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Rationality Quotes October 2013

6 Post author: army1987 05 October 2013 09:02PM

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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.

Comments (313)

Comment author: Mestroyer 05 October 2013 06:20:28AM 40 points [-]

The market doesn't give a shit how hard you worked. Users just want your software to do what they need, and you get a zero otherwise. That is one of the most distinctive differences between school and the real world: there is no reward for putting in a good effort. In fact, the whole concept of a "good effort" is a fake idea adults invented to encourage kids. It is not found in nature.

--Paul Graham (When I saw this quote, I thought it had to have been posted before, but googling turned up nothing.)

Comment author: hankx7787 27 October 2013 02:28:27PM 5 points [-]

Completely wrong.

As a software engineer at a company with way too much work to go around, I can tell you that making a "good effort" goes a long way. 90% of the time you don't have to "make it work or get a zero". As long as you are showing progress you can generally keep the client happy (or at least not firing you) as you get things done, even if you are missing deadlines. And this seems very much normal to me. I'm not sure where in the market you have to "make it work or get a zero". I'm not even convinced that exists.

Comment author: Mestroyer 27 October 2013 04:41:02PM 2 points [-]

The essay is about startups. Perhaps they are different from your company. Also, getting things done but not in time for deadlines is not the same as not getting them done but making a good effort.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 27 October 2013 08:48:59PM 0 points [-]

As long as you are showing progress you can generally keep the client happy (or at least not firing you) as you get things done,

But eventually you do have to make sure that things are done and work.

Comment author: CoffeeStain 08 October 2013 07:44:08AM 4 points [-]

The closest you can come to getting an actual "A for effort" is through creating cultural content, such as a Kickstarter project or starting a band. You'll get extra success when people see that you're interested in what you're doing, over and beyond as an indicator that what you'll produce is otherwise of quality. People want to be part of something that is being cared for, and in some cases would prefer it to lazily created perfection.

I'd still call it though an "A for signalling effort."

Comment author: DanielLC 05 October 2013 09:57:43PM 4 points [-]

A good effort doesn't result in valuable software, but it could result in you learning to program better, increasing your human capital.

Comment author: wiresnips 05 October 2013 10:38:09PM 15 points [-]

That's not necessarily false, but it's a dangerous thing to say to yourself. Mostly when I find myself thinking it, I've just wasted a great deal of time, and I'm trying to convince myself that it wasn't really wasted. It's easy to tell myself, hard to verify, and more pleasant than thinking my time-investment was for nothing.

Comment author: DanielLC 05 October 2013 10:51:42PM 10 points [-]

It sure seems like a step up from when your time is really wasted, and you spent it all playing on the computer.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 07 October 2013 12:39:56AM 7 points [-]

It's a continuum. I certainly wouldn't call a time when you're having fun and training your reflexes or pattern matching ability wasted. Or sleep. Or even sitting around anywhere where you can think stuff and meditate. The only wasted time is the one spent in to much pain to even think.

Comment author: Jiro 05 October 2013 05:28:22PM 8 points [-]

I disagree with this quote. In the real world, many things are't all or nothing. The equivalent of a good effort isn't not producing any software, it's producing software that's marginally worse than the best software you could produce. That software will sell marginally less well than the best software you could produce, and produce marginally less profit, but it will still sell.

Comment author: Mestroyer 05 October 2013 05:36:10PM 5 points [-]

This doesn't say software is all-or-nothing. Not producing the best software you can gets you money only if it (to some extent) still does what the customer needs. Besides misinformed customers, if it doesn't do what the customer needs, you do get nothing. If it is not-quite-perfect, it's the result that gets you your not-quite-what-it-could-have-been profit. Not the effort.

Comment author: army1987 05 October 2013 06:39:56PM -2 points [-]

Mmm, no, whether you like it or not people who live off rent-seeking do exist.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 06 October 2013 04:10:42AM 7 points [-]

True, but no obviously opposed to the quote. Rents are not a reward for a good effort.

Comment author: Panic_Lobster 08 October 2013 03:14:54AM 10 points [-]

When philosophers use a word—"knowledge", "being", "object", "I", "proposition", "name"—and try to grasp the essence of the thing, one must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used in this way in the language-game which is its original home?—What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use. You say to me: "You understand this expression, don't you? Well then—I am using it in the sense you are familiar with."— As if the sense were an atmosphere accompanying the word, which it carried with it into every kind of application.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 116-117

Comment author: PrometheanFaun 10 October 2013 04:36:44AM *  2 points [-]

Since English isn't Sound and like 90% of English words simply don't have real definitions, I'm not sure I want to tangle with this guy's work. It's either going to be tenuous logic with an exploration in equivocation, or a baffling/impressive display of linguistics. Which was it?

Comment author: mwengler 16 October 2013 03:37:56PM 4 points [-]

Since English isn't Sound and like 90% of English words simply don't have real definitions, I'm not sure I want to tangle with this guy's work.

Well he did write it in German.

Comment author: somervta 10 October 2013 05:48:47AM 3 points [-]

Philosophical Investigations is closer to the latter. (There's a big difference between Late and Early Wittgenstein - basically two completely different authors)

Comment author: Panic_Lobster 10 October 2013 05:58:21AM *  4 points [-]

There is also a fair bit of continuity between the two--he retains one of the main theses of his earlier work: that much of our confusion about so called 'philosophical problems' is caused by people abusing language.

Comment author: fezziwig 27 October 2013 06:33:21PM 9 points [-]

[Death] does not add up. All you can say is that: no. No, these books do not balance. Not even in Newtonian terms. The only terms in which they make sense are Darwin’s, and no one wants to go there. There are no protagonists in Darwin, and everybody wants to be a protagonist.

John Dolan, of all people.

Comment author: Nomad 05 October 2013 04:20:03PM *  33 points [-]

We often like to think of World War II as a triumph of freedom over totalitarianism. We conveniently forget that the Soviet Union was also one of the winners.

Paul Graham

Comment author: Nomad 05 October 2013 04:22:44PM 11 points [-]

From the same article:

I do it because it's good for the brain. To do good work you need a brain that can go anywhere. And you especially need a brain that's in the habit of going where it's not supposed to.

Comment author: Vaniver 06 October 2013 07:48:58AM 4 points [-]

Also worthwhile from it:

Especially if you hear yourself using them. It's not just the mob you need to learn to watch from a distance. You need to be able to watch your own thoughts from a distance.

("them" refers to labels like "x-ist" or "y-ic" used to tar positions by association, rather than demonstrating their falsity.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 06 October 2013 01:30:37AM 14 points [-]

You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.

-- Henry Ford

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2013 08:12:45AM 6 points [-]

You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.

I wonder if that is true. I suspect a sufficiently competent personal marketer would be able to pull it off. Of course, it may be just as easy for them to build an equally positive reputation from absolutely nothing.

Comment author: Omegaile 09 October 2013 10:07:32PM 8 points [-]

So they are building their reputation on their marketing skills, not on the future.

Comment author: Baughn 06 November 2013 09:36:51PM 3 points [-]

Which is to say, causality goes only one way.

Comment author: AndHisHorse 09 October 2013 01:38:17PM 1 point [-]

It may, however, be possible to build a reputation on what you are preparing to do.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 October 2013 10:45:21AM 13 points [-]

A number of isolated facts does not produce a science any more than a heap of bricks produces a house.

Alfred Korzybski - Science and Sanity Page 55

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 03 October 2013 03:45:33PM 12 points [-]

While this is true, it's often the case that you have to start by collecting the isolated facts, just as you'd start building a house by buying some number of bricks.

Comment author: Lumifer 03 October 2013 04:00:39PM 4 points [-]

Arguably you'd start building a house by deciding what kind of house do you want and then making architectural plans and drawings...

Comment author: mwengler 04 October 2013 05:01:34PM 2 points [-]

Arguably, an early step in building a brick house will consist of gathering a bunch of bricks together. Arguably, that was obvious enough in the earlier comment to not benefit from correction.

Comment author: pragmatist 07 October 2013 07:33:05AM 1 point [-]

Sure, but who claims/acts as if isolated facts do produce a science? This seems to be taking down a strawman.

Also, the analogy is misleading. A heap of bricks arranged in the right way with the right sorts of mutual connectors does produce a house. However, even an appropriately arranged and connected set of facts does not produce a science. At best, it produces a theory, which is a product of a science, but not a science itself. Science is more akin to architecture than to a house.

Comment author: kamerlingh 07 October 2013 07:38:09PM 6 points [-]

Sure, but who claims/acts as if isolated facts do produce a science?

Science classes, especially before high school level, are often taught as though science is just a collection facts about trees or dinosaurs or whatever. Anyone who hasn't had the benefit of a good science program in their school might continue to think that science is just experiments to generate facts.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 07 October 2013 11:20:55AM *  4 points [-]

Sure, but who claims/acts as if isolated facts do produce a science? This seems to be taking down a strawman.

