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Rationality Quotes March 2014

4 Post author: malcolmocean 01 March 2014 03:34PM

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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson.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 (326)

Comment author: nabeelqu 05 March 2014 10:56:01AM *  45 points [-]

As burglars, they used some unusual techniques...During their casing, they had noticed that the interior door that opened to the draft board office was always locked. There was no padlock to replace...The break-in technique they settled on at that office must be unique in the annals of burglary. Several hours before the burglary was to take place, one of them wrote a note and tacked it to the door they wanted to enter: "Please don't lock this door tonight." Sure enough, when the burglars arrived that night, someone had obediently left the door unlocked. The burglars entered the office with ease, stole the Selective Service records, and left. They were so pleased with themselves that one of them proposed leaving a thank-you note on the door. More cautious minds prevailed. Miss Manners be damned, they did not leave a note.

-- Betty Medsger

Comment author: Stabilizer 10 March 2014 10:21:20PM 2 points [-]

Tears in my eyes... awesome beyond words. The fact that this wasn't fictional makes it brilliant. The fact that the burglars were acting against an over-reaching institution is just icing on the cake. It's been sometime since I heard a story that warmed my heart so much.

Comment author: dspeyer 01 March 2014 06:43:02PM 39 points [-]

In our large, anonymous society, it's easy to forget moral and reputational pressures and concentrate on legal pressure and security systems. This is a mistake; even though our informal social pressures fade into the background, they're still responsible for most of the cooperation in society.

  • Bruce Schneier, expert in security systems
Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 11:51:47AM 4 points [-]

Could you link the source of the quote?

Comment author: dspeyer 06 March 2014 05:25:23PM 5 points [-]

It's in chapter 16 of Liars and Outliers, which AFAIK has no url.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 04 March 2014 10:21:05AM 4 points [-]
Comment author: [deleted] 10 March 2014 08:57:46PM 30 points [-]

"Consider the people who routinely disagree with you. See how confident they look while being dead wrong? That’s exactly how you look to them." - Scott Adams

Comment author: James_Miller 01 March 2014 05:27:27PM *  22 points [-]

[A]lmost no innovative programs work, in the sense of reliably demonstrating benefits in excess of costs in replicated RCTs [randomized controlled trials]. Only about 10 percent of new social programs in fields like education, criminology and social welfare demonstrate statistically significant benefits in RCTs. When presented with an intelligent-sounding program endorsed by experts in the topic, our rational Bayesian prior ought to be “It is very likely that this program would fail to demonstrate improvement versus current practice if I tested it.”

In other words, discovering program improvements that really work is extremely hard. We labor in the dark -- scratching and clawing for tiny scraps of causal insight.

Megan McArdle quoting or paraphrasing Jim Manzi.

[Edited in response to Kaj's comment.]

Comment author: CCC 03 March 2014 02:03:33PM 6 points [-]

Only about 10 percent of new social programs in fields like education, criminology and social welfare demonstrate statistically significant benefits in RCTs

This is a higher rate than I'd expected. It implies that current policies in these three fields are not really thoroughly thought out, or at least not to the extent that I had expected. It seems that there is substantial room for improvement.

I would have expected perhaps one or two percent.

Comment author: pgbh 06 March 2014 04:50:38AM 5 points [-]

Remember that programs will not even be tested unless there are good reasons to expect improvement over current protocol. Most programs that are explicitly considered are worse than those that are tested, and most possible programs are worse than those that are explicitly considered. Therefore we can expect that far, far fewer than ten percent of possible programs would yield significant improvements.

Comment author: CCC 07 March 2014 08:32:24AM 2 points [-]

That is true. However, there is a second filtering process, after filtering by experts; and that is what I will refer to as filtering by experiment (i.e. we'll try this, and if it works we keep doing it, and if it doesn't we don't). Evolution is basically a mix of random mutation and filtering by experiment, and it shows that, given enough time, such a filter can be astonishingly effective. (That time can be drastically reduced by adding another filter - such as filtering-by-experts - before the filtering-by-experiment step)

The one-to-two percent expectation that I had was a subconscious expectation of the comparison of the effectiveness of the filtering-by-experts in comparison to the filtering-by-experiment over time. Investigating my reasoning more thoroughly, I think that what I had failed to appreciate is probably that there really hasn't been enough time for filtering-by-experiment to have as drastic an effect as I'd assumed; societies change enough over time that what was a good idea a thousand years ago is probably not going to be a good idea now. (Added to this, it likely takes more than a month to see whether such a social program actually is effective or not; so there hasn't really been time for all that many consecutive experiments, and there hasn't really been a properly designed worldwide experimental test model, either).

Comment author: Lumifer 11 March 2014 05:22:06PM 3 points [-]

It implies that current policies in these three fields are not really thoroughly thought out, or at least not to the extent that I had expected.

That's one possible explanation.

Another possible explanation is that there is a variety of powerful stakeholders in these fields and the new social programs are actually designed to benefit them and not whoever the programs claim to help.

Comment author: maia 13 March 2014 02:26:35PM 2 points [-]

Remember, you expect 5% to give a statistically significant result just by chance...

Comment author: CCC 14 March 2014 07:49:04AM 2 points [-]

That's only true of the programs which can be expected to produce no detriments, surely?

Comment author: Will_Sawin 01 March 2014 06:57:46PM 6 points [-]

10% isn't that bad as long as you continue the programs that were found to succeed and stop the programs that were found to fail. Come up with 10 intelligent-sounding ideas, obtain expert endorsements, do 10 randomized controlled trials, get 1 significant improvement. Then repeat.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 11:53:40AM 8 points [-]

10% isn't that bad as long as you continue the programs that were found to succeed and stop the programs that were found to fail.

Unfortunately we don't really have the political system to do this.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 March 2014 05:00:26PM 4 points [-]

But I have this great idea that will change that!


Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 March 2014 07:20:31PM 4 points [-]

Unfortunately, governments are really bad at doing this.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 02 March 2014 12:21:46AM 28 points [-]

Humans in general are very bad at this. The only reason capitalism works is that the losing experiments run out of money.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 March 2014 07:08:55AM 9 points [-]

The only reason capitalism works is that the losing experiments run out of money.

That's a very powerful reason.

Comment author: gwern 01 April 2014 10:05:30PM *  4 points [-]
Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 01 March 2014 06:00:17PM 4 points [-]

I think the quote is from Jim Manzi rather than Megan McArdle, given that McArdle starts the article with

I asked Jim Manzi, who has literally written the book on randomized controlled trials, to share his thoughts. Below is what he said:

and later on in the article it says

I agree with the weight and seriousness of each of these objections. My agreement is not ad hoc; I wrote a book that tried to describe how businesses have implemented experimental processes that operate in the face of all of these issues.

suggesting that the whole article after the first paragraph is a quote (or possibly paraphrase).

Comment author: [deleted] 10 March 2014 08:54:26PM 19 points [-]

"This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution." - Daniel Kahneman

Comment author: hairyfigment 13 March 2014 08:51:11PM *  18 points [-]

A: Maybe an Air Nomad Avatar will understand where I'm coming from...(simulates Yangchen)...

Y: Avatar Aang, I know that you are a gentle spirit. And the monks have taught you well. But this isn't about you. This is about the world.

A: But the monks taught me I had to detach myself from the world so my spirit could be free!

Y: ...Here is my wisdom for you: selfless duty calls for you to sacrifice your own spiritual needs, and do whatever it takes to protect the world.

