--an area where we believe our interest to be at stake--we have developed the art of assaying, and considerable ingenuity has gone into developing a way to test if coins are counterfeit, involving our senses of sight, smell, hearing, and touch. The assayer will let the denarius drop and listen intently to its ring; and he is not satisfied to listen just once: after repeated listenings he practically acquires a musician's subtle ear. It is a measure of the effort we are prepared to expend to guard against deception when accuracy is at a premium.

When it comes to our poor mind, however, we can't be bothered; we are satisfied accepting any and all impressions, because here the loss we suffer is not obvious. If you want to know just how little concerned you are about things good and bad, and how serious about things indifferent, compare your attitude to going blind with your attitude about being mentally in the dark. You will realize, I think, how inappropriate your values really are.

Epictetus, Discourses I.20.7-12 (pages 51-52 of this edition) (original Greek, with alternate translations at the link)

Edited to correct a typo.

Comment author: RobinZ 02 November 2012 06:17:01AM 10 points [-]

It is somewhat amazing to me that there are people who much less concerned about their ability to recognize false reasoning than their ability to recognize counterfeit currency. It seems pathetically obvious to me that sloppiness in the former, meta level would tend to be expensive at the latter, object level - for example, you end up with people placing their trust in tools like iodine pens to detect counterfeit notes when almost no evidence exists that such a measure is effective.

Comment author: ZoneSeek 08 November 2012 01:34:46PM 7 points [-]

Currency is binary, either genuine or counterfeit. Ideas are on a continuum, some less wrong than others. Generally, bad ideas are dangerous because there's some truth or utility to them; few people are seduced by palpable nonsense. Parsing mixed ideas is a big part of rationality, and it's harder than spotting fake money.

Comment author: robertskmiles 10 November 2012 06:09:22PM *  4 points [-]

A technicality: Officially, currency is binary, but in practice that's not the case. Fake currency that is convincing still has value. A fake dollar bill with a 50% probability of going un-noticed is in practice worth 50 cents (ignoring social consequences of passing off fake money). Fake currency with 100% convincingness is 100% as valuable as real currency (until you make enough to cause inflation).

Comment author: MugaSofer 10 November 2012 06:55:04PM 5 points [-]

ignoring social consequences of passing off fake money


Comment author: VincentYu 11 November 2012 01:45:03PM *  29 points [-]

Often a person uses some folk proverb to explain a behavioral event even though, on an earlier occasion, this same person used a directly contradictory folk proverb to explain the same type of event. For example, most of us have heard or said, “look before you leap.” Now there’s a useful, straightforward bit of behavioral advice—except that I vaguely remember admonishing on occasion, “he who hesitates is lost.” And “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a pretty clear prediction of an emotional reaction to environmental events. But then what about “out of sight, out of mind”? And if “haste makes waste,” why do we sometimes hear that “time waits for no man”? How could the saying “two heads are better than one” not be true? Except that “too many cooks spoil the broth.” If I think “it’s better to be safe than sorry,” why do I also believe “nothing ventured, nothing gained”? And if “opposites attract,” why do “birds of a feather flock together”? I have counseled many students to “never to put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” But I hope my last advisee has never heard me say this, because I just told him, “cross that bridge when you come to it.”

The enormous appeal of clichés like these is that, taken together as implicit “explanations” of behavior, they cannot be refuted. No matter what happens, one of these explanations will be cited to cover it. No wonder we all think we are such excellent judges of human behavior and personality. We have an explanation for anything and everything that happens. Folk wisdom is cowardly in the sense that it takes no risk that it might be refuted.

Keith E. Stanovich, How to Think Straight About Psychology, 10th ed. (2013), 14.

ETA: Should have included the subsequent paragraph:

That folk wisdom is “after the fact” wisdom, and that it actually is useless in a truly predictive sense, is why sociologist Duncan Watts titled one of his books: Everything Is Obvious—Once You Know the Answer (2011). Watts discusses a classic paper by Lazarsfeld (1949) in which, over 60 years ago, he was dealing with the common criticism that “social science doesn’t tell us anything that we don’t already know.” Lazarsfeld listed a series of findings from a massive survey of 600,000 soldiers who had served during World War II; for example, that men from rural backgrounds were in better spirits during their time of service than soldiers from city backgrounds. People tend to find all of the survey results to be pretty obvious. In this example, for instance, people tend to think it obvious that rural men would have been used to harsher physical conditions and thus would have adapted better to the conditions of military life. It is likewise with all of the other findings—people find them pretty obvious. Lazarsfeld then reveals his punchline: All of the findings were the opposite of what was originally stated. For example, it was actually the case that men from city backgrounds were in better spirits during their time of service than soldiers from rural backgrounds. The last part of the learning exercise is for people to realize how easily they would have explained just the opposite finding. In the case of the actual outcome, people tend to explain it (when told of it first) by saying that they expected it because city men are used to working in crowded conditions and under hierarchical authority. They never realize how easily they would have concocted an explanation for exactly the opposite finding.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 16 November 2012 07:15:10PM 2 points [-]

... “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a pretty clear prediction of an emotional reaction to environmental events. But then what about “out of sight, out of mind”?

These aren't exactly opposed - 'out of sight, out of mind' is generally applied to things and problems, not, say, warm relationships.

Some of the others aren't exactly opposed either - I've generally heard not crossing a bridge before you get to it referring to trying to solve a problem you anticipate before it's possible to actually start solving the problem.

Comment author: DaFranker 16 November 2012 07:37:42PM 4 points [-]

'out of sight, out of mind' is generally applied to things and problems, not, say, warm relationships.

Really? I've seen it used twice for non-relationship contexts, but too many times to care to count (on the order of 50-80) in the context of long-distance relationships, usually as a warning that a couple should not hope to remain steady and trust eachother if they become far apart for a long period of time (months or more) for the first time since entering a relationship.

In fiction, this either turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy or becomes the whole reason the main character can complete the main quest.

In reality, the causal influence doesn't seem to be there, but anecdotally I observe that the drifting-apart usually happens regardless of whether any such prediction was made. Knowledge of this leads a significant fraction of couples to break-up preemptively when they're about to enter such a situation.

Comment author: James_Miller 02 November 2012 05:43:50PM 60 points [-]

A Bet is a Tax on Bullshit

Alex Tabarrok

Comment author: beoShaffer 12 November 2012 05:17:09AM 15 points [-]

I've never heard more different explanations for anything parents tell kids than why they shouldn't swear. Every parent I know forbids their children to swear, and yet no two of them have the same justification. It's clear most start with not wanting kids to swear, then make up the reason afterward.

-Paul Graham in The Lies We Tell Kids

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 15 November 2012 03:02:49PM 4 points [-]

This sounds like a challenge. Would you prefer your children to not swear; and if yes, why?

My reasoning would be that I want my children to be successful (for both altruistic and selfish reasons), and I believe that a habit of swearing is on average harmful to social skills.

Disclaimer: There are situations where swearing is the right thing to do, so it would be optimal to swear exactly in these situations. But it would be difficult for a child to determine these situations precisely; and from the simple strategies, "never swear" (which often develops towards "don't swear in presence of adult people or someone who would inform them") seems very good.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 23 November 2012 08:43:29PM 8 points [-]

I like to be around people who don't constantly emphasize their every word, making it hard to tell when something is actually important. Since swearing is a verbal marker of importance, its casual overuse is like shouting all the time; it's very wearying. And, lest I be accused of rationalising, I do not only apply this to children, but have also asked my wife to cut back on swearing.

As a side note, Americans are very loud, both in the literal sense of putting more decibels behind their voices, and in their over-reliance on swearing. I think you've fallen into the bad equilibrium that comes about when everyone has an incentive to be a little louder than the next guy, and there's no cost to being so.

Comment author: Username 28 November 2012 07:16:03AM 3 points [-]

I like to be around people who don't constantly emphasize their every word, making it hard to tell when something is actually important. Since swearing is a verbal marker of importance, its casual overuse is like shouting all the time; it's very wearying. And, lest I be accused of rationalising, I do not only apply this to children, but have also asked my wife to cut back on swearing.

Thank you for this. I've been wondering reflectively why I've been swearing more frequently lately, and I just realized that it's to make sure my voice is heard. I'll try to attack the root of this and instead get my attention-validation from having good things to say rather than saying them most crassly.

Comment author: Nornagest 23 November 2012 09:20:30PM *  4 points [-]

Would you prefer your children to not swear; and if yes, why?

I'm almost sure this is mainly a status thing. Frequent swearing is perceived as crass, a lower-class practice, and so aspirational parents encourage their children not to. This intent then proceeds to backfire when children develop their own social networks: status relations among children and young teenagers are quite different from adult ones, and swearing in this context is often a marker of independence and perceived maturity. This gradually unwinds during the teenage years as swearing in the presence of adults becomes more socially acceptable and adult-style status relations start to assert themselves.

The only thing that confuses me about this model is the lack of countersignaling, but perhaps children of that age can't reliably parse signaling at that level of indirection. Or maybe I just don't remember enough childhood social dynamics.

Comment author: DaFranker 15 November 2012 03:58:53PM 3 points [-]

Or you could, y'know, try to think of a better way.

That you know what a policy of punishing swearing develops into ("don't swear in presence of adult people or someone who would inform them") shows that you have the ability to think forwards into the consequences, but also hints at some sort of stopping, perhaps motivated (because hey, finding better solutions is hard).

Clearly, you also have the ability to reason a bit further: What sort of microsociety does the above behavior encourage once they get into high school, where the majority of their perceivable world is a miniature scheduled wildland?

