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Rationality Quotes July 2013

4 Post author: Vaniver 02 July 2013 04:21PM

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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.

Comments (425)

Comment author: Zubon 02 July 2013 10:15:14PM 32 points [-]

He senses in his gut that he did the right thing by showing up. As with all gut feelings, only time will tell whether this is pathetic self-delusion.

Neil Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

Comment author: fbreuer 04 July 2013 04:14:02AM 3 points [-]

The more immediate question is, however: Does his positive gut reaction enable him to engage more openly with the situation, thus deriving greater value from it than he might have done otherwise?

Comment author: Alejandro1 03 July 2013 01:28:06PM 28 points [-]

My experience as a marriage counselor taught me that for a discussion of a disagreement to be productive, the parties have to have a shared understanding of what is being debated. If a husband thinks a marital debate is about leaving the toliet seat up or not, and the wife thinks it is about why her husband never listens to, appreciates or loves her the way he should, expect fireworks and frustration. If you are in an argument that you think is about government debt and it’s going nowhere, it may be because the person you are debating isn’t really arguing about the current level of government debt. Rather, they are arguing about the size of government.

If you get into a debate that is ostensibly about the level of government debt, try the following tactic (or try it on yourself in your own mind): If your opponent says that government debt is too high and we therefore need to cut public spending, ask whether s/he has EVER favored under ANY economic conditions a nice, fat increase in public spending. If you are debating someone who says that government debt is no big deal and that we should be increasing public spending, ask if s/he has EVER favored under ANY economics conditions a big, fat cut in public spending. You are going to get a no answer most of the time; maybe almost all the time.

…Is that wrong? No, it’s just frustrating when you are arguing about one thing and the other person is arguing about something else (or, when BOTH of you are actually arguing about something other than what on the face of it you think you are arguing about). The solution?: Drop the charade and get down to business. How big government should be is an essential political argument for the members of a society to have, so why not just have it up front?

--Keith Humphreys

(I hope that the general point is appreciated instead of starting a politics discussion! I think these kind of proxy arguments are a very common failure mode in all areas of life.)

Comment author: Jiro 04 July 2013 09:23:48AM 14 points [-]

I don't think the conclusion follows.

It's entirely consistent to believe that the level of something is too high and has been too high for a long time, yet to not oppose it in principle.

The correct question to detect if that's really their objection is not "have they ever thought that the level is too low"--the correct question is "would they ever under any circumstances think that the level is too low". Of course, you're not going to get as many "no" answers with that as with your original formulation.

Comment author: Creutzer 20 July 2013 09:28:36AM *  27 points [-]

“As I looked out into the night sky, across all those infinite stars, it made me realize how insignificant they are."

Peter Cook

Not, perhaps, a rationality quote per se, but a delightful subversion of a harmful commonplace.

Comment author: cody-bryce 02 July 2013 06:17:44PM 26 points [-]

Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it.

H.L. Mencken

Comment author: Randy_M 02 July 2013 08:02:55PM 4 points [-]

Used to truth? or used to fiction?

Comment author: Vaniver 02 July 2013 08:50:14PM 7 points [-]

Truth.

Comment author: cody-bryce 02 July 2013 09:09:38PM 2 points [-]

Correct.

Comment author: Zubon 03 July 2013 11:03:03PM *  20 points [-]

Xander: Yep, vampires are real. A lot of 'em live in Sunnydale. Willow 'll fill you in.

Willow: I know it's hard to accept at first.

Oz: Actually, it explains a lot.

One of the stronger examples of Bayesian updating in fiction, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 2, episode 13

Comment author: roystgnr 10 July 2013 10:41:37PM 3 points [-]

Hmm... this isn't exactly a Bayesian update, though.

Bayesian update: you have prior probabilities for theories A, B, C, D; you get new evidence for D, and you use Bayes' rule to decide how to move posterior probability to D.

Oz: you have prior probabilities for theories A, B, and C; you hear a new theory D that you hadn't previously considered, and you recalculate the influence of previous evidence to see how much credence you should give D.

This quote isn't a pure example of the distinction between "getting new evidence" and "considering a new theory", since obviously "my friends believe in D" is also new evidence, but there seems to be more of the latter than the former going on.

It's weird that we don't seem to have a term describing what kind of update the "considering a new theory" process is. It's not something that would ever be done by an ideal Bayesian agent with infinite computing resources, but it's unavoidable for us finite types.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 12 July 2013 03:32:01PM 8 points [-]

Oz: you have prior probabilities for theories A, B, and C; you hear a new theory D that you hadn't previously considered, and you recalculate the influence of previous evidence to see how much credence you should give D.

This seems slightly off both in terms of what (the writer intends us to infer) is going on in Oz's head, and what ought to be going on. First, it seems that Oz may have considered vampires or other supernatural explanations, but dismissed them using the absurdity heuristic, or perhaps what we can call the "Masquerade heuristic" - that's where people who live in a fictional world full of actual vampires and demons and whatnot nevertheless heurise as though they lived in ours. (Aside: Is 'heurise' a reasonable verbing of "use heuristics?") Upon hearing that his friends take the theory seriously (plus perhaps whatever context caused them to make these remarks) he reconsiders without the absurdity penalty.

Second, what should be going on is that Oz has theories A, B, C with probabilities adding up to 1-epsilon, where epsilon is the summed probability of "All those explanations which I haven't had time to explicitly consider as theories". Just because he's never explicitly formulated D and formally assigned a probability to it, doesn't mean it doesn't have an implicit one. Once it is picked out of hypothesis space, he can detach it from the other previously unconsidered theories, formally assign an initial probability much smaller than epsilon, and update from there. Of course this is not realistic as a matter of human psychology, but what I'm arguing is that "I never thought of theory X before" does not actually demonstrate that "Oh yeah, theory X makes a lot of sense" is not a Bayesian update. It just means that the updater hasn't had the processing power to fully enumerate the space of available theories.

Comment author: bentarm 25 July 2013 08:44:27PM 3 points [-]

Does Oz already know that he's a werewolf at this point? That would seem to bring "vampires exist" into the realm of plausible hypotheses.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 July 2013 09:53:59PM *  20 points [-]

“The wonder and horror of epidemiology, is that it’s not enough to just measure one thing very accurately. To get the right answer, you may have to measure a great many things very accurately.”

-- Jerry Avorn, quoted here.

Comment author: Vaniver 01 July 2013 04:56:28PM *  20 points [-]

I wish that I may never think the smiles of the great and powerful a sufficient inducement to turn aside from the straight path of honesty and the convictions of my own mind.

-- David Ricardo

Comment author: elharo 03 July 2013 10:00:50AM 17 points [-]

When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.

Tyrion Lannister in George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 03 July 2013 02:55:52PM *  25 points [-]

Most importantly, you are telling the world that anyone saying the same thing is in a risk of losing their tongue, regardless of correctness of the information.

That makes it cheaper for people to argue against the information than to argue for it.

And that increases that chance that people will finally consider him a liar.

Comment author: roystgnr 03 July 2013 06:05:53PM 4 points [-]

That makes it cheaper for people to argue against the information than to argue for it.

Not necessarily. It makes it cheaper for people to argue against whatever slim fraction of the information they can put up as a strawman without risking their own tongues. But it's hard to put up a real argument against an opposition that you can't really even quote.

And that increases that chance that people will finally consider him a liar.

Not if that strawman is easily blown away by whatever samizdat eventually conveys the full information.

Yvain explains some of the mechanisms better than I could in points 5 through 7 here:

http://squid314.livejournal.com/333353.html

Comment author: knb 10 July 2013 07:11:06AM 3 points [-]

The effectiveness of silencing someone really depends on how common such silencing is for a given regime. For example, if a regime silences all critics (regardless of whether they tell the truth or lie) an individual act of censorship doesn't carry any information about whether the censored info was true or false.

On the other hand, tons of claims are made against the US government every day, and no action is taken against almost all of them. If the government suddenly acted to silence one conspiracy theorist, far more attention would be paid to his claims, and the action would likely backfire.

Comment author: AShepard 01 July 2013 11:56:09PM 17 points [-]

If (as those of us who make a study of ourselves have been led to do) each man, on hearing a wise maxim immediately looked to see how it properly applied to him, he would find that it was not so much a pithy saying as a whiplash applied to the habitual stupidity of his faculty of judgment. But the counsels of Truth and her precepts are taken to apply to the generality of men, never to oneself; we store them up in our memory not in our manners, which is most stupid and unprofitable.

Michel de Montaigne, Essays, "On habit"

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 July 2013 07:32:43AM 2 points [-]

Does it actually help? My usual reactions are "Ha, yeah, I totally do that. Silly human foibles eh?", "Screw you, anonymous proverb author, just because you don't mention what makes this a least-bad option doesn't make it worse", or "Yeah, that's the problem. Do you have a solution?".

Comment author: Vaniver 02 July 2013 04:53:11PM *  8 points [-]

Does it actually help?

Yes. One option is to use it as a memorable trigger- "Oh, I'm making mistake X, like the proverb"- and then amend behavior. (This is one of the reasons why it's worth trying to word proverbs as memorably as possible- rhyming helps quite a bit. If your actions you want to jigger, then do not fail to set a trigger! Sometimes it works better than others.)

A superior option is, upon seeing the maxim, to contemplate it fully, and plan out now how it could be avoided in some way, and then practice that offline.

In general, though, de Montaigne is highlighting the general thrust of Less Wrong. Knowing the ways in which people in general make mistakes is most useful to you if you use that knowledge to prevent yourself from making that mistake, and a general mistake people make is to not do that!

Comment author: jsbennett86 12 July 2013 04:43:26AM 14 points [-]

There's something here that doesn't make sense... Let's go and poke it with a stick.

The Doctor - Doctor Who

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 01 July 2013 10:38:53PM 35 points [-]

Far from being the smartest possible biological species, we are probably better thought of as the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization. We filled that niche because we got there first, not because we are in any sense optimally adapted to it.

Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: the Coming Machine Intelligence Revolution, chap. 2

Comment author: ciphergoth 02 July 2013 12:36:33PM *  4 points [-]

Looking forward to reading that. This idea is definitely older than this chapter, though; would be interested to know who first made this observation and when.

EDIT:

Humans are not optimized for intelligence. Rather, we are the first and possibly dumbest species capable of producing a technological civilization.

-- Reducing Long-Term Catastrophic Risks from Artificial Intelligence (in the PDF, not the summary)

Comment author: elharo 03 July 2013 10:10:47AM 7 points [-]

Assuming we're the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization seems almost (though not quite) as wrong as asserting we're the smartest such. In both cases we're generalizing from a sample size of one.

For instance, I can imagine a technological civilization that was stupid enough to wipe itself out in a nuclear war, which we've so far managed to avoid; or to destroy its environment far worse than we have. I can also imagine a society that might be able to reach 18th or 19th century levels of tech but couldn't handle calculus or differential geometry.

Comment author: Desrtopa 15 July 2013 06:56:03PM 6 points [-]

Assuming we're the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization seems almost (though not quite) as wrong as asserting we're the smartest such. In both cases we're generalizing from a sample size of one.

Well, considering it took us thousands to hundreds of thousands of years (depending on whether you buy that certain, more chronologically recent adaptations played a significant role) to start developing the rudiments of technological civilization, after evolving all the biological assets of intelligence that we have now, I think it's pretty fair to infer that we're not that far above the minimum bar.

A species whose intelligence was far in excess of that necessary to be capable of technological civilization could probably have produced individuals capable of kickstarting the process in every generation once they found themselves in an environment capable of supporting it. By that measure, we as a species proved quite resoundingly lacking.

Comment author: RobbBB 08 July 2013 08:28:17AM *  3 points [-]

Assuming we're the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization seems almost (though not quite) as wrong as asserting we're the smartest such.

I agree they're both very wrong, but I don't think the levels of wrongness are as close as you suggest. The former sounds much, much wronger to me. We're much more likely to be close to the dumb end than close to the smart end.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 02 July 2013 04:28:54AM 12 points [-]

The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.

-- Robert Jay Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism

Comment author: AlanCrowe 03 July 2013 03:46:24PM 11 points [-]

Madmen we are, but not quite on the pattern of those who are shut up in a madhouse. It does not concern any of them to discover what sort of madness afflicts his neighbor, or the previous occupants of his cell; but it matters very much to us. The human mind is less prone to go astray when it gets to know to what extent, and in how many directions, it is itself liable to err, and we can never devote too much time to the study of our aberrations.

Bernard de Fontenelle,1686

Found in book review

Comment author: ciphergoth 02 July 2013 12:59:11PM 30 points [-]

“Erudition can produce foliage without bearing fruit.” - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Comment author: baiter 04 July 2013 01:20:38PM 10 points [-]

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

English proverb

Comment author: Cthulhoo 04 July 2013 01:55:24PM 8 points [-]

It should also be noted that if one doesn't start wishing for a horse, the probability of obtaining one decreases furtherly.

I know this is meant to be a call to action instead of contemplation, but sometimes I've heard it quoted intending : "Be and adult, stop whishing for very-difficoult-to-obtain things", and this is a statement I don't agree with.

Comment author: Xachariah 20 July 2013 04:26:20AM 4 points [-]

If wishes were horses we'd all be eating steak.

  • Jayne Cobb, Objects in Space, Firefly
Comment author: Kindly 20 July 2013 02:41:41PM 3 points [-]

If wishes were fishes, we'd all cast nets.

Gurney Halleck in Dune by Frank Herbert

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 01 July 2013 10:35:43PM 10 points [-]

[O]ur moral judgments are less reliable than many would hope, and this has specific implications for methodology in normative ethics. Three sources of evidence indicate that our intuitive ethical judgments are less reliable than we might have hoped: a historical record of accepting morally absurd social practices; a scientic record showing that our intuitive judgments are systematically governed by a host of heuristics, biases, and irrelevant factors; and a philosophical record showing deep, probably unresolvable, inconsistencies in common moral convictions. I argue that this has the following implications for moral theorizing: we should trust intuitions less; we should be especially suspicious of intuitive judgments that t a bias pattern, even when we are intuitively condent that these judgments are not a simple product of the bias; we should be especially suspicious of intuitions that are part of inconsistent sets of deeply held convictions; and we should evaluate views holistically, thinking of entire classes of judgments that they get right or wrong in broad contexts, rather than dismissing positions on the basis of a small number of intuitive counterexamples.

Nick Beckstead, On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future, University of Rutgers, New Brunswick, 2013, p. 19

Comment author: James_Miller 01 July 2013 05:31:59PM *  28 points [-]

"Here are the ten major principles of rapid skill acquisition:

  1. Choose a lovable project.
  2. Focus your energy on one skill at a time.
  3. Define your target performance level.
  4. Deconstruct the skill into subskills.
  5. Obtain critical tools.
  6. Eliminate barriers to practice.
  7. Make dedicated time for practice.
  8. Create fast feedback loops.
  9. Practice by the clock in short bursts.
  10. Emphasize quantity and speed."

The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! by Josh Kaufman.

Comment author: CronoDAS 04 July 2013 07:33:31PM *  26 points [-]

There are those among us - among you, too, I observe - who glorify the wonders of the natural world with a kind of glassy-eyed fanaticism and urge a return to that purer, more innocent state. This testifies to nothing other than the fact that those who recommend the satisfactions of living in harmony with nature have never had to do it. Nature is evil. Nature is conflict, violence, betrayal; worms that crawl through the skin and breed in the gut; thorns that poison; snakes that fight in writhing, heaving masses until all lie dead from one another's poison. From nature we learned to tear the flesh off the bone and suck out the blood - and to enjoy it. Do you want to return to that state? I do not.
...
I have known Nature. I have known Civilization. Civilization is better.

-- Donna Ball (writing as Donna Boyd), The Passion

Comment author: MixedNuts 04 July 2013 09:45:43PM 3 points [-]

That sounds like fun, from a LaVeyan-ish perspective. Fighting and killing are more exciting than singing Kumbaya. Does she just not like raw meat?

Comment author: Estarlio 04 July 2013 10:59:11PM 11 points [-]

Because the consequences of losing are so terrible, people tend to avoid serious fighting if they can. Being hunted - a far more likely state - is decidedly un-fun.

Comment author: DanielLC 23 July 2013 09:19:36PM 3 points [-]

Being hunted is just as likely as hunting. It's just that being hunted is much worse than hunting is good.

Also, being in the state of trying to avoid being hunted is also un-fun.

Comment author: CronoDAS 04 July 2013 10:05:56PM *  4 points [-]

It's actually from the prologue of a romance novel, and the narrator is a werewolf.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 16 July 2013 03:28:34PM *  3 points [-]

This is factually false. I know the subculture of Americans who are most-passionate about going back to nature, and they do it. The unrealism in their attitude derives not from ignorance of nature, but from being able to go back to nature while under the protection of American law and mores, so that they don't have to band together in tribes for pretection, compete with other tribes for land, and do the whole tribal bickering and conformity thing.

It's all about population density. Primitive life is pretty great if you have low population density--one person per square mile is about right in much of North America. But the population always grows until you have conflict.

Spending 9 hours a day 5 days a week sitting in a cubicle staring at a monitor and typing in numbers is horrible in its own ways, which the author prefers to accomodate and ignore.

(There are no poisonous thorns in North America. And when you see two snakes in "writhing, heaving masses", they're probably mating.)

Comment author: Lumifer 16 July 2013 04:35:20PM 8 points [-]

This is factually false.

What exactly was claimed to be a fact and how do you know it's false?

Primitive life is pretty great if you have low population density

Um. Really? What do you call primitive life, then? Does it include contemporary medicine, for example?

Comment author: PhilGoetz 16 July 2013 09:52:37PM 3 points [-]

"This testifies to nothing other than the fact that those who recommend the satisfactions of living in harmony with nature have never had to do it." That "fact" is false, and sets up a straw man in the place of the views and preferences of people who know what they're talking about.

Comment author: gwern 02 August 2013 01:26:24AM 4 points [-]

That "fact" is false, and sets up a straw man in the place of the views and preferences of people who know what they're talking about.

In what sense is traveling with modern equipment, vaccinated and raised in an industrial society,

while under the protection of American law and mores, so that they don't have to band together in tribes for pretection, compete with other tribes for land, and do the whole tribal bickering and conformity thing

all of which depends crucially on a vast technological economy and society, 'living in harmony with nature'?

They aren't living in harmony with nature because their brief highly sanitized encounters are structured and make use of countless highly unnatural products & tools, and so that is not a strawman.

Comment author: CronoDAS 16 July 2013 09:33:15PM 7 points [-]

Me, I'll take air conditioning, indoor plumbing, mosquito control, and antibiotics any day...

Comment author: Swimmer963 16 July 2013 10:04:25PM 4 points [-]

Spending 9 hours a day 5 days a week sitting in a cubicle staring at a monitor and typing in numbers is horrible in its own ways, which the author prefers to accomodate and ignore.

I 100% agree with this. As a kid, I used to daydream about going and living by myself in the wilderness, partly because sitting in a classroom all day was so awful. (The other aspect is that I didn't like people much when I was 10). I've compromised by finding a job where I don't have to sit down and type numbers into a computer...at least, not much. Also I like people a lot more now.

Comment author: paper-machine 16 July 2013 03:40:50PM 3 points [-]

I have a sneaking suspicion that's not what the OP meant by "Nature."

Comment author: Vaniver 01 July 2013 04:57:29PM 26 points [-]

We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish.

-- F. A. Hayek

Comment author: DanArmak 05 July 2013 12:15:43PM 13 points [-]

And perhaps not after that, either.

Comment author: oooo 09 July 2013 04:12:46AM *  9 points [-]

We cooperate to compete, and a high level of fellow feeling makes us better able to unite to destroy outsiders.

