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Rationality Quotes December 2013

6 Post author: Cyan 17 December 2013 08:43PM

Rationality quotes time! 

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Comments (457)

Comment author: westward 18 December 2013 09:05:29PM *  66 points [-]

"Finally, a study that backs up everything I've always said about confirmation bias." -Kslane, Twitter

Link

Comment author: HungryHippo 02 December 2013 12:42:14PM *  33 points [-]

By the middle of the seventeenth century it had come to be understood that the world was enclosed in a sea of air, much as the greater part of it was covered by water. A scientist of the period, Francesco Lana, contended that a lighter-than-air ship could float upon this sea, and he suggested how such a ship might be built. He was unable to put his invention to a practical test, but he saw only one reason why it might not work:

". . . that God will never suffer this Invention to take effect, because of the many consequencies which may disturb the Civil Government of men. For who sees not, that no City can be secure against attack, since our Ship may at any time be placed directly over it, and descending down may discharge Souldiers; the same would happen to private Houses, and Ships on the Sea: for our Ship descending out of the Air to the sails of Sea-Ships, it may cut their Ropes, yea without descending by casting Grapples it may over-set them, kill their men, burn their Ships by artificial Fire works and Fire-balls. And this they may do not only to Ships but to great Buildings, Castles, Cities, with such security that they which cast these things down from a height out of Gun-shot, cannot on the other side be offended by those below."

Lana's reservation was groundless. He had predicted modern air warfare in surprisingly accurate detail—with its paratroopers and its strafing and bombing. Contrary to his expectation, God has suffered his invention to take effect. And so has Man.

  • B. F. Skinner, "Science and Human Behavior"
Comment author: philh 02 December 2013 03:43:57PM 12 points [-]

He had predicted modern air warfare in surprisingly accurate detail—with its paratroopers and its strafing and bombing.

Not really relevant, but this seems like an overstatement. Paratroopers and bombing I can see, but strafing doesn't seem to be mentioned, and I'm not aware that using airborne grapples to overturn ships has ever happened (my understanding is that the weight ratios wouldn't cooperate).

He also seems to be predicting that only one side in any given conflict will have airships, and assuming that everyone else will just keep doing what they were doing before instead of developing strategies and technologies to defend against this new threat.

Comment author: HungryHippo 02 December 2013 04:31:23PM *  4 points [-]

As to your last paragraph: yes, Lana could have imagined the future "one step further" by considering what would have happened when both sides of a war acquire these flying ships. In this respect, his "error" in considering only one of the two sides seems similar to one of Sun Tzu which goes something like:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

What happens when both you and your enemy "know the enemy and know yourself". How can neither of you not fear the result of a hundred battles?

However, consider also The Bomber Will Always Get Through, some 300 years later, as a counterpoint to "develop new strategies to defend against this new threat".

Comment author: Vaniver 02 December 2013 05:18:13PM 5 points [-]

What happens when both you and your enemy "know the enemy and know yourself". How can neither of you not fear the result of a hundred battles?

Two interpretations jump to mind: the first is that 'fear' is interpreted as uncertainty, the second is that mutually fully informed agents could do enough damage to each other that war between them is senseless, and thus there are no battles.

Comment author: AndHisHorse 03 December 2013 10:52:33AM 2 points [-]

Alternately, I interpreted it as saying that war between two such agents will always be a stalemate, with both sides gingerly risking pawns and trading minor victories which, while never leading to substantial success, do not lead to crushing defeat, either.

Of course, your second interpretation is much more applicable in the general case of two sides which are not evenly matched, in which case the weaker one will accept their defeat (either by surrendering or deciding to go out in a defiant but hopeless battle), in which case your first interpretation comes into play.

Comment author: philh 03 December 2013 01:12:02AM 3 points [-]

I note that people on the ground did develop new strategies to defend against planes. Radar and antiaircraft guns and those balloon things to take them down, bomb shelters to make them less lethal. I wonder how many WWII bombers would it take to land a single bomb on DC?

The bombers also evolved, of course (I guess now it would be "the missile will always get through"), and my understanding is that defense hasn't kept up with offense. But a race with a clear victor isn't the same thing as no race at all.

Comment author: NoSuchPlace 07 December 2013 03:05:36AM 27 points [-]

It's hard enough to overcome one's own misconceptions without having to think about how to get the resulting ideas past other people's. I worry that if I wrote to persuade, I'd start to shy away unconsciously from ideas I knew would be hard to sell. When I notice something surprising, it's usually very faint at first. There's nothing more than a slight stirring of discomfort. I don't want anything to get in the way of noticing it consciously.

Comment author: satt 01 December 2013 11:27:45PM 25 points [-]

Visit with your predecessors from previous Administrations. They know the ropes and can help you see around some corners. Try to make original mistakes, rather than needlessly repeating theirs.

Donald Rumsfeld

Comment author: JackV 02 December 2013 11:51:43AM 9 points [-]

I don't like a lot of things he did, but that's the second very good advice I've heard from Rumsfeld. Maybe I need to start respecting his competence more.

Comment author: BlueSun 02 December 2013 03:16:14PM 18 points [-]

The "known knowns" quote got made fun of a lot, but I think it's really good out of context:

"There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know."

Also, every time I think of that I try to picture the elusive category of "unknown knowns" but I can't ever think of an example.

Comment author: JackV 02 December 2013 04:14:39PM 19 points [-]

I guess "unknown knowns" are the counterpoint to "unknown unknowns" -- things it never occurred to you to consider, but didn't. Eg. "We completely failed to consider the possibility that the economy would mutate into a continent-sized piano-devouring shrimp, and it turned out we were right to ignore that."

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 04 December 2013 01:37:37PM 15 points [-]

We completely failed to consider the possibility that the economy would mutate into a continent-sized piano-devouring shrimp, and it turned out we were right to ignore that.

That's a survivor bias.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 December 2013 04:17:55PM 8 points [-]

Things that we know that we don't know we know? I run into these all the time... last night, for example, I realized that I knew the English word for the little plastic cylinders at the end of a shoelace. (I discovered this when someone asked me what an 'aglet' was.) I'd had no idea.

Comment author: hyporational 03 December 2013 01:48:29AM 2 points [-]

An aglet... beautiful. I probably have a larger vocabulary in English than in Finnish by now. Lots of unknown knowns there I bet.

Comment author: Zando 20 December 2013 10:53:09AM *  2 points [-]

I figure "unknown knowns" covers a huge category of its own: willful ignorance. All those things that are pretty obvious (e.g. the absence of the Dragon in the garage) but that many people, including Rumsfeld apparently, choose to ignore or "unknow".

Comment author: FiftyTwo 06 February 2014 06:18:52PM 5 points [-]

Its much easier to generate good advice than to follow it.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 19 December 2013 06:39:42PM 4 points [-]

I'm also fond of

As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.

Rumsfeld quotes

He's oversimplifying-- was it necessary to go to war then?-- but it's still worth thinking about whether a criticism is based on what's actually possible.

Comment author: Stabilizer 07 December 2013 10:34:41PM *  23 points [-]

In every way that people, firms, or governments act and plan, they are making implicit forecasts about the future.

-The Economist

Comment author: ShardPhoenix 03 December 2013 08:29:07AM 22 points [-]

You know what they say - "Asking once will bring you temporary shame, whereas not doing so will bring you permanent shame".

They also say "Answering a question will make you feel superior for a while, whereas not doing so will give you a lifelong sense of superiority".

Comment author: dspeyer 02 December 2013 06:10:24AM 22 points [-]

Mike nodded. He wasn't really surprised, though. One of the things he'd come to learn since the Ring of Fire, all the way down to the marrow of his bones, was that if the ancestors of twentieth-century human beings didn't do something that seemed logical, it was probably because it wasn't actually logical at all, once you understood everything involved. So it turned out that such notorious military numbskulls as Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Phil Sheridan, Stonewall Jackson, William Tecumseh Sherman and all the rest of them hadn't actually been idiots after all. It was easy for twentieth-century professors to proclaim loftily that Civil War generals had insisted on continuing with line formations despite the advent of the Minié ball-armed rifled musket because the dimwits simply hadn't noticed that the guns were accurate for several hundred yards. When—cluck; cluck—they should obviously have adopted the skirmishing tactics of twentieth-century infantry.

But it turned out, when put to a ruthless seventeenth-century Swedish general's test in his very rigorous notion of field exercises, that those professors of a later era had apparently never tried to stand their ground when cavalry came at them. After they fired their shot, and needed one-third of a minute—if they were adept at the business, and didn't get rattled—to have a second shot ready. In that bloody world where real soldiers lived and died, skirmishing tactics without breechloading rifles or automatic weapons were just a way to commit suicide. If the opponent had large enough forces and was willing to lose some men, at least.

-- 1634: The Baltic War, by Eric Flint and David Weber

Comment author: adamzerner 21 December 2013 05:52:32PM 21 points [-]

"A problem well put, is half solved." - John Dewey

Comment author: JQuinton 26 December 2013 02:41:46PM 20 points [-]

Saying "everyone is equally to blame" is great if you want to sound reasonable and paint yourself as a moderate voice in a debate, but it doesn't really work if you actually want to be correct.

From a commenter called "ThisIsMyRealName" over at Slate

Comment author: Vaniver 30 December 2013 04:12:00AM 4 points [-]
Comment author: DanielLC 30 December 2013 05:44:48AM 3 points [-]

I don't think that's quite right. Assigning blame isn't about being correct. It's about figuring out how to prevent the problem from being repeated. Once you know who is at fault and how, you know what to warn them not to do in order to keep it from being repeated.

