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Rationality Quotes December 2012

4 Post author: Thomas 03 December 2012 02:33AM

Once again, 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  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB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 (226)

Comment author: Matt_Caulfield 01 December 2012 08:08:42PM *  37 points [-]

Politics, after all, is the art of persuasion; the political is that dimension of social life in which things really do become true if enough people believe them. The problem is that in order to play the game effectively, one can never acknowledge this: it may be true that, if I could convince everyone in the world that I was the King of France, I would in fact become the King of France; but it would never work if I were to admit that this was the only basis of my claim.

  • David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years
Comment author: Stabilizer 03 December 2012 05:57:04AM 9 points [-]

Reminds me of http://xkcd.com/125/

Comment author: Posterity 13 December 2012 05:25:11AM 25 points [-]

If you were taught that elves caused rain, every time it rained, you'd see the proof of elves.


Comment author: Manfred 19 December 2012 04:04:47AM 3 points [-]

Ah. Positive bias.

Comment author: Konkvistador 09 December 2012 07:24:52PM *  23 points [-]

Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason. We all need to take a cold hard look at the evidence and see reasoning for what it is. ... [M]ost of the bizarre and depressing research findings [about cognitive biases] make perfect sense once you see reasoning as having evolved not to help us find the truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasion, and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people.

I'm not saying we should all stop reasoning and go with our gut feelings. Gut feelings are sometimes better guides than reasoning for making consumer choices and interpersonal judgments, but they are often disastrous as a basis for public policy, science, and law. Rather, what I'm saying is that we must be wary of any /individual/'s ability to reason. We should see each individual as being limited, like a neuron. A neuron is really good at one thing: summing up the stimulation coming into its dendrites to 'decide' whether to fire a pulse along its axon. A neuron by itself isn't very smart. But if you put neurons together in the right way you get a brain; you get an emergent system that is much smarter and more flexible than a single neuron.

In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons. We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play. But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it's so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth.

--Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind

Comment author: almkglor 07 December 2012 09:29:17AM 20 points [-]

"It's frightening to think that you might not know something, but more frightening to think that, by and large, the world is run by people who have faith that they know exactly what is going on." - Amos Tversky

Comment author: Fyrius 07 December 2012 02:10:09PM *  19 points [-]

Long quote to make a simple point, but relevant. (Context: this is from a Star Wars novel, so it's fiction.)

A death hollow is a low point where the heavier-than-air toxic gases that roll downslope from the volcanoes can pool.

The corpse of a hundred-kilo tusker lay just within its rim, its snout only a meter below the clear air that could have saved it. Other corpses littered the ground around it: rot crows and jacunas and other small scavengers I didn't recognize, lured to their deaths by the jungle's false promise of an easy meal.

I said something along these lines to Nick. He laughed and called me a Balawai fool.

"There's no false promise," he'd said. "There's no promise at all. The jungle doesn't promise. It exists. That's all. What killed those little ruskakks wasn't a trap. It was just the way things are."

Nick says that to talk of the jungle as a person-to give it the metaphoric aspect of a creature, any creature-that's a Balawai thing. That's part of what gets them killed out here.

It's a metaphor that shades the way you think: talk of the jungle as a creature, and you start treating it like a creature. You start thinking you can outsmart the jungle, or trust it, overpower it or befriend it, deceive it or bargain with it.

And then you die.

"Not because the jungle kills you. You get it? Just because it is what it is." These are Nick's words. "The jungle doesn't do anything. It's just a place. It's a place where many, many things live... and all of them die. Fantasizing about it - pretending it's something it's not - is fatal. That's your free life lesson for the day," he told me. "Keep it in mind."

I will.

  • Mace Windu, in Shatterpoint by Matthew Stover
Comment author: NancyLebovitz 13 December 2012 07:11:36AM *  14 points [-]

It’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking; and it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.

John Cleese


Comment author: ChristianKl 05 December 2012 03:42:32PM *  11 points [-]

But are we asking too much when we declare that our drugs need to work through single defined targets? Beyond that, are we even asking too much when we declare that we need to understand the details of how they work at all? Many of you will have had such thoughts (and they've been expressed around here as well), but they can tend to sound heretical, especially that second one. But that gets to the real issue, the uncomfortable, foot-shuffling, rather-think-about-something-else question: are we trying to understand things, or are we trying to find drugs?

Derek Lowe, In the Pipeline

Comment author: Stabilizer 03 December 2012 02:13:14AM *  30 points [-]

Among a great many other things that chess teaches you is to control the initial excitement you feel when you see something that looks good. It trains you to think before grabbing, and to think just as objectively when you're in trouble. When you're making a film you have to make most of your decisions on the run, and there is a tendency to always shoot from the hip. It takes more discipline than you might imagine, to think, even for thirty seconds, in the noisy, confusing, high-pressure atmosphere of a film set. But a few seconds' thought can often prevent a serious mistake being made about something that looks good at first glance. With respect to films, chess is more useful in preventing you from making mistakes than giving you ideas. Ideas come spontaneously and the discipline required to evaluate and put them to use tends to be the real work.

-Stanley Kubrick

Comment author: Multiheaded 13 December 2012 08:13:09PM *  2 points [-]

Life is essentially a chess game./
You have to plan and calculate and/
I am so lonely.
[If you play the opening wrong, the game is already lost.]

-A Softer World

Comment author: James_Miller 01 December 2012 08:19:55PM 28 points [-]

You might expect that, having learned of the existence of immortal life, man would dedicate colossal resources to learning how the immortal jellyfish performs its trick. You might expect that biotech multinationals would vie to copyright its genome; that a vast coalition of research scientists would seek to determine the mechanisms by which its cells aged in reverse; that pharmaceutical firms would try to appropriate its lessons for the purposes of human medicine; that governments would broker international accords to govern the future use of rejuvenating technology.

NYT article titled "Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?"

The next line of the article after the above quote is "But none of this happened."

Comment author: TeMPOraL 02 December 2012 07:02:50PM *  25 points [-]

It has been said that the past is a foreign country. Well, it is certainly inhabited by foreigners, people whose mindset was shaped by circumstances we shy from remembering. The mother of three children who gave birth eight times. The father of four children, the last of whom cost him his wife. Our minds are largely free of such horrors, and not inured to that kind of suffering. That is the progress of technology. That is what is improving the human race.

It is a long, long ladder, and sometimes we slip, but we've never actually fallen. That is our progress.

Comment author: Nominull 02 December 2012 11:58:46PM 28 points [-]

the past is a third-world country

Comment author: JoshuaZ 03 December 2012 12:07:26AM 15 points [-]

The past is in some respects worse than a third world country. In the United States around 1900, the life expectancy ranged from around 50 climbing steadily to reach around 60 around 1930 (curiously the Great Depression didn't cause a slump in life expectancy, although the rate of growth did slow). Source with related data(pdf). But, if one looks at current life expectancy in many countries in the developing world, most countries exceed the US-1900 numbers. Similar comparisons can be made for literacy and many other metrics of success. The middling developing countries today are better in many ways than most of the US was in 1900.

Comment author: DanielLC 03 December 2012 02:25:41AM 11 points [-]

Also, third world countries can buy the used stuff we don't want anymore. The past can't do that.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 03 December 2012 03:38:15PM 4 points [-]

... do we actually sell a lot of used goods overseas like that?

I think 'slightly obsolete' holds up a lot better.

Comment author: Marcy_Azraelle 03 December 2012 07:25:42PM 1 point [-]

This is why my family only buys computers while on vacation in the US.

Comment author: JoshuaFox 03 December 2012 10:50:52AM 4 points [-]

Life expectancy can be misleading.

The poorest countries are still caught in a Malthusian trap, so that when modern medicine and other technology extend life, the increased population means that everyone is poorer.

So, increased life expectancy can correlate with greater poverty. See George Clark, A Farewell to Alms.

Comment author: army1987 03 December 2012 11:57:50AM *  3 points [-]

I dunno... Generally people will have fewer children if they expect all of them to survive to adulthood than if they expect most of them to die before, and fewer children per couple all other things being equal means that each of them will be better off. I think I've seen a few TED talks about that.