Korzybski is not here arguing against anything, but making an exposition. I won't type in the whole passage (which is only a Google search away anyway), but the quotation is from the beginning of chapter 4, entitled "On Structure", which is the first chapter of the second section of Science and Sanity, entitled "General on Structure". The first section, of three chapters, was introductory, an overture. He begins the main opera by drawing attention to two clear trends in the development of science: the increasing reliance on experiments, and the increase of verbal rigour. "The second tendency has an importance equal to that of the first; a number of isolated facts does not produce a science any more than a heap of bricks produces a house. The isolated facts must be put in order and brought into mutual structural relations in the form of some theory. Then, only, do we have a science."

Comment author: Stabilizer 03 October 2013 09:15:52PM 25 points [-]

A majority of life's errors are caused by forgetting what one is really trying to do.

-Charlie Munger

Comment author: snafoo 09 October 2013 08:35:44PM 5 points [-]

Hyperbole.

Comment author: MagnetoHydroDynamics 13 October 2013 01:14:00AM 1 point [-]

If we narrow the domain to software desgin and slap on some rigourous type systems and big unit testing suites it starts looking better for this statement.

Comment author: savageorange 14 October 2013 11:08:07AM *  2 points [-]

On reflection, 'forgetting' is the wrong word here.

We don't default to being definite about anything, least of all our aims. Clear awareness has to be built and maintained, not merely uncovered.

Comment author: jsbennett86 03 October 2013 05:07:22AM 25 points [-]

Him: We can't go back. We don't understand everything yet.

Her: "Everything" is a little ambitious. We barely understand anything.

Him: Yeah. But that's what the first part of understanding everything looks like.

Randall Munroe - Time

Comment author: Alejandro1 03 October 2013 01:48:39PM 13 points [-]

Followed by:

Him: We walked along the sea for days and we didn't learn anything. Up here we're learning lots.

Her: We haven't learned why the sea rose.

Him: But maybe we were never going to.

Him: There's food and water here. I don't want to go all the way back down, walk along the sea for a few more days, then have to turn around.

Him: Maybe the sea is too big to understand. We can't answer every question.

Her: No, But I think we can answer any question.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 October 2013 02:53:15AM 21 points [-]

the mass of an object never seems to change: a spinning top has the same weight as a still one. So a “law” was invented: mass is constant, independent of speed. That “law” is now found to be incorrect. Mass is found to increase with velocity, but appreciable increases require velocities near that of light. A true law is: if an object moves with a speed of less than one hundred miles a second the mass is constant to within one part in a million. In some such approximate form this is a correct law. So in practice one might think that the new law makes no significant difference. Well, yes and no. For ordinary speeds we can certainly forget it and use the simple constant-mass law as a good approximation. But for high speeds we are wrong, and the higher the speed, the more wrong we are.

Finally, and most interesting, philosophically we are completely wrong with the approximate law. Our entire picture of the world has to be altered even though the mass changes only by a little bit. This is a very peculiar thing about the philosophy, or the ideas, behind the laws. Even a very small effect sometimes requires profound changes in our ideas.

Richard Feynman Lectures on Physics

Comment author: pewpewlasergun 03 October 2013 06:06:56AM 25 points [-]

“Whenever serious and competent people need to get things done in the real world, all considerations of tradition and protocol fly out the window.”

Neal Stephenson - "Quicksilver"

Comment author: James_Miller 04 October 2013 03:07:24AM *  16 points [-]

I suspect that many traditions and protocols promote competent decision making. Do you think that, say, the U.S. military would do better in Afghanistan if President Obama issued an order declaring "when in battle ignore all considerations of tradition and protocol"? Group coordination is hard, organizations put a huge amount of effort into it, and traditions and protocols often reflect their best practices.

Comment author: Costanza 08 October 2013 08:51:23PM 13 points [-]

"The Navy is a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots. If you're not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one." -Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny

Comment author: Omegaile 09 October 2013 10:01:26PM 3 points [-]

That quote seems to be very good in making idiots who think they are not (the majority) to behave like idiots.

Comment author: Stabilizer 04 October 2013 06:46:20PM 5 points [-]

Yes, the quote is best modified to: "Whenever a small group of competent people..."

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 06 October 2013 05:58:01PM 12 points [-]

What strikes me most about this quote is how well Stephenson understands the psychology of his audience.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 October 2013 01:47:52AM 31 points [-]

Whenever a group of subcompetent people get together to do something, they assume they are competent enough to throw tradition and protocol out the window...

Comment author: James_Miller 04 October 2013 03:15:19AM 8 points [-]

Well designed traditions and protocols will contain elements that cause most subcompetent people to not want to throw them out.

Comment author: player_03 06 October 2013 04:01:31AM *  9 points [-]

Well designed traditions and protocols will contain elements that cause most competent people to not want to throw them out.

Comment author: James_Miller 06 October 2013 05:47:15PM 2 points [-]

No. If an organization contains sub-competent people, it should take this into account when designing traditions and protocols.

Comment author: scav 07 October 2013 11:39:36AM 7 points [-]

Corollary: all organisations eventually contain sub-competent people. Design protocols accordingly.

Comment author: Moss_Piglet 06 October 2013 05:53:36PM 2 points [-]

If an organization contains sub-competent people, it's traditions and protocols need to ensure those people are quickly and reliably thrown out themselves.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 October 2013 06:07:44PM 1 point [-]

Not necessarily, sub-competent people can still be useful, e.g., unskilled labor is a thing.

Comment author: Moss_Piglet 06 October 2013 06:37:27PM *  5 points [-]

Unskilled and sub-competent are not synonyms in this context; even a ditch-digger can be competent, it just means they dig quickly regularly and with a minimum of fuss. And not arbitrarily throwing out protocols for momentary convenience is a matter of both maintaining regularity and minimizing fuss, so I shouldn't have to worry about the ditch-digging committee making a mess of things so long as they all have their heads screwed on straight.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 16 October 2013 09:08:59AM 1 point [-]

Therefore, a reliable method for evaluating competency needs to be part of the traditions and protocols. Otherwise it's just a question of time...

Comment author: player_03 06 October 2013 03:59:56AM 2 points [-]

Having just listened to much of the Ethical Injunctions sequence (as a podcast courtesy of George Thomas), I'm not so sure about this one. There are reasons for serious, competent people to follow ethical rules, even when they need to get things done in the real world.

Ethics aren't quite the same as tradition and protocol, but even so, sometimes all three of those things exist for good reasons.

Comment author: lukeprog 31 October 2013 08:09:21PM 4 points [-]

The only way to truly know a person is to argue with them. For when they argue in full swing, then they reveal their true character.

Anne Frank

(h/t Jonas Muller)

Comment author: Kawoomba 26 October 2013 02:55:49PM 4 points [-]

My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations.

Thomas Huxley

Comment author: Nomad 09 October 2013 12:28:26PM 4 points [-]

At first James thought they were joking because, "You know, Hidden Object Games". But then, after a moment, James realised they were absolutely right. Why hadn't we done a show on Hidden Object Games?

Extra Credits react to their surprise.

Comment author: monsterzero 04 October 2013 10:08:56PM 10 points [-]

Human consciousness isn't optimized for anything, except maybe helping feral hominids survive in the wild.

-Charles Stross, "Rule 34"

Comment author: James_Miller 03 October 2013 02:11:45PM 10 points [-]

Because of the way evolution operates, the mind consists of many, many parts, and these parts have many different functions. Because they're designed to do different things, they don't always work in perfect harmony.

Why Everyone Else Is A Hypocrite, by Robert Kurzban, p. 6.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 03 October 2013 05:29:05AM *  19 points [-]

"I didn't go spiralling down. Because there is no abyss. There is no yawning chasm waiting to swallow us up, when we learn that there is no god, that we're animals like any other animal, that the universe has no purpose, that our souls are made of the same stuff as water and sand."

I said, "There are two thousand cultists on this island who believe otherwise."

Michael shrugged. "What do you expect from moral flat-Earthers, if not fear of falling?"

-- Greg Egan, "Distress".

Comment author: wadavis 03 October 2013 10:50:21PM 12 points [-]

...I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Horace Greeley

Comment author: katydee 12 October 2013 12:21:25PM *  8 points [-]

There is solemn satisfaction in doing the best you can for eight billion people.

-Robert Heinlein, Double Star

Comment author: simplicio 17 October 2013 06:49:13PM 6 points [-]

I have to confess this sounds creepy to me. I have a strong prior that the one who says something like this is about to do something horrible.