Comment author: JQuinton 30 December 2013 01:59:19PM *  2 points [-]

Even still, saying everyone is equally to blame doesn't actually figure out how to prevent the problem from being repeated.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 31 December 2013 09:38:01PM 1 point [-]

It's also about counter-factually preventing the problem, UDT-style.

Comment author: JackV 02 December 2013 11:59:56AM 13 points [-]

http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/11/26/welcome-to-the-era-of-big-replication/

When he studied which psychological studies were replicatable, and had to choose whether to disbelieve some he'd previously based a lot of work on, Brian Nosek said:

I choose the red pill. That's what doing science is.

(via ciphergoth on twitter)

Comment author: mwengler 02 December 2013 07:00:41PM 4 points [-]

Which one is the red pill again?

Comment author: Vaniver 02 December 2013 08:12:55PM *  8 points [-]

MORPHEUS: You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe.

MORPHEUS: You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

From The Matrix Original Script (the wording is slightly different in the movie).

Comment author: Lethalmud 06 December 2013 03:40:25PM 16 points [-]

As a side note, never take pills from strange people in empty werehouses who found you on the internet.

Comment author: Vaniver 06 December 2013 04:55:38PM 21 points [-]

That depends, how were their reviews on Silk Road? :P

Comment author: simplicio 18 December 2013 11:42:48PM 3 points [-]

Especially not in werehouses, no.

Comment author: advael 18 December 2013 11:45:00PM 10 points [-]

I'm wary of being in werehouses at all. They could turn back to people at any time!

Comment author: James_Miller 02 December 2013 12:59:52AM *  29 points [-]

There are tens of thousands of professional money managers. Statistically, a handful of them have been successful by pure chance. Which ones? I don't know, but I bet a few are famous.

The market doesn't care how much you paid for a stock. Or your house. Or what you think is a "fair" price.

Professional investors have better information and faster computers than you do. You will never beat them short-term trading. Don't even try.

The book Where Are the Customers' Yachts? was written in 1940, and most still haven't figured out that financial advisors don't have their best interest at heart.

The low-cost index fund is one of the most useful financial inventions in history. Boring but beautiful.

Highlights from "50 Unfortunate Truths About Investing" by Morgan Housel.

Comment author: pianoforte611 04 December 2013 03:59:52AM *  3 points [-]

More of the people reading this comment are likely to hire a financial advisor than try to become an investor.

With that in mind I'd like to hear more about why financial advisors don't have our best interests at heart. I took a personal finance course in college that was 95% telling us how to create and execute financial plans and 5% telling us that in practice you should just hire a financial advisor. The former is to ensure that you know if your financial advisor knows what he's talking about. Is this actually bad advice?

Comment author: EHeller 04 December 2013 05:50:10AM 6 points [-]

With that in mind I'd like to hear more about why financial advisors don't have our best interests at heart.

In my experience, quite a few money managers generate a lot more fees then they strictly need to. Even some index funds will churn/rebalance more than necessary in order to generate a fee. When you consider the oft-cited statistic that very few managers outperform the market, and add in the fact that many they do eat the entire much of the surplus with fees, it becomes optimal to buy a good index rather than hire a financial adviser.

The problem with hiring advisers of all kinds is that you are hiring someone because they know more than you- which means you run the risk of them using their knowledge to rip you off.

Comment author: hyporational 03 December 2013 02:16:51AM *  3 points [-]

I'd be interested in some guesstimations on how much luck it would take to be Warren Buffett, for example. Survivorship bias in finance is often employed as a just so story.

Comment author: James_Miller 03 December 2013 02:22:29AM 5 points [-]

Less than you think given that he was able to cheaply borrow money through his insurance company.

Comment author: rahul 18 December 2013 04:15:59PM *  10 points [-]

One of the last of the many legendary contests won by the British philosopher A. J. Ayer was his encounter with Mike Tyson in 1987. As related by Ben Rogers in ”A. J. Ayer: A Life,” Ayer — small, frail, slight as a sparrow and then 77 years old — was entertaining a group of models at a New York party when a girl ran in screaming that her friend was being assaulted in a bedroom. The parties involved turned out to be Tyson and Naomi Campbell.

”Do you know who … I am?” Tyson asked in disbelief when Ayer urged him to desist: ”I’m the heavyweight champion of the world.”

”And I am the former Wykeham professor of logic,” Ayer answered politely. ”We are both pre-eminent in our field. I suggest that we talk about this like rational men.”

So they did, while Campbell slipped away.

[Via] (http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/12/24/reviews/001224.24spurlit.html)

Comment author: Desrtopa 18 December 2013 05:11:07PM 11 points [-]

Impressive, but it does have a pretty dramatic possible failure state where Tyson's response is "I suggest we settle this by punching each other." (In deed if not in word.)

Comment author: simplicio 18 December 2013 11:28:24PM 7 points [-]

I think the cleverness is in the violation of Tyson's expectations about how the encounter will go. Ayer went off script and that seems to have nonplussed Tyson.

Comment author: blacktrance 19 December 2013 04:37:17PM 6 points [-]

And so philosophyboxing was born.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 21 December 2013 11:46:12AM 5 points [-]

Relevant for LW: Could superhumanly strong AI box its way out of the box?

Comment author: blacktrance 21 December 2013 03:38:17PM 3 points [-]

How good would a boxing AI be at Newcomb's Problem?

Comment author: Benito 12 December 2013 06:03:44PM *  26 points [-]

When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted "an epistemology," he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear--it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn't matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party.

  • Daniel Dennett

Example of professing a belief - here, belief is a fashion statement, or something fun to whip out at parties, not a thing that actually constrains anticipation.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 13 December 2013 05:19:34AM *  21 points [-]

I wonder what the story would sound like if told from the perspective of the literary theorist. Perhaps a story about how philosophers like to go on and on about truth and rationality, but when pressed by a relatively intelligent interlocutor, can't even supply you with something as basic as a theory of knowledge?

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 13 December 2013 10:06:04AM 2 points [-]

"So what's it all about then, Bertie?"

Comment author: Desrtopa 13 December 2013 06:33:45AM *  2 points [-]

I'm not sure why a literary theorist would expect a theory of knowledge to be particularly basic, if they did they'd probably feel equipped to come up with one themself.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 13 December 2013 04:14:43PM 5 points [-]

Basic to the field of philosophy (it is supposed to be in their domain after all, like criticism is supposed to be the domain of literary theorists), not basic as in trivial for non-experts.

Comment author: Desrtopa 15 December 2013 05:55:46PM 8 points [-]

If one were to fault a philosopher for not being able to generate something basic in that sense, I'd think one would also have to fault physicists for not yet having generated a Theory of Everything. A generalized theory of knowledge would be fundamental within philosophy, but that doesn't equate to being easy to generate, or impossible to work without (if it were, after all, nobody else ought to be able to get any work done without it either.)

Comment author: alex_zag_al 15 December 2013 04:16:01PM 2 points [-]

I think an epistemology is something a literary theorist in particular has special need of. One thing you can do with an epistemology is recognize meaningless or unknowable claims.

I mean, I don't know much about literary theory. But I expect my belief that literary theorists need to know epistemology is common here. I mean, one of the (older) posts uses a literature professor as an example of someone trapped by a meaningless claim (No Logical Positivist, I).

As for "an" epistemology, yes, there are a plurality of them. Of which one (or more?) is Bayesian epistemology. Imagine if Dennet taught the literary theorist that, don't you think he'd do better literary theory? Don't you think he'd avoid traps that other theorists fall into, of arguing the meaningless or unknowable?

Comment author: Benito 15 December 2013 05:58:36PM 3 points [-]

You seem to miss Dennett's point: the guy wasn't there because he cared about having a good epistemology, an accurate theory of the world - it's merely what everyone else is doing at the minute, and so he's doing it too.

Comment author: alex_zag_al 16 December 2013 04:31:32PM 5 points [-]

He was there because at the time, you needed an epistemology to be taken seriously as a literary theorist. Good. Literary theorists probably need epistemologies.

What I'm saying is maybe this fashion, as Dennett calls it, is functional. Maybe it's popular for a very good reason. The way falsifiability is popular in science, for example.. Can't it be a good thing that the theorist is responding to a pressure in his field?

... not really... if he's not actually motivated by the additional rightness you can get with a theory of knowledge, then, why would he choose a good theory of knowledge instead of a cool one? I think I see what you're saying now.

Comment author: Benito 16 December 2013 06:16:09PM 2 points [-]

Yes, that's what this line is about:

It didn't matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish.

Also, saying that literary theorists need good epistemologies because it's crucial to their job is... Something you should offer a fair bit of evidence for. I don't see the relationship at all - other than the general use of believing true over false things.

Comment author: alex_zag_al 17 December 2013 06:31:06PM *  2 points [-]

... I completely missed that line when I read the quote. This is embarrassing.

And I don't have a fair bit of evidence for it, all I have is

  • literary theorists are pretty smart and apparently they thought it was necessary

  • an epistemology is good for recognizing meaningless or unknowable claims, and from the little I've seen of literary theory a lot of the claims looked like that on the surface

that was enough to make me think it was possible that Daniel Dannett was just being a jerk. Because I missed the part of the quote about how the literary theorist didn't care about getting the right epistemology. I thought he was just making fun of the literary theorist for responding to pressure within his field, because it looked to him like following a fashion. Again. Not something I still believe. It's because I missed that part of the quote.

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 December 2013 08:41:49PM 1 point [-]

I don't know whether an epistemology can be true or false.

A literature professor might ask: What happens when you see Hamlet in terms of Dennett"s epistemology as opposed to the epistemology of Aristotele?