Comment author: Alejandro1 05 December 2012 02:03:14PM 24 points [-]

I was once, years and years ago, falsely accused by someone of egregious dishonesty, and after I put forward evidence that the accusation was false, was told, "Let's just agree to disagree." At which, of course, I exploded; I would not be agreeing to disagree about whether I had been completely dishonest, thank you very much. And every time someone uses the phrase I am tempted to say, "We don't need to agree to disagree because we already are disagreeing." I think what gets me is that it's such an unbelievably low standard that almost anything would be more intellectually robust; why not agree to something more ambitiously intellectual, like swapping book recommendations, or having a temporary cooling-off period, or going to a third party for arbitration or advice, or anything else, really?

Comment author: tut 05 December 2012 09:38:15PM 10 points [-]

I thought that "agree to disagree" had become a fixed expression meaning something like "stop discussing this for now even though we don't agree, because we have more productive things to do/talk about".

Comment author: DaFranker 05 December 2012 09:51:16PM 6 points [-]

Not really. I usually see it used more as "I think you're an idiot, but don't want to bother explaining why, so let's talk about / do something else instead."

I believe the most appropriate corresponding expression is that the disagreement is "swept under the rug".

Comment author: thomblake 05 December 2012 09:59:56PM 10 points [-]

Yes, but understanding that makes it harder to get annoyed at people.

Comment author: James_Miller 01 December 2012 08:51:39PM 37 points [-]

politicians and leaders worldwide don’t like to be associated with toilets, even state-of-the-art toilets. This sanitation stigma distorts international and national development agendas.

chairman of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation

The quote was brought to my attention by a student in my Economics of Future Technology course who is writing on sanitation in the developing world.

Comment author: army1987 02 December 2012 11:14:59AM *  12 points [-]

Pecunia non olet.


Comment author: MixedNuts 29 December 2012 04:51:07PM 8 points [-]

"There are lives at stake, Sherlock! Actual human lives - just, just so I know, do you care about that at all?"

"Will caring about them help save them?"


"Then I'll continue not to make that mistake."

-- Sherlock (BBC series), season 1, episode 3 "The Great Game"

Yes, I know that if you correct for differences in caring due to distance/scope insensitivity/etc. it does help save them, and that caring doesn't preclude skepticism about which actions are helpful, and that in this particular case Sherlock should have refused to respond to blackmail and there'd have been fewer deaths. But it works as a retort to "can't say no" spending. Don't give to some counterproductive charity because you care about starving kids in Africa, give to the Against Malaria Foundation because it makes fewer kids dead.

Comment author: army1987 29 December 2012 06:06:39PM 4 points [-]

I might quote that the next time I see "like this if you care" on Facebook.

Comment author: Alejandro1 05 December 2012 03:57:39AM 21 points [-]

One in four Americans has an opinion about an imaginary debt plan

A new poll from Public Policy Polling found that an impressive 39 percent of Americans have an opinion about the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan.

Before you start celebrating the new, sweeping reach of the 2010 commission’s work, consider this: Twenty-five percent of Americans also took a stance on the Panetta-Burns plan.

What’s that? You’re not familiar with Panetta-Burns? That’s probably because its “a mythical Clinton Chief of Staff/former western Republican Senator combo” that PPP dreamed up to test how many Americans would profess to have an opinion about a policy that did not exist. They found one in four voters to do just that.

Panetta-Burns’ nonexistent policy proposals were supported by 8 percent and opposed by 17 percent of the voters surveyed. Simpson-Bowles’ real policy proposals had stronger favorables, with 23 percent support and 16 percent opposition.

Comment author: Irgy 11 December 2012 10:50:45AM *  14 points [-]

Devil's advocate time:

They don't know nothing about it. They know two things. 1. It's a debt reduction plan 2. It's named after Panetta and Burns

Here are some reasons to oppose the plan, based on the above knowledge:

  • We don't need a debt reduction plan, just keep doing what we're doing and it will sort itself out.

  • I like another existing plan, and this is not that one, so I oppose it.

  • I've heard of Panetta and (s)he's a complete douchebag. Anything they've come up with is clearly junk.

  • I haven't even heard of either of them, so what the heck would they know about debt reduction?

  • They're from different parties, there's no way they could have come up with something sensible.

  • I've heard 10 different plans described, and surely this is one of them. I can't remember which one this is, but I hated all of them so I must oppose this too.

And of course you can make a very similar set of reasons to support it. Not trying to rationalise people's stupidity or make excuses for them as such, just present the opposing argument in all its glory. Ok maybe making excuses for them is exactly what I'm doing. But honestly, how many of your political opinions, as a percentage, including all those that you don't know you have until asked, are really much better than the reasons above?

Comment author: PhilipL 05 December 2012 04:15:37AM 5 points [-]

If you were being polled about an unfamiliar plan, would you more likely think that a) the pollster was asking you about a fictional plan, or b) that the pollster was doing a genuine survey, and that you just hadn't heard about that plan yet? Granted, forming an opinion about something in the absence of any knowledge, just because someone asked you for your opinion, is another matter entirely.

Comment author: DSimon 05 December 2012 04:26:34AM 8 points [-]

This might be a distinction without a difference. The trick was to get people to think they knew about some topic X well enough to profess an opinion on it, even though in fact they didn't know the first thing about X. Making sure that X doesn't exist is just a cheap way to implement this trick.

Comment author: army1987 05 December 2012 04:30:04PM 7 points [-]

I would think b), and say that.

Comment author: gwern 05 December 2012 05:06:17AM 3 points [-]

Granted, forming an opinion about something in the absence of any knowledge, just because someone asked you for your opinion, is another matter entirely.

Isn't it damning either way, and this dilemma the point of the setup?

Comment author: Nornagest 05 December 2012 05:12:05AM *  2 points [-]

Depending on the phrasing and any specifics of the plan presented to me, I might conclude that it was not only fictional but deliberate FUD; that sort of misdirection's not unheard of. If I were given nothing but a label, though, I'd likely assume B.

Comment author: PhilipL 05 December 2012 05:29:58AM 4 points [-]

The actual question was "Do you support or oppose the Panetta-Burns plan?" (The previous question was "... the Bowles-Simpson plan?") So you could infer that the two were related, and possibly partisan/opposing plans, but not much more than that.

Comment author: Alejandro1 05 December 2012 05:40:15AM 3 points [-]

Thanks for linking to the full results, very interesting.

I was surprised at first glance by:

Q12 Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Nate Silver?

Favorable ........................................................ 12%

Unfavorable .................................................... 10%

Not sure .......................................................... 77%

both because I assumed more people had heard of him (which shows, I guess, I live in a bubble and don't correct enough for it), and because I had assumed a more favorable score, with perhaps only extreme Republicans having an unfavorable opinion. I guess I was failing to take into account that the kind of people who follow polls with so much dedication to have heard of Silver are almost all committed partisans.

Comment author: bbleeker 05 December 2012 08:54:14AM *  6 points [-]

Nitpick: 'not sure' isn't the same as 'haven't heard of him'. There are lots of things I know about that I don't have an opinion on.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 05 December 2012 04:07:17AM 1 point [-]

This maybe makes more sense in an open thread than as a rationality quote.

This certainly is interesting. While at a glance, really bad metacognition looks like the chief culprit, there are other explanations. For example, they could be confusing Panetta-Burns with something else they've heard of. I'd be curious in particular if the poll asked the same people about Panetta-Burns it asked about Simpson-Bowles. One could conceive of someone not remembering the name and thinking that is what was being talked about. Also, this may to some extent be purely a demonstration that people don't like to look ignorant, and so they've said yes, but that that vocalized knowledge wouldn't have any impact on their actual behavior.

Comment author: Alejandro1 05 December 2012 04:14:10AM 2 points [-]

What intrigues me the most is not that people said they knew of it, but that they had a formed opinion for or against. If they didn't ask about Simpson-Bowles to the same people, then maybe as you suggest people had an opinion on S-B but misremembered and thought that this was the topic. But if they did, then the only explanation I can think of is that 8% of the people have such a strong positive prior for "bipartisan plans devised by a Clinton Chief of Staff/former western Republican Senator combo” that they agree with them without knowing what they are, and the reverse is true for 17% of the people.

Comment author: army1987 30 December 2012 02:47:48PM 7 points [-]

After all, if someone says “you motherfucking asshole, the sky is blue, I hope you kill yourself” the sky is still blue and you should not believe the sky is green because that person was a dick.

-- Ozy Frantz

Comment author: Konkvistador 24 December 2012 08:57:05PM 7 points [-]

Bertie in particular sustained simultaneously a pair of opinions ludicrously incompatible. He held that in fact human affairs were carried on after a most irrational fashion, but that the remedy was quite simple and easy, since we all we had to do was to carry them on rationally.