Comment author: Kawoomba 13 October 2013 05:36:56PM 4 points [-]

How is this a rationality quote, as opposed to simply a statement about a personal preference?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 October 2013 02:56:50AM *  16 points [-]

You can't trust your intuitions [in this domain]. I'm going to give you a set of rules here that will get you through this process if anything will. At certain moments you'll be tempted to ignore them. So rule number zero is: these rules exist for a reason. You wouldn't need a rule to keep you going in one direction if there weren't powerful forces pushing you in another.

Paul Graham

Comment author: JackV 04 October 2013 06:59:49AM 5 points [-]

Note: this isn't always right. Anyone giving advice is going to SAY it's true and non-obvious even if it isn't. "Don't fall into temptation" etc etc. But that essay was talking about mistakes which he'd personally often empirically observed and proposed counter-actions to, and he obviously could describe it in much more detail if necessary.

Comment author: Alejandro1 03 October 2013 01:53:00PM 16 points [-]

header: funtime activity: casually accusing people of machiavellianism.

man: i’m hungry. we should buy lunch.

woman: OH, so you’re saying THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS?

--Zack Weinersmith, SMBC rejected ideas

Comment author: monsterzero 10 October 2013 02:39:47AM *  4 points [-]

boss: what’s your greatest weakness?

guy: i’m bad at giving rhymed answers to questions.

I am so stealing that for my next job interview.

Comment author: shminux 23 October 2013 05:16:07PM 7 points [-]

The CS people screamed that the problem was NP-hard, computationally intractable, etc. But we didn't know what any of that meant, so we got it working.

A reply to the request in The Register for programmers to share their experiences working on computationally intractable tasks.

Comment author: Vaniver 23 October 2013 11:59:23PM 9 points [-]

For the particular problem that comment is discussing (automatic code generation), I suspect that the CS people were describing about a general automatic code generation problem, and the engineers solved a relaxation to that problem which was not in fact intractable.

In general, I don't know how much I like the P-NP distinction. I hear from people who have been in the metaheuristics field for a while that until that became common knowledge, it was basically impossible to get a heuristic published (because you couldn't provably find the optimal solution). But it seems like that distinction leads to an uncanny valley of ignorance, where a lot of people avoid problems that are NP hard instead of looking in their neighborhood for problems that admit polynomial-time algorithms. (For example, instead of "find a tour that is not inferior to any other tour" use "find a good tour" for the TSP.)

Comment author: Panic_Lobster 10 October 2013 05:35:03AM *  11 points [-]

The reason that testability is not enough is that prediction is not, and cannot be, the purpose of science. Consider an audience watching a conjuring trick. The problem facing them has much the same logic as a scientific problem. Although in nature there is no conjurer trying to deceive us intentionally, we can be mystified in both cases for essentially the same reason: appearances are not self-explanatory. If the explanation of a conjuring trick were evident in its appearance, there would be no trick. If the explanations of physical phenomena were evident in their appearance, empiricism would be true and there would be no need for science as we know it. The problem is not to predict the trick's appearance. I may, for instance predict that if a conjurer seems to place various balls under various cups, those cups will later appear to be empty; and I may predict that if the conjurer appears to saw someone in half, that person will later appear on stage unharmed. Those are testable predictions. I may experience many conjuring shows and see my predictions vindicated every time. But that does not even address, let alone solve, the problem of how the trick works. Solving it requires an explanation: a statement of the reality which accounts for the trick's appearance.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

Comment author: Lumifer 16 October 2013 04:29:45PM 3 points [-]

I disagree with Deutsch, I think prediction is much more important to science than he makes it out to be.

The issue is the questions (about the future) you ask. Deutsch says

I may, for instance predict that if a conjurer seems to place various balls under various cups, those cups will later appear to be empty; and I may predict that if the conjurer appears to saw someone in half, that person will later appear on stage unharmed. Those are testable predictions.

and, of course, that is true, but these are "uninteresting" questions to ask. Let me ask for different predictions: please predict what will happen to the balls if the cups are transparent. Please predict what will happen to the person being sawed in half if we take away three sides of the box he's in.

Given the proper questions one will have to understand "how the trick works" to produce correct forecasts.

Science is about predictions, provided you ask to predict the right thing.

Comment author: Vaniver 16 October 2013 05:23:35PM 2 points [-]

I disagree with Deutsch, I think prediction is much more important to science than he makes it out to be.

Deutsch's point (made in greater length in the book) is that predictions are lower level than the true target of science- explanations- not that they aren't valuable. One of the main ways to test explanations is to get predictions from them, and then check out the predictions, and getting too many predictions wrong is fatal for an explanation.

Your example of "interesting" predictions highlights his point: the explanation of how the trick work can readily generate a prediction of what would happen if the cups were transparent, but the prediction that the cups would later be empty does not readily generate a prediction of what would happen if the cups were transparent. By focusing directly on explanations, he makes it obvious which predictions are the interesting ones. Indeed, I'd even speculate that someone who didn't have and couldn't acquire the concept of explanations would have trouble grasping the idea that some predictions are more 'interesting' than others and that there's a reliable way to determine which predictions those are.

Comment author: Lumifer 16 October 2013 05:58:06PM *  2 points [-]

By focusing directly on explanations, he makes it obvious which predictions are the interesting ones. Indeed, I'd even speculate that someone who didn't have and couldn't acquire the concept of explanations would have trouble grasping the idea that some predictions are more 'interesting' than others and that there's a reliable way to determine which predictions those are.

Oh, I don't think so. If you're a medieval farmer, a prediction of the optimal time to plant is of extreme interest to you regardless of what kind of explanation is behind it. The Ptolemaic epicycles produced good predictions of much interest for a long time even though the explanation behind them was wrong.

Think about it this way: would you rather have a good prediction without an explanation or would you rather have an explanation that is unable to make successful predictions?

However I acknowledge that this is a "what's more important -- the chicken or the egg?" discussion :-)

Comment author: Vaniver 16 October 2013 06:36:21PM 1 point [-]

If you're a medieval farmer, a prediction of the optimal time to plant is of extreme interest to you regardless of what kind of explanation is behind it.

I believe we have switched uses of the word "interesting."

Think about it this way: would you rather have a good prediction without an explanation or would you rather have an explanation that is unable to make successful predictions?

This comparison, to me, maps on to "Would you rather have bricks that aren't arranged as a house, or a house made out of nothing?" Well, it's better to have the bricks than not, but the usefulness of a house depends on what it is made from, and a house made from nothing is useless (and very possibly harmful, if it prevents me from seeking out superior shelter).

That's what I meant by 'lower level'- a prediction is related to an explanation like a brick is related to a house. The statement "construction is about houses" does not mean that construction is not about bricks- but it does mean a focus on bricks for bricks' sake is not construction.

Comment author: Lumifer 16 October 2013 07:09:19PM *  1 point [-]

I believe we have switched uses of the word "interesting."

Not really, but it's my fault for not specifying better that I used "interesting" in the meaning elongated towards "useful" and not towards "fucking awesome".

a prediction is related to an explanation like a brick is related to a house

Well, not the mapping for me. I view predictions as useful/consumable/what-you-actually-want/end result and I view explanations as a machine for generating predictions. So the image in my head is that you have a box with a hopper and a lever, you put the inputs into the hopper, pull the lever, and a prediction pops out.

Now sometimes that box is black and you don't know what's inside and how it works. This is a big minus because you trust the predictions less (as you should) and because your ability to manipulate the outcome by twiddling with the inputs is limited. However note that you can still empirically verify whether the (past) predictions are any good just fine.

Sometimes the box is transparent and you see all the pushrods and gears and whatnot inside. You can trace how inputs get converted to outputs and your ability to manipulate the outcome is much greater. You still have to empirically test your predictions, though.

And sometime the box is semi-transparent so that you see some outlines and maybe a few parts, the rest is fuzzy and uncertain.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 October 2013 02:37:33AM *  18 points [-]

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

If--, by Rudyard Kipling

Comment author: JQuinton 22 October 2013 04:29:25PM 5 points [-]

Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you'll realize how much harder it is to change someone else

  • Anonymous quote from Facebook
Comment author: shminux 22 October 2013 11:41:22PM 3 points [-]

Once upon a time, an evil witch transformed a prince into a frog, telling him that only the kiss of a princess could restore him to his proper form. But although he searched around the world, he could find no princess who was willing to kiss a hideous little frog. Finally, he went to the Wise Wizard. “Gender is a social construct,” said the Wise Wizard. “Just declare your gender identity to be female, then kiss yourself on the hand or something.” So the frog did that, returned to human form, and ruled the land for many years as a wise and benevolent queen.

Moral: Ability to self-modify is just ridiculously powerful.

Scott Alexander

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 October 2013 04:22:51AM 3 points [-]

Assuming the spell was keyed on "gender identity" and not any more objective aspect of gender/sex.

Comment author: anandjeyahar 16 October 2013 09:44:53PM *  5 points [-]

Mu means "no thing." Like "quality" it points outside the process of dualistic discrimination. Mu simply says, "no class: not one, not zero, not yes, not no." It states that the context of the question is such that a yes and a no answer is in error and should not be given. "Unask the question" is what it says.