If you want to ask that question it doesn't matter whether the epistemologies are true. It makes sense that the professor focuses on understanding the epistemology of Daniel Dennett instead of trying to understand which epistemology is true.

An literature professor doesn't try to understand the epistemology of God, the one true epistemology. He tries to understand the epistemology of authors. Daniel Dennett happens to be an important author and his epistemology seems worthy of analysis.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 19 December 2013 04:22:16PM 6 points [-]

I don't know whether an epistemology can be true or false.

That's because "true" or "false" are aspects of maps, and epistemologies aren't maps - they're mapmaking tools.

You don't judge tools based on their truth or falsehood; you judge them based on their usefulness towards a certain purpose.

In humans' case, I think that an epistemology's job is to act as a bridge between our naive map-making and the world - that is, an epistemology's usefulness is measured by how well humans can use it to generate maps of their territory, and how well the maps it generates conform to their territory when read by humans. (Where "territory" can mean something as bare and ephemeral as raw qualia, barring any deeper assertion of the epistemology in question).

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 December 2013 04:20:15PM 35 points [-]

Most of the Headlines from a Mathematically Literate World. An example:

Our World: Hollywood Breaks Box Office Records with Explosions, Rising Stars.

Mathematically Literate World: Hollywood Breaks Box Office Records with Inflation, Rising Population.

Comment author: James_Miller 03 December 2013 02:49:55PM 11 points [-]

Mathematically and Economically Literate World: Rapid economic growth in India and China create record sales for low marginal cost information goods that achieve cross-cultural appeal by, for example, playing to base pleasures by displaying explosions and beautiful actors.

Comment author: maia 02 December 2013 04:48:52PM *  24 points [-]

More of these gems, for the lazy:

Our World: Firm’s Meteoric Rise Explained by Daring Strategy, Bold Leadership

Mathematically Literate World: Firm’s Meteoric Rise Explained by Good Luck, Selection Bias

Our World: One Dead in Shark Attack; See Tips for Shark Safety Inside

Mathematically Literate World: One Dead in Tragic, Highly Unlikely Event; See Tips for Something Useful Inside

Our World: Poll Finds 2016 Candidates Neck and Neck

Mathematically Literate World: Poll Finds 2016 Predictions Futile, Absurd

Comment author: MTGandP 22 December 2013 09:15:07PM 5 points [-]

In case anyone's curious, here are the highest-grossing films, adjusted for inflation.

Comment author: Vaniver 02 December 2013 05:14:48PM *  8 points [-]

Notice the number of political digs among the clear ones.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 18 December 2013 05:16:31PM *  2 points [-]

Looks to me like around 4, with one of them being of no particular partisan orientation.

Okay, what's special about that number, that I should notice it? Seems about what one would expect for a list of that length. A bit low, frankly.

Comment author: Vaniver 18 December 2013 06:12:38PM 2 points [-]

The number doesn't seem as important as the habit of noticing political digs, regardless of whether or not you agree with them.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 19 December 2013 03:20:56PM 2 points [-]

Okay. I was just wondering why you said 'number' there.

Comment author: BT_Uytya 07 December 2013 07:01:55PM 14 points [-]

This was what made the fall of Iothiah so disastrous. <...> Strategically, the loss of Iothiah was little more than a nuisance.

Symbolically, however…

The crisis she faced was a crisis in confidence, nothing more, nothing less. The less her subjects believed in the Empire, the less some would sacrifice, the more others would resist. It was almost arithmetic. The balance was wobbling, and all the world watched to see which way the sand would spill. She had made a resolution to act as if she believed to spite all those who doubted her as much as anything else, and paradoxically, they had all started believing with her. It was a lesson Kellhus had drummed into her countless times and one she resolved never to forget again.

To know is to have power over the world; to believe is to have power over men.

Scott R. Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior

Comment author: Cyan 01 December 2013 11:09:42PM *  14 points [-]

We see things not as they are but as we are, ...

- G. T. W. Patrick

Comment author: RobbBB 29 December 2013 09:42:36AM 3 points [-]

We see things not as they are, but as they make us be.

Comment author: BT_Uytya 07 December 2013 06:58:09PM 5 points [-]

If you find yourself taken unawares by someone you thought you knew, recall that the character revealed is as much your own as otherwise. When it comes to Men and their myriad, mercenary natures, revelation always comes in twos.

– Managoras, Ode to the Long-Lived Fool

Scott R. Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior

Comment author: BT_Uytya 07 December 2013 07:04:49PM *  7 points [-]

Another good fictional epigraph from the same book:

Any fool can see the limits of seeing, but not even the wisest know the limits of knowing. Thus is ignorance rendered invisible, and are all Men made fools.

– Ajencis, The Third Analytic of Men

Comment author: Vaniver 10 December 2013 12:18:00AM *  12 points [-]

Why, because I cannot help feeling that you are now saying what is not quite consistent or accordant with what you were saying at first about rhetoric. And I am afraid to point this out to you, lest you should think that I have some animosity against you, and that I speak, not for the sake of discovering the truth, but from jealousy of you.

Now if you are one of my sort, I should like to cross-examine you, but if not I will let you alone. And what is my sort? you will ask. I am one of those who are very willing to be refuted if I say anything which is not true, and very willing to refute any one else who says what is not true, and quite as ready to be refuted as to refute-I for I hold that this is the greater gain of the two, just as the gain is greater of being cured of a very great evil than of curing another.

--Socrates in Gorgias (Paragraph break mine, to make it slightly less of a wall of text. This has shown up before, in a somewhat different form.)

Comment author: shminux 03 December 2013 10:56:59PM 18 points [-]

Scott Aaronson after looking into the JFK assassination conspiracy evidence:

Before I started reading, if someone forced me to guess, maybe I would’ve assigned a ~10% probability to some sort of conspiracy. Now, though, I’d place the JFK conspiracy hypothesis firmly in Moon-landings-were-faked, Twin-Towers-collapsed-from-the-inside territory. Or to put it differently, “Oswald as lone, crazed assassin” has been added to my large class of “sanity-complete” propositions: propositions defined by the property that if I doubt any one of them, then there’s scarcely any part of the historical record that I shouldn’t doubt.

Comment author: satt 04 December 2013 02:52:12AM 9 points [-]

Huh, I didn't know Bertrand Russell, Carl Sagan & John Kerry were JFK truthers (for want of a more precise term). That's kind of interesting. (I don't mean to imply that's particularly good evidence for a JFK assassination conspiracy. Scientists, philosophers & politicians are about as good as the rest of us at getting things outside their speciality wrong. I really do just mean that it's mildly interesting.)

That post nicely demonstrates some useful heuristics. Point 11 = "Hug the Query". Point 12 = "Proving Too Much". Point 14 = "Burdensome Details". Point 18 = "cock-up before conspiracy". Point 20 uses a rule of thumb I recognize but haven't seen named anywhere yet: beware of rejecting a reasonably complete, orthodox theory in favour of a contrarian theory merely because contrarians claim to have piled up an assortment of anomalous "details that don’t add up in the official account".

Comment author: mwengler 04 December 2013 05:54:03PM 14 points [-]

Working with a top secret clearance has made me much more aware of how different hardball power reality is than it is presented. Just as one might consider a predilection towards conspiracies a bias, I think I came in to that job with a bias AGAINST conspiracies. I liked believing the world is a fair place where all sorts of tricky evil secret stuff "just wouldn't be done."

I now think (> 50% probability) that the bulk of society is coddled in a belief that things are fair and the world works in a warmish fuzzish way, but that the interactions especially between states and non-state power organizations (terrorists in common usage) is essentially without rules. If you can concieve of a way to get an advantage, it will be R&D'd and if it is workable it will be used.

I figure with just above 50% probability JFK was lone-assasinated purely on the basis that in 50 years with so much attention something would have broken, probably, if there was more to break. It would not matter to me much if it turned out to be a conspiracy of some sort, even if it was covered up, it would be par for the course in my current world view, either way.

Meaning I would be careful imputing too much superiority to myself over Russel, Sagan and/or Kerry purely on the basis of thinking JFK was lone-assasinated.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 04 December 2013 03:32:58AM 3 points [-]

Both Sagan and Russell were despite their general bastions of rationality, both heavily influenced by their left-wing political environments. I find it surprising still despite that, but not very surprising.

Comment author: Dan_Moore 19 December 2013 04:24:06PM 11 points [-]

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. -Samuel Beckett

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 December 2013 12:23:26AM 10 points [-]

A classic illustration of how to use (and how to not use) conditional probabilities:

"'Her foot,' says the journal, 'was small- so are thousands of feet. Her garter is no proof whatever- nor is her shoe- for shoes and garters are sold in packages. The same may be said of the flowers in her hat. One thing upon which M. Beauvais strongly insists is, that the clasp on the garter found had been set back to take it in. This amounts to nothing; for most women find it proper to take a pair of garters home and, fit them to the size of the limbs they are to encircle, rather than to try them in the store where they purchase.'