--John Maynard Keynes on Bertrand Russell

Comment author: EndlessEnigma 03 December 2012 11:00:51PM *  7 points [-]

"Science is a differential equation. Religion is a boundary condition."

Alan Turing, Alan Turing: the Enigma (Vintage edition 1992), p. 513

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 03 December 2012 11:19:21PM 0 points [-]

A bit opaque (to me). Is this a good explanation?

Comment author: EndlessEnigma 04 December 2012 02:28:10PM *  3 points [-]

I'd say that is a fair answer. Without more context it’s hard to say exactly what Turing meant; he might have been referring to the different ways science and religion each handle causality. In science, causes are local in space and time -- perfectly modeled by a differential equation. In religion, causality is placed by fiat: a First Cause (boundary condition at the beginning of time) or final causes (teleology).

Another way of looking at the quote is to notice that physics especially concerns itself with continuous changes in space and time. Each infinitesimal chunk of spacetime is governed by its immediate neighbor. But this leads to a difficult question as you expand the system under consideration: who or what determines the ultimate boundary conditions of the differential equation?

Comment author: Nominull 02 December 2012 05:03:11AM *  29 points [-]

Molten variables hiss and roar. On my mind-forge, I hammer them into the greatsword Epistemology. Many are my foes this night.

--Nate Silver Parody Twitter Account @fivethirtynate, on the night of the presidential election

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 December 2012 02:52:14AM 29 points [-]

Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether “democratic behaviour” means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.


Even if they don’t read Aristotle (that would be undemocratic) you would have thought the French Revolution would have taught them that the behaviour aristocrats naturally like is not the behaviour that preserves aristocracy. They might then have applied the same principle to all forms of government.

-- Screwtape, from "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" by C. S. Lewis.

Comment author: taelor 05 December 2012 07:27:13AM 7 points [-]

I can't find a source for the quote at the moment, but I remember reading that F. A. Hayek once said something along the lines of "The greatest enemy of capitalism is the capitalists."

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 05 December 2012 08:51:43AM *  9 points [-]

Hayek was right. Capitalists in a mixed-economy seem to be in something analogous to a prisoner's dilemma. It would benefit any individual capitalist to seek monopoly privileges for their own firm, but it hurts all of them if any significant number of them do so.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 December 2012 04:25:18AM 3 points [-]

Not to mention this.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 01 December 2012 03:44:40PM 16 points [-]

Keep your solutions close, and your problems closer.


Comment author: Kenny 30 December 2012 07:26:59PM *  1 point [-]

Someone responded:


and @afoolswisdom replied:

Because your problems are best solved by the solutions you already have. Know your problems better than you know your solutions.

Comment author: katydee 02 December 2012 08:15:19AM 15 points [-]

Do not read written works and think, "This is the Way." Written works are like the gate to approach the Way. Thus, there are people who remain ignorant of the Way regardless of how much they have learned and how many Chinese characters they know. Though they face the pages and read as skillfully as though they were annotating the ancients, they are ignorant of the truth and so do not make the Way their own.

— Yagyū Munenori, The Life-Giving Sword

Comment author: katydee 02 December 2012 08:21:44AM 9 points [-]

Nevertheless, it is quite difficult to approach the Way without studying. Still, one cannot say that a man embodies the Way simply because he has studied and speaks well. There are also people who are naturally in harmony with the Way and who have never studied at all.

— Yagyū Munenori, The Life-Giving Sword

Comment author: Grif 03 December 2012 03:41:16AM *  6 points [-]

A: Embodies the Way. B: Has studied. P(A|B)>P(A|~B). P(A|B)<1. P(A&~B)>0.

Comment author: army1987 03 December 2012 04:20:56PM 2 points [-]

“it is quite difficult to approach the Way without studying” is more like P(A|~B) << 1.

Comment author: Kindly 03 December 2012 04:29:03PM *  3 points [-]

In fact, the quote says nothing at all about lower bounds on P(A|B). It's possible that it's even more difficult to approach the Way by studying.

Comment author: faul_sname 03 December 2012 07:45:16PM 0 points [-]

True, but only if P(B) > P(~B) (that is, if more people study than don't study).

Comment author: Sengachi 04 December 2012 01:55:13AM 1 point [-]

Ah, we are forgetting that sometimes books may be actively misleading, and may deviate one from truth (no matter how much you read those propaganda books, they probably won't tell you what you really need to know).

Comment author: faul_sname 04 December 2012 06:02:15AM *  0 points [-]

Ah, I had misread the quote, and confused P(A|B) with P(B|A). Nevertheless, I think your objection is with the statement that P(A|B) > P(A|~B).

Comment author: Jabberslythe 25 December 2012 03:25:41AM 5 points [-]

Terminology, afterall was nothing. So long as we can reach the idea itself.

-- Algernon Blackwood, The Damned

Comment author: MinibearRex 05 December 2012 05:12:24AM 5 points [-]

Perhaps there is nothing in Nature more pleasing than the study of the human mind, even in its imperfections or depravities; for, although it may be more pleasing to a good mind to contemplate and investigate the application of its powers to good purposes, yet as depravity is an operation of the same mind, it becomes at least equally necessary to investigate, that we may be able to prevent it.

-John Hunter

Comment author: Konkvistador 09 December 2012 07:33:05PM 24 points [-]

In December of each year, the New York Times film critics, like film critics everywhere, write Deep Think pieces about what patterns in the movies released in the current year tell us about Trends in the Big Issues. The annual answer ought to be: Virtually nothing, because what gets released in a single year is a close to a random sample of projects that had been in the works for years and happened to come to fruition now. But that never stops the critics from pontificating on 2012: The Meaning of It All.

--Steve Sailer, here

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 02 December 2012 08:34:25PM *  18 points [-]

It is very difficult to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if the cat is not there.

— Confucius, allegedly (quoted in The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed)

Edit: The rationality relevance might need some explanation. The way I've seen this aphorism used is this: it's sometimes hard to distinguish between a task that's achievable but very difficult (and that it therefore might make sense to spend time/effort on), and a task that is impossible (and thus is a complete waste of time/effort).

If you spend some time searching for the cat in the dark room, you might not find it. Is that because finding it is difficult (after all, this is what you might quite plausibly expect, if you assume that the cat is there), or because the cat is not there and you're wasting your time?

Comment author: army1987 03 December 2012 12:08:14PM 4 points [-]

See also the anonymous expanded version.

Comment author: Macaulay 01 December 2012 04:52:32PM 23 points [-]

A person is said to exhibit rational irrationality when it is instrumentally rational for him to be epistemically irrational. An instrumentally rational person chooses the best strategies to achieve his goals. An epistemically irrational person ignores and evades evidence against his beliefs, holds his beliefs without evidence or with only weak evidence, has contradictions in his thinking, employs logical fallacies in belief formation, and exhibits characteristic epistemic vices such as closed-mindedness. Epistemically irrational political beliefs can reinforce one’s self-image; boost one’s self-esteem; make one feel noble, smart, superior, safe, or comfortable; and can help achieve conformity with the group and thus facilitate social acceptance. Thus, epistemic irrationality can be instrumentally rational.

If I falsely believe the road I am crossing is free of cars, I might die. So I have a strong incentive to form beliefs about the road in a rational way. However, if I falsely believe that import quotas are good for the economy, this has no directly harmful effects. (On the contrary, the belief can have significant instrumental value. It might make me feel patriotic; serve my xenophobia; serve as an outlet to rationalize, sublimate, or redirect racist attitudes; or help me pretend to have solidarity with union workers.) … Epistemic rationality is hard and takes self-discipline.

When it comes to politics, individuals have every incentive to indulge their irrational impulses. Demand for irrational beliefs is like demand for most other goods. The lower the cost, the more will be demanded. The cost to the typical voter of voting in epistemically irrational ways is nearly zero. The cost of overcoming bias and epistemic irrationality is high. The psychological benefit of this irrationality is significant. Thus, voters demand a high amount of epistemic irrationality.

Jason Brennan, The Ethics of Voting, p.173-74

Comment author: roland 02 December 2012 12:02:35AM 1 point [-]

I wish we would reconsider the upvote/downvote mechanics on LW.

Comment author: rocurley 03 December 2012 06:59:03AM 4 points [-]

Could you elaborate?