.... [Somewhere later]

That Mu exists in the natural world investigated by science is evident. […] The dualistic mind tends to think of Mu occurrences in nature as a kind of contextual cheating, or irrelevance, but Mu is found through all scientific investigation, and nature doesn't cheat, and nature's answers are never irrelevant. It's a great mistake, a kind of dishonesty to sweep nature's Mu answers under the carpet. […]

When your answer to a test is indeterminate it means one of two things: that your test procedures aren't doing what you think they are or that your understanding of the context of the question needs to be enlarged. Check your tests and restudy the question. Don't throw away those Mu answers! They're every bit as vital as the yes and no answers. They're more vital. They're the ones you grow on.

--- Robert M Pirsig (Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

Comment author: shminux 17 October 2013 06:36:42PM 5 points [-]

That Mu exists in the natural world investigated by science is evident.

That's a bad way of phrasing it. "Mu" is about maps, not territories. What is "evident" is that some models do not result in testable predictions (answerable questions). The rest of the quote is pretty good.

Comment author: anandjeyahar 19 October 2013 09:59:59AM 1 point [-]

Agreed. I always skimmed over that claim and never wondered why. The map vs territory analogy makes a lot of sense. After all the 'Mu' is an answer to a question. And the question is based on some map of the territory. Thanks for triggering that series of clicks in my mind. :)

Comment author: Vaniver 16 October 2013 10:00:24PM *  2 points [-]

You only need one > character at the beginning of a paragraph (but you do need another one at the beginning of the next paragraph). If you'd like to have a quote as many lines, you need to make each its own paragraph by hitting return twice in between lines of text.

Comment author: Mestroyer 04 October 2013 10:39:38PM *  6 points [-]

One of my professors, in a lecture covering compulsory cache misses and prefetching:

Well... the engineers won't give up that easily, just because you called it "compulsory." The competitors are climbing on Moore's Law Ladder, we better do something!

Unrelated to the rationality content of this quote, he thinks Moore's Law is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because how fast chip manufacturing improves depends on how hard engineers work, which depends on how hard they think their competition will work, which is an interesting idea that I hadn't heard before him.

Comment author: ShardPhoenix 06 October 2013 01:25:35AM 12 points [-]

The interesting part of Moore's Law is the fact that it's even possible. If there was a Moore's Law for the speed of motor vehicles it would soon fail regardless of how hard anyone tried to make it true.

Comment author: army1987 06 October 2013 10:40:48PM *  8 points [-]

That's because we're already at to the limits. There was a Moore's Law for the speed of transatlantic ships for about two centuries, and one for transatlantic flights for about half a century. (And I kind-of doubt Moore's Law will last for much longer.)

EDIT: though if you measure them in doubling times rather than in years, I agree that those for vehicles weren't anywhere near as impressive.

Comment author: maia 07 October 2013 08:13:15PM 1 point [-]

It's possible for a while, anyway; we're already reaching certain physical limits, and I suspect Moore's Law in the sense of shrinking silicon transistor sizes will be over in the near-ish future (order ~10 years).

It may just be that we started much further away from the optimum in this case than we did with things like motor vehicles (where there are fairly low limitations based on safety and human reaction times).

Comment author: WalterL 08 October 2013 05:30:58AM *  7 points [-]

“For the sin of the idolater is not that he worships stone, but that he worships one stone over others.”

-Scott Bakker

This is actually just a chapter opener in a fantasy story, but I like it as a sort of short hand for the de-mystifying rainbows sequence. Everything is connected and that's ok.

Comment author: Baughn 10 October 2013 10:42:00PM 1 point [-]

Which story might that be?

Comment author: dspeyer 03 October 2013 02:09:39PM 7 points [-]

One does not have to see something to know that it is there

-- Havelock Vetinari, Going Postal, Terry Pratchett

Comment author: anandjeyahar 21 October 2013 04:23:19PM 4 points [-]

The hedgehog and the Fox: Hedgehogs "know one big thing" and have a theory about the world; they account for particular events within a coherent framework, bristle with impatience toward those who don't see things their way, and are confident in their forecasts. They are also especially reluctant to admit error. For hedgehogs, a failed prediction is almost always "off only on timing" or "very nearly right". They are opinionated and clear, which is exactly what television producers love to see on programs. Two hedgehogs on different sides of an issue, each attacking the idiotic ideas of the adversary, make for a good show. Foxes, by contrast, are complex thinkers. They don't believe that one big thing drives the march of history (for example they are unlikely to accept the view that Ronald Reagan single-handedly ended the cold war by standing tall against the Soviet Union). Instead the foxes recognize that reality emerges from interactions of many different agents and forces, including blind luck, often producing large and unpredictable outcomes.

~ Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, fast and slow)

Comment author: shminux 21 October 2013 05:01:56PM *  3 points [-]

for example they are unlikely to accept the view that Ronald Reagan single-handedly ended the cold war by standing tall against the Soviet Union

Fox News: brought to you by a bunch of Hedgehogs.

Comment author: Lumifer 21 October 2013 05:41:47PM 4 points [-]

All TV reporting is hedgehog-style: nuance is too confusing for the common people.

Comment author: shminux 21 October 2013 06:00:49PM 1 point [-]

Woosh

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 05 October 2013 04:59:37AM *  6 points [-]

Nullius in verba. (On the words of no one.)

Motto of the Royal Society.

Comment author: Stabilizer 05 October 2013 10:53:42PM 10 points [-]

I prefer the translation: "Take no one's word for it."

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 October 2013 05:21:16AM 0 points [-]

Same here, I just decided to go with the most literal one.

Comment author: James_Miller 03 October 2013 02:15:59PM 9 points [-]

It is entirely reasonable to believe that Obamacare is terrible policy that will hurt more people than it helps. Your inability to grasp that anyone has this belief does not mean that everyone who disagrees with you is a venal, amoral wretch; it means that you have been blinded by confirmation bias and your own lack of empathy...

Similarly, it is entirely reasonable to believe that Obamacare is good policy that will help more people than it hurts. The fact that you think otherwise does not mean that the law’s supporters are too stupid to be allowed near sharp objects. It means that they are valuing different things -- expanded coverage over innovation, for instance -- or else that their assessment of the probability that various things will go wrong is different from yours.

Megan McArdle

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2013 07:13:41PM 5 points [-]

The fact that you think otherwise does not mean that the law’s supporters are too stupid to be allowed near sharp objects. It means that they are valuing different things -- expanded coverage over innovation, for instance -- or else that their assessment of the probability that various things will go wrong is different from yours.

Either of those two things can be sufficient to make it advisable to prevent access to sharp objects. While the language sounds nicer, "valuing different things" and "assessment that various things will go wrong is different" would seem to incorporate "evil" and "stupid" quite comfortably.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 October 2013 07:58:11PM *  3 points [-]

IME, the latter are subsets of the former, and therefore require more evidence to pick out reliably.

Comment author: Nornagest 03 October 2013 08:42:59PM *  2 points [-]

Confirmation bias is an odd choice. I think I can see where she's coming from -- people assume members of their respective political outgroups to be inherently malicious, and form their judgments of specific actions accordingly -- but the assumption of malice does all the work there.

Hostile attribution bias seems like a better fit to me, maybe with a dash of outgroup homogenity.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 October 2013 05:21:35PM 1 point [-]

It means that they are valuing different things -- expanded coverage over innovation

In what way does expanding coverage reduces innovation? If anything more coverage means a bigger market for innovations.

Comment author: James_Miller 03 October 2013 06:24:12PM -1 points [-]

By lowering prices for drugs, for example, more people can afford them but pharmaceutical firms have lower profit incentives to find new drugs. The medical device tax, furthermore, will help fund Obama care but also reduce incentives to develop new medical devices.

Comment author: Lumifer 03 October 2013 03:04:51PM 0 points [-]

While true, people who are too stupid to be allowed near sharp objects have preferences and make choices that are not quite random. It is often (but not always) the case that given several alternatives, one can reliably predict towards which one most stupid people will gravitate.

Comment author: Torello 03 October 2013 11:25:49PM 7 points [-]

Ducard: Are you ready to begin?

Bruce Wayne: I… I can barely stand...

Ducard: Death does not wait for you to be ready!! Death is not considerate, or fair! And make no mistake: here, you face Death.

Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan, 2005

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 05 October 2013 06:39:08AM 6 points [-]

But history always moves in a progressive direction.

We know this because history always gets rewritten to attribute all the progressive notions that failed to other people.

Marry

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 15 October 2013 01:03:59PM 3 points [-]

I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand about the many connections and relations which occur to me, how the matter in question was first thought of or arrived at, etc., etc

Ada Lovelace

Comment author: rationalnoodles 03 October 2013 02:58:35PM 5 points [-]

Any fool can know. The point is to understand.

