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Rationality Quotes May 2014

4 Post author: elharo 01 May 2014 09:45AM

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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson.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.
  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the place where you read the quote, or its original source if available. Do not quote with only a name.

Comments (294)

Comment author: aarongertler 16 May 2014 01:13:23AM 21 points [-]

“I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer.”

― Douglas Adams

Comment author: brazil84 16 May 2014 01:42:39AM -1 points [-]

I like this quote, but it occurs to me that "I don't know" is often a reasonable answer to a question.

How about this:

"I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I can't think of an answer which I am confident will not put me in a negative light."

Comment author: AndHisHorse 16 May 2014 03:27:01AM 5 points [-]

That just seems like overly honest politicking to me.

Comment author: redlizard 15 May 2014 02:58:04AM *  19 points [-]

Even with measurements in hand, old habits are hard to shake. It’s easy to fall in love with numbers that seem to agree with you. It’s just as easy to grope for reasons to write off numbers that violate your expectations. Those are both bad, common biases. Don’t just look for evidence to confirm your theory. Test for things your theory predicts should never happen. If the theory is correct, it should easily survive the evidential crossfire of positive and negative tests. If it’s not you’ll find out that much quicker. Being wrong efficiently is what science is all about.

-- Carlos Bueno, Mature Optimization, pg. 14. Emphasis mine.

Comment author: Vulture 03 May 2014 09:17:23PM *  17 points [-]

[N]ature is constantly given human qualities. Wordsworth wrote that “nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Mother Nature has comforted us in every culture on earth. In the 20th and 21st centuries, some environmentalists claimed that the entire earth is a single ecosystem, a “superorganism” in the language of Gaia.

I would argue that we have been fooling ourselves. Nature, in fact, is mindless. Nature is neither friend nor foe, neither malevolent nor benevolent.

Nature is purposeless. Nature simply is. We may find nature beautiful or terrible, but those feelings are human constructions. Such utter and complete mindlessness is hard for us to accept. We feel such a strong connection to nature. But the relationship between nature and us is one-sided. There is no reciprocity. There is no mind on the other side of the wall. That absence of mind, coupled with so much power, is what so frightened me...

-- Alan Lightman

Comment author: Torello 04 May 2014 04:25:15AM 12 points [-]

Every 100 million years or so, an asteroid or comet the size of a mountain smashes into the earth, killing nearly everything that lives. If ever we needed proof of Nature’s indifference to the welfare of complex organisms such as ourselves, there it is. The history of life on this planet has been one of merciless destruction and blind, lurching renewal.

Sam Harris, Mother Nature is Not Our Friend, in response to the Edge Annual Question 2008


Comment author: johnlawrenceaspden 03 May 2014 03:17:45PM 34 points [-]

When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny'd myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear'd or seem'd to me some difference, etc.

I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engag'd in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos'd my opinions procur'd them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail'd with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.

Benjamin Franklin

Comment author: Grif 06 May 2014 01:58:33PM *  9 points [-]

Unfortunately this self-debasing style of contradiction has become the norm, and the people I talk to can instantly notice when I am pouring sugar on top of a serving of their own ass. Perhaps they are simply noticing changes in my tone of voice or body language, but in sufficiently intellectual partners I've noticed that abruptly contradicting them startles them into thinking more often, though I avoid this in everyday conversation with non-intellectuals for fear of increasing resentment.

Comment author: Torello 03 May 2014 07:44:50PM 2 points [-]

I would love to hear what Richard Dawkins would say in reply to this quote.

Personally, I think it's great advice--challenging people immediately and directly is often not a good long-term strategy.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 04 May 2014 12:14:30AM 21 points [-]

Dawkins, in arguments with theists, homeopaths, etc., is not trying to convince his interlocutors; nor are most of the other well-known atheist public figures. The aim to convince bystanders — the private atheist who is unsure whether to "come out", the theist who's all but lost his faith but isn't sure whether atheism is a position one may take publicly, the person who's lukewarm on religious arguments but has always had a rather benign and respectful view of religion, etc.

In private conversations with someone whose opinions are of concern to you, Franklin's advice make sense. The public arguments of Dawkins & Co. are more akin to performances than conversations. I think he achieves his aim admirably. I, for one, have little interest in watching people get on a public stage and have exchanges laden with "in certain cases or circumstances..." and other such mealy-mouthed nonsense.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 May 2014 09:04:11AM 9 points [-]

The little boy's mother was off to market. She worried about her boy, who was always up to some mischief. She sternly admonished him, "Be good. Don't get into trouble. Don't eat all the cabbage. Don't spill all the milk. Don't throw stones at the cow. Don't fall down the well." The boy had done all of these things on other market days. Hoping to head off new trouble, she added, "And don't stuff beans up your nose!" This was a new idea for the boy, who promptly tried it out.

Wikipedia:Don't stuff beans up your nose

Comment author: Lumifer 03 May 2014 05:45:55PM 4 points [-]

There is a shorter version :-)

"Kids, while we're away, don't lock the cat in the fridge", said the parents.

"Ooooh, that's a great idea", said the kids...

Comment author: arundelo 03 May 2014 06:27:58PM 24 points [-]

Things like linear algebra, group theory, and probability have so many uses throughout science that learning them is like installing a firmware upgrade to your brain -- and even the math you don't use will stretch you in helpful ways.

-- Scott Aaronson

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 May 2014 06:59:53PM 8 points [-]

The same is true for a lot of intellectual concepts outside of math.

Comment author: David_Gerard 04 May 2014 10:12:32AM 4 points [-]

If only we could put together, say, a four-year college degree course intended to have this effect ...

Comment author: johnlawrenceaspden 05 May 2014 06:02:17PM *  2 points [-]

I think that's a super idea. I'd like to design it and I'd like to take it. The ideas that underlie everything else. Like a whole university course devoted to A-level maths, but covering every simple underlying idea. We should start by trying to work out what the syllabus should be.

(one 16 lecture course on each topic, and we'll have three courses per term so that's 36 courses in total)

Off the top of my head we should have: groups, calculus, dimensional analysis, estimation, probability (inc bayes), relativity, quantum mechanics, electronics, programming, chemistry, evolution, evolutionary psychology, heuristics and biases, law, public speaking, creative writing, economics, logic, game theory, game-of-life, how-to-win-friends-and-influence people, history, cosmology, geography, atomic theory, molecular biology ...

All taught with immediate direct applications to actual things in the immediate environment and if you can't come up with simple examples that a child would find interesting and could understand then it doesn't make the cut.

Any more suggestions? If we get loads let's make a post on 'The ideal 4-year university course'.

Comment author: David_Gerard 06 May 2014 08:10:00AM 12 points [-]

The joke was that this is precisely what a liberal arts degree was meant to be; the main problem is that liberal arts degrees haven't kept up with the times.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 06 May 2014 06:10:19AM 2 points [-]

Here's a related post, though it doesn't have that many suggestions: http://lesswrong.com/lw/l7/the_simple_math_of_everything/

Comment author: bramflakes 03 May 2014 09:11:42PM 2 points [-]

What like?

Comment author: tristanhaze 04 May 2014 01:37:28AM 18 points [-]

For my part, I've found the economic notions of opportunity cost and marginal utility to be like this.

Comment author: johnlawrenceaspden 05 May 2014 05:48:33PM -2 points [-]

That's maths too.

Comment author: SolveIt 04 May 2014 12:57:27PM 4 points [-]

A good deal of the sequences seem to fall in this category. Conservation of expected evidence, for instance.