--Robert Bigelow

Comment author: PhilGoetz 16 July 2013 03:14:56PM 6 points [-]

Reminds me of Konrad Lorenz' observation that the strength of love in mammalian species is proportional to their ability to inflict harm on each other.

Comment author: Yahooey 03 July 2013 03:24:27PM 9 points [-]

It is terrible to see how a single unclear idea, a single formula without meaning, lurking in a young man’s head, will sometimes act like an obstruction.

— Charles Sanders Peirce

Comment author: James_Miller 01 July 2013 05:14:07PM *  8 points [-]

Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing.

William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act 1, Scene 2. I found the quote in The Happiness Hypothesis where this book's author wrote "Pleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them."

Comment author: David_Gerard 02 July 2013 04:13:17PM 31 points [-]

Unix was not designed to stop its users from doing stupid things, as that would also stop them from doing clever things.

  • Doug Gwyn
Comment author: Stabilizer 22 July 2013 08:22:00AM 3 points [-]

This design philosophy also seems to explain why the United States seems to have generated some of the most useful innovations in the last century.

Comment author: elharo 03 July 2013 10:03:29AM *  -3 points [-]

In that case Unix was misdesigned. Proper design stops its users from doing stupid things and enables them to do clever things. It makes the right thing obvious and easy and the wrong thing difficult to impossible.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 03 July 2013 03:45:37PM 26 points [-]

It seems like your comment misses the point of the Unix philosophy, which is that the designers do not undertake to know in advance exactly which user actions are "stupid" and which are "clever". Unix is supposed to be a solid framework in which you can do things; figuring out what's stupid and what's clever is left to the user. It is an expression of fundamental designer trust in the user.

Comment author: DanArmak 03 July 2013 07:10:27PM *  15 points [-]

A car can be driven on the road, or it can go onto a sidewalk and kill pedestrians and the driver. In comparison, a train or trolley can't easily go off its rails.

Is a car misdesigned because it is an open-ended, unconstrained tool? Not necessarily; you must weigh the costs of other possibilities against their benefits.

Unix is deliberately built as a general open-ended collection of tools. It enables many more things to be done than other systems which start by presuming a list of things the user wants to do. And some of the things it enables are mostly harmful, although they too are sometimes useful. It's not misdesigned; it makes a design tradeoff that is the correct one in some situations, and not in others.

Comment author: RobinZ 08 July 2013 10:15:16PM 9 points [-]

I think the chief obstacle to preventing stupidity without preventing cleverness is that there are clever ideas you haven't thought of yet that sound stupid. There's also the fact that what is stupid under one set of circumstances is clever under others.

Suppose I was designing a new car radiator, and I decided that I wanted to prevent idiots from, say, filling it with motor oil, so I built a system which would prevent the addition of anything other than water or antifreeze. Then suppose the radiator sprang a leak. At this point, the owner of the car might want to use the old shade-tree mechanic's trick of putting an egg in the radiator that will flow to the leak and produce a plug (or, more intelligently, a synthetic compound that does it more effectively and with less likely damage to the machinery) ... but they can't, because of the thing I did to prevent stupidity.

Comment author: Lethalmud 04 July 2013 03:20:53PM 3 points [-]

Being able to design stupid things is an important skill for any designer. Steering away from it tends to reduce your process to cached thoughts.

Comment author: savageorange 06 July 2013 12:08:34AM 3 points [-]

Upvoted, but I feel that it could be more clear: You're focused on the idea of "Make new mistakes instead of trying to repeat previous successes", right?

That is, commit new stupidities instead of old stupidities or old successes.

Comment author: tzok 03 July 2013 03:24:02PM 4 points [-]

These two concepts do not contradict each other. Unix can allow "doing stupid things" AND at the same time make them "difficult to impossible". So, the conclusion that Unix was misdesigned is not correct, at least not basing on your definition

Comment author: DanielLC 23 July 2013 09:15:56PM 2 points [-]

When the right thing can be made obvious and easy, it generally does so. It also makes the wrong thing difficult. However, short of giving it AI, there is no way for Unix to tell a clever thing from a wrong thing, so it lets you do both, but only if you're logged in as root.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 16 July 2013 02:48:18PM 20 points [-]

I'll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it.

  • Terry Pratchett, alt.fan.pratchett, quoted here
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 July 2013 07:11:50PM 36 points [-]

"If you don't know how to turn off the safety, being unable to fire the gun is the intended result."

-- NotEnoughBears

Comment author: cody-bryce 03 July 2013 02:56:14AM *  5 points [-]

If posting things said on lesswrong or OB or from HPMOR aren't in scope, it seems a little odd things said in HPMOR discussion on a forum run by you that doesn't happen to be those two is.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 03 July 2013 09:39:37AM *  13 points [-]

If posting things said on lesswrong or OB or from HPMOR aren't in scope, it seems a little odd things said in HPMOR discussion on a forum run by you that doesn't happen to be those two is.

The idea of the rule is to not have this thread be an echo chamber for LessWrong and Yudkowsky quotes. As a sister site, Overcoming Bias falls under the same logic (though I think, given that the origin of LessWrong in OvecomingBias constantly becomes more distant in time, I wouldn't mind that rule getting relaxed for OvercomingBias more recent entries.)

But either way, I haven't seen that many lesswrong members participate in "hpmor/reddit" or that many hpmor/reddit members participate in lesswrong, so I think it makes sense to NOT ban hpmor/reddit quotes from this thread...

Comment author: wedrifid 03 July 2013 05:09:23PM 10 points [-]

As a sister site, Overcoming Bias falls under the same logic (though I think, given that the origin of LessWrong in OvecomingBias constantly becomes more distant in time, I wouldn't mind that rule getting relaxed for OvercomingBias more recent entries.)

We succeeded in getting rid of the Overcoming Bias ban for several months a couple of years ago. Unfortunately someone reverted to an old version and since then it's stuck. Traditions are a nuisance to change.

Comment author: Vaniver 03 July 2013 05:41:49PM *  4 points [-]

We succeeded in getting rid of the Overcoming Bias ban for several months a couple of years ago. Unfortunately someone reverted to an old version and since then it's stuck. Traditions are a nuisance to change.

If I make this post next month, I'll get rid of the ban. Should that also mean Robin Hanson is fair game?

[Edit] I realized that waiting was silly since I made this month's. It's not clear to me whether or not Hanson quotes should be fair game, though; with the current policy, quoting gems from the comments (like NotEnoughBears's quote) works but we shouldn't get deluged by Hanson quotes.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 03 July 2013 05:55:23AM 3 points [-]

I don't think Eliezer runs r/HPMOR/ ...

Comment author: wedrifid 03 July 2013 06:26:11AM 4 points [-]

I don't think Eliezer runs r/HPMOR/ ...

I seems like he does. While I've only gone to the site once the time I did (a few days ago) I saw drama about Eliezer censoring something on the subreddit and observing that this is why fan forums are better when not run by the author himself.

Comment author: Kawoomba 03 July 2013 07:08:05AM 5 points [-]

He's a moderator there, but he's not the top moderator, i.e. he acts at the whim of two moderators with more seniority who could remove him at any time.

Comment author: Dorikka 04 July 2013 08:25:56PM 1 point [-]

who could remove him at any time.

I doubt this.

Comment author: Davidmanheim 08 July 2013 03:16:43AM 1 point [-]

OK.

What evidence would cause you to change your mind?

Comment author: Dorikka 13 July 2013 12:49:28PM *  2 points [-]

Other authors being booted from forums discussing the stories that they wrote (whether primary or fanific).

Comment author: Kawoomba 13 July 2013 12:58:28PM 2 points [-]

Don't need to be a moderator to participate in a forum.

For an example, see user Dorikka.

Comment author: bouilhet 02 July 2013 11:22:27PM *  16 points [-]

The conscientious. - It is more comfortable to follow one's conscience than one's reason: for it offers an excuse and alleviation if what we undertake miscarries--which is why there are always so many conscientious people and so few reasonable ones.

-- Nietzsche

Comment author: dspeyer 01 July 2013 08:25:02PM *  23 points [-]

The Milky-Way galaxy is mind-bogglingly big.

Eh," you say, "100,000 light years in diameter, give or take a few."

Listen, pal: just because you can measure something in light years doesn't mean you truly understand how big it really is.

By the time you carve our galaxy up into units you have actual, personal experience with, you'll have to start using numbers that you won't live long enough to count to.

That's okay. The galaxy doesn't care. In fact, not caring is one of the things it does best.

That, and being really, really, really big.

--Howard Taylor

Comment author: fractalman 07 July 2013 07:34:59AM 13 points [-]

Our PLANET is mind-numbingly big. If you don’t believe me go to the grand canyon and look down. Did I say go to the grand canyon? Make that HIKE to the grand canyon from yellowstone national park. Still not convinced? ROW across the ocean to china. Bonus points if you can hit Japan without a gps.

So in a twisted sort of sense, the milky-way galaxy is less mind-bogglingly big, because our [or at least my] built-in distance-comprehension hardware shorts out so quickly when attempting to deal with the milky way galaxy we don't really even notice it and so we switch to rigorous numbers which do not have this short-circuiting problem.

Comment author: dspeyer 08 July 2013 06:00:32PM 5 points [-]

I think that shorting out effect is what is meant by "mind-bogglingly".

People have walked from yellowstone to the grand canyon. I couldn't do it myself, but I can read their accounts and understand them.

Earth is big, but our minds are amazed, not boggled. It's with the galaxy that we just start thinking "system error".

Comment author: Kawoomba 08 July 2013 06:09:37PM *  2 points [-]

An easy way to bridge such distances is to construct a lot of intermediate steps. Take the Milky Way, containing 100 to 400 billion stars (let's take 250 billion). The problem of grasping 250 billion stars going off from just our sun is not too dissimilar from imagining someone with 250 billion dollars, going off from just 1. Lots of intermediate steps: So and so many dollars for a current generation smart phone, so and so many smart phones for, say, a villa, so and so many villas to buy, say, Microsoft. Of course different examples work differently well, but you get the picture, I suppose.