When I was six and used swear words in front of my school principal (hey, when you spend half the day in the principal's office for the 13th time, you kinda get used to someone), he later brought it up with my parents (though I vaguely recall it wasn't in any negative manner). My parents immediately started reprimanding me, naturally, but he stopped them, and afterwards they changed strategies based on his advice and some insight they gained from reading more research and books on related topics.

I'm certainly glad they did, in retrospect, because in the twisted social environment that high schools are, a good swearing strategy can be extremely effective. I don't know how widely this'd work, YMMV and all that, but a "leave me alone" usually didn't get prospective bullies off my back. If I then followed up with a steady gaze and a "leave me the fuck alone" (yes, I know, but that's how 14-year-olds talked when I was there), now suddenly they'd grow much more cautious and start re-evaluating whether they should still try to play their little status game and get their cheap fun, when someone who rarely ever swears had just signaled to them that shit got serious.

All in all, "never swear" seems to me like it never actually works, and takes much more effort to attempt (by punishing every single instance of swearing that you can find, even though you know you can only find a small fraction of them) than other strategies like teaching "swearing gets less useful and powerful each time you use it, so if you always keep it as a reserve it'll be that much more effective".

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 16 November 2012 08:33:04AM 4 points [-]

Oh, I was not specific enough. What I wanted to write is that a habit of swearing is harmful to your social skills after you leave the school. Imagine a person at a job interview saying: "Yeah, I know the fucking Java, but NetBeans is gay, and if you ain't doing unit tests like all the time, you are seriously retarded, man." ;-)

Probably no one would do this intentionally, but the problem is, if you get a habit of swearing, then sometimes a word or two slips through, often unnoticed (by you; but your audience is shocked). At some moment this happened to me (no, not at a job interview, at least I think so), and after getting a feedback I decided to be extra careful. Which I would want to teach my children. I was very lucky to get that feedback, because most people assume that others are well aware of all the words they use.

Comment author: lukeprog 12 November 2012 03:39:32AM 15 points [-]

Slogans like “practice random acts of kindness” feel good and are easy to put into practice. But if we don’t take our activism more seriously than that, our motive is probably a desire to feel good about ourselves, to help ourselves or those close to us, or to act out our self-identity. The endpoint of authentic compassion is a desire to do the most good that one can, to be as effective as possible in creating a world with less suffering and destruction and more joy. Figuring out how we can do the most good takes careful thought over a long period of time, and it means moving into new and possibly uncomfortable areas of advocacy. But the importance of taking our activism seriously and approaching it from this utilitarian perspective cannot be overstated. It will mean a difference between life and death, between happiness and suffering, for thousands of people, for thousands of acres of the ecosystem, and for tens of thousands of animals.

Nick Cooney, Change of Heart

Comment author: cata 02 November 2012 06:56:18PM *  38 points [-]

In which Winnie-the-Pooh tests a hypothesis about the animal tracks that he is following through the woods:

“Wait a moment,” said Winnie-the-Pooh, holding up his paw.

He sat down and thought, in the most thoughtful way he could think. Then he fitted his paw into one of the Tracks…and then he scratched his nose twice, and stood up.

“Yes,” said Winnie-the Pooh.

“I see now,” said Winnie-the-Pooh.

“I have been Foolish and Deluded,” said he, “and I am a Bear of No Brain at All.”

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 15 November 2012 05:12:14AM 12 points [-]

It is neither desirable nor any longer effective to try bullying people into accepting the authority of science. Instead, all members of the educated public can be invited to participate in science, in order to experience the true nature and value of scientific inquiry. This does not mean listening to professional scientists tell condescending stories about how they have discovered wonderful things, which you should believe for reasons that are too difficult for you to understand in real depth and detail. Doing science ought to mean asking your own questions, making your own investigations, and drawing your own conclusions for your own reasons. Of course it will not be feasible to advance the "cutting edge" or "frontier" of modern science without first acquiring years of specialist training. However, the cutting edge is not all there is to science, nor is it necessarily the most valuable part of science. Questions that have been answered are still worth asking again, so you can understand for yourself how to arrive at the standard answers, and possibly discover new answers or recover forgotten answers that are valuable.

Hasok Chang, Inventing Temperature: Measurement and Scientific Progress

Comment author: taelor 02 November 2012 02:47:46AM *  12 points [-]

If we see in each generation the conflict of the future against the past, the fight of what might be called progressive versus reactionary, we shall find ourselves organizing the historical story upon what is really an unfolding principle of progress, and our eyes will be fixed upon certain people who appear as the special agencies of that progress. [...] But if we see in each generation a clash of wills out of which there emerges something that probably no man ever willed, our minds become concentrated upon the process that produced such an unpredictable issue, and we are more open for an intensive study of the motions and interactions that underlie historical change. [...] The process of the historical transition will then be recognized to be unlike what the whig historian seems to assume – much less like the procedure of a logical argument and perhaps much more like the method by which a man can be imagined to work his way out of a "complex". It is a process which moves by mediations and those mediations may be provided by anything in the world – by men’s sins or misapprehensions or by what we can only call fortunate conjunctures. Very strange bridges are used to make the passage from one state of things to another; we may lose sight of them in our surveys of general history, but their discovery is the glory of historical research. History is not the study of origins; rather it is the analysis of all the mediations by which the past was turned into our present.

-- Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History

Comment author: vallinder 06 November 2012 09:08:56AM 10 points [-]

The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us.

Paul Valéry

Comment author: [deleted] 04 November 2012 08:37:22AM *  41 points [-]

Diogenes was knee deep in a stream washing vegetables. Coming up to him, Plato said, "My good Diogenes, if you knew how to pay court to kings, you wouldn't have to wash vegetables."

"And," replied Diogenes, "If you knew how to wash vegetables, you wouldn't have to pay court to kings."

Teachings of Diogenes

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 06 November 2012 11:43:50PM 31 points [-]

Another from the same site — on free will:

"It's my fate to steal," pleaded the man who had been caught red-handed by Diogenes.

"Then it is also your fate to be beaten," said Diogenes, hitting him across the head with his staff.

Comment author: gwern 07 November 2012 02:26:04AM *  29 points [-]

The real irony of the story is a historical context I think most readers these days miss: that when the real Plato paid court to a 'king' - Dionysius II, tyrant of Syracuse - it went very poorly. Plato was arrested, and barely managed to arrange his freedom & return to Athens.


And supposedly Plato was sold into slavery by the previous tyrant.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 07 November 2012 05:22:04AM 7 points [-]

This works until the king sends armed men to confiscate your vegetables.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 November 2012 05:28:43AM 5 points [-]

"Once, Chuang Tzu was fishing the P’u River when the King of Ch’u sent two of his ministers to announce that he wished to entrust to Chuang Tzu the care of his entire domain.

Chuang Tzu held his fishing pole and, without turning his head, said: 'I have heard that Ch’u possesses a sacred tortoise which has been dead for three thousand years and which the king keeps wrapped up in a box and stored in his ancestral temple. Is this tortoise better off dead and with its bones venerated, or would it be better off alive with its tail dragging in the mud?'

'It would be better off alive and dragging its tail in the mud,' the two ministers replied.

'Then go away!' said Chuang Tzu, 'and I will drag my tail in the mud!'"

Comment author: [deleted] 02 November 2012 12:57:17AM 40 points [-]

People say "think outside the box," as if the box wasn't a fucking great idea.

Sean Thomason

Comment author: FiftyTwo 02 November 2012 04:23:44PM 14 points [-]

"Critically consider the benefits and drawbacks of being in the box?"

Comment author: [deleted] 02 November 2012 04:42:24PM 9 points [-]

Everything is always better with fucking.

Comment author: Randy_M 02 November 2012 03:24:56PM 4 points [-]

I think people tell you that when you aren't as good at the inside the box things as your competitors and need to take a risk to set yourself apart. Thinking outside the box is a gamble, which may be the only shot for someone in a losing position. Of course, that's from a business perspective, where I've tended to hear it more. For a science/truth seeking perspective I'd say "Don't forget to look at the box from outside from time to time."

Comment author: roland 13 November 2012 07:06:12PM 9 points [-]

By the time one is consciously aware of something, the brain has already done the work.

--Michael Gazzaniga

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 November 2012 04:04:23AM *  9 points [-]

Besides being fascinating in its own right, such exotic finds are a good test of astronomers’ theories about how planets form. In PH1’s case, its four stars are actually a pair of binaries. Conventional planetary-formation theory holds that worlds condense out of a disc of dust and rubble early in a star’s life. But in this case, “the second binary would sit right at the edge of the protoplanetary disc,” notes Dr Lintott. Computer models suggest that the gravitational influence of the second pair of stars ought to disrupt the disc and prevent the formation of planets. Reality, in this case, disagrees with the models—and that is how science advances.

Source: The Economist's "Babbage" blog, in a post on exoplanets

(Of course, science advances when reality agrees with models too.)

Edited to remove "emphasis added" from the quotation, which I had added originally but have since decided against.

Comment author: NexH 02 November 2012 08:17:31AM 10 points [-]

As we learn more and more about the solar system, the reality-check that our theories have to pass becomes more and more stringent. This is one reason why scientists have a habit of opening up old questions that everybody assumed were settled long ago, and deciding that they weren’t. It doesn’t mean the scientists are incompetent: it demonstrates their willingness to contemplate new evidence and re-examine old conclusion in its light. Science certainly does not claim to get things right, but it has a good record of ruling out ways to get things wrong.

-- The Science of Discworld, Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen

Comment author: DanArmak 02 November 2012 04:07:08PM 4 points [-]

Science certainly does not claim to get things right

Yes, yes it does. Otherwise, what would be the point? There's an infinity of ways to get things wrong; you don't want to spend your life catalouging them.

