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Rationality Quotes June 2013

3 Post author: Thomas 03 June 2013 03:08AM

Another month has passed and here is a new rationality quotes thread. The usual rules are:

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, Overcoming Bias, or HPMoR.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.

Comments (777)

Comment author: sediment 02 June 2013 07:58:49PM *  64 points [-]

Hofstadter on the necessary strangeness of scientific explanations:

It is no accident, I would maintain, that quantum mechanics is so wildly counterintuitive. Part of the nature of explanation is that it must eventually hit some point where further probing only increases opacity rather than decreasing it. Consider the problem of understanding the nature of solids. You might wonder where solidity comes form. What if someone said to you, "The ultimate basis of this brick's solidity is that it is composed of a stupendous number of eensy weensy bricklike objects that themselves are rock-solid"? You might be interested to learn that bricks are composed of micro-bricks, but the initial question - "What accounts for solidity?" - has been thoroughly begged. What we ultimately want is for solidity to vanish, to dissolve, to disintegrate into some totally different kind of phenomenon with which we have no experience. Only then, when we have reached some completely novel, alien level will we feel that we have really made progress in explaining the top-level phenomenon.

[...]

I first saw this thought expressed in the stimulating book Patterns of Discovery by Norwood Russell Hanson. Hanson attributes it to a number of thinkers, such as Isaac Newton, who wrote, in his famous work Opticks: "The parts of all homogeneal hard Bodies which fully touch one another, stick together very strongly. And for explaining how this may be, some have invented hooked Atoms, which is begging the Question." Hanson also quotes James Clerk Maxwell (from an article entitled "Atom"): "We may indeed suppose the atom elastic, but this is to endow it with the very property for the explanation of which... the atomic constitution was originally assumed." Finally, here is a quote Hanson provides from Werner Heisenberg himself: "If atoms are really to explain the origin of color and smell of visible material bodies, then they cannot possess properties like color and smell." So, although it is not an original thought, it is useful to bear in mind that greeness disintegrates.

— from the postscript to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, in Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern (his lovely book of essays from his column in Scientific American)

Comment author: fburnaby 03 June 2013 11:22:10AM 11 points [-]

Why Opium produces sleep: ... Because there is in it a dormitive power.

Moliere, Le Malade Imaginere (1673), Act III, sc. iii.

Comment author: DysgraphicProgrammer 03 June 2013 02:20:29PM 10 points [-]

A lesson here is that if you ask "Why X?" then any answer of the form "Because <synonym of X>" is not actually progress toward understanding.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 04 June 2013 01:18:41PM 23 points [-]

Synonyms are not good for explaining... because there is no explanatory power in them.

Comment author: ZankerH 04 June 2013 07:50:43PM 10 points [-]

I found your post funny... because it amused me.

Comment author: TeMPOraL 01 June 2013 04:48:25PM 32 points [-]

Akin's Laws of Spacecraft Design are full of amazing quotes. My personal favourite:

6) (Mar's Law) Everything is linear if plotted log-log with a fat magic marker.

(See also an interesting note from HN's btilly on this law)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 25 June 2013 02:01:01PM *  27 points [-]

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2013/06/04/stanislaw-burzynski-versus-the-bbc/#comment-262541

The movie “Apollo 13″ does a fair job of showing how rapidly the engineers in Houston devised the kludge and documented it, but because of time contraints of course they can’t show you everything. NASA is a stickler for details. (Believe me, I’ve worked with them!) They don’t just rapid prototype something that people’s lives will depend upon. Overnight, they not only devised the scrubber adapter built from stuff in the launch manifest, they also tested it, documented it, and sent up stepwise instructions for constructing it. In a high-maturity organization, once you get into the habit of doing that, it doesn’t really take that long. Something that always puzzles me when I meet cowboy engineers who insist that process will just slow them down unacceptably. I tell them that hey, if NASA engineers could design, build, test, and document a CO2 scrubber adapter made from common household items overnight, you can damn well put in a comment when you check in your code changes.

Comment author: James_Miller 01 June 2013 03:15:46PM *  27 points [-]

Imagine you are sitting on this plane now. The top of the craft is gone and you can see the sky above you. Columns of flame are growing. Holes in the sides of the airliner lead to freedom. How would you react?

You probably think you would leap to your feet and yell, "Let's get the hell out of here!" If not this, then you might assume you would coil into a fetal position and freak out. Statistically, neither of these is likely. What you would probably do is far weirder......

In any perilous event, like a sinking ship or towering inferno, a shooting rampage or a tornado, there is a chance you will become so overwhelmed by the perilous overflow of ambiguous information that you will do nothing at all...

about 75 percent of people find it impossible to reason during a catastrophic event or impending doom.

You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney p 55,56, and 58.

Comment author: itaibn0 01 June 2013 03:38:55PM 3 points [-]

Considering the probability that I will encounter such a high-impact fast-acting disaster, and the expected benefit of acting on shallowly thought out gut reaction, I feel no need to remove from myself this bias.

Comment author: James_Miller 01 June 2013 07:20:06PM 5 points [-]

Since you have taken the time to make a comment on this website I presume you get some pleasure from thinking about biases. The next time you are on an airplane perhaps you would find it interesting to work through how you should respond if the plane starts to burn.

Comment author: BillyOblivion 07 June 2013 05:15:34AM 8 points [-]

Interestingly enough there is some evidence--or at least assertions by people who've studied this sort of thing--that doing this sort of problem solving ahead of time tends to reduce the paralysis.

When you get on a plane, go into a restaurant, when you're wandering down the street or when you go someplace new think about a few common emergencies and just think about how you might respond to them.

Comment author: itaibn0 01 June 2013 09:31:03PM 2 points [-]

Yes, you're right. In fact, I did think about this situation. I think the best strategy is to enter the brace position recommended in the safety guide and to stay still, while gathering as much information as position and obeying the any person who takes on a leadership role. This sort of reasoning can be useful because it is fun to think about, because it makes for interesting conversation, or because it might reveal an abstract principle that is useful somewhere else. My point is to demonstrate a VOI calculation and to show that although this behavior seems irrational on its own, in the broader context the strategy of being completely unprepared for disaster is a good one. Still, the fact that people act in this particular maladaptive way is interesting, and so I got something out of your quote.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 June 2013 10:00:31PM 19 points [-]

"When two planes collided just above a runway in Tenerife in 1977, a man was stuck, with his wife, in a plane that was slowly being engulfed in flames. He remembered making a special note of the exits, grabbed his wife's hand, and ran towards one of them. As it happened, he didn't need to use it, since a portion of the plane had been sheared away. He jumped out, along with his wife and the few people who survived. Many more people should have made it out. Fleeing survivors ran past living, uninjured people who sat in seats literally watching for the minute it took for the flames to reach them." - http://io9.com/the-frozen-calm-of-normalcy-bias-486764924

Comment author: mjankovic 03 June 2013 07:20:29PM *  6 points [-]

Speaking as someone who's been trough that, I don't think that the article gives a complete picture. Part of the problem appears to be (particularly by reports from newer generations) in such instaces is the feeling of unreality, as the only times when we tend to see such situations is when we're sitting comfortably, so a lot of us are essentially conditioned to sit comfortably during such events.

However, this does tend to get better with some experience of such situations.

Comment author: Woodbun 05 June 2013 05:27:29AM *  18 points [-]

...the machines will do what we ask them to do and not what we ought to ask them to do. In the discussion of the relation between man and powerful agencies controlled by man, the gnomic wisdom of the folk tales has a value far beyond the books of our sociologists.

Comment author: James_Miller 01 June 2013 03:24:39PM 16 points [-]

you would be foolish to accept what people believed for “thousands of years” in many domains of natural science. When it comes to the ancients or the moderns in science always listen to the moderns. They are not always right, but overall they are surely more right, and less prone to miss the mark. In fact, you may have to be careful about paying too much attention to science which is a generation old, so fast does the “state of the art” in terms of knowledge shift.

Razib Khan

Comment author: TeMPOraL 01 June 2013 04:45:06PM *  11 points [-]

Similar thought:

16) The previous people who did a similar analysis did not have a direct pipeline to the wisdom of the ages. There is therefore no reason to believe their analysis over yours. There is especially no reason to present their analysis as yours.

-- Akin's Laws of Spacecraft Design

Comment author: Particleman 03 June 2013 04:04:26AM 44 points [-]

Why is there that knee-jerk rejection of any effort to "overthink" pop culture? Why would you ever be afraid that looking too hard at something will ruin it? If the government built a huge, mysterious device in the middle of your town and immediately surrounded it with a fence that said, "NOTHING TO SEE HERE!" I'm pretty damned sure you wouldn't rest until you knew what the hell that was -- the fact that they don't want you to know means it can't be good.

Well, when any idea in your brain defends itself with "Just relax! Don't look too close!" you should immediately be just as suspicious. It usually means something ugly is hiding there.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 June 2013 02:39:49PM 10 points [-]

Why is there that knee-jerk rejection of any effort to "overthink" pop culture? Why would you ever be afraid that looking too hard at something will ruin it?

I think it's because enjoying fiction involves being in a trance, and analyzing the fiction breaks the trance. I suspect that analysis is also a trance, but it's a different sort of trance.

Comment author: army1987 09 June 2013 12:49:29PM 3 points [-]

The term for that is suspension of disbelief.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 03 June 2013 09:58:56AM 18 points [-]

Ah, David Wong. A few movies in the post-9/11 era begin using terrorism and asymmetric warfare as a plot point? Proof that Hollywood no longer favors the underdog. Meanwhile he ignores... Daredevil, Elektra, V for Vendetta, X-Men, Kickass, Punisher, and Captain America, just to name the superhero movies I've seen which buck the trend he references, and within the movies he himself mentions, he intentionally glosses over 90% of the plots in order to make his point "stick." In some cases (James Bond, Sherlock Holmes) he treats the fact that the protagonists win as the proof that they weren't the underdog at all (something which would hold in reality but not in fiction, and a standard which he -doesn't- apply when it suits his purpose, a la his comments about the first three Die Hard movies being about an underdog whereas the most recent movie isn't).

Yeah. Not all that impressed with David Wong. His articles always come across as propaganda, carefully and deliberately choosing what evidence to showcase. And in this case he's deliberately treating the MST3K Mantra as some kind of propaganda-hiding tool? Really?

These movies don't get made because Hollywood billionaires don't want to make movies about underdogs, as he implies - Google "underdog movie", this trope is still a mainstay of movies. They get made because they sell. To the same people consuming movies like The Chronicles of Riddick or The Matrix Trilogy. Movies which revolve around badass underdogs.

(Not that this directly relates to your quote, but I find David Wong to be consistently so deliberate about producing propaganda out of nothing that I cannot take him seriously as a champion of rationality.)

Comment author: Vaniver 04 June 2013 03:04:03AM 8 points [-]

Not that this directly relates to your quote, but I find David Wong to be consistently so deliberate about producing propaganda out of nothing that I cannot take him seriously as a champion of rationality.

It is worth pointing out that this page is about quotes, not people, or even articles. I thought the quote was worth upvoting for:

Well, when any idea in your brain defends itself with "Just relax! Don't look too close!" you should immediately be just as suspicious. It usually means something ugly is hiding there.

Comment author: lukeprog 08 June 2013 06:14:40PM 13 points [-]

If you're not making mistakes, you're not taking risks, and that means you're not going anywhere. The key is to make mistakes faster than the competition, so you have more chances to learn and win.

John W. Holt (previously quoted here, but not in a Rationality Quotes thread)

Comment author: cody-bryce 03 June 2013 05:56:40PM *  13 points [-]

Not having all the information you need is never a satisfactory excuse for not starting the analysis.

-Akin's Laws of Spacecraft Design

Comment author: JQuinton 04 June 2013 05:26:42PM 10 points [-]

My sense of the proper way to determine what is ethical is to make a distinction between a smuggler of influence and a detective of influence. The smuggler knows these six principles and then counterfeits them, brings them into situations where they don’t naturally reside.