  • Avatar: The last airbender
Comment author: Mestroyer 13 March 2014 10:29:52PM 7 points [-]

Context: Aang ("A") is a classic Batman's Rule (never kill) hero, as a result of his upbringing in Air Nomad culture. It appears to him that he must kill someone in order to save the world. He is the only one who can do it, because he's currently the one and only avatar. Yangchen ("Y") is the last avatar to have also been an Air Nomad, and has probably faced similar dilemmas in the past. Aang can communicate with her spirit, but she's dead and can't do things directly anymore.

The story would have been better if Aang had listened to her advice, in my opinion.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 March 2014 08:53:54PM 16 points [-]

"Luck plays a large role in every story of success; it is almost always easy to identify a small change in the story that would have turned a remarkable achievement into a mediocre outcome." - Daniel Kahneman

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 20 March 2014 08:31:28PM 12 points [-]

For men imagine that their reason governs words, while, in fact, words react upon the understanding; and this has rendered philosophy and the sciences sophistical and inactive. Words are generally formed in a popular sense, and define things by those broad lines which are most obvious to the vulgar mind; but when a more acute understanding or more diligent observation is anxious to vary those lines, and to adapt them more accurately to nature, words oppose it. Hence the great and solemn disputes of learned men often terminate in controversies about words and names...

-- Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 01 March 2014 05:52:25PM *  30 points [-]

The use with children of experimental [educational] methods, that is, methods that have not been finally assessed and found effective, might seem difficult to justify. Yet the traditional methods we use in the classroom every day have exactly this characteristic--they are highly experimental in that we know very little about their educational efficacy in comparison with alternative methods. There is widespread cynicism among students and even among practiced teachers about the effectiveness of lecturing or repetitive drill (which we would distinguish from carefully designed practice), yet these methods are in widespread use. Equally troublesome, new "theories" of education are introduced into schools every day (without labeling them as experiments) on the basis of their philosophical or common-sense plausibility but without genuine empirical support. We should make a larger place for responsible experimentation that draws on the available knowledge--it deserves at least as large a place as we now provide for faddish, unsystematic and unassessed informal "experiments" or educational "reforms."

-- John R. Anderson, Lynne M. Reder & Herbert A. Simon: Applications and Misapplications of Cognitive Psychology to Mathematics Education

Comment author: [deleted] 10 March 2014 08:55:04PM 10 points [-]

"Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed." - Daniel Kahneman

Comment author: Thomas 01 March 2014 04:29:55PM 28 points [-]

He says we could learn a lot from primitive tribes. But they could learn a lot more from us!

  • Jeremy Clarkson
Comment author: James_Miller 01 March 2014 06:04:21PM 7 points [-]

Yes, but on net primitive tribes (at least in the short-run) seem to be made worse off from contact with technologically advanced civilizations.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 01 March 2014 06:37:26PM 3 points [-]

Sure, but that doesn't change the fact that they could learn a lot from us. Indeed, if that weren't so, they

a) would be primitive and b) wouldn't be (especially and unusually) harmed by the contact.

Comment author: DanArmak 01 March 2014 06:33:35PM 2 points [-]

Even after controlling for harmful or exploitative behavior by the advanced civilizations?

Comment author: James_Miller 01 March 2014 06:40:21PM 4 points [-]

Yes because of germs.

Comment author: bramflakes 01 March 2014 09:41:16PM 6 points [-]

Depends which primitive tribes. Amerindians died from European diseases and Europeans died from African diseases.

Comment author: DanielLC 02 March 2014 11:16:06PM 2 points [-]

And germs.

Are the ideas harmful?

Comment author: James_Miller 03 March 2014 12:07:37AM 3 points [-]

Some religious views might be.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 March 2014 08:07:33PM 9 points [-]

I'm pretty sure most uncontacted tribes had their own religious weirdness.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 01 March 2014 06:38:15PM 3 points [-]

So, it's positive-sum. But anyway, who cares what a primitive tribe learns? We, surely, are the center and purpose of the universe; our gain, however small or large, is the important thing.

Comment author: AspiringRationalist 01 March 2014 10:10:34PM 42 points [-]

As the world becomes more addictive, the two senses in which one can live a normal life will be driven ever further apart. One sense of "normal" is statistically normal: what everyone else does. The other is the sense we mean when we talk about the normal operating range of a piece of machinery: what works best.

These two senses are already quite far apart. Already someone trying to live well would seem eccentrically abstemious in most of the US. That phenomenon is only going to become more pronounced. You can probably take it as a rule of thumb from now on that if people don't think you're weird, you're living badly.

-- Paul Graham, The Acceleration of Addictiveness

Comment author: Torello 02 March 2014 06:09:13PM 2 points [-]

Thank you for linking to the piece where the quote was drawn. Great article!

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 March 2014 07:32:49PM 1 point [-]

BTW, here is Eliezer's article on the same topic.

Comment author: lukeprog 12 March 2014 08:48:02PM 26 points [-]

If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.

Warren Buffett

Comment author: Ian_S 14 March 2014 08:05:03PM 8 points [-]

Many have imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather bring about his own ruin than his preservation.

  • Machiavelli
Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 18 March 2014 09:18:23PM *  20 points [-]

The same persons who cry down Logic will generally warn you against Political Economy. It is unfeeling, they will tell you. It recognises unpleasant facts. For my part, the most unfeeling thing I know of is the law of gravitation: it breaks the neck of the best and most amiable person without scruple, if he forgets for a single moment to give heed to it. The winds and waves too are very unfeeling. Would you advise those who go to sea to deny the winds and waves – or to make use of them, and find the means of guarding against their dangers? My advice to you is to study the great writers on Political Economy, and hold firmly by whatever in them you find true; and depend upon it that if you are not selfish or hard-hearted already, Political Economy will not make you so.

-- John Stuart Mill

Comment author: malcolmocean 01 March 2014 03:35:08PM *  19 points [-]

Allow me to express now, once and for all, my deep respect for the work of the experimenter and for his fight to wring significant facts from an inflexible Nature, who says so distinctly "No" and so indistinctly "Yes" to our theories.

— Hermann Weyl

(quoted in Science And Sanity, by Alfred Korzybski, of "the map is not the territory" fame)

Comment author: CronoDAS 04 March 2014 03:07:22AM 25 points [-]

It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake. Serious-minded persons, for example, are continually condemning the habit of going to the cinema, and telling us that it leads the young into crime. But all the work that goes to producing a cinema is respectable, because it is work, and because it brings a money profit. The notion that the desirable activities are those that bring a profit has made everything topsy-turvy. The butcher who provides you with meat and the baker who provides you with bread are praiseworthy, because they are making money; but when you enjoy the food they have provided, you are merely frivolous, unless you eat only to get strength for your work. Broadly speaking, it is held that getting money is good and spending money is bad. Seeing that they are two sides of one transaction, this is absurd; one might as well maintain that keys are good, but keyholes are bad. Whatever merit there may be in the production of goods must be entirely derivative from the advantage to be obtained by consuming them. The individual, in our society, works for profit; but the social purpose of his work lies in the consumption of what he produces. It is this divorce between the individual and the social purpose of production that makes it so difficult for men to think clearly in a world in which profit-making is the incentive to industry. We think too much of production, and too little of consumption. One result is that we attach too little importance to enjoyment and simple happiness, and that we do not judge production by the pleasure that it gives to the consumer.

-- Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness

Comment author: [deleted] 14 March 2014 02:38:32PM 1 point [-]

I once attempted to sum this up on another forum by saying, "Careerism is a subgoal stomp." Russell, of course, better expresses the broader point that the subgoal stomp of maximizing productivity has almost entirely replaced all discussion of what kind of terminal goals individuals and societies should have.

