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Rationality Quotes February 2014

5 [deleted] 02 February 2014 01:35PM

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

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.

Comments (482)

Comment author: B_For_Bandana 08 February 2014 12:39:25AM 25 points [-]

Madolyn: "Why is the last patient of the day always the hardest?"

Costigan: "Because you're tired and you don't give a shit. It's not supernatural."

The Departed

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 05 February 2014 04:36:11AM 16 points [-]

Better beware of notions like genius and inspiration; they are a sort of magic wand and should be used sparingly by anybody who wants to see things clearly.

-- José Ortega y Gasset

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 04 February 2014 05:26:01AM 27 points [-]

Shit, if I took time out to have an opinion about everything, I wouldn't get any work done...

-- L. Bob Rife, Snow Crash

Comment author: brainoil 04 February 2014 12:32:52AM 26 points [-]

"Nothing exists in contradiction to nature, only in contradiction to what we know of it." - Dana Scully, The X-Files

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 February 2014 09:47:13PM 9 points [-]

I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you're talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you're not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We'll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you're maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

Richard Feynman in Cargo Cult Science

Comment author: aarongertler 05 February 2014 03:47:49AM *  37 points [-]

"The story of Japanese railways during the earthquake and tsunami is the story of an unceasing drumbeat of everything going right [...] The overwhelming response of Japanese engineering to the challenge posed by an earthquake larger than any in the last century was to function exactly as designed. Millions of people are alive right now because the system worked and the system worked and the system worked.

That this happened was, I say with no hint of exaggeration, one of the triumphs of human civilization. Every engineer in this country should be walking a little taller this week. We can’t say that too loudly, because it would be inappropriate with folks still missing and many families in mourning, but it doesn’t make it any less true."

--Patrick McKenzie, "Some Perspective on the Japan Earthquake"


(Disaster is not inevitable.)

Comment author: EGarrett 05 February 2014 01:34:22AM 31 points [-]

"To convince someone of the truth, it is not enough to state it, but rather one must find the path from error to truth." Wittgenstein. "Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough," p. 119

Comment author: Manfred 11 February 2014 11:01:58AM *  7 points [-]

Science offers the boldest metaphysics of the age. It is a thoroughly human construct, driven by the faith that if we dream, press to discover, explain, and dream again, thereby plunging repeatedly into new terrain, the world will somehow come clearer and we will grasp the true strangeness of the universe. And the strangeness will all probe to be connected, and make sense.

E.O. Wilson

Comment author: Alejandro1 03 February 2014 03:21:43AM 26 points [-]

A serious prophet upon predicting a flood should be the first man to climb a tree.

--Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage.

Comment author: snafoo 18 February 2014 08:44:25PM 4 points [-]

Charlatans also tend to do this.

Often, a charlatan would dedicate her life to selling boats. When questioned if she really believes in the floods, obviously she does! Why else would she be wasting her life as a boatwright?

Comment author: DanielLC 10 February 2014 08:23:06PM 1 point [-]

Given that the most well known story of a prophet predicting a flood involved him building a boat, that doesn't sound like anything particularly insightful.

What's the context?

Comment author: EGarrett 13 February 2014 09:02:56PM *  9 points [-]

I think it means that Prophets aren't worth taking seriously unless they are staking their own reputation, well-being, or money on what they predict. There are many people who claim to know a particular thing for certain but who curiously aren't putting all of their own money on it. A perfect example probably being people selling stocks and investment plans.

Comment author: WalterL 03 February 2014 05:08:58PM 16 points [-]

You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.

  • Napoleon Bonaparte
Comment author: wedrifid 06 February 2014 10:15:40PM 0 points [-]

(Wholeheartedly endorse this quote.)

You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.

It seems that there must be some corollary here. That guy who is being taught of the art of war seems to be benefiting from fighting often with one enemy. If you are either better at learning from experience or have more need to learn arts of war (ie. you are the newbie not the master) then fighting often with one enemy seems to help you (all non-epistemic issues such as "all your soldiers die" being equal).

Comment author: Jiro 07 February 2014 01:46:23AM 0 points [-]

Fighting someone a lot teaches him your art of war, but may not teach him the art of war in general. He may be better off fighting multiple people, learning less about each one.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 February 2014 02:02:16AM -1 points [-]

Fighting someone a lot teaches him your art of war, but may not teach him the art of war in general.

Yes. Nevertheless, to whatever extent it is bad for Napoleon to fight one enemy often and thereby teach him it is beneficial to the person learning. If the benefit given to the enemy is enough that even Napoleon (the learner's enemy) cares about it then presumably it is a consideration for the person doing the learning as well. Presumably each side cares about the learning that has been done specifically because they care about the outcome of conflicts between the two of them. One is helped, the other hindered. Things that influence the outcome of direct battle between two sides tend to be like that.

He may be better off fighting multiple people, learning less each one.

Yes, or he may better off learning about some economic matters (thereby supplementing his 'art' with superior firepower). Or he may be better off buying delicious cookies. I didn't oppose the notion of opportunity cost. In fact, for the sake of pedantry I even included a 'ceritus paribus' clause.

Comment author: Cyan 17 February 2014 04:07:37PM *  15 points [-]

Heaven and Earth are heartless
treating creatures like straw dogs.

- Tao Te Ching

Su Ch'e commentary on this verse explains: "Heaven and Earth are not partial. They do not kill living things out of cruelty or give them birth out of kindness. We do the same when we make straw dogs to use in sacrifices. We dress them up and put them on the altar, but not because we love them. And when the ceremony is over, we throw them into the street, but not because we hate them."

- Straw dog in Wikipedia

Comment author: elharo 07 February 2014 12:40:46PM 15 points [-]

For Popper (if not for some of his later admirers), falsifiability was not a crude bludgeon. Rather, it was the centerpiece of a richly-articulated worldview holding that millennia of human philosophical reflection had gotten it backwards: the question isn’t how to arrive at the Truth, but rather how to eliminate error. Which sounds kind of obvious, until I meet yet another person who rails to me about how empirical positivism can’t provide its own ultimate justification, and should therefore be replaced by the person’s favorite brand of cringe-inducing ugh.

--Scott Aaaronson, Retiring falsifiability? A storm in Russell’s teacup

Comment author: Stabilizer 08 February 2014 05:53:30AM *  13 points [-]

Philosophy Bro writing as Popper:

So how does science proceed, if induction is fucked (which it is) and we can't logically determine how to have new ideas (which we can't)? Easy - just take a fucking guess. No, I don't mea- dammit, you asshole, I don't mean "guess how science works", I mean guessing just is how science works. Just start guessing shit and go from there. Of course you're going to make a couple stupid guesses at first. Seriously, some of the shit you're going to try is going to be genuinely fucked in the head. Remember when we thought heavier objects would fall faster? Boy was that wrong. But we took a guess, tried it out, and it didn't work. Instead of being whiny babies about it, scientists just took another guess and then tested that out, too. That's the process: guess, and then you test that guess. And if the test works, you're like "Huh! That was an even better guess than I thought." And the more tests it survives, the more people are like, "Great guess! I'll bet that's probably it." And then you get to a test that your guess doesn't pass, and you're like, "Welp, close but no cigar. Back to the drawing board."

We'll eliminate the fucking stupid guesses pretty quickly - it doesn't take long to show that we can't move things with our minds. Eventually, you start to build a pretty cool system of things so you can make better and better guesses. and you can totally use data to make good guesses; you don't always have to invent something completely new every time. I'm just saying that's all the data does, helps make good guesses. It doesn't prove shit.

And look! That method is deductive! What incredibly good news! You don't have to derive a universal statement from a bunch of single events, which is great because you can't; instead, you just guess a universal statement and then see if you can't find an event that breaks it. You can't get from "the sun keeps rising" to "the sun will always rise" but if one day the sun doesn't come up, you can be damn sure about "the sun does not always rise." All you need is one bad apple and you know for sure that not every apple is good, no induction needed. QED, motherfuckers.

And - AND - now we know what is and isn't science! Holy fuck I am on fire here. Not actually. Just- look, I'm solving lots of things, is my point. Scientific theories are falsifiable - they're incompatible with certain things we could observe. They predict shit, and then we see if that shit really happens. Back when we thought Newton's Laws were totally, completely true, Mercury had this weird fuck wobble in its orbit that said we should find another planet. Except we looked and no planet. And now we know for sure that Newton wasn't completely right. Einstein? He was a patent clerk for fuckssake, and he came up with a fucking incredible guess. And we just keep devising more and more complicated tests to check it out, and it keeps on passing. When it does finally fail, we'll fucking know. There won't be aaaaany confusion whatsoever. Souls? How the fuck would we go about testing for souls? "Well, we cut him open, and we didn't find a soul, so..." "Yeah, but you can't see souls! That's the whole point!" So you're saying we can't ever test for souls? That's fine, just, it means souls can't come to the science party. They're not falsifiable. You must be THIS FALSIFIABLE to ride the science ride, and souls just aren't.

Comment author: adam_strandberg 24 February 2014 06:44:00AM *  10 points [-]

Also, this from his summary of Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra":

Humanity isn't an end, it's a fork in the road, and you have two options: "Animal" and "Superman". For some reason, people keep going left, the easy way, the way back to where we came from. Fuck 'em. Other people just stand there, staring at the signposts, as if they're going to come alive and tell them what to do or something. Dude, the sign says fucking "SUPERMAN". How much more of a clue do these assholes want?