Maybe Einstein, maybe not.

Comment author: Sengachi 21 October 2013 12:39:59PM 1 point [-]

This ought to be embedded deeply in the minds of everyone involved in education. Most regrettably, it is not.

Comment author: jsbennett86 16 October 2013 07:07:24PM 4 points [-]

Sometimes I think that I'm surrounded by idiots everywhere. Then I remind myself that that's exactly what an idiot would think.

Abstruse Goose (alt text)

Comment author: gwern 02 November 2013 12:07:47AM *  4 points [-]

The few times I have been in large groups of people objectively smarter than myself, I did not think anything remotely similar.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 October 2013 09:39:24AM 4 points [-]

Umm…well this is going to sound silly, but I was actually not terribly well-trained as a scientist in college; I was much more of the social science type, so I actually never took any chemistry or physics in college and don't have a very good fundamental grounding. So I am easily panicked in my science and I think thus I can easily imagine more readily than most people in my position how somebody else can be. I think sort of pedagogically where that came about: during grad school I wound up in a grad school that didn’t have an undergraduate college—it was just a research institute—so we didn't have to do the TAing stuff that grad students do here, and thought that was probably a bad thing sort of professionally, so I figured out a way to sneak off and moonlight, I was in New York at a place called The New School for Social Research, where they kind of hired me to moonlight on the side, and it like totally violated my fellowship and I had to like sneak off out the back way from my university and stuff. And right around time there was this fashion institute in New York called Parsons School of Design that had just lost their academic accreditation—which it turned out to be, like, decades after that probably should have happened—and they decided, they went out and like shut out all their tenured non-design faculty and they forced their students to go over to The New School to take their courses. And there was a science requirement and I was like offered one of the two science courses at the New School, so I would get these classes full of these unbelievably hostile, phobic, teeny-bopper textile designers, and this forced an enormous pressure to be clear, and to have a good sense as to when people are about to go berserk with too many terms and stuff and like when you have to stop and give an anecdote or metaphor or something, so I think in retrospect it was actually very good training. I know every one of those people is now a chief of neurosurgery at a major medical center.

Robert Sapolsky

Comment author: Nectanebo 03 October 2013 06:26:13PM 5 points [-]

I read that whole quote twice through and even thought about it for a few minutes as well, but I have no idea what I'm supposed to get out of it. Could anyone help me out?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 October 2013 06:28:38PM 6 points [-]

"Clear communication is good"?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 October 2013 02:29:51AM 13 points [-]

And yet the quote fails to communicate clearly.

Comment author: simplicio 07 October 2013 09:01:44PM 4 points [-]

That's because the transcriber has done a very poor job of going from speech to text. If you quote somebody, you should delete the Likes and Ums, add commas and periods, etc. (With the added constraint of not knowingly changing meanings.)

I would be highly annoyed if I were transcribed thus.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 October 2013 02:58:05AM 2 points [-]

Ironic, ain't it?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 October 2013 06:27:49PM 2 points [-]

Writing for the general public is hard.

Intrinsic motivation matters.

Comment author: shminux 07 October 2013 10:23:11PM *  3 points [-]

If you find yourself with mind control powers and tempted to do something evil, you can probably get more of what you want by working on yourself and being good.

jimmy, the resident non-evil cognitive engineer.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 05 October 2013 07:17:31AM 3 points [-]

Moral courage doesn't reside in "doing good" so much as in fighting the bad.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: Dorikka 05 October 2013 08:16:48PM 5 points [-]

I think he got it backwards? :P

Comment author: simplicio 07 October 2013 05:16:59PM 6 points [-]

I think I more or less agree with Taleb, so I will try to make it more plausible.

  • Doing good is hard (cf Givewell. "Famine? Let's send free food! Oops, we bankrupted local food producers. Oh well, our hearts were in the right place.")
  • Consider the infinite Platonic set of Interventions (in an economy, person... whatever). Throw a dart inside that set - are you more likely to hit a useful intervention, or a useless/harmful one?
  • Further problem: a lot of harmful or useless interventions LOOK useful, or are useful for some parties but very harmful for the rest of us.
  • Further problem: many harmful interventions are harmful on a truly spectacular scale, even - or especially - if they are really popular and seem really beneficial and are totally going to change the world for the better. (Fat tails.)
  • Further problem: humans love power, and a great way to get power is via some grand intervention. The people in charge of such an intervention probably don't have skin in the game, so they aren't incentivized to care very much about REALLY getting it right.

This suggests the HEURISTIC that there is more to be gained from stopping people shooting themselves (or each other) in the foot than there is from promoting people's happiness.

I'm pretty sure Taleb would agree it is only a heuristic, and that bednets are a legitimate counterexample & are in fact pretty great.

Comment author: Grognor 26 October 2013 06:01:25AM 3 points [-]

I suggest a new rule: the source of the quote should be at least three months old. It's too easy to get excited about the latest blog post that made the rounds on Facebook.

Comment author: Ritalin 10 October 2013 12:02:09PM *  3 points [-]

In all our eons, we've seen continents frozen and the sun blotted out by ash—and we're still here. A decade after K-Day, and we're still here. I've never believed in the end times. We are mankind. Our footprints are on the moon. When the last trumpet sounds and the beast rises from the pit—we will kill it!

Stacker Pentecost, Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero

Comment author: arundelo 10 October 2013 01:01:17PM 2 points [-]

This use of bold lettering to show spoken emphasis is nonstandard in most contexts, but it is standard in comics and I would kind of like to see it come into broader use.

(Also: s/contients/continents/.)

Comment author: Ritalin 10 October 2013 02:31:01PM 4 points [-]

It is, in fact, from comics. Another nonstandard habit is the frequent use of italics I've picked up from Eliezer Yudkowsky, along with other writing habits that would be qualified as "passionate" by some and "histrionic" by others. I myself find it quite practical in properly conveying emotional intensity.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 October 2013 05:41:03PM 7 points [-]

I've been deitalicizing a bit lately.

Comment author: Ritalin 10 October 2013 06:09:40PM 10 points [-]

We all grow old, don't we?

Nostalgic note: I remember back when I used to resent you for calling religion 'insanity'. Nowadays, I find it costs me strenuous effort to summon the very memory of a mindset where I could see it as anything but.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 16 October 2013 10:52:54AM *  3 points [-]

Similar here. I used to have some respect for the views of religious people, but it becomes more and more difficult to understand the way of thinking "some savages thousands of years ago had an imaginary invisible friend (usually telling them to kill everyone else), and despite all the knowledge and experience we have now, we should treat this invisible friend as a serious source of knowledge and morality (of course, avoiding those parts that are just too absurd and pretending they never happened)".

But I guess that's just human mind as usual. The more time I spend with people who believe in the fantasy land, the less silly the fantasy land seems. The more I think about what we know about reality, the more crazy it seems when someone comes and says, essentially, "but my invisible friend says so and so".

Now I wonder if I spend enough time without reading LessWrong and came back, which parts of LessWrong would seem crazy. -- I am not saying the situation is the same; I was impressed by LessWrong when I saw it for the first time; with religion I had to have religious friends for years just to move it from the "total craziness" category to "worth considering" category. But it is still possible that some parts of LessWrong would seem crazy.

Comment author: Sengachi 21 October 2013 12:42:35PM 2 points [-]

There was a time when I was very rude to religious people because I thought that made me wise. Then there was a time when I was very polite because I thought equity in consideration was wise.

Now I'm just curt because I have science to do and no time to deal with fools.

Comment author: Lumifer 21 October 2013 05:46:56PM 1 point [-]

Now I'm just curt because I have science to do and no time to deal with fools.

Ah, yes :-D

I've experiments to run.
There is research to be done.
On the people who are
Still alive.

Comment author: kalium 11 October 2013 06:07:25AM 6 points [-]

There's only a certain amount of emphasis to go around. The more things you italicize, the less important each italicized word seems, and then when something's really important it doesn't stand out. It's like swearing---if I swear every time I spill a glass of water, then it loses its effect and when I drop a hammer on my toe there is nothing I can think of that will express the strength of my feelings.

In comics, the difference in weight between bold and standard is much less than in typical fonts. I think it works well in comics but here it makes me read things out of order in a distracting way.

Comment author: Multiheaded 11 October 2013 12:13:40PM 1 point [-]

There's only a certain amount of emphasis to go around. The more things you italicize, the less important each italicized word seems, and then when something's really important it doesn't stand out.

I keep trying to tell my mom exactly this, every time we need to design some kind of print materials for the family business. She just doesn't get that emphasis is about the relative share of a reader's attention to different parts within a text, a positional good of sorts.