Comment author: roland 03 December 2012 06:54:49PM 6 points [-]


it is exactly what the quote said:

The cost to the typical voter of voting in epistemically irrational ways is nearly zero. The cost of overcoming bias and epistemic irrationality is high. The psychological benefit of this irrationality is significant. Thus, voters demand a high amount of epistemic irrationality.

In the case of LW, voting irrationally has almost zero costs. You don't get penalized for voting wrongly(Incidentally I suggested trying to implement some measure of this kind and guess what... I was downvoted). The penalties are more indirect, like diminishing the amount of epistemically correct contributions.

So why would you assume that LW would be less prone to have this sort of problem?

The evidence suggests that the problem should actually be worse on LW, see1, 2.

Comment author: TimS 02 December 2012 01:59:28AM 1 point [-]

I think this quote might have the analysis backwards. Politicians are not irrational for spouting irrational nonsense - because that is what voters want to hear. I'm not sure if that is accurately described as "epistemically irrational" because some of the politicians probably know what the correct answers are.

None of that creates incentives on voters to be epistemically irrational - except for game-theoric reasons. There certainly are costs to voters being epistemically irrational (assuming one believes there are meaningful differences between the political parties - which may not be the local consensus.

Comment author: James_K 03 December 2012 07:53:35AM 4 points [-]

Except that an individual vote have a negligible effect on who wins an election, so voters have no incentive to figure out which political party best represents their goals.

Comment author: almkglor 17 December 2012 02:11:07AM *  4 points [-]

Stripped to its essentials, every decision in life amounts to choosing which lottery ticket to buy. . . . Most organisms don't buy lottery tickets, but they all choose between gambles every time their bodies can move in more than one way. They should be willing to 'pay' for information---in tissue, energy, and time---if the cost is lower than the expected payoff in food, safety, mating opportunities, and other resources, all ultimately valuated in the expected number of surviving offspring. In multicellular animals the information is gathered and translated into profitable decisions by the nervous system.

  • Steven Pinker
Comment author: Will_Newsome 01 December 2012 05:13:57PM 15 points [-]

When you have run the length of various practices and none of those practices remain in your mind, that very lack of mind itself is the heart of "all things." When you have exhaustively learned the various practices and techniques and made great effort in disciplined training, there will be action in your arms, legs, and body but none in your mind; you will have distanced yourself from training, but will not be in opposition to it, and you will have freedom in whatever techniques you perform. You yourself will be unaware of where your mind is, and neither demons nor heresies will be able to find it.

— Yagyū Munenori, The Life-Giving Sword

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 14 December 2012 05:16:31PM 10 points [-]

I don't have any previous experience with this sort of thing, but judging from what I hear and read, I'm supposed to be asking why all this is happening, and why it's happening to me. Honestly, those questions are about the farthest thing from my mind.

Partly, that’s because they aren't hard questions. Why does our world have gravity? Why does the sun rise in the East? There are technical answers, but the metaphysical answer is simple: that’s how reality works. So too here. Only in the richest parts of the rich world of the twenty-first century could anyone entertain the thought that we should expect long, pain-free lives. Suffering and premature death (an odd phrase: what does it mean to call death "premature"?) are constant presences in the lives of most of the peoples of the Earth, and were routine parts of life for generations of our predecessors in this country—as they still are today, for those with their eyes open. Stage 4 cancers happen to middle-aged men and women, seemingly out of the blue, because that's how reality works.

As for why this is happening to me in particular, the implicit point of the question is an argument: I deserve better than this. There are two responses. First, I don't—I have no greater moral claim to be free from unwanted pain and loss than anyone else. Plenty of people more virtuous than I am suffer worse than I have, and some who don't seem virtuous at all skate through life with surprising ease. Welcome to the world. Once again, it seems to me that this claim arises from the incredibly unusual experience of a small class of wealthy professionals in the wealthiest parts of the world today. We think we live in a world governed by merit and moral desert. It isn't so. Luck, fortune, fate, providence—call it what you will, but whatever your preferred label, it has far more to do with the successes of the successful than what any of us deserves. Aristocracies of the past awarded wealth and position based on the accident of birth. Today's meritocracies award wealth and position based on the accident of being in the right place at the right time. The difference is smaller than we tend to think. Once you understand that, it’s hard to maintain a sense of grievance in the face of even the ugliest medical news. I’ve won more than my share of life's lotteries. It would seem churlish to rail at the unfairness of losing this one—if indeed I do lose it: which I may not.

The second response is simpler; it comes from the movie "Unforgiven." Gene Hackman is dying, and says to Clint Eastwood: "I don't deserve this. To die like this. I was building a house." Eastwood responds: "Deserve’s got nothing to do with it."

That gets it right, I think. It's a messed-up world, upside-down as often as it's rightside up. Bad things happen; future plans (that house Hackman was building) come to naught. Deserve's got nothing to do with it.

--William J. Stuntz, discussing his cancer diagnosis

Apologies for the length, but I wanted to include the full substantive point and hated to snip lines here and there. For what it's worth, Prof. Stuntz was a devout Christian, and the linked post went on to discuss his theological views on why "something deep within us expects, even demands moral order—in a world that shouts from the rooftops that no such order exists." Obviously I draw a different conclusion about this conflict, but I still respect that he could take such an unflinching view of how morally empty nature really is.

Comment author: bbleeker 14 December 2012 10:56:19PM 2 points [-]

That reminded me of this:

Sometimes I lie awake at night and ask: "Why me?" And a voice answers: "Nothing personal, your name just happened to come up".

Charlie Brown

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 01 December 2012 03:45:57PM 34 points [-]

"Working in mysterious ways" is the greatest euphemism for failure ever devised.


Comment author: [deleted] 06 December 2012 12:37:13AM 14 points [-]

"Right and wrong do exist. Just because you don't know what the right answer is — maybe there's even no way you could know what the right answer is — doesn't make your answer right or even okay. It's much simpler than that. It's just plain wrong."

--Dr. House

Comment author: almkglor 07 December 2012 09:26:55AM 9 points [-]

"Speed is what distinguishes intelligence. No bird discovers how to fly: evolution used a trillion bird-years to 'discover' that - where merely hundreds of person-years sufficed." - Marvin Minsky

Comment author: gwern 07 December 2012 05:53:08PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: VKS 03 December 2012 06:50:16AM 17 points [-]

Truth comes out of error more easily than out of confusion.

-Francis Bacon

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 15 December 2012 02:40:11AM 4 points [-]

This is a duplicate from 2009.

Comment author: michaelkeenan 01 December 2012 05:27:13PM *  13 points [-]

The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

-- Eden Phillpotts

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 02 December 2012 10:23:46AM *  22 points [-]

Yes, the universe is full of things waiting for our wits to grow sharp enough that we stop anthropomorphizing them...

Comment author: Death 03 December 2012 09:35:19PM 23 points [-]


Comment author: Armok_GoB 03 December 2012 09:35:25PM 15 points [-]

The universe is full of sharp things, waiting to skewer us.

No idea what I got the sudden urge to respond with that.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 01 December 2012 03:46:47PM 20 points [-]

how are opinions like assholes? I've trained mine to be uncommonly elastic and accepting of new things


Comment author: Alicorn 04 December 2012 02:54:54AM 12 points [-]

"...they have all these experts' predictions about the year 2000 and I kid you not they are fucking psychotic. Just not even close, like oh we'll be growing cars in vats and having nuclear wars with China and then black rainbows will drain the earth of its oxygen and kill everyone except our moon colonists. Experts. I mean people cannot predict shit. We think we can and we fucking can't."

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 December 2012 03:51:19PM 8 points [-]

The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.

Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.

The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.

Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.

Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.

The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

Robert Peele

Comment author: army1987 16 December 2012 11:47:29PM *  5 points [-]

The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.

Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad.

Homer: Thank you, dear.

Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.

Homer: Oh, how does it work?

Lisa: It doesn't work.

Homer: Uh-huh.

Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.

Homer: Uh-huh.

Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?

Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

Comment author: nshepperd 17 December 2012 01:20:49AM 3 points [-]

Perhaps he should have said "conspicuous absence". An absence of tigers is only conspicuous if you would otherwise expect tigers everywhere.

Comment author: army1987 19 December 2012 11:27:12AM 2 points [-]

In principle, yes. In practice, it would be very hard to tell how many more crimes per year, divided per X, there would be if counterfactually the police's budget was reduced by $X/year all other things being equal (looking at how other countries are doing will have huuuge confounding effects), and I suspect most people would overestimate that.