Incidentally, the number of US citizens is higher than the number of stars in the Milky Way in thousands, so if you find yourself a good way of visualizing the former, you can transfer that understanding to the latter, then just unpack the "thousand".

Nothing interesting, not even the size of our Hubble volume, is more than a couple dozen orders of magnitude away, which makes it -- in my opinion -- quite accessible even to our widdle bwains.

Comment author: solipsist 08 July 2013 06:17:28PM *  2 points [-]

Take the Milky Way, containing 100 to 400 billion stars (let's take 250 billion).

...

Incidentally, the number of US citizens is higher than the number of stars in the Milky Way, so if you find yourself a good way of visualizing the former, you can transfer that understanding to the latter.

So, there are more than 100 billion US citizens?

Comment author: Kawoomba 08 July 2013 06:18:27PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for noting, corrected.

Comment author: Desrtopa 15 July 2013 07:00:14PM 2 points [-]

Nothing interesting, not even the size of our Hubble volume, is more than a couple dozen orders of magnitude away, which makes it -- in my opinion -- quite accessible even to our widdle bwains.

A couple dozen orders of magnitude of nearly anything will tend to stretch beyond human borders of intuitive comprehension in either direction.

Comment author: MixedNuts 08 July 2013 06:08:44AM 5 points [-]

It seems comprehensibly big. It would take between three and four years to walk around the Earth, walking for a sustainable number of hours at a reasonable pace every day, if you could walk around it in a straight line.

Comment author: Stabilizer 01 July 2013 10:00:15PM 14 points [-]

On any important topic, we tend to have a dim idea of what we hope to be true, and when an author writes the words we want to read, we tend to fall for it, no matter how shoddy the arguments. Needy readers have an asymptote at illiteracy; if a text doesn't say the one thing they need to read, it might as well be in a foreign language. To be open-minded, you have to recognize, and counteract, your own doxastic hungers.

-Dennett's Law of Needy Readers, Daniel Dennett

Comment author: Stabilizer 01 July 2013 10:02:31PM 26 points [-]

This law according to Dennett is an extension of Schank's Law:

Because people understand by finding in their memories the closest possible match to what they are hearing and use that match as the basis of comprehension, any new idea will be treated as a variant of something the listener has already thought of or heard. Agreement with a new idea means a listener has already had a similar thought and well appreciates that the speaker has recognized his idea. Disagreement means the opposite. Really new ideas are incomprehensible. The good news is that for some people, failure to comprehend is the beginning of understanding. For most, of course, it is the beginning of dismissal.

-Roger Schank

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 July 2013 02:01:48PM 25 points [-]

any new idea will be treated as a variant of something the listener has already thought of or heard.

From a Bayesian point of view, this is as it must be. People have priors and will assess anything new as a diff (of log-odds) from those priors. Even understanding what you are saying, before considering whether to update towards it, is subject to this. You will always be understood as saying whatever interpretation of your words is the least surprising to your audience.

BTW, this is standard in natural language processing (which is what a lot of Schank's AI work was in). When a sentence is ambiguous, choose the least surprising interpretation, the one containing the least information relative to your current knowledge.

The narrower your audience's priors, the more of a struggle it will be for them to hear you; the narrower your priors, the more you will struggle to hear them.

Having shown how Schank's Law is but an instance of Bayesian inference, I trust you will all find it acceptably unsurprising. :)

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 02 July 2013 01:02:26AM 2 points [-]

[A]ny new idea will be treated as a variant of something the listener has already thought of or heard.

This does raise the question of how anyone learns anything in the first place. :)

Comment author: Desrtopa 02 July 2013 08:30:06PM 1 point [-]

Naturally we go through a period of believing everything we're told when we're kids, and transition to comparing everything we hear to what we've already heard before as we grow up.

(This is an inexact approximation, but in my more cynical moments it strikes me as only very slightly inexact.)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 July 2013 03:25:18AM 1 point [-]

Don't underestimate the power of variations.

When shaping behavior in animals, we start with something the animal does naturally and differentially reward natural variations. Evolution of biological systems also involves differential selection of naturally occurring variations on existing systems. So it's certainly possible to get "something new" out of mere "variants of something [that already existed]".

That said, many cognitive systems do also seem capable of insight, which seems to be a completely different kind of process. Dennett and Schank here seem to be dismissing the very possibility of insight, though I assume they are doing so rhetorically.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 02 July 2013 03:40:34PM 3 points [-]

What has a baby which does not understand speech "heard before", that it can form variations on? Evolution is fine, but you do need a theory of abiogenesis, or in this case aontogenesis - knowledge-from-nothing-ness, in the vernacular.

Comment author: PhilR 23 July 2013 11:48:16AM 5 points [-]

The man who first declared that "seeing" was "believing" laid his finger (whether he knew it himself or not) on one of the fundamental follies of humanity. The easiest of all evidence to receive is the evidence that requires no other judgment to decide on it than the judgment of the eye—and it will be, on that account, the evidence which humanity is most ready to credit, as long as humanity lasts.

Wilkie Collins, Man and Wife, Chapter the Twentieth

Comment author: Tenoke 18 July 2013 09:38:25PM 13 points [-]

“The future is always ideal: The fridge is stocked, the weather clear, the train runs on schedule and meetings end on time. Today, well, stuff happens.”

  • Hara Estroff Marano on procrastination in Psychology Today as cited here
Comment author: satt 12 July 2013 12:37:16AM 11 points [-]

People tend to roll their eyes a bit when business school grads like me start saying things about “management is measurement” and so on, but the fact is that a) if you don’t measure something, how are you going to find out whether it’s changed or not? and b) if you don’t want to find out whether something’s changing or not, in what sense can you actually claim to care about it?

Daniel Davies

Comment author: cody-bryce 12 July 2013 02:57:16PM 13 points [-]

When we roll our eyes at business school grads, it isn't because we don't believe in measuring anything. It's the same eyeroll that the 10 O'Clock news gets when they report the newest study linking molasses and cancer, which has nothing to do with my lack of belief in studies about cancer.

Comment author: ChristianKl 23 July 2013 11:51:37AM 2 points [-]

I thought quite a bit about how to measure whether I'm good at Salsa dancing on a particular night. I haven't found a measurement that's adequete.

I could use a measurement like: "How close do woman dance with me?" If a woman enjoys dancing with me she's likely to dance closer than if she doesn't. If I'm however measure my dancing skills on that variable I'm likely to dance with some woman in a way that to close for them and makes them uncomfortable.

I could use a metric just as counting how often a woman asks for my name. If I'm however using that metric I probably won't be the first to ask for a name to increase the chances that the woman asks on her own.

If I'm using a metric such as being asked by woman to dance, I'm less likely to ask on my own.

If I would hand a woman a sheet after a dance to rate my dancing, I would probably be seen as strange.

The average business school grad probably isn't doing very much Quantified Self on his own life. He doesn't know much about actually measuring what he cares about.

Women are not going to enjoy dancing with me more when I try to intellectual control their enjoyment by having a tight feedback loop about some proxy variable that I use to measure their enjoyment. It just doesn't work that way.

On the other hand, if I'm empathic, if I'm in a happy mood and get outside of my head I'm more likely to have success in making woman enjoy dancing with me.

The idea that being in your head and being focused on specific measurements is the only way to care is just flawed.

Comment author: lukeprog 11 July 2013 07:42:37PM 10 points [-]

Extinguished philosophies lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules.

John McCarthy, adapted a line by T.H. Huxley

Comment author: simplicio 15 July 2013 04:34:22PM 11 points [-]

I'm fine with this quote as long as the conclusion is not "So let's just do science without any philosophy!"

Because usually that just means doing science with unexamined philosophical assumptions while deluding yourself that you're being objective. This goes badly; e.g., Copenhagen interpretation, neurobabble ("Libet experiment proves you have no free will!").

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 15 July 2013 04:58:20PM 2 points [-]

Your comment, with which I agree, inspired me to post this quote.

Comment author: dspeyer 01 July 2013 08:20:30PM 23 points [-]

Sometimes the most remarkable things seem commonplace. I mean, when you think about it, jet travel is pretty freaking remarkable. You get in a plane, it defies the gravity of an entire planet by exploiting a loophole with air pressure, and it flies across distances that would take months or years to cross by any means of travel that has been significant for more than a century or three. You hurtle above the earth at enough speed to kill you instantly should you bump into something, and you can only breathe because someone built you a really good tin can that has seams tight enough to hold in a decent amount of air. Hundreds of millions of man-hours of work and struggle and research, blood, sweat, tears, and lives have gone into the history of air travel, and it has totally revolutionized the face of our planet and societies.

But get on any flight in the country, and I absolutely promise you that you will find someone who, in the face of all that incredible achievement, will be willing to complain about the drinks.

The drinks, people.

--Harry Dresden, Summer Knight, Jim Butcher

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 02 July 2013 01:11:36PM 40 points [-]

Here's the thing about air-travel-related complaints.

Air travel is really unpleasant. Oh sure, it's technologically impressive, but the actual experience is terrible: sitting in a cramped space for hours on end, being in close proximity to so many other people; the pressure changes and the noise; the long, tiring process of arriving for your flight, which often takes longer than the actual flight and is quite stressful; the humiliating and absurd security procedures, which these days look more and more like ways for the government to gratuitously exercise its power...

So we've got this really impressive means of travel, which our society seems to have conspired to make as unpleasant as humanly possible. Ok, maybe it's all excusable and inevitable, just for the sheer amazingness of "ooh, we're FLYING through the AIR and so FAST!" etc. But then, after we pay the airline such impressive amounts of money for this amazing-but-unpleasant convenience, they don't deign to even serve us good drinks?

And what do the drinks have to do with how technologically impressive flight is, anyway? Are the people responsible for the drinks also the people who build, maintain, and fly the planes? What, are the drinks the pilot's responsibility, and he just can't be bothered, what with all that keeping the plane upright that he has to do? Did the Boeing engineer have "serve good drinks" on his to-do list, but just plain didn't get to it, tired as he was from all that "making sure the wings don't fall off" he had to do? No! The people responsible for the drinks had one damn job! And they're doing it badly! And then when people complain, they have the gall to evade responsibility by attempting to take credit for all that amazing science and engineering?!