Comment author: NexH 02 November 2012 05:29:42PM 2 points [-]

The word "right" (without the use of modifiers such as “exactly”) might sound too weak and easily satisfiable, but I think the idea is the following: Theories that may seem complete and robust today might be found to be incomplete or wrong in the future. You cannot claim certainty in them, although you can probably claim high confidence under certain conditions.

Comment author: DanArmak 02 November 2012 05:33:00PM 4 points [-]

You can't ever claim absolute certainty in anything. There's no 1.0 probability in predictions about the universe. But science can create claims of being "right" as strong and justified as any other known process. Saying "science doesn't claim to get things right" is false, unless you go on to say "nothing can (correctly) claim to get things right, it's epistemologically impossible".

Comment author: Alejandro1 03 November 2012 02:54:30AM 22 points [-]

In a man whose reasoning powers are good, fallacious arguments are evidence of bias.

--Bertrand Russell, "Philosophy's Ulterior Motives". (The context is Descartes' philosophy and the obviously fallacious proofs he offers of the existence of God and the external world.)

Comment author: FiftyTwo 07 November 2012 11:04:03PM 6 points [-]

fallacious arguments are evidence of bias

Or laziness, or lack of time, or honest error. Multiple causes can have the same effect, and hanlons razor comes into play/

Comment author: Nominull 03 November 2012 06:50:23AM 2 points [-]

I think men whose reasoning powers are that good are few and far between. (Women too, I'm not trying to be some sort of sexist here.)

Comment author: katydee 07 November 2012 09:08:04AM 4 points [-]

I've encountered the phenomena described in this quote and used it as a signal in the game of Mafia. It's quite effective but I think has limited general application.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 06 November 2012 11:27:06PM *  60 points [-]

If any idiot ever tells you that life would be meaningless without death, Hyperion corporation recommends killing them.

--Borderlands 2

Comment author: simplicio 10 November 2012 09:04:46PM *  22 points [-]

If you don't think your life is more important than someone else's, sign your organ donor card and kill yourself.

(House, MD deals with moral grandstanding)

Comment author: [deleted] 10 November 2012 11:26:38PM 4 points [-]

Is the expected number of people you'd save by doing that actually greater than 1?

Comment author: [deleted] 16 November 2012 04:58:38AM 7 points [-]

I checked the numbers on this recently. An average heart transplant costs about 1.1 million dollars, and has a mean survival time of about five years (at a very poor QoL). I think there's a pretty strong case that they shouldn't be done at all.

Kidney transplants have a much better RoI, but they don't require the death of the donor.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 November 2012 06:34:19PM 2 points [-]

An average heart transplant costs about 1.1 million dollars

Does that include the cost of finding a donor?

Comment author: [deleted] 17 November 2012 04:15:29AM 2 points [-]

There are other estimates available on the web, but I worked off this one:


Cost of finding a donor is under 'procurement'. As far as I can tell, the immunosuppressant entry only covers the first year of post-transplant care, so factoring in a five-year mean survival time gives the $1.1 million figure I mentioned.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 November 2012 08:10:04AM 2 points [-]

$1.1M was at least an order of magnitude larger than my guesstimate for the price of the transplant itself, so I wondered if that figure included something else. [follows link] OK, the figure for "physician during transplant" was indeed within an order of magnitude of what I expected, but hardly any of the other expenses had even occurred to me.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 15 November 2012 02:14:07AM 20 points [-]

As the philosopher David Schmidtz says, if your main goal is to show that your heart is in the right place, then your heart is not in the right place.

Jason Brennan, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 November 2012 07:55:40AM *  7 points [-]

What does Magritte mean when he says "This is not a pipe"? It sure looks like a pipe. But step back for a moment: what is the definition of the thing you are looking at? The thing you are looking at is not a pipe. The thing you are looking at is a picture. ... You see, if it were actually a pipe, you could stuff tobacco in it, smoke it, etc. But you cannot do anything like that with it. This is not a pipe. It's a picture.

We generally figure this out when we're growing up. You have a Teddy Bear. When you're a child, perhaps you very adorably treat Rupert as if he were "Bear: Subtype Stuffed". But that isn't really true! Rupert is not any kind of a bear at all, and has no actual connection to Ursus. In reality, the amusing childhood mistake is an inversion of the true state of affairs... Rupert is really a "Stuffed Toy: Subtype Bear".

Likewise, Magritte's treacherous pipe is not a "Pipe: Subtype Picture". Rather, it is a "Picture: Subtype Pipe".

Here's another fine example: consider trips to Rome. You can have an expensive trip to Rome, a long trip to Rome, a pious trip to Rome, etc. Some trips to Rome can be several of these at once. There are all sorts of trips to Rome: religious trips, business trips, sightseeing trips, etc. But what about "imaginary" trips to Rome. You don't need a passport for those, do you? That's because an imaginary trip to Rome is not a kind of a trip to Rome! It's a kind of flight of fancy, one about Rome as opposed to being about something else.


Comment author: [deleted] 24 November 2012 11:20:51AM 2 points [-]

has no actual connection to Ursus

“It was designed to look like one” does sound like a connection to me.

Comment author: roland 16 November 2012 06:08:58PM 18 points [-]

In the way that skepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the skeptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many ways consonant with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped.

--Carl Sagan

Comment author: Stabilizer 04 November 2012 07:09:05AM *  17 points [-]

"Look,” [Deutsch] went on, “I can’t stop you from writing an article about a weird English guy who thinks there are parallel universes. But I think that style of thinking is kind of a put-down to the reader. It’s almost like saying, If you’re not weird in these ways, you’ve got no hope as a creative thinker. That’s not true. The weirdness is only superficial."

New Yorker article on David Deutsch

(I saw this on Scott Aaronson's blog)

Comment author: cmessinger 27 November 2012 10:31:45PM 6 points [-]

"His mother had often said, When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action. She had emphasized the corollary of this axiom even more vehemently: when you desired a consequence you had damned well better take the action that would create it." - Lois McMaster Bujold, writer (b. 1949)

Comment author: [deleted] 24 November 2012 03:18:50AM 6 points [-]

Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.


I need help on this: I'm torn between finding this argument to be preposterous, and being unable to deny the premises or call the argument invalid.

Comment author: Alicorn 24 November 2012 03:42:03AM 9 points [-]

You are allowed to have preferences about things that don't coexist with you.

Comment author: cousin_it 24 November 2012 03:24:44AM *  6 points [-]

I can think of two possible things Epicurus could have meant, one correct and the other incorrect. We don't need to fear the experience of being dead, because there's no experience of being dead. But if we care about saving wild geese, then we should avoid dying, because our dying leads to fewer saved geese.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 November 2012 03:25:27AM 3 points [-]

It's pretty much correct, as far as I can see. One should avoid death because s/he values life, rather than cling to life because s/he fears death.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 30 November 2012 06:15:57PM 2 points [-]

At the very least, even assuming there's no reason to worry about your own death, you would probably still care about the deaths of others -- at least your friends and family. Given a group of people who mutually value having each other in their lives, death should still be a subject of enormous concern. I don't grant the premise that we shouldn't be concerned about death even for ourselves, but I don't think that premise is enough to justify Epicurus's attitude here.

Of course, for most of human history, there genuinely wasn't much of anything that could be done about death, and there's value in recognizing that death doesn't render life meaningless, even if it's a tragedy. But today, when there actually are solutions on the table, this quote sounds more in complacency than acceptance. Upvoted though, because it points to an important cluster of questions that's worth untangling.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 05 November 2012 11:56:48AM 24 points [-]

After all, the essential point in running a risk is that the returns justify it.

-Sennett Forell, Foundation and Empire

Comment author: BerryPick6 06 November 2012 03:08:10PM *  15 points [-]

Recognizing the startling resurgence in realism, Don Philahue (of The Don Philahue Show) invited a member of Realists Anonymous to bare his soul on television. After a brief introduction documenting the spread of realism, Philahue turned to his guest:

DP: What kinds of realism were you into, Hilary?

H: The whole bag, Don. I was a realist about logical terms, abstract entities, theoretical postulates - you name it.

DP: And causality, what about causality?

H: That too, Don. (Audience gasps.)

DP: I'm going to press you here, Hilary. Did you at any time accept moral realism?

H: (staring at feet): Yes.

DP: What effect did all this realism have on your life?

H: I would spend hours aimlessly wandering the streets, kicking large stones and shouting, "I refute you thus!" It's embarrassing to recall.

DP: There was worse, wasn't there Hilary?

H: I can't deny it, don. (Audience gasps.) Instead of going to work I would sit at home fondling ashtrays and reading voraciously about converging scientific theories. I kept a copy of "Hitler: A Study in Tyranny" hidden in the icebox, and when no one was around I would take it our and chant "The Nazis were bad. The Nazis were really bad."

-- A dialogue by Philip Gasper

Comment author: Alejandro1 07 November 2012 12:41:57AM 2 points [-]

Hilarious. It reminded me of Dennett's "Superficiality vs. Hysterical Realism" (which is much more serious and academic, though).

Comment author: Alejandro1 07 November 2012 06:20:08AM 27 points [-]

Breaking: To surprise of pundits, numbers continue to be best system for determining which of two things is larger.


Comment author: RichardKennaway 23 November 2012 10:53:06AM 5 points [-]

Romana: You mean you didn't believe his story?

The Doctor: No.

Romana: But he had such an honest face.

The Doctor: Romana, you can't be a successful crook with a dishonest face, can you?