Comment author: pedanterrific 19 December 2012 05:47:26AM 0 points [-]

spacious reasoning

Specious, not spacious.

Comment author: army1987 19 December 2012 11:22:56AM 0 points [-]


Comment author: wedrifid 18 December 2012 01:58:42AM *  0 points [-]

Ok, now, which character from the Simpsons would be capable of reading the causality sequence, understand the math and reliably evaluate the evidence actually given about police efficiency by absence of crime and disorder? Because if Lisa said directly or herself intended the above story to be analogous then I'd call her naive and confused. Given what is known about the relevance of law enforcement, not considering low crime to be---all else even remotely approximating equal---strong evidence about the effectiveness of the police would be utterly absurd.

Comment author: Alejandro1 18 December 2012 02:54:20AM 1 point [-]

Ok, now, which character from the Simpsons would be capable of reading the causality sequence, understand the math and reliably evaluate the evidence actually given about police efficiency by absence of crime and disorder?

By my count, three: Lisa, Professor Frink, and "Stephen Hawking" (the caricatured version of himself that Hawking played on the several occasions he guest-starred on the show).

Because if Lisa said directly or herself intended the above story to be analogous then I'd call her naive and confused.

Jumping to Lisa's defense here, as the quoted dialogue was about the Bear Patrol, a costly government initiative to keep the town safe from bears, launched in response to the only bear sighting in decades. It was army1987 who applied it to regular (human) crime.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 16 December 2012 11:08:01PM 2 points [-]

The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

Agreed. It's also not the lack of police visibly dealing with crime.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 December 2012 12:50:54AM 1 point [-]
Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 18 December 2012 02:54:59AM 1 point [-]

Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

I know this is meant to be an ideal for the police, but it could also be read as a descriptive claim about public favor, and it's worth noting that that claim is sometimes false: how often do people approve of police bashing the heads of $OUTGROUP?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 December 2012 03:08:26AM 1 point [-]

This is true-- and it's also the case that sometimes the law supports abuse of an outgroup.

I don't know enough about Peele's era to have an opinion about how those issues played out for his police force.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 01 December 2012 05:29:20PM 16 points [-]

Nobody likes to face the more painful question, What Made the Dogs Want to Leave?


Comment author: cypher197 06 December 2012 10:13:46PM 2 points [-]

I read that as meaning something along the lines of, "if Nature is truly so wonderful, why did dogs leave it (to become domesticated)?"

Comment author: beoShaffer 02 December 2012 08:21:23PM 3 points [-]

The sounds interesting, but could use more context.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 03 December 2012 02:14:47AM 9 points [-]
Comment author: Matt_Caulfield 01 December 2012 08:11:29PM 7 points [-]

But although no ideal obliterates the ugly drudgery and detail of any calling, that ideal does, in the case of the soldier or the doctor, exist definitely in the background and makes that drudgery worthwhile as a whole. It is a serious calamity that no such ideal exists in the case of the vast number of trades and crafts on which the existence of the modern city depends.

  • G. K. Chesterton
Comment author: GabrielDuquette 03 December 2012 03:11:09PM 2 points [-]

trades and crafts on which the existence of the modern city depends.

Such as?

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 03 December 2012 03:45:54PM 6 points [-]

Are you serious? Just about every job out there from plumbing and electric line repair, to clerk at the DMV.

Comment author: ewbrownv 03 December 2012 08:58:28PM 1 point [-]

Not quite. The plumber and electrician are necessary for the existence of the city. The DMV clerk is needed only for the enforcement of a licensing scheme - if his office shut down completely the city would go on functioning with little or no change.

Comment author: Kindly 04 December 2012 04:15:35AM 2 points [-]

There would need to be some sort of alternate mechanism for ensuring that people learn to drive a car safely before driving a car. Presumably that mechanism would involve some replacement job for the former DMV clerk.

Comment author: ewbrownv 04 December 2012 08:28:31PM 2 points [-]

Such a mechanism may be desirable, but it isn't necessary for the existence of cities. There are plenty of third world countries that don't bother with licensing, and still manage to have major metropolises.

But my point was just that when people talk about 'trades and crafts on which the existence of the modern city depends' they generally mean carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other hands-on trades, not clerks and bureaucrats.

Comment author: abramdemski 04 December 2012 08:28:00AM 1 point [-]

Police, judges, and lawyers would be OK in this respect. (I'm not advocating elimination of the DMV, but now that I think about it, it sounds not-too-bad. Court orders to stop repeat offenders from driving sounds like, potentially, a better system than licensing?)

Comment author: Bugmaster 04 December 2012 07:53:26PM *  3 points [-]

Police, judges, and lawyers would be OK in this respect.

Given their already heavy workload, they'd need to create a separate department just to deal with all the traffic violations. Hmm...

Besides, and perhaps more importantly, I'd rather instill a social expectation that driving requires a certificate, which in turn requires some training, than deal with "repeat offenders" after they'd run someone over because they couldn't steer properly.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 03 December 2012 10:47:17PM 0 points [-]

If you read "ideal" as status, I'd say the gap between doctors and e.g. plumbers has shrunk some since Chesterton's time.

Comment author: gwern 04 December 2012 07:24:55PM 5 points [-]

That's not how Chesterton is using it, though; he's using it about the myths and stories that justify a profession: doctors talk about saving lives (rather than making money), soldiers talk about saving the country from vicious greedy foreigners (rather than making money), etc. He regards these myths as ennobling in the best sense: adding meaning to life, a raison d'etre, ikigai etc.; you could read his Napoleon of Notting Hill as an illustration of this idea, especially towards the end.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 04 December 2012 08:33:53PM 2 points [-]

Yes, that much was clear from the quote. I never said I disagreed, just wanted to spread out the interpretation a bit.

Comment author: Mestroyer 04 December 2012 04:26:52PM *  11 points [-]

We're Nature's conscience. One day, we'll finally make it listen and realise what a monster it's been all along.

Catharine G. Evans

Comment author: Will_Newsome 09 December 2012 04:31:37AM 1 point [-]

Catharine, peasant.

Comment author: Mestroyer 09 December 2012 05:21:35AM 2 points [-]


Comment author: [deleted] 06 December 2012 12:36:40AM 6 points [-]

"Well, the first rule is that you can't really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang 'em back. If the facts don't hang together on a latticework of theory, you don't have them in a usable form.

You've got to have models in your head. And you've got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You've got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head."

--Charles Munger http://ycombinator.com/munger.html

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 09 December 2012 07:24:40PM 2 points [-]

You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life.

Any serious experiment proving this? There are ways to win at life that don't require understanding of many things.

Comment author: Desrtopa 13 December 2012 06:08:29AM 0 points [-]

And certainly ways to succeed in a school environment without understanding what you're supposed to be learning about.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 December 2012 08:19:19PM *  0 points [-]

Eh. That could have maybe been phrased better with less hyperbole. But I don't think he is literally making a prediction about practical life outcomes. I think he A) implicitly classes understanding as a terminal value here and B) is using failure to mean not achieving your goals (in this case understanding). That seems reasonable enough. I think a decent chunk of folks on lesswrong would value epistemic rationality even if it was proven that it didn't make their lives any better along other axes. In any case you can dump the "fail" part from the quote and the general idea about mental models is fine.

Comment author: ZoneSeek 04 December 2012 09:37:15AM *  6 points [-]

We don't expect kittens to fight wildcats and win - we merely expect them to try.

--Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers

I'm not talking about the mindkilling politics of Starship Troopers today. The quote's about doing the impossible. A while back Kyre posted a link to Minus #37, and without context, it hit me like a knife in the guts. I didn't know that she was a godlike reality-bender. To me she was just a kid who stepped up to take a swing, she was Tiffany Aching.

Comment author: army1987 03 December 2012 04:24:41PM 8 points [-]

I judge men by what they do, not who their fathers were.

selenite on Yvain's blog

Comment author: BerryPick6 03 December 2012 04:27:30PM *  7 points [-]

Reading the context (it's said in response to an evangelical trying to use Lewis' Trilemma) just makes it plain badass.

Comment author: Randy_M 04 December 2012 04:15:07PM *  6 points [-]

Bad-ass, but not instrumentally rational. I'm going to be polite to the police chief's (or mafia boss', etc.) son, even if the boy is rather a jerk. (Yes, I know it's possible to be polite even when forming a poor judgement, but the context was "Doesn't it matter")

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 02 December 2012 07:26:34AM 12 points [-]

"Well, how about this — that man, unlike animals, is a creature who experiences an insurmountable need for knowledge? I've read that somewhere."