Comment author: Torello 04 May 2014 04:35:37AM 5 points [-]

"Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution"

— Theodosius Dobzhansky

The fact that a theory that can be stated in ten words frames an entire discipline is quite incredible. Compared to group theory and probability, it sure seems like an easier uploading process as well.

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 May 2014 01:41:07PM *  3 points [-]

"Mathematics is about proving theorems based on axioms and other theorems" also frames a whole discipline.

A frame tells you something about a disciple but it doesn't tell you everything.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 04 May 2014 05:12:28AM 3 points [-]

What are the ten words or less in which evolution can be stated?

Comment author: Kawoomba 04 May 2014 07:43:44AM *  4 points [-]

warped by random change

what replicates stays around

always evolving

(More constraints! More constraints!)

change without motion

the lament of the red queen


Comment author: Torello 04 May 2014 02:28:28PM 7 points [-]

"Multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die."

-Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

Comment author: Desrtopa 07 May 2014 05:35:22AM 3 points [-]

I think that Darwin would himself acknowledge that "fittest" is a more accurate rendition than "strongest," but whether the quote can be rendered in this way without breaking the ten words constraint comes down to a question of whether "unfittest" counts as a legit word.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 May 2014 03:20:38PM 2 points [-]

I think "fit" has become a free-floating standard rather than meaning "fitting into a particular environment".

Comment author: Nornagest 07 May 2014 06:34:01AM 1 point [-]

Maladapted, as an adjective? Though I suppose that's cheating a bit since it's a sense of adaptation that draws on an evolutionary metaphor.

Comment author: BloodyShrimp 04 May 2014 06:42:53AM *  3 points [-]

"We have what replicated better; noise permanently affects replicative ability"?

Comment author: infinityGroupoid 07 May 2014 12:49:04AM 2 points [-]

Natural Selection: the differential survival of replicators with heritable variation.

Comment author: Tenoke 07 May 2014 12:25:19PM *  22 points [-]

"Man is not going to wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain."

--Corneliu E. Giurgea, the chemist who synthesized Piracetam and coined the term 'Nootropic'

Comment author: roystgnr 02 May 2014 03:35:24PM 27 points [-]

PLAYBOY: So the experiment didn’t work?

[Craig] FERGUSON: No, the experiment always works. There’s no such thing as an experiment that doesn’t work. There are only results, but results may vary. Here’s what I learned:

Comment author: anandjeyahar 03 May 2014 05:39:47AM 9 points [-]

I tend to disagree.. I have done some things which I thought was experimenting with but did not come up with any clear conclusion after the experiment and analysis. On rewriting the thesis it turned out there were a lot more implicit assumptions inside the hypothesis that I was not aware of. I think it was a badly designed experiment and it was rather unproductive in retrospective analysis. I suppose one could argue that it brought to light the implicit assumptions and that was a useful result. Somehow(not sure how or why) I find that a low standard to consider something an experiment.

Comment author: satt 03 May 2014 09:37:04PM 8 points [-]

Systems built without requirements cannot fail; they merely offer surprises — usually unpleasant!

— Robert Morris, quoted in Brian Snow's "We Need Assurance!"

Comment author: AndHisHorse 03 May 2014 07:57:36AM 7 points [-]

Experiments can fail if they are executed or planned improperly. If both the control and the experimental group are given sugar pills, for example, or the equipment fails in a shower of sparks, the experiment has provided no evidence by which one can update. It is a small quibble, and probably not what the quote meant to illustrate (I'm guessing that the experiment provided evidence which downgraded the probability of the hypothesis), but something to note nonetheless: experiments are not magic knowledge-providers.

Comment author: Vaniver 03 May 2014 08:49:18PM 7 points [-]

Experiments can fail if they are executed or planned improperly. If both the control and the experimental group are given sugar pills, for example, or the equipment fails in a shower of sparks, the experiment has provided no evidence by which one can update.

I think Ferguson would call those "results," and from those you would have learned about performing experiments, not about the original hypothesis you were interested in.

Comment author: Desrtopa 07 May 2014 05:43:02AM 6 points [-]

If anything, I think a really failed experiment is one that makes you think you've learned something that is in fact wrong, which is the result of flaws in the experiment that you never become aware of.

Comment author: wedrifid 16 May 2014 07:25:57AM 1 point [-]

I think Ferguson would call those "results," and from those you would have learned about performing experiments, not about the original hypothesis you were interested in.

Ferguson's proposed new language is a downgrade. Being unable to identify something as a failure when the outcome sucks is fatalism and not particularly useful.

Comment author: DanielLC 15 May 2014 09:53:21PM 3 points [-]

An experiment is supposed to teach you the truth. If you run the experiment badly and, say, get a false positive, then the experiment failed.

Comment author: Cyan 05 May 2014 04:06:21AM *  25 points [-]

Bruno de Finetti heard of [the author's empirical Bayes method for grading tests] and he wrote to me suggesting that the student should be encouraged to state their probability for each of the possible choices. The appropriate score should be a simple function of the probability distribution and the correct answer. An appropriate function would encourage students to reply with their actual distribution rather than attempt to bluff. I responded that it would be difficult to get third graders to list probabilities. He answered that we should give the students five gold stars and let them distribute the stars among the possible answers.

- Herman Chernoff (pg 34 of Past, Present, and Future of Statistical Science, available here)

Comment author: Mestroyer 05 May 2014 08:52:19AM 21 points [-]

Actually, if you do this with something besides a test, this sounds like a really good way to teach a third-grader probabilities.

Comment author: Mestroyer 04 May 2014 03:38:21AM 21 points [-]

we're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill Today.

Captain James Tiberius Kirk dodging an appeal to nature and the "what the hell" effect, to optimize for consequences instead of virtue.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 May 2014 01:38:36PM 5 points [-]

I look at books as investments in a future of learning rather than a fleeting moment of insight, soon to be forgotten.

--Kevan Lee

Comment author: TobyBartels 12 May 2014 02:57:38AM *  12 points [-]

Don't just tell me what you'd like to be true.

This is from Greg Egan's 1999 novel Teranesia; since there are no hits for ‘Teranesia’ in the Google custom search, I'm inferring that it hasn't been posted before.

Here's a little background. This is a spoiler for some events early in the novel, but it is early; it's not a spoiler for the really big stuff (not even in this chapter). So Prabir lives alone with his father (‘Baba’) and mother (and baby sister Madhusree who is not in this scene), and their garden has been sown with mines for some very interesting reasons that needn't concern us, and Baba has discovered this by being blown up by one. But he's still alive, so mother and Prabir have laid a ladder atop some boxes across the garden, and she's crawled along the ladder to rescue Baba without setting off more mines. But this is harder than anticipated.

She turned to Prabir. “I'm going to try sitting down, so I can get Baba on to the ladder. But then I might not be able to stand up with him, to carry him. If I leave him on the ladder and walk back to my end, do you think the two of us could carry the ladder to the side of the garden with Baba on it—like a stretcher?”

Prabir replied instantly, “Yes, we can do it.”

His mother looked away, angry for a moment. She said, “I want you to think about it. Don't just tell me what you'd like to be true.”

Chastened, Prabir obeyed her. Half his father's weight. More than twice as much as Madhusree's. He believed he was strong enough. But if he was fooling himself, and dropped the ladder …

He said, “I'm not sure how far I could carry him without resting. But I could slide the crate along the ground with me—kick it along with one foot. Then if I had to stop, I could rest the ladder on it.”