Doctor Who

Comment author: Bruno_Coelho 19 November 2012 09:38:36PM 5 points [-]

The most astonishingly incredible coincidence imaginable would be the complete absence of all coincidences.

-- John Allen Paulos(from Beyond Numeracy)

Comment author: NihilCredo 04 November 2012 07:37:34PM 13 points [-]

The great thing about reality is that eventually you hit it.

Source: Andrew Sullivan in an otherwise fairly bland political post

Comment author: shminux 06 November 2012 11:52:40PM 23 points [-]

More often than not it hits you first.

Comment author: MTGandP 02 November 2012 02:11:36AM *  24 points [-]

You can't distinguish your group by doing things that are rational and believing things that are true. If you want to set yourself apart from other people you have to do things that are arbitrary and believe things that are false.

Paul Graham

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 November 2012 12:29:25PM 26 points [-]


I mean, grain of truth, yes, literally true, no. You can shock the hell out of people and distinguish yourselves quite well by doing rational things.

Comment author: DanArmak 02 November 2012 04:02:02PM *  12 points [-]

You can shock many people by doing some rational things - those preselected for not being done by most people already, and also those that are explicitly counter to important irrational things that many people do. And these specific rational actions have an availability bias. Conversely, once something is "normal", it's not a highly available mental example of "especially rational".

But can you really shock many people by doing a randomly selected rational thing? By giving the right answer on a test? By choosing the deal that gains you the most money? By choosing a profession, a friend, a place to live, based on expectations of happiness? By choosing medical treatment based on scientific evidence? By doing something because it's fun?

It might shock people that the choice is in fact rational; they may disagree that the deal you chose will earn you the most money. But when people agree about predictions, why would they be shocked by most rational choices? I think a random (but doable) irrational act is much more shocking than a random rational one.

Comment author: AlanCrowe 02 November 2012 01:14:14PM 20 points [-]

Paul Krugman says something similar

(ii) Adopt the stance of rebel: There is nothing that plays worse in our culture than seeming to be the stodgy defender of old ideas, no matter how true those ideas may be. Luckily, at this point the orthodoxy of the academic economists is very much a minority position among intellectuals in general; one can seem to be a courageous maverick, boldly challenging the powers that be, by reciting the contents of a standard textbook. It has worked for me!

(Very close to the end of Ricardo's Difficult Idea] )

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 November 2012 01:43:53PM 6 points [-]

Well, it is similar insofar as "reciting the contents of a standard textbook" and "doing rational things" are similar.
Mileage varies.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 November 2012 10:40:07PM 6 points [-]

Krugman's talking about Ricardo's Law in particular, very basic, very old, not disputed so far as I know, and not known to the general populace.

Comment author: MTGandP 02 November 2012 08:22:11PM 4 points [-]

Sometimes, yes, but only along certain dimensions. If your group performs rituals, they can't be rational because then they will be the same as other groups'. For example, the Jewish practice of eating flat bread on Passover is arbitrary [1], but it only works because it is arbitrary.

[1] It's not entirely arbitrary if you believe the story of Passover, but that's a somewhat different point. Actually, it may be interesting to examine whether it's rational in that case—I can see arguments for both sides.

Comment author: sketerpot 21 November 2012 07:06:23PM *  2 points [-]

Sure, but that's a lot more difficult. There are so many arbitrary things to do, and wrong things to believe, that they're going to be the default because they're easy.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 November 2012 02:44:03AM 24 points [-]

There is only so much genuine originality in anyone. After that, being uncommon means indulging in pointless eccentricities or clever attempts to mock or shock.

Thomas Sowell

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 November 2012 02:00:09PM 5 points [-]
Comment author: MTGandP 02 November 2012 08:18:19PM 2 points [-]

I think it's still worth leaving up, because the previous post left off the second half of the quote. The quote I posted is more comprehensive.

Comment author: arborealhominid 19 November 2012 01:49:02AM 18 points [-]

If I have a Grand Unified Theory Of Everything, it's this: I believe that people always do things that make sense to them. Hard as it is to believe with all the hurting out there, almost nobody hurts others just to be a jerk. So if you want to change human behavior on a grand scale, you can't tell people "stop being a jerk." You have to dissect and then recreate their models of the world until being a jerk doesn't make sense.

Cliff Pervocracy

Comment author: tgb 19 November 2012 03:10:31AM 7 points [-]

While I think there's some truth to this, it's easy for me to come up with examples of things I've done that never made sense to myself.

Comment author: chaosmosis 12 November 2012 03:17:08AM *  11 points [-]

'At my funeral, I don't want people to wear bright colors and smile and laugh fondly at the wonderful memories of the precious time we spent together on Earth. Tell them to wear black and cover their faces with ash. Tell them to weep bitter tears and rail angrily against the cruel God who took me at so young an age. Do this for me, my beloved.'


I find both the ironic and straightforward meaning of this quote to be meaningful.

Comment author: gwern 10 November 2012 06:53:11PM 11 points [-]

If any man pretend to me that God hath spoken to him … immediately, and I make doubt of it, I cannot easily perceive what argument he can produce to oblige me to believe it .. For to say that God … hath spoken to him in a dream is no more than to say he dreamed that God spoke to him.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter 13

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 12 November 2012 05:53:54PM 9 points [-]

But if my (not a mathematician) friend says that god spoke to him in a dream, and gave him a proof of the Goldbach conjecture, and he has the proof and it's valid, then I would think something more interesting than a typical dream was going on.

Comment author: gwern 12 November 2012 06:05:18PM 3 points [-]

But then the dream is doing zero work: your friend could simply say God told him the proof of the conjecture, and your situation is the same - if the proof checks out then you need to compare base rate for gods delivering math proofs and your friend secretly having a hobby of being a mathematician and succeeding etc to see whether it changes your beliefs.

And delivering a mathematical proof is surely not what >99% of God's previous statements were doing.

Comment author: shminux 12 November 2012 08:49:37PM 3 points [-]

And delivering a mathematical proof is surely not what >99% of God's previous statements were doing.

How do you know? People mention "divine inspiration" quite frequently. The point is that the statement is untestable and thus irrelevant, not that it is most likely false.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 13 November 2012 02:16:40AM 2 points [-]

And delivering a mathematical proof is surely not what >99% of God's previous statements were doing.

Why is that relevant? To see the flaw in your reasoning replace "God" with "mathematician X" and notice that >99% of mathematician X's previous statements aren't delivering mathematics proofs either.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 November 2012 12:57:41AM 11 points [-]

One swallow does not make a summer, but one swallow does prove the existence of swallows.

Anzai & Simon

Comment author: [deleted] 02 November 2012 11:38:01AM 18 points [-]

An astronomer, a physicist and a mathematician are on a train in Scotland. The astronomer looks out of the window, sees a black sheep standing in a field, and remarks, "How odd. Scottish sheep are black." "No, no, no!" says the physicist. "Only some Scottish sheep are black." The mathematician rolls his eyes at his companions' muddled thinking and says, "In Scotland, there is at least one sheep, at least one side of which appears to be black from here."

(This version is from Wikipedia.)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 November 2012 01:14:18PM 21 points [-]

Previously approximated here.

I still habitually complete this joke with:

"Actually," says the stage magician, "we merely know that there exists something in Scotland which appears to be a sheep which is black on at least one side when viewed from this spot."

Though I'm now tempted to add:
"Hmph," snorts the cognitive psychologist. "Such presumption. An event occurred that we experienced as the perception of a black sheep, only one side of which was visible, standing on what we believed to be a field in Scotland."

Comment author: [deleted] 02 November 2012 03:11:48PM 13 points [-]

I've heard a version in which after the mathematician speaks, the shepherd yells “Snowy White [the name of the sheep]! Stop rolling in the mud!”

Comment author: Abd 02 November 2012 08:55:40PM 6 points [-]

Best version, in my snap judgment. The story, told this way, is about the different modes of thinking of astronomers, physicists, mathematicians, and shepherds. (and there are other variations about the approaches of stage magicians and cognitive psychologists, each of which has a characteristic interest. As a pure and careful thinker, the mathematician comes up with something similar to the practical approach of the stage magician, or the more-carefully-specified approach of the cognitive psychologist.)

But the shepherd is living in a different realm, very connected to reality, and comes up with something, from knowledge, not from thinking and careful analysis, that the sheep isn't black at all. The cognitive psychologist allowed for this, distinguishing the possibility of perceptual error, but still could not speak with authority about the sheep itself.

But this version doesn't mention the cognitive psychologist. The shepherd essentially confirms the conceptual space of the cognitive psychologist.

Comment author: DanArmak 02 November 2012 03:54:21PM *  6 points [-]

"Bah", says the thermodynamicist. "All I know is that your brain is in a configuration that makes you say you saw a black sheep a minute ago."

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 November 2012 04:21:15PM 12 points [-]

"Meh", says the trivialist. "Scottish sheep are black. Scottish sheep are white. Scottish sheep are black and white. Scottish sheep are purple octopuses. And I don't even need to look out the window."

Comment author: FiftyTwo 02 November 2012 04:26:05PM *  23 points [-]

While everyone else is arguing the pragmatist has googled "Scottish Sheep varieties"

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 November 2012 05:56:22PM 23 points [-]

And Robin Hanson sets up a prediction market in Scottish sheep colors.

Comment author: DaFranker 02 November 2012 06:08:18PM 5 points [-]

And Paul Graham is making money off of startups that try to profit from the recent boom in Scottish sheep color economies. Oh wait...