The opposite is the sleuth’s approach, the detective’s approach to influence. The detective also knows what the principles are, and goes into every situation aware of them looking for the natural presence of one or another of these principles.

  • Robert Cialdini at the blog Bakadesuyo explaining the difference between ethical persuasion and the dark arts
Comment author: Benja 30 June 2013 06:51:27PM *  8 points [-]

Graffiti on the wall of an Austrian public housing block:

White walls — high rent.

(German original: "Weiße Wände — hohe Mieten". I'm not actually sure it's true, but my understanding is that rent in public housing does vary somewhat with quality and it seems plausible that graffiti could enter into it. And to make the implicit explicit, the reason it seems worth posting here is how it challenges the tenants' — and my — preconceptions: You may think that from a purely selfish POV you should not want graffiti on your house, but it's quite possible that the benefits to you are higher than the costs.)

Comment author: paulfchristiano 30 June 2013 09:24:12PM *  2 points [-]

This makes sense as helping with a price discrimination scheme which is probably made very complicated legally (if the landlord is a monopolist, then both you and them might prefer that they have a crappy product to offer at low cost, but often it is hard to offer a crappier product for legal reasons) or as a costly signal of poverty (if you are poor you are willing to make your house dirtier in exchange for money---of course most of the costs can also be signaling, since having white walls is a costly signal of wealth). My guess would be these kinds of models are too expressive to have predictive power, but this at least seems like a clean case.

Signaling explanations often seem to have this vaguely counter-intuitive form, e.g. you might think that from a selfish point of view you would want your classes to be more easily graded. But alas...

Comment author: tingram 03 June 2013 01:31:31AM 8 points [-]

He [the Inner Game player] reasons that since by definition the commonplace is what is experienced most often, the talent to be able to appreciate it is extremely valuable.

--W. Timothy Gallwey, Inner Tennis: Playing the Game

Comment author: shminux 09 June 2013 07:21:58PM *  22 points [-]

you can't wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act.

Edward Snowden, the NSA surveillance whistle-blower.

Comment author: BT_Uytya 03 June 2013 09:34:39AM 21 points [-]

Baroque Cycle by Neal Stphenson proves to be a very good, intelligent book series.

“Why does the tide rush out to sea?”

“The influence of the sun and the moon.”

“Yet you and I cannot see the sun or the moon. The water does not have senses to see, or a will to follow them. How then do the sun and moon, so far away, affect the water?”

“Gravity,” responded Colonel Barnes, lowering his voice like a priest intoning the name of God, and glancing about to see whether Sir Isaac Newton were in earshot.

“That’s what everyone says now. ’Twas not so when I was a lad. We used to parrot Aristotle and say it was in the nature of water to be drawn up by the moon. Now, thanks to our fellow-passenger, we say ‘gravity.’ It seems a great improvement. But is it really? Do you understand the tides, Colonel Barnes, simply because you know to say ‘gravity’?”

Daniel Waterhouse and Colonel Barnes in Solomon’s Gold

Comment author: Thomas 03 June 2013 10:10:57AM *  8 points [-]

Do you understand the tides, Colonel Barnes, simply because you know to say ‘gravity’?”

Yes, be cause saying 'gravity' in fact means the Newton gravitational law. Aristotle had no idea, that e. g. the product of two masses is involved here.

Comment author: BT_Uytya 03 June 2013 10:19:49AM 8 points [-]

Probably I should've added some context to this conversation. One of the themes of Baroque Cycle is that Newton described his gravitational law, but said nothing about why the reality is the way it is. This bugs Daniel, and he rests his hopes upon Leibniz who tries to explain reality on the more fundamental level (monads).

This conversation is "Explain/Worship/Ignore" thing as well as "Teacher's password" thing.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 03 June 2013 12:18:10PM 9 points [-]

The reason Newton's laws are an improvement over Aristotelian "the nature of water is etc." is that Newton lets you make predictions, while Aristotle does not. You could ask "but WHY does gravity work like so-and-so?", but that doesn't change the fact that Newton's laws let you predict orbits of celestial objects, etc., in advance of seeing them.

Comment author: Nornagest 05 June 2013 08:26:09AM *  8 points [-]

That's certainly the conventional wisdom, but I think the conventional wisdom sells Aristotle and his contemporaries a little short. Sure, speaking in terms of water and air and fire and dirt might look a little silly to us now, but that's rather superficial: when you get down to the experiments available at the time, Aristotelian physics ran on properties that genuinely were pretty well correlated, and you could in fact use them to make reasonably accurate predictions about behavior you hadn't seen from the known properties of an object. All kosher from a scientific perspective so far.

There are two big differences I see, though neither implies that Aristotle was telling just-so stories. The first is that Aristotelian physics was mainly a qualitative undertaking, not a quantitative one -- the Greeks knew that the properties of objects varied in a mathematically regular way (witness Erastothenes' clever method of calculating Earth's circumference), but this wasn't integrated closely into physical theory. The other has to do with generality: science since Galileo has applied as universally as possible, though some branches reduced faster than others, but the Greeks and their medieval followers were much more willing to ascribe irreducible properties to narrow categories of object. Both end up placing limits on the kinds of inferences you'll end up making.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 June 2013 11:04:38AM 25 points [-]

Does Colonel Barnes? If not, he is just repeating a word he has learned to say. Rather like some people today who have learned to say "entanglement", or "signalling", or "evolution", or...

Comment author: PhilipL 04 June 2013 01:10:14PM *  5 points [-]

Except in this case he's actually saying 'gravity' in the right context, and besides, it's not expected of people in general to know Newton's laws (or general relativity, etc) to know basically how gravity works.

Although I'd like to know what his answer was to the last question...

Comment author: BT_Uytya 05 June 2013 07:55:06AM 10 points [-]

I will gladly post the rest of the conversation because it reminds me of question I pondered for a while.

"Do you understand the tides, Colonel Barnes, simply because you know to say ‘gravity’?”

“I’ve never claimed to understand them.”

“Ah, that is very wise practice.”

“All that matters is, he does,” Barnes continued, glancing down, as if he could see through the deck-planks.

“Does he then?”

“That’s what you lot have been telling everyone. <> Sir Isaac’s working on Volume the Third, isn’t he, and that’s going to settle the lunar problem. Wrap it all up.”

“He is working out equations that ought to agree with Mr. Flamsteed’s observations.”

“From which it would follow that Gravity’s a solved problem; and if Gravity predicts what the moon does, why, it should apply as well to the sloshing back and forth of the water in the oceans.”

“But is to describe something to understand it?”

“I should think it were a good first step.”

“Yes. And it is a step that Sir Isaac has taken. The question now becomes, who shall take the second step?”

After that they started to discuss differences between Newton's and Leibniz theories. Newton is unable to explain why gravity can go through the earth, like light through a pane of glass. Leibniz takes a more fundamental approach (roughly speaking, he claims that everything consist of cellular automata).

Daniel: “<...> Leibniz’s philosophy has the disadvantage that no one knows, yet, how to express it mathematically. And so he cannot predict tides and eclipses, as Sir Isaac can.”

“Then what good is Leibniz’s philosophy?”

“It might be the truth,” Daniel answered.

I find this theme of Baroque Cycle fascinating.

I was somewhat haunted by the similar question: in the strict Bayesian sense, notions of "explain" and "predict" are equivalent, but what about Alfred Wegener, father of plate tectonics? His theory of continental drift (in some sense) explained shapes of continents and archaeological data, but was rejected by the mainstream science because of the lack of mechanism of drift.

In some sense, Wegener was able to predict, but unable to explain.

One can easily imagine some weird data easily described by (and predicted by) very simple mathematical formula, but yet I don't consider this to be explanation. Something lacks here; my curiosity just doesn't accept bare formulas as answers.

I suspect that this situation arises because of the very small prior probability of formula being true. But is it really?

Comment author: DanArmak 08 June 2013 05:59:59PM 7 points [-]

Stanislaw Lem wrote a short story about this. (I don't remember its name.)

In the story, English detectives are trying to solve a series of cases where bodies are stolen from morgues and are later discovered abandoned at some distance. There are no further useful clues.

They bring in a scientist, who determines that there is a simple mathematical relationship that relates the times and locations of these incidents. He can predict the next incident. And he says, therefore, that he has "solved" or "explained" the mystery. When asked what actually happens - how the bodies are moved, and why - he simply doesn't care: perhaps, he suggests, the dead bodies move by themselves - but the important thing, the original question, has been answered. If someone doesn't understand that a simple equation that makes predictions is a complete answer to a question, that someone simply doesn't understand science!

Lem does not, of course, intend to give this as his own opinion. The story never answers the "real" mystery of how or why the bodies move; the equation happens to predict that the sequence will soon end anyway.

Comment author: BT_Uytya 09 June 2013 09:46:52AM *  7 points [-]

Amusingly, I read this story, but completely forgot about it. The example here is perfect. Probably I should re-read it.

For those interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Investigation

Comment author: ChristianKl 06 June 2013 06:18:40PM 4 points [-]

One can easily imagine some weird data easily described by (and predicted by) very simple mathematical formula, but yet I don't consider this to be explanation. Something lacks here; my curiosity just doesn't accept bare formulas as answers.

I suspect that this situation arises because of the very small prior probability of formula being true. But is it really?

I think the situation happens because of bias. Demonstrating an empirical effect to be real takes work. Finding an explanation of an effect also takes work. It's very seldom in science that both happens at exactly the same time.

Their are a lot of drugs that are designed in a way where we think that the drug works by binding to specific receptors. Those explanations aren't very predictive for telling you whether a prospective drug works. Once it's shown that a drug actually works it's often that we don't fully understand why it does work.

Comment author: BT_Uytya 09 June 2013 10:19:34AM 2 points [-]

It's very seldom in science that both happens at exactly the same time.

Interesting.

I imagined a world where Wegener appeared, out of blue, with all that data about geological strata and fossils (nobody noticed any of that before), and declared that it's all because of continental drift. That was anticlimactic and unsatisfactory.

I imagined a world with a great unsolved mystery: all that data about geological strata and fossils. For a century, nobody is unable to explain it. Then Wegener appeared, and pointed that the shapes of continents are similar, and perhaps it's all because of continental drift. That was more satisfactory, and I suspect that most of traces of disappointment are due to hindsight bias.

I think that there are several factors causing that:

1) Story-mode thinking

2) Suspicions concerning the unknown person claiming to solve the problem nobody has ever heard of.

3) (now it's my working hypothesis) The idea that some phenomena are and 'hard' to reduce, and some are 'easy':

I know that fall of apple can be explained in terms of atoms, reduced to the fundamental interactions. Most of things can. I know that we are unable to explain fundamental interactions yet, so equations-without-understanding are justified.

So, if I learn about some strange phenomenon, I believe that it can be easily explained in terms of atoms. Now suppose that it turned out to be very hard problem, and nobody managed to reduce it to something more fundamental. Now I feel that I should be satisfied with bare equations because making something more is hard. Maybe a century later.

This isn't complete explanation, but it feels like a step in the right direction.

Comment author: rahul 03 June 2013 01:39:11PM *  7 points [-]

From David Shields' Reality Hunger:

Once, after running deep into foul territory to make an extraordinary catch to preserve a victory, he was asked, “When did you know you were going to catch the ball?” Ichiro replied, “When I caught it."

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 02 June 2013 02:46:39AM 7 points [-]

[T]here can be no way of justifying the substantive assumption that all forms of altruism, solidarity and sacrifice really are ultra-subtle forms of self-interest, except by the trivializing gambit of arguing that people have concern for others because they want to avoid being distressed by their distress. And even this gambit […] is open to the objection that rational distress-minimizers could often use more efficient means than helping others.

Jon Elster

Comment author: sketerpot 02 June 2013 10:14:33AM *  8 points [-]

Even if altruism turns out to be a really subtle form of self-interest, what does it matter? An unwoven rainbow still has all its colors.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 June 2013 07:33:17PM 11 points [-]

Rational distress-minimizers would behave differently from rational atruists. (Real people are somewhere in the middle and seem to tend toward greater altruism and less distress-minimization when taught 'rationality' by altruists.)

