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Rationality Quotes January 2013

6 Post author: katydee 02 January 2013 05:23PM

Happy New Year! Here's the latest and greatest installment of rationality quotes. Remember:

  • 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  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LessWrong or Overcoming Bias
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please

Comments (604)

Comment author: Carwajalca 29 January 2013 11:21:28AM 26 points [-]

"I've never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive."

-- Randall Munroe, in http://what-if.xkcd.com/30/ (What-if xkcd, Interplanetary Cessna)

Comment author: Vaniver 11 January 2013 01:32:09AM 22 points [-]

Some may think these trifling matters not worth minding or relating; but when they consider that tho' dust blown into the eyes of a single person, or into a single shop on a windy day, is but of small importance, yet the great number of the instances in a populous city, and its frequent repetitions give it weight and consequence, perhaps they will not censure very severely those who bestow some attention to affairs of this seemingly low nature. Human felicity is produc'd not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.

--Benjamin Franklin

Comment author: RichardKennaway 13 January 2013 08:11:24PM 20 points [-]

"Just because you no longer believe a lie, does not mean you now know the truth."

Mark Atwood

Comment author: GLaDOS 10 January 2013 07:10:30PM *  12 points [-]

While truths last forever, taboos against them can last for centuries.

--"Sid" a commenter from HalfSigma's blog

Comment author: [deleted] 30 January 2013 12:10:07PM 11 points [-]

Whenever you can, count.

--Sir Francis Galton

Comment author: GLaDOS 29 January 2013 07:34:17PM 10 points [-]

I notice with some amusement, both in America and English literature, the rise of a new kind of bigotry. Bigotry does not consist in a man being convinced he is right; that is not bigotry, but sanity. Bigotry consists in a man being convinced that another man must be wrong in everything, because he is wrong in a particular belief; that he must be wrong, even in thinking that he honestly believes he is right.

-G. K. Chesterton

Comment author: lukeprog 30 January 2013 10:38:17PM 9 points [-]

Mendel’s concept of the laws of genetics was lost to the world for a generation because his publication did not reach the few who were capable of grasping and extending it; and this sort of catastrophe is undoubtedly being repeated all about us, as truly significant attainments become lost in the mass of the inconsequential.

Vannevar Bush

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 02 January 2013 02:21:31PM 25 points [-]

I don't blame them; nor am I saying I wouldn't similarly manipulate the truth if I thought it would save lives, but I don't lie to myself. You keep two books, not no books. [Emphasis mine]

The Last Psychiatrist (http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/10/how_not_to_prevent_military_su.html)

Comment author: James_Miller 01 January 2013 05:34:35PM 25 points [-]

We cannot dismiss conscious analytic thinking by saying that heuristics will get a “close enough” answer 98 percent of the time, because the 2 percent of the instances where heuristics lead us seriously astray may be critical to our lives.

Keith E. Stanovich, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought

Comment author: DanArmak 01 January 2013 07:02:14PM 2 points [-]

For instance, you need analytical thinking to design your heuristics. Let your heuristics build new heuristics and a 2% failure rate compounded will give you a 50% failure rate in a few tens of generations.

Comment author: James_Miller 01 January 2013 07:23:05PM *  9 points [-]

Possibly, but Stanovich thinks that most heuristics were basically given to us by evolution and rather than choose among heuristics what we do is decide whether to (use them and spend little energy on thinking) or (not use them and spend a lot of energy on thinking).

Comment author: crap 02 January 2013 12:01:58PM *  3 points [-]

What is analytical thinking, but a sequence of steps of heuristics well vetted not to lead to contradictions?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2013 07:57:26PM 24 points [-]

Just because someone isn't into finding out The Secrets Of The Universe like me doesn't necessarily mean I can't be friends with them.

-Buttercup Dew (@NationalistPony)

Comment author: arborealhominid 08 January 2013 12:15:49AM 3 points [-]

Never in my life did I expect to find myself upvoting a comment quoting My Nationalist Pony.

Comment author: NoisyEmpire 02 January 2013 08:01:12PM 36 points [-]

What does puzzle people – at least it used to puzzle me – is the fact that Christians regard faith… as a virtue. I used to ask how on Earth it can be a virtue – what is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements? Obviously, I used to say, a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad. If he were mistaken about the goodness or badness of the evidence, that would not mean he was a bad man, but only that he was not very clever. And if he thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid…

What I did not see then – and a good many people do not see still – was this. I was assuming that if the human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up. In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so. For example, my reason is perfectly convinced by good evidence that anesthetics do not smother me and that properly trained surgeons do not start operating until I am unconscious. But that does not alter the fact that when they have me down on the table and clap their horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. I start thinking I am going to choke, and I am afraid they will start cutting me up before I am properly under. In other words, I lose my faith in anesthetics. It is not reason that is taking away my faith; on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other…

Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable... Unless you teach your moods "where they get off" you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Caveat: this is not at all how the majority of the religious people that I know would use the word "faith". In fact, this passage turned out to be one of the earliest helps in bringing me to think critically about and ultimately discard my religious worldview.

Comment author: simplicio 02 January 2013 09:44:48PM 11 points [-]

Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable...

Dear LWers: do you have these moods (let us gloss them as "extreme temporary loss of confidence in foundational beliefs"):


Comment author: Desrtopa 03 January 2013 02:57:38AM *  9 points [-]

I have had "extreme temporary loss of foundational beliefs," where I briefly lost confidence in beliefs such as the nonexistence of fundamentally mental entities (I would describe this experience as "innate but long dormant animist intutions suddenly start shouting,") but I've never had a mood where Christianity or any other religion looked probable, because even when I had such an experience, I was never enticed to privilege the hypothesis of any particular religion or superstition.

Comment author: Oligopsony 03 January 2013 04:41:37AM 8 points [-]

I answered "sometimes" thinking of this as just Christianity, but I would have answered "very often" if I had read your gloss more carefully.

I'm not quite sure how to explicate this, as it's something I've never really though much about and had generalized from one example to be universal. But my intuitions about what is probably true are extremely mood and even fancy-dependent, although my evaluation of particular arguments and such seems to be comparatively stable. I can see positive and negative aspects to this.

Comment author: lavalamp 06 January 2013 11:34:23PM 4 points [-]

Oh whoops, I didn't read the parenthetical either. Not sure if it changes my answer.

Comment author: duckduckMOO 08 January 2013 07:12:29PM *  5 points [-]

I put never, but "not anymore" would be more accurate

Comment author: Endovior 10 January 2013 01:31:31PM 2 points [-]

This. Took a while to build that foundation, and a lot of contemplation in deciding what needed to be there... but once built, it's solid, and not given to reorganization on whim. That's not because I'm closed-minded or anything, it's because stuff like a belief that the evidence provided by your own senses is valid really is kind of fundamental to believing anything else, at all. Not believing in that implies not believing in a whole host of other things, and develops into some really strange philosophies. As a philosophical position, this is called 'empiricism', and it's actually more fundamental than belief in only the physical world (ie: disbelief in spiritual phenomena, 'materialism'), because you need a thing that says what evidence is considered valid before you have a thing that says 'and based on this evidence, I conclude'.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 09 January 2013 04:22:41PM 4 points [-]

I answered "rarely," but I should probably qualify that. I've been an atheist for about 5 years, and in the last 2 or 3, I don't recall ever seriously thinking that the basic, factual premises of Christianity were any more likely than Greek myths. But I have had several moments -- usually following some major personal failing of mine, or maybe in others close to me -- where the Christian idea of man-as-fallen living in a fallen world made sense to me, and where I found myself unconsciously groping for something like the Christian concept of grace.

As I recall, in the first few years after my deconversion, this feeling sometimes led me to think more seriously about Christianity, and I even prayed a few times, just in case. In the past couple years that hasn't happened; I understand more fully exactly why I'd have those feelings even without anything like the Christian God, and I've thought more seriously about how to address them without falling on old habits. But certainly that experience has helped me understand what would motivate someone to either seek or hold onto Christianity, especially if they didn't have any training in Bayescraft.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 02 January 2013 11:00:43PM 5 points [-]

I am fascinated by all of the answers that are not "never," as this has never happened to me. If any of the answerers were atheists, could any of you briefly describe these experiences and what might have caused them? (I am expecting "psychedelic drugs," so I will be most surprised by experiences that are caused by anything else.)

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 03 January 2013 01:57:40AM *  12 points [-]

Erm...when I was a lot younger, when I considered doing something wrong or told a lie I had the vague feeling that someone was keeping tabs. Basically, when weighing utilities I greatly upped the probability that someone would somehow come to know of my wrongdoings, even when it was totally implausible. That "someone" was certainly not God or a dead ancestor or anything supernatural...it wasn't even necessarily an authority figure.

Basically, the superstition was that someone who knew me well would eventually come to find out about my wrongdoing, and one day they would confront me about it. And they'd be greatly disappointed or angry.

I'm ashamed to say that in the past I might have actually done actions which I myself felt were immoral, if it were not for that superstitious feeling that my actions would be discovered by another individual. It's hard to say in retrospect whether the superstitious feeling was the factor that pushed me back over that edge.

Note that I never believed the superstition...it was more of a gut feeling.

I'm older now and am proud to say that I haven't given serious consideration to doing anything which I personally feel is immoral for a very, very long time. So I do not know whether I still carry this superstition. It's not really something I can test empirically.

I think part of it is that as I grew older my mind conceptually merged "selfish desire" and "morality" neatly into one single "what is the sum total of my goals" utility function construct (though I wasn't familiar with the term "utility function" at the time).