Comment author: DanArmak 02 November 2012 06:20:03PM 2 points [-]

Cloned white and black True ScotsSheep with lifetime color warranties are marketed, free shipping worldwide.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 November 2012 03:59:51PM 4 points [-]

Add in another scoffing thermodynamicist, and we can round out the joke with an infinite regress.

Comment author: BlazeOrangeDeer 10 November 2012 06:01:55PM 8 points [-]

And the biologist says, "guys, that's a dog"

Comment author: lukeprog 27 November 2012 06:00:09AM 4 points [-]

When I am speaking to people about rationality or AI, and they ask something incomprehensibly bizarre and incoherent, I am often tempted to give the reply that Charles Babbage gave to those who asked him whether a machine that was given bad data would produce the right answers anyway:

I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

But instead I say, "Yes, that's an important question..." and then I steel-man their question, or I replace it with a question on an entirely different subject that happens to share some of the words from their original question, and I answer that question instead.

Comment author: Unnamed 03 November 2012 09:03:43AM 10 points [-]

Chris Cillizza says that [...] the surge in the quantity of public polling available creates a confusing fog of numbers in which "partisans, who already live in a choose-your-own-political-reality world, can select the numbers that comply with their view of the race and pooh-pooh the data that suggest anything different."

That's true. But if you actually want to know what's happening in the race the increased poll volume makes it clearer not less clear. The sense that the polls are "all over the map" is the mistake. You need to think of each datapoint as having an associated probability distribution and then look at where they overlap. [...] The fact that we now have tons of polling that averages out to [a] conclusion means the scope for "sampling error" to throw us off is, at this point, tiny. One poll showing a lead of the current magnitude would leave us with a ton of uncertainty, but a bunch of polls makes the picture pretty clear.

Comment author: lukeprog 05 November 2012 08:08:07PM 14 points [-]

I am too much of a sceptic to deny the possibility of anything... but I don't see my way to your conclusion.

Thomas Huxley

Comment author: DSimon 02 November 2012 05:55:00AM *  14 points [-]

Remember, kids, the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.

-- Adam Savage

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 November 2012 12:29:52PM 11 points [-]

If this were true, the ancient Greeks would've had science.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 02 November 2012 09:25:49PM 25 points [-]

My impression was that it was the screwing around that was lacking.

Comment author: TsviBT 04 November 2012 04:06:07AM 13 points [-]

“It was, of course, a grand and impressive thing to do, to mistrust the obvious, and to pin one’s faith in things which could not be seen!”

-Galen, a Roman doctor/philosopher, on Asclepiades's unwillingness to admit that the kidneys processed urine - despite Galen demonstrating the function of the kidneys to Asclepiades by, well, cutting open a live animal and pointing to the urine flowing from its kidneys to its bladder (search the page for "ligatures" to find Galen's experiment described), among other things.

Comment author: thomblake 09 November 2012 04:16:26PM 5 points [-]

And in case it's not obvious to readers, the Greeks were huge fans of irony - the above quote should be read sarcastically.

Comment author: DSimon 02 November 2012 10:12:24PM 6 points [-]

Yes, in MythBusters context, sitting around talking about stuff doesn't qualify as screwing around. It is, at best, the thing you do to prepare for screwing around.

Comment author: Snowyowl 02 November 2012 01:57:23PM 12 points [-]

They came impressively close considering they didn't have any giant shoulders to stand on.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 November 2012 10:25:33AM 11 points [-]

Yep. If nothing of what Archimedes did counts as ‘science’, you're using an overly narrow definition IMO.

Comment author: Vaniver 03 November 2012 11:03:42PM 4 points [-]

They... did? If you want to make a distinction between Greek natural philosophy and modern science, which understands more about theories, hypotheses, and causality, and is rich enough to support an entire class of professional investigators into the natural world, then sure, the Greeks only had natural philosophy, and Savage is being too broad with his definition of 'science.' I think I side with Savage's approach of normalizing science- I would rather describe science as "deliberate curiosity" than something more rigorous and restrictive.

Comment author: NexH 02 November 2012 08:35:11AM 9 points [-]

Quote from Peter Watts' Blindsight.

About the prospects of a fight against a superintelligence:

Still, I could tell that Bates' presence was a comfort, to the Human members of the crew at least. If you have to go up unarmed against an angry T-rex with a four-digit IQ, it can't hurt to have a trained combat specialist at your side.

At the very least, she might be able to fashion a pointy stick from the branch of some convenient tree.

Comment author: Kawoomba 02 November 2012 09:52:21AM 2 points [-]

Great book, it's freely available here, in plain html.

Can you recommend similar novels?

It's risky, getting involved. Too many confounds. Every tool in the shed goes dull and rusty the moment you get entangled with the system you're observing. Still serviceable in a pinch, though.

Comment author: NexH 02 November 2012 05:08:13PM 5 points [-]

Can you recommend similar novels?

Unfortunately, I can’t: this kind of (strangely refreshing) cynicism is, in my limited experience, unique to Peter Watts, and the use of interesting “starfish aliens” seems to be quite rare.

There are, however, other short stories (not novels) of Peter Watts that have a somewhat similar mood , such as Ambassador, but you probably are already aware of them.

Comment author: Nisan 03 November 2012 06:34:57AM 16 points [-]

And then she said, "Ha ha ha, I figured out how to remove the closing quotation mark! From now on, the whole future is my story!

-Aristosophy. I like to think this is about the Robot's Rebellion.

Comment author: khafra 05 November 2012 12:12:52PM 15 points [-]

"Reality Injection Attack" would make a great name for a mathcore band.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 07 November 2012 02:46:50PM 15 points [-]


Comment author: RomeoStevens 10 November 2012 06:50:08AM 3 points [-]

well shit that didn't work."

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 November 2012 07:11:52AM 12 points [-]

On confirmation bias

If a man objects to truths that are all too evident, it is no easy task finding arguments that will change his mind. This is proof neither of his own strength nor of his teacher's weakness. When someone caught in an argument hardens to stone, there is just no more reasoning with them.

Epictetus, Discourses I.5.1-2 (page 15 of this edition) (original Greek, with alternate translations at the link)

Comment author: Nominull 02 November 2012 04:08:43PM 24 points [-]

A sound banker, alas, is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.

-John Maynard Keynes

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 07 November 2012 07:56:04AM *  18 points [-]

"Because they were hypocrites," Finkle-McGraw said, after igniting his calabash and shooting a few tremendous fountains of smoke into the air, "the Victorians were despised in the late twentieth century. Many of the persons who held such opinions were, of course, guilty of the most nefandous conduct themselves, and yet saw no paradox in holding such views because they were not hypocrites themselves-they took no moral stances and lived by none."

"So they were morally superior to the Victorians-" Major Napier said, still a bit snowed under. "-even though-in fact, because-they had no morals at all." There was a moment of silent, bewildered head-shaking around the copper table.

"We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy," Finkle-McGraw continued. "In the late-twentieth-century Weltanschauung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception-he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course, most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it's a spirit-is-willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing."

"That we occasionally violate our own stated moral code," Major Napier said, working it through, "does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code."

"Of course not," Finkle-McGraw said. "It's perfectly obvious, really. No one ever said that it was easy to hew to a strict code of conduct. Really, the difficulties involved-the missteps we make along the way are what make it interesting. The internal, and eternal, struggle, between our base impulses and the rigorous demands of our own moral system is quintessentially human. It is how we conduct ourselves in that struggle that determines how we may in time be judged by a higher power."

— Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

Comment author: [deleted] 12 November 2012 04:45:23AM 6 points [-]

I'm uncomfortable with Stephenson's take here* on hypocrisy because I think it neglects context. His implied analysis holds in the context of a homogeneous culture, but fails badly in a relatively heterogeneous one, and here's why:

In a heterogeneous/multicultural society, the moral stances you publically advocate signal a frame for others, who hold different values, to engage with you. They tell others about what topics to avoid in discussion, how to predict your behavior, and so on--generally, how to behave politely and get along with you.

In the heterogeneous society, the hypocrite is wasting other people's time, in forcing unnecessary behavioral accomodations on them.

*: It's possible that Stephenson was entirely aware of what I'm saying here, since he's describing only the semi-closed neo-Victorians, but those who quote him take the description at face value.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 November 2012 09:28:54AM 2 points [-]

I read that as a point against multicultural society.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 15 November 2012 03:40:28PM 5 points [-]

The word "multicultural" deserves a better analysis. What exactly is a "culture" (besides that for many people it is an applause light), which parts of culture should we preserve and which are free for optimization, whether we can measure a utility function of a culture and whether that function itself is culture-specific, whether cultures can be extrapolated, how much can human cultures be different, et cetera.

The important part is that we are speaking about human cultures, which puts some limit on how different they can be. We should not discuss them as if there is no such limit, as if an arbitrary set of values can be a culture, and each such set is automatically an applause light.

To the extent that humans from different cultures can share values, there can be common values even in the multicultural society. And there can be cross-cultural hypocrisy with regards to these common values.

In other words, we should not model humans from different cultures as incomprehensible aliens. Funny thing is that there two opposite political reasons to do so. The obvious one: racists/nationalists/etc. try to describe the other people as completely alien, to make it easier to explain why we should avoid them. The more subtle one: politically correct people sometimes also describe humans from other culture as aliens, just to signal how tolerant they are; because tolerance to an alien is more difficult, and therefore more noble, than tolerance to a mere human.

In yet other words, the "multicultural" society -- as its greatest proponents and opponents imagine it -- does not really exist. There is just an interaction between different human cultures, which includes a lot of differences, but also a lot of shared values.