Comment author: Ritalin 12 October 2013 01:25:29PM 0 points [-]

Oh, I keep getting that argument and I disagree completely. Swearing does not add nor substract emphasis; it is punctuation, placeholder words that might as well be onomatopeias. For an example of a character who swears constantly and still manages to highlight quite well differences in emotional intensity, I would suggest you look at Malcolm Tucker from british political satire The Thick Of It. For another who never swears yet also conveys utter fury, anger, frustration, pain, and so on impeccably, I would suggest having a look at any of the latest Doctors from Doctor Who. An angry David Tennant is a frightening frightening sight to behold. In the case of the hammer on your toe, I believe a heartfelt ARGH! does the trick nicely, with an extra hiss afterwards is you feel like it.

Comment author: kalium 12 October 2013 08:49:11PM 3 points [-]

I personally find that part of the relief from swearing comes from breaking a taboo, and that this weakens over time. But perhaps watching The Thick Of It will reveal to me a more sustainable way.

As for italics, in the limit case where everything is in italics you surely would not conclude that THE WHOLE THING IS EXTRA SUPER IMPORTANT. So there's some crossover point; we just disagree on where it is. I believe my view is common at least for more formal (book-type) writing.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 15 October 2013 04:02:09PM 1 point [-]

I suppose this is scoped to the statement "if I swear every time I spill a glass of water, then it loses its effect and when I drop a hammer on my toe there is nothing I can think of that will express the strength of my feelings?"

Because the overall point that emphasis must be conserved stands quite well.

Comment author: Ritalin 18 October 2013 04:49:41PM 2 points [-]

Not really. Watch any opera or musical, listen to any speech; there's enough emphasis around to go on for hours and days, as long as you keep it varied and well-executed.

Heck, just marathon Gurren Lagann and tell me when you actually think the emphasis wears thin. My bet is, never.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 18 October 2013 07:11:58PM *  1 point [-]

In all of your examples, there are down times. Even Lagann.

Comment author: Swimmer963 10 October 2013 09:41:02PM 2 points [-]

I've actually just broken an italics-using habit when writing fiction. I used to use italics all the time for emphasis and making it clearer how the text would sound if read out loud (it felt clearer to me, at least.) A reader commented that the software I used to convert my MS Word draft to an epub converted all italics to bold, and that he found it disruptive, and had tried mentally reading the lines with and without the bold and having the emphasis didn't seem to make anything clearer. I used select-all on my MS Word document and removed all the italics in order to make him a new epub. Rereading scenes later, it turned out that my friend was right, and the lack of italics hardly seemed to make a difference. Now I don't use them period. (Once I stopped using italics constantly, it felt odd to use them occasionally.)

Comment author: anandjeyahar 03 October 2013 10:54:25AM 3 points [-]

To function as a Human being, you are forced to accept a minimum level of deception in your life. The more complex and challenging your life the higher this minimum. At any given level of moral and intellectual development, there is an associated minimum level of deception in your life. If you aren't deceiving others, you are likely deceiving yourself. Or you're in denial

You can only lower the level of deception in your life through further intellectual and moral development. In other words, you have to earn higher levels of truth in your life.

--- VGRao (Be Slightly evil)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 03 October 2013 12:25:24PM 8 points [-]

I can't find a specific meaning in this. What does "accept deception" mean: to lie to others, to pretend inability to see through specific lies of others, or to just be generally aware that more information on average contains more false information without know specifically which parts are false?

Comment author: anandjeyahar 03 October 2013 02:32:15PM *  3 points [-]

Ok May be that misses context. Further down in the text he categories 5 types of deception:

  1. Outright lying and fabrication of evidence
  2. Misdirection
  3. Withholding of information
  4. Equivocation or sharing information in ambiguous ways
  5. Not-correcting others.

Hope that helps

Comment author: Lumifer 04 October 2013 06:37:24PM 8 points [-]

Not-correcting others.

Oh Dear Lord

Comment author: JQuinton 25 October 2013 06:12:49PM *  3 points [-]

Not-correcting others.

This reminds me of a previous rationality quote:

Being right too soon is socially unacceptable.

Comment author: Vaniver 14 October 2013 09:10:47PM 2 points [-]

The love of complexity without reductionism makes art; the love of complexity with reductionism makes science.

--E.O. Wilson

Comment author: CoffeeStain 14 October 2013 11:49:56PM *  2 points [-]

Whenever I have a philosophical conversation with an artist, invariably we end up talking about reductionism, with the artist insisting that if they give up on some irreducible notion, they feel their art will suffer. I've heard, from some of the world's best artists, notions ranging from "magic" to "perfection" to "muse" to "God."

It seems similar to the notion of free will, where the human algorithm must always insist it is capable of thinking about itself on level higher. The artist must always think of his art one level higher, and try to tap unintentional sources of inspiration. Nonreductionist views of either are confusions about how an algorithm feels on the inside.

Comment author: Ishaan 15 October 2013 12:04:16AM *  2 points [-]

I don't think that this is an artist problem- I think this is a human problem, which a few scientists and philosophers have been forced to overcome in pursuit of truth.

their art will suffer

Too many people have straw-vulcan notions of reductionism. (tvtropes warning)

Comment author: mwengler 16 October 2013 12:53:36PM 1 point [-]

I don't think it is complexity that makes art. I think it is emotion/feeling. Emotion/feeling may look like complexity to the rational mind because it does arise from a complex system which can be figured out bit by bit by the rational mind. But the essence of art is not to love anything that is complex and hard for the rational mind to figure out, but rather to focus on the feelings produced, the gestalt, the irrational, emotional connections and reactions.

Comment author: Stabilizer 03 October 2013 09:08:08PM 2 points [-]

A heroine needs a more supple courage. She must negotiate: with her emotions, with her adversaries, with her family, with hypocrisies. But not, if she can help it, with her ambition.

-Rahul Bhattacharya on Humaira Bachal

Comment author: shminux 09 October 2013 03:21:31PM 2 points [-]

If you agree that God wouldn't have a human-like personality and human-like needs and ambitions, you end up with a God who is indistinguishable from the sum of the laws of physics.

Scott Adams arguing that "that human personalities are nothing but weaknesses and defects that we romanticize" and that God would have no weaknesses and therefore no personality.

Since the local idea of a superintelligence implies that a foomed AGI would have no human weaknesses (and likely a goal system that is so incomprehensible to humans as to be indistinguishable from no goal system at all), this would imply that we would not notice a superintelligence if it were staring us in the face, provided it decided to keep humans around. There are some obvious flaws in his speculation, however. But the post is still well worth reading.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 16 October 2013 12:03:28PM 4 points [-]

goal system that is so incomprehensible to humans as to be indistinguishable from no goal system at all

No, "incomprehensible" doesn't imply "invisible". That's like saying that impersonal laws of physics are indistinguishable from having no laws of physics at all. Gravity is impersonal, yet it is personally observable.

In a similar way, we could observe an appearance of mountains of paperclips, even if we had no clue about why the AGI is doing that (assuming we would still exist and had an access to the AGI's code and data).

we would not notice a superintelligence if it were staring us in the face, provided it decided to keep humans around

Provided it decided to keep humans around in their original environment. Otherwise we would notice a change in the environment, even if we couldn't discover its cause.

Comment author: Panic_Lobster 10 October 2013 05:17:51AM 2 points [-]

What makes a mind powerful--indeed, what makes a mind conscious--is not what it is made of, or how big it is, but what it can do. Can it concentrate? Can it be distracted? Can it recall earlier events? Can it keep track of several different things at once? Which features of its own current activities can it notice or monitor? When such questions as these are answered, we will know everything we need to know about those minds in order to answer the morally important questions. These answers will capture everything we want to know about the concept of consciousness, except the idea of whether, as one author has recently said, "the mental lights would be out" in such a creature. But that is just a bad idea--in spite of its popularity. (...) For suppose that we have answered all the other questions about the mind of some creature, and now some philosophers claim that we still don't know the answer to that all-important question, Is the mental light on--yes or no? Why would either answer be important? We are owed an answer to this question, before we need to take their question seriously.

Daniel Dennet, Kinds of Minds

Comment author: rule_and_line 15 October 2013 07:32:10PM *  1 point [-]

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.

-- Oliver Cromwell

Previously posted two years ago. I'm curious if some things bear repeating. Is there any accepted timeframe for duplicates?

Comment author: Vaniver 15 October 2013 08:35:10PM 4 points [-]

Is there any accepted timeframe for duplicates?

Currently, no. It seems worthwhile to keep old quotes visible, but I suspect that would be better accomplished by automatically generating a database of rationality quotes from these threads (like DanielVarga's best of collections), and then displaying a random one on each LW page with frequency related to the number of upvotes they received, say. I don't think that duplicating quotes in quote threads is a good idea, because this focuses effort on finding new quotes and material to incorporate into a growing body of knowledge rather than rehashing previously found knowledge.