This shift occurred sometime in high school, and it happened around the same time that I overcame mind-body dualism at a gut level. Though I've always had generally atheist beliefs, it wasn't until this shift that I really understood the implications of a logical universe.

Once these dichotomies broke down, I no longer felt the temptation to "give in" to selfish desire, nor was I warded off by "guilt" or the superstitious fear. I follow morals because I want to follow them, since they are a huge part of my utility function. Once my brain understood at a gut level that going against my morality was intrinsically against my interests, I stopped feeling any temptation to do immoral actions for selfish reasons. On the flip side, the shift also allows be to be selfish without feeling guilty. It's not that I'm a "better person" thanks to the shift in gut instinct...it's more that my opposing instincts don't fight with each other by using temptation, fear, and guilt anymore.

I think there is something about that "shift" experience I described (anecdote indicates that a lot of smart people go through this at some point in life, but most describe it in less than articulate spiritual terms) which permanently alters your gut feelings about reality, morality, and similar topics in philosophy.

I'm guessing those who answered "never" either did not carry the illusions in question to begin with and therefore did not require a shift in thought, or they did not factor in how they felt pre-shift into their introspection.

Comment author: FeepingCreature 07 January 2013 03:22:22PM 8 points [-]

Occasionally the fundamental fact that all our inferences are provisional creeps me out. The realization that there's no way to actually ground my base belief that, say, I'm not a Boltzmann brain, combined with the fact that it's really quite absurd that anything exists rather than nothing at all given that any cause we find just moves the problem outwards is the closest thing I have to "doubting existence".

Comment author: GDC3 06 January 2013 06:20:36AM 6 points [-]

I put sometimes.

I believe all kinds of crazy stuff and question everything when I'm lying in bed trying to fall asleep, most commonly that death will be an active and specific nothing that I will exist to experience and be bored frightened and upset by forever. Something deep in my brain believes a very specific horrible cosmology as wacky and specific as any religion but not nearly as cheerful. When my faculties are weakened it feels as if I directly know it to be true and any attempt to rehearse my reasons for materialism feels like rationalizing.

I'm neither very mentally healthy nor very neurotypical, which may be part of why this happens.

Comment author: simplicio 02 January 2013 11:10:07PM 5 points [-]

could any of you briefly describe these experiences and what might have caused them?

Hasn't happened to me in years. Typically involved desperation about how some aspect of my life (only peripherally related to the beliefs in question, natch) was going very badly. Temptation to pray was involved. These urges really went away when I discovered that they were mainly caused by garden variety frustration + low blood sugar.

I think that in my folly-filled youth, my brain discovered that "conversion" experiences (religious/political) are fun and very energizing. When I am really dejected, a small part of me says "Let's convert to something! Clearly your current beliefs are not inspiring you enough!"

Comment author: MoreOn 08 May 2013 05:20:39AM 4 points [-]

I am firmly atheist right now, lounging in my mom's warm living room in a comfy armchair, tipity-typing on my keyboard. But when I go out to sea, alone, and the weather turns, a storm picks up, and I'm caught out after dark, and thanks to a rusty socket only one bow light works... well, then, I pray to every god I know starting with Poseidon, and sell my soul to the devil while at it.

I'm not sure why I do it.

Maybe that's what my brain does to occupy the excess processing time? In high school, when I still remembered it, I used to recite the litany against fear. But that's not quite it. When waves toss my little boat around and I ask myself why I'm praying---the answer invariably comes out, ``It's never made things worse. So the Professor God isn't punishing me for my weakness. Who knows... maybe it will work? Even if not, prayer beats panic as a system idle process.''

Comment author: Toddling 04 January 2013 05:41:50AM 4 points [-]

I answered Sometimes. For me the 'foundational belief' in question is usually along the lines: "Goal (x) is worth the effort of subgoal/process (y)." These moods usually last less than 6 months, and I have a hunch that they're hormonal in nature. I've yet to systematically gather data on the factors that seem most likely to be causing them, mostly because it doesn't seem worth the effort right now. Hah. Seriously, though, I have in fact been convinced that I need to work out a consistent utility function, but when I think about the work involved, I just... blah.

Comment author: NoisyEmpire 03 January 2013 01:34:02AM 4 points [-]

My own response was “rarely”; had I answered when I was a Christian ten years ago, I would probably have said “sometimes”; had I answered as a Christian five years ago I might have said “often” or “very often” (eventually I allowed some of these moments of extreme uncertainty to become actual crises of faith and I changed my mind, though it happened in a very sloppy and roundabout way and had I had LessWrong at the time things could’ve been a lot easier.)

And still, I can think of maybe two times in the past year when I suddenly got a terrifying sinking feeling that I have got everything horribly, totally wrong. Both instances were triggered whilst around family and friends who remain religious, and both had to do with being reminded of old arguments I used to use in defense of the Bible which I couldn’t remember, in the moment, having explicitly refuted.

Neither of these moods was very important and both were combated in a matter of minutes. In retrospect, I’d guess that my brain was conflating fear of rejection-from-the-tribe-for-what-I-believe with fear of actually-being-wrong.

Not psychedelic drugs, but apparently an adequate trigger nonetheless.

Comment author: Sarokrae 12 March 2013 02:02:33AM *  3 points [-]

I'm a bit late here, but my response seems different enough to the others posted here to warrant replying!

My brain is abysmally bad at storing trains of thought/deduction that lead to conclusions. It's very good at having exceptionally long trains of thoughts/deductions. It's quite good at storing the conclusions of my trains of thoughts, but only as cached thoughts and heuristics. It means that my brain is full of conclusions that I know I assign high probabilities to, but don't know why off the top of my head. My beliefs end up stored as a list of theorems in my head, with proofs left as an exercise to the reader. I occasionally double-check them, but it's a time-consuming process.

If I'm having a not very mentally agile day, I can't off the top of my head re-prove the results I think I know, and a different result seems tempting, I basically get confused for a while until I re-figure out how to prove the result I know I've proven before.

Basically on some days past-me seems like a sufficiently different person that I no longer completely trust her judgement.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 12 March 2013 02:07:39AM 2 points [-]

Interesting. I've only had this experience in very restricted contexts, e.g. I noticed recently that I shouldn't trust my opinions on movies if the last time I saw them was more than several years ago because my taste in movies has changed substantially in those years.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 January 2013 03:23:41PM 4 points [-]

I have been diagnosed with depression in the past, so it's not terribly surprising to me when "My life is worth living" is considered a foundational belief, that has it's confidence fade in and out quite a lot. In this case, the drugs would actually restore me back to a more normal level.

Although, considering the frequency with which it is still happening, I may want to reconsult with my Doctor. Saying "I have been diagnosed with mental health problems, and I'm on pills, but really, I still have some pretty bad mental health problems." pattern matches rather well to "Perhaps I should ask my Doctor about updating those pills."

Comment author: DaFranker 14 January 2013 03:39:35PM *  6 points [-]

Although, considering the frequency with which it is still happening, I may want to reconsult with my Doctor. Saying "I have been diagnosed with mental health problems, and I'm on pills, but really, I still have some pretty bad mental health problems." pattern matches rather well to "Perhaps I should ask my Doctor about updating those pills."

Yep. Medical professionals often err on the side of lesser dosage anyway, even for life-threatening stuff. After all, "we gave her medication but she died anyway, the disease was too strong" sounds like abstract, chance-and-force-of-nature-and-fate stuff, and like a statistic on a sheet of paper.

"Doctor overdoses patient", on the other hand, is such a tasty scoop I'd immediately expect my grandmother to be gossiping about it and the doctor in question to be banned from medical practice for life, probably with their diplomas revoked.

They also often take their guidelines from organizations like the FDA, which are renowned to explicitly delay for five years medications that have a 1 in 10000 side-effect mortality rate versus an 80% cure-and-survival rate for diseases that kill 10k+ annually (bogus example, but I'm sure someone more conscientious than me can find real numbers).

Anyway, sorry for the possibly undesired tangent. It seems usually-optimal to keep returning to your doctor persistently as much as possible until medication really does take noticeable effect.

Comment author: jooyous 02 January 2013 11:07:44PM *  2 points [-]

Sometimes, I am extremely unconvinced in the utility of "knowing stuff" or "understanding stuff" when confronted with the inability to explain it to suffering people who seem like they want to stop suffering but refuse to consider the stuff that has potential to help them stop suffering. =/

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 02 January 2013 11:41:11PM 2 points [-]

Interesting. My confidence in my beliefs has never been tied to my ability to explain them to anyone, but then again I'm a mathematician-(in-training), so...

Comment author: jooyous 03 January 2013 12:22:44AM *  2 points [-]

Well, it's not that I'm not confident that they're useful to me. They are! They help me make choices that make me happy. I'm just not confident in how useful pursuing them is in comparison to various utilitarian considerations of helping other people be not miserable.

For example, suppose I could learn some more rationality tricks and start saving an extra $100 each month by some means, while in the meantime someone I know is depressed and miserable and seemingly asking for help. Instead of going to learn those rationality tricks to make an extra $100, I am tempted to sit with them and tell them all the ways I learned to manage my thoughts in order to not make myself miserable and depressed. And when this fails spectacularly, eating my time and energy, I am left inclined to do neither because that person is miserable and depressed and I'm powerless to help them so how useful is $100 really? Blah! So, to answer the question, this is the mood in which I question my belief in the usefulness of knowing and doing useful things.