Comment author: CronoDAS 24 February 2014 12:07:59PM 14 points [-]

Now life is the only art that we are required to practice without preparation, and without being allowed the preliminary trials, the failures and botches, that are essential for the training of a mere beginner. In life, we must begin to give a public performance before we have acquired even a novice's skill; and often our moments of seeming mastery are upset by new demands, for which we have acquired no preparatory facility. Life is a score that we play at sight, not merely before we have divined the intentions of the composer, but even before we have mastered our instruments; even worse, a large part of the score has been only roughly indicated, and we must improvise the music for our particular instrument, over long passages. On these terms, the whole operation seems one of endless difficulty and frustration; and indeed, were it not for the fact that some of the passages have been played so often by our predecessors that, when we come to them, we seem to recall some of the score and can anticipate the natural sequence of the notes, we might often give up in sheer despair. The wonder is not that so much cacophony appears in our actual individual lives, but that there is any appearance of harmony and progression.

-- Lewis Mumford, The Conduct of Life

Comment author: Pfft 10 February 2014 05:43:22PM 20 points [-]

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

--Mike Tyson

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 February 2014 09:35:25PM 5 points [-]

There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you'll see the reading scores keep going down--or hardly going up--in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods. There's a witch doctor remedy that doesn't work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their method should work? Another example is how to treat criminals. We obviously have made no progress--lots of theory, but no progress--in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to handle criminals.

Yet these things are said to be scientific. We study them. And I think ordinary people with commonsense ideas are intimidated by this pseudoscience. A teacher who has some good idea of how to teach her children to read is forced by the school system to do it some other way--or is even fooled by the school system into thinking that her method is not necessarily a good one. Or a parent of bad boys, after disciplining them in one way or another, feels guilty for the rest of her life because she didn't do "the right thing," according to the experts.

So we really ought to look into theories that don't work, and science that isn't science.

Richard Feynman in Cargo Cult Science

Comment author: satt 10 February 2014 01:35:50AM 1 point [-]

but if you notice, you'll see the reading scores keep going down--or hardly going up--in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods.

I wonder how Feynman knew this. The usual source of US reading score data is the NAEP, but AFAIK the earliest nationally representative NAEP results are from 1971 & 1975, and Feynman gave that speech in 1974. (Wouldn't it be painfully ironic if...?)

Comment author: gwern 11 February 2014 01:50:49AM 3 points [-]

1974 is well after the publication of Why Johnny Can't Read. (You may not be familiar with it, but it was a big influence at the time.)

Comment author: bramflakes 10 February 2014 11:13:50PM 1 point [-]

He had probably seen data on a state or local level and then extrapolated to the rest of the country, reasoning that teaching methods were similar nationally.

Comment author: Vaniver 03 February 2014 06:45:58PM 13 points [-]

But, while nothing can be done about the past, much can be done in the present to prepare for the future.

--Thomas Sowell

Comment author: shminux 03 February 2014 06:08:08PM *  22 points [-]

I’m better at tests than reality. Reality doesn’t tell you which of a million bits of information to look at.

A comment on slatestarcodex.

Comment author: DanielLC 10 February 2014 08:29:23PM 3 points [-]

I had to see the context to parse that.

He's saying that he's better at tests than he is at reality. Not that he's better at tests than reality is.

Comment author: Darklight 21 February 2014 08:35:02PM *  8 points [-]

學而不思則罔,思而不學則殆。 To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.

-- Confucius

Comment author: katydee 04 February 2014 07:50:26AM 11 points [-]

The most important thing in life is to be free to do things. There are only two ways to insure that freedom - you can be rich or you can you reduce your needs to zero.

Colonel John Boyd

Comment author: RichardKennaway 04 February 2014 08:37:55AM 21 points [-]

On the other hand:

The Stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires, is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.

Jonathan Swift

Comment author: Antisuji 06 February 2014 02:42:47AM 5 points [-]

Or, of course, some combination thereof.

Comment author: EGarrett 05 February 2014 01:37:30AM 7 points [-]

"Washington had always taught himself from experience. He learned the lessons of the American war all the more readily because he had no conventional lessons to unlearn. … Long before the end of the war, Washington had become much more effective than any of his military opponents. But this did not mean that what he had taught himself would have made him a great general on the battlefields of Europe. Evolved not from theory but from dealing with specific problems, his preeminence was achieved through a Darwinian adaptation to environment. It was the triumph of a man who knows how to learn, not in the narrow sense of studying other people's conceptions, but in the transcendent sense of making a synthesis from the totality of experience." -- James Thomas Flexner in Washington : The Indispensable Man (1984), Chapter 23 : Goodbye to War, p. 183

Comment author: philh 04 February 2014 12:42:38AM 9 points [-]

What a stupid fucking question. I could have answered it in a second, if Sarasti hadn't forced me to understand it first.

Peter Watts, Blindsight

Comment author: fezziwig 07 February 2014 01:24:43PM *  5 points [-]

Failure: when your best just isn't enough.

Original source unknown (at least to me).

ETA: Now that I think about it, I should explain this a little. It's funny and all, but it's a rationality quote because it conveys to me the idea that Eliezer calls nihil supernum. If your best isn't enough then God won't save you, your parents won't save you, Superman won't save you. You just...don't get whatever it is you wanted.

Comment author: Lumifer 07 February 2014 03:30:30PM 2 points [-]

Original source unknown (at least to me).

Here you go

If your best isn't enough then God won't save you, your parents won't save you, Superman won't save you. You just...don't get whatever it is you wanted.

Not necessarily. There's Lady Luck :-)

Comment author: fezziwig 07 February 2014 04:11:27PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for the link, but that's not the original source ;-)

Comment author: SolveIt 03 February 2014 02:50:12PM 6 points [-]

Your legs are too short, so use your head!

Samwise Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings

Comment author: jsbennett86 02 February 2014 10:43:22PM 6 points [-]

...it just goes to show you that if you write convoluted, dense academic prose nobody will understand it and your ideas will be misinterpreted and then the misinterpreted ideas will be ridiculed even when they weren't your ideas.

Joel Spolsky

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 03 February 2014 08:37:07AM 4 points [-]

Yeah, but that happens anyway.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 07 February 2014 07:56:11AM 13 points [-]

I'm a big fan of the cognitive utility of the old phrase: "The exception that proves the rule." But then I'm kind of an exception in that regard, since anytime I mention I like that, I get deluged with logical and etymological objections.

I merely mean that an exception that is famous for being exceptional suggests a general tendency in the opposite direction. The canonical example is that Beethoven's titanic fame as a deaf composer suggests that most composers aren't deaf, while, say, the lack of obsessive publicity about painter David Hockney's late onset deafness suggests that deafness isn't all that big of a deal, one way or another, to painters. Judging from the immortal fame of Beethoven's battle with deafness, we can assume that there aren't many deaf composers, while the ho-hum response to Hockney's deafness suggests that we can't make strong quantitative assumptions about painters and deafness.

Steve Sailor

Comment author: [deleted] 22 February 2014 08:45:50AM 4 points [-]

What I'm saying is that to argue that our ancestors were sexual omnivores is no more a criticism of monogamy than to argue that our ancestors were dietary omnivores is a criticism of vegetarianism.

-- Christopher Ryan

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 22 February 2014 08:33:42PM 8 points [-]

But to argue that our ancestors were dietary omnivores is a criticism of vegetarianism.

One man's modus ponens...

Comment author: [deleted] 22 February 2014 08:49:41PM 1 point [-]

But to argue that our ancestors were dietary omnivores is a criticism of vegetarianism.

How so?

Comment author: DanArmak 23 February 2014 04:49:13PM 5 points [-]

It implies that vegeterian diets are harmful and/or suboptimal in all kinds of unforeseen ways, because we haven't evolved to tolerate them, let along optimize for them.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 February 2014 06:08:21PM 1 point [-]

I take your point, though I don't think I'd go so far as to say that the fact that our ancestors were dietary omnivores implies that vegetarianism is sub-optimal. Our evolutionary history is not by any means sure to provide us with optimal dietary behaviors or digestive processes.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 22 February 2014 08:58:36AM 6 points [-]

The paleo diet movement urges that people should eat as our distant ancestors ate, so where does that leave his analogy?

Comment author: Creutzer 22 February 2014 11:36:35PM *  3 points [-]

Apart from the fact that, as has been pointed out, there is something wrong with this quote's obvious premise that the omnivorosity of our ancestors is not an argument against vegetarianism, I find the connotations of the phrase "sexual omnivores" somewhat questionable. It suggests that sexuality is somehow of predatory nature.

Comment author: DanielLC 28 February 2014 06:23:11PM 2 points [-]

Our ancestors were dietary omnivores. As a result, we are optimized for that diet, and while that doesn't mean that it's the best possible diet, it is a good reason to believe that you're better off eating some meat. If you're just concerned about you, that's a pretty good criticism of vegetarianism. If you're concerned about animals, or you believe that a god you trust told you not to eat meat, or something like that, it's still a valid criticism, but it's a lot less important and it doesn't address the main reason you chose to be a vegetarian.