Comment author: rule_and_line 16 October 2013 10:21:39PM 2 points [-]

I endorse (with the possibly-expected caveat about Wilson score ranking).

Unfortunately, I can't (don't know how to?) hack the LW backend. Is that something I can look into?

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 16 October 2013 04:21:01PM *  1 point [-]

in the bowels of Christ

Does this idiom make sense to native English speakers?

Comment author: Vaniver 16 October 2013 04:31:38PM *  3 points [-]

Does this idiom make sense to native English speakers?

It's archaic. The modern variant would be like "Please, for goodness's sake, consider that you could be mistaken," or "Please, for fuck's sake", or "Please, for the love of God," or so on.

Comment author: wedrifid 16 October 2013 05:24:53PM *  2 points [-]

Does this idiom make sense to native English speakers?

Not especially. I sort of skip over it and the meaning "probably some shoddy translation of something that means to convey emphasis" appears in my head without me bothering to notice the words.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 16 October 2013 02:31:14PM 1 point [-]

I'm not keen on this one. It has a sensible reading as an injunction to keep the support of one's prior wide, and if that is what one is reminded of by the maxim, that is fine. But too often I see in everyday discourse people saying "you've made your mind up!" as a criticism. The argument becomes a bodyguard to support a belief that has no other support.

Some Wikipedia scholarship indicates that the real situation behind the quote is unpromising for a clear moral about rationality. Cromwell made this appeal on the occasion of the Scots proclaiming Charles II their king instead of accepting Cromwell's rule. Being rebuffed, he conquered them, and it appears from this biography, p184ff that he would have had an easier job of it had he not taken the time to first invite their surrender. On the other hand, the Scots handcapped themselves by too strict an attention to the religious correctness of their generals and soldiers, at the expense of numbers in the field, and might even have benefitted from the lesser fervour that Cromwell suggested to them.

Comment author: aarongertler 06 October 2013 03:51:33AM 0 points [-]

“By poet, I mean that farmer who plows his field with a plow that differs, however little, from the plow he inherited from his father, in order that someone will come after him to give the new plow a new name; I mean that gardener who breeds an orange flower and plants it between a red flower and a yellow flower, in order that someone will come after him to give the new flower a new name; or that weaver who produces on his loom patterns and designs that differ from those his neighbors weave, in order that someone will give his fabric a new name. By poet, I mean the sailor who hoists a third sail on a ship that has only two, or the builder who builds a house with two doors and two windows among houses built with one door and one window, or the dyer who mixes colors that no one before him has mixed, in order to produce a new color for someone who arrives later on to give the ship of the language a new sail, the house a new window, and the garment a new color.”

-Khalil Gibran, quoted in Reza Aslan's "Tablet and Pen"

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2013 08:17:44AM 27 points [-]

By poet I would mean someone who writes poems.

Comment author: aarongertler 09 October 2013 02:40:14PM 3 points [-]

Eh, probably. But given how we normally think about poetry and Middle Eastern culture, at least in Khalil Gibran's era (1900-1930), it's nice to see someone from that background talking about how awesome it is to build better boats. I like finding hints of modernism in unexpected places.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 October 2013 06:27:10AM 4 points [-]

You can't call them 'inventors' though, because that's not as high-status as 'poet'.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2013 06:46:44AM 11 points [-]

You can't call them 'inventors' though, because that's not as high-status as 'poet'.

It isn't? That's... broken.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 October 2013 05:26:25PM 5 points [-]

Yes, that was my attempted point.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 October 2013 08:52:20PM *  1 point [-]

(In that vein my attempted point in reply approximately translates to "I agree with your point that it would be broken if true, am startled to hear that it actually is true but take your word for it".)

Comment author: tut 06 October 2013 10:40:27AM 8 points [-]

Did you mean innovator?

Comment author: Panic_Lobster 12 October 2013 01:21:25AM -1 points [-]

The needs of the many...outweigh...the needs of the few."

-Mr Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Comment author: lharding 03 October 2013 08:40:08PM -1 points [-]

In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king^Wa dangerous heretic^W^W^Wangry that no one cares about visual design.

[where ^W represents the EMACS "delete word" command and my annoyance at LW's lack of a strikethrough formatting option]

Comment author: somervta 05 October 2013 10:40:48PM 3 points [-]

In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is k̶i̶n̶g a̶ ̶d̶a̶n̶g̶e̶r̶o̶u̶s̶ ̶h̶e̶r̶e̶t̶i̶c̶ angry that no one cares about visual design.

That what you meant?

Comment author: Benito 06 October 2013 01:22:10PM *  -2 points [-]

"That which can be destroyed by the truth should be." - P. C. Hodgell

Love survives the truth.

Sam Harris

(I am aware that the first would be inappropriate alone, but I felt it provided the correct setup for the Sam Harris, which he said at the Festival of Dangerous Idea in the questions)

Added: The context of Harris was a questioner asking 'If contra-causal free will doesn't exist, then do our decisions to love people not exist?' Harris was saying his argument forced us to give up false beliefs and the false emotions that followed from them (hatred), but our belief that love exists is still correct.

Comment author: Desrtopa 06 October 2013 02:16:29PM 8 points [-]

So why specifically does hatred not survive when love does?

Comment author: Benito 06 October 2013 02:34:08PM *  0 points [-]

Er, well, you should listen to the talk. I was going to summarise it, but it's a really great talk, and I'm preparing a LessWrong post on it (although I've been thinking of doing that for about a year).

The general idea that I thought was relevant though, was the idea of stripping away all false beliefs and emotions, and that love is still a part of the world.

Comment author: Desrtopa 06 October 2013 03:06:38PM 2 points [-]

Is there a transcript anywhere? I can read much more quickly than I can listen, and the talk is pretty long.

I have to say that I'm skeptical though, that hatred would inherently be any more "false" than love.

Comment author: lukeprog 06 October 2013 10:09:58PM 3 points [-]

Is there a transcript anywhere? I can read much more quickly than I can listen...

I'd guess the talk is mostly a slightly inferior version of Harris' short ebook Free Will.

Comment author: MixedNuts 08 October 2013 02:08:54PM 2 points [-]

Due to fundamental attribution bias, understanding people's motivations deeply is likely to make you love them more and hate them less.

Comment author: Desrtopa 08 October 2013 02:39:43PM 7 points [-]

Well, statistically yes, but necessarily no. I've certainly encountered situations where the reverse was true.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2013 01:47:41PM 4 points [-]

Love survives the truth.

This seems false. Love survives (and should survive) some truths but not others. There are some things that people can do which will cause other people to stop loving them. Revealing the truth about such things will tend to kill love.

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 05 October 2013 02:41:03AM *  -2 points [-]

This Darwin, whoever he was, who had designed mankind for no better fate than to wail and weep and war and die, obviously was a villain, and enemy, someone as evil as the Venom Queen of Venus, who poisoned all her lovers. He was the one who stopped the future from coming.

Some of his friends said you had to prick your finger with a pin to make the oath valid; and boys of particular boldness used a rusty pin, as if daring the Jihad plague to strike. Menelaus knew that was all nonsense: it was the willpower that decided oaths, nothing else. No pin would be as sharp as what he felt beating in his angry young heart.

This Darwin pretty sure had clout, if he could do all this stuff. Could be, he was some bigwig from Houston. Mom had also mentioned Malthus. Obviously his henchman.

Or maybe he was a guy long dead, since it sounded like he did his dirt long ago, and meddled with the gene-stuff, like those tragic transhumanist experiments the library had told him about. But it did not matter if Darwin was alive, or dead, or long dead.

Didn't matter: because he vowed to defeat Darwin, somehow. Some-day.

---Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright

Comment author: gwern 05 October 2013 05:20:53PM 8 points [-]

This Darwin, whoever he was, who had designed mankind for no better fate than to wail and weep and war and die, obviously was a villain, and enemy, someone as evil as the Venom Queen of Venus, who poisoned all her lovers. He was the one who stopped the future from coming...Mom had also mentioned Malthus....Or maybe he was a guy long dead, since it sounded like he did his dirt long ago, and meddled with the gene-stuff, like those tragic transhumanist experiments the library had told him about.

I'd note this novel was published long after Wright had his heart attack, hallucinated the Virgin Mary/Jesus/God/others, and converted to Catholicism.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 October 2013 06:10:15AM 3 points [-]

The point of the quote stands. For that matter, apart from the times that Wright specifically talks about religious doctrine, he seems to have much the same views on other things and be much the same person as before his conversion, at least judging from his blog. (It starts in March 2003; he reports his conversion as a recent event in December 2003.)

If you read his conversion story, it is clear that to say "oh well, something went wrong with his brain" is facile. He had been moving in that direction for many years. He writes of himself before that episode:

To my surprise and alarm, I found that, step by step, logic drove me to conclusions no modern philosophy shared, but only this ancient and (as I saw it then) corrupt and superstitious foolery called the Church. Each time I followed the argument fearlessly where it lead, it kept leading me, one remorseless rational step at a time, to a position the Church had been maintaining for more than a thousand years. That haunted me.