Here it is difficult to suppose the reasoner in earnest. Had M. Beauvais, in his search for the body of Marie, discovered a corpse corresponding in general size and appearance to the missing girl, he would have been warranted (without reference to the question of habiliment at all) in forming an opinion that his search had been successful. If, in addition to the point of general size and contour, he had found upon the arm a peculiar hairy appearance which he had observed upon the living Marie, his opinion might have been justly strengthened; and the increase of positiveness might well have been in the ratio of the peculiarity, or unusualness, of the hairy mark. If, the feet of Marie being small, those of the corpse were also small, the increase of probability that the body was that of Marie would not be an increase in a ratio merely arithmetical, but in one highly geometrical, or accumulative. Add to all this shoes such as she had been known to wear upon the day of her disappearance, and, although these shoes may be 'sold in packages,' you so far augment the probability as to verge upon the certain. What, of itself, would be no evidence of identity, becomes through its corroborative position, proof most sure. Give us, then, flowers in the hat corresponding to those worn by the missing girl, and we seek for nothing farther. If only one flower, we seek for nothing farther- what then if two or three, or more? Each successive one is multiple evidence- proof not added to proof, but multiplied by hundreds or thousands. Let us now discover, upon the deceased, garters such as the living used, and it is almost folly to proceed. But these garters are found to be tightened, by the setting back of a clasp, in just such a manner as her own had been tightened by Marie shortly previous to her leaving home. It is now madness or hypocrisy to doubt. … But it is not that the corpse was found to have the garters of the missing girl, or found to have her shoes, or her bonnet, or the flowers of her bonnet, or her feet, or a peculiar mark upon the arm, or her general size and appearance- it is that the corpse had each and all collectively.

--Edgar Allan Poe, "The Mystery of Marie Roget"

Comment author: bentarm 02 December 2013 12:34:04AM 3 points [-]

If only one flower, we seek for nothing farther- what then if two or three, or more? Each successive one is multiple evidence- proof not added to proof,

Hard to tell out of context, but is this claiming that each successive flower is independent evidence? In general, it feels like the reasoner is missing some dependency relationships between bits of evidence here.

Comment author: BT_Uytya 07 December 2013 07:05:04PM 9 points [-]

No one makes the wrong decisions for reasons they think are wrong. The more clever the man, as the Nroni were fond of saying, the more apt he was to make a fool of himself. We all argue ourselves into our mistakes.

Scott R. Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior

Comment author: Xenocles 18 December 2013 01:54:17AM 9 points [-]

This is a good take, but I think I like the Feynman better (which I have to assume has appeared months and months ago):

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool."

From a different angle, there's also the Heinlein: "Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate — and quickly."

Comment author: WingedViper 19 December 2013 10:57:46PM 2 points [-]

I guess we could just add most of the "Prince of Nothing" and the "The Aspect-Emperor" Series by Scott R. Bakker to the LessWrong quotes ;-) By the way, is there a reading list that we can add them to?

Comment author: oooo 21 December 2013 02:08:37AM *  8 points [-]

"Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power."

-Lao Tzu (c.604 - 531 B.C.)

Comment author: army1987 22 December 2013 09:10:27AM *  7 points [-]

3.1.3.1 (Exercise) Have prices actually risen? Economists generally agree that the meaning of “prices have risen” is that you would prefer past prices to current prices. What makes this challenging is that the set of available products change over time. Cars have gone up significantly in price, but are also more reliable. Would you be better off with your current income in 1913 than today? You would be very rich with current average income in 1913, but not have access to modern medicine, television, electronics, refrigeration, highways, and many other technologies. If you made $40,000 annually in 1913, how would you live and what would you buy? (Do some research.)

-- R. Preston McAfee, Introduction to Economic Analysis

Comment author: mwengler 23 December 2013 10:28:15PM 3 points [-]

A 100 page comic book cost me $0.25 US in 1970 or so, it is a few US$ now. A 12 oz soft drink cold in a deli was about $0.10, it is more usually $1.00 now. A gallon of gasoline $0.29, now about $4.50. Not a single one of these is of notably better quality now than it was then, I'd say they are directly comparable and are quite different enough in nominal price so that there can be no doubt.

Sorry not to go all the way back to 1913, but I was 13 years old in 1970 so it was easier to use what I could remember.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 December 2013 01:51:05AM 5 points [-]

A gallon of gasoline $0.29, now about $4.50. Not a single one of these is of notably better quality now than it was then,

Nitpick: well the gasoline no longer has lead in it.

Comment author: mwengler 25 December 2013 03:35:06PM 3 points [-]

counter-nitpick because of government regulations about mixing with ethanol the current gallon has fewer watt-hours in it.

Comment author: SOD 31 December 2013 07:54:26PM 3 points [-]

Nevertheless, the problem of meandering is certain to re-emerge once we learn how to make machines that examine themselves to formulate their own new problems. Questioning one's own "top-level" goals always reveals the paradox-oscillation of ultimate purpose. How could one decide that a goal is worthwhile -- unless one already knew what it is that is worthwhile? How could one decide when a question is properly answered -- unless one knows how to answer that question itself? Parents dread such problems and enjoin kids to not take them seriously. We learn to suppress those lines of thoughts, to "not even think about them" and to dismiss the most important of all as nonsensical, viz. the joke "Life is like a bridge." "In what way?" "How should I know?" Such questions lie beyond the shores of sense and in the end it is Evolution, not Reason, that decides who remains to ask them.

Marvin Minsky here

Comment author: adamzerner 21 December 2013 04:38:40PM 3 points [-]

“It’s easy to put your head down and just work on what you think needs to be done. It’s a lot harder to pull your head up and ask why.” - Rework

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 December 2013 01:00:37AM 18 points [-]

All appearances to the contrary, the managers involved in this debacle aren't dumb. But they come from a background -- law and politics -- where arguments often take the place of reality, and plausibility can be as good as, or better than, truth.

What engineers know that lawyers and politicians often don't is that in the world of things, as opposed to people, there's no escaping the sharp teeth of reality. But in law, and especially politics, inconvenient facts are merely inconvenient, something to be rationalized away.

Glenn Reynolds

Comment author: simplicio 04 December 2013 07:10:18PM 8 points [-]

Said the engineer to the engineers.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 05 December 2013 07:52:58AM 7 points [-]

Well, Glenn Reynolds is a law professor.

Comment author: simplicio 18 December 2013 11:38:00PM 2 points [-]

Fair enough, heh. But I wouldn't want to idealize the epistemic purity of engineering. Amusingly in this context, often engineering decisions are based more on precedent than science (has somebody else done things this way?), and it sometimes happens that there is a "bottom line" for which evidence is post hoc deduced (e.g., by relaxing the stringency of assumptions in a model in order to get the "right" answer).

Granted, such rationalizations usually affect risks only at the margin, but still...

I guess the bottom line is that engineering is not just science but also aesthetics, economics, and group coordination. To the extent that those things involve cognitive biases et cetera, engineering does too.

Comment author: Remontoire 19 December 2013 10:14:12AM 2 points [-]

I disagree. Unless we are talking about sofware engineering then it seems to me that what you select is based on previous projects but the choices themselves are based on tested scientific models with predictive power.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 19 December 2013 04:08:51AM *  2 points [-]

Amusingly in this context, often engineering decisions are based more on precedent than science (has somebody else done things this way?)

Precedent is evidence that "doing things this way" works. This is generally a better basis then new, and hence speculative, science. Especially when the price of getting it wrong is frequently high.

Comment author: simplicio 19 December 2013 03:47:33PM 2 points [-]

As I was saying to Remontoire, I wholly agree. But (a) precendent is not "Science", unless you want to be very semantically generous, and (b) precedent is one primary method by which the law does its "rationalization", which the OP was attacking.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 December 2013 12:18:04AM 15 points [-]

Note: When treating mental patients who think they’re Samson, cut their hair before putting them in the locked ward.

--Fred Clark

Comment author: hyporational 03 December 2013 04:01:15AM *  5 points [-]

That's a great way to make them lose their trust in medical professionals indefinitely. It's probably not a good idea to reinforce their delusions, either.

Comment author: Alejandro1 03 December 2013 05:15:25AM 4 points [-]

Fair point, and I don't mean to endorse the quote as psychiatric advice (nor do I believe the quote was intended as such). I took is as an amusing expression of a general principle, that people with deluded beliefs may be quite rational in following the consequences of those beliefs, which should be taken into account when dealing with them.

Comment author: hyporational 03 December 2013 05:20:24AM *  4 points [-]

I didn't think you endorsed it, but if an analogy is problematic, then the principle it's trying to express might be too.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 02 December 2013 05:13:10AM 11 points [-]

Lovecraft sipped his tea, obviously framing his answer carefully. "One doesn't have to believe in Santa Claus to recognize that people will exchange presents at Christmas time. One doesn't have to believe in Yog Sothoth, the Eater of Souls, to realize how people will act who do hold that belief. It is not my intent, in any of my writings, to provide information that will lead even one unbalanced reader to try experiments that will result in the loss of human life."

— Wilson and Shea, Illuminatus!

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 December 2013 05:39:14PM 1 point [-]

Doesn't this only allow 'patients' who correctly think they have superpowers to escape? How is this a net improvement in holding only patients who are actually insane?

Comment author: Vaniver 02 December 2013 05:44:55PM *  11 points [-]

How is this a net improvement in holding only patients who are actually insane?

A patient who believes they are Samson inaccurately believes they have a weakness: their hair being cut. By cutting their hair, you trigger their imaginary weakness, which decreases the amount that they resist, and thus you do not have to pin them down with orderlies.

Comment author: eli_sennesh 02 December 2013 06:34:51PM 8 points [-]

Think of PCP-driven berserkers flipping cars with their mere, ordinary human strength, fully unleashed without regard to injury or death, and you've got some notion of the problem posed by a delusional man who thinks he's Samson.

Comment author: hyporational 03 December 2013 02:01:13AM 7 points [-]

Do you have evidence that car flipping really happens?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 December 2013 07:16:23PM 7 points [-]

Presumably in the same spirit, when treating mental patients who think they're Superman, expose them to glowing yellow rocks. That said, does this sort of thing actually work in real life?