Comment author: Nornagest 28 February 2014 07:27:19PM *  3 points [-]

I am not a vegetarian, but the usual rebuttal to this is that the standard Western diet bears little more resemblance to the ancestral version than the vegetarian alternative: the nutritional profile of largely sedentary farm animals, lots of grains, and cultivated fruits and vegetables doesn't look much like that of (say) wild tubers, berries, fish, and occasionally an antelope that you pursued into exhaustion and clubbed with a rock. This as far as I can tell is true (albeit complicated by the fact that we have little good data on what our ancestral diets actually looked like, evocative pictures aside, and also by the fact that the best modern analogues we have are fantastically varied), but it isn't a positive argument in favor of vegetarianism.

The analogy to sexual behavior is left as an exercise.

Comment author: DanielLC 01 March 2014 04:33:26AM 2 points [-]

I am a vegetarian, but I still feel like vegetables and meat are really different. If our ancestors ate meat, and we don't, that's a significant difference, even if the precise meat and vegetables aren't the same.

Comment author: V_V 05 March 2014 01:40:26PM 1 point [-]

Vegan diets generally lack necessary micro-nutrients unless integrated with supplements or fortified foods.
Vegetarian diets that include diary and/or eggs are usually considered healthy.

Comment author: MugaSofer 26 February 2014 09:53:08AM *  2 points [-]

Because our ancestors were only omnivores on those relatively rare occasions they could pull it off, and had to be able to function without it, because it was often impossible or very hard?

Oh. Huh.

Yeah, I can see how that might be roughly analogous. It didn't sound like it, just based on the quote ...

Comment author: simplicio 25 February 2014 03:30:02PM 1 point [-]

It could be, if you subscribe to a weaker version of Kant's "ought implies can" that says (roughly) "ought implies psychologically feasible".

The basic thought here is that moral principles are suspect if they are SO difficult to follow that practically everybody is just always drowning in akrasia & hypocrisy. Think of a moral code that forbids talking, sex, and non-bland food for everyone - it's not physically impossible for humans to follow such a code, so it doesn't violate Kant's original dictum, but it's just not reasonable to expect it to happen in practice.

So I could see an argument that says that asking all humans to be monogamous is like asking them to take a lifelong vow of silence. I don't buy that argument & I actually think monogamy is important, but the logical structure makes sense to me.

Comment author: Jiro 26 February 2014 05:06:03PM 1 point [-]

Since most people have probably stolen some nonessential thing at least once in their lifetime, the same reasoning means that a moral principle of never stealing nonessential things is also suspect. You'd have to have a principle "don't steal too often" or something like that, not "don't steal"/

Comment author: [deleted] 25 February 2014 05:17:14PM 1 point [-]

So I could see an argument that says that asking all humans to be monogamous is like asking them to take a lifelong vow of silence.

Except Christopher Ryan is talking of people who choose to be monogamous or vegetarians.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2014 03:45:08PM 1 point [-]

Still, somebody on Less Wrong once told me that they thought I wouldn't be “free” to be monogamous in the US because if I stopped being so in the future the police wouldn't punish me. Of course the exact same thing applies to vegetarianism, but that person said I am free to be on a diet (and tapped out).

Comment author: jaime2000 05 March 2014 12:54:44AM *  5 points [-]

I think I understand the idea Eugene is getting at in the sibling thread. Let me see if I can explain it a little differently.

As Sister Y explained in this excellent article, people no longer have a way of committing themselves to marriage. This is a problem for two reasons, neither of which applies to vegetarianism.

  1. In a sense, marriage IS commitment, and talking about a "marriage" without commitment is like talking about a "prisoner" who can leave his cell any time he wants, or a "warranty" which can be ignored at the company's discretion. Now, you could argue that this is a matter of semantics, and to some extent you would be right, but there is a deeper issue here; that marriage with commitment and "marriage" without commitment are so far apart in relationship-space that we should treat them as completely different things, and that we might be justified in not wanting to call these clusters of relationships by the same name at all (some people like to call the modern relationship cluster Marriage 2.0 for just this reason).

  2. If you can't credibly commit to doing something, you are going to have trouble finding people who are willing to expose themselves to risk should you fail to do so. Thus, by removing your freedom to pre-commit yourself to fulfilling a marriage contract, your freedom to enter into these contracts has been reduced (indeed, the collapse of the marriage rate appears to be an empirical confirmation of this model). Thomas Schelling covered this in his The Strategy of Conflict.

Among the legal privileges of corporations, two that are mentioned in textbooks are the right to sue and the "right" to be sued. Who wants to be sued! But the right to be sued is the power to make a promise: to borrow money, to enter a contract, to do business with someone who might be damaged. If suit does arise, the "right" seems a liability in retrospect; beforehand it was a prerequisite to doing business.

Now, the term under discussion is "monogamy", not "marriage", but back to problem 1; the modern serial "monogamy" is a completely different cluster of relationships from the old monogamy, which implied marriage. Dalrock, for example, argues that serial "monogamy" is a promiscuous and immoral relationship model, which are things he doesn't believe about the traditional religious monogamy model. Whether you agree with him or not, the point is, again, that modern serial "monogamy" is pretty different from old monogamy which meant things like not marrying two wives at once, and maybe some people want to avoid overloading an existing term to incorporate such a different new concept.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 March 2014 05:19:06AM 3 points [-]

marriage with commitment and "marriage" without commitment are so far apart in relationship-space that we should treat them as completely different things

For my own part, I would say that two people who are continuing to live together despite both of them preferring to stop doing so, solely because they committed to doing so at some time in the past, is at least as far away from what the word "marriage" properly refers to as two people who are living together today because they feel like it but would happily walk away from each other tomorrow if they found themselves feeling differently.

But I accept that this position is not universally accepted, and in particular that other people might use "marriage" to refer to the first kind of relationship, even among people who can't stand the sight of each other, aren't speaking to each other, don't share goals or values, etc., as long as they are barred from (for example) marrying anyone else and as long as the legal, financial and organizational obligations that go along with marriage can be imposed on them successfully.

And I can see how, for someone whose concept of marriage works this way, the analysis you perform here makes sense: I can't meaningfully precommit to not hating the very sight of you in twenty years, but if marriage is unrelated to whether I hate the sight of you, then I can meaningfully precommit to remaining married to you... and the way I do that is by subjecting myself to a legal system that continues imposing those obligations on me for the rest of my life, no matter what happens.

And, sure, I can see how such a person would similarly want words like "monogamy" to refer to such a lifetime commitment, and words like "divorce" to refer to an empty set, etc.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 05 March 2014 02:34:03AM 1 point [-]

Just to confirm, this is in fact a decent summary of my position.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 March 2014 06:42:31PM 2 points [-]

The difference between monogamy and vegetarianism here is that monogamy requires a binding commitment from another person. Thus, the inability to make a binding contract is a problem for monogamy but not vegetarianism.

Comment author: Jiro 01 March 2014 08:02:16PM 1 point [-]

How does that distinguish being free to be monogamous and being free to be vegetarian? The number of vegetarians who make binding contracts to be vegetarian is essentially nonexistent.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2014 07:31:57PM 1 point [-]


Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 March 2014 07:39:36PM 0 points [-]

Because monogamy relies on your spouse also being monogamous.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 March 2014 08:13:52AM 1 point [-]

And playing chess relies on your opponent also following the rules of chess, so aren't we free to play chess either? (Or will the police arrest me if I castle while my king is in check?)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 March 2014 07:28:40PM *  -1 points [-]

Chess can rely on reputation since games are short and someone who refuses to play by the rules will find no one to play against (also the stakes are small). (And in high states games, e.g., tournaments you will at least be escorted out for refusing to play by the rules.) Note, that since monogamy assumes someone will only have one spouse ever, reputation is less useful.

A better example is, are we free to engage in commerce if the police refuse to enforce either non-payment or non-delivery? (Especially if they do enforce anti-violence and anti-theft laws against people attempting to take matters into their own hands in cases of non-payment or non-delivery). Another example, would you say companies are free to provide employee pensions if the law says that companies can cancel pensions anytime (even after retirement) and employees (or former employees) have no recourse if a company does cancel it?

Comment author: Jiro 03 March 2014 12:38:37AM 3 points [-]

There are many cases where the law doesn't require specific performance. If you hire someone to work for you, they can refuse to come to work. You can fire them, but you can't force them to work for you. If you offer to fix someone's sink in exchange for them fixing your car, one of you could fail to do the work. The other could sue and get paid some money, but the law won't enforce specific performance and you can't actually force another person to fix a sink or a car.

By your reasoning we are not "free to hire someone to do work" or "free to exchange sink fixing for car fixing".

And even in the chess example, you can't force someone to play chess, and if you exclude them from playing because of their reputation, they still are not playing chess with you. Soi by your reasoning, we are not free to "play chess with person X", even if you argue that we are free to play chess provided we aren't picky about partners.

Note, that since monogamy assumes someone will only have one spouse ever, reputation is less useful.

It's true that someone cannot gain a reputation for being honest in monogamy, but they can get a reputation for cheating. It only requires the "can have a reputation for cheating" half in order for reputation to be useful. It still lets them cheat the first time, but they can always cheat the first time in a chess game as well.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 March 2014 08:01:02AM 0 points [-]

A better example is, are we free to engage in commerce if the police refuse to enforce either non-payment or non-delivery?