I am also a computer science/math person! high five

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 03 January 2013 12:47:46AM *  2 points [-]

So, to answer the question, this is the mood in which I question the usefulness of doing useful things.

Aren't useful things kind of useful to do kind of by definition? (I know this argument is often used to sneak in connotations, but I can't imagine that "is useful" is a sneaky connotation of "useful thing.")

What you describe sounds to me like a failure to model your friend correctly. Most people cannot fix themselves given only instructions on how to do so, and what worked for you may not work for your friend. Even if it might, it is hard to motivate yourself to do things when you are miserable and depressed, and when you are miserable and depressed, hearing someone else say "here are all the ways you currently suck, and you should stop sucking in those ways" is not necessarily encouraging.

In other words, "useful" is a two- or even three-place predicate.

Comment author: MaoShan 03 January 2013 06:09:19PM 2 points [-]

I thought the most truthful answer for me would be "Rarely", given all possible interpretations of the question. I think that it should have been qualified "within the past year", to eliminate the follies of truth-seeking in one's youth. Someone who answers "Never" cannot be considering when they were a five-year-old. I have believed or wanted to believe a lot of crazy things. Even right now, thinking as an atheist, I rarely have those moods, and only rarely due to my recognized (and combated) tendency toward magical thinking. However, right now, thinking as a Christian, I would have doubts constantly, because no matter how much I would like to believe, it is plain to see that most of what I am expected to have faith in as a Christian is complete crap. I am capable of adopting either mode of thinking, as is anyone else here. We're just better at one mode than others.

Comment author: dspeyer 01 January 2013 04:37:36PM *  35 points [-]

You're better at talking than I am. When you talk, sometimes I get confused. My ideas of what's right and wrong get mixed up. That's why I'm bringing this. As soon as I start thinking it's all right to steal from our employees, I'm going to start hitting you with the stick.


If it makes you feel any better, I agree with your logic completely.

No, what would make me feel better is for you to stop hitting me!


Comment author: RolfAndreassen 01 January 2013 09:25:47PM 40 points [-]

"Ten thousand years' worth of sophistry doesn't vanish overnight," Margit observed dryly. "Every human culture had expended vast amounts of intellectual effort on the problem of coming to terms with death. Most religions had constructed elaborate lies about it, making it out to be something other than it was—though a few were dishonest about life, instead. But even most secular philosophies were warped by the need to pretend that death was for the best."

"It was the naturalistic fallacy at its most extreme—and its most transparent, but that didn't stop anyone. Since any child could tell you that death was meaningless, contingent, unjust, and abhorrent beyond words, it was a hallmark of sophistication to believe otherwise. Writers had consoled themselves for centuries with smug puritanical fables about immortals who'd long for death—who'd beg for death. It would have been too much to expect all those who were suddenly faced with the reality of its banishment to confess that they'd been whistling in the dark. And would-be moral philosophers—mostly those who'd experienced no greater inconvenience in their lives than a late train or a surly waiter—began wailing about the destruction of the human spirit by this hideous blight. We needed death and suffering, to put steel into our souls! Not horrible, horrible freedom and safety!"

-- Greg Egan, "Border Guards".

Comment author: Will_Newsome 01 January 2013 08:00:39PM *  30 points [-]

For the Greek philosophers, Greek was the language of reason. Aristotle's list of categories is squarely based on the categories of Greek grammar. This did not explicitly entail a claim that the Greek language was primary: it was simply a case of the identification of thought with its natural vehicle. Logos was thought, and Logos was speech. About the speech of barbarians little was known; hence, little was known about what it would be like to think in the language of barbarians. Although the Greeks were willing to admit that the Egyptians, for example, possessed a rich and venerable store of wisdom, they only knew this because someone had explained it to them in Greek.

— Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language

Comment author: foret 14 January 2013 09:52:52PM *  7 points [-]

In reference to Occam's razor:

"Of course giving an inductive bias a name does not justify it."

--from Machine Learning by Tom M. Mitchell

Interesting how a concept seems more believable if it has a name...

Comment author: Zubon 06 January 2013 12:47:42AM *  7 points [-]

Obviously, it was his own view that had been in error. That was quite a realization, that he had been wrong. He wondered if he had ever been wrong about anything important.

-- Sterren with a literal realization that the territory did not match his mental map in The Unwilling Warlord by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Comment author: roystgnr 02 January 2013 09:24:29PM *  29 points [-]

I think, actually, scientists should kinda look into that whole 'death' thing. Because, they seem to have focused on diseases... and I don't give a #*=& about them. The guys go, "Hey, we fixed your arthritis!" "Am I still gonna die?" "Yeah."

So that, I think, is the biggest problem. That's why I can't get behind politicians! They're always like, "Our biggest problem today is unemployment!" and I'm like "What about getting old and sick and dying?"

  • Norm MacDonald, Me Doing Stand Up

(a few verbal tics were removed by me; the censorship was already present in the version I heard)

Comment author: Bugmaster 02 January 2013 09:26:16PM 10 points [-]

I'd vote this up, but I can't shake the feeling that the author is setting up a false dichotomy. Living forever would be great, but living forever without arthritis would be even better. There's no reason why we shouldn't solve the easier problem first.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 02 January 2013 10:33:09PM 8 points [-]

Sure there is. If you have two problems, one of which is substantially easier than the other, then you still might solve the harder problem first if 1) solving the easier problem won't help you solve the harder problem and 2) the harder problem is substantially more pressing. In other words, you need to take into account the opportunity cost of diverting some of your resources to solving the easier problem.

Comment author: Bugmaster 02 January 2013 10:45:07PM 3 points [-]

In general this is true, but I believe that in this particular case the reasoning doesn't apply. Solving problems like arthritis and cancer is essential for prolonging productive biological life.

Granted, such solutions would cease to be useful once mind uploading is implemented. However, IMO mind uploading is so difficult -- and, therefore, so far in the future -- that, if we did chose to focus exclusively on it, we'd lose too many utilons to biological ailments. For the same reason, prolonging productive biological life now is still quite useful, because it would allow researchers to live longer, thus speeding up the pace of research that will eventually lead to uploading.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 05:30:05AM 3 points [-]

Using punctuation that is normally intended to match ({[]}), confused me. Use the !%#$ing other punctuation for that.

Comment author: simplicio 02 January 2013 09:40:20PM 8 points [-]

Sympathetic, but ultimately, we die OF diseases. And the years we do have are more or less valuable depending on their quality.

Physicians should maximize QALYs, and extending lifespan is only one way to do it.

Comment author: ChristianKl 07 January 2013 06:01:54PM 2 points [-]

Sympathetic, but ultimately, we die OF diseases.

The question is whether that's a useful paradigm. Aubrey Gray argues that it isn't.

Comment author: nabeelqu 01 January 2013 03:33:09PM *  38 points [-]

Not long ago a couple across the aisle from me in a Quiet Car talked all the way from New York City to Boston, after two people had asked them to stop. After each reproach they would lower their voices for a while, but like a grade-school cafeteria after the lunch monitor has yelled for silence, the volume crept inexorably up again. It was soft but incessant, and against the background silence, as maddening as a dripping faucet at 3 a.m. All the way to Boston I debated whether it was bothering me enough to say something. As we approached our destination a professorial-looking man who’d spoken to them twice got up, walked back and stood over them. He turned out to be quite tall. He told them that they’d been extremely inconsiderate, and he’d had a much harder time getting his work done because of them.

“Sir,” the girl said, “I really don’t think we were bothering anyone else.”

“No,” I said, “you were really annoying.”

“Yes,” said the woman behind them.

“See,” the man explained gently, “this is how it works. I’m the one person who says something. But for everyone like me, there’s a whole car full of people who feel the same way.”

-- Tim Kreider, The Quiet Ones

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 January 2013 09:34:32PM 12 points [-]

...but why wait until they'd almost gotten to Boston?

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 02 January 2013 09:46:16PM 21 points [-]

Perhaps because at that point, one is not faced with the prospect of spending several hours in close proximity to people with whom one has had an unpleasant social interaction.

Comment author: shminux 02 January 2013 09:54:47PM 13 points [-]

No one wants to appear rude, of course. As this was almost the end of the ride, the person who rebuked them minimized the time he'd have to endure in the company of people who might consider him rude because of his admonishment, whether or not they agree with him. I wonder if this is partly a cultural thing.

Comment author: nabeelqu 02 January 2013 09:51:40PM 7 points [-]

The passage states that he'd already spoken to them twice.

Comment author: roystgnr 02 January 2013 09:16:53PM 16 points [-]

"This is how it sometimes works", I would have said. Anything more starts to sound uncomfortably close to "the lurkers support me in email."

Comment author: Jotto999 06 January 2013 11:12:49PM *  7 points [-]

I don't know the circumstances, but I would have tried to make eye contact and just blatantly stare at them for minutes straight, maybe even hamming it up with a look of slight unhinged interest. They would have become more uncomfortable and might have started being anxious that a stranger is eavesdropping on them, causing them to want to be more discrete, depending on their disposition. I've actually tried this before, and it seems to sometimes work if they can see you staring at them. Give a subtle, slight grin, like you might be sexually turned on. If you won't see them again then it's worth a try.

Comment author: tut 02 January 2013 09:13:05PM 4 points [-]

Since this has got 22 upvotes I must ask: What makes this a rationality quote?