Comment author: DaFranker 15 November 2012 04:20:08PM 3 points [-]

It's also worth noting that human "cultures" behave remarkably like empirical clusters of loosely-correlated social norms, behaviors, signals, status rules, hierarchical systems, beliefs, and moral systems. This seems to strongly support most of what you've said here, and obviously there is some drift and some shared space between "cultures" depending on how you carve them.

Comment author: itaibn0 21 November 2012 02:57:58AM 2 points [-]

It's also worth noting that human "cultures" behave remarkably like...

What you're describing is the definition of "culture" (more precisely, a definition of "culture", and a good one). I'm not sure why you're giving the weaker qualification of "behave remarkably like" rather than "are".

Comment author: DaFranker 21 November 2012 02:51:05PM 2 points [-]

This particular wording was meant to convey the sense that "Whatever people generally define as 'culture' or as separate 'cultures', even if they use rigid aristotelian categories, it still behaves pretty much like this."

Comment author: Multiheaded 15 November 2012 05:20:57PM *  2 points [-]

The more subtle one: politically correct people sometimes also describe humans from other culture as aliens, just to signal how tolerant they are; because tolerance to an alien is more difficult, and therefore more noble, than tolerance to a mere human.

The red car effect/availability heuristic at work - I instantly thought of a Zizek quote. Or were you quoting this bit too?

“Liberal attitudes towards the other are characterized both by respect for otherness, openness to it, and an obsessive fear of harassment. In short, the other is welcomed insofar as its presence is not intrusive, insofar as it is not really the other. Tolerance thus coincides with its opposite. My duty to be tolerant towards the other effectively means that I should not get too close to him or her, not intrude into his space—in short, that I should respect his intolerance towards my over-proximity. This is increasingly emerging as the central human right of advanced capitalist society: the right not to be ‘harassed’, that is, to be kept at a safe distance from others.”

  • Zizek on the "decaffeinated Other"
Comment author: Viliam_Bur 16 November 2012 12:05:53PM 5 points [-]

I'm more on the "good fences make good neighbors" side, which I guess is the opposite from Zizek (judging by this quote; I don't know more about his opinions). He criticizes the fear of harassment (and labels it "obsessive", just to remind the reader that it is a boo light); I would like to talk also about those specific situations where the threat is real.

To me it seems that the "politically correct" description of people from other cultures is that they are a) completely different, but also b) completely harmless.

On the other hand, my opinion is that people from other cultures are often very similar, but even the small differences can be dangerous.

A "political correct" picture of a different people is something like this: They have green skin and worship ants... but if we will tolerate their green skins and ant worship, they will certainly be pleasant neighbors and our lives will be made more rich by their presence.

My picture of a different people is something like this: They are mostly like me: they value truth, and they want to punish people who harm others. Unfortunately, their idea of truth is whatever their holy prophet said; their idea of harm is opposing the prophet's words; and their idea of proper punishment is to murder everyone who disagrees with their prophet. This is why they wouldn't make pleasant neighbors.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 15 November 2012 07:26:34PM 2 points [-]

As far as I can see, "multiculturalism" is the belief that we should celebrate and encourage diversity because we are all really the same.

If one looks at the competing Christological doctrines of early Christianity -- Arianism, monophysitism, monothelitism, Marcionism, Patripassianism, Nestorianism, Chalcedonianism, and so on, from a modern atheistic perspective it all looks insane. Even leaving aside one's presumption of the non-existence of the relevant supernatural entities, it still looks like a mass of confabulation accreted like a pearl in an oyster, around a seed of irritation resulting from thinking about how Jesus could have been both a man and God.

So, after perusing that section of the Wikipedia page I just linked, look at the first paragraph of Wikipedia on multiculturalism.

Doesn't it look just as insane? Is "a society at ease with the rich tapestry of human life and the desire amongst people to express their own identity in the manner they see fit" any more meaningful a string of words than "the human nature and pre-incarnate divine nature of Christ were united as one divine human nature from the point of the Incarnation onwards"? What would the bishops who argued about the latter at Chalcedon have made of the former? Never mind agreeing or disagreeing with it, what would it even mean?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 16 November 2012 09:05:58AM 3 points [-]

What exactly is "a society at ease with the rich tapestry of human life"?

Am I "at ease" with cultures that have a hobby of cutting small girls' genitalia? Hell no! Does that make me an intolerant racist, or whatever is the most appropriate boo light today? So sue me, or at least make sure I will never get a job at academia!

Multiculturalism is an applause light, until you look at specific details. Then it sometimes gets ugly. Of course, to remain "politically correct" you have to stay in the far mode, and ignore all the details. It's easier that way.

Just like "desire amongst people to express their own identity in the manner they see fit". Again, if your desire includes a desire to cut small girls' genitalia, then I think those girls deserve to have their opinion heard too. If that is against your sick religion, again, you have the choice to sue me, criticize me in media, assassinate me, or all three things combined. (In a sufficiently "politically correct" society you literally could do all three suggested things, and then have some educated people excuse your actions.)

This all is a completely different thing from when people from village X decide to wear robes with red flowers, and people from village Y decide to wear robes with blue flowers. Or if Americans pour ketchup over all their foods, while Asians use the soy sauce. With that kind of culture I have no problems. I also have no problems with folk songs, operas, paintings, or books (assuming those books don't preach something I find repulsive).

It is bad that these two things are often mixed together under a wide umbrella of "culture". Then it makes people objecting to genital mutilation seem like brain-damaged bigots obsessing about the right color of flowers on everyone's robes. And that is pretty dishonest. And evil.

Comment author: MugaSofer 16 November 2012 01:44:55PM *  3 points [-]

To all those claiming that multiculturalism has no downsides, I would like to point out that "equal time for creationism" sprung from and used multiculturalism; the notion that you can justify anything using religious freedom can and does lead to Bad Things being justified thus. AFAIK no real society is perfectly multicultural, but that's poor implementation; a bug, not a feature.

EDIT: I am in favour of all the Good Things that spring to mind when we hear "multiculturalism", and do not advocate the Bad Things associated with opposing it (ie a single monolithic and enforced culture.)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 17 November 2012 03:12:06AM 2 points [-]

It is bad that these two things are often mixed together under a wide umbrella of "culture". Then it makes people objecting to genital mutilation seem like brain-damaged bigots obsessing about the right color of flowers on everyone's robes. And that is pretty dishonest. And evil.

Would you mind describing the Schelling fence between those two things.

Comment author: thomblake 16 November 2012 04:12:09PM 2 points [-]

What exactly is "a society at ease with the rich tapestry of human life"?

Am I "at ease" with cultures that have a hobby of cutting small girls' genitalia?

Policy debates should not appear one-sided. There are pluses and minuses to multiculturalism. Other cultures have good and bad aspects, and the default for humans is to reject anything out-group, good or bad. So a shove in the direction of the ridiculous caricature of multiculturalism above would generally be a good thing, on the whole.

Comment author: TimS 16 November 2012 12:59:59PM 2 points [-]

Am I "at ease" with cultures that have a hobby of cutting small girls' genitalia?

Exactly which multiculturalist do you think are "at ease" with that behavior?

In a sufficiently "politically correct" society you literally could do [criticize me in media, assassinate me], and then have some educated people excuse your actions.

Assassination is not really an accepted political move in Western Europe or the US, which are the domains of political correctness. I challenge you to find a recent murder in either region that was not prosecuted by the government authorities for "political correctness" (as opposed to established legal doctrines like insanity).

Comment author: steven0461 07 November 2012 09:12:35AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: Raemon 04 November 2012 07:21:06PM 18 points [-]

"Oh, sorry, I have this condition where I don't see or hear anything I disagree with."

"I had no idea that being human was a disease."

"A bad one! Everyone who contracts it eventually dies!"

Something Positive

Comment author: Wrongnesslessness 05 November 2012 09:53:16AM 21 points [-]

The inhabitants of Florence in 1494 or Athens in 404 BCE could be forgiven for concluding that optimism just isn't factually true. For they knew nothing of such things as the reach of explanations or the power of science or even laws of nature as we understand them, let alone the moral and technological progress that was to follow when the Enlightenment got under way. At the moment of defeat, it must have seemed at least plausible to the formerly optimistic Athenians that the Spartans might be right, and to the formerly optimistic Florentines that Savonarola might be. Like every other destruction of optimism, whether in a whole civilization or in a single individual, these must have been unspeakable catastrophes for those who had dared to expect progress. But we should feel more than sympathy for those people. We should take it personally. For if any of those earlier experiments in optimism had succeeded, our species would be exploring the stars by now, and you and I would be immortal.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 November 2012 01:55:51AM *  3 points [-]

For if any of those earlier experiments in optimism had succeeded, our species would be exploring the stars by now, and you and I would be immortal.

And yet they couldn't even defeat the Spartans or keep Savonarola from taking power.

Comment author: gwern 07 November 2012 02:54:08AM 3 points [-]

To be fair, with a general like Napoleon, how could the Spartans lose?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 15 November 2012 12:42:33PM 7 points [-]

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

John Maynard Keynes

Previously quoted on LW, but not in a quotes thread. I was reminded of it by this exchange.

Comment author: lukeprog 21 November 2012 11:22:50AM 13 points [-]

Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat. Metaphysics is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn't there. Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn't there and shouting "I found it!" Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a flashlight.


Comment author: roland 19 November 2012 07:59:00PM 3 points [-]

So the first lesson about trusting your senses is: don't. Just because you believe something to be true, just because you know it's true, that doesn't mean it is true. The most important maxim for fighter pilots is "Trust your instruments."