Comment author: khafra 10 March 2014 03:32:09PM 6 points [-]

... the controlling factor, the root cause, of risk is dependence, particularly dependence on the expectation of stable system state. Yet the more technologic the society becomes, the greater the dynamic range of possible failures. When you live in a cave, starvation, predators, disease, and lightning are about the full range of failures that end life as you know it and you are well familiar with each of them. When you live in a technologic society where everybody and everything is optimized in some way akin to just-in-time delivery, the dynamic range of failures is incomprehensibly larger and largely incomprehensible.

-- Dan Geer

(rationality applicability: antifragility & disjunctive prediction vs. optimization for conjunctive prediction)

Comment author: hairyfigment 01 March 2014 08:26:28PM 23 points [-]

"He keeps saying, you can run, but you can't hide. Since when do we take advice from this guy?"

You got a really good point there, Rick. I mean, if the truth was that we could hide, it's not like he would just give us that information.

  • Rick and Morty.
Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 March 2014 04:48:05PM 9 points [-]

The other thing is that he probably can't know whether you can hide.

Comment author: Stabilizer 02 March 2014 12:11:14AM 27 points [-]

Procrastination is the thief of compound interest.

-Venkatesh Rao

Comment author: bbleeker 04 March 2014 12:54:48PM *  17 points [-]

The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth - that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured on one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.

--H. L. Mencken

Comment author: RichardKennaway 04 March 2014 01:16:11PM 13 points [-]


Just because you no longer believe a lie, does not mean you now know the truth.

Comment author: CasioTheSane 27 March 2014 10:32:55PM *  11 points [-]

Don't you think it would be a useful item to add to your intellectual toolkits to be capable of saying, when a ton of wet steaming bullshit lands on your head, 'My goodness, this appears to be bullshit'?

-Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

Comment author: TsviBT 09 March 2014 05:08:18AM 14 points [-]

The secret of life is: This is not a drill.

-The Wise Man in Darkside, a radio play by Tom Stoppard

Comment author: Weedlayer 10 March 2014 06:55:56AM *  17 points [-]

This quote reminded me of a quote from an anime called Kaiji, albeit your quote is much more succinct.

Normally, those people would never wake up from their fantasy worlds. They live meaningless lives. They waste their precious days over nothing. No matter how old they get, they'll continue to say, "My real life hasn't started yet. The real me is still asleep, so that's why my life is such garbage." They continue to tell themselves that. They continue. And they age. Then die. And on their deathbeds, they will finally realize: the life they lived was the real thing. People don't live provisional lives, nor do they die provisional deaths. That's a simple fact! The problem... is whether they realize that simple fact.

  • Yukio Tonegawa in Kaiji
Comment author: [deleted] 16 March 2014 03:06:54AM 4 points [-]

More succinctly...

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.

-- John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”

Comment author: dspeyer 21 March 2014 04:47:33AM 6 points [-]

I. This Is Not A Game.
II. Here And Now, You Are Alive.

-- Om and many other gods, Small Gods, Terry Pratchett

Comment author: Stabilizer 09 March 2014 08:08:37AM 14 points [-]

This is not a drill. Therefore, make sure you have drills for the really important bits.

Comment author: Manfred 10 March 2014 05:38:45AM *  24 points [-]

And bits for the really important drills.

Comment author: DanielLC 25 March 2014 10:07:17PM 1 point [-]

And make sure that the bit is properly secured and the chuck key is removed before operating the drill.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 March 2014 06:56:34PM 3 points [-]

And when someone tries to be the wall the stands in your way, you'll have something that will open a hole in them every time: your drill.

(In a related matter, if there's a wall in your way, smash it down. If there isn't a path, carve one yourself.)

Comment author: AndekN 17 March 2014 10:32:36AM 4 points [-]

if there's a wall in your way, smash it down

BUT keep Chesterton's Fence in mind: if you don't know why there is a wall on your way, don't go blindly smashing it down. It might be there for a reason. First make absolutely sure you know why the wall exists in the first place; only then you may proceed with the smashing.

Comment author: DanielLC 25 March 2014 10:25:29PM 1 point [-]

Yours is the drill that will pierce the Heavens!

--Kamina, in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

Comment author: Stabilizer 17 March 2014 11:08:31AM 1 point [-]

I like the sentiment, but you do realize that breaking walls has costs.

Comment author: chaosmage 12 March 2014 05:53:30PM *  2 points [-]

Funny. I came up with almost the exact same line:

One future will be happening
and we must choose: Which will
we someday be inhabiting?
So this is not a drill.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 06 March 2014 05:06:09PM 23 points [-]

Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false’, but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’, ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless’. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous— that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

-- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Comment author: hairyfigment 07 March 2014 06:38:53PM 5 points [-]

This is better than the other Screwtape quote, but - given the example of Ayn Rand - I think Lewis still gets causality backwards where smart Marxists were concerned. I think they started by being right about God and "materialism" when most people were insistently wrong (or didn't care about object-level truth.) This gave them an inflated view of their own intelligence and the explanatory power of Marxism.

Comment author: JQuinton 13 March 2014 05:00:56PM *  2 points [-]

I admit, I get horribly mind-killed whenever I realize I'm reading something by CS Lewis, especially anything from The Screwtape Letters. That's because years ago, the arguments in this book were used against me by a girl I was dating as a means to end our relationship (me being non-religious), who herself was convinced by her friends and family that we should break up.

That said, I was able to read this and appreciate it more clearly if I substituted the quote like so:

Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the [bad guys]. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that [good guys' philosophy] is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous— that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

If we are attempting to spread good rationality around, would it be efficient to not try to convince people that rationality was "true", but instead attempt to promote good rationality by saying that rationality is "strong, stark, or courageous -- that it is the philosophy of the future"?

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 13 March 2014 06:30:25PM *  4 points [-]

So you propose to spread rationality by encouraging irrationality?

Even assuming that this will work — that is, not just get people to buy into rationality (that part is simple) but actually become more rational, after this initial dose of irrational motivation — what do you suggest we do when our new recruits turn around and go "Hey, wait a tick; you guys got me into this through blatantly irrational arguments! You cynically and self-servingly pandered to my previously-held biases to get me on your side! You tricked me, you bastards!"? Grin and say "worked, didn't it"?

Comment author: Jiro 06 March 2014 10:07:32PM *  0 points [-]

While it is true that you shouldn't be a materialist just because it's fashionable, there's a fine line between saying "you shouldn't be a materialist just because it's fashionable" and "my opponents are just materialists because it's fashionable". The second is a straw man argument, and given that this is CS Lewis putting words in the mouth of Satan, I read this as the straw man argument. Needless to say, a straw man argument is not a good rationalist quote.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 06 March 2014 11:00:11PM *  12 points [-]

The second is a straw man argument, and given that this is CS Lewis putting words in the mouth of Satan, I read this as the straw man argument.

That sounds to me like you're assuming that Lewis wrote the book so that he could put the devil to say strawmannish things, in order to mock the devil. Which is not the case at all - the demon writing the letters is much more similar to MoR!Quirrel, displaying a degree of rationality-mixed-with-cynicism which it uses to point out ways by which the lives of humans can be made miserable, or by which humans make their own lives miserable. Much of it can be read as a treatise on various biases and cognitive mistakes to avoid, made more compelling by them being explained by someone who wants those mistakes to be exploited for actively harming people.

Comment author: Jiro 07 March 2014 09:53:24AM *  0 points [-]

I read that quote as saying that the Devil (or a demon) deceives people by making them believe those things, not that the Devil believes these things himself. That's how demons behave, they lie to people. This one lies to people about why one should be a materialist and the people fall for it. The point is not to mock the demon, who in the quote is acting as a liar rather than a materialist, but to mock materialists themselves by implying that they are materialists for spurious reasons.