Comment author: hyporational 03 December 2013 04:05:11AM 2 points [-]

Reinforcing their beliefs might work for making them even more insane.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 December 2013 04:21:53AM 2 points [-]

Honestly, it would surprise me if either of those strategies worked (or failed) as one might naively expect, since I mostly expect pathological delusions to involve some seriously atypical connections between observations and conclusions. But I bet there's people on LW with experience in the field, or at least who have read up on case studies.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 03 December 2013 04:47:30AM *  4 points [-]

I used to have a wrestling coach that used the very un-PC term "retard strength" to refer to the ability of an opponent to apply lots of force from angles you wouldn't think they could a priori (as a compliment, not a slur).

Comment author: tingram 21 December 2013 08:53:48PM 5 points [-]

A cucumber is bitter--throw it away. There are briars in the path--turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, "And why were such things put into the world?"

--Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.50

Comment author: ema 22 December 2013 06:00:40PM 10 points [-]

If you get one bitter cucumber, asking for its cause may be a waste of time. But if you get a lot of bitter cucumbers, spending some time on changing that might give net positive utility.

Comment author: DanielLC 30 December 2013 05:49:49AM 4 points [-]

Why not? It can be useful to know whether they were placed there by a benevolent god or a blind idiot god.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 December 2013 12:56:13AM 14 points [-]

The most important professions in the modern world may be the most reviled: advertiser, salesperson, lawyer, and financial trader. What these professions have in common is extending useful social interactions far beyond the tribe-sized groups we were evolved to inhabit (most often characterized by the Dunbar number). This commonly involves activities that fly in the face of our tribal moral instincts.

Nick Szabo

Comment author: passive_fist 21 December 2013 02:58:05AM *  6 points [-]

Why the focus on advertisers and salespeople? I mean, if you're just talking about extending 'useful' social interactions, policemen do that too. So do company managers and military officers. There are lots of lines of work where people interact with a large number of people on a daily basis. Drug dealers would be another example. Yet such professions need not act in a way that is psychopathic (except maybe drug dealers, but they, too, often build friendships and trust with their clients).

Comment author: Bundle_Gerbe 04 December 2013 02:47:36AM 8 points [-]

Interestingly, advertiser, lawyers, and financial traders all have in common that they are agents who play zero-sum or almost zero-sum games on behalf of someone. People who represent big interests in these games are compensated well, because of the logic of the game: so much is at stake that you want to have the best person representing you, so these people's services are bid up. But there is still the feeling that the game is wasteful, though perhaps unavoidably so.

Also, problematically for first sentence, I don't think many people would necessarily come up with the four professions named, especially "advertiser" and "salesperson", if asked to name the most important professions in the modern world, and some important professions, like "scientist", are widely valorized, while others, like "engineer", are at the least not reviled.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 December 2013 06:44:34AM *  12 points [-]

Interestingly, advertiser, lawyers, and financial traders all have in common that they are agents who play zero-sum or almost zero-sum games on behalf of someone.

Not nearly as much as you think, the game is in a sense locally zero sum, but it greatly benefits the wider system if the right person wins. Hint: consider what would happen if court cases or the resource allocation problems implicit in stock trading were decided by coin flips.

Also contrast with warriors, they really do engage in almost zero-sum games on behalf of someone else, and their game is much less optimized to increase the odds of the right side wining, and yet they're generally considered valiant heroes. The reason being that they were necessary even in the tribal period, so our instincts have evolved to take them into account.

Comment author: napieed 02 December 2013 09:47:16PM *  7 points [-]

One shouldn't compare apples to oranges. But it's fair to say both are food.

--Scott Adams

Comment author: shminux 02 December 2013 09:53:05PM 4 points [-]

Your link is to the site, not to the blog post http://dilbert.com/blog/entry/the_mythical_49/

Comment author: bentarm 06 December 2013 06:13:19PM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure I get this - If you're not allowed to compare apples to oranges, how do you decide which to eat? Is that the point this quote is trying to make?

Comment author: hyporational 07 December 2013 09:05:04AM 3 points [-]

It's a common English expression that has nothing to do with food.

Comment author: aarongertler 10 December 2013 06:21:43AM 9 points [-]

Expressed in pictures rather than words, but a great example of how to respond to humanity-threatening calamities:

http://www.kiwisbybeat.com/minus37.html?Bonjour

Sidenote: Almost every Minus comic is wonderful, and there aren't that many of them (you can read the whole series in an hour).

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 December 2013 04:36:57PM 5 points [-]

I printed this up and hung it on my wall for a while. Before anyone gets worried about what that indicates, the girl in the comic is a reality warper and could get away with it.

Never found a good enough image of Akemi Homura changing her eyes, though.

Comment author: adamzerner 21 December 2013 04:51:42PM 4 points [-]

It's probably because I'm not familiar with Minus, but I don't understand what the girl did that is admirable. If she's normal, Mestroyer's comment addresses why it isn't admirable. If she has superpowers, destroying the meteor is completely effortless for her, making her action simply a decision of saving humanity over letting it die, which mostly anyone would make.

Comment author: linkhyrule5 11 December 2013 12:25:13AM 4 points [-]

Slightly ruined by the fact that, well, given minus, I'm really more worried about the meteor...

Comment author: DanielLC 30 December 2013 05:53:40AM 3 points [-]

Are you saying that you should respond by being omnipotent?

Comment author: cody-bryce 18 December 2013 12:39:42PM 3 points [-]
Comment author: Mestroyer 11 December 2013 12:52:31PM 3 points [-]

The girl with the bat is trying to try. It's symbolic defiance, not a proper response to a humanity-threatening calamity. Granted defiance is a better attitude than the attitudes of the people shivering in fear, praying, smiling and holding up "Welcome to Earth!" signs, looting and pillaging, sitting around mellow-ly and talking and doing nothing, and standing in lines and holding hands. But that girl is still going to die and so will the rest of humanity.

Maybe you can argue that she doesn't know it won't work, but there are kinds of virtue a rationalist should not aspire to, and that includes the kind that you can only have by being ignorant of things.

Comment author: Desrtopa 11 December 2013 04:02:25PM *  7 points [-]

The girl with the bat, in the context of the comic, is actually basically omnipotent.

Not only is she entirely capable of destroying the asteroid and eliminating whatever threat it represents using a baseball bat, given the content of the other comics, I think there's actually a reasonable chance that she consciously or subconsciously created the asteroid in the first place to give herself something to do.

Comment author: Mestroyer 11 December 2013 06:42:02PM 3 points [-]

Actually now that you mention it, I remember hearing that in a previous discussion of the comic. And what you say makes her despicable, instead of courageous but irrational. Am I strategically forgetting things to make better stories? (shudder).

Comment author: Desrtopa 11 December 2013 07:27:18PM 8 points [-]

Minus is about as despicable as any ordinary child of seven or so would be if they were also omnipotent.

Which is to say she's kind of horrifying, but not with any sort of deliberation involved.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 December 2013 08:24:54PM 6 points [-]

Not to mention the applicable Riddle of Kyon.

Comment author: Fyrius 18 December 2013 02:34:40AM 2 points [-]

I'm thankful this TV tropes page helpfully provided a synopsis of your fanfic for context. I wouldn't have understood you without it.

(Is the conditional probability that a given person had read all your fanfics, given that she visits LessWrong, high enough to overcome the low prior probability that a given person has read all your fanfics?)

Comment author: MugaSofer 30 January 2014 03:34:55PM 1 point [-]

She's a reality warper - thus, taking action that appears pointless to the uninformed observer (such as yourself), but is in fact an extremely effective method of saving the world.

Not sure if that's the intention in linking to it, but...

Comment author: WalterL 02 December 2013 08:48:41PM 4 points [-]

Everybody's a complex person. Everybody. Everybody's nuanced. -Jack Abramoff

Comment author: hyporational 03 December 2013 02:10:46AM 2 points [-]

A wave hitting a rock is complex, so is a vegetable on life support. What's the context?

Comment author: WalterL 03 December 2013 02:42:08PM 8 points [-]

Not sure, actually, dude was a corrupt lobbyist, so presumably he was emphasizing that he had his reasons for the stuff he got up to.

I like it as a reminder that everyone is their own story's protagonist. Its easy for me to view someone as the jerk who cut in front of the traffic, but presumably their own narrative includes a compelling reason for their seemingly antisocial behavior.

Comment author: satt 30 December 2013 07:39:22PM 2 points [-]

I think I've told this story before, but here it is again: in 1995 I got a speeding ticket. (It turns out that MLK, despite being a major thoroughfare, is zoned 25. Who knew.) At the time you could avoid getting points on your record by going to traffic school, so I did. At one point the teacher asked for our pet peeves where driving was concerned. After he'd heard ours, he said he had two. "One, pedestrians who dawdle in the crosswalk after the light's turned green. Two, drivers who try to hurry me when I'm walking across the street." Isn't that pretty much always how it works?

Adam Cadre

Comment author: adamzerner 19 December 2013 06:18:57AM 3 points [-]

"The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity." - Vinod Khosla

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 21 December 2013 11:47:36AM 6 points [-]

Seems like a just-world fallacy. The cost:benefit ratio of problems is not fixed.

Comment author: adamzerner 21 December 2013 04:33:49PM *  3 points [-]

I guess what matters in a problem is size * solvability. Solvability may be variable, but bigger problems do necessarily mean more room for improvement.

Even though it doesn't account for solvability, I still think it's a good quote. Most people become very accustomed to the way things are, even if they're bad, and never think to change them. This quote reverses that mindset, by getting you to think in terms of opportunity. Once you get over that hump, then you could think about solvability. The real point is that the hump is very important to get over, and this quote is pretty effective in getting you over it.