We are indeed. One will just have to handle counterparty risk by other means, such as only dealing with people you know well, private enforcement, meeting for simultaneous performance, etc. This is readily observable in the real world everywhere that the legal system is weak, corrupt, or absent.

BTW, and this is just a nitpick, in Western countries where the legal system is reliable, the police do indeed refuse to enforce contracts, because it isn't part of their job. Instead, it is up to a wronged party to bring a civil action to the courts. The police have no role in the matter. Contract rights are not property rights.

As another has already pointed out, the enforcement carried out by the courts almost invariably consists of awarding monetary compensation, not specific performance, which happens only in certain exceptional cases. In the UK, these exceptional cases do not include personal services.

Another example, would you say companies are free to provide employee pensions if the law says that companies can cancel pensions anytime (even after retirement) and employees (or former employees) have no recourse if a company does cancel it?

You are trying to put your conclusion into the premise of an absurd hypothetical of Cloud Cuckoo Land. A pension contract that was terminable at will by the pension provider is a pension contract no-one would sign up to. A law saying that all pension arrangements are terminable at will is not going to be passed; if passed, people would find ways to structure their retirement plans that avoid whatever legal definition of "pension contract" was present in such an absurd law. Hey, suppose there was a law that when you buy something online, the supplier has no obligation to supply what you ordered? Well, go ahead and suppose it.

You are presumably trying to draw an analogy with the current state of marriage law. It would be more productive to talk about marriage law directly. Adultery is usually grounds for divorce. That looks like contract enforcement to me -- the sort of enforcement that contracts are subject to in the real world, rather than the fantasy S&M version in which the police drag the disobedient partner back in handcuffs. Time was when the guilty party would be sent away from the severed marriage without a penny (at least, if the guilty party was the woman), but that generally does not happen today. If you think the courts should regard adultery more sternly when deciding the division of the common property, go ahead and argue that, rather than claiming that no-one can be monogamous these days because the police won't "enforce" the marriage contract.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 11 February 2014 03:50:42AM *  4 points [-]

He who has begun has half done.

Dare to be wise; begin!

-- Horace

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 18 February 2014 08:52:54PM 4 points [-]

I once talked to a theorist (not RBC, micro) who said that his criterion for serious economics was stuff that you can’t explain to your mother. I would say that if you can’t explain it to your mother, or at least to your non-economist friends, there’s a good chance that you yourself don’t really know what you’re doing.

--Paul Krugman, "The Trouble With Being Abstruse"

Comment author: simplicio 19 February 2014 11:25:17PM 5 points [-]

big inferential distances usually --> long chain of reasoning --> at least one step is more likely to be wrong

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 20 February 2014 02:57:11AM 0 points [-]

On the other hand some things really are complicated.

Comment author: simplicio 21 February 2014 07:21:12PM 5 points [-]

Right, but I think the spirit of the Krugman quote is that complication may be unavoidable, but shouldn't be made into a goal or a badge of honour the way the theorist did. Also that complicatedness is ceteris paribus weak evidence of incorrectness, because of the logic I stated earlier.

Comment author: Lumifer 21 February 2014 08:03:12PM *  0 points [-]

The implication seems anti-rationality.

As Noah Smith points out

What Krugman is implicitly arguing is that macroeconomics is different. The idea seems to be that since academic macro theory is not (yet) good for making quantitative predictions, we should focus more on communicating ideas. Communicating ideas - or "storytelling", as some call it - requires simplicity and clarity.

Um. We can't forecast anything so let's construct some narratives..? :-/

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 21 February 2014 11:28:32PM 4 points [-]

We can't forecast anything so let's construct some narratives..?

I think the point is more "good forecasting requires keeping an eye on what your models are actually saying about the real world."

Comment author: Lumifer 23 February 2014 12:01:15AM *  3 points [-]

That's not what the quote expresses.

The quote basically says that there must be a dumbed-down version of describing whatever you are doing and you must know it -- otherwise you're clueless. And that just ain't true.

Specifically, it's not true in most hard sciences (an in math, too, of course).

Krugman, however, used to do research in economics where there is not much hard stuff and even that spectacularly doesn't work. Accordingly, there is nothing which is really complicated but does produce real results (as in, again, hard sciences). Given this, he thinks that really complicated things are just pointless and one must construct narratives -- because that's how economics, basically, exerts its influence. It makes up stories (about growth rates and money and productivity and... ) and if a story is too complicated it's no good.

That's fine for economics but a really bad path to take for disciplines which are actually grounded in reality.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 February 2014 09:20:24AM 3 points [-]

OTOH it was Feynman who said something like ‘we don't know how to explain [something] to freshmen, therefore we don't really understand it yet’, and Einstein and Rutherford are alleged to have said similar things about explaining stuff to grandmothers and bartenders respectively.

He probably was using the word “understand” in a relatively narrow sense (after all he was the same person who said that no-one understood QM), and I agree with your general point, but certain people do overestimate how impossible it is to explain certain things in a way that can be understood by intelligent laymen (as done e.g. in Feynman's QED).

Comment author: Lumifer 23 February 2014 04:47:12PM 1 point [-]

Yes, I think Krugman was just repeating a well-known observation without meaning all that much by it. However I think my point still stands: people in hard sciences (where results are checked against reality) can afford to make such observations, people in soft sciences (where what matters is sounding convincing) can not.

Comment author: ChristianKl 23 February 2014 09:16:48PM 1 point [-]

I think according to Feynman the fact that nobody understands QM is the reason why we can't easily teach it to freshman.

In some sense I think modern physics even dropped the goal of understanding. It got replaced by the mantra of "Shut up and calculate."

but certain people do overestimate how impossible it is to explain certain things in a way that can be understood by intelligent laymen (as done e.g. in Feynman's QED).

I also often underrate it. I once tried to teach a first year student in informatics A the principle of recursion. The whole course uses Haskel to make a point of teaching recursion. I don't think why was stupid but the new phenomenological primitive of recursion was really hard to get into her brain. I think I spent 2-3 hours in one-on-one tutoring.

There no way to explain a concept that requires 3 new phenomenological primitives that a layman doesn't have to that layman to make him really understand. You might find substitutions and explain the concept in a way that reduces to primitives he already has, but then you aren't really explaining the full concept.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2014 03:50:53PM 1 point [-]

In some sense I think modern physics even dropped the goal of understanding. It got replaced by the mantra of "Shut up and calculate."

You might enjoy the book How the Hippies Saved Physics by David Kaiser, if you haven't already read it.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 February 2014 10:18:31AM *  3 points [-]

Submitted for a fun discussion:

Think about the strangeness of today's situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on. So the paradox is, that it's much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.

-- Slavoj Zizek

(Several versions of this quote exist, with this seeming to be the oldest, dating to 2005, but he also articulated the same sentiment at the Occupy Wall Street protests, which is notable because they took place during a period when the established system of capitalism was in a self-acknowledged crisis.)

Rationality principle being invoked? What looks like impossibility or inevitability is often just a failure to generate alternative hypotheses.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 24 February 2014 12:39:49PM *  4 points [-]

I disagree with everything that Zizek says in this passage. What is strange about recognizing that global capitalism is here to stay, given the track record of the other two ideologies he mentions? The "cosmic" catastrophes (which are merely earthbound) aren't something that I see getting much interest from the general public, let alone obsession. Global warming does get interest but he doesn't use that example. The examples he does give, asteroids and viruses, are real things, that anyone who knows about agrees are real problems. They are in fact easier to imagine than any "radical change in capitalism", because they are vastly simpler. Newtonian physics applied to rocks in near vacuum. Replicators whose only perception of the world is as atoms they can use to make more of themselves. There is nothing paradoxical about this.

Absent from the passage is any hint of an idea for the radical change in capitalism that he presumably wants to see. Perhaps he describes one elsewhere?

Comment author: aarongertler 14 February 2014 09:33:39PM *  4 points [-]


Better read than excerpted in full.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 February 2014 07:39:52AM 10 points [-]

Wait, hold on. You can't just flood Hell. There are people down there, apparently preserved well enough to torture for eternity without ageing (except if ageing is the torture, of course). Surely there's some way to exploit this!

Also, Hell would mean Lucifer is somewhere down there. Do you think we can dredge him up for a decent Faustian bargain? Any decent LW-er should be able to do a few things with Faust's traditional Omni-Knowledge that should render Christian-style immortal souls obsolete and unnecessary, and possibly irretrievable when Lucifer comes collecting as well.

Let's get Munchkining, people.

Comment author: bramflakes 16 February 2014 04:15:06PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: ErikM 16 February 2014 11:19:27PM *  7 points [-]

Ehh, The Salvation War has some interesting moments about facing down existential threats and not giving up and building a bright future for humanity across the corpses of eldritch horrors, but you have to be willing to slog through a lot of drek. I read the first book of The Salvation War and it can't seem to make up its mind just to what extent it's supposed to be following any particular cosmology, mythology, or theology. I get the impression that it wants to be a chronicle of the moment when humanity cast down the Hordes of Hell, but it's executed more like a chronicle of the moment when humanity engaged in massive amounts of gun porn against acid-blooded fire-spitting lightning-throwing ogres, that happened to be called demons. I say ogres because they're large, brutish, stupid, and generally fill much the same niche as ogres do in Dungeons&Dragons. Whereas many of the classical demonic attributes like temptation, seduction, offering forbidden knowledge, reading the hearts of men to know your dark secrets and embarassing desires, or confronting you with a litany of your sins, have been left more or less by the wayside.