In short, the quote is analogous to:

"I mean, when you think about it, our society is pretty freaking remarkable. We have computers, and indoor plumbing, and hundreds of channels on cable. Hundreds of millions of man-hours of work and struggle and research, blood, sweat, tears, and lives have gone into the history of all of our modern conveniences, and it has totally revolutionized the face of our planet and societies.

But look anywhere in the world, and I absolutely promise you that you will find someone who, in the face of all that incredible achievement, will be willing to complain about being mugged.

Being mugged, people."

Yeah, "everything is amazing so why are you complaining about this unrelated bad thing" is a fallacy. At this rate, all complaints about everything, ever, are apparently unwarranted.

Comment author: Jiro 02 July 2013 09:41:35PM 4 points [-]

Well, there's the scenario where one person does both the engineering and the drinks, but only has a limited amount of effort in his job to exert, and he chooses to devote all of that effort to engineering the plane and only a tiny portion of it to ensuring the quality of the drinks. That scenario is obviously absurd.

But if you slightly modify that, person->company and effort->money, that's pretty much what's going on. The company has a limited amount of money to spend, and spending most of it on engineering and almost nothing on drinks has similar dynamics to a single worker who's choosing to spend all his time on engineering and almost nothing on drinks. Even if the company internally contains several workers and the engineer and the drink maintainer are different people.

Comment author: Kawoomba 02 July 2013 01:30:23PM 16 points [-]

You're using this remarkable set of interacting or interdependent components of interlinked hypertext documents in a global system of interconnected computer networks powered by a flow of electric charge to whine about a rationality quote! How quaint.

Comment author: fractalman 07 July 2013 07:05:24AM 2 points [-]

back to the original quote for a bit...Dresden actually complains quite a bit. But after dealing with flaming monkey poo (literally), a white court vampire as a friend, using a cleaning spell to deal with some giant scorpions, and who knows how many dead bodies (some of which were animated)....drinks seem really, really shallow to him. Not to mention he's trying hard not to think too much about how, if he lets his magic the least bit off the leash, it will crash the plane. (something about complicated technology seems to override the rule "cannot accomplish what you don't believe in accomplishing")

Moving back to real life, someone is willing to complain about the drinks while someone else is being mugged.

Furthermore, If the person's REAL complaint is about the unpleasant security measures, cramped seats, and air pressure changes, complaining about the drinks, even if the complaint gets the drinks to improve, will not really optimize much.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 07 July 2013 03:14:13PM 7 points [-]

Furthermore, If the person's REAL complaint is about the unpleasant security measures, cramped seats, and air pressure changes, complaining about the drinks, even if the complaint gets the drinks to improve, will not really optimize much.

Well, my real complaint is about both/all of those things. It is possible to have multiple complaints, you know; and also it is possible to improve more than one thing, ever.

Moving back to real life, someone is willing to complain about the drinks while someone else is being mugged.

But this generalizes. Someone is willing to complain about being mugged while someone else is being violently assaulted. Someone is willing to complain about being violently assaulted while someone else is imprisoned and tortured. And so on...

There's no law that says we have to find The Worst Problem, devote all our resources to fixing it, and totally ignore every other problem that humanity has while The Worst Problem persists. Such a policy would lead to a rather horrifying world.

As always, a relevant xkcd.

Comment author: Jiro 07 July 2013 05:38:42PM 3 points [-]

There's no law that says we have to find The Worst Problem, devote all our resources to fixing it, and totally ignore every other problem that humanity has while The Worst Problem persists. Such a policy would lead to a rather horrifying world.

Something similar has been seriously argued here for donations to charity: you should donate all your money to the single charity that would do the most good (unless you're a millionaire who can donate so much money that the charity will reduce the size of the problem to below the size of another problem).

http://lesswrong.com/lw/elo/a_mathematical_explanation_of_why_charity/ http://lesswrong.com/lw/gtm/when_should_you_give_to_multiple_charities/ http://lesswrong.com/lw/aid/heuristics_and_biases_in_charity/

Some of the comments have good arguments against this, however.

Comment author: DSherron 01 July 2013 11:58:16PM 15 points [-]

That honestly seems like some kind of fallacy, although I can't name it. I mean, sure, take joy in the merely real, that's a good outlook to have; but it's highly analogous to saying something like "Average quality of life has gone up dramatically over the past few centuries, especially for people in major first world countries. You get 50-90 years of extremely good life - eat generally what you want, think and say anything you want, public education; life is incredibly great. But talk to some people, I absolutely promise you that you will find someone who, in the face of all that incredible achievement, will be willing to complain about [starving kid in Africa|environmental pollution|dying peacefully of old age|generally any way in which the world is suboptimal]."

That kind of outlook not only doesn't support any kind of progress, or even just utility maximization, it actively paints the very idea of making things even better as presumptuous and evil. It does not serve for something to be merely awe-inspiring; I want more. I want to not just watch a space shuttle launch (which is pretty cool on its own), but also have a drink that tastes better than any other in the world, with all of my best friends around me, while engaged in a thrilling intellectual conversation about strategy or tactics in the best game ever created. While a wizard turns us all into whales for a day. On a spaceship. A really cool spaceship. I don't just want good; I want the best. And I resent the implication that I'm just ungrateful for what I have. Hell, what would all those people that invested the blood, sweat, and tears to make modern flight possible say if they heard someone suggesting that we should just stick to the status quo because "it's already pretty good, why try to make it better?" I can guarantee they wouldn't agree.

Comment author: James_K 02 July 2013 05:38:12AM 6 points [-]

Nonetheless it is important to have a firm grasp on the progress we have already attained. It's easy to go from "we haven't made any real progress" to "real progress is impossible". And so we should acknowledge the achievements we have made to date, while always striving to build on them.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 02 July 2013 04:39:30AM *  3 points [-]

You're right that it would indeed be a mistake to say "things are already great, let's stop here". But then, "things are really awful, so let's get better" doesn't sound quite right either. The attitude I would lean towards, and which I think is compatible with the quote, is "things are already pretty awesome, how could we make them even more awesome?".

Comment author: DSherron 02 July 2013 02:02:23PM 4 points [-]

The ideal attitude for humans with our peculiar mental architecture probably is one of "everything is amazing, also lets make it better" just because of how happiness ties into productivity. But that would be the correct attitude regardless of the actual state of the world. There is no such thing as an "awesome" world state, just a "more awesome" relation between two such states. Our current state is beyond the wildest dreams of some humans, and hell incarnate in comparison to what humanity could achieve. It is a type error to say "this state is awesome;" you have to say "more awesome" or "less awesome" compared to something else.

Also, such behavior is not compatible with the quote. The quote advocates ignoring real suboptimal sections of the world and instead basking how much better the world is than it used to be. How are you supposed to make the drinks better if you're not even allowed to admit they're not perfect? I could, with minor caveats, get behind "things are great lets make them better" but that's not what the quote said. The quote advocates pretending that we've already achieved perfection.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 03 July 2013 09:47:16AM *  2 points [-]

There is no such thing as an "awesome" world state, just a "more awesome" relation between two such states.

Sure. But "things are pretty awesome" is faster to say than "our current world is more awesome than most of the worlds that have existed in history".

The quote advocates pretending that we've already achieved perfection.

That's a valid interpretation of the quote, but not the only one. The way I read it, specifically the way it focused on the drinks and the word "complain", it wasn't so much saying that we should pretend that we've already achieve perfection but rather to keep in mind what's worth feeling upset over and what isn't. In other words, don't waste your time complaining about drinks to anyone who could hear, but instead focus your energies on something that you can actually change and which actually matters.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 July 2013 04:49:01PM 2 points [-]

I don't think the comparison is to complaining about very bad things happening elsewhere, it's more like "we've got it so much easier than our forebears, why do people still complain about misspellings on the internet? They should be grateful they have an internet."

One fallacy is that the person who says sort of thing fails to realize that complaining about complaining is still complaining.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 July 2013 05:38:45PM 5 points [-]

Though people have complained about stuff that isn't perfect now even when the imperfect stuff was less imperfect than things had previously been pretty much as far back as we have records, so complaining about that isn't necessarily an instance of the thing being complained about.

Said less obscurely: if we assign the label kvetching to complaining about things even in the face of continual improvement, complaining about kvetching is not necessarily kvetching, since kvetching has continued unabated for generations.

Comment author: dspeyer 02 July 2013 03:01:24AM 2 points [-]

I'm not saying we should settle for anything. Certainly not.

But to forget the awesomeness that already exists is a mistake with consequences. When looking at the big picture, it's important to realize that our current tradjectory is upwards. When planning for something like space travel, it's important to remember that air travel sounded just as crazy a hundred years ago. And when thinking about thinking, it's worth remembering that this same effect will hit whatever awesome thing we think of next.

Comment author: DSherron 02 July 2013 01:52:00PM 1 point [-]

Sure, I agree with that. But you see, that's not what the quote said. It actually not even related to what the quote said, except in very tenuous manners. The quote condemned people complaining about drinks on an airplane; that was the whole point of mentioning the technology at all. I take issue with the quote as stated, not with every somewhat similar-sounding idea.

Comment author: christopheg 02 July 2013 07:37:26AM 7 points [-]

I'm certainly cynical, but I see the point complaining about the drinks.

Not all airplane tickets are selled the same price. But basically everybody in the plane get the same share of progress, science, technology and man labour and sweat.

Henceforth how to account for the princing difference ?

The drinks, people.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 16 July 2013 02:50:30PM 16 points [-]

There's more pressure on a vet to get it right. People say "it was god's will" when granny dies, but they get angry when they lose a cow.