Of course, Lewis has plausible deniability. One can always claim he's not attributing anything to materialists in general--you're supposed to infer that; it's not actually stated.

Edit: Also, remember when Lewis wrote that. 1942 wasn't like today, when it's possible to say you don't believe in the supernatural and (if you live in the right area) not suffer too many consequences except not ever being able to run for political office. Any materialist at the time who claimed he was courageous could easily be just responding to persecution, not claiming that that was his reason for being a materialist. Mocking materialists for that would be like mocking gay pride parades today on the grounds that pride is a sin and a form of arrogance--pride in a vacuum is, but pride in response to someone telling you you're shameful isn't.

Comment author: CCC 07 March 2014 10:40:21AM 18 points [-]

The demon is not just lying at random - the demon is lying with the purpose of getting a certain reaction (in this case, getting the human to subscribe to the philosophy of materialism). The original quote is advice on how to use the human's cognitive biases against him, in order to better achieve that goal.

The point of the quote isn't materialism. That could be replaced with any other philosophy, quite easily. The point of the quote is that, for many people, subscribing to a philosophy isn't about whether that philosophy is true at all; it's more about whether that philosophy is popular, or cool, or daring.

The point isn't to mock the demon, or the materialist. The point is to highlight a common human cognitive mistake.

Comment author: DanArmak 09 March 2014 11:55:43AM 5 points [-]

mock materialists themselves by implying that they are materialists for spurious reasons.

I don't think he was mocking, but I do think he was correct. I claim that it's perfectly true that most materialists today are materialists for spurious, non-object-level reasons. The same goes for all other widespread philosophies. People in general are biased and also don't care about philosophical truth much.

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 March 2014 01:15:51PM 8 points [-]

I think the non-object-level reasons that the devil names are interesting.

I think few new atheists care about whether atheism is strong or courageous. They rather care about the fact that it's what the intelligent people believe and they also want to be intelligent.

Comment author: Jiro 09 March 2014 04:14:24PM 4 points [-]

I suspect that most members of the Democratic Party are Democrats for spurious reasons too. But a Republican who lists a bunch of human foibles and writes a scenario that specifically names Democrats as being subject to them is probably attacking Democrats, at least in passing, not just attacking human beings.

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 March 2014 04:58:40PM *  1 point [-]

Don't let yourself be mindkilled. Arguments aren't soldiers.

Focus on the true things you can say about the the world.

Comment author: Jiro 10 March 2014 08:39:46PM *  2 points [-]

I am tempted to reply to this with "May the Force be with you", but instead I'll ask "just what are you trying to say?" You just gave me a reply which consists entirely of slogans, with no hint as to how you think they apply.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 11 March 2014 12:03:55PM *  1 point [-]

See filtered evidence. It is completely possible to mislead people by giving them only true information... but only those pieces of information which support the conclusion you want them to make.

If you had a perfect superhuman intelligence, perhaps you could give them dozen information about why X is wrong, a zero information about why Y is wrong, and yet the superintelligence might conclude: "Both X and Y are human political sides, so I will just take this generally as an evidence that humans are often wrong, especially when discussing politics. Because humans are so often wrong, it is very likely that the human who is giving this information to me is blind to the flaws of one side (which in this specific case happens to be Y), so all this information is only a very weak evidence for X being worse than Y."

But humans don't reason like this. Give them dozen information about why X is wrong, and zero information about why Y is wrong; in the next chapter give them dozen information about why Y is good and zero information about why X is good... and they will consider this a strong evidence that X is worse than Y. -- And Lewis most likely understands this.

Comment author: Salemicus 07 March 2014 11:56:44AM 6 points [-]

Also, remember when Lewis wrote that. 1942 wasn't like today... Any materialist at the time who claimed he was courageous could easily be just responding to persecution, not claiming that that was his reason for being a materialist.

Your understanding of 1942 is amazingly flawed. No-one in the developed world was persecuted for being a materialist at that time, but plenty were for their religion. Moreover, the fashionable belief at the time was dialectical materialism, and part of the claim made for it, by dialectical materialists themselves, was that it was the philosophy of the future.

Comment author: Jiro 07 March 2014 03:34:13PM *  7 points [-]

Well, my first thought was Bertrand Russell being fired from CUNY, which was around 1940, although that was mostly because of his beliefs about sex (which are still directly related to his disbelief in religion). Religion classes in public schools were legal until 1948, and compulsory school prayer was legal until 1963. "In God We Trust" was declared the national motto of the US in 1956.

Comment author: Salemicus 09 March 2014 11:18:38PM -1 points [-]

So given that none of these are examples of people being persecuted for their materialism, can I take it that you agree?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 21 March 2014 04:46:17AM 0 points [-]

Like Salemicus said, no one of those things are persecutions. The closest of your examples is Bertrand Russell's firing, but even you admit that wasn't over his materialism.

By way of contrast there were in fact places in the developed world during the 1930's-1940's where one could be prosecuted for not being a materialist. And by prosecuted, I mean religious people were being semi-systematically arrested and/or executed (not necessarily in that order).

Comment author: DanArmak 09 March 2014 11:50:56AM 0 points [-]

Lewis' point of reference is the UK, not the US. I don't know how much that changes the picture.

Comment author: Jiro 09 March 2014 04:10:19PM 0 points [-]

I think the US counts as part of "the developed world", however.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 11 March 2014 04:00:40AM -1 points [-]

pride is a sin and a form of arrogance--pride in a vacuum is, but pride in response to someone telling you you're shameful isn't.

Being proud of something that is actually shameful strikes me as particularly sinful.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 11 March 2014 03:39:40PM 1 point [-]

How about being ashamed of something that is actually prideworthy?

Comment author: Vaniver 06 March 2014 10:29:46PM 5 points [-]

there's a fine line between saying "you shouldn't be a materialist just because it's fashionable" and "my opponents are just materialists because it's fashionable".

If someone is a materialist just because it's fashionable, that's trouble. Lewis may be wrong on whether or not the Church is 'true,' but I don't think Lewis is wrong on calling out compartmentalization and inconsistency rather than thinking about whether or not doctrines are true or false.

Comment author: elharo 13 March 2014 11:08:10AM 16 points [-]

May I make a general request to people posting quotes? Please include not just the author's name but sufficient information to enable a reader to find the relevant quote. This doesn't necessarily have to be full MLA format; but a title, journal or book name if from a print source, page number or URL, and date would be helpful. Hyperlinked URLs are excellent if available but do not substitute for the rest of this information since these threads will likely outlive the location of some of the sources.

Doing so enables the reader not just to get a brief hit of rationality but to say, "Gee, that's interesting. I'd like to learn more," and read further in the source.

In fact, why don't we add a fifth bullet point to the header:

  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the original source of the quote
Comment author: [deleted] 16 March 2014 03:04:31AM 3 points [-]

Hyperlinked URLs are excellent if available but do not substitute for the rest of this information since these threads will likely outlive the location of some of the sources.

That's what archive.org is for. (Okay, it's not perfectly reliable, but...)

Comment author: Bakkot 20 March 2014 04:28:19AM 2 points [-]

If you want to avoid that problem, whenever you post a link you should submit it to archive.org or archive.is.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 15 March 2014 02:13:44AM 11 points [-]

How many things apparently impossible have nevertheless been performed by resolute men who had no alternative but death.

-- Napoleon Bonaparte.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 12:18:03PM *  7 points [-]

If you try too hard to fight a problem within yourself or someone else, the very act of fighting will often create resistance. Sometimes when you accept the problem and stop trying so hard, things will suddenly begin to change.