Comment author: Ritalin 07 December 2013 05:19:56PM 3 points [-]

But the campaign against the backwardness of the masses in this matter of religion, must be conducted with patience and considerateness, as well as with energy and perseverance. The credulous crowd is extremely sensitive to anything which hurts its feelings. To thrust atheism upon the masses, and in conjunction therewith to interfere forcibly with religious practices and to make mock of the objects of popular reverence, would not assist but would hinder the campaign against religion. If the church were to be persecuted, it would win sympathy among the masses, for persecution would remind them of the almost forgotten days when there was an association between religion and the defence of national freedom; it would strengthen the antisemitic movement; and in general it would mobilize all the vestiges of an ideology which is already beginning to die out."

Nikolai Bukharin.

Comment author: eli_sennesh 02 December 2013 06:31:32PM 3 points [-]

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways: the point, however, is to change it.”

-- Karl Marx

"We evolve beyond the person we were a minute before! Little by little, we advance a bit further with each revolution. That's how a drill works!!"

-- Shimon the Digger

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 December 2013 12:47:54AM 5 points [-]

We evolve beyond the person we were a minute before! Little by little, we advance a bit further with each revolution.

Or rather we change little by little. Remember that while every improvement is a change, not every change is an improvement.

Comment author: Larks 21 December 2013 10:24:47PM 3 points [-]

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways: the point, however, is to change it.”

-- Karl Marx

Approximately 100 million deaths later, philosophers vowed to go back to just interpreting.

Comment author: adamzerner 21 December 2013 09:21:59PM 2 points [-]

“What does a fish know about the water in which he swims?” - Albert Einstein

Sort of a well known quote, but it's not here, and it's amazing, so I figured I'd submit it.

Comment author: Torello 01 December 2013 11:41:50PM *  1 point [-]

If you're good at something, never do it for free.

--The Joker

The Dark Knight (2008)

Comment author: Jiro 02 December 2013 01:27:30AM 14 points [-]

I'm good at blowing bubbles with bubble gum. I have yet to charge anyone for doing it.

I suppose you could say that as long as I gain pleasure from blowing bubbles I'm not doing it "for free" but that makes the statement very trivial. Under normal interpretations of "for free", the statement is wrong because there's no demand from anyone else that I blow bubbles.

I'd correct that statement to "if you're good at something, never do it under market value", which raises the possibility that I would still do for free things like blowing bubbles that have no market value.

Comment author: satt 02 December 2013 01:50:31AM 13 points [-]

I'm good at blowing bubbles with bubble gum. I have yet to charge anyone for doing it.

Gum bubble fetish camming?

Comment author: Xenocles 18 December 2013 02:01:50AM 2 points [-]

"I'm good at blowing bubbles with bubble gum. I have yet to charge anyone for doing it."

I think it's implied that this only applies when there is a demand for the service. Were you to find that there's a large audience for your displays, I bet you'd at least pass the hat around before doing another one.

Comment author: snafoo 18 December 2013 07:35:39PM 2 points [-]

The quote is a good one, and not because it's true.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 21 December 2013 05:27:39AM 0 points [-]

The danger of reading financial & other news (or econobullshit) is that things that don't make sense at all start making sense to you after progressive immersion.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 December 2013 02:36:43AM 3 points [-]

After years of reading econblogs, I now understand that the Federal Reserve is not creating enough money. I don't actually think that understanding is a bad thing.

Comment author: army1987 22 December 2013 09:02:50AM 3 points [-]

After years of reading econblogs, I now understand that the Federal Reserve is not creating enough money.

I can see why inflation can be good for a smallish economy, but the US dollar is widely used as a reserve currency by foreigners, and if they no longer trusted it to stay hard they'd probably switch to gold or Swiss francs or bitcoins or whatnot and... I dunno what would happen, but I kinda doubt it would be nice. (I hardly know anything about macroeconomics, so I'm very likely missing something.)

Nice example of metacontrarianism, BTW: “why don't they just print more money” is something uneducated people often come up with, and most literate people realize there are problems with that, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong.

Comment author: satt 22 December 2013 02:16:56PM 3 points [-]

After years of reading econblogs, I now understand that the Federal Reserve is not creating enough money.

I can see why inflation can be good for a smallish economy, but [...] (I hardly know anything about macroeconomics, so I'm very likely missing something.)

I think the missing bits here are that (1) creating money needn't necessarily raise inflation, and (2) modest increases in US inflation are unlikely to trigger a mass flight from the US dollar.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 24 December 2013 02:59:06AM 1 point [-]

After years of reading econblogs, I now understand that the Federal Reserve is not creating enough money. I don't actually think that understanding is a bad thing.

Only if the Federal Reserve is in fact not creating enough money.

Comment author: army1987 21 December 2013 10:39:33AM 1 point [-]

“Progressive” as in ‘gradual’ or as in ‘left-wing’?

If the former, how is that a danger? I mean, the same is true about general relativity or quantum field theory.

Comment author: Manfred 21 December 2013 02:17:38PM 6 points [-]

I will attempt to fix the quote:

The danger of reading financial & other news is that things that are wrong and crazy start seeming to make sense after you're immersed in them.

Comment author: mwengler 22 December 2013 08:32:37AM 5 points [-]

The danger of reading quotes like this is the message that some field is wrong and crazy is delivered as an aside when it is an hypothesis worthy of a great amount of questioning that is almost certainly largely incorrect.

Comment author: ChristianKl 22 December 2013 07:13:23PM *  4 points [-]

He means gradual. If you look to long at random distribution and listen to people who are in the narration business to frame the random distribution you will start seeing patterns that don't exist.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 21 December 2013 03:51:30PM 3 points [-]

No, those things do in fact make sense. They simply aren't intuitive.

Comment author: arborealhominid 19 December 2013 02:45:05AM *  0 points [-]

If we work around this assumption of being cis as the default… like, for example, if we stop thinking about the fact that as an abstract, general question a random human being is much more likely to be cis than trans, and instead consider the question in terms of whether, given everything we observe in ourselves, and everything we feel, and how strong our feelings are about this question of gender, which (cis or trans) is more likely for us… if we consider “is it really all that likely that I’m just a cis person who has somehow managed to convince myself that I’m trans to the point that I’m having this kind of crisis?”… if we reframe it, then the question becomes something very different, and more manageable.

Natalie Reed taking a very Bayesian approach to gender identity

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 19 December 2013 04:10:16AM 9 points [-]

Given that this quote essentially advises ignoring priors, I don't see what's so Bayesian about it.

Comment author: army1987 20 December 2013 05:02:38PM 3 points [-]

I took it to be about using posteriors rather than priors (i.e., P(X is trans | X is wondering whether they're trans) != P(X is trans)), but I know I steelman writers on the Internet too much.

Comment author: hyporational 20 December 2013 07:57:00PM 2 points [-]

There's such a thing as too much steelmanning?

Comment author: Lumifer 20 December 2013 08:21:34PM 3 points [-]

Yes. There is far too much idiocy in the world to spend time and effort on trying to make it look presentable.

Comment author: army1987 20 December 2013 08:39:17PM *  2 points [-]

OTOH the result of doing that is sometimes just plain awesome.

Comment author: VAuroch 20 December 2013 10:50:41AM 5 points [-]

The other way of reading the quote is that it's emphasizing the huge complexity penalty which should be assessed on "I’m just a cis person who has somehow managed to convince myself that I’m trans to the point that I’m having this kind of crisis" and nodding in the direction of the reversal test. And emphasizing that part of the argument makes it look pretty good.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 19 December 2013 04:36:49AM 5 points [-]

Would you mind explicitly stating the prior that it's advising to ignore?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 19 December 2013 11:56:33AM *  10 points [-]

if we stop thinking about the fact that as an abstract, general question a random human being is much more likely to be cis than trans

That said, it could also be taken as advising you not to double-count your priors by using them to discount the evidence. Imagine you've drawn a ball from an urn, and the ball looks blue to you — but your priors say that 99% of the balls in that urn are red. How much time do you want to spend questioning the validity of your color vision or the lighting before you consider that you drew a rare ball?

Comment author: VAuroch 20 December 2013 10:49:20AM 5 points [-]

The prior probability for a person being cis is obviously much higher than the prior for trans; looking at it one way, this quote is advising ignoring that prior.

Of course, looked at another way, it's specifically noting that there should be a large complexity penalty for the hypothesis "I’m just a cis person who has somehow managed to convince myself that I’m trans to the point that I’m having this kind of crisis" relative to the hypothesis "I'm trans". And also implicitly using the reversal test.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 21 December 2013 04:37:49AM *  -2 points [-]

"I’m just a cis person who has somehow managed to convince myself that I’m trans to the point that I’m having this kind of crisis"

Why? Also could we unpack the "I am trans" hypothesis? It seems to say "sometime during development something flipped the secondary sexual characteristics in my brain but not any of the ones outside it" given the type of spaghetti code evolution tends to produce, this seems rather unlikely. On the other hand, people convince themselves of weird beliefs and take them seriously enough to generate crises fairly regularly.

Comment author: army1987 21 December 2013 08:44:40AM *  3 points [-]

It seems to say "sometime during development something flipped the secondary sexual characteristics in my brain but not any of the ones outside it" given the type of spaghetti code evolution tends to produce, this seems rather unlikely.

And yet...

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 21 December 2013 10:03:59PM -2 points [-]

Well, one obvious explanation for people thinking themselves trans is that maybe one of the secondary sexual characteristics flipped or maybe even something not related to sex at all. As a result they don't quite fit in, then they here about the transsexuality movement and convince themselves that they've found the problem.