Comment author: syllogism 04 June 2013 07:04:39PM *  6 points [-]

That could be because rationality decreases the effectiveness of distress minimisation techniques other than altruism.

Comment author: Baughn 05 June 2013 12:42:40AM *  3 points [-]

..because it makes you try to see reality as it is?

In me, it's also had the effect of reducing empathy. (Helps me not go crazy.)

Comment author: syllogism 05 June 2013 09:41:12AM 2 points [-]

Well, for me, believing myself to be a type of person I don't like causes me great cognitive dissonance. The more I know about how I might be fooling myself, the more I have to actually adjust to achieve that belief.

For instance, it used to be enough for me that I treat my in-group well. But once I understood that that was what I was doing, I wasn't satisfied with it. I now follow a utilitarian ethics that's much more materially expensive.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 June 2013 09:56:43AM 3 points [-]

Are they being taught 'rationality' by altruists or 'altruism' by rationalists? Or 'rational altruism' by rational altruists?

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 02 June 2013 11:32:43AM *  6 points [-]

It may not matter pragmatically but it still matters scientifically. Just as you want to have a correct explanation of rainbows, regardless of whether this explanation has any effects on our aesthetic appreciation of them, so too you want to have a factually accurate account of apparently altruistic behavior, independently of whether this matters from a moral perspective.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 02 June 2013 10:12:59PM 1 point [-]

There's the alternative "gambit" of describing it in terms of signaling. There's the alternative "gambit" of describing it in terms of wanting to live in the best possible universe. There's the alternative "gambit" of ascribing altruism to the emotional response it invokes in the altruistic individual.

I find the quote false on its face, in addition to being an appeal to distaste.

Comment author: simplicio 11 June 2013 09:28:46PM 3 points [-]

There's the alternative "gambit" of ascribing altruism to the emotional response it invokes in the altruistic individual.

Careful, there are some tricky conceptual waters here. Strictly, anything I want to do can be ascribed to my emotional response to it, because that's how nature made us pursue goals. "They did it because of the emotional response it invoked" is roughly analogous to "They did it because their brain made them do it."

The cynical claim would be that if people could get the emotional high without the altruistic act (say, by taking a pill that made them think they did it), they'd just do that. I don't think most altruists would, though. There are cynical explanations for that fact, too ("signalling to yourself leads to better signalling to others") but they begin to lose their air of streetwise wisdom and sound like epicycles.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 June 2013 03:11:33PM *  7 points [-]

Fundamental ideas play the most essential role in forming a physical theory. Books on physics are full of complicated mathematical formulae. But thought and ideas, not formulae, are the beginning of every physical theory. The ideas must later take the mathematical form of a quantitative theory, to make possible the comparison with experiment.

-- Albert Einstein

Comment author: satt 29 June 2013 04:36:08PM 2 points [-]

I have had to employ a fair number of technical concepts and use some mathematical operations, but the concepts have also been explained in non-technical terms and the mathematical results have been given intuitive explanation. It is hoped that the non-technical reader will not be put off by the formalities. The importance of the formal results lies ultimately in their relevance to normal communication and to things that people argue about and fight for.

— Amartya Sen, On Economic Inequality, p. vii

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 02 June 2013 02:40:27AM 19 points [-]

Th[e] strategy [of preferring less knowledge and intelligence due to their high cognitive costs] is exemplified by the sea squirt larva, which swims about until it finds a suitable rock, to which it then permanently affixes itself. Cemented in place, the larva has less need for complex information processing, whence it proceeds to digest part of its own brain (its cerebral ganglion). Academics can sometimes observe a similar phenomenon in colleagues who are granted tenure.

Nick Bostrom

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 June 2013 02:50:27AM 23 points [-]

It is perhaps worth noting that a similar comment was made by Dennett:

“The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn't need its brain anymore, so it eats it! It's rather like getting tenure.”

...in 1991 or so.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 June 2013 07:16:36PM 5 points [-]

I remember this as a famous proverb, it may predate Dennett.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 June 2013 07:36:39PM 9 points [-]

Apparently it does... a few minutes of googling turned up a cite to Rodolfo Llinas (1987), who referred to it as "a process paralleled by some human academics upon obtaining university tenure."

Comment author: khafra 03 June 2013 11:30:19AM 13 points [-]

Has the life cycle of the sea squirt ever been notably used to describe something other than the reaction of an academic to tenure?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 June 2013 12:25:19PM 7 points [-]

Hah! Um... hm. A quick perusal of Google results for "sea squirt -tenure" gets me some moderately interesting stuff about their role as high-sensitivity harbingers for certain pollutants, and something about invasive sea-squirt species in harbors. But nothing about their life-cycle per se. I give a tentative "no."

Comment author: tingram 03 June 2013 05:23:24AM 17 points [-]

It is said, for example, that a man ten times regrets having spoken, for the once he regrets his silence. And why? Because the fact of having spoken is an external fact, which may involve one in annoyances, since it is an actuality. But the fact of having kept silent! Yet this is the most dangerous thing of all. For by keeping silent one is relegated solely to oneself, no actuality comes to a man's aid by punishing him, by bringing down upon him the consequences of his speech. No, in this respect, to be silent is the easy way. But he who knows what the dreadful is, must for this very reason be most fearful of every fault, of every sin, which takes an inward direction and leaves no outward trace. So it is too that in the eyes of the world it is dangerous to venture. And why? Because one may lose. But not to venture is shrewd. And yet, by not venturing, it is so dreadfully easy to lose that which it would be difficult to lose in even the most venturesome venture, and in any case never so easily, so completely as if it were nothing...one's self. For if I have ventured amiss--very well, then life helps me by its punishment. But if I have not ventured at all--who then helps me?

--Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

Comment author: tgb 03 June 2013 06:38:48PM 2 points [-]

That's an interesting opening comment on regretting choosing to speak more than choosing not to speak. In particular, it brings to mind studies of the elderly's regrets in life and how most of those are not-having-done's versus having-done's. These two aren't incompatible: if we remain silent 20 times for every time we speak, then we still regret remaining silent more than we regret speaking even if we regret each having-spoken 10 times as much as a not-having-spoken. Still, though, there seems to be some disagreement.

Comment author: tingram 03 June 2013 10:08:10PM *  3 points [-]

Obviously the fact that it's translated complicates things, and I don't know anything about Danish. But I think the first sentence is meant to be a piece of folk wisdom akin to "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." That is, he's not really concerned with the relative proportions of regret, but with the idea that it's better (safer, shrewder) to keep your counsel than to stake out a position that might be contradicted. In light of the rest of the text, this is the reading of the line that makes the most sense to me: equivocation and bet-hedging in the name of worldly safety are a symptom of the sin of despair. Compare:

Possibility then appears to the self ever greater and greater, more and more things become possible, because nothing becomes actual. At last it is as if everything were possible--but this is precisely when the abyss has swallowed up the self.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 04 June 2013 12:12:47PM 2 points [-]

Possibility then appears to the self ever greater and greater, more and more things become possible, because nothing becomes actual. At last it is as if everything were possible--but this is precisely when the abyss has swallowed up the self.

Reminds me of standards processes and project proposals that produce ever more elaborate specifications that no-one gets round to implementing.

Comment author: novalis 07 June 2013 06:33:30PM 15 points [-]

"It’s actually hard to see when you’ve fucked up, because you chose all your actions in a good-faith effort and if you were to run through it again you’ll just get the same results. I mean, errors-of-fact you can see when you learn more facts, but errors-of-judgement are judged using the same brain that made the judgement in the first place." - Collin Street

Comment author: alexvermeer 16 June 2013 08:32:59PM 14 points [-]

The recognition of confusion is itself a form of clarity.

T.K.V. Desikachar

Comment author: sediment 01 June 2013 01:53:19PM *  14 points [-]

What I have been calling nefarious rhetoric recurs in a rudimentary form also in impromptu discussions. Someone harbors a prejudice or an article of faith or a vested interest, and marshals ever more desperate and threadbare arguments in defense of his position rather than be swayed by reason or face the facts. Even more often, perhaps, the deterrent is just stubbon pride: reluctance to acknowledge error. Unscientific man is beset by a deplorable desire to have been right. The scientist is distinguished by a desire to be right.

— W. V. Quine, An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary (a whimsical and fun read)

Comment author: simplicio 11 June 2013 11:06:59PM 3 points [-]

Usually I find myself deploying nefarious rhetoric when I believe something on good evidence but have temporarily forgotten the evidence (this is very embarrassing and happens to me a lot).

Comment author: [deleted] 03 June 2013 09:36:11PM *  13 points [-]

It’s hard to tell the difference between "Nobody ever complains about this car because it’s reliable" and “Nobody complains about this car because nobody buys this car."

-- Shamus Young

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 07 June 2013 11:33:38AM 8 points [-]

Thanks for the link.

Here's another good quote:

But if your solution to a problem is “don’t make mistakes”, then it’s not a solution. If you’re worried about falling off a cliff, the solution isn’t to walk along the edge very carefully, it’s to get away from the edge.

Comment author: army1987 15 June 2013 01:32:40PM 4 points [-]

If you’re worried about falling off a cliff, the solution isn’t to walk along the edge very carefully, it’s to get away from the edge.

It depends on why you were walking there in the first place.

Comment author: tingram 03 June 2013 01:25:56AM 12 points [-]

From the remarkable opening chapter of Consciousness Explained:

One should be leery of these possibilities in principle. It is also possible in principle to build a stainless-steel ladder to the moon, and to write out, in alphabetical order, all intelligible English conversations consisting of less than a thousand words. But neither of these are remotely possible in fact and sometimes an impossibility in fact is theoretically more interesting than a possibility in principle, as we shall see.

--Daniel Dennett

Comment author: Vaniver 04 June 2013 03:18:50AM *  6 points [-]

It is also possible in principle to build a stainless-steel ladder to the moon, and to write out, in alphabetical order, all intelligible English conversations consisting of less than a thousand words.

While I agree with the general point that it's important to consider impossibilities in fact, I'm not quite sure I agree where he's drawing the line between fact and principle. Does the compressive strength of stainless steel, and the implied limit on the height of a ladder constructed of it, not count as a restriction in principle?

Comment author: khafra 04 June 2013 11:44:13AM 2 points [-]

It just takes some imagination. Hollow out both the Earth and the Moon to reduce their gravitational pull; support the ladder with carbon nanotube filaments; stave off collapse by pushing it around with high-efficiency ion impulse engines; etc.

I agree, though, that philosophers often make too much of the distinction between "logically impossible" and "physically impossible." There's probably no in principle possible way to hollow out the Earth significantly while retaining its structure; etc.

Comment author: DanArmak 08 June 2013 07:05:27PM 3 points [-]

support the ladder with carbon nanotube filaments

So basically, build a second ladder out of some other material that's feasible (unlike steel), and then just tie the steel ladder to it so it doesn't have to bear any weight.

Comment author: tingram 04 June 2013 01:50:23PM 4 points [-]

I think that often "logically possible" means "possible if you don't think too hard about it". Which is exactly Dennett's point in context: the idea that you are a brain in a vat is only conceivable if you don't think about the computing power that would be necessary for a convincing simulation.

Comment author: ChristianKl 06 June 2013 09:23:09PM 6 points [-]

Which is exactly Dennett's point in context: the idea that you are a brain in a vat is only conceivable if you don't think about the computing power that would be necessary for a convincing simulation.

Dreams can be quite convincing simulations that don't need that much computing power.

The worlds that people who do astral traveling perceive can be quite complex. Complex enough to convince people who engage in that practice that they really are on an astral plane. Does that mean that the people are really on an astral plane and aren't just imagining it?

Comment author: Caspian 08 June 2013 03:01:17AM 4 points [-]

The way I like to think about it is that convincingness is a 2-place function - a simulation is convincing to a particular mind/brain. If there's a reasonably well-defined interface between the mind and the simulation (e.g. the 5 senses and maybe a couple more) then it's cheating to bypass that interface and make the brain more gullible than normal, for example by introducing chemicals into the vat for that purpose.