David Burns in "The feeling good handbook" about the "acceptance paradox" (The book has been shown to be effective at improving the condition of depressive people in controlled trials) Page 67

Comment author: shminux 28 March 2014 06:27:39PM *  9 points [-]

I’m a strong believer in modus ponens, in any domain of discourse where I know the meanings of all the words!

Scott Aaronson in reply to Max Tegmark replying to Scott's review of Max's book. He goes on:

In physics, however, I only believe in “approximate modus ponens,” in the following sense: if I accept “A” and “A⇒B,” then I’ll tentatively accept “B,” but I might decide on further reflection that I meant something different by a word appearing in “B” than by the same word in “A” or “A⇒B.” And in any case, I rarely would’ve considered “A” or “A⇒B” certain, just very well-established. For both of those reasons, I can start with physics statements that I consider to be well-established, apply enough steps of “modus ponens,” and end with a statement I consider to be speculation!

(Emphasis mine.)

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 29 March 2014 12:27:06AM 4 points [-]

This sounds similar to the view that is sometimes called the fragility of deduction. It was why John Stuart Mill distrusted "long chains of logical reasoning" and according to Paul Samuelson it is why "Marshall treated such chains as if their truth content was subject to radioactive decay and leakage."

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 29 March 2014 03:50:20PM 1 point [-]

And that is why the long chains of logical reasoning used in the UFAI argument should not be regarded as terminating in conclusions of near certainty or high probability.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 02 April 2014 11:35:07AM 1 point [-]

You could say that about anything.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 02 April 2014 04:34:47PM 1 point [-]

Maybe, but it would not be very painful in many cases. In most cases, people who put forward highly conjunctive arguments don't put out them forward as urgent, near certainties which require immediate and copious funding.Moreover, most audiences have enough common sense to implications as lossy.

MIRI/LW presen ts an unusual set of circa,stances which is worth pointing out.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 12:19:12PM 9 points [-]

The language you use to talk about something influences the way you think about it. If the chemistry you’re talking about is truly something new, then a fight over terminology may be quite an important part of getting to understand that chemistry better.

Jay A. Labinger

Comment author: WalterL 12 March 2014 07:21:09PM 6 points [-]

Bernard and Sir Humphrey are British government functionaries in the comedy show 'Yes Minister'

Bernard: If it's our job to carry out government policies, shouldn't we believe in them?

Sir Humphrey: Oh, what an extraordinary idea! I have served 11 governments in the past 30 years. If I'd believed in all their policies, I'd have been passionately committed to keeping out of the Common Market, and passionately committed to joining it. I'd have been utterly convinced of the rightness of nationalising steel and of denationalising it and renationalising it. Capital punishment? I'd have been a fervent retentionist and an ardent abolitionist. I'd have been a Keynesian and a Friedmanite, a grammar school preserver and destroyer, a nationalisation freak and a privatisation maniac, but above all, I would have been a stark-staring raving schizophrenic!

Comment author: shminux 10 March 2014 07:46:24PM *  6 points [-]

Fault is a backward-looking concept: it focuses on deviations between the bad present and some desired past. Ability is forward-looking: it focuses on the deviation between some sub-optimal present and a desired future.

Anonymous commenter

Comment author: James_Miller 01 March 2014 05:23:02PM 15 points [-]

If you're expecting the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you are fooling yourself. That's like expecting a lion not to eat you because you didn't eat him.


Comment author: Salemicus 02 March 2014 10:30:49PM 22 points [-]

On the contrary, honesty, conscientiousness, being law-abiding, etc. have powerful reputational effects. This is easily seen by the converse; look, for example, at the effect a criminal record has on chance of getting a job.

This quote only gets any mileage by equivocating on the meaning of fair. What the quote is really saying is: "If you expect the world to fulfil even modest dreams just because you try not to be a jerk, expect disappointment." But said like that, if loses all its seemingly deep wisdom. In fact, of course, if you personally fulfilled even some modest dream of a large proportion of the people on earth, you would be wealthy beyond the dreams of lucre.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 05 March 2014 02:04:06PM *  7 points [-]

Most of the comment is great, but

if you personally fulfilled even some modest dream of a large proportion of the people on earth, you would be wealthy beyond the dreams of lucre.

this part seems like a Just World Fallacy. You can start a chain of cause and effect that will make billions of people a bit happier, and yet someone else may take the reward.

But I agree that on average making a lot of people happy is a good way to get wealthy.

Comment author: michaelkeenan 08 March 2014 06:42:53AM *  5 points [-]

I see the quote as warning against a certain kind of naivety. I'm known as a trustworthy person and it's brought me many advantages - people have happily loaned me large sums of money, for example, and I've been employed in high-trust-requiring positions. But I have cooperated in Prisoner's Dilemma-type situations when I really should have realized the other guy was going to defect. In one case, he'd told me he was a narcissist and a Slytherin, and I still thought he'd keep our agreement. I lost a lot.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 March 2014 08:13:33PM 2 points [-]

It always struck me that "fair" is one of the most misused words we have. What we mean when we say "fairness" is a sense that socially-constructed games have fixed rules leading to predictable outcomes, when some notion of a social contract or other ethical framework is exercised. If you enter a game with no rules, what would it even mean to expect a fair reward for fair play?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 05 March 2014 02:55:41AM 14 points [-]

If everybody thinks you're crazy, they might have a point. But if nobody thinks you're crazy, you have surrendered to herd consensus and are being far too timid in what you allow yourself to think and say in public.

Eric Raymound

Comment author: elharo 05 March 2014 01:24:22PM 8 points [-]

I agree with this. It's also a good quote. However there is an important caveat. It is possible to get caught-up in an echo chamber of equally crazy people. For extreme examples, consider the Lyndon Larouche crowd, Scientology, or the latest resurgence of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. So just because not everybody believes you're crazy, does not imply you are in fact, not crazy.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 March 2014 02:45:25PM *  1 point [-]

I think it's important to distinguish between "crazy" and "irrational". Many crazy people are very rational. For instance, a fair portion of LW's users, including myself, have experienced some form of temporary or chronic mental illness; that's often exactly the impetus that gets someone to distrust their System 1 thinking and spend effort on deliberately becoming more rational.

Comment author: dthunt 17 March 2014 04:45:52PM *  7 points [-]

"Therefore, this kind of experiment can never convince me of the reality of Mrs Stewart's ESP; not because I assert Pf=0 dogmatically at the start, but because the verifiable facts can be accounted for by many alternative hypotheses, every one of which I consider inherently more plausible than Hf, and none of which is ruled out by the information available to me.

Indeed, the very evidence which the ESP'ers throw at us to convince us, has the opposite effect on our state of belief; issuing reports of sensational data defeats its own purpose. For if the prior probability for deception is greater than that of ESP, then the more improbable the alleged data are on the null hypothesis of no deception and no ESP, the more strongly we are led to believe, not in ESP, but in deception. For this reason, the advocates of ESP (or any other marvel) will never succeed in persuading scientists that their phenomenon is real, until they learn how to eliminate the possibility of deception in the mind of the reader. As (5.15) shows, the reader's total prior probability for deception by all mechanisms must be pushed down below that of ESP."

ET Jaynes, Probability Theory (S 5.2.2)

Comment author: JQuinton 13 March 2014 03:38:10PM 5 points [-]

Certainty is the most dangerous emotion a human being can feel in politics and religion. Certainty stops all outside thought or reason. It closes the door and is a metaphorical spit in the face of anyone who disagrees. Changing one’s mind is the essence of critical thinking.