Comment author: simplicio 02 January 2013 10:02:46PM 6 points [-]

Every actual criticism of an idea/behaviour is likely to imply a much larger quantity of silent doubt/disapproval.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 02 January 2013 10:20:38PM 7 points [-]

Sometimes, but you need to take into account what P(voices criticism | has criticism) is. Otherwise you'll constantly cave to vocal minorities (situations where the above probability is relatively large).

Comment author: nabeelqu 02 January 2013 09:55:50PM 6 points [-]

I'd say it comes under the 'instrumental rationality' heading. The chatter was clearly bothering the writer, but - irrationally - neither he nor the others (bar one) actually got up and said anything.

Comment author: Toddling 03 January 2013 10:05:28AM 3 points [-]

You could argue that the silence of the author and the woman behind the couple is an example of the bystander effect.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 January 2013 10:06:26AM 18 points [-]

It is not an epistemological principle that one might as well hang for a sheep as for a lamb.

-Bas van Fraassen, The Scientific Image

Comment author: DanielLC 02 January 2013 08:17:21PM 7 points [-]

What does that mean?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 January 2013 09:07:07PM 24 points [-]

Believing large lies is worse than small lies; basically, it's arguing against the What-The-Hell Effect as applied to rationality. Or so I presume, did not read original.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2013 11:51:16PM 3 points [-]

the What-The-Hell Effect

I had noticed that effect myself, but I didn't know it had a name.

Comment author: PDH 03 January 2013 03:41:27PM 10 points [-]

I had noticed it and mistakenly attributed it to the sunk cost fallacy but on reflection it's quite different from sunk costs. However, it was discovering and (as it turns out, incorrectly) generalising the sunk cost fallacy that alerted me to the effect and that genuinely helped me improve myself, so it's a happy mistake.

One thing that helped me was learning to fear the words 'might as well,' as in, 'I've already wasted most of the day so I might as well waste the rest of it,' or 'she'll never go out with me so I might as well not bother asking her,' and countless other examples. My way of dealing it is to mock my own thought processes ('Yeah, things are really bad so let's make them even worse. Nice plan, genius') and switch to a more utilitarian way of thinking ('A small chance of success is better than none,' 'Let's try and squeeze as much utility out of this as possible' etc.).

I hadn't fully grasped the extent to which I was sabotaging my own life with that one, pernicious little error.

Comment author: simplicio 02 January 2013 08:59:46PM 16 points [-]

Lambs are young sheep; they have less meat & less wool.

The punishment for livestock rustling being identical no matter what animal is stolen, you should prefer to steal a sheep rather than a lamb.

Comment author: katydee 01 January 2013 01:37:48PM 26 points [-]

The dream is damned and dreamer too if dreaming's all that dreamers do.

--Rory Miller

Comment author: Document 03 January 2013 04:46:38AM *  4 points [-]
Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 January 2013 03:43:04AM 17 points [-]

I keep coming back to the essential problem that in our increasingly complex society, we are actually required to hold very firm opinions about highly complex matters that require analysis from multiple fields of expertise (economics, law, political science, engineering, others) in hugely complex systems where we must use our imperfect data to choose among possible outcomes that involve significant trade offs. This would be OK if we did not regard everyone who disagreed with us as an ignorant pinhead or vile evildoer whose sole motivation for disagreeing is their intrinsic idiocy, greed, or hatred for our essential freedoms/people not like themselves. Except that there actually are LOTS of ignorant pinheads and vile evildoers whose sole motivation etc., or whose self-interest is obvious to everyone but themselves.


Comment author: Nornagest 17 January 2013 04:01:49AM *  9 points [-]

I try to get around this by assuming that self-interest and malice, outside of a few exceptional cases, are evenly distributed across tribes, organizations, and political entities, and that when I find a particularly self-interested or malicious person that's evidence about their own personality rather than about tribal characteristics. This is almost certainly false and indeed requires not only bad priors but bad Bayesian inference, but I haven't yet found a way to use all but the narrowest and most obvious negative-valence concepts to predict group behavior without inviting more bias than I'd be preventing.

Comment author: HalMorris 02 January 2013 09:58:44AM 17 points [-]

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

  • Mark Twain - Life on the Mississippi

(If you wonder where "two hundred and forty-two miles" shortening of the river came from, it was the straightening of its original meandering path to improve navigation)

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2013 11:54:39PM 4 points [-]
Comment author: SPLH 13 January 2013 07:34:40AM 6 points [-]

"De notre naissance à notre mort, nous sommes un cortège d’autres qui sont reliés par un fil ténu."

Jean Cocteau

("From our birth to our death, we are a procession of others whom a fine thread connects.")

Comment author: Dorikka 13 January 2013 05:25:00AM 6 points [-]

"We are living on borrowed time and abiding by the law of probability, which is the only law we carefully observe. Had we done otherwise, we would now be dead heroes instead of surviving experts." –Devil's Guard

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 January 2013 09:29:29AM 16 points [-]

"A stupid person can make only certain, limited types of errors. The mistakes open to a clever fellow are far broader. But to the one who knows how smart he is compared to everyone else, the possibilities for true idiocy are boundless."

-- Steven Brust, spoken by Vlad, in Iorich

Comment author: shminux 31 January 2013 12:11:36AM *  3 points [-]

to the one who knows how smart he is compared to everyone else

Seems to describe well the founder of this forum. I wonder if this quote resonates with a certain personal experience of yours.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 25 January 2013 10:00:41PM 16 points [-]

I once heard a story about the original writer of the Superman Radio Series. He wanted a pay rise, his employers didn't want to give him one. He decided to end the series with Superman trapped at the bottom of a well, tied down with kryptonite and surrounded by a hundred thousand tanks (or something along these lines). It was a cliffhanger. He then made his salary demands. His employers refused and went round every writer in America, but nobody could work out how the original writer was planning to have Superman escape. Eventually the radio guys had to go back to him and meet his wage demands. The first show of the next series began "Having escaped from the well, Superman hurried to..." There's a lesson in there somewhere, but I've no idea what it is.


I would argue that the lesson is that when something valuable is at stake, we should focus on the simplest available solutions to the puzzles we face, rather than on ways to demonstrate our intelligence to ourselves or others.

Comment author: CronoDAS 26 January 2013 07:16:17PM 5 points [-]

Speaking of writing yourself into a corner...

According to TV Tropes, there was one show, "Sledge Hammer", which ended its first season with the main character setting off a nuclear bomb while trying to defuse it. They didn't expect to be renewed for a second season, so when they were, they had a problem. This is what they did:

Previously on Sledge Hammer:
[scene of nuclear explosion]
Tonight's episode takes place five years before that fateful explosion.

Comment author: Fronken 29 January 2013 03:31:45PM 4 points [-]

Story ... too awesome ... not to upvote ...

not sure why its rational, though.

Comment author: James_Miller 01 January 2013 05:58:51PM 31 points [-]

The women of this country learned long ago, those without swords can still die upon them.

Éowyn explaining to Aragorn why she was skilled with a blade. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the 2002 movie.

Comment author: Stabilizer 01 January 2013 06:29:14PM 23 points [-]

“To succeed in a domain that violates your intuitions, you need to be able to turn them off the way a pilot does when flying through clouds. Without visual cues (e.g. the horizon) you can't distinguish between gravity and acceleration. Which means if you're flying through clouds you can't tell what the attitude of the aircraft is. You could feel like you're flying straight and level while in fact you're descending in a spiral. The solution is to ignore what your body is telling you and listen only to your instruments. But it turns out to be very hard to ignore what your body is telling you. Every pilot knows about this problem and yet it is still a leading cause of accidents. You need to do what you know intellectually to be right, even though it feels wrong.”

-Paul Graham

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2013 08:28:30PM 8 points [-]
Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 03 January 2013 08:49:14AM *  34 points [-]

In Japan, it is widely believed that you don't have direct knowledge of what other people are really thinking (and it's very presumptuous to assume otherwise), and so it is uncommon to describe other people's thoughts directly, such as "He likes ice cream" or "She's angry". Instead, it's far more common to see things like "I heard that he likes ice cream" or "It seems like/It appears to be the case that she is angry" or "She is showing signs of wanting to go to the park."

-- TVTropes

Edit (1/7): I have no particular reason to believe that this is literally true, but either way I think it holds an interesting rationality lesson. Feel free to substitute 'Zorblaxia' for 'Japan' above.

Comment author: simplicio 03 January 2013 03:44:34PM 13 points [-]

Interesting; is this true?

Comment author: beoShaffer 04 January 2013 05:59:36AM *  13 points [-]

Yes, my Japanese teacher was very insistent about it, and IIRC would even take points off for talking about someones mental state with out the proper qualifiers.

Comment author: Vaniver 05 January 2013 08:13:00PM 2 points [-]

Yes, my Japanese was very insistent about it

I think you're missing a word here :P

Comment author: roryokane 05 January 2013 01:26:52AM 4 points [-]
Comment author: Nornagest 16 January 2013 08:08:49PM *  5 points [-]

TV Tropes is unreliable on Japanese culture. While it's fond of Japanese media, connection demographics show that Japanese editors are disproportionately rare (even after taking the language barrier into account); almost all the contributors to a page like that are likely to be language students or English-speaking Japanophiles, few of whom have any substantial experience with the language or culture in the wild. This introduces quite a bit of noise; for example, the site's had problems in the past with people reading meanings into Japanese words that don't exist or that are much more specific than they are in the wild.