  • Terry Pratchett, alt.fan.pratchett again
Comment author: [deleted] 20 July 2013 11:06:11PM 7 points [-]

What? Putting down pets or livestock isn't that uncommon, whereas people go way out of their way (I seem to recall Robin Hanson mentioning a two-digit percentage of the US GDP, though I can't seem to find it) to prolong human lives long after they're no longer worth living.

Comment author: David_Gerard 27 July 2013 02:01:44PM 2 points [-]

Discworld is set in a time roughly parallel to the late 1700s or early 1800s. Medicine didn't really work, and livestock were significant capital.

Comment author: MagnetoHydroDynamics 03 July 2013 12:51:40PM 15 points [-]

All magic is science! You just don't know what you're doing, so you call it magic! And well, it's... Ridiculous.

Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time.

Comment author: grendelkhan 05 July 2013 09:55:57PM *  16 points [-]

"You're like an infant!" Tosco sneered. "Still humming at night about your poor lost momma and the terrible thing men do to their cos? Grow up and face the real world."

"I have," Carlo replied. "I faced it, and now I'm going to change it."

Greg Egan, The Eternal Flame, ch. 38

Comment author: katydee 24 July 2013 10:26:00PM 7 points [-]

Somebody told me how frightening it was how much topsoil we are losing each year, but I told that story around the campfire and nobody got scared.

Jack Handey

Comment author: Zubon 02 July 2013 10:15:30PM 3 points [-]

This was well done, and fairly done too, for anything that wins is fair in war, and the greatest victory is the one that takes the fewest blows.

Stranger-Come-Knocking on why rationalists win life-or-death fights in The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Comment author: CronoDAS 02 July 2013 08:00:18AM 10 points [-]

If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

-- Denis Healey

Comment author: christopheg 02 July 2013 09:10:08AM 1 point [-]

Remind's me of this one from Terry Pratchett:

"All you get if you are good at digging holes it's a bigger shovel."

Comment author: Zubon 09 July 2013 11:19:17PM 12 points [-]

[As the] percentage of the US population carrying cameras everywhere they go, every waking moment of their lives [has gone from "almost none" to "almost all,"] in the last few years, with very little fanfare, we've conclusively settled the questions of flying saucers, lake monsters, ghosts, and Bigfoot.

xkcd explains that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence .

Comment author: ChristianKl 23 July 2013 11:51:06AM 2 points [-]

Given the amount of drones that fly around these days the question of UFO is settled. There are plenty of objects that fly around which nobody can accurately identify.

Especially when it comes to hobbist drones there are models that really look like flying saucers.

Comment author: khafra 10 July 2013 11:29:12AM 9 points [-]

Statistically speaking, if you pick up a seashell and don't hold it to your ear, you can probably hear the ocean.

Comment author: nshepperd 10 July 2013 01:36:46PM *  3 points [-]

Umm, is it me being sleepy, or did he get P(I picked up a seashell) and P(I'm near the ocean) mixed up in the equation? P(near the ocean | evidence) shouldn't be inversely proportional to P(near the ocean). [ETA: Randall fixed it now.]

Comment author: wedrifid 10 July 2013 01:55:03PM 2 points [-]

Umm, is it me being sleepy, or did he get P(I picked up a seashell) and P(I'm near the ocean) mixed up in the equation? P(near the ocean | evidence) shouldn't be inversely proportional to P(near the ocean).

Well spotted. Bayes rule is p(A | B) = p(B | A) * p(A) / p(B). This cartoon sees to mixed up p(A) and p(B) just as you note.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 04 July 2013 10:20:47AM 9 points [-]

I've been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.

Variously attributed.

Comment author: DanArmak 06 July 2013 01:28:41PM 14 points [-]

It's very easy for a rich person to become poor: just give all you have away. It's very hard for a poor person to become rich: almost all of them try, and very few succeed.

If people found, on reflection, that being poor was better than being rich, then they would give their wealth away. We don't observe this.

Therefore I believe being rich is better, even without the benefit of personal experience.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 09 July 2013 03:04:33PM *  6 points [-]

There could be a hedonic treadmill effect: as you get richer, you get more things, but eventually you get used to it and it stops being better than your old life. But you still don't want to give your wealth away, because you have gotten used to having more stuff, and you're not sure that you would get used back to your old way of life the way you get used to your new one.

Comment author: Yahooey 06 July 2013 09:20:01PM *  4 points [-]

My superficial knowledge of Seneca and the stoics doesn't allow me to debate the premise fully. It does tell me that the argument that it is better can be debated. That people prefer to be rich does not make it better.

An aside: A rich man that gives away his wealth is not equal to a person that is poor from the start or has lost his riches. The person that gives it away, keeps his connections, earns respect and, generally, is in a position re-earn a fortune.

Comment author: DanArmak 06 July 2013 09:40:33PM *  1 point [-]

That people prefer to be rich does not make it better.

It's enough for a strong presumption of it being better, pending evidence to the contrary.

Taboo "better": there are preferences as belief, and preferences as revealed in actions. Actions are clearly in favour of being rich.

On the side of beliefs, there are certainly religions and ethical theories that say being poor is better. Personally, I strongly disagree with both this and many other beliefs of all such theories that I know about, not to mention religions.

There are of course ethical systems that say that while being rich may be good, giving away your wealth to charity is better still. Even plain self-interested consequentialism may tell you that you should give your money, perhaps to fight existential risk or to help develop FAI. I certainly agree that there is a tradeoff to be made; I'm only pointing out that in itself, rich is better than poor.

As for the Stoics, I too am not deeply familiar with their philosophy. But it seems to me that any concrete problems generated by wealth, can be rather easily solved in practice by using some of that wealth.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 July 2013 10:42:58AM 2 points [-]

That's not the case for all the people who have been poor and have been rich (see e.g. certain lottery winners).

I guess it largely depend on how one became rich, as well as how one spends the money.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 04 July 2013 12:23:09PM 8 points [-]

Rich can be worse than poor, knowledge can be worse than ignorance, sickness can be better than health, and death can be better than life. But none of these are the way to bet.

It is also worth considering the relevant causal graph. Wealth --> Happiness allows of such exceptions. But what do they look like in terms of the causal graph Wealth --> Happiness <-- Character? If someone can't handle a sudden accession of money, is it the money or their personal failings that should be blamed? If you see a friend in that situation, do you advise them to get rid of their money or learn to handle it better?

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 01 July 2013 10:46:20PM 8 points [-]

For a few years, I attended a meeting called Animal Behavior Lunch where we discussed new animal behavior articles. All of the meetings consisted of graduate students talking at great length about the flaws of that week’s paper. The professors in attendance knew better but somehow we did not manage to teach this. The students seemed to have a strong bias to criticize. Perhaps they had been told that “critical thinking” is good. They may have never been told that appreciation should come first. I suspect failure to teach graduate students to see clearly the virtues of flawed research is the beginning of the problem I discuss here: Mature researchers who don’t do this or that because they have been told not to do it (it has obvious flaws) and as a result do nothing.

Seth Roberts, ‘Something is better than nothing’, Nutrition, vol. 23, no. 11 (November, 2007), p. 912

Comment author: Zubon 02 July 2013 10:25:41PM 9 points [-]

One of the more useful class discussions I had consciously started with the opposite. The first question was what was good and useful in the week's reading. We proceeded to criticism, but starting with "is there anything useful here?" made the discussion more useful and positive.

Comment author: gwern 02 July 2013 12:03:31AM 13 points [-]

Roberts, naturally, has substantial interest in avoiding any criticism, and the work of people like Ioannides and the eternal life of the publication bias says that if anything, we are insufficiently critical...

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 July 2013 12:40:21AM 10 points [-]

I think we're looking at the wrong kind of criticism. Like, the kind of criticism you can make with almost equal ease of results that will and won't turn out to replicate later.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 02 July 2013 12:37:07AM *  2 points [-]

As you know, I agree with you that Roberts is incorrigibly biased, and I liked your earlier post on this. But I think we can be critical in the sense you have in mind, and still try to cultivate the attitude that I take Roberts to be hinting at. Perhaps this is not very clear in the passage I chose to quote though.

Comment author: TimS 02 July 2013 12:48:41AM 6 points [-]

From an outside view, how can we distinguish this virtue-of-flawed-research from insiders refraining from criticizing each other for the sake of the reputation of the research field?

Comment author: Estarlio 02 July 2013 12:14:47PM 2 points [-]

Virtue of flawed research insiders won't not criticise the flaws, but they will follow up on them with further studies expanding on a point or fixing a methodology.

The problem that Roberts might be criticising is the sort of thinking that goes: I've made a criticism, now we can forget about the thing.

Comment author: CronoDAS 02 July 2013 07:54:17AM 6 points [-]

To err is human; to really foul things up requires a computer.

-- Bill Vaughan, accidentally anticipating the dangers of UFAI in 1969

Comment author: Username 02 July 2013 07:19:10PM *  19 points [-]

You can also turn that around.

To succeed is human; to really make a difference requires a computer.

Suffice to say that AGI is a really big lever.

Comment author: cody-bryce 03 July 2013 02:50:10AM 3 points [-]

There's a saying about India, "Whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true."

Comment author: ygert 03 July 2013 09:42:13AM 21 points [-]

"Whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is false."

Comment author: DanArmak 03 July 2013 10:01:19PM 4 points [-]

No, no, no. "There exists a statement you can rightly say about India, whose opposite is false."

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 July 2013 09:52:55PM 3 points [-]

It works!

Comment author: Diver_Dan 05 July 2013 03:25:38PM *  8 points [-]

Always drive within your competence, at a speed which is appropriate to the circumstances so that you can stop safely in the distance that you can see to be clear.

  • Roadcraft: The Police Drivers' Handbook

In driving, as in life.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 05 July 2013 11:07:40PM 12 points [-]

This advice really only applies in contexts where the risks of failure substantially outweigh the rewards of success. This isn't true in many contexts; if they're approximately equally balanced, it makes sense to attempt to work slightly above your level of competence in order to improve your skill, and if the rewards of success substantially outweigh the risks of failure it makes sense to be even more risk-loving.