--David Eagleman

Comment author: gwern 04 November 2012 03:26:33AM 20 points [-]

"The boundary between these 2 classes [the Eloi & Morlocks] is more porous than I've made it sound. I'm always running into regular dudes - construction workers, auto mechanics, taxi drivers, galoots in general - who were largely aliterate until something made it necessary for them to become readers and start actually thinking about things. Perhaps they had to come to grips with alcoholism, perhaps they got sent to jail, or came down with a disease, or suffered a crisis in religious faith, or simply got bored. Such people can get up to speed on particular subjects quite rapidly. Sometimes their lack of a broad education makes them over-apt to go off on intellectual wild goose chases, but, hey, at least a wild goose chase gives you some exercise."

--Neal Stephenson, In the Beginning Was... the Commandline

The last project that I worked on with [Richard Feynman] was in simulated evolution. I had written a program that simulated the evolution of populations of sexually reproducing creatures over hundreds of thousands of generations. The results were surprising in that the fitness of the population made progress in sudden leaps rather than by the expected steady improvement. The fossil record shows some evidence that real biological evolution might also exhibit such "punctuated equilibrium," so Richard and I decided to look more closely at why it happened. He was feeling ill by that time, so I went out and spent the week with him in Pasadena, and we worked out a model of evolution of finite populations based on the Fokker Planck equations. When I got back to Boston I went to the library and discovered a book by Kimura on the subject, and much to my disappointment, all of our "discoveries" were covered in the first few pages. When I called back and told Richard what I had found, he was elated. "Hey, we got it right!" he said. "Not bad for amateurs."

From "Richard Feynman and The Connection Machine"

Comment author: RobinZ 04 November 2012 04:08:11AM 18 points [-]

I would like to upvote the Feynman quote. I am not interested in upvoting the Stephenson quote. I think it would be better if these quotes were in separate comments, as recommended in the post.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 November 2012 06:29:31PM 2 points [-]

I would like to upvote the Stephenson quote, and not the Feynman quote.

Comment author: Omegaile 07 November 2012 12:33:08AM 14 points [-]

I would like to upvote the Feynman quote. I am not interested in upvoting the Stephenson quote.

I would like to upvote the Stephenson quote, and not the Feynman quote.

You two talk between yourselves so that only one of you upvote the entire comment.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 November 2012 01:15:26AM 4 points [-]

This reminds of how two high school classmates of mine eluded the prohibition from voting for themselves as class representatives by voting for each other.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 November 2012 12:45:05AM *  2 points [-]

I would like to upvote the Feynman quote. I am not interested in upvoting the Stephenson quote.

I would like to upvote the Stephenson quote, and not the Feynman quote.

You two talk between yourselves so that only one of you upvote the entire comment.

Or, you both downvote the conglomerate and each write a comment expressing objection to the combination, approval of the desired quote and indifference to the other.

(I downvoted the conglomerate on the principle "I wish to see less quote-comments that people believe should be separate, especially when said quotes are verbose anyway". There is an implied "...and would upvote both comments if they were split to encourage trivial improvements in response to feedback".)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 07 November 2012 12:20:40AM 30 points [-]

I would like to abstain from voting on them, but to do so in separate posts.

Comment author: Scottbert 07 November 2012 07:37:19PM *  9 points [-]

Girl 1: Because distance is infinitely divisible, if you assign number pairs to each letter of the alphabet, you can specify any string of letters just by pointing to a very specific place on this centimeter and getting its decimal output. In fact, that sentence I just said is at a particular point on the centimeter, as was this one, and whatever you or I say in the future. The centimeter has read every book there will ever be and knows every scientific fact that can be. It knows the future of our friendship. It knows how we'll die. It knows how the universe ends and how it began.

Girl 2: What's the point of doing anything then?

Girl 1: Well, the centimeter also "knows" a bunch of crazy stuff.

Centimeter callouts: "2+2=3" "Up is down, rotated 90 degrees" "Ponies aren't awesome"

Girl 2: So I know infinity less than the centimeter, but have infinity better discretion.

Girl 1: Yeah, that's basically your life. You know relatively no information, but you're relatively great at using it.

Girl 2: I bet if I tell Bobby about this, he'll like me.

Girl 1: Well, you're okay at using it.

--Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Comment author: arborealhominid 13 November 2012 10:34:25PM *  5 points [-]

Be more than good; be good for something

Henry David Thoreau

Comment author: hairyfigment 03 November 2012 03:06:18AM 5 points [-]

Three years ago...I learned that people to whom I defer, and whose authority over my actions is hardly less than that of my own reason over my thoughts, had disapproved of a hypothesis in the field of physics that had been proposed somewhat earlier by another person. I do not want to say that I had accepted that hypothesis...This occurrence was enough to make me change my resolution to publish the treatise...

(Knowledge of "bodies" in the sense of matter) would not only be desirable in bringing about the invention of an infinity of devices to enable us to enjoy the fruits of agriculture and all the wealth of the earth without labor, but even more so in conserving health, the principal good and the basis of all other goods in this life. For the mind is so dependent upon the humors and the condition of the organs of the body that if it is possible to find some way to make men in general wiser and more clever than they have been so far, I believe that it is in medicine that it should be sought. It is true that medicine at present contains little of such great value; but without intending to belittle it, I am sure that everyone, even among those who follow the profession, will admit that everything we know is almost nothing compared with what remains to be discovered, and that we might rid ourselves of an infinity of maladies of body as well as of mind, and perhaps also of the enfeeblement of old age, if we had sufficient understanding of the causes and of all the remedies which nature has provided.

-Descartes, Discourse on method part 6.

Comment author: Kyre 07 November 2012 04:41:54AM 8 points [-]

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.

Charles Mackay from "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds"

Comment author: [deleted] 04 November 2012 08:39:46AM 7 points [-]

A heckler in the crowd shouted out, "My mind is not made like that, I can't be bothered with philosophy."

"Why do you bother to live," Diogenes retorted, "if you can't be bothered to live properly?"

Teachings of Diogenes

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 November 2012 10:33:01PM *  7 points [-]

He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars: General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite and flatterer.

William Blake

Comment author: RichardKennaway 07 November 2012 11:37:18AM *  2 points [-]

That's Blake again. Tim Freeman is the author of the quote before the Blake quotes on this page.

Comment author: katydee 03 November 2012 06:14:04AM *  6 points [-]

The question I pose to you is simple. Who is to be the master, you or the bits of talented meat that secrete hormones for you? Your glands are the product of aeons of evolution, and they are not to be scorned, but neither are they to be obeyed blindly.

--Prime Function Aki Zeta-Five, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

Comment author: Kawoomba 03 November 2012 06:35:40AM 2 points [-]

Removing all those glands and hormones (assuming they are pars pro toto for our evolved urges), what would be left? A frontal lobe staring at the wall?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 November 2012 10:32:07PM *  4 points [-]

The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

William Blake

Comment author: gwern 02 November 2012 11:14:22PM 10 points [-]

Freeman? That's one of my favorite lines from Blake's "Proverbs of Hell"...

My friend the Angel climb'd up from his station into the mill; I remain'd alone, & then this appearance was no more, but I found myself sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moonlight hearing a harper who sung to the harp, & his theme was, The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind.

Comment author: roland 13 November 2012 05:53:35PM *  3 points [-]

From moment to moment, different modules or systems compete for attention and the winner serves as the neural system underlying that moment of conscious experience.

--Michael Gazzaniga

Regarding brain architecture.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 November 2012 09:48:31PM 4 points [-]

The Last Psychiatrist bats another one out of the park:

So start with an interesting hypothetical: does everybody need to work anymore? I understand work from an ethical/character perspective, this is not here my point. Since we no longer need e.g. manufacturing jobs-- cheaper elsewhere or with robots-- since those labor costs have evaporated, could that surplus go towards paying people simply to stay out of trouble? [...] Let me be explicit: my question is not should we do this, my question is that since this is precisely what's happening already, is it sustainable? What is the cost? I don't have to run the numbers, someone already has: it's $150/mo for a college grads, i.e. the price of food stamps. Other correct responses would be $700/mo for "some high school" (SSI) or $1500/mo for "previous work experience" (unemployment). I would have accepted $2000/mo for "minorities" (jail) for partial credit.

Comment author: arborealhominid 19 November 2012 01:57:30AM *  3 points [-]

In fact, we come to associate having to expend effort and do things with our work, and associate relaxing and not doing anything with leisure time. So, because many of us don't like our jobs, we tend to associate having to do things with being unhappy, while happiness, as far as we ever know it, means... not doing anything. We never act for ourselves, because we spend our whole days acting for other people, and we think that acting and working hard always leads to unhappiness; our idea of happiness is not having to act, being on permanent vacation.

And this is ultimately why so many of us are so unhappy: because happiness is not doing nothing, happiness is acting creatively, doing things, working hard on things you care about. Happiness is becoming an excellent long-distance runner, falling in love, cooking an original recipe for people you care about, building a bookshelf, writing a song. There is no happiness to be found in merely lying on a couch—happiness is something that we must pursue. We are not unhappy because we have to do things, we are unhappy because all the things we do are things we don't care about. And because our jobs exhaust us and mislead us about what we want, they are the source of much of our unhappiness.

CrimethInc (Not exactly a bastion of rationality, but they do have some good stuff now and again.)

Comment author: [deleted] 14 November 2012 06:17:59PM 3 points [-]

Two, you can use this corpus to conduct a very interesting exercise: you can triangulate. This is an essential skill in defensive historiography. If you like UR, you like defensive historiography.

Historiographic triangulation is the art of taking two or more opposing positions from the past, and using hindsight to decide who was right and who was wrong. The simplest way to play the game is to imagine that the opponents in the debate were reanimated in 2008, informed of present conditions, and reunited for a friendly panel discussion. I'm afraid often the only conceivable result is that one side simply surrenders to the other.