I don't know myself whether the ancestor is accurate, but it'd be wise to take it with a grain of salt.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 14 January 2013 05:10:40AM 13 points [-]

I guess my point here is that part of the reason I stayed in Mormonism so long was that the people arguing against Mormonism were using such ridiculously bad arguments. I tried to find the most rigorous reasoning and the strongest research that opposed LDS theology, but the best they could come up with was stuff like horses in the Book of Mormon. It's so easy for a Latter-Day Saint to simply write the horse references off as either a slight mistranslation or a gap in current scientific knowledge that that kind of "evidence" wasn't worth the time of day to me. And for every horse problem there was something like Hugh Nibley's "Two Shots in the Dark" or Eugene England's work on Lehi's alleged travels across Saudi Arabia, apologetic works that made Mormon historical and theological claims look vaguely plausible. There were bright, thoughtful people on both sides of the Mormon apologetics divide, but the average IQ was definitely a couple of dozen points higher in the Mormon camp.


Comment author: Bakkot 15 January 2013 07:55:10PM 5 points [-]

This is part of why it's important to fight against all bad arguments everywhere, not just bad arguments on the other side.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 16 January 2013 12:09:30PM *  2 points [-]

Another interpretation: Try to figure out which side has more intelligent defenders and control for that when evaluating arguments. (On the other hand, the fact that all the smart people seem to believe X should probably be seen as evidence too...)

Yes, argument screens off authority, but that assumes that you're in a universe where it's possible to know everything and think of everything, I suspect. If one side is much more creative about coming up with clever arguments in support of itself (much better than you), who should you believe if the clever side also has all the best arguments?

Comment author: [deleted] 21 January 2013 05:20:59PM 11 points [-]

Person 1: "I don't understand how my brain works. But my brain is what I rely on to understand how things work." Person 2: "Is that a problem?" Person 1: "I'm not sure how to tell."

-Today's xkcd

Comment author: Particleman 03 January 2013 05:35:04AM *  11 points [-]

"How is it possible! How is it possible to produce such a thing!" he repeated, increasing the pressure on my skull, until it grew painful, but I didn't dare object. "These knobs, holes...cauliflowers -" with an iron finger he poked my nose and ears - "and this is supposed to be an intelligent creature? For shame! For shame, I say!! What use is a Nature that after four billion years comes up with THIS?!"

Here he gave my head a shove, so that it wobbled and I saw stars.

"Give me one, just one billion years, and you'll see what I create!"

  • Stanislaw Lem, "The Sanatorium of Dr. Vliperdius" (trans. Michael Kandel)
Comment author: Alicorn 11 January 2013 03:08:53AM 21 points [-]

He tells her that the earth is flat -
He knows the facts, and that is that.
In altercations fierce and long
She tries her best to prove him wrong.
But he has learned to argue well.
He calls her arguments unsound
And often asks her not to yell.
She cannot win. He stands his ground. The planet goes on being round.

--Wendy Cope, He Tells Her from the series ‘Differences of Opinion’

Comment author: Document 03 January 2013 04:38:42AM *  4 points [-]

The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened, is, in [the] logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent. A man will tell you that he has worked in a mine for forty years unhurt by an accident as a reason why he should apprehend no danger, though the roof is beginning to sink; and it is often observable, that the older a man gets, the more difficult it is to him to retain a believing conception of his own death.

--George Eliot

Apologies to Jayson_Virissimo.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2013 06:19:58PM 27 points [-]

The first rule of human club is you don't explicitly discuss the rules of human club.

Silas Dogood

Comment author: David_Gerard 02 January 2013 12:54:26AM 9 points [-]

I'd have thought from observation that quite a lot of human club is just about discussing the rules of human club, excess meta and all. Philosophy in daily practice being best considered a cultural activity, something humans do to impress other humans.

Comment author: Emile 02 January 2013 10:59:53AM 6 points [-]

I dunno; "philosophy", at least, doesn't seem to be about discussing the rules of the human club, or maybe it's discussing a very specific part of the rules (but then, so is Maths!). Family gossip and stand-up comedy seem much closer to "discussing the rules of the human club".

Comment author: lavalamp 06 January 2013 11:37:46PM 2 points [-]

I'd have thought from observation that quite a lot of human club is just about discussing the rules of human club...

Most of this is done by people that don't understand the rules of human club...

Comment author: Will_Newsome 03 January 2013 07:07:41AM 14 points [-]

[O]ne may also focus on a single problem, which can appear in different guises in various disciplines, and vary the methods. An advantage of viewing the same problem through the lens of different models is that we can often begin to identify which features of the problem are enduring and which are artifacts of our particular methods or background assumptions. Because abstraction is a license for us to ignore information, looking at several approaches to modeling a problem can give you insight into what is important to keep and what is noise to ignore. Moreover, discovering robust features of a problem, when it happens, can reshape your intuitions.

— Gregory Wheeler, "Formal Epistemology"

Comment author: RobinZ 03 January 2013 09:38:44PM 7 points [-]

Is there a concrete example of a problem approached thus?

Comment author: Sengachi 04 January 2013 07:44:41AM 4 points [-]

Viewing the interactions of photons as both a wave and a billiard ball. Both are wrong, but by seeing which traits remain constant in all models, we can project what traits the true model is likely to have.

Comment author: RobinZ 05 January 2013 04:58:19AM 2 points [-]

Does that work? I don't know enough physics to tell if that makes sense.

Comment author: Sengachi 06 January 2013 10:11:10AM 4 points [-]

It doesn't give you all the information you need, but that's how the problem was originally tackled. Scientists noticed that they had two contradictory models for light, which had a few overlapping characteristics. Those overlapping areas allowed them to start formulating new theories. Of course it took ridiculous amounts of work after that to figure out a reasonable approximation of reality, but one has to start somewhere.

Comment author: taelor 01 January 2013 03:02:53PM *  9 points [-]

As for the hopeful, it does not seem to make any difference who it is that is seized by a wild hope -- whether it be an enthusiastic intellectual, a land-hungry farmer, a get-rich-quick speculator, a sober merchant or industrialist, a plain workingman or a noble lord -- they all proceed recklessly with the present, wreck it if they must, and create a new world. [...] When hopes and dreams are loose on the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed. For there is often a monsterous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows them. It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

-- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer

Comment author: Kindly 07 January 2013 03:42:13AM 17 points [-]

Then for the first time it dawned on him that classing all drowthers together made no more sense than having a word for all animals that can't stand upright on two legs for more than a minute, or all animals with dry noses. What possible use could there be for such classifications? The word "drowther" didn't say anything about people except that they were not born in a Westil Family. "Drowther" meant "not us," and anything you said about drowthers beyond that was likely to be completely meaningless. They were not a "class" at all. They were just... people.

Orson Scott Card, The Lost Gate

Comment author: MixedNuts 16 January 2013 06:33:59PM 2 points [-]

As my math teacher always said,

The complement of a vector subspace is a repulsive object.

Comment author: AspiringRationalist 01 January 2013 09:16:14PM 17 points [-]

The ideas of the Hasids are scientifically and morally wrong; the fashion, food and lifestyle are way stupid; but the community and family make me envious.

-- Penn Jilette

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 January 2013 10:29:54PM 8 points [-]

Disagree about the fashion.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2013 06:21:03PM 16 points [-]

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.* *Not a controlled experiment


Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 January 2013 09:12:57PM 15 points [-]

"Two roads diverged in a wood. I took the one less traveled by, and had to eat bugs until the park rangers rescued me."

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 January 2013 09:14:56PM 11 points [-]

Two roads diverged in a wood. I took the one less traveled by, and I got to eat bugs until the park rangers kicked me out.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 03 January 2013 11:51:01AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: ArisKatsaris 02 January 2013 12:01:52AM 7 points [-]

Wasn't that poem sarcastic anyway? Until the last stanza, the poem says how the roads were really identical in all particulars -- and in the last stanza the narrator admits that he will be describing this choice falsely in the future.

Comment author: ygert 01 January 2013 05:29:18PM *  19 points [-]

I was rereading HP Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu lately, and the quote from the Necronomicon jumped out at me as a very good explanation of exactly why cryonics is such a good idea.

(Full disclosure: I myself have not signed up for cryonics. But I intend to sign up as soon as I can arrange to move to a place where it is available.)

The quote is simply this:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,

And with strange aeons even death may die.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2013 06:18:01PM *  8 points [-]

So strange that this quote hasn't already been memed to death in support of cryonics.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2013 08:32:29PM 6 points [-]

RationalWiki is extremely sceptical of cryonics and still it has quoted that.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 January 2013 01:23:32PM 10 points [-]

Er... logical fallacy of fictional evidence, maybe? I wince every time somebody cites Terminator in a discussion of AI. It doesn't matter if the conclusion is right or wrong, I still wince because it's not a valid argument.

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 January 2013 02:36:07PM 12 points [-]

The original quote has nothing to do with life extension/immortality for humans. It just happens to be an argument for cryonics, and it seems to be a valid one: death as failure to preserve rather than cessation of activity, mortality as a problem rather than a fixed rule.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2013 06:47:04PM 3 points [-]

Yeah, I wasn't saying that it should be used because it's "so true." Just that it's easy to appropriate.

Comment author: Endovior 03 January 2013 06:07:47PM *  15 points [-]

If your ends don’t justify the means, you’re working on the wrong project.

-Jobe Wilkins (Whateley Academy)

Comment author: James_Miller 01 January 2013 05:46:59PM 23 points [-]

What You Are Inside Only Matters Because of What It Makes You Do

David Wong, 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person. Published in Cracked.com

Comment author: Multiheaded 02 January 2013 04:21:17AM *  21 points [-]

This article greatly annoyed me because of how it tells people to do the correct practical things (Develop skills! Be persistent and grind! Help people!) yet gives atrocious and shallow reasons for it - and then Wong says how if people criticize him they haven't heard the message. No, David, you can give people correct directions and still be a huge jerk promoting an awful worldview!