Comment author: Diver_Dan 06 July 2013 07:40:41PM 3 points [-]

I think that you may have misunderstood the point that I was trying to make. I am not advocating excessive caution. Rather, I value self-knowledge and knowledge of the environment and the people you interact with in that environment. Obviously, a certain amount of margin of error should be included in any decision making.

It has been my experience as a driving instructor that most pupils are entirely too cautious especially on faster roads where going too slowly may cause a following vehicle to attempt an unsafe overtaking manoeuvre

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 July 2013 03:47:59AM 11 points [-]

At college in 1980, my Government Studies prof also served as Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party of Minnesota (the real one, not the DFL). We clashed over Robert Mugabe, just coming to power in Zimbabwe, he asserting it spelled salvation and I, that it spelled ruin.

I e-mailed him a year or two ago, asking if I could get a retroactive grade increase since my predictions had proven more accurate than his. His explanation was that he truly believed Mugabe was an agrarian reformer whose program of taking land from Whites to give to Blacks would benefit the country; but things just hadn't worked out as hoped.

I didn't bother to send him the famous Heinlein quote about Bad Luck. And I didn't really expect the grade change. But it certainly was satisfying to say "I told you so" 30 years later.

JD

Comment author: shminux 29 July 2013 08:52:49PM 2 points [-]

Scott Aaronson on optimal philanthropy (quoted somewhat out of context):

Suppose you had asked yourself, as a teenager, “how should I live my life so as to maximize my impact on reducing the most widespread, obvious forms of human suffering today, like childhood deaths from malaria?” And then set out, as an earnest utilitarian, to implement your answer? What would the result look like?

It seems clear that your life would look nothing at all like Mother Teresa’s, or that of any other traditional “saint.” But it might look a helluva lot like Bill Gates’s. That is, the best strategy might well be to spend the first half of your career making billions of dollars almost any way you could—stealing other people’s ideas, making deals only to backstab your partners later, locking customers in to buggy, inferior products, whatever—and then to spend the second half giving your billions away, thinking very hard about how to maximize the impact of each grant.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 01 July 2013 10:36:15PM 2 points [-]

We live during the hinge of history. Given the scientific and technological discoveries of the last two centuries, the world has never changed as fast. We shall soon have even greater powers to transform, not only our surroundings, but ourselves and our successors. If we act wisely in the next few centuries, humanity will survive its most dangerous and decisive period. Our descendants could, if necessary, go elsewhere, spreading through this galaxy.

Derek Parfit, On What Matters, vol. 2, Oxford, 2011, p. 616

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 01 July 2013 11:09:08PM 4 points [-]
Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 01 July 2013 11:42:53PM 3 points [-]

Thanks, retracted.

Comment author: JQuinton 11 July 2013 09:18:36PM 5 points [-]

To admit you were wrong is to declare that you are wiser now than you were before

I can't find the original source for this, but I got it from an image floating around Facebook.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 12 July 2013 03:15:12PM 2 points [-]

Well yes, this is true, but one may reasonably prefer a high steady state over an increase to the current level. It's better to have A in the past and A now, than B in the past and A now. The increase is only to be preferred if it is from B to A+, which does not follow from the admission of error.

Comment author: AShepard 02 July 2013 12:02:16AM 5 points [-]

We readily inquire, 'Does he know Greek or Latin?' 'Can he write poetry and prose?' But what matters most is what we put last: 'Has he become better and wiser?' We ought to find out not merely who understands most but who understands best. We work merely to fill the memory, leaving the understanding and the sense of right and wrong empty. Just as birds sometimes go in search of grain, carrying it in their beaks without tasting to stuff it down the beaks of their young, so too do our schoolmasters go foraging for learning in their books and merely lodge it on the tip of their lips, only to spew it out and scatter it on the wind.

Michel de Montaigne, Essays, "On schoolmasters' learning"

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 22 July 2013 07:33:34AM *  8 points [-]

There's a big difference between performing an action and endorsing the theory that the action is good.

Anna Salamon (paraphrase)

Comment author: wedrifid 22 July 2013 05:48:25PM 12 points [-]

Anna Salamon (paraphrase)

Do we allow quotes from lesswrong users and CFAR instructors now?

A policy that disallows Robin Hanson quotes but permits quotes from Anna Salamon would seem peculiar to me.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 July 2013 01:32:58PM *  4 points [-]

Whatever the actual rule is, the next time it should be spelled out explicitly.

Comment author: Estarlio 02 July 2013 01:07:53PM 5 points [-]

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”

I believe that one's meant to be a Japanese proverb.

Comment author: Benito 22 July 2013 10:01:43PM 4 points [-]

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

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

  • Keith Stanovich, 'How to Think Straight About Psychology"
Comment author: beoShaffer 23 July 2013 02:32:32AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: Vaniver 23 July 2013 12:22:49AM *  2 points [-]

I view those more as helpful labels for general trends. In many situations, there are pressures pushing against each other, and lending weight to one (by mentioning its general label) can push someone off-balance towards a better position. As they say, everything in moderation. ;)

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 01 July 2013 10:37:07PM *  5 points [-]

Einstein’s theory of relativity suggests that there is no fact of the matter as to when “now” is. Any measurement of time is relative to the perspective of an observer. In other words, if you are traveling very fast, the clocks of others are speeding up from your point of view. You will spend a few years in a spaceship but when you return to earth thousands or millions of years will have passed. Yet it seems odd, to say the least, to discount the well-being of people as their velocity increases. Should we pay less attention to the safety of our spacecraft, and thus the welfare of our astronauts, the faster those vehicles go? If, for instance, we sent off a spacecraft at near the velocity of light, the astronauts would return to earth, hardly aged, millions of years hence. Should we—because of positive discounting—not give them enough fuel to make a safe landing? And if you decline to condemn them to death, how are they different from other “residents” in the distant future?

Tyler Cowen, ‘Caring about the Distant Future: Why it Matters and What it Means’, University of Chicago Law Review, vol. 74, no. 1 (Winter, 2007), p. 10

Comment author: dspeyer 02 July 2013 03:07:18AM 16 points [-]

They are different because when we pack the spaceship with fuel, we control with reasonable certainty whether they make a safe landing or not. As for our millions-of-years descendants, it's very hard to make any statement about us effecting them with >51% confidence (except, "we shouldn't exterminate ourselves").

A lot of what looks like time discounting is really uncertainty discounting.

Comment author: BlazeOrangeDeer 02 July 2013 05:34:16PM 4 points [-]

if you are traveling very fast, the clocks of others are speeding up from your point of view.

This is backwards. Everyone in an inertial frame thinks other peoples clocks are slower. Acceleration is what causes the opposite, e.g. turning the spaceship around to come back

Comment author: pragmatist 02 July 2013 07:24:27PM *  4 points [-]

You're right that Cowen got it backwards, but you're wrong about this:

Acceleration is what causes the opposite, e.g. turning the spaceship around to come back

Acceleration is not the cause. The reason the astronauts age less is that the path they follow through space-time corresponds to a smaller proper time than the path followed by people who remain on the Earth, and the proper time along a path is what a clock following that path measures. So it's a geometrical fact about the difference between the two paths that causes the asymmetrical aging, not the acceleration of the astronauts.

To make this obvious, it is possible to set up a scenario where another group of astronauts leaves Earth and then returns, accelerating the exact same amount as the first group, but following a path with larger proper time. This second group of astronauts will age more than the first group, even though the accelerations involved were the same.

A lot of elementary presentations of relativity identify acceleration as the relevant factor in twin paradox type cases, but this is wrong (or, more charitably, not entirely right).

Comment author: B_For_Bandana 02 July 2013 01:50:30AM *  2 points [-]

I agree in principle, but I have basically no confidence in my ability to figure out what to do to help people in the future. There are two obstacles: random error and bias. Random error, because predicting the future is hard. And bias, because any policy I decide I like could be justified as being good for the future people, and that assertion couldn't be refuted easily. The promise of helping even an enormous number of people in the future amounts to Pascal's Wager, where donating to this or that charity or working on this or that research is like choosing this or that religion; all the possibilities cancel out and I have no reliable guide to what to actually do.

Admittedly this is all "I failed my art" stuff rather than the other way around, but well, it's still true.

Comment author: shminux 01 July 2013 11:44:20PM *  0 points [-]

Yet it seems odd, to say the least, to discount the well-being of people as their velocity increases.

Is it some kind of non-sequitur? How is it related to positive discounting?

if you decline to condemn them to death, how are they different from other “residents” in the distant future?

Probably because some are more real and others are less so.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 02 July 2013 08:51:21AM 4 points [-]

The biggest difference between literary fiction set in the future and Science fiction is that literary fictioneers don't really believe in the future. History is merely a spiral of ever widening crap, and we are on the brink of the abyss. Any opinions otherwise must be exterminated.

Instructor in The Guardian comment section

Comment author: Kyre 02 July 2013 11:40:03PM 5 points [-]

Story I heard from a bookshop clerk about the (sadly deceased) Ian M Banks. He was being interviewed on the South Bank Show and the interviewer asked, in a slightly condescending manner, "why did you start writing science fiction ?", and he replied "I wanted to make sure I was good enough first."

Comment author: shminux 07 July 2013 08:11:00AM 5 points [-]

Asked to make a 30-second case for On Constitutional Disobedience — his 2013 book that advocates abolishing the U.S. Constitution — Louis Michael Seidman, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, says:

"There's no good reason why we should be bound by decisions made hundreds of years ago by people who are long dead, knew nothing about modern America, and had moral and political views that no sensible person would hold today."

Comment author: ygert 07 July 2013 08:52:31AM 11 points [-]

I think the main thing that can be said to defend keeping the Constitution is simply that it is a Schelling point. We need some way to base our system of laws. What system do you choose? There are arguments for many options, and I'm not saying the Constitution is necessarily the best. But due to what you may perhaps call a historical accident, the Constitution is where we are now. This makes it a Schelling point for all the different options for a system to base our laws on.