Comment author: Nornagest 17 February 2014 12:29:15AM *  5 points [-]

I got the impression that The Salvation War might have happened when the author read a synopsis of the Old Testament and noticed that, with a few obvious exceptions like that creation narrative thing, we can now do just about everything that God's cited as doing. Which is a nifty observation and would make for a good short story, but I don't think it can quite carry something the length of a long novel.

Particularly in the MilSF genre, which devolves rapidly if it ever becomes obvious that the central conflict's heavily weighted towards the protagonists.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 February 2014 10:27:21AM 1 point [-]

I got the impression that The Salvation War might have happened when the author read a synopsis of the Old Testament and noticed that, with a few obvious exceptions like that creation narrative thing, we can now do just about everything that God's cited as doing.

Your impression is exactly correct. That is literally what happened, at least according to the TVTropes page.

Comment author: DanielLC 28 February 2014 06:35:06PM 1 point [-]

They do have seduction. They just never managed to use it successfully. Mostly because people quickly started wearing tinfoil hats. That doesn't stop it completely, but if everyone can see that you're a demon, all the pheromones will do is make them stop being uncomfortable with you.

They can read the hearts of men to know their dark secrets and embarrassing desires, but they've never used it for more than sorting souls into the nine circles of hell, for no adequately explained reason.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 March 2014 05:00:40AM 0 points [-]

So the humans win because the demons are incompetent at using their abilities.

Comment author: Mestroyer 15 February 2014 03:40:37AM *  5 points [-]

It's clever, but I don't think the workers would be irrational for sealing it up.

If Hell is real, then it makes sense to conclude Christianity or Islam is mostly true too. Which means that a super-powerful agent wants those people tortured. If you try and save them, you will fail. (There's no thwarting an omnipotent or near-omnipotent being). And this agent will probably torture you too for trying.

Edit: In other words, "Nobody fucks with the Jesus."

When I try and imagine what the god who could exist and call himself Yahweh and not have been noticed until now would do in a situation, my brain spits out "do nothing and continue to hide oneself, because it was part of the plan all along"

So maybe by flooding Hell you're acausally making Yahweh decide in advance when he made the plan "I'm gonna torture people up until this person floods Hell." instead of "I'm gonna torture them forever."

Comment author: aarongertler 15 February 2014 06:13:10AM 7 points [-]

Cool response! Upvoted. But when I saw the comic, I read it as:

"Hey! Certain things are pretty scary and seem to be beyond our human abilities to deal with! But in the face of fear, we should size things up and take action, large-scale action if need be." In other words, a metaphor for death. (But I've been seeing many things as metaphors for death lately, so your mileage may vary.)

The "Yahweh wants it this way" conclusion is interesting, but then again: If God had to put Hell literally underground, he seems like more a Philip Pullman-ish "mortal god" than an all-powerful superbeing, since he works on the same material plane as us, more or less. (Imagine, for example, what the Devil would be in a literal underground hell. Invincible monster? Probably nothing a few nukes couldn't deal with.) Or perhaps they found the door to Hades and they'll get to face off against a (very beatable) Greek pantheon.

Either way: Better to wage war on Hell than let it sit there. I don't trust any superbeing not to send me there, however pure a life I lead (even if we're just thinking about Christianity vs. Islam, I seem to have only half a chance at Heaven).

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 15 February 2014 03:16:35AM 1 point [-]

How is this a rationality quote? The main conceit amounts deciding who would win in a fight based on how awesome Monroe happens to find them.

Comment author: aarongertler 15 February 2014 06:14:51AM 1 point [-]

"Let's just seal up Hell and leave it there" = "Let's just accept the good things about death and leave it there". But I see lots of things with LW glasses on at this point, so it could be a stretch. Also just a fun example of seeing problems from a new angle

Comment author: [deleted] 15 February 2014 08:19:41AM 2 points [-]

If I hadn't read Three Worlds Collide, I would very likely not have gotten Black Hat Guy's point in that comic.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 16 February 2014 08:24:13PM *  0 points [-]

To me that seemed as more of a case of,

"Let's flood hell with the ocean, Satan won't escape" = "Let's just put this AI in a box, it won't get out".

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 February 2014 07:32:42PM *  4 points [-]

Something poorly understood about skeptical philosophers (Hume, Sextus Empiricus, Huet, Montaigne, Pyrrho & the Pyrrhonian skeptics) is that their skepticism tends to be directed at contemporary experts, rather than traditions, which they tend to follow as a default strategy. And the crowds against which they stand up are the crowds of "experts", or the masses infatuated with "expert" driven ideas.

[ Note 1- This is in response to a question by Adam Gurri who was wondering whether there was an inconsistency between being independent and skeptical, yet respecting the "inner" information in the time-tested thanks to the Lindy Effect.]
[Note 2- The "skeptics" of today do the exact opposite: an agglomeration of "light" intellectuals going against traditions but not against experts.]

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 February 2014 07:39:17PM 4 points [-]

The problem isn't just that there are so many things we do for reasons too deep for us to understand; it is that our attempts to explain them spoil the party and cause us to stop doing them.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: Stabilizer 03 February 2014 11:13:23PM 3 points [-]

From McKee's textbook of psychoanalysis:

"Story begins when an event, either by human decision or accident in the universe, radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist's life, arousing in that character the need to restore the balance of life. To do so, that character will conceive of an "Object of Desire," that which they [believe] they need to put life back into balance. They will then go off into their world, into themselves, in the various dimensions of their existence, seeking that Object of Desire, trying to restore the balance of life, and they will struggle against forces of antagonism that will come from their own inner natures as human beings, their relationships with other human beings, their personal and/or social life, and the physical environment itself. They may or may not achieve that Object of Desire; they may or may not finally be able to restore their life to a satisfying balance. That, in the simplest possible way, defines the elements of story."

Everything that happens in your life is digested by you through this process, so it would be worth your time to memorize it.

-The Last Psychiatrist

Comment author: EGarrett 04 February 2014 01:39:06PM 2 points [-]

A lot of stories are about characters trying to fix problems in their lives, but to claim that this is "story" as a whole isn't really accurate.

You could gather a bunch of kids around a campfire and tell them how the Earth turns and the Sun rises in the morning when we rotate into its light, then it becomes dark as we spin away from it. If the kids didn't know this, they would probably be fascinated by it. This would have nothing to do with a character putting their life in order.

In order to innovate, it helps to find the most reductionist definitions of things that you can, so you can find new ways to do that thing. In the case of "story," it's more accurate to say that it's communicating a series of events that give people enjoyable emotions. You get a lot of potential emotions out of talking about people trying to overcome problems, but you also get some enjoyable emotions out of other things, like my example of the Sun lighting the Earth, which gives the feeling of satisfying curiosity.

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 February 2014 10:58:17PM *  1 point [-]

You could gather a bunch of kids around a campfire and tell them how the Earth turns and the Sun rises in the morning when we rotate into its light, then it becomes dark as we spin away from it. If the kids didn't know this, they would probably be fascinated by it. This would have nothing to do with a character putting their life in order.

Did you actually do this experiment in reality?

I also think that the kids would treat the Earth and the Sun as protagonists.

Comment author: CCC 06 February 2014 04:23:45AM *  1 point [-]

That would be an example of a story without a protagonist. Your life has, by definition, a protagonist; you. it cannot therefore be a story without a protagonist. It might not be 'story' as a whole, but as long as you desire something, it seems to me that the story of your life will fit into that definition.

Comment author: CCC 06 February 2014 04:20:58AM 1 point [-]

Am I missing something, or is this almost a tautology? "Sometimes you will desire things. I don't know if you'll obtain them." Is there anything else that that quote says?

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 February 2014 10:53:39PM 2 points [-]

You are missing something.

The quote says that we seek the object of desire as a means to bring our lifes into balance. As a spoke lately about Eliezer in relation to story telling it means Eliezer is trying to safe the world from UFAI in order to fulfill his psychological need to bring his own life in order.

The way I imagine Eliezer he would tell you that you misunderstand him if you would treat him like he just wants to safe the world because he has a strong need to bring his own life in order. He might tell you that psychoanalysts are full of crap if they identify an imbalance in his life as a course for his quest to safe the world.

Most people are not seriously out in a quest to safe the world. If you believe in what the psychoanalysis textbook said you might ask: "What event happened that brought so much imbalance into Eliezer life that he went into the quest to safe the world?"

Comment author: Yvain 02 February 2014 03:56:26PM *  3 points [-]

'East of the Sun, West of the Moon,' rather than being an unreachable fairy tale place, actually refers to where I am like 25% of the time.