He basically shows NO understanding of what makes one attractive to people (especially romantically) and what gives you a feeling of self-worth and self-respect. What you "are" does in fact matter - both to yourself and to others! - outside of your actions; they just reveal and signal your qualities. If you don't do anything good, it's a sign of something being broken about you, but just mechanically bartering some product of your labour for friendship, affection and status cannot work - if your life is in a rut, it's because of some deeper issues and you've got to resolve those first and foremost.

This masochistic imperative to "Work harder and quit whining" might sound all serious and mature, but does not in fact has the power to make you a "better person"; rather, you'll know you've changed for the better when you can achieve more stuff and don't feel miserable.

I wanted to write a short comment illustrating how this article might be the mirror opposite of some unfortunate ideas in the "Seduction community" - it's "forget all else and GIVE to people, to obtain affection and self-worth" versus "forget all else and TAKE from people, to obtain affection and self-worth" - and how, for a self-actualized person, needs, one's own and others', should dictate the taking and giving, not some primitive framework of barter or conquest - but I predictably got too lazy to extend it :)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 02 January 2013 06:40:18AM *  9 points [-]

I've taken a crack at what's wrong with that article.

The problem is, there's so much wrong with it from so many different angles that it's rather a large topic.

Comment author: simplicio 02 January 2013 09:55:29PM 3 points [-]


As with most self-help advice, it is like an eyeglass prescription - only good for one specific pathology. It may correct one person's vision, while making another's massively worse.

Also, I remember what it was like to be (mildly!) depressed, and my oh my would that article not have helped.

Comment author: brazil84 02 January 2013 01:23:05PM 8 points [-]

My complaint about the article is that it has the same problem as most self-help advice. When you read it, it sounds intelligent, you nod your head, it makes sense. You might even think to yourself "Yeah, I'm going to really change now!"

But as everyone whose tried to improve himself knows, it's difficult to change your behavior (and thoughts) on a basis consistent enough to really make a long-lasting difference.

Comment author: ChristianKl 01 January 2013 08:53:54PM 7 points [-]

It a misleading claim. Studying of how parents influence their kids generally conclude that "being" of the parent is more important than what they specifically do with the kids.

From the article:

"But I'm a great listener!" Are you? Because you're willing to sit quietly in exchange for the chance to be in the proximity of a pretty girl?

The author of the article doesn't seem to understand that there such a thing as good listening. If a girl tell you about some problem in her life it can be more effective to empathize with the girl than to go and solve the problem.

If something says "It's what's on the inside that matters!" a much better response would be ask: What makes you think that your inside is so much better than the inside of other people?

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 02 January 2013 12:41:09AM *  3 points [-]

Studying of how parents influence their kids generally conclude that "being" of the parent is more important than what they specifically do with the kids.

Could you explain this? Or link to info about such studies? (Or both?)

Comment author: ChristianKl 02 January 2013 03:18:53PM 5 points [-]

If a parent has a low self esteem their child is also likely to have low self esteem. The low self esteem parent might a lot to prove try to do for his child to prove to himself that he's worthy.

There a drastic difference between a child observing: "Mommy hugs me because she read in a book that good mothers hug their children and she wants to prove to herself that she's a good mother and Mommy hugs me because she loves me".

On paper the women who spents a lot of energy into doing the stuff that good mothers are supposed to do is doing more for their child then a mother who's not investing that much energy because she's more secure in herself. Being secure in herself increase the chance that she will do the right things at the right time signal her self confidence to the child. A child who sees that her mother is self confident than has also a reason to believe that everything is alright.

As far as studies go, unfortunately I don't keep good records on what information I read from what sources :( (I would add that hugging is an example I use here to illustrate the point instead of refering to specific study about hugging)

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 02 January 2013 06:50:18PM 4 points [-]

If a parent has a low self esteem their child is also likely to have low self esteem.

Yes... and studies show that this is largely due to genetic similarity, much less so to parenting style.

Being secure in herself increase the chance that she will do the right things at the right time signal her self confidence to the child.

Which still means that it boils down to what the mother does.

The thing is, no one can see what you "are" except by what you do. Your argument seems to be "doing things for the right reason will lead to doing the actual right thing, instead of implementing some standard recommendation of what the right thing is". Granted. But the thing that matters is still the doing, not the being. "Being" is relevant only to the extent that it makes you do.

Oh, and as for this:

There a drastic difference between a child observing: "Mommy hugs me because she read in a book that good mothers hug their children and she wants to prove to herself that she's a good mother and Mommy hugs me because she loves me".

There's a third possibility: "Mommy doesn't hug me, but I know she loves me anyway". Sometimes that's worse than either of the other two.

Comment author: Paulovsk 02 January 2013 02:05:23AM 3 points [-]


I'm rather curious how parents can "be" something to children without doing, since it's supposed children don't know their parents before their first contact (after birth, I mean).

Comment author: Omegaile 02 January 2013 02:27:45PM 2 points [-]

I think I have heard of such studies, but the conclusion is different.

Who the parents are matter more than things like which school do the kids go, or in which neighborhood they live, etc.

But in my view, that's only because being something (let's say, a sportsman), will makes you do things that influence your kids to pursue a similar path

Comment author: DanArmak 01 January 2013 06:54:25PM 4 points [-]

For Instance It Makes You Write With Odd Capitalization.

Comment author: dspeyer 01 January 2013 07:28:08PM 8 points [-]

It's probably a section title.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2013 08:29:35PM 4 points [-]

I wish my 17-year-old self had read that article.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 01 January 2013 10:45:50PM 14 points [-]

If you ever decide that your life is not too high a price to pay for saving the universe, let me know. We'll be ready.

-- Kyubey (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 January 2013 09:11:53PM 6 points [-]

For you, I'll walk this endless maze...

Comment author: shminux 02 January 2013 10:00:02PM *  7 points [-]
Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 January 2013 10:24:31AM 7 points [-]

He that believes without having any Reason for believing, may be in love with his own Fancies; but neither seeks Truth as he ought, nor pays the Obedience due to his Maker, who would have him use those discerning Faculties he has given him, to keep him out of Mistake and Errour.

John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Comment author: taelor 02 January 2013 03:41:07PM 10 points [-]

It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sutained by innnumerable unbeliefs: the fanatical Japanese in Brazil refused to believe for years the evidence of Japan's defeat; the fanatical Communist refuses to believe any unfavorable reports or evidence about Russia, nor will he be disillusioned by seeing with his own eyes the cruel misery inside the Soviet promised land.

It is the true believer's ability to "shut his eyes and stop his ears" to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He can not be frightened by danger, nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence. Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains, but in not seeing mountains to move.

-- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer

Comment author: simplicio 02 January 2013 10:27:29PM 3 points [-]

A decent quote, except I am minded to nitpick that there is no such thing as unbelief as a separate category from belief. We just have credences.

Many futile conversations have I seen among the muggles, wherein disputants tried to make some Fully General point about unbelief vs belief, or doubt vs certainty.

Comment author: BerryPick6 01 January 2013 04:15:35PM 14 points [-]

Many of our most serious conflicts are conflicts within ourselves. Those who suppose their judgements are always consistent are unreflective or dogmatic.

-- John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement.

Comment author: blashimov 13 January 2013 07:53:31AM *  11 points [-]

I have always had an animal fear of death, a fate I rank second only to having to sit through a rock concert. My wife tries to be consoling about mortality and assures me that death is a natural part of life, and that we all die sooner or later. Oddly this news, whispered into my ear at 3 a.m., causes me to leap screaming from the bed, snap on every light in the house and play my recording of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” at top volume till the sun comes up.

-Woody Allen EDIT: Fixed formatting.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 02 January 2013 08:12:31PM 6 points [-]

It is more incumbent on me to declare my opinion on this question, because they have, on further reflection, undergone a considerable change; and although I am not aware that I have ever published any thing respecting machinery which it is necessary for me to retract, yet I have in other ways given my support to doctrines which I now think erroneous; it, therefore, becomes a duty in me to submit my present views to examination, with my reasons for entertaining them.

-- Ricardo, publicly saying "oops" in his restrained Victorian fashion, in his essay "On Machinery".

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 January 2013 03:24:52AM 8 points [-]

[Physics] has come to see that thinking is merely a form of human activity…with no assurance whatever that an intellectual process has validity outside the range in which its validity has already been checked by experience.

-- P. W. Bridgman, ‘‘The Struggle for Intellectual Integrity’’

Comment author: pleeppleep 02 January 2013 02:28:38AM 14 points [-]

I intend to live forever or die trying

-- Groucho Marx

Comment author: DanielLC 02 January 2013 08:51:38PM 7 points [-]

I'm not sure that's great advice. It will result in you trying to try to live forever. The only way to live forever or die trying is to intend to live forever.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 January 2013 08:52:37PM *  9 points [-]

Unfortunately, this is how the brain works:

-- Sir! We are receiving information that conflicts with the core belief system!

-- Get rid of it.

Beatrice the Biologist

Comment author: arborealhominid 08 January 2013 12:38:19AM *  9 points [-]

Tobias adjusted his wings and appeared to tighten his talons on the branch. "Maybe you’re right. I don’t know. Look, Ax, it’s a whole new world. We’re having to make all this up as we go along. There aren’t any rules falling out of the sky telling us what and what not to do." "What exactly do you mean?" "Too hard to explain right now," Tobias said. "I just mean that we don’t really have any time-tested rules for dealing with these issues... So we have to see what works and what doesn’t. We can’t afford to get so locked into one idea that we defend it to the death, without really knowing if that idea works- in the real world."