From that perspective, dreams are not especially convincing compared to experience while awake, rather dreamers are especially convincable.

Dennett's point seems to be that a lot of computing power would be needed to make a convincing simulation for a mind as clear-thinking as a reader who was awake. Later in the chapter he talks about other types of hallucinations.

Comment author: ChristianKl 08 June 2013 07:09:12PM 3 points [-]

The way I like to think about it is that convincingness is a 2-place function - a simulation is convincing to a particular mind/brain. If there's a reasonably well-defined interface between the mind and the simulation (e.g. the 5 senses and maybe a couple more)

The 5 senses are brain events. There aren't input channels to the brain. Take taste. How many different tastes of food can you perceive through your taste sense? More than 5. Why? Your brain takes data from nose, tongue and your memory and fits them together to something that you can perceive through your smell sense.

You have no direct access to the data that your nose or tongue sends to your brain through your conscious qualia perception.

If someone is open by receiving suggestions and you give him a hypnotic suggestion that a apple tastes like an orange you can awake him. If he eats the thing he will tell you that the apple is an orange. He might even get angry when someone tells him that the thing isn't an orange because it obviously tastes like an orange.

it's cheating to bypass that interface and make the brain more gullible than normal, for example by introducing chemicals into the vat for that purpose.

You don't need to introduce any chemicals. Millions of years of evolutions have trained brains to have an extremly high prior for thinking that they aren't "brains in a vat".

Doubting your own perception is an incredibly hard cognitive task.

There are experients where an experimentor uses a single electron to trigger a subject to do a particular task like raising his arm. If the experimentor afterwards ask the subject why he raised the arm the subject makes up a story and believes in that story. It takes effort for the leader of an experiment to convince a subject that he made up the story and there was no reason he raised his arm.

Comment author: B_For_Bandana 03 June 2013 01:36:03AM 4 points [-]

I'm someone who still finds subjective experience mysterious, and I'd like to fix that. Does that book provide a good, gut-level, question-dissolving explanation?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 June 2013 02:41:24AM 8 points [-]

I've had that conversation with a few people over the years, and I conclude that it does for some people and not others. The ones for whom it doesn't generally seem to think of it as a piece of misdirection, in which Dennett answers in great detail a different question than the one that was being asked. (It's not entirely clear to me what question they think he answers instead.)

That said, it's a pretty fun read. If the subject interests you, I'd recommend sitting down and writing out as clearly as you can what it is you find mysterious about subjective experience, and then reading the book and seeing if it answers, or at least addresses, that question.

Comment author: DanArmak 08 June 2013 07:11:41PM *  2 points [-]

The ones for whom it doesn't generally seem to think of it as a piece of misdirection, in which Dennett answers in great detail a different question than the one that was being asked. (It's not entirely clear to me what question they think he answers instead.)

He seems to answer the question of why humans feel and report that they are conscious; why, in fact, they are conscious. But I don't know how to translate that into an explanation of why I am conscious.

The problem that many people (including myself) feel to be mysterious is qualia. I know indisputably that I have qualia, or subjective experience. But I have no idea why that is, or what that means, or even what it would really mean for things to be otherwise (other than a total lack of experience, as in death).

A perfect and complete explanation of of the behavior of humans, still doesn't seem to bridge the gap from "objective" to "subjective" experience.

I don't claim to understand the question. Understanding it would mean having some idea over what possible answers or explanations might be like, and how to judge if they are right or wrong. And I have no idea. But what Dennett writes doesn't seem to answer the question or dissolve it.

Comment author: bojangles 08 June 2013 08:32:17PM *  3 points [-]

Here's how I got rid of my gut feeling that qualia are both real and ineffable.

First, phrasing the problem:

Even David Chalmers thinks there are some things about qualia that are effable. Some of the structural properties of experience - for example, why colour qualia can be represented in a 3-dimensional space (colour, hue, and saturation) - might be explained by structural properties of light and the brain, and might be susceptible to third-party investigation.

What he would call ineffable is the intrinsic properties of experience. With regards to colour-space, think of spectrum inversion. When we look at a firetruck, the quale I see is the one you would call "green" if you could access it, but since I learned my colour words by looking at firetrucks, I still call it "red".

If you think this is coherent, you believe in ineffable qualia: even though our colour-spaces are structurally identical, the "atoms" of experience additionally have intrinsic natures (I'll call these eg. RED and GREEN) which are non-causal and cannot be objectively discovered.

You can show that ineffable qualia (experiential intrinsic natures, independent of experiential structure) aren't real by showing that spectrum inversion (changing the intrinsic natures, keeping the structure) is incoherent.

An attempt at a solution:

Take another experiential "spectrum": pleasure vs. displeasure. Spectrum inversion is harder, I'd say impossible, to take seriously in this case. If someone seeks out P, tells everyone P is wonderful, laughs and smiles when P happens, and even herself believes (by means of mental representations or whatever) that P is pleasant, then it makes no sense to me to imagine P really "ultimately" being UNPLEASANT for her.

Anyway, if pleasure-displeasure can't be noncausally inverted, then neither can colour-qualia. The three colour-space dimensions aren't really all you need to represent colour experience. Colour experience doesn't, and can't, ever occur isolated from other cognition.

For example: seeing a lot of red puts monkeys on edge. So imagine putting a spectrum-inverted monkey in a (to us) red room, and another in a (to us) green room.

If the monkey in the green (to it, RED') room gets antsy, or the monkey in the red (to it, GREEN') room doesn't, then that means the spectrum-inversion was causal and ineffable qualia don't exist.

But if the monkey in the green room doesn't get antsy, or the monkey in the red room does, then it hasn't been a full spectrum inversion. RED' without antsiness is not the same quale as RED with antsiness. If all the other experiential spectra remain uninverted, it might even look surprisingly like GREEN. But to make the inversion successfully, you'd have to flip all the other experiential spectra that connect with colour, including antiness vs. serenity, and through that, pleasure vs. displeasure.

This isn't knockdown, but it convinced me.

Comment author: DavidAgain 19 June 2013 01:18:57PM 3 points [-]

I'm not sure pleasure/pain is that useful, because 1) they have such an intuitive link to reaction/function 2) they might be meta-qualities: a similar sensation of pain can be strongly unpleasant, entirely tolerable or even enjoyable depending on other factors.

What you've done with colours is combine what feels like a somewhat arbitary/ineffable qualia and declare it inextricable associated with one that has direct behavioural terms involved. Your talk of what's required to 'make the inversion succesfully' is misleading: what if the monkey has GREEN and antsiness rather than RED and antsiness?

It seems intuitive to assume 'red' and 'green' remain the same in normal conditions: but I'm left totally lost as to what 'red' would look like to a creature that could see a far wider or narrower spectrum than the one we can see. Or to that matter to someone with limited colour-blindness. There seems to me to be the Nagel 'what is it like to be a bat' problem, and I've never understood how that dissolves.

It's been a long time since I read Dennett, but I was in the camp of 'not answering the question, while being fascinating around the edges and giving people who think qualia are straightforward pause for thought'. No-one's ever been able to clearly explain how his arguments work to me, to the point that I suggest that either I or they are fundamentally missing something.

If the hard problem of consciousness has really been solved I'd really like to know!

Comment author: TheOtherDave 19 June 2013 01:35:37PM 6 points [-]

Consider the following dialog:
A: "Why do containers contain their contents?"
B: "Well, because they are made out of impermeable materials arranged in such a fashion that there is no path between their contents and the rest of the universe."
A: "Yes, of course, I know that, but why does that lead to containment?"
B: "I don't quite understand. Are you asking what properties of materials make them impermeable, or what properties of shapes preclude paths between inside and outside? That can get a little technical, but basically it works like this --"
A: "No, no, I understand that stuff. I've been studying containment for years; I understand the simple problem of containment quite well. I'm asking about the hard problem of containment: how does containment arise from those merely mechanical things?"
B: "Huh? Those 'merely mechanical things' are just what containment is. If there's no path X can take from inside Y to outside Y, X is contained by Y. What is left to explain?"
A: "That's an admirable formulation of the hard problem of containment, but it doesn't solve it."

How would you reply to A?

Comment author: DanArmak 08 June 2013 08:51:44PM 2 points [-]

I realize that non-materialistic "intrinsic qualities" of qualia, which we perceive but which aren't causes of our behavior, are incoherent. What I don't fully understand is why have I any qualia at all. Please see my sibling comment.

Comment author: arborealhominid 06 June 2013 03:31:47PM 22 points [-]

The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable: one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone 'a gentleman' you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not 'a gentleman' you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said- so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully- 'Ah, but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?' They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man 'a gentleman' in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is 'a gentleman' becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object; it only tells you about the speaker's attitude to that object. (A 'nice' meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.

  • C.S. Lewis (emphasis my own)
Comment author: novalis 07 June 2013 06:40:33PM 8 points [-]

When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object; it only tells you about the speaker's attitude to that object.

This is because a speaker's attitude towards an object is not formed by the speaker's perception of the object; it is entirely arbitrary. Wait, no, that's not right.

And anyway, the previous use of the term "gentleman" was, in some sense, worse. Because while it had a neutral denotation ("A gentleman is any person who possesses these two qualities"), it had a non-neutral connotation.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 June 2013 05:37:48PM 3 points [-]

So Lewis grants that people really can be brave, honorable, and courteous, but then denies that calling someone so is descriptive?

This passage does't make any sense.

Comment author: Zubon 02 June 2013 08:33:40PM *  22 points [-]

Sorry? Of course he was sorry. People were always sorry. Sorry they had done what they had done, sorry they were doing what they were doing, sorry they were going to do what they were going to do; but they still did whatever it was. The sorrow never stopped them; it just made them feel better. And so the sorrow never stopped. ...

Sorrow be damned, and all your plans. Fuck the faithful, fuck the committed, the dedicated, the true believers; fuck all the sure and certain people prepared to maim and kill whoever got in their way; fuck every cause that ended in murder and a child screaming.

Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks.

Comment author: simplicio 11 June 2013 09:08:28PM *  2 points [-]

I read this as a poetic invocation against utilitarian sacrifices. It seems to me simultaneously wise on a practical level and bankrupt on a theoretical level.

What about the special case of people prepared to be maimed and killed in order to get in someone's way? I guess it depends whether you share goals with the latter someone.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 12 June 2013 12:10:38PM *  5 points [-]

If I don't share goals with someone, or more strongly, if I consider their goals evil... then I will see their meta actions differently, because at the end, the meta actions are just a tool for something else. If some people build a perfect superintelligent paperclip maximizer, I will hate the fact that they were able to overcome procrastination, that they succeeded in overcoming their internal conflicts, that they made good strategical decisions about getting money and smart people for their project, etc.

So perhaps the quote could be understood as a complaint against people in the valley of bad rationality. Smart enough to put their plans successfully in action; yet too stupid to understand that their plans will end hurting people. Smart enough to later realize they made a mistake and feel sorry; yet too stupid to realize they shouldn't make a similar kind of plan with similar kinds of mistakes again.

Comment author: elharo 03 June 2013 11:25:56PM 11 points [-]

the designers of a theoretical technology in any but the most predictable of areas should identify its assumptions and claims that have not already been tested in a laboratory. They should design not only the technology but also a map of the uncertainties and edge cases in the design and a series of such experiments and tests that would progressively reduce these uncertainties. A proposal that lacks this admission of uncertainties coupled with designs of experiments that will reduce such uncertainties should not be deemed credible for the purposes of any important decision. We might call this requirement a requirement for a falsifiable design.

--Nick Szabo, Falsifiable design: A methodology for evaluting theoretical technologies

Comment author: Osiris 06 June 2013 01:35:05PM 10 points [-]

“Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.” --Lord Byron.

All too often those who are least rational in their best moments are the greatest supporters of using one's head, if only to avoid too early a demise. I wonder how many years Lord Byron gained from rational thought, and which of the risks he took did he take because he was good at betting...