-- @superlativeish

Comment author: Apprentice 18 February 2014 11:27:26PM 2 points [-]

You don't believe in ghosts, right? Well, neither do I. But how would you like to spend a night alone in a graveyard? I am subject to night fears, and I can tell you that I shouldn't like it at all. And yet I am perfectly well aware that fear of ghosts is contrary to science, reason, and religion. If I were sentenced to spend a night alone in a graveyard, I should know beforehand that no piece of evidence was going to transpire during the night that would do anything to raise the infinitesimal prior probability of the hypothesis that there are ghosts. I should already know that twigs were going to snap and the wind moan and that there would be half-seen movements in the darkness. And I should know that the inevitable occurrences of these things would be of no evidential value whatever. And yet, after I had been frog-marched into the graveyard, I should feel a thrill of fear every time one of these things happened. I could reason with myself: "I believe that the dead are in Heaven or Hell, or else that they sleep until the General Resurrection. And if my religion is an illusion, then some form of materialism is the correct metaphysic, and materialism is incompatible with the existence of ghosts. And if the Church and the materialists are both wrong and there are ghosts, what could be the harm in a ghost? What could such a poor wispy thing do to one?" And what would the value of this very cogent piece of reasoning be? None at all, at least in respect of allaying my fear of ghosts.

-- Peter van Inwagen

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 19 February 2014 12:15:26AM 5 points [-]

And if the Church and the materialists are both wrong and there are ghosts, what could be the harm in a ghost? What could such a poor wispy thing do to one?

If the Church is wrong, and the materialists are wrong, then it seems that we really know very little about how the world works; and if this is so, then on what, exactly, can you base this dismissal?

In many fictional settings, ghosts can be very harmful indeed. What if the ghost has telekinetic powers? What if it can cast magic spells? What if it can possess you and devour your soul? No, if I were inclined to go ahead and believe in ghosts, I would not then proceed to dismiss their threat so easily.

Comment author: Apprentice 19 February 2014 07:53:19AM 4 points [-]

No, if I were inclined to go ahead and believe in ghosts, I would not then proceed to dismiss their threat so easily.

I agree, that seems to be the weakest step. What I guess he means is that if there are ghosts they seem to be quite wispy and unobtrusive. If they went around and did a lot of stuff we would presumably have good evidence for their existence.

Comment author: ChristianKl 19 February 2014 08:20:52PM 2 points [-]

And if the Church and the materialists are both wrong and there are ghosts, what could be the harm in a ghost? What could such a poor wispy thing do to one?

Possession. I think is psychology the effect is named "Alien Hand Syndrome". There was a time when my arm was moving around in ways that I didn't control (but could override if I wanted) that happened directly after a little girl doing "spirit healing".

While certainly not believing in ghosts at that moment in time, I was seriously thinking about reading up on defenses against ghosts.

But then today I would have no problem spending a night meditating at a graveyard. I think people aren't really afraid of ghosts but they are afraid of the unknown. If you are a materialist and have to deal with a goal, the biggest fear isn't that the ghost hurts you but that you have to rearrange your whole way of looking at the world.

Spending a night at a graveyard might be a good training exercise for a rationalist. If you don't want to admit that you believe in ghosts but fear being in a graveyard at night, go and face your fears.

Comment author: Creutzer 19 February 2014 10:13:49PM *  1 point [-]

If you don't want to admit that you believe in ghosts but fear being in a graveyard at night, go and face your fears.

Why? I have better things to do than train my system 1, which alieves in various things, on such matters which are unlikely to ever come up in my life and be relevant to my goals.

Comment author: glomerulus 19 February 2014 10:29:39PM 5 points [-]

There are more reasons to do it than training your system 1. It sounds like it would be an interesting experience and make a good story. Interesting experiences are worth their weight in insights, and good stories are useful to any goals that involve social interaction.

Comment author: chaosmage 20 February 2014 12:26:06PM 2 points [-]

Also, graveyards at night are a lot less crowded then parks, i.e. awesome for outdoors sex.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 February 2014 03:16:32PM 1 point [-]

Isn't that rather disrespectful to the dead? Yes, I realize the dead are not physically alive to be appalled, but I still think a graveyard is a place of life-taking, not life-making. We ought respect that.

Comment author: blacktrance 20 February 2014 03:27:30PM 1 point [-]

Why should we respect that? As you said, the dead don't care.

Comment author: shminux 20 February 2014 10:19:01PM 4 points [-]

"Respect for the dead" is a shorthand for "Respect for the living who care about the dead".

Comment author: polymathwannabe 20 February 2014 10:23:16PM 0 points [-]

So, when I commemorate my friend J.'s death every year, I'm really honoring myself?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 21 February 2014 04:01:55AM 1 point [-]

You may be making yourself a better person; but J. is — alas — not around to receive benefit.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 February 2014 03:35:34PM 1 point [-]

Do you prefer them to be dead? Also, what of their living relatives who come to the graveyard to mourn?

Comment author: blacktrance 20 February 2014 03:41:15PM 2 points [-]

I don't prefer them to be dead, but I'm not making them any more dead by being in a graveyard. As for the living relatives - some may not like it, but that alone doesn't necessarily mean that it's wrong to do so, as they're not actually being harmed, only their sensibilities are being offended.

Comment author: glomerulus 20 February 2014 03:58:18PM 3 points [-]

It's not rude if it's not a social setting. If no one sees you do it, no one's sensibilities are offended.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 February 2014 03:43:09PM 1 point [-]

So we can at least agree that it's extremely rude, but you place less moral value on the rudeness than I do?

Comment author: Salemicus 27 February 2014 08:33:07PM 2 points [-]

You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.

G.K. Chesterton

Comment author: Stabilizer 28 February 2014 11:16:32AM 1 point [-]

I feel there is an important insight here, but somewhat hidden. Let me try to capture it in one domain: mathematics.

Any mathematician will tell you that the way to prove good theorems is NOT to start with the axioms and move down the tree of implications until you hit upon something that looks interesting.

Instead, the way is to start with examples, or with an intuition, and try to formalize it into a conjecture. And then try to build further intuition as to why it might be true; possibly by trying more examples or building some heuristic arguments. Once you get a sense of why it might be true, then use that intuition to look for techniques that people have used to capture that intuition. As an example, if you feel that the objects you're studying have some notion of closeness, then you can introduce a topology on your objects and then use the techniques of topology to make further progress. And only at the end, when you're almost sure about how it's going to go down, do you build rigorous proofs starting from some simple statements.

So I guess Chesterton is trying to emphasize that building an intuitive, heuristic understanding of why something might be true is much more important than trying to build a deductive argument using logic. The latter always follows the former. I would be very interested in examples outside of math.

Comment author: bramflakes 02 February 2014 05:32:29PM 2 points [-]

In our days of unlimited science and technology, people's unfulfilled aspirations have become so important to them that a special word, popular in the press, has been coined to denote such dreams. That word is breakthrough. More rarely, it may also be used to describe something, usually trivial, which has actually been accomplished.

John R. Pierce, An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals and Noise, during a discussion about translating the idea of a vocoder to transmit human facial movements.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 February 2014 07:36:45PM 1 point [-]

The ultimate freedom lies in not having to explain "why" you did something.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 02 February 2014 07:39:58PM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure that I'd call that the "ultimate" freedom (ranking things like this always seems contrived), but it is definitely an important freedom, so the spirit of the quote is entirely valid.

Comment author: fortyeridania 03 February 2014 08:16:43PM 1 point [-]

What is the relationship of this to rationality?

Comment author: [deleted] 04 February 2014 03:14:40PM -1 points [-]

If you look over the Best of 2013 and Best of All Time rationality quotes thread, you'll quickly notice nearly none of the top ones relate to rationality.

Just like subreddits converge to images and jokes, less wrong converges to in-group circlejerkery.

Comment author: Vulture 04 February 2014 03:24:09PM *  2 points [-]

Aside from the regrettable anti-death quote that crowns the All Time list, most of the top quotes on both seem to be directly about epistemic rationality.

Comment author: roystgnr 04 February 2014 08:52:45PM 5 points [-]

Although I agree that the anti-death joke is overrated, it can be read as a general statement on instrumental rationality, a recognition of the fact that Type I and Type II errors can have very asymmetric consequences. The question of "what hypothesis should I act on when under great uncertainty" often boils down to "which action is easier to correct if/when I turn out to be wrong later". Under this reading the joke isn't "death really sucks amirite?" but rather "if I'm alive by mistake it's much easier to change that than if I'm dead by mistake".

Comment author: Ixiel 07 February 2014 02:00:18PM *  0 points [-]

"Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon." Susan Ertz

Edit: I read this as "Hey, if I can't add days to the end I'll add them to the middle." It never occurred to me to think the author wanted everyone to die.

I don't want to sound defensive, but lest people think the same of me: I assure you, reader, whoever you are: I do not want you to die. (Never thought I'd have to make that as a contentful disclaimer)

Comment author: brazil84 07 February 2014 03:00:31PM 10 points [-]

All things being equal, I think I would rather be at loose ends than be dead.

That said, I would imagine that part of the problem is that many peoples' desire for immortality is informed partly by an instinctive reluctance to die -- as distinguished from a genuine preference for living over non-existence.

Comment author: Error 07 February 2014 04:57:43PM 6 points [-]

Mine is partly informed by the desire to have sufficient time to figure out what to do with myself on said rainy Sunday afternoon. Also by the desire to be able to do Nothing on said afternoon if I want to, without it exacting an opportunity cost.

Actually, that might be exactly what I want, or at least a concise description of one of the things I want: For a particular use of time to have zero opportunity cost. I wouldn't be as bitter about going to work for eight to ten hours a day if that didn't mean eight to ten hours I can't use doing something more interesting/entertaining/relaxing/whatever.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 February 2014 06:53:26PM 1 point [-]

For a particular use of time to have zero opportunity cost.