Note that this is consistent with the twin studies. All the brain scan stuff strikes me as the "we picked it up on a brain scan therefore it must be biologically caused" fallacy.

Comment author: hyporational 23 December 2013 05:46:03AM *  2 points [-]

Does it matter to you if it's biologically caused all else being equal?

Biologically caused is a problematic expression. Everything in the brain is biologically caused if we're generous enough. I assume you mean genetically caused or developmentally caused.

Comment author: VAuroch 21 December 2013 08:40:10AM 3 points [-]

flipped the secondary sexual characteristics in my brain

This is a potentially valid but minority interpretation of the statement "X is trans.", held by no trans people I have discussed the subject with (and it tends to come up, eventually, across a sample size of a dozen middling-to-close friends). The more common one, which all trans people I know hold, is "At some point during my development I gained a strong repulsion from the particular cultural bundle labeled with the gender which matches the dominant one for my sex." Generally this is also a strong attraction to the other major gender bundle, but sometimes the trans person finds that bundle equally off-putting and rejects both, and others exchange between the two regularly or hold themselves to be both.

Also, the poor coding practices which evolution uses make this more, not less, likely to occur. Most people who study trans issues, history, etc. agree that there were probably high rates of 'masked' trans people in the past, who kept their personal identification preferences secret.

Comment author: army1987 21 December 2013 10:04:51AM *  2 points [-]

"At some point during my development I gained a strong repulsion from the particular cultural bundle labeled with the gender which matches the dominant one for my sex."

But that's way too broad IMO.

I mean, I have an Y chromosome. I have male genitalia and no desire to ever change this. (I also happen to have quite a few traits that are way more common among males than among females, e.g. being about 1.88 m (6'2") tall, having a baritone vocal range, having quite a lot of terminal facial and body hair, and being sexually attracted to women.) I find calling myself male a quite reasonable way of summarizing that info.

But I find claims that all this means that my long hair/dislike of football/low aggressiveness/finding it easier to befriend women than men/etc.¹ are somehow suboptimal or make my maleness any less valid to be preposterous and/or offensive. ("So I guess your wooden leg makes you a table." -- Frank Zappa) IOW I do have “a strong repulsion from the particular cultural bundle labeled with the gender which matches the dominant one for my sex”. But I don't see any particular need to throw the baby away with the bath water and stop calling myself a man.

(As for neurological differences, I haven't got a brain scan in the couple few decades, but FWIW my girlfriend is a heterosexual female neurologist.)

And I think that once one knows all this about me, there's no question left to ask whether I actually am a man.


  1. For something more quantitative and less stereotypical, I score slightly above median on both the masculinity and the femininity scales of the BSRI, and slightly higher on the latter than on the former.
Comment author: TheOtherDave 22 December 2013 01:00:33AM 4 points [-]

And I think that once one knows all this about me, there's no question left to ask whether I actually am a man.

Like you, I have a Y chromosome and male genitalia and some traits that are more common among males than females, as well as some traits that are more common among females than males (such as being sexually attracted to men). And, sure, calling myself male is a fine way of summarizing that info, and nobody seems to object.

And I am entirely comfortable describing myself as male and being described that way. I'm comfortable playing a male social role, in other words. It sounds like you are, as well.

By contrast, I have friends who, like you and me, have a Y chromosome and male genitalia and etc. and etc. But they are not comfortable playing a male social role.

So there seems to be a difference between you and me, on the one hand, and my friends, on the other. Consequently, it seems useful to have language that lets us talk about that difference.

Some of those friends refer to themselves as "trans women". I see no reason not to use that language to refer to them.

Comment author: eli_sennesh 22 December 2013 01:25:43AM *  1 point [-]

But I find claims that all this means that my long hair/dislike of football/low aggressiveness/finding it easier to befriend women than men/etc.¹ are somehow suboptimal or make my maleness any less valid to be preposterous and/or offensive. ("So I guess your wooden leg makes you a table." -- Frank Zappa) IOW I do have “a strong repulsion from the particular cultural bundle labeled with the gender which matches the dominant one for my sex”. But I don't see any particular need to throw the baby away with the bath water and stop calling myself a man.

This is why it's usually said that sex is biological, but gender is socio-cultural. Gender ideals and gender roles can change a lot from one culture to another. You might be a seemingly effeminate man in one place, and yet find that you're entirely normal in another place. It's complete delusion to think white North American cultural roles correspond to some Deep Time-driven neurological or evolutionary factor in some special way nobody else on the planet has access to.

Imagine being told that 90% of the planet's men are less masculine than the median! Does that make the statistician in you perk up his ears and start screaming bloody murder, or what!?

Comment author: DeevGrape 23 December 2013 01:18:46AM 1 point [-]

“I have thought for a long time now that if, some day, the increasing efficiency for the technique of destruction finally causes our species to disappear from the earth, it will not be cruelty that will be responsible for our extinction and still less, of course, the indignation that cruelty awakens and the reprisals and vengeance that it brings upon itself…but the docility, the lack of responsibility of the modern man, his base subservient acceptance of every common decree. The horrors that we have seen, the still greater horrors we shall presently see, are not signs that rebels, insubordinate, untamable men are increasing in number throughout the world, but rather that there is a constant increase in the number of obedient, docile men.”

—George Bernanos

Comment author: mwengler 23 December 2013 10:24:53PM 2 points [-]

I think this quote is sentimentally motivated inaccuracy. It relies upon the romantic notion that if the docile masses were to arise that they would be morally superior to those that do already choose to lead men. I think this thought of Bernanos does not arise from any sort of evidence at all, and that if there is any evidence about what happens when previously docile men rise to power it is that they behave very much like men in power have always behaved in the past, that there is no particularly great wisdom they bring with them on rising. I am thinking in particular of the rise of the communists in Russia and China and more recently the governments that have arisen in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt.

Comment author: timujin 02 December 2013 03:08:31PM -1 points [-]

"You flatter me. But still, what advice would you give the Almighty? What, in your opinion, would the Almighty have to do so that you'd be able to say: the world is now truly good and beautiful?" Budach smiled approvingly, leaned comfortably back in his armchair and folded his hands across his stomach. Full of interest and anticipation, Kyra peered into the physician's face. "All right then," he said, "if you so desire. I would tell the Almighty: 'Great Creator, I do not know your plan; maybe it's simply not your intention to make mankind good and happy. Nevertheless, I beg you: let it happen--it would be so easy for you to accomplish--that all men have sufficient bread, meat, and wine! Provide them with shelter and clothing, let hunger and want disappear from the face of the earth, and all that separates men from each other." 'That would be all?" asked Rumata. "Does it seem too little to you?" Rumata shook his head slowly from side to side. "God would answer you: This would be no blessing for mankind. For the strong of your world take away from the weak whatever I gave them and the weak would be as poor as before." "I would beg God to protect the poor. "Enlighten the cruel rulers,' I would say." "Cruelty is a mighty force. Once the rulers rid themselves of their cruel ways they would lose their power. And other cruel men would take their place." Budach's friendly face grew suddenly somber. "Then punish the cruel men," he said with determination, "and lead them away from the path of evil, so that the strong may not be cruel to their weaker brothers." "It is man's nature to be weak from the moment he is born. He will only grow strong when there is no one stronger than he is. And if the cruel ones among the strong are punished and removed from their ranks, they will simply be replaced by the relatively stronger ones from among the throng of the weak. And the newly strong ones will become cruel in their turn. That would mean that eventually all men would have to be punished, and this I do not want to do." "You have greater insight, Almighty Lord. Therefore arrange that mankind will obtain all they need and thus avoid that they will rob each other of whatever you gave them." 'This solution wouldn't be a blessing for mankind either," sighed Rumata. "They would not reap profit from this. For if they obtain everything from my hand without any effort on their part, they will forget what it is to work and labor; they will lose their taste for living. As time goes on they'll become domestic animals whom I will have to feed and clothe--and that for all eternity." "Don't give them everything at once!" said Budach excitedly. "Give it to them slowly, gradually!" "Gradually mankind will take everything they need anyhow." Budach's smile became embarrassed. "Now I can see that things are not quite so simple," he said. "I've never really thought about the problems ... I believe we have discussed all possibilities now. However," he leaned forward, "there exists still another possibility: Ordain that mankind will love work and knowledge above all, that work and wisdom will be regarded by them as their sole reason for being!" Yes, thought Rumata, we've already considered such experiments. Mass hypno-induction, positive remoralization, exposure to hypnotic radiation from three equatorial satellites ... This is an alternative I might choose perhaps," he said. "But could it be justified if I were to rob mankind of its history? Does it make sense to replace one type of man with another? Would this not mean in the end that one would wipe this mankind off the face of the earth and create another in its place?" Budach frowned and remained silent, busy with his own thoughts. From below the windows came again the melancholy groaning of heavily laden carts. Suddenly Budach spoke softly: "Then, oh, Lord, remove us from the face of the earth and create us anew, make us better men this time, more perfect beings. Or, better still--leave us the way we are, but ordain that we can follow our own path!" "My heart is heavy with sorrow," Rumata said slowly, "but this is not within my power."

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Hard to be a God

Comment author: Jiro 02 December 2013 03:42:08PM *  8 points [-]

This quote betrays a limited imagination. God could, for instance, make it so that people just automatically become full every day if they don't eat, or he could make it so that anyone who tried to steal would instantly faint.

Furthermore, the fact remains that in the real world, some people do have adequate food and shelter, are not powerful, and yet don't have it taken from them. If God were to magically give everyone food and shelter, even if he did not stop theft, there may be corrupt third world countries where there would be rampant theft and people still ended up starving, but there'd be a lot fewer homeless in first world countries (especially if he eliminated all mental illness at the same time).