Comment author: B_For_Bandana 01 June 2013 08:45:22PM *  19 points [-]

Stepan Arkadyevitch subscribed to a liberal paper, and read it. It was not extreme in those views, but advocated those principles the majority held. And though he was not really interested in science or art or politics, he strongly adhered to such views on all those subjects as the majority, including his paper, advocated, and he changed them only when the majority changed them; or more correctly, he did not change them, but they themselves imperceptibly changed in him.

Stepan Arkadyevitch never chose principles or opinions, but these principles and opinions came to him, just as he never chose the shape of a hat or coat, but took those that others wore. And, living as he did in fashionable society, through the necessity of some mental activity, developing generally in a man's best years, it was as indispensable for him to have views as to have a hat. If there was any reason why he preferred liberal views rather than the conservative direction which many of his circle followed, it was not because he found a liberal tendency more rational, but because he found it better suited to his mode of life.

The liberal party declared that everything in Russia was wretched; and the fact was that Stepan Arkadyevitch had a good many debts and was decidedly short of money. The liberal party said that marriage was a defunct institution and that it needed to be remodeled, and in fact domestic life afforded Stepan Arakadyevitch very little pleasure, and compelled him to lie, and to pretend, which was contrary to his nature. The liberal party said, or rather allowed it to be understood, that religion is only a curb on the barbarous portion of the community, and in fact Stepan Arkadyevitch could not bear the shortest prayer without pain in his knees, and he could not comprehend the necessity of all these high-sounding words about the other world when it was so very pleasant to live in this one.

  • Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The personal is political!

Comment author: simplicio 11 June 2013 10:03:40PM 10 points [-]

Stepan is a smart chap. He has realized (perhaps unconsciously)

  • that one's political views are largely inconsequential,
  • that it's nonetheless socially necessary to have some,
  • that developing popular and coherent political views oneself is expensive,

and so has outsourced them to a liberal paper.

One might compare it to hiring a fashion consultant... except it's cheap to boot!

Comment author: Estarlio 12 June 2013 10:30:01PM 17 points [-]

"Oh, you could do it all by magic, you certainly could. You could wave a wand and get twinkly stars and a fresh-baked loaf. You could make fish jump out of the sea already cooked. And then, somewhere, somehow, magic would present its bill, which was always more than you could afford.

That’s why it was left to wizards, who knew how to handle it safely. Not doing any magic at all was the chief task of wizards - not “not doing magic” because they couldn’t do magic, but not doing magic when they could do and didn’t. Any ignorant fool can fail to turn someone else into a frog. You have to be clever to refrain from doing it when you knew how easy it was.

There were places in the world commemorating those times when wizards hadn’t been quite as clever as that, and on many of them the grass would never grow again."

-- Terry Prachett, Going Postal

Comment author: AspiringRationalist 01 June 2013 11:19:51PM 23 points [-]

Bad things don't happen to you because you're unlucky. Bad things happen to you because you're a dumbass.

  • That 70s Show
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 June 2013 07:18:22PM 46 points [-]

Single bad things happen to you at random. Iterated bad things happen to you because you're a dumbass. Related: "You are the only common denominator in all of your failed relationships."

Comment author: khafra 03 June 2013 11:28:58AM 21 points [-]

Corollaries: The more of a dumbass you are, the less well you can recognize common features in iterated bad things. So dumbasses are, subjectively speaking, just unlucky.

Comment author: AlanCrowe 03 June 2013 12:47:46PM 32 points [-]

The corollary is more useful than the theorem:-) If I wish to be less of a dumbass, it helps to know what it looks like from the inside. It looks like bad luck, so my first job is to learn to distinguish bad luck from enemy action. In Eliezer's specific example that is going to be hard because I need to include myself in my list of potential enemies.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 June 2013 06:53:27PM 6 points [-]

(That's fair.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 June 2013 02:18:13PM 3 points [-]

There is such a thing as bad luck, though perhaps it's less in play in relationships than in most areas of life.

I think that if you keep having relationships that keep failing in the same way, it's a stronger signal that if they just fail.

Comment author: ChristianKl 06 June 2013 09:43:55PM 2 points [-]

Alternatively, iterated bad things happen because someone is out to get you and messes constantly with what you are trying to do.

Comment author: Kawoomba 02 June 2013 07:33:42PM *  5 points [-]

Also, oxygen. (Edit: "You are the only common denominator in all of your failed relationships." is misleading, hiding all the other common elements.)

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 02 June 2013 10:15:18PM 23 points [-]

What we want to find is the denominator common to all of your failed relationships, but absent from the successful relationships that other people have (the presumed question being "why do all my relationships fail, but Alice, Bob, Carol, etc. have successful ones?"). Oxygen doesn't fit the bill.

Comment author: Error 03 June 2013 12:46:59PM 5 points [-]

It could also be that Alice, Bob, and Carol's relationships appear more successful than they are. We do tend to hide our failures when we can.

I've heard the failed-relationships quote before, but hadn't seen it generalized to bad things in general. I like that one. Useful corollary: "Iterated bad things are evidence of a pattern of errors that you need to identify and fix."

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 03 June 2013 03:41:07PM 12 points [-]

Of course, "bad things", and even more so "iterated bad things", have to be viewed relative to expectations, and at the proper level of abstraction. Explanation:

Right level of abstraction

"I punched myself in the face six times in a row, and each time, it hurt. But this is not mere bad luck! I conclude that I am bad at self-face-punching! I must work on my technique, such that I may be able to punch myself in the face without ill effect." This is the wrong conclusion. The right conclusion is "abstain from self-face-punching".

Substitute any of the following for "punching self in face":

  • Extreme sports
  • Motorcycle riding
  • Fad diets
  • Prayer

Right expectations

"I've tried five brands of water, and none of them tasted like chocolate candy! My water-brand-selection algorithm must be flawed. I will have to be even more careful about picking only the fanciest brands of water." Again this is the wrong conclusion. The right conclusion is "This water is just fine and there was nothing wrong with my choice of brand. I simply shouldn't have such ridiculous expectations."

Substitute any of the following for "brands of water" / "taste like chocolate candy":

  • Sex partners / knew all the ways to satisfy my needs without me telling them
  • Computer repair shops / fixed my computer for free after I spilled beer on it, and also retrieved all my data [full disclosure: deep-seated personal gripe]
  • Diets / enabled me to lose all requisite weight and keep it off forever
Comment author: Error 03 June 2013 04:57:08PM 5 points [-]

Computer repair shops / fixed my computer for free after I spilled beer on it, and also retrieved all my data [full disclosure: deep-seated personal gripe]

Ah, I've been in that job. My favorite in the stupid-expectations department was a customer who expected us to lie about the cause of a failure on the work order, so that his insurance company would cover the repair. When we refused, he made his own edits to his copy of the work order....and a few days later brought the machine back (I forget why) and handed us the edited order.

We photocopied it (without telling him) and filed it with our own copy. That was entertaining when the insurance company called.

Comment author: Cthulhoo 03 June 2013 04:41:32PM 4 points [-]

This can be easily generalized as an algorithm.

  • Something repeatedly goes wrong
  • Identify correctly your prior hypothesis
  • Identify the variables involved
  • Check/change the variables
  • Observe the result (apply bayes when needed)
  • Repeat if necessary

Scientific method applied to everiday life, if you want :)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 June 2013 05:59:47AM 4 points [-]

The thing is, some of the steps are very vague. If you have a bad case of insufficient clue, what's the cure?

Comment author: Kawoomba 04 June 2013 11:38:20AM *  4 points [-]

"You are the only common denominator in all of your failed relationships." != "Why do all my relationships fail?"

Both you and others have relationships, both "failed" and "not-failed" (for some value of failed). The statement "You are the only common denominator in all of your failed relationships" is clearly false, even if comparing to others who have successful ones in search of differentiating factors. The "only" is the problem even then.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 04 June 2013 03:50:10PM 2 points [-]

The intended formulation, I should think, is "You are the only denominator guaranteed to be common to all of your failed relationships" (which is to say that it might be a contingent fact about your particular set of failed relationships that it has some more common denominators, but for any set of all of any particular person's failed relationships, that person will always, by definition, be common to them all).

Even this might be false when taken literally... so perhaps we need to qualify it just a bit more:

"You are the only interesting denominator guaranteed to be common to all of your failed relationships." (i.e. if we consider only those factors along which relationships-in-general differ from each other, i.e. those dimensions in relationship space which we can't just ignore).

That, I think, is a reasonable, charitable reading of the original quote.

Comment author: Kawoomba 04 June 2013 04:03:12PM 4 points [-]

It's not nitpicking on my side, there are plenty of people who tend to blame themselves for anything going wrong, even when it was outside their control. Maybe they lived in a neighborhood incompatible to themselves, especially pre-social media. Think of 'nerds' stranded in classes without peers. Sure, their behavior was involved in the success or failure of their relationships (how could it not have been?). However, a mindset and pseudo-wise aphorisms such as "you are the only common denominator in all of your failed relationships" would be fueling an already destructive fire of gnawing self-doubt with more gasoline.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 04 June 2013 07:33:10PM 5 points [-]

I agree. This sort of thing...

Maybe they lived in a neighborhood incompatible to themselves, especially pre-social media. Think of 'nerds' stranded in classes without peers.

can be viewed as a case of "wrong level of abstraction" as I alluded to here.

I think what we have here is two possible sources of error, diametrically opposed to each other. Some people refuse to take responsibility for their failures, and it is at them that "you are the only common denominator ..." is aimed. Other people blame themselves even when they shouldn't, as you say. Let us not let one sort of error blind us to the existence of the other.

When it comes to constructing or selecting rationality quotes, we should keep in mind that what we're often doing is attempting to point out and correct some bias, which means that the relevance of the quote is obviously constrained by whether we have that bias at all, or perhaps have the opposite bias instead.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 June 2013 05:37:52PM *  16 points [-]

"I call that 'the falling problem'. You encounter it when you first study physics. You realize that, if you were ever dropped from a plane without a parachute, you could calculate with a high degree of accuracy how long it's take to hit the ground, your speed, how much energy you'll deposit into the earth. And yet, you would still be just as dead as a particularly stupid gorilla dropped the same distance. Mastery of the nature of reality grants you no mastery over the behavior of reality. I could tell you your grandpa is very sick. I could tell you what each cell is doing wrong, why it's doing wrong, and roughly when it started doing wrong. But I can't tell them to stop."

"Why can't you make a machine to fix it?"

"Same reason you can't make a parachute when you fall from the plane."

"Because it's too hard?"

"Nothing is too hard. Many things are too fast."

(beat)

"I think I could solve the falling problem with a jetpack. Can you try to get me the parts?"

"That's all I do, kiddo."

--SMBC

Comment author: shminux 02 June 2013 07:25:46PM 4 points [-]

IDG the punchline...

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 June 2013 07:40:22PM 20 points [-]

I wouldn't call it a punchline, exactly... I mean, it's not a joke. But in the comic it's likely a parent and child talking, and the subtext I infer is that parenting is a process of giving one's children the tools with which to construct superior solutions to life problems.

Comment author: David_Gerard 03 June 2013 11:10:20AM 2 points [-]

parenting is a process of giving one's children the tools with which to construct superior solutions to life problems.

How I would love to quote you next month. This is pretty much my approach in a sentence.

Comment author: tgb 03 June 2013 06:31:37PM 5 points [-]

For me, the real punchline is in the 'votey image' you get by hovering over the red dot at the bottom.

Comment author: ZankerH 04 June 2013 08:04:58PM 5 points [-]

THE JETPACK IS A METAPHOR FOR OVERTHROWING THE GOVERNMENT

Comment author: taelor 08 June 2013 04:36:24AM *  12 points [-]

The hidden thought embedded in most discussions of conspiracy theories is this: The world is being controlled by evil people; so, if we can get rid of them, the world can revert to control by good people, and things will be great again. This thought is false. The world is not controlled by any group of people – evil or good – and it will not be. The world is a large, chaotic mess. Those groups which do exert some control are merely larger pieces in the global mix.

-- Paul Rosenberg

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 10 June 2013 05:46:47PM *  10 points [-]

I don't know if there are short words for this, but seems to me that some people generally assume that "things, left alone, naturally improve" and some people assume that "things, left alone, naturally deteriorate".