I think this requires everyone to be immortal...and maybe everything?

Comment author: DSimon 07 February 2014 04:07:41PM 1 point [-]

That might be a distinction without a difference; my preferences come partly from my instincts.

Comment author: brazil84 07 February 2014 09:16:16PM 2 points [-]

Well I think it's analogous to the difference between liking and wanting, as described here:


If there is a distinction between wanting and liking, then arguably there is a distinction between disliking and "not wanting."

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 07 February 2014 04:49:51PM *  5 points [-]

So, the solution is to deny them immortality. Right?

I'm continually amazed by people who think that conflate the concepts of whether immortality is a sensible choice for any given individual and whether it's ok to decide, for all of humanity, whether the choice should even be available. (And, almost invariably, answer the latter question in the affirmative, and furthermore usually decide that no, the choice should not be available.)

My answer to statements, or questions, or insinuations (like the one in the parent) that maybe it's not a good idea to be immortal, is:

"By all means, don't be immortal. Go ahead and die. I won't stop you."

But don't think you have any right to make that decision for me.

Comment author: Lumifer 07 February 2014 04:52:49PM 4 points [-]

So, the solution is to deny them immortality. Right?

Solution? The quote is an observation, it does not state a problem to be solved.

Comment author: wedrifid 08 February 2014 02:05:33AM *  2 points [-]

"Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon." Susan Ertz

Even if this is denotatively true (I don't know a single person who meets that criteria but maybe a million of them exist) the connotations are still bullshit.

This is no rationality quote.

Comment author: higurashimerlin 07 February 2014 05:43:11PM 1 point [-]

Whether boredom is an issue, death doesn't seem like an ideal solution. If we were a race of immortals and we start to get boredom I don't think that suicide is a solution anyone would propose.

Comment author: Creutzer 07 February 2014 05:50:33PM 1 point [-]

I wouldn't be so sure of that.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 February 2014 07:35:20PM 0 points [-]

The only valid political system is one that can handle an imbecile in power without suffering from it.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: wedrifid 03 February 2014 08:31:37AM 4 points [-]

(By way partial of support for quote I perceive to be downvoted too far.)

The only valid political system is one that can handle an imbecile in power without suffering from it.

While the quote has the typical problems of hyperbole found in this kind of soundbite, the principle conveyed seems sound. Minimising the damage that can be done by stupid people with power is one of the more important desideratum when designing a system of power allocation.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 02 February 2014 08:58:34PM 6 points [-]

"Without suffering" seems like a really high bar. Additionally, do we really want a system that can, presumably, put an utter genius with leet rationality skillz in the top position, and not gain from it? If the correlation between doing well and having a smart leader is literally zero, that's what you get.

Comment author: Desrtopa 03 February 2014 06:27:22AM 4 points [-]

I wouldn't call the "without suffering from it" clause a high bar to clear. You'd just need a system where any leader's intentions will be carried out so ineffectually that it makes no practical difference who's in charge.

A system which can actually achieve desirable outcomes with an idiot in charge, though, is probably at least as difficult to implement as a system which ensures that only competent people will end up in charge.

Comment author: lavalamp 03 February 2014 06:12:26AM *  2 points [-]

I dunno. I'd be pretty happy with a system that produced reasonable output when staffed with idiots, because that seems like a certainty. I actually think that's probably why democracy seems to be better than monarchies-- it has a much lower requirement for smarts/benevolence. "Without suffering" may be a high bar, but the universe is allowed to give us problems like that! (And I don't think that democracy is even close to a complete solution.)

EDIT: Also, perhaps the entirety of the system should be to make sure that an "utter genius with leet rationality skillz" is in the top position? I'd be very happy with a system that caused that even when staffed by morons.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 February 2014 03:58:34PM 3 points [-]

Additionally, do we really want a system that can, presumably, put an utter genius with leet rationality skillz in the top position, and not gain from it?

This response seems to rely on wilfully misunderstanding of the grandparent.

Preventing damage from an imbecile does not require or imply inability to benefit from a genius. The difference in outcome between having an average leader and an imbecile must be minimal. The difference between an average leader and a genius can be arbitrarily large. It would be uncharitable (as well as just plain wrong) to assume that Taleb is claiming that the correlation between leader intelligence and performance is zero.

(Whether such a system is remotely possible is a whole other issue.)

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 February 2014 02:35:53PM 1 point [-]

The point of the quote is to not have a single center of power. Traditionally democracy is supposed to have checks and balances. If you have three powers and the legislative makes a bad law the supreme court can just throw out the law and no damage is done.

If you however have a legislative led by a utter genius with leet rationality skillz that makes great laws the supreme court won't throw out the laws.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 05 February 2014 06:42:48AM 0 points [-]

If you have three powers and the legislative makes a bad law the supreme court can just throw out the law and no damage is done.

Not quiet, it set a precedent that increases the supreme court's power and makes the system more vulnerable to idiots on the supreme court.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 06 February 2014 06:12:30PM 3 points [-]

Alternatively, one that prevents an imbecile from being in power in the first place?

Comment author: lukeprog 22 February 2014 10:53:58PM 1 point [-]

Men use the past to prop up their prejudices.

A.J.P. Taylor

Comment author: iarwain1 02 February 2014 05:42:54PM *  -1 points [-]

The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.

Winston Churchill

Comment author: [deleted] 03 February 2014 09:02:54AM 11 points [-]

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

-- H.L. Mencken

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 February 2014 01:01:54PM 12 points [-]

I find it rather unlikely that he ever said that. Google turns up only unattributed repetitions.

Wikipedia and Wikiquote require quotes to be attributed using reliable sources. I think the rationality quotes threads should adopt the same standard.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 February 2014 08:38:20AM *  6 points [-]

The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.

I observe that by their very nature claims that something is the "best argument against X" can more readily support X than undermine it.

Rejecting all the arguments against democracy that are better than said five minute conversation constitutes rather comprehensive support for democracy. (It rules out considerations of the various failure modes, perverse incentives and biases that are associated with such a system.)

Comment author: Manfred 02 February 2014 09:50:43PM 3 points [-]

The best argument argument

This is is a problem here.

Comment author: iarwain1 02 February 2014 10:46:21PM *  2 points [-]

Fixed, thanks.

Comment author: Jiro 02 February 2014 06:53:35PM *  0 points [-]

That's like saying that the best argument against capitalism is a five minute conversation with the average person about how he decides to buy things.

Or, in other words, Fallacy of composition .

Just because individual voters vote poorly (or because individual purchasers only buy things based on how cheap they are) doesn't mean that democracy (or the market) don't work.

Also, remember that Churchill was a colonialist and opposed the independence of India.

Comment author: James_Miller 02 February 2014 11:40:04PM 7 points [-]

Test: find someone who just voted and ask the person to (a) justify their vote, and (b) justify the purchase of some large ticket item (cell phone, car, house) they made. I bet they make more intelligent arguments for (b) than (a).

Comment author: Desrtopa 03 February 2014 05:54:55AM 3 points [-]

Given an impartial arbitrator to judge the intelligence of the arguments, I think I would probably take that bet, at least for cell phone or laptop scale purchases, rather than something like a house or car, where the decisions are usually made over much longer timeframes.

However, regardless of which decisions people argue for more persuasively, it doesn't really prove much, because these types of explanations overwhelmingly tend to be justifications people create for themselves, rather than the true reasons underlying their decisions.

Comment author: Jiro 03 February 2014 12:16:16AM 2 points [-]

They may be able to justify the act of purchase, but they won't be able to justify (or usually, even comprehend) how their purchase affects the prices and supply of items on the market. Yet their purchase does exactly that, and does so much better than some central authority setting prices and deciding how much of an item is to be sold. In fact, that's the best system we've found so far of running a market and it depends on millions of people who are only acting for their own selfish reasons and have no idea how what they are doing affects the larger picture.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 02 February 2014 07:41:00PM 6 points [-]

Also, remember that Churchill was a colonialist and opposed the independence of India.

Isn't it sort of embarrassing to use an ad hominem against a quote which is so obviously misattributed?

Comment author: Jiro 02 February 2014 08:37:19PM *  1 point [-]

You can use an ad hominem against an argument from authority. It's fighting fire with fire by showing that the authority isn't such a good authority. Sure, that has no bearing on the truth of the statement, but the appeal to authority never did in the first place.

The point is that Churchill opposed democracy in a situation where the verdict of history is that opposing democracy was absolutely the wrong thing to do. A quote which shows Churchill being elitist and against democracy completely fits with that. That isn't obviously a case of misattribution at all, it's just Churchill being Churchill.

Of course, Churchill was known for speaking out in favor of democracy in the context of Britain, but don't confuse that with wanting democracy for everyone.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 February 2014 03:11:44AM 1 point [-]

The point is that Churchill opposed democracy in a situation where the verdict of history is that opposing democracy was absolutely the wrong thing to do.

What point would that be? True opposing independence for India turned out to be wrong, then again independence for the African colonies has been mostly a disaster.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 02 February 2014 09:00:53PM 8 points [-]

The cases are not really parallel. A bad capitalist loses money and becomes less strongly weighted in a sensible list of all capitalists. A bad voter gets a bad government, but is quite unlikely to lose his vote as a result, although it's been known to happen. But the feedback is very slow, very uncertain, and worst of all, binary - you can't lose 10% of your vote.