As for the argument is that providing people with things would eliminate man's motive to do work, there's a big gap between "food and shelter" and "able to live comfortably on your salary".

Also, there's a difference between changing mankind's psychology (which I agree would pose problems) and merely physically changing mankind. A world where, say, all drunk people who tried to drive home were teleported home would contain less suffering with little downside. Likewise for a world that doesn't contain birth defects or cancer.

This is a rationality quote?

Comment author: Lumifer 02 December 2013 04:33:23PM *  3 points [-]

This quote betrays a limited imagination.

Not quite, it makes much more sense within the context of the novel from which it's taken. In particular...

God could, for instance, make it so

In the novel, there is no God. The plot is similar to one of Iain Banks' Culture novels, Inversions (though it was written much earlier than Banks) -- there is an advanced starfaring civilization which has agents/helpers/guides on a medieval-tech planet and they are trying to improve things on that planet. Rumata is one of those agents and while his capabilities are magical and awesome from the point of view of the locals, he is very much not a god.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 02 December 2013 05:45:41PM *  5 points [-]

Indeed. To expand on that a bit more:

The titular phrase is a line in the book, something that Rumata thinks to himself while attempting to explain, for the twentieth, futile, time, to one of the natives (a populist revolutionary leader of sorts) that he is not a god; and that, though he does possess great and awesome powers (i.e. advanced weaponry), he refuses to provide them to the natives. The constraints here are not just practical, but moral:

— Don Rumata, do you remember how disappointed I was, when I found out who you are? I hate priests, and it galls me that their deceitful tales have turned out to be true. But a poor rebel must extract a benefit from any circumstance. The priests say that the gods wield bolts of lightning... Don Rumata, I am in great need of lightning bolts, to smash the walls of the castles.
Rumata sighed deeply. After his miraculous helicopter rescue, Arata had insistently demanded answers. Rumata attempted to explain, he even pointed out Sol in the night sky - a distant, barely visible star. But the rebel understood only one thing: the cursed priests are right, beyond the heavenly firmanent indeed live gods, benevolent and all-powerful. And from then on every conversation with Rumata he reduced to one thing: god, since you do exist, give me your power, as that is the best that you can do.
And each time Rumata kept silent, or shifted the conversation to another topic.
- Don Rumata, - said the rebel, - why do you not want to help us?
...
- Let's not speak of this.
- No, we will speak of it. I didn't call you here. I never prayed to anyone. You came to me on your own. Or did you merely wish to amuse yourself?
It's hard to be a god, thought Rumata. He said patiently:
- You won't understand. I've tried twenty times to explain to you that I am not a god; still you don't believe me. And you will not understand why I can't help you with weapons...
- You have lightning bolts?
- I can't give you lightning.
- I have heard this twenty times already, - said Arata. - Now I want to know: why?
- I say again: you won't understand.
- Try.
- What will you do with lightning bolts?
- I will incinerate the gilded scum, like bugs, every one of them, their entire cursed bloodlines to the twelfth scion. I will wipe their castles from the face of the earth. I will burn their armies and all those who defend and support them. You need not worry - your lightning bolts will serve only good, and when there remain on earth only liberated slaves and peace reigns, I will return your lightning to you and will never ask for it again.
Arata fell silent, breathing heavily. His face had darkened from a rush of blood. Likely he was already seeing the duchies and kingdoms in flames, and piles of scorched bodies among the ruins, and huge armies of the victors, feverishly howling: "Freedom! Freedom!"
- No, - said Rumata. - I will not give you lightning. That would be a mistake. Try to believe me, I see further than you do... (Arata listened, his head dropped to his chest.) - Rumata clenched his fingers. - I will give you only one argument. It is nothing compared to the main one, but at least you will understand it. You are a survivor, dear Arata, but you are also mortal; and if you perish, if the lightning bolts pass into other hands, ones not so clean as yours, then I fear even to think how it may end...
...
Arata fell silent and again reached for the bread. Rumata looked at the other's fingers, devoid of nails. His fingernails had been torn out, with a special device for that purpose, two years ago, by Don Reba personally. You don't yet know, thought Rumata. You still console yourself with the thought that only you yourself are destined for defeat. You don't yet know how hopeless are your efforts. You don't yet know that the enemy is not so much around your soldiers, as within them. You might, perhaps, topple the Order, and a wave of peasant revolts will carry you onto the throne of Arkanar; you will raze the nobles' castles, drown the barons in the Strait, and the rebellious people will grant you every honor as a great liberator, and you will be kind and wise - the only kind and wise person in your kingdom. And in your kindness you will start giving out lands to your comrades, and what use are lands to them without serfs? And the wheel will begin to turn the other way. And it will be a good thing if you manage to die in your own time, and do not live to see the rise of new dukes and barons from the ranks of your former loyal fighters. So it has already happened, my dear Arata, on Earth and on your own planet.

Comment author: dspeyer 04 December 2013 07:10:23PM 2 points [-]

Especially since he had mixed feelings on the subject, anyway. On the one hand, he thought the Polish situation did not lend itself well to military solutions. On the other hand . . .

Who could say for sure? The old saying "you can't export a revolution with bayonets" certainly had some truth. But a lot of it was just wishful thinking, too. Mike had read a great deal of history since the Ring of Fire, and one of the things he couldn't help notice was how often history was shaped by the outcome of wars. Napoleon was often denounced as a tyrant, but the fact remained that many of the revolutionary changes he made were not overturned after his defeat—not even by those he'd defeated and forced to accept those changes.

So . . . There was no way of knowing the outcome of a war between the USE and Poland. If was possible, in the event of a clearcut USE victory, that serfdom in eastern Europe would be destroyed. Not by Gustav Adolf and his armies, maybe. But one thing you could be sure of was that Gretchen Richter and her Committees of Correspondence would be coming into Poland on the heels of those armies. And they hated serfdom with a passion.

--1635 The Eastern Front

Even if all Rumata has are a few history books and overwhelming weaponery, he should be able to make some solid improvements in the social organization. And if he has the full backing of a spacefaring civilization, he should be able to do a lot.

I haven't read Hard to be a God (it does sound interesting), but my proposal:

  • First enough productive giveaways that there's a surplus worth speaking of. It has to exist before the people can keep it.
  • Then establish and protect a communications network. One armored internet terminal per tavern, perhaps. Create forums the powerful can't sensor. Publish some history and organization textbooks so that people get used to the idea that better things are possible.
  • Declare some meta-laws, like due process, no ex-post-facto, public jury trials... Make them mild enough that rulers consider them acceptable. Enforce them ruthlessly.
  • Publish relevant science and technology books.
  • This should be enough to see the beginnings of a middle class. Place them under your protection.
  • Whenever there's a succession crisis (those are common) declare a republic in the region. Crush any attempt to end it violently using overwhelming force. At first, you'll need to do a lot of work teaching people how to have a republic and enforcing things, but you should be able to back off as they learn.

Basically plagiarize shamelessly from the nicer parts of history and keep your eyes open for how to use what you have.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 December 2013 07:34:25PM 2 points [-]

I haven't read Hard to be a God (it does sound interesting), but my proposal

I do recommend the book. It's not at all about sociotechnical difficulties of uplifting a medieval society...

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 05 December 2013 05:46:36AM -1 points [-]

Whenever there's a succession crisis (those are common) declare a republic in the region.

Proceed to become horrified by the actions of the demagogues voted into office.

Comment author: Bugmaster 06 December 2013 12:45:30AM *  2 points [-]

WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS below !

I should point out that, in this novel, humans from the distant future are attempting to uplift the culture of a relatively backward planet to somewhere closer to their own level. The locals do not really understand what is happening, but they know that some power beyound their understanding is messing with their world, and they try to exploit or resist it as best they can.

The novel has a sequel. In it, one of the uplift agents returns to Earth, only to find out that there may be someone or something out there, which is beyound human understanding, acting upon the humans in order to further some inscrutable goal. In secret, the humans mount a desperate attempt to resist this influence, by any means necessary, as best they can...

The sequel is followed by the final book of the trilogy. Whether what happens in it is wonderful or catastrophic depends on how you interpret the previous two books, I think, but it's at least a little sad all the same.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 06 December 2013 05:46:14AM 4 points [-]

Your comment makes me wonder whether you are perhaps confusing Hard to Be a God with Inhabited Island (called Prisoners of Power in English, I believe).

Comment author: eli_sennesh 02 December 2013 04:44:44PM 2 points [-]

You both need to go read the Fun Theory sequence.

Bloody small-minded humans, always mucking things up with their incrementalism and obsessive compulsions towards toil.

Comment author: BT_Uytya 07 December 2013 06:57:11PM *  1 point [-]

(potential spoilers removed, so if this dialogue doesn't make sense, be assured that it makes sense in context)

"Just wait," Zsoronga said. "Something auspicious will happen. Some twist will keep you here, where you can discharge your fate! Wait and see."

"And what if they know?" Sorweel finally asked, voicing the one alternative they had passed over in silence.

"They don't know."

"But wh-"

"They don't know."

Zsoronga, Sorweel was beginning to realize, possessed the enviable ability to yoke his conviction to his need - to believe, absolutely, whatever his heart required. For Sorweel, belief and want always seemed like ropes too short to bind together, forcing him to play the knot as a result.

Scott R. Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 09 December 2013 03:12:34AM *  0 points [-]

"I have a complete listing of this universe's source code," says Ching. "I'm theoretically omnipotent. It's just a matter of time."

-- Fine Structure