The first option seems like optimism, and the second option seems like pesimism. But there is a catch! In real life, many things have good aspects and bad aspects. Now the person who is "optimistic about the future of things left alone" must find a reason why things are worse than expected. (And vice versa, the person who is "pessimistic about the future of things left alone" must find a reason why things are better.) In both cases, a typical explanation is human intervention. Which means that this kind of optimism is prone to conspiracy theories. (And this kind of pessimism is prone to overestimate the benefits of human actions.)

For example, in education: For a "pessimist about spontaneous future" things are easy -- people are born stupid, and schools do a decent job at making them smarter; of course, the process is not perfect. For an "optimist about spontaneous future", children should be left alone to become geniuses (some quote by Rousseau can be used to support this statement). Now the question is, why do we have a school system, whose only supposed consequence is converting these spontaneous geniuses into ordinary people? And here you go: The society needs sheeps, etc.

Analogically, in politics: For some people, the human nature is scary, and the fact that we can have thousands or even millions of people in the same city, without a genocide happening every night, is a miracle of civilization. For other people, everything bad in the world is caused by some evil conspirators who either don't care or secretly enjoy human suffering.

This does not mean that there are no conspiracies ever, no evil people, no systems made worse by human tampering. I just wanted to point out that if you expect things to improve spontaneously (which seems like a usual optimism, which is supposedly a good thing), the consequences of your expectations alone, when confronted with reality, can drive you to conspiracy theories.

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 June 2013 10:03:49PM 2 points [-]

For other people, everything bad in the world is caused by some evil conspirators who either don't care or secretly enjoy human suffering.

I don't think that accurately describes a position of someone like Alex Jones.

You can care about people and still push the fat man over the bridge but then try to keep the fact that you pushed the fat man over the bridge secret because you live in a country where the prevailing Christian values dictate that it's a sin to push the fat man over the bridge.

There are a bunch of conspiracy theories where there is an actual conflict of values and present elites are just evil according to the moral standards that the person who started the conspiracy theory has.

Take education. If you look at EU educational reform after the Bologna Process there are powerful political forces who want to optimize education to let universities teach skills that are valuable to employeers. On the other hand you do have people on the left who think that universities should teach critical thinking and create a society of individuals who follow the ideals of the Enlightment.

There's a real conflict of values.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 14 June 2013 09:21:39AM 3 points [-]

there are powerful political forces who want to optimize education to let universities teach skills that are valuable to employeers. On the other hand you do have people on the left who think that universities should teach critical thinking and create a society of individuals who follow the ideals of the Enlightment. There's a real conflict of values.

In this specific conflict, I would prefer having two kinds of school -- universities and polytechnics -- each optimized for one of the purposes, and let the students decide.

Seems to me that conflicts of values are worse when a unified decision has to be made for everyone. (Imagine that people would start insisting that only one subject can be ever taught at schools, and then we would have a conflict of values whether the subject should be English or Math. But that would be just a consequence of a bad decision at meta level.)

But yeah, I can imagine a situation with a conflict of values that cannot be solved by letting everyone pick their choice. And then the powerful people can push their choice, without being open about it.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 11 June 2013 08:00:22PM 2 points [-]

Pessimists can also believe that education started out decent and has deteriorated to the point where it's worse than nothing.

In addition to Armok's alternatives, there's also those who believe the tendency is a reversion to the mean (the mean being the mean because it's a natural equilibrium, perhaps).

Comment author: Armok_GoB 11 June 2013 12:03:53AM 2 points [-]

And what about those that tend to assume things stay the same/revert to only changing on geological timescales, or those that assume it keeps moving in a linear way?

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 June 2013 10:17:46PM *  7 points [-]

Conspiracy theorists of the world, believers in the hidden hands of the Rothschilds and the Masons and the Illuminati, we skeptics owe you an apology. You were right. The players may be a little different, but your basic premise is correct: The world is a rigged game. We found this out in recent months, when a series of related corruption stories spilled out of the financial sector, suggesting the world's largest banks may be fixing the prices of, well, just about everything.

Matt Taibbi opening paragraph in [Everything Is Rigged The Biggest Price-Fixing Scandal Ever] (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/everything-is-rigged-the-biggest-financial-scandal-yet-20130425#ixzz2W8WJ4Vix)

Comment author: TobyBartels 19 June 2013 04:58:09AM *  8 points [-]

I just watched Oz the Great and Powerful, the big-budget fanfic prequel film to The Wizard of Oz. Hardly a rationalist movie, but there was some nice boosting of science and technology where I didn't expect it. So here's the quotation:

I’m not that kind of wizard. Where I come from there aren’t any real wizards, except one, Thomas Edison. He could look into the future and make it real. […] That's the kind of wizard I want to be.

(There's more, but this is all that I could get out of the Internet and my memory.)

Comment author: katydee 01 June 2013 08:52:27PM 7 points [-]

When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.

Tuco, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 June 2013 01:08:02AM 5 points [-]

A great line, but it's a dupe.

Comment author: katydee 02 June 2013 03:03:21AM 2 points [-]

Ah! Humblest apologies, retracted.

Comment author: satt 01 June 2013 12:07:26PM 7 points [-]

Hindsight is blindsight. The very act of looking back on events once you know their outcome, or even try to imagine their outcome, makes it, by definition, impossible to view such events objectively.

— Mark Salter & Trevor H. Turner, Community Mental Health Care: A practical guide to outdoor psychiatry

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 June 2013 12:55:12PM 21 points [-]

Though you can still find subjects who don't know the outcome, ask them for their predictions, and compare those predictions with subjects who are told the outcome to find the size of the hindsight bias.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 June 2013 12:40:59AM 3 points [-]

The criminal misuse of time was pointing out the mistakes. Catching them--noticing them--that was essential. If you did not in your own mind distinguish between useful and erroneous information, then you were not learning at all, you were merely replacing ignorance with false belief, which was no improvement.

Orson Scott Card, Ender's Shadow

Comment author: shminux 10 June 2013 05:00:43PM 10 points [-]

My dad used to run a business and whenever they needed a temp, he'd always line up 5-10 interviewees, to check out how they looked.

And then hire the ugliest.

Aside from keeping my mother off his back, he reasoned that if the temp had kept good employment, and it wasn't for her looks, she must be ok.

From the comments on the article on the jobs for good-looking.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 15 June 2013 07:52:18PM 15 points [-]

This is a nice calculation with a fairly simple causal diagram. The basic point is that if you think people are repeatedly hired either for their looks or for being a good worker, then among the pool of people who are repeatedly hired, looks and good work are negatively correlated.

Comment author: army1987 15 June 2013 10:16:54PM 6 points [-]

That's called Berkson's paradox.

Comment author: elharo 16 June 2013 01:31:02PM 6 points [-]

women rarely regret having a child, even one they thought they didn’t want. But as Katie Watson, a bioethicist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, points out, we tell ourselves certain stories for a reason. “It’s psychologically in our interest to tell a positive story and move forward,” she says. “It’s wonderfully functional for women who have children to be glad they have them and for women who did not have children to enjoy the opportunities that afforded them.”

--Joshua Lang, New York Times, June 12, 2013, What Happens to Women Who Are Denied Abortions?

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 17 June 2013 05:12:04AM *  4 points [-]

I was also under the impression that the process of giving birth to a child triggers hormonal changes of some kind (involving oxytocin?) in the mother that help induce maternal bonding.

Comment author: CasioTheSane 05 June 2013 06:43:48AM *  10 points [-]

The paucity of skepticism in the world of health science is staggering. Those who aren't insufferable skeptical douchebags are doing it wrong.

-Stabby the Raccoon

Comment author: Thomas 01 June 2013 11:43:02AM 11 points [-]

I will destroy my enemies by converting them to friends!

  • Maimonides
Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 01 June 2013 02:32:41PM *  2 points [-]

Source? It's pithy, yet not on the usual quote compilations that I checked.

Comment author: Baughn 05 June 2013 09:17:49AM 9 points [-]

Sounds like Takamachi Nanoha to me.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 June 2013 09:42:31AM 5 points [-]

That's more along the lines of, "I will convert my enemies to friends by STARLIGHT BREAKER TO THE FACE".

Offhand I can't think of a single well-recorded real-life historical instance where this has ever worked.

Comment author: simplicio 11 June 2013 11:14:05PM 8 points [-]

Substitute "friends" with "trading partners" and the outlook improves though.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 12 June 2013 05:14:29AM 6 points [-]

Fair, the British were totally befriending their way through history for a while.

Comment author: CronoDAS 12 June 2013 07:17:45AM 5 points [-]

Offhand I can't think of a single well-recorded real-life historical instance where this has ever worked.

"Befriending" by force? Well, post-WWII Japan worked out pretty well for the United States. As for dealing with would-be enemies by actually befriending them, Alexander Nevsky sucked up to the Mongols and ended up getting a much better deal for Russia than many of the other places the Mongols invaded.

Comment author: Emile 03 June 2013 12:13:49PM *  2 points [-]

After a bit of googling, I don't think it's a quote by Maimonides.

The closest I could find is this passage of the Babilonian Talmud:

Come and hear: If a friend requires unloading, and an enemy loading. one's [first] obligation is towards his enemy, in order to subdue his evil inclinations. Now if you should think that [relieving the suffering of an animal is Biblically [enjoined], [surely] the other is preferable! — Even so, [the motive] 'in order to subdue his evil inclination' is more compelling.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 12 June 2013 05:34:56AM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure where this, and the idea is good, but it doesn't sound like Maimonides. He was extremely willing to declare that those who disagreed with him were drunks, whoremongers and idolators. Rambam would rarely have talked about how his own personal goals anyways. It really isn't his style. I'm skeptical that this is a genuine quote due to him.

Comment author: Bruno_Coelho 01 June 2013 07:13:25PM 12 points [-]

Students are often quite capable of applying economic analysis to emotionally neutral products such as apples or video games, but then fail to apply the same reasoning to emotionally charged goods to which similar analyses would seem to apply. I make a special effort to introduce concepts with the neutral examples, but then to challenge students to ask wonder why emotionally charged goods should be treated differently.

-- R. Hanson

Comment author: Vaniver 02 June 2013 05:28:20PM 13 points [-]

I'm under the impression that all EY / RH quotes are discouraged, as described in this comment tree, which suggests the following rule should be explicitly amended to be broader:

Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, Overcoming Bias, or HPMoR.

Comment author: Osiris 06 June 2013 01:24:19PM 7 points [-]

“Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them.” --Jules Verne.

The fellow had a brilliant grasp of how to make scientific discovery interesting, and I think people could learn a thing or two from reading his stuff, still.

Comment author: elharo 13 June 2013 08:54:58PM 5 points [-]

Another potential detour on the road to truth is the nature of statistical variation and people’s tendency to misjudge through overgeneralization. Often in the fitness world, someone who appears to have above-average physical characteristics or capabilities is assumed to be a legitimate authority. The problem with granting authority to appearance is that a large part of an individual’s expression of such above-average physical characteristics and capabilities could simply be the result of wild variations across the statistical landscape. For instance, if you look out over a canopy of trees, you will probably notice a lone tree or two rising up above the rest – and it’s completely within human nature to notice things that stand out in such a way. In much the same manner, we take notice of individuals who possess superior physical capabilities, and when we do, there is a strong tendency to identify these people as sources of authority.

To make matters worse, many people who happen to posses such abnormal physical capabilities frequently misidentifies themselves as sources of authority, taking credit for something that nature has, in essence, randomly dropped in their laps. In other words, people are intellectually prepared to overlook the role of statistical variation in attributing authority.

-- Doug McDuff, M.D., and John Little, Body by Science, pp. x-xi

Comment author: elharo 11 June 2013 12:38:01AM *  6 points [-]

Linguistic traditions force us to think of body and mind as separate and distinct entities. Everyday notions like free will and moral responsibility contain underlying contradictions. Language also uses definitions and forms of the verb to be in ways that force us to think of classes of things as clearly defined (Is a fetus a human being or not?), when in fact every classification scheme has fuzzy boundaries and continuous gradations.