Comment author: Strange7 03 February 2014 06:47:07PM -1 points [-]

It's not strictly binary. Absurdities like the electoral college and gerrymandering can effectively devalue some people's votes without eliminating them outright.

Comment author: bramflakes 02 February 2014 07:36:01PM 5 points [-]

They aren't equivalent. Markets have very strong self-corrective behavior that either punish poor decisions, or reward someone else who fixes the result of the poor decision. Democracy punishes poor voter decisions extremely weakly if at all, and on much longer timescales. The behavior of individual voters can be generalized to the behavior of voters en masse.

Comment author: EGarrett 13 February 2014 08:57:11PM 0 points [-]

"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them." -Galileo Galilei (via BrainyQuote)

Comment author: Mestroyer 14 February 2014 01:03:17AM 7 points [-]

It's got a few things going for it.

It sounds really profound, It's by a person well-respected for his contributions to science It seems to give usable advice for improving your rationality.

Only one problem: it's bullshit. Standard counterexample: quantum mechanics. But even in Galileo's time, or earlier, a rationalist shouldn't have believed this. There's a huge sampling bias. You don't tend to discover things you can't understand.

Comment author: snafoo 18 February 2014 08:49:06PM 5 points [-]

Quantum mechanics is infinitely easier to understand than to discover.

Comment author: Discredited 17 February 2014 05:14:17AM *  1 point [-]

You are never going to catch up, and neither is anyone else.

-- Gian-Carlo Rota

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 10 February 2014 02:02:52AM *  -1 points [-]

As F. Scott Fitzgerald might have said if he had been a little more sober: the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to notice that this bathtub gin bottle is both part empty and part full at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

Steve Sailer

Comment author: Vaniver 10 February 2014 08:33:26PM 2 points [-]


Comment author: Eugine_Nier 11 February 2014 02:28:14AM 1 point [-]

Thanks, fixed.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 05 February 2014 02:35:22PM 0 points [-]

Frederick Starr: Lost Enlightenment

Very interesting account of the rise and fall of the arab enlightenment in central asia.

First chapter here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s10064.pdf

From that chapter:

There is no more vexing question regarding the flowering of intellectual and cultural life in the era of Ibn Sina and Biruni than the date of its end. The most commonly accepted terminus point is the Mongol invasion, which Chinggis Khan launched in the spring of 1219. But this turns out to be both too early and too late. It is too early because of the several bursts of cultural brilliance that occurred thereafter; and it is too late because the cultural and religious crisis that threw the entire enterprise of rational enquiry, logic, and Muslim humanism into question occurred over a century prior to the Mongol invasion, when a Central Asian theologian named Ghazali placed strict limits on the exercise of logic and reason, demolished received assumptions about cause and effect, and ruthlessly attacked what he considered “the incoherence of the philosophers.”1 That he himself was at the same time a subtle and nuanced thinker and a genuine champion of the life of piety made his attack all the more effective.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 05 February 2014 09:06:27PM *  3 points [-]

Thanks for making me aware of this (I added it to my "to read" list on Goodreads), but this isn't really a rationality quote.

Comment author: Nornagest 05 February 2014 07:31:17PM 3 points [-]

Should this go in the media thread?

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 06 February 2014 09:11:11PM 2 points [-]


The key point is "That he himself was at the same time a subtle and nuanced thinker and a genuine champion of the life of piety made his attack all the more effective." which is a "rationality quote" or else I'm mistakes as what qualifies. And the rest just leads up to it and provides interesting context.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 07 February 2014 07:09:50AM 0 points [-]

If you're interested in the history of how science can be lost, you may also be interested in The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why It Had to Be Reborn by Lucio Russo.

Comment author: Salemicus 19 February 2014 11:16:18PM *  -2 points [-]

Winston Churchill reputedly quipped that fanatics are people who cannot change their minds and will not change the subject. He got their epistemology just right in his first point. But perhaps he got them wrong in his second point. It is not so much that they will not change the subject. Rather, they cannot change it, because they have no other subject. That is the nature of their crippled epistemology, without which they would not be fanatics.

Russell Hardin, in Political Extremism and Rationality.

Comment author: EGarrett 05 February 2014 01:35:52AM -2 points [-]

"To learn is to stabilize preestablished synaptic combinations, and to eliminate the surplus."

--Jean-Pierre Changeux

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 04 February 2014 11:37:41AM *  -2 points [-]

At multiple points in its development, research in connectionism has been marked by technical breakthroughs that significantly advanced the computational and representational power of existing models. These breakthroughs led to excitement that connectionism was the best framework within which to understand the brain. However, the initial rushes of research that followed focused primarily on demonstrations of what could be accomplished within this framework, with little attention to the theoretical commitments behind the models or whether their operation captured something fundamental to human or animal cognition. Consequently, when challenges arose to connectionism’s computational power, the field suffered major setbacks, because there was insufficient theoretical or empirical grounding to fall back on. Only after researchers began to take connectionism seriously as a mechanistic model, to address what it could and could not predict, and to consider what constraints it placed on psychological theory, did the field mature to the point that it was able to make a lasting contribution. This shift in perspective also helped to clarify the models’ scope, in terms of what questions they should be expected to answer, and identified shortcomings that in turn spurred further research.

There are of course numerous perspectives on the historical and current contributions of connectionism, and it is not the purpose of the present article to debate these views. Instead, we merely summarize two points in the history of connectionism that illustrate how overemphasis on computational power at the expense of theoretical development can delay scientific progress.

Early work on artificial neurons by McCulloch and Pitts (1943) and synaptic learning rules by Hebb (1949) showed how simple, neuron-like units could automatically learn various prediction tasks. This new framework seemed very promising as a source of explanations for autonomous, intelligent behavior. A rush of research followed, culminated by Rosenblatt’s (1962) perceptron model, for which he boldly claimed, “Given an elementary a-perceptron, a stimulus world W, and any classification C(W) for which a solution exists, . . . an error correction procedure will always yield a solution to C(W) in finite time” (p. 111). However, Minsky and Papert (1969) pointed out a fatal flaw: Perceptrons are provably unable to solve problems requiring nonlinear solutions. This straightforward yet unanticipated critique devastated the connectionist movement such that there was little research under that framework for the ensuing 15 years.

Connectionism underwent a revival in themid-1980s, primarily triggered by the development of back-propagation, a learning algorithm that could be used in multilayer networks (Rumelhart et al. 1986). This advance dramatically expanded the representational capacity of connectionist models, to the point where they were capable of approximating any function to arbitrary precision, bolstering hopes that paired with powerful learning rules any task could be learnable (Hornik et al. 1989). This technical advance led to a flood of new work, as researchers sought to show that neural networks could reproduce the gamut of psychological phenomena, from perception to decision making to language processing (e.g., McClelland et al. 1986; Rumelhart et al. 1986). Unfortunately, the bubble was to burst once again, following a series of attacks on connectionism’s representational capabilities and lack of grounding. Connectionist models were criticized for being incapable of capturing the compositionality and productivity characteristic of language processing and other cognitive representations (Fodor & Pylyshyn 1988); for being too opaque (e.g., in the distribution and dynamics of their weights) to offer insight into their own operation, much less that of the brain (Smolensky 1988); and for using learning rules that are biologically implausible and amount to little more than a generalized regression (Crick 1989). The theoretical position underlying connectionism was thus reduced to the vague claim that that the brain can learn through feedback to predict its environment, without a psychological explanation being offered of how it does so. As before, once the excitement over computational power was tempered, the shortage of theoretical substance was exposed.

One reason that research in connectionism suffered such setbacks is that, although there were undeniably important theoretical contributions made during this time, overall there was insufficient critical evaluation of the nature and validity of the psychological claims underlying the approach. During the initial explosions of connectionist research, not enough effort was spent asking what it would mean for the brain to be fundamentally governed by distributed representations and tuning of association strengths, or which possible specific assumptions within this framework were most consistent with the data. Consequently, when the limitations of the metaphor were brought to light, the field was not prepared with an adequate answer. On the other hand, pointing out the shortcomings of the approach (e.g., Marcus 1998; Pinker & Prince 1988) was productive in the long run, because it focused research on the hard problems. Over the last two decades, attempts to answer these criticisms have led to numerous innovative approaches to computational problems such as object binding (Hummel & Biederman 1992), structured representation (Pollack 1990), recurrent dynamics (Elman 1990), and executive control (e.g., Miller & Cohen 2001; Rougier et al. 2005). At the same time, integration with knowledge of anatomy and physiology has led to much more biologically realistic networks capable of predicting neurological, pharmacological, and lesion data (e.g., Boucher et al. 2007; Frank et al. 2004). As a result, connectionist modeling of cognition has a much firmer grounding than before.

-- Matt Jones & Bradley C. Love, Bayesian Fundamentalism or Enlightenment? On the explanatory status and theoretical contributions of Bayesian models of cognition

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 04 February 2014 11:39:49AM *  5 points [-]

(Also, reading this paper revealed to me that the "Bayesian Enlightenment" is actually used as a serious term within academia.)

Comment author: wedrifid 04 February 2014 08:20:33PM 13 points [-]

Perhaps we need a new thread: "Rationality Page Long Excerpts".