"So have I," said Valentine. "But the trouble is that man, or in any case the common man, easily overcomes this need for knowledge of his. It seems to me that he doesn't have such a need at all. There's a need to understand, but knowledge is not required for that. The God hypothesis, for instance, gives one an unparalleled ability to understand absolutely everything, while discovering absolutely nothing... Give a person a highly simplified model of the world and interpret any event on the basis of this simplified model. Such an approach required no knowledge. A few memorized formulas plus some so-called intuition, so-called practical acumen, and so-called common sense."

Roadside Picnic, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky

Comment author: TeMPOraL 04 December 2012 09:25:38AM *  5 points [-]

I like doing math that involves measuring the lengths of numbers written out on the page—which is really just a way of loosely estimating log_10 x. It works, but it feels so wrong.

Comment author: Matt_Caulfield 01 December 2012 08:12:08PM *  10 points [-]

Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics.

  • David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Edit: Yup, apparently that's a famous quote by Bradley which I read for the first time in that book. Good catch.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 December 2012 02:46:02AM *  16 points [-]

A Google search attributes this to Gen. Omar Bradley.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 03 December 2012 05:46:14PM 6 points [-]

The "mountain-sea" spirit means that it is bad to repeat the same thing several times when fighting the enemy. There may be no help but to do something twice, but do not try it a third time. If you once make an attack and fail, there is little chance of success if you use the same approach again.

Myiamoto Musashi, Book of the Five Rings.

Comment author: wedrifid 20 December 2012 02:32:47PM 2 points [-]

The "mountain-sea" spirit means that it is bad to repeat the same thing several times when fighting the enemy. There may be no help but to do something twice, but do not try it a third time.

Unless, say, you're going to overwhelm a critical position with superior numbers and superior technology at a tactically convenient time.

In some such cases being utterly predictable even has benefits. People who know they are going to lose and die if they fight are more inclined to surrender or flee. (This has obvious advantages if you are a pirate with a fearsome who doesn't want casualties.)

If you once make an attack and fail, there is little chance of success if you use the same approach again.

That actually sounds like solid advice in most situations. (Assuming 'fail' excludes 'weakened them significantly but did not quite defeat them'. Obviously a second attack then should be evaluated as a different approach.)

Comment author: thomblake 20 December 2012 03:22:03PM *  1 point [-]

Yes. The whole thing should be read as elaboration of one piece of advice - the individual sentences are not meant to stand on their own. If you're overwhelming the enemy with multiple attacks, then none of them should be counted as failure.

And FWIW, Musashi was primarily writing about swordsmanship, not command.

Comment author: DaFranker 03 December 2012 05:51:24PM *  4 points [-]

Although I would infer him to have already been aware of certain exceptions, e.g.:

If you and your opponent both know eachother to be skilled and masters of the way, then attempting the same tactic a third time becomes a different tactic; you are making an attack which your opponent would never expect you to try again.

It's a common failure mode of intermediate-level students of a competitive discipline to fall prey to the simplest tactics used by the weakest beginners, simply because they expect their opponent not to use said weak and simple tactics. For example, experienced chess players losing repeatedly to a complete beginner because they're used to playing against stronger and stronger opponents as they were gaining their experience. I've seen it happen often, and it's happened to me too.

ETA: I acknowledge that the example above isn't quite what is seen out there. What I had in mind was a one-off thing - of intermediate players, a "significant amount" (not the majority, but I'd guess "enough so that most experienced players have seen it happen more than once") go through a point at least once where they repeatedly lose against a player much less experienced than them, because of the reasons above. This second point is also debatable, but I think it's worth splitting and distinguishing between the two.

Comment author: lavalamp 20 December 2012 03:26:38PM 5 points [-]

For example, experienced chess players losing repeatedly to a complete beginner because they're used to playing against stronger and stronger opponents as they were gaining their experience.

Huh? AFAIK, chess players pretty much never lose to players rated 400 Elo less, and higher rated players are more consistent. This applies double for Go.

I think a weaker version of this statement ("repeatedly"->"more often than one naively might expect") might be true for poker.

Comment author: Desrtopa 09 December 2012 06:05:41AM 4 points [-]

What works in chess does not necessarily generalize to swordfights. In a duel your responses to your opponent's techniques are mostly cached actions carried out on reflex, and and any ideas you might have about how many times your opponent is likely to try any particular move are not likely to have that much influence on how you react.

How you set up the move certainly makes a difference, the same technique can be used in many different ways, but if you take a specific approach and your opponent defeats it once, you shouldn't count on it working the next time, and if they defeat it twice, you should be even more confident it won't work if you try it again.

From my experience as a fencer, I can affirm that facing a beginner can be disorienting, because when you train to respond to intelligent and efficient techniques, unintelligent and inefficient ones are just confusing. I've never known an experienced fencer to lose to a newbie, because when one person is using efficient techniques and the other isn't, and both are unfamiliar with how to respond to their opponent, the efficient one will win, but it can be pretty frustrating.

On the other hand, having a newbie opponent try the same thing repeatedly even when it's not working is one of the least troublesome things they're likely to do.

Comment author: army1987 09 December 2012 01:56:00PM 3 points [-]

What works in chess does not necessarily generalize to swordfights. In a duel your responses to your opponent's techniques are mostly cached actions carried out on reflex,

Chess openings are largely cached among professionals.

Comment author: Kindly 09 December 2012 04:36:13PM 2 points [-]

They're usually not cached at the level where you have any chance at all of losing to a complete beginner.

Comment author: Nornagest 09 December 2012 06:38:45AM *  2 points [-]

I've never known an experienced fencer to lose to a newbie

Not in a ten-point bout. Very rarely in a five-point bout. I've seen it happen in one-point bouts, though.

Agreed on trying the same thing multiple times. Part of this is that fencing (whether epee fencing or the slower katana play that Musashi was talking about) is decided on the quarter-second level, a couple orders of magnitude below what you'd get even in speed chess, but I think informational effects are just as important in this case. A great deal of the metagame of martial arts depends on having the correct low-level reactions to your opponent's moves, and working memory has a lot to do with this; trying the same thing twice will prime your opponent quite strongly to respond to it a third time, no matter how strong a fencer you are. (It's possible to exploit this by trying a superficially similar move that'll defeat the expected counter, or to feint a move you previously used and go to a second-intention attack.)

Comment author: Desrtopa 09 December 2012 03:17:26PM *  1 point [-]

Not in a ten-point bout. Very rarely in a five-point bout. I've seen it happen in one-point bouts, though.

At my club, I don't think anyone really fenced one-point bouts. Three rarely. The newbie would sometimes get points though, so if they had been fencing one point bouts, they would have had a chance. Five was the standard where I fenced, and I don't remember seeing a newbie ever win one.

Comment author: DaFranker 10 December 2012 03:41:18PM 1 point [-]

Five was the standard where I fenced, and I don't remember seeing a newbie ever win one.

Anything else would have surprised me. Fencing would probably not have acquired its current status and reputation had it been so reliant on things other than training and skill.

Comment author: DaFranker 10 December 2012 03:37:18PM 0 points [-]

Yes, I fully agree that things will work differently depending on the specific rules of the specific competition.

I'm mostly referring to questions of strategy and metagame. In terms of a specific type of strike in fencing, for instance, things have to become a bit more contrived for this to become applicable. Two really great fencers could, for instance, face off in a duel of mindgame meta, where one strikes twice in a manner that is unlikely to succeed, but is an attack on the pacing of the duel, attempting to take control of it, which the other will respond to.

On the third attempt of this technique, the opponent might anticipate a slight change in the technique, such as the strike turning into an actual attack, and prepare a more diverse set of reactions to counter how their opponent might avoid their default reaction (which they have now seen twice, and may have figured out a way to circumvent). Then, the game takes more depth, as both fencers become aware that there are more possible reactions, but that who takes control of the battle's pacing will depend on the attacker's anticipation of their opponents' style and possible reactions.

As I said, very contrived, but I could plausibly see this happening in high-caliber duels, naturally occurring at the quarter-second level or faster, particularly for fencing from what I know.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 20 December 2012 01:51:43PM 3 points [-]

For example, experienced chess players losing repeatedly to a complete beginner because they're used to playing against stronger and stronger opponents as they were gaining their experience.