As indeed it drove C.S. Lewis before him. I note that Lewis, Chesterton, and, for that matter, Wright enjoy a certain popularity at LessWrong, all of them having been frequently quoted with approval. People have also talked of the practical usefulness of spiritual exercises, and the concept of sin.

As I said on an earlier occasion, Lewis is laughing in his grave; and perhaps Wright will get the last laugh long before his.

Might i suggest a sweepstake on the date of the first long-time member of LW to announce their religious conversion? Personally I remain an unbeliever, but who can foretell their own future?

Comment author: gwern 06 October 2013 10:13:19PM *  10 points [-]

The point of the quote stands.

My objection here is not to the 'willpower yay!' bit, but to the multiple political digs interspersed in it, which substantially reduce the value of the quote for me, and I thought people were not noticing.

If you read his conversion story, it is clear that to say "oh well, something went wrong with his brain" is facile. He had been moving in that direction for many years. He writes of himself before that episode:

I am skeptical of his account. Everything is obvious in retrospect, and when someone is writing their conversion story, superimposing a 'journey to Catholicism' is easy. Just cherrypick.

He says he beat friends in arguments and showed their argument were bad? So what? I have beaten other LWers in arguments and show their understanding poor many times over the years, but if tomorrow I suffer brain damage and start worshipping Allah, it would be very easy for me to write 'despite being a frequent writer at transhumanist websites, I was nevertheless drifting away and routinely showing that my fellow transhumanists were horribly comically wrong about every basic point of philosophy, ethics and logic'; all it requires is a change of perspective.

We can see this hindsight on display right now in discussions of Silk Road. All over the place people are saying that the FBI knew who Ulbricht was from the start since there was a connection from his email address to an early mention of Silk Road, and how easy it would have been to de-anonymize Dread Pirate Roberts. Plausible... until we remember that no one in the world actually managed this despite intense interest by many people and organizations in SR, that if we had noticed the connection we had no good reason to believe that altoid/Ulbricht hadn't heard about SR through the Hidden Wiki or another discussion forum we simply didn't have access to or on a page that had linkrotted, that the indictments indicate that the FBI only managed to make the link much later after assigning someone fulltime to sift all Internet traces, and we're still not clear on whether they were sure DPR==Ulbricht until as late as June 2013.

(Assuming you believe that he's recounting the facts basically right. I believe Wright when he writes about his heart attack and hallucination as the reason for the conversion because it's a shockingly embarrassing way to convert, which invites even believers to write him off as believing due to neurological problems, and this has to be obvious to him; but that doesn't apply to his claims of having been tending toward Catholicism for years before.)

Comment author: Jiro 06 October 2013 09:50:53AM 7 points [-]

Oh, and something else to add: religious believers have this tendency to not understand that rationalists don't use quotes as arguments from authority. They quote people's words because the words make sense independently of the person. People who are "frequently quoted with approval" are quoted because they have frequently said things that make sense, not because anything they say is automatically right; if they shift to sayng things that don't make sense, the fact that they have been frequently quoted in the past won't carry over.

Comment author: Jiro 06 October 2013 09:37:08AM 4 points [-]

Just reading your own link, his "challenge" is something whose irrationality almost anyone here could see a mile off, and if he actually thought that that challenge made any sense, he must have had a second brain malfunction that led him to make the challenge before he had the one that happened after the challenge. (Or more realistically, I'd say he had an emotional breakdown first, then made the challenge, then had a physical brain malfunction.)

He also doesn't seem to understand the objections people gave to him. At the top of that very link he quotes someone asking why particularly Christianity since it seems so petty. His later reaction (after the brain malfunction) is "if science discovered tomorrow that the universe was half its apparent age, and estimated the stars as half their current number, would the belief in God somehow be twice as credible in your eyes?" Of course, to the extent that his God would seem less petty in a smaller universe, all the alternatives would seem less petty too.

It's also an incredible coincidence for a rational conversion (but not so incredible for a brain malfunction) that the religion he picked was one that was only a short distance, if at all, from the one predominant in his society and his upbringing. Why don't people in Christian societies ever ask God for a sign, get one, and turn into devout Muslims?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 16 October 2013 12:17:18PM 3 points [-]

if science discovered tomorrow that the universe was half its apparent age, and estimated the stars as half their current number, would the belief in God somehow be twice as credible in your eyes?

I am not saying twice credible, but it would be more credible. If science reduced the age of universe once, it may do it again, and who knows... there is a tiny chance it could go down to 6000 years.

More generally, smaller reliability of science would increase the probability that some intelligent agent is acting in the universe.

Problem is, increasing the probability from 0.0001 to 0.0002 is not the same thing as converting.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 08 October 2013 01:37:55AM *  0 points [-]

Why don't people in Christian societies ever ask God for a sign, get one, and turn into devout Muslims?

What hypothesis are you trying to refute with this question?

Edit: If it's the rational conversion hypothesis, note that people also are more likely to rationally convert to positions they've been exposed to, even in domains far away from religion. If it's the Catholicism is true hypothesis, this would not be surprising.

Comment author: Jiro 08 October 2013 03:44:46PM 5 points [-]

If it's the rational conversion hypothesis, then while people are more likely to rationally convert to positions they've been exposed to, it doesn't seem to me that they are enough more likely to explain the way conversions actually work. Furthermore, he supposedly got an experience directly from God. It wasn't a rational conversion in the sense of having been deduced from things he already knew, it was a new experience, and I wouldn't expect such things to be correlated with cultural context in the same way that ordinary rational conversions are. God can easily send Catholic experiences to Muslims and Muslim experiences to Catholics after all. Brain malfunctions, on the other hand, would be correlated with cultural context.

If it's the Catholiicism is true hypothesis, then this example would be unsurprising, but other examples involving other religions would be even more surprising than they are now.

Comment author: pianoforte611 16 October 2013 01:15:04PM *  3 points [-]

Too lazy to address this comment. Luckily Scott Alexander has done so in delightful detail: http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/06/17/the-what-youd-implicitly-heard-before-telling-thing/ Tldr, the idea that Christianity is is more likely to be true because it is old and some of its ideas match our vocabulary and aesthetics is unconvincing because it is the very fact that it is old (and pervasive) that its vocabulary matches some of our ideas and intuitions. Its hard for a system to survive that long being completely wrong on every count. Pointing to things that the belief system got right is not very interesting. (Scott argues this case much better than I just did)

Also too late on the conversion thing, Leah Libresco converted to Catholicism some time ago.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 16 October 2013 03:02:37PM 1 point [-]

Just to be clear beyond my closing aside that I remain an unbeliever, I am not defending Wright's (or Lewis's, or Chesterton's) argument here against anything but the knockdown that "oh well, something went wrong with his brain". Nor do I agree with Gwern's attribution of Wright's account of his pre-conversion self to hindsight bias, or "hindsight bias" becomes a universal counterargument against every account of past events.

More generally, one person's priors are not an argument against another's posteriors.

Comment author: JQuinton 07 October 2013 03:50:38PM 3 points [-]

Might i suggest a sweepstake on the date of the first long-time member of LW to announce their religious conversion?

I'm pretty sure that's already happened.

Comment author: shminux 07 October 2013 05:21:11PM *  5 points [-]

See the last entry here.

Comment author: Nomad 05 October 2013 04:14:50PM 3 points [-]

I'm not convinced the whole thing is a decent rationality quote, as part of it seems to be Menelaus surrendering to the idea that "because Darwin discovered Natural Selection, he endorsed it".

On the other hand, "Some of his friends said you had to prick your finger with a pin to make the oath valid; and boys of particular boldness used a rusty pin, as if daring the Jihad plague to strike. Menelaus knew that was all nonsense: it was the willpower that decided oaths, nothing else. No pin would be as sharp as what he felt beating in his angry young heart." is brilliant: both understanding the inclination to irrationality, and also emphasising that rationality can be strengthened by emotion.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 08 October 2013 07:44:53AM 2 points [-]

I'm not convinced the whole thing is a decent rationality quote, as part of it seems to be Menelaus surrendering to the idea that "because Darwin discovered Natural Selection, he endorsed it".

It appears to me that within the story, his knowledge of exactly who Darwin was has been greatly garbled by the processes of history. That's just a detail of the setting. My reading of Menelaus' attitude to evolution is that he is expressing much the same idea as Eliezer's characterisation of it as a blind idiot god that we should overcome and replace.

Comment author: ColonelMustard 07 October 2013 02:27:20AM -1 points [-]

Great damage is usually caused by those who are too scrupulous to do small harm.

Comment author: Desrtopa 07 October 2013 03:39:02AM 5 points [-]

Source?