  • Animorphs, book 52: The Sacrifice
Comment author: airandfingers 11 January 2013 09:04:10PM *  5 points [-]

Most things that we and the people around us do constantly... have come to seem so natural and inevitable that merely to pose the question, 'Why are we doing this?' can strike us as perplexing - and also, perhaps, a little unsettling. On general principle, it is a good idea to challenge ourselves in this way about anything we have come to take for granted; the more habitual, the more valuable this line of inquiry.

-Alfie Kohn, "Punished By Rewards"

Comment author: taelor 04 January 2013 05:06:18AM *  5 points [-]

Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents. It pulls and whirls the individual away from his own self, makes him oblivious to his weal and future, frees him of jelousies and self-seeking. He becomes an anonymous partical quivering with a craving to fuse and coalesce with his like into one flaming mass. [...] Mass movements can rise and spread without a belief in God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil. When Hitler was asked whether he thought that the Jew must be destroyed, he answered: "No... we should then have to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one." F. A. Voigt tells of a Japanese mission that arrived in Berlin in 1932 to study the National Socialist movement. Voigt asked a member what he thought of the movement. He replied: "It is magnificent. I wish we could have something like it in Japan, only we can't, because we haven't got any Jews."

-- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer

Comment author: taelor 04 January 2013 05:24:07AM *  4 points [-]

When we renouce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renoucne personal advantage, but are also rid of personal responsiblity. There is no telling what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go to when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgement. When we loose our individual independence into the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom -- freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame or remorse. Herein undoubtedly lies part of the attractiveness of mass movements. We find the "right to dishonor", which according to Dostoyevsky has an irrisistible fascination. Hitler had a contemptuous opinion of the brutality of an autonomous indivisual: "Any violence which does not spring from a firm spiritual base will be wavering and uncertain. It lacks the stability which can only rest in a fanatical outlook."

Thus, hatred is not only a means of unification, but also its product. Renan says that we have never, since the world began, heard of a merciful nation. Nor have we heard of a merciful church or a merciful revolutionary party. The hatred and cruelty which have their source in selfishness are ineffectual things compared to the venom and ruthlessness that is born of selflessness.

When we see bloodshed, terror and destruction born from such generous enthusiasms as the love of God, love of Christ, love of nation, compassion for the oppressed and so on, we usually blame this shameful perversion on a cynical, power-hungry leadership. Actually, it is the unification set in motion by these enthusiasms, rather than the manipulation of scheming leaders that transmutes noble impulses into a reality of hatred and violence.

-- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 January 2013 03:26:49AM 10 points [-]

The Harvard Law states: Under controlled conditions of light, temperature, humidity, and nutrition, the organism will do as it damn well pleases.

-- Larry Wall

Comment author: RomeoStevens 02 January 2013 06:48:12PM 2 points [-]

See the Mouse Universe.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 09 January 2013 04:39:07PM 8 points [-]

Suppose you've been surreptitiously doing me good deeds for months. If I "thank my lucky stars" when it is really you I should be thanking, it would misrepresent the situation to say that I believe in you and am grateful to you. Maybe I am a fool to say in my heart that it is only my lucky stars that I should thank—saying, in other words, that there is nobody to thank—but that is what I believe; there is no intentional object in this case to be identified as you.

Suppose instead that I was convinced that I did have a secret helper but that it wasn't you—it was Cameron Diaz. As I penned my thank-you notes to her, and thought lovingly about her, and marveled at her generosity to me, it would surely be misleading to say that you were the object of my gratitude, even though you were in fact the one who did the deeds that I am so grateful for. And then suppose I gradually began to suspect that I had been ignorant and mistaken, and eventually came to the correct realization that you were indeed the proper recipient of my gratitude. Wouldn't it be strange for me to put it this way: "Now I understand: you are Cameron Diaz!"

--Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell (discussing the differences between the "intentional object" of a belief and the thing-in-the-world inspiring that belief)

Comment author: [deleted] 10 January 2013 08:57:13PM 6 points [-]

The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance. Robert R. Coveyou, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Comment author: woodside 03 January 2013 11:01:46AM *  6 points [-]

It's not easy to find rap lyrics that are appropriate to be posted here. Here's an attempt.

Son, remember when you fight to be free

To see things how they are and not how you like em to be

Cause even when the world is falling on top of me

Pessimism is an emotion, not a philosophy

Knowing what's wrong doesn't imply that you right

And its another, when you suffer to apply it in life

But I'm no rookie

And I'm never gonna make the same mistake twice pussy

  • Immortal Technique "Mistakes"
Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2013 08:20:35PM 11 points [-]

If you'd have told a 14th-century peasant that there'd be a huge merchant class in the future who would sit in huge metal cylinders eating meals and drinking wine while the cylinders hurtled through the air faster than a speeding arrow across oceans and continents to bring them to far-flung business opportunities, the peasant would have classified you as insane. And he'd have been wrong to the tune of a few gazillion frequent-flyer miles.

-- someone on Usenet replying to someone deriding Kurzweil

Comment author: David_Gerard 02 January 2013 12:52:06AM 18 points [-]

In general, though, that argument is the Galileo gambit and not a very good argument.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 02 January 2013 09:50:35AM 8 points [-]

There's a more charitable reading of this comment, which is just "the absurdity heuristic is not all that reliable in some domains."

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 January 2013 10:17:06AM 14 points [-]

What makes this the Galileo Gambit is that the absurdity factor is being turned into alleged support (by affective association with the positive benefits of air travel and frequent flier miles) rather than just being neutralized. Contrast to http://lesswrong.com/lw/j1/stranger_than_history/ where absurdity is being pointed out as a fallible heuristic but not being associated with positives.

Comment author: shminux 27 January 2013 10:02:32PM 4 points [-]

even though you can’t see or hear them at all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.

Dr. Seuss

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 January 2013 02:50:42PM 2 points [-]

I don't think change can be planned. It can only be recognized.

jad abumrad, a video about the development of Radio Lab and the amount of fear involved in doing original work

Comment author: Mark_Eichenlaub 05 January 2013 04:48:13AM *  5 points [-]

Cartman: I can try to catch it, but I'm going to need all the resources you've got. If this thing isn't contained, your Easter Egg hunt is going to be a bloodbath.

Mr. Billings: What do you think, Peters? What are the chances that this 'Jewpacabra' is real?

Peters: I'm estimating somewhere around .000000001%.

Mr. Billings: We can't afford to take that chance. Get this kid whatever he needs.

South Park, Se 16 ep 4, "Jewpacabra"

note: edited for concision. script

Comment author: JQuinton 03 January 2013 10:13:37PM *  5 points [-]

the decision to base your life on beliefs which not only can you not prove, but which, on the balance of the evidence, seem unlikely to be true, seems incredibly irresponsible. If religious believing had implications only for the individual believer, then it could be easily dismissed as a harmless idiosyncrasy, but since almost all religious beliefs have incredibly serious implications for many people, religious belief cannot be regarded as harmless. Indeed, a glance at the behavior of religious believers worldwide day by day makes it very clear that religion is something to be feared and justly criticized. “Houses built of emotion” is one thing, but beliefs that can lead to mass beheading for mixed-sex dancing, or the marginalization and victimization of gay and lesbian people, and the second-listing of women, is quite another, and it is for the latter that religious belief is justly held to require more justification

Even though this quote is focusing on religion, I think it applies to any beliefs people have that they think are "harmless" but greatly influence how they treat others. In short, since no person is an island, we have a duty to critically examine the beliefs we have that influence how we treat others.

Comment author: Alejandro1 01 January 2013 03:46:33PM 8 points [-]

The universe is not indifferent. How do I know this? I know because I am part of the universe, and I am far from indifferent.

--Scott Derrickson

Comment author: NoisyEmpire 02 January 2013 07:26:46PM 12 points [-]

While affirming the fallacy-of-composition concerns, I think we can take this charitably to mean "The universe is not totally saturated with only indifference throughout, for behold, this part of the universe called Scott Derrickson does indeed care about things."

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2013 11:42:06PM 2 points [-]

That's the way I interpreted it, too. There's a speech in HP:MOR where Harry makes pretty much the same point.

Comment author: NoisyEmpire 03 January 2013 01:38:40AM 7 points [-]

“There is light in the world, and it is us!”

Love that moment.

Comment author: Alejandro1 04 January 2013 09:52:27PM *  2 points [-]

That's exactly the sentiment I was aiming for with the quote.

Comment author: BerryPick6 01 January 2013 04:54:19PM *  8 points [-]

We are all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions. Moral choices. Some are on a grand scale. Most of these choices are on lesser points. But! We define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are in fact the sum total of our choices. Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, human happiness does not seem to have been included, in the design of creation. It is only we, with our capacity to love, that give meaning to the indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying, and even to find joy from simple things like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more.

-- Closing lines of Crimes and Misdemeanors, script by Woody Allen.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 January 2013 03:13:39AM 6 points [-]

The fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part).

Comment author: Kindly 02 January 2013 02:59:53PM 13 points [-]

Scott Derrickson is indifferent. How do I know this? I know because Scott Derrickson's skin cells are part of Scott Derrickson, and Scott Derrickson's skin cells are indifferent.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2013 11:44:59PM 5 points [-]

If you interpret “X is indifferent” as “no part of X cares”, the original quote is valid and yours isn't.