I defy the data.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 05 January 2013 09:27:55AM *  1 point [-]

For example, experienced chess players losing repeatedly to a complete beginner because they're used to playing against stronger and stronger opponents as they were gaining their experience.

One interesting question here is what are the features of games where this does happen? In my view a much weaker player may win against a much stronger player in a game where the following features are present:

(a) There is strong "metagame" (that is, multiple equilibria). A beginner may not be aware of the current equilibrium and may defect in hard to predict ways that may give an advantage.

(b) There is randomness. A much stronger player may be modelled as a computationally omnipotent adversary. Such adversaries still cannot "read the minds" of randomness sources. A game that interprets a beginner's flailing as randomness can make it situationally powerful.

(c) The game is short enough such that the stronger player cannot learn what's going on due to (a) or (b) quickly enough to turn the tide.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 20 December 2012 02:11:08PM 1 point [-]

For example, experienced chess players losing repeatedly to a complete beginner because they're used to playing against stronger and stronger opponents as they were gaining their experience. I've seen it happen often, and it's happened to me too.

Are you sure you aren't just remembering outliers or some other explanation? I've had superficially similar experiences but as far as I can tell, it was due to a simple lack of thinking on my part when playing against the very weak players.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 03 December 2012 11:00:45PM 1 point [-]

In context, this particular quote seems to be talking more about large-scale battles than individual duels. So, if you've already launched your cavalry at the enemy twice, and they were driven off in disarray each time, then another try is probably not going to work even if your enemy doesn't expect it.

Comment author: Decius 04 December 2012 09:15:27PM 1 point [-]

I didn't see any discussion of strategy or leadership in the Book of the Five Rings.

I have, however, seen many cases in competitive gaming where correctly judging what my opponent was expecting me to do allowed me to counter them more effectively. There are a large number of meta-levels there, and operating two levels above your opponent is typically as bad as operating one level below them.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 04 December 2012 10:14:10PM 2 points [-]

The principles of strategy are written down here in terms of single combat, but you must think broadly so that you attain an understanding for ten-thousand-a-side battles.

It appears to me that Musashi intends his principles to be applicable to either duel or battle. There are several illustrations that imply that he is not just talking about duels:

First, in large-scale strategy, when the enemy first discharges bows and guns and then attacks, it is difficult for us to attack if we are busy loading powder into our guns or notching our arrows. The spirit is to attack quickly while the enemy is still shooting with bows or guns. The spirit is to win by "treading down" as we receive the enemy's attack.

In large-scale strategy, when you cannot see the enemy's position, indicate that you are about to attack strongly, to discover his resources.

In large-scale strategy you can frighten the enemy not by what you present to their eyes, but by shouting, making a small force seem large, or by threatening them from the flank without warning.

In large-scale strategy, it is beneficial to strike at the corners of the enemy's force, If the corners are overthrown, the spirit of the whole body will be overthrown.

I suspect that 'flanks' might be a more idiomatic translation of that last. But at any rate it is clear that Musashi does not limit his advice to individual combat.

Comment author: army1987 13 December 2012 05:08:16PM 7 points [-]

Responsibility is not a pie to be divided.

Johanna Schroeder

Comment author: simplicio 18 December 2012 05:12:22PM 3 points [-]

Another example: a person who commits a murder may be able to point to a troubled past - for example, an abusive parent. The implication is that responsibility is a conserved quantity (like probability mass), so if the parent is guilty, then the murderer must be LESS guilty - that's what the 'Officer Kripke' defense wants us to conclude, and that is the (characteristically leftist) misunderstanding of responsibility.

The symmetrical (characteristically conservative) mistake is to imagine that any discourse about exogenous factors contributing to a willful bad act (bad education etc.) is 'letting the criminals off the hook.'

Broadly speaking, we want to increase the prevalence of moral luck (perhaps by some manner of social engineering) while still holding individuals as morally responsible as before.

Comment author: MinibearRex 05 December 2012 04:04:21AM 4 points [-]

Don't think, try the experiment.

-John Hunter

Comment author: b1shop 09 December 2012 03:52:41PM 4 points [-]

In the context of probability theory:

Don't prove, try the Monte Carlo.

Comment author: soreff 08 December 2012 09:33:36PM 3 points [-]

Whether that is good advice or not depends on the evidence already in hand, and the difficulty of the experiment. Will ice survive heating to a million kelvin at standard pressure?

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 30 December 2012 04:15:06PM *  2 points [-]

"Now," said the voice of lock and window-bar,
"You must confront things as they truly are.
Open your eyes at last, and see
The desolateness of reality."

"Things have," I said, "a pallid, empty look,
Like pictures in an unused coloring book."

"Now that the scales have fallen from your eyes,"
Said the sad hallways, "you must recognize
How childishly your former sight
Salted the world with glory and delight."

"This cannot be the world," I said. "Nor will it,
Till the heart's crayon spangle and fulfill it."

-- Richard Wilbur, At Moorditch

Comment author: gwern 20 December 2012 01:42:31AM 2 points [-]

Before he could put into practice something he had heard, the only thing Tzu-lu feared was that he should be told something further.

Confucius, Analects V.14

Comment author: toner 04 December 2012 01:17:05PM *  5 points [-]

The workshop was invigorating because nearly everyone seemed confused.

John Preskill

Comment author: gattsuru 03 December 2012 11:20:50PM 7 points [-]

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious.

Chesterton's Fence, G.K. Chesterton, The Thing: Why I Am A Catholic

It's not terribly useful in its original form -- as the title of the book suggests, it's used heavily to support a rather primitive appeal to tradition (and through that, an appeal to consequences of a belief). The underlying knowledge, however, is useful: complex structures, especially designed ones but even randomly developed ones, often reflect complex environmental stimuli. Sometimes these stimuli are not useful; indeed, the nature of complex environmental stimuli means that they often change significantly over time. But as much use as there can be in reinventing the wheel to better grok how a wheel works, there are just as equally advantages and uses in using researching backwards from end results.

Comment author: Nornagest 03 December 2012 11:38:53PM 9 points [-]

That's been posted before, and appears to have made it far enough into the LW vernacular to be used without explanation although not without scare quotes. You do give more context for it, though.

Comment author: arborealhominid 13 December 2012 07:19:29PM *  6 points [-]

The exposure of truth sometimes results in tragedy. However, no matter how tragic the truth may be, it would be an even greater tragedy to avert one's eyes from it.

  • Edgeworth, from Phoenix Wright (which I haven't actually played)
Comment author: Mestroyer 17 December 2012 01:50:10PM 18 points [-]

If you are hiding in a basement from the Nazis, this isn't true. If you are going to be tortured for the whereabouts of people hiding from the Nazis, you should also avert your eyes and avoid finding out where they are hiding. The fact that instrumental and epistemic rationality are sometimes at odds is another tragic truth.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 December 2012 08:57:26AM 18 points [-]

Just remember, most people most of the time are not about to learn the location of a refugee just before being tortured by Nazis.

Comment author: DanArmak 17 December 2012 02:40:51PM 8 points [-]

The fact that instrumental and epistemic rationality are sometimes at odds is another tragic truth.

Which we should not avert our eyes from.

Comment author: MugaSofer 17 December 2012 06:12:54PM 3 points [-]

The exposure of truth sometimes results in tragedy. However, no matter how tragic the truth may be, it would risk an even greater tragedy to avert one's eyes from it.

Fixed that for you.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 12 December 2012 08:02:23AM 3 points [-]

It is not that we propose a theory and Nature may shout NO. Rather, we propose a maze of theories, and Nature may shout INCONSISTENT.

-- Imre Lakatos, ‘‘Criticism and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes,’’

Comment author: gwern 20 December 2012 02:25:12AM 0 points [-]
Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 December 2012 08:24:29PM 3 points [-]

It would be a coincidence if the link that can be most easily strengthened turned out to be the weakest link.

--Seth Roberts, Online Teaching vs. What?, which also makes the point that the best books on a subject are rarely if ever textbooks

Comment author: MixedNuts 10 December 2012 08:39:23PM 3 points [-]

Most improvement mechanisms have diminishing returns.

Comment author: Decius 05 December 2012 05:55:04AM 4 points [-]

"They're running on the same neural architecture that I am and I'm a person."

Florence Ambrose (Fictional Biological AI, referring to machine AIs)

Comment author: Larks 02 December 2012 02:21:34PM 4 points [-]

Whoever in discussion adduces authority uses not intellect but rather memory.