--Thomas M Georges, Digital Soul, 2004, p. 14

Comment author: Halfwit 02 June 2013 10:03:14PM *  6 points [-]

"Why do people worry about mad scientists? It's the mad engineers you have to watch out for." - Lochmon

Comment author: DanielLC 03 June 2013 03:25:40AM 20 points [-]

Considering the "mad scientists" keep building stuff, perhaps the question is "Why do people keep calling mad engineers mad scientists?"

Comment author: tgb 03 June 2013 06:44:06PM 8 points [-]
Comment author: katydee 01 June 2013 08:42:20PM 7 points [-]

A little less conversation, a little more action!

Elvis Presley

Comment author: Vaniver 02 June 2013 10:37:50PM 8 points [-]

The first duty of life is to assume a pose. What the second duty is, no one has yet discovered.

--Oscar Wilde on signalling.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 June 2013 01:05:54AM 2 points [-]

What we need is some sort of system in which any proposed complication is viewed as more bothersome than earlier complications.

--Scott Adams, I Want My Cheese

Comment author: lukeprog 24 June 2013 09:53:19PM 2 points [-]

Reading through some AI literature, I stumbled upon a nicely concise statement of the core of decision theory, from Lindley (1985):

...there is essentially only one way to reach a decision sensibly. First, the uncertainties present in the situation must be quantified in terms of values called probabilities. Second, the various consequences of the courses of action must be similarly described in terms of utilities. Third, that decision must be taken which is expected — on the basis of the calculated probabilities — to give the greatest utility. The force of 'must', used in three places there, is simply that any deviation from the precepts is liable to lead the decision maker into procedures which are demonstrably absurd.

Of course, maximizing expected utility has its own absurd consequences (e.g. Pascal's Mugging), so decision theory is not yet "finished."

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 02 June 2013 02:53:28AM 7 points [-]

With machine intelligence and other technologies such as advanced nanotechnology, space colonization should become economical. Such technology would enable us to construct “von Neumann probes” – machines with the capability of traveling to a planet, building a manufacturing base there, and launching multiple new probes to colonize other stars and planets. A space colonization race could ensue. Over time, the resources of the entire accessible universe might be turned into some kind of infrastructure, perhaps an optimal computing substrate (“computronium”). Viewed from the outside, this process might take a very simple and predictable form – a sphere of technological structure, centered on its Earthly origin, expanding uniformly in all directions at some significant fraction of the speed of light. What happens on the “inside” of this structure – what kinds of lives and experiences (if any) it would sustain – would depend on initial conditions and the dynamics shaping its temporal evolution. It is conceivable, therefore, that the choices we make in this century could have extensive consequences.

Nick Bostrom

Comment author: James_Miller 01 June 2013 03:37:56PM *  6 points [-]

Since as lukeprog writes one of the methods for becoming happier is to "Develop the habit of gratitude" here is a quote of stuff to be thankful for: "

  • The taxes I pay because it means that I am employed

  • The clothes that fit a little too snug because it means I have enough to eat

  • My shadow who watches me work because it means I am out in the sunshine

  • A lawn that has to be mowed, windows that have to be washed, and gutters that need fixing because it means I have a home

  • The spot I find at the far end of the parking lot because it means I am capable of walking

  • All the complaining I hear about our government because it means we have the freedom of speech

  • The lady behind me in church who sings off key because it means that I can hear

  • The huge pile of laundry and ironing because it means my loved ones are nearby

  • The alarm that goes off in the early morning because it means that I'm alive"

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 June 2013 03:48:42PM 14 points [-]

I would still have enough to eat if my clothes fit, I would still have a home if my lawn were self-mowing, I would still be able to hear if she sang more tunefully, I would still be alive if I didn't set my alarm, etc. Taking advantage of these sorts of moments as opportunities to practice gratitude is a fine practice, but it's far better to practice gratitude for the thing I actually want (enough to eat, a home, hearing, life, etc.) than for the indicators of it I'd prefer to be rid of.

Comment author: DanArmak 01 June 2013 06:10:02PM 8 points [-]

The alarm that goes off in the early morning because it means that I'm alive

That just doesn't sound appropriate. It's as if you're saying, the alarm means I have to live through another day which I'll hate, but it's still better than not living at all, and that's the best thing I can find to be happy about every morning!

You might as well say: I'm glad I'm sick, because that means I'm not dead yet.

Comment author: BillyOblivion 07 June 2013 05:11:26AM 3 points [-]

Pain is good, it tells you you're still alive.

All in all though, I'd rather have the alive w/out the pain. At least as far as I know.

Comment author: Nisan 02 June 2013 04:16:58PM 3 points [-]

Here is another quote by Borges of stuff to be thankful for. English.

Comment author: Xachariah 09 June 2013 01:47:42AM *  6 points [-]

I'm fairly certain that's not how you're supposed to develop a habit of gratitude. It's not about doublithinking yourself into believing you like things that you dislike; it's to help you notice more things you like.

I've been doing a gratitude journal. I write three short notes from the last day where I was thankful for something a person did (eg, saving me a brownie or something). Then I take the one that makes me happiest and write a 1 paragraph description of what occurred, how I felt, and such that writing the paragraph makes me relive the moment. Then I write out a note (that is usually later transcribed) to a past person in my gratitude journal.

When I think of that person or think back to that day, I'm immediately able to recall any nice things they did that I wrote down. Also, as I go through my life, I'm constantly looking for things to be thankful for, and notice and remember them more easily.

If you do something like in the quote, it seem more likely that you'll remember negative things (that you pretend to be positive). It goes against the point of the exercise.

Comment author: Cthulhoo 02 June 2013 08:31:42AM *  5 points [-]

-Thank you, thank you Lord, for preserving my virginity! - You bloody idiot! Do you think God, to keep you a virgin, will drown the whole city of Florence?

(Architect Melandri to Noemi, the girl he is in love with, who thinks the flood of 1966 was sent as an answer to her prayers)

All my Friend, Act II [roughly translated by me]

Comment author: Osiris 02 June 2013 01:12:42PM 12 points [-]

This is yet another reason why a God that answers prayers is far, far crueler than an indifferent Azathoth. Imagine the weight of guilt that must settle on a person if they prayed for the wrong thing and God answered!

On another note, that girl must not be very picky, if God has to destroy a whole city to keep her a virgin...(please don't blast me for this!)

Comment author: CasioTheSane 05 June 2013 06:43:31AM *  3 points [-]

Once we accept that knowledge is tentative, and that we are probably going to improve our knowledge in important ways when we learn more about the world, we are less likely to reject new information that conflicts with our present ideas.

-Dr. Raymond Peat

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 June 2013 05:47:51AM 5 points [-]

Idealism increases in direct proportion to one's distance from the problem.

-- John Galsworthy

Comment author: Skeeve 03 June 2013 11:03:41AM *  4 points [-]

The secret is to make wanting the truth your entire identity, right. If your persona is completely stripped down to just "All I care about is the facts", then the steps disappear, the obstacles are gone. Tyranosaurus was a scavenger? Okay! And then you walk right up to it without hesitation. The evidence says the killer was someone else? Okay, see you later sir, sorry for the inconvenience, wanna go bowling later now that we're on a first name basis? And so on. Just you and a straight path to the truth. That is how you become perfect.

Comment author: pinyaka 03 June 2013 03:38:10PM 4 points [-]

Also from Subnormality: the perils of AI foom.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 06 June 2013 09:53:23PM *  2 points [-]

This seems like a silly identity to have. When does someone who just wants the truth ever act, other than for the purpose of acquiring truth?

Comment author: shminux 11 June 2013 07:09:23PM 3 points [-]

... from my perspective, this process of “breaking off” answerable parts of unanswerable riddles, then trying to answer those parts, is the closest thing to philosophical progress that there is.

Scott Aaronson in The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 02 June 2013 02:48:29AM 3 points [-]

If you turn on your television and tune it between stations, about 10 percent of that black-and-white speckled static you see is caused by photons left over from the birth of the universe. What grater proof of the reality of the Big Bang–you can watch it on TV.

Jim Holt

Comment author: Roxolan 02 June 2013 06:52:39AM 19 points [-]

Would the static look any different if it was 0% though?

Comment author: Manfred 03 June 2013 06:15:21AM 18 points [-]

Yes, it wouldn't be peaked at about 3 GHz. Since television only goes up to about 1 GHz, this means more noise at higher channels after accounting for other sources.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 03 June 2013 02:38:59PM 2 points [-]

Can you actually do this experiment on a modern TV? I know how to change the channels on mine, but I have no idea how you would "tune" it.

Comment author: kpreid 14 July 2013 05:45:54PM 2 points [-]
  1. Selecting a channel is tuning; each channel has a specific frequency and the TV knows what frequencies the channel numbers stand for. But what you can't do is tune to a frequency that isn't assigned to any channel, so you would have to select a channel on which no station in your area is broadcasting.

  2. You would have to be using an analog TV tuner (which is now obsolete, if you're in the US); digital TV has a much less direct relationship between received radio photons and displayed light photons. On the upside, it's really easy to find a channel where no station is broadcasting, now :) (though actually, I don't know what the new allocation of the former analog TV bands is and whether there would be anything broadcasting on them).

(I've recently gotten an interest in radio technology; feel free to ask more questions even if you're just curious.)

Comment author: James_Miller 01 June 2013 02:58:07PM *  3 points [-]

We prefer wrong information to no information.

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli, p. 33.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 June 2013 05:51:45PM 11 points [-]

I prefer to quantify my lack of information and call it a prior. Then it's even better than wrong information!

Comment author: Kawoomba 01 June 2013 06:37:43PM *  2 points [-]

The numerical value of the prior itself doesn't tell how much information -- or lack thereof -- is incorporated into the prior.

What's a simple way to state how certain you are about a prior, i.e. how stable it is against large updates based on new information? Error bars or something related don't necessarily do the job -- you might be very sure that the true Pr (EDIT: that was poorly phrased, probability is in the mind etc., what was meant is the eventual Pr you end up with once you've hypothetically parsed all possible information, the limit) is between 0.3 and 0.5, i.e. new information will rarely result in a posterior outside that range, even if the size of the range (wrongly) suggests that the prior is based on little information. Is there something more intuitive than Pr(0.3<Pr(A)<0.5) = high?

Comment author: Manfred 02 June 2013 12:09:18AM *  7 points [-]

Part 1:

The idea of having a "true probability" can be extremely misleading. If I flip a coin but don't look at it, I may call it a 50% probability of tails, but reality is sitting right there in my hand with probability 100%. The probability is not in the external world - the coin is already heads or tails. The probability is just 50% because I haven't looked at the coin yet.

What sometimes confuses people is that there can be things in the world that we often think of as probabilities, and those can have a true value. For example, if I have an urn with 30 black balls and 70 white balls, and I pull a ball from the urn, I'll get a black ball about 30 times out of 100. This isn't "because the true probability is 30%" - that's an explanation that just points to a new fundamental property to explain. It's because the urn is 30% black balls, and I hadn't looked at where all the balls were yet.

Using probabilities is an admission of ignorance, of incomplete information. You don't assign the coin a probability because it's magically probabilistic, you use probabilities because you haven't looked at the coin yet. There's no "true probability" sitting out there in the world waiting for you to discover it, there's only a coin that's either heads or tails. And sometimes there are urns with different mixtures of balls, though of course if you can look inside the urn it's easy to pick the ball you want.

Part 2:

Okay, so there's no "externally objective, realio trulio probability" to compare our priors to, so how about asking how much our probability will move after we get the next bit of information?

Let's use some examples. Say I'm taking a poll. And I want to know what the probability is that people will vote for the Purple Party. So I ask 10 people. Now, 10 is a pretty small sample size, but say 3 out of 10 will vote for the purple party. So I estimate that the probability is a little more than 3/10. Now, the next additional person I ask will cause me to change my probability by about 10% of its current value. But after I poll 1000 people, asking the next person barely changes my probability estimate. Stability!

This actually works pretty well.