His mother considered this. “All right. That's what we'll do.” She shot him a half-smile, shorthand for all the reassuring words that would have taken too long to speak.

(taken from the American hardback edition, pages 50&51)

[Edit: grammar in the text written by me]

Comment author: shminux 12 May 2014 08:41:35PM 1 point [-]

It is a good quote, and it works in context, but often it pays to (temporarily) believe that "what you'd like to be true" actually is and do your hardest (or even impossible) to figure out how you got there. “Yes, we can do it.” could be the first step toward figuring out the "how" part.

Comment author: elharo 01 May 2014 09:53:13AM 21 points [-]

The brutal truth is that reality is indifferent to your difficulty in finding enough subjects. It’s like astronomy: To study things that are small and distant in the sky you need a huge telescope. If you only have access to a few subjects, you need to study bigger effects, and maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

-- Joseph P. Simmons, The Reformation: Can Social Scientists Save Themselves

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 May 2014 02:48:35PM 0 points [-]

Voted up for the linked article more than for the quote.

Comment author: Torello 01 May 2014 11:33:48PM 19 points [-]

Accident, n. An inevitable occurrence due to the action of immutable natural laws.

  • Ambrose Bierce, The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary, complied and edited by Ernest J. Hopkins
Comment author: B_For_Bandana 03 May 2014 02:28:58AM *  26 points [-]

One afternoon a student said "Roshi, I don't really understand what's going on. I mean, we sit in zazen and we gassho to each other and everything, and Felicia got enlightened when the bottom fell out of her water-bucket, and Todd got enlightened when you popped him one with your staff, and people work on koans and get enlightened, but I've been doing this for two years now, and the koans don't make any sense, and I don't feel enlightened at all! Can you just tell me what's going on?"

"Well you see," Roshi replied, "for most people, and especially for most educated people like you and I, what we perceive and experience is heavily mediated, through language and concepts that are deeply ingrained in our ways of thinking and feeling. Our objective here is to induce in ourselves and in each other a psychological state that involves the unmediated experience of the world, because we believe that that state has certain desirable properties. It's impossible in general to reach that state through any particular form or method, since forms and methods are themselves examples of the mediators that we are trying to avoid. So we employ a variety of ad hoc means, some linguistic like koans and some non-linguistic like zazen, in hopes that for any given student one or more of our methods will, in whatever way, engender the condition of non-mediated experience that is our goal. And since even thinking in terms of mediators and goals tends to reinforce our undesirable dependency on concepts, we actively discourage exactly this kind of analytical discourse."

And the student was enlightened.

Comment author: satt 04 May 2014 11:50:31AM 2 points [-]

I don't think there's such a thing as "unmediated experience of the world".

(I like the quotation a lot for giving a plausible, lucid reason why Zen might spurn the usual sort of analytical discourse. But it's so clear an explanation of an idea that I think it's revealed a basic problem with the idea, namely that it points towards a non-existent goal.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 May 2014 01:33:56PM 13 points [-]

There is such a thing as a less mediated experience of the world.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 09 May 2014 06:30:33AM 1 point [-]

Can you give some examples of more and less mediated experiences?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 May 2014 03:08:14PM 3 points [-]

That's an interesting question-- "mediated" should probably be modified by "of what?" and "by what?".

It's definitely possible for perceptions to become less mediated by focusing on small details so that prototypes aren't dominant. It's possible to become a lot more perceptive about color, and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is about seeing angles, lengths, shading, curves, etc. rather than objects and thus being able to draw accurately.

If you get some distance on your emotions through meditation and/or CBT, is your experience of your emotions less mediated? More mediated? Wrong questions? I think meditators assume that the calm you achieve is already there-- you just weren't noticing it until you meditated enough, so your emotions are more mediated and your calm is less mediated, but now that I've put it into words, I'm not sure what you would use for evidence that the calm was always there rather than created by meditation.

Thank you for the evidence that it's possible to get 12 karma points for something that doesn't exactly make sense.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 04 May 2014 02:22:24PM *  4 points [-]

Because? People who claim it are lying? You dont have it, and your mind is typical?

Comment author: [deleted] 04 May 2014 06:58:57PM 8 points [-]

Or maybe they and satt mean different things by “unmediated”.

Comment author: satt 04 May 2014 11:23:18PM 5 points [-]

Because causal mechanisms to relay information from the world to one's brain are a necessary prerequisite for "experience of the world", so one's "experience of the world" is always mediated by those causal mechanisms.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 05 May 2014 10:06:52AM *  1 point [-]

And it's not possible for just the cognitive mechanisms to shut down, and leave the perceptual ones?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 06 May 2014 09:06:29AM 2 points [-]

If you shut down the cognitive mechanisms completely, would you even remember what you have perceived? Or even that you have perceived something?

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 06 May 2014 09:42:19AM 1 point [-]

Maybe not. That matches some reports of nonordinary experience.

Comment author: satt 07 May 2014 02:49:46AM 0 points [-]

I doubt it's possible. I'm sceptical that one can cleanly sort every experience-related bodily mechanism into a "cognitive" category xor a "perceptual" category. Intuitively, for example, I might think of my eyes as perceptual, and the parts of my brain that process visual signals as cognitive, but if all of those bits of my brain were cut out, I'd expect to see nothing at all, not an "unmediated" view of the world — which implies my brain is perceptual as well as cognitive. So I expect the idea of just shutting down the cognitive mechanisms and leaving the perceptual mechanisms intact is incoherent.

(Often there're also external physical mechanisms which are further mediators. You can't see an object without light going from the object to your eye, and you can't hear something without a medium between the source and your ear.)

Comment author: David_Gerard 06 May 2014 12:50:11PM 3 points [-]

It's like neutrality on Wikipedia. You'll never attain neutrality, but there is such a thing as less and more, and you want to head in the "more" direction.

Comment author: satt 07 May 2014 03:29:15AM 1 point [-]

I think I see what you mean; if I mentally substitute "is closer to an" for "involves the", and "that state would have" for "that state has", the practice the quotation describes makes more sense to me. (I'm leery of the idea that it's better to head in the direction of less mediation — taking off my glasses doesn't give me a clearer view of the world — but that's a different objection.)

Comment author: Aleksander 07 May 2014 08:46:09PM *  0 points [-]

So while the original quotation talked about not thinking at all, your revised version urges that we think as little as possible. How does it qualify as a "rationality quote"?

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 07 May 2014 09:19:02PM *  2 points [-]

It can be rationally beneficial to realise now much mediation is involved in perception, in the same way it is useful to replace naive ealism with scientific realism.

Relatively unmediated perception is also aesthetically interesting, and therefore of terminal value to many.

Comment author: satt 09 May 2014 01:49:15AM 1 point [-]

How does it qualify as a "rationality quote"?

You tell me; I have to squint pretty hard to make it read as telling me something useful about rationality.

Comment author: ChristianKl 08 May 2014 10:40:18PM 1 point [-]

Words are used to point to places. The thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words "unmediated experience of the world" might not exist. That doesn't mean that there aren't using people who use that phrase to point to something real.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 May 2014 12:41:05AM 1 point [-]

Couldn't you say exactly that to anyone who doubts the existence of anything?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 09 May 2014 06:26:10AM 5 points [-]

Couldn't you say exactly that to anyone who doubts the existence of anything?

You could. And the way to resolve a dispute over the existence of, say, unicorns, would be to determine what is being meant by the word, in terms of what observations their existence implies that you will be more likely to see. Then you can go and make those observations.