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 January 2013 04:47:35PM 7 points [-]

I touched her hand. Her hand touched her boob. By the transitive property, I got some boob. Algebra's awesome!

-- Steve Smith, American Dad!, season 1, episode 7 "Deacon Stan, Jesus Man", on the applicability of this axiom.

Comment author: Alicorn 16 January 2013 06:13:25PM *  5 points [-]

"My baby is dead. Six months old and she's dead."
"Take solace in the knowledge that this is all part of the Corn God's plan."
"Your god's plan involves dead babies?"
"If you're gonna make an omelette, you're gonna have to break a few children."
"I'm not entirely sure I want to eat that omelette."

-- Scenes From A Multiverse

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 February 2013 12:59:43AM 3 points [-]

Where there's smoke, there's fire... unless someone has a smoke machine.

-- thedaveoflife

Comment author: GLaDOS 24 January 2013 09:34:00PM 3 points [-]

The dissident temperament has been present in all times and places, though only ever among a small minority of citizens. Its characteristic, speaking broadly, is a cast of mind that, presented with a proposition about the world, has little interest in where that proposition originated, or how popular it is, or how many powerful and credentialed persons have assented to it, or what might be lost in the way of property, status, or even life, in denying it. To the dissident, the only thing worth pondering about the proposition is, is it true? If it is, then no king’s command can falsify it; and if it is not, then not even the assent of a hundred million will make it true.

--John Derbyshire

Comment author: ygert 24 January 2013 09:50:16PM 8 points [-]

Wile this is all very inspiring, is it true? Yes, truth in and of itself is something that many people value, but what this quote is claiming is that there are a class of people (that he calls "dissidents") that specifically value this above and beyond anything else. It seems a lot more likely to me that truth is something that all or most people value to one extent or another, and as such, sometimes if the conditions are right people will sacrifice stuff to achieve it, just like for any other thing they value.

Comment author: TimS 07 January 2013 01:51:05AM *  6 points [-]

Let’s see if I get this right. Fear makes you angry and anger makes you evil, right?

Now I’ll concede at once that fear has been a major motivator of intolerance in human history. I can picture knightly adepts being taught to control fear and anger, as we saw credibly in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Calmness makes you a better warrior and prevents mistakes. Persistent wrath can cloud judgment. That part is completely believable.

But then, in “Return of the Jedi,” Lucas takes this basic wisdom and perverts it, saying — “If you get angry — even at injustice and murder — it will automatically and immediately transform you into an unalloyedly evil person! All of your opinions and political beliefs will suddenly and magically reverse. Every loyalty will be forsaken and your friends won’t be able to draw you back. You will instantly join your sworn enemy as his close pal or apprentice. All because you let yourself get angry at his crimes.”

Uh, say what? Could you repeat that again, slowly?

In other words, getting angry at Adolf Hitler will cause you to rush right out and join the Nazi Party? Excuse me, George. Could you come up with a single example of that happening? Ever?

David Brin

Comment author: gwern 07 January 2013 03:39:44AM 13 points [-]

Lots of people in Weimar Germany got angry at the emerging fascists - and went out and joined the Communist Party. It was tough to be merely a liberal democrat.

Comment author: TimS 07 January 2013 04:54:13PM 2 points [-]

I suspect you have your causation backwards. People created / joined the Freikorps and other quasi-fascist institutions to fight the threat of Communism. Viable international Communism (~1917) predates the fall of the Kaiser - and the Freikorp had no reason to exist when the existing authorities were already willing and capable of fighting Communism.

More generally, the natural reading of the Jedi moral rules is that the risk of evil from strong emotions was so great that liberal democrats should be prohibited from feeling any (neither anger-at-injustice nor love)

Comment author: gwern 07 January 2013 05:04:15PM 3 points [-]

I suspect you have your causation backwards.

I don't know why you would think the causation would be only in one direction.

Comment author: TimS 07 January 2013 05:16:12PM 2 points [-]

Now I'm confused. What is the topic of discussion? Clarification of Weimar Republic politics is not responsive to the Jedi-moral-philosophy point. Anger causing political action, including extreme political action, is a reasonable point, but I don't actually think anger-at-opponent-unjust-acts was the cause of much Communist or Fascist membership.

You might think anger-at-social-situation vs. anger-at-unjust-acts is excessive hair-splitting. But I interpreted your response as essentially saying "Anger-at-injustice really does lead to fairly directly evil." Your example does not support that assertion. If I've misinterpreted you, please clarify. I often seem to make these interpretative mistakes, and I'd like to do better at avoiding these types of misunderstandings in the future.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 January 2013 02:45:09PM 9 points [-]

Let’s see if I get this right. Fear makes you angry and anger makes you evil, right?

If the memories of my youth serve me anger 'leads to the dark side of the force' via the intermediary 'hate'. That is, it leads you to go around frying things with lightening and choking people with a force grip. This is only 'evil' when you do the killing in cases where killing is not an entirely appropriate response. Unfortunately humans (and furry green muppet 'Lannik') are notoriously bad at judging when drastic violation of inhibitions is appropriate. Power---likely including the power to kill people with your brain---will almost always corrupt.

But then, in “Return of the Jedi,” Lucas takes this basic wisdom and perverts it

Not nearly as much as David Brin perverts the message that Lucas's message. I in fact do reject the instructions of Yoda but I reject what he actually says. I don't need to reject a straw caricature thereof.

“If you get angry — even at injustice and murder — it will automatically and immediately transform you into an unalloyedly evil person!

Automatically. Immediately. Where did this come from? Yoda is 900 years old, wizened and gives clear indications that he thinks of long term consequences rather than being caught up in the moment. We also know he's seen at least one such Jedi to Sith transition with his own eyes (after first predicting it). Anakin took years to grow from a whiny little brat into an awesome badass (I mean... "turn evil"). That is the kind of change that Yoda (and Lucas) clearly have in mind.

All of your opinions and political beliefs will suddenly and magically reverse.

That seems unlikely. It also wasn't claimed by the Furry Master. Instead what can be expected is that that opinions and political beliefs will change in predictable ways---most notably in the direction of endorsing the acquisition and use of power in ways that happen to benefit the self. Maybe the corrupted will change from a Blue to a Green but more likely they'll change into a NavyBlue and consider it Right to kill Greens with their brain, take all their stuff and ravage their womenfolk (or menfolk, or asexual alien humanoids, depending on generalized sexual orientation).

Every loyalty will be forsaken and your friends won’t be able to draw you back.

Except that Lucas in the very same movie has Darth Vader turn back to the Light and throw Palpatine down some shaft due to loyalty to his son. Perhaps Lucas isn't presenting the moral lesson that Brin believes he is presenting.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 January 2013 04:04:33PM 2 points [-]

Agreed generally, but will quibble about your last par. Vader's redemption is being presented as a Heroic Feat, it is no more representative of normal moral or psychological processes in this universe than blowing up the Death Star with a single shot is representative of normal tactics.

Comment author: TsviBT 02 January 2013 04:57:38PM 6 points [-]

There are four types among those who study with the Sages: the sponge, the funnel, the strainer, the sifter. The sponge absorbs everything; the funnel - in one end and out the other; the strainer passes the wine and retains the dregs; the sifter removes the chaff and retains the edible wheat.

-Pirkei Avot (5:15)

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2013 11:49:36PM 5 points [-]

To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.

-- Henri Poincaré

Comment author: MugaSofer 02 January 2013 05:30:24PM *  16 points [-]

Deep wisdom indeed. Some people believe the wrong things, and some believe the right things, some people believe both, some people believe neither.

Comment author: TsviBT 02 January 2013 08:26:50PM 7 points [-]

To me, it expresses the need to pay attention to what you are learning, and decide which things to retain and which to discard. E.g. one student takes a course in Scala and memorizes the code for generics, while the other writes the code but focuses on understanding the notion of polymorphism and what it is good for.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 29 January 2013 01:18:52PM 4 points [-]

But I've never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.

Randall Munroe

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 30 January 2013 11:53:04PM 3 points [-]
Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 29 January 2013 06:30:59PM 2 points [-]

And to think, I was just getting on to post this quote myself!

Comment author: shminux 29 January 2013 04:51:56PM 3 points [-]

When they realized they were in a desert, they built a religion to worship thirstiness.

SMBC comics: a metaphor for deathism.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 29 January 2013 06:46:53PM *  6 points [-]

While I am a fan of SMBC, in this case he's not doing existentialism justice (or not understanding existentialism). Existentialism is not the same thing as deathism. Existentialism is about finding meaning and responsibility in an absurd existence. While mortality is certainly absurd, biological immortality will not make existential issues go away. In fact, I suspect it will make them stronger..

edit: on the other hand, "existentialist hokey-pokey" is both funny and right on the mark!

Comment author: [deleted] 07 January 2013 07:50:46PM 3 points [-]

Our tragedy is that in these hyper-partisan times, the mere fact that one side says, ‘Look, there's [a problem],’ means that the other side's going to say, ‘Huh? What? No, I'm not even going to look up.’

-- Jonathan Haidt

Comment author: MixedNuts 07 January 2013 08:23:51PM 8 points [-]

But if either side admits that they care about disaster befalling the US economy, then if the other does not so admit, this second side can blackmail the first side for whatever they want. Therefore, the only reasonable negotiating strategy is to pretend not to care at all about the US economy.

-- Yvain, on why brinkmanship is not stupid