Edwin Lyngar at Salon

Comment author: scav 12 March 2014 04:33:40PM 5 points [-]

"I have frequently detected myself in such kind of mistakes," said Elinor, "in a total misapprehension of character in some point or other: fancying people so much more gay or grave, or ingenious or stupid than they really are, and I can hardly tell why or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what they say of themselves, and very frequently by what other people say of them, without giving oneself time to deliberate and judge."

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Comment author: chaosmage 12 March 2014 05:35:17PM 2 points [-]

I think those mistakes usually happen for an entirely different reason. New people remind us of ones we've already met, and we unconsciously "fill in the blanks" in what we know about the new person with what we know about person we know, or some kind of average-ish judgement about the group of comparable people we know.

Comment author: Protagoras 12 March 2014 06:08:13PM 2 points [-]

It's pretty remarkable to detect yourself in that kind of mistake; most people are very good at finding confirming evidence for whatever judgments they've made about people, and ignoring any contrary indications.

Comment author: Salemicus 12 March 2014 06:25:05PM 4 points [-]

Yes, this is a good point - we generally don't realise that we are (self-)deceived, so we can't even begin to think about where we went wrong.

Of course, Elinor Dashwood is something of an authorial stand-in, so it's not really surprising that she's incredibly wise and perspicacious like that.

Comment author: James_Miller 01 March 2014 06:28:22PM 8 points [-]

Never abandon life. There is a way out of everything except death.

Winston Churchill

Comment author: Apprentice 11 March 2014 11:08:54PM 2 points [-]

Truth has her throne on the shadowy back of doubt.

-- Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), Savitri - A Legend and a Symbol

Comment author: Martin-2 10 March 2014 07:18:54PM *  2 points [-]

I can't do anything on purpose.

  • Professor Utonium, realizing he has a problem
Comment author: fezziwig 10 March 2014 10:14:28PM *  9 points [-]

Quotes from the Screwtape Letters have not been terribly well-received in this thread. So, perversely, I decided I had to take a turn:

Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient's soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at all in inflaming his hatred of Germans if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train. Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy...you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us.

-- The demon Screwtape, on how best to tempt a human being to destruction.

The existence of souls notwithstanding, Screwtape is clearly right: if you are charitable to almost everybody--except for those your see every day!--then you are not practicing the virtue of charity and are ill-served to imagine otherwise. You cannot fantasize good mental habits into being; they must be acted upon.

Comment author: khafra 13 March 2014 01:54:36PM 4 points [-]

Who does more good with their life--the person who contributes a large amount of money to efficient charities while avoiding the people nearby, or the person who ignores anyone more than 100 miles away while being nice to his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train?

Comment author: dspeyer 21 March 2014 04:42:29AM 2 points [-]

If he actually donates the money then the charity is not constrained to fantasy. By the miracle of the world banking network, people thousands of literal miles away can be brought as close as the sphere of action. Those concentric rings are measured in frequency and impactfulness of interaction, not physical distance.

What Screwtape is advocating is that he simply intend to donate the money once Givewell publishes a truely definitive report (which they never will). Or better, that he feel great compassion for people so many steps removed that he could not possibly do anything for them (perhaps the people of North Korea, who are beyond the reach of most charities due to government interdiction).

Comment author: CCC 16 March 2014 04:06:34AM 1 point [-]

A tricky question.

The obvious, and trivially true, answer is that he who does both does more good than either. But that's not what you asked.

So. It can be hard to compare the two options when considering the actions of a single person, since the beneficiaries of the actions do not overlap. Therefore I shall employ a simple heuristic; I shall assume that the option which does the most good when one person does it is also the option that does the most good when everyone does it.

So, the first option; everyone (who can afford it) makes large donations to efficient charities, while everyone avoids those nearby and is unpleasant when forced to deal with someone else directly.

If I make a few assumptions about the effectiveness (and priorities) of the charities and the sum of the donations, I find myself considering a world where everyone is sufficiently fed, clothed, sheltered, medically cared for and educated. However, the fact that everyone is unpleasant to everyone else leads to everyone being grumpy, irritated, and mildly unhappy.

Considering the second option; charitable donations drastically decrease, but everyone is pleasant and helpful to everyone they meet face-to-face. In this possible world, there are people who go hungry, naked, homeless. But probably fewer than in our current world; because everyone they meet will be helpful, aiding if they can in their plight. And because everyone's pleasant and tries to uplift the mood of those they meet, a large majority of people consider themselves happy.

Comment author: tslarm 16 March 2014 04:25:48AM *  5 points [-]

Therefore I shall employ a simple heuristic; I shall assume that the option which does the most good when one person does it is also the option that does the most good when everyone does it.

This assumption seems trivially false to me, and despite being labeled as a mere 'heuristic', it is the crucial step in your argument. Can you explain why I should take it seriously?

Comment author: CCC 16 March 2014 04:56:54AM 1 point [-]

Well, for most choices between "is this good?" and "is this bad?" the assumption is true. For example, is it good for me to drop my chocolate wrapper on the street instead of finding a rubbish bin? If I assume everyone were to do that, I get the idea of a street awash in chocolate wrappers, and I consider that reason enough to find a rubbish bin.

Furthermore, and more importantly, the aim here is not to produce an argument that one action is better than the other in a single, specific case; rather, it is to produce a general principle (whether it is generally better to be charitable to those nearby, or to those further away).

And if option A is generally better than option B, then I think it is very probable that universal application of A will remain better than universal application of B; and vice versa.

Comment author: Jiro 16 March 2014 04:40:59PM *  2 points [-]

When you ask what it's like if everyone were to "do that", the answer you get is going to be determined by how you define "that". For instance, if everyone were to drop chocolate wrappers on the lawn of your annoying neighbor, you might be happy. So is it okay to drop the wrapper on your neighbor's lawn?

It's tempting to reply to this by saying "'doing the same thing' means removing all self-serving qualifiers, so the correct question is whether you would like it if people dropped wrappers wherever they wanted, not specifically on your neighbor's lawn". This reply doesn't work, because there are are plenty of situations where you want the qualifier--for instance, putting criminals in jail when the qualifier "criminal" excludes yourself.

(And what's your stance on homosexuality? If everyone were to do that, humanity would be extinct.)

Comment author: CCC 17 March 2014 08:18:07AM 1 point [-]

When you ask what it's like if everyone were to "do that", the answer you get is going to be determined by how you define "that". For instance, if everyone were to drop chocolate wrappers on the lawn of your annoying neighbor, you might be happy. So is it okay to drop the wrapper on your neighbor's lawn?

I do need to be careful to define "that" as a generally applicable rule. In this case, the generally applicable rule would be, is it okay to drop chocolate wrappers on the lawn of people one finds annoying?

So I need to consider the world in which everyone drops chocolate wrappers on the lawn of people they find annoying. Considering this, the chances of someone dropping a wrapper on my lawn becomes dependent on the probability that someone will find me annoying.

So, in short, I can put as many qualifiers on the rule as I like. However, I have to be careful to attach my qualifiers to the true reason for my formulation of the rule; I cannot select the rule "it is acceptable to drop chocolate wrappers on that exact specific lawn over there" without referencing the process by which I chose that exact specific lawn.

I can't attach a qualifier to a specific person; but I can attach a qualifier to a specific quality, like being annoying, when considering a proposal.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 March 2014 02:07:13PM *  2 points [-]

Yvain in these two old blog posts of his makes the case that it's not clear that a world with grumpy people is worse than a world with hungry people.

Comment author: CCC 17 March 2014 08:08:03AM 2 points [-]

You are correct. It is by no means clear which is better.