The problem with talk of mental phenomena like "unmediated perception" is that it is difficult to do this, because the words are pointing into the mind of the person using them, which no-one else can see. Or worse, the person isn't pointing anywhere, but repeating something someone else has said, without having had personal experience. How can you tell whether a disagreement is due to the words being used differently, the minds being actually different, or the words and the minds being much the same but the people having differing awareness of their respective minds?

This is a problem I have with pretty much everything I have read about meditation. I can follow the external instructions about sitting, but if I cannot match up the description of the results to be supposedly obtained with my experience, there isn't anywhere to go with that.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 06 May 2014 01:23:45PM 1 point [-]

You can construe the goal as non existent, but that is an uncharitable reading.

Comment author: satt 07 May 2014 02:51:03AM 1 point [-]

Whether the goal exists is an empirical question, no...? I don't understand where (a lack of) charity enters into it.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 07 May 2014 10:45:54AM *  0 points [-]

The principle of charity relates to what people mean by what they say. Unmitigated experience might be empirically nonexistent under one interpretation of unmediated but not under another. If someone claims to have had unmediated experience , that is evidence relating to what they mean by their words.

Comment author: satt 08 May 2014 09:20:48PM 0 points [-]

Unmitigated [sic] experience might be empirically nonexistent under one interpretation of unmediated but not under another.

I see. What more charitable interpretation of "unmediated experience" would you prefer?

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 07 May 2014 10:51:01AM 0 points [-]

Maybe the PoC would be an easier sell if it were phrased in terms of the "typical semantics fallacy".

Comment author: satt 01 May 2014 11:09:26PM 17 points [-]

Nothing is so obvious that it’s obvious.

Errol Morris

Comment author: raisin 19 May 2014 05:36:56PM 7 points [-]

"There's a blind spot in the center of your visual field," Sarasti pointed out. "You can't see it. You can't see the saccades in your visual timestream. Just two of the tricks you know about. Many others."

Cunningham was nodding. "That's my whole point. Rorschach could be—"

"Not talking about case studies. Brains are survival engines, not truth detectors. If self-deception promotes fitness, the brain lies. Stops noticing— irrelevant things. Truth never matters. Only fitness. By now you don't experience the world as it exists at all. You experience a simulation built from assumptions. Shortcuts. Lies. Whole species is agnosiac by default. Rorschach does nothing to you that you don't already do to yourselves."

Comment author: EGarrett 06 May 2014 04:39:52PM 13 points [-]

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." -George Bernard Shaw

Comment author: philh 07 May 2014 10:37:38PM 6 points [-]

Or naivety, depending on how cynical the critic is.

And of course, inaccurate observations are commonly called cynical and/or naive as well...

Comment author: James_Ernest 04 May 2014 06:18:56AM *  13 points [-]

Real probabilities about the structure and properties of the cosmos, and its relation to living organisms on this planet, can be reach’d only by correlating the findings of all who have competently investigated both the subject itself, and our mental equipment for approaching and interpreting it — astronomers, physicists, mathematicians, biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and so on. The only sensible method is that of assembling all the objective scientifick data of 1931, and forming a fresh chain of partial indications bas’d exclusively on that data and on no conceptions derived from earlier and less ample arrays of data; meanwhile testing, by the psychological knowledge of 1931, the workings and inclinations of our minds in accepting, connecting, and making deductions from data, and most particularly weeding out all tendencies to give more than equal consideration to conceptions which would never have occurred to us had we not formerly harboured provisional and capricious ideas of the universe now conclusively known to be false. It goes without saying that this realistic principle fully allows for the examination of those irrational feelings and wishes about the universe, upon which idealists so amusingly base their various dogmatick speculations.

-- H.P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters, 1932-1934.

Comment author: johnlawrenceaspden 05 May 2014 06:08:55PM 0 points [-]

What's with bas'd and dogmatick? Is Lovecraft aiming at some antique effect, or did he write in a non-standard dialect?

Comment author: Nornagest 05 May 2014 06:27:46PM *  5 points [-]

Yes and yes. Lovecraft was writing in early 20th century New England, but he typically affected the forms of late 1700s British English, or at least tried to. Partly this was for stylistic effect, but I get the sense that he also thought of his native idiom as intellectually debased.

The aesthetics of tradition were kind of a thing with Lovecraft, although in other ways he was thoroughly modern. Not that these affectations were exclusive to Lovecraft by any means; William Hope Hodgson for example wrote The Night Land (a seminal 1912 horror/SF story and notable Lovecraft influence) in an excruciating pseudo-17th-century dialect.

Comment author: James_Ernest 04 May 2014 06:29:38AM 0 points [-]

Consider my priors for knowledge of Bayes-fu by wise predecessors to be significantly raised.

Comment author: Vaniver 27 May 2014 06:06:51PM *  3 points [-]

Because positive illusions typically provide a short-term benefit with larger long-term costs, they can become a form of emotional procrastination.

-- Max H. Bazerman

Comment author: RichardKennaway 27 May 2014 07:01:41PM 2 points [-]

Context? I can randomly replace elements of this by their opposites and get something that sounds just as truthy.

Try it!

"[Because/although] [positive/negative] [illusions/perceptions] provide a [short/long]-term [benefit/cost] with [larger/smaller] [long/short]-term [costs/benefits], they can [become/avoid] a form of [emotional/intellectual] [procrastination/spur to action]."

Comment author: Vaniver 27 May 2014 09:19:02PM *  1 point [-]

It's from a book on decision-making, in a section on motivational biases. Bazerman discusses the evidence that positive illusions help ('[research] suggest[s] that positive illusions enhance and protect self-esteem, increase personal contentment, help individuals to persist at difficult tasks, and facilitate coping with aversive and uncontrollable events" is a short sample), talks about clusters (unrealistically positive views of the self, unrealistic optimism, illusion of control, self-serving attributions, and positive illusions in groups and society), and then the quote is from a section labeled "Are Positive Illusions Good for You?". Here's the full paragraph it is from:

I believe that each of these findings is true and that in some specific situations (e.g., severe health conditions), positive illusions may prove to be beneficial. In addition, positive illusions may help people cope with tragic events, particularly when they have few alternatives and are not facing any major decisions. However, I also believe that the story told by this literature is incomplete and therefore dangerous in most decision-making environments. Every day, people invest their life savings in new businesses that have little chance of success. Similarly, falsely assuming that they are irreplaceable, people make ultimatums to their employers and often end up losing their jobs. Positive illusions are hazardous when they cause people to continually fool themselves. Because positive illusions typically provide a short-term benefit with larger long-term costs, they can become a form of emotional procrastination. I believe that you cannot maintain these illusions without reducing the quality of your decisions.

Try it!

It looks to me like doing an odd number of flips is often silly. ("Because positive illusions typically provide a long-term cost with larger long-term costs, they can avoid a form of emotional procrastination." What?)

Comment author: faul_sname 01 June 2014 08:42:07AM 0 points [-]

"Because positive illusions provide a short-term benefit with smaller short-term benefits, they can become a form of intellectual procrastination."

Comment author: timujin 18 May 2014 08:29:07AM 10 points [-]

“All witches are selfish, the Queen had said. But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine! I have a duty!”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30)

Comment author: DanielLC 19 May 2014 03:15:50AM -2 points [-]

If you want to use your selfishness to help others, then you're not selfish.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 May 2014 09:22:09AM 1 point [-]

Do we really need to go into the question what “selfishness” actually means? In ordinary situations I'd say that “the actual altruist [is] whichever one actually holds open doors for little old ladies”; maybe in certain situations we need different words to specify whether they do so because it's in their own utility function or because of religious/game-theoretical/superrational/acausal/whatever-they-call-it-these-days reasons, but...