--Mencius Moldbug on an experiment that has interesting results

Comment author: Kyre 07 November 2012 04:51:30AM 3 points [-]

As soon as an Analytical Engine exists, it will necessarily guide the future course of the science.

Charles Babbage

Comment author: lukeprog 05 November 2012 06:59:00AM 3 points [-]

There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.

H.L. Mencken

Comment author: Epiphany 05 November 2012 07:14:09AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: fortyeridania 02 November 2012 04:03:26AM *  3 points [-]

On the bottom line(http://lesswrong.com/lw/js/thebottomline/)/[politics as a mindkiller:

This is a practical country. We have ideals; we have philosophies. But the problem with any ideology is, it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. [Stewart: Right.] So you have to mold the evidence to get the answer that you've already decided you've got to have. It doesn't work that way.

Source: Bill Clinton, in an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (episode date: September 20, 2012). The quoted material appears at about the 6:50 mark.

Comment author: Manfred 02 November 2012 07:41:47AM 7 points [-]
Comment author: fortyeridania 02 November 2012 01:35:30PM 3 points [-]

So it is. I guess I didn't check thoroughly enough. Thanks.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 November 2012 06:18:34PM *  3 points [-]

Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened." Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened."

--Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Rationality challenge: Understand why I posted it here.

Bonsu Rationality Challenge: Reinvent the meaning of "God" I used to ironman the position. Start by ironmaning it yourself.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 14 November 2012 06:39:11PM *  17 points [-]

"Men have forgotten God" -> "Men have lost certain beliefs and practices that strengthened social stability, and thus provided (despite their actual falsehood or even ridiculousness) a certain local optimum." ?

Comment author: simplicio 17 November 2012 09:55:53PM 6 points [-]

In abandoning one's religion, one also abandons an ethical system. If this lacuna is not filled in by another ethical system that works at least passably well, the consequences for personal and political behaviour can be dire.

Comment author: Multiheaded 17 November 2012 02:12:19PM *  5 points [-]

Bonus challenge accepted, blind mode - no peeking at comments, take my word.

"God" = the objectively present, difficult-to-disentangle historical trends of the West, and the memetic strains that caused those trends, chiefly Universalism and its Christianity section. So here, a Universalist culture has violated Universalism's own naturally-evolved barriers and safety measures, and suffered for it by landing in a shallow circle of Hell. But Solzhenitsyn wasn't very Universalist, I'd say - not like Zizek and Moldbug and yours truly take it - so he couldn't see that Universalism can only stay alive while moving ever onwards and unfolding itself.

Also: this quote should be way way up there! And the Obamas of today shouldn't be quoted so much - all is dust, and all will be dust. But history will sort its Right and Left... in due course.

(help help will newsome is taking me over with his computational theology konkvistador you know you saw it help)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 15 November 2012 02:21:50AM 4 points [-]

For a more detailed discussion go here.

Comment author: yli 18 November 2012 05:28:51PM 4 points [-]

For decision-theoric reasons, the dark lords of the matrix give superhumanly good advice about social organization to religious people in ways that look from inside the simulation like supernatural revelations; non-religious people don't have access to these revelations so when they try to do social organization it ends in disaster.


Comment author: MugaSofer 18 November 2012 08:50:28PM 2 points [-]

Seems legit.

Comment author: TimS 15 November 2012 05:17:04PM 3 points [-]

Meta-level point: It is possible to steel-man someone's position into an argument that they would not actually endorse. I think that might be what you are doing here.

Rationality challenge: Understand why I posted it here.

I'm trying to be more whimsical in my posting on LW, but I'm not sure that "rationality," "optimization," or any other special virtue in this community is advanced by this provocative post or its religious-language framing.

Comment author: Grif 14 November 2012 06:23:18PM 4 points [-]

It's an example of how even absurd amounts of research can fail to move a religious thought. I think too many people will fail to get the joke and the potential for abuse is too high.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 November 2012 03:29:58PM 2 points [-]

What do I mean by “generally correct but overly simple”? Imagine a physicist who says, if he drops a sheet of paper and a bag of bricks from the top of a high tower, they'll both hit the ground at the same time. When the local villagers tell him he must be mad, he scoffs, and declares they must not understand gravity, for which (as Galileo proved) the rate of an object's downward acceleration is independent of its mass. When the villagers continue to doubt him, he writes angry pamphlets expressing his disappointment that everyone is too foolish to accept perfectly simple principles of physics.

However, in this case the physicist is wrong and the populace is correct. Sheets of paper really do fall more slowly than bags of brick, and an experiment would have confirmed that fact. Although the physicist was correct in saying that Galileo proved gravity operated independent of mass, he didn't realize that this general principle wasn't enough to determine at what times the paper and bricks would hit the ground. The villagers, who knew less about gravity but were willing to trust their experience, ended up doing better, even though they might not have been able to explain the principles at work. If the physicist had understood air resistance as well as gravity, he would have been able to match the villagers' success and even exceed them, but until he admitted that the problem wasn't as simple as taking his favorite physics equation and applying it to the exclusion of all else, he would never have an incentive to study it.

-- Yvain, “Why I Hate Your Freedom

Comment author: [deleted] 18 November 2012 03:35:07PM *  2 points [-]

I think analogies are really only useful for explaining the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. This kind of bizzare analogy, explaining the familiar in terms of the unfamiliar, is only useful for amusement purposes.

-- George Weinberg commenting on Mencius Moldbug, “The magic of symmetric sovereignty”

(Not that I think that's a valid general principle, but I do feel that way about many of the thought experiments I see proposed on LW.)

Comment author: RobertPearson 07 November 2012 01:36:52AM *  2 points [-]

“Must a name mean something?" Alice asked doubtfully.

Of course it must," Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh; "my name means the shape I am - and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Comment author: MTGandP 02 November 2012 02:10:00AM 2 points [-]

My view is that if your philosophy is not unsettled daily then you are blind to all the universe has to offer.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Comment author: [deleted] 02 November 2012 02:14:36AM 22 points [-]

What percentage of your philosophy? If your philosophy is completely unsettled daily, you're probably insane.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 02 November 2012 05:06:12PM 11 points [-]

Each morning I go through all my beliefs and randomly flip their truth values, guaranteeing maximal surprise

Comment author: MTGandP 02 November 2012 02:17:58AM 2 points [-]

That's certainly true. I think the point isn't that you should be constantly changing everything you believe, but that you should actively seek out new knowledge—especially knowledge that has a high probability of shifting the way you think (in a positive direction, of course).

Comment author: [deleted] 02 November 2012 02:25:41AM 2 points [-]

Sure. I'm saying I'd prefer a wording that points out the diminishing returns of philosophical unsettlement, and the unavoidability thereof.

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 November 2012 04:02:33AM 11 points [-]

I used to agree, but that part of my philosophy recently became unsettled.

Comment author: Kyre 07 November 2012 04:42:29AM 2 points [-]

Men go crazy in congregations; they only get better one by one


Comment author: Aurora 07 November 2012 01:20:33AM 1 point [-]

I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it. -George Carlin

Comment author: Oligopsony 10 November 2012 02:51:18AM 10 points [-]

"I have the same height as the Empire State Building, I just don't tower as many feet from the ground."

Comment author: simplicio 10 November 2012 09:02:26PM *  4 points [-]

Interpreting Carlin charitably, he is talking about moral or rational authority, not about authority in the sense of power over others.

Comment author: James_Miller 02 November 2012 04:54:53AM 0 points [-]

What I'd like is for everybody to be far more skeptical of those who use math to intimidate.

Sean Davis discussing political polling.

Comment author: Nominull 02 November 2012 03:35:17PM 19 points [-]

I'd like everyone to be far more skeptical of those who are instinctively skeptical of math.

Comment author: David_Gerard 02 November 2012 12:05:45PM 4 points [-]

Specifically, as part of the recent conservative criticism of Nate Silver.

Comment author: arundelo 03 November 2012 02:50:38PM 0 points [-]

And knock it off the with "buts", as in, "Thank you for clarifying, but it's not good enough..." You can say that without the "but": "Thank you for clarifying. That's very helpful. Now that I have basis to discuss your plans, I want to let you know how much I hate that..." It's not a "but" statement -- it doesn't sit in contradiction of the "thank you" -- it's an "and" statement: "Thank you for fixing problem #1 and problems #2 through #46 still exist."

The only place that "but" of contradiction makes rhetorical sense is in the latent, imaginary argument in one's head as to whether one is justified in being angry with or hating LJ [LiveJournal]. "Your clarification is a righteous behavior but insufficient to compensate, in my assessment of how much you suck, for all the other crap you've done." Or more concisely, "Yeah, but LJ still sucks for the following reason", as if the matter of debate isn't whether what LJ has done sucks, but whether LJ itself (or its staff) suck. The "but" betrays that you're really, in your heart, arguing the case of Why LJ Sucks, not What LJ Is Screwing Up This Time.

-- Siderea

(Hat-tip to Nancy Lebovitz.)

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 07 November 2012 02:50:50PM 4 points [-]

Meh. 'But' is just 'and' with a case of incongruity. That's what it is, so I don't see a problem with using it for that... though of course dark arts applications would be problematic.

Comment author: Document 06 November 2012 10:13:37PM 2 points [-]

Train self to perceive the word "but" as an alarm bell. When tempted to use it in an argument, immediately abort sentence and reflect on whether to swap the clauses before and after it, or even save the latter for a more appropriate time. (I imagine a lot of people here already do that.)