If you wanted to split up your hypothesis space about the poll results into mutually exclusive and exhaustive pieces (which is generally a good idea), you would have a million different hypotheses, because there are a million (well, 1,000,001) different possible numbers of Purple Party supporters. So for example there would be separate hypotheses for 300,000 Purple Party supporters vs. 300,001. Giving each of these hypotheses their own probability is sufficient to talk about the kind of stability you want. If the probabilities are concentrated on a few possible numbers, then your poll is really stable.

And a good thing that it works out, because the probabilities of those million hypotheses are all of the information you have about this poll!

Note that this happens without any mention of "true probability." We chose those million hypotheses because there are realio trulio a million different possible answers. A narrow distribution over these hypotheses represents certainty not about some true probability, but about the number of actual people out in the actual world, wearing actual purple.

So thank goodness a probability distribution over the external possibilities is all ya' need, because it's all ya' got in this case.

Comment author: satt 01 June 2013 12:02:40PM *  3 points [-]

As far as I'm concerned, insight, intuition, and recognition are all synonymous.

Herbert Simon

Comment author: wedrifid 01 June 2013 07:21:02PM 8 points [-]

As far as I'm concerned, insight, intuition, and recognition are all synonymous.

Calling different but somewhat related things the same when they are not does not warrant "rationality quote" status.

Comment author: satt 02 June 2013 01:41:38AM *  25 points [-]

I acknowledge & respect this criticism, but for two reasons I maintain Simon had a worthwhile insight(!) here that bears on rationality:

  1. Insight, intuition & recognition aren't quite the same, but they overlap greatly and are closely related.

  2. Simon's comment, although not literally true, is a fertile hypothesis that not only opens eyeholes into the black boxes of "insight" & "intuition", but produces useful predictions about how minds solve problems.

I should justify those. Chapter 4 of Simon's The Sciences of the Artificial, "Remembering and Learning: Memory as Environment for Thought", is relevant here. It uses chess as a test case:

[...] one part of the grandmaster's chess skill resides in the 50,000 chunks stored in memory, and in the index (in the form of a structure of feature tests) that allows him to recognize any one of these chunks on the chess board and to access the information in long-term memory that is associated with it. The information associated with familiar patterns may include knowledge about what to do when the pattern is encountered. Thus the experienced chess player who recognizes the feature called an open file thinks immediately of the possibility of moving a rook to that file. The move may or may not be the best one, but it is one that should be considered whenever an open file is present. The expert recognizes not only the situation in which he finds himself, but also what action might be appropriate for dealing with it. [...]

When playing a "rapid transit" game, at ten seconds a move, or fifty opponents simultaneously, going rapidly from one board to the next, a chess master is operating mostly "intuitively," that is, by recognizing board features and the moves that they suggest. The master will not play as well as in a tournament, where about three minutes, on the average, can be devoted to each move, but nonetheless will play relatively strong chess. A person's skill may decline from grandmaster level to the level of a master, or from master to expert, but it will by no means vanish. Hence recognition capabilities, and the information associated with the patterns that can be recognized, constitute a very large component of chess skill.⁵ [The footnote refers to a paper in Psychological Science.]

The seemingly mysterious insights & intuitions of the chessmaster derive from being able to recognize many memorized patterns. This conclusion applies to more than chess; Simon's footnote points to a champion backgammon-playing program based on pattern recognition, and a couple of pages before that he refers to doctors' reliance on recognizing many features of diseases to make rapid medical diagnoses.

From what I've seen this even holds true in maths & science, where people are raised to the level of geniuses for their insights & intuitions. Here's cousin_it noticing that Terry Tao's insights constitute series of incremental, well-understood steps, consistent with Tao generating insights by recognizing familiar features of problems that allow him to exploit memorized logical steps. My conversations with higher ability mathematicians & physicists confirm this; when they talk through a problem, it's clear that they do better than me by being better at recognizing particular features (such as symmetries, or similarities to problems with a known solution) and applying stock tricks they've already memorized to exploit those features. Stepping out of cognitive psychology and into the sociology & history of science, the near ubiquity of multiple discovery in science is more evidence that insight is the result of external cues prompting receptive minds to recognize the applicability of an idea or heuristic to a particular problem.

The reduction of insight & intuition to recognition isn't wholly watertight, as you note, but the gains from demystifying them by doing the reduction more than outweigh (IMO) the losses incurred by this oversimplification. There are also further gains because the insight-is-intuition-is-recognition hypothesis results in further predictions & explanations:

  • Prediction: long-term practice is necessary for mastery of a sufficiently complicated domain, because the powerful intuition indicative of mastery requires memorization of many patterns so that one can recognize those patterns.

  • Prediction: consistently learning new domain-specific patterns (so that one can recognize them later) should, with a very high probability, engender mastery of that domain. (Putting it another way: long-term practice, done correctly, is sufficient for mastery.)

  • Explanation of why "[i]n a couple of domains [chess and classical music composition] where the matter has been studied, we do know that even the most talented people require approximately a decade to reach top professional proficiency" (TSotA, p. 91).

  • Prediction: "When a domain reaches a point where the knowledge for skillful professional practice cannot be acquired in a decade, more or less, then several adaptive developments are likely to occur. Specialization will usually increase (as it has, for example, in medicine), and practitioners will make increasing use of books and other external reference aids in their work" (TSotA, p. 92).

  • Prediction: "It is probably safe to say that the chemist must know as much as a diligent person can learn in about a decade of study" (TSotA, p. 93).

  • Explanation of Eliezer's experience with being deep: the people EY spoke to perceived him as deep (i.e. insightful) but EY knew his remarks came from a pre-existing system of intuitions (transhumanism and knowledge of cognitive biases) which allowed him to immediately respond to (or "complete") patterns as he recognized them.

  • Explanation of how intensive childhood training produced some famous geniuses and domain experts (the Polgár sisters, William James Sidis, John Stuart Mill, Norbert Wiener).

  • Prediction: "This accumulation of experience may allow people to behave in ways that are very nearly optimal in situations to which their experience is pertinent, but will be of little help when genuinely novel situations are presented" ("On How to Decide What to Do", p. 503).

  • Prediction: one can write a computer program that plays a game or solves a problem by mechanically recognizing relevant features of the input and making cached feature-specific responses.

I know I've gone on at length here, but your criticism deserved a comprehensive reply, and I wanted to show I wasn't just being flippant when I quoted Simon. I agree he was hyperbolic, but I reckon his hyperbole was sufficiently minor & insightful as to be RQ-worthy.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 June 2013 04:25:38AM 3 points [-]

Independent of whether the particular quote is labelled a rationality quote, Simon had an undeniable insight in the linked article and your explanation thereof is superb! To the extent that this level of research, organisation and explanation seems almost wasted on a comment. I'll look forward to reading your future contributions (be they comments or, if you have a topic worth explaining, posts).

Comment author: Zubon 02 June 2013 08:28:33PM *  2 points [-]

It was a very ordinary tragedy, she supposed, but no less a cause for regret because it was so common. Like a hint, a foretaste of grief, it was an original, even unique experience for everyone it affected, no matter how often it had happened in the past to others.

And how did you avoid it?

Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks. The context differs, but it reminded me of the folks working to eliminate death.

Comment author: Zubon 05 June 2013 12:15:28AM 4 points [-]

I should perhaps explain that perceived connection. I see it in two pieces.

One is a counterpart to Joy in the Merely Real. Just because something is commonplace does not mean it is not wonderful. Just because something is commonplace does not mean it is not horrible. The end of each conscious life is a distinct tragedy, even if it happens 100 times per minute. Every one counts.

The other is a case against rationalization. Looking for a greater meaning or epic poetry in death ignores the basic problem that it is bad. A million deaths is a million tragedies, not a statistic. Shut up and multiply. We all come from cultures that spent millennia developing rationalizations for the inevitability of death. If a solution is possible, and possible within our lifetimes, the proper response is to find it rather than growing effusive about "a great and tragic beauty."

(And, of course, how do you avoid it?)

Comment author: TeMPOraL 09 June 2013 05:43:13PM *  2 points [-]

I think it's entirely wrong for Americans to sympathize with Boston victims while disregarding and in many cases outright denying the existence of victims of drone strikes. It's hypocrisy at its finest and especially rich coming from self-proclaimed Christians.

That is exactly the problem with nationalism.

I suspect you're probably saying that it's understandable for Americans only to feel the reality of this kind of cruelty when it affects "their own", and my response is that it may be understandable, but then so are the mechanisms of cancer.

-- HN's Vivtek in discussion about nationalism.

Comment author: simplicio 17 June 2013 05:07:27AM 5 points [-]

The author may "have a point" as they say, but it doesn't qualify as a rationality quote by my lights; more of a rhetoric quote. One red flag is

in many cases outright denying the existence of victims of drone strikes.

Who denies their existence?

Comment author: Manfred 02 June 2013 12:25:00AM *  2 points [-]

Sometimes it feels like everyone's / being a dick.
But they're not, / it's just you being a dick to every one.
Some days it seems like nothing / works right.
But its fine, / you're probably using it wrong.

You wanna change the world you better / start with yourself.
Charity starts at home in the / skin you're in.
I'm not saying you should go and / change your face.
But if it bothers you that much / you should get a nose job.

I'm talking about what lies beneath / the black and white
There's a mass of gray,
it is called your brain.

Imani Coppola

Comment author: wedrifid 02 June 2013 05:36:52AM 8 points [-]

Sometimes it feels like everyone's / being a dick. But they're not, / it's just you being a dick to every one.

A nice ideal. It'd be better world than this one if it were true.

Sometimes if it feels like everyone's being a dick it is actually because you are being not enough of a dick to everyone (at times when you ought to). Ever been to high school? Or, you know, interacted significantly with humans. Or even studied rudimentary game theory with which to establish priors for the likely behaviour of other agents conditional on your own.

The world is not fair. Reject the Just World fallacy.

Some days it seems like nothing / works right. But its fine, / you're probably using it wrong.

Sometimes things don't work because you chose bad things (or people) to work with. If something isn't working either do it differently or do something else entirely that is better.

Personal responsibility is great, and rejecting 'victim' thinking is beneficial. But self delusion is not required and is not (always) beneficial.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 19 June 2013 10:31:51AM 2 points [-]

You could have all the human information in the world about all the human things in it, and a post-Singularity AI able to semantically interpret it all. And yet still not understand why events happen, what a leader should want to happen, or what is actually going to happen next. But the great powers of the modern world–states and civic institutions alike–must always pretend to be on the road to mastering all of that, and they must pretend that mastery will derive from information, analysis and science, not from choices and beliefs and values.

Timothy Burke

Comment author: bouilhet 03 June 2013 04:59:04PM *  1 point [-]

Geulincx, from his own annotations to his Ethics (1665):

...our actions are as it were a mirror of Reason and God's law. If they reflect Reason, and contain in themselves what Reason dictates, then they are virtuous and praiseworthy; but if they distort Reason's reflection in themselves, then they are vicious and blameworthy. This has no effect on Reason, or God's law, which are no more beautiful or more ugly for it. Likewise, a thing represented in a mirror remains the same whether the mirror is true and faithfully represents it, or whether it is false and twists and distorts the likeness of the thing. The mirror does not distort the likeness of the thing reflected in the thing itself, but in itself - that is, in the mirror itself. Hence, corruption and ugliness belong with the mirror itself, not with the thing reflected. Similarly, we are also said to break God's law, to trample on it, to pervert it, and so on, but this takes place in ourselves, not in the law itself, so that the whole of the ugliness remains in ourselves, and nothing of it belongs with the law itself.

Comment author: Kawoomba 01 June 2013 07:38:52PM -2 points [-]

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!

Lin Chi

Comment author: hedges 01 June 2013 08:41:51PM *  7 points [-]

If you find the truth, continue the search for it regardless.

Forget about arriving at the truth, rather practice the methods that brings you closer to truths.

The intended meaning has something to do with the Buddhist concept that the practice of Buddhism (basically meditation) is the realization of Buddhahood, and instead of accepting any Buddha you meet, you must simply continue your practice.