Comment author: DanielLC 21 May 2014 07:37:21PM 1 point [-]

I don't think this is just a problem with definitions. This is fake morality.

She's giving a fake justification for helping others as her own self interest. Someone who finds a way to justify buying a million dollar laptop is clearly just being selfish and doesn't really care about their claimed morality of altruism. Similarly, someone who tries to justify helping others is clearly just being altruistic and doesn't really care about their claimed morality of selfishness.

Comment author: timujin 19 May 2014 11:01:52AM 0 points [-]

Of course you're not. But human nature is supposedly selfish, and if your true goals are altruistic, you will have to find a way to turn it around.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 May 2014 01:24:01PM 2 points [-]

human nature is supposedly selfish

Emphasis on "supposedly", since the popular hypotheses about "selfish human nature" are far too simplistic to reflect any actual results of psychological research.

Comment author: timujin 19 May 2014 03:25:36PM 1 point [-]

Of course they are. Unlike those about Pratchett's witches, though. They reflect the 'locally-selfish-globally-altruistic' concept surprisingly well.

Comment author: Neo 19 May 2014 08:58:54AM 0 points [-]

Selfishness seems to be referred to as primarily a a mindset or attitude. Helping others as an outcome. I think they can co-exist at the same time, for example Adam Smith's invisible hand in capitalism.

Comment author: Kawoomba 21 May 2014 03:16:02PM 7 points [-]

The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd [than that of Sisyphus]. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.

Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Comment author: RichardKennaway 31 May 2014 04:52:14PM 4 points [-]

The worker is paid for his work, and with this money he obtains a roof over his head, food on the table, and the wherewithal to raise a family and to pursue other activities when he is not working. Sisyphus works for nothing and does nothing but work. That Camus sees, or affects to see, no difference between their situations says something about Camus, but nothing about work.

Comment author: MugaSofer 05 July 2014 10:15:10PM 1 point [-]

Is it truly different to work because the Gods have forced you, compared to working because the threat of starvation and homelessness has forced you?

I thought the quote was suggesting both tasks are equally arbitrary and pointless, though, rather than discussing compensation. It seems more interesting.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 July 2014 09:49:50AM *  1 point [-]

Is it truly different to work because the Gods have forced you, compared to working because the threat of starvation and homelessness has forced you?

Yes, it is.

Some people have it harder than others, but we all work because the threat of starvation and homelessness forces us; except for those relying on the charity of friends and family (including deceased ones), or of institutions. The meat machines we live in require sustenance and shelter, without which we die, and these resources are provided either by our own work or by that of others. Death is free. Life has to be worked for.

Some are fortunate enough to have the abilities, health, energy, and social environment to be confident of always finding people to pay for whatever it is we want to direct our efforts towards. The wolves are so very far from our door that we can forget, or never realise, that they are out there, inching closer when we rest and retreating when we work.

So you can apply the story of Sisyphus to all of us, but only in the larger sense that we are forced to run all the while just to stay alive, and that only for 70 years or so. It applies just as much to Camus (whose Wiki page is rather uninformative about how he actually earned a living) as to the lowest factory worker.

We may, of course, daydream of a future in which we need care no more to clothe and eat. We may work to bring such a future about. But that is not the world we live in today, nor has it ever been, nor will it be for a very long time.

I thought the quote was suggesting both tasks are equally arbitrary and pointless, though, rather than discussing compensation.

It is suggesting that, and, I say, it is wrong.

Comment author: MugaSofer 06 July 2014 06:19:20PM 1 point [-]

(One might argue that "the workman of today" is less likely to accomplish something meaningful, in the course of earning their living.)

Even if everything was meaningless - which it isn't, in my opinion, but Camus does seem to have thought so - and everyone must work or starve - which, as you note, is not true because people are compassionate - surely that merely makes the comparison to Sisyphus that much more relevant? How does it undermine the quote?

Indeed, if it's that hard to escape, surely comparing starvation to the inescapable will of the gods is that much more accurate?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 July 2014 08:50:07PM 1 point [-]

Indeed, if it's that hard to escape, surely comparing starvation to the inescapable will of the gods is that much more accurate?

That depends on the strength of one's transhumanist faith. :)

One can repurpose Camus as much as Camus repurposes Sisyphus, but the original passage does go on to say, "Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious..." So Camus is not talking about us all, certainly not intellectuals like himself, but about the proles.

Comment author: roystgnr 31 May 2014 02:12:19PM 1 point [-]

I think there's a non-negligible difference between "I push the same rock around every day, and there it is back in the exact place it started again" and e.g. "I push the same kinds of rock around every day, but last year's are now embedded in the building we just finished."

Comment author: Kawoomba 31 May 2014 02:32:30PM *  1 point [-]

Camus may answer along the lines of "since [any ascribing of meaning] is absurd in the first place, if you think there's objectively more meaning in the building you built than in the rock you pushed up, you're not taking the premise seriously". In a way we're whistling in a dark forest.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 May 2014 11:25:31PM 7 points [-]

Predictors have an incentive to predict likely-events-of-low-consequence when they are not harmed by their errors. But in the real world, what matters is warning about events of high consequence. In the real world, the latter can only be revealed through skin-in-the-game as the supposedly "good predictors" go bankrupt.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: shminux 29 May 2014 08:40:44PM 4 points [-]

the fact that I don’t know exactly what consciousness is, doesn’t mean that I can’t be crystal-clear about what it isn’t!

Scott Aaronson in reply to the statements like "A stone is conscious to the “inputs” of gravity and electrostatic repulsion"

Comment author: JosephY 29 May 2014 09:42:25PM 1 point [-]

It reminds me of Justice Potter Stewart: "I know it when I see it!"

Comment author: shminux 29 May 2014 10:06:25PM *  2 points [-]

Well, it's the converse, which seems a lot more useful a criterion to me.

Comment author: roystgnr 31 May 2014 02:05:07PM 0 points [-]

I'm not sure Scott isn't just falling victim to the sorites paradox here. There are lots of macroscale definitions which seem to break down at their smallest application, and it's not immediately obvious that consciousness couldn't be one of them.

Comment author: Kawoomba 31 May 2014 02:40:50PM *  2 points [-]

The question is whether to interpret such a falling apart of a definition (which I take to mean that related decision problems cannot be clearly answered anymore) as an inherent or even necessary attribute of concepts which 'live' at a macroscale, or as a weakness of said definition, as a sign that we're mistaking a fuzzy word cloud for a precisely defined set.

Comment author: MugaSofer 05 July 2014 10:09:31PM *  0 points [-]

Hmm. I see his point, I thinks, but I ... think it does mean that, actually. Without fully understanding the definition, you should be less sure that a better understanding wouldn't classify them differently.

Picture a slave-owner saying something similar about a slave, for instance. Slave-owners were even more confused than we are about personhood, and I think it's clear that they weren't "crystal clear on what [isn't a person", in retrospect.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 May 2014 11:21:22PM 11 points [-]

People are surely better off with the truth. Oddly enough, everyone agrees with this when it comes to the arts. Sophisticated people sneer at feel-good comedies and saccharine romances in which everyone lives happily ever after. But when it comes to science, these same people say, "Give us schmaltz!" They expect the science of human beings to be a source of emotional uplift and inspirational sermonizing.