Comment author: simplicio 08 July 2013 08:48:59PM 2 points [-]

Very true, although where the USA is now is really not "the Constitution" simpliciter, so much as "the Constitution + all case law."

Comment author: Larks 23 July 2013 10:09:34AM 3 points [-]

Why is this a rationality quote?

Comment author: Yahooey 07 July 2013 12:11:30PM 6 points [-]

The constitution can be amended therefore Americans are not bound by decisions made hundreds of years ago. There were 12 amendments passed in the 20th century, the last of which was an amendment that was proposed in 1789 and ratified in 1992.

Comment author: somervta 19 July 2013 01:29:28PM *  1 point [-]

cough 30 second case cough

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 July 2013 03:40:09AM 4 points [-]

I remember a discussion of autonomous man from Locke where I put out the obvious objection that it hypothesized a man who originated “perfet formes, Limb’d and full grown: out of the ground up-rose” which is not very useful because it has no relation to reality.

Mary

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 15 July 2013 04:57:26PM 3 points [-]

Philosophers, I have said, should study AI. Should AI workers study philosophy? Yes, unless they are content to reinvent the wheel every few days. When AI reinvents a wheel, it is typically square, or at best hexagonal, and can only make a few hundred revolutions before it stops. Philosopher's wheels, on the other hand, are perfect circles, require in principle no lubrication, and can go in at least two directions at once. Clearly a meeting of minds is in order.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 16 July 2013 02:53:14PM 6 points [-]

I'd be interested in any specific examples of things AI workers can learn from philosophy at the present time. There has been at least one instance in the past: AI workers in the 1960s should have read Wittgenstein's discussion of games to understand a key problem with building symbolic logic systems that have an atomic symbol correspond to each dictionary word. But I can't think of any other instances.

Comment author: threewestwinds 27 July 2013 09:58:05AM 2 points [-]

Timeless decision theory, what I understand of it, bears a remarkable resemblance to Kant's Categorical Imperative. I'm re-reading Kant right now (it's been half a decade), but my primary recollection was that the categorical imperative boiled down to "make decisions not on your own behalf, but as though you decided for all rational agents in your situation."

Some related criticisms of EDT are weirdly reminiscent of Kant's critiques of other moral systems based on predicting the outcome of your actions. "Weirdly reminiscent of" rather than "reinventing" intentionally, but I try not to be too quick to dismiss older thinkers.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 16 July 2013 09:52:07PM 2 points [-]

AI workers in the 1960s should have read Wittgenstein's discussion of games to understand a key problem with building symbolic logic systems that have an atomic symbol correspond to each dictionary word.

Can you elaborate on this? It sounds fascinating. I confess I can't make heads or tails of Wittgenstein.

Comment author: pragmatist 24 July 2013 12:40:31PM *  5 points [-]

Wittgenstein, in his discussion of games (specifically, his idea that concepts are delineated by fuzzy "family resemblance", rather than necessary and sufficient membership criteria) basically makes the same points as Eliezer does in these posts.

Representative quotes:

Consider for example the proceedings that we call "games". I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? -- Don't say: "There must be something common, or they would not be called 'games' "-but look and see whether there is anything common to all. -- For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don't think, but look! -- ...

And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities.

I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than "family resemblances"; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and cries-cross in the same way.-And I shall say: 'games' form a family...

"All right: the concept of number is defined for you as the logical sum of these individual interrelated concepts: cardinal numbers, rational numbers, real numbers, etc.; and in the same way the concept of a game as the logical sum of a corresponding set of sub-concepts." --It need not be so. For I can give the concept 'number' rigid limits in this way, that is, use the word "number" for a rigidly limited concept, but I can also use it so that the extension of the concept is not closed by a frontier. And this is how we do use the word "game". For how is the concept of a game bounded?

Comment author: cody-bryce 22 July 2013 01:47:23AM 2 points [-]

Every book is a children's book if the kid can read

Mitch Hedberg

Comment author: RichardKennaway 26 July 2013 08:09:20AM 2 points [-]

Most times, when a feller's sellin' heaven, he ain't got no heaven to sell.

Penny Arcade on Pascal's Wager.

Comment author: elharo 03 July 2013 10:26:02AM 1 point [-]

I’ll mention what I’ll call the “radio theory” of brains. Imagine that you are a Kalahari Bushman and that you stumble upon a transistor radio in the sand. You might pick it up, twiddle the knobs, and suddenly, to your surprise, hear voices streaming out of this strange little box. If you’re curious and scientifically minded, you might try to understand what is going on. You might pry off the back cover to discover a little nest of wires. Now let’s say you begin a careful, scientific study of what causes the voices. You notice that each time you pull out the green wire, the voices stop. When you put the wire back on its contact, the voices begin again. The same goes for the red wire. Yanking out the black wire causes the voices to get garbled, and removing the yellow wire reduces the volume to a whisper. You step carefully through all the combinations, and you come to a clear conclusion: the voices depend entirely on the integrity of the circuitry. Change the circuitry and you damage the voices.

Proud of your new discoveries, you devote your life to developing a science of the way in which certain configurations of wires create the existence of magical voices. At some point, a young person asks you how some simple loops of electrical signals can engender music and conversations, and you admit that you don’t know—but you insist that your science is about to crack that problem at any moment.

Your conclusions are limited by the fact that you know absolutely nothing about radio waves and, more generally, electromagnetic radiation. The fact that there are structures in distant cities called radio towers—which send signals by perturbing invisible waves that travel at the speed of light—is so foreign to you that you could not even dream it up. You can’t taste radio waves, you can’t see them, you can’t smell them, and you don’t yet have any pressing reason to be creative enough to fantasize about them. And if you did dream of invisible radio waves that carry voices, who could you convince of your hypothesis? You have no technology to demonstrate the existence of the waves, and everyone justifiably points out that the onus is on you to convince them.

So you would become a radio materialist. You would conclude that somehow the right configuration of wires engenders classical music and intelligent conversation. You would not realize that you’re missing an enormous piece of the puzzle.

I’m not asserting that the brain is like a radio—that is, that we’re receptacles picking up signals from elsewhere, and that our neural circuitry needs to be in place to do so—but I am pointing out that it could be true. There is nothing in our current science that rules this out. Knowing as little as we do at this point in history, we must retain concepts like this in the large filing cabinet of ideas that we cannot yet rule in favor of or against. So even though few working scientists will design experiments around eccentric hypotheses, ideas always need to be proposed and nurtured as possibilities until evidence weighs in one way or another.

--David Eagleman, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, Random House, pp. 221-222

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 July 2013 09:55:48PM 29 points [-]

If you could damage wires in a certain way and make the voices forget how to pronounce nouns, eliminate their short-term but not long-term memory, damage their color words, and so on, you would have a solid case for the wires doing internal, functional information-processing in causal arrangements which permitted the final output to be permuted in ways that corresponded to perturbing particular causal nodes. In much the same way, a calculator might be thought to be a radio if you are ignorant of its internals, but if you have a hypothesis that the calculator contains a binary half-adder and you can perturb particular transistors and see wrong answers in a way that matches what the half-adder hypothesis predicts for perturbing that transistor, you have shown the answers are generated internally rather than externally. In a world where we can directly monitor a cat's thalamus and reconstruct part of its visual processing field, the radio hypothesis is not just privileging a hypothesis without evidence, it is frantically clinging to a hypothesis with strong contrary evidence in denial of a hypothesis with detailed confirming evidence.

Comment author: Pfft 06 July 2013 12:44:22AM 4 points [-]

(I don't think the cat experiments are very conclusive here. As far as I know, the functions that have been identified in the early visual system are things like edge detection and motion detection. But such functions are used for video compression. So not only could a radio set perform them in principle, an ordinary digital TV set already does.)

Comment author: BloodyShrimp 03 July 2013 11:01:52PM 6 points [-]

I don't think this is quite where the analogy was. The brain's information-processing features you describe seem to be analogous to the radio's volume and clarity... it seems Eagleman was trying to compare the radio's content not to the brain's content, but to consciousness or something. At least, that's the best steelmanning attempt I've got.

Comment author: DanArmak 03 July 2013 07:04:30PM *  15 points [-]

This isn't an ancient pre-scientific text; it was written in 2011. I completely disagree with the claim that:

I’m not asserting that the brain is like a radio—that is, that we’re receptacles picking up signals from elsewhere, and that our neural circuitry needs to be in place to do so—but I am pointing out that it could be true. There is nothing in our current science that rules this out. Knowing as little as we do at this point in history, we must retain concepts like this in the large filing cabinet of ideas that we cannot yet rule in favor of or against.

There's also nothing in our current science that rules out a teapot orbiting the sun. That does not mean a hypothesis with no evidence for it should be elevated to the level of serious discussion.

There is no reason to think the brain could possibly be receiving "marching orders" from elsewhere, and we absolutely should discard this concept and rule firmly against it. And the same goes for any other equally unfounded ideas that this is an allegory for.

ideas always need to be proposed and nurtured as possibilities until evidence weighs in one way or another.

No, because there is an infinity of ideas you could consider. You must wait until evidence weighs sufficiently in favor of some one idea to elevate it above the others, before considering it at all.

Comment author: mwengler 20 July 2013 04:06:29PM 2 points [-]

Some of the things you would discover would include that in some locations the voices don't show up. Investigating that, you would find that deep in caves they were gone. If you had access to the materials radios are made from, you would discover that in a metal box the voices don't show up. You would infer from this that the voices are coming from outside and are somehow picked up by the box. You might also discover by putting pieces of radios together differently that you could get your own voice to come out of the speaker by hooking up two speakers in series with the power source.

My point is that you would learn a lot more about what is really going on then this long quote suggests.

Comment author: shminux 29 July 2013 10:40:04PM 1 point [-]

There can certainly be no question of malice or premeditation on the part of the computers; they merely do whatever requires the least amount of effort, just as water will inevitably flow downhill and not up. But while water may be easily dammed, it is far more difficult to control all the possible deviations of intelligent machines.

Stanislaw Lem, The Futurological Congress (1971)