Comment author: hairyfigment 11 March 2014 12:50:44AM 0 points [-]

Why the Hell would I want to practice the virtue of charity? If anything, I want to help people. And hating people from a foreign country could be an excellent way to do damage!

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 11 March 2014 03:57:27AM *  -1 points [-]

Why the Hell would I want to practice the virtue of charity? If anything, I want to help people.

Except, with that attitude you won't. You'll sit around telling yourself how virtuous you are for liking people you've never met, while being a misanthrope to everyone you personally know. Furthermore, if (or when) you mean one of the foreign people you supposedly love, you'll wind up being a misanthrope to them as well.

And hating people from a foreign country could be an excellent way to do damage!

Really? How does you, personally, hating people from a foreign country do damage?

Comment author: hairyfigment 11 March 2014 04:37:36AM 3 points [-]

Furthermore, if (or when) you mean one of the foreign people you supposedly love, you'll wind up being a misanthrope to them as well.

And why would I care about that if my donations produce a giant net benefit? When did I even claim to love anyone?

Comment author: fezziwig 11 March 2014 06:22:09PM 1 point [-]

I'm sorry, my original post was not quite precise. I meant charity in the sense of the Principle of Charity, not charitable contributions. If you prefer, substitute "kind" for "charitable"; it's not quite the same but illustrates the point just as well.

And hating people from a foreign country could be an excellent way to do damage!

Keep in mind, we're talking about the damage you do to yourself. Hating people you've never met is not a very efficient way to damage yourself. Much better is to hate people you know intimately and see every day. That way you can practice your vices efficiently, and will have as many opportunities as possible to act them out.

Comment author: elharo 01 March 2014 08:09:48PM 5 points [-]

The question presupposes a classical view of "rational argument," namely the use of classical logic (e.g., mathematical logic) in the service of self-interest.

But that is not how real rationality works. Political argument starts with moral framing - what is assumed to be right, not wrong or morally irrelevant. Conservatives and liberals differ on what is right. Real rational argument uses the logic of frames and metaphors, as well as the use of emotion in setting goals. For example, poor conservatives may care more about their moral identity as conservatives than about their financial self-interest. This is not "irrational;" it is a matter of what is most important to a given individual — moral identity or financial self-interest.

George Lakoff Progressives Need to Use Language That Reflects Moral Values

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 March 2014 06:54:55PM 10 points [-]

As the marijuana legalization movement strengthens, you can see hints of how hard it is to hit the libertarian sweet spot where something is simultaneously legalized but remains rare and distasteful. People, especially young people, pick up messages from society about what is winning and what is losing more than they pick up nuanced messages. Smoking tobacco is losing so it seems reasonable to ban smoking it even in your own car while driving through a brushfire zone. Smoking marijuana is winning, so it doesn't seem like the ban on smoking in Laurel Canyon applies to dope.

Steve Sailer

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 06 March 2014 05:09:55PM 8 points [-]

When he goes inside [the church], he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father Below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous.

-- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 12:17:33PM *  4 points [-]

Genuine self-esteem is based on humility and an acceptance of your shortcomings.

David Burns in "The feeling good handbook" (The book has been shown to be effective at improving the condition of depressive people in controlled trials) Page 69

Comment author: Apprentice 01 March 2014 05:53:24PM *  6 points [-]

Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true.

Ye say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgression of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents.

And ye also say that Christ shall come. But behold, I say that ye do not know that there shall be a Christ. And ye say also that he shall be slain for the sins of the world –

And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands, that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges.

Yea, they durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires, and have brought them to believe, by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions and their pretended mysteries, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, offend some unknown being, who they say is God -- a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be.

-- The Book of Mormon (Alma 30.24-28)

Edit: I'm mildly surprised by the reactions to this quote. The thing I find interesting about it is that Joseph Smith was apparently sufficiently familiar with Voltairesque anti-Christian ideas that he could relay them coherently and with some gusto. This goes some way towards passing the ideological Turing test.

Comment author: elharo 01 March 2014 10:57:41PM *  13 points [-]

I'm hardly an expert on the Book of Mormon, but this quote surprised me so I googled it. It appears to be an accurate quote but is not fully attributed. As best I can make out, the speaker is the antichrist (or some such evil character; not sure on the exact mythology in play here).

Failure to note that means this quote gives either an incorrect view of the Book of Mormon, or of the significance of the text, or both.

When quoting fiction, I recommend identifying both the character and the author. E.g.

Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true.

--Korihor in the The Book of Mormon (Alma 30.24-28); Joseph Smith, 1830

Having said all that, it's still a damn good rationality quote.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 March 2014 08:17:59PM 0 points [-]

I would think it's bad publicity for us to explicitly note a resemblance to antichrist-type characters.

Comment author: blacktrance 05 March 2014 11:48:15PM 6 points [-]

Unless we're trying to appeal to contrarians.

Comment author: Strange7 09 March 2014 12:45:03AM 4 points [-]

Considering how much hating on religion there already is around here, I don't think there's much left to lose on that front.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 March 2014 06:54:29PM 5 points [-]

Ah, of course, because it's more important to signal one's pure, untainted epistemic rationality than to actually get anything done in life, which might require interacting with outsiders.

Comment author: Nornagest 10 March 2014 01:41:58AM *  1 point [-]

Upvoted because that really is a failure mode worth keeping in mind, but I don't think it's responsible for the attitude towards religion around here; I think that's a plain old founder effect.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 10 March 2014 02:23:10AM 0 points [-]

Ah, of course, because it's more important to signal one's pure, untainted epistemic rationality than to actually get anything done in life, which might require interacting with outsiders.

This is a failure mode I worry about, but I'm not sure ironic atheist re-appropriation of religious texts is going to turn off anyone we had a chance of attracting in the first place. Will reconsider this position if someone says, "oh yeah, my deconversion process was totally slowed down by stuff like that from atheists," but I'd be surprised.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 March 2014 07:30:40PM 3 points [-]

Supposedly, if you are totally uncompromising and intolerant with BS (particularly harmful BS), you lose friends. These are good friends to lose, for you will also make new friends, better friends.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 March 2014 07:31:39PM 2 points [-]

The general principle of antifragility, it is much better to do things you cannot explain than explain things you cannot do.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: The_Duck 01 March 2014 11:51:48PM 7 points [-]

What does this mean?

Comment author: philh 02 March 2014 01:20:47AM 3 points [-]

I interpret it as related to expert-at versus expert-on. If you assume that an expert-on is always an expert-at, then someone explaining something they can't do is clearly not an expert.

I'm not sure that assumption is true, though I could believe it's a useful rule of thumb.

Comment author: DanielLC 02 March 2014 11:19:29PM 3 points [-]

My interpretation is that having an explanation for something is useless if you can't actually make it happen. And even if you don't fully understand how something works, it's good to be able to use it.

For example, I would much rather be able to use a computer than know how it works.

Also, if you can't do it, that calls into question whether your explanation is actually valid. Anyone can explain something, so long as they're not required to actually make the explanation useful.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 March 2014 08:14:56PM 2 points [-]

So we could rephrase as: "If I really understand X's, I can build one, but if I kind of understand X's, I can at least use one"?

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 12:17:16PM *  2 points [-]

You can never be loved for your successes-only for your vulnerabilities. People may be attracted to you and may admire you if you are a great success. They may also resent and envy you. But they can never love you for your success.

David Burns in "The feeling good handbook" (The book has been shown to be effective at improving the condition of depressive people in controlled trials) Page 126

Comment author: Stabilizer 04 March 2014 12:32:59AM 3 points [-]

Upvoted. I don't know if this is true; indeed, I suspect it is definitely partially false. But, I don't think it is entirely false. It's interesting and has made me think.