Steven Pinker

Comment author: fubarobfusco 02 May 2014 03:33:05PM 26 points [-]

This lacks a ring of truth for me.

A lot of folks seem to expect the science of human beings to reinforce their bitterness and condemnation of human nature (roughly, "people are mostly crap"). I kinda suspect that if you asked "sophisticated people" (whoever those are) to name some important psychology experiments, those who named any would come up with Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment and Milgram's obedience experiments pretty early on. Not a lot of emotional uplift there.

As for the arts — horror films where everyone dies screaming seem to be regarded as every bit as lowbrow as feel-good comedies.

Comment author: 123 03 May 2014 12:14:50PM *  4 points [-]

It's not obvious that one is better off with the truth. Assume that for some desirable thing X:

P(X|I believe X will happen) = 49%

P(X|I believe X won't happen) = 1%

It seems I can't rationally believe that X will happen. Perhaps I would be better off being deluded about it.

Comment author: Remlin 06 May 2014 05:47:06AM *  0 points [-]

Sorry, I don't understand - why does sum of probabilities not equal 100% in your example? Assume that you missed "5" in "P(X|I believe X won't happen) = 1%"

Perhaps I would be better off being deluded about it.

But for what reason?

Comment author: timujin 06 May 2014 08:20:20AM *  1 point [-]

These probabilities are not required to sum to 1, because they are not incompatible and exhaustive possible outcomes of an experiment. More obvious example to illustrate:

P(6-sided die coming up as 6 | today is Monday) = 1/6
P(6-sided die coming up as 6 | today is not Monday) = 1/6
1/6 + 1/6 != 1

Comment author: Remlin 06 May 2014 02:48:14PM 0 points [-]

I think your example is not suitable for situation above - there I can see only two possible outcomes: X happen or X not happen. We don't know anything more about X. And P(X|A) + P(X|~A) = 1, isn't so?

Comment author: timujin 06 May 2014 04:35:55PM 3 points [-]

No. You may have confused it with P(X|A) + P(~X|A) = 1 (note the tilda). In my case, either 6-sided die comes up as 6, or it doesn't.

Comment author: JQuinton 14 May 2014 04:29:14PM 0 points [-]

Yes, either X happens or X doesn't happen. P(X) + P(~X) = 1, so therefore P(X | A) + P(~X | A) = 1. Both formulations are stating the probability of X. But one is adjusting for the probability of X given A; so either X given A happens or X given A doesn't happen (which is P(~X | A) not P(X | ~A)).

Comment author: 123 07 May 2014 04:56:25AM 0 points [-]

But for what reason?

When Pinker said "better off", I assumed he included goal achievement. It's plausible that people are more motivated to do something if they're more certain than they should be based on the evidence. They might not try as hard otherwise, which will influence the probability that the goal is attained. I don't really know if that's true, though.

The thing may be worth doing even if the probability isn't high that it will succeed, because the expected value could be high. But if one isn't delusionally certain that one will be successful, it may no longer be worth doing because the probability that the attempt succeeds is lower. (That was the point of my first comment.)

There could be other psychological effects of knowing certain things. For example, maybe it would be difficult to handle being completely objective about one's own flaws and so on. Being objective about people you know may (conceivably) harm your relationships. Having to lie is uncomfortable. Knowing a completely useless but embarrassing fact about someone but pretending you don't is uncomfortable, not simply a harmless, unimportant update of your map of the territory. Etc.

I'm not saying I know of any general way to avoid harmful knowledge, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Comment author: shminux 19 May 2014 06:32:46PM 3 points [-]

People are extraordinarily sensitive to framing. "Art" is valuable. "Content" is not.

Patrick McKenzie on why having a publication date on your blog entry devalues it.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 20 May 2014 07:45:27AM *  4 points [-]

Patrick McKenzie on why having a publication date on your blog entry devalues it.

(Link to the, er, "content".)

And yet books always have a publication date.

ETA: as do scientific articles, of course, and the date really matters, not because of being "up to date" but because the date gives some context to whatever it is.

Comment author: gwern 20 May 2014 08:37:35PM 5 points [-]

As far as books go:

Most writing only carries a publication date because that was inserted several years ago into the WordPress template by a designer. The designer likely knows nothing about your company, to say nothing of the instant work. He put in a date because WordPress makes it really easy and because everyone knows that blog posts have dates. He also probably made the decision to make the date front-and-center in the blog post, rather than treating it as minimal-impact metadata and burying it after the main text or putting it in a bots-only header.

I'm curious if showing a date is as bad as he thinks; he doesn't mention ever A/B testing the claim himself. (I'd test it on my site, except the date is already buried in the sidebar to the point where many people miss it, so I wouldn't expect much of a difference.)

Comment author: Vaniver 21 May 2014 08:24:16PM *  1 point [-]

I'm curious if showing a date is as bad as he thinks

I predict yes, but if I'm reading his position right showing the date is just a symptom of not having a Long Content focus, which is what he's really arguing for in that article (and which your site already has in spades).

Comment author: gwern 21 May 2014 10:14:21PM 3 points [-]

If the problem is focusing on short-term writing which becomes worthless quickly, then simply hiding or showing dates shouldn't much affect how long readers stay on the page: most short-term stuff shows its colors very quickly. (How many sentences does it take to figure out you're not interested in a rant about John Kerry from 2004?)

Comment author: Vaniver 21 May 2014 10:40:43PM 2 points [-]

I think McKenzie's argument is that using a date can turn long content into short content, which many people do on accident, and while he doesn't quantify it (which would be the value of A/B testing) I think he has enough evidence to establish the direction of the effect. Not using a date is obviously not sufficient to turn short content into long content, but I do think it may be helpful at getting one into the right state of mind, as it focuses the attention on sorting things by content rather than time. (Imagine trying to find all of Robin Hanson's writing on construal level theory- yes, you can use the nearfar tag on Overcoming Bias, but that's sorted by date, and there's no solid introduction.)

Comment author: gwern 22 May 2014 03:07:17AM *  2 points [-]

(Imagine trying to find all of Robin Hanson's writing on construal level theory- yes, you can use the nearfar tag on Overcoming Bias, but that's sorted by date, and there's no solid introduction.)

That's a good example of how weak date markers are: if the dates were deleted completely from every OB post, people would still find them incomprehensible because there's only one post which could be considered an overview of the concept, and is a needle in the haystack until and unless Hanson in some way synthesizes all his scattershot posts and allusions into a single Near-Far page.

The posts need some sort of organization imposed; the lack of that organization is what kills them, not some date markers. If my essays were broken up into 500-word chunks, and sorted either randomly or by date, they wouldn't look much better.

Comment author: shminux 21 May 2014 11:54:39PM *  1 point [-]

To expand on this a bit: he gives the following supporting example:

I once wrote an article about salary negotiation. If you go by the numbers, it created more value for more people than any other single thing I've ever written. (I keep a label in Gmail for when folks tell me they got a raise as a direct result of advice in there. The running tally is in the high seven figures a year these days.) I think if I were to revisit the topic today I'd write substantially the same advice. However, that article has a date on it, just the fact of it having a date on it makes it less useful.

I have seen variants of the following conversation happen on Twitter / Reddit / HN / etc multiple times.

"I just got a job offer as a front-end engineer at a Valley company. How do I handle the salary negotiation?"

"Patrick wrote about that here. It is good advice."

"That looks like it was written in 2012. Do you have anything more up-to-date?"