  • Leonardo da Vinci
Comment author: Bakkot 03 December 2012 10:23:57PM 7 points [-]

In discussions I'm a lot less interested in which of us is more intelligent than which of us is correct. I don't see what's wrong with using one's memory.

Comment author: Larks 03 December 2012 11:19:18PM 2 points [-]

There's nothing wrong with appeal to authority either.

Comment author: BerryPick6 04 December 2012 02:49:43AM 4 points [-]

Wikipedia tell me that this is true.

Comment author: Alejandro1 06 December 2012 05:02:45AM 3 points [-]

So put forward the arguments and demonstrations, Simplicio--either yours or Aristotle's--but not just texts and bare authorities, because our discourses must relate to the sensible world and not to one on paper.

  • Galileo Galilei, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems
Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 01 December 2012 09:09:40PM *  4 points [-]

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Ris'n with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die; Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.

--Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (traditionally, the third verse -- starts at 2:52 in the linked video)

An unusual choice, to be sure. But notwithstanding the obvious religious content, I actually find this piece of the hymn to be a beautiful expression of genuine transhumanist sentiment. We've previously discussed how rationalism doesn't seem to leave much room for "Glory be to Gauss in the Highest!", but even if the sentiment of "highest praise" is a little Dark Artsy, I find myself thinking of something like a Friendly AI Singularity when I hear these lines. Sung in the right way, the song can actually give me chills to a degree rivaling HP:MoR -- you know, that chapter. Just listen to it from that perspective see if you don't find it inspiring.

I will note that I had a hard time finding a version of the song sung exactly how I wanted. It's usually performed slow, often by a choir, whereas I imagine it brisk, sung by one person with a deep voice, and with strong accenting -- as in, "Mild he lays his glory by/Born that man no more may die/Born to raise the sons of earth . . ."

Comment author: Manfred 19 December 2012 03:39:39AM 2 points [-]

One of my strongest stylistic prejudices in science is that many of the facts Nature confronts us with are so implausible given the simplicities of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics, that the mere demonstration of a reasonable mechanism leaves no doubt of the correct explanation.

  • P.W. Anderson
Comment author: simplicio 19 December 2012 04:21:57PM 1 point [-]

I'm having a bit of trouble parsing this... an "implausible fact that nature presents us with" like what? And when the author speaks of a "reasonable mechanism" do they mean a reasonable hand-wavy reduction to QM, or a reasonable mechanism in the language of the special science being discussed?

All of this being a long way of saying, an example would help.

Comment author: Manfred 19 December 2012 05:40:33PM 2 points [-]

The specific context is that of the surprising behavior of magnetic impurities in metals. When one writes down a quantum mechanical model to describe putting magnetic impurities into a metal, it turns out that one can leave out quite a lot (e.g. lattice structure) and still get the right answer.

Because the right answer is "so implausible given the simplicities" etc etc, one doesn't expect to get the right answer more than one way, so the insight from the simplest model necessary is sufficient.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 04 December 2012 03:05:50AM 2 points [-]

Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.

  • George Washington
Comment author: Thomas 01 December 2012 10:01:43AM 1 point [-]

Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it's almost impossible to eradicate

  • Inception movie
Comment author: ChristianKl 04 December 2012 10:15:38PM 4 points [-]

I don't think that really true. Human's are quite capable of changing their mind. They are also capable of forgetting.

Comment author: shminux 04 December 2012 10:29:45PM 8 points [-]

Human's are quite capable of changing their mind. They are also capable of forgetting.

They are especially prone to forgetting that they had changed their mind.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 05 December 2012 05:24:42AM *  6 points [-]

They're especially prone to forgetting what caused them to believe an idea, and only remembering that it was well justified.

Comment author: ChristianKl 05 December 2012 03:40:50PM 2 points [-]

Often times people don't even know what causes them to believe an idea the moment they adopt that idea.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 December 2012 06:01:59AM 1 point [-]

I'm inclined to think that ideas are more likely to be overwritten with some remnants showing through than to be completely forgotten.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 07 December 2012 10:15:44AM *  1 point [-]

Nothing is worth doing pointlessly.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8

Comment author: RobinZ 07 December 2012 07:03:56PM 2 points [-]

Do you know where in the Meditations this quote arises? I tried searching for "worth" in a couple online versions, but all I found was from the end of Book Seven here:

What object soever, our reasonable and sociable faculty doth meet with, that affords nothing either for the satisfaction of reason, or for the practice of charity, she worthily doth think unworthy of herself.

...which, in this version, reads:

Whatever the rational and political (social) faculty finds to be neither intelligent nor social, it properly judges to be inferior to itself.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 08 December 2012 12:21:27AM *  3 points [-]

It is in Book 8. I edited the original post to make this clear.

The George Long translation reads:

For nothing should be done without a purpose.

My Latin version (I don't know who translated it) reads:

Nihil enim temere faciendum.

I'm not sure which version is the most accurate, since I can't understand Koine Greek.

Comment author: army1987 07 December 2012 10:37:16AM *  1 point [-]

Depending on what one means by “pointlessly”, that's either incorrect (there are such thing as terminal values) or obviously tautological.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 07 December 2012 10:45:16AM *  7 points [-]

Depending on what one means by “pointlessly”, that's either incorrect (there are such thing as terminal values) or obviously tautological.

Something being obviously tautological doesn't preclude it from being useful advise (for humans).

  • My Brain: "If I completed this task, would it actually amount to anything of value?"
  • Another Part of My Brain: "Uh, not really."
  • My Brain: "I should stop doing this task."
Comment author: Ritalin 20 December 2012 10:37:39AM 1 point [-]

On Earth we need more who work more and criticize less, who build more and destroy less, who promise less and resolve more, who say better today than tomorrow.

Ernesto Che Guevara (ironically enough)

I think we've got too much focus here on criticizing bad stuff, deconstructing lies, weighing and doubting between options, and dreaming of uncertain futures. As opposed to working hard, building stuff, making decisions, and starting on it right now..

@Akrasia, @WhyOurKindCan'tCooperate, @HalfARationalist @ApologistVSRevolutionary @SelfImprovementVSShinyDistraction

Comment author: DSimon 08 December 2012 06:21:34AM *  1 point [-]

"Proof is for mathematics and alcohol."

-- Common response to requests for proof of scientific results

Comment author: Thomas 06 December 2012 07:13:31PM 1 point [-]

I don't have a solution but I admire the problem

  • Ashleigh Brilliant
Comment author: philh 02 December 2012 01:31:05PM 0 points [-]

Biscuit: The only loss you experience, is the loss you feel. As of today, I have no leg, and yet I've lost nothing. You have let the loss of your body part shape you into something weak and insane.


Duv: Your philosophy! Your source of strength! It's a joke! Close your eyes to the pain all you want, the results are still there! I'm still flightless and you're crawling!

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 03 December 2012 03:46:55PM 2 points [-]

And then she loses, hard, and he wins. I'm not feeling it.

Comment author: Jabberslythe 05 December 2012 05:06:46AM *  1 point [-]

To test reality we must see it on the tight rope. When the verities become acrobats, we can judge them.

  • Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey
Comment author: gattsuru 03 December 2012 11:44:09PM -1 points [-]

It turns out that facts, when viewed as a large body of knowledge, are just as predictable. Facts, in the aggregate, have half-lives: we can measure the amount of time for half of a subject's knowledge to be overturned.

Samuel Abesman, The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date.

Comment author: roystgnr 06 December 2012 09:49:46PM 8 points [-]

Radioactive atoms, in the aggregate, don't have a half-life. If you measure the nuclear radiation coming from a heterogenous glob of radioactive material, and it takes N hours to drop to 50% of that level, then it will take more than N hours to drop to 25% of the original level. The original material had both shorter-lived substances with a half-life of less than N hours and longer-lived substances with a half-life of more than N hours (and possibly non-radioactive elements as well), and since the former materials decay faster than the latter, the ratio between them falls until the latter materials dominate.

I suspect the same process holds true for facts.

Comment author: DSimon 04 December 2012 07:27:55PM 4 points [-]

Facts, in the aggregate, have half-lives: we can measure the amount of time for half of a subject's knowledge to be overturned.

The tricky part there is figuring out which half.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 07 December 2012 02:13:15AM 3 points [-]

Also, this book was a horrible agglomeration of irrelevant and un-analyzed factoids. If you've already read any two Malcolm Gladwell books or Freakonomics, It'd be considerably more educational to skip this book and just read the cards in a Trivial Pursuit box.