Comment author: elharo 23 March 2014 10:58:04AM *  0 points [-]

in general, when experts are dealing with some big unfathomable future, and it’s a complex system, I tend to discount that. The complexity makes it almost impossible to predict.

Also, if they are using a model, I pretty much discount everything I hear. But if they are just looking at data like a scientist and saying, “When this happens, that happens,” then I’m going to put more stock in it.

--Scott Adams, Interview with Julia Galef, February 10, 2014

Comment author: satt 27 March 2014 03:32:25AM 6 points [-]

But you can’t be an effective fox just by letting the data speak for itself — because it never does. You use data to inform your analysis, you let it tell you that your pet hypothesis is wrong, but data are never a substitute for hard thinking. If you think the data are speaking for themselves, what you’re really doing is implicit theorizing, which is a really bad idea (because you can’t test your assumptions if you don’t even know what you’re assuming.)

— Paul Krugman, "Sergeant Friday Was Not A Fox"

Comment author: Manfred 26 March 2014 04:06:27AM 1 point [-]

"Just looking at the data like a scientist" does not give you magic scientist powers. Models of the world are what allow you to predict it, without need for magic scientist vision.

Comment author: elharo 26 March 2014 11:15:19AM *  5 points [-]

Adams doesn't elaborate on this point, but I read him as saying, if you've actually measured things and taken data that goes to your point, then your model is more likely to be correct.

For example, suppose a model says that raising the minimum wage reduces employment. That's a pretty common model in economics and it can be backed up with a lot of math. However I would not find that alone convincing. On the other hand, if an economist goes out into the world and looks at what actually happened when the minimum wage was raised, that would be more convincing. If they can figure out a way to do an experiment in which, for example, 5 nearby towns raise their minimum wage, 5 keep it the same, and another 5 lower it, that would be even more convincing.

Another example: consider a model that says

  • heart disease kills people
  • heart disease is correlated with high cholesterol
  • eggs contain lots of cholesterol

Those three statements are reasonably well established and backed up by data. However if you throw in a model that says dietary cholesterol causes in-body cholesterol, and in-body cholesterol causes heart disease, and therefore eating eggs reduces life expectancy; you've jumped way beyond what the data supports. On the other hand, if you compare the levels of all-cause morbidity among people who eat eggs and people who don't or, better yet, do a multiyear controlled experiment in which
the only diet variation between groups is that some people eat eggs and others don't, the answers you get are far more likely to be correct.

Here's another one: you have lots of detailed calculations that say if you smash two protons together at .999999c relative velocity, and you do it a few million times, then you'll see certain particles show up in the debris with very precise probabilities. Only when you run the experiment, you discover that the fractions of different particles you see don't quite match what you expected because there's an additional resonance you didn't know about and didn't include in the model.

In other words, empirical data beats mere models. Models can be self-consistent and plausible, but not fully reflect the real world. Models that go beyond what the data says run the risk of assuming causal connections that don't exist (dietary cholesterol to in-body cholesterol) or missing factors outside the model (maybe eggs do increase the risk of heart disease but reduce the risk of cancer) that are more important.

Of course all these experiments are really hard to do, and take years of time and millions, even billions, of dollars, so often we muddle along with seriously flawed models instead. However we need to remember that models are just models, not data, and be reasonably skeptical of their recommendations. In particular, if we're about to do something really expensive and difficult like changing a nation's dietary preferences based on nothing more than a model, maybe we should step back and spend the money and the time needed to collect real data before we go full speed ahead.

Comment author: Manfred 26 March 2014 11:08:51PM 1 point [-]

Fair enough - political conditioning has caused me to assume that any non-specialist saying "don't trust models, just 'look at the data'," is the victim of some sort of anti-epistemology.

In context, it's less likely that that's the case, but I still think this quote is painting with much too wide a brush.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 27 March 2014 08:18:20AM *  0 points [-]

Prediction is going beyond the data, so a model that never goes beyond the data isn't going to be much use.

Climate change models incorporated data, so they are not purely theoretical like the economic model you mentioned.

Comment author: MugaSofer 27 March 2014 02:48:49PM 0 points [-]

I ... think he's talking about basic correlation, statistical analysis, that sort of thing?

(I enjoy Scott's writing, but I didn't upvote the grandparent.)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 March 2014 01:56:47AM -2 points [-]

Most fail to understand in the medical and socieconomic domains that treatment should never be equivalent to silencing symptoms.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 March 2014 07:29:06PM -1 points [-]

And the probability-related problems with social and biological science do not stop there: it has bigger problems with researchers using statistical notions out of a can without understanding them and babbling "n of 1" or "n large", or "this is anecdotal" (for a large Black Swan style deviation), mistaking anecdotes for information and information for anecdote. It was shown that the majority use regression in their papers in "prestigious" journals without quite knowing what it means, and what claims can—and cannot—be made from it. Because of little check from reality and lack of skin-in-the-game, coupled with a fake layer of sophistication, social scientists can make elementary mistakes with probability yet continue to thrive professionally.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: sallym 13 March 2014 08:38:49AM 1 point [-]

"As I fear not a child with a weapon he cannot lift, I will never fear the mind of a man who does not think.’”

Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson, page 795

Comment author: Jiro 14 March 2014 03:34:58AM 5 points [-]

Both the metaphor and its literal application only make sense if "cannot" and "does not" means "never", and they really don't.

While I'd never fear the mind of a man who literally is in a coma and doesnt think at all, I'd have plenty of reason to fear the mind of a man whose ability to think is merely limited. He can be a stupid moral reasoner and a clever killer at the same time.

Comment author: CCC 14 March 2014 08:01:05AM 7 points [-]

I recall one Sherlock Holmes book, where Holmes said that he has a lot of trouble predicting the actions of idiots; an intelligent man, Holmes can work out what actions he would take in a given situation, but an idiot could do anything.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 14 March 2014 02:44:03PM 1 point [-]

Of course, this presumes that one knows the goals of said intelligent agent.

Comment author: Strange7 19 March 2014 01:53:38PM 1 point [-]

In that case, though, you're afraid of the man's axe more than his mind.

Comment deleted 14 March 2014 02:33:09PM [-]
Comment author: Nornagest 14 March 2014 06:00:20PM 2 points [-]

What's that from?

Comment author: [deleted] 10 March 2014 08:56:31PM -1 points [-]

"The fragilista falls for the Soviet-Harvard delusion, the (unscientific) overestimation of the reach of scientific knowledge. Because of such delusion, he is what is called a naive rationalist, a rationalizer, or sometimes just a rationalist, in the sense that he believes that the reasons behind things are automatically accessible to him. And let us not confuse rationalizing with rational—the two are almost always exact opposites. Outside of physics, and generally in complex domains, the reasons behind things have had a tendency to make themselves less obvious to us, and even less to the fragilista." - Nassim Taleb

Comment author: drewbug 28 March 2014 04:23:09PM 0 points [-]

The old temple inscription "Know Thyself" is often repeated today, but perhaps it is not adequate. It should declare "Construct Thyself" as well. Shape your mind, train your thinking power, and direct your emotions more rationally; liberate your behavior from the ancestral burden of reptiles and monkeys—be a man and use your intelligence to orient the reactions of your mind.

-- José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado

Comment author: Curiouskid 02 May 2014 04:37:33PM *  1 point [-]

I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination

-- James Dean

Comment author: Curiouskid 02 May 2014 04:38:52PM 1 point [-]

I find this a useful quote to keep in mind when I'm experiencing mental states that I don't want to experience.