History is a pretty wild rollercoaster, but nothing which happened in the interim has suddenly made "Don't negotiate your salary!" or "If you do negotiate your salary, start by naming a nice low number. You can always work your way up later!" into good advice. And yet if you put a date on your work, people immediately assume it gets stale.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 May 2014 04:58:12AM *  1 point [-]

a way to quickly evaluate any proposed new form of government or legal system: ask the proposer how arrest is distinguished from kidnapping, and search and seizure from trespassing and theft -- if they can't give a good answer, the proposal is based on ignorance and you need not waste any more of your time on it

Nick Szabo

Comment author: AndHisHorse 03 May 2014 07:39:36AM *  1 point [-]

The very narrow choice of values and their seemingly libertarian phrasing implies some hidden criteria for what constitutes "a good answer" - which enables whoever follows this advice to immediately dismiss a proposal based on some unspecified "good"-ness of the answer without further thought or discussion, and dramatically downgrade their opinion of the proposer in the bargain. This seems detrimental to the rational acquisition of ideas and options.

EDIT: Criticism has since been withdrawn in response to context provided below.

Comment author: David_Gerard 04 May 2014 10:15:21AM 9 points [-]

The quote doesn't give that impression in context, including the comments - it's actually a statement about the importance of the rule of law. From the comments, Nick notes:

Indeed, the moral principle of non-initiation of force, far from being a possible basis of society as Murray Rothbard and David Friedman would have it, is a sophisticated outcome of long legal evolution and a highly involved legal procedure that itself cannot stick to that principle: it coerces people to a certain extent so that they will not coerce each other to a much greater extent.

Comment author: AndHisHorse 05 May 2014 08:17:31PM 2 points [-]

Acknowledged, and criticism withdrawn.

Comment author: timujin 06 May 2014 08:28:28AM 0 points [-]

Trivially true, as one who cannot point out the difference is ignorant in the field of legal systems. I guess it is not what is meant?

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 01 May 2014 09:50:17PM 1 point [-]

'Whatever our calling, whether we are scientists, engineers, poets, public servants, or parents, we all live in a complex, and ever-changing world, and all of us deserve what's in this toolbox [meaning the humanities]: critical thinking skills; knowledge of the past and other cultures; an ability to work with and interpret numbers and statistics; access to the insights of great writers and artists; a willingness to experiment, to open up to change; and the ability to navigate ambiguity.'

In an opinion piece in the Boston Globe called "At MIT, the humanities are just as important as STEM" by Deborah K. Fitzgerald, Apr 30, 2014

The slashdot poster AthanasiusKircher goes on to ask

What other essential knowledge or skills should we add to this imaginary 'toolbox'?"

See slashdot post

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 02 May 2014 12:08:58AM 13 points [-]

critical thinking skills; knowledge of the past and other cultures; an ability to work with and interpret numbers and statistics; access to the insights of great writers and artists; a willingness to experiment, to open up to change; and the ability to navigate ambiguity.'

Some of these things are not like the others...

Comment author: johnlawrenceaspden 02 May 2014 09:18:36PM 1 point [-]

Which are the odd ones out?

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 02 May 2014 09:24:39PM 3 points [-]

To a first approximation:

{ critical thinking skills; an ability to work with and interpret numbers and statistics; a willingness to experiment, to open up to change }


{ knowledge of the past and other cultures; access to the insights of great writers and artists }

Then you've got this one by itself because what the heck does it even mean:

{ the ability to navigate ambiguity }

Comment author: johnlawrenceaspden 03 May 2014 12:55:14PM 3 points [-]

{ the ability to navigate ambiguity }

I think this is one of the most important skills you get from the humanities. I have a friend who's a history professor. He's very used to hearing 20 different accounts of the same event told by different people, most of whom are self-serving if not outright lying, and working out what must actually have gone on, which looks like a strength to me.

He has a skill I'd like to have, but don't, and he got it from studying history, (and playing academic politics).

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 03 May 2014 06:05:56PM 10 points [-]

working out what must actually have gone on

How did he know that his judgment of what actually had gone on was correct? How did he verify his conclusion?

Comment author: Lumifer 03 May 2014 05:48:01PM 9 points [-]

{ the ability to navigate ambiguity } I think this is one of the most important skills you get from the humanities.

Statistics is precisely that, but with numbers.

Comment author: VAuroch 05 May 2014 08:27:25PM 1 point [-]

That only works if you have numbers.

Comment author: Lumifer 06 May 2014 04:05:45PM 4 points [-]

Luckily, you can make numbers.

Comment author: dspeyer 08 May 2014 06:37:06AM 0 points [-]

Then you've got this one by itself because what the heck does it even mean:

{ the ability to navigate ambiguity }

Perhaps the ability to work with poorly-defined objectives? Including how to get some idea of what someone wants and use that to ask useful questions to refine it?

Comment author: Darklight 14 May 2014 07:46:51PM 1 point [-]

In the midst of it all you must take your stand, good-temperedly and without disdain, yet always aware that a man's worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions.

-- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, pg. 76

Comment author: [deleted] 01 May 2014 01:50:52PM *  -1 points [-]

Context: The quotes here are taken from the C.S. Lewis sci-fi novel Perelandra in which protagonist, Ransom, goes to an extremely ideal Venus to have philosophical discoveries and box with a man possessed by a demon.

These quotes come from the beginning of the novel when Ransom is attempting to describe the experience of having been transported through space by extraterrestrial means which had augmented his body to protect it from cold and hunger and atrophy for the duration of the journey.

This discussion (taking place in a debate over the Christian afterlife) touches upon certain sentiments about how the augmentation (or, for Lewis, glorification) of modern human bodies does not lessen us as humans but instead only improves that which is there.

'Oh, don't you see, you ass, that there's a difference between a trans-sensuous life and a non-sensuous life?'

What emerged was that in Ransom's opinion the present functions and appetites of the body would disappear, not because they were atrophied but because they were, as he said, 'engulfed.' He used the word 'trans-sexual' I remember and began to hunt about for some similar words to apply to eating (after rejecting 'trans-gastronomic'), and since he was not the only philologist present, that diverted the conversation into different channels.

I was questioning him on the subject and had incautiously said, 'Of course I realise it's all rather too vague for you to put into words,' when he took me up rather sharply, for such a patient man, by saying, 'On the contrary, it is words that are vague. The reason why the thing can't be expressed is that it's too definite for language.'

C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, p. 29.

Comment author: Aleksander 07 May 2014 08:30:09PM *  7 points [-]

While we are quoting Perelandra

"How far does it go? Would you still obey the Life-Force if you found it prompting you to murder me?"
"Or to sell England to the Germans?"
"Or to print lies as serious research in a scientific periodical?"
"God help you!" said Ransom.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 07 May 2014 09:24:46PM 5 points [-]

A parallel passage from 1984:

"You will understand that I must start by asking you certain questions. In general terms, what are you prepared to do?'

'Anything that we are capable of,' said Winston.

O'Brien had turned himself a little in his chair so that he was facing Winston. He almost ignored Julia, seeming to take it for granted that Winston could speak for her. For a moment the lids flitted down over his eyes. He began asking his questions in a low, expressionless voice, as though this were a routine, a sort of catechism, most of whose answers were known to him already.

'You are prepared to give your lives?'


'You are prepared to commit murder?'


'To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?'


'To betray your country to foreign powers?'


'You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases--to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?'


'If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child's face--are you prepared to do that?'


'You are prepared to lose your identity and live out the rest of your life as a waiter or a dock-worker?'


'You are prepared to commit suicide, if and when we order you to do so?'


'You are prepared, the two of you, to separate and never see one another again?'

'No!' broke in Julia.

It appeared to Winston that a long time passed before he answered. For a moment he seemed even to have been deprived of the power of speech. His tongue worked soundlessly, forming the opening syllables first of one word, then of the other, over and over again. Until he had said it, he did not know which word he was going to say. 'No,' he said finally.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 02 May 2014 07:14:01PM *  10 points [-]

The reason why the thing can't be expressed is that it's too definite for language.

This feels like a combination of words that are supposed to sound Wisely, but don't actually make sense. (I guess Lewis uses this technique frequently.)

How specifically could being "definite" be a a problem for language? Take any specific thing, apply an arbitrary label, and you are done.

There could be a problem when a person X experienced some "qualia" that other people have never experienced, so they can't match the verbal description with anything in their experience. Or worse, they have something similar, which they match instead, even when told not to. And this seems like a situation described in the text. -- But then the problem is not having the shared experience. If they did, they would just need to apply an arbitrary label, and somehow make sure they refer to the same thing when using the label. The language would have absolutely no problem with that.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 May 2014 09:10:26PM 7 points [-]

Since any attempt to defend the quote itself will only come off as a desire to shoehorn my chosen author into the rationality camp, I'll just give the simple reason why I chose to include that quote instead of stopping with the two previous:

I felt it touched on the subject of inferential distance and discussing reality using labels in a manner that was worthy of attention.

Comment author: tristanhaze 04 May 2014 01:53:42AM *  2 points [-]

How specifically could being "definite" be a a problem for language? Take any specific thing, apply an arbitrary label, and you are done.

This remark seems to flow from an oversimplified view of how language works. In the context of, for example, a person or a chair, this paradigm seems pretty solid... at least, it gets you a lot. You can ostend the thing ('take' it, as it were) and then appy the label. But in the case of lots of "objects" there is nothing analogous to such 'taking' as a prior, discrete step from talking. For example, "objects" like happiness, or vagueness or definiteness themselves.

I think you may benefit from reading Wittgenstein, but maybe you'd just hate it. I think you need it though!

Comment author: anandjeyahar 28 May 2014 03:59:16PM 1 point [-]

Am not sure I follow your comment. I think I get the basic gist of it and I agree with it, but I gotta ask. Did you really mean ostend(or was it a typo?)?. I can't really find it as a word in m-w.com or on google.

Comment author: tristanhaze 08 July 2014 03:28:12AM 0 points [-]

Yep, what The Ancient Geek said. Sorry I didn't reply in a timely way - I'm not a regular user. I'm glad you basically agree, and pardon me for using such a recherche word (did I just do it again?) needlessly. Philosophical training can do that to you; you get a bit blind to how certain words are, while they could be part of the general intellectual culture, actually only used in very specific circles. (I think 'precisification' is another example of this. I used it with an intelligent nerd friend recently and, while of course he understood it - it's self explanatory - he thought it was terrible, and probably thought I just made it up.)

Hope you look at Wittgenstein!

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 28 May 2014 05:18:53PM 0 points [-]

As in ostention, basically pointing, or a verbal substitute.

Comment author: anandjeyahar 28 May 2014 03:56:16PM *  0 points [-]

But then the problem is not having the shared experience. If they did, they would just need to apply an arbitrary label,

Yes.. If they had the shared experience, they would just need to apply an arbitrary label, however given how we learn language(by association based on how they are used by people around us on what we see as objective events/experiences), I am not too confident the labels will match even after having the shared experience. My previous comment assumes this, but did not make it explicit. And I derive the

The reason why the thing can't be expressed is that it's too definite for language

quote from that assumption. I may be wrong about the assumption (since it seems to be more of a thought experiment than a practical experiment at the moment) but nevertheless I assign fairly high probability/confidence on that.

Comment author: anandjeyahar 03 May 2014 05:52:48AM *  0 points [-]

And this seems like a situation described in the text. -- But then the problem is not having the shared experience.

I tend to think of language as a symbolic system to denote/share/communicate these experiences with other brains. Ofcourse, there's the inherent challenge of seldom two experiences are same.(Even if it is an experiment on electrons). It's one of the reason, one of my sci-fi favourite scenario is brain-brain interfaces, that figure some way to interpret and transfer the empirical heuristic rules about a probability distribution(of any given event) one person has to another. Or may be am just being too idealistic about people always having such heuristics in their heads. (even if they are not aware of it) . :-)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 May 2014 02:51:27PM 0 points [-]

There's a passage by Lewis, and probably from Perelandra, which is to the effect that people's actual choices are from a deeper part of themselves than the conscious mind. Might you happen to know it?

Comment author: [deleted] 27 May 2014 08:25:53PM *  1 point [-]

Off hand, I don't recall. There is a moment at the end of the book where Ransom has a revelatory experience of all life in existence and understands it as an interlocking dance, something that doesn't fit either his theory of predestination nor free will.

Actually, looked up some quotes and found this:

The whole struggle was over, and yet there seemed to have been no moment of victory. You might say, if you liked, that the power of choice had been simply set aside and an inflexible destiny substituted for it. On the other hand, you might say he had delivered from the rhetoric of his passions and had emerged in unassailable freedom. Ransom could not for the life of him, see any difference between these two statements. Predestination and freedom were apparently identical. He could no longer see any meaning in the many arguments he had heard on the subject.

Comment author: Xelaz 13 May 2014 09:51:45PM *  0 points [-]

I wander through
the dark wilderness
by the light
of my burning map

-- Lucien Zell (can't find an authoritative attribution)

Comment author: Desrtopa 14 May 2014 01:49:57AM 4 points [-]

I'm really not clear on what this is actually supposed to be a metaphor for.

It's clearly not something you would literally want to do, since the night is temporary and the light provided by the map is dim and brief. But maybe this is a metaphorical long-lasting night and bright burning map?

Comment author: Cube 14 May 2014 03:53:15PM 0 points [-]

Destroying something that would be useful ir even necessary in the future so that you can better get through or perhaps survive the present.

Going to the same college as your high school sweetheart for example. Perhaps it will work out and you won't need the map.

Comment author: BloodyShrimp 06 May 2014 02:27:31AM 0 points [-]

I'm sure this has been discussed before, but my attempts at searches for those discussions failed, so...

Why is this thread in Main and not Discussion?

Comment author: elharo 06 May 2014 11:04:30AM 3 points [-]

Last month I posted the rationality quotes in discussion. Someone complained and said it belonged in main so I moved it there. This month I just started it in Main.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 06 May 2014 09:31:50AM *  6 points [-]

Tradition, I guess.

In the Age of Sequences, Eliezer sometimes posted rationality quotes, in the article text (1, 2, 3, etc.). Things written by Eliezer in that era are probably automatically considered Main-level. And the new Rationality Quotes threads don't seem worse than the traditional ones -- if we look at the highly voted quotes.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 07 May 2014 01:04:26AM 8 points [-]

Things written by Eliezer in that era are probably automatically considered Main-level.

Well, discussion didn't exist back than.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 May 2014 01:51:54PM 0 points [-]

I don't know what I mean. I remain convinced that whatever I meant is 100% right, but what I meant is subject to change with passing whimsy.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 06 May 2014 01:04:36PM 0 points [-]

"[I'm] Still thinking, remember? Means I look at things one by one."

--- The Black Opera by Mary Gentle